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Haruka wondered if he was now cursed.

The sight he saw today remained so vivid even in the back of his eyelids. ‘A sight I wasn’t meant to see...’ He and Makoto were on their way back home to ask for money to buy juice boxes when they saw the eerie scene of a dozen or so men and women in white robes, their heads hanging so low as they marched by the ocean shore in the beat of canes being struck against concrete.

Despite the unfamiliar discomfort he’d felt pierce through his chest, he had found it difficult to look away and had even grabbed the hand of a child with red hair trudging behind the sea of adults. Though tear-stained, the gaze that had been directed back at him had been so severe and heated with harsh emotions he wished to never know, that it quickly brought Haruka back to his senses. He’d soon bolted with Makoto on his heels, unaware that his usually cool-faced friend was completely unnerved by the glare he’d received.

He knew it was improper behavior to have stared blatantly for so long. If his grandmother were still living, surely, she would have scolded his ears off for his rude actions. But though he wasn’t petrified like Makoto was, who’d clutched the back of his shirt so tightly he was surprised it didn’t tear, he too felt frozen by the sight, as if he was being entranced in a spell.

And perhaps that was what really happened. Maybe the child had cast an enchantment on him as punishment and the black mark, or more like a scrawl that was no more than a few centimeters long, now resting on the palm of the hand that he had used to grasp, was there to remind him of this very day.

It did nothing to reassure him realizing much later in the day that he seemed to be the only one who could see it. His mother, who was about to ask him his help in preparing tonight’s dinner, had rushed to him as he furiously rubbed and scratched at the annoying marks, and had only seen the redness of the skin as a result of his persistent scraping and, crooning, blamed it on “those pesky mosquitos” that “just want to eat my cute son all up!” How he wished it was indeed just that but the insect repellant she rubbed on his skin did nothing to make the strange mark disappear.

Haruka flopped backwards on his bed, sighing heavily as remembered one of the many things his grandmother told him about being called a prodigy at ten, a genius at fifteen, and an ordinary person at twenty. Clearly, she hadn’t mentioned anything about being cursed at the young age of five!

He lifted his marked hand towards the ceiling, imitating the same heated glare of the child in a final attempt to rid of it but expectedly failing.

With a dismissive shrug, Haruka concluded that as long as it didn’t hurt nor bother him, like you would a scar, he’d just have to live with it from now on.

Or so he thought he could, for quite a reassuring while at least.

Haruka had been feeling bothered about the mark on his hand lately. ‘Marks,’ he corrected himself. Stroke by little stroke, the mark grew (or was ‘multiply’ a more apt description?) through the years that passed. There was no pattern to it or any indication of what triggered its “growth”. They were just suddenly there.

He could ignore it like he’d always done but then it began... feeling. The sensation was nothing too severe but the heat and slight throb in that singular spot in his hand was noticeable enough to bother him at times.

Upon the urging of Makoto, the two joined the Iwatobi SC on their eleventh year. It was around that same time when the mark started to give off those weird vibrations. For a brief moment, he had thought with horror, ‘Maybe I’m staying too long in the water?’ but Makoto hadn’t mentioned anything weird about the pool, and he would have definitely spoken out about it by now if there was, with tears brimming in his eyes as he did, Haruka imagined.

He then entertained the possibility that the gods of water were probably testing him. Did the ocean miss him; feel betrayed for being ditched for the pool? ‘No, they’re all just the same. Then, maybe...’ He’d long discarded the childish idea of being accursed but perhaps he hadn’t been wrong all along?

Was he... dying?

The sound of a whistle pierced through the air, followed by an announcement that the 100-m freestyle race was about to begin. Haruka, who was currently participating in his and Makoto’s first tournament since joining the swim club, was anything but happy, mood soured by the unrelenting pulsation of the marks. The sensations were usually fleeting, occurring more often than not when he’s in the water, but it had been different in the past few days leading to the tournament, buzzing excitedly at random times, while he was in the water and not.

It was giving off the same heat and hum today but the moment he dove in to the pool that familiar feeling, though one that felt more forceful and encompassing, charged his entire body, making his insides quiver and heat up. But, stranger enough, the strong sensations weren’t radiating from his mark. Pulsating more vibrantly was the competitive energy of the swimmer to the right of his lane urging, pushing, enveloping, annoying him. ‘Who the hell is that?’

Finishing first on his race, Makoto excitedly pulled Haruka out of the pool with his usual “Nice job, Haru-chan.” Haruka didn’t pay much attention to the nickname but instead flicked his head to the side, catching the gaze of the young swimmer who’d swam in the lane next to his, a “Matsuoka”, Makoto says when he asked.

Haruka noted to stay clear of the boy. Surely, anyone more troublesome than the mark, which was still warm and trembling, should be avoided at all cost.

Haruka sat on his chair, staring fixatedly at his hand, something he has done a bit more frequently than he used to, a fact he wasn’t so thrilled about (what happened to not being bothered by it?).

Makoto was leaning on his desk, cheerfully telling him something about a transfer student coming in today “on such an odd time during the last year of elementary school!” but he didn’t really hear him. For once, the marks in his hand made sense. He’d been suspecting it for a while as more strokes appeared and became more familiar, but it was when he woke up today and splashed cold water on his sleepy face with his right hand, the marked hand, that he realized he’d been right.

Unaware that the class had already settled down as the homeroom teacher arrived and likewise missing the nervous look Makoto threw at him as he moved towards his own seat, Haruka, as if spellbound, continued tracing the kanji, stroke by familiar stroke, reciting the recognizable character in his head: 'Rin—’

“—suoka Rin. I previously went to Sano—”

Haruka, eyes wide and heart stopping for a beat before rising to a wild cadence, slowly lifted his head to the front of the room. ‘Impossible.’

But there he was, indeed. Standing front and center in the small classroom, was that Matsuoka kid he saw in tournaments and sworn off to himself to never be bothered with; to never have more than ten words exchanged between them before and after every race. That same Matsuoka who made the water heat up and tremble whenever they competed. That Matsuoka who annoyed him to no end when he commented on his time and seemed to not take Haruka’s refusal to give a single glance on the scoreboards ever as a hint that he didn’t care about times. That Matsuoka, the new transfer student, whose very given name he never troubled himself to pay attention to but now, written largely in glaring white across the blackboard, mocked him (maybe).

Rin. Matsuoka Rin.

He glanced down at the same kanji written in his hand and it was in that moment that Haruka realized that he wasn’t at all cursed, dying, or being tested by anyone as slowly, gently resurfacing into his conscious was yet another thing his grandmother had told him once.

She hadn’t missed telling him anything. He just hadn’t understood back then.

And, now, he did. 

“Oi, Haru. What are you doing just standing there?”

It was a particularly hot Saturday afternoon and Rin had invited himself over to the Nanase household to study together. Haruka had apparently frozen as he was returning back from the kitchen with two glasses and a pitcher of iced barley tea resting on a tray.

Haruka dropped his gaze to the redhead sitting near the electric fan that was set on high, one eyebrow cocked as he waited for his response.

He hummed thoughtfully to himself as he placed the tray on the low table, a good deal away from the notebooks scattered across most of the wooden surface, before taking his spot next to Rin. “I just remembered again something my grandmother told me before.”

Rin nodded quietly but looked as if he wanted to say something more. It had only been two weeks since they’d reconciled during Regionals and they were still working on smoothing out the strains in their relationship that had developed overtime. There were still moments like this, heavy with awkwardness and nervousness, where they second-guessed themselves and asked if this and that was the right thing to say or do, if whether or not they were overstepping a boundary, or if they should just shut up to avoid snapping the thin thread they’d just mended that tethered them to one another.

With a frustrated click of his tongue, Rin turned to him with a determined look, cheeks tainted with a soft blush. “If something’s bothering you,” he scratched his neck, “You can tell me you know.”

Clear blue eyes couldn’t help but widen at that. “I will. Thank you, Rin,” Haru said with a small smile. 

Rin blushed a darker shade then looked away, suddenly back to grumbling about the “stupid heat”. He hastily bundled up his hair in a low ponytail, exposing his nape fully then dropped one hand to give a habitual scratch on that singular spot curtained usually by his long red locks.

“......Hey, Rin.”

“W-What is it now?” 

“Remember how you used to ask why I had your name written in my hand?”

“Yeah. You told me ‘cause you kept forgetting it. Honestly... I can’t believe you’re still doing that now.” Rin turned back to him, his skin back to its usual color though still damp with droplets of sweat. He clicked his tongue in annoyance as his gaze briefly dropped at the familiar kanji written on Haruka's palm. “Well, what about it?”

“Did you know you had my name written behind your neck?”

"Haruka, you know, some people believe that you know the name of the person you're bound to forever before you even really meet them. It sounds silly but I think it's true.”