Before the incident, they hadn’t spoken much. Ikuya tended to keep to himself, and Hiyori had no real reason to reach out to him aside from being the only other Japanese exchange student in their grade. It’s not in his inclination to try and befriend someone who isn’t interested in making friends, so Hiyori introduces himself, reads the mood, and doesn’t talk to him much afterwards.
They know each other’s names. They speak in Japanese with each other more than English, when they have to speak, and he thinks that Ikuya might at least tolerate him more than anyone else in their class, though that’s not saying much. It’s probably because they both swim, at the least, they understand each other in that sense.
His brother is a lot friendlier. Natsuya’s open with who he is, doesn’t hesitate to speak in awkward English and apologize and try again when others don’t understand him the first time. He encourages Hiyori to speak English but still ends up speaking Japanese with him when he’s not paying attention, which can be pretty funny. He’s direct, but not unkind, and gives solid swimming advice with a firm tone. Hiyori thinks he’s pretty cool. A really impressive swimmer, too.
They’re brothers, but when you look at them, you wouldn’t really be able to tell, Hiyori thinks. Natsuya is warm and open and brash, and Ikuya is cold and closed and quiet, so quiet he almost seems to disappear.
It’s interesting to observe, but he’s not particularly invested in making friends with either of them.
Not until the incident.
Ikuya is always trying.
He’s so focused, always. A laser-point. Pushing himself, pushing himself, pushing himself in.
It’s something that Hiyori doesn’t really understand, but he finds himself observing it, admiring it. Admiring the way Ikuya moves, how he never stops, driven beyond words. How every day he swims fiercely, directly, with purpose.
Ikuya’s closed off in the classroom, but in his swimming, there’s something he can’t hide, and that’s interesting. Different.
Hiyori doesn’t quite get it. But he admires it.
He’s never been particularly focused on anything like that. Sure, he likes swimming and wants to be better at it, but not in the way Ikuya pursues it. He doesn’t think he could push himself like that, not in the way Ikuya does every day without fail, pushing and pushing and pushing. Almost like a robot.
But then that happens.
To be honest, he had simply been lucky to notice when Ikuya had been drowning. Had he not turned, had he not had an odd feeling, Ikuya might be―
―Ikuya might be. Elsewhere.
(It’s a little terrifying, drowning, real drowning. Ikuya had sunk with barely a wave. Not a sound.)
It’s not the first time he’s drowned either, Hiyori learns from Natsuya. That Ikuya’s too focused, too tightly wound, too much for himself.
“I wonder if he’s still hung up on them…” Natsuya mutters, and Hiyori stores that away in a pocket of memory. He stores a lot of things about Ikuya in his memory, in the three hours he and Natsuya sit together in the room at Ikuya’s bedside, because Natsuya is, as Hiyori learns, someone who babbles when they’re nervous. It’s not the same as how he talks, but a stream of words that aren’t thought about at all, words to fill an otherwise uncomfortable silence.
“I think when we were kids I might have spoiled him too much.” Natsuya says, and Hiyori wonders if this is really something he should say to someone he doesn’t really know. “He got too used to depending on me, was…”
He sighs. Hiyori figures he should say something, even if he doesn’t really know what to say.
“It’s not your fault, Natsuya.”
He calls him by his first name because they are in the United States, not Japan, even if they’re speaking Japanese. Natsuya laughs though, and says, “You’re bold, huh?”
Hiyori shrugs, mirrors his smile. “Maybe.”
“It’d be good,” Natsuya says, his eyes turning back to Ikuya, “if he had a friend like that.”
Natsuya says, “I didn’t mean to make it sound like that.”
Hiyori says, “I think he’s interesting.”
“Interesting?” Natsuya raises an eyebrow, somewhat dubious, and Hiyori answers, “Yup.”
Kind of pretty, says a flash of a thought among all the rest.
“He’s always trying,” Hiyori continues, “really hard.”
“So you noticed, huh.” Natsuya says, and then, “Ikuya is like that. When he gets interested in something…”
He chuckles, but it’s sad. Tired.
“Ikuya tends to ignore himself.” Natsuya says, “He gets...Obsessive. It’s not always bad, but it’s caused him trouble before. Just last year, something similar happened...”
“This has happened before?” Natsuya nods.
“One of his friend from middle school is really good at swimming, particularly freestyle.” He makes a gesture, mimicking the movement. “Ikuya really admired that, at the time. So he tried to get better at freestyle too, but he ended up overworking himself in the process.”
“...It wasn’t like that.”
They both swivel, heads turning to Ikuya. Somehow he’s sat up without either of them noticing, leaning against the headboard.
“Ikuya!” Natsuya immediately moves. “Geez, you should know better than this.”
“...Sorry.” Ikuya says, sounding small.
He looks tired. Unsteady.
Looking at him, something in Hiyori changes.
He stares at Ikuya’s hanging head, his tiny “sorry” playing in his mind over and over.
It’s unpleasant, he decides. He doesn’t like it. Doesn’t like the way Ikuya looks, downtrodden and tired and sad, and something strange punches him in the chest and takes his everything, breaks him open and reveals something inside him that feels bigger than his own self.
Natsuya’s voice sounds miles away. His own does too when he says, “Well, it’s good that you’re okay now, right?”
Who is speaking? Who is this inside him?
He thinks he’s smiling.
“Right, you should thank Hiyori.” Natsuya says, “He saved you.”
Ikuya turns to him. Hiyori has never seen so much emotion on his face, but the sight feels bittersweet.
Remorse, but for what? For working too hard? For causing trouble? What kind of trouble was it really, if you were the one who was suffering most by the end of it?
His thoughts are running at lightspeed. Ten thousand things he’s never felt before.
Ikuya has pretty eyes, something whispers, and that’s what he catches in the wind of it all.
“Thanks,” Ikuya says, “Hiyori.”
“It’s not a big deal.” Hiyori says, chipper in a way he doesn’t feel. “I’m just glad you’re okay.”
Ikuya’s eyes move away from his then, back to the sheet bunched in his lap.
He keeps looking so sad―
“Hey, you know―”
Where are these words spilling from? Who is speaking now?
“―there’s a place I’ve been wanting to go to, but nobody wants to come with me.”
When had he moved to his side?
“Do you like coffee, Ikuya?” Hiyori asks, and Ikuya looks back at him, surprised, and something in Hiyori keeps cracking open, snapping like glass.
“Then, are you free Friday?”
Maybe it’s not very nice, something in Hiyori thinks, to ask questions at someone who just woke up after drowning.
Some other part, some part of him crawling out from somewhere inside him, it says, continue.
“...I guess.” Ikuya answers, shifting his eyes away. Hiyori can guess why he’s agreeing; he probably feels guilty for taking up his time, for having to be saved.
He shouldn’t. Hiyori doesn’t mind saving him. He doesn’t mind it at all.
“He’s gotta be discharged first.” Natsuya says, and that one pinpoint of logic brings Hiyori back into himself, but whatever has just happened inside him is irreversible.
Something, something has changed. Or rather, something has made itself known, something has emerged from its hiding place within Hiyori’s self, ready to engulf him whole.
When he was a child, Hiyori had been given goldfish.
His parents had let him pick them out, and he remembers being enamored. Remembers watching them swim around for hours, being fascinated by their scales, their colors, their existence.
“How rare.” His parents had said. “You don’t usually like anything this much.”
It was true then, and true now, Hiyori thinks. Most things he’s not that interested in, only finds enjoyable casually. It’s rare for something to really catch his interest, for anything to stick to him. He doesn’t really love things, but he doesn’t really hate things either.
In other words, he faces life flippantly. Friendships, hobbies, things ― they all happen as they happen, and he goes with their flow, never feeling the need to give or take. He doesn’t particularly care when something sad happens, though he still feels a little bad, nor does he particularly care when something good happens, though he’s glad to hear about it. He’s unattached to nearly everything, and doesn’t attach to much of anything.
Those fish though…
...He had really loved them.
“Don’t overfeed them, Hiyori.”
Why not? Don’t they like to be fed? They’re always gasping at the surface, swimming circles. Seeming happy.
He feeds them anyways. They seem to like it.
Weeks go by, and then they’re belly up, murky at the bottom of the bowl.
“Oh Hiyori.” Gentle hands wipe at his tears. “Shhh. We’ll get new ones, okay?”
It’s not the same! It’s not the same!
He can’t shout. Too many tears have made his throat scratchy.
“But this time, you can’t spoil them, okay?”
Ikuya likes pistachio cream. They both like egg custard. Ikuya prefers his coffee sweet, whereas Hiyori prefers his creamier, and he might be a little in love with him.
Not that he could say that. They’re sixteen. What does he know.
(What he knows is this:
Ikuya likes winning. Ikuya likes sweets that are a little salty too. He likes the nighttime more than the daytime. He listens to white noise and music that Hiyori thinks comes from a different dimension. He likes his space, but he’s quick to get lonely. He works himself too hard. He’s drowned twice. It took him a year to be fully comfortable in a pool again after the second time. He doesn’t like to share what he feels. He ignores himself. He wants to become a professional swimmer. He’s goal oriented. He likes fairy tales. He likes and hates attention in equal measures. Sometimes he’s thrown off course by memories, and Hiyori keeps one eye on him, terrified of a repeat, of missing it, of the silence of drowning.
Hiyori wants to spoil him. Wants to step into the space where Ikuya’s wounds are and tear them apart, shred them to pieces. Wants to keep him safe, wants to erase all his painful years, wants to know more about why he likes the music he likes. Wants to wrap him in his arms and tell him he’s just fine, soothing words he won’t accept. He wants to be his everything. Wants him to be everyone’s everything. Ikuya deserves anything.
He wants him, and wants to want him. Simple as that.)
Hiyori considers himself a mild person, has in fact been called such before. Agreeable, they call him, and he smiles and agrees because for the most part, he is. For the most part, there’s not much he cares all too deeply about. Unattached.
But when his chest had cracked open that day, he’d re-realized what was there. The thing he’s stretching thin, hiding, controlling, keeping wound tight.
Belly up, murky at the bottom of the bowl.