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All Makoto manages to see is the nervous fidgeting he is composing with his hands, weaving fingers in and between each other, straining skin and tightening down his knuckles in a show of nerves that he thinks is rather unnecessary. He notices that his sleeves are a lot longer and looser than he remembered them being--probably stretched from throwing this particular shirt in the wash so often in the past year--and he’s not sure how to feel about how pale his skin looks in contrast to its burgundy colour.

 

He opts to roll them up to his elbows and cross his arms, anxiety taking a new form in the bouncing of his feet.

 

“I’m almost done, so we can leave soon,” the voice filtering right out of his room has a distinct foreign flavour, even if the words are fast and fluid and the pronunciation flawless. It’s what happens to people who spend a year abroad and then come back to their home country, changed and different.

 

Makoto currently has the honour of harbouring one recent arrival from Australia in his small and humble apartment in Tokyo: Rin.

 

Technically, it should not come off as a huge surprise. He and Rin have, after all, been in a relationship for several months now. No one did explicitly tell Makoto, however, that starting off with long-distance was not necessarily conducive to having a relationship progress quite the way one would expect.

 

That being said, Makoto still feels very nervous around Rin--whether he can hold his hand or hug him instead of shaking his hand, or if it’s alright to kiss him when they’re sitting on the couch watching television are things he has been wondering about.

 

Rin manages to answer that question for him, though, appearing out of nowhere and hugging Makoto from behind, smile all teeth and eyebrows curved to tease just over Makoto’s shoulder--and he relaxes.

 

“What’s on your mind?” Rin asks, a quiet mutter.

 

Makoto replies, no longer worried about how dry his hands are or how mismatched he looks in a burgundy shirt, but with an honesty so soft it manages to soothe the otherwise brutal tension stumbling about inside his ribcage and hammering at his heart, “you,” and Rin retaliates with flushed cheeks, holding Makoto tighter in his embrace.

***

It was over a year ago when Makoto realised the deep-seated, undeterred feelings he had for one of his best friends. He had tried to play it off, smile and laugh like he wasn’t utterly taken with Rin whenever he talked, or how he kept making incredibly obvious attempts to spend some time with Rin, or how his head would snap to the side when he thought he caught a glimpse of red hair traversing down the sidewalk and towards the Iwatobi High School’s grounds for joint practice.

 

--but it was futile.

 

All those emotions he hadn’t realised existed in him just floored it to the centre of his attention with a few, simple words.

 

“So, what about you, Makoto?”

 

Back in the hotel room they were lodging at for the night--with Rin coming in to see Haru but finding, instead, Makoto just fresh out of his shower, and fresh with insecurities that he was so expertly hiding under his courteous words and smiles--is where Makoto realised, he really does like Rin.

 

“What do you mean?” he wonders, quietly, confused, as Rin gets comfortable on the chair he’s accommodated for himself, sitting at a distance so intimate Makoto’s never suffered this kind of proximity when he talks with Haru--at least not face-first, eyes meeting his with such intensity.

 

There’s something about the way Rin zeroes on him, on the people he’s engaging with, that makes them feel a solid connection between themselves and the redhead. It’s what Rin has always been about, even as a child, where although he kept a tunnel-vision focus on Haru, it was hard to not feel part of something special and intimate whenever Rin turned his excited, red eyes towards small and shy and easily-overwhelmed Makoto.

 

“Won’t you continue swimming? You’ve got the potential for it.”

 

The words chisel out a reality Makoto had already considered lost.

 

He expects a knock on the door or Haru walking in before he gets to reply, but there’s nothing except silence for a while, as Rin searches his eyes and Makoto keeps his own steady.

 

Somehow, he finds his voice.

 

“I… have been considering what to do after graduation, but no one’s really asked, so I don’t know how to put it into words--”

 

Rin smiles, friendly and without the usual sharpness on his predatory visage. “I’m asking now,” their knees bump together, purposely, and Makoto does not shy away from Rin’s hand, firmly planted on his shoulder. The redhead’s expression turns even softer, sheepish, even. “I’m sorry I didn’t ask you before. So much has been happening this year.”

 

He knows; Makoto really does. And he’s not bitter about it. Compared to last year, when Rin returned from Australia (broken and tired and angry), the way he is being now is something Makoto has been so grateful for, even if he’s had no direct impact on that change.

 

“--but, it’s important to me that we continue to be a team.”

 

And, all this time, despite everything, Rin has always considered Makoto part of his team. It draws loose the tight knot in his chest, for once.

 

“Rin,” Makoto starts, smiling despite himself. “I don’t know if I’m good enough--”

 

“You don’t, but I do. You’re good enough, Makoto.”

 

The way Rin says things, full of strong belief and no brakes on his unapologetic, romantic view of the world and those around him, puts the pieces into place for Makoto.

 

“--look, I don’t want to push you into anything, but one mistake is not what you should base your options on,” he’s honest, taking back his hand from over Makoto’s shoulder. “I want you to do something that makes you happiest, Makoto. And you’re happiest when you swim. You swim, remember?”

 

Makoto suddenly smiles, wide, unable to contain his mirth. His eyes close and crinkles crease over the corners. I swim. Swimming does make him happy; he loves swimming after all, no matter how scared he used to be before. Swimming is a combination of all the things and people who had a positive impact on his life, full of memories and pieces of improvement only possible thanks to those who were there for him and led him to be better--people he loves and admires and trusts.

 

Even those who hadn’t been there for a long time.

 

“I kept on swimming in middle school in hopes to see you again sometime too, Rin. I knew you would come back from Australia--I didn’t know when--but I thought that when you did, we could swim again. I wanted to show you how much better at it I had become.”

 

It’s Rin’s turn to laugh, even when he rubs over his nose in embarrassment. “Really?”

 

“Hn,” Makoto’s happy to keep on going. “I never knew how to feel exactly about swimming. Until you transferred from Sano, that is.”

 

Swimming had always been something he cherished, one way or the other, even when Rin had not been there. It was about the thrill of the sport, about being braver, about spending more time doing something Haru enjoyed. At the time, Makoto’s quick to realise, perhaps he didn’t quite understand that upholding a friendship is not on one side being forced to enjoy something the other person does. Swimming was more of an obligation than it was fun, a secret delight in Haru’s happiness that removed his own from the mix.

 

Still, at the end of the day, he doesn’t regret getting into swimming.

 

Because swimming did bring him closer to Haru, and that’s something Makoto is sure of. Swimming is something that shaped him to be the person he is today, calm and patient despite the turbulent waters that may try to push him back.

 

Swimming gave him memories, friendships, tutelage from upperclassmen that understood his emotions better than Makoto did at the time, heartbreak, but also a yearning for the future that he may not have found elsewhere had he tried.

 

Rin’s eyes search Makoto’s, sudden confusion at the comment on his transfer from Sano.

 

“It… didn’t become like an obligation anymore, to swim. Especially with you and Haru. Nagisa, too.”

 

There’s a distinct feeling in his words that Makoto hasn’t been able to air out these thoughts of his for years, and the slow-process of their conversation is him dusting off his feelings before presenting them, clean and honest, to someone who allows for a welcoming silence; a silence for Makoto to express himself in. “It always seemed to me like you had fun swimming.”

 

“I did. --I do,” Makoto corrects himself.

 

“It’s just a lot scarier now, because it’s either do it or not, isn’t it? There’s a deadline to it.”

 

Makoto considers Rin’s words. “I suppose so. In a way.”

 

“I’ll say it again, Makoto,” Rin speaks louder now, as if to emphasize his point; he doesn’t want to hide how he feels--is what Makoto figures--and wants to drive forth the idea that whatever he is saying, he is saying it with bullet-proof conviction. “You’re good at swimming, because you enjoy it and because you’re critical with yourself. It means you’ll aim for improvement, even if you fail once, or twice. Could you do better? Of course. But all of us could do with improving to do better.”

 

Makoto doesn’t think he’s ever felt his heart beat this fast before, not even with his blood thumping against his ears before the whistle to the start of a race.

 

“If we didn’t already need improving, we wouldn’t be swimming at regionals in the first place and trying to get scouts to notice us.”

 

“Even so, Rin, I may have messed up my opportunity to get scou--”

 

A warm hand holds onto his wrist, effectively cutting Makoto off from finishing his sentence.

 

You didn’t mess up anything! You worked hard, trained for weeks, steadily improved your time and conditioning day by day. What happened was that you raced with the conviction that you were not better than Haru.”

 

Makoto’s eyes widen--

 

“And for what? For a swimming style that’s not even your strongest suit? I’d like to see Haru swim backstroke against you once. He wouldn’t have a chance in hell.”

 

--then they turn downward, to the hold Rin is keeping on his hand, eyes fixed on them.

 

“Besides,” Rin almost sounds amused, but pained. “You shouldn’t compare yourself to Haru anymore. He is good, we all know that, but he doesn’t know what it’s like for people like you and me.”

 

Those who aren’t natural prodigies, Makoto knows that’s what Rin means, still unable to pick up his gaze back to the one he’s sure Rin is keeping on his face.

 

“You have what it takes. Stop following what Haru would do, and choose for yourself, Makoto. You’re a sensible enough guy.”

 

When Makoto meets red eyes again, he is met with a wide grin--one he mirrors with a smile of his own. It’s perhaps a little too overwhelming for him to try and turn Rin’s words around in his head, but the shattering feeling of loss he had felt earlier has recreated itself into a new sentiment of hope and want, of optimistic enthusiasm ready to overtake whatever hurdle came his way.

 

Fully aware of his actions, Makoto angles his hand just enough to intertwine his fingers with Rin’s, a light squeeze. He doesn’t shy away since Rin doesn’t, either.

***

There were two things Makoto had learnt that night at the hotel room; the first one was that Rin’s belief in him was both genuine and brazen; the second was that nothing ever communicated an idea more firmly to Rin than physical contact did. Makoto had no need to express his gratitude through words, for just holding Rin’s hand spoke more coherently than he ever could have.

 

It happened very inconspicuously afterward--past Makoto leading Rin out the door of the hotel room after some more shared moments of memories and encouragements; the increase in their texting until late at night, of divulging more honest opinions than before, of admitting grievances and fears.

 

Makoto had yearned for someone like Rin. Not quite to replace his friendship with Haru, but to be part of something more.

 

It had not taken him long to realise that when he invited Rin over to hang out and play videogames, the part of the afternoon Makoto looked forward the most was to hear Rin talk and make him laugh with some silly anecdote; that when he and Rin were on the metro together, that Makoto cherished the heavy warmth of Rin pressing against his arm when sitting; that when he had made up his mind about what he would study in Tokyo University, he wanted to hear what Rin would say more than anything else.

 

He would also dare, at times, to push a little past set boundaries, see where the line was drawn: his head on Rin’s shoulder when they were at the movie theatre; brushing Rin’s hair while they snacked on crisps; allowing himself to lie across Rin’s lap while he was supposed to be studying for his exams.

 

“And you’re supposed to become a renown swim coach, huh, Tachibana?” Rin would say, setting his book on the table, glancing down. “A professional lap warmer. Note that down for the press.”

 

Until, one day, a few weeks short of Rin leaving for Australia, Makoto--looking up from his perch on Rin’s lap as a professional lap warmer--raised his hand to smooth knuckles over Rin’s cheek. The movement pushed back long bangs, causing the redhead to flinch in surprise before he looked down.

 

Silence prevailed in the room, but all Makoto saw was red, as Rin bent over from his middle and pressed a kiss onto a burning cheek.

 

“Ask me out already,” Rin had grumbled, not pulling away from the mere inches he held between himself and Makoto’s face.

***

Stop telling people that’s how we started dating!” Rin nearly wails from behind his hands, trying to hide his face from the assault that is Sousuke’s and Kisumi’s laughter. It’s rather convenient when most of their friends decided to study in and around Tokyo; it makes visiting them a lot easier.

 

“But that’s how it happened?”

 

Makoto, as always, oblivious and naive, unawares of the grander romantic achievements Rin wanted accomplished throughout the stages of his first romance, His First True Love, his first relationship with a broad-shouldered hunk.

 

Unfortunately for Rin, Sousuke and Kisumi are a hundred percent aware of it.

 

Kisumi’s the first to gather himself. “See, the thing is, Makoto--! Rin’s always dreamt of a broad-shouldered hunk to sweep him off his fee--eeiiii!”

 

Ki-su-mi--! You bastard!”

 

They get nothing out of Sousuke during most of the lunch, too busy stuffing his face with pork cutlets, trying not to choke on said pork cutlets, and unabashedly laughing at Rin’s continuous mortification.

 

While Rin sulked, Makoto smiled.

 

Perhaps the distance they had experienced at the start of their relationship was an issue in terms of physicality and being a hundred percent certain as to where they stood in terms of intimacy, but one thing was for sure: Rin’s reactions told Makoto, plain as day, just how much Rin wanted to be with him, and how much Rin felt for him.

 

One of the harder things to do now that he was in a relationship was to remember that he technically has to take sides (whether this concept is true or not, Makoto feels like it must be, to some degree).

 

Rin sits beside him, flushed red in embarrassment and pouting in frustration, not wanting to play along with Kisumi’s game anymore.

 

It’s easy enough to place his hand over Rin’s on the table (Rin, freezing on the spot and whipping his head to look at Makoto with wide eyes) with the confidence he had struggled to find earlier that morning before they headed out. “What happened to that one class of your, Kisumi? With the teacher who marked you down for talking too much?”

 

“Ma~koto! You remember?!” Kisumi’s reaction was as he had expected, completely derailing the conversation into less Rin-centric territory. Of course, Kisumi needed to put Rin up to speed with all the details.

 

As they listened (some more interested than others; Sousuke having heard this story several times before), Makoto’s hand felt clammy and warm against Rin, but Rin refused to pull away, angling instead his hand so he could hold on better to Makoto’s own.

 

“--explain one thing to me,” Rin says, calmed down from his previous mortification and more his usual self. “How the hell can you stand living with this guy, Sousuke?”

 

It’s in jest, Makoto figures, taking note of Rin’s serious expression and the grin tugging at the corner of his lips.

 

“It’s no big mystery--”

 

“Rin! Is this all you have to say about one of my classes being taught by a sociopath?!”

 

Ignored.

 

(Makoto laughs under his breath, to Kisumi’s disbelief.)

 

“--the apartment is affordable with a roommate. Kisumi’s the lesser evil.”

 

Since he started dating Rin before he left for Australia, Makoto has had the pleasure (and honour) to hang out more often with a circle of friends he didn’t think he would feel too welcome in. Elementary school in Sano is such a far off memory now, but it does affect the interactions and inside jokes the three friends share with one another.

 

Yet, despite that, he’s glad to be closer with Sousuke and Kisumi.

 

With a deadpan expression and voice dripping with less emotion than ever, Sousuke finishes his retelling of why he has chosen this fate as Kisumi’s roommate.

 

“I get to keep him in check and make sure he doesn’t bring in any extra company either. My purpose in life as a cockblock, complete.”

 

The comment has Kisumi elbowing Sousuke, who easily fends off his assailant. They’re like brothers, Makoto thinks, unable to control his laughter this time. Rin is also laughing, pressed to Makoto’s side to hide his face (and Makoto thinks, perhaps more than necessary--not that he minds).

***

“Sousuke and Kisumi haven’t changed a bit.”

 

“True. But, it’s funny, isn’t it? Kisumi tries hard to rile Sousuke up, but the one who is up in arms in the end is Kisumi.”

 

“Sousuke’s always been a tough one to crack. Very little will make him laugh.”

 

Makoto believes that. Sousuke does come off as intimidating most of the time, with his imposing stature, his neutral expression being a scowl, and his quiet disposition towards others.

 

“--I’m glad you got to see them. They’ve talked about you a lot. Even Sousuke kept texting me from the moment your plane landed to ask me if I had seen you already.”

 

Rin grumbles, as he kicks some dirt with his shoes. A walk in the park after lunch is something Makoto enjoys doing in Tokyo to experience some calm and serenity offered by the available nature. “He worries too much. Like an old man.”

 

Makoto knows that the bond both of the Samezuka graduates have runs a little closer to a sentiment of family. There’s a lot that could be said, but it’s not one of those things that need a verbal interpretation to remember it exists.

 

“I’m proud of you,” Rin insists, bumping elbows with Makoto as they walk. “For doing everything you proposed yourself to get done while you’re in Tokyo.”

 

“It took a while,” Makoto admits, but nods, feeling struck and wonderful because Rin said he’s proud of him.”I’m just glad I’m able to give you a tour around the city without getting lost myself.”

***

Most of their first week together in Tokyo runs a similar course of meeting up with friends and walking around and seeing sights together. Sousuke and Kisumi became a big focus on their lunches and sometimes nightly escapades into the vibrant and busy streets of the big city. Other days, Rin would tag along with Makoto to university to see the campus and witness Makoto’s lecture schedule firsthand.

 

His classes seem to take forever this week, knowing that Rin is waiting for him either at the cafeteria or the library, reading a book or plugged in to his music and laptop, checking emails and his social media.

 

All Makoto’s ever wanted for the past several months is to be able to be with his boyfriend, and it feels like the world is working up the courage to get in their way at every single opportunity. Perhaps it’s a bit selfish of him--Rin wasn’t just out of the country for him, but everyone else, including his family and other friends.

 

Regardless, Makoto’s chest tightens when he steps into the library this time and spots Rin waiting for him. He considers the idea of this being a regular thing--how great it would be (and admits to himself that it would perhaps lose its novelty really fast, and that Rin would most definitely not have time to lounge as much as he does now).

 

“Yo,” Rin greets, approaching him by the entrance, English rolling down his tongue despite the familiar sound, laptop packed in his bag and headphones around his neck. “Haru’s coming back from his training on Monday, so that’s a day and a weekend away. I get to go back to see my mum and Gou on Tuesday, so that’s still fine.”

 

Something between Makoto and Rin that contrasts is their levels of organisation. Makoto will have a vague plan set for his day, but Rin’s got everything noted down and listed to the exact hour.

 

They exit the building together, a mutual understanding that they’re off to lunch before the rest of Makoto’s classes. “You’re flying back from the airport here, so I’m sure you’ll catch him again before you leave for Sydney again.”

 

Nervous, Makoto gulps down the cowardice that likes to hang around him and keep him from either speaking his mind or doing things he wants to do.

 

“Besides,” he smiles, boyish and quiet in his approach, bowing his head a little. They’ve stopped under one of the many deciduous trees that offer some shade on the path between buildings and campuses. “I… get to spend more time with Rin, like this.”

 

Rin’s expression takes on his characteristic excited expression, forced to simmer into a more quiet reaction by Makoto’s shy hold onto one of Rin’s hand, between them.

 

Nothing stops the force with which Makoto continues to fall for Rin as the redhead smiles at him, openly proud and happy, with cheeks flushed and a tightened hold on his hand.

***

It's easy to feel proud of Makoto when he has shown all signs of growing and improving. Part of him regrets the fact that he has not been present for these changes taking place, but to be on the receiving end of such undeterred admiration and care and valiant growth makes up for it.

 

Rin is no longer holding onto Makoto’s hand tightly, but squeezing the sheets on Makoto’s bed.

 

Touch has always been important to him; it’s how Rin connects with others, how experiences become more vivid to him. If he’s listening to a song that drives a strong feeling home, he needs to tap along with the drumming with his fingers; if he wants to show his mother and sister that he’s so grateful to them and loves them, he has to pull them both into a tight embrace; if he needs to feel connected to his father, he’ll press his fist onto his father’s grave at the top of the hill overlooking the coast.

 

Since his arrival in Tokyo, it is not mystery just how nervous Makoto’s been to touch him--not knowing whether to shake his hand or hug him at the airport. Would it have been easier to get a hug, had they not been in a relationship? Friendship was difficult enough already, and a change from friends to boyfriends with very little room to get used to that significant transition has, no doubt, left them both haywired.

 

While Rin wished to connect with Makoto, forcing physical contact onto physical contact on him, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as being reciprocated. The amount of times Makoto has held his hand without prompting is wild; even more so the kisses his boyfriend has sneaked on him between TV commercials and conversations is enough to trigger spine-tingling sensations in him.

 

“Makoto,” Rin finds himself breathing out, eyes closed as he delights himself on the sensations from the warm yet careful touch on his skin. There’s a kiss, and another, on his throat, wet and stupidly exciting; hands riding his shirt up, exploring his sides and front.

 

The idea had been initiated by Makoto, and Rin was nothing but a willing participant to continue and further on their inexpert attempt at intimacy.

 

Being in Australia had easily denied him what makes him grow close with people he cares for. His efforts had been immense, to get a hold of Makoto as much as was sensibly possible without sounding too crazy or desperate. And yet, Makoto’s ever-so-pleasant and welcoming feedback to all of Rin’s efforts made him realise just how lucky he really was to have Makoto Tachibana as his boyfriend, out of any other guy he could have landed.

 

Makoto laughs embarrassed on top of him, pulling away just so from their proximity. A small sliver of sunlight from the drawn curtains was all Rin had to guide his eyes from broad shoulders all the way down to Makoto’s naked waist, his trousers hanging low--but not low enough.

 

Rin may have at some point fantasised how he wanted his very first time to go; his partner, the logistics, the venue, the when--but since he’s gotten to relearn Makoto, at a level beyond friendship, he’s thrown his dreamed-of plans out the window.

 

His fantasies would never match up to his reality, and he figured out pretty early on that if he kept holding on to them, he would miss out on just how much more amazing reality actually was. Makoto needed to take things a lot slowly (and, unbeknownst to Rin himself, so did he), and the exciting part about it all was that experimenting at intimacy, together, brought them closer.

 

“Rin, I…”

 

It was Makoto’s actions, not words, what dazed Rin out of his thoughts; Makoto removed his trousers as he spoke, a soft-spoken request more so than a command of “I want to try something…,” struggling with his ankles for a moment before settling back in bed, looking down at Rin. Gentle hands unbuttoned his own pair of slacks, and Rin complied, sitting up and pressing kisses onto Makoto’s downturned lips.

 

--he was nervous, as was Makoto, but they were on the same page. It was more embarrassing than Rin ever imagined it would be--to be in nothing but his boxers in front of Makoto for a reason other than changing in the locker rooms--but it didn’t seem so terrifying if he was doing this with Makoto.

***

Their first kiss wasn’t a grandiose display of fireworks and siren alarms, as Rin was wrong to imagine. It had been a quiet affair in contrast to such imaginings.

 

Everyone knew Rin was set to leave for Australia on the weekend, and Rin was reminded that his painfully short time with Makoto as a couple had a deadline of sorts. It wasn’t easy, and he wasn’t going to cry about it, but amidst his excitement to get started again in Australia he certainly felt a sense of loss at not being able to carry on this feeling he had just recently become familiar with.

 

Makoto visiting him wasn’t going to be as financially realistic as he would like, either, so they would have to bear the distance for however necessary and make the most of their time together.

 

Which is why Rin felt somewhat cheated that one of his last available afternoons with Makoto was spent looking after Ran and Ren while Makoto’s parents went out to get groceries. They were cute siblings (not as cute as Gou--not that he would admit to it), and Rin genuinely liked the twins, but right now was simply bad timing for everyone involved.

 

“I asked you out, after much coaxing,” Makoto starts, that playful tone Rin loves so much present in his words. The twins are napping on Makoto’s bed after Rin’s grueling activities to tired them out, and so the two of them took to the balcony facing the ocean, leaning against the railing and enjoying the ocean breeze. “And I’ve been thinking of how much fun it’s been.”

 

Rin’s love for Makoto’s playfulness soon disappears at those words. They sound like an ultimatum, and not something wonderful at all.

 

Except that when Makoto looks at him, green eyes dulled into a honey colour with the sunset glow, Rin knows he can breathe easy. Makoto wouldn’t be the type to throw something like this away, after how good it’s been.

 

“But, I think it’s about time.”

 

Rin plays along. “Really? For what? Don’t tell me it’s time to fold the laundry, because I will walk out that door, Tachibana.”

 

There’s a brief moment in Makoto’s face, where he goes from shy to assertive, that anyone could easily miss. It’s very subtle. His eyebrows raise a bit higher than usual, his smile is a little more crooked in his playfulness, and he doesn’t so much as avoid eye contact as he chases for it.

 

There really is no grandiose display of fireworks or sirens alarms; no streamers or party poppers either.

 

Makoto kisses Rin, unexpectedly but not quite. It’s a shy touch, for all the determination involved, but it’s warm and romantic, enough to have Rin push forward for a second kiss once Makoto pulled back. It’s thrilling; it’s exciting.

 

They pull away after a moment, the two of them laughing together, hands at their usual position as of late: pressed together, intertwined.

 

***


Despite the years of repair in their sibling relationship that’s yet to meet a deadline in their near future, Rin absolutely loves his little sister. She’s wonderful, smart, knows what she wants, and--most importantly--understands his sentiments of a more pure romantic view on a relationship.

 

“Brother. As much as I love Makoto-senpai and know how difficult it is to not look at his muscles, do you think you could make your drooling a little less obvious?”

 

At the same time, Gou--his precious, pure, wonderful, and intelligent little sister--can be full of shit.

 

“Stop hanging out so much with Sousuke.”

 

Rin wipes his chin anyway, just in case.

 

“You know that is not possible,” Gou winks at him (and Rin, as usual, is unsure on what that means), but quickly earns her way back to his good side by offering her brother a tight hug.

 

They’re dressed in burgundy and white, the colours of the college swim team. The bleachers are quickly filling up, and Rin’s just glad he got here in time to get seats close to the pool.

 

“He’s not good for you. He’s got foul language!”

 

Gou rolls her eyes, used to this usual turn of conversation, before sitting down beside her brother.

 

“You started dating Makoto-senpai before your third year of school ended. It’s been three years. Makoto-senpai said you’d be more lenient about letting me date whoever I wanted by now.”

 

Clearly, this is all Makoto’s fault, is what Rin thinks grimly, scanning the pool area.

 

“Besides,” comes the chirpy response from behind Rin, close to his ear--a little too close for comfort. “It could be me~!”

 

On Makoto’s third year of university--after three full years of joining the university’s swim team as part of his curriculum to become a swim coach--Makoto has been among the higher ranked members and given the honour to represent the university. This is the first of several competitions taking place and, unsurprisingly, most of his available friends have come to see him.

 

“Kisumi-senpai!”

 

“Kou-chan! It’s been a while! Sousuke and Haruka will be here soon.”

 

Gou sighs, and Rin quickly starts snickering at her comment despite his attempt to ignore the nightmare that would be if Kisumi dated his sister. “I bet they’re arguing over which university has the best mascot again…”

 

To Rin’s dismay, Kisumi takes this as a chance to put an arm around his shoulders. “I bet you’re really glad she’s dating Sousuke, huh?” Gou smacks her hand against his arm, putting very minimal strength to it. “Being a big brother is so difficult… Hayato-kun has been acting up, too.”

 

“You always talk like everything normal is the end of the world,” but, no matter what, he can’t help but enjoy Kisumi’s company, too. The guy was charming in his own right, in measured amounts, just like cotton candy.

 

Out of the corner of his eye, Rin catches sight of Haru and Sousuke, and waves at them excitedly. They’re carrying balloons, for some reason, and Kisumi is the first one to laugh.

 

“Green and yellow is the rival university’s co-colours!”

 

Needless to say, his laughter is contagious, and it’s even funnier when Sousuke pops the balloon as fast as he can. Haru, unphased, sits himself between Gou and Rin.

 

(It’s Gou who, despite Haru being between them, wishes him a happy anniversary first.)

***

As Makoto stands over his lane, standing proud and tall, he glances quickly at the bleachers and grows excited to see so many of his friends close to the pool. Rin waves at him, with big arm motions, while Haru stands beside him motionless but eyes obviously fixed on him. Gou’s reaction is similar to Kisumi’s, as the both of them jump excitedly to their feet and join Rin in waving, all the while Sousuke tries to stop Kisumi from standing atop of him, probably warning him to watch out for his recently-operated shoulder.

 

He waves, filling his lungs with more than just air.

 

It’s a big day for him--win or lose, he’ll have enough reason to feel proud of himself.

 

Makoto has trained hard, for years, worked on improving not just his physical attributes and his skill in the pool. So much more than that has gone into his getting ready for this in swimming at university level.

 

When the start signal goes off and he jumps into the water, it feels different. He’s tried to explain it before to Rin, on one of their many long-distance calls over the past months, and Rin couldn’t stop saying just how proud he was of his boyfriend. The water felt lighter, more welcoming, calm.

 

No longer does he feel the weight of Haru’s shadow behind him. He can look forward, swim these 400m of freestyle, and prove himself a contender to watch out for.

 

The cheers come and go, his head submerging underwater every few seconds, but all he focuses on now are the words that have spurred him on all these years: You’re good enough, Makoto.

***

There’s something poetic, thinks Haru, about the fact that three years ago, after their race together, Makoto finished it feeling lost about his convictions, whereas now he gets to wear a symbol of his redemption and improvement on a shiny, silver medal, hanging from around his neck.

 

Haru looks around at his group of friends, sat together for grilled barbecue honouring not only the second place in the 400m freestyle, but also the first place in his backstroke heat. Rin’s passing the gold medal around the group, a sense of unequivocal pride and happiness in his words and actions. Haru only knows the mere details of it, but he knows that together, as a couple, Rin and Makoto have been very good for each other over the years; Rin is a lot more vocal than what Haru could ever have been for Makoto, and has probably said everything Haru didn’t know how to put into words; Makoto, on the other hand, is a lot more empathetic than Haru is, and was likely the pillar of support Rin needed while abroad, again.

 

It makes him genuinely pleased that his two best friends have found happiness together.

 

If anyone would have asked him three years ago what his life would look like at twenty-one, he could not have been able to answer that he would be sitting down with the likes of Kisumi and Sousuke, about to eat off a menu with no mackerel, with Makoto grown into his own skin.

 

There’s a promise he had made to his grandmother when he was very, very young. Makoto would probably not remember the occasion, but recently it has come to the forefront of his thoughts. Look after Makoto.

 

The request seemed silly at the time, now that he thinks about it. Glancing up from his cup of tea, he fixes his eyes on Makoto--and, consequently, at Rin.

 

They’re both happy.

 

Haru turns his eyes upward, and smiles, a short prayer his quiet gratitude.