They were down two grape ice pops, one shared box of fruit punch, and three-quarters of the stale bread Makoto’s mother had given them to feed to the ducks before Makoto finally worked up the courage to blurt, “I want to get married!”
Haru didn’t react to this proclamation. In fact, Makoto might as well have spoken Urdu for all the response he got – Haru leaned over the railing of the wooden bridge spanning the pond, dangling a chunk of bread from his fingers, and dropped the morsel into the waiting maw of a fat little duck who kept coming back for seconds. Not until the duck had gulped it down and sailed away did he say, “So get married.”
“No, I mean –” Makoto methodically tore a crust to pieces. “To you,” he clarified quietly, sprinkling the crumbs into the murky water.
“Oh,” Haru said.
Taciturnity was Haruka’s modus operandi, and Makoto was more than used to it by now, but that didn’t make it any less frustrating when he was hoping for a reply that never came. He tapped the stick from his ice pop against the railing and watched Haru out of the corner of his eye as the other boy tried intently to coax a timid duckling closer with promises of bread, the tip of his tongue peeking out between sticky purple lips. Unable to bear the silence, Makoto said, “I asked my mother why she married my dad, and she said it was because she loved him more than absolutely everything else in the world and wanted to spend every day of the rest of her life with him. I said that was a long time and she told me she wished it was longer.”
Haru said nothing, merely leaned further until he was balanced across the railing on his hips. “And I thought since you’re my favorite person in the world and I want to be with you forever, we should get married like my parents,” Makoto mumbled. Still no answer, so he chanced another shy glance at Haru – then yelped, dropped the popsicle stick entirely, and lunged to grab the back of Haru’s shirt before the other boy took a nosedive into the pond (well aware that was probably Haru’s intention all along). “You can’t go in there!” he cried. “See?” Once Haru’s feet were firmly on the bridge again, Makoto turned him around to face the sign posted at the edge of the water – NO SWIMMING OR WADING IN THE DUCK POND. Mere signage was rarely enough to stop Haru from climbing into every body of water he could find, of course, but Makoto being disappointed in him usually did the trick. And indeed, no more than eight seconds of the look was enough for Haru to huff and quietly return to feeding the ducks. He picked up a bit of bread and lobbed it at the duckling, who was still nervously lurking on the outskirts of the quacking mob.
The bread bonked the duckling right on the bill. It looked utterly flabbergasted for a moment before going bottoms-up to grab its sinking snack, feathery behind sticking out of the water, and Makoto giggled.
“You’re supposed to have a ring,” Haru suddenly said.
Makoto stopped laughing, blinked at him. “What?”
Another hunk of bread sailed through the air and smacked into the pond, where it was promptly gobbled up by a massive drake. “When you ask someone to marry you,” Haru said, “you’re supposed to give them a ring.”
“I…” Makoto trailed off, fumbling for words, as Haru continued shredding bread. Truth be told, he hadn’t really expected any acknowledgement of his silly marriage proposal, but saw no harm in asking – if Haru wasn’t interested, he would ignore him, and that would be that. It wasn’t like they could actually get married anyway. And yet Haru was crumbling the bread into smaller and smaller pieces, setting them up in a neat row on the railing, as if he was waiting for a response…. “If I get you a ring,” Makoto started, a smile pulling at his mouth, “then will you marry me?”
Haru lifted his shoulders in a carefully careless shrug. “…sure. But only if we can go swimming afterwards.”
That was a simple enough request. Today had turned into one of the hottest, muggiest days of summer they’d lived through so far, and even the air itself felt wet. Convincing his parents to bring them to the pool wouldn’t be difficult. Beaming, Makoto took a quick look around – he didn’t have a ring on him, but there were a few coins weighing down his pocket, and across the road he spotted a little convenience store with a line of vending machines out front. “I’ll be right back!” He left Haru standing on the bridge, looking confused at his friend’s sudden flight, and ran down the path to the street. “Stay out of the pond!” Makoto called over his shoulder.
He’d just reached the crosswalk when he remembered his parents had given strict instructions not to leave the park, and then Makoto bit his lip and looked back. The park was pretty empty today, thanks to the oppressive heat, but Ren and Ran had energy to burn, and so they’d all gone out to play for a while. His parents were at the playground with the twins. The pond wasn’t visible from that end of the park – they wouldn’t notice if he stepped out for just a minute. Still, as he crossed the road behind a flock of chattering teenagers, guilt throbbed in his belly. It would only be okay if he was quick.
‘Quick’, as it turned out, was harder than he thought it would be. A group of older boys were hanging around in front of the store, shoving each other and laughing. Makoto, too shy to ask them to move, hung back by a payphone instead, bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet. The longer he was here, the more likely it was his parents would realize he was gone, and the more likely it was he’d get in trouble, and the more likely it was Haru would plunge into the pond…. By the time the boys moved on, he had worked himself into quite a state and accidentally dropped half his coins on the ground when he tried to fumble them out of his pocket. A little girl passing by helped him pick them up, and out of gratitude he gave her a coin for the gumball machine.
The nearest display was a colorful advertisement for cheap jewelry. Makoto did not have a good track record with vending machines – they tended to eat his money, or else delivered a heartbreakingly empty capsule – but Haru was worth the struggle, so he inserted the required coinage and turned the knob. The sound of plastic rattling down the chute was music to his ears. He stuck the rest of his money into his pocket, scooped up the capsule, and tilted it to see what was inside.
It was a ring. Not just a ring, though – it was the ring. Makoto instantaneously began to believe in destiny, because there was no way something so perfect could happen unless he was fated to marry Haru today. He couldn’t resist the impulse to hop up and down like a maniac for a moment before dashing back to the crosswalk, his prize clutched safely between his hands.
When he returned to the park, however, Haru was out of sight – the bridge stood empty and the water was still and undisturbed. Even the ducks had vanished. Frowning, Makoto trotted towards the bridge and called, “Haru-chan?”
“Drop the –chan,” came Haru’s faint reply.
Further inspection found Haru all the way at the other side of the pond, crouched at the very edge of the water, surrounded by a ring of ducks which were noisily clamoring for bread. They scattered like leaves in the wind when Makoto raced over. Haru had only a split second to look annoyed at the interruption before the capsule was shoved in his face. Grinning, Makoto dropped it into Haru’s hands and said, “Marry me.”
Haru raised his eyebrows, popped the plastic bubble open, spilled its contents into his palm. Makoto held his breath. The ring was a little silvery dolphin, twisted into a circle so its head was above its tail, and Haru loved dolphins, but Makoto was nevertheless struck with a spike of last-minute anxiety. Maybe Haru didn’t like it – his expression was, as usual, completely unreadable. And if Makoto’s experience with vending machine toys was anything to go by, the ring probably wouldn’t last more than a week, if it even fit on Haru’s slim fingers –
“Okay,” Haru said. He slid the ring onto his thumb, where the dolphin’s metal smile gleamed in the sunlight.
The warm swell of happiness in his chest was so overwhelming that Makoto couldn’t help what he did next – he leaned in and pressed his lips to Haru’s cheek, the way he’d seen his parents to do each other hundreds of times. When he pulled back, Haru was staring, a faint blush tinting his face pink. Makoto just smiled brightly at him. “My mom and dad do that a lot,” he explained.
Haru looked at the capsule in his hands, snapped it back together like he didn’t know what else to do with himself. “We’re out of bread,” he finally said. “And you scared all the ducks away.”
“Sorry. But come on, let’s go find my parents and see if they’ll take us swimming.” Haru visibly perked up at the prospect of swimming, but when Makoto started to walk towards the playground, he only made it a few steps before realizing Haru wasn’t following. “What’s the matter?” he asked, turning around.
Haru pursed his lips. “If we’re married now,” he said, “that means you’re supposed to hold my hand when we go places.”
Uncertain whether that was a challenge or a request – and swiftly deciding he didn’t much care – Makoto came back and took one of Haru’s hands. Like his own, it was small and damp, speckled with breadcrumbs and tacky where the ice pop had melted all over his fingers. Haru had never let him hold his hand for more than a few seconds before. It felt even nicer than he’d thought it would. Making no effort to suppress his smile, Makoto practically bounced up towards the playground. Haru was blank-faced, but he kept a tight hold on his new husband’s fingers the whole way there, and seemed as perplexed as Makoto when they announced that they were married now and all Makoto’s parents did was laugh.
“You’re not married, dummy,” Rin said, picking at the rubber knot that used to be his goggles strap, “you’re engaged. There’s a difference.”
Given that they were underage, Makoto didn’t think it actually mattered, but he supposed it was his fault for bringing up the time he and Haru had decided to get ‘married’ in grade three and activating Rin’s pedantic side. He wasn’t even entirely sure how they’d gotten on the topic of marriage in the first place. The conversations that sprouted in the locker room before swim practice swerved more than a drunk driver – two minutes ago, they’d all been heatedly debating whether the showers smelled like feet or bad cheese. “Well, it was only pretend….”
As if Makoto hadn’t spoken, Rin closed his locker and continued, “You need to file a marriage license and have witnesses to get married. You can’t just say you’re married.”
“Why not?” Makoto asked, handing Haru his towel as the other boy padded over to them on silent feet.
Rin rolled his eyes. “Because you have to live together to have a common-law marriage, and you don’t.” Neither Haru nor Nagisa (who had popped up when the gossip got interesting) looked like they had any clue what that was, and Makoto certainly didn’t, so he took Rin’s word for it. “And you’re not old enough to get married legally. And you’re both boys, which isn’t legal either.”
“How do you know all that?” Nagisa asked, peering around the door of his locker, swim cap askew.
“I know everything.”
“What color underwear did I have on today?”
“I know everything important,” Rin amended. He sniffled and rubbed his nose with the back of his hand – he had a bad cold but was still stubbornly refusing to skip swim club. “And I….”
When he didn’t say anything more, Makoto looked up from helping Nagisa fix his cap. Rin was gazing at his tangled goggles, a strange light in his eyes.
Makoto knew that expression. That was Rin’s idea expression – that was let’s form a medley relay team, or, worse, let’s have a sleepover at Haru’s house. Their agreement to never speak of the sleepover again was holding strong. Makoto still had flashbacks to the blood, the tears, the fire, the nightmares, the other fire…. Before he could do more than formulate a vague plan to grab Nagisa and Haru and run for their lives, Rin’s head jerked up and he grinned. “Hey, we should –”
Haru’s sharp “No!” was nearly lost in Makoto and Nagisa’s chorus of “No more sleepovers!”
The mere mention of that disastrous night was enough to make Rin turn approximately the same color as his hair. “God, no. No, I was thinking – you can’t really get married, but if you want to fake it, you might as well do it right. I went to my uncle’s wedding last year, so I know what you have to do. You guys can come to my house and I’ll marry you properly.”
“Um,” Makoto said.
“You already act like you’re married anyway. This’ll just make it more official.”
Makoto looked over at Haru, whose head was hidden behind the locker door. He was probably pretending he was the only one in the room. They didn’t really talk much about their marriage – now and then Makoto made ‘husband’ jokes, and Haru once used it as a reason to make them mackerel for lunch four days in a row, but it had been a stupid little-kid thing and they both knew it. He bit his lip and fiddled with his goggles, smiling nervously. “Rin, I don’t think –”
Haru’s locker slammed shut. “I want to get married by the water.”
Rin rolled his eyes again, but said, “There’s a lake a few blocks from my house. Will that do?”
“Wait!” Nagisa tugged his goggles on over a slightly lopsided swim cap and grabbed Makoto’s arm. Makoto didn’t react, preoccupied with trying to figure out precisely how this had happened. He’d just come over here to ask if anyone else smelled rotting cheese in the showers. “I want to come too!”
“You can be a witness,” Rin declared, planting his hands on his hips. “We’ll need two.” They all glanced around the room for a moment in search of another, then collectively realized there was no one else in the club who would want to attend the make-believe wedding of two strange twelve-year-old boys. Rin quickly recovered from the blow, however. “Never mind, I’ll make my sister do it. Come to my house tomorrow and we’ll go to the lake from there.”
And that was how Makoto, Haru, and Nagisa wound up on the train Saturday morning, armed with the directions they’d been given after practice. Rin lived with his grandmother during the week so he could go to Iwatobi Elementary, then went home on the weekends, so they had a bit of a ride ahead of them. Haru spent most of it staring out the window. Nagisa fell asleep, his head on Haru’s legs; when they were a stop away and Makoto shook him awake, the first sleepy words out of his mouth were, “Wouldn’t it be better if you and Haru got married at the place where you first got married?”
The woman sitting across the car gaped at them from behind her mobile phone, but didn’t say anything, much to Makoto’s relief. “We can’t,” he said. Haru turned and raised his eyebrows. Though Makoto hated to break his heart, he explained, “My mom said they renovated that park and there isn’t a pond anymore.”
Haru looked horrified at the news. Nagisa patted him on the shoulder sympathetically. “Well, at least the lake should be nice, right?”
Unfortunately, they never actually got to find out. Locating Rin’s house was easy enough, and when Makoto pressed the bell, the door was opened by a girl with hair the same bright color as Rin’s. “You’re my brother’s friends from the swim club, aren’t you?” she said after a moment of scrutiny.
“Yup!” Nagisa said. “Is he here?”
“Yeah, but he can’t come out today. He’s sick and my mom said he has to stay inside and rest.”
“Just let them in, Gou.” They looked up as one to see Rin standing at the top of the stairs. He sounded like he’d swallowed sandpaper, his hair was a wreck, and he was wearing plaid pajamas even though it was nearly noon, but being seen in such a state didn’t appear to bother him in the slightest.
“I told you to call me Kou,” Gou said irritably, closing the door behind the boys as they slipped out of their shoes and shed their coats.
“I’ll call you whatever you want if you just do what I asked,” Rin told her, then beckoned the rest of them upstairs. “I can’t go anywhere, so we’ll have to do this in my room, but I’ve got what we need.”
Nagisa followed Gou without any hesitation. Makoto and Haru glanced at each other – recalling how insistent Haru was on a waterfront wedding, Makoto opened his mouth to tell him they didn’t have to do this if he didn’t want to, but then Haru shrugged and started up the stairs.
“Hold on a second, it’s here somewhere,” Rin said when they reached his room. His bed was almost as disheveled as he was and also inexplicably covered in sheets of paper. He sifted through the mess while the rest of them stood in an awkward cluster by the door, unwilling to touch anything without permission. Gou, who clearly had no such reservations, picked up the book on his pillow.
“Were you reading this?” she asked, brandishing what appeared to be a Japanese-to-English dictionary.
“Mom told you to sleep –”
“Found it!” Triumphant, Rin thrust a piece of paper and a pen at Makoto, who took them curiously. “It’s a marriage license. I printed it off the internet. And you two,” he waved Gou and Nagisa over, “you have to sign this one here to prove you witnessed.”
Rin could be a real handful, yet times like this were why Makoto admired his tenacity – if something needed to be done, Rin would get it done. Figuring there was no point in doing this by halves, he leaned against the desk to start filling out the form. Haru, on the other hand, wore an expression that suggested he was only here so Rin would shut up, but accepted the pen when Makoto offered it to him. “We don’t ‘cohabitate’,” he said, skimming the page.
“So skip that part, I don’t care.” Rin dropped the dictionary and the stack of papers onto the desk. “It’s just a formality. The vows are the important part. And the rings. You have rings, right?”
Makoto winced. He’d not really put much thought into this venture beyond do I want to marry Haru again? and yes, I want to marry Haru again. “Um. No?”
“I have my ring,” Haru said, and, to Makoto’s surprise, took the dolphin ring from his pocket. It seemed too small for all but his pinky finger now and the silver paint had flaked off in places, but it was still in one piece.
“Fine, then we just need one for Makoto.”
Gou jumped up from her seat on the carpet. “I have some rings! I’ll be right back.”
“Okay, good.” Rin plopped onto his bed, yawning and ruffling his hair, and said, “Man, what would you guys do without me?”
Haru looked like he might have an answer to that – live peacefully, perhaps – but before he could voice it, Nagisa said, “Done!” and held out the paper Rin had given him. “Now what do I do?”
“Nothing. You just watch.”
“But that’s boring.”
“Weddings are boring,” Rin said. “I fell asleep during my uncle’s.”
Gou came back then, smiling, and marched over to Makoto. “Here,” she said, holding out a ring made of green plastic stars. “This one’s doesn’t fit me, so you can have it.”
“Don’t put it on yet!” Rin instructed, after Makoto thanked her and had just started to slide it over his knuckle. “Haru’s supposed to put it on you, and you have to put his ring on him, but you have to say your vows first. Then you do the rings, then you kiss, then you’re married.”
Makoto’s cheeks heated up at the thought of kissing Haru. Something flickered over Haru’s face, too fast to recognize. Rin flashed a grin at them. The combination of that predator-smile with the feverish flush and slightly glassy eyes made him look more than a little diabolical, and Makoto couldn’t suppress a shiver.
Downstairs, the phone rang – Gou hurried out of the room again with instructions not to start without her. Makoto was glad for the reprieve, but Rin dashed his hopes an instant later. “Let’s just do it anyway. She signed already and I want to go back to bed.” He pulled a blanket over his head like a hood and pointed to the spot in front of him. “Stand right there, facing each other. And Makoto, you have to hold both his hands.”
Haru promptly shoved his hands into the pocket of his sweatshirt.
This was a bad idea, Makoto thought, shuffling his feet against the carpet. He probably should have anticipated that, considering it was Rin’s idea. Rin would invade Russia during the dead of winter if he got it into his head that it might be fun. “Do we have to hold hands?”
“Yes,” Rin insisted. Next to him, Nagisa – who’d also climbed under Rin’s blanket for some reason or another – bounced on the mattress, watching them eagerly. Makoto gave Haru a sheepish smile and extended his hands. Haru’s mouth settled into a flat line. Thirty seconds passed with no sound besides the squeaking of the bedsprings, but, at last, Haru sighed heavily and placed his soft, warm hands in Makoto’s.
Nagisa started giggling. “You’re so red, Mako-chan,” he said when everyone looked at him quizzically.
“Quiet.” Rin yanked the blanket down over Nagisa’s face, which failed to stop his laughter but did muffle it somewhat. “All right, now you say your vows. You have to promise to love and protect each other forever and sappy stuff like that. Makoto, you go first.”
Makoto was suddenly very aware that he was standing in an overheated, cough-syrup-scented bedroom, pretending to marry his best friend, joined by the only people in the world who didn’t find this unspeakably weird. Nearly overcome with a case of the giggles himself, he bit his lip hard and shyly met Haru’s gaze, wondering what his husband-to-be thought about this whole mess.
To the untrained observer, Haru appeared completely bored with the absurdity he’d found himself roped into. He was living proof that it was possible to get used to Rin. But Makoto knew him for a long time and knew him well, so he could see the faint glimmer in Haru’s stunningly blue eyes that told him I’m good, just get this over with.
Marriage vows were about love and protection, Rin had said. He could do that.
“Okay,” Makoto began, clutching Haru’s fingers, “um… Haru, you’re my favorite person in the world. I guess I started liking you when you shared your juice box with me on the first day of kindergarten, and, uh…. I think I’m supposed to vow to protect you, but it’s really the other way around because you’re not scared of everything like I am. Thank you, though. You’ve helped me out a lot. And if you ever actually need me to protect you I swear I’ll do my best – unless we’re playing a fighting game and then I’m going to kick your butt because you’re horrible at those.” He paused to take a breath, as he’d said all of that in a jumbled rush, and he wasn’t sure it was even a good marriage vow. “I said we should get married when we were kids because I wanted to be with you forever, and I still do. If you and I were the last two people on earth, I’d be happy because we would be together. You make me feel safe and brave and loved and I want to make you feel the same way all the time. Even if the only thing you want is for me to make you mackerel for breakfast every morning, I’ll do it. No matter what happens when we’re older, I promise I’ll always be here for you.”
Haru stared at him, wide-eyed, mouth slightly open. When he didn’t say anything, change expression, or even blink, Makoto nervously said, “Was that okay?”
“That was great!” Nagisa enthused. He was still bobbing up and down like his behind was made of springs. “Mako-chan, I didn’t know you could think up something so sweet! I wish I could marry you. I think you made Rin cry, though.”
“I’m not crying!” Rin said, ducking beneath the blanket. His eyes were suspiciously shiny when he emerged, but he quickly distracted everyone by whacking Nagisa on the leg and saying, “Stop bouncing, you’re making me sick. Anyway, it’s Haru’s turn.”
Makoto gave Haru an encouraging smile, bolstered by his own success. Sure, he’d made the whole thing up off the top of his head, but it was surprisingly easy to find the right words when he considered how he felt about Haru. Haru seemed to be having more difficulty, though – he fidgeted, looking at Makoto through his hair, then focused on their hands instead. “…okay,” he finally said. “I’ll do all that stuff too.”
Rin tsked. “Haru, you can’t –”
“It’s fine,” Makoto interrupted, squeezing Haru’s fingers. Only after he’d spoken did he realize he might have sentenced himself to a lifetime of mackerel breakfasts, but he supposed he could survive if it meant he and Haru would never be separated. “Now what?”
“Now you exchange rings,” Rin instructed. Simple enough in theory, made difficult in practice by their sweaty hands and oddly-sized rings. Haru’s only fit his pinky, while the one Gou had given Makoto was too small for his fingers but kept sliding off his thumb. “Okay, finally… you can kiss the bride.”
“They’re both boys, though,” Nagisa said. “Which one’s the bride?”
Rin considered this for all of three seconds. “Makoto.”
“What?” Makoto squawked.
“Yeah, definitely Mako-chan,” Nagisa agreed, nodding sagely.
“But – I can’t be the bride!” Makoto exclaimed, waving his arms wildly – the ring went flying, bounced off the wall, and landed square in Rin’s laundry basket. “Last time I checked, I wasn’t a girl!”
Smiling sweetly, Rin pointed to the door. “There’s a bathroom just across the hall if you want to check again.”
Nagisa collapsed into another round of giggles. Makoto was all ready to continue protesting – he was bigger and stronger than Haru, and he was pretty sure that automatically designated him the groom in this wedding – but found himself silenced by the hand that clamped over his mouth. “Three against one,” Haru said, and then replaced his hand with his lips.
Makoto had never been kissed before. Haru’s lips were dry and slightly chapped from the wind, and he didn’t seem to have any idea what came after step one, and yet kissing didn’t feel as strange as Makoto had always assumed it would. Apparently you were supposed to do something with your tongue, but that sounded pretty gross, so he was content to let his eyes slip shut, tilting his head slightly so his nose didn’t smush against Haru’s, opening his mouth just a bit….
The unmistakable click of a shutter closing threw them both out of their reverie. Makoto jumped. Haru jerked back, glaring at Rin, who lowered his phone and grinned. “Delete it,” Haru said immediately.
“It’s a really nice picture, Haru-chan,” Nagisa said, peering over Rin’s shoulder.
“No,” Rin repeated. “I don’t have any photos of you guys, so that’s a good start.”
“You don’t need photos of us,” Haru said, advancing on him with a malevolent expression. “We see you way too often anyway.”
Rin shoved his phone beneath his pillow and flung himself over it. “Come and get it, then,” he taunted.
Haru made to do exactly that, but before Makoto and Nagisa could behold what was promising to be the fight of the century, Gou came sprinting back into the bedroom. “Sorry! That was my friend and I couldn’t – did you do it without me?!”
“You were taking too long,” Rin said, curling protectively around his pillow and eyeing Haru, who was still dangerously close to the target.
Gou’s face darkened. Makoto, familiar with the warning signs of an impending spurned-younger-sibling explosion, did not protest when Haru suddenly wheeled around, grabbed his hand, and started dragging him towards the door. Rin, however, did – “Hey! Where are you going?”
“On our honeymoon,” Haru said shortly. “At the pool.”
Nagisa scrambled off the bed and weaved around Gou to catch up with them. “Wait for me!”
“But you don’t have to leave y- ow!” Rin spat out the thermometer his sister had spitefully jammed into his mouth and scowled at her. “That was my tongue, Gou.”
They left them to it. Haru tugged Makoto downstairs, Nagisa on their heels, they put their coats and shoes back on, and they headed out to the tune of Gou and Rin yelling at each other. Rin didn’t live far from the train station, so within ten minutes the three of them were on their way back towards home.
It wasn’t until they were sitting down that Makoto realized Haru hadn’t yet let go of his hand. Unlike the previous times, there was no artificial-grape-stickiness, no crumbs, nobody encouraging them to vow eternal love – Makoto gazed at their linked fingers, smiled softly, and decided not to mention it. He liked holding Haru’s hand… maybe kissing him was a little better, though.
Of course, no more than thirty seconds later, Nagisa ruined the moment by saying, “Are you going to have sex now?”
Makoto squeaked and went crimson. Haru just blinked for a second before saying, “No.”
“Why not? That’s what married couples do, right? They have sex, then have children, then they argue about taxes for the rest of their lives.”
The car wasn’t crowded, but its few occupants were all staring at them now. Makoto buried his face in Haru’s shoulder and wished he could evaporate. “We’re not going to have sex,” Haru said firmly.
“But you’re supposed to have sex –”
“Do you even know what sex is?” Haru demanded.
Nagisa opened his mouth, took a breath – then paused, brow furrowing. “No,” he finally admitted, and the rest of the ride was blissfully silent.
Makoto, while fairly social by nature, was not exactly classified as ‘popular’ according to junior high school standards. Maybe it was because he spent all of his free time with that Nanase boy who was obsessed with water, maybe it was because the class had watched a documentary about typhoons not long ago and he’d burst into tears when the ship onscreen sank, much to everyone else’s bewilderment. He was sweet and kind to everyone and always willing to lend a hand, but outside of Haru, he didn’t really interact with his peers on a personal level.
Still, when he walked into the hallway on Valentine’s Day and was greeted by a girl pushing a small box of chocolates at him, it was pretty embarrassing to realize he had no idea what her name was.
She didn’t seem to notice his distress. She was looking at the ground, her face hidden by a curtain of dark hair, arms extended, the box just touching his chest. There was no mistaking who it was meant for. Makoto knew her by sight – she was in the class next door, had a reputation for being excruciatingly shy, and he was pretty sure her name began with a K. Keiko, Kumiko, Kaede, Kasumi… Kagura! He had lent her money for the payphone last year when she’d forgotten her cell and needed to call her mother. He took the box from her and smiled warmly when she peeked through her bangs. “Thank you,” he said. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
The corners of her lips lifted. Before he could say another word, she spun and dashed into her classroom.
Well, that was an interesting start to the day, Makoto thought. He started walking again, looked up, and – “Oh, Haru!”
Makoto had been running late this morning, due to his little sister crawling into his lap at breakfast, whining that she didn’t feel good, and then promptly throwing up all over his shirt. Luckily, he hadn’t yet changed into his uniform, but he did need another shower, so he’d sent Haru a message to go ahead without him. He had kind of expected Haru to simply stay home instead. But there he was, leaning against the wall outside the classroom, eyes fixed on the door through which Kagura had vanished a second ago. He glanced at Makoto for just a moment, then went into the classroom without a word.
This was, admittedly, not unusual behavior, yet something nervous crawled in Makoto’s stomach as he followed and took his seat in front of Haru. The small red box was still in his hand. After a minute of contemplation, he turned around, held it out, and said, “Do you want one?”
“No,” Haru said. He propped his chin up on his hand and ignored any further questions or comments. No matter how hard Makoto tried to entice him into conversation, Haru didn’t bite. By lunchtime, he gave up entirely, and they ate without speaking, side-by-side but not together. Though he was accustomed to the silent treatment, it was a hundred times worse when his best friend was angry with him. Haru didn’t have to scowl or glare – his refusal to meet Makoto’s eyes said it all.
And then he committed the ultimate betrayal.
The school day had just ended and Makoto was stuffing his books into his backpack, chattering aimlessly about whatever came to mind. The English test that awaited them at the end of the week, Ran’s stomach virus, what they were having for dinner tonight, anything to fill the oppressive silence. Since talking at Haru wasn’t always distinguishable from talking to Haru, Makoto didn’t immediately realize he was, in fact, talking to himself. Nor did he notice the odd looks he was getting, though by now he was used to that sort of thing. Only when he was ready to go did he discover Haru had left without him.
Haru and Makoto walked home from school together every single day unless one of them was sick or (in Haru’s case) skipping. Makoto turned a full circle, half-convinced he’d just missed him in the ruckus of a classroom of students escaping for the afternoon, but there was no doubt about it – Haru was gone. Haru had ditched him. He stared out the window at the school gates below and, amongst the crowd, spotted a head of dark hair and a familiar backpack.
Makoto didn’t run to catch up. He knew when he wasn’t wanted.
After sulking the entire way home, Makoto’s frustration and irritation had burnt out, leaving a dull misery in their wake. He stopped just outside his front door and looked up the steps that led to Haru’s house. What had he done? He wasn’t stupid, he knew this had something to do with the chocolates Kagura had given him… but all Makoto had done was accept them, because it would’ve been rude not to. It wasn’t like he’d bent her over backwards in the middle of the hallway and tried to suck her tonsils out. And even if he was inclined to do such a thing, his crippling fear of parental wrath would be more than enough to kill his raging libido.
Ren was not yet home from elementary school, his father was at work, and his mother was tending to Ran, so that left Makoto with nothing to do besides go up to his room and start chipping away at the mountain of homework he’d been assigned. It was difficult to concentrate, though – again and again he caught himself staring out at Haru’s house, where a golden glow spilled from the bathroom window, bright in the fading sunlight. Haru was probably drowning his sorrows in the tub. Makoto returned his attention to his homework, found he’d made minimal progress in the last two hours, and wrote it off as a bad job right before his parents called him for dinner.
“Guess what I got?” Ren said the moment Makoto sat down.
“Money,” Makoto said. Ren shook his head. “A good grade? A new friend?” He tapped his finger against his chin, pretending to think, and asked, “A chicken?”
Ren laughed. “Why would he get a chicken?” asked Ran, who was feeling well enough now to sit with them and munch on dry toast.
“Stranger things have happened.”
“It’s not a chicken. Look!” Ren dug into his pants pocket and produced a small plastic bag, inside which was a squashed piece of chocolate that might have been shaped like a heart once upon a time. “Matsumoto Satomi gave it to me for Valentine’s Day!”
Ran’s jaw dropped. “No way.” She reached for the bag, but Ren quickly held it out of her grasp.
“I’m going to marry her,” he said happily, gazing at the chocolate blob like it was made of gold.
“You can’t marry her!” Ran exclaimed. “She’s my friend! I’m going to marry her first.”
“She gave me the chocolate, she wants to marry me! And you’re a girl.”
Makoto exchanged baffled looks with his parents, who didn’t seem to know what made Matsumoto Satomi such prime marriage material either. Ran, pouting, turned to her older brother and said, “I can marry a girl if I want to, right? You said I could.”
“You can marry anyone you want,” he reassured her, all the while knowing it wasn’t entirely true – at least not in Japan. He didn’t really want to explain the concept of same-sex marriage and why some people had a problem with it to seven-year-olds, though.
“She still gave me the chocolate,” Ren said.
Ran pulled out the big guns. “Fine, then I’ll marry Haru instead. He lets me paint his toenails.”
“But I want to marry Haru too!”
“Neither of you can marry Haru,” their father said calmly, derailing the argument before it could begin.
“Why not?” the twins chorused.
He grinned. “Because Makoto married Haru when they were in grade three.”
Ren and Ran both went bug-eyed – this was news to them. Blushing, Makoto slid down in his seat. “It was just a game,” he insisted, even though their marriage license was folded between the pages of his elementary-school journal. Even though his phone still held the picture of him and Haru kissing that Rin had sent him. Even though he’d come up with some very heartfelt vows in no time flat… vows which he hadn’t done a stellar job of upholding today, he realized, swallowing a wave of nausea. He’d sworn to make Haru feel safe and loved, hadn’t he? And he knew, for all Haru’s stoicism and cold exterior, he was secretly very afraid that Makoto would abandon him….
Makoto stood up. “I need to talk to Haru,” he said.
“Makoto, your dinner –” His mother began.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“Ask which one of us he wants to marry!” Ran yelled after him as Makoto dashed out of the room.
Haru was home alone, as usual, and Makoto went around the back and let himself in without bothering with the doorbell. If Haru was still in the bathtub, as he suspected, he wouldn’t get up to answer it anyway. A cool breeze ruffled the hair on the nape of his neck. He shivered, slid the door closed, left his shoes behind, and headed for the stairs.
There was a thin strip of light beneath the bathroom door. Makoto thumped his knuckles against the wood three times. “Haru? It’s me. Can I come in?”
Haru didn’t say yes, but he didn’t say no, either. Inching the door open, Makoto peeked inside. “Haru,” he said again, “I want to talk to you.”
The cloud of bubbles Haru exhaled was far from an encouraging reply. Hoping Haru was wearing his jammers, Makoto slipped inside and came close to the tub. The other boy neither looked at him nor made an effort to raise his mouth out of the water. Makoto sat on the floor, leaned against the wall, watched droplets of water plummet from Haru’s long, pale leg, which was draped over the side of the tub. When the puddle on the floor was about the size of a soccer ball, he said, “Listen, Haru, I –”
“Do you want a girlfriend?”
Makoto tore his gaze away from Haru’s pruned toes and stared at him blankly. Rounding his lips, Haru breathed more bubbles into the tepid water. “What? No, not really,” Makoto said. He rested his chin on the tub’s edge so their eyes were about level. “I… I guess I don’t look at girls that way, to be honest.”
“So you’re gay.”
“I don’t know. Maybe. I’ve never really thought about it.” Girls were okay, he supposed. They had nice smiles and smooth hands, and they usually smelled good, but… Makoto just didn’t regard them with any concrete interest. Now, regarding Haru, on the other hand – Haru suddenly got to his feet, pulled the stopper out of the drain, climbed out of the tub, and Makoto watched beads of water trail down his chest and follow the curve of his navel until they soaked into his jammers. Though Haru had quit the swim team last year with no explanation, he still had the nicely defined musculature of someone who’d swum almost daily for most of his life. “Where are you going?”
“I’m hungry,” Haru said. He left the bathroom and headed downstairs, heedless of the fact that he was dripping everywhere.
Makoto grabbed a towel from the rack, chased him down, and draped it over Haru’s head. “You should at least dry your hair. You’re going to catch a cold.”
Giving a noncommittal hum, Haru rummaged through the refrigerator until he found a mackerel. “Do you want some?” he asked, taking to the task of gutting the fish with gusto – Makoto grimaced and turned away from the sight, pressing a hand to his stomach.
“No, thank you,” he said. Haru’s words reminded him that he still had dinner waiting for him at home, and he’d promised his mother he would be back soon to eat, but he couldn’t work up an appetite, nor could he leave things unfinished here. Once he heard the fish sizzling in the pan, he turned back around. “Why did you ask if I wanted a girlfriend?”
Haru shrugged. “I guess before today, I never wondered if you might want one. And…” he paused and poked at the mackerel with a spatula, “do you remember the day we got….”
“Married?” Makoto said, smiling slightly and leaning against the counter.
“Not for real.”
“Of course not.” No institution in the world would recognize a marriage performed by an unordained sixth-grader. Makoto tilted his head back until it struck the cabinet. He didn’t remember the exact date of their ‘marriage’ ceremony – he momentarily thought about calling Rin and asking, except the success of that plan was contingent on Rin answering the phone, which he never did anymore – but the ceremony itself was as fresh in his mind as it had been two years ago. No matter what happens when we’re older, I promise I’ll always be here for you. “I was –”
“I promised to make you happy,” Haru muttered. His face, bent dangerously low over the pan, was turning red. “So if you do want to date someone, you should do it.”
“I don’t want to date anyone,” Makoto said firmly. He stuck his hands in his pockets, shuffled over to the stove, and gently bumped his shoulder against Haru’s. “I meant it when I said we could be the last two people on the planet and I’d be still happy, you know.” Then he playfully poked Haru in the ribs and added, “Besides, I’d never cheat on my husband.”
The tiniest squeak escaped Haru’s mouth – though he’d rather relocate to the desert than admit it, he was very ticklish – and he swatted at Makoto’s fingers. Makoto dodged another smack and prodded Haru’s side again, just for the heck of it. Haru, looking murderous but for the sparkle in his eyes, preempted Makoto’s next attack and brought the spatula down hard on his wrist. Makoto yelped. “That’s cheating!” A quick look around the kitchen rewarded him with nothing useful until he realized the perfect weapon was right there in front of him, still flung over Haru’s damp hair. He grinned and snatched it up.
Haru’s eyes widened. “Hold on,” he started, backing away, his hands extended defensively. “Makoto –”
“En garde,” Makoto said, and snapped the towel at Haru’s hip.
Anyone who believed Haru was emotionless and robotic had never heard the panicked sounds he made as Makoto chased him around and around the room, wielding a wet towel like a pro, laughing maniacally. The spatula didn’t have the same range as the towel and Haru found himself wedged into the corner, fending off unrelenting attacks with nothing more than a flimsy utensil. And all too soon, Makoto exploited an opening in his defense and sent the spatula flying. “Do you surrender?” Makoto asked.
“Never,” Haru said defiantly. He pressed himself into the wall and the next strike merely grazed the front of his apron – and, as Makoto twisted up the towel again, he took advantage of the lull, swooped in, and kissed him.
Makoto instantly forgot about the towel. He forgot their impromptu battle. He forgot that he probably should’ve gone home five minutes ago. The entire world narrowed down to the soft pressure of Haru’s lips against his own.
They had kissed a couple of times since their ‘wedding’ – tentative, childish displays of affection, mostly, which tapered off as they grew older. Furtive internet searches performed under cover of darkness had provided Makoto with information on exactly how one was supposed to kiss, but articles on teenage girls’ blogs were no substitute for experience. By the time his brain rebooted and he started to contemplate actually kissing back, Haru was already pulling away, nose wrinkled. Makoto recognized his expression and gave an experimental sniff, wondering if his deodorant had failed at the worst possible time, but… no, something was burning.
Haru shoved him aside and ran to his precious, smoldering mackerel, muttering something unprintable. Makoto winced and crept over with his tail between his legs. “I’m sorry,” he said meekly.
Thankfully, the burnt part was small and scraped off easily enough, so Makoto’s life was spared. Haru slid the mackerel onto a plate and held it out. “Are you sure you don’t want some?”
Makoto’s stomach did a few threatening somersaults. “I’m sure,” he said, putting some distance between himself and the fish.
Haru frowned. “Are you all right? You’re very pale.”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
Haru did not look totally reassured, but he seated himself at the table nevertheless and dug in. Makoto hovered for a second before saying, “Listen, I should probably go – I left in the middle of dinner…”
“Go ahead,” Haru mumbled around a mouthful of fish. “I have homework to do.”
Makoto grimaced at the thought of the pile on his desk. “Me too. I’ll meet you here in the morning, then?”
For a moment, Haru said nothing, and Makoto thought he would be left in suspense, wondering all night if they were okay… but ultimately Haru shrugged and said, “Sure,” eliciting a faint sigh of relief.
“Great. Good night, Haru.” Makoto smiled at him, left the room, made it three steps down the hall, then turned around and poked his head back in. “Oh, I almost forgot! If you had to marry either my brother or my sister, which one would you choose?”
The expression on Haru’s face kept him laughing the whole way home.
(He wasn’t laughing anymore when Haru sent him a text at three a.m. reading you’re the worst husband ever. thanks for the stomach flu. Makoto, camped out on the bathroom floor and shotgunning peppermint-flavored medicine that had yet to stay down, couldn’t muster up much more than I love you too.)
“I’m not going to be at practice tomorrow,” Rei said.
Makoto finished fixing his shoelace and straightened up, trying to pat his wet hair into something acceptable for public presentation. There was a storm brewing, however, and the wind was working against him. “Why not?”
“I have an optometrist appointment. I can’t put it off again – these lenses are getting too old.”
“Oh,” Makoto said. Perhaps the rest of their team wouldn’t understand, being blessed with perfect vision, but he knew how frustrating it was when his prescription was just a bit too weak, and the other boy’s vision was worse than his own. He also knew Rei had rescheduled his appointment once already so he wouldn’t miss practice a few days before their first meet. Rei might be their weakest swimmer, but there was still plenty of time to improve before regionals. “All right, no problem. You ought to tell Gou, though.”
Rei reached up to adjust his glasses and didn’t quite manage to hide his look of abject terror. Gou was possibly more passionate about the upcoming tournament than the rest of them put together – she’d have a heart attack when she discovered her perfectly-planned training regimen would have to be modified. “…maybe right before my stop,” he muttered.
“Rei-chaaaaan!” They both turned to see Nagisa and Gou waiting at the corner, Nagisa waving both his arms to get their attention. “Hurry up or we’ll miss the train!”
Hitching up his backpack, Rei started jogging towards them. “Have a good afternoon, senpai!” he called to Makoto.
“You too. See you tomorrow!”
Rei mumbled something that sounded like if I survive. Makoto chuckled and leaned against the fence, jiggled his leg, checked the time on his phone. Haru, as usual, had been the last one out of the pool after practice, and was just stepping in to take a shower as everyone else finished washing up. Makoto had promised to wait for him nevertheless. He tipped his head back, eyelids lowered, trying to catch the last few weak rays before the clouds blotted out the sun.
Makoto opened his eyes. A girl was racing up the sidewalk, pigtails fluttering in the wind – she screeched to a stop in front of him, panting, and smiled brightly. “I was hoping you hadn’t left already,” she said, smoothing her uniform.
“Ah…” Makoto blinked at her a few times. He knew her, of course – he and Saito Hiroka had gone to school together since kindergarten, she was their class representative this year, and he’d been fond of her ever since she’d told off a bunch of boys who were bothering Haru, but he couldn’t imagine why she needed him. “What can I do for you?”
Her smile evolved into a full-blown grin. “I wanted to ask what you were doing tonight.”
“Um,” Makoto said.
“Because,” she continued, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear, “if you’re not busy, I thought maybe you and I could go and see a movie together or something.”
“Um,” he said again, then laughed nervously and rubbed the back of his neck.
Makoto could think of at least five guys who would be horrified if he turned down an opportunity for a date with Hiroka. She was unofficially ranked the most attractive girl in their class, had befriended just about everyone at some point or another, and was quite intelligent to boot – the competition to be her boyfriend was fierce. Last year, a boy had actually written a sonnet for her. And yet here she was, asking Makoto out. He didn’t know how to respond. He distantly thought maybe he should be noticing her hair or her eyes or how pretty she was when she smiled, because that was what guys were supposed to think about when beautiful girls came up to them… but all he could do was wonder how much longer it was going to take Haru to get dressed, because he really needed to pee.
He tried for words and only managed a third um. Hiroka, still patiently waiting for a reply, was kind enough not to rush him. “I… it’s nice of you to ask, but….”
A hand clamped down on his shoulder. “He’s taken.”
“Oh – Haru!” Haru had snuck up behind Makoto while they were talking, it seemed, and now he came to stand next to him without removing his hand from Makoto’s shoulder. Hiroka’s eyebrows disappeared into her hair. “We were just –”
Hiroka looked from Makoto to Haru, then back. “Are you two…?”
Makoto opened his mouth to admit he didn’t know what they were, exactly, but he was afraid he had something to do tonight, so he would unfortunately need to decline her invitation. Haru’s fingers tightened on his shoulder. “We’re married,” he said before Makoto finished the first word.
“Married,” Hiroka echoed.
“Yes,” Haru confirmed. Makoto didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
“…right,” she said, in a tone that suggested she was humoring them. She looked down, adjusted the strap of her bag, and mumbled, “Damn, I’m going to owe Satsuki so much money.”
“What?” Makoto said.
“Never mind!” Hiroka flapped a hand dismissively and smiled again. “Well, all right, if you’re busy, I won’t keep you. Have a nice weekend – I’ll see you on Monday!”
Makoto waved as she dashed down the sidewalk. “Haru, you really shouldn’t go around telling people we’re married…” he said as soon as she’d rounded the corner and vanished from sight. Haru just gave him a blank look, slid his hand down Makoto’s arm, grabbed his fingers, and started walking, leaving Makoto no choice but to follow.
“Your hair is a mess,” Haru observed randomly when they were about halfway home.
“I know.” Makoto self-consciously ran a hand over his scalp. “Yours isn’t much better, though.” Haru had clearly foregone even toweling off his hair – it stuck out perpendicular to his head in thirteen different directions and was soaking the collar of his shirt into transparency. Somehow, it still wasn’t a bad look on him. Makoto’s house soon came into sight, and with it the promise of relief, but Haru persisted on dragging him towards the stairs even when Makoto pleaded, “Haru, wait, I really have to go to the bathroom….”
There was no arguing with that logic. He permitted himself to be led up the stairs and into Haru’s house, where he was thankfully released to tend to his aching bladder. When he stepped back into the hallway, though, Haru was waiting for him. Makoto raised his eyebrows. “Uh, what –”
“You never kiss me,” Haru said. Three strides put him directly in front of Makoto. Four, and Makoto’s back hit the wall.
“I kiss you all the time!” Makoto protested. “I kissed you this morning!”
Haru shook his head. “No, I kissed you. You kissed back, but I had to start it. I always do.”
“So…” Makoto turned that over in his head a few times, even though it was a bit tough to think straight when all he could smell was Haru’s hair. It had a distinctive strawberry scent that indicated he’d borrowed Nagisa’s shampoo again. “You… want me to… initiate kissing?”
“Yes…” Haru said, parroting Makoto’s tone. “Don’t use the word ‘initiate’ in conversation. You sound like Rei.”
“Sorry. I guess I – I just never really know if you want me to kiss you, so it’s easier to let you do it.”
“I want you to kiss me,” Haru stated plainly.
“Okay,” Makoto said, and promptly did so. After all these years, kissing had finally become comfortable and natural, although he always had a little trouble trying to decide where to put his hands. Haru’s were wrapped around his hips, thumbs rubbing tiny circles on his abdomen. Makoto settled for placing one hand on Haru’s waist and cupping the other around his jaw. He tried to coax Haru into parting his lips, but the other boy was being stubborn, keeping his mouth firmly closed until Makoto ran a finger over the most sensitive spot on his ribs.
They’d fallen into this. There had never been any formal declaration of ‘you’re my boyfriend now’, and none was ever needed. Haru had little interest in anyone besides Makoto. On the other hand, Makoto did notice other people – Rei’s amazingly-sculpted legs were just unfair, and he could probably cut diamonds on Rin’s collarbones – but they were merely fleeting snapshots of beauty. He’d been having embarrassing dreams about Haru since his fourteenth birthday, and that was far from the first indication where his affections lay.
Haru’s teeth grazed Makoto’s lower lip. “Makoto,” he breathed, “do you want to have sex?”
“Buh?” Makoto said intelligently. He leaned back as far as he could (which totaled about half a centimeter) and gawked at Haru. “What?”
Sighing, Haru tonelessly repeated, “Do you want to have sex,” punctuating his words with a deliberate, demonstrative roll of his hips against Makoto’s.
Makoto blinked. Fidgeted. Glanced up and down the hallway. Blew a dangling bit of hair out of his face.
“God, yes,” he said.
They made it upstairs without any mishaps, although Makoto nearly took a tumble when Haru decided it might be a good idea to shove his hand into the back pocket of Makoto’s pants. Haru had a well-disguised aggressive streak that had only reared its ugly head when he was swimming competitively, but, apparently, he liked to be in control when it came to intimacy as well. He guided Makoto into the bedroom, shut the door, and slid his ‘husband’ a look that turned Makoto’s knees into wet rope.
“Hold on,” Makoto said quickly, before things could progress any further, “don’t we… we’re going to need some stuff, right?” But Haru had clearly thought ahead – he took a brief detour to his desk, rooted through the bottom drawer, and came up with both lubricant and a box of condoms. Makoto’s mouth fell open. “How long have you had those?” he asked, eyeing them nervously as Haru dropped both onto the mattress.
“Since that time your mom gave us ‘The Talk’.”
The memory made Makoto cringe. Earlier this year, his mother had come into his room while he and Haru were doing their homework, sat them down, and proceeded to explain absolutely everything about sex she thought they would possibly need to know. This included the usual stuff about safety and birth control and consent, but she also informed them of the importance of lubrication and stretching when it came to anal sex. Makoto, too terrified to ask how she knew all that, was nearly reduced to humiliated tears. Haru had looked like he wanted to die. In hindsight, it could’ve been much worse – had she shown up half an hour sooner, her audience might have included Rei and Nagisa. Rei would probably just have blushed himself into an early grave, but Nagisa liked asking questions. It seemed Haru had taken her advice to heart, though. “Oh,” Makoto mumbled, sinking onto the bed and pressing his palms into his eyes. “Okay.” He glanced up again and made a sound like a cat being trodden upon. Haru’s shirt was already gone and he was unbuckling his belt without a care in the world.
“We are going to have to be naked for this,” he said, shimmying out of his uniform slacks.
Judging by how warm Makoto’s face felt, it would be fewer than two minutes before his entire head was aflame. Growing up in swimsuits and changing in pool locker rooms (or wherever else he felt like it) had stripped Haru of all body-shyness, if he’d had any to begin with, but Makoto was a little more modest. It wasn’t like he had any equipment Haru didn’t also possess, he told himself. Sure, Haru had never seen him naked before, but it was bound to happen sooner or later, so what was the big deal?
The bed creaked. Haru had lost his jammers and was now sitting next to Makoto, absolutely unashamed of his nudity. “Are you –”
“I’m fine,” Makoto said. Keeping his eyes focused on his hands, because looking at Haru right now would be detrimental to his current task, he set to slowly unbuttoning his shirt.
“Here.” Haru took over, making quick work of the buttons. “We don’t have all day. Your parents expect you for dinner, don’t they?”
“They expect you too. It’s Friday night.”
“All the more reason to get a move on.” Haru slid Makoto’s shirt off his arms, and, despite himself, Makoto found his eyes irresistibly drawn to Haru’s chest, down to his abs, down to….
He’d given Haru a blowjob once, he recalled dizzily. It had been very messy, but having the privilege of seeing the normally stoic boy come so thoroughly undone due to Makoto’s ministrations was more than worth the half-hour of cleanup.
“Hey,” Haru said, tapping Makoto’s cheek. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Makoto swallowed, smiled shakily. “Yeah.” How was Haru so calm about this? He was just sitting there, perfectly casual, like he got naked in preparation to lose his virginity all the time. Knowing he would lose his nerve if he procrastinated any longer, Makoto stood, took a deep breath, and slipped out of his pants and boxers without letting himself think about it.
Haru’s eyes rounded. His face went pink. His tongue darted across his lips.
“Um,” he said. For the first time, he sounded a little unsure of himself. “I think it might be easier if you’re on the bottom….”
“Oh, god,” Makoto said faintly, covering his face with his hands and slumping back onto the bed. From Haru, that was as good as shouting you have an abnormally large dick and there’s no way I can take that thing! This was not how things had gone in Makoto’s dead-of-night fantasies. He’d envisioned himself being a lot more suave and collected, for starters, and also considerably less embarrassed of his own endowment.
“Hey.” Haru’s fingers curled around his own, pulled them down so he could look Makoto in the eye. “If you don’t want to, we can try it the other way. It’ll just take more preparation.”
“No. No, I don’t want to hurt you.”
“Okay.” Haru touched Makoto’s jaw and sat back on his heels.
Makoto sucked in another breath, then, deciding it was probably the best way to start, stretched out along the length of Haru’s bed. He kept his eyes on the ceiling. There was a small green streak just over his head – back in grade one, he and Haru spent a rainy afternoon much like this one throwing crayons at each other from behind pillow forts. And now they were here planning to have sex… how things had changed.
“You’re shaking,” Haru said, covering Makoto’s trembling knee with one hand. “We don’t have to do this if you don’t want to, Makoto, I’m serious.”
“I do want to,” Makoto blurted. He dug his fingers into the sheets, forced himself to meet Haru’s eyes. There was the tiniest flicker of apprehension behind the bright blue, which, strangely, relaxed him. “I really, really do… I’m just a little scared.”
Haru’s thumb swept in a slow arc across his kneecap. “Me too,” he admitted. “We’ll take it slow, all right?”
Haru pressed a kiss to Makoto’s cheek, then leaned back and just… looked. He looked at Makoto the same way he looked at a glittering swimming pool or the open water – like whatever lay before him was freedom and splendor and utter perfection. No one had ever looked at Makoto that way before. He wanted to cover himself; at the same time, he wanted to bask in Haru’s attention and hope nothing ever drew it away again.
“Can I touch you?” Haru asked in a hushed, almost reverent tone. Makoto nodded, closed his eyes, tensed a bit… but rather than leap right into the deep end, Haru tested the waters by feathering his hand up the inside of Makoto’s thigh. The muscles jumped beneath his fingertips. Fighting an urge to laugh at the ticklish brush, Makoto sank his teeth into his lower lip – if he started, he wouldn’t be able to stop, and dying a virgin in a padded cell somewhere wasn’t really how he wanted to go.
Haru’s fingers found a sensitive spot at the junction of leg and torso. Makoto gasped, and Haru let out a tiny “Oh.” He studied Makoto’s face for a moment, then, sporting the faintest of wicked smiles, leaned down and ran his tongue over that patch of skin.
Makoto nearly hit the roof. “Ohmygod –”
“Was that a ‘stop that’, or a ‘do that again’?” Haru said, looking up at Makoto through his eyelashes.
Judging by his expression, he knew the answer to that already. Makoto indulged him nonetheless, chanting, “Do it again do it again do it again,” and scrabbling at the sheets. He hadn’t been too aroused before, sheer anxiety keeping him as soft as the pillow beneath his head, but the heat pooling in his belly suggested that wouldn’t be the case much longer.
Haru smirked. One more swipe of his tongue and he latched on, taking the skin between his teeth and biting gently.
All at once, Makoto dissolved into uncontrollable laughter.
He distantly felt the warm, wet mouth leave his thigh. “Makoto,” Haru began, sounding concerned, “are you…”
“Remember when we were kids –” Makoto gasped through his hysterics, “and we got on the train – and Nagisa asked if we were going to have sex now that we were married –”
For a moment, Haru was silent, staring – and then he started laughing too, pressing his face against Makoto’s stomach to muffle his snickering. Makoto scuffled his fingers through Haru’s dark hair, a vague apology for ruining the moment, other hand clasped over his mouth. Here they were, trying to have sex and instead giggling crazily like the awkward virginal dorks they were… Makoto had no idea where this path would take them, if they managed to get more than a few steps down it at all, but there was absolutely no one else he would rather make the journey with.
“Hey, Nanase!” Fujioka Hikaru yanked a chair out with his foot, thumped a stack of books onto the table, and plopped himself into the seat across from Haru, taking no notice of Makoto. If he had, he might have realized the distance between Makoto and Haru was practically nonexistent, and their thighs were pressed together beneath the table, but he had eyes only for Haru. Haru had eyes only for his invertebrate zoology textbook. “I never see you in here.”
There was a good reason for that. The student center was noisy, crowded, and lacked any pleasing water features, which made it persona non grata as far as Haru was concerned. He only ventured inside when he had no other choice – or when the grill downstairs served half-price mackerel on Thursdays.
“So,” Hikaru continued, oblivious to Haru’s utter lack of interest, “what have you got planned for this weekend?”
“Cool. Listen, my friend’s got this band, and I….”
Makoto tuned him out, focusing on the paper he was trying to write and pushing his glasses up his nose. Lately, his contacts had been irritating his eyes so badly he couldn’t wear them for more than a few minutes. Haru was less pleased than he usually was about that. Under pressure, he admitted a ridiculous amount of people on campus already found Makoto attractive, and they hadn’t even seen him with his glasses on yet. When Makoto denied his bespectacled-attractiveness, Haru sent out a mass email to their friends asking for opinions on Makoto in glasses. The responses ranged from ‘cute!’ to ‘dead sexy’ to ‘beautiful’ to ‘I can’t answer that, I was your teacher’. Makoto couldn’t argue with general consensus, but squinting all the time gave him a headache, so Haru just had to deal.
“ – anyway,” Hikaru said, “it’s gonna be pretty awesome. Want to come?”
Haru turned the page and paused to admire a diagram of a squid. “Are you asking me out?”
“Uh, yup. I thought that was obvious.” Hikaru hiked an eyebrow and grinned. Makoto couldn’t help but admire his confidence. “Well?”
Hikaru’s confidence shattered like glass on a tile floor. “You’re – no fucking way. To who?”
Haru pointed to his right. Makoto poked his head out from behind his laptop and smiled. “Yeah. Hi."
“Bullshit,” Hikaru said. “You can’t be any older than I am!”
“I’m not.” No doubt about it, Haru was enjoying messing with his nice but inobservant admirer. The ability to keep a poker face no matter how bizarre the situation became had turned him into an epic troll. “It’s been… what, eleven years now?”
“Seven,” Makoto corrected. “Rin said it wasn’t official until we had the ceremony.”
“Since when does anything that Rin says matter?”
Makoto wisely did not answer that. Apparently realizing his persistence wasn’t going to pay off, Hikaru sighed and held out his hands in defeat. “Right, whatever, you don’t want to. That’s cool. You don’t have to lie to me.” He scooped up his books again. “Just, you know, the offer’s open. See ya around.”
Haru didn’t even look up as he left. Makoto reread his pitiful paragraph of dribble, sighed, and pressed delete. “I’m getting nowhere on this.”
“Come on,” Haru said, grabbing his textbook and standing. Makoto hurriedly closed his laptop, stuffed it into his bag, and followed Haru out of the student center and across campus. “I’ll give you some inspiration.”
They were heading back towards the residence hall, Makoto realized, glancing around at their surroundings. Meaning… “Haru, my paper’s on elementary education. I don’t know if that kind of inspiration is going to help.”
“Will it hurt?”
“Elementary education,” Makoto stressed.
“We’re going swimming, Makoto.”
“Oh.” The gymnasium was by their dormitory, now that he thought about it… he laughed awkwardly, ran a hand through his hair, and did some quick mental calculations. He had a lecture in just over an hour, but if he only swam for forty minutes or so, then took a very quick shower, he’d make it on time.
Haru’s eyes glinted. “Your mind's in the gutter today. Are you feeling threatened?”
“Nah,” Makoto said as they took a sharp left and passed the Humanities building. Before them loomed the huge white gym – recently renovated and featuring an Olympic-sized pool, which was at least fifty percent of the reason Haru had chosen this particular university. “Should I be?”
“You still sleep with a light on,” Haru murmured, “and you cried when we watched Paranormal Activity –”
“That movie was terrifying!”
“– but Fujioka doesn’t like water.”
Well, Hikaru was definitely out of the running. Makoto reached the glass doors first, held one open for Haru, and said, “After you, then.”
He was thirteen minutes late to class. As far as bad ideas ranked, a quickie in the shower right before he needed to spend an hour and a half seated on a hard plastic chair was off the charts – and considering they rated their bad ideas on a scale of one to ‘did Rin think of this’, that was saying something. At least when he dragged himself back to his room, Haru was already sprawled out on the bed, saving Makoto the trouble of hunting him down so they could cuddle. “Haru, I’m tired,” he whined, shutting the door behind him and dropping his backpack onto the desk.
Rather than sympathize, Haru waved his phone and said, “Nagisa sent me a picture.”
“Is it Rei dressed in something nobody in their right mind would ever wear?”
“How did you know?”
“Lucky guess.” Makoto gave his laptop a despairing look. His paper was still woefully incomplete. His brain felt like pudding, though, and the bed looked so inviting… “What do you want to do?”
“We could watch Paranormal Activity 2,” Haru suggested, setting his phone aside.
“Please, anything but that,” Makoto begged.
“Paranormal Activity 3?”
“How many of those are there?” He fell onto the mattress with a heavy sigh, eyelids slipping closed of their own accord. “I’m so tired….”
Gentle hands plucked his glasses off his face. Makoto opened his eyes in time to see the world go soft and blurry. Reaching across him, Haru set the glasses on the nightstand, then brushed his lips over Makoto’s and rested his head on his chest. The room was warm and as quiet as it could possibly get in the residence hall – which meant thundering footsteps upstairs and a nearby radio playing polka music, of all things, but they’d learnt long ago to ignore the background noise. Soon caught somewhere in the murky place between consciousness and dreams, Makoto pressed his nose against Haru’s hair and murmured, “Hey, Haru?”
“Are you happy?”
Makoto smiled sleepily. “Haru?”
“Paranormal Activity was really scary.”
“And I don’t like dark places. I don’t know what’s hiding in them.”
“What could possibly be lurking in your dorm room?”
Haru’s snort was swallowed in the soft rustle of the blanket he drew over them. “Go to sleep, Makoto.”
“I love you.”
The fingers wandering along his jawline stilled for an instant, then resumed their expedition. “I know. I love you too.”
They were about a block away from their destination when Haru dug his heels in and refused to budge until Makoto told him where they were headed. “It’s late,” he said, breath puffing out in white clouds. “We have to catch the train back, and I’m working tomorrow. You’re working tomorrow. Where are we going?”
“You’ll see, we’re almost there. It won’t take long,” Makoto promised. Haru sighed, but tugged his scarf up over his mouth and started moving again. Makoto gave his gloved fingers a squeeze. They walked down the road, crossed at the corner, and Makoto opened the gate in front of them and nudged Haru inside the enclosure.
“Why did you bring me to a tennis court?” Haru asked, glancing around with his eyebrows raised.
“You’re terrible at tennis. You almost killed yourself every time we played in P.E., remember?”
As if he could forget. Makoto had the dubious honor of being the only person in Iwatobi High School history to ever break their own nose with a tennis racquet. “We’re not here to play tennis.” He shoved his hands into the pockets of his coat and shifted his weight from foot to foot. Haru looked at him curiously. Makoto swallowed, cleared his throat, steeled his resolve, and said, “Uh. Okay. Haru… this used to be a duck pond, before they filled it in and built the court instead. Fifteen years ago, in this spot, I gave you a ring I got out of the vending machine across the street and asked you to marry me.” He’d had so much more to say – an entire speech, actually, but as he stood there and Haru stared, every single word leaked right out of his head. “I – I know it would be better if there was actually a pond here. I was originally going to take you to the beach or something, but I didn’t think that would mean much, really, and – to be honest, this was kind of Rin’s idea. I said the pond was long gone but he just told me to do it and stop calling him while he was in the pool because he had medals to defend, and then he hung up on me.”
Realizing he was getting off-topic, Makoto made a conscious effort to stop babbling. It would be easier if Haru didn’t insist on gaping at him like Makoto was declaring his intentions to quit teaching and pursue a career as a burlesque dancer. “Anyway. Now that we’re adults – theoretically – I’m asking again. I know we can’t truly get married here, but I thought maybe we could save up and go somewhere we can, or not, if that doesn’t matter to you. It’s not important, I just wanted to do this right, because you mean everything to me. When we were kids, I said I wanted to make you feel brave and loved and safe… and I still do, if you’ll let me.” Taking a deep breath, he pulled the velvety little box from his pocket. “Haru, will you – dammit!”
He’d dropped the box. He bent down and grabbed it, but the ring inside was rattling around now, and in the interest of not looking like a complete failure, Makoto opened the box just a bit and tried to fit the ring back into its proper place –
Haru made a strange sound. His palm was pressed to his mouth, his shoulders hitching slightly, and for one horrible, nightmarish moment, Makoto thought he was going to cry… and suddenly Haru dropped his hand and began laughing out loud.
“Hey!” Makoto said, but Haru’s laughter was infectious, and he was overcome in moments. They clutched at each other for balance, wobbling in the middle of a tennis court, giggling like lunatics. The park was deserted at ten o’clock on a Monday night, but they were attracting some weird stares from a few people leaving the convenience store across the street.
Their temporary insanity only lasted a few minutes. Haru recovered first, straightening up and saying, “Well, continue,” as if Makoto was making a sales pitch.
“Couldn’t make this easy on me,” Makoto muttered, pressing his lips together tightly until he could get himself under control. He fumbled with the box, and – using both hands this time – opened it. “Will you marry me again?”
Haru looked from the ring to Makoto and back. Makoto had agonized over that ring – he knew Haru wasn’t really one for jewelry, and he didn’t even care if Haru forgot to wear it most of the time, he just wanted him to like it. He eventually went with a simple silver band, etched with a dolphin made to resemble the design of the cheap ring with which he had first proposed to Haru.
Slowly, like the sun peeking over the horizon, a brilliant smile stole over Haru’s face. He nodded.
Makoto’s breath caught in his throat. “Really?”
“Yes, really,” Haru said, his deadpan tone entirely at odds with his expression. He plucked the ring from its slot on the cushion, turned it over to see the etching more closely, tugged off his glove, and finally slid the ring onto his finger.
Makoto promptly dropped the box again. This time, he left it where it fell, flung his arms around Haru’s waist, hoisted him up, spun him around, and kissed him. It didn’t work quite as well as it did in romantic comedies, since Haru wasn’t exactly a tiny, frail waif – Makoto almost dropped him as well – and their teeth clicked together painfully, but he was laughing again and Haru was still smiling and everything was perfect. “I love you,” he said, “I love you –” and then kissed him again just because he could.
“You’re crying,” Haru said wonderingly, touching Makoto’s cheek. He rubbed the tears away with his thumb. “Don’t get so worked up. We’ve been married for fifteen years.”
Makoto sniffled, gave him a watery grin. “Best fifteen years of my life.”
Haru brushed Makoto’s hair out of his eyes and rested their foreheads together, that bright smile seizing his lips again. “Mine too.”
Makoto had to set him down, then, since his arms were beginning to ache. He snuffled a few more times and wiped his face on the sleeve of his jacket while Haru picked up the jewelry box. “I still have the ring you gave me when we were kids,” Haru said, closing the box and tucking it into his pocket. “It’s been through the laundry a few times and I accidentally stepped on it once, so it’s sort of flat, but it’s still in my drawer at home.”
That was very nearly enough to start the waterworks again, but Makoto managed to hold them back. He reached out and Haru took his hand, lacing their fingers together. He’d not put his glove back on and the court lights glinted off the silver band. “Come on,” Makoto said, “we’d better leave before someone sees us and asks what we’re doing out here.”
“We should go swimming.”
“You took me swimming after you asked me to marry you the first time,” Haru reminded him.
“It’s late. Everywhere is closed.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time we broke into a pool.”
The sad thing was, Makoto couldn’t think of a rebuttal to that. The old swim club, Samezuka, the university natatorium, a run-down gym near their apartment one particularly daring night after they both got drunk… they were probably lucky they didn’t have police records.
It was ten-nineteen, according to his watch. They had a twenty-minute train ride, plus eight minutes or so to walk back to their building. Alarm clocks would be ringing at six tomorrow morning.
They were getting married.
He grinned at Haru. “All right. Let’s go swimming.”