A Test Of Courage

Reluctant Holiday

“Alright! We have joint practice with Samezuka this week and another one later on in the month.” Gou announced, reading off her clipboard.

“Wah~! It's been forever since we last swam with Samezuka's team!” Nagisa exclaimed, getting all excited over the news.

“It's only been a couple months, Nagisa.” Rei corrected, giving the shorter boy an exasperated look.

“A couple months is too long! Too long!” The blonde complained, throwing himself at Rei and clinging to the boys shirt.

“Hey, hey! Let go, you're stretching it!”

“Oi, you two...” Makoto sighed at the sight of Rei and Nagisa's squabble before turning to Haruka, hoping for help.

But as always, his best friend was completely fixated on his mackerel bento and ignoring the commotion beside him.

“Hey! Pay attention!” Gou yelled, grabbing the attention of the culprits who'd started the whole disturbance.

“Now,” She continued after taking a breath. “I've organised with my brother a place for us to stay during the week, so we don't have to travel back and forth.”

“We get to see Rin-chan again!” Nagisa burst, unable to hold it back. Rei sighed at the other boy's lack of self-control and Makoto glanced in Haru's direction.

The quiet boy's hand paused, holding his chopsticks just millimetres away from his lips, his eyes widening ever so slightly. Now that caught his attention, Makoto noted with amusement.

He knew that Haruka badly wanted to see Rin. They'd finally become friends again after so long, but because of their tight training schedules Rin and Haru hadn't had the chance to hang out like they used to when they were kids.

“Ah, but Makoto-senpai...what about your cousin?” Rei spoke up, snatching back the brunette's attention.

“Eh?” Makoto replied unintelligently, swinging his head around to face the others.

“That's right, didn't your parents say that it was your responsibility to take care of her?” Nagisa chimed in, leaning forward as he placed his hands square on the ground.

“Now, now, I'm sure she can take care of herself. She's not a baby or anything...” Gou interrupted, feeling that she had to defend the absent girl against the belittling comments from the swimmers.

“No, they're right.” Makoto intercepted, pinching his chin between his thumb and index finger as he thought. It wasn't that Makoto thought his cousin needed to be babied, but he knew that without him there at home Hanako wouldn't cope. Especially with his younger siblings.

After that accident, Hanako's never quite been the same when it comes to children...

“Maybe I should stay behind on this one.” Makoto said with a sigh, rubbing at the nape of his neck.

“Wah?!” Nagisa cried, scrambling to his knees and shuffling towards Makoto with the saddest pouty face he could muster. “But you have to come! It wouldn't be the same without you there!”

“The point of us going is to train, it wouldn't be right to only take three of you and leave the other behind.” Gou agreed.

“Perhaps we could talk sensei into letting her join us?” Rei suggested, pushing his red glasses up.

“Uh, I don-”

“Just leave her behind. Don't let someone like that near water.” Haru spoke up.

It was the first time he'd joined in on the conversation, but it didn't prove to be of any help in solving it. In fact, Makoto vaguely remembered the teen saying something similar about Rei after Nagisa suggested that maybe he didn't like water.

“Oi, Haru...” Makoto slumped his shoulders and sent a somewhat tired and exasperated look towards his best friend, who only continued to ignore him.

“But will sensei let us take someone who isn't in the swimming club with us?” Gou questioned, looking doubtful.

“Maybe if we appeal to sensei's good side she'll agree!” Nagisa said.

“And just how exactly do you plan on doing that?” Rei asked, albeit uncertainly.

“Well, first we-”

“Actually, no. I don't think I want to hear it.” The butterfly swimmer abruptly cut the blonde off, placing a hand to his forward as he tried to forget the wild images running through his head.

“I guess we have no choice but to ask.” Gou spoke, exhaling.

“I don't think she'll want to come-...” Makoto began but Nagisa was quick to overtake him.

“I'm sure if we explain the situation to her she won't have a problem with it!”

“I really doubt-”

“She doesn't have to come with us to practice. Hanako can stay at the hotel or go sight-seeing while we're busy.” Gou interrupted quickly, cutting off the slightly frustrated brunette.

“I'm sure your cousin is curious to explore the town a little more, only having just moved in.” Rei joined in, leaving no room for Makoto to object.

“Exactly! It'll be like a short vacation away from school, with no water near her for miles!” Nagisa spoke up.

Haru felt one of his chopsticks fall from his fingers at the suggestion of water being miles away. His skin was starting to dry out from just the thought of it.

“Don't over-exaggerate, Nagisa.” Rei sighed, making the blonde drop his arms.

Everyone went quiet and glanced at Makoto from their positions on the roof of the school, waiting on his response. He briefly glanced over each hopeful face and looked away just as quickly, feeling defeated.

He shifted his eyes in Haruka's direction, noting that the boy had once again paused in eating to listen in, but still kept his eyes elsewhere.

Makoto exhaled heavily and dropped his head, seeing no way out of this.

“...Alright, I'll ask her.” He mumbled through his lips. The other teenagers jumped up in victory and high-fived each other happily.

“Alright, we'll go beg to sensei! Come on, Rei-chan!” Nagisa bellowed, latching onto the surprised butterfly swimmer's arm and pulling him along.

“And we'll go and convince Hanako, right, Makoto-senpai?” Gou stood in front of the brunette and offered her hand to him, to which he took reluctantly.

“I guess so.” He replied, allowing the girl to pull him to his feet.

“Alright! You come too, Haru-senpai!” Gou grabbed the raven-haired boys shirt and pulled him up also before dragging the two boys down the flight of stairs.

“O-oi..!” Haru started, but was quickly cut off as he stumbled to find his footing on the staircase. He glanced longingly at the uneaten mackerel bento before sighing with irritation and limply following behind the other two.

I hunched my shoulders against the growing wind as I waited beside Makoto at the front of his house. One hand clutched at the small travel case filled with clothing and toiletries, the other clung to the corner of my cousin's sleeve.

Makoto glanced down at me and gave a reassuring smile, saying everything would be fine; which didn't help to calm my nerves at all. But for his sake I sent a wary smile back and averted my gaze to my sandals.

I really wasn't looking forward to the trip. Yes, Makoto's friends are nice- well, most of them, and they did say that I don't have to be anywhere near the other school while they train. But for once, it's not the water that's worrying me...

My eyes caught the sudden loose pebbles on the side of the street begin to jump daintily across the asphalt, and a few seconds later the sound of a vehicle pushing over the hill became present in the otherwise silent atmosphere.

My stomach dropped to my feet as Makoto's face lit up at the sight of a van cruising down the road. The car crawled up to the curb, before eventually stopping in front of us.

“Time to go, Hanako.” Makoto called to get my attention. I shared a glance with my cousin before swallowing past the lump in my throat and watching with bated breath as the large door of the van rolled open with a squeak.

Three heads: red, blonde and blue popped out to say hello, and I immediately knew the owners of said hair colours. There was one missing though. I felt the slightest amount of hope swell within my chest as my eyes searched the space of the vehicle for the single head of hair that wasn't hanging out in greeting.

I squinted to see past the grimy layer coating the back windows. My heart sped up and my chest constricted as I saw a faint shadow in the very back seat, irritated blue eyes connecting with mine.

I cracked under the intensity of his burning gaze and quickly backed down from the stare, feeling the earlier dread leaking back in. A mix of disappointment and discomfort washed over me as I realised it was going to be a long, awkward trip to Samezuka.

Just as I predicted, the road trip to Samezuka had indeed been awkward, to say the least. Not only did I have to travel in the same car as the person who hates my guts, but I also had to sit beside him.

Apart from Nagisa (who called shotgun) I was the only other person small enough to fit in the middle seat, so there I was, squashed between Rei and Haruka in the back. Their elbows digging into my ribcage every time the teacher drove over a bump or sped around the corners.

Now, I wasn't the only one unhappy with this arrangement; because going by the look on Haru's face he disliked this situation as much as I did, if not more.

And then there was Rei...

Every time his arm made contact with me, which happened quite often, his face would darken to a slightly more noticeable shade of red and he'd fumble to adjust his glasses, even if they were sitting perfectly in place across his nose.

If it weren't for Nagisa encouraging Makoto, Gou and the teacher to sing '100 bottles on the wall' with him, I think I would've died from embarrassment. The constant glaring blue eyes reflected in the window didn't help to lower my anxiety, either.

I sighed heavily as I all but stumbled out of the roller door of the van, finally glad to be in open space once again. Gou chuckled and came to stand beside me, joining in as I stretched out all the built up cramps.

“Have fun back there?” She teased light-heartedly. I returned her smile and rolled my shoulders out, hearing a satisfying pop.

“Could've been worse.” I waved a hand dismissively in the air, brushing it off as no big deal. But in all actuality that had to be the worse road trip I've ever been on in my life...

“Alright, you lot. Grab your things and take them to your rooms while I go get us some groceries for dinner tonight.” The teacher spoke, popping the boot and swinging it open to reveal our luggage.

Makoto took the liberty of passing everyone their bags before reaching for his own. I thanked him and gripped the handle tightly as not to drop it.

The teacher climbed back into the van and waved a quick farewell before driving off down the street, claiming she'd be back in an hour or two.

Following the Iwatobi Swim Team, I struggled to hold on to my bag as we trudged up the stairs single-file. “Shall I take that for you?”

I looked up to find Rei had paused two steps above me, twisting around to hold his hand out for my luggage.

“O-oh no, it's alright. I think I'll manage.” I assured him quietly, giving him a small smile when he looked doubtful. His cheeks were suddenly dusted with a rosy hue and he sharply turned back around, continuing up the steps with a firm nod.

Makoto stopped beside me and stifled his laughter at his friends behaviour.

“Was it something I said?” I questioned, feeling confused.

“No, no, it was nothing you said.” Makoto reassured me. Just then Nagisa bounced up behind us and swung his arms over our shoulders, his upper body rather lop-sided from our obvious height difference.

“Rei-chan gets flustered easily, especially around girls!” Nagisa yelled the last bit to make sure the blue-haired swimmer heard him clearly.

I winced and covered my ringing ear.

“Oi! Nagisa!” Rei scolded, his face so red that even his ears were tinted in the cherry shade.

Nagisa laughed and slid between us to catch up to Rei, bonking him swiftly on the head before running even further up the stairs. I heard protests from Gou as Nagisa pushed past her, being chased by a furious Rei.

I giggled at the exchange between the two and placed a hand to my mouth to cover the growing smile on my face. Makoto sighed before laughing quietly to himself.

Sharing an amused look with my cousin, we continued to the third floor, the glaring sapphire eyes burning holes in my back temporarily forgotten.

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