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When I breathe
I feel
the rush of the sea.

Haru is his best friend, and he hopes that they will be friends forever, as silly as it sounds. They have known each other for so long that the years are beginning to get lost, Makoto can't quite remember if it was before or after first grade, if something scary happened when Haru wasn't there or if it was just before he met Haru.

But there are days, and those are days he feels guilty, where he wonders if Haru really cares. He wonders where the open Haru went, why he quit competitive swimming, why he closed himself off again. He wonders why Haru didn't tell him why, why he wouldn't tell him why, and a tendril of frustration winds around Makoto's legs, his throat, his eyes. He feels the betrayal creep up against his skin, saying that he really doesn't matter to Haru, and those days he feels guilt, because he knows that it isn't true. Haru may not show it in vast gestures or words, but Makoto knows, simply from being by his side, that Haru cares in ways that he can't find words for. Haru's care is like being gently surrounded by the wind, or the water, it's there, a constant.

Or maybe, a part of him thinks, you're just allowing yourself to think that, because you don't want to let go. You've known each other for so long that meeting someone else and becoming close to them would become scary--

--and those are the bad days, where Makoto smiles the brightest at Haru and Haru glares because Haru can always understand, but he doesn't understand why Makoto comes to him when he feels like this. Haru knows he's the cause of these whirlpooling feelings, the vortex of arguing before Makoto goes to bed with one thought in mind, Haru is my friend, and friends should care about each other.

He makes excuses for himself, on the days where he is truly fed up with Haru. He knows something happened to Haru when he quit, even if he doesn't know what, and he reminds himself on the days where he wants to leave Haru alone in the bath, let him prune in the water until he gets out himself, he reminds himself on the days when he thinks that this friendship is one-sided. Those are the days he makes sure to check on Haru extra well, because he needs reasons to keep coming back, to keep trying.

He's never deeply thought about giving Haru up. Haru is his best friend, and Makoto is willing to fight whatever he has to in order for it to stay that way, even if some nights he ends up crying even though he's fourteen and shouldn't be, even on the nights where he can't help but think of how Haru is pushing him away as much as he can.

"Makoto," His mother once said after a mishap in the kitchen, "You're so stubborn sometimes."

She had smiled as she said it, and he'd laughed awkwardly and cleaned the kitchen up, apologizing. "I just wanted to try one more time...!"

"I know." She had smiled fondly at him then, ruffling his hair.

This feels like the same thing, in a way, except the difficulty is much harder than fried rice. Makoto doesn't know what to do, to pull his friend back, he doesn't know where to start, what to start with. He doesn't know anything, it seems, about Haru, and those nights are the nights he cries. They are rare and fleeting, and he scolds himself right afterwords for making a fuss, because he knows more about Haru than anyone else. He knows his favorite foods and games and the way he'll turn his head and mumble his name and how he'll sometimes doodle on his worksheets and the teachers will get mad, and how he'll sit in the bath with his swimsuit on, as if it's a perfectly natural way to be. He knows his favorite shirts and which ones that Haru will never say he likes but will steal every time he comes over, and he knows that he still smiles with Ren and Ran, though only when he thinks Makoto isn't looking.

He feels like he's been accepted, only to be rejected at the last second, when Haru stops smiling as he walks into the room.

Even when they turn fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, Haru closes him out. Makoto gradually gets used to being forced away, and while he stops being able to feel it, his smiles grow smaller and more unsure by the months, until all that remains is a small, soft smile, nothing like before, when he'd beam at Haruka and sometimes, just sometimes, Haru would smile back.

He is so tired of making excuses.

He can only gently scold himself, when he is seventeen, for the days that he is tired of Haru and his icy, sharp words, and he does not go see him on those days, not anymore. Instead he pushes it all away until he can pick himself up the next day and mother over Haru, who will fight him sometimes, sometimes not.

He watches Haru deteriorate slowly, over the years, and gradually becomes numb to the fact that can't do anything more than exist. He decides that even the smallest he can do makes a difference, even if he can't see it.

(He still feels empty, but he doesn't cry. He still feels like he doesn't truly know anything about Haru some nights, but he still doesn't cry. He has seen Haru at his worst, he feels, and if Haru can stop himself from crying, than so can he. Even if this emptiness eats away at him, all he can think is Haru suffers more, this is only residue.)

He has his successes, sometimes, when he asks Haru to go out and Haru will agree, even if Makoto has to use a pool to get him out. Those are the best days, where Makoto can see that maybe, maybe Haru is better, those are the days he sees Haru as he was, sparkling in the water, form perfect as always.

There is nothing better than Haru swimming. Makoto doesn't tell him, because he knows Haru won't say anything, and Makoto can't bring himself to ask if he can swim with Haru, like that one day, one pure relay. It's a silly thought anyways, seeing as it's only the two of them, but there are still days Makoto wishes for it. He tries not to hold Haru back, but when he looks and sees him in the ocean, a shudder will run through him, and he'll always end up going towards the beach before it gets dark, offering to let Haru stay at his house.

Fast forward a little to the beginning of their third year, and Haru is the same as he's always been since then. Makoto's expectations have softened.

(Maybe he's just given up on ever seeing that bright, energy emitting friend of his again.)

But Nagisa emerges, and he's like a ray of sunshine, just like before. Makoto can't help but get swept along with his ideas, to see Rin, to start a club, even if he thinks that Haru would never go along with any of it. He does his part to try and prod Haru into going, into seeing.

When they see Rin, Makoto can already understand something is wrong. When he's told what, he's shocked, and worse, he's bitter.

But he doesn't dwell on it. What matters is now, and now is something he can do something about. Now, he picks himself up and remembers what his mother said. He takes what he can into his hands and does his best, even though he's never been good at crafting, to shape it into something meaningful, something that will help.

When they say the ocean, he can't tell them no. When Haru asks him if he's okay, he lies, just a little. It really will be fine, he thinks, it's been so long, and even though he feels his skin prickle, he lies for the sake of the team.

(Haru's skepticism is a relief, peppered with guilt. At least with that, Makoto knows he still cares.)

In the ocean, watching Rei, he feels something familiar and unwanted capture him and dig its claws into his chest, his feet sinking into sand, his eyes seeing moments from long ago. He can't think of anything, just stares at the past, fear biting his insides and tearing him apart, eating away at him until there isn't anything left. He's trapped in a nothingness and he can't feel anything, doesn't even realize he's slipping under the water until it's a little too late, and he feels something around him just as he starts to black out, woozy.

When he wakes, Haru looks at him like he was dying. It reminds him of what he felt when he saw Rei struggle, and in the end all he can ask is if Rei is all right.

Haru gets angry, but Makoto has heard that tone before. He looks at him and knows, and he's sorry for scaring him. Haru just looks back, fear still on his face, and in the back of Makoto's mind he's almost relieved that Haru still feels anything for him.

The words spill out, because he needs to say them now, before he loses the drive, the fear. He needs Haru to know, he needs to show him, he needs, and he doesn't want to take, but Haru's eyes open wide and he lets Makoto drink in the sudden emotion, the realization that Makoto has struggled with him, and always will.

Makoto does not dwell on what always means. He just knows that it's true. He could never imagine not caring about Haru, not anymore. Not when he's gotten to see Haru come back from wherever he had been drifting. He's finally being allowed back in, into the private place that Haru had been hiding, and he refuses to let go. That small, dwindling hope erupts in his chest, comes back from the brink of exhaustion and burns brighter than before.

Haru. The name echos in his head as he steps onto the block. I hope you're all right.

He doesn't expect to see him watching the race. He knows Haru well enough to expect him to have gone home. He's not sure what happened with Haru's race with Rin, but he's certain it has hurt him deeply.

He still has a little hope though, digging at the rest of him, that Haru will be there.

And he is, and Makoto doesn't care about losing anymore, not when he sees the wonder, close to surprise, on Haru's face before he turns away.

Maybe I can help you, he thinks, sitting down in front of the door, Haru's phone in hand. Maybe I can do this much. Maybe they can. Maybe we all can, Haru.

I want to move Haru. He thinks, leaning against the wall. I want Haru to feel what I feel when I swim with him, with Nagisa and Rei.

That's selfish, his mind murmurs, to want Haru to feel what you feel.

But it isn't, Makoto argues in his head, I just want him to be happy. I just want to see him smile again.

(I just want to make sure he's okay. I just want him know we're all here for him. That I'm here. That I always will be here.)

There is nothing that could stop him from giving Haru the biggest grin when Haru shakes him awake and asks about the relay. His face almost hurts from the smile, and he takes the burn in stride, so glad to smile this way again. He had missed smiling like this, missed being able to grin at Haru without feeling as if he's annoying, aggravating.

There is nothing better than Haru swimming at his fullest.

Makoto watches, his breath stolen away until Haru comes out of the water. Rei and Nagisa's shouts only vaguely echo the feeling Makoto has when he pulls Haru out, something deep and heavy and yet light pooling into him, spreading through him.

He thinks there's nothing better, until Haru turns to him, eyes bright, and Makoto sees something he hasn't ever seen in Haru's eyes.

"It made me...just as happy!" He shouts, clutching his chest as if he's never felt so much before.

The words do not make contact with him, not at first, he's stunned. Haru, his name echoes in his head, Haru, and he's somewhere torn between proud and overwhelmed. "Haru...!"

If if was a possibility, Makoto would have stopped time for that moment, would have captured it in a million different ways, the pride, the relief, the joy, the sudden love he's never felt for Haru quite like this.

(Haru isn't back. He's changed, but in ways that Makoto would never, ever not want to see. Haru as he is now, who smiles so freely and makes Makoto feel like he could topple mountains and brave through war, Haru like this brings a warmth to his chest that makes him alive.)

Hearing the story from Haru is somehow so much more meaningful than hearing it from someone else. A bitterness does swirl in him, for a second, but he lets it all go, reminding himself gently that the past is the past, and if it led to all this, than maybe it was worth all the pain.

(His soft, unsure mumble is all the thanks Makoto will ever need. It is more than what he deserves, the thanks is something he never really earned, as far as he sees. Still, bubbles of laughter rise up in his chest, an almost constricting emotion wrapping around his heart. Wishing he could see Haru's face at that moment, wishing he could give nearly as much as Haru has given him. Wishing that he could give Haru a warm hug and tell him the promise Makoto made to himself, always, Haru.)

He pulls Haru out at the end of the relay and does not let go until Rin comes barreling towards Haru and hugs him, and while later he denys he cries, Makoto knows he was teary-eyed. He doesn't blame him a bit. He's just a little mean because Rin had caused them trouble, but his teasing is light, because truly, he's thankful. He's thankful for his friends, for Haru, for everything.

(Haru is so gentle towards him, now. Not every day, not all the time, but there are days and nights where Haru looks at Makoto with so much that Makoto can't understand it all. There are moments when Haru's smile is so soft and so sweet that Makoto wants to lean towards him and press their foreheads together and do something, something that he shouldn't, but when Haru looks at him like that, there's nothing to be done but yearn for his lips, his hands, Makoto yearns for what looks like more in that smile.)

(But he is neverendingly grateful for what he has already been allowed to see, to have. Haru, his friends, himself, watching the way they've grown is more than enough.)