They meet in elementary school, at an old swim club in a small town by the sea.
Rin joins the Iwatobi Swim Club three days after he sees the pretty black-haired boy walk into the ISC building. His mother signs him up while he wanders around the halls, looking at the trophies in the glass case and the pictures of all the students.
“You’re all signed up,” Sasabe tells him, smiling. “Why don’t you go pick one of those charms over there? Every new member gets one.”
“Thank you,” Rin says, because his mother did a good job raising him.
“Yes, thank you,” she echoes. Sasabe flashes them a thumbs up and smiles again.
There are a lot of charms on the rack. A green sea turtle catches his attention, and a reddish goldfish with big gold eyes. But he ends up reaching for the pinkish red jellyfish, thinking his baby sister will like it. It’s too girly for him, he decides, but Gou will love it.
“Your first day is tomorrow,” his mom reminds him as they head out. “Right after school.”
Rin frowns and holds the fish closer. He doesn’t want to start school in Iwatobi. The people here are weird, not mean but not nice, and they all look at him a little strangely when they see his teeth, like he’s a rabid dog. Plus, everyone will already know each other, so he’ll be the odd one out.
“Think about it like this,” his mom says. “If you survive your first day, you get to show everyone here how good you are at swimming.”
“They’re probably good, too,” Rin replies, looking out at the sea as they walk back to the car.
“Don’t worry so much,” she sing-songs. “Everybody will love you. Why wouldn’t they? You’re you.”
He knows, somewhere deep down, that his mom is biased. She’s a mom; she’s supposed to say stuff like that. But her words make him feel better, and her hand on top of his head as she smoothes down his hair reminds him that no matter what, she’ll still be there.
School isn’t so bad, really. Rin stands and introduces himself to his class, like he’d practiced in the mirror when Gou and his mom were asleep. He cranes his neck looking for the black-haired boy from the day before, but only sees the green-haired friend from the pictures. That gives him hope, but not much of it.
He makes a few new friends and spends lunch eating with them and talking about his old school, the whole time keeping an eye out for those pretty, deep blue eyes. He doesn’t ask anyone about the boy, though, because he doesn’t want to be weird and normal boys his age don’t call other boys pretty. That’s what girls are supposed to be called, but he doesn’t really think that about any of the ones in his grade.
The school day ends. Rin waits for his mother by the playground, waving goodbye to the people he’d met and playing with the jellyfish charm. Gou hadn’t taken any particular interest in it, and his mother had been worried that she would choke on it, so he’d kept it. It’s still a little too girly for him, but the plastic is smooth and cool and the tentacles sound like chimes when they bump into each other.
When his mother pulls up to the curb, he jumps up and runs over to her excitedly. “Ready for your first day?” she asks.
“It was already my first day,” he says, climbing into the car.
“I mean your first day at the swim club.”
“I know, I know.”
He’s not sure if he’s ready, but he’s excited and nervous, which probably means that he isn’t. He’s confident on the outside, anxious and afraid on the inside, and his stomach is cartwheeling around uncomfortably.
“You’re an amazing swimmer, Rin,” his mother says. “Your father would be so proud of you. You know, he went to the Iwatobi Swimming Club, too.”
Rin glances up at her. “Really?” he asks.
“I didn’t mention it before? I was so happy when you asked to join, I must have forgotten.”
“How do you know it was that swim club?”
She shakes her head, smiling as they pull away from the curb. “He won his first relay at that club. Of course I remember which one it is. I’ll show you the pictures when we get home.”
Rin stays quiet for the rest of the ride, thinking. His father had been one of the best swimmers ever, in his opinion, and he’d started out at the same swim club that Rin’s on his way to now.
The word relay sticks in his head as he walks through the door.
“Hey, Matsuoka!” Sasabe exclaims, waving excitedly. “Excited?”
Rin nods and glances up at his mom. She smiles down at him reassuringly.
“Good luck in there,” she says, waving as he follows Sasabe through the doors. They walk down a blue walled hallway adorned with framed photos and ribbons, and through another set of doors into the pool area. The actual pool is bigger than he’d thought it would be, and loud, and there are kids in swimsuits lounging around and treading water.
Rin heads the direction Sasabe points him in, walking towards the changing room with his swimsuit in hand. He passes groups of kids about his age, none of which he pays much attention. He isn’t counting on the blue-eyed mystery boy being here today.
He changes quickly, walks back to the pool. “Show us what you’ve got, kid,” Sasabe says. “We’ll do introductions later.”
Rin snaps his goggles on the back of his head, takes a deep breath as he hops into the pool (which is surprisingly warm). He doesn’t know what to swim; Backstroke? Too easy. Butterfly? He’s still working on his technique, and he doesn’t want the first thing everyone sees of him to be a failure.
He decides on freestyle breaststroke, because it’s natural for him and he’s good at it. Plus it’s his fastest stroke, and it can’t hurt to show off a little on the first day.
With that decided, he plunges under the water and launches himself off the side of the pool. It’s longer than he’s used to, and deeper, but he’s never one to turn down a challenge. He swims furiously, turning his head and breathing every other stroke and kicking hard enough that it’ll probably hurt the next day. It feels like he’s flying.
He sees the other end of the pool coming up in front of him and gets ready to turn. The tile of the wall is cool and slick under his feet, and he falters, losing some speed. That’s disappointing, considering the turn is usually one of the places he really picks up speed, but he knows that he’s still going a good pace. His hand slams against the wall unceremoniously as he finishes.
“Amazing, Matsuoka!” Sasabe exclaims. A few kids that had gathered to watch have started clapping, and some are whispering amongst themselves.
“Thanks.” Rin beams.
“You could give our boy Nanase a run for his money, you know.” Sasabe takes him by the shoulder and turns him, pointing at a lane a few over from the one he’d swam in.
It’s the boy. He’s faster than Rin.
“Go, Haru-chan!” a blonde kid on the end of the pool closest to them yells. He looks maybe a year or two younger than Rin, but he’s not paying enough attention to look closely. His eyes are trained on the figure swimming like nothing he’s ever seen before, and looking like he couldn’t care less.
“He’s the fastest one here,” one of the kids says. “But he doesn’t want to race ever.”
“Maybe he just hasn’t found someone who can keep up,” Sasabe says. Rin watches Nanase reach the end of the pool and come up for air, shaking water from his hair as he does.
The other boy, (Tachibana, he thinks he remembers from earlier,) extends his hand towards Nanase, who takes it with disinterest.
“I don’t understand why you’re here. You were sick! You didn’t even come to school,” Tachibana says. Rin feels his stomach turn strangely. So Nanase is in his class.
The boy replies with something that he can’t hear, but whatever it is, it makes Tachibana protest more.
“Boys, over here!”
The two of them glance over, Tachibana smiles, and Nanase frowns. They make their way over to the others, joined by the little blonde kid on the way over.
“Everyone, this is Matsuoka Rin,” Sasabe says. “He’s a part of our club starting today. Tachibana, would you mind running him through the warm ups while I get the little kids started?”
The brown-haired boy nods, showing a warm smile once again. “Nice to meet you, Matsuoka,” he says. “You can call me Makoto, if you want to.”
“Alright,” Rin replies. “Then call me Rin.”
Makoto looks happy at that. “This is my friend Nagisa,” he says, gesturing to the smaller blonde on his right, “and this is Haruka.”
“Nanase,” the latter corrects. His voice is apathetic and monotone, but cool like wind and water and stone.
“Nanase, huh?” Rin’s voice boasts false confidence. “You’re pretty fast, you know. We should race someday.”
“No, thanks,” Nanase says. “It’s bothersome.”
“It’s fun!” Rin exclaims, frowning. “What, do you think I’ll beat you?”
“You can race me, Rin-chan!” the blonde exclaims. “Hazuki Nagisa. I’m the fastest one in my class!”
“He’s a year younger,” Makoto explains. “But he keeps up with the older kids really well.”
“Sure,” Rin agrees. “But don’t call me Rin-chan. Just Rin is fine.”
Nanase is frowning. “I don’t think you could beat me,” he says. “But if you want to try, then fine.”
Rin beams. “Great! What do you swim?”
“Me too! I do freestyle and butterfly, usually.”
“Haru only likes to swim freestyle,” Makoto says. “I’m not really sure why, but he’s really good at it.”
“You never want to try a different stroke?” Rin asks. “I mean, butterfly is really fun.”
“No,” Haru says. “Only free.”
“Haru-chan’s really stubborn,” Hazuki explains. “He’s never swam anything other than freestyle in his life.”
“Nagisa, that’s not true!” Makoto protests.
“Well, have you ever seen him swim anything else?”
“Er, no, but that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t before!”
Nanase’s eyes narrow. “Are you sure you want to race me? I saw you swimming. Your turn was sloppy.”
Rin bristles. “I slipped!” he exclaims. “It’s not my fault. It’s not gonna happen again.”
Wordlessly, Nanase turns back to the pool and watches the water. His eyes shine like sunlight filtered through the ocean. He’s got thick lashes and dark eyebrows and he’s everything that Rin’s not.
Rin thinks that they’ll be rivals someday.
His mother is in love again, and it’s killing her, he thinks.
It’s killing her in the way that she’s not who she used to be. She’s more distant now, and she’s around less, and sometimes she forgets to kiss them goodnight. When she comes home late the anniversary of their father’s death, Rin stops speaking to her for a week. Gou says he’s being unreasonable. His mother says nothing, but she looks like she wants to.
Matsuoka Toraichi is gone, but it still feels like she’s cheating on him. It feels like he’s betraying his father by not speaking up. And he hates it. Rin looks through the window one day after he hears the car pull in and his insides flutter unpleasantly when he sees his mother kissing the strange man from dinner last night.
Gou thinks that their mother’s new romance is a good thing, and Rin thinks that she’s a traitor. But he can’t blame her, after all, since she’d barely known their father.
“He’s like a weasel,” Rin says to her after their mom leaves.
“Why are you so mean to Nanaka-san?” Gou asks, pouting. “Can’t you just be happy for mom? She’s finally got someone else to love.”
Anger crashes against his chest like a tsunami, relentless and stormy and filled with things he doesn’t mean. He wants to shout at her, shout at his mom, shout at himself. He wants to drown them in his anger, and drown himself as well.
He doesn’t say what he wants to say.
“She has enough people to love,” he replies through grit teeth, glaring out the window. “She has you and me and her parents and dad. She doesn’t need anyone else.”
Gou doesn’t reply. She, unlike him, knows when to stop.
Rin thinks that love is stupid.
It’s kind of like getting drunk, his young mind figures. It feels great for a while, and then when you wake up it’s like you’ve died and come back to life. Sometimes love and drinking go hand in hand.
There are a few sour-smelling bottles on the counter. One of them still has some stuff in it that he pours down the drain instead of putting in the fridge. He picks up wads of paper towels and wipes down the counter, grabs the window cleaner from the high shelf and sprays every hard surface to get rid of the beer smell.
His mother doesn’t come out of her room until two in the afternoon. When Gou asks why, Rin tells her it’s because she’s sick. And then he goes to the Iwatobi Swim Club and pretends that Nanaka doesn’t exist, and he beats his fastest time.
He leaves for Australia five months later.
They’re walking back from the pool after a visit to Iwatobi’s pool, and Rin’s hand just happens to brush against Haru’s. He feels something light in the back of his throat and coughs, bringing his hand up to cover his mouth.
When he pulls his hand away, there’s a single baby pink petal resting on his palm.
Rin wrinkles his nose, wondering if he’d accidentally swallowed some flower blossoms back at the Iwatobi pool. It doesn’t seem completely unlikely; they’re small flowers.
He drops the petal onto the ground and wipes his hand on his jacket. “So,” he says, “Are you up for a race next time?”
“...Yeah,” Haru says.
“Good. I hope you’re ready to lose.”
Haru rolls his eyes. “I don’t care,” he replies, turning to Rin. “You know that already.”
“You’re such a weird person.” Rin sighs as they approach the train station. “Thanks for walking me. It’ll be here soon.”
“I’ll wait.” Haru looks away like it’s not a big deal, pretending to be interested in something on the other side of the tracks. Rin sees right through him.
“You’re so much more emotive than you were when we were kids,” he comments. Haru frowns.
“You’re a lot more angry,” he replies. “Most of the time.”
This is true. “I just mean that you care a lot more. Or you seem like you care more. You never would have walked me out here before.”
“I would have,” Haru grumbles, stuffing his hands in his pockets.
“You would have called it bothersome and made me go alone.”
“Well, you didn’t live a train ride away when we were kids, so this whole conversation is pointless.”
Rin tips his head back and laughs--not a chuckle, but a full-out surprised burst of laughter. Haru looks so mildly offended that it sends him into another bout of cackles, until he’s gasping for breath and his chest hurts.
“I don’t see what’s so funny,” Haru says when Rin’s done wiping tears of mirth from his eyes.
“It’s nothing,” Rin says, waving him off. “Maybe you’re not as different as I thought.”
Haru hums quietly and turns to face him, his eyes shining. The wind blows his hair around his face in shiny black strands as Rin’s train rushes past them and slows to a stop. He looks indecisive.
“Well, I should get home,” Rin says, jerking his head towards the train. “I’ll see you this weekend, okay?”
“Rin, wait-” Haru catches his arm as he’s turning away.
“What is it?” he asks, frowning. “I need to get going or I’ll miss curfew.”
He stops, shakes his head. “I’m looking forward to the race,” he finishes finally. Rin flashes a bright grin back.
“Me too,” he says, arm going cold when Haru takes his hand back. “I’ll text you.”
He coughs up more petals on his way home. A concerning amount, more than he might have been able to swallow at the pool without noticing. It scares him, and it’s gross and probably unsanitary, but he doesn’t know what’s happening, so he chooses to ignore it, like he’d ignored his issues in Australia and his feelings at the Iwatobi Swim Club.
In the middle of his study session for his Japanese literature test, Makoto calls. Rin almost doesn’t answer, but when he looks down at his textbook and the words swim on the page he decides now might be a good time for a study break.
“Hey,” he answers shortly, throwing his pencil. It bounces off the wall and lands on his bed, pointing back at him.
“Rin, Hayato wants to learn butterfly and I can’t really teach him that well. I looked up a bunch of techniques but I don’t think I’ll be able to help him. Can you come in later?” Makoto sounds tired, and Rin realizes not for the first time that he’s just as stressed as everyone else with the end of the school year coming up, only better at hiding it.
“Why don’t you ask Rei?” he says, flipping back to the start of his textbook. He hasn’t absorbed anything from it for the past half hour and it’s driving him insane.
“Rei’s a great swimmer, and he’s really good with techniques, but you weren’t there when he first learned to swim. He’s too logical to teach the kids.”
“And you came to me because I’m the least logical person you know,” Rin adds. “That’s fair, but I’ve got a lot of work to do, and I have to keep my team on the right track. Can’t you ask Sousuke?”
“He’d scare the kids,” Makoto says simply.
“Makoto, I’d scare the kids. I can’t believe I didn’t scare you when we first met.”
“Oh,” he laughs. “You did scare me. But you didn’t have a full set of shark teeth yet, so it was really more like being friends with a cat than a monster.”
“That’s the worst thing you’ve ever said to me,” Rin deadpans. “But my point still stands.”
“Alright, if you’re too busy then I’ll manage. Would you mind asking Sousuke to come in? I’ll get him one of the blue wetsuits and tell him to smile.”
Rin snorts. “Yeah, just don’t expect it to happen. Is there anything else?”
“Oh! Nagisa’s having a sleepover at Haru’s place and he wanted to invite you. I know you’re busy, but it could be good for you to take some time off, and Rei can help you study if you want.”
Rin frowns. “Nagisa’s having a sleepover at Haru’s place?” he asks.
“His parents don’t like the loud noise, Rei’s don’t either, and I’ve got Ren and Ran at home, so Haru’s place is usually ideal for get-togethers.”
“I’m assuming this is nonconsensual?”
“Yeah, basically. Do you think you can take a break and come?”
Rin sighs. “Is Rei any good with literature?”
“He’s better with math and chemistry, but I think he’s good.” Makoto sounds hopeful.
“Maybe,” he says. “If I’m not too busy. Is it this weekend?”
“Saturday at five.” Makoto pauses for a second. “I’ll see you there?”
“I make no promises.”
Saturday at five he shows up with a small duffel and a box of fresh mikan oranges. He rings the doorbell and Nagisa is at his side in a flash.
“Rin-chan’s here!” he calls over his shoulder, before taking Rin by the arm and forcibly dragging him inside. Rin kicks off his shoes messily on the way in.
“Nagisa!” he complains, stumbling into the living room. Makoto waves from his seat on the tatami next to Haru.
“Uh, hey,” he says.
“Rin! We’re glad you could come,” Makoto replies, motioning him over. “Rei will be here in just a minute and then we can get started.”
“Makoto made me turn the sleepover into a study party,” Nagisa explains. “But we’ll still get to hang out together, so that’s okay.”
Rin sets the oranges down and sits opposite Nagisa at the low table. “Nagisa, I can’t believe you dragged my ass all the way here just to study. I could have done that back at Samezuka, you know.”
“You did say you needed help with Japanese lit,” Makoto interjects.
“But I’d get more done if I was at home.”
“Aw, come on, don’t be like that.” Nagisa pouts, holding onto his arm again. “It’s more fun with Rin here, isn’t it? Tell him, Haru.”
Rin looks at Haru pointedly, one eyebrow raised, because obviously he’ll just say it’s bothersome and go back to looking off into the distance.
After a second, Haru nods. “Rin makes things interesting,” he agrees. Rin bristles.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asks, wondering if he should be offended.
“It means what it sounds like,” Haru says, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “It’s a good thing. I don’t like to be bored.”
Surprised, he’s about to open his mouth when he feels something light at the back of his throat. He covers his mouth with his hand and coughs, wondering if he’d swallowed something the wrong way earlier.
He feels that eerie brush of sakura petals against his palm. When he pulls his hand away, there are several intact pink blossoms resting on it.
“Rei-chan!” Nagisa yells, shooting up from his spot to barrel into Rei’s side. “Did you bring your literature stuff? Oh, did you bring your chemistry books? I need help with chemistry.”
“Good evening, everyone,” Rei says, adjusting his glasses from where they’d shifted. “I brought all of my books, Nagisa, because clearly you need a lot of help.”
“Nice to see you, Rei,” Makoto says because despite not being the host of the party he’s decided to act as one for the group. “I think we can get started now.”
Rin closes his hand around the sakura blossoms, tries to act like things are normal when he chokes up more during dinner and a conversation with Haru that quickly escalates into a playful argument, when he wakes up in the morning with limp flowers stuck in his hair.
“I’m glad I could help you out, Rin-san,” Rei says as he leaves with bags stuffed with books and notes. Nagisa waves from beside him.
“See you soon, Rin-chan!” he calls.
“It’s just Rin.”
Makoto laughs. “He’s called you that since we met.”
“I know, and I hate it,” Rin replies. “Are you staying back?”
Makoto nods. “I’ll go home in a little bit.”
“Need any help cleaning up?” he offers.
“I think we’re okay. Plus you’ve got a long train ride back to Samezuka, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I should get going.” Rin smiles half-heartedly. “Thanks for having me.”
“Thanks so much for coming. You really helped us out with English.”
Haru appears from the hall, hair still sticking up and out of place. “It was interesting,” is all he says, but his mouth turns up with a tiny smile.
Rin leaves with a pocket almost full of sakura and a small, nagging feeling that something is very wrong.
He might be getting sick.
Sousuke says as much when he has a coughing fit at three in the morning a few days later, waking both of them up. He has just enough time to shove a handful or two of flowers under his pillow before Sousuke is stunt rolling off his bed and shoving a package of cough drops at him.
“You should sit out during practice today,” he says, sitting backwards on one of their desk chairs facing Rin. “If you’re getting sick, swimming won’t help you.”
Rin shakes his head. “Haru doesn’t let sickness get in between him and swimming. He’s insane, but I think it actually helps him to be in the water.”
“Yeah, but you’re not Nanase.” Sousuke reclaims the cough drops, setting the bag down on his desk. “You should get some rest before you train yourself into the ground.”
“Will do, thanks.” Rin grabs his water bottle off his desk, taking a few large gulps.
“I’m serious. Don’t let your weirdly intimate rivalry with him get in the way of your health.”
He glares. “I can take care of myself without your help, thanks.”
Sousuke sighs. “Just promise me you’ll drink lots of water.”
“Go back to bed, Sousuke.”
Rin waits until the lights are off and Sousuke’s breathing has evened out for a good few minutes before he pulls out his phone. In a panic, he searches Why am I coughing up flower petals? and blindly taps on the first result.
He reads and researches and reads again until the morning light peeks out over the horizon.
The worst part is that it hadn’t even occurred to him that he was-- is --in love until he’d started coughing up these stupid flowers. There wasn’t a sudden realization that somehow triggered his disease, nothing that made him stop and think I love him. He hadn’t known, and he hates that this is how he finds out.
It’s almost more upsetting than the fact that he’s going to die.
Apparently he has Hanahaki, a rare disease caused by one-sided love which causes flowers and foliage to bloom and grow in its victim’s lungs until either the object of their love returns their affections, or the victim dies of suffocation or lung collapse. The only other cure is a painful-sounding and sometimes unsuccessful surgery which also causes all the affectionate feelings to go away as well.
Rin reads reports of past survivors, of family members, of doctors and nurses and friends. They all say similar things: that it isn’t fair, that they couldn’t convince them to tell the truth, that they’ll never be able to look at such and such flower ever again without feeling sad and sick.
The worst reports are from the loved ones who’d been the causes, the ones who had been confessed to and been unable to reciprocate, or worse, had only been told after the victim had died. Rin gets so invested in a story about a man who had loved a married woman so much that he’d refused to get the surgery and died when all along she had loved him back that he almost forgets that this isn’t fiction and that he’s sick as well.
Then he thinks about what might happen if he doesn’t get the surgery, and about what Haru might think of him if he finds out, and then he hauls himself out of bed and throws up bile into the trashcan. (Partially from the disease, partly because he’s making himself sick by thinking about this.)
Rin wonders why it had to happen now. Now that he and Haru are back to being okay, now that he’s got a future ahead of him and the worst of it had seemed to be behind. Because he knows, he knows for sure, that he’s only ever felt one way towards Haru. When he was young he’d call it the admiration or a rival, then maybe something even close to friendship. And even when he’d absolutely loathed Haru, he’d felt like this.
Which means that he’s either seriously mistaken, or he’s been in love with Nanase Haruka for as long as he’s known him.
So why the hell did his stupid disease wake up so late? Why not as a kid in the ISC, or when he was in Australia and only ever thought of Haru?
He takes a quick shower and gets dressed, throws his swim stuff into a bag with some water bottles, and leaves for his first class before Sousuke’s even out of bed.
A few students stop to ask him if he’s alright throughout the day, but he just waves them off. Sousuke benches him from their swim practice that afternoon, which he technically can’t do since Rin is the captain, but does anyway. Rin spends the unexpected free time passive-aggressively working out in the weight room and mulling his options over.
Clearly the flowers will only get worse and more frequent from here on out, and it seems like his only choices are to get the surgery and lose his newly realized “love” or suffer and slowly die at the unforgiving hands of fate. The choice should be obvious, and for the time being, he thinks that it is.
He can’t ignore it anymore, and he refuses to lose his life and give up his dreams for a boy who will never love him back anyway.
Two days later, for the first time since his rather rude awakening to the situation, he sees Haru again. Iwatobi’s team is coming to use the Samezuka pool, since the weather is bad, and so an unofficial joint practice is held. (Unofficial meaning it’s more of an opportunity for everyone to goof off, socialize, and race than it is to get any real work done.)
Rin, still unable to spend enough time away from Samezuka to go to the hospital, decides that his best temporary option is to avoid Haru like the plague until he can get the stupid petals out of his lungs for good. This is a good plan in his mind.
Not so much in real life.
About five minutes into their “practice” session, Haru sneaks up behind Rin and almost scares him to death.
“Jesus, we’ve got to put a bell on you or something.” Distantly, Rin thinks that Haru doesn’t look any different, and his voice when he replies is still flat and unresponsive.
“Are we going to race or not?” he asks, quirking an eyebrow. He looks almost playful, or challenging, or expectant.
“Yeah, yeah, give me a second. I’ve just gotta…” Rin gestures vaguely over his shoulder to where Momo is trying to chat up Gou about some type of stag beetle. “I’ll be back,” he finishes, already walking backwards towards his teammate.
Gou shoots him a worried look when he finally pulls Momo away. “Are you okay? You’re a little grumpier than usual.”
“You’re delusional,” Rin replies, pushing Momo harshly towards the changing room, since he’s still neglected to do so already. “I had a long night, okay?”
“Are you sure that’s it? I mean, you’re doing that thing you do where you get all defensive…”
“Gou, I swear, I’m fine.” Rin glares down at her until she raises her hands in surrender.
“Okay then,” she says. “I’m just gonna quietly time my team from over here. Tell me if you need anything from me.”
“I don’t,” he snaps, then shoots a look over his shoulder. Haru is staring at the edge of the pool, where the water slaps over the edge and drains through the slits in the ground. He looks like he’s in a trance.
Rin coughs violently, slapping a hand over his mouth to catch the petals. He ducks his head towards Gou and moves in the opposite direction he’d sent Momo, towards the bathrooms in the check-in type area of the pool.
He dumps the small handful of blossoms into a wastebasket and splashes cold water on his face, tries to think about anything other than the way Haru had looked just a minute ago.
He can do this. He’s been fine around Haru for years and years, and today shouldn’t be any different.
“Ready to race?” he asks when Haru looks up from the pool. He snorts quietly, a rare show of emotion.
“Took you long enough.”
“Shut up.” Rin motions for Haru to follow him to the starting blocks, snapping his goggles against the back of his head. “One hundred yards, freestyle, okay? Try to keep up.”
He doesn’t need to ask, obviously, but it feels weird not to.
“Three, two, one, go!” he calls, and they launch off the starting block side by side. Rin hears the splash of the water in Haru’s lane at the same time his head submerges. He starts pulling ahead, putting all of his power into his kick, thrusting his arms forward until they force the water to part around them. Haru swims a single beat behind him.
For just a few seconds, he sees that shining brightness in the water that he always sees when he’s swimming with Haru. He’d hated it, back in Australia, when the water just made everything and anything blurry and unclear. He’d hated it more when he’d come back, when he’d race Haru and see the brightness and know that it’s not for him anymore.
The wall comes into view before him. Rin bends his knees when he feels the cool tile against his feet and springs off, but Haru passes him on the turn. Rin takes all of his energy and puts it into the race, trying to project the adrenaline in his heart into his arms and legs, trying to make himself stronger. He forgets about the disease for a second, and thinks, I never want to stop swimming with Haru.
He feels a small pinprick of pain in his lung, just a tiny bit, and then he’s swimming even faster, holding his breath and the flowers in his lungs. He feels like he’s drowning, or choking, or being smothered. Maybe all three at once.
Thankfully, his hand hits the wall within a few seconds. He comes upright just as Haru reaches the end, but he doubles over in a fit of coughing before he can really register it. His lungs feel like they’re on fire.
A particularly violent cough dislodges a small amount of petals, which he hides in his hand quickly. He breathes heavily, catching his breath, as Haru pulls his goggles up.
“See? I won,” he pants, holding the flowers in his fist underwater.
Haru doesn’t look too troubled. “You seem tired. Did that really wear you out?” he asks teasingly.
“Hey, I’m just a little sick, okay?”
Rin feels something flutter lightly in his chest. He wants to say, “I’m really glad we’re friends,” while he still can, because he doesn’t know when he’ll see Haru next, and if whatever surgery he has to get makes anything different, he wants Haru to know. But Momotarou comes running back to the pool with Ai chasing after him yelling “Don’t run!” and Rin is dragged back to his captain duties.
“Where are you headed?” Sousuke asks, looking down from his bunk. Rin keeps packing, trying not to look guilty.
“I’ve got some stuff to take care of,” he says, hoping that Sousuke won’t ask for specifics.
“Are you finally gonna go see someone about that cough?”
“Something like that, yeah.” He pulls the zipper on his bag, hand closing around the old, beat-up jellyfish charm as he opens it. “Why, did you need me for something?”
There’s no immediate reply. Rin grabs his water bottle from the foot of his bed and tosses it into the bag, then pulls his swim jacket off the back of his chair. “Sousuke?” he prompts.
Another pause. Then, “You’d tell me if there was something going on, wouldn’t you?”
Rin swallows. “Of course,” he says. “We’re friends.”
“Because I’d do anything for you, obviously,” Sousuke continues. “So if there’s something going on with you, you’d better let me know.”
“Where is this coming from?”
There’s a rustle of sheets as Sousuke shifts position. “You’ve been really weird lately. It feels like you’re hiding something from everyone.”
“Well, I’m not.” School binders, homework, pencil bag, goggles (because it seems he never goes anywhere without them). He zips the bag up and tosses it over his shoulder, kicks his chair in and turns toward the door.
“Rin, turn around and tell me that there’s nothing going on with you.”
He sounds serious. Rin turns and looks up at him, hoisting his bag over his shoulder.
“I’m taking care of it, okay? You don’t need to worry about it,” he says, and it really doesn’t feel like a lie. At least, the first part doesn’t.
At least Sousuke seems convinced. After a second he rolls back over with an “Okay, then.”
Rin breathes a sigh of relief and turns back to the door. “I might want to visit Gou and the others for a while, too. I’ll be back by tomorrow afternoon at the latest.”
He knows that they can’t do anything for him immediately. (Obviously he can’t just walk into a hospital and expect them to perform surgery on him immediately.) But he can’t wait any longer, and besides, he’s already made up his mind. His life is more important than some stupid crush he might have picked up god-knows-when.
(He knows that it’s not a crush. Calling it that is like calling an ocean a puddle, but he’s not ready to accept that yet. He’s not.)
The train ride is quick. Rin zones out and almost misses his stop until he catches sight of a set of blue eyes on the platform and sends himself into another coughing fit. (It’s not Haru, Haru’s eyes are much deeper and bluer and framed by long, thick lashes. But it’s close enough to get Rin thinking about all of that and here he is, stuffing petals into his pocket on a train and getting odd looks. The worst part is that he feels so good about it, even though he knows that it’s actually, physically hurting him.
He grabs his bag and steps onto the platform, looking around and trying to subtly empty his pockets of flower petals. The hospital is a short walk away from the train station, so he wanders a little until he finds the right street.
The Iwatobi Hospital, like the town, is on the smaller side. It has a good reputation, but it isn’t as intimidating as hospitals in Australia. (Rin broke his finger once in a car door, and all he can remember about getting it set is how white the hospital room was.)
He finds it easily, checks in at the front office, and waits in one of the uncomfortably comfortable plastic chairs while people come and go. Nurses in green uniforms (to offset the red of blood and stuff, Gou had told him once, because green and red are opposite on the color wheel and it makes the gory stuff look less gory) rush around, some with trays of food or saline packets.
Somebody calls his name.
He follows them into a smallish room with one of the weird leather chairs and boxes of rubber gloves and nothing else. He zones out as the nurse checks his pulse and asks him questions.
“What seems to be the issue, Matsuoka?”
“I’ve got flowers in my lungs.”
The nurse stops and looks at him like he’s insane. “Pardon me?”
“Hanahaki,” he explains. It takes a second before a look of almost melancholy recognition crosses the man’s face.
“I’ll go get a doctor,” he says, grabbing his clipboard and rushing out of the room. Rin frowns. It’s not like he’s going to start vomiting blood and plants all over the guy.
His phone vibrates in his pocket with a text. He assumes it’s going to be Sousuke, asking him if everything’s going well, but when he glances at the lockscreen he sees Haru’s name pop up instead. Haru never texts. His phone is basically a permanent fixture on his bedside table, and it’s usually dead as well. What’s so out of the ordinary to make him actually use it?
Where are you? Yamazaki said you were being weird.
Rin shakes his head. Since when do you and Sousuke text? he shoots back.
I heard from Nagisa.
Of course. Because Sousuke may be Rin’s best friend, but that doesn’t mean he always knows when to stop.
Just going to the doctor to get some stuff cleared up he replies. Don’t listen to Sousuke. He’s insane.
I know Haru writes back. Hope you’re doing okay.
Rin almost chokes. Haru never says anything like that to anyone, let alone Rin. After his first year back, things had defrosted between them a little, but for the most part Haru keeps his happy emotional side for Makoto and his team and only shows Rin little bits of it. He can count the number of smiles he’s gotten from Haru in the last few months on one hand.
“Matsuoka-san? I’m Kusuda.”
Rin coughs politely into his hand, a few petals slipping through his fingers and landing on his thigh. “Nice to meet you,” he says, awkwardly staring at Kusuda’s extended hand and trying to decide if it’s gross to shake it. Luckily, she doesn't pry.
“I’m a specialist in hanahaki byou. I heard you’re an unfortunate victim, is that right?”
He nods. “I, uh, heard there was a surgery I can get to take the plants out,” he says. “Wanted to know a little bit more about that.”
“Of course, of course.” Kusuda takes a seat on the only slightly more comfortable than the waiting room chair across from him. “It’s not always a smooth process, but there’s only a very small chance of anything going severely wrong. However, there are some side effects to having the surgery done.”
“Like what?” he asks.
“Well, it will clearly damage your lungs for some time. Once they fully heal, they still won’t be quite as strong as they’d once been.”
Rin swallows. “I’m a swimmer,” he says. “Will I still be able to do that? Competitively and stuff.”
Kusuda shakes her head slowly. “Most likely not. Removing the flowers from your lungs would be quite a long and damaging process. It’s like the Operation board game, except a lot more complex and with a lot more at stake. We’d have to actually cut into them and remove the plants, seeds, and roots, and then sew them back up, if that gives you a clear enough picture.”
Rin’s heart sinks. Swimming has always been everything for him, ever since he was a kid. It’s his dream, for god’s sake. He’d have to give up everything he’s spent his entire life training for.
But the result is that he has a life.
“What else is there, side effect wise?” he asks.
“I don’t know if you’ve read much into the hanahaki byou disease, but you might have heard that once the seeds and roots have been removed, you won’t really feel the same about the, er, cause of the problem.”
“I won’t be in love anymore,” Rin states. Yeah, he’d read about that.
“Your memories will be intact, but they might not come back to you the way you’d remembered them before,” she explains. “And it might be a little bit jarring.”
“And what’s the,” he swallows, “mortality rate of these surgeries?”
“Very low,” Kusuda assures him. “But the longer you wait, the higher it gets. How long has this been going on?”
“About two weeks,” Rin says.
“So you’re very early in the process. May I see your hand?”
Sheepishly, he extends his hand and shows Kusuda the handful of sakura blossoms. She frowns.
“You said it has only started a few weeks ago?” she asks, taking one of the petals and considering it carefully.
“I think so, yeah. At least, approximately.”
“These flowers are extremely well-developed for such an early stage,” Kusuda says, turning the flower over in her palm. “I’m so sorry. You must really love the girl, huh?”
“It’s- yeah,” he catches himself. No reason to explain if it won’t even matter in a month or two.
“I think you should definitely apply for the surgery as soon as possible. Wouldn’t want to get it any worse. Do you want me to show you the website?”
“For- for what?” he asks, confused. “Can’t we just make an appointment at the front desk?”
Kusuda frowns deeper. “Matsuoka-san, I’m sorry. I should have told you sooner--you’ll have to go to a different hospital to get the treatment done.”
“A different hospital? But this is the only one remotely close to where I live,” he says. Kusuda shakes her head.
“There are no other hospitals around. For something as serious as this, I’d recommend a hospital in Tokyo.”
For the second, maybe third time that day, Rin chokes. “Tokyo?!” he exclaims. “Why can’t you just do it here?”
“We don’t have to facilities or the doctors for the job,” Kusuda explains regretfully. “The hospital I recommend is much larger than this one, and it has a lot more people who have dealt with hanahaki byou before. They’ve done the most successful hanahaki removal surgeries out of every accessible hospital in Japan. They know what they’re doing.”
Have to finish the school year. Have to coach the swim team. Have to stay close to Iwatobi, because god knows how messed up his head will get if he leaves again. He wants to say all of these things, all at once, but instead he stops.
“Matsuoka, I understand that a trip to Tokyo as sudden as this might cause some problems for you, but think of the alternative.” Kusuda looks at him kindly, logically, and Rin can’t seem to remember how to think straight. “I can get you some medicine. It’s not specifically for hanahaki, but it will help suppress your coughing fits, and it might numb your lungs a bit. And I can send you home with some pamphlets about the hospital you should look into.”
“Thanks,” Rin says, but he’s not paying attention anymore.
“Welcome back,” Sousuke says, sounding surprised as Rin dumps his bag on his desk. “I thought you’d be away longer.”
Honestly, so had he. The plan was to learn some stuff about the surgery, then spend some time with his mother and Gou and possibly tell them that he’s getting some procedures done. Just so that they don’t worry.
But instead he’d decided to come right back to Samezuka. He knows that he’s being unreasonable, but he needs time to think and being around anyone from Iwatobi--Gou included--won’t help him do that. And it’s not like he can just rent out a motel and suffer silently until he has to come back for classes.
“Did you tell Nagisa that I was going to the hospital?” he asks.
“No. You went to the hospital?”
Damn it, he thinks. “I mean, for a little bit, just to get my cough checked out.”
“You could have called an advice nurse for that, idiot,” Sousuke says, standing up from his desk. “And by the way, it wasn’t me who told Iwatobi, it was Momo.”
“That dumbass,” Rin groans. “Why didn’t you stop him?”
“I didn’t know until it was already too late. And besides, he was doing it out of respect, so I figured I shouldn’t punish him.”
He laughs. “Want help unpacking?”
“No, it’s fine. I didn’t bring that much stuff, anyway.”
“Yeah, I noticed your extensive collection of black tank tops was still here.”
“Shut up, they’re comfortable and fashionable.”
“Right,” Sousuke says, rolling his eyes. “So, then, what did the doctors say?”
Rin sighs. “They wanted me to go somewhere else to get some, uh, treatment stuff for my cough. I’ll go there eventually.”
“Make it soon. I can’t get any sleep nowadays with you coughing all the time.”
“You know what? Just for that I’ll wait as long as humanly possible before I get it,” he says. Sousuke snorts.
“Fine. Have fun suffering.”
Rin pulls his laptop up and pretends to do research for his biology project while looking up the hospital in Tokyo. It’s huge, has good ratings, and looks like a place he’d never, ever want to go, even if-
Well, even if his life depends on it.
“Do you think we’ll need to participate in any more competitions?” he asks. “You know, since the season’s over and all.”
“I’m not sure,” Sousuke replies. “Maybe if you get us roped into another contest with the Iwatobi club, but that’s not really that big of a deal. Why?”
“I… I was thinking about going somewhere for a little while,” he lies. “I mean, there’s still time before I head to Australia, so I was thinking I could tour Japan for a little while. Maybe go to Tokyo for a bit?”
Sousuke looks at him like he’s insane. “You’re skipping part of the school year to go to Tokyo?” he asks incredulously. “You’ve been across the world, Rin, and you never even wanted to travel before. Why can’t you just wait until graduation?”
“It’s-” he starts, but there’s nothing he can say. “It’s just a thought,” he finishes. “You’re right, I know, but maybe I could graduate early and just explore a little. How many people get to do that in their lives?”
“People who’ve already graduated and have clear futures ahead of them,” Sousuke replies. “Or people who have no future and have more drugs in their bloodstream than actual blood.”
“They’d be dead.”
He’s met with a level stare. “Please tell me you’re not considering going to Tokyo,” Sousuke says. Rin looks away, guilty.
“I can’t tell you that.”
“You’re fucking insane.”
“Only for a few days,” Rin argues. “Two weeks at the most. Maybe three.”
“Do you not know what ‘at the most’ means?” Sousuke sighs, covering his face with his hands. “You can’t miss almost a month of school, Rin, that’s an awful idea.”
Sousuke glares. “But you what?”
“I-” Rin fumbles for an excuse. “You know what, never mind. It was just a thought.”
He has a dream about Haru.
They’re back on the train station platform and Haru tells him to wait, just like last time, but instead of hesitating, he says “I love you,” loud and clear, and it feels like a huge weight has been lifted off his chest. (Which is ironic in a sad, dark way.)
“I love you, too,” he says. “I’ve loved you since I met you.”
“You should have told me,” Haru says. He’s smiling.
Rin wakes up and feels the stirring in his lungs and almost cries, because he doesn’t want to go to Tokyo. He doesn’t want to get the surgery.
He’s a hopeless romantic, and even though he constantly denies it, he also knows that it’s true. And this feeling that he gets when he thinks of Haru is kind of awesome in a sick sense, like the flowers are both messengers of death and of love. They remind him that he’s in love with Haru.
Is that a bad thing?
He won’t be able to swim if he gets surgery, and he’ll lose his feelings for Haru, but he’ll be alive. It’s clearly the right choice, but it feels off, like he’ll be losing a larger part of himself than he thinks.
No, he decides. It’s not even a choice. He’s going to get the surgery.
“What do you think about Tokyo?” Rin asks the next time he sees Haru. They’re at a festival, one that’s been held in Iwatobi ever year for as long as he can remember. He doesn’t know why they have it--maybe it’s a commemoration, or an anniversary--but it’s bright and loud and full of color and good food and small talk.
Haru shrugs, picking at his mackerel. “Ask Makoto.”
“I’m asking you.” Rin takes a small bite of his rice bowl. “I mean, Makoto’s going to a university in Tokyo, so he obviously likes it there.”
Haru chews on his fish for a second, thoughtful. “I don’t know,” he says. “It’s big.”
“I know that, genius.”
“It’s loud. And bright.”
He nods. “Like the New York of Japan, right?”
Haru shakes his head. “Why do you ask?”
Rin pauses, debating. Sousuke obviously thinks he’s insane, but will Haru? The boy who literally wears his swimsuit at all times just so that he’ll be ready to swim whenever? If he asks, Rin certainly can’t tell him why he’s going, but he doesn’t want to lie.
“I was just thinking of going there someday soon,” he says. Haru frowns and he regrets opening his mouth.
“But you’re going to Australia after graduation,” he says.
“Well, yeah, but it’s not like I’ll be moving there forever. Maybe I’ll go sometime during the school year.”
“This school year? Why?”
It’s not the angry outburst he’d been expecting, like with Sousuke. Rin takes that as a good thing.
“There’s some stuff I need to take care of there,” he says, hoping that Haru won’t question him further.
“Stuff like serious stuff?” Haru asks. Rin sighs.
“I guess,” he admits. “Don’t worry about it, though.”
“Why wouldn’t I? You’re a worrying person, after all.”
Rin feels something light in his throat and swallows hard. “Hey, I take offense at that. If anyone’s worrying, it’s you.”
Haru frowns. “Are you really going to Tokyo during the school year?” he asks, mackerel forgotten.
“I really don’t know,” Rin says truthfully. “I should go. There are important things I need to do there, but everyone’s telling me that I shouldn’t go.”
“Hm…” Haru turns to watch the festival for a second. Three little children are running around near them, chasing each other with large smiles on their faces.
“Well,” he says, turning back, “what would you do if I said that I was going to Tokyo soon?”
“I’d tell you to stay, obviously, but it’s different.”
“Pretend it’s not different. Whatever reason you have for leaving, pretend that it’s my reason and that I’m going tomorrow. What would you do?”
Rin swallows again. He should say that he’d tell Haru to go. If their situations were switched, he’d want Haru to go.
But instead he finds himself saying, “I’d still tell you to stay,” and Haru looks at him like obviously, obviously that’s his answer for Rin.
“There you two are!” Makoto exclaims, running up to them. “We thought we’d lost you.”
Rin coughs into his fist, bracing himself on the bench with his other arm. He turns away and lets the flowers fall away from his hand, making a small pile on the ground that gets swept away by a breeze.
“No, we’re not going anywhere,” Haru answers. Rin chokes out more sakura blossoms and hates himself because he knows.
No surgery. No Tokyo. He’ll die at eighteen, a could-have-been Olympic swimmer, a fool in love, and he will enjoy the pain because he’s a masochist.
“Rin-chan, I was helping my dad clean up from the festival and there were a bunch of sakura petals trapped behind a garbage can. Weird, don’t you think?”
Rin groans. “Nagisa, I don’t care,” he says, although he very much does. He just doesn’t want to talk about it.
“But they were all kind of stuck together, like they’d been crushed. It was kind of spooky.” Nagisa makes what is probably supposed to be a ghost sound on the other line.
“There’s nothing remotely creepy about some flowers,” Rin snaps. “I’m busy revising, don’t you have someone else to bother?”
“Nope! Rei’s being boring and Haru and Makoto are cleaning the pool. I’m supposed to be helping, too, but I took a break. Want to say hi?”
“Not right now.”
“Jeez, so cranky, Rin-chan. You’re not avoiding us, are you?” Nagisa’s voice is sly and cunning, but Rin knows better than to play that tone off as teasing.
“I’m not ,” he says curtly. “I’m hanging up now.”
“Fine, be that way. But just so you know-”
“Hanging up,” Rin repeats, and then he does.
“I didn’t think you were the rebellious type,” Mikoshiba says, handing Rin the bottle. It’s ugly brown and covered in sweat from the cold liquid inside it.
“I’m not, really,” he replies, accepting the can opener he’s handed. “Just need to get through some stuff.”
“So young and you’re already turning to alcohol, huh?”
He cracks the cap off and sniffs at the rim of the bottle, wrinkling his nose in disgust. “I don’t get alcoholics,” he says. “I mean, who could get addicted to this ?”
“More than you think, kid.” Mikoshiba opens his own bottle and takes a swig, sighing. “It’s not bad once you get used to it, and it’s a great way to loosen up.”
“I don’t need to loosen up,” Rin replies. “Just want to try something out.”
He tips his head back and drinks, and yeah , it’s sour and awful and kind of makes him wonder what’s wrong with people, but he keeps drinking.
“I’ve got to say, I’m surprised that you came to me for this,” Mikoshiba says. “I’m still a minor, you know.”
“But you got it, didn’t you?” Rin points out.
“I have some older friends who are willing to hook me up. It’s not like I’ve got a fake ID or anything.”
“Liar, I found one in your swim jacket once.”
“Damn.” Mikoshiba grins. “You caught me.”
Rin swallows another mouthful of beer and sets it back on the counter. “Am I gonna be totally fucked tomorrow, or what?” he asks.
“Since it’s your first time, probably, but then again I’m sure you’ve got a good alcohol tolerance. Just drink water and take some aspirin.”
He shakes his head. “My mom got really drunk once when Gou and I were kids. Her asshole boyfriend did something or other and she kicked him out and got drunk, and I had to pretend that she was sick so that Gou didn’t suspect anything. I was twelve.”
“Oh god,” Mikoshiba says with a frown. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. It actually feels nice to tell someone.” Rin stretches back, tasting the beer on his tongue.
“So is that what you’re going through?”
“Huh?” he says, not understanding.
“I mean, like, did you get dumped or something? I don’t mean to pry, but I always thought the only thing you cared about was swimming. What brought this on all of a sudden?”
Rin shrugs. “It’s complicated.”
“Does that kid Nanase have anything to do with it?” Mikoshiba asks, raising an eyebrow. Rin looks away.
“It’s not like that,” he says, completely unconvincingly. Mikoshiba doesn’t pry.
“Alright, then,” he says, raising his bottle. “Cheers.”
“Cheers,” Rin echoes, washing flowers down with a drink of alcohol.
He wakes up with a pounding headache and no recollection of anything after his third beer. (Which was probably a little overkill, but hey, it’s not like it will matter soon.)
That particular thought sends him into a fit of giggles which quickly turn to groans as his stomach churns. He stumbles to the bathroom and throws up everything, flowers mixed in with whatever else had been in his stomach previously. He lays his head down on the counter and tries to differentiate the hangover from the effects of the hanahaki disease, and he finds that they’re too similar to really compare. Especially not now that his head is spinning and the room is tilting and his vision is kind of going out-
Sousuke shakes him awake a few minutes later, forces him to down a cup of water and swear that he won’t touch alcohol again until he’s at least three years older, and only with supervision. (Because Sousuke respects Mikoshiba in that way that young children respect clowns.)
He takes aspirin and some of the medicine Kusuda gave him. He stays in bed all day, reading and texting Gou and thinking that it’s a waste to not do what he wants now, because he’ll die soon anyway, and he doesn’t know how to feel about that anymore.
It’s getting so much worse.
Everyone’s worried. Sousuke keeps telling him to go to a doctor, or asking if he needs medicine, because “You look like you could die at any minute, Rin. I have literally never seen someone look as sick as you do.”
“Thanks,” Rin says in reply, rolling onto his side.
Haru seems to be struggling with communication more than usual, as well. He always looks like he wants to say something, but when Rin asks what it is, he won’t say. It’s frustrating for both of them. When he grits out “You don’t look so good,” one day, with the cutest concentrated look on his face, Rin has to hold his breath to keep the petals in his lungs.
“That’s rude,” he says, swallowing. Haru scrutinizes him for a second.
“You’re really pale. You’re not diabetic, are you?”
Rin shakes his head. “Nope, not at all.”
Haru frowns, but seems to drop the subject.
“So, do you want to race?” Rin asks.
“No. Too much trouble.”
He feels another little jab of pain in his lungs and thinks that not racing might be a good thing. “Okay,” he says, relaxing back in the water. It’s warm out, and the sun feels nice on his skin, especially with the cold water underneath him. There’s a light breeze. It’s kind of the perfect day, in his opinion.
“Is your team getting better?” Haru asks, breaking the silence.
“Momo’s working on it. Ai’s a lot stronger than last year, but he’s not good enough yet.”
“And how’s Yamazaki doing with his coaching thing?”
Rin sighs. “Something’s up with him. I think he misses swimming a lot, but he likes helping the juniors out with their butterfly.” He pauses. “How are the others?”
“You just saw them yesterday.”
“Yeah, but, like, how are they improving from last year? Do you think they’ll win anything next year without you and Makoto?”
“I don’t know.” It’s not Haru’s usual I don’t know, though, because it’s not just a dismissive remark. There’s a pause before he answers. Rin stands, turning to face him.
“What do you mean? Are they not any good? Do you not trust them?”
“Of course I do,” Haru snaps. “I just don’t know about them winning. It’s not just their skill, it’s…”
When he doesn’t continue, Rin finishes for him. “It’s their state of being?” he asks. Haru just nods in response.
“I don’t… I want them to do better than me. I don’t want whatever happened with the scouts to happen to them.”
“Yeah. I get it.”
“And whatever happened to you, what if it happens to them?”
Rin blinks in surprise. “What do you mean?”
Haru moves from his back float to stand. He doesn’t face Rin. “When you came back, you trained so hard, Rin. But you times got worse, didn’t they?”
He doesn’t answer. His lungs are swimming with flowers, threatening him.
“You weren’t happy, and you didn’t like yourself, and you started getting worse because of it. And we were all really worried about you, you know? I saw how much you were suffering, but I couldn’t help you. What if I can’t help them anymore?”
“You will,” he promises, swallowing hard. “Look at me, you will.”
And he regrets the words as soon as they come out of his mouth, because Haru looks at him with those large blue eyes he fell in love with the first time back at the swim club, and Rin feels something lurch in his stomach.
He takes a step back, covering his mouth with his hand and trying to turn away. He’s got flowers hidden in the palm of his hand and there’s something wet that isn’t water as well, and all of a sudden he’s so dizzy.
“Are you okay?” Haru asks. Rin feels more plants stirring in his lungs like worms, slipping up to his throat and into his mouth. He nods, pulling himself out of the pool with some effort and hurried excuses, and walks as quickly as he can to the bathroom.
He shuts himself into a stall and heaves up pinkish flowers stained in red blood, and a few things that he think might be parts of sakura branches, which is fucking terrifying. He presses his forehead against the wall of the bathroom, feeling weak and cold and clammy, like he’s going to faint.
“Stay awake,” he tells himself. “You’re fine. Nothing’s wrong, so don’t make a big deal of it. Stay awake and go back out there.”
His head spins and another bunch of sakura blossoms force their way from his lungs to his throat. He coughs violently, spitting them out, gasping for air when they’re finally gone. There are footsteps, and then a knock on the stall door.
“Are you alright?”
“Fine,” he croaks, “just must have eaten something bad earlier. Go back to the pool-”
“There’s blood out here,” Haru says, and he sounds concerned. Rin’s head is reeling.
“It’s… It’s not mine,” he says, but his words are coming out garbled and there’s blood coming from the corner of his mouth. He reaches for the toilet handle and pulls down, but his hand slips and hits the floor with a thud that sounds hollow to him.
“What’s wrong? Are you- will you unlock the door, please?”
“I’m fine,” he promises, slow and slurred. “I’ll be out in a second.”
“You don’t sound fine, Rin!”
Haru’s panicking. Rin makes another attempt to flush the blood and flowers away and successfully manages to pull the handle. He leans his head against the stall’s door, panting.
“It’s okay,” he says, closing his eyes and focusing on the floor under his legs, the cool tile against his sweaty palms, trying to get that seasick feeling to go away. “It’s okay.”
After a second of hesitation, he hears the sliding of sneakers and fabric, and the subtle thud of a body on the ground on the opposite side of the door. “Okay,” Haru says. Rin feels a hand catch his, tangling their fingers together under the stall door. A thumb strokes over his index finger’s knuckle. He wants to pull away, knowing that the teasing brush of Haru’s fingers will probably send him into another fit.
But it doesn’t.
They stay like that for a few minutes until Rin’s head starts to clear up. He groans, pulling his hand away to rub at his eyes.
“Are you… okay?” Haru asks when he stumbles out of the stall.
“Yeah.” No. He’s not okay. He’s going to die, maybe someday really soon, and no matter what he tells himself, he knows that it will hurt people. Gou, his mother, Sousuke, Makoto, and Haru.
But how is he supposed to give this up? If he gets the surgery, he’ll live, but it will be a life without swimming competitively, and he won’t feel the same about Haru. Maybe he won’t even want them to be friends anymore.
“Rin,” Haru says, catching his attention. “Let’s go home for now.”
He nods, because he’s sick and dizzy and weak to pretty swimmers with cool voices and shiny black hair.
“Is Yamazaki around?”
He nods. Haru takes a step towards the door, then looks back.
“Can you walk?”
Nodding again, Rin shuffles towards Haru. “I’m sorry I ruined today,” he says. His throat hurts.
“I can’t believe you’re apologizing for that.” Haru frowns disapprovingly, shaking his head. “You need to see a doctor, or… something.”
“It was food poisoning. That hardly calls for a doctor.”
“Liar.” It’s probably supposed to come out quieter than it does, but Haru looks away guiltily after he says it, like he knows Rin heard.
They leave the pool area in silence, Haru walking slowly to match Rin’s pace. He grabs both of their bags in one hand as they head towards the train station.
“The sakura are in bloom,” Haru says as they leave.
Rin stares at the Tokyo hospital pamphlet.
He opens to the first page.
He closes the pamphlet and throws it across the room into the trash can. Then he calls his mom.
“Hello? Rin?” Her voice is worn and tired, like she hasn’t slept well in a few days but is still putting on a smile. “How are you, sweetie?”
“Hey, mom,” he says. “I’m… I’m fine. Just wanted to call and say thanks.”
There’s a short pause. “For what?” she asks. “Did I do something?”
“Just for raising Gou and me.” Rin swallows and looks down at his hands. “I’m sorry for being such a stubborn kid.”
“Don’t apologize for that,” she says. “I’m glad you’re so strong-willed. It’s one of your best qualities.”
“But I’m sorry for giving you a hard time all the time,” he explains. “I know it’s not easy to raise two kids on your own, and I know that guy Nanaka hurt you a lot more than you let on, so thanks for not shutting down or anything. And thanks for putting me in the swim club, too.”
“Is everything alright, Rin? Are you in trouble or something?”
“No, mom,” he says. “I just, I love you a lot, okay? Thanks for everything.”
“Honey, you’re scaring me.” She sounds truly concerned and Rin wants to cry. He’s going to die soon and she’ll blame herself, he knows, because he’d do the same if their positions were switched.
“Don’t worry about it,” he says. “Everything’s okay, I promise. Just know that I love you, okay?”
There’s a pause. “If you say so. And I love you, too, so if there’s something going on, please be safe.”
He wakes up early in the morning and bolts to the corner of the room, where he vomits flowers into the trash can.
It hurts like hell, and he can feel something (a branch?) press into his chest when he coughs. His vision tunnels and goes bright and staticy, like an old TV. He spits up two mouthfuls of blood decorated with bloody flowers and groans, breathing shallowly and gagging.
The lights switch on.
“What’s happe- What the fuck, Rin, is that blood?” Sousuke’s eyes are wide and his mouth is hanging open.
Rin wipes his mouth on his hand and only manages to half hide the blood on the floor. Sousuke’s by his side in a flash.
“Are you throwing up blood? Is this why you’ve been so sick lately? Are those flowers? Why are you- What’s going on?”
“I’m just,” Rin says, making a half-hearted motion with his hand before dropping it back on the ground.
“Just what? Just so sick you’re vomiting blood? Why didn’t you say anything about this?”
“It’s not a big deal,” he protests, then winces as the branch(?) presses into his chest again. “And it’s none of your business, anyway.”
“Like hell it is,” Sousuke replies. “Do I need to call you an ambulance or should I just ask a teacher for a ride?”
“We’re not going to the hospital for this,” Rin argues, glaring. “You don’t get it, okay? I don’t want to get it fixed.”
“What’s there to get? You’ve been sick for months!” Sousuke almost yells. “You’re all frail and weak and now you’re coughing up blood and I’m just supposed to leave you like this?”
“Yes! It’s not your problem, Sousuke, and even if I- agh!”
He cuts himself off as another sharp pain punctuates the feeling his chest, below the first one and on the opposite side. It doesn’t come and go with his breath like the first one, but stays a consistent pain.
“Please, tell me what’s going on with you,” Sousuke pleads. “Everyone’s worried about you, and clearly you’re not okay-”
“I’m fine !” Rin yells. “So just leave me alone!”
He stands, bracing himself for the pain of the branches, and pushes past Sousuke. Not forward-thinking enough to grab a jacket or a blanket, he throws the door open and storms into the hall. His head spins as he wobbles down the hall until he reaches a familiar door. He knocks three times, then realizes for the first time that it’s five in the morning.
“Senpai?” Nitori rubs his eyes, then gasps when he sees Rin’s face. “What happened? Are you okay?”
“Fine,” he croaks. “Is it alright if I stay in here for a while?”
The younger boy scrutinizes him for a second. “Did you and Sousuke get into a fight?” he asks. “He didn’t hit you, did he?”
“No, no, it’s fine.” Rin closes his eyes and sighs. “If you don’t want me here I can find somewhere else to go.”
“No, it’s fine!” Nitori exclaims. “You can, uh, get cleaned up in here and use my bed. I’m already up, so I might as well just start studying, you know? Tests coming up and all.”
“It’s fine, Nitori.” Rin leans against the doorframe. “I’ll just hang out. You can go back to sleep.”
He washes his face and hands off, rinses out his mouth. He coughs dryly a few times and the branch shifts position, so that it’s more lined up with the inside of his chest than pressing against it. He feels clammy, like that day back at the pool.
When he looks in the mirror, he sees a pale, thin reflection stare back. His eyes have dark bags under them and his lips are chapped, drying blood still on them. But he’s smiling a broken man’s smile.
He curls up on the floor of the bathroom and doesn’t move until Nitori’s alarm goes off two hours later.
He picks up the phone in between classes the next day.
“Rin-san, it’s Rei.”
“Hey, what’s going on?”
There’s a small laugh from the other end. “Funnily enough, that’s what I was about to ask you. Haruka-san told us you weren’t feeling well the other day. Is everything alright?”
“It’s fine, Rei,” he promises. “I got food poisoning the other day, and I’ve just had a really bad cold for the past few weeks. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“Are you sure?” Rei sounds doubtful. “I mean, not that I don’t believe you. It’s just that he said there was blood and you almost fainted. That doesn’t sound like food poisoning to me.”
Rin sighs. “I’m really busy right now. I’ve got two tests today. Do you think you could call me back some other time?”
“Of course, Rin-san,” Rei says. “Just remember to take care of yourself, okay? Don’t let your ambitions get in the way of your health. And drink water!”
“Thanks, I will.” He hangs up with a click and only feels a little guilty about it afterwards.
He’s been avoiding Sousuke like the plague for the past few days, waking early and going to sleep late until he can barely keep his eyes open in class. On the fourth day, Sousuke waits up for him.
Rin almost backs out the door, but Sousuke grabs him by the arm.
“Stop it,” he says in that voice that parents use when they want to yell at their kids in public and can’t. “Tell me what the fuck is going on or I’m calling an ambulance and having you taken away in the middle of class tomorrow.”
“You can’t just call an ambulance ,” Rin protests.
“Rin, how do you think ambulances know where to go? People call them and tell them, that’s how. Talk to me.” Sousuke looks like a kicked puppy, and Rin suddenly understands why Haru’s so weak to Makoto’s requests all the time.
“I- I can’t do that, okay?” he says, because he doesn’t know what else to say. How do you justify something that’s killing you?
“Please. What’s going on with you?” Sousuke asks, relaxing his grip on Rin’s arm. “You’ve been sick for months and you look worse every day. Is this why you went to the hospital a while ago?”
He can only nod.
“I found a pamphlet for a hospital in Tokyo a few weeks ago, too. Is that why you were planning on going?”
Another nod. “But it’s not your fault that I stayed,” he says quickly when he sees Sousuke’s horrified expression. “I mean, I didn’t want to spend all that time away from home if it was going to mess up my whole future-”
“What do you mean?” Sousuke interrupts. Rin frowns at his feet.
“I have this… weird disease,” he says, choosing his words carefully. “It has something to do with my lungs, and the only thing doctors can do would be to operate, but it means I’d never be able to swim again. And there’s only one other cure, but I can’t do it, okay, it wouldn’t work for me and it would just make everyone miserable, so I didn’t tell you because I knew you’d ask a lot of questions and it would be ruined and he’d just- he’d hate me, but I’m happy like this, I really am, I-”
“ Rin ,” Sousuke says, eyes wide and concerned. “God, take a deep breath. Slow down and explain what you can, and I won’t ask any questions.”
Rin breathes in deeply, his eyes watering. His cheeks are wet, but he’s not crying. He feels branches constrict his lungs and flowers stir around inside them like tiny windstorms, and he coughs up more blood and petals into his hands. Sousuke masks his horrified expression and grabs the trash can and some wet wipes.
“I started coughing up these flowers a few months ago,” he says, scrubbing at his hands with the lemon scented antiseptic wipes. “Like you said, but you probably didn’t know at first. They’re growing in my lungs, and there are branches now, too.”
“And you were going to go to Tokyo to get them removed?” Sousuke asks.
“Yeah. But there’s a side-effect of removal that I really didn’t want to go through, and it would mean that I couldn’t swim, so I decided not to go.”
“I know I said no questions,” Sousuke says, “but, are you dying?”
Rin opens his mouth, but says nothing.
“Is it too late to get the surgery?”
“I don’t- I don’t know, but I don’t want to do it. I really am happier like this.”
“Okay. Don’t answer this one if you don’t want to, but, what is it that you’d have to do to be cured the other way?”
He shakes his head. “It’s not- I can’t tell you that.”
Sousuke sighs resignedly. “Do you mind if I do some research on my own?” he asks. Rin shrugs half-heartedly.
“Go for it,” he says, because Sousuke would do it anyway, and at this point he’s just too exhausted to argue further.
“Okay. Go rinse your mouth out or something.”
He does, washes it with some mouthwash and scrubs his tongue with a toothbrush, and then he washes his hands again just to be sanitary. When he comes back, Sousuke is sitting on his bed with an unreadable expression on his face.
“So it’s Hanahaki,” he says. “You always were a romantic.”
Rin slumps down in one of the desk chairs facing the bed.
“Who is it?”
He shakes his head. “It doesn’t matter. I’m not gonna tell him.”
“You’d rather-” Sousuke swallows hard. “You’d rather die not knowing if he loves you, too?”
“I’d rather die happy,” Rin snaps. “And if that means he never knows, then I’m okay with that. But I’m not gonna tell him just to get rejected and die without him around.”
“ No , Sousuke. I’ve already made up my mind, okay? You can’t change it for me.”
Sousuke sighs, looking as tired as Rin feels. “Look, I’m not gonna make any assumptions here,” he says, “but I just think you should know that Nanase’s been in love with you since the day he met you.”
He gives himself a week at most.
Everything in his chest hurts, and he can’t stop coughing. Blood and flower petals are permanent fixtures on his hands because as soon as he washes them, he coughs up more. He’s always dizzy in the mornings and his head aches and his vision blurs around the edges when he moves too quickly. It’s like being drunk, only a hundred times worse.
Maybe it’s also inhibited his ability to make wise decisions, because every time Sousuke gives him that look and begs him to tell Haru, Rin almost does. As awful as it might feel to be rejected, at least he’ll die with absolutely no regrets, and isn’t that the most important thing?
He feels the branches of whatever tiny, misshapen sakura tree that’s growing in his lungs press into them mercilessly and tries to stop thinking about that.
He’s started skipping classes because grades won’t matter to him if he’s dead, and besides, his head throbs too much to make it through the day without Sousuke’s help, plus he’d probably freak someone out by vomiting blood and flowers in the middle of a lecture. Obviously he doesn’t swim or work out anymore, but he’s stopped caring about his sleep schedule and eating habits as well. And although he ran out of cough suppressant pills a week or two ago, he’s too sick to get himself more.
“Please,” Sousuke says, once again asking Rin to confess. “Trust me on this. He loves you, too, and seeing you die would kill him inside.”
“Bad choice of words,” Rin replies with a snort, not looking up from his phone.
“I mean it. You can keep living, you can save yourself. Just tell him how you feel.”
He closes his eyes as nausea overtakes him. “Look, even if I changed my mind, even if I wanted to, I can’t really walk anywhere on my own and I don’t want to call him here. It’s not an option anymore.”
“Meet him halfway. Have him come to the pool. Rin, for the love of god, please just call him.”
He calls. And he hates himself for it.
“What is it? Are you okay?”
“I’m… I’m not better. Are you busy later?”
“Actually, I thought you could come down to the Iwatobi pool tomorrow.”
“I can’t really, uh, swim or anything.”
“I know. Just to… hang out.”
“This sounds very forced. What are you all up to over there?”
“... Are you free, or not?”
“Since when did you start actually carrying your phone?” Rin asks, shielding his eyes from the sun. It’s making his head hurt more than it already had been, and it gives him an excuse not to look directly at Haru. (He’s staring at Rin, probably with concern or shock or something. He knows he looks bad, but this is seriously excessive.)
“Since you got sick,” Haru answers simply. Rin chokes and has to swallow several times to keep himself from giving everything away.
“Hey, Rin, call me if you need help getting back,” Sousuke says when he’s recovered, glaring threateningly at him despite his kind words.
“Is it okay for you to be out here?” Haru asks, eyeing Rin suspiciously. (Or with concern. He can’t tell.) “You look… much worse than before.”
“It’s fine,” Rin says, though he accepts the arm Haru offers to steady him gratefully. He’s expecting another fit from, you know, physical contact, but nothing comes. “What did I come here for?”
“It’s a surprise.”
“Well, that’s unlike you.”
Haru rolls his eyes and starts walking. “So, why did you call me?”
Rin takes a deep breath. “I kind of had something to tell you.”
Haru hums. “I hope it’s about you getting better.”
“I guess you could say that.”
They’re just reaching the Iwatobi pool when Haru pulls his arm away and covers his eyes with his hands instead. His arms against Rin’s back help support his weight and steer him in the right direction, and thankfully, he takes slow steps. Rin doesn’t trust himself to close his eyes, so he looks down between Haru’s fingers and sees the ground covered with (ironically) sakura blossoms.
“Are you ready?” Haru asks. He sounds nervous and excited, two rare things for him to be.
“Yeah, yeah,” Rin says, chest constricting with the urge to cough out the petals in his throat. “You could have just told me to close my eyes. Don’t you trust me?”
“Hmm… no,” Haru answers, tone playful as he takes his hands away. “Surprise,” he says, quietly, as Rin gapes at the sight in front of him.
The pool is filled with sakura blossoms, resting delicately on top of the water. Little glints of sunlight reflect off the clear blue of the water where the flowers drift away from each other. It’s undoubtedly one of the prettiest things he’s ever seen.
“What is this?” Rin asks, unable to take his eyes off the pool.
“You always said you wanted to swim in a pool filled with sakura blossoms,” Haru reminds him.
“Did you do this?” His voice wavers quietly, but Haru hears him just fine.
“We all did,” he says.
Rin turns around and sees Makoto, Nagisa, and Rei all watching, clearly happy with their work.
“Why did you…” The sentence leaves his mouth unfinished, but everyone seems to get the question behind it.
“It’s really close to the end of the year,” Nagisa says. “And you won’t be as close to us as Makoto or Haru when you leave, so we wanted to do something special for you.”
“And like I said, we’ve all noticed that your health isn’t at its best right now,” Rei adds. “So we hope that this will make you feel better in spirit.”
“That’s really… Thank you, guys,” Rin says, feeling the corners of his eyes start to tear up. He swallows. His stomach turns over. “I’m sorry I haven’t been able to swim with you as much, lately,” he adds.
“We understand, Rin,” Makoto says. ( No, you don’t, Rin thinks.) “We would never ask you to swim in poor health, but we really hope you’ll get better soon.”
“Does that mean that you can’t at least get in now?” Nagisa asks, sounding disappointed.
“Nagisa, that’s probably not a good idea,” Makoto says. Rin glances at Haru, who’s staring at him intently.
“I think I’ll survive a little water,” he says with false confidence. (He can feel things poking at his lung with each breath and it’s honestly pretty painful.) “Plus Haru told me to bring my swimsuit, so I’m guessing he was expecting as much.”
They change into their swimsuits and jump into the water--well, Nagisa jumps and the rest of them dive or climb in like civilized teenage boys do. Rin doesn’t dive, for fear of getting nauseous, (although he’d really like to show Rei a thing or two,) but he submerges himself in the water as soon as he’s in.
He hasn’t been swimming in a while. A few days after the so called “pool incident” with Haru, he’d tried to do a lap and ended up standing by the wall and coughing and breathing hard, lungs aching and throat closing.
The pool feels nice and cold around him, and when he opens his eyes and looks up he can see the pink flowers floating around on the surface.
“It’s nice, isn’t it?” Makoto calls when he comes up for air.
“Really nice,” Rin agrees. “I can’t believe you all did this for me.”
“It was actually Makoto-san’s idea,” Rei says. “Well, his and Haruka-san’s. Makoto reminded us how much you wanted to swim like this, but I don’t think Haruka ever quite forgot.”
Rin smiles and feels a slight difference in his chest--it feels less pressured, if only by a bit. Maybe it’s his brain tricking his body into thinking that Haru-
“What was it you wanted to tell me?” Haru asks, surfacing next to him. “You know, before we got here.”
“It was…” Rin looks around at the flowers on the water and feels droplets slide down his back and thinks that he wants it to last just a little longer. “It’s not important right now,” he says instead.
Haru gives him a funny look, shrugs, and goes back under the water.
Rin relaxes into the pool and feels the sun shine gently on his skin, the lapping motion against his arms and legs. He loses track of time listening to his friends talk and play and laugh. He might have almost dozed off had it not been for the still present (but a tiny bit subdued) fullness in his lungs.
He feels like a little kid back at the Iwatobi Swim Club. When his mother and Gou had come to pick him up, he’d stay in the pool until the last possible minute, until they’d pretend threaten to leave without him and Gou would whisper about how mom was tired and they should go now. He’d always be the last to leave besides Haru and Makoto, who’d stay and walk home together, and sometimes he’d even get envious of how close they were.
He’d grown out of that as soon as he’d been welcomed back to Iwatobi last year, maybe even sometime before that. Last year it hadn’t just been Makoto, it had been all of them, including Haru, and it hadn’t so much been envy as it had been a longing.
Maybe Rin had grown out of being jealous of Makoto when he’d realized that Haru was close to both of them, but in different ways.
He submerges himself again, this time watching Makoto, Rei, and Nagisa from below the surface. Nagisa has initiated a game of tag, and now the three of them are swimming around each other and laughing and yelling. Makoto tags Nagisa again and swims for his life to the other side of the pool.
He watches as Haru backfloats peacefully, the lines of his muscles blurred by the water between them, and his black hair floats gently around his head. He looks like he’s finally home, like he belongs underwater instead of on land with the rest of them. But he turns over and sinks below the surface until he’s face to face with Rin, and just floats there for a second, looking into his eyes.
Rin is going to miss him.
He feels something in his left lung almost give as the branches press against it again, only much harder than they had before, almost as if they’re trying to break out and kill him faster. The impact is so strong that he sucks in a breath on instinct-
He chokes on flowers and water and blood.
His first instinct is to clear his throat, but he can’t do that if he’s underwater. He grabs at the wall blindly (his eyes are watering behind his goggles) and pulls himself up to the surface desperately, thinking in a strange moment of clarity how strange it is that he won’t die from suffocating on flowers but from drowning in a pool that he doesn’t even belong in.
“Hey, are you- Rin! ”
Rin hauls himself halfway out of the pool, collapses with his legs still in the water, and chokes up branches and flowers and blood and he can’t breathe he can’t breathe he can’t-
Rei is beside him, yelling things that Rin can’t hear, and it’s not until somebody (Makoto, he thinks) starts hitting him on the back that he chokes out a large, bloody mess of crushed flowers (which he quickly hides under his hand) and sucks in a deep breath. He spits out another mouthful of blood and feels something scratch along the inside of his lung, leaving a searing trail of pain like a burn.
He feels himself being pulled out of the pool, skin scraping against the cement, but his head is too fuzzy to register the sensation. He’s vaguely aware that he’s shaking and freezing cold and that he can’t breathe properly, something in his chest has given way and it hurts and he’s fucking terrified.
He sees the distorted versions of Nagisa and Rei run off and split directions, hears Makoto yell “ Hurry! ”, and he feels Haru’s warm hands on his arm as he turns him over.
“What is it,” Haru asks, but it’s not a question, it’s a plea. “What do I do, Rin, I don’t know what to do, I- Don’t close your eyes, Rin, stay awake. ”
Rin turns his head to the side and coughs and hacks and splutters, bearing the pain in his left lung as he spits out another bunch of flowers painted red. And then he sees Haru’s pretty, fuzzy face go still as registration slowly makes its way across his features.
“ Who, ” he whispers, his hand against the back of Rin’s head, propping it up. “Who is it, I can get them for you, we can call them. You have to tell them, Rin, please, oh god, please .”
He tries to talk, but there’s no air and he realizes what must have happened--his lung is punctured. The branches finally got too big.
There are tears on his face, a mixture of his and Haru’s as well as water from the pool. Haru runs his finger under Rin’s mouth, wiping the blood away.
“It’s not too late,” he says, rambling now. Rin thinks distantly, through the pain, that this is the most words Haru’s spoken at the same time in months. “It’s not, it’s not, you can tell them and you can live, it’s…”
He can’t hear anymore, but he can see Haru’s lips moving and he can feel Haru’s hand on his, and even though he can’t move he tries his very best to turn it over so their fingers intertwine.
“Wake up,” Haru finds himself saying. “ Wake up, damn it, don’t do this to me.”
“Ambulance is on its way,” Makoto says from somewhere behind them, already dialing another number. Haru doesn’t bother to respond, checking Rin’s neck and wrist. There’s hardly any pulse at all, and he knows that there won’t be one soon enough.
The ambulance will come too late.
“Stupid,” he says--he wants to yell it, but no. “Who was it? Why didn’t you tell them?”
Rin doesn’t respond. He’s not looking at Haru, but up at the sky, and the sun is probably too bright to be comfortable, so Haru leans over and shields his face, kneeling over him with one arm on either side.
“You’re such an idiot,” he whispers. “We were going to go to the Olympics together. You were going to chase your dream. What happened?”
And then he leans down just a little more and kisses Rin on the lips.
He pulls away.
Rin jerks and sucks in a breath.
“Where’s Kusuda?!” one of the paramedics yells, running in front of the stretcher.
“He needs immediate surgery. Can you do it?”
The one they called Kusuda nods. “I’ve got to,” she says. “I can’t fail.”
Haru wonders if she knows Rin personally, or if she’s just an ambitious person.
“Is he going to be okay?”
Nagisa sounds, quite frankly, as terrified as Haru feels, which almost makes him feel bad because he’s in love with Rin, shouldn’t he feel worse than Nagisa?
Their friend is lying on a stretcher which is quickly being wheeled away, a mask over his face, chest rising and falling unevenly.
“I don’t know,” Makoto says as they watch the doctors and paramedics run down the hall. “They guys in the ambulance said he’s got at least a fifty percent chance-”
“But that means that there’s a fifty percent chance of failure,” Rei adds. Haru watches the stretcher disappear down the hall, sinks into a chair and buries his head in his hands.
“It’s my fault,” he whispers. “I should have done something. I should have told him, then it wouldn’t have gotten this bad. I should have-”
Haru stops and looks up. Nagisa’s glaring through tears.
“It wasn’t your fault,” he says. “You couldn’t have known for sure. None of us could have!”
“And it was his choice not to tell us,” Rei adds.
“Well, it was a stupid choice!” Haru cries, standing up again. Makoto looks at him sadly.
“There’s nothing any one of us could have done differently,” he says, and Haru’s angry because he knows that that’s not true.
“It’s my fault,” he says again, and everyone knows better than to argue with him.
They wait. Sousuke, Gou, and Rin’s mom show up eventually, each with their own bombardment of questions and opinions. (Sousuke says that Rin is an idiot, and Haru wants to punch his teeth out despite having said the same thing a mere hour ago.) Sasabe calls, but he’s in the middle of a trip and can’t come home just yet, and Miho sends her best wishes.
Rei brings them food from the vending machine, but Haru doesn’t touch his. He just sits and stares off into space. When he loses feeling in his legs he gets up and paces around, but it doesn’t help the numbness that’s overtaken him.
He must have fallen asleep at some point, because the next thing he knows, Gou is shaking his shoulder.
“Haru,” she says, teary-eyed and smiling. “He’s going to be okay.”
Rin remembers flashes of things.
A searing pain along his chest, but on the outside this time.
Voices, garbled and nonsensical, but urgent.
His sister’s face, and his mother’s.
He fades in and out of consciousness, like a child stubbornly refusing to go to sleep whose eyes drift closed all on their own.
He wakes up, and manages to stay awake, what he’s later told is a day after he’s admitted. There’s an IV in his arm and a different kind of pain in his chest, nothing like the way it was before.
Haru is sitting--sleeping--in the only chair in the room, head resting on his arms on the bed next to Rin’s hip. He looks tired.
Rin looks at his eyes, watches his lashes as they flutter in his sleep. He wonders what he ever did to deserve this.
He’s alive .
He’d been dead, he knows he’d been dead. There had been an ambulance, but it had been too late. How is he…
Haru stirs, picks up his head and squints at Rin blearily. And because he’s a fucking idiot , Rin squints back.
“You’re awake,” Haru says. His voice is rough.
Haru frowns and reaches for his hand. “I hate you for doing that to me,” he says. “I hate you a lot.”
“Okay,” Rin says, enjoying the weight of Haru’s hand in his. “Would you mind telling me what happened?”
“You were dumb, that’s what happened. You were dumb and you didn’t tell me and you almost got yourself killed.” Haru’s frown intensifies, and at the end of his criticism he sniffs. “I would have hated myself if you had died because of me, you know?”
Rin stiffens, then tries to relax as his chest throbs. He glances away guiltily. “So you know?”
“I kissed you and you came back to life. It was like a twisted fairy tale,” Haru says.
“You kissed me?”
“That’s what I said, isn’t it?”
Rin shakes his head. “Why? I don’t get it.”
“Why do you think you’re here right now?” Haru asks. “Kusuda said you knew about the cures for Hanahaki.”
“I do,” Rin says, still confused. “Surgery and requited love. Kusuda was here?”
“She did the surgery. They didn’t have time to get you to a better hospital. She came out once ranting about how you should have listened to her and how she wasn’t ready to perform lung surgery yet. It was very unsettling for us. Anyway, about the cures.”
“Love or surgery,” Rin states again.
“For you it had to be both,” Haru explains. “Your lung was punctured before your body reacted to the second part.”
“Both,” Rin echoes, realization dawning. “Do you…?”
“Of course,” Haru replies, rolling his eyes. “You’re pretty slow.”
“You’re pretty mean.”
“Fair.” Haru traces a pattern on the inside of Rin’s wrist and up his arm, being careful of the IV. “Your mom and sister will want to talk to you. I should-”
“Wait,” Rin says, tugging on his hand. He needs confirmation. He needs to know that this isn’t just the world’s idea of a joke. “Would you mind…”
Mercifully, Haru seems to understand. He leans over and kisses Rin softly on the lips, tasting of morning breath and chlorine.
“I’ll be back,” he promises, pulling away. “I… I love you.”
Rin smiles deliriously. “I love you,” he replies.
“Do you miss swimming?”
“Of course,” Rin says. “Every single day since two months ago. It was my dream, you know? The Olympics and all.”
“Yeah, but you seem pretty okay. Everyone was expecting you to be really depressed for a while after you found out, but it only took like a week for you to go back to normal.”
He shrugs. “I had my life back, even it it wasn’t the same at first. And I have you, don’t I?”
“Let’s just stop talking about that for now.”
Haru looks down at the pool quietly. They’re dipping their toes in, waiting for something to urge them to jump in or leave. “Do you regret it?” he asks.
“I regret some parts,” Rin says after brief consideration. “I wish I’d told you sooner. It probably would have saved us a lot of pain and money.”
“I regret not being awake for our first kiss.”
Haru snorts. “You weren’t even alive for our first kiss. I should feel offended.”
“Hey, it wasn’t my fault,” Rin protests. “I mean, it was. But still, you can’t hold it against me!”
“I’ll hold it against you forever,” Haru replies, leaning into his side. Rin inches closer.
“Is there anything you regret?” he asks after a second.
“I regret being really oblivious,” Haru says. “And also telling you to bring your swimsuit that one day. And not catching on when you fainted in the bathroom. And making you leave your dorm when you were really sick.”
“But if you hadn’t, I’d be dead,” Rin points out. Haru shrugs.
“I guess you’re right. I don’t regret the part where you’re not dead.”
Rin glances at the clock on the tool shed on the opposite side of the pool from them. “I’ve got my chest physiotherapy. Want to come with?”
Haru makes a face. “I’ll walk you there, but I’m not coming in.”
“Fine, be that way.” Rin pretend-pouts.
Haru stands and offers his hand. “Come on, you’ll probably be late at this point. She won’t be happy if you keep her waiting.”
Rin accepts the help and stands with a grunt, leaning on Haru as they make their way towards the exit. His hand keeps hold of Haru’s as they walk.
“I love you,” he says. Haru makes a happy little huffing noise and leans over to kiss Rin’s cheek.
“I love you, too.”