Most days, Makoto would make it home before Haruka. This meant that Haruka could often look forward to mackerel on the grill and rice already cooked by the time he returned from the pool.
“Makoto?” Haruka called out, slightly unsettled by the quiet darkness in the house. While Makoto wasn’t loud , per se, there was almost a hum of reassuring sound around him--his gentle chuckle, his aimless humming of whatever song struck his fancy, his constant movements as he puttered around to prepare food or fold laundry or organize groceries.
Today, the inside of the house was quiet and still.
“Makoto?” Haruka called out again, feeling apprehension beginning to bubble in his chest. Had something happened at work? Did Makoto get stuck on the train? Had something happened to Mizuki?
He inhaled sharply, clenching his hands into tight fists on the kitchen counter to keep them from shaking. He closed his eyes for a brief moment and then--
“ Tou-chaaaaaaaaaan! ”
Haruka’s eyes snapped to the kitchen window, which had been left open to let in the early summer breeze that playfully ruffled their [mismatched] curtains. He crossed the kitchen in a few purposeful strides, peering out into the yard.
Makoto’s musical laugh drifted in on the breeze, forming a melodious backdrop to their son’s delighted squealing and instantly calming Haruka’s racing heart. He huffed out a near-silent sigh. Stupid Makoto, making me worry for nothing .
“Mizu-chan, you haven’t even watered it yet!”
There was more excited giggling as Mizuki sprinkled water over a dark, damp mound of dirt in the middle of the garden. Makoto scooped their little boy up into his arms and spun him around, face alight with carefree happiness.
As always, with Makoto, Haruka felt his heart expand with warmth until he felt lightheaded with it.
“It’s gonna grow, Tou-chan!” Mizuki said, grinning so widely his eyes disappeared into little half-moons of pure rapturous joy.
“That’s right, Mizu-chan. You’ll be the first person in the world with a mochi tree.”
If it was anyone else, Haruka would have rolled his eyes in exasperation. But because it was Makoto--only Makoto--he found his lips curving upward into a smile that matched their son’s.
The two halves of his heart eventually ambled into the house, streaked with dirt and soaking wet from the elbows down. Haruka leaned against the kitchen counter with an eyebrow raised as Makoto sheepishly noticed him watching.
“Welcome home, Haru-chan,” the taller man said softly, voice almost liquid with affection. Haruka couldn’t stop the smile this time as it shone in his eyes.
“Otou-san!” Mizuki cried, running toward his other father without a care in the world for the muddy footprints he trailed behind him. His flung his tiny arms around Haruka’s legs and pressed his face into his father’s knees.
Makoto was much more careful about taking off his shoes at the door and lining them up neatly before tip-toeing around Mizuki’s mess. He leaned down and pressed his lips to Haruka’s temple, then his cheek, until Haruka lost his patience and yanked his husband down for a kiss by the back of his neck. Makoto let out an aborted squeak before Haruka’s lips slid across his.
“Me too!” Mizuki whined, rocking up on his toes to try to get between his fathers’ faces. “Kisses for me too!”
Haruka and Makoto shared a smile before hoisting up their son between the two of them and planting a kiss on each of his round cheeks. Mizuki giggled and scrunched up his little nose and Haruka was so happy he thought his heart might give out.
“Mizu-chan, we don’t have dinner ready for Otou-san,” Makoto murmured softly, chuckling as Mizuki gasped dramatically. Their son immediately shot both hands forward, nearly toppling his fathers with the sudden movement, and pressed his tiny hands against Haruka’s stomach.
“Oh no, Otou-san! We’ll save you!”
He started to squirm out of his fathers’ hold and took off toward the refrigerator, still leaving muddy footprints in his wake. Haruka raised an unimpressed eyebrow and Makoto smiled, tilting his head slightly to the side and shrugging sheepishly.
“Otou-san can’t go hungry if he’s going to his second Olympics,” Makoto hummed, the teasing lilt to his voice carrying easily off the upward curve of his lips. Haruka gave him a deadpan stare before pulling him into a harder, deeper kiss, tongue demanding entrance between Makoto’s lips and taking everything Makoto had to give before he pulled back and brushed past his husband without a backward glance.
“Tou-chan will have to explain to his kindergarteners why he’s having a hard time sitting tomorrow,” he retorted, completely nonplussed. Makoto squawked in embarrassment, face instantly igniting as he turned to grab the mop in an effort to hide his impossibly red cheeks.
“H-Haru! You can’t--you just--but I…”
Haruka smirked internally, but Makoto could tell. Makoto could always tell. His husband started cleaning away the mud from their son’s shoes with a faint pout that just made Haruka melt.
Taking a little pity on his husband, Haruka swooped in to scoop their son into his arms and wrestle the dirt-caked shoes off of his pudgy toddler feet. Mizuki protested very loudly but Haruka blew a raspberry into his tummy and soon their little boy dissolved into a fit of uncontrollable giggles.
Haruka deftly tossed the muddy shoes by the door, uncaring of the clods of dirt that plopped onto the door mat as a result.
“Tou-chan can handle dinner,” Haruka said firmly. “While he’s doing that, let’s get you cleaned up.”
Approximately half an hour (and a tub full of brackish water) later, Makoto came to fetch them out of the tub. He sighed and shook his head when he saw the two of them soaking in the water, Mizuki playing with a floating dolphin toy and Haruka watching him fondly.
“You’re going to turn into a fish if you stay in the bath too long, Mizu-chan,” Makoto admonished, gently coaxing their son out of the tub and bundling him in a big, fluffy towel that swallowed him whole and made him look like a giant marshmallow with a little face and tiny feet. He picked Mizuki up and settled him on one hip while he extended his hand to help Haruka out of the tub.
“Join us for dinner, Haru-chan,” he said softly, eyes twinkling in the warm, lovely way they always did for Haruka. Haruka accepted Makoto’s hand and reluctantly stepped out of the tub, drying off with a towel that Makoto draped over his head like a veil.
Eventually their family made it downstairs for dinner, which was, to Haruka’s disappointment, not grilled mackerel. Makoto mostly stuck with simple meals, while Haruka would cook more elaborate dishes for them on weekends. Tonight was a basic stir fry on rice, cut into very small pieces for Mizuki to eat with a spoon. Haruka ate quietly, appreciating the crisp vegetables and chunks of squid and fish. Mackerel would have been better, in his opinion, but Makoto wanted to feed their son a bit more variety. Every so often, Makoto would fuss over Mizuki, helping their son use his spoon or his cup and encouraging him to keep eating whenever he got too distracted.
“We have to water it,” Mizuki said very solemnly, his eyes huge and luminous as he stared down both his fathers. Makoto and Haruka exchanged a look before turning their attention back to their son. Makoto had Mizuki’s spoon poised halfway to the boy’s mouth, not quite sure how to proceed.
“What do you have to water?” Makoto asked, leaning in a little closer. Mizuki wiggled up in his chair to whisper (but not really whisper, since he hadn’t yet grasped the concept of lowering his voice to actually whisper) loudly in Makoto’s ear, “We gotta water the mochi tree or it won’t grow.”
Makoto’s face went comically slack in surprise and Haruka would have laughed if he hadn’t found it so endearing.
“You’re right,” Makoto said, eyes wide and sparkling with mirth. “Once you finish your dinner we should water the mochi tree.”
It became their after-dinner ritual for the next week--Makoto would clean up Mizuki’s hands and face and wash the dishes and they’d put on their gardening gear (read: their rubber boots and a rain poncho for Mizuki with an old, very worn flannel shirt for Makoto) to go outside and sprinkle water on the little mound of earth where they had buried the piece of mochi. They carried on for over a week before Mizuki came back in looking crestfallen.
“Why won’t it grow?” he asked, so heartbreakingly distraught that Makoto knelt down and pulled him into a hug right away.
“You have to give it some time, Mizu-chan,” he said softly into their son’s hair. Haruka watched them from the kitchen counter, sipping at his barley tea.
“Did I do it wrong?” Mizuki sniffed, eyes already welling up with fat tears that wasted no time in rolling down his cheeks.
“Of course not, Mizu-chan,” Makoto whispered, wiping the tears with his thumbs and cupping Mizuki’s face in his big hands. Mizuki blinked and more tears pooled in Makoto’s palms.
“You love your mochi tree, right?”
Mizuki sniffled, wiped his nose on the back of his sleeve, and nodded emphatically.
Makoto chuckled. “Well then, it will grow! You just have to keep showing it your love, and don’t give up. It will grow.”
The next evening, Mizuki dutifully pulled on his rain boots and stood by the door, waiting patiently for Makoto to join him. Haruka graciously washed the dishes for Makoto, who flashed him an ever-grateful smile as he held Mizuki’s hand and led him back to their buried mochi. They sprinkled water on it, Mizuki chanted his little prayer for his mochi tree to grow, and then they came back inside for bath time.
On Saturday morning, Haruka woke up at 6AM to an empty bed for the first time in years. Usually he was up before Makoto so he could get to the pool and start some warm-up drills, and he’d get back home in time to have breakfast with Makoto and Mizuki before Makoto had to go to work and drop Mizuki off at daycare. On the weekends, he usually got to the pool to get a head start on laps before Makoto and Mizuki joined him; Makoto would patiently guide Mizuki through kicking his legs while the toddler bobbed along in his lifejacket, and both of them would cheer as they watched Haruka swim lap after lap.
But this morning, Haruka reached over and Makoto’s side of the bed was cold. He tried to ignore the chill of alarm that ran down his spine, instantly shaking off any last vestiges of sleep clinging to his eyelashes and the indents in his face from the creases of his pillow.
“Makoto?” he called out as loudly as he dared, not wanting to wake Mizuki with his panic. He got no response and a hard coil of dread tightened heavily in the pit of his stomach.
He swung his legs out of bed and slipped on a pair of socks, padding out of their bedroom with a lump in his throat. He poked his head into Mizuki’s room for a moment, wondering if perhaps their son had a nightmare overnight--usually he could find Makoto curled around their little boy, looking ridiculous with his limbs much too long for their toddler’s twin-sized mattress. Makoto was never one to place his own comfort above someone else’s, and as silly has he looked squished into the cramped space with their son, Haruka always felt his heart swell whenever he happened to see them cuddled together like that.
However, he felt something else swell and clog his throat when he took in Mizuki’s lone silhouette, curled up as a little lump under the covers and still sound asleep. Haruka could feel his heart racing in his temples as he tried to close the door as quietly as possible.
Where had Makoto gone?
Haruka almost wanted to call Nagisa, or Rei, or Gou, or even Rin (despite the ridiculous time difference that would definitely have made the redhead extremely cranky)... he just wanted someone to talk him down from the panic that was building in his gut and the bile climbing up his throat.
Then he heard a faint ‘thud’ come from somewhere outside, and he dashed toward the bathroom to peer out of the window.
There, bathed in the delicate golden light of sunrise, Makoto was crouched next to a thin sapling as he packed the soil around the sapling’s trunk. Haruka let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding and stormed (quietly, since he still didn’t want to wake their typhoon of a toddler) down the stairs and out the sliding door from the kitchen, still wearing just his socks and his pajamas.
“Nanase Makoto,” he growled, feeling a jolt of satisfaction as he saw his husband’s shoulders stiffen and his spine go rigid. “What do you think you’re doing?”
Makoto turned toward him with a benevolent smile, and Haruka felt some of the annoyance disappear.
“This is Mizuki’s mochi tree,” he said, and Haruka took a closer look at the tree.
Makoto must have gotten a young sapling from a plant nursery sometime that week and wanted to plant it before Mizuki woke up. Haruka had to bite back a smile when he saw the gobs of mochi in different colours and flavours that Makoto had painstakingly speared on the sapling’s tapered branches. Makoto’s grin was so bright Haruka couldn’t resist kissing it off his face.
“Makoto,” he murmured against his husband’s lips.
The taller man chuckled sheepishly. “I know, I know… it’s going to grow right in the middle of the yard. But Haru-chan, just wait until Mizuki sees his tree--he’s going to love it!”
Haruka just pulled back to look Makoto dead in the eye, and Makoto smiled in that infuriatingly adorable way and Haruka knew there was no arguing.
“It’s a sakura tree,” Makoto said after a beat. Haruka inclined his head--this twiggy sapling looked nothing like a sakura tree to him.
“Just like the one from the swim club,” Haruka breathed, eyes widening in realization. Of course Makoto--thoughtful, wonderful Makoto--would be able to find the perfect tree for their son and for Haruka, too. They might not have been sappy romantics like Rin, but Haruka had to admit that his insides turned to mush just a little bit.
Makoto pressed another kiss to Haruka’s temple before catching his wrist and gently tugging him back into the house. Haruka washed his hands and started to prepare breakfast while Makoto took a quick shower and slipped back into bed for another half hour of sleep before Mizuki woke up.
Haruka tried to hide his smile as Mizuki came down the stairs, rubbing his eyes and perking up with every step into the kitchen.
“Are you making pancakes, Otou-san?”
Haruka nodded wordlessly and Mizuki’s face lit up like a sparkler. He clapped his hands and raced to pull one of the kitchen chairs next to Haruka at the stove so he could watch what his father was doing. Haruka carefully poured the fluffy souffle pancake batter into the pan without squashing it, and Mizuki was completely enchanted by the puffy cake as it cooked. When Haruka flipped the pancake, he clapped again.
“They’re almost ready,” he said, flicking his eyes to the plates of pancakes beside him. “Go wake up Tou-chan and then we can eat.”
Mizuki shot back up the stairs like a bullet. Haruka winced as he heard a heavy thud, likely Mizuki slipping on a stair in his excitement, but the rapid footfalls resumed like nothing had happened.
“Tou-chaaaaaaaaaaaaan!” he heard as he carried the plates to the table.
Makoto’s melodious laugh carried down the stairs, and Haruka smiled as he could imagine Mizuki jumping into Makoto in their bed, and Makoto promptly snatching the boy and snuggling him under the covers.
A high peal of laughter joined Makoto’s, and Haruka shook his head fondly as he pulled out honey and milk.
Ten minutes later, Makoto came down the stairs with Mizuki slung over one shoulder. Haruka assumed by how wet Mizuki’s hair had become that both of them had brushed their teeth and washed their faces. They all sat down to breakfast together and Mizuki chattered animatedly about how Haruka had made the souffle pancakes and how great it was. Makoto listened with an indulgent smile and sent fond looks at Haruka throughout the meal. Finally, Mizuki finished his pancake and slid out of his seat, eager to head to the pool or park or wherever it was that they were going that day.
Makoto cleared the table (leaning over to press a syrupy, sticky kiss to Haruka’s lips), when he noticed Mizuki had gone quiet.
Haruka caught on a split second before Makoto had a chance to turn around to see what had happened; he got to watch as Makoto swiveled and was immediately bowled over when Mizuki launched himself at him.
Makoto caught the flying toddler with a muted, ‘oof’, but Mizuki was already screaming, “It grew! It grew! It grew!”
Haruka enjoyed the look of complete bewilderment on Makoto’s face for another moment before it finally sunk in and Makoto was laughing.
“Yes, it did! Would you like to go pick some mochi off your new tree?”
“I do I do I do!”
Makoto didn’t bother putting Mizuki’s shoes on, and instead toed on his own shoes to carry the little boy out with him. He held Mizuki up so their son could pluck a glob of mochi off the tree, which he immediately stuffed into his mouth.
“Hey! Small bites, Mizu-chan! I don’t want you to choke!”
Haruka ducked his head to hide his smile behind his cup of tea as he watched Makoto panic over their son’s bulging cheeks, crammed full of green matcha mochi. Fortunately, Mizuki was very diligent about chewing before he swallowed, and Makoto didn’t faint from anxiety.
“It grew, Tou-chan!” Mizuki continued to yell.
Haruka smiled. That evening, he joined Makoto and Mizuki for their nightly mochi tree watering ceremony. He joined them the night after that, and the night after that, and eventually, he would stay up late with Makoto to make mochi on Friday nights after Mizuki was in bed so they could replenish the mochi tree on Saturday mornings.
“He’s going to figure it out eventually,” Haruka said as they kneaded the soft, pliable dough. Makoto smiled as he mixed the adzuki bean paste in a bowl.
“It’s alright, he’s going to grow up eventually,” the taller man said wistfully, the slightest hint of sadness in his eyes. Haruka stepped around the kitchen counter to press a kiss to the corner of Makoto’s mouth.
“We will always keep loving him, and he will grow.”
Makoto chuckled wetly and leaned into Haruka, pressing his face into his husband’s shoulder. Haruka kindly chose not to comment on the warm wetness soaking into the collar of his sweater and instead started to divide the mochi into smooth equal balls.