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A Little Distance

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Makoto stood from the futon they’d only just finished assembling and glanced to the sliding glass doors, the streetlights coming in bright. He sighed. “I should probably get going now, don’t you think?”

Haru stood, too; he couldn’t argue, even though he might have wanted to.

Only a few days ago, they could have stayed up until well past midnight and it wouldn’t have mattered at all. Makoto could have walked the few yards to the Tachibana’s, he could have fallen asleep right where he sat at Haru’s.

But now…

Now, Makoto needed to catch a bus home. Because they weren’t in Iwatobi, he and Makoto weren’t nextdoor neighbors anymore.

And after tomorrow…

On the mornings Haru lingered too long, he wouldn’t have his baths interrupted with an exasperated grin and a gentle scolding. On the rare mornings he didn’t linger in the water, he wouldn’t step outside to find Makoto on the stoop, coaxing a kitten into nuzzling his hand, into purring and wrapping its little body around his ankle. Makoto wouldn’t stand up with a final pet and a bright “Good morning, Haru-chan!” Makoto wouldn’t laugh as he glared at the ‘-chan’.... Ren and Ran wouldn’t chase after their weekend runs along the beach, wouldn’t beg and pout for them to stop and help them find the prettiest shells and seaglass instead. And on nights when Haru couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t look to the South and see the soft glow shining through Makoto’s curtains, the green light that meant Makoto was still awake, too; the beacon that meant he could toss one of the pebbles they’d plucked from the shore at the glass and Makoto would part those green curtains and—

After tomorrow… Makoto wouldn’t be waiting at the edge of the pool to offer his hand, to help Haru from the water, to pull him out of his head. Not at practice, not at meets…

Haru looked down, swallowed. He’d had plenty of time to prepare, of course. They both knew where they were attending university, where they were living, what they were doing. They’d known it for weeks. But his halfhearted imaginings were nothing compared to facing the reality of it.

Then Makoto was nodding, turning to find his backpack, turning for the door.

And Haru didn’t want to face it all, not yet. He could feel his anxiety rising, climbing up his spine to animate his body. It moved him forward, moved his fingers to the hem of Makoto’s sleeve. His hand was light, his knuckles barely brushing against the pulse in Makoto’s wrist, the lightest tug on the slack material beneath his fingertips.

Makoto didn’t freeze, he didn’t go stiff or rigid; he didn’t turn to face Haru. He just stood, his arm loose at his side. Giving Haru the time, the privacy he needed to voice the thing they’d both danced around these past weeks.

“We’ve...we’ve never been…” so far away went unsaid, Haru’s fingers tugging more insistently at the soft cotton.

Makoto nodded slightly. “And tomorrow will be the first time we won’t walk to our ‘first day of school’ together, too.” His voice was always soft for Haru, but tonight it was even more so. Because he knew Haru needed it.

Because tomorrow, Haru’s day would be filled with new people—dozens, hundreds of them. People who wanted him to talk—to them, about himself. People who didn’t just know, people who would have to learn. Haru’s fingers twisted deeper into Makoto’s sweater.

“Well, beside that time in second year when you skipped.” Makoto’s laugh came out shallow, just barely shaking the sleeve in Haru’s hand.

That morning, Haru had been moody; he’d been short, dismissive even, with Makoto. He’d been thinking of Rin. So he’d told Makoto to go on without him, ...then he’d never shown up. Haru’s grip tightened around the soft cotton, pulling it taut. That day, most of the last year, the night of the festival… There were so many times lately when Makoto had deserved better.

He would… He just…!

On instinct, Haru leaned in, immediately letting out a shaky breath at the contact, his fingers slackening some around the cotton yarn. Makoto’s sweater was plush against his forehead, too; the body beneath it was warm, strong. Like Makoto always was for Haru. He could breathe again, deep and slow, soothed by the familiarity of the fabric softener the Tachibana’s had used for the last decade. This, Haru realized, was as close to Iwatobi, to home, as he could get....

Haru felt Makoto’s quiet hum radiate through his shoulder blade before he heard it, the words that followed: “I could try out the new futon,” Makoto murmured. “I could stay.”

“No!” Haru started, jerking at Makoto’s sleeve. He’d thought about it—of course he’d thought about it. He’d thought about more than that: If they could both miraculously get out of their leases, if they could find a two-bedroom perfectly equidistant between their two universities, if they could do it all before classes started…. Haru bit his lip. He was keeping Makoto from getting the rest he needed for tomorrow, and Haru had promised himself in Australia that he’d be better, that he’d be more for Makoto. More open; more aware of Makoto’s dreams, the dreams they shared… “No,” he whispered. He meant it, ...even as he leaned in closer, even as he kept his hold on Makoto’s sleeve.

Makoto hummed again, content to let Haru rest against his shoulder, stand together in the quiet for however long Haru needed.

Haru let the silence stretch until his heart no longer felt like he was waiting for the starting pistol to fire, until the adrenaline had receded. He let out a sigh, an audible acquiescence.

“It could be good for us, you know.” Makoto’s words were contemplative, cautious. “A little distance.”

Haru stiffened, each muscle tensing, ready to dive again.

Makoto felt it; his tone softened further: “We don’t really know what the world is like without the other right by our side.” He cleared his throat. “We might discover a new side to ourselves this year. That’s what college is for, right?”

Haru shook his head against the hard ridge of Makoto’s shoulder blade, bangs catching on green yarn with each rejection of Makoto’s premise. With every we Makoto had spoken, Haru had heard the underlying you: Makoto was hedging, still so afraid of over overstepping Haru’s boundaries again after all the things Haru had said beneath the fireworks….

Makoto chuckled softly, knowingly, then Haru felt his chest expand, Makoto’s shoulders broadening with the intake. “Doesn’t mean I won’t miss you...,” came as an exhale.

Haru’s breath caught, his lungs empty as if Makoto had breathed out for him, too.

Makoto laughed again, too loudly. “All the time, probably—things aren’t nearly as scary when you’re there!” His shoulder rolled slightly, involuntarily beneath Haru. “...But it’ll be good for both of us, you’ll see. New perspectives highlight what we love about how things are, ...what we might want for the future, don’t you think?”

Haru heard the unspoken you’s again, but there was something else, too…. Something that made his chest tighten differently...

Makoto understood the volumes of Haru’s silence, Haru’s stillness. His reply was a true whisper this time: “But not everything has to change, Haru. Not if we don’t want it to.”

Makoto had spoken directly this time, no underlying you’s; there had been hope in his voice, certainty and quiet confidence, patience. Haru let Makoto’s words wrap around him; let them sink in and find purchase, let them wash away and replace the anxiety that had swept over him.

With another little sigh, Haru’s fingers slipped from the braided cotton, letting his knuckles graze the length of Makoto’s palm, catching another second of that warmth. He took a step back, watched as a true laugh shook through Makoto, as red colored his ears.

“You might have to get better at using your phone, though.” Makoto’s voice was louder now, clear and warm as his shoulder had been against Haru’s skin. Finally, he turned, green searching for blue.

“You know I hate texting,” Haru grumbled, glancing out at his small balcony, not quite ready for the surge that would come with meeting the verdancy of Makoto’s eyes, ...instead finding the little rosemary plant the twins had given him for graduation.

“I do,” Makoto laughed, deep and sincere, and followed Haru’s gaze.

The time for hard freezes in Tokyo had passed; Haru was in no danger of breaking his promise to Ren of keeping it alive. Ran had told him she hoped its blue flowers would remind him of the ocean.... Their mother had given him a kiss on the cheek and a series of new mackerel recipes that featured the Mediterranean herb....

“They’d love a picture of it out there.”

They would, the Tachibana’s deserved a photo at the very least. “Tomorrow.” Haru nodded and turned back to find Makoto looking at his watch, smiling ruefully at the placement of the hands.

“I really do have to go now. Should’ve known we’d lose track of time again—I could’ve just brought my stuff for tomorrow and rolled out of bed and into the pool like you! Well, off the futon.”

At that, Haru’s eyes finally made the leap to Makoto’s. He’d hoped Makoto would want to continue the routine they’d started in their last few days of freedom once classes began, but the extra commute before class on top of Makoto’s college workload….

“I’ll only be getting up a little earlier than we did for ISC in middle school. Don’t worry.” Makoto smiled, kind eyes crinkling to a close. “And besides, I can’t just stop swimming, can I?”

Haru nodded, lips tilting up slightly in return. “Text me when you get back to your place.”

Makoto grinned—just a little—at Haru’s sudden willingness to utilize technology.

Haru rolled his eyes, hoping to distract from the color on his cheeks. “Goodnight, Makoto.”

At least Haru wasn’t the only one blushing….

Despite Makoto’s reassurances, Haru woke up a little apprehensive, a little tight—his jaw and neck, his hands, his calves—like his body had drawn itself taut overnight. He and Makoto would be in the pool within an hour, ...but mornings like this one were why he and Makoto had hunted for an apartment with a suitable bathtub.

Some mornings, he just needed to wake up to water.

And not a minute after submerging himself, Haru’s phone buzzed at the edge of the tub. He’d brought it with him...just in case. In case maybe he didn’t hate phones as much as he once did, case Makoto read his mind like he always did.

Haru allowed himself a small smile for the first two rings, the remnants of that smile still tilting his lips up when he swiped open the Facetime call.

Makoto grinned wide and bright. “Good morning, Haru-chan!”

Haru gave a brief flicker of a grin, ...then dropped his phone.

“H-Haru!” came Makoto’s flailing on the other side, half a second before his phone broke the surface of the bath. The water garbled Makoto’s voice as his phone drifted to land face-down on his jammers: “Nwwwoooh!! H-Hawu?! Hawu!”

A moment later, Haru took pity on his oldest friend and fished out his phone, only just keeping himself from a full-blown grin.

“Haru!” Makoto cheered, the video shaking with his relief. He’d brought his phone up close, as if he were playing a particularly difficult scene of a video game and had a say in the view, ...rather than being the other half of a FaceTime call. “I-I thought I’d just watched you drown your parents’ graduation present!”

“You got me a waterproof case for it, remember?” Haru couldn’t keep the mirth from his voice, watching realization slowly dawn on Makoto’s face.

Makoto let out a loud laugh; green, green eyes closing in self-deprecation as he slapped his forehead. “I did, didn’t I?”

“That’s what you get for calling me ‘Haru-chan.’” He didn’t quite manage not to sound petulant, but that was okay. He hadn’t really tried, not when he knew it would make Makoto let out another laugh; crinkle up the corners of his eyes in that warm, perfect way. Not when he was determined to never take that sound for granted again.

“Mmm,” Makoto hummed casually. “Sorry, Haru. Old habits and all...”

Haru chuckled, then. Just the once, but it was unguarded under Makto’s fond gaze. He propped his phone against a bottle of shampoo, while Makoto readjusted his from several kilometers away, his image growing smaller. Haru narrowed his eyes as the video focused, only just noticing the apron strings around Makoto’s neck. “Where am I? On your kitchen shelf?”

“Mmhhhmm! I’m making breakfast, something you might want to consider doing so you have time to get all your laps in before your very first day at university!”

Haru hummed noncommittally and sunk deeper into the water, into the comfort of Makoto’s voice. “Your first class is literature, right?”

It was easy to lose track of time with Makoto alternating between chatting and humming some soft K-pop song as he cooked, the quiet sizzles and scrapes of the kitchen lulling him deeper into the bath, his nose only just above the water line.

“I’ll beat you to the pool at this rate, Haru.”

Haru hid his smirk under a stream of bubbles.

A year of this wouldn’t be so bad. Not preferable, ...but not horrible, either. He dragged himself out of the water, phone in hand, and reached for his towel.

“So we’ll get ramen tonight at that place Kisumi recommended? Nagisa and Rei want to hear about our first day and their new recruits, so we can....”

No, it wouldn’t be so bad. And maybe next year… Maybe next year, they’d have a morning routine without phones, without distance.

Hope you enjoyed your gift, Chibistarlyte, and I'm so sorry it's late!

First time writing for Free! or MakoHaru—hope I did them justice!!!—but I don’t think it’ll be my last. 💚💙 Might have a few ideas for a continuation of this one, if anyone's interested.... ;) You can also find my Free! blog, xoxoIwatobi, here


Thanks for reading! 💚💙