You thought of a lot of things while you were away. You thought of your father, the way he smiled and held your hands as you kicked your feet in the ocean. You thought of your sister, and all the moments you were missing. You thought of Haru every day as you pushed yourself through the water, faster, faster, Haru’s graceful figure swimming across your vision. Yes, you thought of Haru often, but it was only sometimes that you thought of him at night while you lay in bed, only sometimes that your heart pounded and your breathing went strange and shallow. At first you didn’t understand, but then, gradually, you did.
When you come back you retrace the broken path of your childhood, the places where you felt happy, the places where you felt sad, the places where you’d still been able to feel anything at all. Then you seen him, all of them but mostly, especially, him. He looks at you and it’s like seeing the sun come through the clouds after a storm, lighting up the grey world in colors you’d nearly forgotten. Your chest feels hot and sore, and it terrifies you.
You want to love him. Life would be so much easier if you could love him, but then Nagisa drags you back to the ruins of your childhood, and Rin, he drags you unknowing back to Rin, and Rin looks at you, and there is something in his eyes that you remember from a long time ago. He sees you looking at him, and he looks back, and nothing is soft.
Something changes in him, the day the three of you meet Rin in the decaying remains of your childhood. It’s subtle, at first, so small you barely notice it, but something is definitely different about the way he looks out at the ocean, the way the water reflects in his eyes. You spend a lot of time thinking about it, about the small shift in color and the tension in his lower lip. You’ve known for a long time that Haruka isn’t quite right, that there is an emptiness somewhere in him that you cannot reach. You think about the way his hands clench when he stares across the water, and you wonder if he knows it now, too.
You want to love him. You do love him, more than anyone else in your life, but not the way you want to, not the way he wants you to. Sometimes you catch him looking at you, when he thinks no one can see, and there’s something in his eyes that you remember from somewhere else, a long time ago. When he looks at you like that, there is a hollow pang in your chest. You want to let that gaze fill you up, but Makoto sees you looking at him, and he reels that look in, softens it, and the moment is gone.
Haruka likes to be alone, but not always, so you invite him to your house to play video games and listen to your brother and sister’s stories. Your sister is hopelessly in love with him, or as much in love as a kid can be, and while you play Biohazard she sits shyly by his side with her knees tucked up to her chest. Later, when she’s asleep, you will put an arm around his shoulders and wind your fingers through his hair, and he’ll let you, but his eyes won’t move from the television screen.
You kneel at the shore and cup some water in your hands. People say the ocean is blue, but that is only the reflection of the sky above it. The water cupped in your hands is colorless, and empty. When you were young you’d seen Makoto looking at Haruka the same way Haruka looked at the ocean, and you felt the same then as you do now.
Makoto invites you to his house. His sister has a crush on you, you think, in that way little girls get crushes, all shy giggles, her knees drawn up to her chest as she sits beside you. It’s sweet, and innocent, and you are insanely jealous of her. Later, Makoto runs his fingers through your hair, and your heartbeat speeds up. You wonder how he’s looking at you, right now. Maybe if you look at him, right now, he wouldn’t try to hide it, maybe he’d creep into the hollow space inside you and everything would be easy. You should look at him. You don’t.
“It’s nothing,” you hear Gou say, distantly. Your heart is pounding in your ears, and your chest feels hot. Nothing about Rin is soft, or safe, or comfortable. You can still feel his hand on your arm. You feel him in the tips your fingers.
Everyone has always teased Haruka about the way he looks out at the water, the tender gaze of an old lover. No one else but you has seen the way he used to stare at Rin, all those years ago, when he thought no one was looking. It was the same look, but different, stronger and more hesitant. You were young, but you knew what it meant. You wonder how you look at Haruka, when you think no one can see.
“It’s nothing,” you can hear Gou say, somewhere far behind you. You crouch in the shadow of the building and put your head in you hands, trying to control your breathing. You look up at the sky. You had forgotten just how many shades of blue there are.
People make fun of the way you stare out at the ocean, one of the few times any hint of expression makes it from your heart to your face. No one comments on the way you look at Makoto. No one has ever seen the way you look at Rin.
Gou tells you it’s nothing, but you see Haruka’s face and you know, you look in his eyes and you don’t see yourself reflected there, you see the ocean.
You can tell Gou wants to ask, but she doesn’t and you are grateful for it. You’re sitting on the porch, you leg dangling off the edge, and she sits beside you with her knees tucked up to her chest. You ask her if she knows. “I can tell by the way you look at the sea during a thunderstorm,” she says, and she does not have to say the rest. You both sit there, quietly watching the gold-peaked ripples on the water below.
It’s the night before the meet, and Haruka sits on his bed, staring at the floor. There is an old photo beside him, a relic from a broken childhood. You kneel in front of him, and you take his hands in yours. You squeeze, and he squeezes back. “Don’t worry,” you tell him, and he nods. You try to meet his eyes, but he is looking at the photo, the same way he looks at the ocean but different.
It’s the night before the meet, and you are sitting on your bed, staring at a picture. Makoto is there, somewhere beside you. He takes your hand and squeezes, he tells you not to worry. Everything about Makoto is soft, and safe, and comfortable. You look at the picture. Your chest is hot. Makoto is there, but you’re not looking at him, you never have.
It’s the night before the meet and you are outside Haru’s house for reasons you are gradually beginning to understand. You’re not sure how long you stand there, goosebumps on your bare arms, but you know it is very late when Makoto walks out and closes the door softly behind him. He looks up, and he sees you there across the street, and there is something in his eyes you know all too well.
You and Rin are in side-by-side lanes. As you swim together, you lock eyes, under the water, and when the race is over neither of you know who won, and you, at least, don’t care. Rin takes your hand, and he looks at you, and you look at him. There is something in his eyes that has been there since the moment you met him, and you let it flow into you, down to the tips of your fingers.
Your lanes are side by side. Your teammates reach you at the same time and you leap together, into the water, and as you go under all the cheers are silenced, and there is nothing but Haru’s graceful figure beside you. You grasp out and touch the edge of the pool, and you’re not thinking of who won, you’re only thinking of taking Haru’s hand, and of all the colors you’ve missed.
They stare at each other in their side-by-side lanes, and something is different, or rather, something is like how it was long ago. Rin takes his hand, and there is a shift in Haruka’s eyes that everyone can see. There is an emptiness in your stomach now, and you don’t think anyone will ever reach it.