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Rin has his prayers. They keep him safe.

Not safe from harm, no, because he's never wanted that; it's not like he seeks out harm voluntarily (most of the time, anyway), but there's no joy in living blanketed and cloistered. Let the world pull the rug from under his feet, let bruises blossom on his skin with the fall, he'll take it and get up again.

Not safe from harm, but safe from a far more dangerous monster.

Rin's prayer, in his childhood, is a fistbump and a secret handshake he makes with Sousuke, under the shade of a corner-shop awning when they're fizzy and bubbling with cola. They'd had a competition for the preferred flavour (there was one plain can left, and one cherry, they both like plain cola better, Sousuke won the jan-ken-pon), and then, they'd had a competition to see who could drink it faster (Rin won that one).

In years to come, Rin's prays at his father's grave, and when he cannot make it to that shrine in the mountains, he looks at a yellowed photograph that crinkles between the rough pads of his fingertips, and swallows his words in the dark of a room far away.

And it is in the locker room just before their last Olympics that Rin discovers Haruka, too, has his prayers, except that in true Haruka fashion, he doesn't even know what they are.

They have done this so many times before Rin has lost count. They stand side by side, shut their locker doors and pull on their swimming caps.

Rin snaps the band of his goggles, breathes in chlorine, the hush of the moment.

Haruka hesitates.

Haruka hesitates, and Rin knows no one would notice but him; he's just a microsecond too late to follow in his footsteps out to the pool, their walk down the tunnel is just a little bit out of sync.

Rin doesn't ask questions. Now is not the time for them.

The time for questions is after, when he and Haruka have cleared their heat with ease, and they are pressed up against a logo wall with lights in their face and microphones and voice recorders and questions, so many questions, and Haruka has got better at this over the years, but he has never been the easy type of interviewee and Rin knows that.

He wants to sling an arm round Haruka, wants to hold his wrist lightly to assure him he's okay.

He doesn't, because there are cameras in their faces.

But when someone from ESPN directs a question to Haruka in English, Rin answers for him, confident and assured in his response that, yes, Nanase Haruka is very much honoured and excited to be swimming in the medley relay for the first time at the Olympics and will look forward to doing his best at their next race.

Haruka clearly has no idea what Rin is saying.

He smiles, nonetheless, for the first time this interview session.

And when it's finally over, Rin waits till they are back in the tunnel to grab hold of Haruka by the shoulder, and all the tension flows out of him as he grips tight, as he lets himself go in that sensation of touch that he always craves, and he lets go just long enough for them to collect their bags from the lockers and check his phone for texts.

His hand finds the small of Haruka's back, steers him with determination through a buzzing crowd of bystanders and spectators, walks purposefully towards a place with a neon yellow signboard that matches the one in the photo he's just received, with an essay of apology for missing them before the race.

And he feels Haruka grow softer beneath his touch, at the sight of Makoto, waiting.

There's no other way to put it. All the sharp edges of his carefully cultivated pro-athlete mask seem to blur, to go kind of fuzzy, and Rin's fingertips can feel Haruka's back start to slouch just a little in the way it always used to, before their coach drummed perfect posture and use your core into their heads.

These are their last Olympics. They have a few more races to go yet, if they're lucky and clear their way to the finals, but there's no way of knowing. There never is.

These are their last Olympics, and after this they will step down for good, and -

What will I pray for, next? Rin wonders.

He lifts the palm of his hand from Haruka's back.

He lets go, watches Haruka go to Makoto, watches Makoto light up, smile at the both of them.

And this - this is Haruka's prayer, thinks Rin. The sacred ritual that gets him through the currents of a changing life. His faith.

Rin has his prayers, and they keep him safe, not from harm but from the spectre of self-doubt.

So, too, does Haruka.