Haru can hear his mother call him but he pretends he hasn’t and continues stacking the blue Lego bricks with stubborn focus; his new train set needs a bridge to pass under. Makoto sits across from him, clutching a green train buggy to his chest, and says softly and reluctantly, “Haru-chan, I think Auntie is calling for me. My mom must be ready to leave.”
Haru ignores him and holds his hand out. Makoto wordlessly places another blue brick on his small palm. He is almost finished. “Drop the ‘chan’,” he mumbles instead. He hears Makoto giggle over another call from his mother. “Haruka!” He senses Makoto fidget. Haru knows he won’t leave until he says so. “Haru-chan…”
“Come back tomorrow,” Haru says, looking at his bridge. He will have to rebuild it, there isn’t enough blue bricks. Makoto stands up and dusts off his shorts. “Of course, Haru-chan!” he chirps, smiling brilliantly, holding a hand out to help him up.
It is Haru’s 8th birthday. Makoto beams when Haru hands him his invitation, gazing at it in wonder, his half of the popsicle melting in his other hand, as if he can’t believe he has been invited. “I’ll be there, Haru-chan. It will be fun.” Makoto smiles at the invitation. His is the only one Haru has drawn by hand. “Haru is so good at drawing.”
“It’s melting,” Haru says, glancing at the blue beads of icy juice trailing down Makoto’s fingers. Makoto cries in surprise and attacks the dripping corner of the popsicle. He holds the card away from his body at a ridiculous distance.
On the day itself, Haru has to politely restrain his discomfort at being surrounded by guests. It is a flurry of sugar fuelled laughter and an endless stream of ‘happy birthday Haru-chan’. He wishes for Makoto to arrive already. Keiko, a girl from his class, blushes as she hands him a slim, pink wrapped present. His thank you is cut short by a whiff of perfume and feeling soft curls against his cheek as she swoops to kiss him on the cheek. She rushes away just as swiftly. He is saved by the sight of Makoto, zig zagging his way through the guests.
“You’re late,” Haru pouts. “I already cut the cake.” Makoto’s eyes fall, his shoulders drooping.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to but mom-” Haru feels himself unwind. Everyone else was becoming tiresome. Haru sighs at the look of devastation on Makoto’s face and nudges him with his elbow, already regretting his little joke. “I was kidding. Stop looking like that. It’s my birthday.” Makoto smiles and Haru feels the world settle back.
He looks over the flickering candle flames to Makoto cheering across from him and wishes for his parent’s present to be a pool as he blows them out. He draws all the breath from his lungs. His grandma says birthday wishes only come true if all the candles extinguish on the first try.
The present from his parents is indeed a small blue pool. It has a water slide with sides shaped into dolphins. He can’t wait to- “it’s amazing, Haru chan!” Makoto finishes his thought, “I bet you can’t wait to jump in.”
Haru stands by the pool and looks it over, excited. “Did you have fun today?” Makoto asks. Haru hums in reply. “Keiko kissed me.” when he doesn’t hear a response, he glances up. Makoto stands dumbstruck, his mouth working soundlessly. “It’s no big deal,” Haru explains. Makoto nods slowly, wringing his hands. “Was it nice?”
Haru shrugs, wondering why Makoto is still talking about it when they have better things to do. Makoto’s gaze skitters away as Haru walks up to him, grabbing his shoulders and kisses him on the cheek as Keiko had. His skin is smooth and warm and Makoto smells like oranges. “See? No big deal. Now do you want to see my pool or not?”
Haru is 12 and sitting patiently on the chair outside their school principal’s office, waiting a little nervously for the arrival of his mother. A teary eyed Makoto steals glances at the band- aid on the cut on Haru’s right cheekbone. His green eyes are magnified, glistening gems through his tears. His chin quivers. Haru catches his glance and glares at him, softly but insistently. Stop crying.
“Sorry.” Makoto rubs his eyes furiously, sensing Haru’s displeasure, and presses his hands between his thighs. Haru notes the shiny, wet trail on his knuckles and the damp thickness of his voice. “You shouldn’t have done it, Haru-chan. Those boys were-”
“They made fun of Makoto,” Haru says firmly. His hands clench over his knees, remembering the jeering boys who towered over Haru as he stood shielding Makoto behind him, wishing himself taller and stronger. He had launched himself at the one closest to him, Makoto’s warning cry in his ears, getting the bully squarely in the chest with his shoulder and knocking him down on the ground. His heart had continued to thud its way out of his chest as he was pried off the boy by a teacher, his breath ragged, dimly aware of the gaggle of onlookers the commotion had attracted standing around them in a broken circle. Even now, Haru’s head buzzes from the leftover adrenaline and tepid fear.
“You’ll get in trouble, Haru-chan. Because of me,” Makoto whispers sadly. “You shouldn’t have-”
“Makoto!” Haru snaps. Makoto jerks in surprise at the loud tone and shrinks. Haru sighs in frustration. He wants to say that Makoto is his only friend. And that’s what friends do. Protect each other. He settles instead with another warning to stop using ‘chan’ with his name.
Haru is 13 when his parents tell him Makoto is imaginary. It is amid the sound of rain outside and with the roar of the ocean in his ears. The voice of his mother comes from a far shore, drowned by the crashing waves. He whispers, weakly, unbelievably, “Makoto is always with me. He’s here. All the time.” He has never needed friends because he had Makoto. And Makoto is enough.
“It was fine when you were young, Haruka. But you have to grow up now.” The grip of his mother’s hands on his arms turns from reassuring to cautious. “You can’t get into fights for someone who doesn’t exist.”
“Haru-chan, what’s wrong?” Makoto’s green eyes encompass his vision and he recoils from the deep concern in them.
“Don’t touch me,” he barks harshly, flinching from his approaching hand. He tells himself the deep flash of hurt in Makoto’s green eyes doesn’t matter because he isn’t real.
Makoto follows him in remorseful silence as Haru continues to ignore him. He’s angry and under that anger simmers hurt and betrayal. For making a fool out of him. For being his friend, his only friend and not being real. He tries to think of a time when they weren’t together, tagging each other like light and shadow, and it frightens him to come up empty.
“You’re mad at me, Haru-chan.”
“Stop calling me-” he replies automatically and corrects himself. “Leave me alone, Makoto.”
“Will you tell me what’s wrong? What did I do?” The setting sun turns the ocean a burning orange. Haru closes his eyes against it, missing the deep, cool blue. He feels like he has swallowed a ball of thorns which refuses to slip past this constricting throat.
“Haru, tell me what’s wrong!” Makoto’s voice is reedy and apologetic. And annoying. It is annoying when Makoto cries because it feels so wrong and misplaced. Fingers grabs his shirt sleeve and Haru wrenches it away. And himself away from the irrepressible need to make his tears stop just stop.
“Go away, Makoto.” He feels deceived and robbed. A stupid image of a popsicle keeps flashing in his mind. A sliver of panic runs through him. Was he to ignore Makoto forever as he follows him around? Was this an illness?
“Where would I go?! Where could I go without Haru?!”
Birthday parties, school, holidays, festivals, sleepovers, swimming, beaches, camping, rescuing cats, homework sessions, good mornings, goodnights, two step to his left because the ocean was always on Haru’s right. Smiling because it’s okay, everything is okay Haru-chan.
His fear is too large for his skin. It threatens to rend and spill all over the sandy shore.
Haru is vaguely aware of his body burning with fever and shimmering green eyes hovering over him. Cool water drips from his forehead and tastes of salt on his lips. He hears pleas of Haruka, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry which slowly turn into the gentle lilt of Haru-chan. He cries and shakes in delirium.
“Oh god, Shuuji, do something! He’s burning up!”
A smaller hand settles in his feverish fingers and soft lips kiss his swollen eyes. “You’re not real,” he mutters. “Not real.” Green eyes so very close to his own. The small hand stays in his throughout his fever. Haru guesses imaginary friends do not catch fever.
His mother feels guilty and inconsolably apologetic. “It’s okay, mom. I can’t even see him anymore,” Haru speaks into her trembling, warm embrace. His glance darts away from the corner of his room where Makoto stands, fingers twisting the hem of his t shirt, glistening eyes sad enough to weep oceans.
He hasn’t seen Makoto since the time he caught fever. At the swimming club, Haru swims relentlessly and with a ferocity unusual for him. In the feel of water rushing past him, dividing over him and merging together seamlessly at the end of his angled feet, he can be free of his mind. Makoto’s hand isn’t there as he heaves himself out and tells himself it’ll soon stop feeling strange.
A small blonde boy bounds up to him and asks if he is okay. “I’ve never seen you swim like that, Haru-chan,” he says, bright eyes peer into him in concern which is painfully familiar. Haru startles. He has never talked to anyone from the club before, and the novelty of it catches him off guard. Haru ends up walking him to the station. Nagisa does most of the talking while Haru remains silent. Nagisa doesn’t seem to mind that. Haru feels his chest unclench and his breath loosen. He had started hating the walks back home. It was too quiet.
Rin enters his life like a tempest and Haru is caught in the maelstrom of his fiery, challenging eyes, sharp grin and energy that blazes like lightning in a thunderstorm. It is exhilarating and contagious. He’s passionate and driven, something Haru recognizes but rarely felt until Rin came along. Haru hardly catches his breath. Even Nagisa is entranced by him.
Rin tries to draw him towards the exhilaration of competitive swimming but Haru resists. Swimming is pure, he doesn’t want to taint it with the concept of winning or losing. He doesn’t understand Rin’s fierce opposition to this. “You’ve got talent, Nanase, and you’re wasting it in your little pool,” Rin says, somewhat disdainfully.
He’s fine with their friendly races until they don’t seem that friendly anymore. Rin is crying and shouting in anger. Haru’s mind hasn’t yet caught up to reality so he can only watch in passive horror as, not unlike a tempest, Rin leaves destruction in his wake. Haru parts with another thing he loves.
His parents are worried. They tell him about his father’s posting to Tokyo and his mother transferring there. “You seem so listless, son. You’ve stopped swimming and you loved it. Maybe a change of place will do you good. Think about it.”
“Growing up is difficult, Haruka. It’s okay to feel scared,” his school counsellor says in one of their sessions. What did that even mean? She asks questions about every little thing; about school, his friends, his hobbies and how do you feel, Haruka? He isn’t angry at his parents for urging him to do this. He dislikes it but with the worry on their faces… well, children have to protect their parents.
What he can’t and won’t express to his counsellor is that he feels a loud vacuum by his side. It follows him like a shadow. Sometimes it’s so deafening he has to shout into a pillow or hold his breath under water in his tub until his lungs shout to stifle it. It has a distinct shape but Haru cannot, absolutely cannot, look at it long enough to figure out what it is. He’s afraid what he thinks it is might be true.
“Try to make friends at school. Hang out,” she smiles. “You know, normal stuff 14 years old do. Have fun.”
Normal stuff. Grow up. He’s gotten rid of his imaginary friend and it stabs him in the chest every day but he still manages to get up in the morning. A part of him is going numb. Growing up didn’t seem like fun so far.
Haru decides to stay in Iwatobi. It could be lonely. He has no friends at school- he could if he tried but it doesn’t seem worth it- and he’s fallen out of contact with Nagisa since he left the swim club. But he cannot bear anymore leaving. A fraction more would hollow him out. Iwatobi is familiar, the ocean is a constant reassurance. This is home.
His father agrees. His mother requires a little persuasion. She acquiesces on the condition that his grandmother move here to stay with him. Haru is more than fine with that.
Haru loves his grandmother. She has starlight hair and smells of jasmine. The usually pernickety Haru doesn’t mind being hugged by her and even hugs her back. When he was a child, she used to tell him bedtime stories and show him books about distant oceans- how some were coloured deeper than sapphires (like your eyes, Haru-chan) and others were vivid green. Now Haru takes it on himself to read to her as she fills the garden of his house with fecund grass and sweet smelling flowers. His walk home now detours to a library.
She even lets him eat mackerel, as long as he maintains a balanced diet. She is warmth and her presence is a balm. She believes in dream catchers and that stepping on the cloth border of a tatami mat brings bad luck.
At night, the sky and the earth is aglow with stars and fireflies. His grandmother traces constellations with her thin fingers. A shooting star lights a silver path across the inky darkness.
“Make a wish, Haruka,” his grandmother whispers, “one must never waste a wish”. Haru half-hears her as he falls asleep with his head on her lap.
It’s the beginning of autumn with the water just about cool enough to be refreshing. Haru’s grandmother catches his wistful glances at the ocean and plans a picnic. “Last swim of the season, Haruka.” she laughs as Haru hugs her in gratitude. He draws away warily as her laugh turns into distressing coughs. “Maybe we should stay in, grandma.” She swats his back playfully. “Nonsense! I’ve still got strength in these bones.”
Haru glides in the ocean, picking up corals and shells for her as she watches him from her chair on the shore. He collapses by her feet, wrung out pleasantly from the exertion. She brushes his fringe away. “My beautiful boy is so gifted. It makes me happy.” Haru kisses her cheek and turns away to open the picnic basket to hide his burning eyes. It has been a while since anyone made him feel good about his talent.
Haru’s world collapses a third time with a phone call he makes to his parents in Tokyo. “Grandma is sick. Please come home.”
He is surprised he can even feel with his fingers anymore. The rest of him is half-asleep, half-dazed. He knew she was old but he didn’t know she was old. She passes away in her sleep in the hospital, with her daughter’s hand in her frail ones. At that moment, Haru was swimming desperately in the cold ocean, his muscles and eyes burning. His tears became part of the one thing that has never left him.
At the funeral, he thinks he should cry. He feels miserable enough to. As he meets his relatives dispassionately and watches his mother sob, he thinks it might be his body’s last ditch attempt from breaking down completely. He feels exhausted and strung tense with silver fish line. His parents implore him to continue high school in Tokyo. They leave two months after the funeral begrudgingly on Haru’s insistence. I’ll be fine, mom. Really.
His house is quiet and smells of jasmine. His shadow vacuum swells. His head weighs down way with murky, opaque fog. Nights bleed into days and sunlight burns into darkness. He watches a shooting star cut through the sky and hears his grandmother voice. One must never waste a wish.
The emptiness and the feeling of emptiness inside scratches the breath out of him. Icy panic grips him. What can he wish for? It wouldn’t bring his grandmother back. Haru tumbles onto his knees on the floor, stunned with a wave of light headedness. He gasps for breath erratically, reminding herself that there would be no one to pick him up now. There won’t be a hand-
“Haru?” Caught by his name, Haru follows the voice inside the darkened room and lets out a whimper at the presence. He slaps a hand over his mouth, wild eyed, smothering strangled sounds. Haru feels the world tilt, breathless. He stumbles back and Makoto runs to him, grasping his arms. Haru squeezes his eyes against everything because he has had enough, his whole body taut to restrain the tremors rippling through him. He presses his lips together, nostrils flaring in deep, stuttering inhales. Makoto cries a litany of his name, louder and more panicked each time. “Haru chan! Oh god! Look at me, Haru!”
Haru clings to Makoto with the unyielding and desperate hold of a drowning man. He looks up to find sweetly, achingly familiar green eyes, glistening with familiar easily shed tears, and a familiar set of sloping eyebrows. “You’re back,” Haru whispers in a voice splintering with tumultuous emotions too fast flowing to be recognized. His fingers burrow into Makoto’s back. Makoto’s arms are strong and anchoring around his trembling form, pulling him in deeper.
“Where did you send me, Haru?! Why did you let me go? I couldn’t find you. I couldn’t- I missed you so much, Haru. I missed you-” Makoto’s breath hitches and he buries his hot face into Haru’s neck, wetting it with unabashed tears, murmuring Haru’s name.
Haru cries for the first time since the funeral, damp patches of Makoto’s shirt pressed against his eyes growing in size. He does it quietly, unlike Makoto’s hiccupping gasping breaths. He closes his eyes against the sting, the pain in his chest and throat lulling to a soft throb with Makoto’s fingers carding through his hair.
Somewhere between the dip of Makoto’s neck and a vagabond thought of a shooting star, Haru falls asleep. He dreams he’s floating in a cove with green waters, jasmine laden boughs dipping languidly into its pristine surface, causing silver ripples.
“Makoto, do you know you’re… you…”
Makoto has the hem of his shirt in his fingers, as if Haru will drift away in his sleep. Haru is relieved to be facing the other way. The silence grows longer and deeper, like grass taking root. Haru nearly dozes off with Makoto’s scent of oranges soaking the air when Makoto mumbles softly, “I know.”
Haru doesn’t know what to say. Wonders if anything could make it better. Was it dark where Makoto went the years Haru sent him away?
“I’m sorry.” It was all he could say with utter sincerity. “I’m sorry, Makoto.” Twice to lay emphasis. “sorry.” three times because Makoto is afraid of the dark. “So-”
Hands Haru remembers to be distinctly smaller pull him back flush against Makoto. “Its okay, Haru.” He felt the irrepressible urge to cry again, “It’s okay if it’s you.”
They fit together like jigsaw pieces falling neatly into place. Haru runs his tongue over his lips and tastes salt. “It’s not okay.”
“Then I’ll keep saying it until it is.”
Makoto has changed. He isn’t sure if entering high school somehow gave him a different set of eyes but Makoto used to be small with apple round cheeks and thin arms. He isn’t used to Makoto’s shadow being taller than his, to have to crane his neck up to look at him. His shoulders are filling out, arms thickening, his face is a set of straight and firm lines. It begins to irritate him a little. They watch a horror movie one night and Makoto shrinks behind him like he used to before he began shooting up like a tree. Haru finds it only fair as compensation.
Makoto pulls him out of the bath- Haru’s heart skips several beats and his head and stomach is light with something akin to pure joy and the feeling of rightness because how long has it been since this happened how long- and Haru is surprised to see his hand being engulfed by Makoto’s. Strangely, Haru doesn’t mind that. Makoto’s grip is warm and anchoring.
Even when they’re alone, Makoto blushes when his voice cracks, words veering into erratic pitches. Haru thinks it’s hardly anything to be embarrassed about, it’s only natural. He doesn’t comment and waits for Makoto to continue. It helps that 80% of their conversations are non-verbal and almost telepathic.
In public, Makoto leans close- and over- since his frame is annoyingly wider, and whispers in his ear when he has something to say. Haru becomes intimate with his voice. He can read the inflection of emotions in his words like braille. He can count the types of laughters and chuckles and numerous other soft noises which dot his speech like wild flowers. Whenever he sees Makoto’s mouth open from the corner of his eye, his shoulders move to lean over, Haru finds himself covering the distance, his burning ears tuning out everything except Makoto’s honey sweet voice like a radio. Makoto listens with clear attention to the people around Haru talk as if he were a part of their conversation. Haru wonders if Makoto wishes he could. He can’t bear to look at Makoto then, guilt washing over him.
“You know they can’t hear you, right?” Haru mutters irritably when a man jostles Makoto as he was leaning towards him- probably to comment over the cat across the street pawing at a dandelion- making his lips and nose crash into Haru’s ear, filling it like a cup with his warm breath. Haru scratches his ear with more exasperation than he really feels. Haru believes his Makoto-reading to be 1000% accurate so he is a bit puzzled at the contrasting translation of Makoto’s answering abashed smile and clearly unabashed glinting eyes.
Makoto’s eyes haven’t changed.
It’s the summer vacations and Haru’s parents have called him to visit them. He is laying on his bed, watching Makoto pack his bags for him. “You’re coming with me.”
“But Haru it’s your parents. You should spend time with them on your own and-” Haru glares at him as Makoto continues to speak nonsense. “You’re going,” he repeats. Makoto nervously wrings a t-shirt between his hands. His frowning brow begins to concern Haru. “Makoto.”
He looks at Haru reluctantly from under his lashes at his name. It throws him back to the time when he was burning with fever, burning with anger. Telling his mother he couldn’t see Makoto when he stood (as he did now) in the corner of his room. Haru holds his gaze and says, “I won’t let them take you away again.”
He doesn’t like the city. Too crowded, too noisy, the air laden with exhaust and smog. The city is redeemed in his eyes only by a huge pool at a sports complex. He slips from his clothes at lightning speed, one of his natural talents, and dashes towards and into it. Water is the same everywhere and forever.
He raises his head above the water surface till his eyes. Makoto’s feet are kicking in the water, trouser legs rolled up, as he looks at him with what Haru can only describe- with heat flooding his cheeks- as fondness. Haru stoically, silently looks at him until Makoto chuckles lightly. “Haru, not everyone walks around with their swimsuit on.” Haru kicks his legs noisily underwater, still pinning him with his gaze. “Haru, I can’t!”
With a pout Makoto can’t see, Haru ducks underwater, diving down to the deep end. He swims right under where Makoto is sitting, a sly smile tugging at the corners of his clasped lips. He sees the underside of Makoto’s feet kicking in short bubbly arcs. Above him, Makoto’s voice is edging towards panic. “Haru, come up. You’ve been under too long.”
Haru is beginning to feel the burn in his oxygen-deprived lungs. “Haru!” with a kick, he lunges up, mouth opening for air as he breaks the surface, and finds Makoto’s face unexpectedly close. He must’ve been peering down. Too close. Their foreheads scrape together. Suddenly everything, everything, is immensely and deeply green. Haru’s senses seem unusually perceptive and sharp. In the brief seconds between him wrapping his arms around Makoto’s neck to pull him down and the moment they break the water surface in a cacophony of bubbles and splashing water, he notices keenly the light salmon tone of Makoto’s open lips, the blue reflecting in his wide eyes, the sound of Makoto’s surprised exhale, the unexpected warmth of it that tingles Haru’s lips. But mostly he notices how fast his heart is beating, a loud, wild beat, thudding in his ears, in his bones. The fact that Makoto hasn’t blinked, hasn’t looked away or drawn back- pink and soft they would be so soft- and that their legs are tangling nearly distracts Haru from the fact that Makoto hadn’t inhaled before diving in. It was purely out of concern, Haru tells his erratic heartbeat later in an effort to calm the heck down, that he covered Makoto’s mouth with his and exhaled.
Haru is flipping through a magazine, lying on his stomach on the floor while his parents watch a news report. Makoto is engrossed in a novel, sitting cross-legged, on level with his waist, being extra quiet.
“How’re the others in your class, Haruka? Do you get along with them?” his father asks suddenly, regarding him from under his glasses. Makoto twitches.
“They’re alright,” he answers in monotone. Seeing their expectant faces, he adds: “I have joined a few study groups.” Which isn’t really a lie, only that it had occurred once and he hasn’t gone again. Makoto is enough.
“Have you made anymore friends?” his mother asks, smiling, though Haru could see the concern reflect in it. He hasn’t. He doesn’t need anyone else. He remembers the counselling he had gone through in school. Trying to… to what exactly? Cure him?
“Yeah, I guess so,” he replies. He turns his attention back to the magazine, hoping that there would be a change in topic. Makoto’s knee gently bumps into Haru’s thigh. Haru glances at him and catches Makoto’s warm smile.
“Oh, darling, do you remember… what was his name? Makoto, was it?” Haru freezes in place, his breath catches in his windpipe like cloth on brambles. He feels Makoto stifle a gasp and try to shrink into himself. “He was your imaginary friend when you were a child.”
Haru’s heart thuds and batters against the cage of his ribs. His mind tries to form the scribbles on the page into words but fails. “Haru? Haruka?”
They forget this little detail. When they’re alone, feeding one of Makoto’s many adopted cats (Miri, Shiro, Kuro, one named Mackerel on Haru’s insistence, the list goes on…), or when Makoto bodily retrains Haru from stripping in public and diving into the nearest water body, when they share a popsicle, when they play video games or Haru tells Makoto stories his grandmother told him.
“I asked if you ever saw him again.” He opens his mouth to speak, his tongue feels dry and heavy. Beside him, Makoto draws his knees up and hugs the book to his chest. He catches Haru’s gaze and brokenly endeavours to smile. It is a sad and miserable attempt that knots Haru’s stomach. Stop that
Haru shakes his head, wanting to draw nearer to Makoto. He knows if he were nearer Makoto would hold onto the edge of his shirt but he’s too scared to move. “No, I don’t see him anymore,” he manages in a strangled voice. Makoto’s morose smile slips away and he stares at his feet instead. From the distance, his eyes look impossibly bright and glossy.
“Do you feel lonely?” Haru spits it out like the rotten bite of a fruit. “Do you…” he swallows and tries again. “Do you hate me? For this. All of this.” his room here is unfamiliar. The view outside the window is of tall apartment complexes overthrowing the dark sky, their numerous yellow windows replacing stars. He’s sitting on a desk while Makoto lays on the bed, using his arm as a pillow.
“Hate you? Why would you say that, Haru?” Makoto is visibly thrown by the question. Haru bites the inside of his lip, resolutely looking outside. “You can’t… can’t talk to other people and I’m… I’m the only one.” Haru doubts if he would enjoy his own company.
“But you are the only one, Haru,” Makoto laughs.
“Stop, Makoto.” He doesn’t understand why he’s angry: angry and a little thrilled. Immediately after, he chastises himself. Obviously Makoto didn’t mean it like that and Haru shouldn’t feel pleased even if he did. “Don’t say stuff like that. You’re too… too Makoto to actually complain.”
“Haru…” Makoto sits up. Haru vaults from the desk in an attempt at evasion. “Never mind. I’m tired.” he’s walking across the room to pull out a futon when Makoto stops him with a hand on his forearm. Haru glances at it and Makoto retracts his grip.
“If I had a choice,” Makoto starts softly, hesitantly, but grows confident with each word, “between being…”
Don’t say it. Don’t say it, it’s my fault. Haru pleads in his mind. Amongst the myriad of unspoken things that pass between them, this little word is omitted intentionally. Saying it would mean paying attention to it. Dealing with it. It would hover between them, intangible as air and as omnipresent. Don’t
‘…real and being with you, I’d choose you, Haru. Every time.”
Haru’s breath hitches. “It’s meaningless without you.” Always honey sweet. Its golden syrup dripping in a silent room. The futon remains unused in the closet that night.
Haru’s 16th birthday arrives during his trip to Tokyo. He and Makoto spend the day walking aimlessly about the city. Makoto acts strangely. It distracts Haru from, well, the rest of the world. Like an annoying blip on a radar. He doesn’t say anything about it because Makoto doesn’t say anything about it. Their visit to an aquarium provides a brief distraction. The blue and silver reflected around them makes it seem to him that they are breathing and talking underwater. Haru wonders if he had been a fish in his precious life. Or a merman.
“Grandma said-“he pauses, staring resolutely ahead even as he feels Makoto’s gaze turn to him. He can always feel Makoto looking at him. It’s like tingling pinpricks at first, then it mellows into a soft sweeping wave. “What did she say, Haru?” Makoto urges him. He takes a deep breath to keep his voice from trembling.
“She said the room my mom was in at the hospital, when I was going to be born, there was a view of a garden from the window. She wasn’t sure if it was the hospital’s garden or the house next to it… it… had lots of flowers and trees and a large pond. Bursting with flowers and butterflies, it looked like spring. That’s how she chose my name. The pond…” his throat feels dry and tight. The back of Makoto’s hand gently brushes his.
Haru rushes and stumbles on, wanting to stop but unable to once he’s started. “She said it was blue and clear, like… like my eyes and it reminded her of the ocean. I would stop crying when I would hear the fountain, the water falling into the pond. She said it was a sign. That’s when she knew I would… be like this. That I would love swimming.” There would be no homemade paper envelope from her on his birthday this year. No more of her elegant precise script, black ink strokes clinging to scented paper. He misses her so much.
“You miss her a lot, don’t you, Haru?”
Sixteen candles on his cake. Three people standing around it. One standing further back in a corner. One hand curling and gesturing surreptitiously for the one to step closer. Sixteen flames to blow out with one breath for a single wish.
Makoto mouths ‘happy birthday’ and Haru knows what he is going to wish for. He inhales deeply.
I wish for Makoto to become real.
Haru half expects his parents to start screaming at a boy slowly corporeal-izing by his side. He looks at Makoto with such concentration that Makoto’s smile slowly turns into a concerned grimace. Birthday wishes are powerful. Like shooting star wishes.
Haru licks his lips and asks his parents nervously, almost under his breath, “can you see…?”
“What, son?” his father asks quizzically. Haru, hanging his head, thanks his parents for the cake.
“I don’t have anything to give to you, Haru,” Makoto finally mumbles. His voice floats up from the futon on the floor by Haru’s bed. “I don’t have anything.”
It takes a heart diving moment for Haru to realize Makoto is talking about a birthday present. He turn his head to look downwards at Makoto and in his strange expression, Haru sees that Makoto had phrased it like that on purpose.
“You don’t have to give me anything.” Haru hopes that answers the subtext as well. He hears Makoto chuckle. “I don’t have to but I want to. There’s a difference, Haru-chan.”
How about a ki- “how about you stop calling me ‘chan’ as my present.” Makoto laughs. Haru’s breath is a messy whirl of butterflies in his chest. “Would you like that, Haru?” how about a kiss, Haru? Would you like that?
Haru feels his face turn hot, not a gradual warmth but an intense and sudden flare of heat. “Do whatever you want.” Makoto falls silent after that. He hadn’t meant to sound curt or dismissive. With the odd heat travelling all over him, he had hardly been able to speak.
Haru has his first proper wet dream that night, not a jumble of sensations and vague, disembodied images to wake up to with a hard on but a proper dream. In it, he pulls Makoto into the pool, bubbles and white ocean foam envelop them as they fall in and Makoto is over, under, and around him. All orange scented, dripping swirls of honey between his shoulders and along his spine, between his fingers, between his lips and legs, in golden sticky threads. Whispering into his ear would you like that, Haru? Would you like that?
In the morning, with the remnant flashes of his dreams coming back to him and the tell-tale state of his pyjamas, Haru glances guiltily at Makoto’s wide sleeping back and thinks Makoto definitely would not have had that in mind as something to give as a birthday present.
Haru doesn’t like winters. Doesn’t like how it makes his hot bath water cold faster. Doesn’t like Makoto’s increasingly frantic attempt to stop him from jumping into pools because you’ll catch a cold, Haru! And that’s not your pool, Haru! And that’s not EVEN A POOL, HARU!
It’s annoying how winter brings out Makoto’s inner mother hen to the fullest. Wrapping scarves around him, burning down the house trying to make a simple soup, cutting his baths short, sneaking in kittens and pleading with Haru to let them stay inside for the night. “It’s so cold outside Haru. Look at them.” Haru glares, already breaking down inside. Makoto is deceivingly clever. As if anyone could resist the image of Makoto with an armful of fluffy, shivering kittens burrowing their way into his large chest.
It’s annoying because Makoto is sad. It’s an iceberg of sadness breaking the surface of his trademark smile, Haru doesn’t know its depth. It feels like Makoto is pretending to be Makoto, seeming to have started after that trip to Tokyo. Or because of it.
Haru doesn’t ask why. At first the reason he doesn’t appears to be because Makoto doesn’t tell him himself. Makoto tells him everything. But the real reason (Haru tries really hard to not think about this reason, keeps it locked and hidden) is that he is afraid the answer will be ‘because of you, Haru. I’m sad because of you.’
Haru has neither the strength nor the heart to hear it. He guiltily and selfishly (he feels helpless in his selfishness) carries on letting it pass unremarked.
When they were 11, Haru and Makoto had visited their neighbourhood shrine and picked their fortunes. Makoto’s had said today was his birthday. They had spent a frantic day celebrating it in the few hours they had had left of Makoto’s birthday. The cake had been a cupcake with a single candle. Haru didn’t have anything to give and it annoyed him greatly. Makoto asked for a hug. Haru begrudgingly acquiesced but didn’t push him away until Makoto wanted. It was his birthday, after all.
This year, Haru wakes Makoto up with the smell of a freshly baked cake. Makoto pretends to be asleep until Haru snatches the covers off of him, aware of his act. “Happy birthday. Get up.” Makoto rubs his eyes and chuckles sleepily. He wraps his fingers around Haru’s right ankle. “Haruuuuu, you can’t say happy birthday like that. You have to smile.” Makoto’s thumb rubs small arcs on his skin. Haru kicks his shin with the other foot. “Don’t be lazy on your birthday. I’m making mackerel cake.”
Nagisa descends like a mad bunny on a sugar rush in Haru’s second year at high school. Haru is secretly glad. He has someone to talk to (although it’s mostly Nagisa who does the talking) during break and anytime in school. It good since for some reason Makoto has stopped coming to school with him.
“I don’t feel comfortable there, Haru,” Makoto had said, “and you keep passing me notes when you should be paying attention in class! That’s not good. Don’t worry, I’ll be here when you get back.”
Nagisa and his friend Rei are a class under him so he couldn’t really be with them the whole day. But they become friends; an unlikely club of girly-named boys. He finds himself telling Makoto about their antics, with extra exasperation than he feels. “I’m sensing a pattern here. I think you have a type, Haru,” Makoto says mischievously. Haru raises a sceptical brow at him before ducking to hide an inconvenient blush at Makoto’s following laughter.
“I’ll show you a sight you’ve never seen before,” Rin had promised him when they were kids. Now, all sharp angles and fire, he promises this again. Haru tries to search for that younger Rin in this new Rin. The ones he used to know, the one who wanted to swim in a pool full of cherry blossom. He tries to find him when they race against each other. But the new Rin doesn’t even swim like he used to. He’s a better swimmer than before but Haru sees that his swimming is forced. Only flashing thunder and fury.
Haru hasn’t forgotten nor forgiven himself. He ignores Nagisa when he alludes to their swimming club days and hints at starting one in the school. Makoto looks at him with troubled eyes but he doesn’t press him for the reason, Makoto wasn’t there when… when he had hurt Rin. If Makoto knew what he had done, if Nagisa or Rei found out, he wouldn’t blame them for thinking the worst of him. It is his fault after all.
Alone, he would have fallen. Alone, he would have given up a long time ago. But he has Makoto. He has Nagisa and Rei. He doesn’t want to swim alone. And neither does Rin. He wants to tell Rin, make him understand. He doesn’t have to swim alone.
“I want to swim with you!” Rin cries, his tears scalding as they drop on Haru’s face. This confrontation has been years in the making. It came down to them tussling on the ground, finally letting go of the poison, finally understanding.
Haru’s heart is a frantic tattoo against his ribs. He waits until its quiet between them and he can barely hear Makoto’s even breathing. He almost dissuades himself. Makoto knows how much he means to him, there’s no point in saying what he already knows.
He remembers the bleak loneliness and self-blame following Rin’s exit from his life, the death of his grandmother that left him shattered once again. Only to be put back by Makoto’s hands and his presence. He is the only other constant in his life, him and the ocean.
“Makoto.” he hears a hum of acknowledgment and continues. “I appreciate you being here for me.”
There is a beat of silence after which Makoto gasps and Haru can hear the happiness in every shift of Makoto’s voice. His face burns with a deep blush, a confusing, ridiculous tangle of joy erupts in him at Makoto’s happiness and knowing that he’s the cause. He makes some excuse that he barely hears and propels himself out of the room, a second more and he would have melted away into the earth.
Makoto is not good at hiding. When they were little, Haru would have to explain over and over again the concept of hiding to Makoto, who would hide with great reluctance and poor skill.
Makoto didn’t hide how much and how long he gazed at Haru. He knows Haru is aware of it. If he catches him in the act, Makoto would smile. He didn’t hide the fact that Haru’s touch comforts him, or that anything, anything, Haru gives him means more to him than the sun. And all the suns. And all the stars.
Therefore, Haru is surprised when Makoto suddenly gets good at hiding. Hiding parts of his sentences, parts of his thoughts. Hiding from Haru’s touch, shying away from the spot on his right that was near enough for Haru to smell him.
Haru can touch him if he extended his hand, but he has never needed to, Makoto used to make sure of that.
“Haru, you should go out more often,” Makoto says suddenly one day. Haru raises a brow in lieu of an answer. “Hang out with Nagisa and Rei. They are nice.”
“What are you talking about, Makoto?”
“Or invite them over. It would be fun for you.”
Haru pauses mid step in solving a math equation. “Maybe get a girlfriend.” Haru’s stomach twists. “You’re supposed to be helping me with literature, Makoto. Instead of talking nonsense.”
“It’s not nonsense, Haru. This is important. You’re supposed to have friends to hang out with, to go on dates with a girlfriend.” Haru is reminded of his parents and his elementary school counsellor. He had not been doing a lot of stuff he was supposed to back then too. He didn’t expect this from Makoto. “Why are you talking like this?” Makoto flinches at his curt tone but continues. “Don’t you want that? You haven’t even had your first kiss yet.”
“You were my first kiss!” Haru colours as he exclaims, remembering the pool at Tokyo, remembering chlorinated water between their lips. Haru barely catches the light that glows in Makoto’s eyes before he slowly hangs his head. “I don’t count.”
Whatever Haru was about to says catches in his throat. He looks oddly, unbelievably at Makoto who smiles. It’s brittle and glossy, like cheap glass. Makoto counts. He’s the only one who has ever counted. Say it. Tell him. The only one who never left? What Makoto had said hurt? Angry, Haru slams a hand on the table. Makoto’s face falls. He looks down and away, pained. “Stop talking, Makoto.”
Haru glares at his homework, blood rushing, his heart pounding. “We can’t stay like this forever, Haru,” he hears Makoto say, barely audible over the noise in his ears.
Nagisa comments on Haru’s continuously disturbed countenance. Even Rei notices he’s being more reticent than usual. Their argument last night has Haru unsettled. We can’t stay like this forever. Except they have to. It has never occurred to Haru that there could ever be a time in this universe when they won’t be the way they are.
His hands clench around his lunch box. I don’t count. They could ignore it when they were little, when the world really was just the two of them.Haru hates the world. Hates it for making Makoto feel like he is anything less than a person. It’s his fault. It’s his fault all over again. He has to make it right. Has to-
“Don’t move Haru-chan!” Nagisa exclaims. His hand draws near to his face. Haru resists the urge to move away. Nagisa’s fingers brush his cheekbone and hold something out to him. “It’s an eyelash. Make a wish!”
“There’s hardly any scientific evidence to support this foolishness, Nagisa-kun. These are all superstitions,” Rei announces, settling his glasses up his nose.
“No way, Rei-chan! This is legit. Make a wish, Haru-chan! You never know which one will come true.”
Haru hardly hears Rei’s counter argument. With his grandmother’s voice in his head and his hands clasping Nagisa’s outstretched one, Haru closes his eyes, fervently makes the wish he had made on his birthday and blows the eyelash away. Nagisa whistles softly. “I didn’t think you’d actually do it, Haru-chan. do you believe in this stuff?”
Haru swallows and looks down at his lunch. Thinking of Makoto. Thinking of Makoto waiting for him at his home. Was he even waiting for him? After the fight they had had? “My grandma did.”
Something has changed between him and Makoto. Though Makoto is as affectionate as ever and Haru doesn’t feel any change in himself either. It’s like colour seeping up a cloth, fibre by fibre. Like listening to the clock tick inexorably, urgently towards some unknown end. Their exchanges seem frantic and dipped in an emotion too vague to be defined but similar to breathless, faceless fear.
In the mornings he feels that faceless fear most acutely, while quietly watching Makoto sleep, an arm outstretched in his direction and his own arm slipping down for his fingers to brush Makoto’s hand. Sometimes Makoto's large warm palm would enclose Haru's and he would feel less afraid.
He tiptoes to the garden where the dew has just fallen on the plants his grandmother had planted a year ago. He leans down by the morning glories, presses dew kissed flowers to his lips and makes his wish. Please make Makoto real. Please make Makoto real. Please make
Makoto real. Please
"A shooting star! Did you make a wish Haru?"
Make Makoto real I can't
"Can’t tell you."
"Aw come on Haru-chan! I promise I won't tell anyone."
Be without him make him real
"If I tell you, it won't come true."
"Humph! You probably wished for mackerel for dinner."
"Speaking of which, I'm hungry. Let’s go home."
Haru’s wish on a dandelion makes Makoto sneeze as the fluff blows into his nose. He looks so unexpectedly… Haru, perplexed, searches for some word other than cute but fails- that he does it twice but forgets to say the wish in favour of watching Makoto’s face scrunch up (it starts with his twitching nose, then his eyes crinkle and squeeze shut, white teeth biting into his lips to dam the pressure, shoulders tucking under his ears) and his muscular frame shake with the force of the sneeze.
“Haru! Stop! What are you doing?!” Makoto bats the white fluff away, tears of irritation glossy in his green eyes, his nose pink and sniffling. Haru’s hand closes around another dandelion stalk.
It’s very, very tempting.
He finds himself outside the school’s art club again. He likes the smell of turpentine and the almost arranged beauty of the mess inside. He has been avidly pursued by the arts club since his first year but he never joined. Lately, he is feeling an interest in it. The margins of his school books are increasingly filling with doodles, a drawer in his desk is filling up with sketches on plain paper. He knows he’s good at it. It’s nothing like swimming though.
He thinks about what Makoto had said. About doing new things. A shadow of ire passes over him before he squashes it away. He wants to make Makoto happy. Wants him to not smile like it hurts him to. Sometime in the next week he buys three new sketchbooks, paints, brushes, pencils and tries to not notice Makoto’s knowing smiles.
He quietly slips into the art room during breaks, begins sketching whatever he sees through the window. From the corner of his eyes, he sees the club members whisper to each other, move cautiously and slowly, as if afraid to scare away a bird, and let him be.
He finds watercolours to be his medium. Soon water lilies, hydrangeas, golden sands and blue oceans, green eyed boys playing with cats flow through his fingers onto the pages of his sketchbook. The day he paints something well, he leaves the sketchbook lying around casually, instead of self-consciously zipping it inside his bag, for Makoto to guiltily pick up and smile secretly, proudly at his work, making butterflies flutter in his stomach and fingertips.
In his third year, he receives three confessions from girls in his class; one a pink, scented letter slipped into his locker which leads to an uncomfortable meeting with a blushing but determined Keiko at the abandoned school pool.
“I’ve liked you f-for a long time, Haruka-kun,” she says sweetly, tucking her long hair behind her ears. He processes it with a considerable amount of surprise and curiosity. He is aware of the practice of dating and apparently getting confessed to be a big deal from what he has observed in school. It has never crossed his mind or interest. He chalks it up to another thing he should be doing but isn’t.
He tries to imagine what it would be like to date. To walk with her holding hands, watch movies together, eat the lunch she would make for him, hold her curved waist and kiss her lips. Like he walks with Makoto, urges him to watch a marine documentary instead of a movie, makes him eat new concoctions of mackerel and afterwards, if he’s feeling up to it, makes him something sweet to wash it down, likes it when Makoto’s arms bind him so he jumps into random water bodies more and more and more often. Perhaps she sees this on his face. Perhaps she seem him think about green eyes and broad shoulders to lean against. He watches her expression fall, the nervous movements of her fingers increases. She fidgets and falters. A part of his mind, a voice, advises him to try it out. He should say yes, normal people would say yes. She’s nice, pretty too.
Even Makoto said he should. Haru’s heart pinches against his ribs. How will he react if Haru casually told him he has a girlfriend when he gets home? Will his heart pinch too?
lost in endless spools of what ifs, he barely notice Keiko bow, smiling, nervously say something like she doesn’t want to force him to accept only because he’s too nice, and turns to leave.
“I’m… I’m sorry,” he says sincerely. He’s sorry because, even as he notices the tears she’s trying to hold back, he’s already thinking about Makoto greeting him with a cheerful ‘welcome home, Haru’ when he returns.
His parents hand him about a dozen college brochures at their next visit. He regards them with nervous curiosity. The concept of going to college seems surreal. He notices all the universities are in Tokyo. “I think it’s time you moved, Haruka,” his mother says, wrapping an arm around him. “You’re smart and talented. You’ll easily get admission there. And it will be easier for us, all this travelling is expensive.”
After dinner, his father explains the pros and cons of each institution while Haru listens in bewildered and anxious silence. “So what do you want to do, Haruka?” he asks. Haru has no idea. It beats hollowly in his chest along with his heart, this question he is supposed to the answer to.
When he hands them over to Makoto, rather abruptly as if to rid of the unpleasant weight they possess in his hands, he sees Makoto swallow and nod to himself imperceptibly. As if preparing himself. He sifts through them with serious concentration. Haru closes his eyes and waits for something, his stomach and chest clenching uncomfortably.
“I’m proud of you, Haru,” Makoto says softly. Haru jerks in surprise. “You’re doing so well in school, you’ve made good friends, reconciled with Rin and….you still swim so beautifully. And now you’re going to go to college. You make me so proud to be your friend.” Makoto is childishly simple in his joys. He smiles at Haru with abandon who breaths in relief.
“This is a little scary, right?” Makoto looks warily at the brochures. Haru nods in admittance. “We’ll figure it out. Don’t worry.” he pins Haru with his empathetic, drooping eyes until Haru nods again, blushing at his own transparency.
Rin scratches his nape when Haru asks what he wants to do after graduation. "Huh? Since when do you think about that stuff? I always thought your mind couldn't process thoughts higher than where the next water body is," Rin baits, avoiding the question entirely. Haru resists the urge to roll his eyes and fixes Rin with his stare. Rin runs his hands through his hair and picks at the paper napkin. "You know what I want to do, Haru. It’s always been the one thing."
"The Olympics," Haru completes. Rin nods somewhat shyly. "I just.... I want it bad, Haru. Have you ever wanted something so much you think you were born with a hole that could only be filled by that one thing?"
Haru had asked Rin to lunch for the college talk at Makoto’s advice, thinking it would help since they both knew each other well and would be graduating at the same time. Rin seems to know exactly what he wants though.
Haru can’t think of something he wants with that intensity. Another thing he should be doing but isn’t. When Haru fails to answer, Rin chuckles and continues, biting into his burger, "that was stupid, ignore that. Anyway, what do you want to do?"
Haru stirs his smoothie, glances to the side nervously and says it out loud before he loses his courage. "I... Don't know." Rin frowns. “Haru, it’s kinda the time you should know. With the entrance exams and-“
“I know that,” Haru snaps, startling Rin, “still, I just…” he pushes his smoothie away moodily.
“Hey, man, its okay. Umm… what are you good at? What do you like to do?”
Haru huffs. “I like swimming. Art... Mackerel.” Rin munches on his fry thoughtfully. “Do you wanna be a fisherman?” Haru looks at him incredulously. “You’re the one who said mackerel. So that leaves swimming and art… if you choose swimming, we could train together, you know. Could be fun,” Rin finishes self-consciously. It could, Haru thinks. Though he isn’t sure he would be able to bear the competitiveness for long. Rin thrives on it, mostly it annoys Haru.
“Jeez, you don’t have to decide like right now,” Rin fills the silence hastily as it stretches, “you have two options and I can guarantee you’re good at both.” Haru colours lightly at the praise.
Meeting with Rin has helped. Makoto would want him to thank Rin. Haru grumbles at his inner Makoto voice. “Hey… thanks. For meeting up and… this,” Haru mutters awkwardly. Rin gasps in mock surprise. Haru flushes. He’s been doing a lot of thank you’s lately. All Makoto’s fault.
He and Makoto visit their neighbourhood shrine. Haru tosses a coin in the fountain. It falls with a plink among other copper circles at the stone base. How many of those wishes came true? Haru throws another, just in case.
Make Makoto real. Make Makoto real.
“Did you wish for the entrance exams, Haru?”
“Tch. Stop guessing. It won’t come true if you do.”
How many wishes has he made? Grandmother hadn’t told him how many wishes were granted to one person. If only he knew how many he has, he would give them all up for one. Haru tosses a third coin. Make Makoto real, please.
“Haru,” Makoto smiles, catching Haru’s hand as he is about to throw in the fourth coin. “That’s enough wishes. It’ll work, I’m sure.”
Haru’s assumption that actually taking the exam was the most nerve wracking thing he ever had to do was sadly mistaken. Waiting for the result was infinitely worse. He refuses to check the post and develops a special glare for the postman, scaring the poor man until Makoto offers to collect the post with a long suffering sigh.
“Do I have to, Makoto?” Haru pouts, pressing his face into Shiro’s soft white fur. She meows and licks his mackerel coated fingers. He wants to stay this way forever. In his house near the ocean, with Makoto and his cats.
“Yes, you have to, Haru-chan.”
“I’m going to sic Shiro on you if you say ‘chan’ one more time. Right, Shiro?” Haru scratches under her chin and she melts into his hand. Makoto laughs. “No way, she likes me more than you, Haru chaannnnn!” Makoto calls her and she leaps right over to him, abandoning Haru.
“Traitor,” Haru accuses and turns on his side.
He is accepted in one of his chosen colleges and is on the waiting list for the other. He should be happy, like Makoto is, on the verge of bursting into confetti, or his parents, hysterical over the phone. Haru is relieved but the anxiety hasn’t left him yet. He doesn’t know what it’s for.
“So, Tokyo, huh?” Makoto says nonchalantly. Haru can’t look away from the intense green he has known all his life, from the fragile smile perching precariously on Makoto’s lips. He hears the clock again, ticking towards some unidentified end, and finds the cause of his anxiety.
The members of the girly-named boys club have their own graduation/Haru’s send-off party at Nagisa’s home a few days after the one in school with their classmates. It starts of as loud fun, with Nagisa attempting rather enthusiastically to help Haru with prepare lunch, Rin and Rei having a water fight in the yard, much to Haru’s offense, without him, and dives into melancholy silence towards the end.
“I’m going to miss you Haru-chan,” Nagisa suddenly cries out, hugging him with astonishing strength. “Do you have to go? Can you please not go? Rei-chan, do something!”
“Nagisa,” Haru starts to warn him off but can’t seem to finish it. Instead, he hugs him back. Rei clears his throat. “Nagisa-kun, you cannot possibly ask Haruka senpai that. He is going to a very good college. Haruka senpai, you will be sorely missed. I had yet to learn a lot from you.” Haru offers him a slight smile.
“Oh for fuck’s sake, this is just depressing!” Rin grumbles. “It’s not like he’s going to disappear. By the way, if you fucking disappear on us, I’ll kill you.”
“You too, Rin,” Haru replies. “And you can visit me, Nagisa. We’ll swim. My college has a big pool.” Rin slaps a hand on his forehead. “Please tell me that isn’t why you chose it, Haru,” he grumbles.
Haru observes growing up requires a fair amount of goodbyes, permanent and temporary.
Though there’s still time before college starts, Haru has to live with his parents until then. It takes a week to pack Haru’s belongings, his mother flies in to help. His future dorm room won’t be big enough for all of his stuff, which surprisingly there is a lot of, and he can hardly choose. There are his things and Haru-and-grandma things and Haru-and-Makoto things. Many of those attached with corresponding memories to the furniture and random corners of the house which he cannot pack with him. Haru, panicking, threatens if she has any plans to sell the house, he won’t go to college at all.
“Your father and I haven’t decided yet. Even if we keep it as a vacation house, who would take care of it while we’re in Tokyo?”
At least Makoto is with him, right? He tiptoes to the garden (who would take care of his grandmother’s garden?) and finds Makoto lying on the grass, his large form curled around Shiro, whispering into her ear with infinite tenderness and sad eyes. He feels an irrational urge to go ask- no, tell- Makoto that he is coming with him to stupid Tokyo even if he has to give up ten Shiros.
He was right. Tokyo is stupid. It’s even stupider in winter. It is an affront to Iwatobi whenever his parents happily ask him to think of it as his new home. On top of that, thinking of it makes an anxious balloon swell in the pit of his stomach. To distract him, Makoto leads him endlessly throughout the city. It’s exciting and intimate, to discover new things with him, see him filled with pure wonder, to fill himself with it. If it can always be like this… if he can be like this for Makoto…
Rin brings beer to Haru's first dorm visit, much to his surprise and Makoto's mortification. It takes a moment for Haru to realize he can do this now. He listens to Rin talk about finding a manager and happenings in Iwatobi, which aren’t the most thrilling things yet Haru feels homesick, he misses Nagisa and Rei. Tokyo will never feel like home. He cracks open another can despite Makoto’s insistent tugging on his shirt sleeve and whispers warnings in his ear. It’s been too long since Makoto did that. He is so far away sometimes. Since he sat this near, talked into his ear. His head is dizzy and comfortably numb, though he hasn’t had much to drink. The light from the window turns inky blue. Rin is dozing on the floor. He snorts when Haru nudges him with his toe. It makes him laugh. The buzz between his ears is loud enough to drown out his parent’s voice and Makoto's admonishments. Makoto’s face draws closer between slow blinks, drawn with worry lines. Haru doesn’t like worry lines on Makoto's face. He soothes then away with his thumb as strong arms lift him onto the bed. He tells Makoto his mouth is bitter from the beer, that even in the dark Makoto's eyes are the brightest green. And that he smells like oranges. And that he's seen a brown cat walking around the grounds which they can keep as a secret pet. Haru nods into soft sleep with that bitter taste in his mouth and Makoto's scent in his nose.
His grandmother’s garden blooms behind his eyes, the air is crisp and tangy with salt. Makoto is still curled around Shiro, whispering into her ear. But this time Haru can hear him.
"I can't do this, I can't. I tried so hard, Haru, I tried not to, I swear, I did but, oh god, Haru, what will I do?"
He looks like Makoto but the words from his mouth are broken, brittle and choking. Makoto is gentle and reassuring, he's love and comfort and these are too harsh for such a lovely throat and that kind face, so Haru kisses him to swallow those jaded words. Makoto's kiss tastes like salty water, the fingers under his shirt are warm and trembling. He shivers like he's cold. Haru presses closer and attempts to wrap himself around Makoto, like he used to do when Haru felt alone and small, drifting on an endless sea. He wouldn't say it, Makoto would just know. But his limbs are smaller and Makoto is pushing him away gently.
"Oh Haru, you're perfect, you're so perfect.”
Haru’s first week is chaotic and tiring. It seemed he spent most of his time running around campus looking for his classes. His feet hurt and interacting with new, unfamiliar people is making his palms sweat. And people still laugh at his girly name, he grumbles to a sympathetic Makoto. As much as he hates the college as a whole, he does find his classes interesting. The campus has the biggest library Haru has ever seen, the art hall is big and has concentric circles of easels arranged around a white platform.
With all the newness and the hassle of establishing a new routine, it takes a while for Haru to notice Makoto is disappearing.
He can see through Makoto’s hands. As if they’re turning glass. Haru’s heart slams into his chest and stops. Makoto pulls his hands back and shoves them inside his jacket pocket.
“What is… what is this? What’s happening?” he gasps through a dry throat. Makoto smiles and is about to reach out to him when he remembers and pauses, smiling sheepishly again. It turns Haru’s stomach.
“Are you sick? Is this… is this a disease?”
“No, it’s not Haru.”
“What is it then?”
“I don’t know.”
“You…you don’t know.”
It is with an agonising, despairing bewilderment that Haru crosses the following days, voices nothing but empty echoes in his ears, people like faded wallpaper, while Makoto is at home with his see through arms and legs.
We can’t stay like this forever.
Why not? Why the hell not? There are certain things that are to be. Things that are so obvious and with their own space carved into the universe that they just are to be. Forever.
Haru and Makoto are meant to be forever.
He finds a patch of dandelions on his way home to Makoto, nodding and brushing each other in shy kisses. He stomps on them viciously, mind blank with impotent rage and throat raging with scratching fire. This is where the universe shows that it is indeed ‘The Universe’ and is indifferent to the selfish, indulgent whining of a boy throwing coins into shrine fountains and wishing on dandelion fluff.
Haru and Makoto were meant to be forever.
They should talk about it. Talk about the low light in Haru’s room; how his study group has stopped meeting in his room because he refuses to have more light than which is necessary to navigate the room; how Makoto doesn’t ask him to either because he knows it so he and Haru can’t see his condition. Can’t see that he’s fading.
They should talk about Haru joining the astronomy club out of the blue. He doesn’t go to regular meetings or does any research. Instead he lays down on the club room’s roof in the evenings and sometime late into the night with Makoto beside him, quiet but still there, whispering into the inky silence that seems profound and solely theirs. “I didn’t know you were interested in astronomy, Haru.” They should talk about how Haru absolutely isn’t interested in tracing the constellations and couldn’t care less about charting the course of Mars across the sky. The club room is the highest point of the campus and it is the only way he can look for shooting stars without being told off by the guards or being labelled crazy for idling around the campus grounds after hours. Because shooting star wishes are the strongest, after birthday wishes; Haru’s birthday is still half a year away.
They should talk about Haru’s trembling fingers as he cooks green curry and how neither laughs when Makoto jokes that maybe Haru has finally gotten over his love for mackerel; how there seem to be so many occasions to touch and sit near, for fingers to linger and gazes to touch skin; how they haven’t slept together this much since the time they watched that movie about that girl in the well and Makoto was afraid of his own shadow for a month.
They should talk about sacred things. Sacred things like conversing without talking and knowing before telling and how rare that is, how precious. They should talk about love. Talk about how little they’ve thought about it and how this could be it. How they can feel this is it but it’s too much too late. Like the fabled Love in Haru’s grandmother’s well-thumbed and yellowed novellas. Something else threaded itself into their friendship a long time ago and it only needs a name.
But they can’t. Because love also makes a person weak. It makes them afraid and a coward. Haru looks at Makoto and sees fear, in him and himself. Fear that strikes him abruptly and sharply that he is paralysed wherever he is and he gags for breath as he foresees a world without Makoto. There are some things you can’t possess because once you do you won’t be able to let go of them again. Despite bleeding, clutching fingers and screaming lungs, you cannot let go. Even if you to cut out your heart and bleed out your soul, you cannot let go.
They can’t seek to possess when they’re trying so hard to let go.
“Haru, you have a test tomorrow, remember? Shouldn’t you be studying?”
“Do you remember that birthday when I got a swimming pool?”
“Of course I do, Haru. You looked so cute handing out invitations to your-“
“And the time when we got lost at the festival because I took too long at the waterworks show?”
“Yeah, yeah I do-“
“And when we found that bottle in the ocean with a starfish inside it which we tried to get out and the old fisherman-“
“Said that it’s too big for the opening to get out that way, it must’ve grown inside it…. Haru, you have to study.”
Haru’s parents are afraid he has relapsed. His grades are suddenly slipping, he looks exhausted and listless. Haru loves his parents but at the moment, he can’t bring himself to care about something as inconsequential as grades when Makoto… when Makoto is…
He wants to scream and tear things apart with his bare hands, destroy as much as he can see and reach. He wants to hide in his grandmother’s lap and ask why he’s so irrevocably damaged he can’t even wish right.
For all that Makoto has done for him, what he’s asking for is incredibly and utterly beyond his exhausted and terrified self. To accept and carry on.
As if every inch of his life is not connected by some obscure or obvious way to Makoto. As if they did not build their world around the certainty of each other. As if it’s like pulling out a bad tooth and not ripping half of himself away and leaving a black hole in its place.
Even in pain, Makoto will strive to absorb any taint on Haru. He’s idiotic and selfless like that. If Makoto is asking for something incredibly and utterly beyond his exhausted and terrified self, he will let Makoto be selfish this one time.
Haru is engulfed by all the things they still have not done, he could have done. He reaches out to touch Makoto’s hands and threads their fingers together. He could have held Makoto’s hands every day. Could have reached up and kissed him, just like that, without warning. Should have done that. Everyday. Should have wrapped himself around him and slept together in the afternoon, lazily, maybe with a cat or two meowing for attention nearby but he wouldn’t let go of Makoto despite him struggling to get away, saying something about them needing to be fed, Haru, please. They could have been lovers, could have been deliriously, desperately and drunkenly in love. Could have had each other, known each other in many more ways. They collect in the back of Haru’s throat and his eyes, stinging angrily and burning unforgivingly. He cries for the things they could have been. They could have been so much more.
It shows in his eyes, the enormity of missed things, missed chances, it leaves him breathless and hollow. He looks at Makoto, tries to piece together how much of himself Makoto will take away with him, if he will have any left for himself. In the low light of Haru’s room, Makoto’s eyes don’t seem as green as they used to be. Haru closes his eyes against everything. Everything. Makoto softly leans their foreheads together, continuously rubbing away the tracks of Haru’s tears as he cries over Makoto’s fingers on his face. “Looks like I was right. Always knew there was an ocean inside you." Haru pushes at Makoto and pulls him in. it would be easier to hate Makoto for this. It would make the gaping holes in his heart hurt less to feed it anger instead of useless sorrow. “You have so much to do, Haru. You're going to be great at college, you'll have new friends, and Nagisa, Rei and Rin.” Haru exhales hot, constricted breath into Makoto’s neck.
“I don’t… fuck, I don’t want it, any of it, I want y-“
“And you'll meet someone who will love you and kiss you and hold you in front of everyone. You will get married… and teach your children to swim. Won’t that be perfect? My Haru’s perfect children." My Haru, my Haru, mine
“You said- Makoto, you said it’s meaningless without me-“the more Haru talks the harder it is for Makoto. But Haru doesn’t care, he’s losing his mind and he doesn’t care. Makoto’s breath catches in his throat, he presses Haru closer, muttering into his hair. “Haru, please, don’t. You have to be strong. You’re brave and strong, Haruka. The strongest person I know. And I'm a coward, I can’t even… but I'm trying to be strong for you. You have to do the same for me. Okay, Haru? Promise me?"
Haru’s throat is raw and his eyelids burn. He cries until he’s barely conscious. Makoto whispers to him promises that he’ll always be there. Always. Haru slips into exhausted sleep clutching Makoto’s shirt. As if he’ll drift away.
When he wakes up, Makoto isn’t there. Haru wishes he could fall asleep again.
He strips off his clothes (there’s no one to stop him from doing so) and dives into icy cold water (there’s no one to tell him otherwise) that shocks his muscles. His arms cut into the water, legs propelling him forward as he gasps for breath. Faster, faster, faster. His body begins to burn and shout for reprieve but lately, he’s become used to feeling like he’s being burned from the inside. Haru swims relentlessly.
If he swims enough, maybe his body will dissolve into the water and everything will just stop. People ridicule when Haru tries to explain the power water possess. For example, all the emotions end in water when they’re too much for the human body to contain. Too much happiness, too much pain, too much sorrow. Water is understanding and kind. It takes the emotions trying to suffocate him by turning them into tears and washes them away.
When he feels his breath starting to stutter, Haru pushes himself out of the pool (there’s no one there extending a hand).
Makoto left behind spaces wherever Haru looks. Small, barely discernable spaces like half of a popsicle melting in his hands, leftovers of his meals seeming larger. And large, cold ones like the absence of an ever present shadow next to him, silence that is actually silent. They refuse to be filled, refuse to being ignored.
Nagisa picks up his call on the second ring. “Haru-chan! What a surprise! I’m angry with you though. You haven’t called or replied to any of my… Haru-chan, are you okay?”
Haru had almost forgotten Nagisa’s voice. Almost forgotten he has Nagisa. “I…” Nagisa’s voice jumps in alarm. “Did something happen?! Are you alright? You sound awful, Haru-chan.”
“I’m… Nagisa, could you… could you come up here? Just for a short while. If you can…”
“Of course, Rei-chan and I are coming there tomorrow. Don’t worry, Haru-chan, everything will be okay, okay? I’m calling Rin-chan too. Okay, Haru-chan? Just wait till tomorrow.”
Haru nods, not trusting himself to say anything coherent. Only when Nagisa shouts his name does Haru acknowledge him verbally.
Haru had thought he would drown in the loud silence accompanying the gaping hole by his side. It would hit him that he’s alone and lost with no end or relief in sight, his breath would shorten and his legs would tremble under him. He’s alone. Forever.
Except he’s not.
Nagisa flings himself onto Haru as soon he spots him, wraps his legs around his waist and shouts loudly and ramblingly, half in happiness, half in panic. Haru falls onto the platform in surprise. Rei exclaims in shock at the heavy bags under Haru’s eyes and how he’s personally offended by the horrible state of Haru’s form. He begins rattling off a strict diet and exercising regiment. Nagisa tells Haru to not mind Rei’s dorkiness, it’s his way of showing love. Haru, sitting on the platform, smiling and at peace, nods into Nagisa’s neck, hugging him closer.
Rin calls to inform that he will be there on the weekend. “And keep that stupid fucker alive until I get there. Then I’ll kill him myself. I’m too young to be having heart attacks, god damnit.”
Haru keeps his promise to Makoto. He studies, eats, talks, keeps in contact with his friends, and swims. Strangely and surprisingly, life moves on. It does not compare to the life in Haru’s dreams, the dreams of what could have been. But he’s moving.
Sometimes, the memory of Makoto would seem like a river running under ruins, soothing and cool. It is honey sweet, seeping into something grossly misshapen and full of cracks. It cradles his drained self and fills him with overwhelming love, clear and vast.
Haru has to submit the topic of his arts final term project by the end of the week. He swims about for inspiration, quite literally, seeing in his eye Makoto sitting on the beach looking over him, unabashedly proud. As he walks back to the shore after his fifth swim of the day, he notices a mother fashioning something from a packaging wrapper for her daughter. Haru feels a familiar jolt, an idea clicks in his mind. It’s perfect. Haru laughs in joy towards the sky.
Surrounded by heaps upon heaps of coloured construction paper, Haru flexes his fingers, pulls a yellow paper towards himself and starts working.
He allows the project to take over his life. It makes him happy, soothes the ache in his heart, which tells him he’s doing something right. His classmates offer their help, surely he couldn’t expect to complete in time, with the final exams for other subject, but Haru declines. He feels possessive of it. It’s important that he does each part himself. Each movement of his hand, each crisp crease, becomes a channel into which he can pour his emotions, pour his love.
His fingers soon pick up their own subconscious rhythm. Halfway through, Haru is sure he can do this while sleeping. He finishes the first part of the project in two months, with 15 days left for the second half. He covers the 8 by 10 ft. of wall with canvas sheets and begins to paint.
He goes through the rest of his exams in a daze, anxious to get back to the studio. Now he can work 18 hours a day, hypnotized by the repetitive motion of his paintbrush. Soon he doesn't need a ladder anymore.
The work is sacred and it’s a conversation. Often Haru has to pause to steady his hand, steady his heart. A part of him never wants it to end. He sees it clearly in his mind. It has to be perfect. And it has to finish on time.
The bit with the hooks and threads almost throws him into a fit of exasperated rage. Stupid threads with their stupid tangles. But Makoto was always patient and delicate with his large hands. And soft.
“Okay, okay, fine, Makoto. I’ll do it.” Haru breathes, steadies his hand and hammers the hook into the ceiling. It’s 10 at night.
His folds 4 handmade invitations to his project display; his family, Nagisa, Rin and Rei. He feels happy after long time.
Haru holds the final piece in his hand and waits. The room rustles quietly from the air coming through the open window. His cell phone chimes its alarm. Its 12 o’clock and officially, the 12th of November. Haru climbs the ladder and hangs the object from its hook. Stepping down and back, Haru looks at the completed scene.
One thousand paper cranes rise from the floor in a wave of rainbow colours- gradually shifting from red winged birds to yellow, orange to green, blue and purple- the silver fish wire shimmers as it catches light, and fly toward a brilliant, golden sun rising over the horizon of emerald green waters, streaking it with gold waves. On the shore stand a boy looking over his shoulder at Haru, smiling happily, his eyes reflecting the green ocean, a hand reaching towards him, wind running through his sandy hair, tangling in his clothes. Annoyingly taller than him.
"Happy birthday, Makoto.”
He makes his way carefully through the birds and stands in front of Makoto, gently touching his outstretched fingers. if Haru could run, if he could run into and through the canvas, fill his arms with Makoto and his ears with Makoto’s laugh, handcuff him and make him eat mackerel for the rest of his life for being an idiot, being an idiotic, stupid lovely idiot.
“Do you like it?” Haru asks. He looks back over his shoulder at the paper cranes surrounding them. He straightens a purple bird. “I miss you, you know. So much sometimes, that I…” his voice catches in his throat, he shakes his head and blinks away the sting. “Fuck, I can’t move, I can’t breathe.” Haru removes his hand to find 5 fingerprints in the not-still-dry resin coating Makoto’s painted hand.
Haru fidgets fussily in his new jacket and new, starchy shirt. Streams of students and few of his teachers flows in and out of the studio. He glares hopelessly whenever someone steps too close to his display. There is a reason he roped it off, so people wouldn't touch anything. But they seem to have an irrepressible urge to touch the fish wire he has painstakingly put up.
He hears Nagisa before he sees them, the three of them carrying a paper crane each. Nagisa leaps towards Haru. He is ready this time.
“Oh wow, Haru-chan! This is amazing! Did you do all this?”
Rin hits him on the head fondly. “Of course he did, it’s his project. Seriously though, Haru, I knew you were good but this is…” Haru doesn’t try so hard to cover the smile floating easily on his lips and thanks them.
"Spectacular, Haruka senpai. Oh, who is the figure on the beach?" Haru looks at Makoto, smiling his sun glazed smile at him, his throat closes on him and he's speechless for a while at the sharp intensity with which he misses him.
“He's... He's someone I loved."
He visits Iwatobi in his summer vacation. It looks the same but feels different. Like looking at a postcard of a place he had once visited. The house has been boarded up, his parents still undecided on its fate. Haru weighs going inside but the darkness seeping through the window feels heavy and pregnant with the past. He feels older and struggles to imagine the young teenage boy who lived here.
Haru is 21 and in his second year at university. It’s the first day of the first term. Haru sighs into his palm, gazing out the window, bored out of his wits. He's doodling a swarm of butterflies chasing a shark, mentally reminding himself to send a photo of this to Rei and Rin when the professor raps on the board for attention. "Settle down, settle down. Yes, we are all very happy to see each other. We have a new addition to our class. A transfer student." Haru swivels his gaze back to his doodle, now drawing a little penguin with cheerleader pom-poms. "Come in, please."
The girls break into an excited buzz. Haru rolls his eyes, annoyed at the noise.
"Umm hello, my name is Makoto Tachibana."
More giggling. Haru snaps up so fast he winces at the crick in his neck.
"Yeah, I get that a lot. Umm I transferred from..."
Haru grabs his notebook tight until his knuckles ache, his head dizzy and racing. It’s Makoto. It’s his Makoto. Green eyes, wide chest, tall, that smile, oh god, that smile. Haru's heart bangs against his ribs and he barely hears the rest of Makoto’s
It’s Makoto! Makoto Makoto
speech, breathing through his fallen mouth. "Have a seat ehhhh... Over there. Aiko-kun has a vacant seat."
"No!" Haru exclaims, surprising himself too. Everyone turns to look at him. Makoto too. Haru's stomach flip flops fitfully when he catches his gaze. He waits for Makoto to show signs of recognizing him. But he only looks back puzzled. "Sit here," he mutters, sliding his bag unceremoniously on the floor. Makoto smiles sheepishly at the teacher, as if apologizing for Haru's outburst. It’s so painfully familiar, Haru barely catches himself crying out. Haru watches Makoto climb the steps. Watches Makoto’s legs, his arms, his hand holding the strap of his bag, his hair, they are a bit longer than Makoto liked to keep. And...
Makoto smiles at him as he slides into the seat. "Hello.” He waits for Haru to reply. He doesn’t remember me. A sharp lances itself in his chest. When he doesn’t speak, Makoto continues, “I prefer this seat actually, it’s nearer to the win-“
“You… you’re wearing glasses… I didn’t know you needed…” Haru manages to say through a dry mouth, amazed. He feels light headed and clutches the rim of his seat for support. Makoto touches the black frames self-consciously. “I started wearing them regularly a year ago. Umm… Do you know me? I mean, you seem like you think we’ve met. I’m sorry but I don’t…"
“Quiet over there!”
His eyes are perfectly, utterly green. Green like spring, like fresh grass, like clear, still ponds.
“I’m Haru. Haruka Nanase,” he whispers, containing the bubbling in his lungs and electricity tingling in his fingers. Makoto grins, spares a glance at the back of the professor before opening his mouth. Haru automatically leans towards him and he’s thrown back in time when Makoto used to do this. He wrestles with the possibility of it being a hallucination, if he’s finally gone and broke, but he’s talking and people are listening and some girls are looking at him with barely disguise jealousy. They can see him and he’s real he’s real. “Looks like we have something in common, Haruka-kun,” Makoto whispers in his ear. “Are you okay? Your hands… actually, you’re shaking all over.” Haru nods, still not looking away. “You sure?”
“I’m fine,” Haru smiles with all of his heart. Makoto stills for a moment and peers curiously at him in concern which makes Haru smile even more. “I’m okay, I promise.”