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To Haru, the transition from Makoto’s best friend to Makoto’s boyfriend was, while never technically defined, natural. They’ve known each other from birth and the development of emotions beyond strictly platonic was never pushed away from the table. Because of the ever present option and the dynamic of their own relationship, tumbling into romantic feelings was inevitable.

It never came as a surprise to Haru, nor did Makoto ever show any sort of discomfort. Including the lack of responses by friends and Makoto’s family – they never needed to sit down and have a discussion about it. Free flowing communication without words is their specialty, but gave way to a lack of solid definitions.

It’s impossible to define a single moment where their relationship turned from platonic to romantic. Perhaps it’s because their friendship was never hindered by a non-romance clause. Their closeness – from the availability of touches and sharing of beds through childhood to teenage years to the reading of minds and always knowing what’s best for the other – went beyond the standard friendship. From birth, their relationship was dappled with romantic undertones. All the more destined.

Makoto is always open with his feelings, freely sharing them and showering Haru in affection. While Haru is much more private, he still has his own ways of showing Makoto he cares. Between the two of them, there is never a lack of warm gestures. Never wrongly interpreted; always taken at face value. There are no hidden messages between Haru and Makoto. Wants and need projected easily between them.

They always lingered in each other’s presences more than necessary. Shoulders brushing accidently or a purposeful bump for stability. Where Makoto went Haru was never far behind and vice versa. The nearness shifted gradually and they never moved out of time with each other; hands grazing each other from constant state of proximity. Fingers ghosting over palms until finding the spaces they fit perfectly in the other’s hands. Walking home holding hands is just something Makoto and Haru did, anyone would say if asked.

The development that followed was steady and predictable. The privacy of their walks home fostered an environment for a certain obliviousness to rest of the world. The two of them in a bubble, trapped in each other’s orbit, ignorant of anything but each other. Shifting tides grew calm in their periphery – too lost in the colours of each others’ eyes.

Hand holding on the way home gave way to secretive grips underneath tables. Thumbs stroking the tops of hands and soft, secretive smiles exchanged as Makoto slipped his hand into Haru’s. Or Haru quietly jostling Makoto’s thigh with his feet to indicate for Makoto to shift closer just so he could tug Makoto’s hand into his own.

Either no one noticed or they just weren’t surprised. The looks shared between two teenagers falling in love with each other weren’t met with ridicule. Maybe with exasperation at how in love the two managed to appear so effortlessly. Makoto and Haru’s love is a near constant, expected and unsurprising. No one in Iwatobi felt the need to question it. It was destiny.

Simple gestures of hand holding and secretive looks gave way to shy kisses. Of all the vague lines and transitions – Haru knows he kissed Makoto first. The two of them alone on the pool deck. Everyone else long gone. The look in Makoto’s green eyes as he pulled Haru from the water sent Haru’s heart soaring. It was impossible to resist. Falling into Makoto in a fluid motion, their lips coming together in a chaste, private meeting that’s been waiting to happen since forever.

Makoto didn’t back away or tuck his head away in embarrassment. The tips of ears turned pink and he sighed happily, before pressing into Haru. Another step forward meant for the two of them to take together.

At first their kisses remained private and sparse. Exchanged equally in the evenings and occasionally in the privacy of locker rooms, after everyone else had gone home. But as the two grew bolder and understood their own feelings in more depth, they grew more brave. Nagisa cooed when they first kissed each other in front of him. Rei, embarrassed by the PDA, scolded Nagisa for interrupting their moment for lack of anything else to do.

But it wasn’t a moment. It felt right. As if Haru greeted Makoto with a kiss every day at lunch. As if the two of them had kissed a thousand other times on the roof top. And for the two of them, neither could tell the difference between the first and the times that came after. It all felt natural.

Chastity gave way to the passion and the hormones of teenagers. It didn’t take long before the two of the stumbled into Haruka’s bedroom, tugging at each other’s clothes and laughing through their embarrassment. The physical consummation of their relationship only seemed to strengthen it.

“I love you,” Haru whispered that night, staring into Makoto’s eyes.

It’s not the first time Haru has made the explicit confession. The times before had been less powerful, however. Lacking the true force of the words “I” and “love” and “you.”

“I love you too,” returned Makoto for the very first time.

His eyes shone so brightly and Haru felt as if his heart would burst. He knew Makoto loved him and the words brought a sense of déjà vu. Everyday, with every soft smile, every kiss, and touch between them, Haru had heard Makoto says those words. All their actions said ‘I love you’ in ways that words could never manage. At that point, the words were an unnecessary milestone between them.

But they never talked about the status of their relationship. Haru still considered Makoto his best friend, struggling to move him into any other category. As if he did, he might lose Makoto. Privately, Haru practiced referring to Makoto as his boyfriend. But the words were thick on his tongue; unfamiliar and foreign. It felt wrong to think of Makoto as anything other than his best friend who loved him more than the world itself. Similarly, Haru could see Makoto felt the same way in regards to terminology.

But labels and definitions didn’t matter. Because Haru had Makoto and Makoto had Haru. And that’s all they ever needed.

 

XXXXXXX

 

And then came Tokyo.

 

XXXXXXX

 

Makoto never has time to visit these days. His classes and studying keep him busy enough that spending time with Haru causes him visible stress. Since Haru never likes causing Makoto stress, he settles for study dates where they quietly sit across from each other at a table (either in Haru’s apartment or a library on either of their campuses). The geographical separation is another unforeseen challenge, neither of them ever having to deal with anything longer than a brief walk between them before. Never mind a twenty something train ride – if everything goes to plan.

Most of the time, it’s Haru trekking over to Makoto’s campus, either the dorms or library. With a considerably lighter course load of Fine Arts than the numerous anatomy courses Makoto is bogged down with, Haru has the time. The silence isn’t gaping or too deafening – just being with Makoto is enough. They can still read each other through silent conversation and though most of their communication takes place through text, Haru never feels like he’s missing too much of Makoto.

But still, the physical of absence of Makoto is draining. They use to live in each other’s pockets and the affections that came with the physical proximity were a keystone. Without the walk home or spending evenings at each other’s homes, the lack of touches is jarring for Haru. Ironically, Haru never thought he’d miss being in physical contact with someone let alone being lonely despite having living by himself for years (then again, Haru’s never truly been alone because of Makoto).

Being on his own, Haru feels bereft. There’s a gap between his fingers that wasn’t there before and absence of warmth at his shoulder.

Haru hasn’t kissed Makoto in at least 5 days, which was when he last saw Makoto. Harried and stressed over an upcoming anatomy test, their passing had been brief. Haru brought food to Makoto’s dorm, demanded he eat something and then left when Makoto passed out from exhaustion. Haru pressed a kiss to Makoto’s forehead before seeing himself out. But not before scribbling a quick note of encouragement in one of Makoto’s notebooks.

(Makoto had sent a text, two days later, thanking Haru for the note and promising they’d hang out soon.)

Five days later, Haru is feeling impatient. Communication with Makoto is sparse. Texts come few and far between; either Makoto lamenting his busy schedule (school and now volunteering at a local pool, which has Haru gritting teeth because Makoto doesn’t know when to not stretch himself thin) or pale promises to see Haru soon.

It’s time to get forward or else he’s never going to get Makoto alone.

 

To Makoto 2:45 pm:

            Come over

 

He sets his phone down and turns to his sketchbook, attempting to work through his project. Like Makoto, his muse is a ghost these days. Just the thought of seeing Makoto powers him through the initial sketch, which will tide his professor over until Haru can manage to create something more worthwhile.

 

From Makoto 3:03 pm

            Sorry, Haru but I have another test coming up. In a few days, I promise.

 

Haru bites his lip. Makoto’s never been one to break promises, but he’s doing it a lot lately. ‘I promise’ is almost like an annoying text signature. Unwanted, unnecessary, and generally a lie. Not that Haru faults Makoto. He needs to study and get good grades if he wants to get into the physiotherapy program. (Though Haru is secretly displeased with Makoto’s choice. It’s obvious how much the career path distresses Makoto.)

To get Makoto to make the trek out to his apartment, Haru is going to offer something substantial. Swallowing his pride, Haru knows exactly what he needs to offer.

 

To Makoto 3:05 pm:

            I’ll let you use me as your human model.

 

To Makoto 3:06 pm:

            And you can use my good markers.

 

From Makoto 3:12 pm:

            You drive a hard bargain…

 

To Makoto 3:13 pm:

            One time offer. Take it or leave it.

 

From Makoto 3:15 pm:

            I’m catching the next train over.

 

To Makoto 3:17 pm:

            I’ll make dinner.

 

To Makoto 3:21 pm:

            See you soon.

 

Haru doesn’t suppress the smile that bubbles up. He’s going to get Makoto all to himself. Though he does feel a little bad for dragging Makoto all the way out here. But he’s offering a home cooked meal (something Makoto doesn’t get enough of) and the use of Haru’s body as a model (a necessary compromise for Makoto’s presence in Haru’s apartment).

Forty-five minutes later, there’s a knock on the door and Haru has to control himself. Walking calmly to the door, he opens it and and is greeted by Makoto. His face is pink from the cooling weather, but he looks happy and healthy. Most importantly: Makoto’s smiling.

Unable to stop himself, Haru reaches forward and pulls Makoto inside. Shutting the door in a behind them, Haru wraps his arms around Makoto’s body in a continuous motion.

Tensing for the briefest second, Makoto melts into the embrace. The cool fabric of his coat is nice on Haru’s bare skin, causing the slightest of shivers. Haru presses his face into Makoto’s scarf, hideous but made by Nagisa with love, and inhales deeply. It smells like Makoto. A mixture of his shampoo and soap with the barest hint of chlorine. There’s also the scent of the ocean, but it’s more of a memory than anything. Neither of them have been close enough to the ocean to carry its scent for some time.

Makoto’s arms tighten around Haru as he presses his face into Haru’s hair. It’s all too obvious Makoto’s been craving the physicality of their relationship just as much as Haru has.

Tilting his head, Haru presses a kiss to the corner of Makoto’s mouth. Smiling sweetly, Makoto reciprocates with a more direct one. Longer and less chaste, showing the desperation caused by their separation.

“Are you hungry?” Haru asks when Makoto pulls away.

“I could eat,” Makoto says agreeably. “I came directly from school.”

Haru nods and points to the table where some of his art supplies is scattered across the table.

“You study. I’ll cook,” Haru says.

“Sounds good. And then after dinner you’ll make good on your promise?” Makoto asks, managing to sound like what Haru offers is way dirtier than it actually is.

“I brought my markers out and everything,” Haru says solemnly.

Eyes lighting up in glee, Makoto peels away from Haru and makes his way over to the table. The obvious happiness makes the whole upcoming ordeal worth it. For a few minutes, Makoto shifts through the markers selecting his favourites. Setting a few aside, he pulls off his jacket and scarf before pulling out his notebooks.

Leaving Makoto to his studies, Haru heads to the kitchen to prepare dinner. Evenings like this always make Haru feel warm. It’s all very domestic. Makoto working diligently at the table while Haru makes them dinner (even though it’s a bit early for dinner today).

Since the swim season is over, Haru doesn’t need to adhere so religiously to his diet. Mackerel is a prominent feature in his diet, making up for the months lost to balanced eating. Haru loses himself in cooking and the occasional sounds of shuffling paper.

“Here,” Haru says as he presents Makoto with a plate of food.

“Mackerel,” Makoto teases, but still fond. “I should’ve known.”

Makoto starts to clean up, pushing his notes and books off the side. Once the space is clear, Haru sets Makoto’s plate down in front of him. Haru takes the other seat at the table, tangling their feet together as he does so.

“I would’ve made something you like more,” Haru says. “But I haven’t gone shopping in awhile."

“There’s no need, I like mackerel,” Makoto replies. “Maybe not as much as you, but enough to enjoy it.”

“I’m glad,” Haru says. “I don’t think your meal plan is good enough for you.”

“It definitely doesn’t compare to your cooking or my mom’s,” Makoto agrees. “But it’s sufficient.”

"You can take the leftovers,” Haru says.

It would be nice to have them tomorrow for lunch, but Makoto eating well is more important.

“Really?” Makoto asks, raising his eyebrows. “I couldn’t do that. I know how much you like mackerel.”

“You need it more,” Haru insists.

Makoto sighs and smiles.

“Alright, Haru,” he says. “I’ll take the leftovers.”

“Good.”

The rest of the meal is punctuated by Makoto’s anecdotes of his classmates and acquaintances. He’s made quite a few more friends in his classes than Haru has. Haru’s accepted the ‘quiet art student’ epithet at school and remains on last name basis with his teammates. But since he has Makoto, there’s no need to find more friends. Nagisa, Rei, and Rin message often enough and they all keep up with each other’s lives. Asahi and Ikuya pop in and out of his life as well - Asahi's antics are more than enough for Haru. Even Kisumi is there, but he's always been more of Makoto's friend. However, it’s not like there’s a best friend vacancy in Haru’s life right now.

“Wow!” Makoto exclaims after he's cleared the plate. “I needed that. Thank you, Haru.”

Offering him a small smile, Haru stands as he collects Makoto’s plate. However, Makoto catches his wrist before Haru can take it.

“I’ll do the dishes,” Makoto says.

“It’s fine,” Haru asserts.

But Makoto shakes his head. Haru acquiesces. This battle Makoto gets to win.

“I’ll dry them,” Haru says.

Accepting this answer, Makoto picks up their plates and heads to the kitchen. There’s not much to clean up since Haru was only cooking for two. While Makoto prepares the water to wash the dishes, Haru packs up the leftovers in a container, even taking the time to label Makoto’s name on it and slipping it into his bag.

Hopefully, Makoto will remember the container is there when he gets back to his dorm and put it in the communal fridge. Haru would hate for Makoto to find the spoiled food later. The thought of wasting mackerel makes Haru wince. He’ll just remember to text Makoto once he leaves – that will prevent the food from going back.

Together, they make short work of the dishes before returning to the table.

“Are you ready?” Makoto asks, scooping up Haru’s offered markers.

Sighing, Haru nods. He yanks off his shirt fluidly and saunters over to the couch. Makoto follows behind, grinning. For some reason, Makoto enjoys drawing over Haru’s body way too much. Haru can’t seem to find the appeal in drawing simple lines marking the muscles.

Makoto takes a seat on the couch, leaving enough space for Haru to sit between his legs. Resigning himself to the fate of having the markings on his body for tomorrow’s practice, Haru drops his body in between Makoto’s legs. It’s the off season but Ryuuji and the university coach wants to make sure he stays in shape and in form during the off season. Practices are more infrequent, but it still offers Haru a regular chance to get into the pool.

Reaching out, Makoto runs a hand down Haru’s arm.

“Your muscles are so well defined,” Makoto murmurs, breath ghosting over the shell of Haru’s ear. “Your regular workouts really show.”

Nodding, Haru watches as Makoto’s other arm reaches around with the marker. Unfortunately for Haru, the reason Makoto might find this study method so enjoyable is because of how ticklish Haru can get. He shivers as the felt tip touches his arm and represses the urge to yank his arm away as Makoto drags the marker down his arm.

“Protonator quadratus,” Makoto says. “Originates here on the ulna.”

Makoto drags his fingers up Haru’s arm.

“And inserts here, on the radius.”

His fingers pull back down to loosely grip around Haru’s wrist.

“What nerve innervates it?” Haru asks, knowing the study program well enough.

“Median nerve,” Makoto answers. “And its action is to protonate the forearm.”

Haru lets his arm go limp so that Makoto can guide it through the action. Afterwards, he lets Haru’s arm drop gently and presses a kiss to Haru’s neck as a thank you. If Makoto keeps up with his teasing, Haru may not be able to keep up his end of the bargain.

“You’re not even close to done yet,” Haru accuses.

Makoto laughs softly, reverberating through his chest and sending vibrations into Haru’s back.

“I’m just rewarding my favourite practice model,” Makoto says so earnestly that it makes Haru’s chest hurt. “You’re much better than the plastic ones we use at school.”

Feeling himself blush, Haru leans backwards to rest his head on Makoto’s shoulder. The gesture gets his exasperation across.

“Go back to studying,” Haru says.

Makoto smiles, kisses Haru, and returns to drawing lines on Haru’s arms.

They continue on for several hours, pausing for the briefest periods of stretching. Every so often, Makoto gets particularly distracted pressing kisses on Haru’s body and moves for something more. Breaks for brief make-out sessions bracket around a series of correct answers. A gift for Haru’s patience and a reward for Makoto’s success.

It’s around the time Haru finds himself suddenly flipped, back landing on the couch and Makoto above him, he decides it’s time for them to stop.

“Enough studying for the night?” Haru asks innocently.

Makoto rolls his eyes and flops down onto Haru’s body, head resting on Haru’s chest.

“Finally,” Makoto sighs but the word gets mangled by a yawn.

He lifts his head to look at Haru, smiling sheepishly.

“Sorry,” he says. “I’ve been up since six.”

Haru bites his tongue, wanting to chastise Makoto. He can see it written plainly across Makoto’s face; he had woken up to help someone out. Or fill in for someone at the pool before class. Either way, Makoto took on something out of the kindness of heart and his big brother nature.

Typical Makoto.

“Let’s just nap,” Haru suggests.

It’s already fairly late but Haru wants Makoto to stay a bit longer. He’s feeling the exhaustion seep into his body. No doubt they’re both eager for bed. It's not what Haru wanted, but it's easy enough to ignore the thrumming in his skin and the want for Makoto. He's tired and willing to take cuddling with Makoto as a consolation prize.

“Okay,” Makoto agrees.

He sits up before offering a hand to Haru and dragging him up too. The two of them tiredly stumble to Haru’s bedroom and collapse into bed as a jumble of limbs.

Belatedly, Haru recognizes Makoto extracting himself to reach for his phone and set an alarm. Before long, Makoto is back with him fully. Warm and close.

Slipping into an easy sleep, Haru is the most content he’s been since they arrived in Tokyo.

 

XXXXXXX

 

A short while later, Haru is rudely awoken by Makoto’s phone alarm going off. Sitting up sleepily, Haru watches as Makoto shuts off the alarm. His hair is dishevelled from sleep and eyes barely open. The look draws up strong feelings of nostalgia in Haru. It reminds him of waking up together in Iwatobi, spending the night cramped in one of their beds, and knowing that there was no rush since the walk home was only just longer than a handful of seconds.

“I have swim practice in the morning,” Haru mumbles, still half asleep.

“I know,” replies Makoto. “I have an early class.”

Makoto gets up and shuffles out of the room. After a few seconds, Haru follows after him. He feels lame watching Makoto collect up his belongings. There’s a feeling of discomfort that swells up in Haru as he watches Makoto pull on his coat and wind that wretched scarf around his neck.

“I should get going then,” Makoto murmurs, heading to the door.

Stepping across the room, Haru pulls the door open for Makoto –

And they linger. A part of Haru itches to be selfish and request that Makoto stay the night. Another reminds him Makoto will likely reject him, having class tomorrow. A third whispers Makoto would never deny Haru anything.

No matter, asking Makoto to stay would be unfair to both of them. Makoto should get back to his dorm and rest up for tomorrow. That’s what he wants and Haru respects that.

“Okay,” Makoto murmurs and leans forward to kiss Haru.

The kiss lasts, lips pressed together, as they’re unable to pull away from each other. Haru's fingers curls around the fabric of Makoto's jacket while Makoto's hand rests on Haru's cheek, holding him in place. Makoto's finger brush against the sensitive spot behind Haru's ears. His body burns - the pushed down desire from earlier returning. 

Finally Haru pulls away. His lips buzz and his head spins.

“Bye Makoto,” he says softly. “Let me know how your classes go.”

“Love you,” Makoto whispers.

Haru presses his forehead to Makoto’s. It’s all he needs to get his point across.

“Sleep well, Haru,” Makoto continues. “Have a good practice.”

Makoto backs away slowly, an odd look in his eyes. For the first time in ages, Haru can’t place the look. It frightens him when he can’t read Makoto. What would be the reason for such an undecipherable look? Nothing good, Haru concludes. But they had a good time, so why would Makoto leave upset?

By the time he comes out of his thoughts, Makoto’s long gone – only a retreating figure in the distance.

Not wanting to reside on the negative thoughts, Haru returns inside. Grabbing his phone, he sends Makoto a text reminding him of the leftovers in his bag.

He’ll talk to Makoto about the look later.

 

XXXXXXX

 

“Hey Nanase, what’s with the human colouring book costume?” asks Tamura as Haru pulls off his track jacket.

Haru looks down at his arms, covered in Makoto’s colourful lines. He forgot they were there; too tired to really register them as he woke up for the morning team run. Since he took a bath the previous morning, he didn’t wash them off before bed. Last night, Haru planned on washing them off in the shower after the run and before he got in the pool.

“Oh,” Haru says lifting his arms to display them more fully. “I forgot about them.”

“I thought you were an art student,” Tamura says getting closer to peer at them. “Those labels look like muscles.”

“My girlfriend does that for her anatomy classes,” Otsu cuts in.

The two swimmers are now crowding into Haru’s space to get a better look at the lines.

“She always asks me to help her,” Otsu laments.

“Does that mean you have a girlfriend too?” Tamura presses, looking up to meet Haru’s eyes. “I have trouble seeing you being helpful for anyone.”

“Makoto’s not my girlfriend,” Haru bites out, yanking his arm away from his teammates hoping they’ll get the clue to back off.

“Makoto?” Otsu questions. “It’s a bit of boyish name. Maybe she’s a tomboy.”

“Or goes by Mako-chan!” Tamura exclaims. “Seems like your type, Nanase.”

Haru opens his mouth to say something. Maybe Makoto’s a boy, for starters. But the words die on his lips. Tamura and Otsu watch him expectantly. Realizing what he really wants to say, Haru snaps his mouth shut. Because he can’t. Because he and Makoto are in weird relationship purgatory. Because Haru’s never been able to say it aloud since he’s sure it will lead to a loss of something else. He feels suddenly fortunate that Asahi isn't here to say something stupid. Whatever came out of Asahi's mouth would condemn Haru further into purgatory and confusion.

“I’m going to take a shower,” Haru snaps, slamming his locker shut and sauntering over to the showers.

Makoto’s my boyfriend.

 

XXXXXXX

 

Haru doesn’t get much of chance to linger on the thoughts, or confront Makoto. The feelings get more complex, twisting themselves up inside Haru. It’s like he missed a step in their progression. Got lost along the way while Makoto continued along. Only once has Haru felt like this before – when Makoto felt like he needed to change at the start of middle school. They were only out of pace for less than a week before they re-emerged, stronger than ever.

But right now, Haru’s never dealt with an imbalance between them of this calibre before. Because, sure, every once and awhile one of them will need to take a step without the other. But it’s necessary to have separate identities. Right now, however, Makoto’s miles ahead. Haru feels like he’s drowning.

Lost in the water without Makoto’s hand to pull him out.

The semester wraps up, exams suck away any free time Makoto and Haru managed to squeeze in before, and the weather gets colder. And before they know it, they’re back in Iwatobi for the brief break between semesters.

 

XXXXXXX

 

“It’s so weird,” Nagisa mutters.

“I agree,” Makoto says. “It’s like something is out of place.”

Haru shrugs.

“How can you be so indifferent?” Rei asks. “It’s your childhood home.”

“My home wasn’t there,” Haru replies easily.

It’s always been with Makoto.

“Still Haru-chan, you must feel something,” pushes Nagisa, jumping from step to thrust his face into Haru’s.

Haru looks away, back at his old house where a new family lives now. After Haru left Iwatobi, there was no reason for his parents to continue paying for the house. So they sold it. Now when Haru comes back to Iwatobi, he stays with Makoto. The Tachibana house has always welcomed him anyway, being more of a home than his lonely house.

Turning down the steps, Haru leads the way. He doesn’t feel like watching strangers in their home anymore.

“Well I find it weird,” Makoto laughs behind him. “I woke up this morning and almost walked over here to get Haru.”

“Where did Haruka-senpai go?” Rei asks. “I thought he was staying with you.”

“Just a quick run,” Makoto replies. “He needs to stay in shape through the winter.”

“You have access to an indoor pool and everything in Tokyo now!” Nagisa cheers, skipping a few steps to land by Haru. “That must be perfect for you, Haru-chan.”

Haru nods.

“And Mako-chan gets to volunteer at a pool,” Nagisa continues, unaffected by Haru’s lack of shared excitement. “The two of you really lucked out.”

His steps slow as he falls back in line with Makoto and Rei. Haru continues in the lead alone, feet leading him automatically. They have no plans for the day, other than spend time together. Wherever they end up will be fine.

“We did,” Makoto agrees.

Except for the fact that you live 28 minutes away by train and we barely see each other.

“Which reminds me, have you two decided what you’re doing next year?” Makoto says. “It’s late in the year, so you must have plans.”

“I’m going to Tokyo too!” Nagisa bubbles. “I’ll get to come with you to all of Haru-chan’s meets, Mako-chan.”

“Haru will love having us cheer for him,” Makoto agrees. “And you Rei?”

“I have been accepted to a university in Tokyo as well,” Rei says. “But only for two semesters before I transfer to a school in America. I’m going to work on my English a bit more.”

“Rei-chan’s so smart,” Nagisa coos. “I wish I could go to school in America.”

“You could too, Nagisa,” Makoto says, always the encourager. “If you study hard enough, you could transfer as well.”

“Then I’d be so far away from you and Haru-chan,” Nagisa pouts. “But if I stay here, I’ll be far away from, Rei-chan.”

“I won’t be gone forever,” Rei assures Nagisa. “I will come back and visit you, Nagisa-kun.”

“Rei-chan!” Nagisa bawls.

Haru hears the scrapping of feet on the stone steps and Rei’s scream indicating that Nagisa has just leapt at him. Makoto’s there to make sure no one gets hurt though, so Haru doesn’t need to worry. Their voices get further away as Haru continues down the steps.

Now that they finally have time, Haru should talk to Makoto. Ask him about that night at his apartment and the look he gave Haru. It would help clear Haru’s head. Anything to get rid of the feeling that Haru’s trailing behind Makoto. Not being in sync with Makoto is like Haru lost a fundamental piece of himself. They’ve been in time with each other for so long, it’s unnatural to be off rhythm.

“Haru!” Makoto calls.

Feet crunch against the stone and suddenly Makoto is at his side. He bumps his shoulder against Haru’s and frowns at him.

“Is everything okay?” Makoto asks because of course he’d immediately pick up on Haru’s inner turmoil.

“It’s fine,” Haru lies.

Makoto opens his mouth to call Haru out, but closes it almost immediately. Likely Makoto recognizes Haru’s body language and realizes pushing for an answer would get them nowhere. Accepting the situation, Makoto turns back to look for Rei and Nagisa. The two come tearing down the pavement, slamming into Haru’s back. Luckily, Makoto catches and steadies him.

“Careful, Nagisa!” Rei screeches. “We almost bowled right over Haru-senpai.”

Nagisa waves him off.

“Mako-chan is here,” Nagisa dismisses. “He’d never let anything happen to Haru-chan.”

“Still, you should be more careful,” Rei admonishes. “What if Makoto-senpai wasn’t here?”

“Mako-chan is always with Haru-chan!” Nagisa asserts as if what Rei suggests is the most preposterous thing in the world.

The statement cuts into Haru like a flash of cold. Not anymore. He doesn't want to think about it here. Not in Iwatobi when their time is so limited. 

“Nagisa, Rei,” Haru cuts in, pausing walking to look at them.

The two stop arguing to look at Haru. They wait on baited breath for Haru to say something. Instead, he turns back around and continues down the steps. Nagisa giggles and faux-whispers something about ‘Typical Haru-chan.’

“We should go see Gou-chan,” Nagisa suggests. “She’ll be lonely since Rin-chan isn’t coming back from Australia.”

“Good idea,” Makoto agrees. “I’ll text her and ask for her to meet us.”

Haru’s not in any mood for the group to get bigger. He likes Gou well enough, but she reminds him too much of Rin. Who he’d give anything to have here right now. If anyone could help him out with his apparent Makoto issue, it’s Rin.

“I’m not feeling well,” Haru announces suddenly.

“Haru…” Makoto says, half a question and half a statement.

Later, Makoto will make an attempt for an answer. Haru’s unsure if he’ll be able to give one to Makoto. But they’ve known each other long enough for Makoto to understand when Haru wants to be alone to work through his thoughts. The common theme of not feeling well is more of a code.

“I’m going to go back to your house,” Haru says. “Go on without me.”

“Haru-chan, we only get so many days together before you have to go back to Tokyo,” Nagisa whines.

“We still have the entire week,” Makoto says, placating Nagisa. “Haru can rest today and then we can spend the rest of the week together.”

Nagisa frowns but accepts Makoto’s rationale.

“You better not skip out on me tomorrow,” threatens Nagisa.

“Tell Kou I said hi,” Haru says.

“Of course, Haru-senpai,” Rei nods. “Feel better.”

Makoto leans forward to kiss Haru’s cheek quickly before taking the lead of the group. Nagisa bounces down the steps, already chattering away like Haru didn’t just bail on them.

He watches the three of them disappear down the steps, their voices fading. Once sure they’re an appropriate distance away, Haru turns down a side street.

He has no intention of returning back to the Tachibana’s. Saying he isn’t feel well wasn’t a lie. Just not in the way they likely thought. The inner turmoil is eating away at Haru. Sure he’ll be able to talk to Makoto soon enough, but until then he has to deal with his inner conflict. And there’s only one way Haru knows will work to clear his thoughts.

The path to Iwatobi SC Returns is ingrained into his mind. It’s familiar and already aiding in calming Haru as he follows the route. Every step he takes is closer to the water. Where he never needs to worry about his relationship with it.

The swim club is open when he arrives, but very quiet. Through the window he can see the nearly empty pool. Due to the cold weather, many children don’t feel like swimming. Some of the more hardcore swimmers, who do it for exercise, take up a few lanes for laps. Fortunately there are several free lanes that Haru can swim in undisturbed.

Always prepared for water, he’s wearing his jammers underneath his clothes. Haru stuffs his belongings into a locker and hurries out onto the pool deck.

Sasabe isn’t there, so Haru doesn’t need to worry about getting caught up in a needless conversation. He’s here for one purpose and one purpose alone.

To swim.

Muscle memory takes over as Haru walks up to the block, snaps his goggles into place, and dives in.

The water is refreshing on his skin. As if washing away all of his misgivings and worries. The methodical rhythm of swimming clears his mind. There’s not much to think about as Haru swims laps.

As the pool empties out, he starts to spend more time freely weaving through the lanes with less form to his swimming. It’s more relaxing this way, dolphin kicking down into the depths and existing under the water for as long as his lungs will let him. Haru swims without boundary, gliding through the water with ease. With the lack of arm movement, he relies on the momentum from his dive to carry him through the water.

Being underneath the surface is calming. Like everything is brought to sudden clarity through the lenses of the water. Here, Haru can hear himself think. It’s easier to channel his thoughts.

Primarily focused on Makoto, Haru cuts through the water fluidly, allowing himself to effortlessly move. When in the water, he doesn’t need to focus on swimming – he can just think about Makoto.

Who he has been feeling isolated from these last few months. Living so far apart, going to different schools, and with radically different schedules – it’s hard. Haru thought, initially, it was a simple road block they’d work through in a few weeks. But after the first semester, it was clearly not the case.

Haru sees Makoto once a week, twice if he’s lucky. And even that’s pushing it. Some weeks go by with only text messages and the rare of phone call if Haru thinks Makoto needs a firmer push to take a break. When they do see each other, they're consumed by school and extracurriculars. They’ve never needed to talk much - well at least Haru is always happy to just let Makoto talk. But the silence between them these days is deafening.

Makoto’s working too hard on a path he’s not even sure about. His studies take up vast blocks of his time and cause their get-togethers to be focused on studying rather than actually just being together. When Makoto does tell stories about his day, they’re always centered on classmates and other friends. Not that Haru has ever been bothered about Makoto’s stories on Rei and Nagisa when Haru wasn’t there.

But there’s an odd feeling hearing about these people in Makoto’s life Haru’s never met.

And it makes him both more eager and apprehensive to shift their dynamic and define themselves more fully. On one hand, Haru has always been Makoto’s best friend. If he slips from that role – someone else could step in. But on the other, settling into a new label – boyfriend – Makoto’s school friends would recognize Haru’s greater importance in Makoto’s life. Best friends are friends. But romantic partners are on a higher level, seemingly more valued than simple friendship.

It all ties into Haru’s anxiety about Makoto slipping away. They’re both thriving in Tokyo. Meeting new friends and adapting to the high paced city life. But they’re doing it separately. Haru knows, without Makoto, he wouldn’t be faring so well. But he’s not sure about Makoto, who has never needed Haru to stand in as his proxy in social situations (he needs Haru to stand up for him, to cling to in frightening situations, and for Haru to put his foot down when Makoto overextends himself).

Makoto’s doing fine in Tokyo and he doesn’t seem to need Haru to do so.

Redefining their relationship would changes things. Their friendship is solid and familiar, a tangible link between the two of them going back to birth. An official declaration of their relationship would be new and unsure, more prone to wavering. It’s all too conflicting for Haru.

Splashing at the other end of the pool draws Haru to the surface. The disturbance ripples through the water, cutting into Haru’s thoughts. The water notifies him of an intrusion.

Peeking out from the surface he looks for the source. Everyone else left hours ago. To the best of Haru’s knowledge, the pool’s been officially closed for some time. Sasabe gave Haru his blessing to swim whenever he wants, granted he clean up afterwards.

His eyes are drawn to the end of the lane he’s stopped in. Sitting at the edge with his pant legs rolled up, playing with water using his legs, is Makoto. Tossed off to the side is his jacket and scarf; a careful distance from the water so they don’t get wet.

“I thought I’d find you here,” Makoto says in lieu of a greeting as Haru swims over.

He smiles softly and Haru can easily see Makoto’s not here to push him into talking. Makoto just wants to spend time with Haru and try to make up for their lost time together in Tokyo.

“How was Kou?” Haru asks, coming up to the edge of pool and resting his arms on the deck.

“Good. She’s disappointed Rin couldn’t come back,” Makoto says.

“The semesters are different there,” Haru replies.

Makoto nods.

“Nagisa and Rei went home with her,” Makoto says. “Nagisa wanted me to tell you that he’s expecting you to be bright-faced for tomorrow.”

Haru scoffs. Only Nagisa would expect Haru to show any sort of enthusiasm despite clearly knowing it’s not in his nature.

“That’s what I thought too,” Makoto laughs. “But Nagisa always has a sunny outlook on things.”

Nothing needs to be said for Makoto to know Haru agrees with him.

A few minutes pass with Makoto kicking gently the water and Haru resting his head on his arms. It’s nice when it’s like this. Just the two of them enjoying the water. Haru appreciates Makoto spending so much time with him at the pool. Even when Makoto doesn’t feel like swimming (Haru can forgive only Makoto for that. For any others not wanting to swim is a crime in Haru’s eyes).

“I would swim but I didn’t come prepared like you,” Makoto says suddenly.

“It’s fine,” Haru says. “I like that you’re here.”

If it wasn’t so cold outside or Makoto still had a locker at the club, Haru would pull him in. Neither are an option, but Makoto’s presence poolside is enough.

“You looked so peaceful,” Makoto comments. “I was going to just leave you, but Mom’s expecting us home for dinner.”

Haru nods and starts to dutifully push himself out of the pool. A hand on his shoulder stops him.

“We can be late,” Makoto murmurs. “Take your time, Haru.”

Grateful for Makoto’s understanding, Haru pushes off the wall and jets back into the water. At first he transitions into his usual front crawl, actively propelling through the water. The brief talk with Makoto has his heart racing and a sudden energy thrums through him. Like their interaction has energized him, Haru has energy to burn. His whole body wants to swim.

It’s an unusual feeling, but not the first time Haru’s dealt with it. Although circumstances have been different, charged interactions with Makoto are not a surprise. No doubt this time it’s brought on by the shift back to their childhood roles with the added awareness of the transiency of this reprieve from Tokyo. For now they’re close, but in a weeks time they’ll be back to the distance.

With Makoto causing gently ripples in the water, Haru finds it harder to focus. Like his thoughts are clouded with Makoto so close. The source of his turmoil – it would be so easy to just say what he’s been thinking about it. No doubt Makoto will give a desired response to quell Haru’s fears. But presented with the opportunity, Haru just wants to soak in Makoto’s presence.

Stopping abruptly at the other end of the pool, Haru makes a tiny noise of frustration before diving back in.

Why can’t he just talk to Makoto? Words aren’t hard and yet Haru has always struggled to articulate himself. Though Makoto has generally been able to translate Haru’s body language and subtle face shifts into thoughts, he can’t always figure out Haru’s more complex moods. If Haru had the ability to properly verbalize himself, this wouldn’t be an issue.

There has to be an answer to Haru’s problem. Or at least something Makoto can offer to soothe Haru. They’ve always operated that way. Maybe not fixing the problem, but saying the right thing to calm the other’s nerves. It’s always been one thing Haru’s always known he can offer Makoto and truly be good at it.

Pushing himself deeper under the water, Haru stops his aggressive motions and allows himself to drift. Submerged, Haru can barely make out the lines of the roof. The distorted world above him slowly comes into focus as his body naturally floats to the surface. He drifts aimlessly for a few more minutes, allowing his thoughts to bleed through his mind.

What are they? They dashed across the best friend line long ago, laughing as it disappeared into the horizon. Surely they were somewhere around boyfriends, if not further? Or maybe they were just floating in an unfortunate limbo. Never taking the step forward and always at risk of losing the progress they make.

His head bumps into something and Haru jerks upwards. Splashing around, he lets his feet touch the ground and looks up at Makoto. Surprised at Haru’s arrival, Makoto blinks at him once, eyes wide. Drawn to Makoto like a magnet, Haru can only make sense of this through the water. It must have willed him to end up near Makoto. Never before has Haru drifted into something, the water always keeping safely near the center of the pool.

Seeing it as divine intervention, Haru takes the plunge.

“What are we?” Haru asks aloud.

Makoto blinks once. Then again. And a third time.

“What do you mean?” Makoto asks, confused by the abruptness of the question.

“Are we dating?” Haru clarifies, feeling it unnecessary.

His question was clear. What are they?

“What’s brought this on?” Makoto questions, tilting his head.

Making a noise of frustration, Haru moves so that he’s standing directly in front of Makoto. Keeping their eyes locked, Haru isn’t going to let Makoto wriggle out of the question. He needs an answer. They both do.

But Makoto’s quick avoidance interests Haru. Maybe it has something to do with the odd look all those weeks ago.

“Answer the question,” Haru says.

“I – yes,” Makoto settles after some internal debate.

“Good,” Haru says, feeling pleased.

“Is that why you’re upset?” Makoto asks. “I know we’ve been having trouble connecting, but it doesn’t change anything.”

What exactly is ‘anything?’

“I want you to be my best friend,” Haru blurts out.

“You are my best friend,” Makoto says, brow furrowing in obvious confusion. “Unless I’ve done something to change that.”

“No!” Haru says quickly, shaking his head. “I want you to be my boyfriend too.”

The tips of Makoto’s ears turn pink. It’s the first time either of them have spoken the word out loud.

“I want to be your boyfriend too,” Makoto tells him softly. “But I’m not sure I follow.”

“You can’t be both,” Haru says and it almost sounds childish as it comes out of his mouth.

Makoto laughs and Haru blushes, suddenly feeling naïve. Taking his feet from the water, Makoto pushes himself up before offering Haru a hand.

“Let’s go home, Haru,” he says.

Haru takes Makoto’s hand and allows himself to be pulled from the pool with practiced ease. Once they’re face to face, Makoto leans in to kiss him.

“I can be both,” Makoto informs him seriously. “They’re not mutually exclusive positions meant to be filled like a job. I want to be both for you, Haru. You’re my best friend and I love you so much my classmates say I have a special face whenever I start to think about you. And that look is for only you.”

Haru bites his cheek, trying to hide his smile. He fails miserably and Makoto laughs, lifting a hand to stroke Haru’s cheek. His thumb skims over Haru’s lips.

“Is that all that’s bothering you?” Makoto asks.

A small, choked laugh bubbles up from Haru’s throat. Of course Makoto knows there’s something else. He always does. And he knows exactly how to extract the information from Haru.

“A few weeks ago, when you came to my apartment,” Haru confesses. “You had this look on your face. I don’t know what it meant.”

Makoto laughs again. It’s full and so endearing that Haru wishes he could hear it every single day, all day. As the laughter tapers off, Makoto looks sheepish.

“I was hoping you’d ask me to spend the night,” Makoto admits. “Sorry I worried you, Haru. I just didn’t want to push you into something you didn’t want.”

“I didn’t want?” Haru questions, bewildered.

“You had practice in the morning,” Makoto points out.

“Stupid,” Haru mutters and kisses Makoto. “I thought you didn’t want to stay the night.”

“I always want to spend the night with you,” Makoto murmurs. “It’s hard being so far away from you. I want to spend as much time as I can with you, even if I have to get up early to go back to my dorm.”

Haru wants to laugh. How could he be so blind? Of course these feelings weren’t one-sided. He and Makoto are a finely tuned machine, kept in time by an never ending metronome.

“All the worrying for nothing, huh Haru?” Makoto says.

“Let’s head home,” Haru says. “Your mom is probably waiting for us to get back.”

During the walk back, they stand closer than usual. Shoulders pressed together and their hands entangled in each other, locked between their bodies.

Haru’s more at peace than he’s been in months.

 

XXXXXXX

 

The only reason Haru agreed to this is because Makoto asked and he loves Makoto. Had it been anyone else, he would’ve rejected the premise outright. No amount of begging or promises of a pool could draw Haru out of his apartment to spend the night out with a bunch of strangers (Makoto’s other friends). But it’s Makoto’s birthday and all he wants is for Haru to meet his friends from school.

He arrives alone to the restaurant, coming from a late practice. Haru’s hair is still damp and now chilled from the late autumn air. He easily spots Makoto, without use of his internal compass (which points to Makoto rather than north), due to his height. Makoto’s a head above the rest of the patrons of the crowded restaurant.

Making his way over to the table, Makoto instinctively turns to meet his eyes. He brightens upon seeing Haru and likewise, Haru feels his mood lighten despite the cramped atmosphere of the place. There’s four others crammed into the tiny booth, not including Makoto. Haru hates being in physical contact with others, but as Makoto shifts to make room Haru finds he doesn’t mind being pressed against Makoto.

“Your hair is wet,” Makoto says disapprovingly. “You could get sick.”

Haru scowls at him but Makoto doesn’t take offense to it. Three of Makoto’s friends titter fondly, apparently already aware of Makoto’s mother hen tendencies.

“Everyone, this is Haru,” Makoto says, vibrating with excitement to introduce him.

Immediately upon meeting them, Haru sees what Makoto likes about them. They’re all bright and warm, like Makoto. They smile, greeting Haru politely but with more kindness than when just meeting a stranger. All of them introduce themselves as Haru takes off his coat and slides in next to Makoto.

“It’s good to finally meet you, Nanase-san!” Nakahara, the girl farthest from Haru, says. “I feel like I already know you with the amount that Tachibana-kun talks about you.”

Makoto’s ears turn pink. But it’s not like Haru isn’t aware of how much Makoto talks about him. Haru thinks about him all the time, so why wouldn’t Makoto think about Haru all the time?

“The famous Nanase Haruka,” Yukimura, a bespectacled boy who sort of reminds Haru of Rei, remarks. “Tachibana says you’re a swimmer.”

“Yes,” Haru replies, inclining his head.

“What’s your favourite stroke?” demands Ito, the boy sitting directly across from Haru.

“Free,” Haru mumbles.

He has done others in practice, but only free in competition.

“Ito-kun that’s a silly question,” Nakahara chastises. “Tachibana-kun has told us that like a million times!”

The three on the other side of the table all burst out laughing, likely at Makoto’s expense. The only person who hasn’t spoken is a timid looking girl, Sato, who’s tucked between the wall and Makoto. She seems to be studiously ignoring all of them in favour of her napkin.

“I hope you don’t mind Haru, but I ordered for you,” Makoto interrupts. “I thought you’d be hungry after practice and not want to wait.”

“It’s fine,” Haru says. “I’m sure you ordered the right thing.”

“Mackerel!” Ito exclaims. “Is it true that’s all you eat?”

“I didn’t say that!” Makoto protests.

“It was implied,” Yukimura cuts in. “I remember the food you brought over from Nanase-san’s apartment was also mackerel.”

“It smelled so good!” Ito says. “Do you cook, Nanase-san?”

“Someone has to because Makoto can’t,” he says.

Everyone laughs. Makoto preens under Haru’s words, surprisingly not embarrassed. He must be happy that Haru is getting along with them so well. It’s hard not to like them, Haru thinks. They’re too energetic to spend all his time with, but Haru would agree to accompany Makoto on another outing with them. That would help increase Haru’s time spent with Makoto, after all.

“Sato-chan,” Nakahara admonishes. “You haven’t even said a word. Don’t be rude to Tachibana-kun’s friend!”

Sato’s eyes dart up to look at Nakahara and then at Haru. She looks away as fast as she looked up. Haru shrugs, it doesn’t bother him.

“Haru’s quiet too,” Makoto tells Sato, voice low and soothing. “It’s okay, Sato.”

The voice makes Haru prickle. It’s not out of the ordinary for Makoto to be so gentle with people, but Haru always felt like that specific voice was one he had exclusive rights to. Pushing down the jealousy, Haru reminds himself he’s the one dating Makoto. And it’s just in Makoto’s nature to treat people with such kindness.

“Sorry, Tachibana-kun,” Sato stumbles out. “It’s your birthday, I should be more happy!”

“Just do your best,” Makoto encourages.

“Food's here!” Ito calls out.

True to Makoto’s word, he ordered a mackerel dish for Haru. Everyone else has ordered an extravagant dish, including Makoto. Haru looks at it curiously. Makoto use to be notoriously picky about his food (though it was overshadowed by Haru’s mackerel only diet), so it comes as a bit of a shock that Makoto’s trying new food.

“Sato said this is the best unadon in the city,” Makoto says, noticing Haru’s stare.

“You don’t like eel,” Haru reminds him.

Makoto laughs. Haru prepares himself to split his own food with Makoto. Trying new things or not, Haru knows Makoto well enough that he’s not going to finish his meal.

To Makoto’s credit, he puts in a valiant effort. A portion of the meal disappears despite Makoto’s face as he takes each bite. When Makoto starts to push the food around, Haru picks the eel out of his bowl and replaces it with a hefty portion of his own fish.

“Thank you, Haru,” Makoto murmurs. “You didn’t need to do that though.”

“You’ll go hungry if you push yourself to try too many new things,” Haru replies.

At least he likes eel enough to replace the lost mackerel.

“You’re so sweet, Nanase-san,” Nakahara coos. “I didn’t believe Tachibana-kun when he told us. Sorry if I’m rude, but you came across a bit cold.”

“It’s no problem,” Haru tells her.

He’s aware of how people perceive him. His interactions with Makoto tend to redeem him since it’s easy for Haru to be open with Makoto.

The rest of the meal passes without a fuss, Makoto finishing the rest of his meal. Everyone clears off their plates in the end, pleased with their choices.

“This was a good idea, Sato-chan,” Ito says, patting his stomach. “I’m glad Tachibana agreed to have his birthday here.”

“It’s my favourite restaurant,” Sato murmurs, flushing a deep red. “I wanted to share it everyone.”

Everyone else flurries to thank her for introducing them, but Haru knows better. Mostly because he’s done it before. ‘Everyone’ is code for Makoto.

“We have a cake for you back at the dorms,” Yukimura says. “It’s store bought, but we had it custom designed.”

“You didn’t need to do that,” Makoto says, smiling.

“We can all have it when we get back,” Nakahara says, smiling.

“Ah, I’m going back to Haru’s apartment after dinner,” Makoto says quickly. “Tomorrow maybe.”

“Aww, Tachibana,” Ito pouts.

“I can’t wait that long to have cake,” whines Nakahara. “It looks so good.”

“You can have some without me, I don’t mind,” Makoto says .

“No!” Sato interjects. “We’ll wait for you, Tachibana-kun.”

Makoto smiles at her as her blush deepens, embarrassed by her outburst.

“Let’s get going then,” Yukimura says. “I have a test early tomorrow.”

“Good idea,” Nakahara agrees. “We’ll pay for your meal, Tachibana-kun.”

“And Nanase-san!” Ito adds eagerly. “Since it’s his first time meeting us.”

“Bribing him won’t make up for your horrendous manners,” Yukimura says sternly. “After this meal, I’m sure Nanase-san wants nothing to do with us.”

All the attention is turned on Haru. It doesn’t phase him.

“You’re nice,” he says. “I will come out with you again.”

Nakahara and Ito cheer loudly, high-fiving over Yukimura’s head.

It’s a mess trying to get them all out of the booth. Between the six of them getting their jackets back on and making their way over to pay, Haru gets jostled around quite a bit. Ito and Yukimura are tall, not as tall as Makoto, but still tall enough to make Haru feel dwarfed. He struggles to keep himself glued to Makoto’s side as Ito is determined to make Haru his newest friend.

Somehow Haru finds himself outside and finally makes his way back to Makoto. They’re all standing in clump, laughing about how Yukimura fumbled with his money. Back with Makoto, Haru once again finds himself at ease with the group. Even though he’s not particularly fond of them, Haru can tolerate them with Makoto so near.

Yukimura and Ito say goodbye first, heading off to catch the train first. Sato lingers, staring at the ground, while Nakahara seems to be waiting for Sato.

“Tachibana-kun?” Sato calls softly. “Can I talk to you privately?”

“Of course, Sato,” Makoto says. “I’ll be right back, Haru.”

Leaving Haru and Nakahara alone is the worst thing to happen that night. Nakahara is greatly subdued without the others around, making polite conversation with Haru. The briefly discuss their respective course loads – Nakahara is pre-med and in Makoto’s anatomy classes.

Nakahara is lamenting her poor art skills when Sato’s voice floats over to them. She’s clearly agitated, her voice strained and high pitched. The words are somewhat intelligible, but cause both Haru and Nakahara to look over to her.

Makoto has his head tilted down in apology while Sato’s eyes are glassy. Haru’s seen this enough times to know what’s going on. It’s easy enough to figure out what they’re saying, once Haru pays attention. Makoto apologizes by saying that he’s already dating someone. Sato bites her lips and frowns deeply.

“He rejected her,” Nakahara whispers. “I didn’t think he’d do that.”

Haru turns to look at her, eyes wide.

“Why not?” he asks, voice coming off sharper than intended.

“Tachibana-kun never goes on any dates,” Nakahara says. “Sato didn’t think he was dating anyone.”

“He is,” Haru snaps.

Nakahara looks at him with wide eyes.

“Of course you would know, you’re his best friend,” she says, misinterpreting Haru’s anger as defense of the honour of Makoto’s imaginary girlfriend.

“Who is it? Do I know them?” Sato’s voice floats in.

Makoto says something that Haru can’t catch but Sato is suddenly looking at him. Her eyes are flinty as she stares him. Sato purses her lips and side steps Makoto.

“Let’s go Nakahara-chan. I’m tired,” Sato calls out.

“Coming Sato-chan,” Nakahara says without sparing a glance at Haru.

She hurries off to catch up with Sato, leaving Makoto and Haru alone. In a few quick steps, Makoto crosses the distance and returns to Haru.

“I always feel so bad,” Makoto murmurs.

“She should’ve known,” Haru says harshly, feeling somewhat petty.

“I hope we can still be friends,” Makoto continues, apparently oblivious to Haru’s words. “And on my birthday too. Let’s go back to your place, Haru.”

Makoto starts to walk past Haru, but only makes it so far when he notices Haru isn’t following him. Haru is frozen to his spot, stuck on the fact that Sato should’ve known.

“I’m sorry, Haru,” Makoto says automatically but Haru can tell he’s not really sure why he’s apologizing.

“She should’ve known, Makoto,” Haru repeats. “Nakahara-san didn’t know either.”

Makoto looks lost, unable to find the words.

“Why don’t they know?” Haru demands, closing the gap between them.

“I thought they would’ve known,” Makoto says weakly. “Everyone in Iwatobi always knew.”

Haru scowls. That’s not good enough. The implication of their relationship isn’t enough to make it clear that Makoto is already dating someone. A lot Makoto’s talk can be waved off as having a really good friend.

“Dates,” Haru says suddenly. “We need to go on dates.”

And for the first time in the 19 year friendship with all the natural progression and unquestioned affections, Makoto balks.

And here it is. Finally the disconnect between Makoto and Haru. Somewhere along their natural progression, one of them missed a step or stumbled. The metronome broke. They’re spread apart on the timeline and lost trying to understand one another. If they were still in pace, stepping in time, Makoto wouldn’t have paused. Haru wouldn’t have even needed to ask the question. Instead they’re still in their relationship limbo. This time the gap is widening between them. So long they’ve been able to read each other’s minds and these days, they can barely understand what the other is saying.

Taken aback by Makoto’s hesitation, Haru doesn’t know how to proceed. Should he push harder or wait for Makoto speak? He feels that his entire base has been shaken, seeing Makoto waver.

For a brief time, neither of them speak. They stare each other down, in an intimate showdown. Makoto’s eyes are wide and confused, imploring Haru to explain himself.

“Nakahara says that she didn’t think you were dating anyone because you never went on any dates,” Haru elaborates.

“But I already spend all my free time with you,” Makoto says.

“They only think I’m your friend,” Haru says. “Did you not want to tell them?”

“I want to tell everyone,” Makoto replies, voice tight.

“Good,” Haru murmurs. “So then let’s go on dates.”

“Don’t we already do that?” Makoto asks.

“No!” Haru snaps. “We’re doing the exact same thing we’ve always done.”

“Isn’t than enough?” Makoto asks clearly confused.

Because up until Tokyo, it had been enough. Being together, just being Makoto and Haru was enough back in Iwatobi where everyone knew them. Where everyone understood their idiosyncrasies and understood exactly how they operated. In Tokyo, there were too many variables – too many people who absolutely no idea who they are. If they want to be Makoto and Haru in Tokyo – there needs to be real definition.

They need some time apart, concludes Haru. To examine their relationship and evaluate its status. It’s too hard to think around Makoto, but Haru’s already established that. If they’re not together, both of them can review the relationship with less bias. It hurts, but it’s something Haru believes is the right thing to do.

“I’m going home,” Haru says after some time. “You should go back to your dorm.”

“Haru…” Makoto says softly.

“Happy Birthday, Makoto,” Haru says.

He steps forward, presses the tiniest kiss to Makoto’s cheek before turning away and walking away from Makoto.

His chest aches with unfathomable pain as he forces himself not to turn back and run to Makoto.

 

XXXXXXX

 

“You’re off today, Nanase,” comments Ryuuji as Haru pulls himself out of the pool. “Go home, take a rest. Come back after the winter break refreshed.”

Haru doesn’t respond. He accepts the dismissal and slinks into the locker room. The water is rejecting him – punishing him for walking away from Makoto. It’s been over a month since he’s last seen Makoto – or even heard from him. There’s been no texts between them since that night. With every passing day, Haru regrets it even more.

He’s been unable to think, despite his initial thoughts. But a greater sense of pride is keeping from contacting Makoto.

“You look like hell, Nanase,” Tamura says as he enters the locker room.

He and Otsu are sitting on one of the benches. They turn to look at Haru as he enters. The locker room is empty and silent otherwise.

“Did you fight with your girlfriend?” Otsu asks. “That’s the kind of look I get when I fight with my girlfriend.”

“No, Nanase’s face is way worse,” Tamura mutters.

“You didn’t break up with Mako-chan did you?” Otsu exclaims, immediately worried.

“Don’t call Makoto Mako-chan,” Haru snaps.

Otsu recoils as if he’s been burned. Tamura’s eyebrows rise. None of them have ever seen Haru express much emotion before, let alone such an outburst of anger.

“Did you and Makoto break up?” Tamura asks, voice soft and concerned.

“I don’t know,” Haru confesses honestly. “It never crossed my mind until you brought it up.”

They haven’t contacted each other in over a month after a fight between the two of them. Is that considered a break up? Considering the informality of their relationship, would the break up also be as informal? Or maybe this all Haru’s fault for pushing for definition. If they were still only best friends – they wouldn’t have broken up. Best friends don’t break up like boyfriends.

“You should talk to her,” Otsu suggests. “Talking always clears everything up.”

“Makoto’s not a girl,” Haru corrects.

“Ah, well either way you should talk to him,” Tamura says. “Your swimming isn’t quite as nice when you’re not happy.”

Otsu nods enthusiastically.

“You’re miserable, Nanase,” Otsu says.

Haru stares at them. Is he really that obvious? Haru always hid his emotions so well – only Makoto could read him. Now, without Makoto, Haru’s just exposed to the world. Unable to shield himself because of the raw emotions.

“I’ll think about it,” Haru murmurs. “Thanks.”

“Enjoy the break, Nanase.”

 

XXXXXXX

 

After practice, Haru heads over to the train station to pick up Nagisa and Rei (they were confident enough to make it from the airport to the nearby train station, but Nagisa insisted that Haru meet them at the station). It’s not an ideal situation, having to rush over from the university pool to the station. There isn’t enough time for Haru to completely dry off, so the cool air ends up freezing the tips of hair. In his head, as he’s running over to the station, he can hear Makoto in his head chiding him for his carelessness.

‘You’ll catch a cold, Haru. You should wear a hat.’

The familiar ache in his chest rises up at the thought of Makoto. These past few weeks have been painful without him – like Haru is missing a limb. But the increased pace of the semester has swept Haru up and no doubt Makoto as well. Focusing on school over his personal troubles makes it easier to rationalize not contacting Makoto. Not even a brief ‘I hope you’re eating well’ or ‘Don’t over exert yourself.’ Without Haru reminding him, Makoto always overworks.

So caught up in his thoughts, Haru is nearly knocked off his feet when Nagisa rockets into him. The smaller teen’s body wraps itself around Haru, clutching tightly at the fabric of Haru’s jacket.

“Haru-chan!” cries Nagisa. “I’ve missed you!”

“Where is Makoto-senpai?” Rei asks looking around. “He usually comes along with you.”

Haru’s not sure how to respond. Does he tell them they broke up, like Otsu and Tamura thought? Does he talk about their fight and how Haru walked away? How is Haru suppose to tell Nagisa and Rei he hasn’t spoken to Makoto in over a month?

“Makoto’s busy with exams. Remember, Rei-chan?” Nagisa interrupts. “He texted us apologizing he wouldn’t be here to meet us because he has a study date with his friend.”

Date.

Haru’s body turns to stone at the word. His mind races. It doesn’t mean what Haru thinks it means. Makoto is just meeting up with his study group, which includes Sato. So caught up in his thoughts, Haru never even thought about how Makoto read the situation. It’s possible he automatically knew what Haru was suggesting when Haru left him outside the restaurant. Or, Haru fears this the most, Makoto thinks Haru broke up with him.

The rational part of Haru’s mind fights its way to the front. He knows Makoto and how he thinks. Makoto’s winter break started a few days earlier than Haru’s – all his tests occurring just before that. Absolutely no need for a study date since there won’t be another round of exams until later in the new year. There’s no doubt Makoto told Nagisa and Rei he couldn’t be there to meet them at the train station because he felt unwelcome.

Haru made him feel that way. He hates himself for making Makoto feel like that.

“What’s wrong?” Nagisa asks, grip slacking around Haru.

His eyes are worried, eyebrows knitted together.

“Nothing,” Haru mumbles. “Let’s go, you’re probably tired after your flight.”

Immediately, Nagisa jumps off and bounces in step with Haru. He drags Rei along with him.

“Even though Mako-chan’s not here, Haru-chan can play the part!” Nagisa chirps.

“That was certainly a Makoto-senpai like statement,” Rei agrees.

The short walk back to Haru’s apartment is uneventful, except for Nagisa feeling the need to be excited about everything he sees. They haven’t been out to Tokyo to see Makoto and Haru yet, so Haru can’t blame Nagisa’s interest. Even Rei is looking around with curiosity, enjoying the walk.

The four of them had made the plans for Rei and Nagisa to come to Tokyo way back during the semester break. The cost of the plane tickets was already a lot, so Makoto suggested the two stay with Haru (Makoto living in a dorm and unable to host them). Since it’s during the break, all four of them would stay together at Haru’s apartment. Like they use to in Iwatobi at Haru’s house. At first, Haru had been fine with that since Makoto would be helping take care of the guests (treating Haru’s home like a second home). Now, without Makoto, Haru’s apprehensive to host the two of them.

While Nagisa and Rei are distracted looking at the buildings in the neighbourhood, Haru pulls out his cell. It’s somewhat difficult to compose a text to Makoto. For several seconds, Haru stares at it. The task is daunting; impossible even. How should he start it? With an I’m sorry? Or maybe It’s been a while…. There’s nowhere to start after a month long silence between them. It’s like a brick wall was constructed, starting when neither of them were looking, and now it’s been slammed up; dividing them. Communication was once on an open channel flowing between them. Now it’s blocked.

 

To Makoto 5:34 pm:

            Nagisa and Rei have arrived. You’re welcome to come see them.

 

Haru nods once he hits send. It’s an effective message but too impersonal and to the point. Makoto’s face will shutter when he sees it. At first, happy because there’s a message from Haru – but then he’ll read the contents. Shoving the phone away, Haru shuts away any thoughts. He’s not expecting a response – either Makoto will show up or he won’t. That will be the answer to Haru’s message.

The three of them arrive at Haru’s apartment without much pomp and circumstance. Nagisa barges in as soon as Haru unlocks the door, Rei calling after him about being polite. The interactions are familiar and warm. Haru misses Makoto even more.

“You can put your things in my room for now,” Haru says, pointing down the hall. “We’ll pull out the futon when it’s time for bed.”

“I’ll take our bags, Nagisa-kun,” Rei says. “I assume the washroom is down there as well?”

Haru nods. Rei takes Nagisa’s bag and disappears down the hall, leaving Haru alone with Nagisa. Once Rei’s out of earshot, Nagisa stops looking around the apartment and his eyes land on Haru. The stare is cold and stern.

A chill runs over Haru – of course Nagisa knows there’s something wrong. Out of everyone, Nagisa knows how Haru and Makoto go together the best. He probably knew the moment Makoto texted he wasn’t picking them up.

“What did you say to Mako-chan?” Nagisa inquires. “He didn’t seem like himself when I called him to ask if he had a good birthday. Since it was his first one away from his family and Iwatobi, I wanted to make sure it was a good one.”

Nagisa’s known this long and hasn’t said anything? It’s unlike him to not get involved.

“And you know Mako-chan. He insisted that everything was okay,” Nagisa continues. “He said that his birthday was fine but he was tired and went home after dinner. Which is odd because you and Mako-chan always have a sleepover on his birthday. Even if you have school in the morning.

“I had hoped you would get your stuff together before we got here. But Mako-chan said he was too busy to come – it made me worry. Mako-chan went to pick you up at the airport even when he was upset after your fight. He’s always there for his friends. So it makes me wonder what you said that was worse than calling him nosy and accusing him of abandoning you for Mako-chan to not want to come to the train station.

“Unless is was Mako-chan who said something. Then that makes it even worse because we both know he’s killing himself over it. The distance between you two makes it easy for you to withdraw and ignore him. Mako-chan wouldn’t push and he would give you your space. Since he thought it was his fault the entire time you were in Australia.”

“Nagisa,” Haru trails off in an attempt to explain himself.

Rei’s return from the washroom stops the conversation dead in its tracks. If Nagisa knows, then Rei must know too. However, his understanding would be fundamentally different.

“Rei-chan we should explore!” Nagisa exclaims, bouncing back to his cheerful self.

“It’s a small apartment, Nagisa-kun,” Rei says. “And I doubt Haruka-senpai would like us digging around in his belongings.”

“It’s fine,” Haru says, averting Nagisa’s eyes. “I’ll make us something to eat.”

“See Rei-chan! Haru-chan’s fine with it, let’s start with his bedroom!” Nagisa calls, already down the hall.

Rei sighs, shoulders slumping as he dutifully follows after Nagisa. Free from Nagisa’s scrutiny, Haru heads to the kitchen.

Trying not to linger too much on Nagisa’s words, Haru starts to prepare dinner. For his guests, he purchased food other than mackerel. No doubt Rei and Nagisa will both be pleased that they won’t be eating mackerel every night of their stay.

The motions to prepare the food are calming. Haru finds himself quickly lost in the pattern of chopping vegetables. Nagisa’s earlier words are no less than loose thoughts rattling around in his head. They’re not even unique thoughts – everything Nagisa said is something Haru’s thought about before at some point. Either way back when he was apologizing to Makoto about their first fight to the moment he met Nagisa and Rei at the train station.

It’s too bad Haru can’t run away to Australia and have Rin explain his relationship troubles to him through a soul-searching journey. Not that Haru wants to run away. Sooner or later, he’ll have to face Makoto or he’ll lose everything they ever were.

Three things happen at once:

  1. Nagisa comes tearing out of his bedroom, Rei hot on his heels. He’s triumphantly wielding a small, green photo album that Makoto had put together for Haru when they were young. It’s one of Haru’s favourite gifts, depicting Makoto and Haru’s friendship from infancy up right up to the introduction of Nagisa into their lives.
  2. Haru set the stove too high and now his vegetables are starting to burn in the frying pan.
  3. There’s a knock at the door. There’s only one person who it could be. Haru drops what he’s doing in favour of answering the door.

The two of them stare at each other, Makoto is in shock since Haru had ripped the door open. Immediately, Haru’s hit by a wave of yearning. It’s so refreshing to see Makoto. He looks tired and possibly a little lighter in weight. His shirt is new, peeking out between his ratty scarf and jacket.

In that moment, the walls come crashing down like a old dam busting under the pressure. They are completely open to each other. It seems like it’s been forever since Haru could read Makoto so easily. The desperate urge to take Haru into his arms and never let go is written so plainly across his face. Likewise, Haru’s sure Makoto can see his own need to touch him. Why will neither of them act? Why are they set like statues in the doorway?

“Haru,” Makoto greets, betraying nothing of what’s occurring in the silence between them.

“Makoto,” Haru says, hand tightening around the door handle.

“Haru-chan!” Nagisa shouts. “The food!”

Haru’s eyes widen and he drops his hand from the door to run back into the kitchen. He grabs a spatula and begins to scrap the burnt vegetables off the bottom of the frying pan. If he acts fast enough, they might be salvageable. Reaching across the stove, Haru cranks down the heat. Before long, the sizzling calms and the vegetables begin to cook at a slower rate.

Sighing in relief, he shuts his eyes and leans back against the counter. When he opens them, he finds that Nagisa and Rei are watching him with curiously. Makoto’s standing a bit further back, still bundled in his jacket. He’s watching Haru with a look of uncertainty, feeling as though he doesn’t belong.

Unable to take the combined weight of their gazes, Haru returns to cooking. Dinner is almost finished, as he begins to put the finishing touches. Some of the flavours are enhanced to help hide the burnt vegetables. But Haru has years of experiencing fixing Makoto’s cooking disasters. With his back turned to them, a familiar pattern returns: Haru cooking and the other three chattering with each other.

“Is it still going to taste good?” Nagisa asks.

“Of course it will,” Rei proclaims. “Haruka-senpai is an excellent cook.”

“Mako-chan is here!” Nagisa cries. “I missed you at the train station.”

“Sorry, Nagisa. You too, Rei. I was busy.”

“But you’re here now. That’s all that matters,” Rei says.

“You’re wearing the scarf I made you!” Nagisa exclaims.

“Of course, I keep everything you make me,” Makoto informs him.

“Mako-chan is the sweetest,” Nagisa says, voice muffled as he presumably hugs Makoto.

“What’s that, Nagisa?” Makoto asks.

The album. Haru feels his cheeks heat up knowing that Makoto is seeing it. He hadn’t known Haru kept it. Especially not after all these years. And especially not as something Haru tucks away carefully in his night stand.

“I found it Haru-chan’s night stand,” Nagisa stage whispers. “It’s a photo album of you as kids.”

“I know what it is,” Makoto says softly. “I made it for Haru.”

“That’s so cute!” Nagisa declares. “We have to look through it!”

“I didn’t take Haruka-senpai as the sentimental type,” Rei muses. “Back in Iwatobi all of his trophies and awards were hidden away and his home lacked any photographs.”

Haru looks over his shoulder at Makoto. He looks up to meet Haru’s eyes, feeling his gaze on him.

“I keep everything Makoto gives me,” Haru says, echoing Makoto’s early words.

“Ah, Haru-chan is so cute,” coos Nagisa.

Makoto flushes and turns his gaze back to Nagisa’s. Haru turns back to the stove and finishes up with his cooking. He pulls out a few dishes for everyone to use. Afterwards, he walks over to Nagisa and pulls the album from his hands. It’s an almost possessive gesture as he pulls it down to his side.

“Dinner’s ready,” Haru say as he starts to walk away.

“Where are you going?” Nagisa demands.

“To put the album away,” Haru explains. “Makoto, you can put your things in my room.”

“We’re still going through it!” singsongs Nagisa as he’s jumping towards the food.

Haru prays that Makoto gets the coded message and follows after him. They can’t be together the whole time Rei and Nagisa are over being awkward like this. But there’s no real time for them talk – so Haru will have to force it to happen. Distracting Nagisa and Rei with food is the only option.

Returning to his room, Haru finds it more or less torn apart. It’s clear as Nagisa was searching through things, Rei was trying to put them back together to the best of his ability. His nightstand is still open, Nagisa clearly just grabbed the album and bolted. He crouches down and slides the album carefully back into its place. The shutting of the drawer aligns with Makoto softly closing the bedroom door behind him.

“I didn’t know you kept it,” Makoto murmurs, leaning against the door.

He finally starts to pull of his jacket, warming up to being inside Haru’s apartment.

“It’s important to me,” Haru says. He pauses and then adds with some thought, “Just like you are.”

“Haruka…” Makoto trails off.

“I’m sorry,” Haru says, rising up. “I shouldn’t have done what I did.”

“No,” Makoto shakes his head. “You were right. I reacted badly and I should’ve told my friends. I’m sorry, Haru. I’ve been selfish, not thinking about what you wanted and how everything’s changed since we came to Tokyo. I just wanted everything to be the same – it was so simple back in Iwatobi. I thought if I just pretended everything was okay, it would stay that way. Back after the semester break – I should’ve known it wasn’t going to work out like that.”

Crossing the room, Haru throws his arms around Makoto and presses his face into Makoto’s shoulder. Makoto responds immediately, receiving Haru with ease and wrapping his arms just as tightly around Haru.

“I forgive you,” Haru mumbles.

“I was afraid, since you didn’t call me, that you wanted to break-up,” Makoto whispers and Haru can hear him being to choke up. “I know you wanted time apart – to think things over. But it was so long.”

“Never,” blurts Haru. “I never want to break-up with you. It’s been terrible without you. The water rejected me.”

Makoto laughs wetly.

“I’ve been absolutely miserable without you,” he confesses. “Yukimura kicked me out of the dorm because he got so tired of my moping.”

Looking up, Haru finds Makoto crying in earnest. Reaching up, he presses his thumb against Makoto’s face and wipes away the tears.

“I hate when you cry,” Haru says.

Makoto reaches up and takes Haru’s hand into his own, tangling their fingers together.

“I’ll tell everyone about us,” Makoto promises. “When you’re a gold medalist, the world will know.”

Haru blanches. Not because Makoto’s willing to tell people about them – that’s what Haru wants after all. But the idea of the whole world being privy to their relationship is a bit frightening. He’d rather keep them private in the eyes of the world. Their friends knowing – that’s enough for Haru.

“Can I be selfish?” Haru asks.

Makoto tilts his head in confusion, indicating for Haru to go on.

“Don’t tell the whole world,” Haru says. “I just want you to myself."

Visibly sagging in relief, Makoto smiles. His tears have stopped.

“That’s good. I do want everyone to know, but the whole world? That’s a lot,” Makoto says.

“I know.”

Haru presses a little closer and kisses Makoto. It’s been too long since they’ve been this close, intoxicated by the nearness. He’s desperate to be near Makoto and make up for lost time. As Makoto deepens the kiss, Nagisa’s voice cuts through the door.

“Mako-chan! Haru-chan! You better not be doing what I think you’re doing!” Nagisa teases.

The words have the opposite of the intended effect. Haru grips Makoto tighter, pushing himself even closer.

“Stay,” he says.

The second meaning of that single word doesn’t need to be discussed between the two of them. Makoto knows exactly what Haru is requesting.

“I thought you’d never ask,” Makoto replies.

Makoto’s body is jerked forward as Nagisa’s starts banging on the door.

“Please tell me you aren’t doing this now,” he whines. “Rei-chan is being mean and won’t let me eat until you return.”

“It’s only polite,” calls Rei, voice muffled by the door and distance.

Makoto laughs as he pushes away from the door.

“We should probably go out there before Nagisa beats the door down.”

Haru hums in agreement. Secretly, he wouldn’t care for a broken door if it meant being alone with Makoto for a couple more minutes.

 

XXXXXXX

 

Moving day comes and goes with little trouble. Following the wrap of their first year at university, Makoto would’ve moved out of the dorms for the break anyway. Packing up the small amount of belongings Makoto brought with him to Tokyo isn’t difficult. It’s a little more hectic shifting Haru’s entire life out of one apartment to another. Having a completely brought his life from Iwatobi and a full apartment (rather than a single dorm room with utilities and cooking providing) makes moving more complicated.

Their new apartment sits equidistant between Haru’s university and Makoto’s. The nearby train makes the pool Makoto works at (now a part-time employee, rather than a volunteer) easy enough to get to. Although they have to adapt to new train routes and surroundings, they take it in stride knowing that at least they’re close together again.

Makoto’s parents send his remaining belongings to Tokyo during the move. Now that Makoto has a bigger living space, he has use for all of his other things. Fortunately for the both of them, Haru’s old apartment was rather Spartan so Makoto’s belongings fill in the gaps that Haru had been lacking.

Before the moving day, Rei had been sending them both several articles on the difficulties of moving in together. New roommates find it troublesome adapting to habits and how differently each of them run a household. There was a notable article about a couple getting into fight on how to arrange the cutlery.

To be polite, and since he’s Makoto, Makoto reads them all and sends Rei comments. Neither of them were really expecting moving in to be a challenge. For nearly 18 years, Makoto’s home had been Haru’s second home and vice versa. Ever since Haru started living alone in Iwatobi, his lifestyle adapted to be similar to the Tachibana’s. Makoto’s touch was evident all over Haru’s house.

Much of their behaviour has been patterned after cohabitating for years. Makoto and Haru spent so much time in each other’s pockets there’s nothing to fight about. They’ve shared a bathroom and a bed and a space so often there’s nothing to get accustomed to. Haru knows all of Makoto’s idiosyncracies and Makoto knows all of his. There’s not much to get use to now that they’re living together.

But Haru’s no fool. He didn’t think the transition would be completely seamless. They bicker over the allegedly 'absolutely absurd' amount of jammers Haru has and how they don’t need an entire drawer to themselves. There’s an amusing event where Makoto nearly loses it when Haru reveals his dolphin printed linens. Although endearing, Makoto questions their practicality due to their obvious intended use as a gag gift.

All in all, Makoto easily slots his life into Haru’s. Their belongings mix together naturally, like they were always meant to be with each other. Their lifestyles readily meld together, as if they were designed to be one.

Even though a lot of it is predictable and expected about moving in, there are still things that make it worth it. It’s the little things that make moving in together eventful. Waking up everyday with Makoto and knowing the apartment is the same space that Makoto inhabits. Before they always had to return back to their homes, Makoto’s parents needing to see their son after a week of staying with Haru. Now, they have no such obligations.

Everyday, Haru gets to see Makoto. There are no 30 minute train rides, not even minute long walks. It’s a handful of seconds for Haru to find Makoto in the apartment.

Mornings, like these, where he wakes up alone are not troubling in the least. Somewhere in their small apartment, Makoto is either cramming for a test or talking with his family on the phone (Tachibanas are all early risers). Sometimes Haru will find Makoto in a Skype call with Rin. Due to the small time difference, it’s always troublesome trying to get the right time where they’re not too tired to talk.

Haru enjoys the mornings he gets with Makoto and Rin the best. It reminds him of where he’s going and his goals to swim with Rin on the world stage.

Before opening his eyes, Haru takes a moment to try and guess exactly what Makoto’s doing this morning. The lack of voices filtering into the bedroom indicates he’s not talking with Rin. But the lack of absolute silence, the soft sounds of Makoto moving around, are proof that he’s not studying.

The clanging of pots causes Haru to shoot up out of bed. Stumbling out of room, pulling up his pyjama bottoms as he goes, Haru hurries to the kitchen. Makoto knows better than to cook. He only attempts cooking under Haru’s careful eye. If Makoto’s in the kitchen – there’s something wrong. He’s trying to clear his mind from another topic.

“Makoto,” Haru interrupts, coming to a halt in the entrance of the kitchen.

He’s too late. Makoto’s already got some food sizzling on the frying pan, humming softly to himself. He doesn’t seem too distressed, as he tilts his head back to greet Haru. But that’s how Makoto works, pretending nothing’s wrong. He copes with his stress by pretending to be normal. Something Haru can’t fault him for – they’ve both done it even though Makoto is the more frequent perpetrator.

“Haru! I didn’t think you’d get up so early,” Makoto smiles. “I’m making breakfast.”

“Why?” Haru asks bluntly.

“I use to make breakfast for Ren and Ran all the time,” Makoto waves him off. “It’s fine. Take a seat – you’ll have to clear away my books first.”

There isn’t anything burning just yet, so Haru acquiesces. Heading over to the table, he finds it covered in Makoto’s anatomy and physiology books. Each open page is heavily highlighted and annotated in addition to the haphazard collection of papers strewn about with poor sketches of the human body.

It’s doesn’t take a genius to figure out what Makoto’s bothered about. The new semester, along with their second year at university, has started. The courses are much harder and picked up a lot quicker. Already, Makoto’s swamped with new terms and even more advanced anatomy courses. Careful to keep the stacks in Makoto’s random, but purposeful, sorting style (Rin would probably have a fit if he saw their table), Haru collects his study materials and sets them off to the side.

Just as he’s finished cleaning the space, Makoto slides a plate of eggs in front of him. They don’t look burned or runny – they’re perfectly done.

“Ye of little of faith,” Makoto intones taking the seat across from Haru. “They have everything for your swimming diet.”

As if Haru even needed to ask. Makoto’s always making sure they have the right supplies in the house to fulfill Haru’s food guide. He’s been more firm about it than usual, considering it’s little over a year until Haru will be competing for a spot on the Olympic team.

Ryuuji has already given him the gears about how training for the Olympics is a long term deal. They need to start now if they want to Haru to be in peak form. Unfortunately, it also means less of a break during the off season to keep his body well adjusted. Though Haru’s disappointed about the loss of free swimming time, the very idea of swimming in the Olympic trials has him fired up.

“You have swim practice this morning, right?” Makoto asks, breaking up Haru’s thoughts.

“Personal training,” Haru says. “Practice is in the evening.”

“The pool twice in one day – now that’s a dream,” Makoto says smiling.

Haru nods.

“It’s an open practice,” Haru says, implied suggestion floating in the air.

“I’ll come watch the end,” promises Makoto. “Nishigori needs me to cover her shift.”

Haru frowns. Sure the local swim club Makoto volunteers at isn’t terribly far from either his campus or their apartment, but it’s still a lot to put in considering Makoto’s school schedule. But Makoto loves teaching the kids to swim and coaching the older kids for competitions. He’s even talked about how he’s been approached by teenagers to give tips for their high school teams.

“A class?”

“Not really. Nishigori is coaching them for a local competition,” Makoto says. “They’re all coming in their extra time.”

Making a brief, neutral noise, Haru turns to look at his food. If it’s an extra volunteer opportunity, why didn’t Makoto’s co-worker just cancel? It’s likely not even technically part of one of their shifts – bleeding back into the volunteer position Makoto use to have. The management realized Makoto was too valuable to just have as a volunteer. Nishigori was probably lamenting cancelling and Makoto swooped in, volunteering his time off work to help out.

“Don’t over exert yourself,” Haru says after a long pause.

Makoto lets out a small laugh.

“I could say the same thing to you,” Makoto points out. “You’re spending all your time training for the Olympics. Either in the pool or at the gym – watch out for an injury.”

Rolling his eyes Haru looks up to meet Makoto directly in the eyes.

“I’m serious.”

“I am too. If you take precautions to not injury yourself, I won’t overexert myself,” Makoto bargains.

“That’s not fair.”

It’s really not. Makoto putting his own self-care on the line like a bargaining chip.

“As much as you get annoyed I do too much, you come home after swim practice exhausted. And then you complain about being sore.”

“I don’t complain.”

“So maybe you don’t verbally complain, but I know what you’re thinking.”

“Fine,” Haru concedes. “I’ll take it easy. You take it easy.”

“You can’t hide an injury from me, Haru. I’m a physiotherapy student,” Makoto says.

And there it is. The way Makoto’s words seem to hitch as he says ‘physiotherapy student.’ It’s so subtle that everyone would miss it. Even Makoto’s own parents couldn’t recognize it. But Haru’s mind catches on immediately. It’s like a tiny bit of doubt in his words. A literal manifestation of a wavering in Makoto’s confidence. Like he’s unsure if that’s what he wants to do.

Narrowing his eyes, Haru leans forward slightly. Trying to get a better look into Makoto’s eyes and find the meaning for the verbal tick. Haru’s mind are a million thoughts rattling around, piecing together the other events he’s noticed. Everything has gotten neatly filled in the ‘Makoto’s Strange Behaviour Regarding School May or May Not Be A Regular Crisis’ folder of Haru’s brain.

“Haru?” Makoto asks, corners of his mouth tugged downwards in a small frown.

Haru leans closer. Whatever it is, Makoto’s doing a hell of job keeping it hidden. Unfortunately, Makoto’s really good at hiding himself from Haru when he wants to. Unlike Haru, who’s always an open book to Makoto – Makoto can be frustratingly unreadable at times. (Though Makoto gives Haru’s space when he knows Haru upset and doesn’t want Makoto to know what he’s thinking.)

Sighing, Haru leans back when he realizes Makoto isn’t going to give in. When he’s ready, he’ll share with Haru what’s bothering him. For now, Haru will let him have his secret. Since Makoto offers him space when Haru needs to work through things – Haru will extend the same courtesy to Makoto. If Makoto is deliberately making himself unreadable, Haru won’t push. In time, Makoto will open himself to Haru – when the time it right.

“Just testing your resolve,” Haru mutters. “You better hold up your end of the bargain.”

“Just don’t get injured. Win gold in Rio,” Makoto smiles.

An unnecessary statement, Haru thinks. This is what he’s been swimming towards for at least 2 years now. It’s his road to swimming with Rin on the world stage – as competitors and as teammates. That’s for Haru – winning gold with Rin. But for Makoto, Haru will gladly win every medal he can.

 

XXXXXXX

 

Makoto’s completely engrossed in the book he’s reading. He doesn’t even notice as Haru makes his way onto the bleachers, freshly changed into his tracksuit after practice. Takamura pointed out Makoto when he arrived – who offered a small wave to the two of them. Other than that, Haru has no idea how much of the practice Makoto actually watched. Not that he expects Makoto to in the first place. Makoto generally works on schoolwork instead of wholly focusing on the practice.

But Makoto is 100% consumed by his book. So much he hasn’t even noticed practice is long over. Which is an odd occurrence.

“Makoto,” Haru calls, drawing Makoto out of his strange mood for the second time in the day.

(Also another oddity. First the need to care for Haru by making breakfast and now this.)

“Oh!” Makoto jerks up in surprise. “Haru, I didn’t even notice. Sorry.”

“What are you doing?” Haru questions.

He moves closer, crossing his arms and resting his forearms across Makoto’s shoulders so that he can get a better look at the text. It’s heavy with words, small and dense print – packing as many words on the page as possible. The language is dense, Haru barely understanding the general point being made. The book looks right up Makoto’s alley.

“For fun?” Haru asks.

“A literature class I picked up,” Makoto answers, shutting the book gently. “I decided to push one of the physiotherapy pre-requisites for another semester and take something I actually enjoy.”

“I didn’t know that,” Haru comments.

“Sorry I didn’t tell you,” Makoto says. “I didn’t think you’d be that interested in my schedule since it’s almost all anatomy and kinesiology courses. I know that kind of stuff bores you.”

“I’m interested in everything you do,” Haru replies honestly.

“Then I’ll list the other half a dozen courses I’m taking,” Makoto says. “All sounding the same, but slightly different.”

Haru twists his face in displeasure.

“See, I knew it,” Makoto points out, but the words aren’t angry or smug.

Just pointing out that he knows Haru isn’t interested in his forty million near-identical pre-requisite courses.

“I’d like to know the deviations,” retorts Haru. “Like when you take literature and read a book more interesting than my swimming.”

“You know I think nothing’s more beautiful than your swimming,” Makoto murmurs. “I just haven’t taken a course that I’ve enjoyed in over a year and the book’s good.”

“Let’s go home,” Haru says.

Makoto brightens visibly. He loves when Haru calls their tiny apartment ‘home.’ Haru loves using the term just as much. (Though he loves it even more when Makoto calls it ‘ours.’ Because that’s what it is. A culmination of all their years together – a space finally tailored for just the two of them.)

“What’s on the athlete diet tonight?” Makoto teases, laughing when Haru’s nose crinkles.

(Watching Makoto slipping the Literature book into his bag and noticing a lack of anatomy texts – Haru should’ve known what was going on then and there.)

 

XXXXXXX

 

Haru vaguely remembers reading once that when you’re put in situation similar to your childhood – you’ll revert to your childhood role. For example, adult children gathering together under their parents’ roof again during the holiday. Instead of retaining their new adult roles, they’ll return to the places they held as children.

In practice, it’s not an incorrect statement. Haru can’t directly apply it to himself or Makoto when they return to Iwatobi. Certainly, through some interpretations, the two of them feel a greater ease and freedom that Tokyo doesn’t allow. Living in the safety of Makoto’s childhood bedroom for a week, under the protection of the Tachibanas, Haru definitely feels a restoration of their childhood balance.

There’s an ease they can’t find in Tokyo – not even when they’re wrapped together, tangled between each other and the twisted blankets; awake in the early morning, taking in the few moments of peace before their days begin. Communication flows more freely in Iwatobi, both of them relying solely on the almost telepathic link. It’s like the density of buildings block their links, like a satellite and a GPS.

The past few weeks – final exams and projects – increased the walls between them. Sometimes Haru feels like he and Makoto are on different planets. Makoto’s actions and words almost robotic as he absorbs every piece of information he can. The unreadable looks have become more frequent. Even more curious, Makoto has been avoiding discussion about school entirely.

Coming back to Iwatobi – Haru hopes Makoto will finally reveal the reason for his unhappiness. It’s bothered Haru for sometime, to see Makoto so torn up. But now that Makoto’s small disturbance is transforming into something more akin to misery – it’s tearing Haru apart. Back in their childhood comforts, perhaps Makoto will find his courage to tell Haru. Or Haru will present Makoto with a safety net (which has been there all along) and compel Makoto to tell him.

(Haru offers Makoto the courtesy of keeping his secrets until he deems it to be negatively affecting Makoto. Since the two of them rarely have negative secrets – if secrets at all – Haru seldom needs to force Makoto into a position he doesn’t want.)

There’s lingering insecurity, Haru knows this for sure. In that Makoto’s wrestling with a decision and is unsure that he will be supported. It’s just a piece of Makoto Haru’s learned to love and accept, despite not understanding why Makoto would ever feel a need to be insecure.

Every person that knows Makoto always loves and supports him, no matter what. Especially Haru.

“Your mom says it’s time to get out of bed,” Haru calls, leaning in the doorway.

Makoto doesn’t move, barely tilting his head to acknowledge Haru. He’s been lost in his own thoughts since they arrived last night. Only offering everyone the lowest level of enthusiasm Haru’s ever seen Makoto give. Makoto waved Haru off as being tired before sleeping for something close to 12 hours.

“We’re meeting Nagisa and Rei at the train today,” Haru tries again. “They were upset when you weren’t there.”

A low blow, but Makoto really needs to get out of bed. Appealing to Makoto’s ‘I don’t want to disappoint them’ and mother hen natures aren’t the best strategies. But like Makoto convinces Haru with the allure of pools, it’s sometimes the only way.

Exhaling, Makoto sits up and swings his legs over the side of the bed. Despite the long rest and being off school, he still looks exhausted. This term has absolutely wrecked him. The material is unfamiliar and difficult, much more so than the basics of the pre-requisite courses.

“I’ll tell your mom you’re up,” Haru says as he peels away from the door frame.

“Haru,” Makoto calls.

There’s a childish vulnerability present in his voice. Haru turns back to face him, entering the room and closing the door behind him.

“Are you unwell?” Haru questions. “You still look tired.”

“I woke up a lot in the night,” Makoto explains. “I have something on my mind.”

“Oh?”

“You don’t have to do that for me,” Makoto says, smiling a bit. “I know you know something is wrong. I’m sorry that I haven’t been forthcoming – it’s just been difficult to admit it to myself. I feel like I’m letting myself down just by thinking it.”

“Makoto,” is all Haru needs to say.

The weight of the single word and the hundreds of meanings behind it is all Haru has ever needed when faced with Makoto’s self-doubt. Everything Haru wants to say, needs to say, and what Makoto needs to hear are all wrapped up in the name.

He moves across the room, dropping next to Makoto. Their bodies press tightly against each other, only the natural hollows in their bodies remain unconnected. Makoto sags into Haru, letting Haru support his weight. Haru accepts the burden gratefully, wholly ready to take on the role of Atlas for Makoto.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m doing with my life and where I want to go,” Makoto says. “I said that I wanted to teach kids to swim – and I get to do that at the local club. That’s what I really want to do. The physiotherapist job, I let the counsellor convince me that it was the best route to go – so I could coach in tandem while having a stable career.”

Makoto pauses and sighs deeply.

“The counsellor said that if I had a career related to sport, I could be closer to you and your future,” Makoto confesses.

That’s not news to Haru. Makoto’s told him that before, when Haru questioned his decision to apply for the anatomy and kinesiology courses. But put in the context of the relationship just pre-Tokyo (and up until a year ago), Makoto’s desperation to remain closer to Haru makes more sense. Haru was desperate to keep Makoto a significant part of his life too.

“My parents thought it would be a good choice too. Physiotherapists make good money,” Makoto says. “They were worried that I wouldn’t be able to support myself as a swim teacher. They convinced me it would better for my future.”

Though Makoto has never directly stated that before, it’s always been implied. A series of fights that had Makoto spending more time over at Haru’s and the ability to read Makoto like an open book, gave way to the implications. But Makoto’s a good son who would never bad mouth his parents – not even in front of Haru (despite knowing Makoto’s real feelings). Likely, if he had told Haru how he really felt, Haru would’ve felt the need to stand up for Makoto. Makoto is too much of a push over; trying to make people happy before himself.

“I just don’t think it’s for me,” Makoto blurts, finally pushing himself through the mindless preamble to just say aloud what’s bothering him. “I don’t enjoy the classes and every time I think of actually being a physiotherapist, it just seems bleak. I had to test it out – see if it was just nerves or I something I actually didn’t want to do.”

“Which is why you took the literature course.”

Makoto nods.

“I know that literature doesn’t have any jobs – but it’s my passion,” Makoto says, like he’s trying to convince Haru.

“I always thought you were a good writer,” Haru says. “That’s a job.”

Makoto makes a soft noise of surprise.

“Really?”

Haru reaches out and pulls Makoto’s hands apart – he’s been wringing them together for the majority of the conversation. He tugs one hand into his own, squeezing them gently.

“You’ve supported me for as long as I can remember,” Haru says. “I’ll always support you too.”

“Haruka,” Makoto mumbles, voice low.

And just like Haru did before with Makoto’s name, it’s all Makoto needs to say. Between the two of them, a simple name and look is all they need to convey the totality of their emotions.

 

XXXXXXX

 

It’s a wintery hell outside. The blustering snow visible through the massive glass windows of the university pool. Not that Haru notices the uptick in the wind speeds and amount of snow falling from the sky. The moment he finished class, he made a beeline for the pool – knowing it would be unlocked, empty, and ready to welcome him.

Despite the lack of frequent, regular practices – for the past few weeks, Haru’s been at the pool every day. Sometimes Ryuuji is there, the two of them having the pool booked off all to themselves. Or Haru’s on his own (generally joined by the regular student populace squeezing in a swimming workout). Very rarely these days, is Haru joined by the rest of the swim team in an organized practice.

The other few members of the team who’ve been deemed ‘Olympic Hopefuls’ by their coaches are getting similar treatments. A lot of solitary swimming, improving times and keeping their bodies primed through the winter. With the trials coming up in the late spring, none of them want to fall behind and potentially lose precious seconds off their times.

Rin’s training is as intense in Australia, preparing to return to Japan and cinch a spot on the Olympic team. They’ve spoken frequently about it, sharing their daily schedules and improvements to their times. Though it’s more Rin sharing his times, since Haru never brings any along to time him when he’s alone, much to the chagrin of Ryuuji. It’s only when Ryuuji is present, is Haru aware of his increasingly faster and faster times.

(Swimming has never been about the times for Haru. Even now – with the Rio so close he can taste it. The goal is to swim with Rin at the Olympics. Share that moment during the relay they both crave. Winning comes second to that.)

Today, Haru pulled some strings with the pool staff to get time in alone. The pool is supposed to be closed for a few hours between classes and the evening free swims for maintenance. But the staff all know Haru as unobtrusive and capable of cleaning up after himself. With the promise of some homemade cookies (already left at the front desk), Haru’s gained access to a completely empty pool.

Swimming laps is therapeutic. Given the stress of classes, projects, and Ryuuji’s demand to adhere to such a strict regimen, swimming alone is escape. When alone in the pool, he doesn’t have to deal with Ryuuji correcting his form or the casual swimmers gawking at him, knowing him as the ‘Potential Olympic Swimmer.’

It’s no secret Haru’s the only one on the university’s swim team with a real chance. He’s been somewhat of a campus celebrity for a few years now, dominating whatever meet he’s sent to. Knowledge of him has became a bit more widespread, local news sources reporting on him and requesting interviews. At first, he had been a bit more open – not use to the press or their abilities to weasel answers out of him. Now that he’s grown wise to their tricks and weary of the interviews, Haru offers only the barest of answers.

More importantly, people have been zeroing in on his rivalry with Rin. At first, Haru refused to swim the relay for the university team. It’s something special he shared with the Iwatobi team and Rin. It’s something he’s saving for Rin (unfortunately the others will never swim in the Olympics like Rin and Haru). A special feeling Haru reserves for them.

Though, during the relay finals in one of the meets, the freestyle swimmer slipped on the pool deck and twisted his ankle. Haru was the only logical choice and Mikoshiba begged him to step up, having already listed Haru as the back up. Mikoshiba reasoned if Haru wants to swim in the Olympic relay, there will need to be university level records of him swimming the relay beforehand. Pushed into the corner at losing the opportunity to swim with Rin, Haru has been swimming the freestyle leg for the relay team ever since.

The water splashing around Haru’s body is the only noise in the massive room. It’s music to his ears. Simultaneously soothing and pushing him forward. Like a metronome for a musician, the steady noises keep Haru in rhythm. Better to pace him and keep him from over exerting himself. Should Haru injury himself now – it would be disastrous for his Olympic chances. He’s young enough that he’d make a full recovery but to accomplish it, he’d have to miss the Olympics.

The fallout of missing Rio would be devastating for Haru. In this theoretical injury universe, Haru would be able to swim in the next Olympics – but that’s four years down the road. What would be the point of all his work if he missed out on Rio? No doubt a heavy depression would follow an injury of any sorts.

Returning to the water would be difficult. Haru might struggle with not giving up competitive swimming entirely. The university coaching staff is fond of warning them that an injury at this point in their careers, while recoverable, would still kill their careers. Damage to their psyche from not being able to train and the media calling if they could ever return to their pre-injury state is more dangerous than any physical injury.

There’s also the promise to keep to Makoto after all. But there’s not much to worry about Makoto overexerting himself these days.

With the burden of an unwanted career gone, Makoto’s far better at taking care of himself. Since he’s enjoying his classes and understanding them far more naturally, he doesn’t need to push himself to study all the time.

Besides swimming, listening to Makoto go on about his classes and what he’s reading is Haru’s favourite calming tool. Though he doesn’t completely understand the connections and comments Makoto’s making on the themes and such, he’s in love with how in love Makoto is with the topics.

Life has never been better. Makoto’s overwhelmingly happy with his classes, future, and not overworking himself by adding too many shifts at the local pool. Haru’s an arm’s length away from Rio and swimming with Rin. And they’re doing it all together. Side by side, supporting one another on the paths to their respective dreams. (It wouldn’t really be their dreams if they were without one another anyway.)

Exhaustion starts set in as Haru’s laboured breathing joins in with the sounds of the water. But he doesn’t let up with his pace. Thoughts of the Olympics, of Rin, and of his life with Makoto push him further.

Halfway through his lap, Haru’s shoulder seizes up. For a brief moment, he flounders and sinks. The abrupt interruption to his flow drags him underneath the water. Once his feet touch the bottom of the pool, he kicks off and surges to the wall. Clambering to the side and clinging with the arm isn’t cramping.

The pain of his shoulder muscles is almost unbearable. It burns – like the fibers are being torn apart. Curling his arm into himself, Haru cradles it like one would a child. Gritting his teeth, he breathes harshly trying to manage his pain levels through the cramp. Between his racing thoughts and hammering heart, it’s almost too difficult to see straight. The rest of the world gives away to the torturous pain of the muscle cramp.

His other hand slaps the pool deck, fingers dragging across in the surface. Haru lets his head fall forward, hitting the tiles as he hisses out in pain. The horrid feeling lightning bolts through his arm, generated high up in his shoulder and being chased to the tips of his fingers. For several unbearable minutes, Haru works himself through the cramp. Fear of injury rakes through him, like his previous thoughts somehow cursed him.

The water laps around his body, seemingly harmless but Haru knows better. He understands the water intimately. It’s a soft chide for pushing himself too hard. But also a gentle reminder, like a parent rubbing circles on their child’s back.

That’s all it is – a cramp. Haru didn’t take a necessary break, or drink any water since jumping into the pool. Not to mention he spent most of the day with the arm suspended over a canvas, held rigidly with a paintbrush. Cramps are normal and Haru is overly paranoid about injuries with the Olympic trials so close.

Eventually the pain tapers off. Dulling to a stubborn throb at the origin point. With the pain now manageable, Haru unclenches and opens his body up again. He lets his arm float dead in the water. The cool liquid helping with the heat brought on by the muscle tightening uncontrollably.

Still pressed against the wall, Haru is unwilling to let go. A sudden fear of the water grips him. Those moments spent sinking, trapped beneath the surface, were a first. Never before has he experienced such a betrayal of the water. He’s always trusted it to bring him back up, never having to violent eject himself. Distrusting the water is a terrifying path. If Haru is unable to get over this event, he’ll never swim in the Olympics.

(In the back of his mind, in the darkest pits of his subconscious, he knows blaming the water is the wrong thing to do. More so than distrusting the water – how would Makoto have gotten so far if simply distrusting the water was wrong? – blaming the water for the cramp is a sure fire way to failure.)

But the weakness in his arm will not allow Haru to pull himself up. So he hangs uselessly in the water, like a child unable to swim. Time passes slowly as Haru waits for his arm to return to its full strength. An odd desperation to escape the pool and flee to the comfort of his apartment fills him.

Terror runs through Haru as he hears the door to the pool deck open and footsteps make their way over to him. Dropping his head back down, he shuts his eyes and wills for this all to be a dream. There’s nothing more he wants right now than to be back home, wrapped up in Makoto’s arms. In this moment, it’s the only security Haru desires.

“Haru!”

Like an answered prayer, Makoto has arrived. Eyes flashing open, Haru jerks up his head and looks to find Makoto hurrying over to him. There’s a worried expression written all over his face. He has every right to be worried. It’s not normal for Haru to cling to the side of the pool. During his rests, he floats on his back or sits on the edge.

Immediately, Makoto is in front of him. Crouched at Haru’s level and looking over him for any sign of injury. The three semesters of anatomy and pre-physiotherapy courses do their job as Makoto’s eyes land on Haru’s arm. There’s an almost visible relaxation, upon realizing it’s only cramp. Makoto’s awareness of the situation brings reality to Haru’s world. It’s only a cramp.

“And you get on my case about not taking care of myself,” Makoto teases. “For someone who spends all their time in water, you sure look dehydrated.”

Haru looks away, embarrassed. Makoto laughs and stands, briefly returning to his full height. Shuffling back a few steps, he bends down to offer Haru his hand.

“Let’s get you home, you look miserable,” Makoto murmurs.

Unthinking, Haru reaches up to take Makoto’s hand. The motion is so natural between them and Haru lets muscle memory take over. His feet press to the wall of pool, read to propel his body upwards. The moment Makoto pulls on Haru’s arm – the one that just cramped up – Haru sees blue. The pain returns for a shocking brief second and Haru can barely respond. His entire body becomes dead weight.

From his precarious position, Haru falls backwards and drags Makoto with him.

They collapse back into the pool with a mighty splash. Unable to breath from the pain, the fear grips Haru once more. But Makoto’s there, pulling them both to the surface. He easily hauls them back to the wall, keeping Haru safe.

“Probably should’ve thought that one through,” Makoto laughs. “Cramps last a bit longer than you might think.”

“Your clothes are all wet,” Haru says crinkling his nose.

Outside the wind howls angrily, reminding them both of the chill.

“I didn’t want my things to get wet, so I left them with your stuff,” Makoto says. “And I brought a change of clothes since I was at the pool this morning.”

“Good,” Haru says.

He doesn’t need to say it. He doesn’t want to wait here while Makoto dries. Home is the only option – to put this event behind him. Some rest, water, and Makoto, and by Monday Haru will be back in the pool swimming with no regrets.

“Are you okay?” Makoto asks unnecessarily.

From the concerned look in his eyes, he knows Haru isn’t.

“I’ll be fine once we get home,” Haru replies.

“I’m going to let go and get out. Then I’ll pull you out.”

Makoto doesn’t move until Haru nods, consenting. He moves fluidly, having practiced the motion a thousand times helping kids out of the pool. The way Makoto does it though, he never makes Haru feel patronized. Haru doesn’t know how Makoto accomplishes it. He’s never experienced anyone else being able to help without coming across condescending. Maybe it’s just because he’s Makoto.

A few seconds later, Haru’s sitting on the pool deck – free from the water. Makoto pushes himself back to his feet and once again offer Haru his hand. More conscious this time, Haru offers his non-injured arm and allows Makoto to easily pull him up.

Once up, he pulls Makoto in a hug. They’re both wet so it doesn’t matter that Makoto’s wearing clothes and Haru’s in his jammers. Makoto’s surprised at first, but quickly gets with the program and wraps his arms securely around Haru. Makoto presses a kiss against Haru's head.

“Let’s go home,” Makoto mumbles into Haru’s hair. “You need to rest so this doesn’t become an issue. The Olympics are waiting for you.”

There doesn’t need to be a verbal response for Makoto to know that Haru agrees.