'Angels aren't meant to fall in love with humans'. That was one of the rules Ai had been taught from the very beginning of his existence.
It was one of those facts most angels accepted, and a rule they lived their life by, among many others, but Ai had always been curious about what the consequences were. No one seemed to talk about it or even question it; it was just a rule from a higher power and they weren't fit to meddle with it.
Ai seemed to be the only one who bothered to really think about it much, especially when it was his job to observe the humans down on earth and walk among them as if he'd lived there his whole life. What if he fell in love? What was falling in love like? None of the other angels seemed to wonder about it like he did, despite being the same young and curious age he was.
When he was first told he was going down to earth, he was ecstatic. He couldn't wait to talk to everyone and ask them different questions, but he also knew he had to keep contact to a minimal. Still being in the form of a child, his first few years on earth were spent watching other kids play in parks and learning how they interacted with each other.
Once a concerned mother had asked him where his parents where, and he had to quickly make up some excuse about them just being away for a minute while he played. Ai honestly couldn't remember ever having parents; he wasn't exactly born either—he was simply created.
Around a year later he'd somehow managed to find himself at a swimming competition. He'd been curious about the different sports down on earth, and swimming just seemed to pique his interest the most; perhaps it was because the Heavens didn't have swimming pools.
After wandering around the building where all the other swimmers were, trying to find a way to get to the seating areas, Ai felt himself get knocked over by someone else rushing past him. He let out a small shriek and didn't manage to catch himself properly to stop himself from falling. Instead, he landed on the floor with a thud and briefly felt the cold floor scrape his knee. He was an angel, but he still felt some degree of pain, and his eyes watered at the odd sensation he'd never really felt until now.
"Hey, are you okay? Sorry for knocking you over!" A voice said from above him, and Ai looked up to see a hand outstretched towards him. Following up the arm with his eyes and to the person's face, Ai could see a boy with red hair and equally red eyes looking down at him with a slightly awkward grin. His teeth were pointy, Ai quickly noted. He realised he might've been staring for too long when the boy's smile began to falter. "Are you okay...?" He hesitantly asked again, his hand still held outwards.
"Y-yes! I'm sorry!!" Ai squeaked, quickly taking his hand and allowing himself to be pulled back to his feet. His blue eyes nervously darted to the floor. Despite being an angel, he wasn't immune to the natural shyness that seemed imprinted into his very being. "Uhm... Thank you..." He mumbled quietly, relishing the contact between his and the boy's hands before he let go. The red-haired boy nodded with another toothy grin before turning to jog off with the rest of his teammates, all wearing the same swim jacket he was.
"Uhh, I'll see you around!" He called as he ran off, and Ai assumed the sentence was more of a courtesy than the actual truth. He simply stared after the boy as he ran off, lamenting that he'd never gotten his name.
When he finally found a place where he could sit and watch the swimming relays, he noticed the same red-haired boy he'd run into stood in a line with three other boys. They must've been his teammates; one blonde and energetic, one with dark hair and an aloof expression, and the last slightly taller than the rest and with a warm smile on his face. They all looked to be pretty close friends, reassuring each other to do well before the race began.
When they did begin swimming, Ai couldn't tear his eyes away. Each one of them swam differently, but all with the same passion and enthusiasm to win for their team. They did end up winning too—which Ai was grateful for—and his heart swelled in his chest when he saw all four of the teammates hug each other and tear up with joy.
He almost wished he could be there too and swim with the red-haired boy he'd bumped into.
As more and more days, weeks and months went on, Ai continued to secretly watch the young boy from afar. He eventually learnt that his name was Rin Matsuoka. His father had passed away, but he still had his mother and his sister left. He watched when the boy swam with his friends, smiled with them and eventually broke away from them to move to Australia. After Rin had left, Ai went back to the Heavens to report everything he'd found out about Rin and the other humans.
He relayed all of this information to one of the older angels who'd taught him everything he knew today. He explained with excitement about their relay races, and his tone dropped lower when he detailed the falling out between Rin and Haru—the dark-haired aloof-looking boy—specifically.
The news he received back had been shocking, to say the least.
"He will have more disputes with his friends from Iwatobi, and their friendship will be further threatened," the older angel said, making Ai's expression crease into a frown. Rin had looked so happy with his friends and Ai didn't want him to part from them after they'd made so many precious memories together.
"Will he be okay?" He asked, concern lacing his voice. He knew he wouldn't be able to stop him from falling out with his friends; after all, if angels meddled with the affairs of mortals and altered their fates, they would cease to exist. He at least hoped Rin would recover or maybe even reconnect with his friends eventually. Sadly, that didn't seem to be the case.
"Due to the stress from trying to fulfill his father's dream and being unable to reconcile with his friends, I'm afraid his fate is dark," the older angel shook his head grimly. "He will commit suicide." The words hit Ai like a truck and he couldn't hide his surprise.
"Suicide?!" He repeated incredulously. He'd heard other angels talking about the phenomenon of suicide before, and about their sorrows over not being able to help the victims of it. Ai knew how they felt now; it wasn't fair that he couldn't do anything. "Is... Is there really nothing we can do to stop him?" He asked carefully, and the older angel eyed him carefully.
"No, there isn't," he said quite bluntly. "Remember the fate of angels that get involved with human lives, Ai." Ai nodded his head glumly at that but didn't meet the older angel's eyes.
He mulled over the information for what must've been days, thinking over and over again about how that bright grin he'd seen on Rin's face the first day he'd met him would eventually be no more. He could feel himself tearing up at the thought. Rin deserved to have a longer life than this! He deserved to have his friends back and swim with them as he had done back then... It wasn't fair.
But... he could change Rin's fate, couldn't he?
It was forbidden, but not impossible. Some angels obviously had to have done it before for people to know what happened to them afterward. Ai wondered if anyone else had been in his position right now, battling over helping or staying put.
And he much preferred the former.
He wanted Rin to live, grow old and die a peaceful death at an old age surrounded by people he loved. He didn't want his life to be cut short. Ai didn't want to disappear... but the thought of his fate was nowhere near as strong as his desire to save Rin. And he was going to save him, no matter what became of him in the end.
"Nitori, keep you're desk clean, will you? Your stupid piles of books keep falling over onto my side." Came the grouchy voice of Rin from the desk to the right.
"Ah! Sorry, Matsuoka-senpai!" Ai squeaked back, bowing his head in apology. "I'll try to keep it clean from now on..."
Ai could see clearly why Rin's fate was as it was now; the young boy he'd come to know many years ago had grown older and matured, yet become angry and unhappy. He never smiled—let alone grinned—and would snap at Ai for even the smallest of mishaps. It wasn't hard to see how his life might become even more full of misery.
It was only Ai's first year attending Samezuka, the same school Rin had signed up for after he returned from Australia, and with each passing day, nothing seemed to change. He felt like no matter how enthusiastic he tried to be about Rin's swimming and reconciling with his friends again, Rin just seemed to sink deeper and deeper. No matter how many times Ai reached out, he grasped at nothing.
Over the time he'd spent with Rin, he had realised something else though. It explained why he was so devoted to him after all the outbursts, so willing to give up his own existence if it ended with Rin being happy and alive. He knew why he'd watched him so much when he was younger and why now his heart skipped a beat whenever his eyes met red.
The answer was simply that he'd fallen in love.
He knew he wasn't supposed to fall in love with a human, it was one of the first rules... But he had fallen in love, and now there was no going back.
The more selfish (or at least he saw it that way) part of him wondered if Rin would ever love him back? Would there ever be a world where they could be together, even as just friends? But, no matter how much he hoped for it, that wasn't possible... Rin was focused on Haruka, not Ai, and if Ai hoped to save Rin, he'd have to disappear too.
By the time nationals had rolled around, everything was still the same and very much set in stone. Ai hadn't made things any better and he was positive that by the end of the month, Rin would no longer be here. Suicide. The word kept blaring in his head. Time was running out and he was beginning to lose hope of ever saving the red-haired boy he'd fallen in love with.
Things only took a turn for the worse when Rin was told he'd been taken off the Samezuka relay team. His 100m solo race went disastrously and ended with him in last place—he didn't even have to strength to drag himself out of the pool once he'd finished, and Ai could only watch from the stands, heartbroken.
When Rin stormed off, he was quick to follow.
"Senpai! Matsuoka-senpai!" He called out, running after Rin and grabbing his arm once he was close enough. "Please wait!" He forced a reassuring smile onto his face, desperately trying to make things better. Please, he thought, if only Rin's fate could be changed.
"It's okay! You just happened to have a bad race!" He began rambling. "Your talent is the real deal! If you were in better condition, you could have—"
"Shut up!" He was cut off sharply and Rin threw his fist into the nearby window, the sound reverberating all throughout the building. Ai flinched back and covered his face with his arms protectively. He quickly recovered however and began fretting once again.
"Senpai! Please calm down!" He cried, trying to grab Rin's hand gently. "If you do that, you won't be allowed to compete in the next tournament!" Rin scowled again, lurching forward angrily and forcing Ai to take a sharp step back.
"It doesn't matter! I don't give a damn about what happens!" Rin yelled, his face a mix of anger and despair. "I'm obviously no better than what you just saw! That's why I was taken off the relay team!" He gritted his teeth, and Ai really believed he had hit rock bottom. All his efforts had been for nothing. "Forget it! I quit! I'm done swimming!"
With his final angry outburst, he kicked over a nearby rubbish bin, sending it flying and leaving the empty packets, bottles and tissues scattered everywhere. Ai found himself hiding behind his arms again, but once he heard Rin's footsteps pacing away from him, he quickly jolted back into action. He clenched his fists, desperate to keep Rin here—desperate to tell him that he could swim again and that everything would be okay.
"Matsuoka-senpai!" He called out one final time, about to run after Rin until he noticed he wasn't the only person in the hallway besides Rin anymore. He turned to see the concerned gazes of the Iwatobi team behind him. He met their eyes for a moment before snapping back to reality and chasing after Rin once again.
Had everything he'd done up to this point really been pointless? Had he tried so hard to change Rin's sad fate, only for it to come crashing down on him? Even now as he attempted to coax Rin some more whilst the redhead swung his bag over his shoulder to leave, nothing worked.
Then before he could say much more, Captain Mikoshiba drew his attention away by placing a hand on his shoulder and shaking his head. Ai didn't want to stay put, but maybe Rin did need some space to think. He could always talk to him later... Surely nothing bad would happen today, not until after nationals at least.
He was rather miserable for the rest of the day which nationals took place, still cheering on his teammates of course, but with dampened enthusiasm. He couldn't keep his mind focused on the tasks at hand when the only person on his mind was Rin. What else was he supposed to say so cheer him up...? Was he just not good enough?!
The relay races began, and all the swimmers made their way to their designated lanes, and Ai only noticed something was off when his teammates starting muttering about Rin.
He looked down at the Iwatobi team, and found Rin standing right next to them.
His blue eyes slowly widened in realisation and the cogs started turning in his head; this wasn't supposed to happen. This wasn't part of Rin's fate—he wasn't supposed to be swimming with his old teammates right now. All of these thoughts eventually lead to a solid conclusion in Ai's mind.
He had changed things.
As he watched all four of the teammates swim, his chest slowly became lighter, and the concern and anxiety that had been riddling his mind earlier started to dissipate. When it finally came to Rin's turn to swim, Ai found himself remembering all the way back to when he'd first seen Rin swim. It was exactly the same—the same passion, the same enthusiasm and the same happiness.
When they won and Rin hugged his teammates with tears in his eyes and a smile on his face, Ai just about nearly started crying too. The time he'd bought trying to convince Rin to cheer up in that hallway, had been just enough time for his old teammates to see his outburst and go after him...
It had worked.
The sun was setting now, and everything was coated in a deep orange colour. Rin bowed his head down to the Captain, and Ai stood slightly behind, watching on.
"I'm very sorry," he apologised with a calm and composed demeanour, completely different to the anger Ai had witnessed mere hours ago. "I will take responsibility for my actions. Please kick me off the team." He kept his head low, not meeting the eyes of Captain Mikoshiba, who had his arms tightly folded against his chest. Ai glanced nervously as his teammate.
"Mastuoka-senpai..." He mumbled, leading Rin's gaze to fall on him next after he'd straightened up again. An expression of remorse was clear on his face.
"Nitori..." He began apologetically. "Sorry for yelling at you." Ai was quick to shake his head and dismiss him.
"You don't have to worry about that!" He clarified, but deep down he could feel happiness blooming in his chest at Rin's words. "And anyway, we can't kick you off—"
"I won't accept that!" Captain Mikoshiba interjected loudly, cutting Ai off. "I have a better way for you to own up for your actions." Rin looked at him uneasily, and Ai found himself doing the same. He didn't want Rin's chances of being on a swimming team ruined after everything that had happened. Luckily, that wasn't going to be the case. "Swim the way you just did, for our team." A wide grin broke out onto the captain's face, taking Rin completely off guard.
"Captain..." he muttered in surprise, but Mikoshiba simply turned around and said no more about it.
"Okay, boys! Let's head home!" He announced, followed by a sharp 'yes' from all the members of the swim team. He yelled some more orders, but Ai was feeling far too relieved to bother listening.
He'd been successful after all. Everything he'd done had meant something, and he didn't regret a single thing. Perhaps the reason why angels weren't supposed to fall in love was so that they wouldn't change someone's fate and disappear. Both rules went hand in hand, and Ai had broken them both.
Although, he'd never been able to tell Rin how he truly felt about him... Ai smiled while his eyebrows creased together. It didn't matter anyway—he'd saved Rin, he'd saved the young boy he'd met so many years ago and even though he would soon disappear and cease to exist, he was happy. Rin was able to live on, and he was back with his old friends again. Ai supposed he was something akin to a guardian angel now.
The sound of his name made him jump slightly, and he was pulled out of his thoughts to instead turn back to Rin with curious blue eyes. Rin rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly and briefly gazed over to the side.
"Er... Ai," he started again, and Ai's heart skipped a beat in his chest at the use of his first name being spoken. "Starting tomorrow, I want you to practice with me again," he said, and Ai was baffled for a second or so before the brightest smile he thought himself capable off appeared on his face. Short-lived happiness swelled in his chest. If only...
"Yes, Rin-senpai!" He beamed back, and his joy only increased once he saw Rin grin back at him, taking him back to the first time he'd seen that wonderful smile. He was so happy...
And yet the next morning when Rin woke up, excited to start a new day of practice, Ai was nowhere to be found.