A few months later…
It was a quiet Saturday in the middle of summer break.
Christine sat in Haruka's room at his desk, alone, idly towel drying her hair—when the soft sounds of a Skype ringtone broke the silence. Startled, she looked at the name that was popping up on the laptop screen: Hazuki-kun.
"Haru," she called in the direction of the bathroom. No response came, as the Skype call continued to ring. "Haru!" she raised her voice. "Someone's calling you on Skype!"
Still no response. The ringtone abruptly ended. Sighing, Christine stood up and made her way to the door of the bathroom.
"Hey," she said, giving the closed door a brisk knock. "Did you hear me? You missed a Skype call."
The sound of faint splashes came from beyond the door. She suspected that her boyfriend had just resurfaced from inside the bathtub.
"I heard it," came his muffled voice from inside. "Who was it?"
She never ceased to be amazed by how the young man still managed to hear everything from underwater. Maybe he really was a dolphin.
"Hazuki something," she replied, hoping she wasn't butchering the name too horribly.
"Answer it," he said simply.
"It's already over, Haru," she told him, exasperated. "You missed it."
"He'll call again."
"How do you know?" she questioned.
"Nagisa always does."
Christine racked her brain for a moment until the name clicked. "Oh. Nagisa. The one who called you four times in a row on your birthday until you finally picked up?"
"The very same."
She laughed. "You want me to take your phone calls for you already? Moving a bit fast, don't you think?"
No response came from behind the door. The sound of the Skype ringtone started up again from the next room.
"I'm not going to answer it, Haru," she told him, leaning against the door and crossing her arms. "You said before that all the guys from your old team usually get together for these Skype calls, don't they? I don't even know Japanese."
"They know English," he informed her.
"I don't know them," she protested.
"They know you."
"I don't—wait, what?" She stopped short. "You…told them about me?"
"Yes," he answered shortly.
She fought hard to mask how pleased she was by this. "Still though," she said, trying to keep the smile out of her voice, "They're calling for you, not me."
"Yes," he agreed, "But they also want to meet you."
Her smile grew. "So get out of the tub and introduce me to them."
"In a minute."
"That's what you said half an hour ago."
"I wasn't done half an hour ago."
"Just get out of the bathtub already!" she exclaimed. How was it that her boyfriend took longer to bathe than she did? It had only taken her fifteen minutes in the shower, earlier, to wash the lake scum out of her hair. And she had a lot more hair than he did.
As to why there had been lake scum in her hair in the first place…
Three hours earlier:
Haruka and Christine looked, for all the world, like any other young couple in the park. They were lounging in the grass together, a picnic blanket spread under them. Between them lay the remnants of a shared lunch. A dozen meters away, other park goers sat lazily beside their fishing poles, which were cast into the large lake in front of them.
Haruka was currently eyeing the lake with much interest, as well as a small amount of apprehension. His girlfriend suddenly spoke up from beside him.
"You're thinking that that water is sorely lacking the benefits of chlorine," Christine guessed. "And wondering what the likelihood of growing a third arm will be if you jump in."
Haruka was impressed. She was the second person, after Makoto, to be able to voice his exact thoughts. And the first female.
But, as usual, he didn't verbalize this thought.
Christine looked apologetic. "I didn't think it would be this murky. If I had known, I would've chosen another spot for lunch."
Haruka wasn't oblivious to how she always catered to him in the date locations that she chose. After they had exhausted practically every area of the beach during their first month of dating, she started suggesting a variety of local water parks to visit. After that, she found a local hiking trail that featured a waterfall. And a few weeks ago, for his birthday, she had treated him to dinner at a poolside restaurant.
In terms of potential life partners, Haruka felt like he had hit the jackpot.
He reached out and fingered a strand of her hair. "It's okay," he told her. "Someone I know once taught me something called forgiveness."
She smirked at that. "Who, Jesus?"
He gave a light snort as he continued to twirl her hair through his fingers. She smiled genuinely at him then as an idea suddenly lit up her eyes. Reaching up, she caught his hand with her own.
"Hey," she said excitedly, "Let's rent a rowboat from the dock. That way you can be in the water without, you know, being in the water."
Haruka didn't know how he'd gotten so lucky as to be dating a genius.
As the two stood and started making their way to the dock, neither they nor the bystanders of the lake were expecting what happened next.
Skype rang again for a third time, bringing Christine's thoughts back to the present. The sound of a muffled splash from inside the bathroom told her that Haruka had gone underwater again. She sighed and leaned her head against the door.
"Has it occurred to you," she asked softly, not totally expecting him to hear her, "That I might feel nervous, and want to have you there with me?"
Another splash. "Yes," came Haruka's voice, making her jump. How did he do that? "But," he continued, "I have faith in you."
She stood there, torn between feeling deeply touched or somewhat annoyed. "But—" she began.
"O you of little faith," he cut her off, a faint smirk evident in his voice, "Why did you doubt?" His tone softened. "They will love you. As much as I do. Well, hopefully not that much."
She laughed a little. It was rare that Haruka ever said the three words, "I love you," together in order; instead he frequently took a roundabout route to express the same sentiment. Christine found it awfully romantic.
In the next room, the Skype call continued to ring.
"Go on," he prompted her. "Answer it."
"Alright, fine," she relented, turning away. "But hurry up."
Rushing back to the laptop before the ringing could stop, she hurriedly clicked the 'answer call' button. In her haste she didn't notice that the caller ID had changed to read: Group Call.
Two black boxes popped up onscreen, as the video feed attempted to transmit an image from halfway across the world.
She peered into the webcam. "Hi. I mean—uh, erm—moshi moshi…?"
The face of a youthful looking blond boy appeared onscreen in one of the boxes. In the other box, a red-haired young man wearing a bored expression gazed at her. He raised an eyebrow at her greeting, while the blonde's eyes widened.
"Ohhh!" exclaimed the blonde excitedly, before spewing a string of words in a language that Christine didn't understand. All she managed to catch was 'Haru-chan' and what sounded like a horrendous Engrish interpretation of the word 'girlfriend.'
"Neh neh, Rei-chan, Mako-chan," the blonde called over his shoulder, before continuing on in a slew of Japanese as he pointed to her on his screen, gesturing excitedly as he spoke. Two other young men appeared beside him, looking at her with curiosity. Meanwhile, the redhead in the other call watched disinterestedly, his chin in one hand.
"W-wait a second," she stuttered, holding up her hands as if to defend herself. "I'm sorry—I mean, gomen, but…"
"Nagisa, you nitwit," said the redhead in perfect English. "She doesn't speak Japanese."
The blonde, Nagisa, shut up for a moment, surprised. A kind-looking brunette boy gently shouldered him out of the way so that he could address her.
"Please forgive him," he said in lightly accented English, smiling all the while. "He just got overexcited. You must be Christine?"
"Yes. Hello." She gave a little wave. "Haru asked me to take this call for him. He's currently in the bathtub but should be out soon."
"Baka," the red-haired man muttered under his breath. "Some things never change."
"Haru-chan is always Haru-chan," the brunette laughed.
A bespectacled boy in the back spoke up, looking puzzled. "But what is he doing in there at this hour? Isn't it almost dinner time over there?"
"Yes, well," Christine pondered over how to tell the story. "We were at the lake, you see…"
Christine sat in one end of the boat with her legs crossed, amusedly observing her boyfriend's struggle over the oars.
"Not sure how to paddle through the water when it's not with your own arms, are you?" she noted lightly.
Haruka gritted his teeth as he rowed. He had assumed that anything in the water would be easy for him. He had been wrong.
"I'm just teasing," she assured him with a smile. "This is fine. At least we're moving, which is more than I could boast if I were at the oars."
Haruka silently thanked God for giving him such an easygoing girlfriend. No doubt someone like Jane Harper would have made a snarky comment about how—
"It's too bad we can't just use your freestyle kick to power the boat like a motor," she added with a big grin, unable to help herself.
Okay. So maybe his girlfriend wasn't above making the occasional snarky comment.
She laughed at the glare that he sent her way. Rising up, she carefully made her way to his side and sat down next to him.
"Sorry, it was begging to be said," she chuckled, before placing a hand on his arm. "Take a break. We're out far enough."
With some relief, he put down the oars. The boat drifted to a stop, only a dozen meters away from shore.
The two sat in comfortable silence together, looking out across the lake and admiring the view. Haruka noticed, with some envy, that there were small fish swimming near the surface of the water. He scrutinized them. They didn't look mutated. How bad could the water be?
Christine smiled affectionately at him. Leaning her head on his shoulder, she murmured, "I wish we could walk on water."
He gazed down at her. "Why?"
"No need for a boat," she answered, then stifled a yawn. The hot afternoon sun had brought on a hint of drowsiness. "No need to get drenched in lake muck. But still as close to the water as one can get."
He decided to humor her. "Weren't you the one who introduced me to that verse, 'If you have faith even as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you'?"
"Ah, but that's a double edged sword," she replied, letting her eyes close as she lay against him. "For if you have doubt even as small as a mustard seed, you could sink as Peter did."
Haruka was once again reminded of that time, long ago, when his best friend had almost drowned in the ocean despite his superb swimming skills.
"So it's a matter of trust, then?" he said.
"Mm-hmm," she murmured sleepily against his shoulder.
"Are you saying that you don't trust?" he asked then.
She gave a light snort, not bothering to open her eyes. "I'm afraid I have not yet overpowered the part of my brain which insists that, if I step onto water, I will most likely sink." She yawned again, then quipped, "Maybe one day, when I'm older."
Haruka gazed longingly at the water. A sudden impulse overtook him, and he stood up. The boat rocked at his abrupt movement, and Christine nearly fell over at the absence of his shoulder from under her cheek. She looked up at him with wide eyes, now fully awake.
"What are you doing?" she asked him, confused. No doubt she realized that if he was going to jump into the water, he would have already stripped down and done so by now. But instead, he was facing her. He extended a hand towards her.
"Stand with me," he said.
Still looking puzzled, she obeyed, taking his hand and letting him pull her up to standing. No sooner was she on her feet than he immediately swept her off of them again, hooking his arms under her and picking her up. The boat rocked even more dangerously and Christine, in surprise and alarm, threw her arms around his neck to hold on tight. From the shore, several fishermen eyed them curiously.
Christine blinked at Haruka from where she was being held, bridal style, in his arms.
"Haru…" she began, before asking again, "What are you doing?"
"Let's do it," he suggested.
"Walk on water."
She stared at him. "You can't be serious."
He gave her his signature serious expression. "I always am."
"O you of little faith," he began to quote in a monotone voice, "Why did you dou—"
"You have got to stop using that to get me to do things," she cut him off.
He stopped then, and gave her one of his rare, small smiles. "Don't you trust me?" he asked, blue eyes boring holes into hers.
He could see right away, in her eyes, that she had caught onto the subtext of his statement. She glanced at the murky water for a moment, then heaved a heavy sigh. Turning back to him, she gave him a bright yet tender smile.
"Yes, you fish," she told him. "I trust you."
And with that, he stepped over the edge of the boat…with her in his arms.
Christine didn't tell Haruka's friends all of that. But she gave them the basic gist; which was that the afternoon had started off with them on a date, and ended with him picking her up and jumping into a lake.
"Ah," said the bespectacled boy, when she had finished. "That would explain why your hair is wet."
"It would also explain why it took him this long to get a girlfriend," muttered the redhead.
"Where are our manners?" The brown-haired boy said suddenly. "We should introduce ourselves. I'm—"
"Ah! Gomen, gomen, Christine-chan!" the blonde interrupted frantically. "When you answered in Japanese, I assumed…but how silly of me, Haru-chan has told us before that you are American! Oh, we have wanted to meet you for a long time now! I'm—"
"Nagisa Hazuki, yes?" She smiled at him.
Nagisa beamed. "Haru-chan has told you about us?" he asked.
"Yes, that and I specifically remember you calling him four times in a row on his birthday, when I was taking him out to dinner."
Nagisa looked abashed, while the bespectacled boy gently harrumphed at him.
"I told Nagisa-kun that Haruka-senpai was sure to be spending time with his girlfriend on his birthday," said the boy haughtily as he adjusted his glasses, "And that a text would be more appropriate, but he didn't listen. My calculations are always correct, but seldom heeded."
Christine laughed. "All is forgiven. I thought it was quite sweet that you all wished him a happy birthday. Now, let me see if I can remember your names…" She glanced over at a framed photograph on the desk, before turning back to each of them in turn. "You must be Makoto, the backstroker. Nagisa is the breaststroker. You're Rei the butterfly-er. And that leaves Rin, the…ah, erm," she floundered for a moment before finishing lamely, "…Australian?"
Rin smirked widely at this, revealing a sharp set of teeth. "Studying abroad here does not make me Australian."
She gave an embarrassed laugh. "Of course. Haru says that you specialize in two strokes. It's no wonder that they'd want you at their school. Anyway…it's a pleasure to meet you. All of you. Hajimemashite. "
"Please, call me Mako," said Makoto, beaming at her.
Behind him, Rei executed a very formal bow. "Very pleased to meet you, miss," he announced. Onscreen, Rin rolled his eyes while Makoto hid a smile behind his hand. Nagisa balled up a wad of paper from his desk and threw it at Rei's head.
"Stop being so formal!" he ordered. "She's American, they don't like that." To her, he said, "Yolo, bro!" and flashed the peace sign with a wink.
Christine tried her best to keep a straight face. "Yolo, Nagisa-chan," she said with feigned solemnity. She didn't have the heart to tell him that that was not a standard American greeting.
Instead, she asked, "Are the three of you roommates?"
"Rei-chan and I are!" Nagisa answered. "Mako-chan is visiting from his dorm. We attend the same university."
"I see," she said.
"Neh, Christine-chan," he went on, "Is Haru-chan giving you Japanese lessons? How do you know some phrases?"
Christine looked sheepish. "Er, no. I've been watching anime."
"Ehh?" Nagisa's eyebrows shot up. "You watch anime?"
"My boyfriend's from Japan, of course I watch anime," she joked.
"Oh?" Rin spoke up, a wicked gleam in his eye. "Haru is dating an otaku?"
"A what?" said Christine blankly.
"Rin, don't tease her," Makoto berated. To Christine, he said, "He is referring to a term generally used to describe a fan of anime or manga."
"Oh." She laughed. "I've only started watching recently. It think it's too early to call me a—what is it? Otaku?"
"Hai!" Nagisa agreed cheerfully. "In America they are called 'crazy fangirls', right Mako-chan?"
"Nagisa," Makoto warned.
"I've always said that all of us should have been in an anime," Nagisa went on. "We would've had many fans! And Haru-chan made the perfect tsundere—"
At that precise moment, Haruka entered the room, a towel over his head. He glanced at the screen upon hearing his name.
"Are they talking about me?" he asked Christine, pulling up a seat beside her.
"Yes," she answered honestly. "Nagisa just called you a tsunami, or something."
Rin burst out laughing.
"Haaaru-chan!" Nagisa greeted excitedly, just as Rei uttered a respectful "Haruka-senpai!" in salute.
Makoto smiled at his old friend. "Good to see you, Haru," he said warmly. Haruka, in turn, gave them all a brisk nod of acknowledgment.
"Cold as a fish, as usual," was Rin's greeting.
The boys onscreen laughed at the pun while Haruka glowered at them all. "We Skyped just last week," he stated. "Rei sends emails regularly. Makoto makes calls like he's my mother. Nagisa tags me in a Facebook post almost every other day. And you," he turned to Rin. "I see your idea of keeping in touch with a friend is to text your new time whenever you swim a personal best?"
Rin gave a sharp-toothed smirk. "And I see your idea of romancing a woman is to throw her into a body of water."
Haruka's cheeks colored very, very slightly. Christine noted this unusual display with great curiosity.
"I did not throw her in," he said with a scowl. "We went in together."
Christine coughed. "Yes, it was very much consensual." Her boyfriend gave her a sharp look.
Rei spoke up. "It is only logical that Haruka-senpai would be with someone who has a high tolerance for water exposure. Are you a swimmer as well, Miss Christine?"
"No," she shook her head. "But I used to work as a lifeguard, back in high school."
Rei's brow furrowed. "The probability of Haruka-senpai becoming close with someone outside of the swim team is very low. Tell us, how did you two meet? He will not give us any details."
"Oh?" She cocked an eyebrow at her boyfriend. "Why is that?"
Haruka shrugged. "Too much effort."
Makoto smiled knowingly. "He wanted us to meet you for ourselves."
"And now we have!" Nagisa interjected impatiently, "So tell us the story already! How did you two start dating?"
"Actually we were friends for quite a while first," Christine began, before Nagisa cut her off.
"But how did you meet?"
"Technically we met in class," she explained. "But we never spoke to each other. Our first real meeting was at the pool."
Rin rolled his eyes. "Of course it was."
"Naturally he would be there," Makoto agreed. "But what were you doing there?"
"Well," said Christine, a twinkle in her eye, "I saved him from drowning."
There was a long beat of bewildered silence.
Finally, Rin slowly turned to Haruka. "Your girlfriend's a liar."
Haruka, who had been glaring at Christine after her little jest, now turned his glare on Rin. "She's just exaggerating," he told them. "Christine was passing by the pool and mistakenly thought I had drowned, when in fact I had just learned how to sink."
"Learned how to sink?" Rei echoed in confusion.
"Yes." Haruka turned to Rei with a blank expression. "It appears not all of us are blessed with your natural talent."
Rei reddened and spluttered something in Japanese.
"Wait a second," Rin cut in, "You're saying that you were just laying there at the bottom of the pool?"
"And then she came along, thought you had drowned, and jumped in to pull you out?"
"Yep," Christine spoke up. "That's exactly what happened."
Rin threw his head back and roared with laughter. "That's exactly what not to do to get him to like you," he guffawed. "What happened to you Haru? You used to want to kill anyone who so much as asked you to leave the pool after practice. And now she comes along and practically drags you out of the water?"
Haruka looked towards Christine and caught her eye, giving her the faintest hint of a smile. "I suppose that's forgivable," he said. "Given the circumstances."
She beamed at him. "What's forgivable?" she asked, echoing her words from months ago.
"Pulling me out of the water. Since…I might have kept sinking otherwise."
The boys watched this exchange between the couple in confusion. Rin clicked his tongue. "After all these years, Haru, I still have no idea what you're talking about half the time," he sighed. Turning to Christine, he jerked a thumb towards Haruka. "Just how do you put up with this guy?" he joked.
Haruka's expression quickly reverted back to one of impassivity as he turned away from Christine and back to the screen. "She is very patient," he explained tonelessly.
The other boy grinned. "That much is clear. What other woman lets a guy toss her into a lake?"
"Well," said Christine, her thoughts traveling back to the events of that afternoon, "I wouldn't say 'toss,' exactly…"
The couple dropped off the edge of the boat and into the water like a sinking stone.
Haruka kept a firm grip on Christine and they soon resurfaced, gasping for air. Fortunately, because they were not far from shore, his feet had found bottom. He now stood upright, with the water reaching to just over his shoulders and with Christine still in his arms. From land, a group of bystanders had stopped to gawk at them.
Christine lifted a curtain of wet hair out of her face. "Did that turn out the way you hoped and dreamed it would?" she asked dryly.
"Yes." He looked down at her. "I got a pretty girl to jump into a lake with me, didn't I?"
She stared at him for a minute, and then started laughing. "Oh? Were you planning from the start for things to work out this way?"
"No," he admitted, "But as I recall, 'All things work together for good to them that love God,' yes?" He gave a small smirk. "Our doubt might have made us sink, but in the end I still got to be in the water with you."
"You're crazy," she told him, beaming.
Months of spending time with her had emboldened Haruka to make the occasional cheesy remark, which he opted to do now.
"About you," he responded without missing a beat.
She smiled. Reaching up, she brought his head down to meet her lips with his own.
From the shore, other park goers shook their heads at the young couple in the water.
Kids these days were nuts.
"You two make a great match," Makoto was saying. "I'm just happy that Haru's found a nice girl."
Haruka rolled his eyes. "You are like my mother."
"Speaking of which," piped up Nagisa, "When are you going to bring her to visit Japan, Haru-chan?"
"Winter break," Haruka answered easily.
Christine nearly fell out of her chair. "Wait, what?!"
He turned to her, not looking the least bit fazed. "If you want to. Do you?"
"I—I—" she stuttered, passing rapidly from surprised, to pleased, to panicked. "Well it's a month long, so I suppose I could spend half of it with my family and the other half with your—your…" Suddenly overwhelmed, she put a hand over her eyes and groaned. "I don't know if I can handle meeting your parents when the only Japanese words I know how to say are 'hello,' 'sorry,' and 'crazy fangirl.'"
He raised an eyebrow at her. "How do you know how to say that?"
"Don't worry, Miss Christine," Rei spoke up. "We'd be happy to practice with you."
"We sure would be!" said Nagisa, a gleam in his eyes. "Let's start with the basics, Christine-chan. Aishiteru!"
Haruka glared at him.
"Oi, Nagisa-kun," Rei scolded. "You shouldn't say that to Haruka-senpai's girlfriend."
"Ah, gomen, gomen, Haru-chan," Nagisa apologized gleefully, not sounding the least bit sorry. "I suppose you want to be the one teaching her that one, right?"
"Aishite-what?" said Christine blankly.
"Mahh, Haru," Makoto chided, sharing a grin with Nagisa. "You haven't said it to her yet?"
Rin rolled his eyes. "You two are like embarrassing parents," he said to Nagisa and Makoto.
Christine turned to Haruka. "What on earth are they talking about?"
He sighed. "Let's just humor the idiots." Turning to her, he slowly pronounced the phrase for her. "Aishiteru."
"Aww!" Nagisa cried exaggeratedly, while Rin said, "Somebody record this so we can sell it."
"Urusai," Haruka snapped at them. To Christine, he asked, "Do you need to hear it again?"
"Yes please," she said, a smile tugging at her lips. She was starting to get a vague idea of what the phrase might mean.
"Aishiteru," he said again.
"Aishiteru," she repeated back to him, slowly. "Was that right?"
"Yes," he replied, then added matter-of-factly, "It means 'I love you.'"
"I see," she said. "Good to know."
Haruka turned back to Nagisa. "Happy?"
"No." Nagisa pouted with disappointment. "Haru-chan is not romantic at all."
"This isn't a shoujo manga," said Haruka flatly.
"And Haru wouldn't know 'romantic' if it came up to him and punched him in the face," Rin added dryly.
Christine and Makoto both started to say something, probably in Haruka's defense, but Haruka beat them to it.
"You would know," he shot back at Rin, "Since you were the one always yammering on about 'romantic' things back when we were kids."
Rin grimaced. "Urusai baka," he growled. "Don't bring up stupid stuff from the past."
"Speaking of stupid stuff from the past," said Nagisa cheerfully, "Did you know that Haru-chan's first love was a waterfall, Christine-chan?"
Christine had not known. But for some reason this information didn't seem as strange to her as it probably should have.
"Nagisa-kun!" Rei looked aghast. "Haruka-senpai told us that information in confidence!"
Haruka's eyebrow was twitching with irritation. "Don't just go telling her things like that," he gritted out.
Nagisa waggled his eyebrows. "Why, because you didn't want the two of them to find out about each other?"
Christine smirked. "Who, me and Niagara Falls?"
Haruka sighed heavily. "No. It wasn't Niagara Falls."
She grinned at him. "Oh? Then whoever it was, she must've been real special."
"It seems so unexpected though," interrupted Rei, who sounded thoughtful. "That Haruka-senpai's affections would switch from a waterfall to a woman."
"That is true," Makoto said, before addressing Haruka. "After all, you were always more interested in swimming than…well, having a girlfriend."
"Hai, hai!" Nagisa agreed. "So tell us, Haru-chan…what changed?"
Haruka was silent for a moment. At last, he said, "Christine…is like a water pitcher. She overflows with living water, and is constantly pouring out to others. That is better than any waterfall on earth."
Christine tried to refrain from grinning like an idiot, and failed miserably.
The boys just stared at him.
Rin turned to the others. "See? Does anyone know what he's talking about when he starts talking like that?"
"Haru," said Makoto slowly. "Did you just call your girlfriend a water pitcher?"
"Is that an American term of endearment?" Nagisa wondered.
"There's no way that's an endearment in any language," Rei answered him, brow creased. "I guess Haruka-senpai just isn't very romantic after all…"
"No," said Christine, still smiling brightly enough to rival the sun. "It is romantic. Very romantic. Because…because…the water is alive."
Rin facepalmed. "Great, they're both crazy."
Nagisa chuckled good-naturedly. "Well, Ama-sensei would probably say that 'love makes fools of us all!'"
Makoto suddenly smiled at the couple. "I think I understand," he said slowly.
"I don't," Rei muttered. "I have never seen anything so illogical. I can only be thankful that something as irrational as love is not distracting me from my studies. Ah! No offense to Haruka-senpai and Miss Christine!" he amended hurriedly.
Makoto chuckled. "But you have to admit, Rei," he said to his friend, "That although what Haru and Christine have seems quite illogical, it is also quite…beautiful, no?"
Rei's eyes lit up at that word. "Yes," he acquiesced. "I cannot deny beauty when I see it."
"Ugh," said Rin with a hint of disgust. "Alright. As much as I'd love to keep on waxing poetic about Haru's relationship, I've got places to be." He straightened up, preparing to go. "Christine, it was nice to meet you. I'm sure we'll talk again. Everyone else, Skype again next week?"
"Hai!" chorused the three other boys onscreen.
Haruka nodded at Rin. "Later. And stop texting me your personal bests."
Rin gave his signature shark-like grin. "Never." He signed off.
"We should let you two go as well," said Makoto. "Since it's almost dinnertime where you are."
"Alright," agreed Haruka. "Goodbye."
"Bye!" said Christine. "It was great meeting you all."
"Likewise!" Nagisa bounced in his seat whilst giving them a wave. "Bye-bye, Haru-chan and Christine-chan!"
Rei gave another little bow. "I look forward to speaking with the both of you again."
Makoto also gave them a wave. "See you next time!"
The call ended.
"So…" Christine swiveled in her seat to face Haruka. "Japan, eh?"
His face didn't betray his thoughts. "If you like."
She smiled. "Then come meet my family too."
His eyes widened a fraction. "You mean…in New York?"
"Upstate New York, to be precise," she corrected. "But not just for them, although they'd love to meet you. There's someone else I'd like you to meet."
He cocked an eyebrow. "Who?"
She grinned widely. "Niagara Falls."
Haruka looked stunned.
"My hometown is thirty minutes away from it," she explained excitedly. "I want to take you to see it."
"I—you—" Haruka composed himself. "You'd let me go near Niagara Falls?"
"What, should I be afraid that you'll run off with her?" She laughed. "You know that I trust you." Leaning over, she gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "And I think you also know that if you were stupid enough to jump in, I'd be stupid enough to jump in and try to save you. Since that seems to be my thing."
"Well we can't have that," he answered, catching her by the hands before she could move away again. "I'm not losing you to a waterfall."
"Strange," she said. "That should be my line."
He leaned closer. "I'll come to New York," he said quietly. "But not because I want to see Niagara Falls."
"Oh?" Her lips quirked. "Then why?"
"Because…" He pressed his lips to her temple in a chaste kiss. "Aishiteru."
She smiled tenderly at him. "Back atcha."
"Alright, we'll work on your Japanese."
She smacked him lightly on the arm, before laughing. "I know you'll be busy your senior year," she said, running her fingers through his hair affectionately. "You don't have to teach me. I could just buy Rosetta Stone."
"You've taught me many things since I've known you," he told her. "Like, for example, 'Give, and it shall be given unto you.' So let me give back by teaching you something, this time."
She smiled. "Alright. Though I should warn you, I'm pretty terrible at picking up new languages."
Haruka shrugged. "I'm pretty terrible at paying attention to anything for more than a minute."
"Yes, I recall," she noted dryly.
"Didn't seem to stop you, though," he observed.
She smirked. "Well, you know. 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.' Including tutor someone with the attention span of a marmot that misplaced its Adderall."
"And including learning Japanese?" he prompted.
"Hai," she conceded.
"And…coming to Japan with me?"
She nodded. "If you're willing to meet my family, it's only fair that I meet yours."
Something about that statement seemed to finally register with Haruka. He cleared his throat. "By the way," he began tentatively, "Are your parents…will they be…okay with me?
She lifted an eyebrow. "'Okay'?" she repeated.
"Well," he said, feeling awkward, "I recall you mentioning 'Bible-thumping parents' a while back."
She suddenly started laughing. "You mean, will they pour a bucket of holy water over you the minute you walk in the door, yell 'Amen! The Lord rebuke thee!' and then bash you over the head with a crucifix?"
"Well, the water part would be okay…" he muttered.
Christine noticed his uncomfortable expression. She softened.
"Haru," she said gently. "Do you know why I love you?"
He lifted his eyes to hers, in a wordless invitation to continue.
"I've been surrounded by a lot of people my whole life who were a lot of talk and no action," she said. "People would talk my ear off about what it meant to 'live biblically.' Yet the only biblical things coming out of them were the verses that they kept repeating. You, however," she grinned at him, "Don't do a lot of talking. Yet your life has reflected a biblical nature that others have lacked."
Haruka guiltily thought back to the time he wanted to murder his roommate. "I think you're giving me too much credit," he said. "And besides, that only started happening after I met you."
"No," she disagreed. "It's always been in you. When you let your relay get disqualified at regionals. When you let yourself get disqualified in an individual event the year after that."
"How was any of that biblical?" he asked, baffled.
Christine answered, "I can't tell you the number of times people would quote to me, 'Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,' and then they'd turn right around and almost kill themselves trying to get the next big raise, or new car, or new house. Just because that's what they were expected to do. The world expected you to get a medal, pressured you to win a trophy. But you never fell into what the world wanted out of you."
Christine picked up the framed photograph on his desk. It was of Haruka and the four other boys they had just Skyped with, but there was no medal or trophy held between any of them. In fact, they were dressed in street clothes and weren't even at the pool. It was a simple picture of friends who were just smiling into the camera.
"You always strove to attain something of far greater value," she finished.
"You wouldn't have been more impressed if I went to the Olympics?" he half-joked.
She chuckled. "There's a part in Paul's letters that we never got to. He talks about Olympic athletes, how they center their whole lives around training just so they can win that laurel wreath they used to give out back then. I don't remember the exact words, but basically he says that if they're competing so hard just to receive a 'perishable crown', than how much more important is it to strive for an 'imperishable crown'?"
"And what is an 'imperishable crown?'" Haruka questioned.
"Something that lasts long after a medal or trophy has become tarnished." She handed him the photograph with a smile. "Long after prize money loses its value. Long after a world title is passed on."
Haruka looked down at the smiling faces of his friends in the picture. A beat passed.
"So…" he began. "What does this have to do with your parents?"
She sighed at how effectively he had just ended the moment. "My parents have also been surrounded by people who talk a lot about being biblical and don't actually live it. I think they'll appreciate someone who's the other way around, for once." She smiled brightly at him then. "They'll love you. Almost as much as I do."
He gazed at her for a long moment, trying to think of the proper words to respond with. He felt like he should produce some sort of grand speech in return, after everything she had just said. Something romantic. Something poetic. Something to show how much he truly did return that sentiment. But Haruka was not the sort of man who made long speeches, and Christine knew that. It had even become somewhat of a running gag between them, for him to find the most creative or roundabout ways to avoid saying "I love you" and yet still mean it. He was running out of ideas, however.
"I don't know what to say," he said honestly.
Christine just smiled. "You don't have to say anything. Didn't we just establish that?"
"Ah, right," he said. How could he have forgotten? "Actions speak louder than words."
Closing the gap between them, he brought his lips to hers in a holy kiss.
(For real this time.)
A/N: Thank you to readers both old and new! If you enjoyed this story, feel free to check out the sequel oneshot as well as the AU! Love, The Author.