Rei leaves the locker room feeling extremely refreshed (thanks to a long shower) and infinitely calmer (thanks to a long distance soulmate), his negative self thoughts washed away by a tsunami of euphoria as easily as the sweat and dust from his athletic activities is washed down the drain.
As Rei makes his way down one of the many corridors of the Tokyo Athletic Stadium, heading toward the Grandstand he turns left down one of the many passageways, and immediately hits a solid wall of muscle.
Glasses askew and with his bag fallen to the floor, he balks when as he recognises who he has run into.
“I’m so sorry,” he wails as the hulking form turns around,
“Ryugazaki!” a usually deep voice rises in surprise,
“Coach Yamazaki! I am sosorry, ” Rei blurts out, bowing in apology,
“Hey, hey , it’s cool,” the taller man insists, tugging Rei up by the elbow,
“and please, I’m only an assistant coach,” he smiles, handing Rei his bag before looking around somewhat distractedly.
Readjusting his glasses, Rei looks up at the black haired man noticing the frown on his face as he glances first to his left, then to his right, at two identical doors -the first of which, leads to the athletes entrance for the grandstand while the other leads towards the direction of the underground car park.
Rei clears his throat, gaining the assistant coach’s attention,
“I’ll just, ah, make my way back to the grandstand then,” he said, nodding casually toward the door on the left,
“Ah yes, I’ll walk back with you,” the assistant coach replies, as he opens the door, ushering Rei through to the brightly lit tunnel leading to the outdoor arena.
Before the two men reach the end of the tunnel however, Rei is pulled to the side by his assistant coach.
“Are you ok now Ryugazaki?” the older man hesitates at first, before looking at him directly,
“What do you mean?” Rei replies, feeling a little self conscious,
“After your vault, you seemed a little out of it, disassociative,” Yamazaki gestures vaguely,
“Disappointment I guess,” Rei shrugs, trying to play it off,
“This was more than disappointment, you completely blanked me out,” is delivered almost accusingly,
“I was really disappointed?” an eyebrow is raised at Rei, “I’m better now,” Rei quickly adds as the taller man huffs,
“Keeping it in isn’t healthy you know, if it’s echo-trauma. . .” he suggests, noticing Rei playing with the wide, decorative metal bracelet covering his left wrist,
“I’m FINE,” Rei interrupts, a little louder than expected,
“Alright, I’ll back off,” the man gives in, “but just so you know, part of my job is to also keep an eye on the psychological health of this athletic team, especially our unbonded members,” he looks toward Rei’s wrist meaningfully, “If you ever want to talk about it, I can recommend a few . . .”
At which point Rei remembers the introduction of Sousuke Yamazaki to the assistant coaching team: Working towards his conjoint degree in both Sports and Soulbond Psychology, the 23-year-old joined the Japan Athletic Academy, part-time, to study the effects of soulmate bonds on athletic performance.
At which point Rei remembers that two of his friends are part of that same study.
At which point Rei remembers that those same two friends were having their own Olympic trials today, scheduled very close to his own, and he had probably missed both in his period of ‘disappointment’.
At which point Rei realises Sousuke is still looking at him and expecting some sort of reply.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he nods, before turning his head sharply at the sound of a starting gun,
Following his gaze, Sousuke makes a shooing gesture toward the sunlit tunnel exit, “I think the 110 metre Hurdles have already finished, but you might make the 100 metre sprints.”
Rei doesn’t bother to question why the assistant coach would know which events he was thinking about, he just makes his way out toward the Athletic field with a wave of thanks.
“You missed my race, Ryugazaki,” Takeru Fujiwara states blandly, as he performs a perfectly executed right calf stretch,
“Sorry Fujiwara, I. .” Rei starts, feeling ashamed,
“Don’t worry, I get it,” Takeru waves his apology off as he switches to his left leg,
which Rei translates as ‘You needed time to process your disappointment at not making the Olympic Pole vaulting team, I understand and I’m not mad’
“Thanks, it’s just hard sometimes,” Rei explains,
“I know,” Takeru replies with a sad smile, leaning back into a hamstring stretch,
which Rei translates as ‘It’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s the nature of competitive sports after all, happens to all of us’
Rei just nods in acknowledgement, unable to deny the sentiment.
“So how did your trial go?” he asks his black haired friend,
“I got in,” Takeru shrugs before shaking out his limbs, “ 110 metre Hurdles, trial for the 400 is tomorrow,”
which Rei translates as ‘I’m going to the fucking Olympics!!! (pterodactyl noises)’
“Why didn’t you say so sooner!” Rei yells, grabbing his friend by the shoulders and pulling him into a rough hug,
“I didn’t want to. .” Takeru says in a small voice, ‘make you feel bad’ Rei’s brain supplies,
“No! you should be proud, I . .” ‘could really do with the distraction, honestly’ is left unsaid as Rei starts looking around the stadium, “where’s Yagami? Does he know?”
Takeru nods before gesturing to the track, “they’re setting up for the 100 metre sprint right now,”
Rei follows his line of sight to lane 5 and the blond haired runner blowing kisses towards the now blushing Olympic Hurdles hopeful.
As the final times are announced, Rei watches sadly from the sideline as his friend Riku Yagami has his Olympic dream crushed.
Head in his hands, the blond runner is sitting on the ground crying and Rei’s heart breaks for him.
Remembering the black haired hurdler beside him, Rei turns to say something when Takeru disappears with a whoosh to race to Riku’s side.
Almost ashamed of himself, Rei watches with a twinge of jealousy as Takeru moves to comfort the obviously distraught Riku, sitting behind him with his legs and arms encircling the young man.
Rei watches as Riku slowly calms down in his boyfriend’s arms.
Rei looks away embarrassed, as Takeru rests his chin on the blond’s shoulder and the two share a intimate, whispered conversation before Takeru lifts Riku up bodily, carrying him over to where Rei now stands with their sports bags.
“Hey Ryugazaki,” the usually vivacious Riku says in a small voice as Takeru lowers him to the ground,
“H-heey Yagami,” Rei replies slowly, unsure if he should attempt more than just a greeting,
“You saw. . .?” Riku shifts his weight from one foot to the other,
“Yeah, umm,” Rei fidgets with his bag strap as he tries to find something to say,
“Bit of a bummer,” Riku shrugs,
“Know how you feel,” Rei offers, trying to match Riku’s nonchalance,
“After all this hard work. . .”
“But you know,” Riku looks up at Rei suddenly, with an increasingly widening smile, “no Olympics means no training. . .”
Takeru, sensing shenanigans looming- quickly asserts, “where are you going with this Riku?”
“No training means no diet. . .” he smiles wickedly as he rubs his hands together,
“Riku you are not living off those fried noodle buns from your parents bakery,”
“But, I’m distraught,” Riku mock pleads, his disappointment from not making the Olympic team completely dissolving with the thought of his favourite childhood treat, he had been denied during the last three months of intensive training,
“And I’ll have so much free time. . .”
“Use it to train for nationals,”
“But you know I don’t. . .” Riku starts, before Takeru pulls him in the direction of the locker rooms,
“We’ll discuss this in the shower,” Takeru orders, effectively shutting his boyfriend up.
Looking at Rei he quickly mutters, “give us an hour?”
An hour and a half later, Rei is sitting outside on a bench in the front of the Athletic stadium, waiting for his friends. As twilight sets in, and his eyes grow sore, Rei regretfully packs away his book of Olympic record breakers and pulls out his phone to check the time.
Many athletes have left the building since the final trial for the day, waving their goodbyes as they walk past, just not the two that Rei has dinner arrangements with yet.
Mumbling to himself, Rei tenses a little as he feels a presence at the other end of the bench he is currently occupying.
“Is it ok if I take a seat here?” a tired sounding voice inquires,
Looking toward the voice Rei, is stunned into silence and nods dumbly, his face suddenly slack as his mind comprehends the beautiful maroon-haired man slouching lazily to his left.
*Holy fucking shit, that’s Rin Matsuoka! The Rin Matsuoka!* the fanboy part of his brain screams,
*Japan’s youngest multi-medal Olympic swimmer* the analytical part of his brain recites in awe,
*He made the Olympic swim crew without even having to trial* the rumour orientated part of his brain chimes in,
*The small-town boy with big-world dreams*, Rei’s inner hopeless romantic sighs, *Winning the gold for his father, the silver for his soulmate and the two bronzes for his friends*
So what the fuck is he doing here?
Rei’s internal monologue is cut short by a loud argument from the main entrance, that slowly makes its way toward him.
“Come oon! Yamazaki,” Riku whines, “we wanna meet him,”
“No,” Sousuke answers simply,
“Riku leave it,” Takeru rubs his forehead in annoyance,
“But. . .” Riku starts,
“Stop bothering Yamazaki about his fiancé,” Takeru pleads, “obviously he has reasons for not mentioning them,”
At this Riku turns to Sousuke, on the verge of tears, “but we’re Riku and Takeru, you know everything about our soulmate status, you can tell us ,” he notices Rei as the group nears the bench, “help us out here Rei. . .”
“It’s complicated,” Sousuke states with a note of finality.
At this, the beautiful man sharing the bench with Rei stands up as the group approaches.
“I’ll un-complicate it then,” he says as he draws himself up to his full height, kisses Sousuke full on the mouth, and turns to the now confused trio smiling,
“Hi, I’m Rin Matsuoka, Sou’s true bonded-soulmate and future husband.”
In the silence that follows Rei, Riku and Takeru alternate between confusion, astonishment and outright disbelief before Rin suddenly exclaims,
“And you’re the Riku Yagami and Takeru Fujiwara I’ve heard so much about!” he directs to Takeru and Riku; they look at Sousuke questioningly, who looks just as puzzled as they do.
Rin smirks at their confusion before divulging, “Your third soulmate is dating my baby sister.”
Twenty minutes later, Rei finds himself sitting at a table for five at his favourite noodle bar.
Rin Matsuoka had begged Riku and Takeru to allow him to take the three to dinner as an apology for thoughtlessly outing them as an Anomalous Soulbond. Neither Riku nor Takeru bothered to mention that Rei had figured out that they were ‘Glitches’ the first week he met them, at least not until after Rin offered to pay for anything they wanted.
“So wait,” Rin is saying to Riku, “my scarless, lesbian sister is dating your bisexual, platonic soulmate?” he asks in clarification, “the ‘Hōnan three’ is. . . ”
“Duo-homo-romantic, triple-poly-platonic,” Sousuke (the student of Soulbond psychology) supplies,
“What he said,” Riku confirms, “so I can promise you, Kou has nothing to worry about,”
“If anything, it’s Nana that should be worried,” Takeru throws in, “having a scarless girlfriend sounds scary, Kou’s soulmate could turn 18 any day. . .” he shudders,
“Nah, Kou doesn’t buy into the whole Soulmate thing,” Rin states earnestly, “especially after the bullshit we went through,” he motions to Sousuke and himself,
Rei looks at Riku and Takeru wide-eyed as if to say ‘bullshit???’
Takeru makes a slight waving motion with his hand, which Rei translates as ‘we’ll explain later’
“Being the elder soulmate must be hard,” Rei covers the brief pause, thinking of his own soulmate as he idly twists his butterfly wrist-cover,
“Whoa, nice scar-mour dude,” Rin points to Rei’s wrist-band.
Effectively moving the conversation to the safer topic of Soulmate scar privacy jewellery for a while. . .
“Hey Rei,” Riku hesitates before swallowing hard, “what do you think you’ll be doing in the next few months?”
“I-I I’m not quite sure,” Rei answers a little embarrassed, his Olympic failure still fresh on his mind,
“It’s just that,” Riku pauses to collect his thoughts,
“Just ask,” Takeru encourages his boyfriend (and one third of his Soulmate trio),
“Ask me what?” Rei looks between the two with a growing sense of doom,
“Iwaswonderingifyouwanttojoinastrideteamwithme,” Riku blurts out in one breath,
“He wants to quit Athletics and re-join our old Stride team,” Takeru explains patiently, “and he’s asking if you to join with him,”
“What. . .”
“Sorry, it was a dumb idea,” Riku utters into the tablecloth,
“No. . .” Rei tries to respond,
“I just thought it might be fun, not so much pressure as all of. . .” Riku trails off in a small voice,
“Yagami, wait,” Rei pleads, Riku looks up suddenly, his face hopeful, “what exactly is Stride?”
Turns out Stride is an international extreme sport, a relay race through an urban environment, littered throughout with various obstacles that are maneuvered around using various acrobatic techniques.
Rei is told that the sport relies on adaptability, athleticism, teamwork and trust. Hardcore Parkour as Riku describes it.
Watching the video clip on Riku’s phone, Rei watches what Takeru refers to as a perfect 'Relation'- two runners, blindly charging at each other from opposite directions, neither knowing exactly where the other is- until they meet up (and somehow manage to avoid collision) in a small corridor of space, runner 2 chasing runner 1, sprinting at breakneck speed, until the moment of perfect synchronisation when their hands meet in a resounding clap, runner 1 transferring the responsibility for the next leg of the race to runner 2; and something more that Rei can’t quite put his finger on.
Rei’s wrist suddenly tingles for a moment and he feels a wave of pure spontaneity wash over him.
Stride looked fun, exciting and exhilarating.
Rei decides he could do with a little excitement in his life.