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Breaking Free

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Taku Yamamoto was warming up at his local pool before his main training session. As it was a Friday he and Tomo had to wait until after all the local schools and after-school clubs had used it before they could practice in peace. It would be the same tomorrow too. But at least they afforded themselves Sundays off before the early morning Monday-Thursday sessions rolled around again.

That had been their schedule ever since they’d both turned pro, and it only changed for national holidays or when the pool was closed for maintenance.

What had changed recently was their relationship with each other.

Recently they’d gone from close childhood friends to something much more serious, though they were still not quite at the stage where they felt comfortable coming out to their families or holding hands in public.

They were however planning their first romantic trip abroad. It was the next logical step for them considering they’d just graduated high school and had done plenty of other firsts recently.

Taku came to the end of his warm-up and surfaced for air at the end of his lane.

“Come on Tomo where are you?” he said to himself.

Tomo had gone off to grab something from the changing room about five minutes earlier.

“I’m here Taku.” Tomo called out from behind the wall that separated the pool from the showers.

Taku glided over to the steps at the edge of the pool nearest the shower area. “What’s keeping you?” he asked, rather unsure as to what Tomo could possibly have been doing all this time.

“I bumped into a couple of other swimmers. Well, a swimmer and his coach actually. They want to train with us.” He said rather nervously as he appeared.

“Sorry for intruding.” A tall and rather muscular young man with green eyes and brown hair said as he stepped into the swimming pool area.

Taku’s eyes widened in shock and he lifted his goggles up. He was face-to-face with a person every swimmer in the world knew, Makoto Tachibana – personal coach of one very particular swimmer.

“Then that means.” Taku mumbled to himself as, sure enough…

“Pardon the intrusion.” Haruka Nanase said as he fiddled with his swim cap and goggles.

“AAAHHHHH!! OH MY GOD IT’S REALLY YOU!!!” Taku screamed and frantically climbed out of the pool, even using his half-a left arm to hoist himself up the handrail.

He was about to run over to Haru when Tomo grabbed him.

“Wait don’t run babe.” Tomo cried and halted Taku.

But then the pair realised what Tomo had said in front of Haru and Makoto. They both went bright red and covered their mouths with their hands in embarrassment.

The elder pair looked at them blankly and blinked a few times before Haru leant up and pecked Makoto on the lips.

“You really think that bothers us?” Haru sighed.

Taku began to giggle in nervous relief.

“Sorry Har-, err, Nanase. But we still haven’t told anyone yet.” He said as he rubbed his upper left arm, still completely star struck by Haru.

“Shall we get in the pool guys?” Makoto suggested, to which Haru rapidly put his goggles on a dove into the pool in between the lane markers.

“This is a dream come true.” Taku smiled at Tomo as his boyfriend helped to put his own goggles on again before he too jumped back into the pool. Tomo joined in next, and Makoto couldn’t help but smile to himself as he joined them too.

Throughout the next hour and a bit Taku had to keep pinching and reminding himself that this wasn’t a dream. There he was in the pool where his Paralympic journey began all those years ago, with his best friend-now-boyfriend, his idol and his idol’s soul mate.

Unfortunately time was getting short, and just before 10 o’clock Makoto and Tomo hauled themselves out of the pool.

Taku was about to reluctantly do the same, but felt a tap on his shoulder.

“Race?” Haru asked.

A mile wide smile exploded on Taku’s face.

“You’ll win, but I don’t care.” Taku beamed.

The 100m freestyle race was indeed won by Haru (47.62s vs. 58.40s), but Taku really didn’t care. He had raced a living legend (and it was twice the distance he normally raced over anyway).

After showering the four young men headed to the changing room to change back into their regular attire – even if Haru would have preferred to be in his swimsuit 24/7.

Taku and Haru were dressing together on the other side of the changing room, and Makoto glanced around to see that Taku was hanging off of every word Haru said to him. They were speaking the language of competitors and team-mates, though Makoto also saw something that Haru had certainly never had before – an apprentice.

He also noticed Tomo next to him looking at the raven haired pair.

Makoto recognised that look. It was the look of blossoming love that he and Haru shared but kept under wraps that bloomed in middle school.

“They do look alike don’t they?” Makoto said making small talk.

“Yeah they do. I’m trying to remember which one is mine to take home tonight.” Tomo smiled.

Taku heard his boyfriend and blew a kiss in his direction which Tomo caught and placed it over his heart.

This display of affection made Makoto aww and Haru chuckle. He and Makoto had never been quiet like that, but he too remembered when they were starting to show their love for each other with little gestures like that.

“Where’s a good place to get some food at this time of night?” Haru asked Taku as the para-swimmer zipped up his jacket.

“There’s a pretty decent ramen diner that’s open until midnight that we usually go to. You’re more than welcome to join us.” Tomo piped up as they headed out of the changing rooms and into the corridor before the reception area.

“I think they do mackerel too.” Taku added.

“Sold.” Haru replied instantly.

The diner was only about 10 minutes walk away, but Haru and Makoto still hid behind baseball caps and face masks so as not to draw attention to themselves, but they knew as soon as they sat down to eat people would naturally look in their direction.

Soon enough the quartet were eating together in a less-busy part of the diner. Tomo had spoken to the manager as they walked in and asked for anyone who looked like they might bother their guests to be politely asked not to. A signed picture of the manager with Haru for the diner’s wall sweetened the deal.

The quartet chatted as they ate, but soon Taku became curious.

“Nanase-sensei, why did you come to our pool?” he asked as Haru finished his last piece of mackerel.

Haru looked at Makoto for reassurance and got a smile in return.

“Firstly, please drop the formalities and call me Haru. Secondly…I’m told by many people that I’m the best swimmer in the world, though there’s at least four other guys who will dispute that in a few months. And from the videos I’ve seen of yourself in competition you, Taku, remind me more of myself swimming than anyone else I’ve ever seen. I want to support you on your journey to becoming the best para-swimmer in the world.”

Makoto nodded again. “It’s true. I’m also reminded of Haru when I watch you swim Taku.”

Taku quickly became overwhelmed and covered his mouth as tears of joy fell from his purple eyes.

Tomo put his arm around his boyfriend and looked to Haru and Makoto with an utterly humbled and proud look on his face.

“Wow. Praise from Caesar.” He said as he rubbed Taku’s back.

Haru leant over and also put a hand on Taku who was trying not to cause a scene in public.

“After I win in the Olympics, I’ll stick around and cheer you on in the Paralympics.” He promised.

After their meals Haru and Makoto brought a round of drinks and toasted their new friendship with Taku and Tomo.

Phone numbers were swapped, friend requests accepted and social media pages mutually followed until it was time for Haru and Makoto to head back.

Soon afterwards Taku was the big spoon to Tomo’s little spoon in the bed of their small apartment. He was always the big spoon and liked the fact he didn’t have to worry about his other arm falling asleep.

Tomo could feel Taku snuggling against him more than usual. He did this when he was happy.

“You seem very happy tonight. I wonder why?” he said rhetorically.

Taku hummed in agreement.

“It’s not every day you meet your second favourite person in the world.”

Second favourite? Who’s your absolute favourite?” Tomo asked.

Taku laughed and kissed Tomo’s neck.

“You. Always and forever.”