The room is neat and empty; the bag on his shoulder ends on the mattress next to a pillow and a pair of white sheets that are fold perfectly in the very middle of the bottom bed. Haru looks up; it’s the exact same disposal on the one above. It’s hard to choose which one will be his for the rest of the training camp, mostly because he doesn’t have any preference.
His things are set on the top bed when Seijuro knocks on his door.
“Are you ready? It starts in a couple of minutes.”
There’s a conference with the National press, nothing too troublesome since they’ll only talk Japanese this time – not that Haru usually speaks at those, their captain and manager take the role willingly. It’s over before Haru realizes it has even started. The stress of the upcoming competition doesn’t reach him like it does with the others, his mind travels elsewhere in a sea of Olympic pools and chlorine waters. As long as he gets to swim, he thinks...
He comes back after diner in his empty room, the bottom bed undone. Only a couple of days remain.
He’s here but not really. He floats in the corridor he walks in, slides in the water when he swims way faster than anyone else. Even his comrades’ praises run on him like the water from the shower’s faucet. Haruka Nanase, the new prodigy, aged no more than nineteen. One more year remains, one year left to travel around the whole world.
“Ain’t you tired of these?”
Haru rarely eats alone but there’s always Ikuya hanging out with him for some reasons. He eyes his mackerel dish like it’s rotten or passed when it’s a double portion their cook made especially for him. He takes another bite and decides it’s enough for an answer.
“Aren’t you tired of asking the same question each time we eat?”
“It’s because I can’t believe the sight in front of me each time I watch you eat.”
“Then stop watching.”
They form a group of friends with Hiyori, Ikuya’s roommate, someone Haru will describe as a swimming freak with information and statistic on each swimmer for the next championship.
“You’re incredible. I need to update my data everyday with you. Each time you swim you break your own record.”
They’re outside the hotel they occupy this time, sitting on a low wall. It’s dark outside. Another day has passed. Hiyori shows his files on his phone while Ikuya plays on his own silently next to him. Haru looks at Ikuya’s screen. He doesn’t like when they remind him how fast he swims.
“Are you going to swim in the medley relay?” Ikuya asks him out of the blue. Haru’s eyes left the screen to look back at red eyes. “They’ll ask you to.”
“It’s not surprising considering how good you are this season. You shouldn’t be that surprise, should you?”
His eyes fall on the ground, to the shadow his feet make. “I haven’t thought about that yet.”
“They’ll wait for everyone to be there though before they take their decision. Don’t you want to?”
Haru gazes up in the sky, hoping to find starts there but here in the middle of the city full of artificial lights it seems the stars have chosen to hide. Even the moon is shy that night, hiding behind a cloud; it feels like there’s no one to guide him this time. Time to be a grown up. Time to get out of his own bubble, to feel the pressure and master it.
Haru dives in with all he’s got. His legs beat in rhythm inside the pool, his arms advancing always further and faster, always ahead. Each time his ears get out of the water he hears the others screaming, some shouting his name. He flips at the turn, not knowing if he’s still first for a couple of milliseconds and then the pool speaks the evidence. He wants to swim in a relay again. His hand is the first to hit the opposite wall.
No one remains.
Rin’s bag hits the floor next to the door. He smiles, Haru comes to him and hugs him. It’s been a couple of months since they haven’t seen each other.
“Hiyori showed me your last times. You’re incredible, but don’t think it’ll be enough to beat me this time.”
Rin’s times, Rin’s courses are the only ones he cares for, the only ones he sometimes steals a glance at Hiyori’s screen for. He knows Rin’s not far behind. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s plain obvious the moment Rin steps in the facility that he does not train like the rest of them. The Australian way is more muscular, more physical; Rin acknowledges willingly that he spends more time on those damn machines like he calls them than in the water, he misses swimming.
Haru can’t stop looking at his back, it has grown so much in a couple of months.
They’re next to each other when the physio massages their sore muscles.
“How are the guys back in Iwatobi? Do they know what they are going to do next year?”
It feels good to have casual talk with Rin, to talk about something else than swimming, and his times, and everything. Rin brings back a bit of their childhood with him each time he talks. When they swim together it’s the same feeling. It doesn’t feel like they are both swimming for Japan. They are both children again swimming for Iwatobi SC, it gives their duals a particular relish Haru secretly adores and he secretly adores the fact that Rin loves it too even more.
While he’s in the shower looking at the pearls of water falling down the long of his limbs Haru listens to what happens outside of the bathroom. Rin is on the phone, talking in English with his coach. The whole scene sounds unreal. Haru barely remembers his life before Rin came back from Australia during high school; who would have thought, the day before they met again in the old swimming pool, that their lives would be like this just a couple of years later?
“There’s also this American, look at his turns.”
Just like Haru thought Rin gets along well with Hiyori – a little bit too well even – and all his statistics, that leaves Haru and Ikuya alone, playing with their phones. Haru quickly gets bored and feels ants in his pants but can’t leave without Rin.
“What should we do? Should we go see the others?”
“There’s probably watching porn or another Marvel movie,” Ikuya doesn’t even leave his phone screen from his sight. “I’d rather just wait for these nerds to be over.”
Rin never stops talking at nights, he gets up at dawn to run ten kilometres every morning. Haru wonders how he can keep that rhythm if he doesn’t sleep early.
One week remains before they announce the medley relay.
There’s a shiver that runs down his spine when he sees Rin rubbing his left shoulder as jf he was in pain.
“Can I ask you something?”
Rin’s shoulder is unharmed of any injury but Rin takes extra cares of it after what happened to Sousuke. Back in Australia their physio would use some of his extra time to massage the joint but this one doesn’t have the time to, and considering there’s nothing to heal or to be worried about...
“But I am worried. I can’t help it.” Rin sighs when he sits on his bed. “I can’t stop thinking about how easy it is to get injured.”
“But you’re not stupid, you know how it can happen. Besides, doesn’t over exercising gonna have the exact opposite effect you want? Isn’t that dangerous?”
“Nah, not if you’re careful. Look, my physio got me a video.”
There’s Rin lying on his stomach with a man working in his shoulder and explaining every detail of his moves in English. Haru can’t get all the words but sees how easy and passives the movements are. It’s just stretching.
“Could you?” He hears Rin asks. Why not after all. “You’re the only one I can ask. I don’t trust anyone else. Well, not really, but there’s no one I trust more than you.”
Haru doesn’t know why it makes him so happy.
They start the next day after the – their – morning jog. Haru reproduces the movement just after they come back. Rin is in sweat. His hands slip on his hot skin, his hold on the arm isn’t as powerful as he wants it to be.
Rin has the side of his head stuck on the bed without his pillow, his eyes never leaving Haru. “There, just push there on the supraspinatus.”
Haru runs his thumbs from Rin’s trapeze to the humerus head again and again until Rin closes his eyes. His fingers draw the reliefs of the scapula in search for knots or painful zones.
Ikuya opens the door just when Haru is pulling on Rin’s arm. “…What are you two doing?”
“Achieving my career change. I’m done with swimming.”
“What?” Hiyori pushes Ikuya on the side. “Really!?”
Rin stands up and takes his bag, ignoring Hiyori’s bemused face. “Let’s go, breakfast isn’t gonna wait for us. Haru, are you gonna eat something else than mackerel this time?”
“Tch. So predictable.”
“And you don’t ask him to stop ?” Ikuya says, amused, as they walk behind Rin and Hiyori to the cafeteria – someone needs Haru’s joke to be explained.
Haru watches Rin’s back for a moment. No, he doesn’t feel like it.
He watches Rin performing butterfly. He outcasts everyone on short distance, 50 metres especially even if it’s not enough for Rin, not enough to win Gold according to Hiyori’s expertise. Rin’s form is magnificent in the water, his powerful strokes gaining field each time he spurs out of the surface to catch his breath.
Haru watches his back again when the physio massage them. He tries to do the same the next morning. His hands apply more pressure this time. He can see Rin likes it.
“Admit it, you just wanted free extra massages.”
“And you were fool enough to fall for it.” Rin jokes.
Haru rolls his eyes. He doesn’t mind.
There are three of them eligible for the last run of the medley relay. Rin is the only one that can run butterfly and free. He looks confident when he smiles at Haru, but who wouldn’t be in his shoes?
“They’ll choose the most devoted.” He says, exactly what he did when he was a captain. It’s easy for him, Haru notices. If he weren’t training on the other side of the pacific ocean he could be one once again and for a moment or two Haru doesn’t know if he’s impressed, envious or angry. It’s probably a mix of all and it annoys him; there are feelings he doesn’t want to be involved with Rin.
There’s still some time, and Haru’s are excellent but the relay is on everyone’s lips. On Hiyori’s mostly. His voice is just noise when he talks and talks about times and different teams and compared to other relays of different nations and Rin just nods and nods and seems just a little bit interested. Haru is not.
“What you’re gonna do?” Ikuya asks when he sees him leaving their group.
“Watch a movie or play video games with the others.”
Haru wanders in the dorms alone, his ears guiding him to where his teammates are reunited. He’d rather have any other noise than Hiyori talking about others’ performance at the moment.
He doesn’t even mind the girl’s moans when he realizes he has opened the wrong door; yet he doesn’t feel like watching any kind of movie anytime soon for some reasons.
Rin comes back a couple of minute after he’s gone to bed. Their bedroom is dark but still, Rin goes on his toes and pokes his cheek.
“Hey, are you alright?”
It doesn’t sound like it’s what he really wants to know. There’s something hidden behind his ask, but Haru is too tired to dig into it.
“I’m fine. Go to sleep.”
Rin remains still for a good minute before he gets under his sheets. Haru held his breath the whole time.
What if Rin gets to swim in the medley relay without him?
“Haru, wake up.”
It’s 6 am. He doesn’t want to go with Rin. He hadn’t been able to sleep well last night because of silly childhood nightmares – like his parents forgetting him in the airport, or the fish dying in his aquarium over and over again.
“You’re running with me.”
There’s something in Rin’s voice that tells him he cannot refuse. Haru lazily puts his sneakers on as a sign of protest but Rin doesn’t even seem to mind, as if he had been expecting no less from him from the start. He’s so irritating.
But he’s gentle when they run, waits for Haru and sticks with his pace. He’s not that much tired when they get back to the hotel. Haru is in sweat from hair to toes, and to the tip of his pearls of sweat he hates Rin for what he does to him.
“Come here, you’re not done yet.”
Rin sits on his bed, takes off his shirt and stirs his shoulder. Haru rolls his eyes. Does he think it’s the right time for this?
“I need to wash my hands first.”
“Don’t bother, I’m dirty too.”
They don’t talk much as Haru touches his back. Rin gives him some indication here and now, moves his arms when he wants to switch movements. The warmth radiating from his body heats the palm of his hands. Haru pushes on the paravertebrals and his left trapezius, he can feel Rin is tensed.
“Are you okay?”
“I should ask you the same question.”
Haru stops his ministration.
“Were you sulking last night?” Rin asks. He rests on his elbows to look back at Haru. “You left without saying a word.”
Haru turns his head away. “No. I just don’t like talking too much about times.”
“Are you anxious about the relay?”
“Not really. As long as I can swim, no matter which course-“
“Haru, I can see you lying from miles away.” Rin pinches his nose and makes him look back at him. “I’m anxious too, we all are! I’d be disappointed if you weren’t. Either it means you don’t care or that you think you’re so good you don’t have to worry about it. None options suits me, or you.”
Haru tries to get away from his grip, but Rin’s hand is too strong and his smile too sincere.
“I want to swim the medley relay with you.”
His words are too. Haru doesn’t know what to do with them; he tears away his gaze from Rin and urges him on his stomach again so he can uses his hands to properly reply. He works on Rin’s back, on the remaining tension his silence engendered. He sits on the small place Rin’s body leaves him on the side of his bed.
There’s nothing that can help Rin’s muscle to loosen up but his voice. Haru knows it. Yet he can’t use it at that moment.
Frustration makes his movement harsher, he stops when red strides appear in Rin’s back. He wants to say he’s sorry but his voice is still trapped. His hands work for him again unconsciously and the tip of his finger caress Rin’s side just enough to feel the relief of his ribs and the goosebumps it produces.
There’s something that goes out of Rin’s throat that doesn’t sound like anything he’d heard before, a mix between a whimper and a moan and so suddenly Haru finds his voice again.
“Sorry.” His hands go off of him.
Rin sits on the bed next to him, his hand scratching the back of his hair. “It’s okay. Do you want to use the shower first?”
Haru stills in the water for a while, looking at his hands, looking for an answer without knowing the question beforehand.
The races later that day aren’t his fastest but he still manages to be a couple of milliseconds above everyone else. Still, it’s slower, his pace leaves place in his mind where he catches himself thinking too much about what happened. Nothing barely, nothing really. Yet the sequence keeps repeating in his head the more he tries not to think about it. Rin’s words, his silence, the knot in his throat and the weight in his chest; he forgets to breath once and it almost costs him the victory.
It’s funny how the things you want to forget most dearly are the ones that keep coming and remain, when the memories you want to cherish disappear like the steam you blow on the bathroom’s mirror before you get the chance to leave a message behind. Haru thinks there’s some universe law that needs a good correcting.
He can see Rin’s worried, still can see the red marks on his back. He still hears his voice. It will always remain, there, in the bottom of his head, it will never go away.
At night he plays video games with the rest of the team. It empties his mind more than he thought it would. Rin is already asleep when he comes back, and already gone and he wakes up. It’s better this way.
He’s glad Rin went running without him. That way there’s no weird silence, unnecessary tension, weather talks or the awkward moment when Rin will ask him to massage his shoulder with his hands while saying romantic - typical Rin - life changing words and Haru will have to refuse by avoiding to explain how it makes him feel uncomfortable without knowing why exactly yet.
He sits on his bed without moving. He doesn’t know why he does though; there’s only silence in their room. He can hear the next room’s faucet and shower being used, his teammates talking, people walking in the corridor but inside their room there’s nothing but silence, nothing but Haru alone with his thoughts.
It only takes him a minute to realize he isn’t glad at all.
“Are you okay?”
Ikuya eats a snack Haru previously refused. He isn’t frowning but his heart is, Haru can see it.
“Why do you ask?”
“You’ve got something on your face, not literally but it’s like you’re thinking really hard about something.”
“I need to talk to Rin.”
Ikuya hides a smile. “Like what? Are you going to propose?”
Ikuya eludes the question by taking another bite of his snack, then Hiyori joins them and the matter isn’t discussed any further. Rin is still nowhere to be seen.
Only one day remains before the medley relay team is announced.
He sees Rin again after the last race. Haru runs to him, get scolded by their coach for doing so but doesn’t really care. He stops in front of Rin and there’s still no word coming out of his mouth. He wants to speak but doesn’t know what he wants to say. Just talk to Rin.
“Yeah, hello…” Rin scratches the back of his head but he’s smiling back at him, Haru senses his shoulder losing the remaining tension that followed him since he woke up alone this morning. “You did just great in the last line. I don’t think they can do it without you.”
Rin looks pissed at his nonchalance. “Well, the medley relay of course!”
Haru can’t believe he’d forgotten about it for a couple of hours.
“Oi, Haru, are you living on another planet?”
Sometimes, Haru thinks he really is.
“…Haru…I…listen, about this morning-“
Haru figures out Rin thinks he has something to do with his turmoil. It’s not that difficult to guess, they know each other so well.
“It’s…no it’s not okay,” Rin tells him, always so passionate about everything, “It’s not okay. I was shitty, it was easy. And I couldn’t even run the way I wanted it’s was just a huge waste of time and energy.”
“It’s difficult to run for you when I’m not there ahead of you, showing you the way?”
“Hey!” Rin kicks his leg, “You don’t dare saying this to me. Plus, I’m the one running at your pace.”
“So you think.”
Rin groans and curls his fist, looking at the ceiling in a vain attempt to control his annoyance. Haru smiles when he realizes the weight on his chest is gone.
It happens from time to time. Wet dreams, not like he’s swimming in a pool – or sometimes he also does – but like any other boy from his age hormones know how to express themselves quite clearly when he closes his eyelids. It’s the same girl from that porn he saw a glimpse of the other night. It’s her voice he’s hearing. She moans and moans until her voice is nothing but shameless cries for horny boys, it’s her voice until it’s not, hers only until it’s Rin’s.
Haru wakes up with a start. He’s short of breath, with a pearl of sweat running on his neck. For a few seconds he doesn’t know where he is or what happened, what was real and what he made up. His right hand naturally travels under his boxer to stroke himself a couple of time before he quickly comes into his hands with a quiet shudder. He let out his breath that was stuck in the back of his throat with all the tension that leaves his muscles when his orgasm spread in his body.
“Haru? You alright?”
He’s still catching his breath when Rin talks to him.
He stills in his bed long after his breathing is back to normal, blankly looking at what he can make out of the ceiling in the darkness of the room.
What had gotten him?
They run in the early morning along with the fresh breeze and the birds’ songs. It’s silent and harmonious, almost too serene for the mess that is Haru’s head. It won’t get away. It’s never going to leave him and it scares him. There won’t be a time when he looks at Rin and not feels his back muscles under the palms of his hands, won’t feel their heat, won’t see the fire in his eyes asking for more pressure wordlessly, won’t hear him – what was it if not a moan it could have been so many things but it has to be that way.
He’s scared he wants it to be that way.
He feels his warmth when they swim together.
He feels his gaze on him again when they’re lying on their stomach side by side under the physios’ good care. Someone else touching Rin’s back, his skin, are the red marks still there? Why is he looking at him like that? Turning his cool eyes of him on fire, does he do that on purpose? Why is it so difficult to look away?
His hands couldn’t touch him after their run; they remained frozen on Rin’s shoulder and didn’t venture further than that even if it ached to. It ached so much, it still does, and the way Rin has his eyes on him certainly doesn’t make it easier.
Only the announcement later that day extracts Haru from his dirty daydreams like a punch in the face.
“Congratulation you two!”
Hiyori and Ikuya got the beers a little earlier. There’s a small private celebration between their friends for Haru and Rin’s qualification for the National Team and the medley relay.
“Even if it’s not surprising, you didn’t steal your place so…good job, Haru, Rin.”
“Thank you everyone, I still cannot believe it…” Rin tried to bite back the tears, he had cried so much already, they never seem to stop. It’s so like him, there are tears of joys, they aren’t salty there’re sweet.
Haru also is still in denial. The whole day passes as if he was floating in the sky, flying with his wings spread and admiring the view from above. Rin and him, swimming in the same medley relay again, defending their country in the international stage.
Who could have seen it coming when they met so many years ago?
Rin did. He did see all this already. He foresaw it when he saw Haru swim for the first time.
They are high on alcohol and victory when they gain back their room. Haru pushes Rin on his bed.
“Get on your stomach.”
In an instant he straddles Rin’s hips and his hands travel under his shirt, caressing his skin. They go from the birth of his cheeks to the nape, taking with him Rin’s black top and pulling it off. After putting some oil on his hands he’s back down again. His palms flirt with the hem of his swimsuit, his thumbs strongly stroking the muscles surrounding his spine up and up until they reach the scapula. He waits for Rin to say something; he doesn’t. He just gives him the very same look begging him to go on. He can’t believe it. This man is so troublesome.
Still massaging Rin’s back, Haru leans his forehead on his skull, inhales Rin’s scent until it goes inside his bones, until he knows it by heart. He can feel him staring. His cheeks heat up. He can’t dare to look back yet. He still doesn’t know what he’s doing, what he wants to do, where all of this is going and where he wants it to go and he knows Rin does but let him lead anyway.
He brushes his noise in Rin’s hair then down his neck just behind his ears. He feels Rin stiffen under him, then relax. His hand caresses his side just so lightly and the shiver and moan that had haunted Haru’s nights and days are back so close to his ear. That’s when he knows, when he feels in his groin he wants more. He stares at Rin, witnesses the pink on his cheek and the darkness in his eyes.
And that’s enough.
His mouth sticks on Rin’s neck. It’s not kissing or biting or anything it’s just kind of there, breathing in and out quicker and quicker as Rin rolls his hips to rub Haru’s hardness. Haru presses against him, his right hand travels to his front and caresses his pec and nipple. Rin lets out a cry, his mouth is quickly covered by Haru remaining hand, whose fingers are immediately swallowed and sucked. Their breathing and whimpers speed up with the rhythm of their hips, rubbing faster and faster against each other. When he feels he’s about to come Haru goes under Rin’s swimsuit and strokes him a couple of time until his fingers get bitten and Rin contracts every single muscle of his body. Haru joins him after a few thrusts.
His mind is all blank. There had been so much these days, between the relay and Rin but not it’s all blank. It’s not empty, on the contrary it’s full, it’s full and everything is finally in its place and that’s why it so quiet and peaceful.
Everything fits for once.
Perhaps that’s what they call the afterglow.
One day remains before they’re all flying apart.
It’s 6 am when Rin wakes him up.
“Hey,” He’s breathtaking even in the morning, Haru wonders sometimes if he hasn’t made a pact with a demon or something to be this beautiful. “Last run?”
Haru groans but runs with him anyway, as if he has a choice – he has, he wants to.
They follow his pace and come back breathless to their room. Their bags are ready. Rin flies back to Australia in a couple of hours only.
They haven’t talked much. Haru feels they don’t really need to. They know all of what had been left unsaid.
“Are you going to shower first?” Rin asks him.
Haru doesn’t really want to. He wants time to freeze, to enjoy this rare moment with Rin because he knows it’ll be gone forever. First baby steps of what looks like his first relationship.
Somehow he wouldn’t have bet on anyone but Rin. Did Rin know that too, like the medley relay, the moment he asked him to swim with him in elementary school?
Cold water runs on his hair and face, runs down his back and legs.
He’s not even surprised when Rin joins him. He’s learned how to handle him with time.
Rin’s hand comes behind his back when the other rests on his cheek, with his thumb caressing his cheekbone. Haru closes his eyes when they kiss. The water still runs on them both.
The next day Haru wakes up alone. He rubs his eyes and feels pain where Rin had bitten him. He looks at the scars the teeth made on his fingers. It’s the only thing that remains.