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プリッツのゲーム || Pretz Game

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Haru came out of the Iwatobi Swim Club pouting, because the day was too bright to not spend in the pool.

It’s Friday and I don’t wanna start my weekend babysitting more than I hafta!” Coach Sasabe had said, shooing him home with his booming laugh.

He guessed he could wait until he got home, though. He already spent the longest in the pool since everyone left on time…

…Except Matsuoka.

Haru pulled a face, wondering why Makoto had to leave for his family trip so soon that he couldn’t draw Matsuoka away for a while.

Haru withdrew the thought with a sigh, because he didn’t really blame Makoto; he already apologised for not being there to go spend a week with his family. Not that Haru needed the apology in the first place, but he didn’t really appreciate when he said ‘I guess you’ll have to deal with Matsuoka-kun on your own’ with his gentle smile.

He only chuckled at Haru’s frown.

But really, the way Matsuoka was always trying to either race him or convince him to join the medley relay was so bothersome. Since he had joined the swim club, Haru couldn’t find solace in the water any longer. Instead, it became charged with Matsuoka’s presence, demanding his attention and turned his unhurried stroke into a frantic swim. Their constant races left his lungs breathless and straining, and every time he would see Rin’s delighted grin or some remark saying ‘this is why you should do the relay’ clearly glimmering in his eyes.

He didn’t like it.

Haru made his way over to his cubbyhole, shuffling off his shoes to put on his trainers. Since he couldn’t swim any longer, he looked forward to Baa-san’s mackerel after his jog home—

“Hey, Nanase!”

Haru wrinkled his nose. Speak of the devil.

He looked over to Rin walking down the corridor, his arm up in a lofty wave.

“Let’s run home together!”

Haru weaved his arms into his Iwatobi SC jacket sleeves, turning to Rin’s bright-eyed, bushy-tailed grin, and a muted frown took over his apathy. He nodded in acknowledgement as he shouldered on his school bag, turning to head out for the school gates.

“O-Oi,” Rin started, scrambling around for his things as Haru reached the schoolyard. “Wait a moment!”

He quickly threw on his jacket, fumbling when he pulled the zip up. The ridiculously tight stretch across his back startled Rin, and he whipped his head back to realise he had put his bag on first. He groaned at his humpback with a little wince, clumsily rustling off his jacket to switch it with his bag.

Nanase…!” Rin whined, shaking off his indoor shoes and shoving on his trainers hands-free. “That’s rude, y’know!” he called out to Haru’s shrinking back, tugging on his bag in the proper order this time.

Haru closed his eyes in a sigh, holding his straps at his chest when he stopped walking. He turned to Matsuoka catching up, his school bag red and bouncing on his back like his hair with his strides, as he jogged into the afternoon sun.

His face lit up in glee that Nanase had slowed down for him, coming up beside Haru while smiling from ear to ear.

Haru briefly wondered whether Matsuoka’s cheeks hurt from grinning like an idiot all the time, leading him to mull over exactly why he stopped for him in the first place.

“Y’know what we oughta do, Nanase?”

Rin’s confidence rendered his suggestion into a declaration, while Haru just pursed his lip at how Matsuoka’s perky voice broke through his thoughts like countless times before. Rin slung his arm over his side, exaggerated and brazen over his shoulder. Haru only wondered whether Matsuoka possessed any inkling of personal space whatsoever as he followed up.

“We should have a sleepover.” Rin nodded firmly, turning to direct his blinding beam at Haru’s squint.

“…Why?” Haru’s question was terse. He further considered whether Matsuoka had brought him anything but irritation over the past month he had been attending Iwatobi Elementary.

The ground was rugged with their trainers scuffing against it in the walk up to the gates, and Haru had to deflect Matsuoka’s sincerity steeped within his ingenuous smile.

“It’s what all the cool kids do!” Rin announced, pulling Haru a little closer as he dramatically stretched his arm out to the horizon. “Sleepovers are where bonds form and friendships last,” he explained, solemnly looking past the gaps of his fingers to the clouds dotting the sky. “—And hopefully, we’re friends by now!” he concluded with a dazzling grin, turning to see Haru deadpanning at his logic. He chose not to question Matsuoka’s tenuous qualification as a friend.

“…What if I don’t want to?”

He huffed when Matsuoka hummed in thought instead of catching the rhetoric.

Hmm…outta the question!” Rin proclaimed with a decisive shake of his head. “If we’re gonna swim in the relay, we gotta be better friends,” he stated, missing how Haru’s sulk deepened. “And to be better friends, we gotta have a sleepover.” he explained, while Haru lapsed into a pensive silence at Rin’s uncalled enthusiasm.

“…I told you, I don’t want to swim in your relay…”

His mutter felt redundant from saying it so many times, and Haru suddenly felt much more weary than any twelve-year-old boy should’ve felt. Then again, no other twelve-year-old boy seemed to suffer from just how stubborn Matsuoka could be.

Though, on Rin’s end, Nanase was just as stubborn.

“Seriously,” Rin drooped his head with a huff. “A relay’s a team thing!” he persisted. “I want you to swim with us…”

He pouted at Nanase turning away, and thought about just how grumpy he could get over this.

“I only swim free.”

Rin let his head hang to side with an sigh, wondering how many times he had heard that line already. Even though he told Nanase that he would be swimming free.

“…Okay…”

Haru took pause with open eyes, glancing over to Rin’s odd quiet. Was he relenting? Could they run in peace now? Could he finally get some of his personal space out of Matsuoka’s grasp?

“—Then, how ‘bout this?” Rin suggested, unhooking his arm from Nanase’s neck so he could stand akimbo in front of him.

He shouldn’t have hoped for anything.

“Why don’t we have a sleepover together—” Rin began, promptly clamming up at Haru’s sceptic look. “—J-Just as friends! Not as teammates or anything, if you don’t like that,” he clarified quickly, hoping not to lose any of the dwindling attention he worked to get. “Like, today’s Thursday, so tomorrow we can have a sleepover, and…” he faltered, leaving Haru to tilt a brow at his hesitation. “—A-And I won’t bother you about the relay anymore! Even though…it’d be best if you do do it…”

Haru’s eyes rounded a little, blinking to take in how Matsuoka’s fists were tight at his hips, creasing his white and blue windbreaker. Rin’s lip quivered once when he asserted his offer, but his cheeks were bright with determination.

“…Really?”

There wasn’t a single sliver of hope laced in his question, but Rin winced like Haru’s mere speech winded him.

“…Y…Yeah…I mean…”

Haru felt a strange heat at his fingers at the sound of his mumble, at the sight of his chin slinking behind the collar of his jacket. Haru swore he could feel Matsuoka’s heavy heart radiate with his slumping shoulders, before Rin picked his voice and head up again.

“Y-Yeah! Really!” he promised, bold even through his frown.

His upset was loud and clear in his eyes shimmering with red, and a breeze passed by the blue sky surrounding him. It reminded Haru of a confession scene he once saw in a shoujo manga, and he frowned.

…He really wants a sleepover…

It was almost amazing, how silly Matsuoka could be over just a sleepover. What was equally amazing was how much he brushed aside Haru’s unwillingness through trying to appeal to him. Not that it worked, but more to do with a charitable pity Matsuoka’s bargaining inspired.

Honestly, Haru thought with a sigh. He opened his eyes to Rin’s tentative hope painted in the widening of his eyes. He’s so selfish.

“…You don’t have to do that.”

“…H-Huh?”

Rin’s gaze searched over him in confusion, and his expression bloomed open like the petals of a flower. Haru turned his head to a naked cherry blossom tree at the side, frowning into his collar as he felt Rin’s growing stare dig into his cheek.

“…You can sleep over at my place tomorrow.”

When Haru looked back over his collar, he considered whether he should’ve agreed from Matsuoka’s starstruck expression. He turned away with a huff, walking out the gates as he heard Rin’s excited breath behind him.

“F-For real…?!” Rin’s mouth was open in a wide grin, and he ran up next to Haru with dazzling eyes. “We can have a sleepover?!”

“That’s what I just said…” Haru muttered, feeling his brow developing a permanent knit as he started to jog down the pavement. “Hurry up. I’m not waiting for you anymore.”

Haru didn’t look back as he jogged to the bridge, meaning he didn’t see Rin staring after him in a daze. Rin scrunched his face into a huge smile, elbowing the air with a victorious hiss before he sprinted off to join Nanase.


“Good afternoon! And sorry for the intrusion!”

Rin bowed to Haru’s grandmother standing on the ledge of the entry hall, lifting his head up to reveal his bright eyes and repressed smile.

Her hair was grey streaked upon black and tied up in a loose, classic bun. Her kimono was plum with a deep yellow sash, and her kind twinkle lined the crows’ feet beside her blue eyes.

“Ah, Matsuoka-kun,” she cooed warmly, her speech modulated with age. “Haru-kun told me you were coming for a sleepover today.”

“Y-Yes,” Rin nodded earnestly, swallowing his stutter. “I hope that’s okay, Obaa-sama.” he asked earnestly, fiddling with his fingers at his palm.

“Of course!” Haru’s grandmother laughed lightly, and Rin looked up in confusion. “I don’t think Haru-kun has ever invited anyone over apart from Makoto-kun.” she remarked, smiling when Rin’s eyes lit up in disbelief.

“R-Really…?”

Her nod was affirming and slow, and she only chuckled when Rin blushed out of happiness.

“Now, now,” she said, gently gesturing Rin in. “You can take off your shoes and leave your bag here. Haru-kun should be coming down soon.”

“A-Ah,” Rin looked down, hastily bending down on his knee to untie his shoes properly. “Okay…”

She tittered. “There’s no need to be nervous.”

Rin took a deep swallow as he set aside his trainers properly, his face stained with a betraying blush as he nodded quickly.

“Is this your first sleepover, Matsuoka-kun?” she asked, her head tilted in some curiosity.

“N-No,” Rin assured hastily, coughing back to his normal volume. “I mean…I’ve had sleepovers before…but,” he stopped, tucking his hands under his shoulders nervously. “I never thought he’d say yes…”

Her eyes widened a touch at his honest words, but she only sighed in a knowing smile.

“You know,” she began, bringing Rin’s attention to her patient gaze. “Haru-kun has talked about you sometimes. How you joined his class and swimming club, and also mentions how you smile quite a lot,” she said, nearly chortling at Rin’s dropping jaw. “…It’s rare when Haru-kun talks about the people he meets, but he never said your name. Then, yesterday, he said the boy asked him for a sleepover, and finally told me who you were,” she recalled. Rin flushed to his ears when she inclined in a small bow. “I’m glad to have finally met the boy Haru-kun has been talking about.”

Rin was taught that it was rude to gape, but he was reeling in surprise before he heard footsteps. Haru’s grandmother turned her head back, gently smiling at her grandson coming down the stairs.

“Matsuoka-kun is here now, Haru-kun.”

“Thanks, Baa-san.” Haru said, reaching the foot of the steps as he caught Rin’s gaze.

“H-Heya, Nanase!” Rin chimed sheepishly, giving a little wave. Haru pouted a little as he came up beside his grandmother, who held her serene smile all the while.

“I wish you told me who Matsuoka-kun was sooner, Haru-kun,” she said, “It’s so nice to see you invite a friend over.”

“B-Baa-san…!” Haru muttered desperately, his guard faltering in the presence of his patient grandmother. But as quickly as he had protested, he looked over to Rin blinking at him, and he realised that he wasn’t alone. He jerked his head away in a little flush while Rin let out a small splutter.

Haru’s grandmother glanced at the two boys pink in the face, and her eyes shone with the beam across her lips.

“…The food is warm on the table. I’ll just be in the other room if you boys need me,” she informed, heading into the living room. “You two have fun now!” she reminded in a small chide, sagely pretending to miss the boys’ lips tightening in shyness.

Soon, they were alone in the entry hall with a thickening silence. Haru hacked through it with his gaze cutting into Rin, who stiffened at his small frown.

“Aren’t you coming in?” Haru almost sounded demanding, but his voice was tempered with embarrassment as Rin blinked some more.

“…O-Of course!” Rin stuttered, stepping onto the ledge so Haru didn’t look down on him any longer. “I was trying to being polite…” he insisted, setting his hands at his hips.

Haru grunted, but his countenance softened when he looked back into the living room.

“…Are you hungry?”

“Yeah, I haven’t eaten lunch,” Rin announced, his staple grin returning now that it was just the two of them. “Food would be great!”

“…Okay.” Haru mumbled, leading Rin to the kotatsu where the food was.

“Eh?” Rin quirked a brow in bewilderment, his arms bent to nestle his head. “How come there’s only mackerel?”

Haru pouted. “If you don’t like it, don’t eat it.”

“N-No, I actually like mackerel!” Rin shook his hands, worried at Haru’s clipped tone. “I was just asking…” he muttered.

He felt like he had a show to perform, and he usually did fine when it came to his classmates or his other friends. But when it came to Nanase, he felt like he was always missing all of the steps, always trying to elicit some reaction but coming up short.

Haru shrugged. “It’s fine.”

Somehow, while Rin did feel some relief, he still wished Nanase looked back when he said that.

They settled across from each other at the kotatsu, and Matsuoka welcomed the filling scent of fish with a wonderful sigh.

“Time to eat.”

“Time to eat~!”

Haru passed over some chopsticks while Rin clapped his hands together.

“Thanks, Nanase!” he grinned, taking the chopsticks. “I gotta admit, I haven’t had mackerel in ages!” he picked it up with care, eyeing the crispy skin in fascination before taking a bite. “—Wahh~!“ Rin marvelled, his voice dampened from crunching the mackerel. ”This tastes amazing…! Your grandma’s a great cook!"

Haru glanced at the piece Matsuoka was eating, and he looked to the side in a pout.

“…I made that one.”

Rin stopped chewing to look up at Haru spooning some rice into his bowl. He gawked in an open-mouthed wonder after swallowing the delicious food.

“—Are you serious?” Rin asked. Haru’s gaze snatched over to his clear awe.

“…Yeah,” Haru muttered, going back to fill his bowl with some more rice. “My grandma let me help with that one.”

Whoa…!” Rin’s praise was breathy as his mouth stretched into an appreciative grin. He heartily picked another piece of mackerel from the same plate. “So you can swim, draw, and cook!” he lauded happily, making Haru will back an embarrassed tint.

“It’s nothing much…” he muttered, frowning as he finished setting down his bowl of rice.

He looked up to Rin popping some more mackerel into his mouth, humming in delight as he ate. Haru pouted for a moment, deliberating on his words as his fingers pressed into his chopsticks.

“…What would you like next time?” Haru asked, almost to himself.

He wondered if it would have been better to say nothing as Rin whipped up his head, still chewing on his food.

“Wha…?“ Rin swallowed, his eyes still round as he looked over Haru picking some mackerel onto his rice. “W-Well, I…! I love meat! O-Or kimchi!”

“…I see.”

True to form, Matsuoka supplied most of the chatter filling the living room while he ate, especially after he had finished eating. Haru chewed peacefully and nodded occasionally when Matsuoka prompted him with an expectant lilt in his babbling.

“—Right, right? Summer festivals are so fun! The one last summer had this lil game—well, they always have that game, but whatever—where you gotta collect the most balloons from a pool, yeah? When I’m really careful I can get six of them!” he gloated in joy, holding up his stretched hand and another pointed finger with a dazzling smile.

“Mm.” Haru nodded, finishing the last scoops of his rice.

“But my favourite one’s gotta be the shooting game, ‘cause my sis keeps wanting the stuffed toys they put up there so I get ‘em for her every time!” he recalled, sniffing his nose proudly and looking up so he could just see Nanase out of the corner of his eye. “So summer’s super cool, but I can’t choose between that or spring,” he affirmed, nodding with a decisive hum. “‘Cause that’s when the cherry blossoms are all in bloom!” he gushed, bringing his arms wide up and out, as if there was really one right in front of him. “I really love cherry blossoms! ‘Cause they’re super pink and soft, and when there’s a breeze they go all whoosh like feathers and—!”

He counted the reasons on his fingers, effusing while Haru shook his head with a tiny huff. He watched Matsuoka whistle and copy a floating cherry blossom petal with his arms, and Haru knew that he wasn’t wrong; the cherry blossom tree was tall, majestic, and certainly beautiful. Even without its pink spring coat it still looked dignified, even more aloof with its sharp branches. He just thought it was a little ridiculous of Matsuoka to praise it so much. Then again, Matsuoka was always ridiculous.

“—So how many petals fall into the pool when the cherry tree’s in bloom?" Rin asked, his voice just as keen as his gleaming eyes.

Haru contemplated his empty plate. “…It nearly covers the surface,” he said eventually, shrugging. “Maybe even more with the wind.”

“That’s so cool…!” Rin said in awe, laying his cheek between his arms against the table. “I really hope it blooms soon…” he sighed wistfully, watching the floating petals in his mind’s eye.

Haru watched Matsuoka’s blissful smile, brushing away his confusion with a little shrug. "…It’ll flower in a few months.”

Haru turned before he could see Matsuoka shuffle against his arms, and his smile becoming a little different. A little subdued.

“…Yeah…” Rin murmured, suddenly looking fatigued with his lidded eyes.

He moved his chin so he faced Haru’s back, realising that he was taking away the empty plates.

“—Ah, hey!” Rin uncrossed his legs, the chopsticks and dishes with mackerel remains clattering as he picked them up. “Lemme help!”

Haru turned, perplexed. “You’re the guest.” he reminded, but Rin was already beside him and going for the sink.

“It’s fine!” Rin firmly shook his head, already rolling up his sleeves. “I wanna help out!”

Haru stared as he put everything in the sink, looking between the plate in his hands and Matsuoka whistling a merry tune. He yielded with a small exhale as Rin turned on the hot water, going beside Matsuoka to join him.

“Hey, Nanase,” Rin bumped his shoulder into Haru’s, drawing his glance. “You know that rainbow I made the other day in the pool?”

His eyes grew at Rin’s expectant smile, and Haru thought back to the sparkle of the rainbow in Matsuoka’s splash. He had brought his hands up to see if he could feel the glittering colour, and his gaze ended up at Matsuoka’s open, pure laughter.

“…Yeah,” he said, continuing to scrub his sponge into the lather. “What about it?”

“What if I made one in a cherry blossom pool?”

Rin’s boyish excitement for something so embarrassing made Haru fumble with his plate. He craned his head towards Matsuoka, to check whether he still had that long, happy grin while saying it.

He did.

“Romantic, right?”

Haru tilted a brow in disbelief, confused all over again at Rin’s eyes crinkling in an infectious smile.

Sure enough, when they were going to bury their trophy, the sky would be a faded blue when Matsuoka said that again. At that time, Haru would look away out of exasperation, and something else entirely…

“No response, huh?” Rin clicked his tongue, already washing his chopsticks again when Haru blinked back to reality. “Well, it’d be awesome, anyway,” he promised, turning to give Haru a gentler smile. “I’m sure even you’d like it when you see it, Nanase!”

Haru stared at the faucet between Rin’s soapy hands, feeling something…other than disappointment, with how much Matsuoka was throwing him off. Something foreign.

He wondered if that was the point of sleepovers, before he jerked his head back to his flooding basin.


“So your yearbook thing’s gonna be about water?” Rin asked, rolled over on his elbow with an inquisitive pout.

“…Yeah,” Haru shrugged, turning to Rin with a softer look than he was used to. “What about you?”

“Me?”

“Your yearbook essay.”

“A-Ah…!” Rin looked away with a nervous smile, scratching his cheek. “Well, uh, y’see…” he stuttered, before he turned back with a broad grin. “That’s a secret for now. You’ll hafta wait and read it for yourself!”

Haru raised a brow at Rin’s confident wink and wagging finger, before he remembered his apathy with a shrug. “…Fine.”

“But maybe if you swim in the relay~” Rin teased, shooting his hands up in defence when Haru glared at him. “Kidding, kidding! You gotta stop bein’ so serious all the time, Nanase!” Rin advised, nodding at his prudent words as he fell back onto Haru’s mattress. “How are you gonna enjoy stuff if you’re always so frowny?”

“Frowny…?”

“Yeah, frowny!” he insisted, rolling his head over so he could face Nanase sitting at the end of the bed. “You, Nanase,” Rin pointed, "Are a frowny guy,” he said, holding a solemn expression while pressing Haru’s cheek. “Either that or you’re poker-faced.”

“Don’t poke me.” Haru muttered, swatting Rin’s hand so it flopped back onto the bed.

“I’ll do what I want.” Rin stuck his tongue out, before he let his head bounced back onto the bed, his red hair splaying all around his thoughtful pout.

Haru silently watched him stare up at the ceiling, suddenly feeling like he became privy to a much more docile Matsuoka in that moment. Though he brushed it off as a joke earlier, he knew Matsuoka always held a pressing aura when it came to the relay. The same sort of air someone has when they need homework done before a looming deadline. A desperation, if Haru had to put it.

Haru found himself on the verge of giving the medley relay some real consideration. He wondered if it would be as bothersome as he had thought, how Matsuoka would react, before he flinched at a echoing groan.

“Nanase~!” Rin whined, tossing and turning on the bed. “We should play a game~!” Rin kicked his feet up without rhythm.

“Like what?” Haru asked.

Rin would’ve beamed at finally seeing Nanase looking curious instead of pulling a face, but he had to think of a game first.

“Something like…” Rin trailed off, rolling his head around in thought. “…Ahhh, I don’t know!” he groaned, sitting up in a frown. “But I’m gonna think of something!”

He bent over to rummage in his duffel, while Haru looked down and curled his toes in genuine consideration. He didn’t know when the feeling started to change, but their sleepover felt less and less like obliging Matsuoka. Somewhere along the way, Haru found himself glancing over more than usual, trying to actually get to know this loud, troublesome guy.

Haru pivoted his neck to the sound of a rustle, and he spotted Matsuoka pulling out a red box.

“…Pocky?”

“Nah,” Rin shook his head, showing it to Haru more clearly. “Pretz. I don’t like sweet stuff.” he shrugged, tearing the box-top open. He ripped open the packet inside, pulling out one of the sticks and heartily crunching on it. “Want some?”

Haru looked up to Matsuoka tilting his head, half a Pretz stick dangling from his mouth as he held out the box to him. Eventually he nodded, wordlessly taking a stick as Rin chuckled.

“You’re welcome.” he teased, picking out another Pretz as Haru turned to him.

“Oh—Thanks.” he said, relaxing again when Matsuoka waved him off.

Haru turned back to his Pretz, staring at it while he rolled it between his fingers. He traced the dark, brown indents along the biscuit, feeling it smooth beneath the tip of his thumb. Then his brow knitted in curiosity while he studied the Pretz, vaguely recalling a game that he and Matsuoka could play.

Though, it wasn’t to do with Pretz, specifically…

“…Matsuoka.”

“Yeah?” Rin turned his head, some dust of Pretz at his lip while he swallowed. “What’s up?”

“I think…I thought of a game.” Haru said, still pouting in thought.

A smile overtook Rin’s features. “Really? What is it, what is it?” he asked, his voice growing with excitement. He crawled over so he was on his shins at the floor, looking up at Haru sitting on the bed.

“No, well—” Haru huffed again, the name on the tip of his tongue. “I’ve heard of the name, but I can’t remember—”

“—It’s fine, it’s fine!” Rin said breezily, waving a hand. “Just tell me the name. I’ve probably heard of it!” he said, his lilt eager while Haru still gazed at his Pretz.

“Okay,” he said, finally looking at Rin’s waiting smile. “I think it’s called…” he looked to the side, chewing his lip before his brow quirked up in a question. “The…Pocky Game…?”

The way that Rin’s smile dragged off of his lips was stunning. First, it chipped away a second after Haru’s voice trailed off, and his eyes grew round with processing those three words like hearing taboo. Then it morphed into a straight line for a moment, and Haru saw his face blank and confused. After that, all too quickly, his mouth began to hang open. Then it went wider and even trembled, as his face gradually flooded with a fresh, pink blush.

“Wh-Wh-Wh—!” Rin blathered, his lips screwed up in terror as his eyes went strained with an infectious panic.

“M-Matsuoka,” Haru started, leaning over with his features sharpening in worry. “What’s wrong—?”

“I-I-Idiot!!” Rin yelled, pushing himself back while his hand hid his raging blush. “What are you—?! You can’t just—! You don’t go around saying—!!”

“What?” Haru’s eyes flitted over Rin’s desperate face, feeling completely lost. “What is it?”

We can’t play that!!” Rin nearly screamed. “We’re—” he blinked, and swallowed. “We’re both guys!! We can’t play the Pocky Game!” he yelled, breathing hard while Haru goggled him. “We can’t…” Rin’s eyes cast down, and he started to mumble through his thick flush. “…We can’t just—”

“What’s the Pocky Game?”

Rin’s hand fumbled at his cheek, and he froze. He jerked his head up like he turned into machine, blinking lifelessly at Nanase’s curious face.

“—Eh?”

“The Pocky Game,” Haru repeated, focusing onto Rin’s shocked eyes. “How do you play it? Is it fun or not?” he pressed, completely earnest as Rin slowly put himself together again.

“…Ohhhh!” Rin slapped his hand to his cheek, sighing in a loud relief. “I get it, I get it! Jeez, y’nearly scared me…”

Haru tilted a brow at how Rin shook his head when he said it under his breath. He reserved judgement for Matsuoka’s knowing smirk and the way he shuffled up closer.

So, you wanna learn how to play?”

“Mm,” Haru nodded with resolution. His set features moulded into a frown when Rin laughed behind his hand. “What’s so funny…?”

You’ll see, you’ll see~”

Rin peeked up at Nanase sulking at his airy assurance, grinning rascally before he settled onto his knees better. He placed his palms at his lap like a refined teacher, putting on an aloof pout that drew Haru’s wary squint.

“—The way of the Pocky Game…” Rin began dramatically, plucking Nanase’s Pretz from his fingers and fluidly gesturing to it.

He shoved the Pretz into his mouth. Haru made a face at Rin gracelessly cramming it down.

“—Or,” he shrugged, munching. “In this case, the Pretz Game,” he corrected with a scoff, and Haru frowned at his loud swallow. “—Is when!” he shot up a finger, making Haru start. “…Two people…“ he said, showing two fingers with a theatric tone. “Take a Pretz—”

He stretched out his hand to the side, curling his fingers in the packet so he unsheathed a Pretz like a revered blade. Haru’s lip pressed into an impatient frown while Rin kept his smug grin.

“And one person puts an end at their mouth, like so—”

He put the Pretz at his lips like a cigarette, lightly biting into the end so it dangled towards Haru, who was still watching intently.

“And the other—” he said between his teeth, impishly raising a brow at Haru. “Bites…the other end.”

He made a teasing chomp, and Haru’s eyes blew out, and he blushed to the tip of his ears.

“Then, both of them eat the Pretz…” he explained slowly, hiding his grin at Haru’s mortified, entranced gaze as he bit into the stick. “And they get closer…and closer…” Rin took a large bite with each pause, devouring the Pretz with a menace like retelling a frightening tale. “Until…they…”

Rin only had an inch of his Pretz left, and he daintily placed his finger at the tip.

—Kiss!”

He pushed in the Pretz with one last bite, munching the savoury biscuit while Haru was almost reeling in shock.

“And the first person to break the kiss,” he droned, smacking his fingertips as he tilted a brow. “Loses.”

Haru’s eyes went hard with revelation, his fists balled as he watched Matsuoka coolly brush his fingers at his shirt.

“And that,” Rin declared, flicking up the corner of his shirt collar. “Is how you play the Pretz game.” he concluded with a flourishing bow, peeking up to Haru holding his chin and steeped in thought.

“…Oh…”

Haru was still facing the floor, narrowing his eyes while Matsuoka clutched his stomach and started to bubble with peals of laughter.

Seriously, Nanase,” he guffawed, wiping his invisible tears away. “I thought you were tryna embarrass me, but then you didn’t even know what it was!” he proclaimed, chuckling in boyish disbelief while Haru slowly let his finger fall from his lip. “But then again,” Rin let out a haughty sigh, as if Nanase would always be so hopeless. “I forgot that you never make jokes, so—”

“—So you would lose.”

Rin stopped talking.

A moment passed where the waves crashed along the distant shore, the sky was gradating from its baby blue to mimic the cosy waters as the trees rustled with the chimes of birds. The world ticked by outside Nanase’s bedroom door, rolling along before time resumed by Rin craning his neck up.

Haru’s stare was as level and blue as ever.

“…Huh?”

It was the only noise Rin could manage with his mind slowly creeping out the back door of his sanity. But Nanase watched him closely, his mouth opening from its set line to a quiet voice filled with a inane, childish resolve.

“…If we played…” he deliberated, studying Matsuoka’s fixed eyes flooding with red. “…You would lose.”

“…Pft!”

Rin rocked back onto the floor with a healthy bark, giving Nanase’s solemn frown a good view of his clutched side. After a good minute of rolling on the floor in a sniggering fit, Matsuoka propped himself up with his elbows. His chest heaved from the ghost of his laughter as he raised an incredulous brow.

“D’you know what you’re saying, Nanase?” he asked, genuinely wondering if Nanase missed the sheer funniness of what he just said.

“…Yeah.” Haru nodded slowly, as if patiently teaching Rin how vastly incorrect he was.

He watched Rin push himself up with his hands, his face visibly more serious than seconds before.

You think that if I played against you,” he drawled, like clarifying a dodgy alibi while Haru gazed down at Matsuoka defiantly pointing at his nose. “I would lose?”

Haru nodded. “Yes.”

“—No I wouldn’t!” Rin burst out. “I’d win so easy!”

“No,” Haru shook his head, composed and stubborn as always. “I would.”

Rin would have flinched at Nanase’s palpable will, if he hadn’t held his own with a clenched jaw.

“You’re wrong!” he growled, baring his canines as his eyes sparked red with irritation.

“No,” Haru responded tersely, his hard, blue gaze just as unyielding. “I’m not.”

“You are.”

“Am not.”

“You are!”

“Am not!”

“You are!!”

“Am not!”

They leaned in closer with each adamant jeer, both radiating with utter annoyance that the other one just wouldn’t get it.

“You wouldn’t win against me!” Rin yelled, daring Nanase to retaliate his belligerent glare.

“You wouldn’t win against me.”

His sober words made Matsuoka chew on his lip, stewing in a boiling frustration at Nanase’s (completely wrong) ego.

“…That’s it!

Haru’s brow shot up in surprise, barely spotting Matsuoka’s arm shooting behind himself.

“I’m gonna prove to you,” he declared, whipping up his box of Pretz. “That I’m gonna win every time—” he instantly got onto his feet, furiously climbing onto the bed next to Haru’s nonplussed frame. “—No matter what!” he shouted, sitting cross-legged so the mattress bounced with vigour.

Haru stared up and down Matsuoka like he had finally gone crazy, stopping at the pure staunchness loud in Rin’s eyes.

“C’mon, Nanase!” he jibed, nearly crushing the Pretz box in his hand when he thrust it out. “Show me your best!”

Haru looked down to study the packet, gaping with Pretz sticks towards him. He looked back up to Matsuoka’s obstinate frown, and he pressed his lip in a huff.

“Alright,” Haru muttered, swiping up a Pretz stick. “You asked for it.”

“Hehe!” Rin smirked proudly, snatching the stick up from Haru’s hand. “I’m gonna make you eat your words!” he vowed, placing the Pretz between his teeth.

“Hmph,” Haru gave a sullen look, repositioning himself so he was on his shins and closer to Matsuoka. “As if.”

He waited a moment as Rin got onto his knees, making their postures more comfortable on the bed as they kneeled to face each other.

“Go for it.” Rin said in a muffle, his brow strained with concentration as his teeth held the Pretz in place.

“Alright,” Haru nodded in recognition, bending down so his lips touched the end of the Pretz. “…Bite it properly.” he frowned, feeling the Pretz shift at his lips.

“I am, I am!” he insisted through a grunt, nudging the Pretz into the side of Nanase’s lip. “You gotta bite the other end, y’know!”

Haru rolled his eyes before catching the other end of the biscuit with his teeth, pointedly ignoring Matsuoka’s exasperated mutter of ‘finally’.

They were inches away from each other’s face with the length of Pretz between their lips. The roast flavour tasted savoury and plain at the edge of their teeth, and they gradually bit into the Pretz to reach in closer. But the only reason their cheeks were pinking was from their strain of effort, both dead set on not revealing so much as a millisecond of hesitation.

They took nibbles of the Pretz in alternation, their fists weeping with tension at their laps as the gaps between their mouths shrunk little by little. Matsuoka’s brow was bunched together in a buzzing stress while Haru’s lip was pursed and his eyes sharp, lidded as he looked down at the Pretz dwindling with each chew they took. His eyes shot up when Matsuoka readjusted his lap on the mattress, feeling the shift in the Pretz at his lip as he nudged his head to bite a little closer. Soon, he could hear the tiny puffs of Matsuoka’s breath, streaming from his nose and warming at his lip. It sounded a little shaky next to the thumps of his own heart, insistent at his ribcage as he took another bite and—

The Pretz snapped.

Agh!”

Rin pulled back, sourly looking down at the remnant of his Pretz hanging down from his teeth. The sudden break in concentration almost rattled Haru, but he gathered himself with a roll of his shoulders. He pushed the inch of Pretz he had left into his mouth, enjoying what he could of it with a few quick munches. He eyed Matsuoka angrily chewing his Pretz, drawing out another one from the packet.

“I’m not gonna back out of this.” Rin reminded. He gave a crabby pout as he neared, his knees beginning to graze by Haru’s smooth ones.

“Me neither.” Haru shot back, sharp with attention as Rin bit onto the end of his Pretz again.

They bit into the stick a slight more in time, knowing what to expect as their backs gently curved in as they ate their Pretz. Haru had to switch between gulping what he ate and inching closer. A tiny ache blossomed at the angle of his neck keeping his head upright, as he leaned in towards Matsuoka’s mouth. Their chews were barely audible, soft and deliberate as they edged into the middle, where their lips were a breath away. Haru found himself staring down at Matsuoka’s lips while checking the progress of their Pretz.

They were pink. Smooth. Pressed in thin lines as they parted and closed around the Pretz that inched into his mouth with each nibble.

Knowing his own lips were eventually going to touch Matsuoka’s, Haru quickly darted his vision to anywhere but his grim prospects. He found Rin’s lidded eyes, cast down towards the Pretz. They glittered with a fiery intensity, his thin eyebrows scrunched together as he moved even closer.

Suddenly, Haru felt a rise of unease, and it welled up inside him when he stopped biting.

He stared at Matsuoka tensing up at the Pretz jolting, and Haru watched his eyes flicked up to meet his own soft, blue, and wide.

Matsuoka must have felt warm, he thought, because his face slowly tinted as his eyes opened a little wider. Haru’s focus darted to Matsuoka’s lips, that drooped open in a consuming surprise and—

The Pretz fell out of their mouths.

Argh!”

Rin threw up his hands while Haru blinked, staring down at the inch of Pretz that bounced onto his lap.

“—Another.” Haru blurted out, regaining his composure in a blink.

“I know, I know…!” Rin blustered, digging for another Pretz. “Seriously, you gotta stop droppin’ them like that…!”

“It fell out of your mouth too.”

Rin only grumbled under his breath before he put another biscuit up, showing his annoyance with a firm bite as Haru’s teeth caught the other end.

They fell back into their tentative rhythm with the Pretz; gentle nibbles interspersed with audible bites as they delicately handled the brittle stick between their lips.

“You’re gonna lose so fast…” Rin taunted, his voice muffled as he gnawed closer with a smug grin.

“I’m not.” Haru drew his brows together in a mutter, but he still inched forward.

“Or do you really wanna kiss me?”

Rin’s tease rattled Haru to the core, and he felt a new wash of irritation twist unpleasantly in his stomach. He redirected it by fisting the blankets, his next bite on the Pretz sounding a little louder in his ringing ears. But Haru’s quiet defiance didn’t faze him; it slipped by Matsuoka’s notice as he continued poking fun at him.

“Admit it, Nanase,” Rin jeered, his nervous chuckle reaching through the Pretz. “You just wanna try kissin’ me~!” he sing-songed, smacking his lips mockingly with the next few pecks.

“Knock it off.”

Haru looked up after his cold mutter, and Matsuoka’s face was steeped in a mortified blush. His lip twisted before he barked in a shaky defiance.

“Well I don’t wanna kiss you either,” he snorted, puffing over Haru’s lips as he bit closer. “I’m show you how much I’m better than you!” he declared, as boldly as he could without breaking the Pretz again.

“—Not a chance.”

Haru could see Rin’s muffled growl with suffocating clarity, from the scrunch of his ruby eyes to the twitch in his smooth lip.

“I told you,” Rin took a sharp chomp. “I’m going to wi—nn!”

They suddenly jolted when their mouths touched, brushing with only a centimetre of Pretz lodged between their clamped lips. Their cheeks started to strain with tightness, flooding with sheer red as their knuckles went white at the blankets. A buzzing heat crawled up from the base of their skulls as Rin’s eyes were frantic between their kiss and Haru’s dazed, unblinking ones.

Haru reined his embarrassment in with a set frown, his cheeks and brow squeezing in a struggling flush. He grabbed Matsuoka’s stiff arms and shut his eyes, ignoring his yelp as he pressed in. Haru squashed their lips together even more firmly, eating the remainder of Pretz as Rin trembled in his kneel.

Mn—!”

His eyes were threatening to bulge out of their sockets at Nanase’s furrowed brow being so close, and the feeling of his lips bursting at Nanase’s pressing ones. He swallowed back a tiny gasp as his fingers and toes curled in on themselves, his blush seeping to the roots of his hair. At the snap reflex of wanting to pull away, his face twisted into a knotting frown, feeling a bout of shame for even contemplating backing down.

“I-I’m…not—”

Rin’s words were smothered against Nanase’s lips, and he wrenched his eyes to a resolute shut.

“Gonna—”

Rin’s head cocked back the slightest when he gulped, his cheeks burning as he brought up his shaking hands. He winced when he thought ‘dammit’, because Nanase held onto his arms tighter.

“—Lose…!”

He gripped the arms of Haru’s windbreaker, pushing his head in so their noses threatened to bunch up together. He felt a small triumph at Nanase jolting at his hands, feeling some relief that he wasn’t the only one feeling so…jumpy, while flattening their pursed lips together.

“Me…” Haru murmured, staying stock-still as his lips struggled to stay puckered. “…Neither…”

They were rooted to the spot, not even twitching a muscle as their faces stayed together, contorted as if they were in the middle of eating raw lemons. Rin managed to peel his eye open a slit, starting a bit at Nanase’s fraught expression through the veil of his lashes. Then Rin thought about how much his own cheeks hurt, and wasn’t as surprised anymore.

Rin winced at imagining how couples could bear with this; kissing was just plain uncomfortable. He had to make sure not to move too much otherwise that brushing, tingly feeling would come back in his body again, especially at his mouth. It wasn’t like Rin couldn’t handle it; he was twelve already! But it was a really new feeling. Also, feeling that sort of thing (while kissing Nanase, to boot) kneaded his insides and made his fingers hot, kind of like having a fever. And Rin never liked having a fever.

Not to mention, besides that uncomfortably warm feeling, there wasn’t anything terribly romantic about kissing. Maybe because it was with Nanase instead of a girl, but it like he was testing the temperature of his steak at his mouth for too long. And, when Rin occasionally thought about kissing (for a moment), he always thought it would taste…special. Not sweet, because Rin didn’t like sweet things, but…something nice. Right now, though, Nanase just tasted—he didn’t even know—plain. Rin thought that it would taste better than this—

Kissing. Not Nanase’s mouth, obviously.

“…You taste weird.”

Haru’s eyes cracked open at Matsuoka’s stifled mutter, spotting his screwed brow and his vision focused on the mattress.

“…You taste salty.” Haru retorted through rosy cheeks, the corner of his lip shifting as he spoke to make up for not opening his mouth. Considering his lips were stiff against Matsuoka’s, he felt remarkably relaxed enough to counter. He pulled his gaze up to meet Matsuoka’s red, glittering with dismay.

“B-Because,” Rin huffed while shuffling on his knees, trying to be comfortable while talking against Nanase’s mouth. “We were just eating Pretz, dummy…!”

Haru rolled his eyes to the side, moving his own knees around so he could wait for Matsuoka to lose more easily. A smarting feeling welled up in his throat every time Rin moved his mouth like he was going to say something, then closed it again. It kept making Haru want to flinch, to sprint out of the room away from Matsuoka, his Pretz, and his unsettling, feathery lips. But that was silly, because they were in his house. If anything, Matsuoka should have been the one to make himself scarce from Haru. He was the one making him…on edge, after all.

But he couldn’t let it show, not unless he wanted to lose. He would even turn down one of Baa-san’s mackerel in order to win against Matsuoka (one of them).

Speaking of which, one of them had to break the kiss in order to lose.

He nudged Rin out of impatience, inviting his curious scowl.

“When are you going to pull away…?” Haru asked through a sulk, frowning deeper when that stoking flame came back in Matsuoka’s eyes.

Never,” Rin growled. “Not until…you…” he grimaced, trying to hold back his lips from moving too much. “Go first.”

No,” Haru hurled back, and Matsuoka pulled a face at his unyielding tone. “I’m…” Haru started in effort, puffing through his nose to maintain his breath. “—Staying.”

Haru ignored Matsuoka’s annoyed groan and chose to settle back into their rigid kiss. His eyes were still a pinch open, and could only take in Matsuoka’s face since he was so irritatingly close. He studied how Rin’s cheeks seemed swollen. Puffy and red, like he had eaten something bad. The tips of his lashes peeked out of his squeezed eyes, that were already shadowed by the claret tufts of his bangs that tickled his own nose. A strange feeling rose up in his stomach when he saw Matsuoka crinkle his nose, and felt his lips shift in time with his little pucker. Haru couldn’t push down the feeling suffusing up through his cheeks, so he closed his eyes to try to block the incessant warmth out.

Rin felt how chapped his lips were against Nanase’s, feeling the skin on his mouth slightly crackling in a shift. He pulled his lips in a moment to lick them a touch, and Haru was at a complete loss when they popped out a little wetter and softer. More like flower petals against his still lips. His intent grip at Rin’s arms softened a fraction, slipping down as he closed his eyes, letting a long sigh out of his nose.

They stayed in lip-lock for what felt like hours but could only have been minutes, and Haru felt a sweat collect at his palms bunching the sheets, his muscles hurting at his face before Rin spoke up.

“H-Hey, Nanase,” Rin floundered, and Haru opened his eyes to his nervous look. “Let’s—” he gulped, his voice thick beneath Haru’s lips. “Let’s call it a tie.”

Haru was about to object, before he clammed up at Rin’s eyes shining as he tugged on the sleeve of his windbreaker.

Haru’s eyes cast to the side, but he didn’t pull away so fast. “…Fine.”

Their mouths released with a gentle smack as they broke apart at the same time, a cool relief sweeping their backs from sitting up straight again. They avoided looking at each other; Haru turned to the window as he kneeled back, lightly wiping his mouth with the cuff of his windbreaker. If he squinted, he could tell that the afternoon was fraction less bright than before. To his chagrin, Haru could only focus on half-heartedly rubbing away the feeling of Matsuoka’s lips, the itchy sensation staying at his mouth like a stain.

Haru turned back to suggest something else before he paused, really taking in the sight of Matsuoka kneeling on his bed. Rin was looking away from him, his eyes pointed down in a subdued frown. The fresh hue of his cheeks rivalled that of his bangs as he hid his lips with his fist, his other hand rubbing his arm in a soothing motion, visibly trying to calm the trembling in his fingers. His hair hid his eyes some more as he tilted his head down, gulping quickly as he held onto his forearm. His frame curled in a foreign vulnerability that made Haru’s steadfast heart take pause, making Haru forget the numbness seeping into his shins as he spotted the box of Pretz.

“…Go again.”

The rawness of his own voice was surprising; it sounded unused, like he had just woken up. He held his throat in a small cough, tilting his chin down as Rin jerked his head up with widening eyes, his fist sinking from his pink mouth.

“H-Huh?”

“Let’s go again,” Haru repeated, facing Rin’s open surprise with determination. “I said I’d beat you.”

Rin started when Haru stretched over towards him, but relaxed a slight when he pulled back into his kneel. When his eyes found the Pretz box waiting in Nanase’s hand, he tensed all over again. He blinked at the box and its silver packet, housing the Pretz like fortune sticks to be drawn.

Rin looked up to Haru to check if he was serious, and obviously he was, his gaze resolved and his lips a little glossier from their kiss. When Nanase raised an expectant brow, Rin clenched his fists, blindly missing the colour on Haru’s composed face.

“…F-Fine!” Rin stammered, his wilful pride coming back in full swing as he dug into the packet. “We’ll go again!” he announced without reserve, his teeth latching onto the Pretz as he leaned forward on his hands again.

Haru’s lips caught the other end with practice, and the heat of competition stirring in Rin’s gut faltered as they started to close in again. Rin dimly wondered if he could feel so full from lunch and a few sticks of Pretz. His stomach and cheeks felt so bloated as he pecked at the Pretz, and both started to twist a little further when Nanase bit closer at the same time.

Focus… Rin pursed his lips, biting closer. You’re gonna prove Nanase wrong, and win while you’re at it!

His vision flicked down to crumbs of Pretz powdering Nanase’s mouth, the morsels sticking out like sore thumbs against his smooth lip.

—Gah! Rin shook his head with a tiny rustle. Focus…!

It was inevitable that within another half-minute of chewing their lips were touching again, but it didn’t ease the bristle of their skin from that constant tingle returning. They tried to get more comfortable as usual, shuffling their knees so they weren’t pressed together, occasionally rolling the stiffness out of their shoulders and backs. If Haru closed his eyes, he could imagine some fatty, mackerel sashimi at his mouth instead of Matsuoka. Only mackerel sashimi didn’t smell of roast Pretz, and…

“Why do you smell like strawberries?”

Haru’s brow quirked to a small wind coming from Matsuoka’s fluttering lashes. Before he could have time to ponder how thick and long Matsuoka’s lashes really were, his eyes rounded at Rin’s blowing wide in mortification, and realised it was possible for him to get even redder.

“That’s—! I-I—!!” Rin’s eyes darted to the side, his words stumbling over Haru’s lips. “I…The only shampoo in the house belongs to my mom and sis…!” he explained with as much clarity as he could muster, miraculously staying in their kiss while trying to maintain face. “P-Plus, it doesn’t smell…too bad…” he muttered, a new kind of shame eating at him when Nanase kept innocently staring at him. “N-N-Not like I like it or anything! I just use it ‘cause like my hair clean, and—!!”

Haru shrugged. “Alright.”

It should have been comical how Haru’s words were barely understandable, stifled by Rin’s mouth. But he blinked in a small daze at seeing Haru’s unconcern up close. Even though he never recalled Nanase judging him before, he still let his jaw hang a hair loose.

“What…?”

“I was just wondering. It’s no big deal,” Haru explained, readjusting his kneel again. “…Strawberries smell good anyway.”

Rin stilled into another trance, wondering if he had the right to feel confused for any reason apart from his mouth touching Nanase’s.

“O-Oh…” Rin looked down so his eyes caught on his duffel. He slowly tucked some of his bangs beside his ear, letting his hand fall to sheepishly rub his nape. “O…Okay…”

Rin’s hand eventually fell back to his lap, and either of them would have nodded if that didn’t mean breaking apart their lips’ connection. So they eased back into their motionless kiss, making sure they didn’t accidentally lose by pulling away. They both learned to dull their awareness by closing their eyes, sinking into an allaying darkness while they quietly breathed through their noses. The prickling sensation from their lips subsided from their still bodies; it started to feel like kissing a brick instead of a rival, and with a small puff of relief they both thought they would last longer.

Though there was one thing that was niggling Haru at that point: the bits of Pretz at Matsuoka’s mouth.

He knew they could both feel the hard crumbs lodged between their lips. In fact, most of them were on Matsuoka’s mouth, who was just letting them stay there and crumble to make Haru’s lips dirty in turn. He didn’t want to tell Rin, because the prickling had just settled down and he didn’t want to rouse it again. He also knew Matsuoka wouldn’t pull away to rub them off, even though he would offer a pause. And he certainly wouldn’t pull away either, but the sharp little biscuits were getting on his nerves.

As they stayed together longer, Haru became immeasurably frustrated. And his frustration culminated in a need to get rid of those annoying crumbs.

Haru tried to relax and parted his lips a fraction. They clasped over the crumbs, and he began suckling them into his own mouth.

Rin nearly jumped off the mattress.

Na—!” Rin gulped. “N-Nanase…!”

Haru came to a dead stop at Rin’s sudden, warning keen. His eyes were hard with confusion as he looked to Matsuoka’s cheeks growing bright again.

“Wh-What’s wrong…?” Haru asked, searching for the reason behind Matsuoka’s distressed reddening.

Rin’s eyes were blown wide in consuming alarm, his nerves starting to scream with that acute tingling again when Nanase kissed his lip. His mouth flapped open in an attempt to speak, but for a moment he only felt how his stinging lip felt wetter after Nanase actually kissed it.

“D-Don’t…” Rin rasped, swallowing to find his reproach. “Don’t do that…!”

Haru frowned. “Do what…?” he muttered, confusion painted in his eyes.

“Wh-What—?! You just—!”

Rin looked around in an irritated fluster, appalled that Nanase didn’t know what he just did to him. His heart rate already shot to the sky when Haru really kissed him, instead of staying there like a statue (like he should’ve). Now it was getting quick with irritation, and Rin felt his fingers clench with an upset frown.

Stupid Nanase…! Rin snarled as he grabbed hold of Haru’s shoulders again, his blood feeling hot like he just finished a sprint, as his narrowed eyes pierced into Haru’s wide. Doing that out of nowhere, without even knowing…!

“—This!!”

Rin choked for a moment before he closed his eyes, intently kissing Haru’s bottom lip. He caught it between his own and lightly suckled it, tensing in concentration as Haru blenched against his hold. His temperature bolted to the ceiling as Rin drew the flesh of his lip in, every hair standing on end as he clasped onto Rin’s jacket with a desperate strength.

“M-Matsuo—mnh!”

Rin’s pressed in even closer at hearing his name, and his features squeezed in a bull-headed focus. Rin leaned in to kiss his lip some more, wanting nothing but Nanase to just shut up and lose already.

Rin never disliked Nanase, but his annoyance reached its peak; with him, with Pretz, his lips, everything. So it was all coming out in his frustrated kiss, set out to make Nanase feel just as confused as he was feeling for what seemed like forever.

Nn—”

Haru’s hold faltered as he kept kissing his lip, and it felt like he was melting when Matsuoka just kept doing it. The itching sensation at Haru’s mouth spread like wildfire through his nerves, and he wasn’t used to its strength sapping the one out of his limbs at all.

He felt so lost, because everything was getting too warm too fast. But at the same time he kept wanting to feel it, how Rin was tugging in his swelling lip and how warm everything was feeling.

“Mh…”

It was nothing like swimming, where the water was cool and reassuring around him, and everything in the background became muted and distant. It was the exact opposite; like drowning in a huge flame when Rin kept softening his bottom lip, with little smacks that sounded deafening to Haru’s ears.

Ah—”

His breath would feel uncomfortably hot when he tried to gasp, but Rin would keep kissing him and he’d have to puff through his nose instead. A sharp warmth stabbed his body every time Rin pulled his lip in with a kiss, and Haru felt something lodge in his throat that came out sounding a little strangled each time.

Was Matsuoka angry with him? Was this what you do to someone you were angry with? Kiss them a lot?

At thinking about how overwhelmed he was feeling at Matsuoka’s hands, his eyes clenched with a last-ditch resolve.

He found a fresh clutch at Matsuoka’s shoulders, and he tilted his head up so his lips naturally pushed onto Rin’s top one. Haru drew his mouth together and nursed Rin’s upper lip, suckling it just like Matsuoka did for his lower one.

Yah—!”

Rin swallowed back a sudden whine when he started kissing him back, and he was sure he would’ve collapsed like jelly if Haru hadn’t grasped his shoulders so tightly. Rin quaked at the burst of heat pouring back again, while his heart pounded in his chest and crawled up to his throat.

“N-Nanase—”

Rin stuttered his name as his cheeks brimmed with high colour, his voice cracking with effort when Haru firmly kissed his lip. A startled mewl left his throat when Haru pulled his shoulders in, and their noses nearly mashed together as Rin’s hands slid forward so his elbows rested by his neck. Soon, Haru’s awkward grip on his shoulders morphed into a tentative hug, and Rin’s heart and breath fluttered in a sheer panic as Nanase kept kissing him.

They couldn’t have been kissing for the sake of competition anymore, because they were quickly losing their breath and that sensation was rushing back in waves. Rin swore his teeth were going to rattle out as he kissed Haru back, his hands trembling as he held his own wrists around Haru’s neck.

Haru thought he had a new bout of resolve when he squeezed Matsuoka closer, but it seemed to dissolve when Rin hugged around his neck so timidly. He held Rin like he was fragile, his kisses uncertain and growing a little wet. Haru’s heart started to swell and grow in his chest, in his eardrums, in his stomach, everywhere while it clenched at Rin’s stuttering, sighing breaths. A little part inside Haru that he never knew existed rose up from Matsuoka’s kiss; his hair tickling his nose, his choked sobs smothered against Haru’s own mouth. It stoked the warmth that Rin inspired in him; from his swimming, his kissing, his very presence itself.

He still had no idea what to do, what to make of this baffling game that he brought up and Matsuoka taught him. Yet it seemed so natural when Haru hugged him closer with a stifled grunt, like Rin was made of precious eggshells. Haru knew that he was mostly clueless about Rin, and was especially, definitely nervous about what to do from here on out. But Haru knew that he never wanted to hurt him, no matter how irritating or pig-headed Matsuoka could be as Haru embraced him with a deeper kiss.

Rin’s chest exploded with a wave of sensation, shuddering like a leaf at Haru pressing him close. Only this time, it felt so much more giddy as Rin felt Nanase’s strong body in a warm hug. And his kisses felt softer, less about trying to prove a point as they gently, completely disarmed Rin’s tension.

“Nanase…”

Rin sighed his name, and Haru held him tight.

All of a sudden, Rin felt an immense, untold joy. Joy that he was sharing his first kiss with Haru at their sleepover, and that Haru was hugging and kissing him back. After thinking that Nanase would never bat an eye at some excitable romantic in some swim meet, in his class, for so long, Rin was at his sleepover being kissed by him.

Then Rin remembered promising not to talk about the medley, about their few months together, about the box of Pretz forgotten beside them.

His joy plummeted into a hazy, sinking distress. His arms curled around Haru’s back tighter.

…Don’t lose…

Rin nearly whimpered from the strain at his chest.

…Please don’t lose…

Nanase…”

Rin immediately regretted his weak mumble as he kept kissing and clutching Haru, his eyes souring with the threat of tears at his new shame. Rin couldn’t tell him to take responsibility for his first kiss, because he never saw two guys going out before. And you were supposed to kiss the person you love on the mouth, and Rin was nervous at the thought of calling Haru by his first name.

Rin wasn’t sure if they were supposed to play this, if this was still a game, if they were still rivals, if he really loved him—he wasn’t sure of anything anymore.

A long breath streamed from Haru’s nose, and Rin’s watering eyes flitted open.

“…I’m sorry,” Haru reassured the back of his shoulders as he spoke softly, much more softly than Rin had ever heard him before. “Don’t cry…”

A tear spilled out as Rin choked up. It rolled down his souring cheek when he kissed Haru deeper, and it glistened at his jaw when Haru returned it in kind.

Their faces were stained tomato red against the sunset turning violet through the window, their kisses messy and amplified by the quiet of the room. Haru’s frown was focused and intense, etching into his features as he only thought of holding onto Matsuoka, and returning his fond, repeated kisses. Rin was only trying not to sound too loud while breathing through his nose, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to kiss Haru as long. And neither of them mentioned when one pulled away for millimetres to catch their breath more fully, registering how their lips pulsed like hearts with their constant kissing, before they carried on anyway.

While Haru parted his mouth for a well-needed breath, Rin slanted forward at the same time. The edge of his teeth caught the tip of Haru’s small tongue, just as it brushed his lip.

Mm—!”

They both stumbled back at a new surge of warmth, stunned as the sudden pop of their lips dispersed into staggered pants. Their balance tipped so they both sat back onto their rears, catching the bed so they didn’t fall all the way back. They stared at each other with wide eyes, taking in the scarlet of each other’s dark cheeks and puffed lips with a fresh daze.

“…N-Nanase—wah!

Rin quickly clapped his own mouth at drool trickling from his lips, quickly looking away to scrub it off in an overwhelming embarrassment. His knees drew up in a gripping shyness as he covered his face with his hands, letting his bangs sweep over the back of his fingers as he groaned. Not only did he feel unbearably hot from their kissing, but now Haru saw him slobbering like a little baby afterwards. He wanted to disappear off the face of the planet now…

Haru nudged his arm. “…Matsuoka.”

Rin peeked out of his fingers to see a tissue box floating in his vision, and he glanced up further to see Haru calmly gazing at him, even through his glowing complexion.

“…Thanks…”

Rin tugged out a few tissues to wipe his lips, and he could feel that they grew plump as he dabbed off his saliva. He was about to finish when his fingertips grazed by his own cheeks, and he paused when he found they were damp as well.

“Huh…?”

Rin tried to breathe through his nose, and it came out as a tiny sniffle. Tears that warmed his burning cheeks were coming down in rivulets as he blinked, and he felt confused and ashamed all over again as his lip shuddered in fear. He resolutely turned away from Nanase’s worried eye, bunching up his tissues in his hand to hide his tears. Rin only stopped when the mattress shift, and he felt a palm at his shoulder.

“Nana—nf!”

His eyes squeezed as his face met Haru’s shoulder, and his cheek rolled against the collar of his windbreaker.

He kept sniffling instead of breathing. He couldn’t stop sniffling even though he tried, even though his tears pooled onto Haru’s swim club jacket. He felt like a huge baby for feeling bad and crying, but his whimpering took pause when he felt Nanase shyly stroke his hair.

“Don’t cry, Matsuoka…” he murmured, and he curled his arm around Rin’s back more firmly. “I’m sorry…please don’t cry…”

Rin was sure he wouldn’t have been able to hear Haru if he wasn’t mumbling into his ear and hugging him. But he felt that airy joy bloom in his chest again even while he was crying, and he made sure to hug him back properly. Even though his body was rumbling with quiet sobs, and his fingers probably dug too hard into Haru’s jacket, he felt a lot better than he ever did before.

He was hiccupping into the wet patch at Haru’s shoulder; those annoying hiccups you couldn’t push down that came from crying. Rin hated them, and felt even more terrible when he felt some gloopy snot smearing onto Haru’s jacket. But Haru acted like he didn’t notice it at all, and just kept patting his hair and hugging him.

Haru realised was still holding the tissue box over Rin’s shoulder. He pulled back with his hand on Rin’s elbow as he offered it again, watching his button nose speckled red as he sniffed. Haru felt strangely upset as Rin pulled out a few tissues: one to gingerly wipe Haru’s shoulder and another to blow his nose in a scrunched honk. Haru kept pursing his lip when Rin balled the tissues up and dropped them into the bin at the foot of the bed, even when he put down his tissue box and Rin settled back into a kneel.

Haru remembered visiting a sauna before, and immediately leaving because of its stifling heat. Even though his bedroom didn’t glow red and they stopped kissing, it still felt really warm.

To him, Matsuoka almost looked like a deep cherry blossom petal; soft, red and pink. His eyes. His hair. His cheeks. Especially his mouth.

He thought about kissing Rin again, but he stopped with a deeper frown. Somehow, even though it felt really prickly, Haru decided that he liked kissing Matsuoka. Even though he could definitely be a pain at times. But kissing him made him cry, and Haru didn’t like seeing him cry at all. So it meant he couldn’t kiss him anymore.

Haru was thinking about what to do when he heard Matsuoka mumble: “…It’s empty.”

The rustling box seemed to dishearten Rin as he shook it. Haru studied Rin’s bottom lip pushing out in a frowning pout. Then he looked up to Rin turning to meet his gaze, and watched him jump in a sudden panic.

“N-Not that I wanted to…!” Rin squawked, slapping a hand to his neck. “I just—because we tied! N-Not that,” he looked down, his hand sliding off his neck so he could nervously push his fingers together. “Not that it was…just a game…” Rin hazarded, ruby eyes flicking up to Haru’s patient blue. When Rin saw him actually listening, he fell apart with a squeak all over again. “B-But I take my competitions seriously…! As well as my…my…” his frame shrunk with a weak gulp. “M-My first…ki…ki…!”

Rin wailed in frustration, his fluster smouldering as he buried his head in his hands again.

Gwahh, this is so embarrassing…!” he whined, dragging his hands down to his cheeks, so he could open his eyes. “My first kiss with my rival—!” he clammed up, shaking his head in anguish. “—A-And I don’t know if you even care that we kissed…!” he yelled, trying to scoff at the mattress but just coughing instead. “I-I mean, why would you care about…” his lips hurt from pressing them so tight, gradually unscrewing his eyes as he looked up. “A-About kissing me—”

The sparks were fleeting when Haru leaned in for a soft kiss.

They disappeared as quickly as they came when Haru pulled back. Rin went into shock, blinking at whether their lips actually brushed or if he dreamed it. He fingers floated up to his own lips, never recalling them being so ticklish as he searched Nanase’s composed bloom.

“—W-Wait, but,” Rin snatched his head down, still holding the empty Pretz. “We don’t have anymore—”

He nearly yelped when Haru’s fingers gently curled around his palm.

“I’ll take…” Haru mumbled, letting his fringe hide his eyes. “…Responsibility…”

His mouth fell open in a tremble when Haru held his hand tighter. A wispy breath left Rin’s lips as their eyes met again.

“…Ha…” He watched Haru look up, his eyes round as Rin swallowed again. “…Nanase—”

A shot of thunder crashed through the room.

Rin never toppled back so fast in his life. His stumble rocked the mattress as Haru jerked his head towards the window. He blinked at rain starting to stream against the rattling windowpane, blurring the sky outside as he turned back to Rin clutching his chest. His breath came in staggering pants as he gripped the bedsheets, gaping with frantic red eyes.

Their heads swivelled to the knocking door.

“—Are you boys alright?”

Rin quickly gulped. “—We’re fine, Obaa-sama!”

“Y—” Haru beat his chest with a cough, before he called to her muffled voice.“Yeah, Baa-san…!” he reassured, his eyes trained on the doorknob.

“That was a frightful thunderclap just now,” she remarked, worry seeping into her muffled tone. “I know Haru-kun doesn’t mind them, but will you be okay, Matsuoka-kun?”

Haru looked over to Rin’s blush quickly going pale, the shudder in his lip prominent.

I’m—I’m fine!” he nodded briskly. “Thank you for the concern!”

“Alright…” she sighed, relief smoothing her voice. “I’ll be downstairs if you boys need anything!”

They stilled as her footsteps shuffled away, so only the low rumble of the storm remained.

Haru’s fingers worried the sheets, glancing at Matsuoka clutching his shins with white knuckles. His bedroom glowed of lightning, and his concern deepened when Rin flinched at the bright flash.

“…I,” Rin whispered, unfurling so he looked up with a tremulous smile. “I don’t really like—”

Thunder boomed in the far distance, and Haru froze up at the dread in Rin’s eyes.

He swallowed a feeble chuckle. “…Storms…”


“Is that yours?”

Rin whisked his head up at the first words spoken between them while rain steadily gushed down the window. The past ten minutes of silence disintegrated as Haru nudged his head to the white pillow Rin pulled out of his duffel bag.

The squall lulled and grew in the passing minutes where Rin had scurried off to brush his teeth, and they both changed into their pyjamas. Haru’s was made of shades of blue, while Rin’s was dark grey and red. Haru set about unfurling the futon to pat against the floor after switching into the bathroom with Matsuoka.

Somehow, he managed to duck past into the bathroom after Rin left without looking or talking to him. It disappointed Haru, yet it strangely relieved him at the same time. It did feel like they should’ve talked, and he knew he felt unhappy when Rin sidled away from him. Though after realising he wouldn’t know what to say if Rin did look at him, he felt a twinge of relief.

How could relief feel sad, though?

They were both kneeling on the floor when Rin nodded softly, even though the question was redundant. He glanced down to his pillow, facing down so he could fluff it properly, slowly.

“I…can’t sleep without it. So…” Rin trailed off, the rain taking over his voice as his cheeks stressed with self-consciousness.

Haru barely nodded, fiddling with the corner of the thick futon.

“…Do you sleep well?” he muttered, feeling Rin’s gaze spreading over him. “Usually?”

“Uh, yeah…I guess…” Rin cleared his throat, threading through his hair. “Though, sometimes I get bad dreams,” he admitted quietly, squishing his pillow a bit when Haru looked at him. “…I usually sleep with Gou when that happens, or…or if she has a bad dream, then she gets me to hug her,” he added in a little ramble. His expression settled as thunder tickled the walls. “…Or if…there’s a storm…” he whispered. He paused, before quenching his tension in a shy laugh. “I-It’s pretty normal!”

Rin hugged his pillow with both arms as he turned to Haru, his chuckle dying with a shaky gulp when they shimmered cerulean at him. He suddenly thought of Haru’s kisses, his warm lips that were a little wet. He darted his head down, hugging his pillow closer with tinting cheeks.

“…Then—” Haru spoke up, watching Rin lift his head again. “Do you want to sleep on my bed?”

He fell into silence, gauging the surprise and confusion mingling on Rin’s pinked face.

“…H-Huh?” he blinked feverishly, his pillow drooping as he looked between the futon and the bed. “But aren’t you sleeping on your—?”

“—With me,” Haru clarified in a mutter. He cast his vision down to where he held the futon tighter. “In case…in case you don’t sleep well.” he explained gruffly, pouting.

“…O-Oh—” Rin looked around quickly, clapping his jaw shut. He was about to decline, before he spotted Haru’s fixed worry with another roll of thunder. “Uh…o-okay…” he mumbled into his pillow.

Haru relaxed with a sigh. “…Okay.”

Rin’s pyjama sleeves spilled over his hands as he stood up, hiding his chin with his pillow as he shuffled around the futon to Haru’s bed. His step halted when Haru suddenly came to his feet and shoved his things to the side. Rin stared at the space reserved for his own pillow, his eyes round while Haru studied the covers.

“…I think there’s only room for one quilt,” Haru remarked, the rainfall clouding his murmur. Rin forced his goosebumps down for what felt like the hundredth time when Haru looked to him. “Is that okay?”

“It’s fine,” Rin shook his head, trading his stutter for volume. “I…don’t mind.”

The chill of the room diffused over the fabric of his pyjamas, making his toes curl in a fidget as Haru nodded. Rin instinctively tensed up at lighting glaring off the window, while Haru pulled his quilt up in a flutter.

Haru stepped aside for Rin to place his pillow, stoutly looking away as Rin blushed to his fingertips.

He briefly thought about it while leaning over to align his pillow properly, and he realised that he wasn’t jumpy over sharing a bed with Haru. Even though he was uneasy about admitting his fear of thunderstorms, he knew Haru was only trying to help him, which definitely didn’t make him nervous.

It was just that, no matter how hard Rin tried, he couldn’t stop thinking about kissing Haru.

He didn’t know if this meant he loved Nanase as he clambered onto the bed. Like, more than swimming or steak, like love love. Because he knew you could only kiss the person you love on the mouth, that was like law in Japan. Maybe that churning in his stomach when they kissed was love? He thought it would feel way less jittery, though…

He always thought he would kiss a girl later as he snuggled himself into half of the quilt; maybe in high school when he was ready. Instead he had kissed Haru, his rival with a freestyle that was beautiful and fast. Who could swim, draw, and cook really well, but never talked much at all even though his eyes seemed to flare with a loud, pretty blue. Who switched off the light to plunge the room into flickering night, and patiently climbed into bed next to Rin, making the mattress sink with his weight. Whose kisses were sometimes wet but always warm, and always made Rin’s chest shake and his palms sweaty.

Before he could thank nighttime for hiding his brilliant cheeks, lightning and thunder struck the room.

He squealed when his arms shot out to grab Nanase on reflex, squeezing his eyes shut as his hair ruffled against Haru’s shoulder in the aftershock. He had read up on storms before, how thunder always followed lightning depending on how far away the storm was. If they came at the same time (just like now) the storm was basically overhead, pelting down explosions of light and sound with flooding rain.

The thought made Rin hold onto Haru tighter, his anxiety clouding his pride and good sense over hugging Nanase fast.

Haru patted his hair, and his shivering quelled. He readjusted himself to hug Rin back, draping an arm around as Rin’s breathing became a fraction more level.

“…Are you comfortable?” he whispered over Rin’s head, the inky night consuming his vision while rain kept hammering the window.

Y-Yeah…” Rin nodded faintly, crumpling the elbow of Haru’s jacket. He winced at a growling thunder. He forced himself to breathe. “Yeah…I’m fine…”

“…That’s good.” he murmured, before his bicep pressed into Rin’s shoulder in a tender hug.

Rin’s fear pulsed with every following thunder that resounded to the core of his soul, his eyes stung with every blaze of lightning that invaded his screwed up eyes. He felt the waves of his fright in a breathtaking force; too familiar, too reminiscent of that gale which stayed a few days before they came back telling his dad was gone. He already found storms so intimidating, every fork of lightning and roar of thunder sharp and unforgiving. Even though it was so long ago, the fact one swept away his dad, the strongest man he knew, made him so afraid.

He could handle downpours and the drizzling water. Just not thunderstorms.

He didn’t want to make his mom worried; she knew about his fear of storms, but he only let Gou worry over him, because he knew she was even more stubborn than himself. Even though she was a lot shorter than him, sleeping with her when he was a little younger helped. Now as he was growing up, trying to be more independent so he could carry on his dad’s dream, haunting storms robbed his sleep, and left his pillow soaked to the fluff.

But now Nanase was here, hugging him and petting his hair. Each ripple of terror at a peal of thunder seemed to fall apart with Haru’s reassuring squeeze.

They didn’t say anything as the rain streamed behind. Rin really couldn’t see in the dark, but Haru felt so comfortable to him. Not in the same way he felt comfortable with his mom or Gou when they hugged him in bed. It was like…he could feel Haru more, maybe because he was about the same size as him (but a little shorter, he was sure). He was close, and if Rin focused he could feel the little puffs of Nanase’s breath skim across his head. His fingers were thin and soft, even though they tickled when they stroked along his hair. Their knees touched at times, but it was still comfortable. The quilt was thick and close against the crisp storm, and Haru was also so, very warm as they hugged in the dark.

As Rin’s nerves and breath eased over, and the storm relented into dull growls, he realised he didn’t feel so sleepy yet…which was weird. His brow knitted, wondering why he wouldn’t sleep at his usual bedtime as Haru gave another press at a low thunder. His usual routine at home wouldn’t be so different: he’d change into his pyjamas, brush his teeth, fluff up his pillow, then he would call his mom…

…She would leave him a good night kiss…

…And then he would sleep.

“…U-Um—” Rin squirmed in their hold. “…Na…nase?”

“—Mm?” Haru slanted his head, so his cheek brushed past Rin’s hair.

“—N-No, well,” Rin gulped back the tremble in his voice. “It’s just, at home, I—” he shuffled his body up, guessing where he would be eye-level to Nanase in the dark. “I usually get a…a good night kiss…”

Haru stopped breathing. “…Oh…”

“J-J-Just from my mom…!” he added in a hasty whisper, his throat tightening as he tucked an inch into Haru’s chest. “Because she’s the only girl that’s allowed to kiss me, besides Gou! A-And even then I don’t let Gou kiss me so much—!”

“You…” he whispered, tentative. “Want me to give you a good night kiss?”

Rin was so glad it was dark.

It—” he choked back his high pitch. “It might help…my sleeping…a-and—” he rumpled his eyes, forcing his words through constricted cheeks. “Y-You…y-you s-said you…that you’d t-t-take…!”

His words devolved into mewls against the side of Haru’s pillow. A deluge spilled onto the windowpane, and if Haru squinted, he could make out Rin’s shying silhouette.

“…I’ll do my best,” he murmured in earnest, trying to find Matsuoka’s gaze. “…Where does she kiss you?”

“…My cheek.” he replied, murmuring. Rin slanted his head to the side, so Haru could see its faint arch in the night.

Time seemed to lull as Haru gently brought his other hand up, trying not to fumble in the dark when his fingers caught the fine hairs on Rin’s cheek. His tremor felt infectious as Haru prodded a little lower to find his jaw, tilting Rin’s head so he didn’t accidentally kiss the wrong spot. Haru even felt the bob of Rin’s swallow through his fingers when he leaned in, lightly puckering his lips as he closed his eyes to a more calming darkness. His mouth was closed when he pressed against Matsuoka’s soft cheek, his lips flattening the slightest before he pulled away with a muted pop. He slid open his eyes, waiting for Rin’s response as they hugged.

“…It feels weirder when you do it.” he decided in a croak. He shifted under Haru’s arm, though not further away.

“Am I doing it wrong…?”

He was a little slow at kissing Rin’s cheek, but he did feel that he did it right. Unless, he worried, he disappointed him in some other way.

“I-It’s not that, just…” Rin shook his head, letting Haru withdraw his hand. His heart crept up to his throat when Rin hugged him closer, so their warmth radiated inside the cosy quilt. “It’s different…”

Haru was about to respond when Matsuoka shuffled again, moving his arm up so his palm rested below Haru’s armpit. He was transfixed when Rin drew impossibly near, so his bangs felt fluffy sticking out near Haru’s nose.

“Maybe…you should kiss me differently…” Rin tentatively nuzzled closer, his suggestion whispering over Haru’s cheek in a swallow. “…Y-You wanna try some other kisses…?”

His skin prickled in a wave when Rin nestled up against him, so the tips of their noses poked and Haru struggled to breathe with Matsuoka so near and warming.

The woollen hem of their quilt just covered their jaws, rustling the slightest with Haru’s tiny nod. He felt Matsuoka’s exhale of relief like steam from a boiling kettle over his skin, and its warmth trickled to settle at Haru’s mouth, throat, and chest.

It took a few shuffles to get really comfortable, so they accidentally kissed just outside of their mouths at times. The tingling came back again as their noses bumped, and their lips finally brushed as they leaned forward, feeling they both wet them a little beforehand. They didn’t try suckling each other’s lip like before, that would definitely be sweltering when they were already snug under the duvet. And they didn’t kiss for too long at a time either, since they were allowed to breathe more often now. But even though the rain still teemed outside, and coated the room with thunder, they secretly felt safe hugging each other. The only uncertainty laid in their bashful kissing, their faces tight with reserve as butterflies danced in their stomachs. Their kisses were small and fleeting as they cuddled close, kissing in the moonless, stormy bedroom, tucked away underneath their sheltering quilt.

They kissed less as the storm faded. Rain pattered against the window as they gradually subdued into a pliant embrace. Rin adjusted himself further down from his pillow, so Haru cocooned him as he curled up. His lips hummed with another tingle, so his pout felt puffy at the collar of Haru’s pyjama jacket.

“…I’m still gonna kiss a pretty girl…” he spoke under the storm, more to himself than anything. “—S-So don’t go getting a big head over this…!” he faltered, tightening his clasp at Haru’s torso. “…Okay?”

Rin peeked up to sense whether Haru was looking at him, and sure enough their noses bumped as he craned his head. They brushed again when Haru nodded.

“…Okay.”

Rin chewed his lip at Haru’s sincere whisper, how it skimmed over his face in a breath. A wink of lightning made Haru’s eyes glow blue behind his hair, just a little mussed from shifting against the pillow, and for an instant Rin could see his serene expression tinted at his cheeks. He took a small swallow before pressing their lips together, a little slippery from their kissing as he shut out the thunder echoing behind. He pulled away before Haru could have a chance to kiss back, nervously biting on the inside of his cheek as their hair tickled together.

“Wh-When I find a girl that I wanna kiss,” he continued, his face taut with embarrassment. “I’m…I’m gonna kiss better than this,” he vowed timidly. Haru gently adjusted his draping arm, and Rin lowered his head. “Even though you seem kinda…okay at it…”

Haru blinked at his sheepish mutter, how he huddled up and tried to hide his bedhead under the covers as the cold rain flowed outside. He could make out the faintest glow of Rin’s eyes emanating in the stormy night, how they crumpled as his voice grew in a panicky stammer.

“—Y-You hear me?! Th-This is just practice, that’s all—!”

He squeaked at Haru kissing the corner of his mouth, his surprised yelp drowned out when he corrected his aim and softly kissed his lips. Rin’s frazzled mind couldn’t tell if his heart shrivelled or threatened to burst with Haru’s pecks. Though he was sure it felt like melting into a puddle when Haru’s lips, smooth, wet, and a little thinner, smooching his out of the blue.

Haru leaned back onto his own pillow, apparently satisfied, while Rin’s mouth clapped in a struggle.

“I—You—!” he hissed, tugging Haru’s shirt in a childish whine. “Are you even listening to me…?!”

He gave a nod of confidence, and Rin buried his head lower into the quilt.

He could only imagine if his face was as red as in the afternoon sun as Rin held onto him, mumbling incoherent, annoyed things as Haru clasped him back.

Rin poked his head out again, averting his gaze to his pillow.

“…We’re rivals, got it?”

He sulked through a persistent blush, invisible in the inky room.

“Got it…”

The room blinked with lightning.

“…Don’t think…” Rin’s whisper was more breath than sound. “…Don’t think I love you, o-or anything…”

Thunder grumbled over the horizon. He hugged Haru close.

“…Okay.”

He hugged Rin back.

“G…Good.”

The moon peeked out behind the clouds. Streams of light bounced off the window in a timid gleam. It blurred with the rain, illuminating patches of the bed where their pillows laid, casting shadows where their quilt creased and their feet lightly tapped.

“…’Cause I don’t.”

“I know.”

I-I mean,” Rin gulped, tripping over his words in a scoff. “You’re more weird than anything…” he muttered, snuggling close when rain battered through another fork of lightning. “You don’t wanna swim a relay or—o-or anything other than free all the time…” he pouted, aimlessly complaining to himself while Haru listened. “I mean, that’s just weird…” he insisted, while Haru silently pulled the quilt over them some more. “I can’t love someone who’s not open-minded, at least…”

Haru shrugged. “True.”

“Right?” Rin said expectantly. His features softened into a brooding frown. “…I mean…” he murmured at a loss, wondering as he blinked more slowly. Drowsily. “How could I…fall in…” his features scrunched as his mouth formed a small ‘O’, and he smacked his mouth after a bleary yawn. “…Love with you…”

Haru regarded Rin nuzzling up to him with his usual reticence, yet it was pinched with that fuzzy warmth when he sighed against the collar of his shirt. His hair soaked the dim moonlight in its wine strands as it ruffled against Haru’s jaw, and his embrace went slack with a rising slumber. Haru wasn’t tired in the least. His vision was crystalline, greedy for every vague strip of moonlight that undulated with the quilt, that rose and fell barely an inch with Rin’s languid breaths.

Haru clasped him tighter as he pressed his lips to his head, sliding his eyes shut to the sound of the rain fading to a peaceful stream.

“…Good night, Rin.”


Nanaseee…!”

Haru roused to his chest being lightly rocked, by a palm smaller and a voice much whinier than Baa-san’s. He unpeeled his eyes, rolling his head up to Rin kneeling on the bed and shaking his shoulder.

“Hey, get up already~” Rin called with a drone. Haru blinked a hazy mess of hair burning red and skin glowing white into focus. “It’s morning!” he chanted, bouncing the mattress as Haru still processed the sunlight stinging his eyelids pink.

Haru looked Rin up and down, registering that he was still in his grey and red pyjamas. His hair lit up in a hilarious mess around his innocent grin.

“…It’s Saturday.” he muttered, his voice coated with sleep as he wrenched up the covers again.

Jeez…” Rin shook his head, sighing in exasperation. “Why do I have to wake you up when I’m the guest?”

He pulled a face after wresting off the covers, revealing Haru pouting back with his hair and pyjamas thoroughly tousled.

“You’re still doing it,” Haru remarked, rubbing his eye as he sat up. “Even with all your complaining.”

“H-Hey!” Rin clenched his fists at his lap, stammering as Haru unwound in a satisfying stretch. “It’s not like I want to!” he huffed. Haru exhaled through his nose as he looked to Rin crossing arms pettishly, looking to the bright blue sky through the glimmering window. “…It’s boring when you’re not awake…”

Haru slowed, turning to really take in Rin’s sprinkled flush. He allowed a small pause before speaking up again.

“Hm?”

Rin snapped his head up. “I-It’s nothing!” he shook his hands in a little squawk.

Haru took a double take at the rosiness spreading across Rin’s cheeks. Suddenly images reeled back in his mind with a flood of warmth: their lunch, the Pretz, their kissing, sleeping together and still kissing in the long gone thunder.

Haru put a hand over his mouth, hiding his face in his popped up collar.

“…Okay…”

Rin blinked, then frowned at him.

“Oi, Nanase,” his head tilted. “What’s up with you all of a sudden?” he lowered a brow, leaning in to peer at Haru’s face.

“It’s…nothing.” Haru mumbled, shying away from Rin’s intent stare with a frown.

“—It’s not nothing!” Rin announced, setting his hands at his hips. “I’m not Makoto, y’know!” he reminded with brash concern, falling forward on his hands to look earnestly at Haru again. “You gotta say what’s on your mind!”

Haru’s mouth fell open as his throat closed up, looking between Rin’s set pout and his brows drawn together over his shimmering eyes. He didn’t manage to deliberate on how much to reveal before Rin expectantly jerked his chin up, his bedhead looking like a funny red poof before Haru’s mouth moved of its own accord.

“I…had a weird dream,” he explained cautiously, inviting Rin’s curious pout. “Last night, I think I dreamed of…Pretz, and,” he swallowed when Rin’s eyes widened, and nerves gripped his belly when his mouth parted. His fingers curled at his quilt as he darted his head away, he would never figure out the earthly power that possessed him to admit something so embarrassing. “Kissing…you—”

Rin hit a pillow in his face.

Haru fell back onto his own from the force of the fluffy hit. He snapped his head up to Matsuoka, pillow in hand and towering over him. His eyes went round in bewilderment, glimpsing Rin’s quivering lip set in a sullen glare.

“Matsuoka—!”

He didn’t get a chance to react as Rin battered the pillow on his head. He could only lift his arms in defence as Rin grumbled through a high colour.

“Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid!!”

He yelled with every querulous blow, and after a particularly hard hit he flumped on the mattress. Haru scrambled back, frantically searching over Rin breathing hard with an intense squint.

“M-Matsuoka,” he stuttered, his back flush against the bed frame while Rin swallowed to catch his breath. “Why—”

“—You think you dreamed it?!” he cried incredulously, growling as he poised his pillow for another beating. “I can’t believe your memory’s bad enough to think it was a dream!”

In the instant Haru realised his mistake with a soft breath, he shielded his face from Rin’s pillow. He scrabbled behind for his own as Rin kept screaming ‘idiot!’, swinging it around so he engaged Rin in the first, most startling pillow fight he had to take part in.

The fluff of their pillow muffled each blow, as they knocked each other back out of frustration and self-preservation. Haru kept using his pillow as a screen while Rin battered him, a mortified flush soaking his cheeks as he repeatedly called Haru names.

“You’re a complete idiot!” Rin shouted, bringing his pillow overhead. “So stop fighting back!”

“Only if you stop hitting me…!” Haru retorted, lifting his pillow in reflex so the bed shuddered with Rin’s hit. “—I’m sorry I thought it was a dream!” he spoke up, cracking an eye open so he could see the shadow of Rin’s pillow lofty above his childish glower.

“—Good!”

Rin threw his pillow down in a blow that shook Haru with a wince, before falling back onto his heels in a final pant.

Haru sighed in relief, looking over to Rin’s scowl easing into a sulk. Before he could try to explain himself, how unreal he thought kissing his classmate, teammate, rival (friend) was, Rin broke in as he opened his mouth.

“—You did kiss me,” he stated, more piqued than threatening. “And…A-And I fully intend for you to take responsibility!” he declared with a brazen point, so Haru went cross-eyed with Rin’s finger at his nose. “Like…” his arm faltered, and his finger shied away from Haru’s mouth. “—Like you said you would!” he reminded, crossing his arms in a tantrum.

Haru was left speechless, blinking to process Rin’s bold proposal. He was left to his observations again, that sharpened in the morning glint. If he blinked, he could capture the dust floating in the streaks of sunlight, and he could spot how they blew away with Rin’s peeved huffs. His bedhead was a wildfire catching in the light, sticking up in every direction with only his bangs having some semblance of shape, drooping over his smooth forehead. He noticed Rin’s eyes about to gleam crimson at him, before they darted away in a mumbling frown. He occasionally shuffled in his indignant huff, so his pyjamas creased even more from their pillow fight. Most of all, he caught Rin’s lip jutting in a silly pout, so much that it glistened with a tickle of light.

Haru tensed when Rin snapped his head over, catching him staring.

“—Sorry,” Haru said on reflex. He froze up at Rin’s squint, and his back pressed the bed frame again when he crawled over. “I didn’t mean to—”

Rin tugged his collar in, and Haru took his kiss with wide eyes.

It was a brief press before Rin pulled away, rubbing his lips with another speckling bloom as Haru reeled with the fluttering contact. It was a little icky with morning breath, but Haru felt the ghost of their other kisses crash back in a full force at his stomach all the same. He basked in the spreading warmth again, before realising that Rin was suppressing a satisfied grin at the corner of his mouth.

That’s for thinking kissing me was a dream,” he nodded, satisfied as he released Haru’s pyjama collar. “Now come on! We’re gonna play at the beach today!” he announced with an excited beam, rolling off the bed in a bundle of energy and rummaging for his toiletries in his duffel.

Haru vacantly watched him stretching his arms towards the ceiling, grabbing for it like he could reach it with an echoing yawn. He fluffed up his bedhead before turning to Haru, and he caught the traces of Rin’s reddening as his inquisitive look morphed into a buoyant grin.

“If you don’t hurry up, I’m leaving you behind!”

Rin poked his tongue out before heading out the door, leaving Haru gaping after him as he hummed a catchy, nameless tune. He looked down at the quilt dangling over his knees, every moment in the past twenty-four hours replaying in his mind like an automated feed.

“—Good morning, Obaa-sama!”

Haru shook out of his daze, instantly realising Rin’s challenge. He hurriedly throwing his covers off as he pulled out of his morning daze, stretching and rolling his neck quickly before he started to move. He shut the door behind him to join Rin, whose echo became more intelligible as he jogged down the steps.

“—Yeah, Nanase treated me great!” Rin assured with a twinkle, making Haru stop on the stairs. Rin glanced up at his halted footsteps, giving him a more sincere smile that surprisingly hid volumes as he looked to Haru’s grandma again. “He was super responsible!”