Disclaimers: Free! belongs to KyoAni and the novel it was based on, "High Speed" was originally written by Kouji Ouji. This is just fan work. I hope you enjoy reading :)
Like Rain Still Hiding Behind the Clouds
A clear sky with scattered wisps of cotton white clouds above and a glimmering, peaceful sea below filled their sights with endless blue as far as the eye can see. Walking side by side on their usual route along the seashore, the only sounds they could hear were their own footsteps and the steady, calming rhythm of waves powerfully charging towards the fine cream-colored sand and paradoxically gently pulling back into the sea where it came from. Makoto and Haruka walked this road and saw this scenery every single day, and yet nothing was ever the same.
Depending on the time, the sky sported different shades. Depending on the weather and the tide, the sea could be gentle, whimsical, or even frightening. And depending on the people they walked with, talked with and met, the topic of conversation would be different each time. Makoto treasured each and every one of them, but what he liked most were days like this when it was only him and 'Haru-chan', where there would be no words exchanged at all… and yet the most meaningful conversations took place.
Early in the morning, when they would pass by here, Haruka's eyes that has the same color as the ocean would be partly hidden by his drooping eyelids. That was Haruka's way of saying that he's still sleepy and wants to crawl right back to bed. Or maybe the bath tub. Makoto would have to watch him carefully and make sure the half-asleep Haruka can still see where he was going. You never know, he could fall right into a manhole.
On mornings where he had a bit more sleep, a good soak in the tub and grilled mackerel for breakfast, Haruka's eyes would be fully open. Makoto loves seeing the way it glimmers because it reminds him of the sea when it's calm and sparkling under the rays of a bright summer sun. Looking at the water with longing in his face was Haruka's way of saying he wants to go swimming. It just sucks he has to go to school.
When they pass by here again in the afternoons after school and club activities are done, though the rest of his face is not Haruka's eyes would be smiling. His features relaxed and looking content, the childlike gleam in his eyes is his way of saying that after a long day's work, he had earned himself a delicious meal for dinner. It was just too bad that after knowing each other since childhood, Makoto had yet to learn how to tell what exactly that dinner would be. Will it be grilled mackerel? Simmered mackerel in miso? Smoked mackerel? Or perhaps even mackerel pasta?!
But today, something was different.
Glancing at Haruka who was walking beside him, Makoto tried searching for anything that would give away how he was feeling. Glancing became staring as he continued to look and found nothing. His eyes were dull, his face was devoid of any emotion as Haruka's gaze seemed fixed at something even beyond where and sea and sky met in the horizon.
Haruka had always been quiet, so for them to walk home together wordlessly was nothing new. However, to Makoto the uncomfortable stillness was starkly different from their usual companionable silence. He wanted to say something, but didn't know how- and more importantly- what. What could he possibly say to Haruka after he had lost to Rin during the prefectural swimming tournament earlier today?
As a fellow swimmer, Makoto knew all too well how it felt after losing in a competition. If it was as simple as that, Makoto knew what words he would want to hear if he were in Haruka's shoes. But even if Haruka did not say anything, Makoto understood that it was more than just about winning or losing. Or to be more correct, it was never about winning or losing.
That was just how Haruka was, to him swimming meant something that went beyond victory. Nothing- not even the pain of losing- could make Haruka quit, except for one thing… Makoto stopped in his tracks as though he had crashed into a brick wall. Those unseeing eyes, the expressionless face, and the profile of Haruka's back that felt like it was going farther and farther away to a place where he could not reach him, Makoto had seen this all before. It was at the end of their first year in middle school, when Haruka had decided to quit not just the swimming club- but swimming altogether.
Makoto stood in disbelief upon hearing those words. Even though they were directed towards their coach and club advisor, it pierced him as though someone had stabbed a knife right into his heart. All sorts of questions ran through his head at the speed of a bullet train and by the time his teacher's voice shook Makoto out of his thoughts, Haruka was long gone. He dashed out of the faculty room and out of school in his indoor shoes to look for him.
Following their daily route, Makoto finally caught up to him by the seaside. The Haruka he saw then froze him right on the spot. He was just standing there, gaze fixed straight into what seemed like something that was even beyond the sea. Even if he was not moving, Makoto felt an inexplicable fear that he was going farther and farther away. He took tentative steps to get a closer look at his face. After all, with just one look he could easily tell what Haruka was thinking.
He had never seen Haruka so… lost.
At that moment, Makoto felt like something had broken inside him.
'Why did you quit swimming if it hurts you this much?' The question was never voiced, what came out of Makoto's mouth instead were sobs as tears ran down his cheeks, falling out of his eyes drop after drop. His crying stopped momentarily when he felt Haruka grab his hand, just like he always would whenever something frightened Makoto. This only made Makoto cry harder.
Makoto could never forget the irony of being comforted by the person whose pain was transmitted straight into his heart and caused him to cry in the first place. But it was also on that very same day that he vowed to himself he would become stronger. Strong enough for Haruka to see that like rain still hiding behind the clouds, when his tears finally fall he can be a shoulder to lean on.
Doing what Haruka did for him that time, and has always done for him to vanquish his fears, Makoto grabbed Haruka's hand without any hesitation. Ever so slowly, Haruka's unseeing gaze shifted from the water to Makoto. They looked straight into each other's eyes, searching, before Haruka looked sideways as he always did.
Makoto, eyes never leaving Haruka's face, smiled gently.
'Haru-chan, just because you never cry doesn't mean I can't see your tears.'