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Nagisa doesn't like Rei's off days.

It's easy to tell the difference between normal Rei--who is crabby pretty much all the time but not really and secretly loves being teased out of it--and off Rei, who tunes out conversations and stares distantly at things and hardly ever smiles, even when Nagisa jumps on him. Everybody has a right to be sad and quiet sometimes, but lately Rei has been exercising it almost more often than not, and that makes Nagisa want to be sad and quiet too, except he's not very good at being either of those things. (Sometimes he tries to stay sad about things longer just because he feels like he should, but it doesn't usually work.)

Today is Friday and the weather is beautiful and swimming season is just about to pick up again—their final year, the first without Haru and Mako on the team—but when Nagisa opens the door to the roof to meet Rei for lunch like usual, he can tell right away that today is off.

"Yo," Nagisa says, trying for extra-cheerful just to compensate for the way Rei is moping. "I got to the line before they ran out of pork nikuman!"

He holds out the nikuman he bought for Rei and Rei just stares at his hand for a few seconds—which is really a little rude—before accepting it.

"Thank you," he says, to the food instead more than Nagisa. Nagisa drops down beside him, unwraps his own nikuman and tries not to mind.

"Hey," Nagisa says through a mouthful of pork, suddenly spotting another pair of figures on the roof, eating lunch in a far corner. "Isn't that Kendou and Yamamoto?"

Rei glances in the direction Nagisa is looking and then back down at his food. "Yeah."

"They were in your class last year, right? Should we invite them over?" Nagisa starts to wave but Rei grabs his hand so forcefully it almost hurts.

"Ow," Nagisa says. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing, I just . . . don't really want to talk to them."

Nagisa blinks and studies Rei, who is still very determinedly not making eye contact and seems a little embarrassed. This is probably one of those situations Mako was trying to explain to Nagisa where he should let matters drop rather than pushing them when something is obviously making people uncomfortable . . . but now he's so curious!

"Why not?" Nagisa says, mentally apologizing to Mako.

He has to mentally apologize to Rei after that, too, because the way he struggles to come up with a response really does make Nagisa feel a little guilty.

"No reason, I just—"

Rei cuts off and stares ahead, so Nagisa looks ahead too and sees the boys heading in their direction. They're in his class as of this year, although he doesn't know either of them particularly well yet. It looks like they're only heading this way to use the exit, but when Kendou sees Nagisa he stops in surprise.

"Hazuki-san," Kendou says.

"Nagisa is fine," Nagisa chirps. He can feel Rei stiffen next to him. "What were you guys doing up here?"

"Just eating," Kendou says. Nagisa is about to ask if Kendou did his math homework, but that's when he notices both him and Yamamoto studying Rei with strange expressions. Rei is pretending to be engulfed in a book he pulled out of nowhere.

"Ah," Nagisa says, wondering what he missed. He can sense that Rei wants this moment to be over, though, so instead of making small talk he says, "Well, see you in math!"

They take the hint and leave.

"Rei-chan, what was that? Why were you all so weird?" Nagisa turns to face Rei but he still won't look anywhere but at the pages of his book, even though he's clearly not reading (his eyes aren't moving at all).

"I don't know what you mean," Rei says.

"But they were both in your class last year, right?" A sudden thought occurs to Nagisa, and he leans in and earnestly grabs Rei's wrist. "Hey, they weren't mean to you, were they?"

"No." Rei snaps his book shut and turns to stuff it back in his bag, shaking off Nagisa's touch. It's hard to tell if he's lying or not.

"I forgot something I have to finish up before next period," Rei says, standing and brushing his pants off. Maybe he notices and feels a little bad about the way Nagisa pouts at being blown off, because his expression softens and he adds, "Sorry. See you after school?"

"Okay," Nagisa says. Then Rei is gone, and now Nagisa feels a little off too, even despite the nikuman and nice weather.

 

Nagisa was trying to figure out a tactful way to approach Kendou and find out what all the weirdness was about before math, but when he gets there he's in luck; Kendou jumps up and approaches Nagisa's desk right away, and he doesn't waste any time getting to the point.

"So, you're friends with Ryugazaki?" Kendou asks.

Nagisa cocks his head. It wasn't exactly the question he was expecting. "Well, yeah. We've been friends for a while now, we're both on the swim team. . . ."

"I just always thought you guys hung out with him because of swimming, not like . . . because you wanted to."

All of a sudden, Nagisa gets a rare twinge of dislike. Always thought? You guys? "We're friends," Nagisa repeats. "Makoto and Haru, too."

Kendou seems to sense that he's crossed a line; he raises his hands defensively. "Hey, no, that's cool. I don't even really know the guy. I'm just friends with Yamamoto, and he has some weird stories. They used to be close."

Yamamoto is in class, too, although he's several desks away, digging through his bag and looking a little flustered. "Okay?" Nagisa says.

"All I'm saying is, you might wanna ask Yamamoto about it sometime. I just don't want people saying weird stuff about you, too." He says it like he's really doing Nagisa a favor, and probably he thinks he is, but Nagisa still can't turn off the dislike.

"Thanks," he says, trying not to sound too icy. Kendou's eyes narrow, though, so probably he doesn't do a very good job. Luckily, the teacher walks in and they're spared the awkwardness of having to end the conversation on their own terms, and Nagisa spends the rest of class even less focused on math than usual. He's burning up with curiosity, but he'd rather eat dirt than ask Yamamoto about it.

He'll have to figure out how to get the details from Rei.

 

"Rei-chan," Nagisa says sweetly, sidling up to Rei and grabbing onto his arm. "Do you want to come over tonight?"

They're walking to the train station from school, after having talked with Gou a little about the start of the season—only a few more weeks before the pool will be ready. Rei perked up considerably while they were talking training and logistics, so Nagisa figures now is as good a time as any.

Still, Rei doesn't look thrilled by the idea, and his arm goes stiff under Nagisa's touch. He's been doing that a lot lately.

"I don't know," he says. "I have a lot of homework."

"It's too early in the year to have a lot of homework," Nagisa whines. "Please, Rei-chan? My mom's making curry!"

Rei loves Nagisa's mom's curry. "Well . . ." he says, looking sideways at Nagisa, who starts to hug his arm so earnestly that Rei's crabby demeanor finally cracks. "Okay," he says, with a hint of a smile. "I'll call my mom."

Nagisa's time-tested technique of shouting at Rei's mom through the phone that they'll be having a sleepover ends up working once again—although Rei looks particularly pained about it today—so Nagisa relaxes, knowing he has the whole night to get Rei loosened up and talking. Curry helps, as do video games; by the time they're back in Nagisa's room, it's almost like hanging out with the old Rei, who didn't get sullen and quiet so often and didn't make excuses all the time for not coming over.

"Don't you have to do some homework?" Nagisa asks, rifling through his dresser for the pajamas he usually lends Rei when he spends the night.

"I'll do it during math. They're just covering stuff I already know anyway."

Nagisa grins privately at the drastic change of heart and turns around, having finally found the pajamas. Rei is lying flat on his back on Nagisa's bed, arms spread out to his sides and eyes closed. He looks so peaceful that Nagisa has to join in. He jumps on the bed and squeezes in close to Rei's side, leaning over him a little to blow softly on his face. Rei's eyes snap open and he looks like he's just swallowed something.

"What's wrong?" Nagisa asks.

"Nothing," Rei says quickly. It makes Nagisa sad how weird he's been about touching lately, because he never used to mind. Not that it's really stopped Nagisa from doing it.

"I found your pajamas!" Nagisa drops the shirt and shorts on Rei's chest.

"Thank you," Rei says. He's looking right at Nagisa instead of shifting his eyes away for once, and it's unexpected enough that Nagisa's smile fades and he looks right back. After a few seconds, a weird shivery feeling shoots down the back of his neck.

For whatever reason, the shiver makes him feel panicked. He didn't mean to do it this way, but all at once he blurts, "What happened with you and Yamamoto?"

Rei jolts and the weirdness shatters; Nagisa is relieved and sad at the same time.

"What do you mean?" Rei says. "Did he talk to you? What did he tell you?"

"No," Nagisa says, growing sorrier by the second that he said anything at all. Rei looks miserable. "Kendou just told me you two used to be friends—"

Rei shifts away from Nagisa and sits up. It leaves Nagisa feeling especially cold.

"It was a long time ago," Rei says.

"I was just wondering," Nagisa says, "because you don't really hang out with anyone other than us—you never seem to talk to anyone from your class—"

He wasn't trying to be unkind, but Rei looks like Nagisa just slapped him. Nagisa feels so awful he puts a hand over his mouth to stop it from doing anything else stupid.

"Please don't listen to them if they tell you anything," Rei says quietly, staring straight ahead at the wall.

"Rei-chan—"

"I should go."

Rei jumps up from the bed and Nagisa wants to, too, but he feels frozen to it. Instead he just watches as Rei gathers his bag and jacket and hurries to the door.

As soon as he's gone, Nagisa feels like running after him, and for a few seconds he means to, but then he remembers the shuttered look that Rei gets when he wants to close himself off and knows even if he caught him it would be pointless.

He settles for texting him, instead—just a brief I'm sorry, Rei-chan—and stays up hours past his bedtime waiting to hear anything back, but Rei never responds.

 

Nagisa starts to worry, over the course of the next week, that Rei is stuck in off mode for good. More than that, he starts to worry it's his fault.

Rei doesn't show up for lunch at all on Monday, and he doesn't meet Nagisa after school to ride the train with him. On Tuesday, he shows up for lunch, but Nagisa can barely get three words out of him the whole time; mostly he just buries his nose in a notebook and says he has to study. Nagisa texts him on Wednesday to see if he's going to ride the train and he never answers. By Friday, Nagisa has only seen Rei a handful of times and spoken to him less than that, and he's feeling worse than he can ever remember.

He hadn't realized before this week just how dependent he had become on his friendship with Rei. It's funny that he brought up Rei only hanging out with the swim club, Nagisa realizes now, because these days he's no different; he's friendly with just about everybody, but that's not the same thing, and now that Mako and Haru are gone he feels Rei's absence especially, like an ache in his head, stomach and heart all at the same time.

Usually P.E. is Nagisa's favorite class, but today he can only trudge into the locker room and start to change mechanically, staring off into space. He barely notices Kendou until he bumps into him while pulling on his track pants. Kendou jumps and backs away.

"Oh, sorry," Nagisa says. He realizes Yamamoto is right there, too, and is about to turn away and close his locker when he notices they're both looking at him in horror. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Kendou says quickly, but his voice is weirdly loud, almost like he wants everyone to hear him. "It's just—don't you think you should change in the bathroom or something?"

"Hmm?" Nagisa turns around to face them completely, dumbfounded.

"Just leave him be, Kendou," Yamamoto says, going red and staring at the floor.

Kendou ignores him and keeps talking in a loud voice. "I mean, we're all guys here, and since you're—you know."

Nagisa stares. "Huh?" Half the locker room is watching now, and he still doesn't really get what's going on.

Kendou makes an annoyed scoffing noise. "Come on. Don't make me say it."

"Kendou," Yamamoto hisses.

"I'm what?"

"Gay," Kendou practically spits.

The second the word is out, all the people who have been listening either laugh uncomfortably or turn away and pretend they weren't eavesdropping. Nagisa doesn't know what to say. He's a little embarrassed, and he doesn't think he's ever disliked anyone more than he dislikes Kendou in this moment, but suddenly his thoughts have snapped back to Rei.

"Oh," Nagisa says out loud, mostly to himself, but Kendou is looking expectant, so he just says "You can change in the bathroom if you want," toes on his shoes and walks out to the gym.

The whole time they do the three-minute jog his mind is whirring so frantically he doesn't even care that all the boys are whispering and staring at him. He needs to figure out how to catch Rei before he goes home after school.

 

As it turns out, catching Rei is easier than Nagisa was anticipating—all he has to do is stand by his locker after last period and wait. By the time Rei spots him, it's too late for him to run away.

"Hey," Nagisa says, feeling strangely flustered now, even though he's been rehearsing what to say all afternoon. "Wanna ride the train together?"

"Okay," Rei says, opening his locker and removing his books with the utmost concentration. He never once looks Nagisa in the eye.

They walk in silence for the first couple blocks, but Nagisa screws up his courage as soon as the other students have thinned out and they're mostly alone.

"I'm sorry I hurt your feelings," he says, because that's the most important thing to say first.

Rei finally looks right at him, obviously surprised, and then his cheeks get red. "No, you didn't—it's fine."

"You're my best friend, Rei-chan," Nagisa says. "I don't want us to stop being friends."

Now Rei looks positively pained. He frowns at Nagisa with his eyebrows screwed up so tight for a second Nagisa thinks he's going to cry.

"No—me too," Rei says finally, instead of crying. "I—I'm sorry about this week, I've been—"

"It's okay," Nagisa says quickly. He doesn't want Rei to feel like he has to explain, especially now that he thinks he might actually get it.

They walk the rest of the way to the station and board their train in silence, but it feels friendly instead of uncomfortable, which is a nice change. Then, just as Nagisa is about to stand up for his stop, Rei says in a rush,

"Do you want to come over?"

Nagisa almost falls off his seat he's so excited. "Yeah!"

Everything gets much easier from there. Things are starting to feel so much like old times that Nagisa bounces on his heels and chatters about everything he can possibly think of the whole walk from the station to Rei's house, and he doesn't even worry Rei will get annoyed. Rei is actually laughing by the time they reach his entryway, and Nagisa blames the rush of happiness from hearing Rei's laugh again for not thinking about what he's saying.

"Anyway, I don't blame you for not wanting to be friends with Yamamoto. I don't think anyone who hangs out with Kendou could be very nice."

He realizes right away he shouldn't have brought it up. Rei pauses in the process of untying his shoes, startled. Or maybe that's concern?

"What do you mean? Did something happen?"

"Ahh," Nagisa says, hesitant. He wonders if he should make something up, but he's never been a very good liar. "It wasn't really a big deal," he says, waving it off, hoping Rei will let it drop.

But Rei doesn't. "What did he say?"

"He said I was gay in P.E.," Nagisa admits, trying for an airy and casual tone, but just like he knew would happen, Rei's jaw goes rigid and the color drains from his face.

The apartment feels extra quiet all of a sudden—Rei's parents get home late on weeknights and even though they're both used to it, Nagisa wishes there were someone else around to distract them. He tries to be distracting instead.

"Hey, can you help me with my math homework?" He heads straight to Rei's bedroom and opens his bag on the bed, rifling through it for his book. He feels rather than sees Rei appear behind him in the doorway.

"Oh . . . never mind, I guess I forgot it at school. . . ." Nagisa tries to find something else in his bag that he can use as a distraction, but apparently he forgot everything. He's left with nothing else to do but look up.

"I knew something like this would happen," Rei says, still standing in the doorway. He looks unusually small and self-conscious with his arms crossed in front of his chest, and Nagisa has to bite his lip and fight the urge to rush back and hug him.

"Rei-chan," Nagisa says. "I don't care."

"It'll just get worse if you hang out with me all the time," Rei says, like he didn't hear him. "It was all right when Makoto-senpai and Haruka-senpai were around too, but now, with just the two of us—"

"Rei-chan," Nagisa says, more firmly this time, "I don't care."

But Rei doesn't seem reassured. He does, however, look straight at Nagisa, and Nagisa's chest tightens a little, in a nice way—he hates seeing Rei miserable like this, but at least he's sharing it instead of closing off.

"What happened?" Nagisa asks at last. At this point, he thinks maybe Rei will feel better just telling him.

It seems like he's right, because Rei doesn't take long to start speaking.

"Yamamoto and I were friends in middle school," he says, adjusting his glasses in the nervous way Nagisa recognizes from swim meets and final exams. "We started track at the same time and we both liked science fiction, so we ended up hanging out all the time. I didn't . . . really have very many other friends. After a couple years I started—"

Rei stops short, and Nagisa holds his breath, trying to send as much silent encouragement as possible.

"I started—I started to think maybe I liked him." Rei's face has gone a deep scarlet, but he's still talking. "And I thought maybe he liked me, too."

Nagisa's heart skips a beat. He stays stock-still.

"So I—" Rei stutters off, glancing at Nagisa as if for reassurance. Nagisa just nods once, and maybe he succeeds in making it a supportive nod, because Rei does seem to relax a little.

"I kissed him," he finishes. He pushes his glasses up his nose and clears his throat.

Nagisa swallows and tries to figure out what to say. Everything about this moment feels serious and important, and he's not always good at serious but he's determined not to ruin this.

"What happened then?" he prompts at last.

Rei actually laughs at that. Just once, and it doesn't come off as very amused. "Can't you guess?"

Nagisa can, and at once he feels angry. Angry and something else—he can't name it, but it's almost familiar, a sharp little twist in his stomach.

"Well, I think he's a jerk," Nagisa says, more passionately than he intended. "Even if he didn't like you back, he didn't have to go telling people and stop being your friend."

"No. It's my fault," Rei says, frowning at the floor. "I shouldn't have presumed—I ruined everything."

"It's not your fault!" Nagisa snaps so fiercely that Rei blinks up at him, obviously astonished. "It's not your fault," Nagisa repeats, "and he didn't deserve you."

Now Rei looks more flustered than astonished. "Nagisa. . . ."

He seems to be on a roll, so Nagisa doesn't stop himself, even if he does feel his face burning up as he says, "Why haven't you ever tried kissing me?"

The silence Nagisa noticed in the entryway is nothing like the silence that falls now, thick and oppressive, like being underwater. Rei's arms drop and so does his jaw. Nagisa feels similarly stunned; he didn't know he was even thinking those words until they slipped out of his mouth, but he feels better having said them—now that they're out there and the twisting in his stomach makes more sense, he feels strangely light and excited. He counts a dozen heartbeats pulsing loud in his ears before Rei finally says something.

"I thought—I thought—"

"You think too much," Nagisa says, exasperated, and then, because he's still riding on an adrenaline rush and he knows Rei isn't going to be the one to do it, he crosses the room and presses Rei against the doorframe.

To his surprise, though, that's all it takes—Rei's typical resolve seems to crumble as soon as Nagisa is within reach. He grabs Nagisa's shoulders and kisses him, hard enough that Nagisa makes a surprised, happy sound against his mouth.

"That's better," Nagisa says, pulling back to take in Rei's face, which looks about as flushed and breathless as Nagisa feels. His hands are trapped between them and he uncurls his fingers, enjoying the sensation of spreading them across Rei's chest and watching Rei's eyelids shudder.

"When did you—" Rei stammers, but speech seems tricky for him right now, so Nagisa takes pity and doesn't wait for him to finish.

"It would've been a lot sooner if you'd just said something," he huffs, but then feels a little bad because of course, Rei had plenty of reason to be worried about saying something.

Sure enough, the next thing out of Rei's mouth is, "I'm sorry, I was just so scared that you would never want to talk to me again—I couldn't—"

"I know," Nagisa says quickly, "It's okay."

But Rei's face is still so tragic that Nagisa has to do something about it. He leans in and kisses the bridge of Rei's nose, meaning to dart away again and find somewhere else to kiss, only Rei doesn't let him. One of Rei's hands slips to the side of Nagisa's neck, the other to the small of his back, and then suddenly Nagisa is the one being pushed against the doorframe, and their mouths are locking together and sliding open and he's not positive but he's 90% sure this is called making out.

Nagisa likes making out, he discovers. He likes the touch of Rei's tongue and the noises that keep escaping from both of them, even though they're breathy and needy and should probably be embarrassing. He likes the way Rei's leg ends up in between both of Nagisa's and their hips end up pressing together in a way that makes him dizzy. He likes the way Rei's glasses go askew—although actually, even though it's cute, they're starting to get in the way. Nagisa lifts them off Rei's face, which makes them both pause, and then they just stay like that, breathing into each other's mouths. Rei is looking at him with such open wonder and adoration that it's kind of hard to keep from squirming, but Nagisa can't pretend he doesn't like it.

"Do you wanna lie down?" Nagisa asks, not really because he's suggesting they do that, but because he's starting to feel like his knees are going to give out. Still, he doesn't exactly make the request sound innocent, especially when he follows it up with a little tug on Rei's waistband.

Rei just nods. Nagisa sets his glasses on the desk and then Rei practically tackles him to the bed; it makes Nagisa laugh, but not for long, because then they're making out again, and maybe it's a little messy and over-enthusiastic but he's pretty sure they're starting to get the hang of it. Maybe they're starting to get the hang of it a little too fast, actually—it's not long before they both jerk away, almost in unison, because what with their hips pressing and hands everywhere there was no denying what was about to happen otherwise.

"Sorry," Rei says softly, shifting slightly away and taking a few slow, deep breaths. Nagisa shakes his head and does the same.

"No, it's okay," he says, but still he's glad they stopped, at least for now. Things have been going pretty deliriously fast. He doesn't want to stop touching Rei, though, so he nuzzles his nose up against his chin. Rei lets a hand drift into Nagisa's hair and breathes out a sigh that sounds so content it makes Nagisa feel a thousand degrees warmer.

A thought occurs to Nagisa suddenly; he props himself up on his elbows so he can see Rei's face better. "Does this mean we're boyfriends now?"

He'd thought he'd already seen the extent to which Rei could get red today, but apparently not. Rei's hand freezes in Nagisa's hair and he looks like he's choking on his tongue. Nagisa is about to take that as a no, but then Rei finally seems to recover himself.

"I—think one of us is supposed to ask first," he stammers.

Nagisa snorts. Of course Rei has to do it by the rules. "Okay. Rei-chan, will you be my boyfriend?"

Instead of immediately answering, Rei pulls Nagisa in to an unexpectedly fierce hug. Nagisa lets out a little "Oof" of surprise, then feels himself start to melt at the warmth of Rei's forehead buried against his shoulder and the force of Rei's hold around his back.

"Yes," Rei says, muffled into Nagisa's collarbone. He squeezes him tighter and Nagisa squeezes back.

They stay like that, pressed close against each other but not too close, for about as long as Nagisa can ever go without talking. His mind is in such a tangled-up haze of happiness that talking seems difficult, anyway, and he's enjoying all the new things he gets to notice when he's being quiet: he's never been so wrapped up in another person's scent before, or felt somebody else's pulse beating almost in time with his.

When his mouth opens, he barely knows it's him talking at first. It was just a thought that came to him, and maybe out of force of habit it slips out:

"I guess I'll have to say thanks to Kendou for being a jerk now."

Rei starts, then shifts back to look Nagisa in the eye. "Are you planning to tell everyone?"

"No," Nagisa says quickly, worried he's just ruined everything. "We don't have to—I mean, at least not right away—"

Rei is frowning, eyes unfocused now, and for one terrible moment Nagisa wonders if he's about to switch off again. But then—

"It's fine," he says firmly. "I don't care if the whole school knows."

Nagisa beams, and then he decides he'd like to figure out what other things about Rei he gets to notice now, so he buries his face under Rei's chin again and wiggles in close. Rei sighs and presses his mouth to the top of Nagisa's head, and it's so shivery-nice that Nagisa has to fight to stay still.

Once he's comfortable, he lets himself sigh, too. He doesn't think he'll need to worry about Rei being off so much anymore.

end