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Darling, Won't You Come With Me?

Chapter Text

Haru stared the schedule he had printed out for himself. Japanese Literature, it read, Folklore and Culture in the Global Context, 8AM. Haru blew his bangs out of his eyes as he walked into the classroom. It already sounded boring. But, this was the last class he needed for his Literature degree. Hopefully, it’d be easy. A few papers, one project, and no group discussions. In other words, the perfect class. Haru chose a seat at the back of the room, next to the windows. A few more students settled into the empty seats. Asahi sat down next to him and immediately began to chatter about his winter break. Haru nodded at the appropriate places, but didn’t really listen.

His fingers lightly traced over his left forearm, stroking back and forth over the intricate black lines of his new tattoo. The last of work had been done right before the new term started. His skin was beginning to flake in places as it regenerated. Haru could still feel the phantom pressure of the needle, stabbing him repeatedly. It was both a testament to his love for the ocean and a form of rebellion after he had decided to quit the university swim team. They would never want him back after this. Haru sighed heavily, trying to push bitter thoughts away.

A sudden quiet fell over the room as the professor walked into the room. He yanked his sweatshirt sleeve down to cover his tattoo. He didn’t want whatever old-ass professor it was to assume he was a delinquent before the term even started.

“Hello, everyone, my name is Tachibana Makoto. I will be teaching your class this term. Nice to meet you all.” Haru looked up, staring openly at the professor, who was decidedly not an old-ass old man. He wasn’t the only one staring. A quiet murmur passed through the class. Tachibana wouldn’t look out of place at a Vogue Italia photoshoot. The sight of him in such a mundane setting was incongruous. Haru sank into his seat, already knowing how classes went when the professor was even moderately attractive. It was going to be insufferable.

“We’ll start easy,” he said. His voice was warm and rich, chasing away the leftover winter chill in the air. Haru sank even lower in his seat, utterly annoyed as one of the girls in the row ahead of him giggled. “If everyone can take out their syllabus, I’d like to go over it. I get too many emails otherwise,” he smiled.

“But first, let’s figure out who’s here.” Tachibana pulled out a roster. “If you just signed up for the class, please let me know and I’ll write your name down. They’ll give me the updated rosters next week. Okay,” he said, tracing down the list with his finger. Tachibana went down the list easily. Haru could sense his name was coming and his stomach clenched.

“Nanase Haruka-san?” Everyone who knew Haru giggled. He raised his hand reluctantly in the air.

“Oh! I’m sorry, Nanase-kun, I’m often mistaken for a girl as well, so we have that in common.” Tachibana tilted his head and smiled at him. Haru only stared, sullen.

After that, the class passed by fairly quickly. As Tachibana had promised, it was an easy introduction. When asked to introduce himself to the class with his name, year, and a fact about himself. So he could learn their names, Tachibana said. Haru answered with: Nanase Haruka, senior, I like the water.

Predictably, everyone laughed. Some in derision and those who knew Haru, fondly. Asahi elbowed him. “You say that every class, man.” Haru shrugged and looked out the window.

“Ah, okay!” Tachibana said, sounding slightly unsure after Haru had ignored Tachibana’s wordless request for more information. “Like I said, I’m Tachibana Makoto. I am a big fan of green curry and cats. Nice to meet everyone! I hope you all find something that makes you excited to learn this semester.”

Haru let out a sigh. 

Chapter Text

The second week of class, Haru was settled on the ground outside of his Japanese Literature class. He was at least a half an hour early and decided it was more comfortable outside the room. Haru leaned his head back on the wall and closed his eyes, enjoying the cool stone against his hair. He idly wondered why he had chosen such an early class for his last year. According to Asahi, one of the privileges of being a senior was waking up at noon. Haru snorted, he was busier than ever his last year. Questions about the future and choices he had to make loomed large. The guilt from quitting the swim team still followed him like a hound of hell. Haru couldn’t help but wonder if it had been a good idea at all. He started to feel a sharp pain behind his right eye. Haru closed his eyes again, breathing in the relaxing quiet of the early morning deeply. The cool air, the early morning sun, and faint chirps of birds washed over him like a soothing balm.

Footsteps came quickly down the hall and Haru opened his eyes immediately, straightening against the wall. His professor, Tachibana Makoto, was walking towards him, looking like he was in a hurry. He stopped in front of the classroom door.

“Oh, hello Nanase-kun,” he said quickly, glancing down at Haru. He was rummaging through his pockets for something. “Damn it,” he muttered to himself. Haru closed his eyes again. Whatever was happening did not concern him. He heard Tachibana walk a few feet away.

“Hello? Rei? Ah, I’m sorry about this, but I forgot the keys again.” A tinny voice responded and Tachibana laughed, contrite. “I know, I know, I’m sorry Rei.” The phone beeped to signal the end of the call and Haru heard Tachibana sigh deeply. A few moments later, a heavy thump came from across the hallway. Haru cracked open one eye to look. Tachibana had sat on the floor across from Haru, looking disgruntled. He pulled at the collar of his button-down.

“I don’t know why I scheduled a class this early in the morning,” he said suddenly. His voice echoed in the empty hallway. Haru raised an eyebrow at him. He hadn’t signed up to have a conversation this early in the morning. Tachibana shook his head at his own silliness and smiled at him suddenly. Haru blinked. The weather report this morning hadn’t said anything about a second sunrise. This is why no one trusted weathermen, Haru thought. A strange fluttering started in his rib cage.

“I suppose I was feeling ambitious this New Year’s.”

Haru nodded, noncommittal. Half of his brain was wondering why he was still having this conversation, while the other half was cheerfully pointing out the freckles across the bridge of Tachibana’s nose and the deep dimples on either side of his smile. His sleepy eyes were a bright, inviting green. Both halves of his brain were being extremely unhelpful at the moment.

Haru was saved from answering as another pair of footsteps echoed down the hallway. Tachibana stood up quickly as a stern looking teacher walked toward them.

“Rei,” Tachibana said gratefully. “Thanks for coming.”

“Of course,” Rei said stiffly. He looked at Tachibana from over the top of his glasses. “But please do remember to bring your keys Tachibana-senpai.” Tachibana’s hand went to his hair sheepishly.

“Aha, yeah, I will. Thanks again, Rei.”

Haru took their distraction as a chance to put a hand to his racing heart. He took a deep, steadying breath. Dangerous. Tachibana was dangerous.

Chapter Text

Haru walked around the gallery space. He considered the blank white walls seriously, arms folded across his chest. The opening of his show was two weeks away and Amakata-sensei was begging Haru to finalize the placements of the pieces. He, therefore, stood stone-faced in the middle of a stark white room, trying to figure out how he wanted to hang fifteen paintings. If Haru had had it his way, he would have thumbed quickly through fifteen pictures of his work in front of the University President’s face and called it a day.

Miho’s frazzled voice rang in his ears about a ‘real career’, ‘potential’, and ‘duty’ as she tried to convince her student of the importance of networking in the art world. Haru’s stiff expression softened as he thought about how hard Miho had worked to bring about this show. He owed it her.

Haru dragged the large sheets of matted watercolor paper across the floor to the wall. He spaced them evenly and stepped back, hand on his chin as he considered the order. Haru wasn’t sure how he wanted the story to read. Depending on the placement of two or three key pieces, it told two very different stories. As he was bending over to switch the first painting with the last, he heard the gallery door open. Haru straightened up and looked to the door, annoyed. The gallery staff had promised him at least an hour to himself.

“Oh,” a familiar voice said. “I didn’t know anyone was in here.” Tachibana Makoto was peering through the doorway at Haru. “Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.” After a second, his eyes lit up in recognition. “Nanase-kun, how are you?” Tachibana stepped into the gallery. “I saw an advertisement for the show outside, but it looks like it’s not up yet.” He pointed over his shoulder at the sign in the doorway. Haru pursed his lips. He wasn’t sure how to respond. But since Tachibana was his professor, he supposed he should respond politely.

“Sorry,” he said, voice echoing in the empty room. “I haven’t finished it yet.”

It was worth it to see Tachibana’s mouth make a perfect ‘o’ of surprise. He looked back at the sign, reading it more closely. “Free, a collection by Nanase Haruka.” Tachibana mouthed the words again. “That’s you,” he said suddenly. “Nanase Haruka. Oh my god.” Haru smirked. It was funny, just a little bit.

“Oh my god,” Tachibana said again. “You’re the artist? That’s amazing!” He stepped into the room fully, face full of questions. Haru took a small step back from the sudden wave of excited energy. “Nanase-kun, do you mind if I see?”

“Uh, um, sure,” Haru stuttered, not sure how to respond. Tachibana walked across the room, almost bouncing with eagerness. He stopped short of the first painting. He took it in and his eyes narrowed, studying it.

He looked up at Haru. “This is the story of the selkie and her lover.” Haru blinked, stunned that Tachibana had picked up the story from looking at only one painting. Tachibana looked at the rest of the paintings, excited energy morphing into something more serious. “These are exquisite,” Haru heard him murmur to himself as he walked down the line. At the last painting, Tachibana looked up at Haru. His green eyes were thoughtful, appraising. “These are incredible, Nanase-kun. You captured the selkie’s yearning for her home beautifully.” Tachibana looked down at the last painting again, crouching so he could see it up close. “You completely understand her dilemma of being trapped between her lover and the sea.”

Haru shifted uncomfortably at the change in Tachibana’s demeanor. He suddenly seemed like a professor instead of a puppy accidentally let loose.

“She was forced to stay, how could she be happy,” he finally muttered, unable to stand the heavy silence. Tachibana looked up at him, eyes thoughtful. His expression cleared and he laughed.

“That’s right. Love of something or someone shouldn’t be forced, only freely given,” he said. “A common theme in much of our folklore, including the disasterous consequences of what happens otherwise.” Haru felt uncomfortable. Tachibana’s musings were beginning to hit home. Tachibana’s eyes flicked to Haru’s again. “Every choice comes with a price, Nanase-kun. It’s how the universe keeps balance, whether you’re human or a selkie.” Haru looked away.

Dangerous, Haru’s heart beat again. Dangerous. Tachibana raised all kinds of alarm bells in Haru’s head. But Tachibana wasn’t paying attention to Haru’s inner panic. “You can submit this show instead of a final project, Nanase-kun.” Haru’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “For the class,” Tachibana clarified. He raised his eyebrows. “You know, that thing you come to and sleep in?” Haru bit the inside of his cheek, shocked at the sudden cheek in Tachibana’s tone. Tachibana was looking at him from the corner of his eye, grinning knowingly. Haru’s cheeks flushed. He did fall asleep frequently in his class, but he hadn’t known Tachibana had noticed.

Tachibana laughed, breaking the tension. It filled the room, rich and warm. “It’s okay Nanase-kun, some people can only pay attention when their eyes are closed,” he teased. Haru’s mouth fell open.

“I—umm—I’m sorry,” he said, contrite. “I—

“It’s okay,” Tachibana held up his hand. He sounded more sincere this time. “It happens, but please try to pay more attention next time.” He gestured to the paintings on the floor in front of them. “Anyway, like I was saying. If you’d like to turn this in at the end of the semester, I’d be happy to accept it. Please make sure there is a written explanation as well so I know what material you are connecting it with.”

“I—of course,” Haru said, bowing slightly. “Thank you, sensei.” He suddenly had a lot more respect for this man. Haru had written him off as a pushover, but he wasn’t. He was kind and patient, but firm. Haru had a feeling that if he continued to nod off in class, Tachibana wouldn’t be so forgiving.

Tachibana put his hands in his pockets and smiled at Haru, dimples flashing. “Anyway, thanks for the sneak-preview, Nanase-kun. I appreciate it.” With that, he walked out of the room, leaving Haru feeling like he had been thrown in the a stormy ocean without a life raft.

At the next class, Haru brought the biggest thermos of tea he had. Every time he felt his eyes close, he took a sip, focusing on the warmth of the green tea running down his chest into his belly. It worked well enough to keep his brain awake, but his bladder wasn’t happy. It was worth it, however, when Haru caught Tachibana’s eye. He nodded and gave Haru a small smile of approval. Haru took another sip of tea, this time trying to drown the butterflies that had erupted in his stomach.

Chapter Text

Before he knew it, the opening night of the show arrived. Haru stood at the entrance in his best sweater and slacks, bowing at those who came through. It was only after Miho had threatened to burn everything Haru owned that he had grudgingly worn the ensemble instead of the sweatshirt and jeans he had been planning on. Miho stood opposite him, ushering guests in with a sweet smile that totally belied her demonic nature. As the line thinned, Miho gestured with her head to follow her inside. Haru took a deep breath.

Miho walked across the room confidently. The crowd’s eyes followed her as she effortlessly captured their attention. Haru tried his best to follow slightly behind her, using her star to hide himself. No such luck, however, as Miho grabbed him by the arm and placed him directly in the crosshairs of the crowd.

“Welcome,” Miho said. The bracelets on her wrists jingled delicately as she spoke to the crowd warmly. “I am more than pleased and honored to introduce the work of my student, Nanase Haruka. As the great writer Oscar Wilde once said…” Haru tuned the rest of her speech out. He stood with his arms by his side. He had every word memorized, after hearing Miho practice it almost every day at the studio. Miho’s elbow suddenly knocked into his side.

Haru bowed automatically to the crowd. “Thank you for coming,” he said. “And I hope you enjoy the show,” he added to appease the death glare on the back of his neck. The crowd clapped politely and dispersed. Haru stood next to the titular piece, knowing that he was as much a part of the exhibit as his art was. Sure enough, a reporter from the local paper came up to him almost immediately, requesting a picture next to his piece. Haru exhaled through his nose sharply, bracing himself for the rest of the night.

After the reporter, it was a local art critic. After that, a random student, who Haru was actually happy to talk to, even going so far as walking her through a few paintings. The crown jewel, of course, was the University President, who Miho had been talking to since the start of the show. Once she saw Haru was free, she steered the president to him, eyes wide with unspoken threats. Haru resisted rolling his eyes. He knew what his role was.

“Good evening,” he said, reaching out to shake the man’s hand.

The President nodded at him. “This is very impressive,” he said in a gruff voice. “We have great hopes for you, Nanase-kun.”

Haru bowed. “Thank you, sir. Would you like me to show you around?” Haru’s voice was flat. He spoke perfunctorily about some of his pieces while Miho filled in his unenthusiastic commentary with some of her own. Halfway through, Haru spotted someone new walking through the double doors. His heart sped up automatically. It was Makoto.

He was wearing a charcoal suit jacket with an emerald green sweater underneath. It fit his broad shoulders beautifully and Haru didn’t need to be next to him to know how the sweater would make the gold flecks in his eyes glow. Makoto had his hands in his pockets and was looking at the finished installation with interest. His pushed up his glasses casually as he stopped in front of the first painting. Haru couldn’t look any longer.

He jumped back into the conversation with the President, but he realized with a thudding heart that their course around the gallery would send them careening into Makoto. Haru took a deep breath, preparing himself for the impact.

“Oh, Tachibana-san,” the President said. He held out his hand to shake Makoto’s. Makoto took it cheerfully.

“Nice to see you, Tanaka-san.”

“Enjoying the show?”

Makoto nodded, smiling. “I’m happy to support the work of such talented students.” His eyes shifted to Haru. Haru looked away quickly, unable to keep eye-contact. The President was nodding along.

“Yes, it’s quite an impressive show. We’ve also been very impressed with your work Tachibana-san,” he added with an appraising smile. “Please continue the great work. We’re very pleased to have found you.”

“Ah,” Makoto’s hand went to hair in embarrassment. “Thank you, sir. I’m glad to have the opportunity to do my research here.” Makoto’s smile was wide and genuine. His body was relaxed and he used his hands casually as he spoke with the President and Miho. Haru pursed his lips as he stood silently next to Miho. He supposed this was how he should be networking as well.

“Thank you for your time, sir. I’ll leave you to it.” Makoto shook the President’s hand again. He nodded at Miho. “Congratulations, Nanase-kun,” he said, shaking Haru’s hand. Haru swallowed hard as Makoto’s warm hand clasped his own. Makoto didn’t seem to take offense when Haru refused to make eye contact with him. He strolled down the gallery.

The rest of the night passed quickly. Haru was especially pleased when Rin and Gou came shortly after Makoto.

“Congratulations, Haru,” Gou said excitedly when she reached him. Haru smiled down at her as she threw her arms around him.

“Well, are you going to show us around or what?” Rin demanded behind her. Haru rolled his eyes. He offered his arm to Gou since they were at a "fancy event" and she giggled before looping her arm around his. Rin walked beside them, hands in his pockets. Haru offered him his other arm in case he was feeling left out, but Rin declined vehemently. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught Makoto walking towards the exit. Makoto turned towards him, as if he had sensed Haru’s gaze. He gave Haru the thumbs-up and winked.

“Uh, who was that?” Rin asked, right behind Haru.

“No one,” Haru muttered and walked the opposite direction with Gou.





“So, can we talk about the guy who winked at you?”

“No,” Haru said, eyes firmly fixed on his paper. They were sitting at the back of their sociology class. Rin muttered to him form the corner of his mouth, keeping an eye on Sasabe.

“Come on, Haru, I’m just curious. No big deal.” Haru’s lips became a thin line. No, Rin would make it a big deal. Besides, Haru thought, pushing away the fluttering in his stomach, nothing happened. There was no reason for Rin to ignore the lecture.

“Pay attention,” Haru said.

“Pshh, look who’s talking. Don’t bullshit me, Haru. I’m your best friend. I’ll figure it out.” Rin’s eyebrows waggled at him and Haru held back the urge to smack him with his textbook.

“Let me guess. Secret lover? Obsessed fan? Sugar daddy? Oh my god, he’s your sugar daddy!” Rin looked pleased with his own brilliance. He smirked at him, “Nice.”

Haru’s expression darkened. He was close to standing up and walking out. “He’s my professor, asshole,” he said through clenched teeth.

Rin put up a hand to cover the triumphant laugh he let out. “Woah, dude, that’s crazy. You don’t want to get mixed up in that.”

Haru exhaled sharply. “Rin, nothing happened. He just came to see the show.”

Rin raised his eyebrow. “Don’t fucking lie to me, Nanase. That man was way too fucking hot for you to be telling the truth. But whatever.” He shrugged as Sasabe cleared his throat pointedly. Before the turned back to the front, Rin gave him a look that said: Don’t come crying to me later.

Haru rolled his eyes.

Chapter Text

The next few weeks passed without incident. After Makoto had congratulated him for the successful opening, they had no further contact outside of class. Haru continued to uphold his promise to pay attention and found to his pleasant surprise that it was actually very interesting. Makoto was an engaging speaker who captivated the classes’ attention with his lively expressions and down-to-earth personality. He was always willing to listen and his students rewarded his efforts with genuine attention and engagement. One negative, however, was Makoto’s love of open discussion. Haru mourned the loss of his perfect class, but participated occasionally. Without fail, Makoto would give him a blinding smile every time he raised his hand. Haru, at this point, had been to the university clinic too many times to complain of sudden heart palpitations.

He walked to his favorite spot on campus as he thought about this unexpected development. Situated someways aways from the university was an old, towering, group of maple trees. A single bench sat underneath them. An oasis of calm for Haru, he was always able to find a moment of respite under the leaves. It was too out of the way for many students, so Haru was usually lucky enough to have it to himself.

An important exception to this was the many stray cats of campus that seemed to have adopted Haru. After the initial mistake of bringing cat treats, they realized Haru was a steady and easily manipulated food source. Saba, a small white kitten Haru had found a few months ago in the bushes near the chemistry building, was his favorite. She had taken to Haru immediately. Haru had tried to hide her under his bed in his apartment until his landlord had become suspicious. Haru now made sure to bring her and her friends food whenever he could. The campus cat rescue club was delighted with their new and dedicated member, but Haru was adamant that he would never attend a single meeting (the meetings overlapped with his time at the local pool). His hand closed around the cat treats in his pocket reassuringly, looking forward to spending some time under his favorite trees.

Haru walked across the grass, but was disappointed to see that someone was already sitting under the leaves of the old trees. Haru pursed his lips in annoyance and turned to go, but froze in place as he heard a very familiar voice.

“Aww, hello little guy. Aren’t you the prettiest kitty cat I’ve ever seen?”

Makoto sat cross-legged, hand outstretched towards Saba so the little cat could sniff at his fingers. Saba, the traitor, chirped and nosed at his fingers. After a moment of indecision, she carefully padded her way into Makoto’s lap. Makoto laughed a warm, surprised laugh and gently stroked Saba’s head with one finger. “So pretty,” he said softly.

Haru made an involuntary noise in the back of his throat. He was suddenly overcome with the need to throw up, or maybe, just die.  Makoto looked up, surprised. His green eyes found Haru’s. The ever-ready smile bloomed across his face.

“Nanase-kun,” he said. “How are you?”

Haru didn’t know how to respond. He continued to stand awkwardly, clutching his thermos of tea in one hand and cat food in the other. Makoto spoke again, gently, as if speaking to a skittish colt. “Ah, I’m guessing I’m in your spot, Nanase-kun.” He lifted the cat in his lap gently, moving to place her back on the grass.

“You don’t have to leave,” Haru blurted, panic and embarrassment rising in his chest. Makoto’s hands stilled, holding the sleepy cat in midair. Saba blinked at Haru and stretched her paws. Her claws flashed, as if promising retribution later for Haru disturbing her time with Makoto. “You don’t have to leave,” Haru said again. “It’s okay.” He crouched to a sitting position next to them, making sure to leave some distance between them. Makoto smiled at him again and put Saba down between them as if to share the little cat.

Haru set his tea on the grass and opened the ziplock bag of cat treats. Saba raised her head at once and looked at the bag intently, green eyes wide. Haru huffed a small laugh and placed the fish-shaped treat in the grass in front of Saba’s nose.

“Oh, do you come here often, Nanase-kun?” Makoto inquired, watching the easy way Saba accepted the treat and nuzzled up to Haru’s thigh. Haru nodded, not quite brave enough to look at Makoto directly. “It’s a beautiful place to sit and enjoy the weather,” Makoto continued, looking at the canopy of leaves above them. “Very peaceful.”

Haru wasn’t sure how to reply. He always felt awkward and nervous around Makoto, but it was terrifying to be so close to him so casually. Haru supposed the universe took pleasure in pushing him out of his comfort zone. Haru sat, cross-legged, doing his best to feign relaxation. However, he wasn’t sure how much longer he could sit still. His right hand balled up in the grass tightly, out of sight from Makoto. Haru wished he could quell the flutter of his heart around this man, his professor of all people. But he was at the mercy of the sight of Makoto and Saba playing together.

Saba lost interest quickly with the leaf Makoto was twirling over her head and returned to Haru, butting her head against his thigh, demanding a scratch behind the ears. Haru automatically obliged. Makoto watched with interest.

“Is she yours, Nanase-kun?”

Haru shook his head. “I found her as kitten. I think she was left here by someone.” Haru glanced at Makoto, whose brows were furrowed.

“Hmm, that does happen a lot, unfortunately. But she’s very lucky to have found you,” Makoto continued. “It seems like you took great care of her.” Haru ducked his head, feeling heat in his neck and cheeks. He concentrated on scratching Saba behind the ears.

“Nanase-kun,” Makoto started again. “I don’t know if you know, but I am the advisor of the Cat Rescue Club on campus here and were currently trying to find homes for some of these cats before winter comes.” He looked over at Haru, green eyes appraising. “Would you be interested in adopting her? The club would make sure her vaccinations and everything were up to date, of course.”

“I already tried,” he said, looking at Saba. “My landlord doesn’t accept pets.”

“Oh,” Makoto said, disappointed.

Haru bit his lip, hating the look on Makoto’s face. “She got out and threw up in his office. I couldn’t keep her.” He had also almost lost the apartment. It had taken a lot of to convincing for Yamamoto-san to let him continue to let him live there. Makoto laughed. It filled the air around them.

“Oh no, Nanase-kun! I hope you didn’t get into too much trouble.” He sighed, reaching out to pet Saba’s head. “I guess you tried.” Haru’s body immediately seized at the sudden proximity. He could smell Makoto’s cologne, warm and inviting. Haru closed his eyes to steady himself.

“We’ll just have to keep trying,” Makoto said. He stood up. “If you have free time, please come to the meetings Nanase-kun. We’d love to have you.” He smiled down at Haru. Haru nodded stiffly, still trying to control his racing heart.

Makoto leaned down to say goodbye to Saba. Haru made the stupid decision to look up. He was struck with the full effect of Makoto’s face. His green eyes were looking fondly at the cat sleeping next to Haru’s thigh. Haru had to stop himself from running his finger across the freckles on his cheeks.

“Thank you for spending time with me today, Shiro,” Makoto said, switching to a softer, sweeter voice. He ran his knuckles over the cat’s small head. Saba/Shiro yawned and curled up tighter next to Haru. Makoto laughed. “I see who you like better, you traitor.” He straightened and raised a hand to Haru. “Thank you, Nanase-kun, have a good day.” Makoto turned and ducked under the branches to walk back to campus.

Once out of sight, Haru flopped back in the grass and groaned. He stared at the leaves rustling indifferently above him. Saba walked up Haru’s chest curiously. He picked her up and held her in the air above him. It might look good on his resume if he joined the Cat Rescue Club, right?





“Nanase-kun, do you mind staying for a minute.” Makoto asked after class the next week. Haru hesitated, hands tightening around the strap of his bag, but nodded. He nervously walked up to the front desk. Makoto was gathering up his papers. The line of his shoulders was comfortable and he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose as he put the papers into a folder.

He looked up as Haru stopped in front of him. “Thank you for staying, Nanase-kun. I have a question I want to ask you.” Haru nodded. He tried not to look at the open collar of Makoto’s button-down. “If it’s okay with you, I’d like to adopt Shiro. I try not to play favorites, with my students or cats,” he said smiling at Haru. “But she’s special, and I’d like to give her a home.” Haru stuttered. He didn’t know why Makoto was even asking him. It wasn’t like Saba was his.

“You’re probably wondering why I’m asking,” Makoto continued, as if he had read Haru’s thoughts. “You both seem to love each other very much. It wouldn’t be right without asking you first.”

Blood rushed into Haru’s cheeks and he looked away. “I—of course,” Haru said. There was no way he could say otherwise. Makoto could give her a better home than he could.

“But, her name’s Saba,” he muttered, embarrassed that he had to tell Makoto this. “That’s all she responds to.” Makoto’s face was blank as he processed Haru’s words, then he started laughing. Haru couldn’t help staring at the way his eyes crinkled at the corners.

“Sure, Nanase-kun, that’s fine with me. Thank you so much,” he said, gathering up his things. “It means a lot to me.”  

Haru felt like he was falling deeper into a nameless abyss. He nodded. Makoto picked up his bag and dropped it across his shoulder.

“I’ll see you at the next class, Nanase-kun.”

Haru bit his lip, watching Makoto leave. The thud of his heart was deafening in the empty classroom.

From then on Makoto would give him simple updates such as: “She’s doing great, Nanase-kun!” or “Sorry, Nanase-kun, she chewed your paper. I think she knew it was yours!” Once, he even showed him a picture on his phone, evidently unable to keep it to himself. Saba was sprawled across two other cats, twisting up to meow at the camera. A gray tabby was glaring up at her while the orange cat looked resigned to its fate, Saba’s tail in its face. Makoto laughed as he showed Haru. “She’s a bit of a bully, but Asami and Hinata love her.” His eyes sparkled as he looked at Haru. Haru couldn’t help returning the smile.

“Thank you,” he said. “She looks so happy.” Makoto grinned. He put his phone back into his pocket and walked ahead of Haru into the classroom. Haru hadn’t asked for updates, but Makoto seemed to sense that he wanted them. It was incredible how easily he had deciphered Haru’s personality. It took most people years, or people like Rin, who would just charge in, to understand him. Makoto, it seemed, understood his quiet ways without even trying.

Haru felt that warm bloom of butterflies in his chest again and he resigned himself to his own fate as he followed Makoto into class.

Chapter Text

It was Friday; the end of a long week. Haru walked to Makoto’s class looking forward to the chance to spend some time in the studio after class. He took his usual seat and stretched before setting his thermos on the desk. Haru closed his eyes, trying to catch a few extra moments of sleep before class started. Asahi sat next to Haru. “Asleep again, Haru, figures,” he muttered. Haru’s eyebrow twitched in irritation. The rest of the class chattered lightly. After a few drowsy minutes, Haru opened his eyes. He frowned, something felt wrong. He glanced at the clock. Ah, Makoto was late. By at least ten minutes. Someone at the front of the class said excitedly: “If he doesn’t show up soon, we can all leave!”

“Shut up, Watanabe,” Takahashi said. “Tachibana-sensei would have sent us an email if he was cancelling. I’m sure he’s just running late.”

As he said those words, Makoto walked through the door, slightly out of breath and sweaty.

“I’m so sorry, everyone. The trains were delayed this morning.” He dropped his bag on the table and walked over to the computer. “Shall we get started?”

Haru bit the inside of his lip so hard he thought he tasted blood. Makoto had abandoned his usual sweaters and button-downs for a v-neck and flannel. His black jeans wrapped around his  legs snugly. Haru wondered vaguely why it was still legal to wear jeans that looked that good in Japan. Makoto ran a hand through his hair casually as he flicked through his notes, unaware that Haru’s heart was trying to jump out of his chest.

“Okay,” he said again. “Let’s pick up where we left off. I believe Takahashi-kun made an interesting comment about the characterization of magical creatures?”

“Oh, yeah,” he nervously started. Makoto listened intently as Takahashi-kun elaborated about the connection of the fear of the unknown, but Haru wasn’t paying attention. Makoto looked incredible. Fuck.

It all crashed down on Haru at the same time. Haru looked down at his hands, blinking from the whiplash. It wasn’t that Haru hadn’t realized what the butterflies and nerves meant, he just hadn’t wanted to acknowledge it. Now, it was impossible. The floodgates were open, all because his Japanese Literature Professor had decided to wear a goddamn flannel with the sleeves rolled up. He was fucked. Totally and completely fucked.

Haru continued to stare at Makoto. He probably had a girlfriend. He’s never mentioned a girlfriend, Haru’s mind whispered. He’s still not gay, Haru thought furiously. A straight man doesn’t wear pants that tight, Haru’s mind cackled.

Haru glanced at Makoto again. Huh, maybe his inner demons had a point. Haru’s head pounded. He groaned and let his head thunk onto the desk.

“Is everything alright, Nanase-kun?” Makoto asked. Haru looked up. Makoto was looking at him with mild concern. His usually sleepy green eyes were alert for any signs of trouble. Haru felt himself immediately turn red. Takahashi glared at him from the front of the class.

“Uh, y—yes,” Haru said. Makoto looked like didn’t believe him and Haru shook his head again, hoping he’d drop it.

“Okay,” Makoto said graciously. “If you could please stay with us, Nanase-kun. Class is almost over.”

Haru nodded, sinking low in his seat. Rin’s voice whispered in his ear: I told you so.  

Haru sat in a hallway of the literature building with Rin after class, his laptop open in his lap. All kinds of work was being ignored as Rin and Haru argued back and forth.

"I don't know, Haru, what are you even looking for?" Rin finally asked, throwing his hands in the air.

Haru scowled and looked down. "I don't know," he said. His hand curled into a fist on the floor next to him and he was more frustrated than ever. "I just want him to fuck me, okay?"

The sound of someone choking interrupted whatever Rin was going to say. They both looked up to see Makoto with coffee dribbling out of his mouth and down his shirt. He doubled over, coughing and coughing, red in the face.

Haru scrambled up, running over to Makoto. He put a hand on Makoto’s back, rubbing gentle circles. Rin followed, but looked decidedly less concerned. He was biting his lips, trying not to laugh. Makoto tried to compose himself. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve, eyes watering. When he saw Haru’s concerned expression, he started coughing again.

"Na—Nanase-kun," he said weakly. He put a hand on his chest, touching his sopping wet shirt and burning skin. "I—I seem to have interrupted something." Haru's face turned bright red and he turned away. "Sorry," Makoto said again. He looked like he wanted to say something more, but evidently couldn’t come up with anything.

“Have—have a nice day, Nanase-kun." Makoto looked as embarrassed as Haru felt. His neck and ears were bright red. Rin, the rat bastard, was standing behind Haru, red in the face with the effort of not laughing. As Makoto quickly walked around the corner, Rin burst into raucous laughter. He clutched his middle and laughed so hard, Haru thought he was going to throw up. Haru smacked him as hard as he could.

Chapter Text

Haru’s eyes sparkled as he and Rin entered the community recreational center. The early morning sun filtered through the glass ceiling and lit the lobby with a soft glow. Haru walked quickly to the double doors, excited to swim again. He usually came alone, but a Rin was able to find some time to swim with him. The community pool was nothing compared to the Olympic sized pool that he and Rin were used to, but the water here was happier. It splashed merrily with the kids who came to learn how to swim, the grandmas at exercise classes, and people like Haru, who just wanted to enjoy the water. This week, Rin had extra sessions of practice so they went on a Saturday instead. Unfortunately, it was this innocuous Saturday morning Haru was faced with the truth of how terrible his life really was.

“This is incredible,” Rin said gleefully. “What are the odds?”

Haru had a deep scowl on his face. He stood outside of the glass entrance to the pool, glaring at small group of happy children splashing in the pool. But it wasn’t the children that raised his ire, it was fucking Tachibana Makoto in the center of the whole mess, directing them to line up at the pool edge. Haru folded his arms tightly across his chest.

“I’m not doing this. I’m going back to home,” he said. Forget swimming. There was a nice fountain at the mall he could lounge in.

“Oh no, you don’t,” Rin’s hands came down on Haru’s shoulders. He pushed Haru through the double doors before he could protest. A wave of warm, moist air hit them. The sounds of the children instantly amplified, bouncing around the walls. The chlorine in the air, despite the situation, was comforting to Haru. He took a deep breath.

“Incredible,” Rin said again, voice right in Haru’s ear. “It’s like you can’t get a break. The universe clearly wants you two together.” Haru rolled his eyes. Lucky for him, Makoto seemed to be engrossed with the children. Haru and Rin made their way to other side of the pool. Rin grinned at Haru.

“Wanna race?”

“Warm up first, idiot.”

Rin laughed and started down the lane in his signature butterfly stroke. Haru, not to be outdone, started after him. After a few laps, they both stopped at the end of the lane, breathing slightly harder than normal. Rin pulled himself out of the pool.

“I’ll be back, okay? Just gonna get some water.”

As he walked back to their bags, Haru pushed off the wall into another lap. He let the water guide him, listening to how it flowed around his body. He adjusted his stroke to accommodate the water and felt himself slice seamlessly through it. Haru picked up speed on his turn as he always did and in no time, he reached the starting wall, coming up for air. He pulled off his swim cap and shook the water out of his ears. Rin was crouched at the edge of the pool, watching him with unreadable eyes.

“Beautiful as always, Haru.”

Rin held his hand out to him and Haru took it, pulling himself out of the pool. Rin slapped Haru on the back when he was out. It stung like hell. Haru shot him a look and rubbed his sore skin. They settled on the bench against the wall. Rin passed Haru the water bottle and Haru drank gratefully. He didn’t know how to say it, but he was touched that Rin had taken time out of his busy training schedule to swim with him. He just handed the water bottle back to Rin.

“Hey, hey you, how’d you get so good?”

Haru and Rin looked in front of them, bemused. A small child was standing in front of them, brows furrowed. He had on bright green spongebob swim trunks. He couldn’t be more than six years old. “You,” he said, pointing at Haru. “How’d you swim so good?” The kid almost looked mad. Rin started laughing. Haru felt his eyes widen, he wasn’t sure how to answer. His hand automatically went around his tattoo. It probably wasn’t a good idea for a kid to see that.

“If you think he’s good, you should see me swim,” Rin said confidently, pointing a himself with a thumb, before Haru could answer. The kid crossed his arms over his chest, like he didn’t quite believe Rin.

“Oh my god, I’m so sorry!” Haru wanted to jump right back in the pool as he heard Makoto’s harried voice. “Reo-chan, it’s not polite to interrupt someone’s conversation like that.” Haru reluctantly looked at him to see Makoto raise his eyebrows at Reo. “What do you say?”

“Sorry,” he muttered, looking at the ground. Haru felt bad for the kid. He hadn’t really done anything wrong. But he couldn’t bring himself to say anything. He had been stunned into silence at the unobstructed view of Makoto’s toned bare torso and muscular arms.

Makoto smiled apologetically at Haru and Rin. “Sorry guys, he got away from me.” Rin’s grin was sharp as he waved Makoto off. He kneeled in front of Reo.

“Tell you what, kid. Next time, Haru and I will race and you can tell us who’s better.”

Reo jumped in delight, forgetting the earlier reprimand instantly. “Woah, yeah, that’d be awesome!” he shouted. Rin grinned, now genuinely smiling.

“Thank you…” Makoto trailed off, unsure of what his name was.

“Rin, Matsuoka Rin.” Rin held out a hand to Makoto to shake.

“Thank you, Matsuoka-kun. You’re too kind,” Makoto said gratefully. Haru felt a deep foreboding as Rin and Makoto shook hands. Makoto looked down at Reo. “Okay, Reo-chan, time to get back to your parents.” Reo reached up to hold Makoto’s hand. Makoto held his small hand tightly. Haru wasn’t looking at them, but he felt the expectation in the air. Haru was right.

“Sorry for the interruption, Nanase-kun,” Makoto said. His voice was quiet, soft. “You’re a beautiful swimmer. Quite a sight to see.”

An intense rush of heat swept through Haru at Makoto’s words. He couldn’t help looking at him, hating that he felt so exposed all of a sudden. Makoto’s green eyes were soft.

“Thank you, both,” he said again. He glanced at Reo. “Ready?” Reo nodded and they walked back to the rest of the students.

Rin whistled quietly, watching Makoto walk away. “Damn, look at him.” Rin looked at Haru, disgusted. “Damn it, Haru, why do you always get the good ones? He literally walked right out of a shoujo manga.” Haru only buried his face in his hands. Whatever was visible of his face was as red as Rin’s hair. Haru mumbled something, but it was unintelligible from behind his hands.

“What?” Rin nudged Haru with his foot.

“Shut up, Rin,” Haru said, taking his face out of his hands. He glared at him, hoping it would be enough to make Rin drop the issue.

“Come on, Haru,” Rin said. “Are you telling me—that—doesn’t make you want to marry him?” Rin pointed over his shoulder at the sight of Makoto giving high-fives to the kids before they returned to their parents. His sandy brown hair was tousled carelessly and the water on his chest glinted in the morning sun.

Haru scowled at Rin. “No,” he said flatly, but he couldn’t help sneaking another look at Makoto. He would never, not even on the pain of death, would Haru ever admit his eyes lingered on the muscles of Makoto’s back.

“Come on,” Rin said suddenly. “Let’s go.” He pulled Haru up and led him to the front desk. “Hi,” he smiled at the woman at the front desk. “Do you mind if I see the schedule for the swimming classes for next week.”  

“Sure,” the woman said, handing him a sheet of paper. Rin scanned it intently.

“There it is!” he said excitedly. He pointed at a line that said Children’s Swimming Lessons (Ages 5-8) and underneath that in smaller print, Instructor Tachibana. “Ha, he teaches here every Saturday. I can’t believe I never noticed him.” Rin grinned a dangerous grin. “Well, I’m sorry to say Haru, but I’m only free to swim on Saturdays from—“ he looked at the sheet again, “from 9 to 10 AM.”

Haru was so shocked by Rin’s shameless behavior that his mouth fell open. “Well, come on, Haru. We have to go next week. We promised that kid we’d race.” Haru shut his mouth, lips thinning dangerously. He crossed his arms tightly across his chest and walked out of the swim club.

“Wait, Haru!” Rin cried behind him, sounding like he was holding back laughter. “You forgot your stuff!”

Chapter Text

[The Next Week]

Haru and Rin stretched at the end of the pool. Haru couldn’t believe that this crazy scheme of Rin’s was working. The excited chatter of the kids was coming closer. A prickle of irritation tingled in Haru’s palms.

“Come on, Haru. They’re just kids.” Haru shot Rin a look that plainly said it wasn’t the kids, it was him. Rin rolled his eyes. “Whatever, Haru, I know you’re just scared you’re going to lose.” That was the wrong—or exact right—thing to say. Haru put on his goggles with new energy. Rin grinned and tightened his own goggles with a snap.

Makoto arrived with the kids. He chivied them into a neat line on the floor. “Okay everyone,” he said, voice echoing in the cavernous room. “Nanase-kun and Matsuoka-kun are being very kind by doing this. Please give them your full attention.” The kids clapped excitedly and Reo gave Rin the thumbs up. Rin returned it with his toothy shark-grin.

“They’ll both be doing the front crawl, so watch very carefully. We’ll be trying it ourselves next week.” The kids looked up at Makoto, Haru, and Rin with shining eyes. The room had lapsed into expectant silence. The only sound heard was the water gently lapping at the edge of the pool. Haru felt bad about being so grumpy.

“Alright, Haru,” Rin said stepping onto the starting block. “Get ready to lose.” He wiggled his brows at him. Haru didn’t say anything, he just crouched in ready position.

“Okay,” Makoto’s voice sounded far away as Haru shut out everything but the water in front of him. It rippled reassuringly, whispering to him that everything would be okay. Haru nodded to himself and closed his eyes. “Go!”

Haru launched himself in the pool, slipping into the water effortlessly. His heart ballooned with joy as he felt the cool embrace of the water. Haru took a breath between strokes and continued to flow through the water seamlessly. The turn came fast and Rin’s frenetic energy was washing over him with every stroke. Rin’s voice came through the waves: I’m going to win. I’m going to win. I’m going to win, Haru!

Haru kicked a little harder to give himself an extra burst of speed and then his hand was crashing into the wall and he came up for air, gasping. The sound switched on again and room was filled with excited yelling and shouting. Each voice bounced off the other to create a senseless din. He pulled off his swim cap. Rin and Haru both looked at the announcement board in habit, but it was dark. No glowing red characters to spell out victory or defeat. They both looked at Makoto instead.

“Rin,” Makoto said gesturing to him. “But only by a second. It was so close!” Rin punched the air, yelling in triumph. He immediately lifted himself out of the pool. Haru let out a deep breath, trying to steady his pounding heart. Haru shook the water out of his hair.

“That was amazing, Nanase-kun.” Makoto’s voice above him was soft and awed. Haru looked up to see him holding his hand out to him, smiling with happy green eyes and deep dimples. Haru looked away, heart suddenly beating like he had swam another 100 meters. He grasped Makoto’s hand and he climbed out of the pool. Haru let go as soon as his feet touched the ground, but his hand still felt like it had been burned. He shook it out, discretely flexing his fingers behind his back.

“Amazing as always, Haru,” Rin shook his head fondly. The kids, unable to hold back their excitement any longer, surrounded Haru and Rin, shouting their approval.

“That was amazing!”

“So cool!”

“Yeah! Rin-chan was like bwahh and then Haru-chan was like bam pwahh!” One of the kids kicked and punched the air, giving them a play-by-play. Rin laughed, holding a hand in front of his mouth. Haru couldn’t help smiling at them. He was glad that they had raced for them.

“Rin-chan, why do your teeth look like that?” A small voice asked suddenly. A girl had her hand in the air, looking serious.

“Ha—?” Rin said, surprised.

“Yeah, and who drew all over your arm, Haru-chan? Won’t your mom be mad?” Haru jumped, hiding his left arm behind himself.

“Okay, that’s all we have time for today,” Makoto said suddenly, gently rounding up the kids again. “I can see your parents waiting for you.” The kids looked at Makoto suspiciously, like they knew they was being pushed out.

“I’m not done!” the girl declared.

“Oh, yes you are,” Makoto said, laughing. They walked down the pool towards the entrance. A small group of parents were waiting with coats and jackets. Most of the kids ran towards them, bare feet slapping on the floor and yelling with excitement. Haru watched Makoto start to run after them.

“No, running!” he heard him call.

Haru shook his head fondly. The butterflies were back. Haru looked at Rin.

“Thanks,” he said, “it was fun.” Rin smiled at him, warm and affectionate.

“Of course, Haru, you know I love swimming with you.” Haru nodded, looking back at the water. The morning sunlight rippled across the surface. The water looked open, inviting, like the water Haru had first learned to swim in. Rin sat at the edge of the pool and dipped his legs in the water. Gentle ripples were sent out as he slowly pushed his legs back and forth against the water. Haru sat down next to him.

“I’m sorry,” Haru said suddenly, looking out at the happy water. The excitement from their race still burned in him. “I’m sorry I left.”

Rin looked at him, shocked at his words. “What? Haru, what the hell?” Rin put his hand on Haru’s shoulder. “Listen, I get it. Swimming professionally wasn’t for you. It’s okay. As long as we get to swim together, I’m happy.”

Haru nodded, his throat closing up. The water below him was calm and happy. A stark change to how to was a few months ago. He hadn’t stopped feeling guilty, however, since he quit the swim team. The coach, his teammates, everyone had been furious. But the Olympics, they said. Japan. Honor. These were the chains Haru had been shackled with the past three years. The constant attention, the stress and pressure, ate away at his mind until he didn’t feel anymore joy in the water. The water had felt dead. Haru could still viscerally remember the feeling of choking underneath the weight of it. His hand tightened into a fist.

Rin covered his had with his. “Yeah, it sucks I don’t get to go to the Olympics with my best friend, but I saw what it was doing to you. I couldn’t live with myself if you were still that depressed.” Rin smiled over at him. “Seriously, Haru. Don’t even worry about it.” Rin suddenly put his hand in Haru’s hair and brought him closer until his head was on Rin’s shoulder. “Haru, I love you no matter what, okay?” Haru nodded, turning his face into Rin’s wet skin.  

“Anyway,” Rin said, voice suddenly turning mischevious. “Tachibana-sensei is coming back. Can’t let him see you crying, right?” Haru shot up, startled. He looked around, saw Makoto walking their way, and shoved Rin into the pool. Rin fell with a yell and he came back up laughing. Haru glared at him. Rin pulled himself out of the pool and shook the water out of his eyes.

“Thanks, guys.” Makoto had reached them. He was smiling. “That was amazing. The kids loved it. They can’t stop talking about it.”

Rin waved him away. “No problem,” he said. “We were happy to do it.” He looked at Haru briefly, weighing something. Haru’s eyes widened. Don’t you dare. Don’t you fucking— “I’ve got to go,” he said, biting back a grin. Rin reached out to shake Makoto’s hand. “See you later, Tachibana-sensei.”  Haru glared at him as he backed away, knowing that Rin received the message, down to the last expletive. He just didn’t care.

“Ah, Matsuoka-kun, before you go, if you’re ever interested in teaching the kids, I’d love to have you. And you Nanase-kun.” Makoto nodded at them both. “I’m sure the kids would love to see you both again.

“Oh,” said Rin, looking genuinely surprised. “Yeah, that’d be cool.”

“Perfect,” Makoto said happily. “I’ll email the details to Nanase-kun. He can pass it on to you.” Haru nodded without listening. Like hell he was passing anything on to Rin, not even water if he was dying in the desert. Rin raised his hand in farewell and walked back to the locker rooms, leaving Haru and Makoto alone together.

There was an uncomfortable silence where Haru thought he was going to wiggle right out of his skin. Only the steady drip drip of the water could be heard. His whole body was tense as Makoto stood behind him, unsure. He finally sat down next to Haru. “Nanase-kun, thank you for coming today. I hope it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience.”

Haru shook his head. “No, it was fun. Thank you.” Makoto smiled, sleepy green eyes almost closed. Haru looked away.

“It was amazing to watch,” he continued, shifting on the wet tile. “I’ve seen races, but not like that. You both could qualify for the national team.” Haru bit his lip, throat suddenly tight. The water lapped at his feet, encouraging.

“We did,” he said.

Makoto green eyes were wide as he processed Haru’s words. “Really? No way, that’s amazing!” Haru looked back to the tiles between them. A surge of sadness and guilt filled his chest again. He blinked quickly, trying to distract himself with the light bouncing off the water.

“Nanase-kun?” Makoto’s voice was hesitant, concerned. Haru turned away, refusing to meet his eyes. “You don’t have to tell me,” Makoto said into the silence. “But I’d be happy to listen if you do.”

Haru pursed his lips. He ran his finger over the grout between the tiles. It scraped against his skin. “I quit the team,” he said flatly. “At the end of last term.” Makoto made a noise of understanding. Haru fell into silence and watched the black tiles at the bottom of the pool distort as the water rippled over them. Makoto waited patiently for Haru to continue.

“I couldn’t handle it. It was…too much.” Haru shook his head bitterly. He had turned his back on swimming, on Rin, on the promise they had made as kids. He couldn’t get the image of Rin’s heartbroken face out of his mind. He had turned his back on his best friend, while Rin continued to support him without question. Haru exhaled and jumped into the pool, unable to sit still any longer. Wildly, he hoped could leave his guilty thoughts on the starting block. He made a full lap and surfaced at the end of the lane, breathing hard.

Makoto was still sitting at the edge of the pool, waiting for Haru. His expression was grave. Haru sighed, great. He had totally forgotten that Makoto had been sitting next to him. Makoto held out his hand to him again and Haru grabbed it without thinking, using it to pull himself out of the pool.

“Nanase-kun, it seems like you’ve had this on your shoulders for a long time,” Makoto began when Haru was sitting again. His voice was careful. “Have you spoken about the way you feel with Matsuoka-kun?”

Haru looked away. “He said he didn’t care,” he muttered. But didn’t Makoto get it? It wasn’t about Rin. It was about Haru running away again and again from things that frightened him. He pushed away the things he cared about most. He buried his feelings under apathy and feigned disinterest.

“Why am I such a coward?” The words slipped out of Haru’s mouth before he could stop them. Haru felt tears of grief and embarrassment gather in his eyes. He closed them, hoping he could stop them from falling.

Makoto’s warm hand closed around Haru’s shoulder. Haru flinched at the touch. Makoto dropped his hand to his side.

“Nanase-kun,” Makoto said, lacing his fingers together. “You are expressing something very distressing and difficult to deal with. But you made a decision that you believed was correct for you. There is no shame in recognizing your limits.” Makoto’s face was serious. His brows furrowed and eyes intense. Haru wanted desperately to believe him, but it felt like the easy way out.

Makoto reached out again. This time, Haru let him place his hand on his shoulder. Makoto’s hand was soothing, like it could shield Haru from everything in his head. “Nanase-kun, you said yourself that Rin doesn’t blame you for your choice.” Makoto’s voice was soft over the sound of the water. “Let the people who love you decide how they feel.”

Haru bit his lip, feeling his eyes start to burn. His vision suddenly blurred in front of him. Fuck. He couldn’t cry in front of Makoto. Haru quickly swiped at his eyes with the back of his hand. Makoto’s moved his hand to rest it on top of Haru’s head. His thumb stroked Haru’s hair. “You are a thoughtful, brave, and talented young man, Nanase-kun. You have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Tears started falling and Haru buried his head in his knees. It was hard to hear someone talking to him like this. Haru was so used to his own unkind thoughts rattling around his head. He was grateful for the sense of relief, but was now also mortified that he was crying in front of Makoto. Makoto just continued to stroke his hair gently, the water gently rippling.

After a few moments, Haru took a deep, unsteady breath. He nodded at Makoto and wiped his eyes on his forearm.  “Thanks,” he said. Makoto’s hand was still in his hair. The expression in his green eyes made Haru’s heart tremble. But he didn’t look away. Haru took in the faint smile lines at the corners of the eyes, the stubble on his jaw. His damp hair fell across his forehead and into his eyes. Makoto’s dimples were deep as he smiled at Haru. Haru’s breath caught in his throat.

He wanted to kiss him.

Makoto ruffled Haru’s hair suddenly. He stood up, hands on his hips. “Are you hungry, Nanase-kun? You must be after that ferocious race.”

“Uh—um, sure,” Haru said, taken aback.

“Come on, I’ll treat you.” Makoto winked.

Butterflies suddenly erupted in Haru’s stomach. They expanded into every inch of his body, making home in his brain, heart, and lungs. His fingers and toes tingled. “Um, okay.” He took Makoto’s hand and stood up. The rational part of Haru, the one still paying attention, was yelling at Haru that Makoto was just being nice. He was just a professor helping a student in need. He was a professor. Haru was his student. It meant nothing.

But the majority of Haru, the stupid, hopeful side, followed Makoto out of the swimming club, a menagerie of butterflies fluttering in tow.

Chapter Text

After that, Haru found that the amount of time he spent with Makoto exponentially increased. They’d have lunch occasionally in Makoto’s office. Haru and Rin taught at the swim club with him. He’d find Makoto underneath his trees, chewing on a pen and reading. Little by little, Haru got to know Makoto. His likes and dislikes. The little oddities that made Makoto, Makoto.

Haru made sure he reminded himself periodically that his warm smiles were because Makoto was worried about him as a student. That was hard to remember when Makoto threw his head back and laughed, green eyes happy slits, at a joke about mackerel that Haru had made up. Or the excited grin he got when Haru finally allowed him to look through his sketchbook. Or when Makoto’s hand would accidentally brush his as they handed kids back and forth at the pool and Makoto looked as shocked as he felt.

Haru put a hand to his chest, telling his heart to slow down. Makoto was currently munching on kimchi in front of him, nose deep in a book. He seemed to have sensed Haru’s gaze because he lowered his book, chopsticks held loosely in his other hand.

“Nothing,” Haru said, answering his silent question.

“Look at this, Nanase-kun,” Makoto pointed at a map in his book. “There’s a small seaside town named Iwatobi. There are still some people living there who are passing down local folklore orally. It would be amazing to meet them.”

Haru’s ears perked up at the sound of ‘Iwatobi”. “Really?” he asked. Makoto nodded, taking a bite of his bibimbap. “That’s my hometown. I can show you who to talk to.” Makoto choked on his rice.

“Are you kidding me, Nanase-kun?” Haru suppressed a smile at Makoto’s incredulous face. “Yes, please, that would be amazing. It’d help me so much.”   

Haru sat in Makoto’s office, watching him set up his phone carefully between them. Makoto had wanted Haru to tell the first stories.

“Okay, Nanase-kun, you can begin.”

Haru spoke about the stories he grew up with: fishermen and ocean gods, monsters in the deep, and the magical shrine right up the stairs from his house. These stories were as familiar as the back of hand. Haru’s grandmother told them as she steadily worked the earth in her garden. Rin, however, would always burst through their gate and pull Haru away to swim. Haru’s grandmother only laughed and waved at them with her wrinkled hand.

“I’ll tell you the rest when you get home, Haru-chan.”

Those stories were the only thing left of her. Haru felt a warm wave of love and gratitude for his late grandmother as he told her stories. Makoto sat across from him, occasionally making notes or asking questions. Mostly, he listened, eyes focused solely on Haru.

When Haru finished, he smiled. “Thank you.” He wasn’t sure how to put into words how healing it had been to share this precious part of his grandmother. Makoto, once again, seemed to know what he was trying to say without trying. He nodded.

“That’s why I want to record these stories. They allow us to pass on the love we have for our families and culture. We stay connected to our past, but also make new connections.” He smiled at Haru and Haru took a deep breath. An old litany passed through his mind. Dangerous. This man was dangerous.

That night Haru laid out his biggest sketchbook on the floor and began to work. His hand moved almost automatically, making light outlines of the image he had seen in his head at Makoto’s office.

It was too easy, Haru mused. Haru’s pencil moved across the page in wide strokes, bringing out the shape of a twisting monster in the water.

Makoto made up silly stories for the kids at the swim club.

Haru leaned closer to the paper, moving his pencil back and forth to create shadows.

There were too many snacks and chocolates in his top drawer.

Haru slowly sketched a young boy, kneeling in front of this behemoth.

He startled too easily, holding onto Haru for dear life after a pile of kickboards toppled to the ground behind them.

Small lines surrounded a beating heart, held carefully in the boy’s hands.

Makoto sometimes fell asleep in his office with the door open, face pillowed on his arms and glasses askew for everyone to see.

The heart, torn out while the boy was still living, was being offered in exchange for the man he loved.

It was too easy, Haru thought, sitting back on the balls of his feet. The swirling blues and black already visible in his mind’s eyes. The only other color, blood-red for the sacrifice of the boy. Haru blew his hair out of his eyes and sighed.

It was too easy to fall in love with him.

Chapter Text

Makoto laughed as Haru checked off on his fingers how many fountains he had been forcibly taken out from.

“It’s not my fault,” he shrugged. “They make them too easy to get into.”

“Please don’t tell me you’re still doing that Nanase-kun.” Haru didn’t say anything, his eyes just sparked mischeviously. Makoto shook his head. Haru pulled up his sleeves to start working on the essay in front of him. Makoto had taken points off for incorrect citations, but promised a better grade if he turned in another copy with the corrections.

Haru tsked, annoyed at the tedious task. In his haste to finish the essay, he hadn’t double checked the citation generator and consequently didn’t realize how wildly inaccurate the site was. The silence around them felt strained. The back of Haru’s neck tingled. He looked up from his computer at Makoto, curious. His eyes were dark, unreadable. His eyes were on Haru’s left forearm. Uh oh, Haru thought. He moved to hide it.

Makoto blinked, pulling his eyes away with difficulty. “Sorry, Nanase-kun. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. It’s beautiful.”

“Oh,” Haru said. “Thanks.”

“What is it?”

Haru rolled back his sleeve again. “The ocean,” he said, brushing his fingers against the flowing black lines. It surged and swirled up his forearm; an ocean in the midst of a storm been captured and tethered to Haru’s arm. Haru loved it. He felt at home as soon as he saw it.

“It suits you,” Makoto said, smiling. Haru swallowed hard as he nodded his thanks. His pushed his sleeves up further and continued to type.

Haru hesitated outside of Makoto’s office door. After he had finished his essay, Makoto told him he was ending his office hours early today and to drop it off in his mailbox. Haru had nodded at the time, but now realized he had no idea where Makoto’s mailbox was. He figured, he could at least slip it under his door. Haru bent down to push the essay through the gap under the door, but froze. Makoto’s voice was coming through the door, along with another man’s.

“Fuck, fuck fuck,” Makoto said, sounding panicked. Haru blinked, he didn’t think Makoto knew profanity like that.

“First of all, watch your fucking language, Makoto.” A deeper voice said. Makoto groaned.

“Fuck, Sou. I can’t—What the fuck?” The other man chuckled. His voice was calm and steady.

“Start from the beginning, what happened?”

“I—you know—I don’t know. I don’t know what to do.” Makoto’s voice was muffled, like he had put his hands in his face.

“Oh,” the other man said. He sounded like he had caught on to what Makoto was talking about. Haru remained at the door, feeling overwhelming curiosity and guilt at the same time. The other man sighed.

“I don’t really understand what’s happening, but I know you, Makoto, and you’re a good person. You’ll do the right thing.”

“I just—I feel like I’ve gone crazy. What the fuck is happening, Sou?” Makoto’s voice was pleading, sounding desperate for an answer. The other man remained silent. Rustling came from the other side of the door as one of them shifted. “He’s…special. I feel like I’ve known him my entire life.” Haru’s breath stopped in his chest. Makoto continued, voice sad. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that.”

The other man sighed. “Makoto.” His voice was gentle, but pitying.

Makoto’s laughed, empty and humorless.

“I know, Sousuke. Just—let’s just say I went crazy.”

The silence was deafening. Haru’s chest was tight, but he wasn’t sure why. They hadn’t said anything particularly illuminating, but the pain in Makoto’s voice was obvious. He had never heard Makoto sound so bitter. The little voice in Haru’s head whispered to him all the things he had been dreaming, but he shook it off. There was no way. It could be anyone. A friend, another teacher. It could be anyone. Haru clutched his essay in his hands and walked back down the hallway.

Chapter Text

From then on, Haru was loath to admit it, but he watched Makoto’s reactions closely. His green eyes revealed nothing. Makoto continued to smile at him in the same way: head tilted, green eyes twinkling, and dimples flashing. The only difference Haru could ostensibly point to was the subtle distance that seemed to appear between them. Makoto’s gaze never stayed on him. He somehow was always engrossed in conversation with the parents after swim class. Haru had waited awkwardly the first few times, but now he knew to leave immediately after class. Someone was always sitting in the chair across his during office hours. It wasn’t something that Haru could confidently say Makoto was doing on purpose, but the string of coincidences led to the time they spent together becoming nonexistent. Haru didn’t realize how lonely it would be when he didn’t hear Makoto’s laugh beside him.

Because of that, Haru was shocked when he found himself walking with Makoto through campus a few weeks later. The trees had fully embraced autumn, leaves gold, red, and yellow. The sun filtered through them, playful shadows danced on the path in front of them. Haru shivered in his thin jacket. He curled his hands into fists in his pockets, trying to catch some warmth. The fall air stung Haru’s nose and he sniffed, nose running. He jumped when something soft settled around his shoulders. Makoto had placed his scarf around Haru’s neck.

“Nanase-kun, you really shouldn’t be out in such weather without proper clothing. You’ll get sick,” Makoto fussed. He wrapped the scarf one more time around Haru and tucked the ends in, looking satisfied.

Haru’s heart was beating hard. The warmth from Makoto seeped into his skin immediately, a shock against his cold skin. The scarf smelled like him. Haru looked away.

“I’m not a little kid,” he huffed. But he pulled the scarf around him tighter, trying to hide the smile on his lips.

Makoto laughed. “Sure, sure.” Haru had to stop himself from reaching out to hold his hand.

They continued to walk a comfortable distance from each other. Their shoulders came close to brushing against each other, but one or the other stepped away at the last second. Haru’s heart was in his throat. He grabbed the soft material of the scarf in his hand, holding it tightly. He couldn’t take it anymore. The last few weeks had felt so empty without Makoto’s steady presence. Haru had missed him.

Makoto had his hands in his pockets, a soft smile on his face as he looked at the trees around them. As usual, Makoto was on the same wavelength as Haru. “I missed this,” he said into the fall air, almost absentmindedly. Makoto stopped mid-step, shocked at his own words. Sunlight burst through a break in the trees. It’s radiance spilled across Makoto, illuminating his panicked green eyes. Haru’s hand tightened in the scarf around his neck, he didn’t know why he had ever thought it was hard to read Makoto.

“I love you,” he said. Haru looked at Makoto, steady and serious. Makoto’s eyes were wide.

“I love you,” he said again, feeling the truth and certainty of those words resonate inside of him. His heart was beating so hard it was painful. Whatever happened next didn’t matter. All that mattered was that Haru was looking right into Makoto’s stunning green eyes, committing them to memory, because he knew what was coming next.

“Na—Nanase-kun—Haru.” Makoto’s tongue tripped over his name.

Haru closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. The inside of his eyelids blazed with the same golden light around them. He, ridiculously, felt like laughing. That was the first time Makoto had said his name. The wind played with the leaves at their feet, rustling them along the path they had stopped walking on.

“Makoto,” Haru said simply, because he wanted to say it, before he couldn’t.

“Haru—I—“ Makoto’s voice caught in his throat. He cleared it with difficulty. “Haru, I can’t.” His shoulders were hunched and the light had left him. “Haru, I’m your teacher.” Makoto’s voice was so quiet, it was almost lost in the wind. “It’s not right.”

Haru looked at the side of Makoto’s face sadly. Makoto wasn’t even looking at him. But Haru had known all along what the answer would be. He had to stop himself doubling over with the pain of it.

“You’re still in school,” Makoto continued. “There’s so much more out in the world. You’ll graduate and find someone else, someone better suited for you.”

Tears began to gather in Haru’s eyes. He looked up at the branches of the trees arching over them, trying to keep them from falling. “You’re wrong,” was all he said. “I won’t find anyone else.”

“Haru.” Makoto’s voice sounded broken. He buried his face in his hands.

“It’s fine,” Haru said. He unwound the scarf from his neck and handed it back to Makoto. “I didn’t expect any different.”

Haru turned. He took one step, then another, until he was running. The wind howled in his ears. It stung his face and made his eyes water. The tears he had tried to hold back were falling down his cheeks. He didn’t look back.

Chapter Text

[Four Years Later]

Haru had his chin in his hands, looking out at the coffee shop around him. His manager had said they were meeting here at 3PM, but it was already 3:15. Haru looked at his watch and considered buying himself another tea if he was going to be waiting much longer. Irihata-san had wanted Haru to meet a new author he had found, in case he was interested in working with him.

“Ami-san originally wanted to work with him, but I think your style would be a much better fit. He’s finishing a book on folklore, which I know you enjoy, Nanase-san.”

Haru had shrugged. He had only skimmed the email. Irihata had a good sense for what Haru liked and Haru trusted his judgement. Haru looked around again, scanning the room for Irihata’s habitually anxious face. Instead, his body froze as if someone had shoved him outside into the winter snow completely naked.

At coffee shop entrance, Makoto was holding open the door for Irihata. He was smiling and laughing as Irihata tried to insist on him going first out of politeness. The head tilt, his warm laugh, the flash of dimples as Makoto politely, but firmly ushered Irihata through the doors. It was all sickeningly familiar to Haru. In that moment, he was twenty-one, heart beating hopefully next to the man he loved, and feeling everything shatter all over again.

This couldn’t be the author Irihata wanted him to meet. Haru wanted to smack himself. Why hadn’t he read through the email throughly? His eyes darted desperately around the room. The only exit was ahead of him. Maybe there was a window in the bathroom he could crawl through?

But it was too late.

“Nanase-san,” Irihata’s excited voice called to him from above the din of the coffee shop. Makoto followed behind him, looking almost the same as the last time Haru saw him. There was more stubble lining his jaw, but nothing else had changed. He still looked like he had walked off the pages of Vogue Italia. He wore a tailored charcoal grey pea coat with a crisp white button-down, pressed to perfection. The dark grey slacks fit his legs like a dream. He wore boots instead of dress shoes. Haru felt like a slob in comparison. Wasn’t he supposed to look stunning when he met an a long-lost lover? To make them regret their decision? Haru fiddled with the sleeves of his hoodie.

But this was the man who hadn’t even looked at him that last week of class, who skipped over his presence as if he was an aberration of space. Haru felt sick.

He watched in mute silence as they came up to the table. Irihata led, oblivious to the sudden storm of emotions that surrounded them. They came to a stop next to the table. Haru stayed firmly seated. After a moment of strained silence, Makoto spoke.

“Hello, Haru.” Makoto’s voice was rough. He managed to fit a universe of unsaid things into his name alone. Haru bit the inside of his cheek in an attempt to keep his face neutral. He looked up at Makoto, hoping he looked indifferent, instead of broken and raw. Makoto’s cologne, the same one he wore four years ago, gently filled the air around them.

“How are you?” he asked softly. Makoto’s green eyes had always been bright and warm; they had promised peaceful days and new life unfurling into the sun. Now, they were dark behind his glasses, as if he hadn’t seen spring in seasons either. Haru’s throat closed. His chair clattered behind him as he stood up.

He walked out of the coffee shop, ignoring Irihata’s surprised exclamation. He could feel the stares of the other customers, but Haru was never one to care about what other people thought. His breath came in painful gasps. The ice-cold winter air burned his lungs. He was only halfway down the street before he heard Makoto calling to him.

“Haru, wait!” Makoto sounded out of breath. Haru jerked to a stop, hating his treacherous body for still craving the sound of that voice. “Haru, please, don’t leave.”

Haru’s lips thinned into a dangerous line. He turned around, facing Makoto. “Don’t, Tachibana-sensei,” Haru spit out Makoto’s last name like it was poison. He felt vicious satisfaction as Makoto took a step back at the anger in his voice. “You can’t—don’t you fucking—“ Haru’s heart was in his throat. He turned away again, unable to say anything more. He started walking, ready to leave Makoto behind for good this time.

“Haru, please,” Makoto begged, voice pained. “Haru, listen to me, I love you.”

Everything stopped. Haru’s breath rose in front of him in white curls. The winter air ate at this bare hands and throat. Warm hands suddenly cradled his face. Haru’s brain had completely stopped working.

“Haru, I’m so sorry.” Makoto was so, so close, Haru felt his breath on this hair, the warmth from his hands burned his cheeks like fire. In none of the universes did Haru imagine this. “I didn’t mean for it to turn out like this,” Makoto said, voice quietly anguished. “I—I’m sorry.” He laughed, humorless. “Fuck, It wasn’t supposed to go like this. I totally panicked.” Makoto dropped his forehead to Haru’s.

Haru kicked himself for thinking Makoto was beautiful before. It was an easy mistake to make because he hadn’t seen this: Makoto’s eyes closed, expression open and vulnerable, trying to tell Haru he loved him. Haru reached between their faces, utterly captivated, to touch one of his freckles that the winter sun illuminated like stars. Makoto opened his eyes at his touch, hesitant.

He brushed his thumbs over Haru’s cheekbones, expression more serious. “Haru, I’m sorry, I didn’t know what to do that day. You were my student and so young. And I didn’t want to lead you down the wrong path. You deserved to grow up, make your own choices, without my influence.”

Haru was already shaking his head before Makoto had finished. It was never a question. Ever since Makoto had smiled at him in the hallway that day, Haru had known. No matter how many lives he lived, it would always be Makoto.

Makoto’s fingers tightened around Haru’s face. “I wanted to tell you that I love you too,” Makoto said. “I missed you so much, Haru,” he whispered. He touched his forehead to Haru’s again, closing his eyes. Haru’s heart felt like it was breaking all over again.

He grabbed Makoto’s by the back of his neck and pulled him down, smashing their lips together. Makoto was only surprised for a second before he wrapped his arms around Haru and pulled him flush to his body. Haru gasped, but kissed him back just as enthusiastically. Their lips moved together effortlessly, as if they’d already been doing it for lifetimes. After a few moments, they broke apart, breathing hard. Makoto was smiling so wide, it threatened to split his face in two. Haru tried to look away, embarrassed, but Makoto guided Haru’s lips back to his, kissing him again slowly.

“I should have done that a long time ago,” Makoto said, smiling down at him. Haru raised his eyebrow as if to say Well, why didn’t you? and Makoto laughed. “I was trying to be responsible, Haru. Be nice.” Haru buried his face in Makoto’s chest to hide his smile. Makoto gathered him closer and he pressed a kiss to his forehead.

“Let’s get back inside,” he said. “You ran away without your jacket.”

Haru rolled his eyes at Makoto’s immediate snap back to being motherly, but took the hand Makoto was extending. As he laced his fingers with Makoto’s, Makoto looked at him from the corner of his eye.

“Did anyone ever tell you what a handful you are, Haru?”

Haru let go of Makoto’s hand immediately and ran into the cafe alone, Makoto’s warm laugh ringing behind him.