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Worth the Wait

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Rin wishes he’d met Haru when he was 6—in that moment when he realized that the only true, solid comfort he’d ever known was no less human than the sweet potato vendor wailing on the street, no less fleeting than footprints in a snowdrift. He’d needed something to stand behind then, someone to aspire to and look to for guidance, so he wishes he’d met Haru then.

Then he wishes he’d met Haru when he was 12—when the relay had still been something golden and glowing and grand in his mind, when memories of his father no longer brought a heavy lump to his throat and only inspired Rin to make him proud, wherever he was now. He’d longed for someone who could match him, step for step, stroke for stroke, who he could connect with, in a way no one else quite could, so he wishes he’d met Haru then.

Then he wishes he’d met Haru that first winter, back from Sydney—when he’d really, desperately needed something amazing in his life to remind him that swimming could be beautiful and glorious, that it didn’t have to be a never-ending abyss of defeat and constant reminders that everyone else was just better and that he’d fallen too far behind to ever hope to catch up again. He’d ached for some glimmer of promise that there was a reason, something to strive for, and that he wasn’t just chasing a the dream of a long-dead ghost, so he wishes he’d met Haru then.

But instead, the first time he meets Nanase Haruka, it’s on a Thursday afternoon at the National Team qualifiers, as he stares up, chest heaving with labored breaths, at the name on the scoreboard—the 1 beside it contrasting starkly with the 2 beside his own.

He’s 23, and there’s a sharp retort on a whistle demanding he exit the pool, so he grips the slick metal handles of the ladder tight and hauls himself up on the tile, still panting and still staring, trying to connect the name in lights flashing above their heads with the solemn, slender figure who’s just tugged off his cap and goggles and is now tottering slowly toward the benches, shoulders slumped as if he’d just come in dead last and not first in the fucking nation.

He wants to sink to his knees—to fall flat on his back and splay his limbs in every direction, just so he might be able to catch his breath, because it feels like it’s been stolen from him—he’s lost. Not gold, but something, and he can see it there glinting just out of reach, visibly fading as the sound of Nanase’s feet slapping against the tile grows fainter with distance. He winds up nearly tripping over his own legs as he scrambles to follow, hastily yanking off his cap and running his fingers through his hair to tousle it, in case Nanase turns to regard the person he narrowly edged out for first.

Rin is used to loss. He's not ashamed to admit it—not anymore, at least. Over the years, he's grown accustomed to the bitter gall choking and burning each time he has to feel the soft whiz of others streaking through the water past him, leaving him in their wake and moving on without a glance back. Nanase doesn't glance back either, after beating Rin, but's different, this loss. Maybe because it was so close, or maybe because he'd been so certain of his victory—because sure, he's used to loss, but Japan's swimming program lags so pathetically far behind that of the Aussies, all of the meets he's taken part in so far have felt like leaving an Olympic-level natatorium for the kiddie pool. He hadn't expected to lose, so he tells himself that that's the only reason he's standing here, cap clenched in his fist, watching Nanase round the corner of a low wall heading for the locker rooms.

Except, he reminds himself, taking that first tentative step after Nanase—if this were a loss like any other, expected or otherwise, he'd be pissed right now, fighting down bitter frustration and feeling a red bruise of indignation welting his chest and shoulders, a visual sign of his upset. He'd be stomping off for the showers, already intent on subjecting himself to a few dozen punishment laps this evening until he bested Nanase's time by a half second at least.

And he doesn't feel that way at all. He just he wants another round. Like he wants revenge. Not out of childish selfishness befitting the poor loser he's become—but because it had felt fucking amazing. Like a high he'd never experienced in any context before—like a shot of adrenaline right into his heart without the blight of fear or pressure or hesitation. He cares that he's been bested by Nanase, but at the same time, he doesn't really give two shits, because it isn't about winning or losing so much as beating Nanase.

Beating Nanase Haruka—and making him feel this way.

He squints down at his phone, matching the numbers on the building—nearly hidden by overgrown ivy—with the contents of the e-mail he'd sent himself earlier that day. It's two days since Japan Swim, and he's standing at the entrance to the natatorium of a slightly derelict local sports center in Minato Ward with a keycard in one hand and correspondence in the other between himself and the building manager, granting him after-hours access to the pool. He's not taking advantage of the man, Rin reminds himself—he's paying dues properly—so what's the harm in fudging his address to be allowed access to a sports center in a ward he doesn't live in, all the while reminding the manager that Tobiuo Japan would greatly appreciate him allowing one of their national team members access to the facilities at odd hours? And it's not as if he'll be wandering about alone, after all—that's the whole point of making this trek from the other side of the city.

Nanase Haruka, he's learned over the past two days, was scouted by sheer chance at an amateur meet through his local swim club, way out in the countryside and as far from the pristine, aseptic swim halls of Tokyo as Rin suspects it's possible to be. Apparently he'd never swum competitively before college, aside from some minor meets in elementary school. Why he never joined the team at his middle school, or how he'd gotten so good without some serious competition in high school, Rin can't begin to fathom—but it doesn't really matter, because Nanase's here now, swimming in this sphere, in this place with Rin, and while he still feels the bitter twinge of regret that he's had to wait all this time for just a sip of what swimming against Nanase Haruka can fill him with, he's more focused on the future, on the from now on.

And he demonstrates this by swiping his card through the reader and pressing down on the handle to step inside, flicking his gaze nervously about the darkened entryway lit by a lone lamp hanging over the genkan. Receptionists would usually be here, greeting visitors, but this late in the evening, they've all gone for the day, leaving only those with special permission to be on-site still here. Like Rin. And like Nanase.

He'd discovered Nanase's little side job purely by accident—not that he hadn't been a bit overly nosy to begin with, but he hadn't been stalking the guy. He'd just wanted to drop by Nanase's university to watch a future teammate practice, maybe grab some coffee and run an idea by him, nothing special. They'd be sharing close quarters at international meets for the next year, maybe even competing in the same strokes, so why shouldn't Rin want to be sure they got off on the right foot? He won't deny that the idea of finally having teammates who were actually that—friends and companions on the same team, with the same goals—sent a little thrill through him, when for as long as he could remember, swimming had been little more than an exercise in futility and a reminder that the person he was working so hard for would never see the fruits of his labors. But he'd understood he could come on strong sometimes, so he'd tried to practice a modicum of subtlety.

But the staff member he'd spoken to had informed Rin that Nanase always left right on time, bolting out the double doors as soon as practice ended—heading to a part-time job, supposedly. Rin had nearly embarrassed himself snorting into the receiver as he pictured the stony-faced Nanase flipping burgers at McDonald's, until the staff member had mentioned pro-bono custodial work at his local sports center. Some wheedling had earned him the name of the facility, and some googling and silver-tongued conversation with the building manager had gotten him through the front doors.

Which leaves him here, with free run of the facility until the building goes into maintenance mode around midnight and even those with special nighttime usage permissions are kicked out by the professional custodial crew.

His sneakers scuff loudly on the tile as he wanders the dimly-lit halls, following the scent of chlorine and mildew to the pool. The overhead lights in the natatorium have been dimmed as well, lending the water an eerie glow as it swells and sloughs against the poolside. He finds Nanase exactly where he expects to: halfway down the centermost lane, powering for the far end before crouching into a turn, knees nearly touching his chest, to start his homeward stroke.

Rin mounts the starting block—just to test, he reminds himself. They'll never be in this position, even if things go exactly as planned, but for just a moment, he lets himself imagine. He closes his eyes and imagines that the loud whir of the filter is the roar of a cheering crowd, that the flickering, dying fluorescent lights above are the bright glare of a noonday sun in an open theater, and that Nanase is charging down the lane toward him like he's got sharks on his heels, ready to slap the wall and make that connection and send Rin launching into nothingness. The order's all wrong—freestyle comes last, so if anything, it'll be Nanase out there flying into space to try and gain back the time Rin and their teammates will have lost. But it's not the order that counts just now, it's the feeling, like something amazing is about to happen and Rin is a hair's breadth away from grasping it—a live wire arcing just out of reach that will surely burn if he makes contact but will give him that jolt he's needed for as long as he can remember.

He strips off his shirt and kicks his shoes aside—his cap and goggles are in the bag he brought, but he's not dismounting this starting block now that he's here unless it's straight into the pool. His leggings are still a little damp—it was stupid to keep them on, and he's certain he earned some raised brows on the train ride over—but he's glad he didn't pause for a stop by the locker room to change before leaving his club; he's just going to get them wet again anyway.

Crouching low, fingers curled at the tip of the block, he feels a shudder of excitement ripple from his core out—he can't remember the last time he felt like this. Usually, those precious few moments before the retort of the whistle sounds the start of a race are marked by a roiling discomfort in his gut, the dejected acceptance that he's lost his heat before it's even stated, or (more so when he was younger) simply abject fear and despondency. Excitement...well, excitement is something new.

He's lost to Nanase once—but for the first time, he doesn't see that as the end of their interaction. He doesn't see Nanase as a distant dot so far ahead of him and growing tinier with each passing breath that Rin can never hope to catch him. No—he's a beacon, a lure that Rin can't help but want to chase, knowing that sheer desire and enthusiasm and competition will force his muscles to bunch and give and fill him with more speed. Nanase is fast; Rin can be faster. Confidence is new and shocking to his system, and he fears it will fade away like a drop of water on parched desert ground, but it grows and festers inside of him with each of Nanase's strokes, closer and louder and stronger until—

He doesn't hear Nanase's feet hit the wall as he curls into a turn, but he knows when it happens, and his muscles spring into action, sending Rin shooting like a loosed bolt into the water. They're evenly matched this way, though he feels that Nanase has a bit of an edge since he can start his stroke sooner than Rin can come up out of his dolphin kick. Still, he doesn't intend for this to be an excuse so much as something he can boast about a hundred meters from now: "And I still kicked your ass!"

If Nanase is at all surprised by the sudden and surely unexpected appearance of an opponent in the lane next to his—when he's supposed to have the run of the facility himself—it doesn't show in his stroke, and in three body lengths they're as evenly matched as they ever were. It's like they never left the International Swimming Center—Rin feels that ball of energy building in his chest again and slowly seeping out into his limbs, filling his whole self with a bright, burning energy that he's sure must be roiling off of Nanase as well. He makes a mental note to set aside some time to watch Nanase from the sidelines; it'll be a sacrifice, forcing himself to stand to the side and just watch, but he knows it'll be for the best, because Nanase has something inside of him that Rin wants to possess very much, he just needs some time to observe it in action.

He actually manages to get a lead on Nanase, and a competitive thrill races through him—but with just 30 meters left to go, Nanase gains on him, inching forward slowly but steadily, like he's sinking talons into Rin's very flesh to climb over him, ahead of him, beyond him, and Nanase's own energy blazes bright and brilliant and pulses against Rin's own, goading and coaxing. It feels foreign—foreign from Nanase, at least, because the guy seems like such a cold fish, certainly not one to coax and tease, but the sensation is undeniable, and even when Nanase slaps the wall a split-second before Rin, he's left once more with that incomprehensible excitement at having lost, not even the faintest hint of disappointment.

He inhales sharply and slicks his hair back with one hand as he grips the poolside with the other, wiping furiously to keep the chlorinated water from stinging his eyes. "I almost had you! Leave that last burst of energy for much later and you're gonna get your ass handed to you, Nanase." His chest heaves with deep, labored breaths; he probably should've done some warm-ups before pushing himself like this. "I bet I could take you easy on a 50-meter run."

Nanase is silent beside him, slowly and methodically tugging his goggles down to hang around his neck like a collar, and he wipes a hand over his face once before flicking his gaze to the side, seeking out the nearest ladder. Rin ducks under the ropes to follow, trying to draw Nanase into a conversation. "I tried to track you down at your club, but Tanabe-san said you usually head here right after practice." He pushes away from the side an arms-length, treading water as he watches Nanase mount the ladder. "They don't give you any grief about leaving on time? Are your times that good or something? I mean, I'm no slouch, but I'd never hear the end of it if I tried leaving any earlier than a half hour after practice ended and—hey!"

But Nanase ignores him, making a beeline for the locker room while still dripping wet. Rin scrambles for the ladder and nearly trips over his own two feet—which would be a great first impression—still trying to chat up Nanase. "These facilities are pretty nice, though; not bad for a neighborhood club I guess. But surely your university has a sweeter setup?" Nanase heads for the back corner, near the showers, and slides his key into the locker with his name scribbled onto a plate (Haruka, Rin mouths to himself) before tugging out a fluffy towel. "You gonna shower here?" No response, just more stony silence. "Do you even remember me?"

"Matsuoka, Tiburon Swim Club—100 meter Butterfly, 48.72; 100 meter Freestyle—"

"Wait, you even remember my time in Fly?" He only remembers it himself because it had been his best to date—and he certainly doesn't remember the times of any other teammates, their best or otherwise. "I'm flattered." He knows he's coming on strong, knows that he's saying all the wrong things in all the wrong ways, but being this close to Nanase, it's hard to shake that confidence Rin is filled with swimming next to him, and it oozes from his pores now, suffusing his words and body language and making him seem like an utter as. He thinks he'd rather Nanase think him a cocky ass, though, than the desperate, pining wannabe he feels he is deep down inside.

Nanase slams his locker door shut and moves to make for the showers, but Rin blocks his path, somehow thrilled by the good couple of centimeters he realizes he has on Nanase. Irritation flares visibly in Nanase's glare when Rin continues to thwart him as he tries to slip around him, and he purses his lips. "Move."

"Am I gonna have to follow you into the showers, too, if I want to have a conversation?" Nanase ignores the jibe, turning on his heel and cutting around another row of lockers, making his way for the shower stalls at the opposite end of the changing room. Rin jogs to block his path again, grinning stupidly. "Five minutes, Nanase. Then you can have your shower." But Nanase clearly isn't in the mood for a chat, for he grips Rin's wrist tightly—painfully so—and applies pressure that has Rin jerking his arm back defensively and frowning as he massages his wrist. "Fuck, what's your deal?" Nanase offers neither an apology nor an explanation as he shoves past, and Rin begins to wonder if he's been at all smart in choosing to corner Nanase like this. Perhaps he should have done some research on the guy before locking himself in a room alone with him.

He lingers at the threshold of the shower room, giving Nanase some semblance of privacy, then raises his voice to be heard over the hissing of the shower. "Aren't you curious at all about why I'm here?" Predictably, there's no response, but Rin doesn't expect one this time. "I'm thinking of joining this club—my own place is pretty strict about kicking us all out at 8, and these facilities aren't too bad—plus the building manager said he'd give me a discount since I'm on the National Team." He wonders if Nanase can even hear him.

The faucet squeaks as it's turned off, and Nanase cuts him a wary glare as he jerks the curtain back with one hand while toweling himself off gamely with the other—he's still wearing his jammers, curiously enough, and Rin wonders if he's going to change out of them at all, or if he just wears these things like underwear. "You have your own club. In Shibuya Ward."

"Well spotted."

"So find another club nearer to your place."

"I would—but this place has a major perk." He crosses his arms over his chest and flashes a sharp grin. "You're here."

Nanase responds with a frown that practically screams Not for much longer, if I'm going to have to be around you. "...Stay out of my way." He punctuates the threat by breezing past Rin back into the locker room, rifling through his locker for a shirt and windbreaker.

"And how am I supposed to do that and race you at the same time?"

Nanase shrugs as he pulls a white tee over his head. "I don't race."

Rin snorts incredulously, "Then what was that we just did five minutes ago?"

"I was doing my laps."

"I watched you do laps for a good minute before I jumped in; you increased your pace there at the end. You had to—to beat me." There's a slight muscle tic by Nanase's eye, but it's gone in a flash. "If that wasn't a race, what was it?"

"Swimming," Nanase replies simply, then slams his locker shut as he hauls his bag onto one shoulder.

"Fine." Rin pushes away from the wall to follow Nanase out back into the natatorium. "You swim in your lane, and I'll swim in my lane, and we can see who happens to swim faster."

"I don't care about times or winning."

"Bull," Rin laughs, because how do you get this far not caring about it a little? Though Rin wishes he'd had a bit of Nanase's apathy when he could have really used it; maybe coming in sixth, seventh, tenth wouldn't have hurt so much if he could just let it all roll off his back like so much water. But you can't swim just for the sake of swimming and still hope to reach any heights, and if Nanase is here, he definitely cares about something. Rin just needs to find out what, and then apply the appropriate pressure. "Everyone cares. Eventually. Or else you won't be able to push yourself to reach the top."

"I don't care about reaching the top."

"You ought to."

"Because you say so?"

"Of course because I say so," Rin laughs. "It's common sense; it's what swimming is about. Victory and glory and the water—and everything in between." He steps in close, because he's finally coaxed a steady stream of words from Nanase's mouth, and while they're not really discussing anything, it's a good first step. "...You took first from me at the tournament the other day."

He detects a hint of confusion in Nanase's eyes—clearly he isn't accustomed to interacting with others like this. Or at all. "...Do you want me to apologize for it?"

"Hell no—" Rin starts, then mulls this over. "...Would you? Apologize, that is. Because that seems like a really stupid thing to do." And maybe Nanase isn't bluffing—maybe he does genuinely not care about winning, and god Rin hopes that isn't the case, because this won't work if there isn't some spark that Rin can coax into a roaring, raging inferno. He can work with 'cold fish', but he's at a loss for what to do with someone who genuinely has nothing.

But then he remembers the resonance between them in the water, the way his energy pushed and shoved against Nanase's, like two opposite waves vibrating at the same frequency and trying to cancel each other out, without even realizing it. He feels a kinship with this stranger, this person whose given name he just read off of a locker five minutes ago—he doesn't know Nanase's e-mail address or if he's an only child or his favorite color, but he does know that in the water, none of that matters, and while Nanase may think he doesn't care about times or winning or losing races, his swimming says otherwise.

Nanase makes a face at the suggestion that he apologize for doing what came naturally, and this is all the response Rin requires. "Exactly."

The lights overhead flash once; it seems it's closing time. Nanase wrinkles his nose, and Rin suspects he's often had to be hurried out the door by irritated custodial staff. "So if you aren't here for an apology, what do you want?"

"To swim with you."

"You just did."

Rin reaches out to cuff his shoulder amicably, but Nanase slides out of the way, glaring at the forwardness of the gesture. "And I want to keep doing it. That's why I got a membership." He shrugs. "I thought about transferring into your university, but I figured going out of my way to change schools just for you might come off kinda crazy." The look Nanase gives him suggests he's not entirely convinced this settlement is all that far removed from 'crazy' itself.

Rin can't blame him though; were their situations reversed, he might feel the same apprehension. His family has been mobile ever since his father died when he and his sister were young, so he's never had opportunity to get close to anyone in school. Moving to the other side of the planet to chase his father's dream and do the things his father never could certainly didn't help—it'd been hard enough being the new kid in schools where he spoke the native language fluently, so being forced to converse in English only made things all the more difficult. He thinks he's an easy guy to get along with, but he knows his mood turns sour when he's stuck in a rut...and he's spent the last decade-plus of his life drowning in one such rut.

Nanase should be grateful Rin's being as charming as he is.

Though it does make Rin wonder himself why he's so set on getting close to Nanase. He's been bested by dozens of better swimmers, been humiliated by the most talented athletes out there. He's only been able to hold his head up in Japan out of some (evidently flawed) idea that even the poorest swimmer in Australia should be able to handily beat the best of Japan. But something inside of him, he now recognizes, yearns for something to aspire to. Something to look at and accept as better than Rin and not feel defeated by but rather inspired by.

He knows precious little about this Nanase Haruka character, but his body recognizes something—a kinship, perhaps, or (and this is his romantic nature speaking) a ~destined rival~. He knows that Nanase isn't the best (not yet at least), and that both he and Rin will meet faster swimmers from every populated continent in the next year of their lives until they're forced to fight for their spots on the national team again next April. But for just now, they're here on this same stage, walking this same path, and Rin wants to test the breadth of that see if it's wide enough to walk alongside one another instead of just trading off ahead of and behind. Because more than he wants Nanase in front of him, being that tempting lure that forces Rin to better himself, he thinks he wants to see what it feels like to stride beside him, marching in beat to the same goal.

He just has to make Nanase see what that goal is exactly. Which will require Rin remember what it is himself.

Nanase cuts him another wary glare and seems about to make a comment about Rin's mental state and the absurdity of transferring schools out of season just to be around someone else—when there's a soft muffled tapping on the glass doors leading out into the building's lot. There's a young man standing there, bundled up under several layers against the lingering chill of spring, and he waves when he catches Nanase's eye, beckoning him outside.

Nanase follows immediately like a dog called to heel, toeing on sneakers in the genkan without a backward glance to be sure Rin's following. Rin scrambles to grab his own things, squawking for Nanase to wait up, and by the time he manages to put himself together, Nanase and the newcomer are chatting in low tones just inside the entryway.

"...the meet the other day."

"Oh, so a teammate?" Nanase shrugs in an apparent effort to relate how little he cares about his and Rin's relationship. The newcomer spots Rin stepping out, and his brows lift into his bangs with his breaking smile as he waves a greeting. "Matsuoka-san, right?" Rin ducks a nod. "You did wonderfully in the Butterfly finals at Japan Swim—two-tenths of a second behind the winner, I think it was? And he set a meet record."

Rin shrugs with a defeated smile. "Second place is still first loser, right?" He must come off too self-deprecating, for the young man's face falls at this, so he struggles to change the subject. "You watched the meet?" He hadn't realized it was being televised.

A nod. "I try to go to all of Haru's meets—though I don't think he very much likes it." 'Haru', he realizes, refers to Nanase—who is trying to ignore the conversation by distracting himself with his cell phone. Rin doubts there is even one missed call or text he needs to urgently respond to. "I'm Tachibana."

He bobs his head in greeting. "Matsuoka—though I guess you knew that already."

Tachibana shrugs sheepishly. "Yours was the only name I wasn't at least passingly familiar with from previous meets, so I made a point to remember it."

This catches Rin's attention. "You swim too, then?"

Tachibana holds up his hands in protest. "Oh no—not since elementary school. That's Haru's thing. I'm a Kinesiology major—at the same university as Haru. Oh!" He gestures between himself and Nanase—who Rin is actually starting to think of as 'Haru' himself; Tachibana's nickname is catchy. "We're roommates; that's why I'm here to pick him up." He jerks a thumb behind himself. "Car! Would you like a ride?"

Nanase nearly drops his phone and cuts Tachibana a seething glare, and Rin struggles to rein in the urge to laugh. He waves off the invitation, though. "Thanks—but I'm gonna use the commute home to get some jogging in—it's a good few kilometers back to my place. Land training's a bitch, but I've gotta get it in at some point."

Tachibana nods sympathetically. "Haru hates ground work too; I doubt he'd ever do it if his coaches didn't threaten to take away his pool access privileges if he didn't participate in the weekly jogs the team goes on."

"Aah," Rin intones knowingly and taps his chin, "So that's why you never competed in any other strokes—no stamina, then?"

Nanase flushes hotly with indignation. "I only swim free," he practically grinds out.

"They have freestyle races up to 1500 meters, last I checked."

Tachibana jumps in, clearly eager to defuse the situation. "I noticed you were swimming for a club and not a university—but you don't look that much older than us."

Rin nods. "I studied abroad in Australia for most of the past decade, did most of my training there, and now I'm back home." It sounds better, phrased all prettily like he's come back to win glory for Japan rather than the more accurate admission of I just couldn't hack it down under. "I'm focusing all of my energies on swimming right now; I figure college can always wait til later, after I've retired."

"So you've been swimming pretty much all your life?"

"Pretty much, yeah." He jerks his chin towards Tachibana. "You said you swam in elementary school?"

Tachibana colors and ducks his head. ""Yeah, I...I wasn't very good. I won a couple of medals at local meets—"

"Hundred-meter breaststroke," Nanase helpfully supplies, but he's fixed Tachibana with a strange expression—a mixture of worry and concern and hesitation and pride.

"Y-yeah, I kinda fell out of it. It just wasn't for me." He gestures to the duffel bag Rin now notices hanging from his shoulder. "Sold my soul to basketball in middle school and haven't looked back! Haru manages to put up with me, even if I'm not a water freak like him." He gives Nanase a fond smile to show he doesn't mean any harm by the comment, but Nanase still frowns and turns back to his phone.

"Breaststroke, huh..." Rin muses. "Sucks that you didn't stick with it—between the three of us, we could've made three-quarters of a great relay team!"

"Oh? You're going to be on the relay team?" He directs his question half at Rin, half at Nanase, clearly thrown off by the idea of Nanase participating in any sort of group activity.

"No," Nanase responds, while Rin rejoins with, "Yup!"

Tachibana laughs nervously, unsure who to believe, and Nanase snaps his phone shut, reminding, "I only swim free."

"Luckily enough, there's a freestyle leg you'll do beautifully on." Rin straightens his windbreaker, zipping it up to his chin and favoring Nanase with a mock salute. "See you tomorrow!" And before Nanase can collect himself to form a counterargument, he shoves past the pair of them and jogs out the door. He imagines the car ride home between them will be an awkward one indeed.

As promised, he shows up again the following evening, timing his arrival with Nanase's to get the most out of their time together. Predictably, Nanase has been there for a good fifteen minutes already by the time Rin marches into the natatorium—but he's still doing some warm-up stretches on the poolside when Rin appears. He favors Rin with a withering glare but doesn't speak, and Rin suspects that any conversation between them will have to start from Rin's side for the time being. He might feel the tiniest bit hurt by Nanase's cold shoulder, except he imagines things are much the same between Nanase and Tachibana. The guy just doesn't strike Rin as the chatty type—and that's fine. Rin babbles enough for the two of them, jawing on about his favorite brands of suit and the state of the rubber eyecaps on his goggles, accusations of doping at his old club, and their fellow National Team members.

"I mean, my Butterfly's awesome—" He pauses, expecting Nanase to remind him that he came in second at the time trials, but Nanase has an arm thrown over his chest and is focusing on the opposite wall. "—and you narrowly took Freestyle from me, so that's half a relay team already. I only watched the finals for Breast and Back, but Kirishima had a Breaststroke that could knock your socks off, and, well, did you see Serizawa kick ass in the 100 and 200 m Backstroke? He lost the 200 to that Mikoshiba kid, but his 100 was..." Rin shakes his head and gives a low whistle. "It wouldn't take much practice to hone the four of us into a—hey!"

Nanase has evidently finished his stretching and is making his way to a starting block—one at the other end of the pool, away from Rin. Frowning at the nerve, Rin reminds himself this is just Nanase being Nanase, playing hard-to-get, and he just needs to understand what the relay could mean to them, how it's different swimming for someone more than just yourself, and how badly Rin wants to experience this himself. "Look, I get that you want to focus on your Freestyle, and I'm not saying you'll need to sacrifice any training time, but just a couple of hours a week, maybe even every two weeks once we get our rhythm down? And we could dominate—"

He's cut off by the loud kabloosh of Nanase's dive, and he stands there beside the tall white cement block, hands on his hips, as he watches Nanase make his way down the lane with a lazy but measured stroke, clearly swimming for leisure and not training. With a huff, Rin takes his mark in the lane next to Nanase's, adjusting his goggles and cap as he mutters under his breath, "Guess I'll have to turn up the charm another notch..."

He allows himself to take a leaf out of Nanase's book for a good half hour, just making lazy laps back and forth down the lane, before deciding to take advantage of Nanase's innate competitive nature to rile him up a bit, perhaps eventually coaxing him into a promise he might otherwise be loath to make. But Nanase must realize what he's trying to do, for he doesn't take the bait, instead waiting patiently until Rin tires himself out with a half dozen laps at full speed spent trying to draw Nanase into giving chase. Rin hauls himself up onto the poolside, arms quivering with the effort, and pauses to catch his breath—and that's about when Nanase crouches tight on his next turn and fires off like a shot down the lane, straight and lean and beautiful without a motion or movement wasted. Rin watches him show off—for that's what he's doing, unconsciously or otherwise—without bothering to disguise his awe, mouth gaping as he takes in the sight he's only ever felt before but never actually seen.

And that's when he realizes how he's going to get Nanase onto his team: by doing the same for him in return and showing him a sight he's never seen before. Nanase has probably only ever swum for himself, never for others, never for anything beyond the pleasure of the sport. But that's because he's never bothered to look up, to glance around at everyone around him and appreciate how they approach their strokes, their races. And he'd probably claim that's because he doesn't care, but what can Nanase know, when he's never even given it a chance? Rin's only caught glimpses of how amazing it must be, being so connected to one another and of one mind, driving towards a single goal and carrying the thoughts and hopes of teammates—but it's enough to make him ache for more.

He needs Nanase, to see that sight—so he knows that part of this exercise is self-serving. But in the same breath, he wants Nanase to see it too, because it's just criminal that someone as talented as Nanase is stubbornly refusing to even try to appreciate this sport he seems to love so much beyond its very basics. He deserves to have his world shaken up—and Rin vibrates with a buzzing eagerness to be just the hurricane Nanase's little skiff needs.

He drops to his knees when Nanase draws up to the poolside, breathing even and unhurried as he peels off his swimcap and goggles to cast a blank glance up at Rin that says as clearly as if he'd spoken, Well? Rin's grin is wide and childish, which visibly irritates and confuses Nanase who likely expected him to be disappointed Nanase refused to get serious while Rin was in the pool with him. "You're fast, Nanase. So, so fast!" He feels a giddiness rising within him, and he knows he must sound ridiculous repeating something so obvious, but it's all he can think just now: Nanase is fast, and they're going to relay together. They're going to see that sight together, and Nanase will remember for the rest of his life that—whether he likes it or not—Rin was the one who showed it to him.

Rin doesn't challenge him—verbally or otherwise—to any races for the rest of the evening, but he does notice a palpable shift in Nanase's stroke, sensing the wax and wane of speed and angle in time with Rin's own swimming style, and he realizes that Nanase is feeling him out. He's observing Rin here in the water, in the same way Rin did out of the water—observing, and compensating. Rin wonders, in a moment of cold panic, if he's given away any secrets, revealed any weaknesses, and he immediately chides himself for the reaction; it's thoughts like that that have had him spinning his wheels and second-guessing himself for the past ten years. This is Nanase—there's no subterfuge or artifice about him. If Rin has weaknesses or openings, he'll take advantage of them immediately, so Rin simply needs to monitor Nanase himself to correct his own shortcomings. Nanase is a mirror, revealing all of his flaws and—in doing so—helping him better himself.

They shower and dress in exhausted silence and are pulling on their streetclothes when the lights flash to dismiss them, and Rin cranes his neck to peer out into the entryway, expecting Tachibana to be along any moment to play chauffeur. But as the minutes pass and Nanase hauls his bag up onto his shoulder, still Tachibana is nowhere to be seen, and it's only when they're both out in the evening chill that Rin hazards, "...No Tachibana this evening?"

Nanase shrugs, digging into his bag and pulling out a pair of earbuds that he carefully fits into his ear. "I'm doing groundwork tonight." He then situates the arms of his bag across his shoulders, takes his pulse for thirty seconds, and starts for the station at a brisk jog without so much as a good night.

Rin watches him leave, dumbfounded, until his retreating figure disappears around a corner, and then his lips quirk up at their edges into a triumphant grin.

He certainly hopes Nanase doesn't think he's fooling anyone; the idea that he'd just suddenly decide groundwork was worth his time right as he learned that Rin used his evening jog as an excuse to build up stamina is ludicrous, so Rin must assume that he's the reason Nanase has taken up this new hobby. But to actually come out and say so would be tantamount to ensuring Nanase never pulled on a pair of sneakers again, so he primly zips his lip and sees Nanase off after their evenings together with a mock salute, waiting until Nanase rounds the corner before taking off in the opposite direction with an invigorated pep in his step.

Tachibana still drops by at least once a week to drive Nanase home—usually when the weather is less than ideal for jogging—and more often than not, Rin finds himself invited along for late dinners or casual drinks. It's probably a vice his coaches would frown on, but Rin maintains that it's important to forge these bonds with Nanase if he ever hopes to make good on his vow to build a relay team with Nanase as the anchor.

Nanase eventually starts to relax around him with time, growing less overtly hostile and more often simply feigning ignorance to Rin's presence, and Rin learns to read his emotions with some degree of accuracy—albeit with generous tips from Tachibana. Tachibana himself is far easier to get along with, being highly receptive to Rin's brand of humor and eager to give Rin the spotlight he craves. But Rin finds he appreciates the challenge that comes with getting close to Nanase—where Tachibana is an open book, Nanase takes some studying to learn to navigate, and the subsequent rewards when he succeeds more than make up for the effort required. He doesn't bring up the relay—or even the team at all—for two weeks, well aware that it's a landmine best avoided until Rin can work out how to improve Nanase's receptiveness to the idea, but when Tachibana innocently inquires as to Rin's swimming history, it's hard to step around.

"My dad used to swim when he was younger—competitively as a kid, but he didn't stick with it."

"Oh? And he taught you how to swim?"

Rin nods, slurping up his ramen loudly. "He eventually had to give up any idea of a professional career after he got married, though; hard to support a family on a swimmer's salary, I guess."

"What does he do?"

"Did," Rin corrects, then wants to bite his tongue, because there are more delicate ways to go about this, but he's already drawn both Tachibana's and Nanase's attention with the remark, so he continues with a nervous scratch to the back of his head, "He was a fisherman—but his ship went down. I was really young, I don't actually remember all that much about it." It's a lie, bald-faced as anything, but at least it stops their expressions from darkening further with sympathy. He can't even bring himself to look Nanase in the eye; he doesn't want the first real spark of emotion he sees in those eyes to be anything so pathetic as pity. He shrugs to roll off their concern. "It was ages ago—and like I said, I don't even really remember him that well now. I just...know that he wanted to swim professionally. To go to the Olympics, so...I want to do what he never could. Make the dreams he couldn't fulfill come true."

Tachibana smiles, expression still a bit sober, and nods. "I can't imagine there's any parent who wouldn't be honored their son was working as hard for them as you are for your dad." Nanase says nothing, just silently slurps up a noodle. These are the responses Rin expects, but he isn't sure if they satisfy him or not.

After dinner, they exit the ramen shop, and Rin is left to awkwardly wait with Nanase under a streetlamp for Tachibana to pull his car around. It's the worst moment for Nanase to start speaking to him of his own volition, so of course that's when Nanase mutters just loudly enough to be heard, "...So all the relay is, is you trying to be your father?"

Rin blinks, gaping stupidly, for several reasons—mostly because Nanase's never really spoken to him before, not without Tachibana between them and not without being goaded into conversation, but also because Nanase has brought up the relay, and for once, it's not prefaced by I'm never going to swim the. Rin scrambles to put his thoughts in order, certain he sounds as lost as he feels just now when he replies, ", I mean, not really? He swam it—and won, with his team. And seeing how much he enjoyed it makes me want to try as well, to see what the fuss is." He frowns to himself as he reminds, "But no—I'm not trying to be him." He wishes he sounded more convincing, but no one's ever accused him of not swimming for his own reasons before, so it kind of catches him off guard. "I just...think it meant something special to him. And I want to find out what."

Nanase scuffs the toe of his sneaker against some crumbling gravel. "So you're trying to drag me into this? On a whim?"

He can practically see the landmines buried all around them; one false move, and he'll lose Nanase forever—not just as a relay team member, but as anything more than the tentative acquaintanceship they have right now even. He forces himself to face Nanase head-on, locking eyes to demonstrate his commitment. "Nothing I do is on a whim—just because you don't understand it doesn't mean there's no point to what I do. This is important to me—and if you let me show you how, it can be important to you, too." He softens his tone, reminding himself that Nanase doesn't respond favorably to being cornered. "If you do this with me...I'll show you a sight you've never seen before."

His heart leaps into his throat when he's rewarded for his patience with a slight widening of Nanase's eyes, the first glimmer of interest in anything beyond the mundane, beyond the ground beneath his feet or the open swim lane before him, and he wants to think Nanase has been waiting all of his life for Rin to waltz in and turn everything on its head, to hold his hand out and pull Nanase off balance and fall, head-first, into a bright future. But reality isn't as romantic as Rin might make it out to be, and the flicker of emotion and intent in Nanase's eyes fades like stars from a sparkler, until all that's left is the familiar dull, stubborn bull-headedness Rin has become accustomed to over the past several weeks.

It's only just as Tachibana pulls the car up alongside them that Nanase offers, "...As long as it doesn't interfere with my Freestyle runs."

There's a training camp for the National Team during Golden Week, so Rin prints out a roster of all the members, their recent time trial performances, and a few other relevant stats and schedules an impromptu meeting at the Nanase-Tachibana apartment the day before, reminding Nanase that a relay team is only as strong as its weakest member and that they need to be sure they'll be swimming alongside the best. Now is the time when Nanase chooses to remind Rin that he's only got the second-fastest Butterfly time and may therefore not even be eligible to swim the relay leg himself.

Rin sniffs haughtily as he straightens his papers. "I'll have you know I've been using every spare moment of practice to improve my time—so don't worry, I'll be sure you have plenty of cushion time." Nanase frowns, and Rin feels a twinge of pity, certain that the guy must have thought that would surely cut Rin deep. In apology, he allows, "Your concern that I wouldn't be there to make the exchange, though, is admittedly touching."

Nanase is instantly on the defensive: "I wasn't concerned."

"I heard concern," Rin reassures, glancing to Tachibana for support, but all he receives is an ambivalent shrug, as Tachibana is clearly not comfortable being put on the spot between the two of them like this. "Doormat," Rin snipes, without much venom, and rolls his eyes.

When Nanase retreats to the kitchen later to see to the dishes—far too fastidious to leave it for later—Tachibana slides a cup of hot barley tea over the table, and Rin only belatedly realizes it's a preemptive apology for the conversation they're about to have. "You're...really intent on Haru doing the relay with you, huh?"

Rin blows softly over the surface of the tea, inhaling the earthy aroma as he nods. "Yup—and lucky for me, I won't have to drag him kicking and screaming into it." He muffles a barking laugh at the look of panic that flits over Tachibana's features at the idle threat, waving away his concern. "Kidding—mostly."

"Hmm," Tachibana allows, clearly unconvinced.

"What? I wouldn't have forced him. He just...might have required some coaxing."

Tachibana frowns at the phrasing, and he reminds softly, "...But you know Haru doesn't like being forced into anything. If he isn't convinced it's something he wants wholly himself..." He trails off, and Rin feels defensiveness rising inside at the implication that he's bullying Nanase into this venture.

"I know; I think I might've suffered some brain damage from slamming my head against a wall trying to figure him out—but I'm not a lost cause yet. I get that he can be difficult—"

"That's putting it mildly," Tachibana cuts in, a faint smile curling his lip, and he hides the grin in the rim of his tea mug.

"—but...for whatever reason, I think he does want this. Now, at least." He shrugs. "Guess my charm won him over."

Tachibana's raised brows relate his amused skepticism, but he sobers quickly. "...I just worry for him. This is as motivated as I've ever seen him about something—"

"This is motivated for him?"

"—and...I feel like he's going to be overwhelmed. Maybe it's fine, just with you, on a small scale. He's gotten used to you, doesn't view you as a threat anymore."

"You make him sound like some skittish animal."

"If the shoe fits..." Tachibana allows with a shrug. "Just...if things don't pan out like you want them to...don't take it out too harshly on him? He's trying, he just...might not be ready quite yet."

Rin regards him for a long moment, mulling over his concerns with the soft clinking of dishes narrating his thoughts. Tachibana and Nanase have been friends for as long as either of them can remember, and Rin is a relatively recent interloper, so he knows he ought to place more stock in Tachibana's understanding of his best friend than in his own, yet still. Something rebels within, and he clings all the harder to his own instinctive belief that he hasn't chosen poorly. That Nanase is everything Rin has been waiting for. "...No, he's not ready yet. But he will be. He just doesn't believe it yet." He flashes a confident grin that belies his own worries festering deep within. "So I'll pull that belief out of him!"

"Pull what?" Nanase is standing at the threshold to the den, leaning against the door jamb as he wipes his hands dry. He's wearing a dingy blue apron over nothing more than his jammers—casual loungewear, Rin has learned—and eying the both of them with guarded suspicion. "What are you talking about?"

Rin slaps the sheaf of papers they're meant to leaf through. "Just about how being on a relay team starts with forging bonds." He feels a thrill of childish glee run through him that mounts with Nanase's confusion. "Like using each other's given names! Haru-chan~"

There's a visible visceral reaction, and Nanase grinds out, "Don't. Call me that."

Rin's glee fades a bit, and he waxes petulant. "Why not? Tachibana gets to—ah, sorry. Makoto."

Makoto nods, but this just adds more fuel to the fire, for Nanase—Haru, now—tosses the dishtowel in Makoto's face and huffs, "Makoto does it whether I want him to or not."

Rin shrugs at this, "So then I will, too. Haru-chan."

Makoto's chuckle is muffled by the dishtowel, and he pulls it down to offer by way of mediation, "He might settle for just 'Haru' if you agree to call him 'Rin', you know." The look Haru fixes him with could melt iron, and Rin wonders if he's struck a nerve. Still, he can't take it back now, and somehow it soothes something inside of him to breach this barrier, placing himself firmly within the same relationship sphere Makoto occupies. He hasn't been aware of being jealous of the relationship the pair share, but now that he's on the other side of the fence, he can see it rankled quite fiercely—and distantly wonders why.

"Fine," Haru allows, jaw tense. "Don't call me that. Rin."

Golden Week creeps up on them slowly, and notice arrives in the mail with directions on where to meet their teammates and when, and how they'll be traveling to Narashino for their training camp. Rin goes out of his way to pick up Haru at his apartment after some subtle suggestion from Makoto that, otherwise, Haru might have difficulty getting out of the apartment in time. "You won't believe how often I have to march into the bathroom and yank him out of the tub!" Rin nods his confirmation that he'll be there with bells on and tries not to think about why Makoto might feel he has any place walking in on Haru while he's bathing. They're roommates and old friends—and Haru's a swimmer. Their type have a higher tolerance for public nudity than most Japanese—and coming from a country where bathing nude with friends is relatively common, Rin thinks that says something. So he politely ignores the sight when Haru answers the door as Makoto squawks at him to wait, pulling a towel on to cover his sensitive bits just a hair too late for Rin to avoid getting an eyeful. "Well? Are we going?" Haru prompts, slipping to the side to place himself in Rin's line of sight when he doesn't recover quickly enough.

"Oh—yeah, sure." He quirks a brow. "You always open the door on your roommates when they're fresh out of the shower?"

"It's nothing I haven't seen before," is the unaffected response as Haru shoves past him, and Rin knows that's going to fester all week.

On the short train ride to the station nearest their meeting point, Rin pulls out the clearfile containing the team stats they'd gone over previously, for a last-minute check, he tells himself. They've narrowed down their choices on who to approach (well, Rin's choices really, as Haru doesn't much care—and either way, they'll need to earn the coaches' blessings for any relay team not made up of the fastest swimmers in each stroke)—Kirishima's breaststroke is a no-brainer, and while Mikoshiba handily took the 200 meter Backstroke, Serizawa nosed him out by a wide-enough margin that Rin feels he's a safer bet. Besides, Mikoshiba—from what he's seen—is kind of a loose cannon, and more to the point, Serizawa seems more amenable to a group relay effort, with Mikoshiba more interested in showing off for the crowds.

He tries to get Haru's opinion on their proposed team, but he's unsuccessful, managing nothing more than a, "Whatever." Rin supposes he ought to be grateful he's drawn Haru this far out of his shell, but in reality, it just makes him hunger for more. How different might they be if they'd met earlier in their lives? Like before Makoto dropped swimming—they might have found a decent backstroker to complete their team, and then they'd have their whole lives to be friends, instead of what will likely amount to a few short years together at best before they take on new careers in the face of fading athletic ability and finally drift apart, losing touch with new phone upgrades wiping their contact books clean.

He shifts uneasily in place and stuffs the file back into his bag, feeling momentarily morose—and somehow, he must be so obvious in his moodiness that even Haru can tell something's wrong, for he bumps Rin's shoulder and reminds, "I'll make up any time we lack." From anyone else, it would feel insensitive and boastful—and it still kind of does, from Haru—but Rin recognizes it for the attempt to lift Rin's spirits that it is, so he just shakes his head and bites back a grin and takes in the Tokyo skyline whizzing by.

The training camp is little more than a glorified meet and greet the first day as everyone gets settled in; they're roomming with a Butterfly swimmer from Hokkaido and a Breast-Backstroker from Hiroshima, and where Rin is polite and friendly, Haru is anything but. Makoto has warned him to expect this, as Haru apparently views being scouted and tapped to swim in international competitions as unfortunate side effects of being as good a swimmer as he is, which baffles Rin but no longer surprises him. He's extracted a promise to swim the relay alongside Rin, and that's all he's concerned with. If Haru doesn't want to make friends on the team, that's his business—though he does drop hints about Haru's favorite food to the others when they go out on convenience store junk food runs. The mackerel onigiri the Fly swimmer brings back earns him a Thank you, and Rin flashes the guy a thumbs-up to show he's done well.

They're worked like dogs from their first full day at the facilities, though, so that the coaches and staff can get a more up-to-date assessment of their skills. This involves physical fitness examinations as well as time trials, and Rin can feel his stomach doing somersaults when he's ordered into the Fly line-up for the afternoon sessions. No coach in his right mind is going to let a second-placer swim the Fly leg of a relay—the whole point is to pit the best of the best against the best of the best and pray you come out on top—so without a dazzling time today, Rin's never going to be able to show Haru that sight, or fulfill his father's dream. He's not sure which rankles more.

Something cool brushes against his forehead, and he flinches back, snapping his gaze up to meet Haru's cool, unruffled expression. His hair is still damp with moisture from his earlier Freestyle runs—which had been gorgeous, but they always are; Haru doesn't seem capable of swimming any less—and he taps the PET bottle against Rin's forehead again, urging, "Electrolytes." When Rin wordlessly takes it, knocking back a swig mostly to satisfy Haru's insistence, Haru squats before him, arms resting over his knees, and asks, "So when do we ask them?"


"Serizawa and Kirishima."

He's impressed Haru remembers their names—when he can't even remember their roomates'. He flicks a gaze around the natatorium, taking in the other groups chatting amongst themselves; already friendships and rivalries are forming, and Rin can feel that familiar sensation of being the odd man out creeping in again. He wants a team, dammit. Even if it's only four people, he wants someplace to belong, because he's never had that before, and Haru can't understand how much he needs it, but he at least seems sympathetic without expressing too much pity. He sees Rin's pride, and he doesn't try to poke holes in it. He clears his throat, "This evening, I think; the Butterfly time trials are the last, and if I don't get my ass in gear and take top position, you're probably gonna be making the exchange with Furuya."


Rin snorts, because of course who. "Our roommate? The Butterfl—whatever, forget it. You don't need to remember his name."

Haru frowns at this, remembering that their team isn't quite complete yet. "...They won't let you swim the Butterfly leg unless you're the fastest..."

Rin nods, and when this only makes Haru's frown sour further, he forces a smile and reminds, "Hey—even if I'm not there to pull your ass out of the fire, the others'll still be counting on you to pick up their slack, got it?"

Haru stands again, expression unreadable, and his fists clench at his sides. "No."

"No?" Rin's brows knit together.

"No," and he shakes his head to reinforce the word. "I can't do that—do the relay. Unless you're there."

Rin's stomach turmoil is forgotten and his heart wants to do somersaults now, but he forces himself to reassure that, "Sure you can; it doesn't matter who's making the exchange, all that matters is that it happens." And now that's definitely hurt confusion on Haru's features, and Rin replays his words in his head, frantically trying to piece together what he's said to bring this out—and then he realizes he's basically told Haru he's replaceable. That any Freestyler would do, and maybe that might be true for most relay teams, but not for Rin's; it has to be Haru. Because he's come up against dozens of competitors swimming crawl against him before—and been beaten soundly but nearly as many—but it's different with Haru, because Haru's the only one whose victory has ever left him feeling fulfilled and inspired rather than beaten down and defeated. With everyone else, he just wants to slink off and lick his wounds; with Haru, he just wants another round.

He licks his lips, apology ready on his tongue, but Haru is firm in his insistence: "I can't; because I won't." He cuts Rin a sharp glare, biting out through thick frustration, "So win. Rin."

Rin can only mutely nod.

As so ordered, he wins—and his time is a personal best. He seeks out Haru's face in the crowd of well-wishers, but the familiar dour mien is nowhere to be found, and it's only after dinner, back in their room, that he manages to track Haru down. One roommate is doing laps in the subpool, and the other is in the community showers down the hall. Rin practically launches himself onto Haru's futon, both hands clasped together before him in a penitent gesture as he interrupts Haru's evening reading. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean it to come out the way it did—just, the relay's about more than one person, it only works if everyone's doing their best, and you deserve to swim alongside the best! Forcing my way onto a team and being the wouldn't sit right with me." He shakes his head, because this isn't going at all how he wanted it to. "I'm the one who dragged you into this, and I want you to have the best time you can—"

"So win."


Haru settles back and rearranges his book, flipping back a few pages to find where he'd left off. "Win. Then there's no problem."

He thinks he ought to explain to Haru that securing a spot on the relay team isn't so simple, that 'just win' is far easier said than done, but what comes out is a petulant, "...Well, I did. Win. You'd have known if you'd stuck around to see."

"Then why are you here?"

"To apolo—" he starts, then rolls his eyes, because that's a rhetorical question with Haru. He instead reaches forward to snatch away Haru's book—30 Famous Waterfalls of Japan—and forces Haru to meet his gaze. "To fetch you, so we can go meet our future teammates."

Serizawa is an easy sell; but then, Rin has always known he would be. It helps that they'll all likely be tapped by the coaches for relay racing, regardless of any personal desire to be in the lineup, but Rin wants this to be a team comprising members who really want to be here, who see something special in the tight bonds forged by such a small group working towards a single-minded goal, each with his own role to serve and relying so fully on his fellow teammates. Serizawa will be charged with getting them off to a good start, which is plenty of pressure for anyone to bear, but perhaps more trying will be having to haul himself out of the water and sit there and watch, helpless, while the rest of his team takes up the reins. Rin had once harbored dreams of mastering all four strokes, but he thinks he could never quite bear the anxiety that Serizawa will be faced with, and he's pleased with their choice over the bundle of nerves and energy that is Mikoshiba.

Kirishima takes some finesse, and ultimately it is Haru's monotone reassurance that, "Rin's going to show us a sight we've never seen before," that seems to sway him.

His interest is guarded. "What kind of a sight?"

"I'm not sure." Haru turns to Rin. "Rin, what kind of a sight is it?"

"I—" He runs a hand through his hair, and Kirishima's roommates are looking on curiously now, no longer bothering to disguise their eavesdropping. "I dunno, just—you know, something you can only experience when you're swimming with teammates that you've got a close bond with..." When he tries to explain it, it just sounds stupid.

"That sounds stupid," Haru helpfully supplies, and he turns to Kirishima. "It won't interfere with your Breaststroke runs."

This doesn't sell Kirishima wholly either, but he shrugs, likely understanding this isn't so much an invitation as an introduction—they'll likely be swimming together whether they want to or not, so he consents to join them with a disaffected, "Whatever."

When the door closes behind them as they leave, Haru remarks with unusual fervor, "That went well."

"Kirishima" and "Serizawa" quickly become "Ikuya" and "Nao" at Rin's insistence, and while Ikuya seems of a kind with Haru as far as wanting to stubbornly dig his heels in at every turn and Nao insists on using Haruka because quote Your parents gave you that name, so you should cherish it, it feels like they'll be able to get along well enough to at least get through a few trial runs before making any lasting decisions about their compatibility. This is really all Rin can hope for, and he's determined to make this work.

The rest of the Golden Week training camp passes in what feels like a flash, once they've earned permission to form their relay team, but the coaches place far less import on training as a team and instead insist on everyone breaking off to train in their individual strokes. While Rin can see the logic in this, he also feels a gut-deep surety that they need to learn each other's rhythms and pacing, to work on their exchanges more instead of just going on blind faith. Maybe if they'd been swimming together all their lives, they'd have the kind of innate comprehension of where they all were at any given point in the water, to know when contact had been made and when it was time to shoot off down the lane, but they've known each other less than 72 hours by the time they're all climbing back on the bus, and it's Nao who suggests that they at least meet up once or twice a month in their down-time before Team practice starts again at the end of June in preparation for the Pan Pacific.

It's this reminder of the upcoming tournament that sets Rin's heart to thumping—their first tournament together. Their first opportunity to see if a hastily-thrown-together relay team of virtual strangers can pull itself together into some semblance of trust and support in time to make a decent showing. Rin doesn't hope to win Gold—not yet, at least, but someday—but some romantic flame burning still inside his chest can't help but hope. Hope that he'll be able to share with Haru—and Ikuya and Nao—some of what he sees when they swim together, and to learn for himself what exactly it was about the relay that inspired such joy in his father.

He reaches into his pocket and palms a faded photograph, tugging it out and tracing his eyes over the bright smiles of the boy his father used to be and his teammates. He can still feel their sheer exuberance and exultation through the image, even over all these years, and he swallows a thick lump in his throat.

"...Is that your father?"

Rin jolts in surprise, quickly hiding the photo like a cookie he's been caught pilfering, and he frowns. "I thought you were asleep."

Haru wipes at one eye, shrugging. "Just resting my eyes; if I let myself fall asleep now, I doubt I'll want to wake once we get back to Tokyo."

Rin offers offhandedly with what he realizes must be obvious suggestiveness, "You could always bunk at my place; I'm only two stops from Tokyo Station."

"Makoto's expecting me," Haru returns by way of refusal, and he jerks his chin toward the picture. "...So was that him?"

Rin takes the change of subject gratefully, passing over the picture with mock reluctance. "Matsuoka Toraichi. You know I don't even remember what stroke he swam?"

Haru gingerly takes the picture, tracing with his finger the same lines Rin did with his eyes only moments ago. "...They seem really happy."

"Anyone would after winning Gold." Then again, this is Haru he's talking to, and perhaps this isn't so obvious to someone who claims not to care about winning or losing, so he adds, "Like I said—it's different, swimming with others. A tight-knit group, working toward a common goal, everyone placing complete trust and faith in everyone else... And then seeing the fruits of those labors."

Haru twists in place to look Rin in the eye, brows knitting. "You trust me?"

Rin shifts uncomfortably, "I—well, yeah? Of course." He then recalls his earlier callous comments about being replaceable, and reassures, "You're the one I picked."

"You picked Ikuya and Nao, too."

"I picked you first, though?" He gives a one-shoulder shrug. "I could've approached either of them after Japan Swim back in April. You're the one I came after."

"You stalked me; how flattering." But he settles back into his seat and passes over the picture with little genuine ire in his tone. "Wake me when we get back to Tokyo."

"I thought you were worried you'd sleep through arrival?"

"I trust you."

Rin pockets the picture and turns his head to the side to stare out the window—not because he's interested in the passing scenery, but because he doesn't want Haru asking about the stupid grin on his face.

They manage to meet up more often than twice a month, to Rin's joy, and while it's not as frequently as he might have liked—every day would have been ideal, if you asked Rin—it's enough that within a month after the training camp, they've improved their times as a team by nearly a full second over their initial showing at the camp. Makoto drops by when he can to help time them and even mans a video camera for them so they can critique their forms as a group over dinner after they're kicked out by the custodial staff at Rin and Haru's club. Even sour-faced Ikuya's eyes brighten with the promise of a meal after practice, and he puts away far more food into his gullet than his slender frame might belie. When Rin teases that he's going to ruin his hydrodynamics with a bulging belly, Nao points to the stack of sushi plates next to Rin and suggests he take his own advice.

They offer each other critique and advice when they can, and while Nao accepts it all gracefully, his three teammates are less eager to have their faults pointed out. Even Nao's offer to teach Haru a new starting block stance is met with a sullen, "I guess."

Rin points out to Ikuya that his Breaststroke starts to look more like a Grasshopper in the final 15 meters and suggests they do some form-focused training next time they meet up, but Ikuya wrinkles his nose at the offer. "I'm faster than you by a good second and top of my stroke; what can you possibly teach me?" There's no haughtiness in his tone—he's like Haru, simply stating fact as he sees it—but Rin feels his competitive nature flaring up all the same.

"Just because you're faster doesn't mean I'm wrong. Right, Haru?"

Around a mouthful of mackerel, Haru helpfully responds with, "I only swim Free."

More often than not, though, Nao and Ikuya have business of their own with their personal swim clubs, so Haru and Rin have run of the swim center they call their own. Since forming their team, Haru has lost some of his edge, proving more open to Rin's whims and almost eager for races now. He still beats Rin more often than vice versa, but even two months later now, it still feels as amazing as it did the first time, without a hint of bitterness or frustration. Once, he might have feared this, dreaded the moment when losing became so commonplace as to be expected, that he would be satisfied with second place.

And yet that doesn't feel like what's happened at all; he still feels a drive to do better, to swim one more lap, but it's the same whether he wins or loses, so he assumes it must be something to do with Haru himself. Racing him, swimming alongside him, even charging down the lane and knowing Haru is there at the end, waiting for Rin to make that exchange: it all feels so vibrant and alive with energy, like Haru's anticipation and joy for the sport is seeping into him, through the water, permeating his skin and running through his veins. Haru makes swimming fun again, and he's starting to understand how Haru can not care at all about winning or losing. Simply being able to swim at all is enough for him. Rin doesn't think he'll ever quite feel the same—he's been told he's too much his father's son for that—but he can appreciate where Haru comes from now, and feels more complete for it.

He's waiting by the door for Haru to gather his gear when it comes out: "Thank you."

"For what?" Haru absently returns, digging through his bag for what is apparently a missing swim cap that he thinks he might have left back in his locker.

"For...y'know, going along with this. I know you weren't crazy about the idea at first, and I can be a little...tenacious when I want to be. Which I doubt endeared me to you."

"You say that like you've endeared yourself to me despite these things." Rin cuffs him lightly with the toe of his sneaker, and he thinks he sees a tiny, reluctant smile on Haru's lips, but it's gone in an instant, so maybe it was a trick of the flickering lights above. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't want to be. And besides—" He glances up. "You said you'd show me a sight I'd never seen before."

Not for the first time, Rin wonders silently what Haru thinks he'll see—or why he's so very intent on seeing anything. When Rin made the boast, he'd been full of cocky confidence and desperate to have Haru at his side, but after weeks of swimming alongside him, Rin wonders now if he'll be able to live up to everything Haru expects.

Haru has come to occupy a curiously important position in Rin's consciousness—and Rin struggles not to dwell overly long on why. It's enough that he's here now, in the lane alongside Rin or waiting on the starting block for Rin to charge back toward him, arm outstretched to make a connection he's never realized he so longed for. There are days, exchanges made or races won or lost, where Rin just wants to grab Haru by the shoulders and scream Where have you been all my life?! and he knows it sounds cheesy and romantic but it's not—it's just painful, because it forces him to think about how different his life—their lives—could have been if he'd had something like this to aspire to. Someone to be in awe of. And it's frustrating and heartrending and relieving all at once.

But he also knows that Haru's been right here all along—in Japan. It's Rin who ran away, Rin who's been gone. If he'd stayed in Japan instead of following someone else's dream to the other side of the planet, maybe they would've met before now, and maybe if he'd had someone like Haru in his life before he'd left, Australia wouldn't have hurt so badly.

When he's feeling particularly bold, he thinks that maybe if Haru had had someone like Rin in his life, his vocabulary might extend beyond mackerel, Makoto, and free.

He swallows thickly—Haru's found his swim cap and is carefully folding it to place it inside a little plastic bag along with his goggles. "...Haru, I really—"

But whatever he'd been about to say, he's cut off by soft tapping from the entryway. Makoto is here, and he needs to get started on his jog home.

It's two weeks before the opening ceremonies of the Pan Pacific, and twelve days before they leave. Every day from now until they board the plane will be packed with training from dawn to dusk, and Rin is ecstatic. This is what he's been waiting for—like a training camp on turbo. Just swimming and relays and time trials and his team. He worries the low that follows this high, when it's all over, will be a mortal blow, but it's hard to remember he needs to keep himself grounded when the coaches bark out orders for the first-string relay team members to report to the main pool after lunch for final inspection.

This isn't their first race, and Rin reminds himself that even if they show poorly here, the adrenaline that comes with racing in front of a crowd, in a real meet, will improve their times markedly over whatever they manage today. The coaches just want to be sure there are no obvious flaws in their form or the exchanges that need to be addressed before they're marching out to race alongside the likes of swimming powerhouses like Australia and the US. For the first time, he realizes that he'll almost certainly be racing against former teammates—people he's lost to pathetically in the not-so-distant past. But out of the corner of his eye, he catches Haru adjusting the hem of his jammers and tugging his goggles down to hang around his neck as they ready themselves in the locker room, and the glint off the silver eyepieces blinds for only a moment before Haru is marching ahead of him out the door. He pauses, one hand braced on a row of lockers, and glances over his shoulder to call out, "Well?"

Rin forgets what he was worried about and jogs to draw up alongside Haru. It's the first time anyone's ever waited for him—and that it's Haru doing it, beckoning him forward, means more than it ought to.

Nao's start is flawless, but he isn't pushing himself quite as hard as he should be, and Ikuya's pushing himself too hard, clearly a little nervous for such an important run (which doesn't bode well for the actual meet), so Rin forces himself to recover the pace, charging hard and furious but focused as he pushes away the strain of muscles deprived of oxygen and instead thinks about Haru, waiting there at the end of the lane, crouched in that stance that he finally allowed Nao to teach him and eyes fixed firmly on Rin. For just this moment, he's all there is in Haru's world, he knows—and he can't imagine ever giving up this position to anyone else. This person, so talented and graceful and practically water incarnate, is looking at him, urging him on, waiting for him to make a connection. To show him a sight he's never seen before.

Something we can only experience swimming with people we trust

As he slaps the wall and lets a shout of Haru! ring out, he wonders if he'd know what this sight is supposed to be if his father were here. But then Ikuya and Nao help haul him up onto the poolside, and he turns with them to watch Haru streaking down the lane to the cheers and whoops of their teammates. This isn't a race, it's just a trial run, and yet the tension in the natatorium is palpable—even other swimmers in other lanes have paused their runs just to watch in rapt attention. Rin can't blame them—he could watch Haru swim forever. They ought to charge admission for the privilege.

"He's so fast..." Ikuya breathes, awestruck, and Rin can't help but remind him that Rin generally wins their 50 meter runs, as Haru really only comes into his own at the three-quarter mark. "Maybe he lets you win the shorter runs," Ikuya reasons, and Rin rolls his eyes. It goes entirely against Haru's character—even if he knew, really knew, how low defeat had brought Rin in the past...he'd never have been able to allow himself to lose purposefully to Rin. And Rin would have known, besides, because he knows every ripple and wave that flows off of Haru in the water by now. It's all genuine and honest and open, just like Haru. Well, once you get to know him.

Something of this must mental monologie show in Rin's features, for Nao knocks his shoulder and reminds, "You might want to put away that grin before Haruka gets back, or you may have some explaining to do."


"Look—here he is." A sharp retort on a whistle marks the end of the run, and the coach with the timer calls out a sequence of numbers that puts broad, relieved smiles on all their faces, even Haru's. Ikuya and Nao help drag Haru from the pool, and Rin vibrates with the urge to just launch himself at Haru—but that would be ridiculous, this wasn't even a real race, and there are so many onlookers, and Nao's looking at him again, smile soft and slightly smug, like he knows something Rin doesn't, which dampens the mood and cools Rin's ardor.

Instead, he reaches forward and claps hands on either shoulder, giving Haru a shake and ducking his head to meet his gaze. "That was your last chance to throw the race and get kicked off the team; you're stuck with us now!"

Haru glances to the side, feigning disinterest. "I only swim free...and the relay."

At this, Rin forgets things like time, place, and occasion, and throws his arms around Haru's neck regardless.

Five days later, they've all been e-mailed the official lineup for the Pan Pacific—and Rin's pulse thrums with accomplishment at the Serizawa/Kirishima/Matsuoka/Nanase lineup alongside the Medley Relay. They're new and untested, and even cursory research shows that their best time is still nearly a second and a half behind the champions at past tournaments, but this is Rin's team. It's Haru's team, and Nao and Ikuya's team. He didn't meet them at 6 when he'd needed the comfort of their familiarity, he didn't meet them at 12, when he'd had grand dreams unburdened by the harshness of reality, and he didn't meet them that first winter back from Sydney, when he'd needed a warm reminder that there was more to swimming than winning or losing or times. But he's found them now, and they've found him, and even if he isn't entirely sure what the sight he's supposed to show them is, there are other certainties in his life right now to help him figure it out.

They shouldn't be getting drunk; they're supposed to be at Haneda at 8 AM, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and 'hungover' is neither of those things. But Makoto is pulling an all-nighter at a classmate's place, and where Rin practices a more overt form of coercion to get what he wants, all Haru really has to do is crook his finger these days and Rin will follow dopily after. He starts to wonder if Makoto isn't as weak-willed as he comes off on occasion and it's just Haru who's impossible to refuse. The fact that he hardly ever voices any demands or requests is a large part of what makes those around him want to bend to his will, Rin suspects, and his offhanded, flippant invitation to come over 'if you want to' is as good as dropping to his knees and begging Rin to join him for a quiet drink in the empty apartment.

Behind closed doors, Rin makes casual conversation—because even now, Haru still won't—asking idle questions like has Haru started packing yet (of course not), what will Makoto do for dinner for the week they're away ("Probably starve. He can't even steam rice."), and will he be taking any boxers to the meet, or is he just going to wear a different pair of jammers every day (this earns him a sour glare and "no comment").

Haru picks distractedly at the tab of his can. "Do you think we'll win?"

This makes Rin sober up a bit. He forces a sly grin. "What's this? Nanase Haruka actually cares about winning? Gotta let twitter know about this..." He feigns reaching for his phone—and Haru clamps a hand around his wrist, holding him in place. Haru is shaking, and Rin frowns in concern. "...Haru?"

"Do you think we'll win?" he repeats in measured tones, but his grip tightens to impress that he's serious about the question, and Rin twists his arm around so that they're both gripping one another's wrists.

He squeezes gently with reassurance in his voice as he answers in all honesty with a lopsided grin, "Don't have a damned clue." Haru's frown deepens, and he relaxes his grip—but Rin doesn't let him pull away, instead threading their fingers together in a gesture he'd never attempt sober (or so he tells himself). "Does it matter?"

"It...does to you. You want to win."

Rin shrugs. "I'm keeping an open mind. Some people whose opinions I highly value assure me that winning and losing don't matter."

"Your father's dream..."

"Is his dream," Rin allows, admitting aloud for the first time something he's probably known since accepting the invitation to train in Sydney some fifteen years ago. Dreams are important to him—but maybe he's had so much trouble sticking with this one because it's not his own. "I don't think he'd want me getting bogged down by the past. The future's looking a lot more promising these days." He doesn't want to waste these few years he'll have with Haru swimming for anyone other than himself and his team. "What about you? Do you have a dr—"

He isn't sure if he's supposed to interpret the kiss Haru favors him with as a response to the half-spoken question or sheer spur-of-the-moment desire-driven action, but it's hard to care either way when Haru's fingers on one hand are clenched vise-like around his own while those of the other clutch the back of Rin's head, teasing the feathered hairs at his neck to tug him forward, angled awkwardly across the low table. A mostly empty beer can clatters to the table as one or both of them knock it over in a rush to respond and deepen the kiss, and only the alarm of the washer sounding the end of its rinse cycle startles them apart, breathing heavier for the contact.

Haru draws back slowly, cheeks flushed, and Rin immediately brings his hand to his lips, trying to hide their plumped, red state from view. They take a moment to silently reflect on what they've just done, and Rin licks his lips, preparing to ask What just happened? but what comes out instead is, "What about Makoto?"

Haru's lips curl into a confused frown. "...What about Makoto?"

Rin realizes here he's made a colossal error in judgment, and he struggles to verbally backtrack, waving at the apartment. "I just...I mean, I thought maybe..."

"He's my friend," Haru bites back, and the irritation in his tone tells Rin that this isn't the first time someone has gotten the wrong idea about their relationship.

"And...we're not?" His head is still dizzy from the kiss, and he isn't quite sure how to interpret what's just happened.

Haru's frown softens, lips pursed as he struggles for the right words. "No—I mean, we are,'s different." His shoulders slump in frustration. "It's hard to explain..."

Rin knows exactly how that feels, strangely enough, and he grins, brows lifting up as he ducks his head to catch Haru's eye. "Well—I guess you don't have to, then. But you're not allowed to give me shit anymore for not being able to properly explain the Sight."

There's a little twitch of victory at the edges of Haru's lips, and he leans in again to respond with another kiss—which really isn't much of a proper answer at all. And he suspects Haru knows this and that he will continue to endure teasing of much the same quality for some time to come.

Rin's waited all his life to hear it, though, so he supposes he can put up with it for a bit longer. Haru—and everything about him—has been well worth the wait.