Sometimes Haruka will walk in the rain without an umbrella, just because of how different the water feels on his skin. It's something he's done before in Iwatobi, always along the edge of the curb with the sea beside him, but after a block of doing the same here in Tokyo, bumping shoulders and hearing all the noise of car horns and inane street chatter, he realizes it's just not the same here in the city. Haruka stops in the middle of the crosswalk, where everyone shuffles out of the way, around him. Haruka realizes he's not even sure where he's going.
Haruka looks over his shoulder, expecting Makoto to scold him to get under his umbrella like he usually does in Iwatobi, but now he's just greeted by a sea of people he doesn't recognize. With one more glance behind him, still finding nothing and no one of interest, he decides to cross the road before he really disrupts traffic.
Looking up, Haruka finds Makoto waiting at the other side of the street. He's staring right at Haruka, holding a large umbrella that's big enough for the two of them.
Haruka just walks a little faster, reaching his best friend in a matter of moments.
"Walking in the rain again?" Makoto asks, with a sigh. "You're gonna get sick."
Haruka shrugs. "I wanted to feel the water."
"You have a pool for that." Makoto laughs. "You always have the water."
"But this is—"
"It's different. I know." Makoto finishes for him with a small laugh. "I know."
They walk on together, down this unfamiliar city block, but Haruka doesn't really care where they end up going. He didn't even really have plans to see Makoto today, in fact they haven't seen each other all week because of swim meets and tests, so he just takes in his company like a small, unspoken blessing.
It's a dreary day, grey all around and wet in a murky, uncomfortable way, but with Makoto it feels like there's sun on his face.
"How did you find me?" Haruka asks him quietly. He's not even sure Makoto can even hear his question through all this noise. But Makoto hears him all the same, because he can always hear Haruka, and he just shrugs.
"I don't know, to be honest." Makoto says. "I was actually going to call you later tonight to see if you wanted to have dinner with me, but then I saw you across the street. Stroke of luck, huh?"
"Hm." Haruka says.
Of all the approximately 13,189,000 people in the greater metropolitan area, of course he had to find Makoto in this particular neighborhood and on this random street block. Haruka is not one to believe in things like luck, but he thinks about the number, how astronomically high it really is, and just shuffles a little closer to Makoto under the umbrella.
Of all the 13,189,000 people here in this faceless city, he's the only one who gets to walk side by side with Makoto.
Haruka sneezes into his handkerchief and lets out a sound from his throat resembling a dying ostrich on the dry savannah. He falls back into bed, looking longingly over at his duffel bag and the new swimming jammers he has laying on top, a brand new suit he's convinced has the perfect fit. But of course, as luck would have it, he's much too sick to actually leave his apartment to do any sort of swimming.
"Hey, Haru, come take your medicine."
And of course, Makoto is here to take care of him.
Haruka buries his face into his pillow and shakes his head. He hates swallowing pills.
"This is what you get for walking in the rain yesterday." Makoto sighs. "Told you." He just shows a cheeky little smile and sits right down next to Haruka's bed in the floor, near where he's laying his head.
"Shut up." Haruka says, groaning and half alive.
"Nothing we can do about it, huh?" Makoto laughs a little. "Here, come a little closer." Haruka complies, with the little strength he has.
Makoto presses his hand gently to Haruka's forehead, sifting Haruka's hair out of the way as he feels his temperature. Closing his eyes, Haruka just lets him without any complaint. Heat rises to his face suddenly, and he can feel a heavy sigh leave his system but he tells himself it’s because he’s sick.
"Ah, you definitely have a fever." Makoto says. "I'll go get you a wet towel." And that’s what he does, leaving Haruka by himself in the room for the moment.
Now that Haruka thinks about it, Makoto should be at his university right now. Haruka’s assumptions are proven correct when the alarm clock on his nightstand beeps. It’s four in the afternoon on a Tuesday. Makoto's usually in the library at this time, with the friends he's made in lecture, probably complaining about the professor talking too fast or copying the extra class notes he missed in class.
Haruka remembers Makoto telling him there are five of them, three girls and two other guys, all of them tolerable and personable enough to be considered acquaintances. And Haruka’s heard a little about all of them. The two boys in the group are former competitive swimmers like Makoto, from the same high school back in Kyoto. Amongst the girls, one of them plays guitar in an underground band, and Haruka remembers something about someone else doing tea ceremony. Or was it flower-arranging? Maybe it’s both. Haruka doesn’t try to think about them too hard and decides that he’s just too sick to care.
All Haruka knows, in his fever-induced haze, is that Makoto, predictably, will have no problem making friends in Tokyo. Five friends could turn into twenty, if he really wants that. Makoto is too genuinely warm for people not to gravitate towards him after all, with a kindness that feels like a subtle touch against a fevered forehead. Haruka imagines a gaggle of people hovering around him, all of them holding books under their arms and toting giant backpacks, making inside jokes the swimmer won’t understand.
He tells himself that this doesn’t bother him, when in all actuality, it does.
Makoto returns to Haruka with a folded towel. He sits back down next to him places it over Haruka’s head. The sudden coldness makes Haruka flinch a little.
“Sorry.” Makoto says. “Is it too cold?”
Haruka shakes his head carefully so the towel doesn’t fall off. “It’s fine,” he says.
“Something wrong?” Makoto asks. “I mean, besides being sick.” Of course he can sense something’s off. Haruka’s usual defenses aren’t able to get by Makoto on any other regular day so he imagines he’s comically easy to read right now.
“No.” Haruka lies anyway.
“Oh, come on. It’s written all over your face.” Makoto refutes.
Haruka looks over at the clock. He’s too tired to fight off whatever inclinations he has to say ‘it’s nothing’ or ‘never mind.’
“You should be at school right now.” Haruka finally says, dizzier than ever. He coughs a little bit and sniffles.
Makoto just looks confused for a moment, and then he laughs a little. “Are you turning into my mother?” he asks jokingly, pressing his hand against the towel on Haruka’s forehead.
“It’s just…friends and all.” Haruka says, a bit shyly. “And getting notes,” he adds, just to add an extra layer of defense, a thin glass wall that Makoto sees through without any problems.
“Notes?” Makoto asks.
“Notes.” Haruka nods.
“Oh, it’s okay.” Makoto says, his eyes lowering. He looks almost tender about it, but Haruka can’t tell if it’s just his clouded mind playing tricks on him. “I can’t just leave you alone, can I? What kind of person would I be if I did that?” he asks a little quieter. He still has his hand on Haruka’s forehead, like he’s forgotten he’s placed it there.
Haruka blushes a little. “I can take care of myself.” He says.
“Look at you, though.” Makoto responds. “When you’re talking about willingly being in school, that’s when I know you’re not well. I want to be here, with you.”
Makoto takes his hand off Haruka’s forehead slowly, but Haruka just takes a hold of his fingers and grasps onto them lightly. He wouldn’t be doing this so blatantly if he was in his right mind. Makoto just holds his hand back, silently, but comfortably, and leans his head on the side of Haruka’s bed. Suddenly, a memory without a real image comes back, like a whispering ghost: it’s meaningless without you, it’s saying.
“Let’s get you better.” Makoto whispers. “Don’t worry about anything else.” Haruka doesn’t say anything to that, because he’s too busy thinking about something else.
Makoto has chosen to sit here, with Haruka, when he could be out with friends in an expansive city with a whole universe of opportunity. Makoto isn’t with either of those other swimmers from Kyoto, or the guitar player in the underground band, or the girl who may or may not be into flower arranging. He’s not in the library, or at a café getting coffee with new friends and acquaintances. Instead, Makoto’s here, in a musty little apartment fetching cold medicine and wet towels. Makoto has chosen to be with Haruka.
Haruka blushes again, he can feel it really light up his face this time, but there’s not much he can do about it. With a tired sigh, he lets go of Makoto’s hand slowly, covering his face up with the covers. He asks Makoto for ginger tea, for his throat, but this is more to get him out of the room than anything else. It’s too embarrassing, to let Makoto see him like this.
“I’ll be right back then.” Makoto says with a nod, as he leaves the room again. Haruka emerges from under his covers once he knows he’s gone. He can still feel the warmth on his hand, right in the center of his palm like a galaxy’s star. He presses it to his cheek, expecting any kind of relief, but it never comes. His face still feels hot.
And with that, Haruka is beginning to suspect that his fever isn’t just from some random walk in the rain.
It’s not like Haruka hasn’t made new friends. Well, they’re more like barely-there acquaintances, but they’re all decent enough people. Sometimes, when he doesn’t feel like eating on a park bench alone after morning practice, of if he doesn’t have plans to meet Makoto, he’ll join three other teammates for lunch. He usually stays quiet most of the time, only opening his mouth to give one-word answers if he’s asked something, but no one seems to mind. Training can be lonely, and Haruka imagines that quiet company is better than none at all.
Today, he’s running with those same three teammates at a park near the swim club. Haruka isn’t the biggest fan of running—and he’s still a little sick, anyway, so overexerting himself doesn’t seem like the smartest plan—so he’s content with keeping pace behind all the others. Suddenly one of them turns his head and offers a polite smile to Haruka.
“Hey, Nanase!” he calls, out of breath, “did you do any running when you swam in high school?”
Haruka nods. “A little.”
Another one of the boys looks over his shoulder. “Conditioning is the worst.”
“It really is!” The third one says. “But my girlfriend’s always making me go with her. She says, Yuta! If you want to make it to the Olympics, you have to run with me every day! I think she just wants me to spend more time with her.” Haruka’s noticed he’s the most talkative of the group.
“Mine’s always too busy studying to run with me.” The first one sighs. “Med school, and all.”
“At least you guys have girlfriends.”
Yuta, the talkative teammate, looks over at Haruka. “What about you, Nanase? You got anyone?”
This is the sort of chatter Haruka avoids, but it was bound to come sooner or later. He’s about to shake his head and tell them no, but he can’t bring himself to say it. Suddenly, Haruka thinks of Makoto. He squeezes the hand Makoto held into a small fist, wondering why he’s even thinking about him, and he knows the other guys are still waiting for an answer.
Ultimately, Haruka does say “no, I don’t,” but the answer doesn’t sit right with him.
“Ah, one day!” one of them says. “If that’s what you want, that is.”
Haruka stops, catching his breath and still coughing up whatever’s left of his cold, suddenly feeling sick again. It’s like someone’s stomped on his chest and he’s a lot more lightheaded than he thought would be. He motions for the others to keep going, and his barely-there acquaintances just shrug and run up the path without him, as expected. He tries picturing them running with whomever their significant others are, side by side, but he can only recall the times he’s gone on jogs with Makoto in Iwatobi.
As Haruka catches his breath, the others running from his line of vision and out of his sight, there's only one thing he's thinking.
‘I’d like to run with Makoto.’
five-hundred and seventy-three
Of the five-hundred and seventy-three people sitting in the stands for this college swim meet, none of them are Makoto. In the facility, there are eighteen scouts, five coaches, probably about two hundred or so students, twenty-eight total swimmers on Haruka's team, and maybe thirty on the other, and the rest are identifiable guests and vendors. But the fact remains that, despite Makoto saying, "yes, I'll be there, row three, seat five," his usual seat right by the starting block, he is no where to be seen. Haruka scans the crowd of blurred faces once more before giving up and putting his goggles on.
His first race, a 100-meter heat in freestyle, turns out well enough. He places second overall, setting a personal best. As Haruka pulls himself out if the water, he glances again towards row three, seat five. Now there's an old man sitting there, half asleep. Still not Makoto.
His next race, a 200-meter heat this time, doesn't go as well. He places fifth overall. As he's getting out of the pool, he hears his coach yell at him about pacing himself much better next time, but Haruka's not really listening. Again, he looks to row three, seat five, and finds, once again, that the seat is devoid of anyone named Tachibana Makoto.
It shouldn't bother him this much, but it does. He tells himself that it's not like Makoto comes to all of his races anyway, but the fact is that he never misses the ones he says he'll attend. As the rest of Haruka's swim team leaves for the day, separating into their groups to get food or hit the gym, Haruka goes up to the stands and looks for Makoto's usual seat.
Just as he sits down in seat five, row three, Haruka feels his phone vibrate in his pocket. The caller ID reads Makoto.
"Makoto." Haruka answers.
"Ah! Haru, is the meet over?" He sounds like he's outside somewhere crowded. "Oh, excuse me, sorry." He's probably just accidentally bumped into someone in the street, and now he's apologizing profusely.
"Yes." he answers.
"I'm sorry!" Makoto says. "I got caught up studying at the library. You wouldn't believe this, but I fell asleep right on my book...how embarrassing. Drool was involved."
Haruka can't help but crack a smile at that, and he's glad the pool is mostly empty, save for a few custodians. He's glad Makoto can't see it.
"That's okay," Haruka says as plainly as possible. "Are you still coming over here?"
Makoto doesn't answer for a moment, probably because he's still trying to maneuver through the street. It must be insanely crowded by this time, and he feels bad that Makoto's going through this sort of trouble to come to Haruka for a meet he's already missed.
"Yeah! I'm actually almost here. I was worried that you left already."
"No." Haruka says. "I'm in your seat."
Haruka can hear Makoto's laugh even through all the noise in the background. "Row three, seat five." He muses.
"Yeah." Haruka says, but he's only met with silence over the line.
"I really do feel bad for missing your race, Haru." Makoto admits.
This makes Haruka's face go red, and this is something he can no longer blame a fever on. He just stares down at his sneakers, not really sure what to say.
"Don't," Haruka says simply.
"You're not mad?"
Makoto sighs over the end. "Ah, okay. Well I'm on your campus now. Do you want to get dinner?"
There's nothing Haruka wants more. "Okay."
"What do you want to eat?"
Haruka thinks about it. "Anything you want."
"What? No mackerel today?" Makoto laughs. And with that, one of the doors nearest to Haruka opens and Makoto himself comes through, still wearing his black framed glasses. His hair looks like a mess under his beanie and his backpack is half-open. Still, he looks relieved to see Haruka. The other boy just hangs up his phone and and stays in his seat as Makoto takes the one next to him.
"So you mean it, then? Anything?" Makoto asks.
"Don't make me take my offer back." Haruka taunts.
The two of them stay there for another hour, leaning against the metal guard railing and staring out at the water in the darkness. Makoto mostly talks about his day at school, a bunch of mundane things Haruka could listen to ten thousand times over, and again, it seems they're in their own world, alone.
"Wanna go eat now?" Haruka asks after a little while.
"In a bit." Makoto answers. "I'm good where I am right now." He smiles that usual Makoto smile, and Haruka just feels like collapsing back in his seat from the sight of it, but he stays standing with wobbly knees and a dizziness that only reemerges every time Makoto's around.
And before either of them realize it, they're touching shoulders, so close that Haruka's tempted to lean his head towards him and rest there for a moment.