Haruka stared out at the calm ocean, watching the sunset slowly as it cast its last rays of light, illuminating the undersides of the clouds on the horizon and basking them in a fading golden glow. He was soaking wet, water dripping from his hair and heavily waterlogged clothing. It was starting to get cold as dusk approached, and Haru let out an involuntary shiver. He felt the tide brush his ankles, reminding him that just moments before he had been with Rin.
Haru bit his lip at the thought of the water god. Rin was gone, and it was Haru's fault. If Haru had surrendered, then maybe Seijuurou wouldn't have destroyed Rin's palace, along with the kingdom. Haruka shuddered at the mental image of the floating bodies rising from the shattered city, of the dead creatures that had once called that place home. Makoto's voice shattered the images in Haruka's head.
Makoto ran over to his friend, having landed a short distance away; Nagisa and Rei weren't far behind. He pulled Haru into a hug, his broad shoulders and muscled arms embracing Haruka like a strong, cuddly safety net. Haru buried his face into his best friend's neck, hot tears spilling out onto Makoto's already soaked shirt. Makoto could feel Haru's body shaking in his arms, and at first he thought it was Haru shivering from the cold. It wasn't until he heard Haru let out a sob of despair that he realized.
"Haru-chan!" Nagisa called as he finally reached them. The blonde looked to be fighting back tears as well, but he refused to let them spill over. Rei looked deeply concerned, and kept a comforting hand on Haru's back.
"We need to get out of the water," Rei said as Haru calmed down a bit. "If Seijuurou has succeeded, then he will have taken over Rin's kingdom, including his territory. If we stay here for too long, he could still find us and capture us."
"But the water is super shallow right here," Nagisa said.
"Doesn't matter. Rei's right, we need to go now," Makoto replied firmly.
Makoto had to half-drag Haruka out of the water; he was certain that if given the chance, Haru would jump right back in the water and try to swim and find Rin or something else crazy. Rei and Nagisa held onto Haru as well, supporting him. Rei breathed out a sigh of relief as they left the shallows and were on dry land. Seijuurou couldn't get them there. A droplet of water bounced off his red glasses, and then another, and another; it was starting to rain, and the swimmers could hear the faint rumble of thunder in the distance.
Droplets slid down Haruka's face, and he wasn't sure if they were from the rain, the salty seawater, or the remains of the tears that had left his eyes stinging and red-rimmed. He felt completely exhausted, and by the time the foursome had reached his house, Haru found himself completely relying on Makoto for support and Nagisa and Rei to keep him walking. All he wanted was to curl up and sleep for a thousand years, and just forget everything. He wanted to forget Rin, forget the world of magic and sea creatures, and forget that he was special. As he collapsed onto his bed for the first time in weeks, all Haru could think about was how his grandmother used to sing him to sleep every night.
Haruka had always been a bit different than the other children. At the beach, all of the sand crabs would desperately burrow into the sand following every wave, children digging into the beach to try and catch one. Not Haruka, though. He would just sit patiently in the sand, and eventually some little crabs would crawl right up to the boy and look at him with black, beady little eyes. Haru would delicately stroke them with one finger or hold them in the palm of his hand, and then release them again. Or, when swimming, most of the kids only went out so far. But Haruka, he would always swim out twice as far as any of the other children. For someone so tiny, the massive waves didn't even seem to bother him in the slightest as he swam around. It got to the point that he could swim better and faster than the lifeguards, who all eventually stopped worrying about him. Mrs. Nanase would always chide her tiny son about swimming out too far, but his grandmother would always swoop in and stop his mother's almost daily tirade, more often than not armed with a popsicle or some other treat for her only grandchild. Grandma Nanase, or Baachan as he called her.
Haru loved his Baachan. She taught him all about the ocean, and had always been there to take him to the aquarium and the beach, and to swim lessons and practice whenever his mother and father were too tired from work. She made sure he grew up healthy and strong, unlike his mother. Haru never though badly of his mother, and she was really quite wonderful, but she had always seemed so fearful of the ocean for some bizarre reason. Baachan always told him that his mother worried too much, and would hand Haru his little plastic pail and shovel and advise him to build a sand castle.
Every day, after Haru had finished school, or his swim lessons, Baachan would take him to the beach, even if it was only an hour or so. She used to play with Haru when he was really little, but as he got older, so did she. Eventually, Baachan would just sit and watch Haruka as he gleefully dove into the waves.
"The water likes me, Baachan!"
"And do you like the water, Haruka?"
At the end of the day they would go home hand in hand, and Mrs. Nanase would have dinner ready, and Mr. Nanase would be loosening his tie and sitting down at the dinner table, worn from another hard day's work. He would always smile at the sight of his son, and take Haruka into his lap, and ask Haru questions about his day as he hugged him. Then, after dinner, Haru would do his homework and take a bath, and then his parents would come and tuck him into bed. Then Baachan would come in and give him a kiss, and sing odd little songs she made up about the ocean.
One day, though, while Haruka had swim practice, his grandmother died rather suddenly. Her burial was just a few short days later, and Haru felt a gap in his life. It took a lot of convincing on his part to get Mrs. Nanase to allow him to go to the beach alone. Haru felt much lonelier without his Baachan, and the gap her death had left only widened when his parents moved for business.
But then that one day, everything had changed when Rin had showed up on the beach…
-Several Weeks Later-
Haru snapped out of his daydream. He sat in the bathtub, poking at the little blue dolphin toy as it bobbed up and down in the water. The water was starting to get a little cold. The bathroom was quiet save for the plip plip of water as it dripped from Haru's freshly washed hair back into the tub. Haru sighed out a little. His legs seemed to ache from the sheer lack of swimming, but the ocean was too dangerous now, so Haru had only his bathtub. And while Haru loved his bathtub quite dearly, it left something to be desired.
There was a faint thump as a door opened and shut, and Haru could hear Makoto's footsteps as the taller male walked down the hallways to the bathroom.
"I'm coming in," Makoto said as he gently pulled open the bathroom door. Haru could hear the smile in his friend's voice without even looking at him.
"Good morning, Haru-chan!" Makoto held out his hand, and Haruka took it gratefully as he was pulled out of the tub. He pulled a towel off the shiny chrome rack on the wall and began to dry himself vigorously. Haruka walked towards the kitchen, the towel still on his shoulders, Makoto in tow behind him.
"I see you've cleaned the house. That's good," Makoto said. It was pretty clear that he was trying to make small talk. "You did your homework, right?"
"Mmmhmm." Haru was focused on grilling his breakfast to perfection.
"I brought you lunch, Haru-chan, and I even put mackerel in it! But you have to eat everything else in the bento first, okay? Mackerel comes last!" Makoto stated in as serious of a tone as he could muster. Haru turned to give him a blank look, and Makoto knew his message had been lost in translation somewhere.
Haru finished cooking and ate his breakfast quickly before getting dressed and brushing his teeth. When he came out, he saw Makoto already by the front door with his school bag.
"Thanks," Haru said as he took the proffered bag. He couldn't help but give a ghost of a smile as Makoto hugged him.
"Now come on, if we're late then Rei will never let us here the end of it," Makoto said as he pulled Haru out the door.
The pair arrived a few minutes early, much to Makoto's great relief. The day seemed to go by quickly, and when lunch hit both Haruka and Makoto were more than happy to see their friends.
"Haru-chan! Haru-chan! GUESS WHAT?" Nagisa yelled as he latched onto Haruka's arm.
What, you found Rin?
"So I talked to a club advisor, and I found out that if we restore the old school swimming pool, we can make a swim club! And if we have a swim club, then Haru-chan can swim at least five days a week!"
"But," Rei said, pushing up his glasses. "We need to provide the funds ourselves to fix the pool. I suggest a fundraiser."
"Oh, the school is having the festival next week!" Makoto said.
"What festival?" Haru asked. The other three looked at him with utter disbelief.
"Haru…there've been fliers literally everywhere…"
"Basically, the school holds a festival with booths. The booths are set up mostly by clubs, a few others might be done for a class. We can do a booth if we make our club official, and then we can sell whatever we want."
"Let's do it then," Haru said. "We'll go make the club official after school. I want to swim again."
And maybe even go to the Olympics, like Rin suggested…
-The Next Day-
"BUT I LIKE THIS ONE, REI!"
"Nagisa, be respectful of Haru-chan's house and keep it down," Rei said sternly. "And a bright yellow on green for a tracksuit? Those colors are not beautiful on anything when together like that."
Haru sat down at the kotastsu with the others, setting the pizzas and plates down as well. "I got three, since I figure Nagisa would eat a whole one by himself. What are you looking at?"
"Track suits! Now that Miss Amakata is our advisor and our club is official, we need to look official for the festival next Friday! Meaning we have exactly one week! And if we order them today, we can get them in five days with the free shipping!" Nagisa chirped.
"We don't have the money for four whole tracksuits, though, Nagisa," Makoto said. Nagisa's face dropped considerably, and Rei frowned a bit. Haru looked at each of his friends and down at the magazine again.
"Well," he said, pointing at a blue and white jacket. "What if we only got the jackets? I've seen plenty of swim teams in the Olympics and other swim meets that didn't have entire tracksuits. Some didn't have tracksuits at all. And we can get the backs embroidered with 'Iwatobi'."
"But the money?"
"My parents used to send me spending money. I barely ever spent it, so I have a bit. Whatever is left over after we buy the jackets can go towards the pool," Haru said.
"YAY! Haru-chan, you're the best!" Nagisa exclaimed as he pounced on his friend.
"Nagisa, you'll get pizza sauce in Haruka's hair!"
"Now," Rei said as he pried Nagisa off Haruka. "What are we going to sell at the booth?"
"What about a kissing booth?" Nagisa suggested. "I bet a lot of girls would want to kiss Mako-chan!"
"I think another club is already doing that," Rei replied. "What about a bake sale?"
"We can make mackerel cupcakes."
"That's a great idea, Rei-chan!" Nagisa said around a mouthful of pizza. "I'll order the tracksuits, and then we can buy all the supplies for baking tomorrow!"
"Just don't misspell 'Iwatobi' when you're putting in the customization on the order, Nagisa-chan."
"I won't, Rei-Rei!"
"What did you call me?"
As the four squabbled playfully, a figure gazed in through a window, watching them.
"A swim club," he muttered, eyes narrowing. "If you think you are safe here on dry land…well you'll see what's coming."