It didn't happen all at once, despite first appearances. Sure, the moment he saw her, bright eyes and bright red red hair with a smile that lit up the room, he would have told anyone that he liked her and they would have smirked, not quite believing his declaration. But it was true and it only grew from there.

Once he saw her, her image never left. Her absence left an afterglow that spoke of everything she was and all that he was missing. So, it was no surprise that whenever she decided to drop by for a visit, he'd be the first one to greet her and the last one to see her go.

He wasn't in love, not yet, but he was sure every smile he saw form on her lips brought him that much closer.

She liked to stop by on Wednesday afternoons. Unannounced and usually silent enough to slip through unnoticed. He'd be the first to spot her peeking into the swimming area, eyes sightly glossy and mouth parted ever so slightly. He'd wave so enthusiastically that his fellow swimmers would snicker at him. But he didn't care. He wanted her to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that she was welcome no matter the time or place, rain or shine. Everything was perfect as long as she was there.

"Say, Mikoshiba-san," she began one afternoon, her voice soft and perfect and stirring up his insides into a delightful whirlwind of butterflies that threatened to escape if he opened his mouth. "I just wanted to thank you for letting me stop by so often. Not being apart of the school and all, I don't want to cause you any trouble."

He instinctively reached out for her hand, gathering it tenderly between his own. "It's no trouble, no trouble at all! As a matter a fact, stop by more often, we'd be happy to have you!"

When she look up at him with those eyes and smiled, he'd thought he surely die, struck through the heart as he was. And he nearly did, the moment she cast her eyes away. He wanted her to look at him like that again, to always look at him. Though, the moment he felt her hand ever so slightly tighten its grip on his own he was glad she had looked away, so he could try hiding the florescent blush that crept up his neck and flooded his cheeks.

"Thanks," came her soft reply.

He was pretty sure that he died right then.

However, when Wednesday came and passed and he saw hide nor hair of the Iwatobi manager, it was as if the sea had stolen the wind from his sails. He spent that practice somewhat downtrodden and when one of the first years took notice of his rather sour mood and made the correlation between it and the absence of a certain redhead, he gave the kid such a look that he had jumped in the pool to start his five lap punishment without needing to be told.

He couldn't blame her, or even be angry. The last tournament before most pools closed for Autumn was just around the corner. If Samezuka was busy with training, then Iwatobi had to be too.

So that afternoon as he rode the train back to the dorms, he didn't expect anything. But as he lifted his eyes from the floor, waiting for the train to begin it's departure, he immediately spotted her through the window. She stood just beyond the platform, staring listlessly up at the sky, her phone dangling forgotten in her hand and the afternoon sun bathed her her in a glow that took his breath away. But as he stood, determined to talk to her, to see her smile, to simply be in her presence, the doors shut and the train lurched forward, her image slowly receding into the distance.

And that's what started it. He'd take the train every afternoon to that sports store just outside of town all in a hope to see her. Every single time the train would pull into the station where he saw her that evening his heart would speed up and his hands would go clammy. However, when the train would stop and the doors would open, she'd be nowhere in sight and he'd let out a sigh he didn't know he'd been holding.

Though, on a rainy Thursday afternoon about a week or so from the tournament, he saw her standing on the platform under her matching red umbrella. It only took a heartbeat to stand and a moment more to be out the door, stumbling on the platform ledge as nonchalantly as humanly possible (begging whichever god was watching that she hadn't seen).

"Hey," he greeted, strolling up to her as cool as he hoped he could be. "Fancy seeing you here."

Upon hearing his voice, she lifted her head and her eyes met his. A small smile played about her lips. "Everything is fancy with you, Mikoshiba-san," she said, a hand coming up to stifle a laugh.

Weightlessness filled him and he couldn't help the big goofy smile that spread over his face. "So, where you headed?"

"Home," she stated, "Had to pick up a few things for the guys. Now I'm just waiting or the train."

"Let me help you," he nearly pleaded, resisting the urge to take the bag and umbrella from her hands.

"I don't want to trouble you, plus home's not far from the station. . ." Her eyes met his own and her voice drifted off on the breeze. "Well, I guess if you don't mind."

"Not at all," he said as the train pulled into the station, plucking the bag and the umbrella from her hands. He gave an elaborate bow, gesturing towards the waiting train, "Lead the way, Gou-kun"

"It's Kou," she said, giving him a light punch on the arm before boarding the train.

It was a quiet ride, but the way she sat close enough for their arms to brush each others made it feel like he was on cloud nine. His palms may have been sweating but she was warm and nothing else seemed to matter.

Her stop was near the old pier, the smell of saltwater assaulting his nostrils the moment they stepped off the train. "This way," she said, gesturing to the small streets to their left.

"Aye, Aye, captain." Opening the umbrella, he waited until she was safely tucked underneath it's canopy before setting down the road, a skip unmistakeably making its way into his steps.

He was going to tell her. It was no longer a doubt in his mind. Seeing her walk next to him under the same umbrella and the small tilt of of a smile that quirked her lips made him want to gather her in his arms and never let go. Sure, there was doubt. It was what kept his arms at his sides, not quite touching her's besides the time where his and her steps would bring them a little closer under the umbrella. But he had to know, just had to.

And so when they stood in front of her house and he handed her back the bag, he hesitated slightly as she reached for the umbrella in his hand. There was a look of confusion in her eyes, her hand hovering over his own, fingertips gently brushing the skin of hand.

He didn't want to see her go, not again and not without him.

"Uh, G-Kou, I . . . uh," he stuttered and his free hand rose to scratch his chin nervously, but after he took a deep breath and smiled, he squared his jaw and said as sincerely as he possibly could, "I would really like it if you would join me for an after noon, you know, on a. . . a date. Please"

He closed his eyes, not wanting to see the refusal in hers, but when he felt her hand close around his own, gently taking the umbrella from his hand, he couldn't help but cautiously pry open an eye.

He saw her smiling.

"I would like that."

Ah, he thought, so that's what loves feels like.

AN: Cover image by 阿草_御石不足 (pixiv ?id=522142)