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On the Corner of Came and Went

Chapter Text

This is how it ends.

"I need to stay three more years in Australia," Rin says matter-of-factly, staring straight ahead at the children playing on the picnic grounds. A cool breeze flutters by, tickling the hair on his neck, causing goosebumps on his skin. He rubs his arm with his other hand to warm it before setting it back down on the bench.

There are seven inches of old worn wood between them, dotted with stray cherry blossoms, pale pink stark against speckled brown. They're sitting on a bench in the Japanese gardens of their favourite park in Tokyo, a wondrous, sprawling place of respite set in the middle of a bustling city. Over a thousand sakura trees are scattered across the park, transforming the landscape into a sea of white and pink. Around them, families and friends are gathering, setting up picnic blankets, while children chase each other through the well-trodden paths and arched bridges. Shinjuku Gyoen in spring is breathtakingly beautiful, and cold.

So cold.

"I know," Makoto answers, just as quietly. "Haru told me." He wrings his hands in his lap, and casts his gaze on the pond before him, watching as free-falling sakura gently trail down the surface, landing and making tiny ripples across the quiet expanse of the water. "And I already told you, I want to double major in physical sciences and education."

Rin knows of course. He's been up all night thinking what this all means, and the inevitable consequence that would follow. Consequences that are happening right now. Tears prickle at the back of his eyes, and for once, he does nothing to stop them. "So that’s how it is then."

Makoto’s head bows. His eyes are closed, as if refusing to show Rin the emotions surely toiling beneath them, but Rin can see them easily anyway, broadcasted in the tense line of his shoulders, the rigid curve of his back. "I'm sorry, Rin."

Rin turns his head away. "Did you always know that it would come to this?"

Makoto doesn't reply right away. Rin watches him from the corner of his eye, watches as Makoto's eyes slowly open, glassy but dry.

Then the corners of his lips rise, and he tips his head back, looking at the sky. Rin wonders how Makoto can still smile when the world as they both know it is crashing around them. But then again, maybe Rin shouldn't be surprised. Of all the people he knows, Makoto has always been the best when it comes to smiling through the pain.

"No," he finally answers. "But I’m not surprised."

"Why not?"

Makoto's smile falters, the cracks beneath his calm mask peeking out. "Because we both need to grow up."

Rin fingers clench around the rough material of his jeans. "And that means growing apart too?"

Makoto sighs.

"We need to think of ourselves first now. For both our futures," he says unhappily. It’s the most un-Makoto-like sentence Rin’s ever heard from him. He’s changed, and Rin would like to believe that it's for the better — he is the one who has always encouraged Makoto to be a little less selfless, to learn to prioritize his own needs over others.

But now, he just can't see how any of this can be good, despite the sound logic behind them. He bites his lip, and tries again. "Me losing the Olympic trials is not your fault."

"I know. You've told me so many times."

"But you don't believe it."

Makoto turns away. "I don't know anymore, Rin. I just want us both to succeed, and this…" He gestures at the empty space between them. "This isn't working out."

This isn't working out. Rin makes a dry, humourless sound, remembering the last time Makoto uttered those words. Second year in high school, over the phone, at a time in their relationship where they were still coming to terms with where they truly stood with each other. Makoto had been about to give up, but Rin fought back then, all spitfire and blazing resolve in the face of Makoto’s resignation.

He doesn't feel like fighting back now. He supposes this has been a long time coming. Long-distance relationships rarely last long. Rin has seen enough romcoms to know that but like the romantic idealist that he is, he thought that he and Makoto would be an exception. He had been so confident back then — Makoto's patience is incomparable, and Rin bleeds determination from every one of his pores. They would find the time, and if time refuses to be found, then they would make it. After all, they live in a world where online communication is as easy as a tap on a phone screen.

They'd make it work, the two of them; they've always fitted together in a way that brings out each other's complementary qualities — Rin is the air that buoys Makoto to heights he'd never consider otherwise, and Makoto is the soft earth that reminds Rin there are safe spaces to land.

Two is a lovely number, a romantic number. Pairs, partners, halves to make a whole.

Two is the number of cats Makoto has, a black stray named after Haru, and an orange tabby Makoto nursed back to full health after finding her shivering and half starved in a cardboard box in the middle of winter. Two is the number of birthmarks on Rin's legs, one just behind his left knee, and one in a spot only Makoto is privy to. Two is the number of years he and Makoto have been together, 2/2 is Rin's birthday, two is the number of jewelry he's given Makoto — one an onyx bracelet with orca and shark charms, the other a silver promise ring that Makoto wears on a chain around his neck.

Two is also the time difference between Tokyo and Sydney.

Two is the number of hours Rin waited for Makoto to come online so Makoto can greet him good luck in his upcoming trials. Two is the number of milliseconds between Rin's time and the qualifying time. Two is the number of times Rin has seen Makoto cry in the entirety of their relationship, one of them just two days ago, when Rin broke the news about losing the trials.

Two is a small number, and powerful .

It's strange how he and Makoto have both changed, how both of them have taken a little piece from each other, only for it to be the very pieces that would lead to their undoing. It's from Rin that Makoto has learned to take things for himself, and it's from Makoto that Rin has learned how to give way to others.

He doesn't feel the need to fight. This by itself is a lot more telling than anything else. He is the boy who fights, the boy who thrives under the harshest of pressures, the boy who says don't quit when things are at their very worst.

But now he's giving up. They both are.

He takes a deep breath and blinks. There are wet tracks on his cheeks. Beside him, the back of Makoto's hand is dotted with tiny transparent drops, like crystal on baked earth. "You're right. I guess it's for the best."

"For the best," Makoto echoes hollowly.

It's the middle of spring. Not far from them, a stray cat curls contentedly into a patch of sunlight on the grass. On a more far off, indiscernible distance, a flock of birds flap their wings in unison into a golden sky. There’s the sound of children laughing, tiny feet pattering on old wooden bridges. It’s a beautiful day.

And Rin’s heart breaks for the third time.

 

*

 

First :

He was thirteen.

It happened on a winter afternoon, and they met by chance. Haru had actually looked happy to see him, and yet all Rin could think about was if he was already good enough to beat this boy whose swimming took everyone’s breath away.

So he decided to find out. He spent a year in Australia, swam thousands of laps, ran several kilometers a day, practiced longer than any of his teammates. He should be better.

They raced.

Rin learned that Haru’s swimming could still bring him to his knees.

“Rin!”

It was the loudest Rin had every heard Haru call his name, as he ran away, half-blinded by tears.

Louder still was the sound of his own voice whispering in his head: “No, not good enough.

*

Second :

He was seventeen.

It happened on a summer afternoon. Regionals in Osaka, and he had broken another record. The leaves were as green as ever and the sun shone high in a cloudless sky. They were going to win, and Sousuke would finally see that sight he always wanted him to see.

“Why didn't you tell me?” he had asked, failing to stop the tears from falling as his world crumbled around him for the second time.

“Because I knew you would cry,” Sousuke had answered softly. His smile was the gentlest Rin had ever seen from him.

A nail in his hand would have hurt less.

*

 

The thing is, while his heartbreak happens for different reasons, it all hurts the same way— with Rin cradling his heart like an injured bird in his hand, taking care not to let it bruise further, trying to remember how to put it back in the cage between his ribs.

He always does though. Remembers, that is. Rin is strong, and he knows it. It’s true that he cries a lot, gets emotional over the smallest things and is easy to anger. But underneath Rin’s raw emotions and reckless volatility lies a will of iron and a heart of copper — iron that can take the heat, copper that can take the blows, bending at the strike but never shattering. He falls down seven times, he stands up eight.

That’s how it was then. That’s how it is now.

He recovers, and learns to love again.

*

 

It took him three years to get over his crushing defeat from Haru, and another three to get over Sousuke's broken dream.

It's been four years since he and Makoto broke up. He hasn't gotten over it.

A pair of neon-green earphones is still wrapped around a pink cable turtle in the side pocket of his gym bag. He still uses them when he goes running sometimes. There’s a box in his drawer filled with the following things: a movie ticket, a Japanese Literature exam with a perfect score, and an o-mikuji that reads “small blessing.”

Oh , he thinks dimly, when the last day after the fourth year passes and he finds his chest aching when he sees a white cat on the road, or green winter jackets with fur trim, or dark chocolate cakes on bakery displays. Sometimes, on sweltering summer afternoons when the sun filters in through his windows, he can see dust motes floating in the air, and the ghost of Makoto’s silhouette draped across his couch.

This is what it's like.

This is what it’s like to be stuck, to have this irremovable space inside of him that persists in carrying things he should no longer feel. As time passes, more and more, he feels like a thief trying to escape the chasm of Makoto’s memory, and his heart is the old loyal dog tirelessly guarding the gate.

 

~tbc~

 

Chapter Text

Makoto had been right though. Rin's athletic career soared after they’ve gone their separate ways. Distraction has always been his favoured coping method and so he threw himself into his training, spent all his focus on his career. Time he used to dedicate to Makoto was given to more stringent practices, to reading more theory books, watching more record-breaking videos, studying techniques.

He still hit a lot of walls — the path to success is never easy, especially for dreams as lofty as Rin's. He learned his lesson the first time: that the key to conquering walls is not to keep hitting them. Most people like to think that walls are meant to be broken through, and that’s fine. Some people learn the art of just crashing their way through everything.

But the thing is, more often than not, people forget that if you hit a wall hard enough, it's not usually the wall that breaks.

Hard work beats natural talent. That has always been his motto. High school swimming had taught him the value of friends, but training for the Olympics has reminded him of the irreplaceable value of self-improvement . Competing with Haru and losing Sousuke has taught him that competition is not something you have to do with someone else. In sports, it’s not just about being better than the other athletes. It’s about getting better than the athlete he was a day ago.

More than winning, more than fulfilling a dream, swimming has become a chase for perfection.

So here he is now. Four years after, he's reaping the fruits of his labour. Kazan, Russia. 2016 FINA championships.

Rin can hardly hear the announcer’s voice over the roar of the crowd. He grins at his medal, honey-bright gold for 100m butterfly.

Beside him, Haru has two silvers for 100m and 200m free. His smile is small but his happiness radiates from the proud line of his shoulders, the way his head is held high, eyes bright like starlight.

There are tears streaming down Rin’s face. Somewhere in the crowd, he spots Gou waving and yelling, holding up a huge banner heralding his name. Congratulations, Matsuoka Rin . The calligraphy is a little bit too jagged, but it’s perfect for Rin: unapologetically sharp, always leaning forward. The tarp she used is a bit old and well-worn as well, as if Gou had made it a long time ago, which is probably the case. Gou has always been proud of being his number one fan after all.

He makes a mental note to give her the first rights to hold his medal later.

He turns his attention back to the crowd and waves, feeling the happiest he’s been in a long time.

Next stop, Olympics .

 

*

 

The Japan team celebration involves a formal dinner at the Marriott and Rin sheds his legskins for an expensive Italian-cut suit. Inside his pocket is a piece of paper containing his victory speech — which is basically a long list of people he wants to thank and a few thrice-rewritten lines which he crafted on the theory that it wouldn’t induce too much crying.

He finds his way to the Japanese representatives table, and sets his napkin across his lap, waiting for the first course.

His phone buzzes and he fishes it from his pocket. Tachibana Makoto flashes on the screen, and Rin’s heart gives a reflexive flutter at the name. He opens the message and smiles ruefully.

Congratulations Rin! I’m so proud of you. I hope this victory is everything you wish it would be, it says. There's no emoticon, which is a bit unusual for Makoto but Rin really doesn't want to think too deeply into the nuances of text messaging. Once upon a time, a missing emoji would normally make him worry but Rin thinks that maybe Makoto has grown past that. Makoto has grown up a lot, he's sure.

Not everything, he wants to text back. For one, Makoto would be here as his guest, and they’d be holding hands under the table, probably making plans to brave the cold for a romantic walk along Kazan’s colourful streets. Another, Sousuke would be here too, and they’d be sharing jokes together, arguing about who’d really win the 100 meter butterfly if they were in the same heat.

But two out of four isn’t bad. He has Haru by his side, gold in his pocket, and a genuine smile on his face. It’s rare that people even get just one.

So he just texts back: Thanks! Hope you’re doing okay. Haru and I will be home soon.

He peers over towards Haru, who has excused himself from the table, talking on the phone. It figures; Makoto probably called him to personally congratulate him. The bitterness that used to spark so hotly inside him has gradually reduced to a dull ache, but it still hurts to see Haru still enjoying the things Rin can no longer let himself want.

So Rin focuses his attention on his food, occasionally pausing for small talk with fellow swimmers in between bites. A few minutes pass, and Makoto doesn’t text back. Rin half-expected him not to anyway.

He has just polished off his solyanka and is wondering where in Tokyo he can find a Russian restaurant to have this amazing soup when he feels a tap on his shoulder. He turns around and almost drops his spoon when he sees Haru’s distraught face — lips pursed tightly, skin pale and clammy, eyes wild. Rin immediately excuses himself from the table and follows Haru towards the empty balcony.

"What's wrong?" he asks, as soon as they get out. The outside cold is biting against his skin, but he braves it and stands close to Haru. Haru grasps the banister and leans forward, like he’ll fall apart if he doesn’t have something to hold on to. "Who was that?"

"That was Nagisa."

Bad news from Nagisa. Rin swallows, averts his gaze towards the city lights twinkling below him. "And what did he say?"

Haru looks like he's struggling with his words. "Makoto's dad. He… He had a heart attack."

Rin's stomach instantly feels like lead. "And…?"

Haru’s eyes are so pained that it hurt to look at him. "He's dead, Rin."

The words hit Rin like a splash of icy water, leaving him shivering, coldness seeping into his bones. Rin remembers the man. Traditional, kind, hardworking person, former boy scout, made typical dad jokes and taught Rin how to set up a tent, and tie different kinds of knots. Last time Rin saw him, he was perfectly healthy, strong enough to carry both twins on his shoulders. It's hard to believe he's gone.

He swallows, barely manages to get coherent words out of his mouth. "How… why?"

"He just collapsed in the middle of work. By the time the ambulance arrived at the hospital, he was gone."

"When did this happen?"

"Two days ago."

Rin feels like a vise has wrapped around his chest and squeezed. Two days ago, and it's only now they're finding out. And from Nagisa. Fuck, does this mean Makoto had been mourning his father when he texted him congratulations just a few minutes ago?

"There's a flight to Tokyo in three hours. I'm booking—"

"—Make that two," Rin cuts in, still shaking.

Haru pauses. "But what about your victory speech?" he asks, a bit hesitantly.

Rin only has to look into his eyes to know what he’s really asking. Will the two of you be okay?

He and Makoto haven't really spoken much in the past four years beyond the customary "congratulations" and "happy birthday." The breakup was amicable and they remain friends, strictly speaking, but they never got back to the way things were before. There's too much history, too much hurt, and time has not fully healed the emotional scars they left behind on each other.

But that doesn’t matter now. Break-up or not, this is probably the lowest point of Makoto’s life, and Rin refuses to stay in a place where Makoto can’t reach him. After all…

"Haru," he says quietly. "I know what it's like to lose a father."

Haru's eyes soften, almost looking guilty at his presumption. "Alright," he says and picks up his phone to book them tickets. "Go tell Mikoshiba-san."

"On it," Rin replies.

Rin’s former captain promises to take care of Haru and Rin’s belongings so they can leave immediately to make it to their flight and asks to give his condolences. After a hasty explanation and goodbye to the rest of the team, he and Haru quietly sneak out of the hotel and hail a cab to the airport.

They both make it to the flight with minutes to spare. Haru stays quiet the whole time. Not that Rin’s surprised. Rin does his best not to say anything, even though he’s practically bursting with things he wants to ask. He’s learned how to deal with Haru over the years they’ve spent competing and training together.

But the questions gnaw inside him, relentless, keeping him fidgeting in his seat. Finally, when their plane’s seat belt sign was switched off, RIn blurts out: "Why didn't he tell you? I understand why he didn't tell me but…"

Haru's hand is fisted on his pants. "Makoto doesn't want us to worry while we're competing," he states tonelessly, even if his demeanor makes it exceedingly obvious that Makoto’s decision has hurt him.

"I should've known when he didn't call," he adds. "He just sent me a text and an email. I thought he was just busy. If I had only known that…" Haru trails off, and he turns away from Rin, blinking rapidly, before closing his eyes and taking long deep breaths.

Closing one’s eyes staves off tears better than blinking. Rin learned that a long time ago. Four years ago, Makoto did the same thing.

Wordlessly, he wraps an arm around Haru's shoulders and pulls him close. Haru doesn't fight it, buries his nose in the crook of Rin’s neck and sighs, his breath hot and damp on Rin's skin.

"He’s going to be okay," Rin whispers. "We’ll make sure of it."

They spend the rest of the trip in silence.

*

 

By the time they arrive in Iwatobi, Rin is already exhausted. He hasn’t slept a wink during the whole journey from Kazan to Iwatobi (two flights, a train ride, a cab ride towards the temple).

They first stopped by a flower shop to buy funeral wreaths. Both of them forewent the usual chrysanthemums: Haru chose lilies while Rin bought orchids.

One good thing about the formal dinner they just left is that they’re already dressed for the wake. He’s been wearing his suit for almost 24 hours now, and it's beginning to suffocate him.

When they finally arrive at the temple, it’s clear they already missed the wake ceremony. Rin takes all the cash from his wallet and puts it in one of the black and silver envelopes located at the entrance beside the visitor log book, and beside him, Haru does the same.

Together with Haru, Rin makes his way through the small crowd of mourners, zeroing in on Makoto’s tall frame, clad in the custom black suit, as he takes care of his guests, going through the motions, mechanically, but politely. He looks terrible, his skin a sickly pallor, dark circles evident under his eyes, even with his glasses on. His hair is much longer now, swept up in a short, messy ponytail, and he lost a lot of weight too. God, how long has it been since Rin last saw him?

He hears some murmurings in the crowd as he and Haru pass by, and it’s only then that Rin remembers that some of them probably just watched him win gold for their country yesterday. His victory seems so distant all of a sudden.

One of the guests step to the side, clearing their path and Makoto finally sees them a moment before they reach him.

"Haru, Rin," he says, looking surprised, like he couldn’t believe they’re actually here. He doesn’t move from his spot.

The two of them take the last step forward. Rin glances quickly at Haru, unsure of what he’s going to do. Haru's expression is unfathomable but Rin knows that he's still upset with Makoto for holding back the news from him.

Still, the last thing Makoto needs right now is Haru getting all up in his case for his poor decisions. One can hardly expect good judgment from a person in mourning.

After a long pause, Haru closes the distance between them and takes both Makoto’s hands.

"Makoto I—"

"—I’m so sorry for not telling you," Makoto blurts out. Rin notices Haru’s hands tightening their grip around Makoto’s, which it turn, are beginning to shake. "I was planning to, right after the competition ended but I got distracted—"

"—That doesn't matter now," Haru interrupts. His voice is low, soft. Almost pleading. "How long have you been up?"

"Oh don’t worry about me—"

"—Too late," Rin can’t help interrupting, and Haru throws him a sharp look before turning back to his best friend.

"How long, Makoto?" Haru repeats calmly.

For a few tense moments, Makoto looks like he’s about to protest again, but he eventually relents to Haru's unflinching stare. "Thirty six hours," he says quietly.

Haru's jaw clenches. "You need to rest. I'll take it from here."

Predictably enough, Makoto shakes his head. "Haru, you just came back from Russia, you must be so tired from the journey and I can't ask that of you—"

"—You're not asking me, I'm volunteering," Haru interrupts, in a tone that brooks no argument. "I'm going to do it, no excuses."

"Okay how about this," Rin pipes up before Makoto can make another protest, and cut this responsibility ping pong match short before people start staring. "Why don’t I take over and you go with Makoto?"

"No, Rin, you need to take care of Makoto," Haru replies, looking at Rin pointedly, like Rin is supposed to find this directive an incredibly obvious course of action. Rin just finds it awkward, and from how Makoto has fallen silent beside him, he’s not the only one. Rin shoves his hands in his pockets and chews on his lip.

"Uh, Haru, no offense, but I’m way better at the whole talking to people thing than you. Also you’re Makoto’s best friend and possibly platonic soulmate; besides which, I’m his ex, which would make things hella awkward, so if anyone who is in a better position to do the caretaking here, it’s you." —is what Rin wants to say but before he could, they all hear a startled gasp from behind them, and the next thing Rin knows is, there are two kids trying to burrow their faces on Haru’s chest.

"Haru-chan, you’re here," Ran says, sniffling, Ren crying, "I’m so glad!" at the same time.

Rin closes his mouth and steps back, feeling his face redden as he watches Haru affectionately hold the twins close. Suddenly, Haru’s decision makes a lot more sense. Now that he thinks about it, this isn’t surprising. Haru has always known what Makoto needs, and throughout the years, he has learned what Rin needs too.

Haru smiles wanly, and ruffles their heads. "Listen, your brother needs to rest for a bit," he tells them, shooting Rin another meaningful look, which Rin completely understands this time. "Will you help me watch over things in the meantime?"

The twins reluctantly extract themselves from Haru, and Ren turns to look at both of them. His lower lip is trembling but he puts on a brave face. "Please take care of Onii-chan."

Makoto sighs and looks at Rin apologetically. "Ren, Rin just travelled more than half a day—"

"—Of course I will," Rin assures him, before he can think too much about it, and tugs at Makoto’s elbow. "Come on, you need to recharge."

"Rin, I’m fine." Makoto attempts to straighten his posture but only succeeds in somehow losing his balance, swaying a little on his feet. Rin immediately catches him, his arm hooking around Makoto’s waist.

"Yeah, I can see that," Rin says dryly.

"Okay, maybe I’m a little tired," Makoto mumbles, face flushed. His arm falls naturally around Rin’s shoulders, and Rin tries hard to ignore how automatic the action seemed, how it’s almost muscle memory at work, taking them back to a happier place four years ago.

"Go." Haru inclines his head towards them before steering the twins away. "Get some rest."

With a nod, and a careful steady hand on the small of Makoto’s back, Rin leaves the main hall, and helps Makoto towards the family room.

The walk is short and silent but surprisingly not awkward. Makoto keeps his arm around Rin’s shoulders and Rin never removes his hand from Makoto’s back. The quiet conversations of the visiting crowd slowly fade away.

"Congratulations on your gold medal, Rin," Makoto murmurs, a small but sincere smile on his haggard face.

It’s all Rin could do not to grab Makoto by the shoulders and shake him. Even after everything, Makoto still focuses on other people over himself. He thought this has already changed, but apparently not.

But a reprimand is not something Makoto needs right now. So Rin swallows down his true feelings and says thanks instead, lets Makoto think he can't see past through him.

When they finally get to the family room, Rin locks the door behind them and leads Makoto towards one of the futons on the floor, flush against the wall. There’s a refrigerator there stocked with drinks, several opened boxes of gift tokens on the opposite end and some half-eaten bentos on the nearby table. There are flowers here too, leftover from the numerous bouquets and wreaths in the main hall. Some of the dried petals are scattered across the floor, along with several pieces of wrapping paper. Rin makes a mental note to clean up when Makoto’s asleep. He could do that much at least.

Makoto collapses against the wall, and throws a hand over his eyes. Rin gets him a glass of water, which Makoto accepts gratefully.

Rin sits down beside him, folding his hands in his lap as he watches the movement of Makoto’s Adam’s apple as he gulps down the water. When he’s done, Rin takes the empty glass from him.

"Makoto," he starts. He reaches forward with his free hand, hesitantly touching the knob of Makoto’s wrist. He wants to touch more, take both Makoto’s hands in his like Haru had done; he wants to wrap his arms around Makoto’s shoulders, push Makoto’s face against the curve of his neck. But he holds back. Those are things he’s no longer sure he can just do. When you’ve broken up with someone, the subject of touch forms new boundaries. Rin has never gotten over Makoto, and it would be too easy to fall back into old habits, to hark back to happier times, when Makoto would constantly seek Rin’s affection and return his own.

But this isn’t about him or how he misses Makoto. This is about Makoto and how he misses his father. Rin takes a deep breath, and catches Makoto’s expectant gaze. "Look, you don’t have to do all of this."

Makoto blinks, as if he couldn’t understand. He doesn’t say anything. He looks at Rin’s hand, and the bird-wing touch on his wrist, before slowly flipping his own hand around.

Rin’s palm naturally falls on the inside of Makoto's wrist, and his breath hitches at the implicit permission. This time, he doesn’t hesitate. Makoto’s palm is dry and limp when Rin finally lays his hand on it.

"Makoto?" he repeats, when the other man stays silent.

"Rin…" Makoto’s voice is dull, and he looks so tired, much older than twenty four. Rin suddenly remembers a time, four years ago, cherry blossoms falling all around them, the words because we both need to grow up and the glass in his other hand almost breaks with the force with which he gripped it. He’s forgotten that he’s still holding it, and quickly stows it away to a safer location.

"I’m the eldest son," Makoto continues, as if that answers anything. "I have to, it’s my duty. The twins are still shocked, and mom’s inconsolable."

Rin shakes his head. He knows all of that. If Makoto knows only one thing, it’s responsibility, especially where his family is concerned. But that’s not what Rin is talking about.

"Not that," he says, and squeezes Makoto’s hand. "This."

Makoto’s brow just furrows. "What?"

Rin bites his lip to stop himself from shouting. "Stop being daft. You know what I’m talking about."

"I don’t—"

"—You’re allowed to grieve. "

For a moment, Makoto freezes, like Rin just uttered this cabalistic sentence he can’t decode. Makoto’s face has always been expressive but this time it is well and truly blank, like something critical just disintegrated in his brain. Finally, after a long while, he blinks and looks away.

"I have to be strong for my family, Rin," he whispers. He lets go of Rin’s hand in favour of curling his knees to his chest, hugging himself, shrinking even further down, and Rin doesn't miss the cruel irony of it. "If I don't do it, who will?"

"You don't have to do it all the time," RIn insists. "No one can see you except me. You have now. "

Makoto shakes his head. "When this is all over, I will. But now, I just can't." He buries his nose deeper between his folded knees, his eyes squeezed shut. "Rin please, don't make me…"

Rin clenches his jaw, frustrated. "Why are you so afraid?"

"Because…" Here, Makoto’s expression twists into something open and pained. "If I start, I don’t think I’ll be able to stop."

For all of Makoto's stubbornness in keeping up this front, at least he’s straightforward about admitting that it is a front. Rin’s not going to begrudge Makoto his duty to become a pillar of strength for his family. But now that he’s alone like this with no one except Rin to see him, Rin’s not going to let him act like he’s some impenetrable fortress when the two of them know that he’s crumbling slowly inside.

If he was the old Rin, he'd be giving Makoto a well-meaning speech about courage, something about how being courageous is not about not showing weakness. About how sometimes, it takes courage to allow yourself to be vulnerable.

But Makoto is tired, too deep into his grief to think, to understand Rin’s words now, and Rin has to be the one to adjust. That’s okay. He still knows how to find his way around Makoto’s protective barriers. He’s had lots of practice dealing with walls after all.

"Alright, fine. If you want to put up this ‘I don’t want to appear weak in front of anyone’ attitude of yours, I’m not going to force you," he assents quietly. He stands up, walks a few steps towards the door and sits down on the tatami, his back facing Makoto. "But I'm not going to leave."

He doesn’t move, and waits.

Minutes pass. Rin is hyper aware of the sound of Makoto’s indecision, his breaths uneven, heavy, his feet shuffling as he stands up. Rin keeps his eyes trained on the door, keeping his own breaths steady. Calming. Patience has never been his strong suit, but for Makoto he’ll wait. It’s Makoto who taught him how to, after all.

Finally, after a long while, Rin hears Makoto’s footsteps approaching.

There’s a split second rush of air before Rin feels Makoto sitting down behind him and scooting closer to slide his long legs on either side of Rin’s hips, until Rin’s back is flush against his chest, his arms coming to wrap around Rin’s waist.

Rin closes his eyes, memories of how Makoto used to do this when they were still together suddenly overwhelming him, easing out the raw heartache in his chest, like the purest tonic, warm and comforting. It's trademark Makoto, always wanting to be the protector, or at least maintain the illusion of it: wrapping his limbs and body around Rin, regardless of who is needing comfort.

"I can’t see you," he whispers, fingers gliding over the knobs of Makoto’s knuckles, pressing the pad of his thumb on the thin skin of Makoto's wrist. He hasn’t been this physically close to Makoto in years , but he’s never forgotten how warm Makoto is, how sensitive the back of his neck is to Makoto’s every exhale, every brush of his nose.

"No you can’t," Makoto answers, his voice sounding far away and barely there, as he tightens his hold around Rin and trembles.

 

*

 

They stay like that for a long time. Rin never sees Makoto’s tears but he remembers them all too well.

 

~tbc~

Chapter Text

The next day, Rin watches the slope of Makoto’s shoulders, clad in a black hakama , as he sits down in front of the his father's urn and bows, wooden juzu wound loosely around his hands.

His hand only shakes a little when he goes to throw a pinch of incense inside the smoldering urn. He pauses before bowing again, and repeating the process. After the second repetition, where he bows an extra three second longer, he finally stands up and returns to his seat, eyes dry, back straight and dignified.

Rin grips his own prayer beads in his hand, as he watches a sobbing Ren follow after Makoto. Haru is with his parents, who are close friends of the Tachibana's, so he's sitting separately from the rest of the his friends. Nagisa and Rei are on Rin’s left, teary eyed, handkerchiefs out. On his right is Gou, who is crying quietly into Sousuke’s shoulder. Beside Sousuke is Kisumi, who's unusually pensive, his head bowed, hands clasped together, wooden juzu swaying between his palms. Rin even spots Yazaki Aki in the back, dressed in an elegant black dress, a simple string of pearls around her neck.

The gang's all here. Despite the solemnity of the event, Rin can't help feeling a twinge of gratefulness that so many people are here for Makoto.

Nothing quite like death to bring people together.

The priest chants the sutra tirelessly as the rest of the guests take their turns to pay their respects.

The ceremony lasts 3 hours. Makoto never sheds a single tear.

 

*

 

It’s been a little less than a week since the funeral. Rin finds himself staying over at Haru’s house a lot, in a bid to do their regular training together in the Iwatobi SC’s pool, which they got to use for free since Coach Sasabe is more than happy to have two world-class athletes gracing his humble establishment.

Rin manages to convince his manager to let him stay in Iwatobi for another week, promising to do his regimen while also secretly forcing Haru to complete his, all so the two of them could be within easy reach of Makoto, a mutual decision they agreed on after the funeral. Haru actually keeps his phone with him at all times now, even when jogging, which is unheard of.

In the afternoon until night, they both go over to the Tachibana’s to help out in any way they can. With his father gone, Makoto is now the de facto household head, and the responsibility of taking care of his family lies on his shoulders. Haru generally helps around the house: cooking, cleaning, taking care of the twins, while Rin helps Makoto with organizing Mr. Tachibana’s belongings and the post-funeral paperwork. It’s fortunate that Makoto’s father had the foresight to buy himself a funeral plan, so most of the funeral costs were handled by insurance, while the generous donations from his colleagues and their other family members covered the rest.

Sometimes, Rin catches Makoto’s mother just stopping in the middle of her chores— doing the dishes, watering the plants, or ironing clothes among other things. She stares at a point beyond her with such intent focus, nothing else could reach her. Then the tears would just start falling and Makoto would immediately rush over to her side to comfort her, while Haru hurriedly takes over whatever she was doing.

It hurts to see them like this because Rin remembers a time when his own mother did the same for his father. It was a long time ago and yet Rin can remember it so clearly: the kitchen table, with barely eaten dinner, bandages on the floor, from Gou's injured knee. Gou had fallen and scraped her knee going down from visiting their father's grave and Rin carried her on his own tiny back, letting her tears soak into the collar of his shirt.

But unlike Makoto, Rin was still a child back then, and he just cried with his mother and sister as their food grew cold.

Makoto hasn't cried again after what happened with Rin on the night of the wake, determined to stay strong for his family.

At night, when Makoto’s mother retires to her room, and while Haru helps put the twins to sleep, Rin accompanies Makoto in his room. Sometimes, they do separate things; Rin usually answers his emails, or studies swimming videos, while Makoto reads a book or plays a videogame.

Sometimes they talk. Rin tells stories of his adventures abroad, things he and Haru have seen in their travels, how Sousuke and Gou are doing, and other mundane yet fundamental parts of his life that Makoto can temporarily focus on to distract himself.

At other times, Makoto participates, and shares his own mundane and fundamental life tidbits. What Makoto talks about changes depending on how tired he is. Sometimes, he talks to Rin like he normally does (or used to do), light effusive chatter about his life in college, how his double major panned out, his job prospects. They succeed for the most part because if there’s anything Makoto and Rin are both innately good at, it’s to carry a conversation.

They would talk until Makoto goes still and quiet as sleep finally claims him. It’s only when Rin can see the steady rise and fall of his chest and hear Makoto’s quiet snoring, does he dare to leave the room.

Sometimes, when Haru is done with taking care of the twins, he catches Makoto before he falls asleep. He slips into the room, stands by the entrance for a few moments, and the two of them just look at each other, or into each other as it would seem sometimes, holding their trademark wordless conversation. Then Makoto would quietly curl in on himself to one side of the bed and keep talking and Haru will shuffle over. He’d take the space beside Rin and lean against him, simultaneously grasping for the hand Makoto reaches out to him.

It’s always warm between the two of them. Solid. Rin knows that Haru wants to protect Makoto, but he can’t do it alone, when he himself is hurting too.

Rin has never been an anchor — he’s always been the storm sweeping everything in his path, never really stopping, always recklessly moving forward. But now, as he sits between the two of the most important people in his life, he realizes that there is a certain beauty to be the one holding still. Here like this, Rin feels contentment despite the sorrow. The three of them have gone through so much, and still their friendship endures , a solid source of strength they can trust to stay whole, even when everything else falls apart.

 

*

 

On the sixth night after the funeral, something else happens.

Makoto has been doing marginally better. He has been productive the whole day: he managed to sublet his apartment in Tokyo to a visiting tourist for the duration of his absence, brought the twins to school and talked to their teachers, and finished gathering the gifts for distribution to the family and friends who attended his father’s funeral. Rin counted four smiles from him today, which, while a far cry from his usual frequency, is already a tremendous improvement from the day before.

Rin is leaning against the headboard of Makoto’s bed, tablet in hand, composing a report on his training progress to his coach. Makoto is lying down on the remaining space beside him, his back towards Rin. He doesn’t say anything at first, and the two of them spend the next few minutes in comfortable silence. Then, just as Rin is about to check if Makoto has already fallen asleep, Makoto speaks up:

"Did I ever tell you what I was doing when he died?"

Rin pauses. The question startles him, because this is the first time Makoto has ever opened up about his dad’s death. It’s not that Rin has never expected him to; he just didn’t expect it to happen so soon. "No you haven’t," he finally says, and sets aside his tablet on the table beside Makoto’s bed. His report will have to wait.

The sheets covering Makoto rustle a bit but he still doesn’t turn around. "A week before it happened, my dad called me up to say that my whole family missed me and asked if I could come home for a week. He even offered to buy my plane ticket."

Rin bites his lip— he has a sinking feeling this conversation won’t be a happy one. Cautiously, he lifts his hand and tentatively rests it on Makoto’s shoulder. "And then?"

"I told him I can’t." Makoto’s voice is eerily calm, and Rin feels a chill run down his spine. "Because I wanted to get the earliest interview slot for that kindergarten teacher position in this private school in Ueno. Besides, I’m a college graduate now; I can’t expect my father to keep paying for my plane tickets."

"Okay…"

"Well, I got the slot just so you know. Anyway, he uh… he died a week after that phone call.” Makoto's voice falters a little and he curls in even closer towards the wall, but Rin doesn’t let up on his hold on his shoulder. “After getting the paperwork from the hospital, I checked the time of death. And you know what I found out?”

Rin almost doesn’t want to know. “What?”

“He died while I was midway through my job interview.”

Rin’s fingers dig hard into Makoto’s shoulder.

Makoto doesn’t even appear to notice. "Can you imagine, Rin," he continues. And then he actually laughs — mirthlessly at that, and Rin thinks he has never heard a sound so bone-chilling. "There I was, telling the human resources officer that my greatest source of strength is my family… and in that moment, my father was dying."

No, Rin cannot imagine it— he cannot even begin trying . "I…" He desperately grasps for words, for reassurances, anything to ease the obvious pain Makoto is in, but his mind keeps drawing blanks. His voice is stuck in his throat, unable to form words, and his breathing is painstakingly too loud and too harsh in the quiet of the room. When a full ten seconds pass and he still couldn’t find anything to say, old habits kick in.

He scoots down on the space beside Makoto and gathers him as best he could in his arms, holding him from behind. "Makoto,” he croaks. “I... I’m so sorry ."

Makoto doesn’t budge, even as Rin’s arm curls around his waist, nose pressing on the crook of his neck. "I only found out hours later because my phone battery was completely drained."

Rin’s heart is beating so hard, he’s sure Makoto can feel it on his back. "Makoto, you couldn’t have known."

"But what if I just went home when he asked me to, Rin?" Makoto questions, the guilt in his voice thick and palpable. "He would have taken leave from work, and maybe he wouldn’t have died that day. He wouldn’t have been so stressed from working and his heart wouldn’t have stopped."

"Makoto, it’s not your fault."

"I could have changed the preferred date of my interview. But I was too impatient. And now he’s gone."

Rin is not Haru, but he’s been with Makoto long enough to know what is going through Makoto’s head right now, and it’s not leading to anything he ever wants to face. "No, Makoto—"

"—When I came home to arrange for the wake and funeral, I realized that I had missed so many things about him," Makoto continues as if Rin hadn’t spoken. "I didn’t know he had dyed his hair to cover the streaks of gray. I didn’t know he started volunteering at the boy scouts’ Iwatobi division again. I didn’t even know he started taking pain medication for his arthritis, which I also didn’t know about." His voice breaks just a little after that, but he recovers with impossible speed. "He doesn’t deserve this. Maybe I should have been the one to—"

"—Stop," Rin interrupts softly. "You’re not finishing that sentence."

"This wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t—"

Rin can hardly hear the rest of Makoto’s words because of how loudly his pulse is roaring in his ears. "—It’s. Not. Your. Fault."

He pulls at Makoto’s shoulder, forcing him to lie down on his back. Makoto doesn’t resist at all and just lets Rin manhandle him into position so Rin can finally see his face.

And when he does, Rin distinctly feels the air turn to ice in his lungs.

Makoto’s eyes are dull, almost sightless, expression terrifying calm. Too calm. His face is that of someone who has realized that there is nothing he has that is worth saving, someone who has given up on life, on everything . "Rin," he says so quietly, Rin almost has to lean closer to hear it. "I just explained to you how it is exactly my fault."

The very idea of Makoto saying these things makes Rin physically ill — there’s a sickness in his chest, ugly and pervasive, bitter like bile in his mouth. It’s incomprehensible. For once in Rin’s life, he cannot recognize Makoto and it scares him. He doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know what to say. He wants to reach inside himself and find that most familiar of emotions: anger. Anger at how Makoto is blaming himself again, at how he continues to take responsibility for things beyond his control. Anger is useful. Just a little anger can help him focus to stave off the ice-cold terror clouding his mind.

But he doesn’t find it. All he sees inside him is fear and a crippling helplessness that keeps him rooted to his place, even as Makoto slips farther and farther away from him.

"Makoto," he pleads, unable to come up with anything at all. I’m losing him… Cold sweat dots his forehead and the back of his neck. "Please."

Makoto doesn’t seem to hear him. Or see him for that matter. He’s lying right next to Rin but Rin might as well be in a whole other universe with the emotional distance between them.

The silence is broken by the door creaking open. Rin turns to see Haru quietly stepping inside, and he all but staggers in relief to see him. He quickly sits up, and desperately gestures at the broken boy beside him.

Haru nods in understanding. The door closes with a soft click as he approaches the bed in sure, measured steps.

"The twins can’t fall asleep," he says, as he sits down next to Rin. He lays a hand on Makoto’s shoulder, the one Rin’s nails have been digging into earlier. Rin winces when he sees the crescent marks that haven’t gone away. "You should check on them."

For a moment, Makoto’s face remains studiously neutral. Rin chews on his lip, waiting for Makoto to react— he’ll gladly accept anything at this point as long as it’s not this. Then miraculously, Haru’s words seem to permeate the cloud of indifference in his head, the spark in his eyes returning. He blinks. "Are they okay?"

"No. But they’re coping," Haru answers, as he rubs Makoto’s arm soothingly, thumb stroking along the cut of his bicep. "And they miss their older brother."

"Oh." Suddenly, it’s as if something just clicked in Makoto’s head, and the blank slate of his face finally cracks. He sits up, eyes wide. "Oh god. I need to— I need to see them. Right now. Excuse me, Rin."

Bewildered, Rin stands up and gives way as Makoto clambers off his bed, almost as if in a daze, and heads towards his siblings’ room.

Rin stares at the open door. He almost doesn’t notice when Haru nudges him on the side. "Hey," he says, brows furrowed in concern. "Are you okay?"

"No." Rin takes a deep breath and exhales, trying to regulate his erratic breathing. "Earlier, Makoto was being weird."

"I gathered," Haru interrupts softly.

"You know? Then how the hell are you so calm?" Rin demands. He starts pacing around the room, heart pounding frantically in his chest, Makoto’s words echoing like a skipping record in his mind. "He’s convinced that his dad’s death is his fault, fuck, what if he—"

"—Whatever you’re thinking, you’re wrong," Haru cuts in again. "Makoto won’t do anything like that."

"How do you know, Haru?" It takes all of Rin’s strength not to scream. "How can you be so sure? You weren’t here. " You weren’t there the last time this happened. He left me.

"Because there are many things that are more important than his life. To him anyway." Haru answers. His face and voice is calm but Rin doesn’t miss how his hands are twisted worryingly in his lap. "And Makoto will never run away from that."

Rin stops. His hands, which he didn’t realize were fisted by his side, slowly unclench. Now, more than ever, he sees the difference between him and Haru — it’s never been a contest, but he’d have hoped to at least know Makoto half as well as Haru does. He hasn't even come close. "Wow," he croaks out. He throws himself back on the bed and runs a hand through his hair, pulling at his scalp a little. "Why am I even here."

Haru shifts closer and their knees bump together. "Because Makoto needs you."

Rin laughs bitterly. "No he doesn’t. I couldn’t do anything. Heck, I was the one having an anxiety attack back there. You fixed both of us in less than a minute."

Haru sighs. "You don’t need to do anything. Weren’t you listening? You’re important to him, Rin." He averts his eyes and leans back against the wall next to bed, taking Makoto’s previous spot. "Why do you think I always take over twin-babysitting duties, and leave you alone with him?"

"Haru, we broke up four years ago," Rin points out. It’s flattering that Haru thinks he means something huge to Makoto but Rin’s past the age of his idealistic romances; while some measure of hope has never truly left, honestly speaking, time and heartbreak have tempered his wistfulness. "I mean, we’ve talked more this past four days than the past four years combined."

"So?"

"So… " Rin grasps for a way to voice his concerns delicately, but Haru just looks at him like he couldn’t understand why Rin is even hesitating. "Haru… this is hardly the appropriate time to…"

"Get back together?"

Rin’s jaw drops open. Where the fuck did that even come from? "Are you fucking kidding me?” he blurts out. “Haru, Makoto just lost his father."

"So?"

Again with the monosyllabic responses. Rin suppresses the urge to bury his face in his hands. "Look, he’s emotionally vulnerable right now."

Haru remains unfazed. "And?"

"I can’t complicate things."

"Why would things need to get complicated?"

Rin glares at him. "You don’t ask someone about making major life-changing choices when they’re emotionally compromised, Haru, haven’t you learned anything from the movies? Books? Life? "

Haru shrugs. "I don’t really watch movies or read books."

“Well, I do, and believe it or not, people who suffered a great loss cannot be trusted to make rational decisions," Rin fires back heatedly. "Why do you think people get themselves shitfaced drunk after a breakup? Why do you think people try to hurt themselves? Heck, I went berserk at you when I made an idiot of myself in that regional race when Captain Mikoshiba tossed me off the relay team. Bottom line, people can’t think rationally when they’re vulnerable."

Haru’s brow furrows, and he opens his mouth to reply, only to close it again, as if reconsidering what he has to say. "Alright fine," he acquiesces, in a begrudging tone that denotes his persistent disagreement with Rin but unwillingness to argue his point further. "Can you remind me why you two broke up again?"

Rin can’t believe he’s having this conversation. "Because we needed to focus on ourselves," he mutters, bitterly remembering Makoto’s words. "For our future."

"Future huh?" Haru echoes. He stands up, walks over to the wall housing Makoto’s framed diplomas, slim fingers running across the glass. "Is this it?"

Rin raises an eyebrow. "Is what it?"

"You won gold. Makoto holds two bachelor degrees." Haru turns around and faces Rin again, his stare intense and impossibly blue, even in the relative darkness of the room. "Isn’t this the future you broke up for?"

It’s as if time suddenly stops for Rin, everything around him freezing, the ambient sounds in the room dimming to white noise. All of a sudden, he finds himself paralyzed, overwhelmed by an emotion he has desperately kept at bay for so long: yearning , strong and all-encompassing, coursing through his veins and wrapping around his bones. With only a few choice words, Haru found this feeble flame of hope hidden in the deepest corners of his heart and subsequently fueled it.

It terrifies him just how much he still wants and loves, and how time has not made any of these feelings wane. And then his mind flashes back to the splintered glass of Makoto’s expression, the way he felt so frail in Rin’s arms, and Rin just knows he cannot continue down this dangerous line of thought. He bites his lip, almost hard enough to draw blood. "…Haru, don’t do this."

Haru remains unfazed. "Do you want to get back together with him?"

Rin buries his face in his hands, feeling his breath come in shuddering gasps. "Please stop."

"You broke up because it wasn’t the right time then," Haru presses, as he walks back towards the bed. "But time has already passed and circumstances have already changed. Isn’t it about time you did too?"

Rin can’t do this. Not right now. He stands up abruptly, his pulse pounding furiously beneath his skin. If Haru’s not going to stop questioning him, he has to get away. He needs to clear his head— he needs to make sense of things again. He holds up his hands when he sees Haru about to say something again.

“Haru I can’t do this right now, I… I…” He takes a deep, calming breath as he grabs his jacket and walks backwards towards the door. “...I think I’ll go out for a walk."

Haru doesn’t stop him as he runs out the door, but he can feel those blue eyes staring at his back. As he passes by the twins’ room on the way to the stairs, he hears Makoto’s soft, soothing voice, the kind that used to lull Rin to sleep over Skype on many lonely nights in Sydney, talking over the muffled sobbing of the twins.

He hesitates for a second, fingers grazing the knob of the twins’ door, before shaking his head and running down the stairs and out into the night.

~tbc~

Chapter Text

Iwatobi stayed pretty much the same over the past few years, save for that new Lawsons near the high school, and a new bakery right behind the temple. There are more cats, the local shopping arcade has gained several new stores and some rough roads near the mountains have already been paved, but that's about it.

Still, Iwatobi has a lot of places he could've gone to— like the high school building, or that balcony where he, Haru and Makoto used to watch fireworks.

Where he actually ended up in is a bit of a conundrum. He hasn’t been to this place since he went back to Australia for training. He just went where his feet took him.

And now, he’s standing here. On Iwatobi beach. The place that took away people he and Makoto loved.

Fate, if it is fate that lead him here, truly has an odd sense of humour.

The moon is full, bright but lonely, trailed by a path of silver glittering on the dark ocean surface. It’s a quiet night, the waves breaking gently on the shore, the sea breeze a soft, cool whisper against Rin’s skin. He removes his shoes and steps just close enough to dig his toes into the wet sand. Cold salt water washes over his ankles, froth and foam seeping in the crevices between his toes.

It’s calming at least, which is certainly beneficial for the head-clearing intentions he ran away from Haru for. Rin closes his eyes and takes deep lungfuls of fresh, clean air, allowing it to permeate his body and revitalize his blood. At that very moment, his mind wanders to his memories of the sea.

One of the memories is hazy, like peering through a piece of gauze, and he only vaguely remembers it: somber men in white hakamas carrying dead bodies on wooden boards, the sound of his mother’s tears, Gou’s tiny hand entwined with his. It’s blurry, probably because he was crying at that time. It's a sad memory, because death is always sad, but it’s not something that incapacitates him. Mainly because he has so many other memories of the sea he could easily dwell on.

These other memories are much clearer though, like a shiny tourist postcard with bright backgrounds bleeding into a white frame: golden beaches with swaying pine trees, the sound of his and Gou’s shrieking laughter, feet lifting from the ground, as they hung on either side of their father’s flexed arms while their mother prepared lunch on a picnic blanket. He remembers sunny, cloudless skies, the spray of water as their boat slices through the blue expanse of the sea, bright orange life vests his father always made him wear, no matter how good a swimmer Rin boasts himself to be. Those were the best days he had with his father, and he holds on to these memories tightly. When Rin remembers his father, he always wants it to be with that bright smile, with that loud booming voice, with those powerful arms his mother always fondly tells him he inherited. He remembers a responsible father, a loving husband to his mother and a hero.

When it all comes down to it, maybe this is the big difference between him and Makoto. When it comes to the ocean, Makoto is afraid to remember, while Rin is afraid to forget.

He opens his eyes.

"If Makoto and I are supposed to be together again," he whispers to the sea, throwing all his hopes to the wind. "Please give me a sign."

Three seconds later, the pocket of his cargo shorts vibrates. Reluctantly, he reaches down and fetches his phone, expecting Haru or Makoto’s name, but what he actually sees is Sousuke’s.

He hurried plugs his in-ear headset, secures each bud in his ear, and then swipes the button to answer. "Hey."

“Where are you?"

What a bizarre opening question. "...At the beach?"

"A little too late to go swimming, don't you think?"

"I’m not swimming, I’m trying to think,” Rin answers, rolling his eyes. “Well, at least until someone called and interrupted."

Sousuke snorts. "Well, I’m sorry someone just wanted to check up on you."

"I didn’t say I minded," Rin assures him quickly. He really didn’t. It’s nice to hear Sousuke’s much missed, if a bit sardonic voice again, after spending the past week in the somber atmosphere of the Tachibana household. "You know what’s funny? I was standing here, trying to think of what to do with my life, and I had this crazy idea to ask the ocean for a sign, and then… you called."

There’s a long pause at the end of the line before Sousuke speaks up again. "So… you were talking to the ocean? Damn, Haru really is rubbing off on you."

"…Really?" Rin deadpans. "That’s your take-away from this?"

"Well it’s either that or acknowledge the notion that I’m supposed to represent some form of divine providence and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that responsibility," Sousuke retorts, and makes a huffing noise over the phone. "Well, out with it. What is it that you want to talk about?"

Rin blinks, confused. "Uh, you're the one who called me…"

"Oh. Right," Sousuke says, sounding like that particular fact only registered to him just now. "Well, you did mention that you were talking to the ocean, and I believe you’ll find I’m a much better listener than her."

"Her?"

"The sea?" Sousuke replies, like the explanation is perfectly obvious. "Bodies of water are conventionally female you know."

"Huh. I see someone is reading my sister’s European languages textbooks."

"Yeah, you could say that. I mean, she made me practice French with her for pretty much most of her senior year."

Rin tries to imagine Sousuke, who is absolute shit at English trying to speak a language that is the polar opposite of Japan’s strictly phonetic pronunciation and forces down a laugh. "Bet you loved that."

"Oh yeah." There’s a sudden lazy drawl in Sousuke’s voice, as if remembering one very pleasurable memory. Or several. "I lo-o-ove being Gou’s French… study partner."

It takes Rin a second to realize what’s happening, another second to convey the depths of his outrage with an extremely audible and slightly stinging facepalm, and another second to glare at his phone as if the heat of it is transmittable over GPRS. "You are so lucky you’re more than 600 kilometers away from me right now."

Rin can’t see it but he just knows Sousuke is smirking over the phone, and he makes a vow to himself to make sure to steal all his best friend’s cola next time he visits.

"Anyway," Sousuke prompts again, his tone back to business. "Like I was saying, what were you asking the ocean earlier?"

Right. Rin chews on his lip, considering the best way to go about this. He specifically wanted to get away from the house because he didn’t want to pursue this particular trail of troubling thought but it seems like it followed him all the way here anyway, even if in the form of a phone call from a beloved friend all the way back in Tokyo.

After a few more seconds of deliberation, he decides to go for an indirect approach, just to see if Sousuke will arrive at the same conclusion Haru did. “Well…” he starts cautiously. “You know how life is a book and stages of your life are like chapters... right?”

“Okay…”

“Yeah, and -and you grow older as you turn the pages, and every milestone you achieve is like, uh… a different chapter.” Rin clears his throat. “You following me?”

“Uh huh.”

“Well... what if there’s a chapter in your life that you just loved so much, a chapter that you didn't want to end because it made you so happy— though of course you had to, because you needed to move forward into the rest of the story. What if several chapters have already passed but you want to go back and reread it and fall in love with it all over—”

“—Are you asking me if it’s a good idea for you and Makoto to get back together?” Sousuke interrupts.

“That’s not even—” Rin takes a deep breath and scowls. “Yeah okay fine. Wow. You could have at least pretended to play along.”

“Rin, you are about as subtle as a kick in the nuts,” Sousuke returns good-naturedly. “Also, I'm not really cut for metaphorical mumbo-jumbo, that's more Makoto’s peg. Though I understand why you wouldn't talk to him about it.”

“Well I didn’t expect to talk about it at all, but you asked so…” Rin kicks at the incoming tide, sending a spray of water across the sand. “So come on… what do you think?”

Sousuke doesn’t answer for a long time. Rin knows he’s still there because he can hear the distant sound of a comedy sitcom playing in the background, and the sound of fingernails drumming on a wooden surface.

When a full thirty seconds passes and Sousuke still doesn’t say anything, Rin scowls, feeling miffed. "Wow, you’re right, you’re a much better sounding board than the ocean."

"Ha ha. I was just thinking okay?" Sousuke makes a humming sound and the tapping sounds in the background stop. "Well, you know what they say. If you love something, let it go. If it comes back, it’s meant to be."

Rin jaw drops open and he glares at his phone for a full three seconds. "I can’t believe divine providence will send me an overused cliché."

"Clichés are clichés because they’re true. Well, most of the time," Sousuke quips. There’s a short pause, wherein Rin would love to believe is time Sousuke spends realizing what a complete non-answer that was and then: "Seriously though… I don’t see why not. You still love him right?”

"Yes." It surprises Rin a bit to see how easily he answers the question.

"Then isn’t that answer enough?"

Rin sighs. Of course Sousuke would think that. "It’s not that simple."

"Really? What’s to think about? You still love him, and according to the person who knows him better than anyone else, there’s a huge possibility that he still loves you back. He’s done with college, has a lot of job prospects, and because of the Project 2020 agreement, with Australia, you’re back to training in Tokyo. What’s stopping you?"

Trust Sousuke to cut to the heart of the matter so succinctly. "Fine, I take it back," Rin admits. "It’s not easy."

Sousuke chuckles. "Yeah well, nothing that’s worth having ever comes easy."

"Wow, more clichés. Thanks, divine providence."

"Oh I’m not even getting started." There’s a rustling sound at the other end of the line, followed by the creaking of springs, as if Sousuke’s making himself more comfortable. "Look, you know Makoto and I stayed roommates even after you guys broke up right?"

"Yeah…"

"Yes well, for pretty much the first couple of weeks after you guys broke up, I barely saw him around our place. Heck, I saw him more in the classes we shared than at the apartment where we both lived. So obviously, he was avoiding me."

Rin nods absently. While this info is new to him, he really isn’t surprised. "Kisumi once mentioned that after we broke up, Makoto frequently crashed over at his place to raid his sizable liquor stash. And of course, the bastard actually indulged him."

"Well, what did you expect from Kisumi, really?" Sousuke scoffs. "But yeah, it’s partially my fault. I think. Makoto seriously thought I was going to fight him. Can’t deny the thought never crossed my mind. You were a huge mess after the break-up, Rin."

The mental image of Makoto playing hide-and-seek from an angry Sousuke would normally be funny if Sousuke’s tone wasn’t so foreboding. "Where are you going with this?"

Sousuke hesitates for a while before answering. "Okay don’t get mad…” he starts— which of course, makes Rin even more antsy, though he keeps his mouth shut— “but… I thought at that time, he did the right thing. Both of you would be better off without each other."

What. The. Actual. Fuck. Rin has to bite his lip to keep from saying those words out loud. "…Sousuke." He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath as his mind zooms in to the most logical conclusion to this conversation, given these recent revelations. "Are you the one who gave him the idea to break up with me?"

"No!" Sousuke exclaims, in a panicky voice that Rin would’ve found hilarious if not for the seriousness of their conversation. "God no. That was a decision he came to on his own. I admit, I thought about it, but I swear Rin, I never ever gave any inclination that I think you guys should break up. Well, before it happened anyway."

Rin can feel his left eye twitching imperceptibly. "What do you mean, before it happened?"

"I mean, I eventually talked to him about it, after you broke up,” Sousuke answers, sounding as nervous as he ever gets. “He was good at escaping and hiding but he couldn’t avoid me forever. So I asked Kisumi to help me... trap him.”

This conversation is getting more surreal by the second. "…What did you guys do ?"

Rin can’t see him, but he just knows Sousuke is wincing at the other end of the line. "Well, one day, while he was in the shower, Kisumi and I uh… stole all his clothes and refused to give them back until he talked to me. It’s pretty hard to run away when you only have a towel on your person."

Rin pinches the bridge of his nose. Makoto probably didn’t take too kindly to that kind of sleazy tactic. "And? What did you tell him?"

"I told him I didn’t blame him and that I believe he made the right decision."

Rin glares at a random plastic bottle on the sand and kicks it, imagining Sousuke’s face. "Wow, thanks a lot for the support."

"Will you let me finish?" Sousuke replies exasperatedly, an edge of impatience seeping into his voice. "I told him that not because I didn’t think you are right for each other — but because it just wasn’t right at that time. He was studying for two courses Rin. I mean, I have mad respect for the guy, but taking on that workload on top of being on the swim team and having a part time job is just insane. And you? You have to recover from your loss at the trials and work on advancing your career, and you already know how invested I am in your career."

Rin hates it when he’s reminded of his first botched trial but begrudgingly admits that Sousuke has a very good point. Doesn’t make it suck any less though. He grunts in what he hopes passes as non-verbal agreement, and Sousuke continues.

"So with that cleared up, things went back to normal. And while I’m fairly sure that he never got over you, he didn’t let his pining take over his life. He learned to work around it. As did you. And now you’re a gold medalist, and he graduated with two bachelor degrees."

Rin actually stopped listening after Sousuke said the words never got over you . "Wait wait— hold the fuck up, how do you know he still had feelings for me?"

"Well for one, he kept encircling the 2nd of February on his every new calendars, two, he never missed any of your televised swim meets and three, he kept everything you gave him, and you gave him a fuck-ton of stuff, Rin. He even kept that gigantic shark plush that plays the Jaws theme when you squeeze its belly. Have I ever commended you on that particular find by the way?"

"If by commended, you mean repeatedly reminded me that it is the shittiest thing you can put in a plush toy meant to be hugged for comfort, then yes, yes, you have. Stop changing the topic."

Sousuke sighs, long and laborious. "I already told you I think he’s still in love with you. What else do you want me to say?"

"What else?!" Rin all but yells into the receiver. "Why didn’t you tell me he has never moved on? You know I haven’t. Four years, Sousuke, and you knew this whole time?!"

"I’m not the only one, okay," Sousuke replies defensively. "Haru knew too. But we both agreed it’s best not to tell you or Makoto until you’re both over what broke you apart in the first place."

Rin can feel a massive headache coming on. He walks away from the incoming tide and leans against the trunk of a pine tree, not trusting his legs to keep him steady. Clearly, he is ill-equipped with dealing with three stressful conversations in a row. "So let me get this straight," he rasps out. "You and Haru deliberately let us believe that we’ve both moved on for four fucking years because you thought it’s the best way for us to find our way back to each other?"

"…Wow that sounded better in my head that time,” Sousuke says sheepishly. “But well, so what if we did? Bottom line is, we believed that you two would get back together again at the right time."

"And what, Haru thinks the right time is when after Makoto’s dad has died?" This is fucking unbelievable.

"Hey, I had nothing to do with that."

"Oh really?" Rin snaps. Tears of frustration well up in his eyes, and he angrily wipes them away with the back of his hand. "You’re telling me that calling me right after I rebuffed Haru about the same topic is just some freak coincidence."

"Well, he did text me to call you," Sousuke admits. "But I didn’t know he already talked about you and Makoto getting back together."

Rin claws a hand over his forehead and then immediately regrets it when sand gets on his face. "Why is this happening to me?"

"Look, why are you so against the idea of it, anyway?"

"I’m not against it." Rin fights the urge to sniffle, and ends up coughing way too obviously instead. "It’s just the timing is all wrong."

"Why is it wrong?"

"Because," Rin snaps. Why can’t they understand? Is he seriously the only person who has common sense around here? "I don’t want Makoto to feel like he’s pressured to return my feelings just because I was there for him."

"...But you won’t be pressuring him to return your feelings because he already does," Sousuke points out.

Rin makes a noise that he’s sure would probably scare anyone within a ten meter radius of him — fortunately no one else had the same idea to go walking along the beach at midnight. "Alright, you know what, fine. Let’s say you’re right. Let’s stay he still has feelings for me. It still doesn’t mean he’s ready for a relationship. He just lost his father, Sousuke."

"I’m aware of that, Rin. But if that’s your logic, then isn’t this the time he needs you most though?"

"I am already here for him," Rin retorts. "What do you think I do here, sit around knitting?"

"No but…" Sousuke pauses, deliberating his next words, and Rin can hear the faint grinding sound of his teeth. "You said it yourself, Makoto already has to deal with losing his father—”

“Yes, exactly he doesn’t need another—”

“—And I’m just saying,” Sousuke interrupts loudly. “That, I don’t know, maybe it's about time someone else he loves comes back into his life?"

Rin's breath doesn't stop no, but what happens is pretty close.

His head spins, his vision blurs, his breathing becomes erratic, and he staggers to his knees on the fine sand. Oh, he thinks weakly, because the answer has been staring him in the face all this time.

And it’s just so funny how he’s the one who couldn’t see it, how it had to be Sousuke and Haru to point it out to him, so maddeningly, painfully hilarious, that he could honestly laugh.

He tries, and he’s got the whole hahaha bit down pat, but it becomes rapidly apparent that he cannot sustain it, and he ends up gasping, as tears spill out of his eyes. Next thing he knows is, he’s crashing on the sand, lying flat on his back, staring at the sky with his arm over his forehead.

“Oi Rin,” Sousuke says, sounding alarmed. “What’s gotten into—”

“—I need a drink,” Rin interrupts, his voice coming out a bit wheezy, and maybe possibly deranged. God, Sousuke must think he’s losing his mind or something.

"... First of all, what the hell, and second of all, you don’t drink."

"I don’t know, this whole night is a giant neon sign of ‘Now’s a Good Time to Start.’"

"Rin." Sousuke’s voice turns harsher, more alert, no longer fucking around. "Come on, what do I need to—"

Rin quickly interrupts him before he gets the wrong idea. "You think there’s a way I can get drunk where I remember what I have to do but conveniently forget that you and Haru out-logicked me?"

There’s a long pause at the other end of the line and Rin briefly wonders if Sousuke is already calling Gou for pointers on how to deal with the homegrown Matsuoka brand of crazy.

And then, Sousuke laughs, loud and full, and for the first time this evening, Rin can feel himself grinning. Already, the heaviness in his chest is lifting, and the flicker of hope he had only subconsciously kept alive for the past four years, is now a blazing hellion within him. He feels alive, energized, invincible , like he can take on everything the world throws at him.

"I’m still kicking your ass next time I see you," Rin grouses playfully once Sousuke’s laughter dies down.

"Totally worth it," Sousuke fires back, and Rin makes a fist bump to the air, knowing Sousuke is doing it too. "Anyway, I need to go to sleep. I suggest you do too; I know you had a rough night."

Rin checks his watch and swears under his breath when he sees the time. "Yeah okay," he says. "Thanks for the wake-up call Sousuke. I needed that."

"Anytime. Goodnight Rin. My regards to Makoto."

"Goodnight Sousuke. Say hi to Gou for me."

Rin ends the call and puts his phone back in his pocket. He stretches his arms above him, starfishing across the dry, coarse sand, listening to the ocean’s whisper. The wind picks up again, cool and soothing, tickling the bangs on his forehead, setting a delicate, welcome contrast to the heat on his skin. He feels warm. Content. Happy .

He looks up. The skies in Iwatobi are so much clearer than Tokyo or Sydney, with ten times the amount of visible stars. With the ocean before him, and the sky open at both ends, the world seems infinitely vaster than before.

A comet streaks across the sky, tail blazing in the dark of night.

Rin doesn’t make a wish for himself, no.

But he does make one for Makoto.

 

*

 

When he gets back to Makoto’s room, there are two futons already laid out beside the bed. Makoto is sleeping on the first one, while Haru is sleeping on the one closest to the door.

Which leaves the bed for Rin. He sighs ruefully, scratching the back of his neck. In a way, he’s not really surprised— Makoto has always insisted that other people take his bed whenever he has guests over and it was probably easier for him to get his way when Rin wasn't around to put up a token protest. He carefully steps over the two lumps on the floor, making his way into Makoto’s bed.

When he has already settled under the duvet, he twists around to his side, creeping to the edge of the bed to peer at Makoto from his higher vantage point. Without conscious thought, his hand reaches out, hovering over Makoto’s mouth, reassuring himself with the cadence of Makoto’s breathing, of the sureness of his presence one movement away.

"I love you," he whispers, as he closes the last few inches down, running a finger on Makoto’s lower lip. "Please give me a chance to make you happy again."

He takes another moment to drink in the rare peace on Makoto’s face before retracting his hand. He throws the blanket around himself and inhales deeply, relishing Makoto’s scent on the pillow resting against his cheek.

He falls asleep, thinking of the many ways his heart would sing if Makoto would say yes.

~tbc~

 

Chapter Text

When Rin wakes up the next morning, the first thing he sees is Makoto’s clear green gaze focused on him. The curtains were left open last night and now there’s sunlight slowly pooling on the wrinkled sheets. The only reason it’s not on Rin’s face is because Makoto is sitting on the part of the bed near the windowsill, his broad back blocking the sun.

"Hey," Rin murmurs, rubbing his eyes. "What time is it?"

"Seven thirty-nine," Makoto replies, tilting his head to the side. He shifts closer to Rin, the movement jostling Rin's legs a little. "Did you sleep well?"

"Yeah." Rin blinks, the last vestiges of sleep still clinging to his eyes. He shakes his head, and props himself up on his elbows to take a better look at Makoto. "Very well actually. Your bed is still as comfortable as I... remember...” He trails off, momentarily caught up by the way the sunlight falls on Makoto’s frame, bathing him in a warm honey glow, perfectly matching the smile gracing his lips.

Makoto is smiling. And it isn’t a sad smile either, nothing at all like the tense, hollow facsimiles he’s taken to plastering on his face lately. Rin remembers when Makoto used to smile all the time, and he had a thousand different ways of doing it. And of those ways, this is the one Rin treasures the most-- soft and private, reminding Rin that the most intimate parts of him are places that cannot be touched.

He doesn’t realize how long he’s staring until Makoto bites his lip and shyly looks down. Rin immediately sits up, fully awake by now and opens his mouth to stammer a quick face-saving comment but Makoto beats him to it.

“Y-yeah, it really is right?” he says, scratching the back of his neck. His gaze carefully slides past Rin, landing on the headboard. “It um, still has all the battle scars too."

Rin’s brow furrows. What battle scars? What is Makoto talking about-- Oh. Right. The bed. Comfy bed that hasn’t changed. Okay. He takes a deep breath to get back his bearings. I can work with this.

He shrugs the comfy duvet off of him and twists to the right, scooting over to sit beside Makoto, resting his back against the wall. “Yeah, it’s like you never left,” he comments casually, trying to focus his attention on this old piece of furniture instead of the boy who owns it. He places his hand along the headboard, noting the different chips and nicks on the legs of the bed, how there are certain parts of the wallpaper that are darker than others, how one side of the bed is a little saggier than the other half, and… "Hey, there’s still that red nail polish stain on the back board too."

Makoto cranes his neck to check it out. "Ah I remember that. Ran told you to wait fifteen minutes for the polish to dry but no, you—"

"—just went ahead and jumped you anyway," Rin finishes, unable to help himself before cringing internally because what the fuck?! It’s like he suddenly lost the ability to converse like a normal friend now that he has the Very Important Mission to Get Back Together with Makoto programmed into his hindbrain. His face grows hot and he grasps at the duvet, looking at Makoto from the corner of his eye. "Anyway, what I meant to say was... that was an… eventful night."

Makoto’s shy smile wavers a little, and the tips of his ears turn bright pink. "I’ll say. You got nail polish on my… you know..."

Rin reminds himself he is well past the age of making dramatic animal noises every time someone brings up an embarrassing memory. A voice that suspiciously sounds like Sousuke taunts him: Wow, good job Matsuoka— I guess nothing says "I want you back" like "Remember the time I almost caused your balls permanent chemical damage?" He makes a valiant effort to ignore it, and rearranges his face to what he hopes manages to convey something along the lines of ‘sincerely apologetic, but in a somewhat dignified way.’ "Hey, you said it was worth it!"

"Yes well, that was before I had to remove it with acetone," Makoto reminds him as he wraps his arms around his knees, shivering at the memory, and the tiny Sousuke voice in Rin’s head turns into a full blown guffaw. "That wasn’t very fun. It was cold, but it burned. And Nagisa wouldn’t stop teasing me about the chemicals permeating my skin and getting into my internal tubules resulting to mutant s—"

"Onii-chan, breakfast is ready!"

"—swimmers," Makoto finishes smoothly, before turning towards the door, reassuring big-brother smile in place. "We'll be down soon Ran."

Tiny Sousuke voice is now rolling on the floor of Rin’s brain space, pounding his fists and positively howling, and the corner of Rin's lips twitch dangerously, despite the fact that his face is probably the colour of that historical nail polish by now. He turns his head away and bites his lip.

"Okay, but hurry up, Haru-chan made pancakes!"

The door closes again. The two of them wait a few more beats for the sound of Ran's footsteps to disappear before breaking down into laughter, Makoto just a little bit quieter than Rin.

It dawns on Rin then that he can’t remember the last time he heard Makoto laugh. It makes his heart ache a little, heavy with the weight of affection he has for the boy beside him, the boy with the sunlit smile and impossibly kind eyes, the boy who still continues to hold his heart for so many years and counting.

He stops laughing first, and spends a few precious seconds just basking in this moment, savouring this fleeting glimpse of Makoto’s happiness because in some ways, it is also his own.

Makoto's shoulders eventually relax, his chuckles dying down, and he reaches up a hand to brush his hair back. "I've missed this," he breathes, turning to look at Rin and giving him that gentle smile again.

I’ve missed us, Rin doesn’t reply. "Yeah, me too," he mumbles instead.

Makoto shifts a little closer to him, bringing their thighs flush together, and Rin feels a swooping sensation in his gut, something he hasn't felt since high school. It’s been way too many years, how is it possible that Makoto can still make him feel like this?

The two of them share a few more moments of companionable silence. Then, Makoto curls his hands on his lap and straightens his shoulders. The laughter is gone from his face now, leaving behind something more serious, sorrowful, reminiscent of the night before. Rin swallows anxiously, waiting for Makoto to speak.

Makoto inhales deeply, before looking at Rin, eyes apologetic. "I’m sorry for what I said last night," he says, in a quiet voice that reeks of the kind of shame Makoto isn’t accustomed to admitting to. “I didn’t mean any of it.”

At this, Rin finds himself breathing a little easier. "Hey, what did I tell you about apologizing all the time?" he chides, reaching out to give Makoto's hand a reassuring squeeze. "It’s not your fault okay? You were grieving. God knows I've said worse things for lesser reasons."

Makoto doesn’t seem to be convinced, but Rin’s come to expect that. "I just…" He bites his lip and grips Rin’s hand back. "I don't ever want to be the person who makes you sad again."

Well, there’s one way we can arrange that, Rin thinks, but he doesn’t feel like now is the right time. Not yet. "I wasn't sad,” he reassures Makoto. “I was just a bit scared I guess.”

“Scared?”

“I mean, I’ve never seen you talk like that before."

Makoto’s head bows. "I'm really sorry."

"Stop apologizing,” Rin scolds, with an exasperated half-smile. “Really, it's okay. I took a long walk and cleared my head. Also, Sousuke called and we talked for a bit."

"Ah really?” Makoto perks up at this new info, and Rin mentally pats himself on the back for successfully distracting Makoto from going further down that path of unnecessary self-deprecation. “How is he?”

"Well, as usual, he’s a sarcastic shitlord who I still cannot believe actually managed to hypnotize my sister into dating him, but other than that, he’s doing well." Rin folds his knees to his chest, still holding onto Makoto's hand. "He said something about learning French."

"Oh." Makoto brings his free hand to his mouth, looking tickled. "You know he's not actually learning to speak—"

"—Yes I know, just please let me indulge in my delusions until I can actually get within his personal space to knee him in his bony behind," Rin interrupts with a disgruntled pout. "But still, for the most part, I'm glad he called." He looks at their joined hands, at how Makoto has made no move to disengage himself. "He made me realize a few things."

He waits for Makoto to probe further.

Makoto's eyes flicker uncertainly, and his tongue peeks out between his lips, his breath coming up in slow puffs. "Rin…”

A loud knock on the door interrupts him. "Onii-chan, what's taking you so long?" an impatient voice —Ren’s this time— whines. "Come on, we're all hungry, and Ran refuses to start without you."

"Alright, alright, Rin and I are coming down now," Makoto calls out. He reluctantly lets go of Rin's hand, and smiles apologetically. "Breakfast first?"

Rin nods and follows Makoto off the bed and out of the room, where he is immediately accosted by the twins, who all but drag him downstairs.

Rin supposes he should be disappointed about getting interrupted, but he's really really not.

Makoto turns around briefly, to check if Rin's following.

Rin grins and gestures at him to go ahead.

Makoto smiles, eyes crinkling at the corners, cheeks a light dusty pink, and that's when Rin realizes he already has everything he needs to know.

It's just a matter of when.

*

Eventually, the Tachibana family goes back to the rest of their lives, not quite like before, but as normal as could be, given the circumstances. The twins are back to attending their second year of Iwatobi middle school, and Makoto’s mom returns to work. Makoto has attended to almost everything that requires his attention.

Almost everything.

Two days before Rin and Haru’s scheduled departure back to Tokyo, Rin has yet to confess to Makoto. It’s not for lack of trying. It’s just that Makoto has to make another big decision about his future, one that he needs to do entirely on his own without intervention from anyone or anything, of which Rin’s feelings most definitely count.

Makoto’s sitting in the kitchen, looking utterly frazzled— hair a wild mess on his head, one hand covering half his face, glasses askew on his nose. His phone is placed on the table before him— he’s been staring at it for the past ten minutes. He’s so caught up in his thinking, he doesn’t even notice Rin and Haru peeking around the kitchen door, taking turns nudging each other on who should approach him first.

“You talk to him, you’re the one who’s close to his family,” Rin hisses as quietly as he can, shoving at Haru to get him past the door.

“No you talk to him,” Haru stubbornly retorts, pushing back as best he could against Rin’s arm which is blocking the doorway. “We’re going back to Tokyo in two days and you’re not back together yet.”

“That doesn’t have anything to do with this!” Rin snaps, reinforcing his hold on the other end of the door, palms scraping against the old wood.

“Yes, it has everything to do with it, and you need to tell him right. Now.” With that, Haru ducks under Rin’s arm and twists around to get behind him, simultaneously pushing Rin past the doorway and into the kitchen.

Rin stumbles clumsily inside, almost falling flat on his face if not for the kitchen chair he grabbed and inadvertently dragged across the floor, causing an ear-splitting screech that could probably be heard in Australia.

Makoto jumps from his seat, almost knocking his phone off the table and he stares at Rin with wide eyes.

Rin winces as he sets himself upright, silently vowing to bury all of Haru’s jammers underground when he gets the chance. “Uh sorry about that,” he ekes out, delicately putting the chair back in its place. “You’ve been here for a long time— is everything okay?”

Makoto composes himself, and puts his phone back in his pocket. "Oh… well I just got a call from that private school in Ueno," he answers, and leans back against his chair. He takes a slow, deep breath before continuing:

“I got the job. They want me to report on Monday.”

For someone who just got the job he’s always wanted, Makoto sounds a bit subdued.

Rin understands why though. He chews on his lip, feeling his own confusing mix of emotions welling up inside him. On the one hand, he’s incredibly happy for Makoto finally getting his dream job but on the other hand, taking it means…

Makoto’s eyes are downcast, fists curling on the on the table. “I don’t know if I can leave Iwatobi so soon.”

And there it is. Rin feels something heavy and sad linger in the pit of his stomach. For the second time in his life, Makoto has to choose between the people he loves and his future.

“Mom insists she can take care of things, but I’m still worried about the twins,” Makoto continues, eyes still fixed on his hands, as if they hold the answer. “Well, they’re already in middle school and don’t really need to be watched anymore but it’s going to be hard to leave them so soon after Dad’s death. But then…”

Rin takes the seat next to Makoto and reaches out to touch Makoto’s knee, silently encouraging him to continue.

Makoto clenches his fists and sighs. "Dad shouldered most of our finances, so I have to step up. I mean, we still have his savings and the insurance money and the twins have a college education plan and I can probably get an okay job here but… well, with the salary they offered me, I can help support my family and save up for myself."

Rin nods, understanding. “When do you need to give your decision?”

Makoto smiles bitterly. “Today.”

Rin bites back a curse. “Ah.”

“The HR personnel told me they needed an answer by close of business.” Makoto swallows hard and buries his face in his hands. “I have exactly 4 hours to decide what to do with my life.”

Rin allows himself a small measure of selfishness, and pushes his chair closer to Makoto, enough to enable him to wrap an arm around the other boy. Makoto follows his lead and rests his head on Rin’s shoulder, one hand still covering his face.

“I know you can pull through with this,” Rin murmurs into Makoto’s hair.

Makoto’s voice breaks a little. “How?”

“I don’t know how exactly.” Rin replies honestly. He hesitates for a few heartbeats before summoning his confidence and daring to plant a soft kiss on Makoto’s forehead and then adding: “I just know you.”

Makoto goes still underneath Rin, his hand slowly falling from his face to land on the table again. Rin wonders what Makoto’s thinking— if he’s quietly taking in the significance of those words, and what it meant for Rin to say them. Rin tightens his grip around Makoto’s shoulder, cheek resting on the crown of Makoto’s hair, hoping he understands what Rin isn’t saying.

After a long period of time, Makoto lifts his head from Rin’s shoulder, expression unreadable. “I think…” he starts carefully. “I need to take a long walk.”

“Oh.” Rin slowly lets his hand fall from its grasp on Makoto’s shoulder, unsure of what to feel. He was hoping Makoto would want to talk about it more, but if he needs the space then Rin would be more than willing to give it to him. “Okay.”

At that moment, as if almost on cue, Haru walks inside, and unceremoniously dumps a bag containing several little gift boxes on Rin’s lap.

“Makoto, we still have to give some of the funeral guests their attendance tokens,” Haru reminds him, ignoring Rin’s indignant sputtering at how there’s a perfectly serviceable table right in front of him, and then proceeds to hand Makoto a paper list. “And you need to pass by the grocery, we’re low on almost everything.”

Makoto readily stands up and relieves Rin of the bag. “Okay, I can take care of this while I walk,” he says, hefting the strap over his shoulder. “I should be back in a couple of hours.”

“Take Rin with you,” Haru adds. “You’ll be needing his muscle for carrying the shopping bags.”  

Putting aside the fact that this is the biggest, most obvious lie (Makoto’s muscle is capable of lifting 68kg of Rin and Haru knows it) Rin’s got to hand it to Haru— the guy is terribly persistent. He swears he has never seen Haru exert so much obvious effort on something that doesn't involve a pool. “Oi Haru, maybe Makoto needs —”

“—Sure, I was going to invite him anyway.”

Rin blinks, pleasantly surprised. “You were?”

“Yeah.” Makoto’s gaze sweeps uncertainly towards Rin. “Unless you don’t want to, and I completely understand if you—”

“— Of course I’ll come with you!” Rin blurts, standing up hastily, practically rocking on the balls of his feet. He realizes belatedly that he’s acting like a painfully eager schoolboy with a crush (again), but before he can think of a way to regain his cool, Makoto reaches out and gently touches the small of Rin’s back.

“Thanks Rin,” he says quietly.

Rin stiffens at the unexpected touch, and he makes an undignified squeak, which prompts Makoto to withdraw his hand self-consciously. No no no put it back, Rin despairs, cursing himself for his jumpy reactions. Seriously, what happened before he woke up, did he somehow get caught in some space-time warp where his giddy romantic loser high school self got transported into his current adult body?

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to… uh, I’ll wait for you outside,” Makoto says, before swiftly turning around and heading out the kitchen door.

Rin just stares helplessly after him, feeling miserable. It’s one of the things Rin doesn’t like about himself— he almost always knows what he feels; it’s just that he sometimes can’t find the words. “What’s wrong with me?”

“A lot, but we love you anyway,” Haru answers, sounding as smug as he ever does, before pushing Rin towards the direction of the door. “The twins and I are baking Makoto’s favourite cake today so get lost for at least two hours.” He then shoves a jacket into Rin’s arms and shoos him away.

Rin takes the jacket with a huff and stomps off. His steps eventually lighten though, when he realizes he’ll be spending the next couple of hours alone with Makoto and away from the house, something that hasn’t happened since… well, since they broke up.

He absently zips up the jacket, suddenly feeling nervous. This is all Haru’s fault. Rin’s still on the fence whether he wants to kick or kiss Haru more. Maybe a bit of both.

When he gets outside, Makoto is sitting on the steps playing with his favourite street cat, his cheeks pink— from the spring cold, Rin insists to himself. There’s a stray cherry blossom petal on his hair.  Rin reaches forward to take it out.

Makoto goes still at the touch of Rin’s hand on his head, and Rin indulges himself a little, running his fingers through Makoto’s fine light brown hair, before pulling said petal out.

“Cherry blossom,” Rin explains, holding out his palm. The pale pink petal is soft and fragile on his skin, slightly damp from the dew. He lets it drop on the ground as Makoto slowly stands up.

“Ah thanks, Rin.”

Rin takes a step back to give Makoto space, shoving his hands in the pockets of his jacket. When Makoto turns around to fully face Rin, his eyes widen in surprise.

Rin raises an eyebrow. “What?”

“Nothing!” Makoto answers, sounding weirdly panicked. He bites his lip and looks down, as if internally debating something. “It’s just that… I haven’t seen that jacket in a long time.

Rin looks down and only finds out then that the jacket he’s wearing is an Iwatobi Swim Club jacket— Makoto’s to be specific. It still has “Captain” stitched on the front pocket— Haru’s handiwork, at the behest of Rin, at the cost of free Samezuka pool access for a month.  

No wonder it falls a bit loosely around Rin’s shoulders. He feels his cheeks burn with embarrassment. How preoccupied was he about not making a fool of himself in front of Makoto that did he not notice this? “Uh, Haru gave it to me but I can change—”

“—No. Keep it on.” Makoto’s voice is firm and there’s a look of unmistakable longing in his eyes when he fixes his gaze back at Rin. And while it stings a little to admit to this, Rin knows it’s not all about him— the jacket represents a lot of important moments in Makoto’s life. Some of his happiest even.

“Okay…” Rin wraps his arms around himself. He wonders what Makoto is seeing, what he’s thinking about. Is he seeing two choices: Rin and his Tokyo dream or Iwatobi and his family? Or is he looking at the whole picture? Rin in Makoto’s Iwatobi jacket is quintessentially a relic of the past, a time when they both sincerely believed that they could have it all, that dreams and love could co-exist, and they’d never have to choose.

That illusion was shattered years ago.

But after spending the past week with Makoto, hearing his voice, coaxing out his smiles, wrapping his arms around the warmth of his skin, Rin wants to pick up every broken piece and believe again.

It’s no longer a question of whether or not Makoto wants the same thing. Rather, it’s a question of whether or not he’ll choose it.

Makoto shakes his head as if dispelling himself from a trance and turns around. “Let’s go,” he whispers, and starts walking.

Rin bites his lip and follows quietly. It’s the cold spring air, he says to himself, when he blinks and rubs his eyes with the back of his hand.  

*

The walk around town is uneventful for the most part. They decided to do groceries last so the first hour was spent running around town delivering thank you gifts to the people who helped out the Tachibana family. They walked  mostly in comfortable silence save for several moments of bright aimless chatter, usually about the families Makoto gave gifts too. Occasionally, Rin catches Makoto stealing looks at him but would quickly look away when Rin turns to face him. Similarly, Rin would find himself subconsciously glancing for extended periods at the side of Makoto’s face and hurriedly darting his eyes away when Makoto so much as turns to breathe in his direction.

It’s driving Rin nuts. He wants to stop all these unspoken nonsense, but he can’t back down from his own personal resolution, especially after he’s come so far.

“So… where’s our next stop after this?” Rin ventures, trying to distract himself from his own feelings. Makoto hasn’t said anything for at least ten minutes, though he had been leaning rather comfortably against Rin’s side on the train, chin hovering inches over Rin’s shoulder as he watches the scenery pass by. He still feels like a warm, solid rock— he always has, but Rin is alarmed at how much lighter Makoto feels now. The definition of his muscles is still there, but he’s thinner from how Rin remembers him.

Makoto wears his glasses more often now too and he keeps his hair tied back in short ponytail. Four years ago, Rin would have never dreamt that Makoto would allow his hair to grow this long— he has always been diligent about getting his hair trimmed every three months, but it seems like this part about him has changed too.

There’s light reflecting off the frames of Makoto’s glasses, momentarily shielding his eyes. His hair looks like spun copper from this angle, and his skin is the palest Rin has ever seen from him.

Looking at Makoto now, here and out in the open, with the country scenery whipping past them, Rin feels as if he’s remembering a place he has never been to. Familiar but unreal.

And Rin thinks, that’s perfectly okay. There’s really no going back to the way they were but if there’s anything Rin knows about love, is that people change, and you learn to love the ways they do. The Makoto Rin fell in love with was a bright-eyed boy with a smile like summer, a boy with a terrible habit of expecting nothing from others and giving them everything all the same, a boy whose thoughts run deeper than the oceans he used to fear.

The Makoto now is an adult, weary-eyed and battle-hardened by life and its various tribulations, but still soft in the ways that count. He’s more cautious now, and secretive, still giving everything away except what he truly feels.

Rin loves every version of him. Even the one who walked away from Rin four years ago.

When Makoto finally leans away from the window, he doesn’t take his warmth away from Rin, choosing to stay connected with this simple, casual press of skin, a visceral reminder that despite how the years have fallen between them, some things will never stop feeling so natural and unselfconscious like this.

They have one last stop before their next destination, and one remaining gift box in the paper bag. Makoto hasn’t mentioned anything about who it’s for.

It looks silly to carry such a large bag for a tiny box, and the obsessive-compulsive side of Rin rears its head. Impulsively, he takes out the gift in question, and starts folding the paper bag into a flatter, much more manageable shape, stowing it into the pocket of Makoto’s satchel.

“It’s for the Sato family,” Makoto replies absently to Rin’s unspoken question, as he takes the gift from Rin’s hands. “I saved them for last because they’re nearest to the grocery.”

Sato. The name rings a bell, but Rin can’t quite figure it out right now. He doesn’t dwell on it too much though, because he’ll find out soon enough. “Yeah that makes sense. Shall I let Haru know we’ll be back in an hour then?”

“Actually…” Makoto sits up straight and blinks at Rin. “Would you mind if we stopped by a couple of places first?”

*

To Rin’s surprise, Makoto goes to the same place Rin went to last night. Iwatobi beach is lovely in the late afternoon, the normally deep blue waters of the ocean glittering from the setting sun, like a burst of diamonds over the horizon.

Makoto is looking at it, one hand wrapped around the strap of his satchel, the other resting loosely against his side. His expression is calm, matching the sea before him. Several years ago, Rin would have already seen some form of unease by this time- a slightly furrowed brow, clenched fists, mouth set in a straight line. There’s none of that now though. Rin wonders if it’s supposed to mean something.

Rin steps beside Makoto and follows his gaze. “Does it still scare you?” he asks quietly, keeping his eyes fixed on the horizon. “The ocean?”

Makoto shrugs and doesn’t look away. “Just sometimes. It used to be worse but I overcame it eventually.” He bends down and rolls up his pants to a few inches below his knee. “When I look at it like this, the fear subsides somehow. Just because you’re scared of something doesn’t mean you can’t find it beautiful.” He takes off his sandals and steps into the water, soaking his toes and ankles. He shoves his hands in his pockets and turns around towards Rin, tilting his head to the side. “Are you wondering why I went here?”

Rin stays where he is, keeping a careful eye out as Makoto takes another step further. “I don’t know, because you wanted to see the sunset?”

Makoto chuckles light-heartedly. “Not really, but that’s an understandable guess. The sunset is beautiful.” His gaze follows the horizon, eyes reflecting the melted rose gold of the sinking sun. “I went here because I wanted to remind myself how much I love this town,” he explains, almost to himself. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, inhales the salty tang of the sea air. “The air is fresh, the food is much cheaper, the people are all friendly… and my family is here.” He opens his eyes and turns towards Rin again, giving him that heartbreaking smile, eyes crinkling at the corners, a touch of a blush on the crest of his cheeks. “I don’t really need much to be happy.”

Rin smiles, even as his chest begins to ache, copper heart crumpling at the strike. He’s not surprised really. It’s what he kept telling Haru and Sousuke before they started convincing him otherwise— Makoto isn’t ready yet, and that no matter how convincing his smiles are, or how gentle his words, Rin can’t ever forget that there is still a great loss inside him. “Yeah,” he whispers, voice unwavering despite the hollowness in his ribs. “You should go where you’ll be happy.”

Makoto is quiet for a long time. So long, that Rin starts to wonder if he even heard what Rin said. Then:

“I knew you would say that.”

“Of course.” Rin shrugs one shoulder, flashing Makoto the cockiest grin he can manage. He feels so fake, but it doesn’t make his next words any less true. “You know me.”

“Yeah.” Makoto’s smile turns wistful, his eyes halfway shuttered, as if lost in a faraway memory. Or a dream. Rin can’t tell. Makoto turns back towards the sea and Rin is left staring at his shadow on the sand. “I do, don’t I?”

He does. And that says a lot doesn’t it? Makoto knows Rin and still chose to stay in Iwatobi. It couldn’t be any plainer.

It’s a good thing he hasn’t acted upon his feelings yet. Rin swore to himself that he will support Makoto no matter what he chooses.

Rin loves all versions of Makoto. Even the one that walked away from Rin four years ago, and the one gently telling Rin he wants to stay behind now.

Clichés are clichés because they’re true, Sousuke told Rin. If you love someone, let them go.

Rin loves Makoto.

The next step should be a given.

*

The last place they stop at to deliver the final gift isn't a house or a residential building. Instead, it's a familiar music and record store in the local shopping arcade. The place is bigger from when Rin last remembers it. Business must be good— they’re the only store in Iwatobi that sells international music.

Rin watches Makoto’s broad back as he starts to push the door open. Tomorrow, he’ll pack his bags. Tomorrow, he’ll contact his coach and tell him he wants to start training again right away. Tonight, he’ll call Sousuke and probably (definitely) cry, yell at him, and, depending on how contrite Sousuke would sound, he can take distinct pleasure in telling him “I told you so.” Tonight, he’ll sleep in Makoto’s room for the last time, and hope he doesn’t dream of happier endings.

Today, he’ll smile and be here for Makoto, because that’s what he came here for, and he never does anything in halves.

The wind chimes produce a metallic melody, announcing Makoto and Rin’s presence as they step inside

The cashier — her name is Natsumi, if memory serves Rin correctly — looks up from where she’s perusing a magazine. Her face lights up. “Makoto-kun!”

“Hey Natsumi-san,” Makoto greets warmly. He walks over towards the counter and reaches into his satchel for the gift. “Your dad mentioned he’s going abroad after the funeral so I’m giving this to you instead.” He places the box on Natsumi’s palm and gives a short bow. “On behalf of the Tachibana family, please accept this gift as a show of our gratefulness for your family’s support.”

"Hey there’s no need to sound so formal, Makoto-kun,” Natsumi says gently as she accepts the gift. “And you didn’t need to deliver this to me personally. I know you must be busy— I could have just picked it up from your house."

Makoto shakes his head. "It’s no trouble really,” he reassures her. His hand trails along the countertop, eyes studiously downcast. “I wanted to spend some time walking around town because I’m going back to Tokyo soon."

Rin forgets to breathe.

Natsumi smiles in understanding. “Of course. How are the twins taking it?”

“I haven’t told them yet. They’ll be upset, but they’re old enough to understand. I really have to go back.” Makoto bites his lip, and Rin notices how his right hand is curled into a fist, as if strengthening his resolve. There’s tender huskiness in his voice when he adds: “I need to go back. Both my dreams are there.”

The world begins to blur for Rin: his head spins and his heart is thudding so hard in his chest it feels like it’s going to burst out of his ribs. Makoto... he thinks, breath returning to him in quiet shuddering gasps. He feels weak, so gloriously, deliriously weak, he could just collapse on the ground and cry.

It’s the happiest he has been in a very long time.

Natsumi’s smile takes a knowing turn, and Rin doesn’t miss the way her eyes avert ever so subtly towards him, though it’s probably more because he currently looks like he’s about to pass out from sheer happiness than anything else. She tucks the box carefully in her purse. “You are a strong person Makoto-kun,” she says softly, patting him on the arm. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.”

Yes, Rin agrees silently, suddenly feeling a simultaneous rush of pride on Makoto’s behalf, and gratefulness to Natsumi for reaffirming this absolute truth. Yes he is.   

Makoto ducks his head shyly, cheeks flushed pink from the praise. “I  learned from the best,” he whispers. And then Rin feels it, the back of Makoto’s hand brushing against his, reaching out. Rin grabs on like he used to, like he’s been wanting to, Makoto’s callused fingers sliding against Rin’s, locking into place.

It feels just like it used to. It feels right.

Natsumi hums and props her chin up with one hand. “Well since you two are already here, would you like to take a break from walking and listen to some music?" she offers, holding out a familiar key that makes Rin want to cry more, if such a thing is possible. "Dad brought in some new vinyl records you might want to check out."

Rin and Makoto both turn to look at each other at the same time. Makoto is grinning, brilliant and beautiful, his excitement practically rolling off him in waves. Rin wants to take a picture of that grin, print out a hundred copies of it and keep it in every single one of his pockets.

Rin himself feels like he’s been smiling so long, it feels physically impossible to stop.

“Yes,” Makoto replies, still looking at Rin. “We’d like that very much.”

"Great. Feel free to take all the time you want," Natsumi says, looking tickled at their giddy teenager-esque behavior, before turning to Rin and tossing him the key. Rin fumbles with it before securing it with the hand that wasn’t entwined with Makoto’s.

With an almost breathless laugh, Makoto tugs at Rin and they start making their way back to the other end of the main store.

Rin is still reeling from Makoto’s revelation. “I don’t understand,” he whispers, as they pass by familiar tables and shelves. “I thought you chose to stay here.”

Makoto shakes his head and furrows his brows, looking surprised. “I never said that,” he replies. “I just said I wanted to remind myself that I loved it here too. I mean, it was a difficult decision. But it made me realize something else.”

Rin loves it when Makoto does this— zeroing in on the bright spot of realization amidst the deep and endlessly moving waters of his thoughts, self-assured and confident. “Go on.”

“I was focusing so much on the decision, when I should have focused on what makes it difficult.”

It’s such a strange, unorthodox answer and would probably be pretentious if it came from anyone other than Tachibana Makoto. Rin understands perfectly of course. Makoto’s decision is difficult because...

“Both of them will make me happy,” Makoto whispers, meeting Rin’s eyes. His smile is breathtaking. “There are so many things I love in this world. It’s not fair that I have to choose.”

Over the years that he’s had a relationship with the other boy, Rin discovered that the key to understanding Makoto is to reconcile the simplicity of his happiness with the complexity of his heart. It doesn’t take a lot to make Makoto happy but the way Makoto loves is almost impossible to define, precisely because he puts so much of himself into it. And Makoto is a complicated person.

Rin understands what he’s saying anyway. “So you’re not. Choosing, I mean.”

Makoto shakes his head. “If there’s anything I learned from the time we broke up, it’s that I was wrong. Growing up doesn’t mean growing apart. My family will always be a part of me, no matter where I go or live. But my dream… it’s a little less flexible.” His grip tightens around Rin’s hand and Rin catches the soft edge of his smile, the half leashed look of adoration in his eyes. “And then there’s you.”

Rin raises an eyebrow in mock offense, even when his insides are a disreputable mess of fuzzy and increasingly floaty feelings. “What are you talking about, I’m very flexible.”

Makoto laughs— and was that a knowing smirk playing at his lips? “I remember.” Then, he corrects himself. “I know.”

Apropos of nothing, Rin wonders if Haru still keeps the guest bedroom in his house clean.

But first...

They reach the familiar oak door and step inside the dark room. Makoto flips on the light switch, and Rin follows after him.

The Orpheus still sits formidable in its old spot, on the polished mahogany table, illuminated by a soft yellow crystal lamp hanging from the ceiling above it. The whole room hasn’t changed from when Rin last remembers it, almost as if untouched by the passage of time. Rin walks towards it, almost reverently, and runs a finger on the familiar leather cups of the headphones, recalling how excited he was the first time he tried it.

Makoto lets go of his hand and heads over towards the shelf of records, rifling through them before finally picking out a title. He doesn’t say anything for a while. Rin watches him as he carefully slips the huge black disc from the case, handling it with utmost care.

Then… "I fell in love with you here. In this room," Makoto confesses. He sets the vinyl record on the player. "We were listening to Now We Are Free.”

Rin remembers.

“Gladiator,” he says decisively, and Makoto nods, taking the “Now We Are Free” record and carefully placing it in the player, making sure not to get any scratches on it. Then he takes the key Natsumi gave him (because the Orpheus is one prissy motherfucker and on/off switches are beneath it), inserts it on the side of the amplifier, and turns it.

“My eyes were closed back then,” Makoto continues, as he inserts the key inside the amp and turns it. He catches Rin’s gaze and bites his lip shyly, remembering. “I wanted to concentrate on the beauty of the music.”

Rin smiles back, and he realizes that the tears he thought he’d kept at bay since Makoto announced he’s going back to Tokyo had just returned. He does nothing to stop them from falling.

Rin hears static for a few moments, as the amp warms up. Then suddenly, music so clear and breathtakingly sublime flows into his ears, and he has to close his eyes, and just listen. The sound is devastating in its clarity, strings blending harmoniously with brass and the haunting beat of the bass drums. He knows that music can be powerful, but the Orpheus brings it to a whole new level, taking his mind soaring, sound translating to epic images in his mind’s eye.

“And then we got to this part where there was a second voice joining, and for some reason, I just had to open my eyes and look at you.” Makoto lets out a long sigh, heavy with the fullness of longing. “I caught you, looking at me too.” He pauses, touches a finger to the corner of lips, his smile soft and fond. “You were smiling, and the light was falling just right on your hair. I remember your smile: it was wide and open like you were so happy to be there with me at that moment in time…” He closes his eyes and tips his head back. “That’s when I knew."

Rin cannot come up with the words to answer that. Suddenly, he’s sixteen again, with a head full of dreams and a heart full of song. He forgets to breathe again, but that’s okay. Breathing doesn’t seem so important as this: Makoto revealing the story of how he fell in love with Rin, in the same place, with Rin standing right in front of him.

Fall in love with me again, he thinks, as he turns back to look at the most terrifyingly earnest eyes he’s ever known, a bit blurry courtesy of the fact that he’s still crying. Those eyes are twinkling and they’re moving closer. And then Rin realizes he had said that thought out loud.

Before Rin can react, Makoto puts down the headphones, and strides towards Rin in two long steps. He reaches up, touches the corner of Rin’s eye and drags his finger down, tracing the damp path of Rin’s tears, thumb hooking on the soft skin beneath Rin’s chin.

Rin’s pulse is all frenetic lightning in his veins, beating like a thunderclap in his ear.

It happens at the exact same moment— Rin reaches up behind Makoto’s head, just as Makoto leans down.

They kiss gently, like a wave rolling up into the shore, and yet Rin can feel the vast ocean behind the tenderness, the sheer depth and enormity of love made no less powerful by the lightness of touch.

When Makoto draws away, Rin notices that his eyes are damp, a glassy sheen overlaying the green of his irises, vivid even under the dim light of the room. "I can't," Makoto breathes. "Not again. That's impossible."

He closes the remaining distance between them again, his voice soft and just a little bit breathless as he speaks into Rin’s lips.

"Because I never stopped."

*

This is how it begins.

 

~fin~