Stronger Than Ever

Rin is stronger than ever, striving towards his Olympic dream. And the closer he gets to it, the further he leaves Sousuke behind. �� SouRin

1. 1







Rin is blurry.

His scarlet hair ripples beneath the water; a beautiful red ink spill. It reminds Sousuke of all the things he loves best in the world: sunsets that send the shepherd's warning, the neat bedspreads at Samezuka Academy, scattered cherry blossoms across the sidewalk, and - most of all - Rin.

His friend breaks the surface, head tilted skyward like he can see the stars even through the roof of the building. Perhaps he can, Sousuke thinks, because Rin seems to be able to do everything. He swims as well as Haru - sometimes even better - and he does schoolwork well enough, despite all the hours he puts in to sport; and he was a team captain, and he's now on board for his Olympic dream - a world champion. And he has so many friends. Nitori and Momo and Haru and Makoto and Nagisa and Rei and everyone: he can just make people like him, as if it isn't difficult, like it isn't embarrassing, like it isn't taking a piece of yourself and handing it to someone for nothing in return.

Like it's something everyone should be able to do. Just not me, Sousuke thinks bitterly. He drops his eyes to the floor, and his lashes scrape his cheekbones. Not me. His sandals are wet from swimming pool spray, the soles damp and beginning to peel. He shouldn't be wearing sandals here, not really. He should be barefoot, swimming. His right hand moves instinctively to his shoulder, where the muscles beneath still seem to tense and ache. It almost feels like there's something inside blocking them up, like clay maybe. It hurts too, even though the doctors said it should be getting better.


He looks up, surprised out of his thoughts by a hand waving at him. "Uh?"

The boy in the water rolls his scarlet eyes, and tosses his hair back. "My time?"

Sousuke blanks for a few seconds, then wakes up. He was supposed to be timing Rin's lap, but he was too busy staring in to space and feeling sorry for himself - not that it's anything new. He's been doing the same thing for the passed few months. "Sorry," he rubs the back of his neck. "I lost track."

Rin sighs, and Sousuke is surprised he can hear it. The building probably echoes the sound because it's so empty. Everyone's already gone home hours ago, but, as usual, Rin always stays late. There isn't high school or parents holding him back anymore, and, if anything, Rin seems to get more dedicated every day.

"We should probably go. You don't want to overwork yourself," Sousuke says blandly. He pulls his stupid sandals off. "Come on."

Rin opens his mouth to protest, but shuts it again once he sees his friend's expression. Sousuke's turquoise eyes are blank at first glance, but with a close look, Rin can see bitterness and remorse and perhaps even jealousy beneath.

Sousuke holds a hand out to help Rin out of the pool, and Rin takes it readily, careful not to splash any water on to his friend, just in case Sousuke takes it badly. When he's in a mood, it's best to tread on a couple of very breakable egg shells.


"Hmm?" It's more of a grunt than anything, and Sousuke is focussing his eyes ahead of him like he's afraid if Rin properly looks at him, he'll find something that he wants to keep secret. Rin's getting more perceptive, and better at knowing precisely what Sousuke is thinking. Perhaps his age is coming with more maturity, or maybe they've just known each other so long it's becoming second nature. Either way, it's getting more difficult for Sousuke to hide his feelings.

"What's up?" Rin asks, very tempted to place a hand on the other's shoulder, even though he's sure he'd just be swiped off instantly.


Rin runs his sharp teeth over his bottom lip. It was a good swimming session and that usually puts him in a good mood, but now he just feels a little empty. It would be even better if Sousuke was swimming next to him. Helping him, teaching him, pushing him, like it was when they were younger. "Okay."

"Stop it," Sousuke snaps out, unable to stop himself. His eyes flash darker.

"Stop what?"

"Stop-" Sousuke tries to find the right words, his hands clenching and his knuckles staining bone white. "Stop being condescending. Stop pretending you understand- Just- Just stop it. Okay?"

Rin feels pity, first. Then, all in a rush like quickfire, anger. He shoves Sousuke around to face him with a push of the hand, his chest moving up and down because he can't breathe right. The air keeps sticking in his throat like it shouldn't be there, and his head burns. "I'm looking out for you, you stupid dumbass. All you do is mope around every day!" His eyebrows crease and Rin bares his teeth, mouth half-open because there's so much to say and there's no time to explain it all to Sousuke. "Stop feeling sorry for yourself!"

Sousuke can't remember a fight quite like this. It's as if every emotion from the passed few months is rising up again with new fire. "It's easy for you to say, isn't it? You can still swim. You can still follow your dream!" He pauses for breath, but starts afresh even louder. "What about me? I don't have anything. I have nothing. I have no friends, or family, or talent, or absolutely anything. I have nothing. You have everything."

Rin's cheeks burn red. "I don't! And that isn't true," Rin's slightly quieter. "You don't have nothing. You still have a future and- You have friends-"

"I don't."

"You do! Haru and Makoto-"

"They're your friends, Rin. They only tolerate me because they have to."

Rin looks incredulous, "Don't be stupid!"

"I'm not. I'm being honest. I can't make friends like you do because I'm-" Sullen and grumpy and rude and cold. "Not you."

There's a short silence, in which the only noise is the slight lapping of water against the floor, and the sound of chairs scraping and being put away in the room adjoining. The two friends face each other, crimson eyes burning furiously into pale teal, bleeding together like watercolors. Droplets fall from the strands of Rin's hair, and dribble down his forehead to rest on his eyelashes and the peaks of his cheekbones and chin. Sousuke needs to look away, but he's so angry it seems pointless to hide anything anymore. He's already admitted to being something close to an empty shell anyway, lonely and pathetic and desperate.

Rin blinks fast. "It isn't true, anyway. You've got me."

Sousuke's mouth turns down, and the anger melts away. It leaves almost nothing in its place. "Not anymore."

"What are you talking about?"

"I should leave. I'm only pulling you down with me."

"That isn't true-"

"It is!" Sousuke's heart hammers again. "You're becoming an athlete. People like me, who are-" Say it. Just say it. "Jealous and bitter, will only bring you down. When you realise that, you'll just resent me. You shouldn't have to deal with that when you're so close to your dream." His lungs hurt a little, like they're sick of breathing.

Sousuke wishes desperately he knew what Rin was thinking. The other stands so still it's as if Sousuke has pressed pause, and the image is frozen. "Say something, Rin."

The water sings behind them softly.

"It isn't true," Rin says again, his voice just short of a whisper. "You've always got me. And- as a matter of fact, I hope I've always got you. Because I can't achieve anything without all of my friends by my side. We learnt that before."

Sousuke vaguely thinks it should be Rin crying, because Rin always cries. At everything. It should not be Sousuke crying, and it isn't, it isn't, it isn't- And his eyes prick, Rin becoming blurry again, only this time, Sousuke is the one underwater.

"But I can't swim-" Sousuke chokes out, and he's not just underwater. He's drowning.

Rin darts forwards; his hair is a red halo. His long arms curve around Sousuke's pale shirt, and hold the slightly taller boy close. "Shut up, you moron. Shut up."


"Shut up."


"Sousuke! Shut up." Rin rests his chin on Sousuke's shoulder, and feels a pair of arms wrap around his waist. It feels close, really close, like this isn't a friend's hug. Like it's something more. Rin can't move. He can't tell if this is what he wanted, if it really is anything, if this is-

"Shut up," comes a muffled voice.

"I didn't say anything!" Rin protests.

"You were thinking too hard."

"But we're-"

"I know."

"Is this-?"

"I'm not sure."

"Are you?"


Rin pauses, and then pushes even closer to the other, because suddenly it doesn't feel close enough. He breathes out, and his breath is cool against Sousuke's cheek. "You don't have to worry. You'll find more, apart from just me. You're so strong."

"You're stronger."

"I don't think so, Sousuke."






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