Summary: AU. The first day of summer training started without Toma. In which they form a rowing club, and Nino meets Ohno.
Word Count: 13,000+
Disclaimer: All not mine. Not even the photographs!
Notes: Many thanks to forochel for looking through this monster of a fic, and to ailura for regaling me with tales of Arashi's awesome long before I had even heard of them. This was inspired by Arashi's adventures in 2005 as the Mago Mago Boat Club. Further notes, photo credits, and a mini-glossary can be found here.
The first day of summer training started without Toma.
“We’re going to Okinawa,” he told Nino over the phone, “In... about fifteen minutes.”
“What, forever?” asked Nino, startled.
“Of course not,” said Toma. “It’s just for the holidays - didn’t you get my mail?”
“What mail - that?” Nino threw his hand up in the air, suddenly remembering. “I thought you were joking.”
“I’m curious to know,” said Toma, “Exactly which part of ‘my mother decided we were going to Okinawa; I’m so sorry’ sounded remotely like a joke.”
“There’s the fact that you sent it, and also prefaced it with half a dozen apologetic emojis,” said Nino defensively, “And I thought we agreed we’d be rowing this summer.”
“...I’m sorry,” said Toma.
“You don’t say,” replied Nino, with more bite than he had intended.
“I’m really sorry,” said Toma again, sounding so apologetic that Nino couldn’t bring himself to guilt him further.
“Ah, you have fun, then,” he told Toma. “Really. And I’ll see you in school.”
Jun seemed the most upset, probably because he hardly ever saw Toma except in summer. Aiba was the one to point out that they were now one rower short.
“Ji-chan can row with us, right?” he asked Nino’s grandfather, who was gazing at their training plan on the whiteboard with a worried look on his face.
“Does it matter?” said Nino, grabbing his cap and a towel and making for the door. “We’re not even a real boating team anyway.”
He had been thirteen the first time he’d been on a boat. It had been a failure; he hadn’t been able to move without overbalancing, and he had hated it right up until his fifth attempt. Something had clicked, then, in that strong, clean surge backwards, his wrists snapping perfectly as he guided himself across the water.
The others had joined later; Toma because Nino knew him at school and their mothers had conspired together to keep them occupied during the summer holidays, and Aiba because... well, he was Aiba, as exuberant then as he was now, the odd, slightly gangling boy who’d waved his arms wildly by the bank and shouted, “That looks like fun!” as Toma and Nino rowed by. With Aiba had come Jun, who seemed to regard this as a tamer alternative to some of Aiba’s other hare-brained schemes.
That summer (Nino’s fourteenth), it had been the four of them and his grandfather, who coached high school rowers and didn’t mind spending a little time during the holidays with Kazu and his friends.
There were only a couple of teams out practising when Nino got into his single scull, determined to while away the morning before Sho arrived. He let himself drift for a bit, not wanting to tire early, but the moment he started trying some good strokes he heard someone calling him from the riverside. It was Sho, wheeling his bicycle along with another boy Nino didn’t recognise.
“Looks like someone couldn’t wait to get on the water,” said Sho, as Nino guided himself over to the bank. On closer inspection, the reason why they weren’t actually riding the bicycle was because it was piled with numerous bulky items - Sho’s oversized bag, for one, and something in a black vinyl cover that looked like it had legs.
Sho was a few years older and would have been on the Keio rowing team if he hadn’t also been in the debating society, the spring festival council and Current Affairs Watch, among other meaningful activities. He had joined them two years ago, and liked to tape his lecture notes to the front of the ergometer when he trained (obviously he fancied himself as having the superhuman ability to read while hurtling back and forth), but he was just barely cool enough for it not to seem completely neurotic.
“Toma’s not coming,” said Nino flatly, not offering his oar even though Sho was getting ready to pull him in. “His family’s going on holiday. In Okinawa.”
Sho looked dismayed. “But we’ll be one member short.”
“Astute,” said Nino, gripping both oars with one hand so he could scratch his right ankle. Sho rolled his eyes.
“Okinawa’s nice,” said Sho’s friend. Nino glanced at him curiously. He was an unassuming sort of person, Nino decided, almost a head shorter than Sho, with a rather unfortunate tan and a queer way of smiling, a half-grin that made the corners of his eyes crinkle sleepily.
“This is Ohno Satoshi; he just got back from Kyoto,” said Sho, remembering his manners, “Our families are backdoor neighbours. Satoshi-kun, this is Ninomiya Kazunari.”
Nino gave a little wave. “Nino.”
“Hello, Nino,” said Ohno, smiling again. It was oddly charming.
“We won’t be able to compete this summer, then,” said Sho, returning to the subject.
“I don’t want to compete,” said Nino.
“You never want to compete,” Sho pointed out.
“Competitions are for those guys-” here Nino pointed out the university teams speeding by in perfect synchrony- “With their lycra rowing suits in neon colours and their custom designed oars, not for a few friends who only train in summer and sometimes run off to Okinawa.”
“That’s just Toma.”
“Point taken, but still.”
Sho looked somewhat dissatisfied, but he knew better than to pursue the matter. “Well, I’m going to go say hello to Ji-chan, so I’ll see you at the boathouse,” he told Nino, “Don’t strain yourself.”
Nino smirked, and adjusted his cap. “I’d say the same to you.”
“Bye, Nino,” said Ohno, as he and Sho turned away, wheeling the bicycle between them. Nino watched them for a moment longer than necessary, before pushing off from the bank again.
It turned out that Ohno was an art student at a university in Kyoto, and Sho had invited him along on his first day back for the summer because he’d thought that a change in scenery would be helpful. While Ohno set out to find a good spot for painting, the rest of them got the boat out and carried it carefully to the water.
“It’s good to be back,” said Aiba, settling into his seat behind Sho, who was testing his grip on his oars with a look of great satisfaction. Jun, in the meantime, was fitting a faintly ridiculous-looking beanie on his head with a dignified air.
Nino coxed, ostensibly because of his weak hand, but it was still slightly unfair because, after all, he’d been rowing years before any of the others.
(“Let them make up lost time, then,” his grandfather had said, the first and only time Nino had brought it up.)
He did like gripping the rudder strings and steering as they cut through the water, though, liked watching the other four pull on the oars in time with his calls. Aiba was the strongest, as his grandfather had pointed out early on, while Jun tried the hardest, and Sho, who had some experience with boating and regattas, normally boasted excellent form. Toma had been a competent bowman, alert to everyone else’s rhythms, and now his absence this summer was made conspicuous by the slight drag that occurred every fourth or fifth stroke, when one of them plunged their oars into the water just a split second early or late.
“Ah, this isn’t working,” snapped Jun, the fourth time his oars clacked together with Sho’s. He let go of them with a frustrated grunt. “Running off to Okinawa, of all places.”
“We’ll stop for a break,” said Nino’s grandfather calmly. “Take us back, Kazu.”
“All members, let’s go,” Nino called, “Row easy. Slowly... catch!”
As they made their way back towards the berth they caught sight of Ohno, who had set up his easel on a grassy patch near the bank, and looked up from his canvas just in time to notice them. He waved distractedly, and gave them something that looked vaguely like a thumbs-up.
“He looks like he has a lot of time on his hands,” muttered Jun as they passed him.
“Kind of,” said Sho, “He’s mentioned going fishing a couple of times, too.”
Nino’s grandfather was sitting up like he was having the beginnings of an idea, “Would your friend, by any chance...”
Nino glanced over at Ohno, who was now examining his paints with a rather comical intensity. He didn’t seem like he would be any good, but maybe, just maybe...
“OH-CHAN!” Aiba bellowed, making the rest of them jump, “DO YOU WANT TO ROW WITH US?”
When Nino got home he found his sister in his room, wearing a facial mask and flipping through his manga collection.
“I’m home,” he said pointedly, standing over her.
“You smell really bad,” she replied, crinkling her nose.
“If you make faces like that the mask will set that way,” he told her, dumping his bag unceremoniously on the bed.
She made a dismissive sound, but he caught her attempting to relax her face. “How was it today?”
“Wonderful, apart from the fact that Toma’s in Okinawa,” said Nino.
“What, you didn’t know?”
Nino paused in the middle of untangling two damp towels. “Was I supposed to?”
“I mean, he only tried to call you about fifty times,” said his sister, “And when he came by on Sunday you were sleeping off the effects of sixty hours with The Legend of Zelda or whatever so I told him to send you a mail.”
“Well,” Nino conceded, “I suppose I should have called him back.”
His sister would have rolled her eyes if she hadn’t been so concerned about her mask. “You can be such a jerk sometimes, you know.”
“So you’ve pointed out,” said Nino, “Often and very loudly.”
“Is Ji-chan rowing with you this summer, then?”
“No,” said Nino, flopping down next to her on the floor and picking up volume eleven of Crows. “We found a replacement.”
“One of Sho-kun’s friends,” said Nino, thinking of Ohno, who had struggled so valiantly with the boats today and had volunteered to stay back for extra training with his grandfather. Ohno’s face had gone completely stiff, the first time they had put him in a single scull, and although he hadn’t overbalanced he had drifted all the way to the other side of the bank, while Sho and the others had waved goodbye, practically in stitches.
“Ah,” said his sister suspiciously, and Nino realised he had been grinning at the memory.
“Ah yourself,” Nino told her, snapping the manga shut and scrambling to his feet. “You’d better put those back properly when you’re done,” he warned, “I’m going to take a bath.”
“Do try to remember something called soap this time,” she replied, dodging the t-shirt Nino threw at her.
When his grandfather finally came home he didn’t say much about his practice with Ohno, but instead attacked his dinner with unnatural fervour.
“Ji-chan’s happy today,” said Nino’s mother, watching him shuffle off to take a bath.
“He’s always happy when summer begins,” pointed out his sister.
“Kazu-chan’s happy too, right?” asked his mother.
Nino, who was in front of the television doing battle with flesh-eating zombies, managed his most agreeable grunt.
They trained every other day, sometimes even more. It was evident that Jun and Sho kept coming back because they wanted to improve their techniques and timings, to get stronger; Aiba, on the other hand, appeared to be rowing purely because it was fun. Nino sort of didn’t have a choice; he suspected that his grandfather would probably just bundle him into the pickup anyway, and his mother certainly appreciated having the house empty and her son not engaged in the process of merging with the sofa to form a mutant symbiote.
Ohno was a mystery, with his artist’s limbs and eyes, always distracted by some brief change in light or colour, always a beat off from the rest of them - except when they were rowing. He rowed like he’d been doing it forever, now, fit in with the rest of them maybe even better than Toma, and what the team lacked in strength they seemed to make up for in rhythm. As coxswain Nino couldn’t have been happier, and from the tone of his grandfather’s instructions as he cycled along the bank, Nino could tell he felt the same.
More than that, Nino liked Ohno, liked the line of Ohno’s shoulders under their charcoal grey team t-shirt (a waste of money, Nino had proclaimed, but his mother had sponsored them to foster a sense of identity), the way Ohno sprawled on the grass after an afternoon of rowing and made groaning noises as he tried to rest his sore arms. And then there was that particular Ohno-smile (Nino had begun collecting these, after the first time they’d met), the one he gave at the end of the day when the others were already halfway out the door and he would glance up from putting on his sandals and say to Nino, “Good work today,” sincere and grateful.
After training Nino would sometimes give the others massages, but Ohno preferred to stretch on his own, contorting his body on the floor or against a sofa and giving loud exhalations of pleasure as his joints made ominous popping noises. He did this completely unselfconsciously, however, like it was perfectly normal for someone to look like he was attempting to dislocate both shoulders and twist his back simultaneously.
“I was in a theatre company, in Kyoto,” he told them, by way of explanation, while sort of dangling off a chair with one leg high in the air. “And someone taught me this.”
“So you’re an actor?” asked Jun, clearly fascinated.
“I was supposed to paint scenery,” said Ohno, “For just a weekend, but while I was there they asked me to play the tree, so I did.”
“And then you joined them permanently,” said Sho, looking doubtful.
Ohno flopped off the sofa and began to arrange himself in another position. “I went for rehearsals between classes. I was the tree for two weeks, I think, and then the magic stone and the village chieftian left, so I played those. But mostly I painted. They paid me for that anyway.”
“What sort of theatre company was this, exactly?” asked Nino.
Ohno was now balancing upside-down between the sofa and the wall in a way that had to hurt, and the flex of his limbs and the way his back was arched just so was making Nino’s throat go uncomfortably dry.
“Are you done, Nino?”
Nino tore his eyes away from Ohno’s exposed stomach to turn his attention to Aiba, who was fidgeting under Nino’s unmoving hands.
“Yeah, I’m done.” He gave Aiba’s shoulders one last knead for good measure.
“It was mainly experimental theatre,” Ohno was saying as he relaxed from his position, “But they liked my backdrops.”
“Next,” called Nino, and made a pointed effort not to look in Ohno’s direction as Sho shuffled over and flopped down onto the mat.
“Kazu-chan can be a moody child,” his mother would say, and it always made him mad even though it was true. Nino had moments where his breaths seemed thick in his lungs and his body itched under his skin like there was too much feeling and too little of him to contain it. It made him short-tempered and biting, unable to sleep or sit or keep still, everything too-bright and too-vivid. When he was younger he would go out and play and run and shriek until he was feverish from the excitement and almost crying from his exertions; now it was rowing, rowing or guitar, and at four in the morning guitar was not quite an option.
He went to the rowing centre by himself often enough that his mother had stopped worrying about it; there were always some teams hard at work the moment there was light enough to see, and by the time he got there the sun had just begun to rise, casting a thin grey light over the water and the boats. Their practice officially started at eleven (Sho had a morning of cleaning beaches with the Keio Eco Club), so Nino had hours to spare.
The place was mostly empty except for a university boys team in the midst of transporting an eight, but when Nino approached the boathouse he caught sight of a familiar figure.
“You’re early,” said Ohno, glancing round at him.
“So are you,” said Nino. “Are you planning to row?”
“Ji-chan suggested I practise,” said Ohno, “But mostly I just come here to draw.”
Ohno was standing all calm and warm in the morning chill, his art bag slung carelessly over his shoulder, and Nino, with those sparks snapping along his limbs and guttering in his chest, could hardly bear to keep still, let alone look at him.
“Help me carry my boat, then,” he told Ohno.
They didn’t need a boat trolley for a single scull, and Nino gave commands for them to lift the boat off the rack and manoeuvre it out of the boathouse, carrying it to the launch point on their shoulders.
“I’ll be on the bank,” Ohno told him, when Nino was seated in the scull and nudging himself out into the water. Nino barely heard him in his impatience to start rowing, and soon he was off, settling into the solid rhythm of plunging his oars into the water, firm pull and gentle push as he glided along at a good pace.
The sky was a lot lighter now, and some of the university teams were racing in earnest, far off in the distance. Nino coasted along parallel to the bank, enjoying the way his breath was coming in audible huffs as he rowed. He remembered asking his grandfather once, after an exhausting afternoon years ago, if he ever felt like he could row forever, and watching his grandfather nod seriously and say, “Every single time.” It was hard work and already he could feel the strain on his back and his arms, but right now the water seemed endless, glittering under the morning sun, his to conquer.
He wasn’t sure if he had rowed for half an hour or three when he finally decided to stop, but the sun was fully up and blazing down on him by the time he finished washing the boat and storing it. A pleasant buzz had settled in his muscles that he knew would soon deepen into an ache, but he felt looser somehow, more stable. It was only after he’d finished filling in his details on the log (always, always he forgot to do that) that he remembered to look for Ohno.
Nino found Ohno sitting on a curb near the boathouse, hunched over a large sketchbook. A closer look revealed that he was fast asleep.
“Hey,” he said, prodding Ohno on the shoulder with one of the pencils lying around beside him. “Wake up.”
Ohno awoke with a start, and looked up at Nino sleepily. “What time is it?”
“I was about to ask you,” replied Nino, crouching down to gather up Ohno’s things. “I’m hungry, let’s get something to eat.”
They purchased onigiri and mugi tea from the little shop near the rowing centre, Nino’s treat. They would have gotten more, had Ohno had his way, but he was also one of those people who regularly forgot how much money they actually had - that morning, it was a grand total of two hundred yen - so he ended up having to put the milk and three variations of melon bread back while Nino stood at his shoulder declaring loudly that he didn’t drink milk and that those buns was overpriced.
If not for the two and a half hours of solid rowing (there was a clock at the shop, so he knew for sure), Nino would have been way more jittery than he currently was. A week and a half had been enough to make Nino terribly aware of exactly how much Ohno threw him off-balance, with his collection of smiles and the way he hunched along slowly all the time but moved so quick and beautiful when he rowed, how he spoke concisely about his frankly bizarre escapades like they were completely normal. And hello, he thought to the back of Ohno’s head, I may just be a little bit in love with you.
Being infatuated made Nino sharp; he’d been told before that his rejoinders became too cutting, his body language almost aggressive. Ohno didn’t seem to mind, though, when Nino snapped at him a little, or elbowed him in the side when he leaned in too close. He only sat closer, and laughed at what Nino said, and stole the umeboshi from Nino’s half-eaten onigiri, lightning-quick and unexpected.
“Ha,” said Ohno, after he’d made sure to swallow it. Nino wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to scold.
He settled for a somewhat resentful, “That was my favourite part.”
“You can have my tuna, if you like,” Ohno offered, placatingly.
“I spit on your tuna,” said Nino with a sniff, but Ohno just reached over to ruffle his hair before collapsing on the grass with a contented sigh.
“I wonder,” he said, “If this counts as breakfast or lunch.”
“Both,” replied Nino, worrying for his wallet. “If you want anything else you’ll have to wait for the others to turn up.”
“Cruel,” murmured Ohno, before falling silent.
Nino glanced round at him, only to see that his eyes were closed. He poked him in the stomach a few times. “Wake up, I’m bored.”
“Aren’t you tired?” Ohno asked, sitting up with a groan. “You were rowing for forever.”
“I like it,” said Nino, shrugging.
“The only other time I’ve seen you row was first day we met,” said Ohno.
Nino grinned. “And admit it - I looked pretty cool that day, didn’t I?”
“You did,” agreed Ohno readily. “You do, most of the time.”
“That was meant to be a joke,” said Nino, only slightly mortified.
Ohno was smiling, and it wasn’t the cheeky grin that he got when he wasn’t serious about something. “Why don’t you, actually?” he asked. “Row with us, I mean.”
“I can’t,” said Nino, taking a bite of his onigiri. He held up his left hand. “When I was fourteen I got a complex fracture here, so I don’t have much grip strength.”
“You looked all right when you were rowing, though,” said Ohno, startling Nino by taking his hand and rubbing a calloused thumb over Nino’s knuckles. “And your hands are really tiny.”
Nino rolled his eyes. “Yes, I know,” he said, but he didn’t withdraw his hand. “They’re like hamburgers. Sho tells me all the time.”
Ohno laughed at that, but his eyes were serious when he asked, “So you have to take care not to strain it?”
Nino nodded. “It goes numb sometimes, and I can’t really use it. I’m all right rowing by myself, but I probably won’t be able to manage in a quad scull.”
“And that’s why you started coxing?”
“Well, officially it’s because I have a natural talent for it,” said Nino dryly, “But if you put it that way...”
“Ah, I’m sorry,” said Ohno, looking genuinely apologetic.
“Don’t be,” said Nino, pulling his hand away to reach for the bottle of tea, taking a large swig. “It doesn’t bother me very much.”
Ohno didn’t reply, just nodded like he understood. They finished their meal in silence, and Nino kicked off his slippers and pulled off his socks so he could wriggle his toes in the grass.
“So what did you sketch today?” he asked, leaning backwards with his arms behind his head.
The sun was bright in his eyes but he was kind of comfortable on the ground, lying there listening to the sounds of people rowing nearby and Ohno’s quiet explanation on how he was currently fascinated by the lines of a racing boat. He shut his eyes for a moment and when he next opened them Jun was standing over him, looking amused.
“Only you,” said Jun, “Can fall right asleep on the grass in broad daylight.”
Nino opened his mouth to argue that Ohno had done exactly the same, but realised that he was now nowhere to be seen.
“Don’t just lie there gaping, come and help with the boat,” Jun continued, nudging him gently with one foot. “And keep your socks on at least, next time.”
“Do shut up,” said Nino raggedly, ignoring the soreness in his muscles as he sat up, which caused the shirt that was draped over him to fall to his lap. He picked it up; it wasn’t his. “Didn’t you all plan to warm-up on the ergs first?”
“You slept through that, too,” said Jun, picking up Nino’s bag. “Come on, we’re starting now.”
“I know, I know,” said Nino, scrambling to his feet.
Later he wore the strange shirt (threadbare and worn, with the faded words “NANCY” across the front) under his lifejacket while they were rowing, and thought he saw Ohno glance at it and grin.
“He sounds nice,” said Toma, when Nino told him about Ohno. “I’m glad you found a fourth rower.” It wasn’t in Toma’s nature to get insecure; he had always been the type to stumble upon other things, and in Okinawa it seemed to have been surfing.
“You don’t have to feel obliged to call me at the same time every week, you know,” said Nino, interrupting Toma’s spiel on how Shun was now trying to teach him to do a cutback. (Shun was this amazing surfer Toma had met on the first day - he was only a year older than them and had a part-time job at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium. In the photograph Toma had sent Nino, Shun also had a mohawk and no eyebrows, which was slightly worrying.) “It’s not as if I miss you or anything.”
“Of course not,” said Toma matter-of-factly, “But on Monday mornings the rowing centre is closed.”
“You might find this hard to believe but in summer I actually do do other things besides row,” said Nino.
“Ah, is that so?”
“Yes,” said Nino.
“Because Biohazard 5 and Dragon Quest IX: Defenders of the Starry Sky do not count as legitimate past-times,” Toma informed him, “And neither does Monster Hunter G.”
“Three, now,” said Nino, “I got Monster Hunter 3.”
“Oh,” said Toma, and Nino smirked to hear him sound markedly more excited. “Is it any good?”
In the third week of summer Nino’s grandfather had a training camp with one of his high school teams, leaving the five of them on their own for four days. Nino, being the cox, was technically supposed to be in charge, but Sho had been responsible for most of the training menu (having gone through three years of the real thing in high school), which explained why they spent a significant amount of time doing heavy tens on the ergometers instead of actually rowing.
And then there was the jogging, which saw Nino trailing behind the other four at half-past six in the morning, shouting, “You know, I see no point in running!” only to have Aiba (who was a significant distance ahead) call back something about gaining a sense of achievement.
“We can get that on the water,” muttered Nino, but ran faster to catch up anyway.
When they carried their boat to the launch point there were a bunch of university rowers gathered on the opposite bank; Nichidai, if their pink rowing uniforms were anything to go by. Instead of ignoring the five of them, however, the rowers started to point and wave.
“They’ve never done that before,” said Sho, wary, while Aiba waved back anyway.
As the Nichidai rowers’ calls became more distinct, Ohno said suddenly, “Ah, it’s them!”
“Who’s them?” asked Jun.
Ohno grinned and waved. “I had lunch with them the other day; their dorm’s just over there.”
“OHNO-KUN!” one of them shouted, “THANKS FOR THE TSUYU!”
“LUNCH WAS DELICIOUS!” Ohno called back, to enthusiastic cheers. He turned back to the others, who, Nino noted, looked as confused as he felt.
“The first years don’t get any konbu tsuyu at mealtimes and they smuggle in their own, but they ran out, so I got them some,” said Ohno.
“That clarifies things,” said Nino dryly.
Ohno shrugged. “They like to pour it over their rice.”
“...so you met them and then decided to hang out?” asked Sho, just as one of the rowers shouted for Ohno to bring his friends over for a visit later.
“Well,” said Ohno, “It was more like they decided.”
Only Ohno Satoshi could single-handedly befriend the entire Nichidai rowing club in a day with only two bottles of tsuyu. Granted, it wasn’t extremely difficult - they were very friendly and tended to spontaneously burst into rowing cheers, as Nino and the others soon discovered when they visited their dorms (which also housed a rather unique odour that made Nino very glad he wasn’t a university rower) - but it was still a feat, since it wasn’t as if they stuck around to chat with random strangers in between their monstrous training regime.
“He turned up every morning to draw,” said one boy, who’d introduced himself as Yamada, “And then suddenly he stopped coming, so the next time we saw him we asked him where he went.”
“I’m working on something at home,” said Ohno, halfway through demolishing a huge bowl of rice and raw eggs.
“Eat up,” said another boy next to Jun, indicating his barely-touched bowl. “You’ll need it for when you’re training.”
“I have problems with raw eggs,” said Jun delicately, eyeing the way the yolk glistened slickly over the rice.
“Wait, you’re Kazunari-kun, right?” said Yamada, peering at Nino from across the table. “Your grandfather was my coach in high school.”
“Mine too,” said someone else, who was adding excessive amounts of tsuyu to Aiba’s bowl. “He’s retiring soon, isn’t he?”
“Possibly,” said Nino, who didn’t talk to his grandfather about such things but remembered his mother mentioning it once or twice.
“You guys’ll be his only team, then,” said Yamada, beaming around at them. “Are you entering any competitions this year?”
“We don’t compete,” said Nino, the same time Sho and Jun said, “We might,” which led to another burst of excitement from the rest of the rowers and a second round of battle cheers.
This, of course, could only lead to being challenged to a race, an offer very hard to refuse when thirty-three exuberent young men were bearing down on them.
“We’ve never raced before!” Nino protested, as they placed the boat in the water. He glanced at the rest of the Nichidai team, who were assembling themselves along the edge of the bank, getting ready to cheer on both groups.
“There’s always a first time,” said Sho cheerfully, clambering into his seat.
“Stop standing there and get in,” Jun added, while adjusting the rigging more carefully than normal.
Aiba, who had already made himself comfortable, was craning his head to look at the Nichidai rowers. “I’m so pumped!” he exclaimed, almost overbalancing the boat in his excitement. “This is amazing!”
“This is terrible,” said Nino darkly.
There was a hand on his shoulder, and when he turned to look it was Ohno, holding Nino’s lifejacket. “It’ll be fun,” he said simply, and all Nino could think was, please do not make that face; that slight upturn at the corner of Ohno’s lips and the way his eyes seemed like they were laughing did odd things to Nino’s mental faculties.
“You lot had better row hard,” he said after a long pause, grabbing the lifejacket and putting it on before getting into his seat at the stern.
They lost by a significant margin, and even then Nino suspected that the Nichidai team had hardly been going at full strength, but instead of feeling disappointed, the others seemed even more eager to keep training. Aiba suggested coming in earlier, and Sho volunteered to ditch two hours of beach cleanup the next day.
“But it’s beach cleanup,” said Nino mockingly, enjoying the embarrassment on Sho’s face.
“It felt like we were really fast,” said Jun, still exhilarated from the race. “Faster than we usually are, anyway. That was incredible.”
“We’ll need to work on our start dash, though,” said Aiba, “And at the end, our last spurt.”
If not for Sho having to rush off for a debates meeting and Aiba needing to help with the restaurant, they would have spent a lot longer discussing their training. As it was, it was almost dark by the time Nino finished locking up the meeting room and made his way down to the bicycle stand with Jun and Ohno.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” said Jun, mounting his bike and departing with the speed of someone who was already late for dinner.
“Ji-chan will be glad, won’t he?” murmured Ohno.
“I suppose,” said Nino. He had his doubts about actually entering a competition, but their enthusiasm was admittedly rather infectious. “How did you get here, by the way?” he asked, noticing that Ohno had no bicycle.
“My mother gave me a lift this afternoon,” said Ohno. “But my family’s having a Wii Bowling challenge tonight, so I guess I’m walking home.”
“They don’t mind that you’re late?” asked Nino.
“They beat me all the time,” Ohno replied, “So I don’t count as a worthy opponent.”
“That is sad, but somehow fitting,” said Nino, wheeling out his bicycle. “Come on,” he said, as casually as he could manage, “I’ll give you a ride home.”
“We live in opposite directions,” Ohno pointed out.
Smooth, Kazunari, thought Nino with a sinking feeling. When he glanced up at Ohno, however, he found that he was smiling.
“I’ll sit on the back, then,” said Ohno, getting on behind Nino. He seemed to feel uncomfortable gripping the front of the rack, though, and instead chose to slide closer and place his hands on Nino’s shoulders.
“And we’re off,” said Nino, the slight swerve and wobble at the beginning partly because Ohno’s breath on the back of his neck was inifinitely distracting.
Ohno’s house was directly behind Sho’s, but the street he lived on looked entirely different. While the houses on Sho’s street had always struck Nino as being rather proper, with their well-painted gates and neatly-tended shrubbery, Ohno’s street was a narrow one as sleepy as the next, but with a distinct air of disorder; a few of the houses boasted patched-together additions that jutted out in the dim evening light, and Ohno’s house itself was almost entirely obscured by the man-eating bush that had taken residence on top of their front wall.
“Right here,” said Ohno, hopping off as Nino stopped neatly outside his gate. The street was silent apart from what might have been the faint noise of the Wii championship taking place inside the house.
“I see they’ve really started without you,” said Nino, grinning as he handed Ohno his bag.
“Can’t be helped, I suppose,” said Ohno. “Look, I’d ask you to come in for dinner but I’m not sure if they’ve left any for me, even.”
“Don’t worry, I have mine waiting at home,” said Nino, but trailed off when he noticed that Ohno was staring at him oddly. “What?”
“Ah,” said Ohno, blinking. “The shadows, for a moment...”
“Right,” said Nino after a pause. “I’d best be going, then.”
“Yes,” said Ohno, sounding slightly far away, like some thought had caught him and hadn’t yet drifted on. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He turned around and walked directly into the house, leaving Nino to cycle home with a distinct feeling of bemusement. It was only later, hours later, that he received a mail from an unknown sender: Kazu-chan, I forgot to say thank you for the ride.
The days passed quickly after that; Nino’s grandfather returned from camp to be greeted by the sight of the five of them on the water and practising their start dash far earlier than they had ever scheduled a training, and proceeded to match their enthusiasm with increasingly focused workouts. Nino, for one, was slightly annoyed to discover that his grandfather had been going easy on them for years now, and was only beginning to realise exactly how deranged he could get.
When he mentioned this to his mother, she was not at all surprised.
“He’s always been like that,” she said, cracking an egg over his bowl at dinner. “It’s just that you’ve never noticed.”
“...There is a raw egg on my rice,” said Nino.
“How observant,” said his sister, not looking up from the magazine she was reading.
“I’m glad, though,” said his mother, swatting Nino gently on the shoulder for rolling his eyes, “It means that he’s taking you seriously.”
There were moments, too, though, that made Nino glad that he was spending his summer with this lot, like when an impromptu soccer game ended with Sho literally chasing the ball into the water (stopping in time seemed to be a problem for him), or when they took a break after a morning in the gym and cycled to the nearby bakery to get lunch.
Ohno was particularly excited because of his deep and abiding love for most kinds of bread, but he took delighted to a whole new level when he encountered the refrigerator of fresh milk.
“I haven’t had milk in ages,” he exclaimed later, beaming as he opened the bottle. “Sorry for running out of money.”
“It’s all right,” said Sho, magnanimous now that he had his lunch in front of him.
“Anyway, good work everyone,” said Ohno expansively, raising his bottle for a toast.
“Although we haven’t actually done anything,” Jun pointed out.
Ohno grinned, unembarrassed. “Let’s work hard today, then!”
“Good work,” chimed in the others, and they clinked their bottles - and Nino’s cup of ice-cream - together.
“Ah,” said Aiba contentedly as they ate, “It feels like summer.”
“Yes,” agreed Jun, “There’s the intolerable heat, the flies...”
“You’re such a girl,” said Sho, laughing, “There’s the rowing, of course-”
“Three cheers to rowing!” shouted Aiba.
“And milk,” added Ohno, after a beat.
“You can get milk all year round,” said Aiba, whacking Ohno over the head as though he’d known him for years, rather than a mere two and a half weeks.
Nino smiled into his ice cream and wondered if it was a bad thing that he would always remember this summer as the summer of Ohno Satoshi.