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somewhere, my flower is there

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Seeing Yuki again is like splashing down after a long jump through time and space and sky. Everything had been getting drier and drier on the inside, in his heart, even when he was in the home sea and in the family lagoon. But now Haru was back on Earth with all his friends, and Yuki was smiling at him with wet eyes. Tears, salt water – Haru had learned about tears last time. Human bodies produced tears when they were sad, or happy, or if there were onions.

Yuki had made tears before Haru left, and Haru’s body did the same automatically – like fins flickering down a school’s side, autonomic symbols passing on and on. Salt water from an internal sea, with antibodies and proteins – things that stayed inside coming out. But then they’d smiled and waved goodbye, and it was happiness and sadness all at once.

Humans were so confusing, contradictory and complex and simple, but now Haru could spend his whole life figuring them out.

“Yuki!” he says with his human mouth, flinging his human arms wide and smacking the teacher in the face inadvertently with his fishing pole. “Yuki. I missed you! So! Much!”

Yuki just makes his human mouth wider and wider, like sunlight spreading in the morning, and his hair and his cheeks are red. Haru wants to bite them, remembers nibbling at Yuki’s hair on the train and in the house and on the boat. Yuki had vehemently disallowed it on the train, and tolerated it for short spurts of time on the boat, but only protested once, then twice, then sighed and let Haru tug at his red red hair with his teeth on the couch as much as he liked.

What a weird wonderful mysterious puzzle of a world to live in, where you don’t just speak your whole heart in the water for everyone to hear. Back home, words only mean one thing at a time and everyone knows it at all once. On Earth, in Enoshima, you say different things with air-vibrations instead, and in body positions, and with intonation, and through tiny minute movements of mouth and eye and face muscles, and it all means so much.

Haru likes this, he likes this learning of things. He likes when he gets it wrong, as long as it doesn’t make anyone sad, because that’s learning too, and it makes it better when he gets it right. He likes Yuki’s slow smile and watching him open up like a flower who needs light and sun and song to grow.

“What are you doing here, you weird alien?” Yuki asks, after Haru cheerfully demands possession of the desk behind him. He’s smiling as he asks, so wide his eyes are crescent tail fins, fringed in red. “I thought you left!”

“I came back! Ummm. Um.” He is still learning, obviously, because he has no clue how to communicate that he came back to learn, and that he thinks he came back to learn because of this – Yuki’s bright sunrise hair and eyes and face, for the things he teaches Haru and makes him want to learn, for the buoyant air-filled gas-bladder feeling he puts in Haru’s human belly. It’s too much for words. “Yuki! Yuki, let’s go fishing!”

“Yes!” Yuki says immediately, before the teacher shushes them both and turns to the board to make human marks that mean human things. Haru feels wriggling and full-up with water, even though on the outside he’s a bit dry. He sprays himself in the face and shakes, scattering water drops that make dots on the paper pages around the room and that hang brightly in Yuki’s hair.

“Do we need to save the world again?” Yuki whispers, half of his mouth going up.

“Noooo,” Haru assures him, shaking his head to add more negative to the outloud-word, and it makes him dizzy. He vibrates in his desk with the desire to just take Yuki’s hand and go, run out the door and down the street until they find the sea. But Yuki doesn’t like when Haru tries to leave class before the strange ring-ding-riiiiiing bell goes off. “It’s saved still! This time’s for me! I’m here to learn!”

Urara watches the two of them with wide eyes, nibbling at his own hair. Haru human-smiles at him.

“Like this, Urara!” Urara, long-lost older cousin and new friend, who thought he was alone here on earth for years and years with no one to talk to, all because he hadn’t come out of the water! Haru would show him, prove how much he’d missed. Haru bares his teeth in the widest smile he can, then makes it wider still with his fingers at the corners of his mouth. Urara fishblinks at him, and then makes a small smile of his own.

Haru hears Yuki laugh, which is the best sound in the whole air-filled sky-touched world. “I’m back!” he flings out his arms again and knocks a book over and a window open. “We’re going fishing!”

“After school,” Yuki agrees, and when Haru lunges forward in his desk, helpless against the tidal pull of bright Yukiness, and tugs a lock of hair in his teeth, Yuki doesn’t say no. He just laughs again. Haru has no idea what that means – it’s okay now! Why? Why why why – but he’s glad, so glad, he came back to Yuki to study.

To study Earth, but Earth means Enoshima and Enoshima means Yuki, and that—that means something, Haru knows. Something great.

 

 

Home was a wide, wet world full of people that understood him immediately, that danced and sang and gave back easy simple words, and Haru had still felt like a flower without enough water. His chest hurt even when it wasn’t a human chest anymore.

“You’re not happy,” their mother observed, and then she was sad too. Haru remembered Kate. You have to try. He was done with their mission to fish up Urara, and so he’d had to go home. But…

When Haru told everyone he was going back to Earth to study, there was a lot of fluster and confusion at first. Coco thought he was being a small fry, all shallow thoughts and darting attention, but Haru had thought about it deeply and for a long, long time. You have to try. He’d thought and thought and thought. He’s not a scientist, like Coco and their motherfish. He doesn’t care much about the hows of technology: the zip of one body into another species and across space and time. He knows the basics, obviously, but it’s all physics and fluid and dimensions expanding, and he’s glad it exists, but he doesn’t care how. He cares that it happens.

He can be a human (mostly), and he’d found a shape that fit and he wore it so well and so good and so long it feels like his, now. He’d paid such good attention – humans wear clothing! It covers parts that might get hot or cold or hurt or are good for sex which means they should be covered! – and he is the very best expert there is on humans. For who they are, not what they are.

But he still doesn’t know very much.

“What will you do now?” he’d asked Yuki and Akira and Natsuki, but he hadn’t had an answer for himself – what will I do now?

Coco has her spaceships, and Urara wants to go back to Earth work on biology – he’d wanted to study limbs, he’d remembered dazedly, when he’d finally gotten his fins back again. Their motherfish has physics and their other motherfish has poetry and Haru thinks maybe this—this is what he’s going to do, this is what he’s going to add to their wide wide peopled sea, that only he can provide.

And maybe, if he’s very very good at learning, he can bring Yuki back with him one day, and then he’ll never have that aching real-not-real pain in his chest that band-aids or medical units can’t ease. Orrrrr he could stay on Earth, and Coco and his friends could come and visit! And Haru and Yuki could teach them!

“Oh,” Coco said, and then curled around him tight, fins flickering. “I’ll miss you.”

“Not forever,” Haru promised, excited, because he was going, he was going, he was going back to Earth.

Urara too, because he said he would help, because he remembers biology now.

“I can make the suits for humans,” he’d said, eyes down and wafting purple-blue in embarrassment with each finny stroke. “I can help. I want to learn, too. I want to help, and make up for—well.”

Which is good, because Haru doesn’t have time to worry about air and pressure and gaseous intoxication, or whatever. He’s worried about more important things.

He had to say goodbye for a long time, to all his brothers and sisters and cousins and friends and family, but it felt good. A good goodbye.

 

 

The first thing he wants to learn when he gets back to Earth is what to do and how to say when you feel more.

Haru is friends with all of Enoshima – with the tea shop owners and classmates and the school girls at the playground and the men who take the cans of garbage in the morning and the worshippers at the temple. But he’s friends differently with Kate and Ayumi and Takashi and Sakura and Misaki.

And he’s even different friends still with Akira and Natsuki and Yuki.

And Yuki is the most different friend of all. The most anything of all.

Haru remembers all of Yuki’s words, all of Yuki’s faces – bad and good and the in-between. The ones he still doesn’t understand and the ones that he’s sure he does, because Yuki watered Haru like a flower, like a blossom he wanted to see bloom beautifully while it was still alive, and caught him with a fishing line, and threw him like a lure. And Haru still feels it, around his neck and his throat and his heart, like they’re tied together forever.

At home, underwater, Haru would know, could say everything he feels and wants and hopes and delights in, and it’d be simple simple simple. And he likes that Earth makes it complex, slows it down and teases it out, that it’s so much, but he still wants to find the right words and the way to say them and how to move his body and face when he does. And he hopes, he really really really hopes, that Yuki wants to say them too.

 

 

The bell rings and Haru leaps on Yuki’s back experimentally – previously unacceptable at school, just as hair-nibbling had been, and is radiantly burblingly joyful when Yuki’s arms go around his legs and his head goes back against Haru’s chest.

“How long are you staying?” he asks, and his arms are on Haru’s lower limbs, strong and firm.

“How long do you want me to stay?” Haru answers, and then whips his fishing rod forward. “To the traiiiiiin! Urara, we’re going fishing!”

“Okay,” Urara says quietly, and follows at a sedate pace behind them as Yuki, laughing and taller than he’d been before, runs on ahead with Haru on his back.

Last time on Earth, Haru had learned friendship first in order to learn fishing, and then the friendship was the fishing. He didn’t want to fish without Yuki, and then not without Natsuki, and then not even without DUCK agent and terrifying duck owner Akira, who wasn’t actually very scary at all.

Now Haru knows fishing, and he has friends, and he wants to learn more.

“We’re staying with you!” he tells Yuki, and Yuki beams at him.

“You’d better!” he agrees. “Or else!”

“Or else? Else?” Haru asks, and then shrieks with glee when Yuki dumps him off into a bush, then chases him down the street, both of them laughing as Urara trails them bemusedly, twirling his hair and bowing nervously whenever someone wanders past.

 

 

The first new thing he learns on Earth, besides that seeing Yuki again makes him feel like his heart is swimming, is a bad thing.

“That’s not a good face, Haru,” Yuki teases, and then makes a puffer-face back at Haru before squirting at him with an imaginary water pistol.

“Yukiiiii,” Haru complains, but he’s happy because Yuki’s laughing. He’s not happy because Akira and Natsuki are gone. They left Yuki, and Haru left Yuki, and Yuki has friends now, but not friends like Akira and Natsuki and Haru, and what if Haru hadn’t thought to come back?

“People leave sometimes,” Yuki says, eyes looking up through his own hair at the sky, and he breathes out long and exaggerated – a sigh, which Kate had said sometimes means you’re tired, or means you’re impatient, or means you’re thinking. “I’m okay! I still see them all the time. We Skype. And text. And see—” Yuki holds out his phone, Haru loves phones, and Tapioca is on the screen. “We Snapchat, too.”

“But it’s better to be here. Yuki, it’s better to be here, isn’t it? Should I SnapChat you?”

“No! It is—it can be. Better to be here. I’m glad you’re here.” He’s quiet a moment, then adjusts his line, head down and face shaded by his hat. “I miss them, but it’s okay. People don’t stay forever, but we keep them with us here.” He touches his heart, and Haru mirrors him, humming quietly in understanding. “And sometimes,” he says, looking up and grinning at Haru. “They come back.”

Haru dances a little in place with happiness, humming and bouncing, then remembers: “But I want Akira and Natsuki to come back too.”

“They’ve got stuff to do,” Yuki says, and shrugs his shoulders. Shrugs mean lots of things. What will be, will be, que sera, sera, Kate said. Haru doesn’t understand that at all.

“We could take the ship to see them,” Urara says quietly, and Haru jumps to his feet and reaches up to the sun-shining sky and dances and twirls.

“We can take the ship! Yuki, let’s go see Natsuki and Akira! Yeah! Let’s go!”

Yuki’s eyes are round like when Haru had run circles around the top of the Sky Tower on the very edge of the railing. “Wait, what. Take your spaceship?”

“It’s not just for space. Urara’s smart,” Haru says, bouncing impatiently. Urara stands, patiently. Haru doesn’t know how he does it. “He won’t let you drown. Let’s go!”

“What?” Yuki shrieks, and Haru remembers this, he loves this: taking Yuki by the hand and dragging him off into adventure.

 

 

Haru knows Yuki likes the spaceship really, deep down, on the inside. He hadn’t liked fishing first, either, and had made lots of loud angry noises then too. And later, he loved it.

Yuki just has to get used to new things, like aliens and fishing and faster-than-light travel. That’s a thing Haru’s learned, and he’s happy to wait.

 

 

Akira is waiting for them on the dock of his boat, with his arms crossed over his chest. He looks unimpressed and stern and a little scary, but Haru knows him now and he knows that Akira’s super happy that Haru has just tackled him to the deck.

“We’re going fishing!” he announces, flinging his arms up in the air, to get some of the joy and the energy and delight across. “Did you miss me?”

“GET OFF ME,” Akira bellows. He does something in between a flail and a hug and and a shove, and after Haru is no longer plastered against him, he straightens his jacket and his turban. Haru thinks that means yes.

“Don’t go in the back of the boat,” he warns Yuki, who is standing over them in his new spacesuit, looking green – humans go colors too! – but happy.

“Why?” Yuki asks, taking off his helmet and shaking out his hair. Haru sighs happily. Akira pinches his nose.

“Tapioca is courting,” he says grimly, and Yuki immediately retreats a few steps while Haru tilts his head.

“Courting?” he asks curiously, and both humans make pained faces.

“No,” Akira non-answers firmly. “We are fishing.” He tilts his head at Urara, who sidles backwards nervously. “Hm. Do you have a suit for me?”

“We’re going fishing! We have a suit for you!” Haru agrees cheerfully, and watches with interest as Akira stalks towards Urara and Urara tries to both melt into the background and take measurements with his instruments at the same time. Haru turns to go investigate ‘courting,’ ignoring how Yuki moans and tries to drag him backwards.

He has a moment of glimpsing Tapioca, her neck twined around another duck’s – before Yuki hauls him back.

“That’s private, Haru, come on!” Yuki hisses, and Haru thinks private is important, and courting is important, and that he will remember this to ask about later. But fishing comes first, of course.

Kate – he’ll ask Kate later. Kate always answers his questions, even the ones he doesn’t know to ask yet, and uses good simple straightforward words that make sense.

They get back to the front of the boat and find Akira in a spacesuit and Urara intent on adjusting the internal panels with his hands, humming low frequency tuning hums.

“Is DUCK gonna be okay with you going on a fishing trip with us again?” Yuki asked curiously, and Haru takes the opportunity of his distraction to peek back around the side of a stack of buoys. Tapioca has a flower – a red one! – in her beak, and the other duck is quacking softly as she waves her wings. Private is for bathrooms and for bathtubs and taking clothes off and putting new ones on, and Haru doesn’t see either of those things happening.

“Haru,” Yuki says disapprovingly in Haru’s ear, making him jump.

“Yuki, there’s nothing private here!” he protests, and thinks, this is a new thing to learn! “Is courting private like bathrooms and changing rooms?”

“It can be,” and Akira is doing that pleased smirk on his face that means he thinks he got the biggest fish and doesn’t have to dance or jump in the ocean as punishment.

“Oh my god,” Yuki says, and he has his helmet back on, but he’s got his head in his hands. Haru tries to bend down to get a better look at his face. It’s red and a little bit bad but Haru doesn’t have a squirt gun that can go through glass, and anyway, he’d promised not to. “Haru, Akira needs to know what you’re doing here. To make sure DUCK won’t get upset. Are you and Urara—” He keeps his head down but his voice does something wobbly. “Are you just visiting? Are you leaving soon?”

“Nooooo, I’m here for a long time! I’m making a dictionary! For humans!”

Akira and Yuki blink at him and open their mouths and close them like fish. They don’t make any noises or words. Silence is something that means something too, but what? Right now, Haru doesn’t know, but their faces aren’t mad or bad, just blinky, so it’s probably okay!

“Leeeet’s go!” Haru yells, and hooks his fingers into their hands and drags his friends off while they gurgle and blurb. “Let’s go get Natsuki and catch! some! fish!”

 

 

“A dictionary?” Natsuki says, the little hats of hair over his eyes going up up up until they’re hiding in the rest of his hair. Eyebrows, Haru knows, because Sakura had told him. Brows for the eye. They moved up and down and crooked at angles. Right now, he thinks, Natsuki is using his eyebrows to extra-ask a question.

“You already know the Japanese language,” Akira says. “So what do you need a dictionary for?”

“Mm!” Haru says, and wriggles like happy seaweed. “For eyebrows going up and down! And for why we take care of flowers, and thank you isn’t just for when someone has done something for you! Sorry’s a word, but not just a word! And Yuki thinks about important things when he’s alone!”

“…Haru, I don’t think you mean a dictionary,” Yuki says slowly. “I don’t think I know what you mean.”

“That’s okay! That’s what the dictionary’s for!” Haru beams, and Eno-Shima-Bowl’s his lure back out into the water.

“I have to admit, a human-Haru dictionary does sound pretty useful,” Natsuki says finally, with a Natsuki grin. “I’m glad you’re back, Haru.”

“Me too.”

The four of them are on a dock, and they’re fishing again and one day Haru will make sure that everyone knows how happy it makes him. Urara hangs back and quietly practices making a uni-knot, and watches them. And it’s all good, it’s so good it makes Haru want to sing, so he does for a while. He sings a fish fish FISH song, like Akira. It takes a while, but then Akira joins in, like he’s been shot with a water pistol and can’t help himself. Yuki laughs, and it’s so good.

“Hey! Natsuki! Tell me about courting! And privates!” Haru demands, and is very interested when Natsuki turns red and drops his pole into the water. “Natsuuuki, why?”

“What is he asking me?” Natsuki whisper-yells as he fumbles around in the water for his pole, his face down down down. He’s hiding his face, like a fish in the shade of a rock. Why? “And why?”

“Because I want to know!” Haru answers sensibly, and then chortles because he’s got a fish, and that takes up allllllll his attention, reeling it in, tongue sticking out of his mouth and eyes narrow against the sun. But he can still hear, he’s still listening.

“I guess it’s for his dictionary,” Yuki is saying, and he sounds like he’s shrugging. Que sera sera, Haru thinks and then shrugs because he still doesn’t know, and then thinks OH and nearly drops his fish.

“Well, I’m sure this isn’t going to wind up being horribly awkward at all,” Natsuki mutters, shaking his head, and Yuki is red and laughing. “So what brought, er. Courting up? Are you—courting? Is he?”

“Tapioca’s courting!” Haru tells him. “It’s private.” He hugs his fish to his chest, but he drops it in alarm when Akira tells him it’s a catfish and it flops off back into the water with a disgruntled plop. A secret cat disguised as a fish? He wails from atop Yuki for a while, until they both topple into the water and then Yuki explains that it’s not a cat, it just looks like one because of the whiskers. So that’s alright.

Secret cats. Haru shivers and tucks himself inside Yuki’s lifejacket.

“There’s no cats here, you goof,” Yuki says, and pets Haru’s wet hair like Haru’s the secret cat, which he’s not. He’s not a secret anything. But he likes the petting, so he doesn’t say that. He just burbles quietly for a while and thinks about string, and red flowers, and how words can mean so many things at once, it’s exciting and dizzying all at once. He’s dizzy. He wants something he has no words for.

“So…” Natsuki says. “Tapioca has a boyfriend? That’s… good, right? It’s nice not to be alone.”

“A girlfriend,” Akira corrects grimly. “And I wouldn’t know. Because they're always there.”

Haru’s ears, if they were cat ears, would be pricked and he’d be ready to pounce on this fish. This word. These wordduckfish.

“What’s a girlfriend boyfriend?” Haru asks intently, and everyone looks at each other and then away and not at him. Haru flaps his arms to make them look back. “It’s a friend? A different kind of friend? A more-friend?”

“Uh, actually,” Yuki says, then tilts his head. He does an eyebrow thing. “Yes? Kind of.”

“Are we boyfriend girlfriend? Is it private?” Haru wants to know. He feels weird, like he’s waiting for Urara-before-they-knew-he-was-Urara to appear, but excited, too. “What’s private? Is this private? Is this courting?”

“None of us are girlfriends or boyfriends,” Akira says, rolling his eyes and also his sleeves up to the elbow. “We’re all just friends.”

That doesn’t feel right. Haru touches his chest and listens and thinks, no no nope. More. “Why? Why why why just, why not more—”

“Can’t we just fish?” Akira asks grumpily, and he sounds like a stone fish looks, and when Haru goes to actually look, he looks a little like a stone fish, too. “Or are you just using us for your dictionary project, alien?”

Haru puffs his cheeks out and glares, and Yuki does too.

“Rude,” he snaps. "Don't be a jerk."

“Fine,” Akira says intently, wheeling to look Haru directly in the eyes, and Haru flails back a bit at the scary cat-like look there. Akira is probably not going to kill him—humans say that to Haru sometimes, but no one has meant it!—but he kind of wants to hide behind Yuki anyway. “Haru. Public means anyone can see or hear. Private means the number of people who can see or hear is limited, to either none or a very small and selective number. Private means exclusive.”

Haru blows out his cheeks and thinks about this. “Like being naked?”

“…yes. Can we fish now?” Akira asks.

“Hm!” Haru says, and then decides he’s going to have to ask Kate, because everyone else is useless. And anyway he wants fun and sunshine and fish and not these deeper undercurrents that he’s not ready to understand yet. Soon. Soon! But for now. “Okay! A game! Biggest fish wins! Littlest fish has to be naked in public!”

Haru!” Everyone yells, but eventually Natsuki winds up having to run after Haru down the dock with his hands over his genitals, shrieking, after Haru steals his swim trunks using ‘illegal alien wiles.’

And everyone’s red and loud and laughing in the red setting sunlight, so Haru thinks it’s all okay, in the end.

Haru really needs to talk to Kate.

 

 

“Kate! Kate, I missed you! Did you know I’d be back?”

He hugs Kate again carefully, more carefully than he’d hugged Yuki or Natsuki or Akira, because you hug different people differently. He feels warm and happy when she wraps her arms around him, and tries to let her know in the best bubble-sound-approximation he can manage.

“I thought you might be, one day,” she says, smiling a Kate smile – no one else smiles like Kate does, and that’s another good thing to know. “I’m glad you’re back so soon.”

“Me too!” he says brightly, and feels iridescent and colorful in the inside ceiling lights, even with his human skin. “Kate, what is courting?”

She tilts her head at him, still smiling, but she’s quiet. She’s arranging her thoughts, Haru thinks, like Yuki does, but she doesn’t mind being in public not private while she does it, and she’s faster, too.

“What makes you ask?” she asks back, and it’s a good question that’s hard to answer.

“Hm!” Haru says, and sits back to order his own colored thought-pebbles into something sensible. “I have something I feel that I don’t know how to say. And lots of things I don’t understand. So I’m making a dictionary!”

“And that’s why you came back?”

“And Yuki!” Haru nods, touching his chest. Kate smiles at him.

“Where did you hear the word courting?”

“Akira! Because Tapioca has a girlfriend!”

Kate’s face creases into a smile. “Ah!” she says. “That’s lovely.”

Flowers are lovely, and so is tumbled frosted green sea glass, and so is a duck who is courting a girlfriend. Haru thinks lovely means a lot of things, all of which are good and make Kate happy. But another human, he thinks, might mean a different thing when they say lovely, or think different things are lovely, and that’s what makes talking to humans hard and wonderful all at once.

He tells Kate this and she takes his hands and says, “You’re doing a lovely job on your dictionary, Haru.”

“Thank yoooou!” Haru beams back at her. “Can you explain boyfriends and girlfriends?” He puts his chin in his hands and hers and waits hopefully.

“When there’s a person that makes your heart—” she breathes in and makes a flower-face, a face that reminds him of water and sunshine and blossoms opening. “—and you make their heart do that too, then you’re in love. And that’s what those words are about.”

“Ohhh,” Haru says, eyes wide.

“But it’s a complicated vocabulary,” she says, and stands up, taking her hands gently back from his. “You should be careful to understand it before you try to use it with someone. I’ll make us some tea.”

Kate reminds him about how to pour for her, then she pours for him. They drink the tea, which tastes like leaves and green flowers and is sweeter than miso. And then Kate asks him about relationships among Haru’s kind, which takes a looooong while to untangle, like crossed fishing lines in a snarl.

Urara could probably give a better answer, but he’s sleeping in the ship. Haru knows the human words for some relationships, though. Brother-sister is easy, and so is mother-child. Father was a little confusing at first, because Haru’s kind don’t know their fathers. They keep track of who spawned where when, of course, but the families are all mothers-sons-daughters. And grandmothers! But then it turns out fathers are just like mothers, only all-the-way male.

Kate listened while Haru rambled, and nodded, and made little noises to show she heard or was surprised or that she’d had a thought she didn’t want to say yet.

“Haru,” she said. “I think humans are different in a lot of ways from your kind.”

And then she began talking about human relationships – often in pairs! – which could be romantic and sexual, or romantic and non-sexual, or non-romantic and non-sexual. And sometimes made families – small families! All of Enoshima is not a real biological family, but is lots of tiny ones, which makes a big metaphorical family!

And that’s just some humans. Different humans in different places like different things, and it’s all very confusing.

Confusing and fascinating. “You make babies how?” he asks, eyes big.

Then Yuki, who had just entered the room, yawning and wearing pajamas, falls over a chair and starts yelling a lot.

 

 

“What! Yuki, are you mad? Yuki, can you breathe?” Because Yuki had dragged him out of the room and now they’re standing outside in the night air of the garden, and Yuki’s covering his face in his shirt.

“Did I just walk in on my grandmother giving you The Talk?” hidden Yuki says in a really high frequency level voice. “Really?”

Haru is pretty sure Kate had been talking, but The sounds pretty specific, so he swims sideways at an answer. “Maaaaaybe? Is that bad? Yuki, is that bad?”

“Oh my goddddd,” Yuki moans, but he’s laughing, too. He peeks over the collar of his t-shirt and does smiling-eyes at Haru, and even in the moonlight his skin is red, red, red. “It’s weird, it’s not—bad. It’s really weird. You can’t talk to my grandmother about, about sex!”

“Okay,” Haru agrees cheerfully, and bobbles on one foot. “Who do I talk to? I have questions! And Kate gives good answers. But so do you!”

“What kind of dictionary is this,” Yuki yells, and shoves at Haru a little, but it’s not mean. “I’m calling Natsuki, I don’t care what time it is there.”

Natsuki answers on speaker-phone, which means his voice is loud and crackly, but as soon as Haru asks if he can talk to him about sex, the phone make a loud splash, and then a burbling noise, and then a fizz, and then nothing.

“…I think he dropped the phone. In the lake,” Yuki concludes, after attempting to call back several times.

Akira is not much more helpful.

“How did you get from asking about boyfriends and girlfriends to sex so quickly? Haru, what are you doing?”

“I! don’t! know!” Haru says, starting to get exasperated and annoyed. “That’s why I’m asking.”

“Sex involves manipulation of genitals,” Akira says crisply, and Yuki makes a noise like a seagull, and then covers his ears, then uncovers one. “Various techniques can be employed. Generally the ideal is mutual orgasm for all parties. Sex can be casual, for pure pleasure, or it can be serious, in the context of a committed relationship. Are you happy now.”

“No,” Yuki whispers from inside of his shirt.

Haru hums thoughtfully. “So boyfriends and girlfriends can do sex together? Is Tapioca having sex with her girlfriend? Have you had sex? It’s pleasurable, is it like fishing? What about babies?”

“I am hanging up now and drinking to forget,” Akira says flatly, and hangs up.

Haru turns to Yuki, who now has his arms in his shirt as well as his head and is shuffling back towards the door blindly. “Yukiiii,” Haru complains. He pouts, and clings, and finally Yuki’s head re-emerges.

“I missed you,” Yuki says, “so much, I really did. But I can’t decide if I actually forgot how much you drive me crazy, or if you’ve just gotten way better at it.”

“I was distracted last time! By Urara,” Haru says cheerfully, and then rubs his hair against Yuki’s hair. “Hi, Yuki, hi. Have you had sex?”

Yuki sighs for a long, long time. “No. No, I haven’t. And for the record, you can’t just go asking anyone that, okay!”

“Okay!” Haru agrees. “Why not?”

“Because it’s private.”

Haru blows out his cheeks, annoyed. “How am I supposed to learn, then?” This stymies Yuki for a moment, and he just gapes at Haru, cheeks flushed and shirt stretched out with how many times he’s ducked his whole body inside it to hide like a turtle. “How do humans learn?”

“Haru, I haven’t had a boyfriend or a girlfriend. I don't know anything about dating, or sex, or romance. Or even kissing! I can't help you! I’d never even had a friend until I met you, remember?”

"We'll learn together!" Haru says, and Yuki groans and lets his head fall forward onto Haru's shoulder. When he laughs out against Haru’s neck, and it’s warm, and Haru squirms happily.

“Oh boy,” Yuki says dryly.

“What’s kissing, Yuki?”

“Oh boy. Ugh. Um. It’s something couples do. Boyfriends and girlfriends,” Yuki says tiredly. “I’m kind of old to never have done it. It’s embarrassing. Don’t your kind have kissing?”

“Nooo-oooo,” Haru hums. “We have dancing. We don’t have couples.”

They stare at each other for a moment, and then Yuki rubs his face with both his hands, and flings himself down in the dew-damp grass. He’s looking up at Haru, or at the stars, until Haru lays down too.

“It’s not just for couples,” Yuki says suddenly. “Sorry. Humans are confusing, aren’t we?”

“Yes!” Haru says, emphatically, with a finger jabbing upwards. “So confusing. But I like it. I like you! I thought about you all the time, when I was home!”

Yuki’s quiet a long moment.

“Kissing can be… for anyone you, you care about. To show it without words. You press your mouth to someone else, against them. Closed, your closed mouth. Kate kisses my forehead sometimes. Natsuki kisses Sakura’s cheek, to say goodbye or goodnight.”

“Hm,” Haru says, and then leans over and smashes his closed mouth against Yuki’s chin. It doesn’t seem to add much of anything to the conversation, though Yuki splutters a little. But Yuki’s skin is soft, and it does feel nice. Haru hadn’t realized lips were so good at feelings things, just as good as fingertips. “I care about you!” he says against Yuki’s chin, and feels the words vibrate out.

“That’s enough!” Yuki says. “Um. Thank you. I care about you, too.”

“No kiss?”

Yuki grumbles but leans over and presses a kiss to Haru’s temple, a brief brush of warm lips before he pulls back and lays with his arms crossed over his chest, glaring up at the sky. Haru feels flushed and misty from his toes to the tips of his hair.

“Thank you!”

After that, Yuki says he’s going to bed, and he has a thinking face on. That seems like a good idea. Haru will try being quiet and alone and thinking, too.

“Okay!” Haru says to himself, and goes to fill himself a basin to sit in while he thinks. He pulls it into the garden, and sits in the midst of Kate’s flowers under the stars, and thinks and thinks.

He doesn’t hurt as much in his chest, and he’s not sad, but he still feels Yuki around his heart and throat like fishing line. It’s not a bad feeling. He taps his throat and hums and feels it inside, vibrating. Maybe. Maybe it’s a boyfriend/girlfriend feeling. Kate had called it ‘in love.’ And Haru knows love, his kind have love, too. But it’s straightforward when you talk with water. Out of water… he loves Coco and his family and his friends. And he loves whitebait! And fishing! And all of Enoshima!

But those are all different kinds of love, and Haru doesn’t know ‘in’ love at all. Words. Words words words.

He thinks – he’s almost positive – he’s ‘in love’ with Yuki. He has that feeling in his chest all the time—heart jumping jumping jumping—but he doesn’t know what it means. What he should do or act or be, or even if Yuki feels it back. He knows Yuki cares, but—

Kate had said to be careful.

“Hmmm,” Haru says, and slides down into the tub to blow bubbles and keeps thinking. “Hmmmmmmmmm.”

 

 

“Today I’m going to learn about romance!” Haru declares the next morning, over breakfast. “And kissing!” He’d liked kissing.

“Oh?” Kate says mildly.

“Where? How?” Yuki asks with a worried voice.

Urara has joined them, and he’s learning about breakfast. He seems to like it, but he keeps making Kate small bows and apologizing for no reason. Haru tries to explain that sorry’s just a word, but maybe that’s something Urara has to learn on his own.

“I’m going to visit my friends and ask them!” Haru spreads his arms expansively. He hadn’t gotten to see very many people in Enoshima yet – just his classmates, and the train conductor, and Kate, and of course Natsuki and Akira and Yuki. But there are lots of other people to see! “Urara! Yuki! Do you want to come?”

Urara looks alarmed, then thoughtful, then alarmed again. Then he smiles and nods.

“I have to work,” Yuki says, looking at Haru with a familiar suspicious narrow-eyed face. “Haru, you know you can’t just go around randomly kissing people, right? Right?”

“At the Hemmingway?” Haru asks, and bounces to his feet to take the empty plates to the sink and he doesn’t break any. Yuki dries next to him, grumbling Yuki grumbles that aren’t important but are so good to hear again. “Yeah! Let’s go there first! I want to see Ayumi-chan and Misaki-saaaan!”

“What have I done to deserve this?” Yuki asks the ceiling, but he’s not making a bad face, he’s just happy-grumbling, so Haru makes a raspberry face at him and starts tugging him towards the door. Urara follows unobtrusively.

“Have fun, my boys,” Kate says at the door, and Haru bounds back over to kiss her – carefully! – on the cheek. “Thank you, Haru!”

“I care about you!” Haru says. “And I’ll be careful!” Careful. Caring. Full of care, up to the brim like a bowl of soup or a tub of water or his heart. “I promise!”

 

 

At the Hemmingway, Haru bursts in and yodels a greeting that has the whole building turning around and exclaiming greetings and beaming smiles. Yuki pretends he doesn’t know Haru and scuttles away from them like a crab to get his apron and his broom, while Haru leaps onto Ayumi and gets spun around and around off the ground. Ayumi-chan gives such! Good hugs! And then Misaki-san dances with him and says Haino haino!

The dancing makes Urara a little upset – he slithers backwards into a stand of fishing poles and then clutches at them, looking nervous. Yuki smiles and goes over to help put them back, talking in low friendly words, and Urara starts to smile too. Haru’s heart jumps like it’s on Yuki’s fishing line again.

“Yuki is the best,” he tells Ayumi and Misaki, beaming and bouncing from foot to foot. “I missed him!”

“He missed you!” Misaki says.

“Yuki’s pretty great,” Ayumi agrees. “We’re lucky he took over after Natsuki left, eh, most honored wife?”

“Wiiiiife?” Haru asks, and both of them beam. Misaki displays a shining thing on her finger that makes Haru lean in close and wiggle so that his fins catch the light back, except he has no fins on land, so he just wiggles. Ayumi looks at Misaki like he’s been hit with a fish and seen a rose for the first time all at once.

“You’re a couple!” Haru realizes. “A romance couple? Can you teach me romance?”

“Don’t bother them, Haru!” Yuki hollers from over where he’s showing Urara the different reels.

“Okay, noooo problem!” Haru yells back, and then looks back at Ayumi and Misaki. “I’m here to learn! I want to know about courting and couples and in love and boyfriend girlfriend! I won’t ask about sex! What is a wife?”

Ayumi at first puffed up like a seabird drying its feathers, and then he made a noise like one choking to death. Then he pounds on his chest and coughs a bit, before striking a Captain pose. “You have come to the right place to learn, Haru! For I am the Prince of Romance. Behold my lovely wife and marvel at my romantic skill in catching her!”

What, Haru thinks, and puffs his cheeks a little in aggravation. That wasn’t an answer!

“Don’t listen to him,” Misaki says, crinkling her eyes up in a smile, shaking her head. “Haru, a wife is when a girlfriend becomes someone’s girlfriend forever. And a husband is when a boyfriend becomes someone’s boyfriend forever. Ayumi is my husband, and I am his wife.”

“Forever,” Haru says, and lets that word settle in his belly. “Forever. Why? Why? What does it mean?”

“Because I love her and she makes every day worth living,” Ayumi says, with moon-eyes. “It means I’ll do anything she asks me to.”

“You always did that,” Haru says, huffing.

Ayumi looks around and then puts up a hand to the side of his head like it’s hiding him, then makes a grim face. “Yes, but it’s scarier now,” he says, hushed, and Haru watches Misaki punch Ayumi in the arm and Ayumi whine and cower a little, and then they kiss. Or they share air because one of them is drowning. Hm.

“Is that a romance kiss? Or Sea Pee Are?” Haru asks, inspecting from up close – their mouths are closed, but they’re kissing mouth-to-mouth. Then Yuki’s jerking him back by the collar.

“Sorry,” Yuki grits out from between his teeth, and he’s sooooo red. “Haru. I told you not to bother them!”

“It’s fine, Yuki. Romance has to be confusing to an alien, huh?” Misaki says, and she’s pink-cheeked and smiling and wincing all at once.

“Our kind doesn’t have couples or romance! Or kissing!”

Urara eels over and murmurs something about semelparity versus iteroparity. He sounds pretty excited, for Urara, even if he’s not looking anyone in the eye which Haru triiiiies to tell him is so! Important! For human communication!

“Bioooology,” Haru explains, rolling his own eyes like Yuki does sometimes. Haru knows biology is important, but he likes fishing and words better. “We have different biology than humans. But I am human now! Mostly! And I want to learn about romance!”

Mostly?” Yuki asks, sounding strangled.

“Well, what you should know,” Ayumi says, rubbing his arm and looking injured and bedraggled. “Is that it’s hard.” Now Misaki’s rolling her eyes, and Ayumi shakes a little.

Some people expect everything to be easy,” Misaki says, and tosses a towel over her shoulder and flares her nostrils. Haru instinctively retreats a step. “You can’t be discouraged if you have a fight, or misunderstand each other or decide to pitch a sulk because you’re the one who decided to paint the whale my favorite color when you’d rather have kept it blue when no one ever asked you to change it anyway.”

Haru blubbers a little, bloops of dismay that escape him like sad bubbles. Whales? Were whales part of romance? Then he remembers – the whale! In front of the shop – it’d changed color to pink! Haru had thought it was just what whales did when seasons changed, but apparently Ayumi had changed it himself, with paint. For some reason. For – romance?

Misaki is glaring at Ayumi with his hands on her hips and Ayumi looks like a cat is coming at him.

“You look pretty today?” Ayumi says, and leans in with his mouth, but Misaki shoves him back and Haru is very quiet and thinks very hard.

“You always do that! Ugh, paint the whale blue again! I don’t care!” She stomps off and starts viciously arranging fishhooks.

“Ahhhh,” Ayumi says, and he’s red in a bad way, looking down to the side and trying to get smaller. “She’s probably right.” He sighs hugely. “Romance,” he says to Haru suddenly, looking intent and very Captainly. “—is the easy part, Haru. It’s afterwards that is hard. There’s your lesson.”

“I thought kisses were to show you care,” Haru tries tentatively.

“Hm? Oh. I guess that’s one things kisses can do. But it’s not always what they do do.” He sighs. “A relationship is hard work. Like fishing.” Ayumi does a thumbs up but he still looks a little sad, like he’s looking at a fish that is getting away because he wasn’t patient enough and reeled in too fast. “Like fishing, but better. It’s worth everything, Haru. It’s just not easy.” He sighs again.

Hard, but better than fishing. Wow. Wow wow wow. Okay.

“Hey!” Haru turns and calls across the store. “Misaki-saaaan! Ayumi thinks you’re better than fishing.”

“Okay, that’s enough, out out out,” Yuki says, but he’s smiling a tiny smile. “You’ve caused enough trouble. And you learned some stuff, right?”

“I want to try kissing,” Haru decides as they get pushed gently out into the sunshine. “On the mouth.”

“Don’t let him kiss anyone on the mouth,” Yuki says immediately to Urara.

“Not right now,” Haru dismisses, obviously. “I need to know more about kissing and romance first. I’m being careful!”

“Oh,” Yuki says. “Well. Okay. I’ll – see you after work? We can visit Akira and Natsuki again and go fishing.” He smiles and Haru smiles back, and then twirls and twirls because he has to or he’ll explode into fizzy soda, because that’s what feels like is in his body right now.

“Yes please!” Haru says, and Urara bows at Yuki, and Haru tackle-hugs Yuki and kisses his chin again – not on the mouth! - and then they go to find out more about humans and romance and words and kissing.

 

 

Haru sees and hears a lot about of kisses. Two girls on a playground tell him in very hush-hush important lowered voices that you have to confess your love and promise to be girlfriend-boyfriend before you kiss, or the person kissing you doesn’t want anything except sex and that means they don’t care-care about you.

Which is confusing. What if you mean to say you want to be boyfriend-girlfriend-dating-in-love-forever but you say it wrong? How do you say it right?

And apparently people can steal kisses, first kisses, and you can never get them back. Haru walks around for a while with his hands over his mouth, worried about kiss-thieves, before he forgets because there’s mochi to eat.

They see a young couple go through the shrine all in white and red, and then the father of the bride invites Haru and Urara along and everyone is smiling and happy and they see the bride and groom kiss, and then those people who kissed are married.

Haru sees a man try to kiss a woman on the train and she slaps the man and is very, very angry. “I told you!” she says, and her eyes are full of wet anger and sadness. “Why won’t you listen?”

He sees two men holding hands and kissing in an alley and when he asks if they’re in love they both get red and look at each other, and away, then back at each other, and then one laughs and says yes, and then they kiss again, and shouldn’t they have both known the answer before they kissed at all?

Haru is beginning to think that kisses and romance and humans and couples are even more complicated than he’d realized. He tries not to be discouraged; it’s just his second day back on Earth.

But he’s starting to think even humans are confused by kissing.

 

 

They’re at Tamocchan’s eating whitebait – Haru missed it so much. Urara, after tasting it, agrees that it was sad that he had spent a century on Earth without having tried it. He is still nervous and quiet, but after a day of following Haru around and meeting all his friends and making new ones and seeing that no one is angry at him, he’s relaxed a bit.

Then Urara goes very quiet and awed when he meets Mari-chan, who is round now.

"Why?" Haru asks, his eyes as big as Mari-chan's belly.

“She’s going to have a baby!” Sakura says, and her face is so happy it makes Haru happy too, even if he is confused. “My new little sister!”

“Just one baby? One baby at a time? Where is it?” Haru asks, and looks around for it, but then Urara interrupts and explains very quietly how humans babies grow. Mari-chan covers Sakura’s ears at first, then laughs and says Sakura doesn’t know those medical terms anyway.

A baby. Inside Mari-chan. Which means that Mari-chan and Tamocchan – who are married now too – have had sex. Sex and love and marriage and children and kisses and… Haru feels a little dizzy, and a lot tired. He’s confused.

“Are you in love?” Haru asks Mari-chan plaintively, and she smiles at him and lets him feel the baby in her belly, which is weiiiiiiird, but Urara says she didn’t eat the baby, human eggs just stay on the inside and grow there, one at a time. Which sounds lonely.

“Yes,” she says simply.

“How did you know?” Haru asks.

She shakes her head and smiles down at her hands. “How do you know that someone’s your friend?”

Haru doesn’t have words for that. Maybe. Maybe maybe maybe, he thinks. Maybe humans don’t really, either. Maybe it’s always going to be tiny facial movements and loudness and softness and different people meaning different kinds of things when they say the same word. But humans are all so different.

“This is hard,” he whines, and puts his face down on the table.

“It can be,” Mari-chan agrees, and pets his hair and lets Urara feel Natsuki-and-Sakura’s-little-sister kicking.

 

 

Haru is still burbling quietly and feeling sorry for himself and wondering if he should give up and go home or give up and just be friends, not more, but that hurts too—

Then Natsuki arrives.

“Prince?” Haru says in disbelief, and then he’s being hauled away from the table and up the stairs to the private living area. He goes limply, because he's too tired and feels too dried out to try to get away, even though he's just poured water from a pitcher all over his head.

“I just need to borrow your alien for a moment, Dad!” Natsuki calls. “Be right back.”

Then they’re in Natsuki’s old room – a baby room now, all pinks and smiling suns and jumping fish, and Natsuki is pinching his nose.

“Listen up, because I flew all this way and I’m only going to say this once. If you’re having sex, be careful.”

Haru is being so careful! He glares. And also—

“I’m not having sex!” he protests, because sex comes later, and he wants Yuki to smile at him and kiss him and be his boyfriend more than anything else at all in the universe. But Natsuki keeps going and he’s talking too fast and Haru start puffing up in frustration. “I don’t think anyone involved here could get pregnant but you’re an alien, and I’m not taking any chances. And there are space diseases. Maybe. Here. These are condoms. They go either on a penis or can cover an orifice, up to and including your mouth.”

“What? What what?” Haru says, distracted from his outrage by confusion seeping back in. Natsuki is—being helpful. He’s not mad, like Haru thought at first, he’s just teaching. But he’s confusing. Haru starts fiddling nervously with the little packets, like he’s Urara and not Haru anymore. Fidget fidget fidget. There are slimy balloons inside the packets. He stares at them and stares back at Natsuki, who is pacing.

“I don’t want you to think I don’t approve, because I do. You and Yuki are great for each other, and if male-male interspecies xenomarriage becomes legalized and Akira doesn’t have to arrest you, I’ll go to the wedding. I’d better be one of the best men.”

Yuki in red, Haru thinks, blank of everything but that for a moment. And then a kiss. And rice thrown. Yuki forever. What?

“Here, I’ve printed out pamphlets,” Natsuki says, his chin up. His glasses slide down a little, and he pushes them back up again. He’s red and scowling.

“Biology?” Haru asks faintly, squinting at one and then turning it and squinting at it from a different angle. He doesn’t want biology pamphlets, he wants a dictionary, why is that so hard.

“Proper lubrication is very important,” Natsuki lectures. “Have you talked with Yuki about this at all?”

“No! I just wanted – I don’t want sex! I want a kiss!” Haru wails, frustrated beyond words, so he throws the handful of slimy balloons at Natsuki. “How do I do that and not make Yuki think I want sex!”

“Wait.”

“Sex sounds exciting, but I don’t—I want, I want—” Haru touches his heart and closes his eyes. “I want to say that if Yuki were fishing for me he wouldn’t have to use his pole, because he’s already there, in my heart, with a hook because sometimes it hurts, but I don’t care. I want it there. I want him to have a hook in his heart too, my hook. But I don’t know how.”

“Wait,” Natsuki repeats, and now at least someone else sounds as confused as Haru is. “You haven’t even kissed him yet?”

Haru shakes his head miserably. “Not on the mouth. Just—” He points to his chin, and then sighs even more miserably when Natsuki does a very unhelpful eyebrow thing.

“Uh. Okay. Haru. Have you told him you love him?”

“I’m being careful first! I wanted to know what I wanted. And then I wanted to know how to say it right. But everyone does everything differently and I haven’t learned anything except humans are weird.”

Natsuki laughs and Haru is suddenly really mad at him because this isn’t funny.

“Haru, you idiot. It’s just Yuki. You know Yuki.” He smiles and Haru thinks it’s a good smile, not a mean smile. “You saw a bunch of people today, right? Akira told me. He was following you.”

Akira’s creepy, he should have come and helped in person, but now Haru’s too busy to be mad.

“You don’t need to know all those people. Learning how to catch a human isn’t like learning how to catch a fish – every single one is going to be different. But you already know Yuki – you have the tackle for that. Just tell him what you told me.”

“What did I tell you?” Haru says, panicked, and tries to remember.

“Just take these for later, if you need them,” Natsuki says, and shoves a bunch of balloons in Haru’s pockets and then shoves Haru out the door, and down the stairs, and out the door and into the fading light of the afternoon.

 

 

Haru panics a very very very little on the way to the dock where he and Yuki and Natsuki and Urara and Akira were supposed to have met to go fishing again. But now it was just going to be Yuki and Haru, and Haru has a pocketful of sex balloons but he still doesn’t know what to say or how to say it.

Courting courting boyfriend girlfriend, he thinks, fast fast fast, his brain going off like fireworks, all flash and bang. He finds a red rose on the way and tries to remember what the playground girls had said and how Tapioca’s neck had arched when she was with her girlfriend.

Yuki is standing with his head red against the blue of the falling night sky, stars all around him. Every time Haru had seen something red, before Earth, before Enoshima, he’d just thought, ‘Yum!’ But now he thinks, ‘Yuki.’

He sees a fire hydrant, and remembers Yuki braced against the deck of a tilting boat in a storm. He sees a plane with wing-lights blinking in the night sky, and feels Yuki’s line around his neck and his life on Yuki’s pole and Yuki’s grin. He sees a red drum swimming, and feels Yuki’s hand in his.

That would be enough to send Haru duck-waddling hopefully up the dock, but—he remembers more, and he remembers it all the time. He remembers the first time Yuki caught a fish and it escaped, and the first time Yuki came running around a corner with a mended net, and the first time he saw Yuki smile, and the first time Yuki had jumped in the water after Haru, even though he couldn’t swim.

Human are so weird, Haru thinks marvelingly and crossly and bravely, and flaps his arms.

“What the hell, Haru?” Yuki yells, his own arms waving. He’d waited until Haru got right in front of him to start grumbling, his eyes narrow and his toes tapping and his arms across his chest. “You’re late, and where is everyone, and what are you doing?”

“Courting,” Haru says desperately, and hopefully, and fondly all at once, but he’s in a human body and he doesn’t know if Yuki can hear any of that. He isn’t sure what to do with the rose in his mouth—he hadn’t seen what Tapioca did with hers. The thorns hurt, a little. He’d forgotten about thorns. “Yuki,” he mumbles around it. “I—”

“You stupid alien, you’re bleeding,” Yuki says, shaking his head, and takes the rose out of Haru’s mouth. He rubs a thumb over Haru’s lower lip and Haru trembles. “What is wrong with you?”

Kiss, to kiss, to press a mouth against someone or something. It’s a word, but it can be a fast press to the cheek or chin, or a miscast fishing line against an angry fight, or a question, or a stolen good. A kiss. His kind doesn't kiss, aliens don't kiss, but Haru wants to. Haru wants to kiss Yuki.

“I want to kiss you,” he says helplessly, and Yuki’s eyes go stone-colored. Haru thinks, alarmed, that he’s maybe actually really mad right now. “Wait, wait!” he windmills back, licking at the salt on his lips. “Wait!”

“I told you! You can’t just kiss random people,” Yuki yells, and shoves at him, hard this time. Mean. “Not even if you’re an alien, not even if it’s for your dictionary—I’m not an experiment,” Yuki spits, and then worse worse worst, his eyes are leaking. Haru, Haru is making Yuki cry.

“You put a hook in my heart like a fish,” Haru says desperately, and reaches out a hand like a fishing line. “I want to hook you, too."

"Words don't work that way!" Yuki yells in his face, and Haru is mad too, now, because doesn't Yuki know Haru knows that?

"I want you to catch me and I want to catch you. Is that kissing? Is it? I don’t know, but I know I want to see you, every day. I want to kiss you on the mouth. I like your face and I like your smile and I like when you’re yelling but not mad, and I want to fix things if you're sad. Yuki.” Haru stops being mad himself, suddenly, like a sex balloon flopping down and deflating. "Yuki, please. Don't be sad. I'm sorry I said it wrong."

“You—um. You actually said it okay.” Yuki doesn’t keep shoving, his hands just sitting on Haru's shoulders. And he doesn’t run away, but he doesn’t look at Haru, either. Or kiss him. “But you’re an alien. You don't do romance, or couples, or kissing.”

“So are you,” Haru says, and Yuki looks up. “You're an alien, to me. And I don’t know how to be a couple, or a boyfriend girlfriend or a wife or husband. I don’t know how to kiss, or have sex. I just. Think. I want to.”

“With a human?”

“With you.”

“Oh.” Yuki settles to sit on the side of the dock, feet dangling off. It’s dark now.

“Why were you walking like a duck, earlier?” Yuki asks finally, wiping at his eyes.

Haru thinks, he’s not yelling! or running or shouting! And says, hopefully, “Isn’t that courting?”

And then Yuki kisses him. On the mouth, while he's laughing.

A first kiss, that no one can ever steal ever, now, because Yuki has it, and Haru has Yuki’s.

"I really, really like kissing," Haru decides.

"I really like you," Yuki says. "Even if you drive me crazy."

And Haru kicks out his feet and stares up at the sky, at all the stars that he'd come past, every single one of them, and says, completely smug and sure, "I know you do."

 

 

Then Yuki pushes him off the dock into the water, and when Haru won't come out, he jumps in after, and then they're both wet and soggy and still kissing and treading water and yelling when the Coast Guard pick them up for aquatic indecency.

 

 

But that's another story.