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Makoto thought that being a big brother to his twin siblings would have prepared him for parenthood. He was often the one keeping the peace between Ren and Ran; where Ran was headstrong, Ren was stubborn, and they managed to get into minor tussles several times an hour until Makoto was able to placate them. After spending his preteen, teen, and young adult years talking them down from tantrums, waiting out their meltdowns, making sure they were bathed and groomed and fed and clothed and prepared for school--well, he figured he had enough experience to handle just one toddler.

“Tou-chaaaaaan!”

He was sorely mistaken.

Mizuki was a generally even-tempered baby. As an infant, he didn’t cry too often, and whenever he did, Makoto or Haru could figure out what was wrong fairly quickly. They had no trouble deciphering if he was hungry-crying or soiled-diaper-crying or exhausted-and-overstimulated-crying; they simply knew, in the way that they usually understood each other without words.

So when Mizuki picked up more words than they could count, they figured things could only get easier. After all, now their son could actually tell them what he wanted or did not want, right?

As if to refute that notion entirely, Mizuki let out another ear-splitting wail.

“Mizu-chan, you need to use your words,” Makoto murmured, keeping his voice soft and even. He sat cross-legged in front of where his son flailed like a beached fish, red-faced in his anger. “I know you’re upset right now, but I can’t understand how to help you if you won’t talk to me.”

Mizuki petulantly scowled at him, an expression that pierced straight through Makoto’s (admittedly too-soft) heart. He steeled his expression so Mizuki wouldn’t be able to see how much his behaviour was hurting him, but fought to keep his posture relaxed and open.

“It’s okay to be angry, Mizu-chan, but it is not very nice to our neighbours when we make lots of noise like this.”

Mizuki’s eyes locked on Makoto’s for a long moment of tense silence before he started screaming again.

Makoto took a deep, fortifying breath.

“Mizu-chan, I’m sorry that you are so angry, but screaming at me is not helping you and it’s not helping me understand.”

Finally, it seemed that Mizuki had screamed himself hoarse and simply dissolved into wordless sobbing. Big, fat tears rolled down his plump cheeks and Makoto felt his heart breaking with every droplet that splashed down his son’s face.

“Oh, Mizu-chan,” he hummed softly, scooting forward to gather his son in his arms. Mizuki was mostly limp and didn’t put up any fuss, curling into Makoto’s chest and rubbing his tears and snot into his father’s shirt.

“Why isn’t Otou-san coming home?” he blubbered, hiccuping after every few words. 

Makoto shook his head and cradled Mizuki’s little body in his lap. “Otou-san is away at a competition. He’ll be home in a few days.”

“But why?” Mizuki demanded, stiffening a bit in Makoto’s hold. He was starting to get a bit riled up, so Makoto rubbed soothing circles over the knobbly bumps of his spine.

“Otou-san is swimming. It’s his dream, Mizu-chan, to swim. And he is so wonderful at swimming that many people want to watch him. But really, he is swimming for you, and for me. He’s swimming for our family.”

“Why can’t we watch him?”

“I’m sorry Mizu-chan, but Tou-chan has to work even while Otou-san is away swimming. I have to make sure you go to preschool and I have to make sure that all my students at school are learning. Sometimes we can go with Otou-san and we can watch him swim, but not this time.”

Mizuki finally seemed to calm as Makoto rocked them both back and forth, swaying to a silent rhythm. It lulled them into a brief spell of quiet that was finally broken when Mizuki said, “Tou-chan, I’m hungry.”

Makoto laughed and shifted so Mizuki’s weight was settled over one hip for him to stand up.

“Well, I suppose it is dinnertime, isn’t it? Let’s go get dinner prepared and we can call Otou-san afterward, okay?”

Mizuki wound his arms around Makoto’s neck. He sniffled and nodded. “Okay, Tou-chan.”

Makoto carried the little boy into the kitchen with him and settled him in his high chair at the counter with a few toys to keep him occupied while he prepared dinner. Mizuki immediately started imitating car and animal noises as he played animatedly with his figurines.

Every so often, he’d ask a question or Makoto would interject. They eventually sat down to dinner together, and Makoto helped Mizuki with his spoon and his sippy cup, trying to keep the toddler from getting too side-tracked, and to keep most of the food in his mouth.

“Is it time to call Otou-san yet?” Mizuki chirped, a smear of food across one cheek and also above his eyebrow. Makoto smiled softly as he wiped his son’s face with a damp washcloth.

“I’m sure he’ll be happy to hear from you, Mizu-chan.”

He sent Haru a quick text to check if it would be a good time, since Haru’s time zone was almost three hours behind.

Almost instantaneously, Haru responded with, “yes”.

“Alright, Mizu-chan, I’m going to set up the video call now!”

Mizuki squealed in delight. Makoto chuckled and started the web-chat on his phone.

Haru picked up after the first two rings.

“Hi Makoto,” he greeted; it wouldn’t have sounded warm to anyone but Makoto, who knew exactly how much affection Haru’s voice held in that moment.

“Otou-san!” Mizuki shrieked, making grabby-hands at Makoto’s phone. Makoto offered Haru a sheepish smile through the camera before wiping down Mizuki’s hands and letting the toddler hold the phone with one of his hands hovering in case he accidentally let go.

“Otou-san, I miss you!”

Haru smiled one of his rare, warm smiles. Makoto felt his chest swell in adoration.

“I missed you too, Mizu-chan. Have you been behaving well for Tou-chan?”

Mizuki nodded emphatically, and Haru just gave Makoto a deadpan look that made Makoto flush in embarrassment. Haru’s eyes flicked back to Mizuki and he fixed their son with a stern expression.

“Mizu-chan, you should try to be nice for Tou-chan, he loves you so much and wants to take care of you. He has to work very hard when I am not home.”

Mizuki seemed appropriately chastised, averting his gaze and puffing out his cheeks in a pout. “Okay,” he said reluctantly, with his chin nearly touching his chest. Makoto pressed a kiss to the boy’s temple and cleared away his mostly-empty dinner dish. He tucked Mizuki into the crook of one arm while he held the phone in his other, transferring them to the living room so Mizuki could play on the floor while he talked to Haru.

“You’re too soft with him,” Haru murmured quietly, staring pointedly at Makoto. Makoto scratched his cheek absently, tilting his head to the side.

“I know, I’m trying to be a bit more firm.” Makoto’s eyes drifted to Mizuki, who was now very content to play with some of his soft stuffed animals spread out around him. He sang to them and spoke to them in silly voices, and Makoto couldn’t help but smile as he watched.

“You don't have a single firm bone in your body,” Haru sighed. Makoto just laughed sheepishly.

“He’s testing his limits with you because he knows you are more likely to give into him than I am,” Haru continued. “He’ll wear you out if you let him.”

“I’m sorry, Haru,” Makoto said earnestly. He really was trying--sometimes he just felt like he was at the end of his rope. Between managing almost thirty rowdy four- and five-year-olds at school and his own rambunctious two-year-old at home, he was beyond exhausted. It was particularly difficult at this time of year, when Haru would have to be away for a few days at a time for various swimming events around the world.

Haru’s eyes softened a fraction, and Makoto let out a sigh of relief. “I know you’re doing your best, Makoto. You’re just too soft-hearted sometimes. You can’t let him take advantage of you, you’ll burn yourself out.”

“I’m not good at being stern,” Makoto lamented, “I just worry that he’ll remember something I said that made him upset and he’ll resent me for it forever.”

“Makoto,” Haru said sharply, “we’re not supposed to be his friends. We’re his parents. We love him, and we want what’s best for him, and sometimes that means that he’s going to be upset with us. As he gets older, there might be times he even hates us for it.” Makoto winced at that, and Haru’s voice eased up a fraction. “But when it comes down to keeping him safe and happy and healthy, even if he hates us at some point, he’ll eventually understand.”

Biting his lip, Makoto watched a few more unspoken sentiments play out in Haru’s eyes--they weren’t perfect, they weren’t going to be perfect, but that was okay because they loved their son and that was what would keep them on the right track, at least. And through every fumbled experience and every obstacle they stumbled over, they would do it together and they’d have each other to lean on.

“I love you,” Makoto whispered.

Haru simply inclined his head in the way that meant, I love you, too.

They shared a second of stillness before Haru finally said, “Is… is it quiet over there?”

A frown crossed Makoto’s features before he glanced over to where Mizuki had been playing and a slow smile spread over his lips.

“I think he fell asleep,” he murmured, keeping his voice low so as not to wake their slumbering son.

“No nap today?” Haru asked with a quirk of his dark eyebrow that implied he already knew the answer.

“No, he... ah--there was a bit of an incident around naptime today.”

Haru’s lips thinned a fraction that meant, he had a tantrum around naptime today, and Makoto ducked his head self-deprecatingly.

“He… was upset because he misses you, Otou-san,” he quipped back lightly, but the weight in his words conveyed the real meaning behind them: we miss you so much, Haru.

Haru shook his head minutely. “He’s almost grown out of the naps anyway.” I miss you, too.

“Maybe this means I’ll get an early night,” Makoto said hopefully. Haru gave him a nonplussed look that said, just wait until you try to wake him to brush his teeth.

Sighing, Makoto resigned himself to trying to wrestle their toddler into a fresh diaper, pajamas, and toothbrushing before bed. He grinned ruefully at Haru’s image on his phone.

“Well, good night, Haru.”

“Good night Makoto.”

“I love you.”

“Mhmm.” I love you too.

“Sleep well; you’ll be beautiful in the water tomorrow as always.”

“Sleep well.”

Makoto ended the video call and tucked his phone into his pocket before scraping Mizuki off the carpet. The toddler was completely limp, sagging in his hold even as he tried to adjust his weight. Makoto shook his head at just how deeply asleep their son was, as he barely stirred while Makoto changed his diaper and got him dressed in his pajamas.

Mercifully, Mizuki woke up just enough for Makoto to brush his teeth with only a few grumpy, bleary protests. Mizuki obediently kept his mouth open then spat and rinsed as instructed before promptly falling back asleep on Makoto’s shoulder in the short trek from the bathroom back to his crib.

Makoto settled Mizuki into his crib and dusted a few kisses along his son’s hairline.

“Sweet dreams, Mizu-chan,” he whispered, pressing another kiss to Mizuki’s cheek and the back of one pudgy hand.

By the time Makoto washed up their dinner dishes and got himself ready for bed, it was barely 9:30PM. He curled up in his too-empty bed and fell asleep before he could finish pulling the covers over his shoulders.

The next morning, Makoto woke to the sound of the water kettle boiling and Mizuki’s high-pitched giggles coming from downstairs. He shot up out of bed, not even glancing at the time before he scrambled down the stairs.

“Mizu-chan? How did you get--”

“Good morning, Makoto.”

Makoto froze at the base of the stairs, staring dumbly at Haru with Mizuki perched on his shoulders. Haru’s hair was still slightly damp, suggesting that he had probably taken a shower that morning.

“Haru-chan? But you’re--you weren’t… I thought…”

Haru tilted his head slightly in a gesture that might seem like annoyance to anyone else, but to Makoto, it was so familiar it made his stomach flutter. “Drop the -chan.”

Makoto let out a breathless laugh before sweeping forward and crushing Haru in a hug, careful to support Mizuki’s back so he wouldn’t topple.

Okaeri, Haru-chan,” he whispered into the space between the crook of Haru’s neck and Mizuki’s thigh.

Tadaima,” Haru murmured back.

“When did you--?”

“You seemed tired,” Haru said as if it explained everything. “I figured you should sleep in this morning.”

Mizuki nodded enthusiastically and reached forward to squish Makoto’s face between his little hands. “Tou-chan was sleeping so Otou-san told me to be quiet!” he said very loudly.

Makoto chuckled.

“Thank you, Mizu-chan, Haru-chan,” he said, kissing them both in turn. Mizuki blew him a kiss and Haru hummed contentedly in response.

Makoto snuck in another peck on Haru’s lips only to be interrupted by Mizuki flopping over the top of Haru’s head so he could press his forehead to the bridge of Haru’s nose, face so close to Haru’s eyes that Haru probably couldn’t see anything other than a single giant eye of Mizuki’s.

“Otou-san,” Mizuki said very seriously, grasping Haru’s chin with surprising strength. “Tou-chan can’t make pancakes and I missed you because you make me pancakes.”

Makoto squawked indignantly at Mizuki’s slight against him, but Haru simply nodded.

“Tou-chan cannot be trusted with things like pancakes. What do you want on them today?”

He shot a smirk at Makoto over his shoulder as he turned back into the kitchen, leaving Makoto to follow with a laugh.

(Ren and Ran had never minded that Makoto’s pancakes were less than perfect, but they did always ask Haru to make them some whenever he spent the night.)