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Five Degrees To The Right

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Makoto's five years old when he first understands that Alphas and Omegas are different, and what that really means.

He's visiting Grandma Nanase's house just up the steps, which is now just the Nanase house in general because recently her son moved back from Tokyo with his wife and son to pursue a job opportunity and take care of Grandma Nanase in her waning years.

Their son is Nanase Haruka, five months older than Makoto, and an Alpha, his father says. When he was told, Makoto had simply smiled and nodded, because that didn't really mean anything to him. He'd never felt any differences in his other peers, other than the ones called Alphas were usually in the front of groups and Omegas in the back of groups and that's just how things were. Makoto's an Omega, his parents say, and he just nods more because his parents are right about everything, but he doesn't understand what it really means.

All he really knows is that it feels right and natural to follow Haru-chan around – “Haru-chan”, cause he got mad when Makoto tried “Haruka” and “Nanase” was too cold and made Makoto feel sad when they were neighbors, so “Haru-chan” it is, even if it makes Haru-chan frown – and that he likes being with him. He's quiet, and a little cold sometimes, but he never picks on Makoto like the other kids do and he shares his toys and holds Makoto's hand without complaint. Makoto likes him. He hopes they can be friends for a long time.

They're drawing on Haru-chan's living room floor – well, Haru-chan is drawing, Makoto is idly coloring in some of them because his squiggles look nothing like actual things like Haru-chan's do – when he catches their names coming from their parents, talking around the living room table and tea, and he automatically listens in.

“Haruka-kun's such a beautiful child,” Makoto's mother is telling Haru-chan's parents. “He looks like a porcelain doll, sometimes. Are you planning on having anymore?”

Haru-chan's mother smiles, but it's his father who answers – that happens a lot. Something about that Alpha and Omega thing again, Makoto thinks. His own parents are both Betas, they say, so he doesn't really understand. “Well, if it happens. Unfortunately Kana's body is a little weak, bearing Haruka took a lot out of her. We're not sure we want to try again. We're fine with just Haruka, anyways – he's quite the handful!” He laughs, bright and jovial and very different from quiet Haru-chan. “What about you guys? Planning another?”

Makoto's mother hums in response. “We're considering it. We have the income and space, and we did plan for a larger family. And it will do Makoto some good, I think, to be the elder sibling. He's so timid and shy, maybe having a little sibling to take care of will help his confidence. We've been open to it, but you know, planning pregnancies isn't as easy for Betas and all that.”

Haruka's father, Mister Nanase, nods, taking a sip of his tea and looking towards Makoto and Haruka – Makoto ducks his head quickly, hoping he isn't caught eavesdropping. He's a good boy! But Mister Nanase says nothing about Makoto – well, nothing about his listening in, at any rate. “I hope they stay close. Haruka's never done well with other children, so we've been worried about his social development. Sometimes he won't say a word for days. Little Makoto-kun will be a good friend for him, it's good that we moved so close to a friend for Haruka.” Suddenly, his face splits into a mischievous grin. “And who knows, maybe more, down the line.”

All the parents laugh, and Makoto is confused. Why are they laughing? What else could Makoto and Haru-chan be but friends? What more is there? If it's with Haru-chan, he thinks he wouldn't mind becoming “more”, whatever that is, but he still doesn't understand why it's so funny, or what it is.

“That is a little far in the future,” Makoto's father chuckles, drinking his tea. “But, well, if it happens, maybe I should be grateful. I'm worried about the whole thing when Makoto grows up...raising an Omega isn't easy on the nerves, sometimes. It'd be comforting to see him go to someone I could trust.”

Go? Go where? Makoto's mother nods, adding to Makoto's confusion. “That's true...I never expected an Omega child. Both of our family trees are Betas for generations. The last one in line was Takehiro's great-grandmother, I think. Quite a ways to throwback!”

Mister Nanase agrees with a laugh, and soon the conversation moves onto other family and the past, and Makoto loses interest. He forgets about Alphas and Omegas again, absorbed in coloring the pod of dolphins Haru-chan drew.

He forgets until the sun starts sinking from the sky, and Makoto's parents get up and say it's time to leave. Makoto's a little disappointed – he wants to play with Haru-chan more, he's having fun – but he's a good boy so he gets up, intending to go to his parent's side at the doorway.

A sudden iron grip on his little wrist surprises him, and he looks back to see Haru-chan, who's grabbed onto him and is refusing to let go, staring at Makoto with a look Makoto can't describe but makes his wrist tingle, starting from the warmth of Haru-chan's fingers and wiggling up his arm. “No. Stay.”

Makoto's feet suddenly feel glued to the floor. He's confused, and a little scared, because he needs to go, his parents are waiting for him obviously, but Haru-chan said stay and suddenly Makoto can't move.

“Haruka! You can't just do that to Makoto, that's rude!” Mister Nanase comes out of nowhere it feels like, reaching down to snatch Haruka's hand off Makoto's wrist. As soon as his father touches them, Haru-chan's face changes, going from intense but calm to furious as he turns and silently snarls at his own father, slapping his father's hands away.

Makoto's always doing his best to be a good boy, so he's learned how to read adults quickly, and Mister Nanase's face quickly turns from exasperated to Angry. It makes Makoto quail in place – he still can't move – and suddenly Haru-chan is gone, Mister Nanase having swept him up under an arm, frowning sharply as Haru-chan struggles to get free, kicking and flailing. He's not screaming like other kids – his mouth is emphatically closed in a deep grimace, glaring harshly at the floor – but it's obvious he's extremely mad. Mister Nanase sweeps him out of the room, and Makoto can distantly hear a door shut hard, just shy of slammed, and Mister Nanase's voice raised in harsh scolding.

“I'm so sorry this happened,” Haru-chan's mother apologizes in her low melodic voice, stepping up to Makoto's parents with a worried look on her face. “It's started up recently. Haruka's started really rebelling against my husband's authority as an Alpha a lot, testing his boundaries and his own authority, that sort of thing. Things will be rocky for a little while until he grows up and learns a little...I'm really very sorry he dominated your son without permission.”

“It's fine, really,” Makoto's mother soothes, smiling gently. “We completely understand, raising an Alpha has its disadvantages. We don't mind at all, he's young and doesn't know what he's doing.” She laughs and shakes her head a little, returning to her smile. “Well, we'll just get going then and let you sort things out. Come on, Makoto!”

She beckons with one hand, and Makoto wants to go, he really does. It's obvious he should. He likes obeying his parents, he can't imagine throwing a fit like the one Haru-chan just had, ever. He needs to go with his parents.

But he really can't move. Haru-chan told him to stay and he can't move. He stares at his parents with wide bewildered eyes, not understanding what's happened.

His parents look at him with confusion, before understanding dawns on his mother's face and she gives a little gasp. “Oh! Haruka-kun didn't release him! He's still obeying!”

Haru-chan's mother bites her lip, apologizing again. Makoto's fatehr shakes his head, giving her a reassuring smile as he steps up to Makoto. “It's really fine, Kana-san. I'm sure Haruka-kun will learn soon enough. Now then, let's get you home, Makoto. You can't stay here all night, after all!”

He bends over to pick Makoto up, which is normal, he's carried by his father all the time, but now it's suddenly Not Right. He can't stay if he's carried away! Haru-chan would come back and see he's not there and that he'd disobeyed and been bad, and he doesn't want that. He wants to be Haru-chan's friend, he doesn't want to disappoint him. He has to stay!

Makoto bursts into abrupt tears. “No! I can't!”

Makoto's father sets him back down in a hurry, but the damage is done – Makoto is now sobbing, catching into hiccups and fists clenched in his shorts. He's scared, and confused, because he can't move he has to stay but he really doesn't understand why and he upsetting his parents, he doesn't want to, but the thought of upsetting Haru-chan is equally as painful and he just doesn't understand why, or what's happening.

They stay like that, with Makoto standing rigidly in place, tears pouring down his cheeks and three adults hovering worriedly over him, until Mister Nanase comes back. He takes one look at the situation and moves to kneel in front of Makoto, putting his hand on his shoulder and staring seriously into his eyes. “It's okay, Makoto-kun. You can leave with your parents. You can go.”

It's like lead weights are stripped from his legs, and Makoto instantly buries his face in his mother's skirt, confused and scared. It's like his body isn't his own, that Haru-chan and Mister Nanase are controlling him like that little toy puppet he has – he doesn't play with it much, it scares him a little.

Even still, after being released by Mister Nanase, he finds himself instinctively glancing towards the dark hallway where Haru-chan had disappeared. Is it really okay?

He doesn't cry when his father picks him up this time, just hiding his face in his strong shoulder, tears still leaking out of his eyes. Mister Nanase gives them a strained smiles Makoto doesn't understand. “Well, I'm sorry for that. Trust me, we'll have a good long talk with Haruka about it. I'm just glad I could release him...” Mister Nanase gives a nervous, strained laugh. “...Who knows how long I'll be able to do that...he still looked for Haruka. We'll definitely talk with Haruka about not needlessly dominating anyone.”

His parents reassure the Nanases with kind words, of course, and they go home, and Makoto is quickly put to bed. He falls asleep quickly, exhausting from crying, and wakes up the next morning feeling much better.

But he's learned something. He's learned there's a real difference between Haru-chan and him. He doesn't see Haru-chan for a week – he was grounded and Makoto finds the world a boring place for that long week – and when they meet again there's a strange sort of tension. Makoto is shy, and Haru looks at the ground, guilty. At the end of their day playing together Haru looks at the ground and says he's sorry. He hadn't meant to make Makoto cry. He'd heard it from his room and had felt bad.

Makoto accepts with a smile, because really, even if it had been scary, being with Haru-chan is far more fun. Even if they're different, somehow. Haru-chan cares enough to not want him to cry, and that makes it okay.

Haru-chan doesn't use that voice on him again – not for another two years, at least, stopping Makoto from accidentally running into the street when a truck had been barreling down it and Haru-chan looks so disturbed about it, about both Makoto's safety and having to do that to him that Makoto makes a silent vow that day to always listen to Haru-chan so he doesn't have to use domination ever again, for Haru-chan's sake.

Makoto is perfectly content to stay beside Haru-chan's side without needing to be told to, after all.

Chapter Text

While Haru-chan develops a quick dislike for the dominating aspects of Alphas after that incident with Makoto, refusing to even give suggestions sometimes – besides swimming, of course, and Makoto doesn't mind because in the three years they've been friends, he's more or less learned what Haru-chan likes anyways – their peers are much more eager to explore the secondary dynamics.

Makoto's sitting on the steps of Iwatobi Elementary, sipping at a box of chocolate milk as he waits for Haru-chan to finish cleaning the classroom – Haru-chan had told him to go home already but really it's no fun walking home without him, so Makoto stays every time just like Haru-chan quietly waits for him – when a shadow falls across him and he looks up in confusion.

His stomach bottoms a little. It's Yamada-kun from Class 3-B.

Classes 3-A and 3-B have had an unannounced rivalry all year between the two leading Alphas of each class, Takahashi-kun from A, Yamada-kun from B. No one's quite sure how it started – some insults traded during lunchtime about Takahashi-kun's single mother, or Yamada-kun's plain bento, Makoto isn't really sure – but it's truth that the two Alphas have been engaged in a war of pranks and posturing since April. Being the unofficial group leaders of their classes by way of their strong Alpha personalities, so the other students fell behind their respective Alphas and it's become an all-out class war, waged silently in spitballs and taunts on the playground when the teachers aren't looking.

Makoto and Haru-chan have, more or less, managed to stay out of it. Although Takahashi-kun and Yamada-kun are both strong Alphas, Haru-chan is stronger and no one tells him what to do. Takahashi-kun tried bullying Haru-chan into it once but failed, and there's been a little circle of distance between him and the rest of the class since. And since Makoto is Haru-chan's friend, that bubble applies to him too.

It's a little sad sometimes, being separate from the rest of the class, but at the same time Makoto's grateful. Being left alone means being left alone from bullying, too, and Haru-chan's the only friend Makoto really needs. While the other Omegas of 3-A have come to school crying with gum in their hair or school shoes dunked in water, Makoto's belongings have remained untouched and no one says anything mean to him. He feels a little guilty about it sometimes, at being left alone when everyone else is being hurt, but to stand up for the other Omegas means drawing that attention to himself and the thought makes his knees quail. He's doing his best to learn to be a strong big brother for the twins, barely a year old right now, he really is, but he's still weak useless Makoto who has to hold Haru-chan's hand. He's not strong enough to stand up to bullies, yet. Until he is, he'll just have to hide behind Haru-chan and follow his lead. Haru-chan never leads him wrong, and he's been safe.

Until now, where Haru-chan is across the building and Makoto is alone, and Yamada-kun is standing over him with a smirk.

“Tachibana! You're all alone, is the sky falling? Where's Nanase?” His voice is taunting, and he eyes Makoto like he's a bug he particularly wants to squish. Makoto shrinks into himself, squeezing the carton of milk in his hands as he tries to make himself smaller.

“C-Cleaning duty,” he whispers, because not answering only makes things worse, he's seen. He keeps his head down, hoping that if he remains small and quiet, Yamada-kun will lose interest and leave him alone.

“I see...so you're waiting on the steps for him to finish?” Yamada-kun scoffs, kicking the ground. “Of course you are. You're Nanase's perfect little Omega. I bet you lick his shoes clean every night too, huh? Does it feel good to follow his every order, like his dog?”

“I–!!” Makoto flushes, biting his lip as mortification floods his body, causing his face to burn red to his ears. He's not sure why – Haru-chan doesn't order him around so Makoto doesn't even know if it would feel good or not, and he's pretty sure licking shoes would feel awful no matter who told him to do it – but it's still horrifying to have those sorts of words flung at him, in that sneering voice. “I-I don't...H-Haru-chan doesn't...”

One of Yamada-kun's eyebrows lifts. “What? He doesn't order you around? So you do everything he wants just cause you feel like it?” Yamada-kun clicks his tongue, turning to kick at the dirt for a moment – Makoto thinks he hears him mutter words, something about “waste” but he can't quite hear – before he turns back to Makoto, setting his fists on his hips. “You really are his dog.”

Makoto looks down at his hands – he's been clenching them so hard on the milk carton that light brown liquid is seeping out, dripping over his fingers. It feels sticky. He bites his lip hard, trying to ignore the telltale pinpricks in the corners of his eyes. He's a big brother now, he can't cry! Yamada-kun is just...just frustrated, that's it, and it's Makoto's fault he left Haru-chan's side. He'll get tired of insulting Makoto soon and leave, it's just a bully war. That's all it is. If Makoto stays quiet, he'll be left alone.

“Hey, Tachibana. If you really are such a good Omega, that means you'll follow aaaaany order from an Alpha, right?”

Yamada-kun's tone of voice makes the hairs on the back of Makoto's neck stand up. Without thinking, he looks up, eyes wide. Yamada-kun is grinning down at him. It's not a nice grin, and Makoto feels cold.

“Since you're an Omega, you should listen to your Alphas. And I'm a good Alpha, so I should be rewarded, right?”

Makoto doesn't like where this is going.

“Kiss me.”

Makoto freezes in place.

It's an order – he feels his body lock up, instinctively fighting himself because it's an order from an Alpha, he has to do it, but he doesn't want to. Kissing is special. His first kiss is special. His mother is always telling him this, that kisses aren't cheap and should be saved for the one you love for the rest of your life, and that first kisses are especially important because you never get them back. You should never regret your first kiss, so it has to be important. And while Makoto doesn't think Yamada-kun is necessarily bad, just frustrated and looking to fight, he doesn't love him and Makoto is very sure he'll regret it the rest of his life if he kisses him, and that's not right. He can't kiss him, he doesn't want to.

“Come on, Tachibana. You don't want to be a bad Omega, do you? Isn't it your job to follow orders? Omegas kiss Alphas all the time, it's what you're good for. I bet you'd kiss Nanase. You probably already do. So what's the big deal? Kiss me!”

Makoto's shaking, more milk spilling from the carton as he fights himself, but the order in Yamada-kun's voice is clear and Makoto finds himself standing. Yamada-kun smiles widely, satisfied, and Makoto's breath catches. No, he can't cry, but he can't help it, he's shaking so hard that the tears gathering in his eyes leak out easily. His body takes a step forward, even as his mind screams not to and he doesn't want this, he doesn't, no no no

“Makoto!”

It's like hitting the end of the pool in swim club, breaking the surface to gasp for air as Haru-chan's voice breaks through the chains of Yamada-kun's order, causing Makoto to backtrack rapidly, tripping over the stairs and falling down on his behind with a gasp. The slight sting is nothing in the face of the wave of relief, though, as he turns to look wide-eyed at Haru-chan, who's standing in the doorway of the school, one hand holding the door open, the other clutching the strap of his backpack, and eyes fixed on Yamada-kun with an expression Makoto hasn't quite seen before. It's anger, he vaguely recognizes it from the few times he saw Haru-chan throw temper tantrums against his father, but it's more. It's the same look – mouth pressed in a firm line, brows furrowed deep over blue eyes that are suddenly a violent ocean storm instead of a placid tidal pool – but it's more. Makoto doesn't think he's ever seen Haru-chan this angry.

Yamada-kun quickly goes from surprised to just as angry as he turns to Haru-chan and growls. “Butt out, Nanase. Didn't your parents teach you to share? You can't keep Tachibana all to yourself! You think you're so great, you have your own little Omega and look down at everyone else, ignoring us...you're not even a good Alpha, you're just creepy and quiet! You should just go away and let Tachibana have an Alpha that actually acts like one!”

Haru-chan steps away from the door, letting it slam shut behind him with a bang. He doesn't snarl like Yamada-kun, or pose threateningly, but he stands rigidly, glaring down at him with fists clenched at his sides. Makoto finds his feet, scrambling to them and moving to Haru's side, reaching out to shyly grab a corner of Haru-chan's shirt. Haru-chan doesn't move, but his eyes flicker to Makoto and some of the stone-hard tension fades from his frame. Haru-chan's voice when he speaks is low, even, but firm with no room for hesitation.

“If Makoto wanted to be with you, he would be already. I don't tell him what to do. The one who is forcing him to do things is you.”

Yamada-kun snarls, taking a step forward and Makoto can feel Haru-chan tense again, and Makoto freezes, because he can tell that Haru-chan is getting ready to fight, is willing to fight Yamada-kun if necessary, and Makoto doesn't think he'd be able to handle seeing Haru-chan get hurt or hurting someone just for Makoto's sake, but it doesn't come to that, because Yamada-kun looks at them, looks at Makoto who is still shaking and crying, unable to help himself, looks at Makoto's hand clinging to Haru-chan's shirt, and abruptly it looks like Yamada-kun is the one who wants to cry. He turns away suddenly, biting his lip.

“...Fine! If you two just want to be alone together, fine! No one wants you around anyways!”

Yamada-kun turns and runs away, leaving Haru-chan and Makoto standing on the school steps. Makoto holds his breath unconsciously, until Yamada-kun runs around the street corner and is out of sight. He lets it out then, dropping his head and sagging a little, leaning against Haru-chan. He closes his eyes, lets the last of his tears fall as he shakes minutely.

He doesn't understand. Why did this happen? Why can't everyone get along? Why was the world this way?

Why does he, as an Omega, have to obey any Alpha he hears, no matter what he wants?

Cold fingers suddenly clamp around his fingers tucked into Haru-chan's shirt, causing Makoto to gasp weakly and open his eyes. Haru-chan stares at him for a moment, eyes deep and face unreadable, before he tugs on Makoto's hand, starting to lead them down the stairs. Makoto follows numbly, clutching back at Haru-chan's hand, forgotten milk carton still squeezed into his other.

They walk home in silence, Haru-chan holding his hand so tightly it almost kind of hurts, but Makoto doesn't really mind. If he's holding on so tightly, it means he doesn't want to let go, and Makoto's okay with that. He doesn't want him to, anyways.

They're walking up a hilly road, overlooking the ocean, when Haru-chan stops. He doesn't look at Makoto, but his grip tightens a little in a squeeze.

“...Makoto.”

Makoto blinks, tilted his head slightly, the ocean wind stinging the tear trails on his cheeks. “Y-Yes?”

Haru-chan gives him the briefest of glances, a flash of lake blue, before he looks towards the sea again.

“...You don't have to stay with me. You can be with anyone else, if you want. I won't order you to do anything.”

Makoto blinks again – not stay with Haru-chan? The thought is a little unfathomable. He's always with Haru-chan. He doesn't want to leave. Does...does Haru-chan want him to? No, he's still holding his hand. Ah, it's about what Yamada-kun said, Makoto thinks. Is Haru-chan worried that Makoto did want to leave...?

He shakes his head quickly, sending brown hair into an even messier array. “N-No! I'm fine, with Haru-chan. I d-don't want to leave you!”

The grip on his hand relaxes just a little. Haru-chan looks down at his feet. “...You don't have to, though. If you ever want to. You...you don't have a lot of other friends. So it's okay, if you want to make more.”

His voice is quiet, Makoto would think shy but Haru-chan is never shy. Makoto tilts his head, thinking, hearing what Haru-chan isn't really saying. Haru-chan is quiet, and perhaps a little weird to other people. It's true that they don't really have any other friends. Acquaintances, sure, and everyone at the swim club is nice, but they're not friends. And it is a little lonely, sometimes, watching their classmates run and laugh and play together while he and Haru-chan sit by themselves. It wouldn't be bad, having more friends.

But...he doesn't want those friends at the expense of Haru-chan. He wants them to be their friends, not just Makoto's, because Haru-chan deserves more friends too. Haru-chan is a wonderful Alpha and a very kind person, and Makoto sometimes wishes more people saw that, instead of just calling him cold and quiet and weird. He is, a little, but that's not all Haru-chan is, and Makoto wouldn't have him any other way. Haru-chan is Haru-chan.

He shakes his head, smiling a little. “Then Haru-chan would be lonely, right? I'd rather have Haru-chan over Yamada-kun or Takahashi-kun or anyone. So I won't leave Haru-chan's side. If I make friends, I want them to be Haru-chan's friends too! It doesn't have to be one or the other, right?”

Haru-chan's grip tightens again, and he looks to the side, scowling. “I don't need any other friends. It's troublesome.”

Makoto would feel put out, but he's come to recognize what Haru-chan's really saying. Haru-chan hates showing his feelings, hates being vulnerable. He's embarrassed, and using harsh words to hide it, so Makoto laughs softly, reaching up to scrub at his face with his free arm. “Swimming with more people is fun, though.”

“They're in the way. The water gets noisy.”

Makoto giggles, face softening into his first real smile since they got out of school and they start walking again. “Whatever you say, Haru-chan.”

He sees Haru-chan's face pull into a scowl – his version of pouting – and laughs softly again, holding Haru-chan's hand tightly as they walk side by side. They walk in companionable silence for a while, sea breeze blowing between them, as they stroll through the town, eventually reaching the stairs to the shrine. Makoto makes to let go of Haru-chan's hand, about to turn to him and say his daily goodbyes, but Haru-chan tightens his grip, tugging his hand and leading him past Makoto's house and up the stairs to his own. Makoto stumbled after him, looking up in confusion. “Haru-chan?”

Haru-chan glances at him. “You were crying. It's all over your face, your parents will see. You should clean up before you go home.”

“Oh...” Makoto reaches up to rub at his face again, embarrassed. That's right. If he goes home, having obviously cried, his parents would worry and he wouldn't be a good big brother at all. He really needs to be stronger.

“You've also got chocolate milk all over your face.” Haru-chan's voice turns more deadpan, his version of teasing amusement. Makoto flushes, just now remembering the carton clutched in his free hand – the same free hand he's been wiping his face with.

“Haru-chan! Why didn't you tell me earlier!?”

“You're going to wash your face anyways, doesn't matter.” Haru-chan's eyes flicker towards him, and Makoto can see the teasing dancing in them, like light flickering over the sea. “And I thought you would notice.”

Makoto's ears go red, and he pouts. “Geez...”

Haru-chan gives a fleeting smile, just an up[turn of his lips really, as they go into Haru-chan's house. Makoto makes a show of being embarrassed and annoyed that Haru-chan hadn't told him earlier, and Haru-chan pretends that his intentions were absolutely virtuous and he is in no way teasing Makoto, and he ends up staying at Haru-chan's house anyways after he washes his face, watching television as they do their homework side by side, Haru-chan's warmth a solid sturdy wall for Makoto to lean on.

It's true he's lonely without other friends sometimes, and that he needs to be stronger so he isn't a crybaby older brother, and being an Omega is a tiring thing Makoto's come to learn. But like this, pressed against Haru-chan and hearing a faint, breathy laugh in his ear when the comedian on television says something extra funny, Makoto thinks that those problems are very small indeed.

Haru-chan's presence is larger than any worries, and as long as Haru-chan is by his side, Makoto thinks there is in fact nothing to really worry about at all.

 

Chapter Text

Seasons pass, and elementary school drives on. Soon the great war between 3-A and 3-B is forgotten to history, as well as the bullying. They're in their last year of elementary school, now, and Haru-chan has grown into “Haru”, a young boy who's starting to get more and more compliments over how beautiful he is. Haru frowns at each one and turns his head. He's grumpier all the time now, it seems, annoyed by various things like being called pretty, or his girly name.

Makoto's growing, too, and he's not sure he likes it either. While before he wasn't immensely smaller than Haru, he was still always a centimeter or two behind, five months younger. Haru was his protector, holding his hand against fears imagined or real, Makoto hiding in his shadow.

He can't hide in Haru's shadow now. Over the course of the past summer it's like someone's grabbed his limbs and pulled them longer, like stretchy clay. He's now a whole six centimeters taller than Haru, and heavier too. His shoulders are bigger, his legs are longer. Compared to Haru, he doesn't look anything like the Omega of the two anymore and it's unsettling. It's not right. Omegas are supposed to be small and dainty and pretty, not...not this. He used to get so many compliments from strangers, about how he was such a cute, good little Omega, and now...

Now, strangers are starting to mistake Haru for the Omega instead, and Haru's mood sours a little more each time it happens.

Makoto doesn't like it. It's not supposed to be like this. He hunches his shoulders, does his best to always stay behind Haru and project as much “Omega-ness” as he can. He's always been told about how good of an Omega he was, so surely if he just tries harder, it will be obvious and people can stop mistaking Haru and maybe Haru will be a little happier. Maybe if he could just stop growing, maybe if he hadn't childishly wished to be like his father growing up, then things could go back to being the way they were, nice and normal.

But biology doesn't listen to pleas, nor does life, because it's in the winter of their last year when Rin appears.

Makoto doesn't really know what to think of Matsuoka Rin at first. He's every inch the appropriate Alpha – loud, flashy, pushy, large grin and larger personality. It's to be expected that he clashes with Haru immediately – Alpha relationships are all about competition and fire, even friendly ones. It's a little unexpected when Rin changes targets to Makoto instead, though, no one has really bothered with Makoto, not since third grade and that incident with Yamada-kun – it turned out that Yamada-kun had had a crush on Makoto, and had been trying to get his attention, which was embarrassing when Makoto thought about it and made Haru scowl more than normal. Makoto isn't quite sure how to handle Rin, especially since his overtures to Makoto come off more than a little as attempts to get Haru onto his relay team some more, but he isn't bad. His lively energy makes Makoto smile, and he doesn't boss him around too much as an Alpha, so Makoto doesn't mind being friends, really.

It gets better when Haru, too, starts to slowly relent to Rin's presence. Makoto is reminded of his wish for any new friends he made to be Haru's friends too, and so he keeps up his efforts to keep their relationship smooth. If Haru starts making more friends, maybe he'll start smiling again.

Their little circle grows when Hazuki Nagisa starts wriggling in – he'd hung around them before a little, obviously enthralled with Haru's beautiful swimming and his strong demeanor, but Rin's relay is the perfect time for Nagisa to start actually being their friend, instead of just an admirer on the sidelines. It's also nice, sometimes, to have a fellow Omega to talk to – he has no problems with Haru, of course, but Rin is different, and Haru with Rin is different, and it's a little difficult to be the sole supporting presence between two headstrong Alphas, sometimes. Nagisa helps, sometimes, although he's a little too excitable to be truly supportive.

And if Makoto is just the little bit jealous of Nagisa's nymph-like body and delicate face, the perfect example of a proper Omega, well, no one has to know.

Still, Rin brings out more energy in Haru than Makoto had ever seen, and Nagisa is cheerful and the perfect one to lighten the mood when it gets too heavy and Makoto is choked silent, and Makoto can't help but smile when Haru finally does agree to the relay. It feels nice to leave his house and say he's meeting their friends, not just Makoto's or Haru's but theirs.

But not everything is perfect. The first worms of anxiety start springing when he stops and really looks at Rin and Haru's relationship.

Rin is touchy – that's a fact of life. He throws his arm around Makoto's shoulders, ruffles Nagisa's hair, slaps a hand on Haru's shoulder. Rin just touches people, it's a part of who he is. It's a little weird to Makoto. Not completely wrong, he has clingy younger siblings, after all, who run and screech and jump on his back at inopportune times, but to be honest Makoto's not really used to this kind of friendly touch. Haru holds his hand, and has given him one or two hugs when they were little and Makoto couldn't stop crying over imagined bogeymen, and Makoto can't help but cling to his shirt a lot, but they rarely just touch like that. Nagisa's touchy, too, cuddling into their sides and giving them spontaneous hugs without warning. It's new, and different.

It's new and different, so Makoto notices that Haru's the one that Rin touches the most. Maybe it's just because he's enamored with Haru's skill, but...it feels different than the arm around Makoto's shoulders, or the hand in Nagisa's hair. It feels...possessive. Claiming.

Makoto doesn't know why he thinks that. Haru's an Alpha, he can't be claimed by anyone, and although he's willing to go along with the relay, he's not bowing to Rin's wishes by any means. He's still strong-willed, indomitable Haru.

But Rin's always touching him, always turning the direction of his conversations towards Haru, giving him sly grins as he asks the group a question but is obviously only really asking Haru.

Makoto doesn't know what to think of it. His stomach bottoms out every time he notices it and he doesn't know what to think of that either.

Either way, it's not really his place to say anything about it. As long as they're all getting along, isn't it fine? Maybe Rin just really gets along with Haru. There's nothing weird about it.

Makoto mostly convinces himself of this, until one day after swim club in the club showers. He'd lost his towel and spent a good thirty minutes searching for it until he gives up and borrows one from the club, so by the time he was heading for the showers, Nagisa had already gone home and even Haru and Rin had stopped having not-races and were in the showers ahead of him.

He steps into the bathroom, cool tile pressing against his heels, when he hears Rin talking. Unconsciously he freezes, not making a sound – he's not big on eavesdropping, but for some reason he can't help but listen in silence.

“Hey, Nanase, you're with Tachibana a lot, aren't you?”

Makoto's grip on his towel tightens.

“Mmn.” Haru's sound is noncommittal – his version of agreeing with something obvious. Rin's laugh echoes through the shower cubicles.

“Me, I don't even want to start thinking about Omegas. The Olympics is way more important than some simpering mate! But I guess I'll have to think about it sometime...maybe when I win a few medals. It'd be nice to come home to someone, I guess. What about you, Nanase? What are your plans on mates?”

“I don't have any,” Haru replies, and Makoto's grip loosens a bit, because that's right, they're only twelve years old. Things like mating and what Alpha and Omegas are really for – shown to them by an absolutely horrifying video earlier this month – are still a long way away. Makoto hasn't even spared a thought towards it, so Haru likely wouldn't have either.

But then Haru continues. “I don't want any, either. Taking cake of a helpless Omega sounds troublesome, I don't want to be weighed down.”

Makoto freezes in place for an entirely different reason.

He stares at the terrycloth fabric of the towel clutched between his fingers, vaguely noting that his knuckles have gone white.

Well, it's...it's true, isn't it? That Omegas are troublesome. Makoto still has to rely so much on Haru to do such simple things, like walking near the beach or going on errands in strange places. He still cries all the time to Haru – he's gotten better and hasn't cried in front of his family since the twins were born, but Haru is still his safe rock to weather storms on. He didn't to rely on his family when he had Haru, so he could be strong for them too.

But isn't that troublesome for Haru? Makoto knows he hates responsibility, hates having to take care of things better left to others. He just wants to live freely...and here Makoto is, clinging to him like a leech, weighing him down with his very presence. Haru has to hold his hand through things that a twelve-year-old should rightly be able to handle alone by now. He's six centimeters taller than Haru, and four kilos heavier, and still hiding behind his back – if that isn't the definition of troublesome, Makoto doesn't know what is.

“Just like you, Nanase!” Rin's raucous laughter coincides with the sudden tightness of Makoto's chest, a clenching vice that sucks his breath like drowning. He holds it, because he recognizes the signs – if he breathes now, he'll start crying and he won't be able to stop.

And he...can't. He can't cry anymore. Not even in front of Haru. How awful of a friend has he been all these years, to trouble him so much and not give him anything in return? He just relied on Haru, trusting him to be the solid rock that anchored him, without any thought to how Haru must feel, being forced to handle all of Makoto's troubles. It's an Omega's job to support the Alpha – not the other way around.

He really is the most awful Omega ever. Maybe his body was right in growing like this, making him all wrong for an Omega. Maybe it's a punishment for being bad at the one job life gave him.

Rin's talking about something else, something Makoto can't hear through the rushing in his ears, and he's honestly not trying. He takes in a breath, shuddering, and turns and walks silently out of the bathroom, not wanting to hear anymore. If he hears anymore about how awful an Omega he's been – and Haru had to be talking about him, what other Omegas were there besides Nagisa who's perfectly capable of worming his way into an upperclassman group with nothing but perseverance and charm, so what other helpless Omega is there besides Makoto? – he really will cry and then he'd bother Haru even more, and he can't have that.

Now that he knows, he has to fix it.

He throws his clothes on over his swimsuit, ignoring the dampness. He can just bathe at home, it's fine. He hesitates over waiting for Haru or not, before deciding that surely needing Haru to walk him home is too weak and leaves out the door, trying to ignore his shaking hands as he gets on his bike to pedal home.

It's fine, really. Haru will get a nice walk home alone for once, without Makoto's constant draining chatter, right? Maybe he'll run home for the exercise, like he does sometimes when he gets riled up by Rin doing it. Maybe he'll even go home with Rin, keep making his own friendships, which is a good thing, really. Haru needs friends.

He gets home without trouble – see, really, he's a big boy now, he can get home alone! – and immediately goes to bathe, trying to smile and ignore his mother's concerned look at him, and then behind him, at the curious lack of a certain black-haired head. He soaks in the bath for entirely too long, futilely chasing the comfort Haru finds in it, and thinks that he might be okay.

He's not, really, and he's reminded of this the next day, when Haru's waiting for him on the steps early for once. He looks down at Makoto with an unreadable expression, and Makoto does his best to twist his normal smile onto his face and say “Good morning Haru!” like always.

Haru's eyes narrow, just a fraction. Makoto's a surprisingly good liar when he needs to be – a secret that deeply shames him – but Haru knows him too well, knows every single tell he has. Haru knows something is wrong.

He doesn't say anything, though, instead just holds a pile of familiar fabric – Makoto's towel, the one he couldn't find yesterday. Makoto feels his stomach churn unpleasantly – even with just a lost towel, he really couldn't do anything without Haru. It's a cold, grim feeling, like he's swallowed sea glass.

“A-ah...my towel! I looked everywhere but couldn't find it...thanks, Haru!” He forces himself into the senseless chatter, taking the towel mechanically and folding it into his backpack – it's already folded neatly and feel clean, Haru probably washed it since he already does most of the house chores, taking over from his elderly grandmother as his mother spent more and more time with his father, who was working in Tokyo. Haru is already so amazingly capable for his years – he cooks, cleans, and is really talented in anything he does. Next to him, Makoto feels clumsy and useless. He can't cook, he knocks things over all the time when he cleans, and can't ascribe to anything that could possibly be considered a talent. And he's an Omega to boot – helpless and at the mercy of everyone.

Really, completely, useless.

“Makoto.” Haru's voice floats to him, and Makoto realizes he's just been staring at the towel in his bag in blank silence, wallowing in self-pity. He jerks, ashamed – useless! – and forces a smile again. “A-Ah, right! We should get going, don't want to be late to school!”

He turns, trying to keep up his usual morning chatter that he's sure Haru finds annoying, but he can't think of anything else to mask his weakness but blabbing inanely about little things, like how Ran accidentally dumped Ren's milk yesterday and he cried for a whole hour, isn't that silly, Haru? He babbles, intent on drowning out any strangeness behind normalcy, because he can't afford to worry Haru, or place any burdens on him, he's too important to Makoto. He can't weigh him down – Haru is the most beautiful free.

Cool fingers clamp over his. Makoto starts in surprise, looking down up at Haru in surprise.

Haru simply stares back at him for a long moment, face a blank slate to even Makoto, before simply continuing to walk to school, dragging Makoto along by the hand. Makoto stumbles a few steps, unprepared, before he manages to fall into step beside Haru, fingers curling instinctively back around Haru's. They'd held hands for seven years, now, it's old habit to fit his hand to Haru's.

He can't bring himself to let go, and shame bubbles up in his stomach, making his throat tight and his eyes hot. He's so weak, too weak to even stand strong and let go of Haru's hand on his own. Even now, he's feeling pitiful relief that Haru's doing this for him, supporting him even now. Haru obviously noticed something was wrong, and is trying to help Makoto in his quiet, steady way.

I'm sorry, Haru , he thinks. I'm not strong enough yet. Just give me a little longer and you'll be free .

He gains enough meager courage to slide his hand out of Haru's when they get to the school, managing to smooth his features into his normal smile and pretending he doesn't notice blue eyes staring after him, full of questions and, perhaps, accusations. He doesn't want to put names to the emotions he sees shutter off in Haru's eyes.

They don't hold hands after that.

 

Chapter Text

It's like everything in the world goes wrong in middle school.

Rin leaves for Australia, leaving their group noticeably duller. It's fine, for the first few months – they miss him, but Rin's off chasing his dream, there's no reason to be sad. They'll meet again someday, or so Makoto believes.

Then, winter rolls around, and Haru breaks. He quits Iwatobi Swimming Club, and the school team, with absolutely no warning. Something inside Haru goes dark, turning his eyes from crystal clear waters to the murky depths of the ocean. It terrifies Makoto about the same.

Makoto desperately wants to know what happened, what went wrong so he could fix it, somehow, but his own insecurities turn his voice to chalk. He's the one that shoved this distance between them in the first place – a sheet of unbreakable glass, making them appear just as close from the outside, but still a firm barrier between them. He hasn't breathed a word of why he's put distance between them, so he has no right to ask when Haru adds to it. It's not his place, anymore – he's come to realize that, lately. The words from third grade haunt him, about how he was “Nanase's Omega”, and he's come to realize that it's not true at all.

They may be close friends, an Alpha and Omega, but he is not Haru's Omega. There are no mated bonds to demand such closeness – and Haru doesn't want him anyways. Makoto doesn't know what he wants with that, because he's only thirteen and Presentation is far off and scary.

But it's also close, terribly, horribly close, because suddenly it's right there and Haru Presents in the spring of their second year of middle school.

It's early – Haru is only thirteen, going on fourteen in a few more months. It's not an unheard of age to Present, but it is unexpected. So unexpected that Makoto has no inkling something is different when he knocks on the Nanase's door to pick Haru up for school, and his mother answers. Makoto blinks – Haru's parents are becoming a rare sight, with his father working in Tokyo and his mother staying over there more often than not as Haru grows. Now that Grandma Nanase passed away last summer, there's less demand for Haru's mother to be home, since Haru is very capable of taking care of himself, unlike Makoto.

Mrs. Nanase gives him a wan smile. “Good morning, Makoto-kun. I'm sorry, but Haruka won't be attending school today.”

Makoto feels his face fall into a worried frown. Is Haru sick? “Is there something wrong?”

She shakes her head, giving him that little smile again. “No, not wrong. Just...Haruka's in the middle of Presenting right now. He won't be able to go outside for a few days, so you should go ahead, dear. I will call your mother when it's safe for you to meet again.”

Makoto's fingers tighten on the straps of his backpack and he suddenly feels very small – for all that he's inching in on one-seventy centimeters already in middle school. The rest of the world feels far away as he tries to process what he's hearing.

Haru's Presenting. When it's done he'll be a fully-fledged Alpha, all but an adult in the eyes of society. It will be expected of Haru to start doing more Alpha-like things – leading, competing...finding a mate.

All things Haru hates, and Makoto hasn't even considered until now.

“Makoto-kun?” Mrs. Nanase's voice brings him out of his thoughts abruptly, and Makoto blinks, before forcing himself to smile.

“Ah...okay! I...I understand. I'll wait for him to be...done, then. I hope he feels better soon!” Without waiting for her response, Makoto turns and starts down the steps, just in a mild hurry at first, but by the time he's down a block he's running flat out, houses blurring pasts.

He doesn't know what he's running from. Haru? Haru's mother? The future? Adults, Omegas, Alphas?

Himself?

His stamina fails him after a few short minutes of running – his shape has really deteriorated since he quit the swim club, a scant week after Haru did. He stops for a moment to just breathe, hands on his knees and eyes closed, fighting the nausea of unexpected physical exertion and deep-rooted anxiety.

He wishes time would just stop already.

It's three days before Haru is done. Makoto's mother relays the news that Haru will be going to school the next day on the evening of the third, smiling brightly at Makoto. Makoto tries to mirror her excitement – he is certainly glad that it's over and he can see Haru again, but he's unbearably nervous. Presenting is a big deal. It isn't unheard of for people, especially Alphas, to undergo complete personality transformations, settling into adults rather than children with all the new tools Presenting has given them.

Will the Haru he sees tomorrow be the same Haru he's always known?

Or will he now have to deal with a stranger wearing Haru's face?

It turns out to be a little of both. The Haru that pulls open the door just as Makoto's finished scaling the steps up to Haru's house looks just like the Haru he knows – Haru didn't turn into a hulking demon Alpha overnight, he still looks exactly the same.

But there is a difference when he looks up at Makoto and Makoto freezes in place. There's something different about Haru's gaze. It's no longer the crystal waters of a tidal pool, nor the fathomless depths of the ocean – no, it's more than that, now. A whirlpool, the height of the sky, pulling and endless.

That's a good description – endless. Like looking out over the ocean on a totally calm and clear day, that same feeling of hopeful vertigo where sea and sky are the same and there are no distinctions or borders.

Makoto finds himself taking a small step back, averting his gaze first, and the weightless feeling dissipates.

He swallows. So, this is the true power of a strong Alpha, one where words aren't even needed. Stronger Alphas like Haru are known to be able to control just with looks alone, not needing words to dominate, and it seems like Haru is no exception.

It is another new thing to get used to, now. Makoto doesn't know if he's scared or not – his feelings are too jumbled up to tell what they are anymore.

He looks up through his eyelashes at Haru, not wanting to look at him directly in case he loses himself again. He's not really worried about Haru controlling him – unless that changed with Presenting too, Haru still avoids orders if he can help it – but he's not sure he likes the feelings he got looking into Haru's eyes.

But not addressing his friend is rude, and Makoto's done enough to harm their friendship lately. The best he can do is to go about pretending nothing's changed, so he takes a deep breath and puts a smile on his face, tilting his head up to look at Haru directly. “Good morning, Haru!”

Haru doesn't answer for a moment, staring at Makoto with those suddenly too-blue eyes in silence, before he tilts his head to the side, closing his eyes and opening his mouth slightly, brow furrowing in concentration as his nose crinkles a bit.

Soon enough, Makoto will learn that this is how Haru scents, an action Haru ends up doing often in the month or so following his Presentation. He'll learn to allow Haru that brief pause, and won't think much of it, the action becoming just something Haru does, like how Makoto tilts his head when he smiles or how Haru turns his head away when things aren't going his way.

Now, though, he's just confused as his friend ignores him for a few moments, expression strange to Makoto's eyes. After a moment, Haru's face smooths out, and he gives a little nod, as if to himself before opening his eyes and giving Makoto a brief glance before starting to head down the stairs. “Morning.”

Makoto has no choice but to follow, and somehow the day proceeds as normal, as if one of them wasn't suddenly an adult.

Things don't really change after that. Makoto still comes to pick Haru up, they walk to school together, do their homework together, all the things they normally do as friends. But the distance is there. Perhaps even larger than before. Haru is a part of a world Makoto can't understand, now. He's still a child in comparison, despite the fact that he doesn't stop growing and growing, getting even more uselessly large. Haru is growing into a beautiful young man, indeed – after he Presents, he starts growing in earnest, quickly shooting up in height. Nowhere near Makoto, which pains him still, but in no way small and delicate.

The glances Haru gets are appreciative, now – no sidelong glances about “that weird Nanase”, but instead long searching ones, with admiration in their eyes. Makoto's fellow Omegas start whispering behind their hands, giggling to themselves as they watch Haru.

And then, when they see Makoto, their gazes slide away, as if in submission. Makoto doesn't really understand why – he's not Haru's mate. He has no claims on Haru's time or affections, he's just Haru's meddlesome Omega childhood friend. No matter how Omegas avoid Haru because Makoto is at his side, or how their families start making little jokes about their bond that make Makoto's smile more pained. They're not even dating, Makoto has no intentions of being Haru's mate.

He thinks.

If he's honest with himself, Makoto doesn't even know what to think about mating. It was a thought he forcibly shoved out of his head, because mates and bonding were for adults and Presentation, something that was always “far away”. But suddenly Haru Presented, and Makoto has come to realize that it's not very far away at all – now it's just counting down the days until Makoto Presents as well. The “far away” concern is suddenly very real and very close, and Makoto knows he has to start thinking about it soon instead of continuing to avoid the problem.

But being Haru's mate...?

On one hand, the thought makes him blush. Haru is very beautiful, Makoto's always thought so. And outside of his family Haru is the one person in the world that Makoto cares about the most. Makoto certainly loves him as a friend, as almost family, so transitioning to romantic wouldn't be that far off. And the thought of having someone else as his mate, the thought of Haru going to someone else is enough to turn his mouth to ash as deep discomfort shoots through him. He doesn't want that. Isn't that a sign of something?

On the other...is it really a sign? Or just another of Makoto's failures at being his own person? Does he actually want Haru as his mate, out of his own love, or is he just being a scaredy-cat as always and falling back onto Haru because he's familiar and what he knows? Is he just settling, when they could both be happier elsewhere?

Makoto doesn't know, and the thoughts tear at him through middle school, until near the end of third year, almost exactly a month after his fifteenth birthday, almost Christmas. It's in this time, where the twins are full of hyper energy over the magic of the Western holiday and his parents are planning their annual Christmas date, that Makoto Presents himself.

At first he thinks he's just sick, as it starts with a fever and mild stomach cramps, if a bit lower than usual. Maybe he just ate something a little off, is what he thinks in the morning. Since he's off from school due to winter break and his parents are out – his father at work as usual and his mother taking the twins shopping – he decides to just take it easy and hope it goes away soon so that his break isn't spoiled.

By that afternoon, however, he's convinced he's dying. He's long since given up being up and about, and is curled on his bed in a ball of pain, hands clenched over his stomach as he breathes through his mouth and tries not to sob, it hurts so bad, and there's a worrying feeling of wetness inbetween his legs. He thinks he smells blood, and he doesn't want to look to check. Everything's hot, heat rushing in uncomfortable waves over his skin, leaving it to prickle afterwards, and his pulse is pounding because despite the horrible pain he's in he's somehow half-hard and he doesn't know what's going on. His mind is too hazy to think, too gripped in the undying heat and pain, and he can only whimper softly, pleading with whoever will listen to just make it stop already.

It's this state that his mother finds him in, coming up the stairs and peeking her head in in confusion when Makoto didn't come down to greet them like normal. Makoto's vaguely aware she's there, and some distant part of him is horrified at being found in this state, at being seen by his mother with an attempt at a hard-on and his pants starting to soak through with maybe-blood – he still refuses to look. The rest of him, however, is too lost in this uncomfortable daze to do more than clutch his stomach and shiver.

“Oh,” His mother's voice sounds far away and tinny, like she's over the phone or in another room. “Oh, honey.”

Fingers gently touch his forehead, and Makoto chokes back a sob because they feel so cool and nice compared to the heat he's baking in. His mother's hands are soft as they stroke his cheeks, his hair, as she makes soothing noises. He hears beeping, and his mother shifts slightly, voice droning softly beyond his distracted hearing. He makes the dull connection that she's on the phone, talking to someone, probably his father, but his concentration lapses after that, the comfort of his mother's presence soothing him enough to fall into a fitful sleep.

It's how he spends most of his Presentation – sleeping or in a hazy mix between sleep and awake, the heat and pain dulled by painkillers, and a dull throbbing want always in the background, his hand always unconsciously searching for something, reaching out for another hand that isn't there. In fact, he can barely recall anything other than that when he wakes up in the morning five days later, blinking blearily at the ceiling as he tries to come to terms with suddenly not feeling completely awful. The heat has resided, his mind is clear, and there's little left of the searing pain except for a mild discomfort in his lower abdomen, like stretched muscles, and a strange sort of pressure in his head, like it wants to be a headache but isn't. He takes a breath, and almost coughs, because everything – smells. It's almost a whirlwind, as every breath he takes sends information somehow to his brain – he can smell the twins, and his parents, and there's another faint scent hanging about in his room that causes his fingers to curl in pleasure. It takes a few moments for the answer to come to him – he's smelling a mature, available Alpha, and Makoto realizes he must be smelling Haru. Haru's in his room often enough, there's undoubtedly traces of him. Makoto lies on his back for a few minutes, just breathing and trying to get used to the sudden information flow.

Is this how Haru felt after Presenting, like he'd been blind?

Eventually he manages to control himself, getting used to the sudden influx of scents, and he sits up with a stretch, wincing at the sogginess of his clothes. The first thing of order is a bath, because he feels disgusting. Peeking his head out, he faintly hears his mother in the kitchen, and nothing else – the twins must be out with their father. Grabbing a fresh change of clothes, Makoto hurries into the bath as silently as he can, not wanting to disturb his mother.

She hears anyways, because she always does. “Makoto?”

Makoto freezes in the hallway, wincing. “...Y-Yeah?”

There's a faint rustle of footsteps, and then his mother's head is in the stairwell, looking up at him with both concern and relief. “Are you feeling better, honey?"

He nods jerkily, feeling himself blush. “Y-Yeah.”

His mother's shoulders slump slightly in relief, and she gives him a gentle smile. “I'm glad. Male Omega Presentation is really difficult, I was so worried something might go wrong. I'm happy you're feeling better, sweetie. Were you going to take a bath?”

“Y-Yeah,” He nods again, clutching his clean clothes to himself. So he was right, he had Presented. So this is what it feels like, to be an adult.

His mother nods, smiling widening. “Don't let me keep you, then. Lunch is almost ready, you've barely eaten anything since the beginning, so come down and eat when you're clean. I'll clean your room while you're in the bath, it'll need to be aired out before Haru-kun comes over again.”

He jerks, slightly, and feels himself blush at Haru's name, at the sudden memory of his scent in Makoto's room. “Haru? Is Haru coming over?”

His mother gives him a look like she knows something he doesn't, lips curling up slyly. “Well, I assume you want him over, right? You haven't seen him for a while, and you were calling out for him a lot.”

Makoto's muscles turn to stone. “I d-did?”

His mother giggles, as if Makoto hadn't done something extremely mortifying and telling. “Well, you two are close, it's reasonable that you would. And he's been worried about you, he came to check up on you once. Shame I had to turn him away at the door before he smelled anything. Anyways, don't let me keep you, I'm sure you feel awful and a nice hot bath should do the trick. Come downstairs and eat when you get out!”

Makoto nods numbly, because there really isn't anything to do except follow his mother's advice and step into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him and leaning on it as he tries to make sense of everything.

He Presented. He's a full-fledged Omega now, with...everything that comes with it. And he called out Haru's name while he did it.

Makoto buries his face in his clothes, trying to erase the blush. What did that mean? Does he really...want Haru, that way? Or was it just because like his mother said, they were close? Did he just smell those remnants of Haru in his room and go from there?

Why is even just the thought of Haru making his heart race?

Makoto sighs, and forcibly pushes all those thoughts out of his head. They're meaningless anyways – Haru doesn't want a mate, and Makoto has no idea what he wants, so dwelling on that is just making him embarrassed and self-pitying.

So, the best thing to do is just to ignore them and hope they'll go away. It will happen, eventually.

Makoto starts filling the bath, peeling off his clothes and trying not to flinch when he gets to his boxers, soaked through with blood and...other things. He puts them in the trash instead of the hamper, because he really doesn't want his mother to have to wash them. They're probably stained beyond saving anyways.

As the bath is heating, he steps into the shower, scrubbing himself off thoroughly and trying not to think too much as he cleans between his legs. It's new, and different, and possibly a little shameful, even if it is just normal biology. It's still a place that is meant for a mate, even if it is Makoto's own body, or so he feels.

The soreness goes away after he's clean and soaks in the bath for at least a good hour, and the pressure in his head goes away as he gets used to the smells, and by the time he's cleaned and dressed, he realizes that he's starving. He doesn't remember eating at all, even though his parents must have forced something down him at some time, right? He's normally not that much of a big eater, but now he feels he could eat absolutely anything. He beelines down the stairs, to find a steaming bowl of soup waiting for him, and he wolfs it down far faster than he ever has, he feels.

He comes back upstairs to find his room mostly clean – his mother is straightening new bedding on his mattress and holding a bottle of one of the newer pheromone deodorizers, spraying it around. Makoto tries not to look at it too much or he'll start feeling his stomach bottom out in mortification again, instead pitching in to help change the sheets and other fabric things – even the curtains, he feels awful – and generally get the room back into order. It helps him feel better, he hates messes.

“There,” She says, fluffing a new pillow in place on his bed, and stepping back to look over her handiwork, hands on her hips. “That should do it, back to normal! And then, as for you...”

She turns to face him, and Makoto instinctively wraps his arms around himself. “Eh?”

His mother's expression is serious, almost stern. “I expect they taught you in school, so I'm not going to give you an embarrassing lecture about your body or anything. However, you are a proper Omega now, and that comes with responsibilities. And the first one of those is coming with me to the doctor tomorrow for suppressants.”

Suppressants.

The sign of a true Omega.

He ends up on the full ones. Sitting in the sterile white doctor's office with his mother, he'd had to listen to her explain their reasons – “He's best friends with an Alpha boy next door, they're always together, and all it would take was one early heat, so it's better this way” – and worry uselessly about what this means for Haru and him from now on. His mother talks as if they will see each other as Alpha and Omega, not Haru and Makoto. Society expects them to not control themselves.

Is the relationship they have now doomed to change?

He goes home with a bottle of little blue and white pills, strict instructions to take once a day Or Else. He swallows the first one the next day, washing it down with water and trying to pretend he doesn't taste anything at all.

He meets Haru the next day – it's Christmas Eve, and he tries not to put any meaning behind it when he goes over to Haru's empty house and they hang out.

Haru gives him one long look when he answers the door, before closing his eyes and doing that by-now familiar headtilt he does when scenting, before he just nods a little and lets Makoto in, and everything is normal.

In fact, nothing changes at all except the fact that Makoto now washes down the aftertaste of his toothpaste with an added pill. His routine doesn't change aside from that, his days stay normal, and his relationship with Haru is just the same as always. It seems as his worries were unfounded, as it's the same as ever, even as they graduate from middle school and get ready to go to high school, even as Makoto hits one-eighty centimeters and feels ridiculous, even as Haru's mother finally ups and moves completely to Tokyo with his father and Haru is left alone in that old house. Nothing changes between them at all.

Makoto can't decide if that's a good thing or not.

 

Chapter Text

Rin is change – always has been, and always will be. Every time he appears, he changes Haru – and, by extension, Makoto. It's a fact of life, like the tide of the ocean or the cycle of the moon.

Makoto is reminded of this when Rin comes back at the start of their second year, and the tentative normal Haru and Makoto had been nursing since middle school tips and careens off into the unknown yet again.

Nagisa shows up first, an innocent herald, and Makoto is happy to see him. After Haru quit the swim club, they'd fallen out of contact with Nagisa, and the younger Omega had gone to middle school in another town. Seeing him again is like a shaft of sunshine in the gloom – he hasn't changed at all, bringing cheerfulness and hope, and Makoto can't help but smile that one of their little group is back with them, even if Haru seems less than interested.

Then, that night they sneak into the abandoned swim club, and there's Rin. Rin who has most definitely changed.

What used to be the cheerful warmth of the sun has now become a blazing inferno, burning and leaving nothing but bitter and cold ash. It pains Makoto to see one of his friends so obviously troubled – the Rin he knew would not have become like this without something going wrong.

It also becomes obvious that whatever changed Rin was what had changed Haru, as well, and the thought leaves Makoto with a sickly cold ball in his stomach. Haru and Rin had met outside of Makoto's knowledge, had shared some sort of changing event together – even if it was a bad one.

It's as if they have their own world, their own relationship, and Makoto is outside looking in.

It's selfish, he knows. He has no claims on Haru's time, and he doesn't dare to presume more, not when Haru made his wishes so clear. He doesn't even know why he's feeling this way – it's not like his status as Haru's childhood best friend is being challenged, he knows Haru doesn't think in such terms. Rin is Rin, and Makoto is Makoto, and they have their own separate meanings, to Haru. There's no such thing as “best friend” in Haru's viewpoint.

Even if he tells himself these things, though, the feelings don't go away, and he can't help the uncomfortable thought that, for all that his position isn't challenged, maybe his position isn't as important as Rin's.

It's this nagging feeling that stays in the back of his mind throughout their dramatic second year, as they form a new swim club and find out what happened to Rin. Sometimes it explodes into the front of his mind, forcing out words that normally wouldn't come – he nearly died, he has to tell Haru how much it all means to him now or it will never happen – and sometimes vanishing into nearly nothing, when Haru faces him and his eyes are shining again, clear and beautiful like the clearest tropical pool Makoto can think of, and he's telling Makoto how happy swimming with everyone made him, or how he whispers his gratitude in the deep of the night, running out of the room afterwards and leaving Makoto with red cheeks and and a breathless laugh, heart pounding for reasons he can't really explain.

And sometimes, it just settles deep into his bones, a deep quiet ache that makes him just stand to the side and smile helplessly as Haru breaks down over not being able to swim with Rin, nearly cries over him, shows a desperation that doesn't really come out with anyone else. He imagines it's a little like what a persistent illness must feel like – a deep weariness, a cold stomach, leaden limbs. Then he chastises himself for the thought, because he's a perfectly healthy seventeen-year-old and appropriating serious illnesses to compare to his mild insecurity is awful.

It doesn't change the fact that it happens, though.

He realizes that he must be jealous, on some level. That he's scared of not being important to Haru, of not being as important as Rin. Still, identifying the feeling doesn't help with why he's feeling that way, or how to make it go away, and it's something he quietly struggles with as they complete their second year with Rin's shining smile restored, and ease into third year surrounded by laughter and friends old and new – Beta Rei is a welcome new face, adding a balancing force to the team, giving Nagisa a steady friend his age and another competitive spirit for Rin to strive against, and Rin's little sister Gou is a helpful manager as an Alpha, even if she hasn't Presented yet, but that's fine because she whips them into shape just as good either way.

This quiet feeling of discomfort and jealousy and a mess of other things, however, starts throwing flickering shadows over their bright group. The future is suddenly looming over them, a scary unknown wall that scares Makoto as much as Presenting did, but he can't run away and stick his head in the sand from this one. He didn't know when he would Present, so it was easy to forget about it for another day.

The future, he has a deadline. One everyone seems insistent about reminding them every day – teachers with their exams, his parents with soft occasional questions, Rin with his pointed declarations.

Rin has always known what he wanted, and Makoto's a little envious of that too. Makoto has no idea what he wants – with his future, with his feelings, with Haru.

Haru is just as lost, Makoto can see, and that is even more frightening. Makoto has always followed Haru's quiet lead, but now Haru seems content to run away from the future and not think about it, just like Makoto did. And Makoto knows now that that's the wrong thing to do, that not preparing and getting ready for it makes it a thousand times worse, but there's little he can do.

For all that they got closer over the last year, for all that the darkness plaguing Haru has finally dissipated and returned his gaze to calm clear waters again, for all that they should be closer than ever...there is still that small infinitesimal distance between them. The one that Makoto put there. It's still between them, no longer a glass wall between them but like an invisible coating, allowing them to touch but not feel. There's still an urge to hold Haru's hand that he has to restrain himself from, because he is almost an adult and he swore to not restrain Haru in any way.

He doesn't even know why he still has the urge to grasp Haru's hand. He feels he's succeeded in becoming strong enough to not need to, anymore – six centimeters taller than Haru (and still growing, even if he doesn't want to admit it), the perfect older brother, captain of the swim team, and even his fears are slowly receding into barely-remembered nightmares. There's no need to rely on Haru anymore, but he still wants to, and he has no idea why.

That is, until Yamazaki Sousuke appears, and the whole mess of their third year swim season happens.

It had seemed to happen so slowly, every moment dragging out – his own indecision and insecurity, Haru's increasing avoidance of anything related to the future, gods their first fight felt long enough for a lifetime even when it had only been a few days.

Looking back now, though, it feels like everything happened at once, at the speed of light – finding his own future and resolving to step towards it, even if it meant leaving Haru behind, Haru's own revelation, and the idea of them going to Tokyo together. The sudden high after such a long low is a little intoxicating, and he can't help but laugh, sometimes, at how put-together everything is now.

Rin's over for a sleepover at Haru's house, and Makoto is as well, a sort of “third years only” thing (he tries not to think about the fact that Rin's done this before, only without Makoto there, of what memories Rin and Haru make on their own) and it starts innocently enough. Rin seems a little too strained, too energetic, but Makoto decides not to pry – Rin has a lot of responsibilities on his plate, juggling his own, far more intensive swim club as its captain, and maybe it's just stress. A lot has happened this year, after all.

It turns out it's not stress, when they're settling down in Haru's room, surrounded by blankets and pillows (Rin) and snacks (guiltily Makoto). They're talking about nothing, or well Rin and Makoto are talking and Haru makes some noises every now and again, focusing on stupid stuff, like what silly thing Nagisa did that day, or Gou Presenting (Rin growls and makes a face, “it'll happen when it happens”), when, somehow, the conversation falls on crushes.

Rin's grinning slyly at him, red eyes alight with mischief. “So how many hearts have you broken, Makoto?”

Makoto shifts uncomfortably – talks of mates and crushes and things has always made him a little edgy, but he doesn't really know why. It's not like he has any bad stories to tell...or any, really. “I...none, really. There's been...a few letters, but they always seemed to accept me saying no really easily.”

He notices Haru giving him a sharp look out of the corner of his eyes – well, that's true, he's never told Haru about the few love letters he's gotten. It just seemed like something Haru wouldn't want to be bothered with. But judging by Haru's face now, it seems like Makoto is going to have a long talk about all the confessions he's had to sit through.

Rin rolls his eyes, as if Makoto's said something incredibly obvious. “Well, that one figures. And I bet Haru's answer is the same – you two really haven't changed since middle school.”

Makoto's fingers tighten, and suddenly the smell of the Iwatobi Swim Club showers is fresh in his mind. Makoto knows what he overheard the one time – what other things did Haru and Rin discuss in those showers, where no one else could hear?

Haru frowns, focusing Rin with a stare. “Your answer has changed though, hasn't it?”

Rin rears back like he's been slapped, and Makoto's personal worries fly out of his mind as he focuses on Rin in worry. The redhead sucks in a breath through his teeth, looking away from Haru. “...'Course it has. I'm not dumb and twelve anymore.”

Haru's brow wrinkles into a deeper scowl. “Rin.”

“What?” Rin's voice is harsh, ragged, and Makoto sits up straighter, in case he gets physical. The relaxed atmosphere is gone, suddenly replaced by thick tension clogging the air between them. “It's true, isn't it? It was weird, you said so yourself. I'm over that nonsense.”

Haru is the one to sit back this time, looking suddenly distraught, although Makoto is the only one who can tell – the way his eyebrows tilted the slightest bit up in their furrow, his mouth opening slightly, his hands clutching the fabric of his pants. All signs of Haru feeling guilty. But what did Haru have to feel guilty about?

“Rin,” Haru's voice starts again, quietly insistent. “I was twelve years old. I didn't know what I was saying. It's, you're not, you're not weird. You're Rin.”

Rin snorts, voice bitter. “And who are you to say that being Rin isn't weird, huh? It is weird. Liking...liking that, when I'm an Alpha. I'm not supposed to care about him, worry about him like he's some fucking Omega when he's a better Alpha than I am, and, fuck--”

His voice breaks on that last swear, and he pulls his knees up to his chest, Makoto catching a glimpse of shimmering tears before he hides his face in them. Makoto can only stare indecisively, a little unsure of what exactly is happening. So...Rin liked Alphas...that way? He'd had his suspicions, of course, mulled over in the darkness of his own heart, but hearing it confirmed is a little surreal.

But...he's not talking about liking Haru, is he? And that's where Makoto wavers.

Haru looks at Makoto then, face silently pleading, in the way he asks for help without voicing it. It's clear Haru has no idea how to handle Rin having this kind of emotional breakdown, and well, Makoto can't blame him. Haru's never been good with emotional things.

Not like Makoto knows how to handle a friend having a sexual identity crisis either, but, well, he's mentally walked through this talk a few times before. Just, he'd always imagined giving it to Haru...

Makoto scoots over to Rin, reaching out to lay a gentle hand on his shoulder, feeling the way Rin tenses under his touch. He gives his shoulder a gentle squeeze, trying to project comfort.

“Rin,” He starts, keeping the same tone of voice he uses when one of the twins comes to him seriously crying. “It's okay. It's not weird, just a part of nature, of who you are. You're not weird, okay?”

Rin's breath catches in a suspiciously squeaky rattle. “It's weird. It's not, fuck, this wasn't how it was supposed to go...it's not the dream I had, he'll hate it...”

Makoto hums under his breath, trying to piece together what Rin's talking about. Maybe...? “Have you asked him?”

There's a sound like a sniffle, muffled with Rin's face buried in his legs as it is. “Don't have to. Babbled to him about the perfect life I was gonna lead enough, he's always trying to help me reach it, saying something like this to him would just be fucking spitting in his face for his help...fuck, he's already hurt himself enough for me! To say this...he'd just fucking hate me.”

“Well, I can't say for certain,” Makoto starts, because well, he's not Yamazaki-kun, he can't speak for him. He's pretty sure this is about Yamazaki-kun anyways, there's really no one else Rin would speak about like that. “But I know that no matter how well you know a person, they can still surprise you. Haru surprises me all the time, and I don't always know what he thinks about everything...even we can have secrets from each other. So...even if you think one thing, it may end up a different way. The only way to be sure is to just tell him.”

Rin is silent for a few moments, and Makoto wonders if he said the wrong thing, before the redhead looks up, staring hopefully at Makoto with tear tracks painted on his face. “...You think so? It's too weird, what...what if he hates me?”

“It's not weird, it's natural.” Makoto smiles softly, scooting closer and squeezing Rin's shoulder again, trying to summon all of his Omega presence, to be as soothing and reassuring as possible. “He won't hate Rin, I promise. And even if he does, Haru and I will always support you, okay? You're our precious friend.”

This sends Rin into another round of ugly sobbing, clinging to Makoto's shirt, and Makoto rubs his back soothingly, letting him cry it out. This is something that looks like it was on Rin's mind for a long time, a wound that had long festered that needed to bleed anew to drain and heal. Haru scoots over as well, laying his own delicate hand on Rin's other shoulder and rubbing it, not saying anything but just being steady and calming in his own way.

Makoto smiles, looking up to Haru to silently share his gratitude, but he's met with Haru staring at him, eyes piercing, and his breath stops in his throat. Haru's gaze is searching, deep, and Makoto fills like he's being silently interrogated. What is Haru wanting answered...?

Ah. The love letters. Makoto saying that even they had secrets from each other. But, as far as Makoto knows, Haru doesn't have any secrets left. Of, if he does, he doesn't think they're secrets. And Haru, observant Haru who watches Makoto more than Makoto remembers sometimes, caught that. Caught the fact that if there's secrets between them, it's on Makoto's end.

And, like when they were little and Haru wouldn't stop until he found out the bully that stole Makoto's lunch in grade four, Haru won't stop until he's found out this secret too. 'You only keep secrets when you're hurt', he'd been told by Haru once, and Haru takes his job protecting Makoto from any threats very seriously. Even if the threat is Makoto himself.

Even now, even when Makoto tries to quietly support himself, Haru is always looking out for him. He should feel disappointed, upset with himself that he still needs caring for in Haru's eyes, but all he can feel is a warmth deep in his stomach that makes his fingers tingle and his cheeks hot, so he just smiles and drops his glance before he explodes. It feels like it, and he briefly wonders if he's ill. There's no reason for his heart to pound like this otherwise.

Rin calms down after a little while, giving snotty sniffs and muttering embarrassed apologies under his breath. Makoto just smiles and hands him some tissues, standing up and proclaiming he'll get them something to drink. It'll give Rin some time to compose himself, and Makoto time to piece his composure back together before Haru starts prying. He's hyper-aware of the faint warmth Haru emanates as he gets up to follow him, every synched step sending prickling waves up his arms.

They don't have any of Rin's favorite sports drink on hand, and it's Haru who mentions making a trip to the convenience store to pick some up for him. It would help perk Rin up, Makoto knows, so he agrees and soon they're walking through the dark streets together, crisp fall wind blowing the fallen leaves and sending them through the streets with skittering noises. Makoto shivers, and not entirely from cold. He's been this way a million times, but night and strange noises never fails to send his imagination into overdrive. He forces it down as much as he can, telling himself that if walks just a little bit closer to Haru, it's only because the September night air is chilly.

They make it to the convenience store without incident, Haru picking out a few bottles of various drinks, Rin's favorite among them, and Makoto caving to his own vices and picking up some chocolate. They're walking back, Makoto relaxing slightly and thinking that maybe, just maybe, Haru will wait to see and forget anything about secrets, when the reach the bottom of the stairs up to their houses and Haru stops.

Makoto swallows the lump of dread in his throat and turns around, trying to smile and pretend nothing's wrong. “Haru?”

Haru is silent for a moment, staring at the bottom step, mentally arranging his thoughts before he speaks in that careful way of his. Haru's bad with words, so he spends a lot of time organizing them in his head before he speaks, so he doesn't have to repeat himself.

He looks up directly at Makoto after a few moments, face calm but determined. “Rin confessed to me in elementary school. Before he left.”

Makoto stills, trying to deal with the sudden burn that causes in the pit of his stomach, like he's been punched with molten lead. He takes a shaky breath after a moment, trying to act like it hadn't affected him. “O-Oh?”

Haru's gaze drifts away, looking out through the gaps in the houses to the inky black ocean, invisible except for the faintest glimmer of moonlight on the waves, this far away. Makoto can't bring himself to look the same way. “I turned him down. Said...said that I didn't like Alphas that way, that I wasn't weird...”

Haru's brows furrow, upset with himself. “It's my fault he's like this.”

Makoto can't help but reach out and gently touch Haru's shoulder, he looks so disappointed in himself. Haru hates hurting his friends – causing Rin to nearly stop swimming was bad enough, this too is clearly a heavy blow. “You were twelve, Haru, you know you didn't mean that he was weird–“

“I know,” Haru cuts him off, before sighing, turning to look up at Makoto. “But I still have to make up for it. I hurt him. Even if I didn't mean it, I did. I couldn't return his feelings, made him think that he shouldn't have them in the first place. So...it's my fault. I have to fix it.”

He looks distraught but determined, clenching his fists around the bag containing the sports drinks for Rin. Makoto smiles a little – Haru is such a good person. Anyone who says Haru is cold and unfeeling hadn't seen the absolute depth Haru could feel – it's like the ocean, deep and ever-changing and unfathomable. His feelings for his friends are just as deep.

He squeezes Haru's shoulder like he did Rin's, voice light and gentle. “It's not completely your fault, Haru...but let's just focus on supporting Rin instead of a blame game, okay? You know he wouldn't accept you blaming yourself either.”

Haru makes a noncommittal sound, and Makoto knows he's not entirely convinced that it wasn't his fault, but is conceding to Makoto's suggestion. Makoto smiles, holding up his own bag. “I think this is pretty good for a first step at support, don't you?”

This gets a small smile and a nod. “...Yeah. And setting him up with Yamazaki.”

Makoto can't help the little chuckle. “Ah, so you think that's who it is too? I can't think of anyone else as invested in Rin as Yamazaki-kun.”

“Rin's stupid if he thinks Yamazaki doesn't feel anything for him,” Haru mutters, his subtle distaste for the tall sullen boy clear in his voice. “That guy acts the stereotypical over-protective Alpha for him. They deserve each other.”

Makoto tries to scold Haru for speaking of Yamazaki-kun that way, because the guy's perfectly fine, really – he still doesn't know where the animosity between the two comes from. It probably has something to do with Rin, and the thought makes Makoto's stomach twist, but not like before. Haru said he'd turned Rin down, so whatever is between Sousuke and Haru over Rin, it isn't that. Makoto doesn't try to analyze why that thought relieves him, somehow, and instead turns to continue up the stairs. He only makes it up two steps before realizing that Haru still isn't following him.

He turns again, this time a little slower and even more apprehensive. “...Haru? What's wrong?”

Haru is quiet for a moment again, gaze unfocused, before he looks up and pins Makoto under his stare. “That's mine.”

Makoto's breath pauses. “...Eh?”

“That's my secret,” Haru reiterates, taking the steps up so he can turn and look at Makoto directly, at eye level. “You said even we had secrets, but that was the only one I could think of that I had, from you, anymore. I don't have any secrets anymore. So what are yours?”

Makoto wants to reply, wants to say that he doesn't have any, not anymore, but his tongue feels thick in his mouth and it's like the world is paused when faced with Haru's gaze, direct on eye level and a bare foot away. It feels like he might float away and the only thing keeping him tethered to earth is Haru's brilliant blue eyes, and he can't think. What secrets? Makoto knows he's been keeping things from Haru, but at this precise moment he can't think of why he has. Because he wanted to be strong, not not rely on Haru? But Haru never said that he wanted Makoto specifically to stop relying on him, in fact he goes out of his way to ensure it keeps happening. It seems a rather silly thing to do in retrospect...all because of one overheard conversation between twelve-year-olds...and hadn't he just said that Haru had been twelve and didn't know what he was saying to Rin? How was that and his own young self's lack of comprehension any different? It seems so silly, so immature now, and he feels even lighter, almost like he might start laughing, because he doesn't have a secret, not anymore, the only other thing he can think of is the way his stomach clutches sometimes when he looks at Haru, why he's jealous of what Rin and Haru have, why sometimes it feels like they're the only two in the world right now, because Haru is the center of Makoto's world because he–

He might–

Oh.

The realization sweeps through Makoto, stealing his breath and leaving him weightless, like a wave has crashed over him, and leaving him just as terrified and exhilarated, because the ocean is scary but he stills loves swimming so much, because he loves–

He's in love with Haru.

Makoto's distantly aware that Haru's watching him, growing increasingly concerned, but he can only stare back, gaze unfocused. It...it makes everything make so much sense. Why he's jealous of Rin. Why he gets so scared about Haru leaving him. Why he feels giddy and full of life whenever Haru looks at him with those eyes, shining and bright and full. Why he reached out for Haru when he Presented according to his parents, although he doesn't remember much of the actual process himself anymore, just hazy discomfort and pain. Why, even now, years after they stopped, he still wants to hold Haru's hand.

He loves Haru.

Makoto.”

He jerks back into the present, blinking rapidly and refocusing on Haru, who is now staring at him with open concern. Well, blanking out for a few minutes while he rapidly discovered that he'd been in love with his best friend for most likely years now, if not forever, is a little concerning, and suddenly Haru is too close, too concerned, and Makoto takes a step back, breath hitching, praying that he doesn't start blushing.

Haru's brows go down, lips pursing, and Makoto knows he's going to ask what's wrong, and Makoto panics because no, he can't talk about this right now, he doesn't even know how to deal with it, so how could he talk about it? If Haru asks it's all going to come out and that just can't happen, because...because Haru's going to Tokyo with him to swim, to become a professional swimmer, to travel the world and meet all these glamorous people while Makoto just putters around teaching kids how to swim. If...if Haru wants him there, he'll go, but he can't have Haru feeling obligated. Haru should be free, he promised himself this.

He blurts out the first thing he thinks of, to prevent Haru from asking. “I heard you, that day in the swim club.”

Haru blinks, mouth opening slightly in surprise. He clearly hasn't followed. “What?”

Makoto takes a deep breath, because this, he should talk about this. It's his only secret, aside from his newly-discovered one and that one is just going to go into the closet of his mind and not come out again until he can deal with it. Possibly never. “You, and Rin, one day were talking in the showers. The day I forgot my towel, right? And I heard you say that...Omegas were troublesome. I...I know you were talking about me. Being troublesome. I know I was! So...that's why I was weird, after that. I didn't want...to trouble you.”

Saying it after all these years is weird. He's not actually all that relieved, or upset, or...anything. It had been so long ago, so ingrained by now, that admitting it is like saying that he swims, because it just...is. He doesn't actually really feel anything about it, and it's strange.

Haru, clearly, feels something about it, because he looks rather thunderstruck. And...upset. Before Makoto can process that, Haru is suddenly close, too close, and Makoto gasps, throat stuck because Haru's too close and he's surely blushing now.

“You're not,” Haru says, strangely insistent. “You're not troublesome. I didn't mean you then, I didn't mean it when we fought and I said you were meddlesome, you're not! You're just...Makoto, and that's fine.”

Makoto blinks, a little surprised by the intensity of Haru's claims, and he can't help but smile, the warmth in his chest spreading outwards and forcing his lips upwards. Really, how had he mistaken these feelings for anything else? Only Haru had ever made him feel this way, surely he should have noticed earlier. He laughs a little, trying to rub the blush off his ears. “I know you didn't mean it Haru, and I can be a little too over-bearing, so don't worry about it, really...”

His hand is suddenly caught in sunlight, it feels like, individual rays wrapping around his fingers, but it's just Haru's hand grabbing his, pulling it down from his face as Haru still stares intensely at him, as if willing Makoto to believe something, but the signal is lost in the static of Makoto's feelings. He has no idea what Haru's trying to convey.

“You're not,” He repeats again, voice softer. “I...I was talking about expectations. The helpless Omegas like in manga. That's what I thought adult Omegas were like, back then. I didn't want that, someone to just hang around my house and eat my food and whine for me to buy them things, while I just had to deal with it cause that's what Alphas were supposed to do. But I never thought you were one. Ever. So don't think that, Makoto.”

His gaze pours into Makoto, like the desert sand soaking up water, and there's a message there but Makoto can't read it, drowning in the sudden flood as if it had been a long drought. He feels too full right now, if he lets in Haru's message he'll explode. He needs time. Time to process his feelings, time to make sure Haru doesn't catch on, and, if he has time after that, maybe he'll think about it. But for now, he needs time, so he smiles weakly, curling his fingers around Haru's hand as he lowers them, before pulling his hand out. Haru's brow crinkles just slightly, and Makoto doesn't think about that either.

“Okay, Haru-chan,” he laughs, softly, and Haru wrinkles his nose, turning his head to the side, saying 'drop the chan' and things are normal again. They go to Haru's home, finding Rin passed out in a pile of pillows in front of Haru's TV and they leave him to it, tucking a blanket over him and heading up to Haru's bedroom in silent accord. Futons had been laid out on the floor in anticipation of their sleep, and Makoto changes into his nightwear quickly, keeping his back to Haru as they change like his has since thirteen and a funny feeling in the pit of his stomach. It's a little relieving that he can put a reason to why this habit started, now.

Haru, surprisingly, doesn't get into his own bed, but lays on the futon next to Makoto's the one that had been prepped for Rin. Makoto wants to comment on it but decides not to, instead just turning out the lights and slipping into his own futon with a soft goodnight, getting a murmured “Mmn” in response from Haru.

Lying there in the dark, Haru's quiet breathing in his ears, Makoto thinks of Haru's hand holding his, the warmth that it left behind, and somehow feels it's closer to hold than before.

He falls asleep like that, wondering if the tingling warmth from his right hand is just the ghost imaginings of body warmth radiating from Haru, or if he moved his pinky just an inch to the right he'd meet warm skin, fingers sliding between his own.

His fingers are clutched into Haru's shirt when he wakes up.

 

 

Chapter Text

Tokyo is a world away from Iwatobi, and sometimes Makoto feels like that's literal – as if he's been picked up and placed on an alien planet that superficially resembles Japan but is completely different.

The food is different, the air is different, and there are so many people that Makoto wonders how they all have space to breathe, to live. It feels like he doesn't, sometimes, made even worse by trying to cram his bulk into crowded subway cars – they weren't quite made for an Omega that stood at a shameful one-eighty-five centimeters, now. Despite Tokyo's size, Makoto feels too big for it often, like he'll stretch and end up breaking all of Tokyo's sleek modern tiny pieces to bits.

It's also loud, and busy, and just so much.

He does feel like running away from it, sometimes. If he was alone here, he probably would.

But he's not.

Twenty minutes and two train stops from Makoto's campus dorm Haru lives in a tiny apartment – it's two rooms total, barely big enough for Haru, and the only redeeming features is that it has enough room for a full bathroom and it's clean and quiet in a nice part of town.

And, Haru lives there, of course.

It's a little strange, not being able to look out of his window and see Haru's window, to not know that Haru was just a few steps away. The view out of his bedroom is the back alleyway between campus buildings, the wall facing his nothing but brick and silence. He has a roommate he never sees, a Beta that spends most of his time with his girlfriend and only comes back to crash asleep occasionally. Used as he is to hustle and bustle and two little shadows following behind him at all times, it's a little lonely, and Haru's not strictly by his side anymore. There are times Makoto feels too big for Tokyo, but when he looks out his wall and doesn't see pale blue curtains hanging in an unassuming window, he feels very small.

But twenty minutes away is only twenty minutes. Two trains stops and he can be at Haru's whenever he likes – which is often, because Haru still doesn't pull himself out of the bath in the mornings on time.

Things have changed. They have changed. But the change has made Makoto come to realize that no matter what changes, no matter how far apart they are physically, they are still Makoto and Haru, and their bond won't fade just due to change.

It's this, and the little unchanging things like going to pick Haru out of his bathtub so he won't be late or meeting him twice a week for dinner and games, that makes Makoto feel like he can do this. The future is no longer some mythical monster looming over their heads, but a shining star, guiding them along their life paths together.

Makoto's happy.

Still, speaking of unchanging things, there is one unchanging thing that bothers Makoto, and that's his feelings.

He's still in love with Haru.

He knows that it's silly to think that it would just disappear with no reason – love doesn't do that. Still, he wishes that it would. It's just made things so much more...inconvenient. It's hard to pretend everything's normal to Haru when sometimes the Alpha tilts his head and the light catches his eyes just so and Makoto's left speechless, or when they doing something normal together, like studying or grabbing ramen and Haru looks at Makoto directly at him and smiles that tiny, wonderful smile that has grown more frequent and beautiful and Makoto feels like his chest is going to explode with how happy that makes him. It's ridiculous how fast his world can be reduced to just “Haru” and nothing else.

And Makoto doesn't know how to handle it.

Love doesn't just go away, not when it's your best friend you see often and reminds you every time of why you love them in the first place. And he can't just stop seeing Haru. Haru is his best friend, neglecting him because of Makoto's own stupid feelings would be even worse.

No, there has to be a way to handle this that doesn't involving separation, but Makoto is clueless where to begin.

He knows, if this were some cliché shoujo manga, that now would be the time he started psyching himself up to confess his feelings. He knows that it's what one is supposed to do when one has romantic feelings – convey them to the intended recipient. Perhaps that's even the right thing to do, he doesn't know.

Confessing, though, brings forth a whirlwind of potential problems. Makoto likes to believe that, after their last year of high school, their friendship could weather any storm, but objectively he knows that there's always a breaking point somewhere, and that breaking point might be Haru not returning his feelings. Perhaps Haru would feel too awkward associating with him, knowing that Makoto had intentions he could never fulfill. Perhaps Makoto would be too heartbroken to look at Haru if he poured these feelings out of himself only to be met with “I'm sorry, but” – even the thought stings like seawater in a cut. And most of all, he doesn't want Haru to feel obligated. Obligated to stay with him, obligated to return his feelings when he doesn't feel the same. That would be almost worse than being turned down, Makoto thinks.

Perhaps, even more frightening, what if Haru accepted?

Makoto knows it's probably wishful thinking, but ever since that year, ever since Haru stood on those stairs with him, confessing that last secret and drowning Makoto in too-blue eyes, Makoto's hopes like to tangle in that, feeling that there might be something there. Something in the way Haru looks at him, stays close to his side when they walk together, in the way their hands sometimes brush. Sometimes, Makoto swears that Haru's smile for him is different than his others. If Makoto has a smile from Haru all to himself, then maybe he has something else from Haru as well.

But, if that's true, then what? If Makoto confesses, and Haru accepts, how would their relationship change? They've been best friends so long that the thought of jumping to dating seems alien – would Haru suddenly start paying for everything? That always makes Makoto feel awful. Would Makoto have to giggle shyly and walk three paces behind Haru at all times? They've always walked side by side, and the helpless submissive Omega is something Haru hates. Would Haru have to show up on Makoto's doorstep with roses all the time? Makoto kind of hates roses, their smell is too strong and he's scared of pricking his fingers on the thorns. That's what dating is supposed to be like, right? Makoto can't imagine doing those things with Haru.

It reminds him of his worry when he first went on suppressants, all those years ago – about how everyone had seemed to expect that Haru's and his relationship would immediately change, and Makoto doesn't want that. If letting these feelings out into the open means destroying what they have, turning “Haru and Makoto” into “Alpha and Omega”, then Makoto will gladly swallow them down every day for the rest of his life.

He'll take laughing over a bowl of ramen together than a hundred roses everyday, any day.

Still, that brings its own problems – he knows it's not healthy to repress his feelings so much. It's a bad habit of his, he's come to realize, and this is just making it worse. If he doesn't want to repress them, he has to let them go, and he doesn't know how to do that either.

His only frames of reference for romance are Ran's shoujo manga and Nagisa, and from what both have told him, the easiest way to get over an old love is to find a new one.

Now that he's living on his own, moving through new social groups without the buffer of Haru at his side, Makoto's come to realize that there is a surprisingly large pool of people interested in dating him.

It makes his head spin, a little. He's nothing near an ideal mate, big and bulky and perhaps a little too weak-willed even for an Omega, so why he keeps getting invited to mixers or why some of the college Alphas drape themselves over the back of his chair with a sly grin is beyond Makoto. Why would they be interested in him? Makoto's nothing special.

Blind dating isn't really his style, it's a little too scary to look for such an intense emotional commitment in total strangers, so he's turned down all the offers with an awkward smile, but it means that if he does pursue that avenue, it's not through those lines.

Then, it'd have to be someone he already knows, already has a connection to.

His options are embarrassingly small. He has an alarmingly large ring of casual acquaintances at college, but his core relationships remain unchanged, even if the majority of them are now long distance.

Rin? That is obviously out of the question, given Rin's sexuality. Likewise, Makoto's not a bad friend and wouldn't consider going after Yamazaki-kun, given Rin's feelings. Not that he's entirely sure what's going on on that front, anymore – he's pretty sure Rin's still in contact with Sousuke, who practically vanished after graduation, but Rin's frequent Skype calls with Makoto and Haru reveal nothing, and he studiously avoids the subject. Something is going on there, but it's a mystery to Makoto still.

Nagisa, Rei, and Gou are still back in high school, and while they're his wonderful friends, thinking about engaging them in any sort of romantic pursuit just feels skeevy now. It's silly, he's only a year older, but that year feels like a century when he gets off a Skype call with them about the craziest new stunt they pulled for recruitment's sake and looks at the bills on his table. Their concerns are worlds apart, now. There's also the factor of genders – Nagisa is a fellow Omega which Makoto has never felt a twitch of attraction towards, Rei is a Beta who is more concerned with the perfect angle of his arms in his stroke than romance, and while Gou is an Alpha, Makoto hasn't ever felt any attraction towards her either. She's cute, but like his siblings are cute, or kittens – harmless aesthetics, nothing that brought attraction with it.

The rest of Samezuka he doesn't know that well – the Mikoshiba brothers were more passing acquaintances than anything, and no one's spoken to Nitori in months after an unfortunate explosion between him and Rin. Makoto's not sure of the details, but he thinks they had been dating when Rin was still desperately repressing himself, and after Haru and Makoto helped him come to terms with his sexuality in their third year, he'd decided to end the relationship for the sake of them both, but hadn't been the most delicate with it, as was typical of Rin, and Nitori had been understandably upset about being lead on for so long over a fake relationship he had been serious about.

It makes Makoto worry sometimes, with Sousuke being so withdrawn and Nitori vanished, that perhaps Rin is more distressed than he lets on. He always seems fine on their calls, though, and Rin being Rin it would be easy to tell if he were otherwise, so Makoto thinks he just doesn't know the whole story yet. Still, he tries to be extra encouraging to the redhead whenever he talks to him, hoping that with his and Haru's support, if Rin did have problems, he'd be able to stand and face them properly this time, with a strong will and a clear head.

Having eliminated all those choices, Makoto is left with one possible candidate – Kisumi.

The cheerful Alpha also ended up in Tokyo, at a different university from Makoto, some thirty minutes away by train, studying sports medicine. His mother's family is from Tokyo, so Kisumi is always eager to show Makoto – and much more reluctantly Haru – around the city.

He's attractive enough, Makoto supposes – tall, even if not as tall as Makoto, a lean muscled frame from his favored basketball, a fox-like face with a bright smile and eye-catching coloring. He, like Haru, stands out, but in a different way – while Haru has the breathtaking beauty of a still clean pool of water, easy to miss but hard to ignore once you noticed, Kisumi was like fireworks. A sudden explosion of color, beauty, and sound, forcing people to look and be amazed. He certainly isn't bad at all on that front. And he is a nice guy, friendly and personable and their friend, despite Haru's grumbling. He would be perfect to move on with.

There's just the slight problem of Makoto just...not being interested.

It's not just Gou. Even Kisumi, beautiful Kisumi who funds his college with side modeling gigs that he keeps trying to drag Makoto and Haru into, doesn't really do anything for Makoto that way. He's never seen an Alpha and experienced the same sort of breathless seizing of his chest he gets just looking at Haru's profile.

He's only ever thought of Haru.

What, then, does that mean?

It's in this state of indecisive existential pondering that Makoto finds himself tricked into going to a mixer.

He hadn't meant to, really. He'd just been lost in thought over his romantic problems for the hundredth time that week, rapping his mechanical pencil on his desk when an upperclassman sidled up to him, all smiles, claiming they had a reservation at a restaurant for a certain amount of people and they needed a sixth member, namely Makoto. And Makoto, distracted and thinking a nice night out with some of his college friends would be a good mental reset button, had agreed, and became immediately confused by the enthused whooping and cheers of “We got Tachibana!”

Unfortunately, once he had said yes, Makoto knew he couldn't cancel with a good conscious, no matter how much he didn't want to go, and so he finds himself packing up from Haru's apartment and their study date early, smiling weakly at the Alpha as he apologizes. “Sorry, Haru, but I promised to meet up with some guys from school, I've gotta catch the train to be on time.”

Haru doesn't say anything right away, instead folding his English textbook closed with a decisive movement and getting to his feet fluidly, Makoto dropping his gaze and swallowing against his suddenly dry mouth. Haru takes their snack dishes to his sink, starting to run them clean under water. “Where are you going?”

Makoto hears the slight protective tone under his voice – Haru is still wary about Makoto being alone in this huge city, and the sentiment makes Makoto smile helplessly. How can he get over Haru when he's like that, always so considerate of Makoto's well-being? Getting to his own feet, Makoto packs up his study tools in his backpack, picking up their glasses and moving them to the sink to join the plates. “Ah, it's a restaurant, some bar and grill place...I was asked kind of suddenly this morning, and couldn't really refuse.” Makoto laughed self-depreciatingly, knowing Haru was giving him a mild annoyed look out of the corner of his eyes. “I know, I know, I should learn to say no...but I'd already said yes! I couldn't very well have said 'wait no sorry I don't want to go' after that, could I?”

Haru gives a soft snort – 'Yes you could' – and Makoto smiles softly. Really, Haru never truly changed, and it's like a warm comforter settled over Makoto's shoulders. No matter what, he doesn't want this quiet, understanding banter to ever change between them.

But things have to move forward, somehow. He could have left it at that, left Haru thinking that he was just dragged to an inconvenient “dude's night out” by his peers, but he doesn't. Before he can really think about it, he opens his mouth. “I...I think it might be a mixer.”

Haru's hands still in the dishwater, and Makoto finds himself babbling on. “I didn't know that, of course! But they made a big fuss over managing to 'recruit' me...I've always refused before, so I think it's turned into some kind of trial or trophy, trying to get me to come. Hopefully it'll be over now!”

Haru's looking at him now, with a strangely-foreign intensity, the slightest crinkle in his brow. He's upset, but why? “Do you want to go?”

Makoto blinks, a little confused. “Eh?”

“Do you want to go? To a mixer.” Haru repeats, mouth firming a little after he speaks – he hates repeating himself. Makoto isn't sure where Haru's going with this. A small part of him, fed entirely too much shoujo manga by Nagisa raiding Rin's secret stash, is wondering if this is one of the Means Something moments, the ones that keep catching him up, wondering if there is something there, between him and Haru. Maybe Haru is...

No, he can't think like that. Putting expectations onto Haru is almost as bad as voicing them out loud. He swallows, looking forward to avoid Haru's gaze, not wanting to read more into it than he is allowed.

“Well...I suppose I should experience it? What normal college kid doesn't go? It's not like I really have to do anything but sit there and talk, it can't be that bad, right? And, well, I'm not...dating anyone, so...why not?”

Haru goes quiet after that, staring down into the dishwater, black locks of hair hiding his gaze, and Makoto can barely breathe, no idea of what this tension is or why it's there. For all that people call Makoto telepathic when it comes to Haru, he really isn't – he likens it to being a sailor. He has familiarity with the dips and waves of Haru's thoughts, and can navigate them easily when everything's clear and calm, but the depths are opaque to him and when the waters roughen into a storm he's as helpless as any other to read them. And the depths of Haru's mind are sometimes just as fearsome to Makoto as the deep ocean.

“...You're not dating anyone. Right.” Haru murmurs, almost to himself, before suddenly moving, water sloshing with new energy as he washes their dishes, movements sharp and measured. He's upset, annoyed, but why?

“Haru?” He tries, because Haru's obviously upset, but Haru just shakes his head, waving Makoto away from his usual duty of drying the dishes, and he steps back, a little hurt.

“You should get going. It'll be a bad impression if you're late,” Haru's voice is clipped, controlled, and Makoto bites his lip, the warm domesticity they had just been sharing vanishing into cold tension. Fireworks explode in the back of his mind – he is uncomfortably reminded of their first, and so far only, fight.

Except, this time, he has no idea what's caused Haru's sudden anger. At least, not any idea that's not silly and tinted by his own wishful thinking.

Though he doesn't know what caused it, he still knows enough on how to deal with an upset Haru, and right now pressing Haru about why he's upset is a bad idea. Sometimes Haru doesn't know why he's upset, and gets flustered when asked why, increasing his intensity about the whole mess. It's better to let Haru cool off, collect his thoughts, so they can talk about it later when Haru's had time to carefully arrange his words.

So Makoto steps back, smiling helplessly and rubbing the back of his neck. It feels wrong, to just leave it at this, but Haru is right – if he gets caught up in this strange argument right now, he will be late. Not that he wants to go, he could in fact call the guys and pretend something had come up and he couldn't make it and stay here with Haru, but Makoto's too nice, too engrained in social niceties to do that. He promised he'd go, so he will.

“Um...yeah, I guess. Then...I'll be going? Thanks for studying with me, Haru-chan. Um, I'll text you when I get out, let it know how it went! So...see you later?” His voice wavers just a little on the last part, wanting to know if Haru is okay – if they are okay.

He doesn't want to cause another fight.

Haru simply nods, but there's just the faintest drain of tension from his shoulders, and Makoto feels a little more confident in leaving. Still, he can't help looking over his shoulder multiple times as he toes on his shoes, hesitating in the doorway. “...See you tomorrow, Haru?”

Haru's hands pause just slightly again, before there's a non-committal “Mmn”, and Makoto can't dawdle in Haru's doorway any longer, so with a leaden tongue Makoto shuts the door behind him and heads down the steps of Haru's apartment building, heading for the train station.

Maybe he just shouldn't think about mates ever again. Everything's just so complicated when romance is involved.

The mixer isn't all that bad, in the end. He's more or less friends with most of the group, aside from a few from a nearby college. Everyone is so forward with their interest, though, and Makoto can only lean back in his seat, smiling wanly and trying his best to be politely interested without being encouraging.

They're not bad guys at all, though, and they seem to pick up on his discomfort, and soon he's left out of the overly-flirty conversations, and he can just smile and nod at appropriate parts, nursing his soda. It's not bad at all, like that, and he's at least enjoying himself mostly by the end, even if he finds himself rapping the table with his fingers, the sight of Haru's back standing alone in his apartment like a permanent after-image.

It's over after about three hours, and Makoto is only too happy when people start trickling away – some alone, some in new pairs. He feels it's enough to make his own exit, but it seems his own goodbyes is the trigger, and everyone gets up to leave with him.

The upperclassman who invited him, a lively Alpha with short spiky brown hair and a beauty mark under his left eye named Himura, throws his arm over Makoto's shoulders with a cheeky grin. “Hey, thanks for showing for once, Tachibana! We had a bigger-than-normal turnout thanks to you!”

Makoto can only laugh weakly, scratching at his cheek. He still doesn't really understand why he's so popular – he's probably the least-attractive Omega in the school by a long shot. He's just so big and bulky...really, he doesn't get it. “Glad to be of help, I guess?”

Himura chuckles, moving his arm off Makoto's shoulders to clap his hand on them instead. “It's a great help! Even if you did shoot everyone down pretty magnificently, but that's to be expected, haha!”

Makoto pauses, taken aback. His stomach flops uncomfortably. What? “Eh? What do you mean?”

Himura pauses with Makoto, looking a little surprised. “Well, isn't it obvious? You already belong to Nanase, right? I knew it'd end up like this more or less, but there's so many people interested in you it was worth a shot, even if you're off the market.”

It feels like his face explodes with how fast and deep his blushes, covering it with one hand as he steps back, waving the other in some sort of meaningless protest. “W-We're not...!”

If anything, this make Himura look even more flabbergasted. “What? You're not together? But it's so obvious! There's so many Alphas cursing Nanase's name for getting you!”

Maybe it's the worry constantly humming in the back of his mind, pricking him about how alone Haru looked when he left him, doing dishes on his own with his back to Makoto. What was the expression on his face then? Was it angry? Neutral? Sad?

Maybe it's because Makoto's just tired of hiding, bone tired of hiding feelings so intense it feels like he's drowning sometimes, unable to keep his breath and get his head out of Haru's limitless blue eyes.

Maybe it's all of those things when he opens his mouth and lets the next words slip out. “We're not, but...”

But.

He'd be lying if he didn't want it so much. He's scared, terrified of losing what they have to gain something that might not be worth the loss, but he still wants it so much. To stay by Haru's side no matter what, to belong at Haru's side.

That's what he wants, more than anything.

Himura's face lights up in understanding, his smile turning sympathetic as he claps his hand on Makoto's shoulder again. “I understand. So it's like that, huh? That's rough, but I'm rooting for you! I'm sure it'll happen!”

Still bright red, Makoto can only smile weakly, avoiding his gaze. It's nice, that at least someone has so much faith. “Well, it's not up to me, but t-thanks.”

“Pssssh, what do you mean? With Nanase, it's like, the only obvious thing about him.” Himura grins cheekily, skipping a few steps ahead and turning to face Makoto, setting his hands on his hips. “And even if my amazing intuition is wrong, there's always a space for you at our mixers!”

The laugh that bursts out of Makoto at that feels like it was startled out of him. “U-Um, thanks, I guess?”

Himura grins and winks at him, and Makoto smiles, heading home with a lighter chest than before, surprisingly enough for how heavy it had been earlier. Maybe talking about it was what he had really needed, letting it go, like releasing pressure. It certainly feels like he's not as close to exploding anymore.

And, with the way Himura spoke, maybe, just maybe...his wishful thinking might not be just a wish. Maybe there really is something there between him and Haru, if even strangers could see it. There is a thing about too close, isn't there? Not seeing the forest for the trees, or something.

He doesn't want to get ahead of himself. He still has no set plan about how to proceed. But the fluttering in his chest is peaceful and light now, instead of heavy and churning, and he's too giddy to do more than flop in his bed and pass out, hugging his pillow to himself and lost in a dream of maybe.

Unfortunately, excitement and the late hour combine to make him oversleep the next morning, and he only has time to splash his face with water and shrug on clean clothes before he's pelting out his door, sprinting to catch the train to Haru's.

He just makes it, and spends the twenty minute ride catching his breath and fidgeting with his clothes, some instinct in him pushing him to make himself as presentable as possible despite his rushed morning. It's stupid, because it's Haru, who's seen Makoto in possibly every state of being there is, and a little thing like messy bedhair isn't going to phase the Alpha, but Makoto still spends five minutes staring at his reflection in the train window, trying desperately to change the bird's nest he woke up with into something that approached 'artfully disheveled'.

The walk to Haru's after the train is short, and he's taking the steps up in a light jog, the first little stones of worry dropping into his stomach as he slowed to a walk up to Haru's door, hesitating before reaching for the handle.

If it's locked, he won't know what to do with himself.

He grabs the doorknob and turns it, and he can't help the deep sigh of relief when the door swings open easily under his touch. Whatever Haru was upset about last night, it's not something awful, and Makoto feels more confident as he steps inside, toeing off his shoes, and setting down his backpack. “Haru? I'm here!”

His only reply is a typical splash, and Makoto smiles, shutting the door behind himself and heading for the bathroom, opening the door and just sighing fondly at the familiar sight of Haru sitting in the tub, blue eyes staring at Makoto from just above the surface of the water.

He reaches his hand with long ease, slipping on the familiarity of their return like a much-loved sweater. “Good morning, Haru-chan.”

“Drop the chan,” comes the ever-familiar response, and Makoto just laughs softly, wrapping his fingers around the slickness of Haru's hand and letting his strength pull Haru to his feet. Makoto makes to step back to let Haru get out fully, the dance of their morning routine a waltz ingrained into his bones, but the dance is interrupted when Haru doesn't let go of his hand as expected, instead gripping it tighter and tugging it, forcing Makoto closer as Haru leans in.

Makoto yelps, not expecting this development – what is Haru doing? “H-Haru?”

Haru's too close to see his face, just the top of water-slicked black hair, and Makoto bites his lip, feeling red prickling onto his cheeks. Haru is entirely too close for Makoto's tattered feelings right now, but he can't pull back, not with the iron grip on his hand firmly conveying to Makoto how well that would go over. What is Haru even doing?

After a moment that feels far longer than it was, Haru pulls back, face carefully blank as he drops Makoto's hand, sloshing out of the tub without a word and grabbing a towel on his way out of the bathroom. Makoto can only trail after him like a lost puppy, equally confused and wanting to whine pitifully just as much.

What did he do wrong this time?

Haru gives himself a cursory scrub dry, barely pausing between throwing the towel over his shoulders and picking up his apron, starting in on his breakfast in silence. At least Makoto had taken it on himself to be the responsible adult and now made sure to come over to pick up Haru in adequate time for the other to make himself breakfast. For a few minutes, they're wrapped in silence aside from the resulting sounds of Haru cooking his favored mackerel, leaving Makoto to shift foot to foot awkwardly, unsure of even where to start addressing this problem.

He opens his mouth after a moment, intending to at least ask what's wrong, when Haru preempts him. “Did you have fun last night?”

Makoto blinks, not expecting this line of conversation. What is Haru getting at? “Um...I guess? It wasn't as bad as I was imagining, everyone was pretty nice. Um, why?”

“I see.” Haru's voice is flat, perfectly non-inflected, and Makoto feels his worry start to spike as the silence stretches out, eventually taking a seat at Haru's table as he waits for him to finish cooking. All his concerns from last night resurface, Haru's upset and he just doesn't know why and he doesn't want to fight again, not over this. But he really has no idea why Haru's upset, and if it's this bad, he can't just let it go now.

“Haru, what's–“ He starts, but before he can fully form his question, Haru slaps a plate down in front of him with a loud clank. Makoto jumps, startled, blinking down at the plate set in front of him – it's surprisingly a full breakfast, grilled mackerel, rice, and miso soup. It had been taking longer than normal, now that he thinks about it. He looks up, unsure of why he'd been given a plate, so see Haru sitting across from him with his own, already picking up his own spoon and bowl of soup. “Haru?”

Haru's eyes flick up at him, the barest flash of open sky, before going back to his meal. “You don't smell like instant curry, you skipped breakfast. Eat.”

Makoto blinks, a little taken aback. Didn't smell like–? The incident in the bathroom flashes through his mind, and he finds himself blushing again. Had Haru been...scenting him? Why? Dropping his gaze shyly, he picked up his own soup, managing a weak laugh. “U-Um...yeah, sorry, I overslept. Sorry, you didn't have to make me some too.”

Haru just shrugs, spooning soup into his mouth with pert delicate movements. “You would have started whining to me over the phone about how hungry you are during your morning classes.”

Makoto's blush deepens, because it's true – the times he's hurried out the door with no breakfast in him usually end up with him sending a few self-pitying texts to Haru to distract himself from his hunger. But that Haru remembered...no, of course Haru remembered. Haru always remembers things like that when it comes to his friends.

Makoto can only duck his head shyly, bringing the bowl of miso up to sip at it, letting the flavor hit his tongue. It's some of Haru's homemade stock – he doesn't think Haru's ever stood for instant miso soup, instead spending some of his weekend making a batch to use throughout the week. He can tell, because the base broth tastes just a little different than most, because Haru boils mackerel down for it instead of the traditional skipjack tuna.

Breakfast passes in a rather tense silence, Makoto too embarrassed and unsure of the situation to speak, and Haru never bothered to break silences unless prompted. When they're done, Haru gets to his feet with his dishes without a word, and Makoto scrabbles to keep up, taking his own to the sink. He pauses, hesitating before he steps into his normal role as dish dryer to help – will this be another subtle rejection? Will Haru tell him to go on ahead before he's late for class?

Has the wedge Makoto was terrified of appearing in their relationship already started pushing between them?

Haru's eyes flicker to Makoto, then to the towel, before he looks back to the dishwater in silence, continuing to wash their dishes without comment, and Makoto picks up the towel after a moment longer of indecision, and Haru hands him a plate in quiet normality, and they do the dishes like that, as they've always done, but with a layer of various emotions Makoto can't describe. Tension? Awkwardness? Relief?

Sneaking glances at Haru out of the corner of his eyes, the Alpha looks blank, passive, but there's the tiniest furrow in his brow, the only outward sign that he's not completely calm, and Makoto wishes that for once, he could actually read Haru's mind with absolutely certainty, just to know, to stop this gap from widening any more than it already has.

Haru vanishes into his bedroom when they're done to get dressed, and Makoto stands next to the door as he wait, shifting his weight awkwardly, hands behind his back as he stares at his toes. He's really not sure what's going on anymore, with Haru, with their relationship.

Things used to be so easy. Why did these feelings mess everything up?

Haru comes out dressed for the day after a few minutes, shouldering his duffel bag and sitting down to lace up his shoes – Haru's the type to neatly take off his shoes every time, retying the laces when he puts them back on, unlike Makoto who just shoves his shoes on and off his feet with not much care. Haru was always like that, as long as Makoto can remember – a lot of focus and care into the little things no one else notices. It's...cute, and endearing, one of the many reasons Makoto thinks he fell for Haru in the first place – the huge amount of emotion and caring hidden behind that quiet exterior, and how he focuses it onto things that might be otherwise neglected.

He really is completely done for, getting lost in such a simple thing as Haru tying his shoes, but he can't help it, simply watching his best friend tie the white laces into precise bows, not even noticing that Haru is done until he stands up, suddenly right in front of Makoto and staring up at him with those blue eyes. “Makoto. Let's go.”

Makoto jumps a little, startled out of his mooning, and he laughs sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. “Ah, y-yeah! Let's go or we'll be late!”

From there the day proceeds as basically normal, Haru and Makoto having to go their separate ways at the train station, Makoto waving Haru off with a smile when his train arrives first. Makoto goes to his own classes mechanically, jotting down words that blur into black blocks in front of his eyes, too distracted to pay as much attention as he should.

Himura and his friends drop by when lunch rolls around, and Makoto agrees to go to the new sandwich shop with them, passing a fairly pleasant lunch, even if Makoto can't remember a thing of what they talked about afterwards, the niggling seed of anxiety about Haru constantly draining all of his attention away.

Before they part ways, Himura claps a hand on Makoto's shoulder, giving him a thumbs up, and Makoto smiles, thankful for the support but wishing it were only so easy. If he could just confess to Haru, he would have done it already...there's just too much he's unsure of, and Makoto's too careful.

After all, the last time he tried rushing ahead on his own power, it had ended with Haru running away from him and Makoto sure that his world had shattered. He doesn't want that again, under any circumstances.

He just wishes that he knew for sure which road to take. He's always been notoriously indecisive – “wishy-washy”, Haru calls him. But how can he choose when both paths look dark?

He packs up from Sports Nutrition, his last class of the day, melancholy thoughts and tendrils of anxiety floating through his thoughts as he heads out the classroom door, already digging in his pockets for his phone, intending to text Haru and set up dinner together to at least talk about this. Before he can even thumb through his unlock screen, though, a slim hand clamps onto Makoto's wrist and he jerks, turning to the perpetrator with wide eyes. “Haru!? What are you doing here?”

Indeed, Haru is standing right there in his swim team jersey and track pants, face unreadable as he holds Makoto's wrist in his hand.

He doesn't answer right away, taking a slight step forward, mouth opening slightly as if he's about to say something, before his nose wrinkles and he tilts his head, and now Makoto can clearly see he's scenting. Immediately Haru's mood seems to sour as his mouth firms into a scowl and his grip tightens to iron on Makoto's wrist. Without a word he turns, tugging Makoto through the hallways of his campus, leaving Makoto to stumble after him uselessly, his questioning repetitions of Haru's name falling on deaf ears.

Haru drags him to the law section of the campus, currently deserted due to some sort of practicals, and they stand in silence, the screeching of cicadas beating against the glass, as if the summer atmosphere could vibrate into the building by sheer force.

It's getting close to evening, the light outside turning a golden butter yellow and making the dust motes dancing in the hallway all the more visible. Makoto licks his dry lips against the oppressive atmosphere, voice small and hesitant. “...Haru?”

Haru is silent for a moment, before he turns around to face Makoto, not looking at him directly yet, finger still loosely wrapped around Makoto's wrist. “You...met an Alpha today. The same one as last night.”

Makoto blinks, a little dazed, unsure of why Alphas are Haru's chosen topic of conversation. “Alpha...? Oh, um, you mean Himura-kun? He's one of my upperclassmen. He's the one that invited me out yesterday. To the...um. To the mixer.”

Haru's mouth tightens into a noticeable frown, and Makoto can watch in blank confusion as Haru turns around dropping Makoto's hand. “...I see.”

Biting his lip, Makoto takes a step closer to Haru, reaching out to lightly touch the Alpha's shoulder. It's rock-hard with tension under his hand. “Haru...what's wrong? What does Himura-kun have to do with anything?”

Silence drags on after his question, broken only by the faint sounds of the city and cicadas, a faint horn blaring in one brief exclamation. Makoto continues watching the back of Haru's head in worry. They're not nine anymore, where Haru was as clear and easy to understand as a gentle tidal pool, shallow and benign. Now he's the deep ocean, awe-inspiring but unreadable, terrifying.

Haru shifts, head tilting just slightly downwards. “Are you...do you want to date him?”

Makoto jerks backwards slightly. Eh? “Eh? Date who?”

Haru tilts his head just enough so Makoto can see one blue eye, and Haru's lips still a set annoyed line. “That Himura-kun.”

Makoto is honestly taken aback – whatever gave Haru that idea? “What? No, I'm not interested in Himura-kun that way. Why would you think that?”

“You came over this morning smelling like him.” Haru's voice is flat, clearly holding back a deep annoyance. It's a very familiar tone – very familiar, in fact, because it's often a tone Haru uses for Kisumi. But why would one of Makoto's acquaintances make Haru act like this? “And you smell like him now too. Why?”

Smell like him? Makoto doesn't understand – ah, Himura did throw his arm over Makoto's shoulders a few times. He seems like a pretty touchy guy, so it's probably logical Makoto smells a bit like him, especially since he didn't get to shower this morning. “He threw his arm around my shoulders a few times. Nothing more than that. Why are you upset about this, Haru?”

That's the real question. Why is Haru upset? Makoto really has no idea. He can understand Haru being testy about Kisumi, because they mixed like cats and water and Kisumi did try to get Makoto to join the basketball club, thus reducing his time with Haru and Haru is a little protective of his time with his friends, but why would Haru act like this for someone he never met? It's almost like Haru is–

His brain stops thinking it before it forms, because he can't let himself think that, it would only get his hopes up. Haru can't be–

Haru is suddenly turning to face Makoto, and the strange intensity on his face makes Makoto's thought scatter like dandelion fluff. Haru steps closer, closer, and Makoto backs up instinctively, until warm brick stops his movement back and Haru is right in front of him, staring up at Makoto with that intense, endless gaze, making Makoto feel like he's falling in the sky, the sudden flopping of his stomach as good as vertigo, and Haru is so close, too close, getting closer, and all Makoto can do is close his eyes and take a shuddering breath out of some sort of instinct before lips press against his.

His first thought is that Haru needs to use chapstick more, because his lips are slightly rough and chapped. It's a silly thought, but it's the only one Makoto can focus on, because everything else is whirling, unable to focus on anything but eagerly trying to soak up all the sensations regardless – Haru is kissing him, pressed up against Makoto's front, a solid heavy warmth, and his lips are featherlight as they move over Makoto's, and all he can smell is that sea salt-chlorine-clean air distinctness that is Haru's scent alone, and he thinks he's died because surely this is heaven. It feels close enough to it, chapped lips and all.

After a small eternity Haru pulls back too soon, and Makoto opens his eyes, feeling like he's been set on fire, like Haru's warmth has branded onto his skin as obviously as a cattle brand, and he's sure he's blushing straight down to his toes.

His breath comes to a stuttering halt when he sees how distressed Haru looks, however – the swimmer takes a step back, biting his lip and he looks so upset that Makoto instinctively reaches out to catch his wrist, wanting to soothe away that look. Haru should never look so hurt. “H-Haru?”

“I'm sorry,” Haru rasps out, avoiding Makoto's gaze. The world hangs heavy and still, Haru the only thing in focus, as if Makoto's seeing everything in snapshots. “I s-shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry.”

The dizzying vertigo returns, this time from his innards turning to lead so abruptly it's a miracle he doesn't break through the floor with how heavy they feel. He almost lets go of Haru's wrist then, his own self-defeating nature tugging black claws into heart – 'I knew it, he didn't like it, I'm not good enough' – but a whirlwind of images flash into his mind. Himura's cheeky grin. Kisumi saying their hearts are connected. Rin grinning slyly at them, saying they hadn't changed. Nagisa's 'acting like a couple in front of a haunted house'. Yamada-kun back in class 3-B of third grade running away from them.

Haru himself, holding onto Makoto's wrist with a clear blue stare. 'No. Stay.'

No, he can't let it end like this. For the first time, Makoto feels like he has the courage for this, bursting through the years of self-doubt and blame like breaking the surface after the first fifteen meters of dolphin kick. He's not going to let go this time.

Makoto sucks in a deep breath, feeling like his ribs are shattering, voice barely louder than the summer wind. “Why, Haru-chan? Why are you apologizing?”

There's a cicada buzz of silence, before Haru looks at Makoto, still looking upset. “Your mother said it. That first kisses were supposed to be special. And I went and stole yours like that, when I'm not even worthy of it, and I shouldn't. I'm sorry.”

The leaden feeling dissolves, sending fizzy bubbles through Makoto, feeling like they're prickling everywhere. His red cheeks, the warmth of Haru's wrist in his fingers, his eyes as he possibly starts tearing up, bursting out of him in a breathless voiceless laugh as he reaches up with his other hand, just barely hovering over Haru's cheek. “No, Haru, it was perfect.”

Those blue eyes finally meet his directly, a raw expression on Haru's face that Makoto's barely ever seen. He doesn't think there are even names for all the different shades of blue in Haru's eyes.

“But I'm not perfect,” Haru whispers, still looking so open and vulnerable, it makes Makoto want to wrap his arms around him and never let him go, Alpha and Omega roles be damned. “I'm small and pretty and I hurt you so much. I'm not a good Alpha at all. You...you deserve better. Like Kisumi. Or that Himura. Not...not me.”

It's like hearing his own decade of insecurities being played back at him, in Haru's voice, and Makoto's throat closes up. Had Haru been thinking like this the whole time...? Makoto had known he hadn't liked his name, how people called him pretty, but to the point he didn't think he was worthy of Makoto? Makoto, who's too big and bulky, worries too much, too shy and kind and meek for his own good sometimes.

Maybe, Makoto thinks, they were made this way to match.

He smiles helplessly, hand finally settling on Haru's cheek, fingertips brushing against the red flush there. “Haru...they're not you. They've never been you. Didn't...didn't I say, back then? I'm fine, by your side. It's never been anyone but you.”

Haru looks up at him again then, and the rush of emotions on his face happens too fast for Makoto to decipher, before he's suddenly pushed back against the brick of the wall again, Haru pressed against Makoto's chest as he hugs him forcefully, and Makoto can only automatically wrap his arms around the Alpha to return the hug.

“It's always been you, Makoto,” Haru's voice is low, coming out almost too fast for the Alpha, Makoto doesn't think he's ever heard him so rushed, as if his speed and force will prove his words true. “Finding mates, the helpless Omegas of media, I never wanted them because you were there. Since middle school, I always knew. I even told Rin back then. I thought...only you, Makoto. It's only ever been you.”

Haru looks up at that, causing Makoto's breath to freeze in his chest, and before his mind can catch up with his actions he's leaning down, Haru surging up to meet him like a wave and they're kissing again, Haru's hands fisting in the fabric of Makoto's shirt, keeping him in place, as if Makoto could even think of moving.

This kiss is slower, a cautious exploration of each other, and Makoto feels like he melt away with the bubbles still in his chest, he's just so...deliriously happy, like he'll wake up and this will all be a dream from falling asleep in his Physical Education lecture. Ir's all so unreal, but the feeling of Haru's lips over his, applying just the slightest pressure like he's just as afraid as Makoto that he'll dissolve under his lips, is more real than anything Makoto's ever felt.

They pull apart after a moment, and it's amazing how hollow Makoto already feels, from being that tiny bit farther from Haru. But the sight that greets him – Haru staring up at him, cheeks flushed and eyes deeper than anything, even more than when he looks at water – more than makes up for it.

They stare at each other for a few moments, just breathing the air between them, Makoto relishing in the fact that it was their air to share, now – no more invisible barriers, no glass coatings, just Haru warm and solid under his hands, so sensitive it's like he can feel each individual thread of Haru's jersey.

Then Makoto coughs, smiling shyly and scrubs a little at his eyes, because liquid may or may not have started leaking out. “S-So, um...are we b-boyfriends now?”

Haru snorts, a sound Makoto always hears when Haru thinks he's being silly, but it feels like a national treasure when Haru smiles that smile, his own eyes shimmering tropical waves with how bright they are. “I always thought we were. Catch up, Makoto.”

Makoto laughs brightly, laying his head on Haru's shoulder and closing his eyes, letting the tears finally fall properly as Haru's hand comes up, feather-light on his head, before gaining confidence to run fingers through Makoto's hair, gentle and soothing. Makoto wonders if this is how Haru felt when he found his dream – if he felt so free he could fly away without even leaving the ground. “S-Sorry for being slow, Haru-chan.”

“Drop the chan,” is the reliable response, and Makoto smiles into Haru's shoulder. It's not weird, and different, and he's not going have to walk behind Haru and deal with dozens of roses – it's just them, Makoto and Haru, as they always have been, and perhaps always were meant to be.

They stay like that for a few minutes, letting Makoto's happy tears trickle to a stop, just hugging each other tightly and sharing the body heat that they'd always sought from each other, but couldn't bring themselves to reach for, before.

Then, Haru suddenly holds Makoto's head in place a bit more firmly, and before Makoto can ask what he's doing Haru is rubbing their necks firmly together with a determined expression.

Makoto feels his cheeks heat up fiercely – he wonders if capillaries can actually be damaged from blushing too much. He'll have to ask his health professor. “H-Haru?”

Haru, predictably, doesn't respond immediately, instead continuing with the determined scent marking, switching sides when he felt satisfied with the first. He pulls back after a minute, giving a slight nod, his expression the same sort when he has done exceptionally well on grilling his mackerel, or beaten Rin – subtle but intense pride. “There. It's gone now.”

Makoto blinks. “What's gone?”

Haru flushes just slightly, dropping his gaze. “...You still smelled like...the other guy. If...since we're really, dating, now. You should smell like me.”

Makoto blinks again, before glancing at his shoulders – his sense of smell isn't as acute as Haru's, but he can smell just the slightly hint of Haru now, on him. This is no casual scent exchange that happened with simple touch with friends – this sort of heavy scent-marking was reserved for actual relationships. Serious relationships. Makoto's cheeks go redder, but his smile grows a little wider, maybe. Haru wanted him.

“And now Kisumi will back off too.”

Haru's sudden declaration cuts through Makoto's musing, and he looks up, confused. Haru looks petulant now, like he's thought of something distasteful. “Eh? What does Kisumi have to do with anything?”

Haru's scowl deepens. “...He's always hanging off you.”

“Well, yes, but he hangs off you too, Haru, it's just who he is...” Makoto starts, before pausing, and looking at Haru closely. It's like years of grime being cleared away, and each one of Haru's expressions are sharp, clear, readable, and suddenly all of Haru's actions around Kisumi make sense.

“Haru, are you jealous of Kisumi?” Haru's lips tighten and he turns his head to the side emphatically, making his opinion on discussing the topic clear. Makoto can only blink in bewilderment, a little stunned. Haru, jealous of Kisumi? What did Haru have to be jealous of? He's far more gorgeous to Makoto than Kisumi ever looked, and sure he's a good friend, but he's not Haru. There's no reason for Haru to feel jealous.

Except, well, there was that one stint where he considered if he could move on from Haru with him, but. Well, Makoto hadn't been able to even seriously consider it in the end, after all, and he certainly didn't need it now, so Haru wouldn't need to know about that.

Instead, Makoto just smiles, leaning forward to press a light, hesitant kiss on Haru's cheek. It works like a charm, Haru turning to look up at him with something close to wonder, eyes wide, and Makoto reaches out to take Haru's hand, like he's wanted to all these years, lacing their fingers together properly and feeling quiet amazement at how well they fit together. Like everything else, fitting against each other perfectly, like precision puzzle pieces.

Alpha and Omega. Makoto and Haru. Always together.

Makoto's smile softens, the bare remembrance of childhood flashing through his mind. “He'd stay beside Haru-chan's side without needing to be told to”, or something like that.

Yes, Makoto thinks, bringing their connected hands up to press his lips to them and smile bursting out of him as Haru's cheeks redden further, perhaps they were always meant to be like this.

He just needed to step back a little, shift maybe a few degrees to the side, and everything is clearer than ever.

 

Chapter Text

 It's been three days since they started dating.

It is three days, fourteen hours, forty-three minutes and thirty-eight seconds from their lips meeting for the first time when Makoto rolls awake blearily to slap at his alarm, beeping at five past seven on a Sunday morning because he forgot to turn it off for the weekend. It turns to forty-four minutes and sixteen seconds when Makoto finally raises his head, blinking away the morning fog in his brain, and remembers why he kept his alarm going today.

He blushes brightly and smooshes his face into his pillow for another seventy seconds, resisting the urge to squeal like a schoolgirl.

Today they're going on their first date.

Wednesday evening, the day of their confessions to each other, they had gone home to Haru's apartment together, Haru giving him one long look before wrapping his hand around Makoto's pointedly, and Makoto could only blush down at his lap during the train ride there. Once at Haru's place, they'd curled up on the floor in Haru's room, slowly learning the best ways to fit against each other as they'd quietly talked about everything into the night, television droning white noise in the background.

Makoto admitted everything, that night – how he'd felt about Rin, when he'd realized when he loved Haru, everything. With it all out in the open, all of his secrets poured out of him, he felt like a cloud, light and insubstantial, as if he'd had nothing left. Haru had listened to him carefully, not saying anything but holding Makoto's hand tightly, and leaning forward to give him a kiss when Makoto stuttered to a halt, bringing Makoto back from his formless cloudlike drifting to reality, anchoring Makoto like he always did.

Haru didn't say anything about Makoto's revelations, instead beginning to talk in his soft voice about his own experiences. How he'd never thought about other Omegas and mating, because Makoto had always been there and he'd thought it easy. How he had turned down Rin in fifth grade – with a painful expression on his face – by saying he wasn't weird, he had Makoto. How Kisumi made his fists curl and teeth grit with every time he playfully touched Makoto. How everything back in high school – Rin coming back, the relays, their fight, Makoto's near-death experience – had made Haru conscious of the fact that it wasn't just because Makoto was the easy choice. It had made him aware of how much he truly relied on Makoto's presence in his life – how much he actually loved him.

And Makoto's words Tuesday evening – “And, well, I'm not...dating anyone, so...why not?” – made Haru realize that, while Haru had assumed all these years that his feelings were self-evident and obvious, that there were some things that had to be said out loud. He had been shaken to learn that the relationship he thought was inevitable and obvious suddenly wasn't, and that he had a very real chance of losing Makoto.

That, combined with smelling a foreign Alpha's scent on Makoto the morning after the mixer, had sent Haru into a pit of anxiety and frustration all day, until it had culminated in his confrontation with Makoto, and the kiss. He hadn't been able to stand the thought of Makoto being taken away from him because of his own silence and awkwardness with communication – that had been the worst thought, to Haru, that he would lose Makoto from his own failings. It reminded him uncomfortably of their fight back in the summer of their third year of high school – how his own reluctance to look to the future had nearly driven a wedge between them permanently. So, after spending all of practice distracted and repeatedly scolded by his couch for his lack of focus, he'd headed straight for Makoto's university after, with the intent of properly confessing. But he'd messed that up too, by getting jealous over the same Alpha scent on Makoto, skipping the words and going straight for a kiss out of possessiveness. It had terrified him, that maybe it had been too much, too soon, maybe Makoto didn't want an Alpha like him.

Makoto had reached out to stroke Haru's cheek then, to smooth out the lines of distress that were subtly etched onto Haru's face. To think Haru thought himself unworthy of Makoto...it was almost inconceivable. How could Haru think he was anything less than perfect, when he was everything to Makoto? It just didn't make sense.

Then again, Makoto thought much the same of himself, that Haru couldn't be possibly interested in so faulty an Omega like himself. Perhaps it was something they would have to work on, the both of them – to learn to love themselves like they loved each other.

Haru had leaned into his touch, and they eventually fell asleep like that, curled around each other and silently soothing away each other's insecurities through tactile clinging.

Unfortunately, curled up on Haru's floor meant that Makoto was nowhere near his alarm, meaning he slept completely through his first class and only had time to hurriedly scrub down in Haru's shower before running out the door in a panic.

Not enough of a panic to skip giving Haru a shy, red-cheeked kiss goodbye first, though, or for Haru to not catch his hand and pointedly scent Makoto, making Makoto feel like he was going to melt from embarrassment and affection both, and also give him a firm look to be free on Sunday Or Else.

For their first date.

Haru had to go to a weekend training trip, only returning late Saturday night, and so Makoto had to brew on his excited nerves alone all through the days until Sunday, worrying him endlessly.

It's Haru, so Makoto knows he isn't going to show up on Makoto's doorstep with a suit and a dozen roses to whisk him off to some fancy French restaurant – for one, neither of them even like French food. He knows not to expect cliché shoujo manga things from Haru, he isn't like that. Even if he'd worried about it earlier, he's come to realize that Haru is Haru and adding romance to the mix isn't going to change their relationship so severely like he'd feared.

But what, then, to expect from Haru?

If Makoto's experience with romance is lacking, Haru's must be abysmal. While Makoto has a suitable social circle with which to give him some sort of expectations by osmosis – Rin, Nagisa, his siblings, his mother, all of his casual high school and college acquaintances – Haru has half that, and Makoto knows he tunes out most of the swimming club's chatter that isn't about water. Haru isn't oblivious to things, he knows, but neither has he ever shown any interest in learning about them.

So, Makoto has absolutely no clue what Haru's idea of a date is going to entail, and this is very much A Problem.

It's seven in the morning, and Makoto's in a state of mild existential crisis. Haru had said he would be around at ten. That means Makoto has three hours to prepare himself for an entirely unknown activity and he feels his chest start tightening in anxiety.

What is he even going to wear?

Wait, that sounded so stereotypically Omega Makoto's ashamed of himself.

But he really doesn't know. What is Haru going to take them out to do? Is Haru even going to take charge of the date? He'd set the date and time, so probably...but Haru never liked organizing outings. Maybe he would just leave the destinations up to Makoto? But Makoto has no idea where to go on a date!

Cake shop? Makoto would love it, but Haru hates sweets. Cat cafe? Maybe...but Haru's more of a dog person, surprisingly. Movies? Haru only watches documentaries and the sort of stuff Makoto likes watching probably isn't first date material. Fancy restaurant? Does Haru own a suit? Would they like the food? Do fancy restaurants even serve mackerel?

And all of this still doesn't solve the dilemma of what to wear – all those ideas have very different wardrobes attached, and two hours later of panicking, pacing in circles, and ransacking his entire room, Makoto's no closer to an outfit or an idea.

If they're going somewhere fancy, then Makoto needs to dress up. But what if he over-dresses? It'd be mortifying to dress in his good suit and Haru takes him to some family restaurant. But if he under-dresses, they'll not be let into fancier establishments and Haru's plans would be wasted. And he has to look presentable – Haru's already getting interviews and occasional candid photos as on Olympic hopeful, and Makoto knows he's hardly the picture-perfect Omega that most people expect glued to a celebrity's side. He can't tarnish Haru's image by not being as stylish as he can afford to be.

He hasn't even taken a shower yet!

Feeling his mind starting to spin in panicked circles that he knows are the build-up to an anxiety attack, Makoto scrabbles for his phone and scrolls through the contact list blindly. No matter who it lands on, they'll have some sort of opinion on his clothes, right? If he just has one opinion to make a decision on–!

The phone trills for a few moments, before a familiar voice comes through the speaker.

“Makoto I have ten kilometers of stamina training today and a hundred yen overage charge per minute on international calls, this had better be a goddamn emergency.”

“Rin!” Makoto has never been so happy to hear Rin's annoyed tones. He's really glad that his phone didn't up on his siblings, now that he thinks about it – Rin's stylish, right? He wears different things, he can help! “Rin, what do I wear!?”

There's a long moment of silence. “....Haaa?”

“Haru told me to be ready at ten but I don't know where he's taking me and I have to know what to wear! I can't know if I don't know where we're going! There's an hour left! There's no time and I don't know what to wear but I have to wear something I can't look awful on our first date I just can't Haru will hate me–“

“Makoto! Makoto, inhale, exhale, remember your breathing technique! I can't understand what you're saying!” Rin's voice breaks through Makoto's semi-hysterical babble, and Makoto indeed sucks in a deep breath, snapping back under control. Gods, what is he doing, getting so upset!? Makoto covers his face with his free hand. Ugh, really, he's a mess.

“Wait, first date?” Rin's voice comes after a silent, disbelieving beat.

Even though he's alone in his apartment, the verbal acknowledgment of it by someone else makes Makoto's ears go bright red. They actually haven't told anyone else yet, come to think of it. “U-Um, yeah. We...we started...d-dating. On Wednesday. Today is our first...proper date.”

Rin coughs, like he's choked on something. “Wait–let me understand this. You were never dating before?”

Makoto blinks. “...N-No?”

There's a long pause, then a deep, aggrieved sigh. “Haru, you completely useless water maniac.”

Makoto squeaks, flushing brighter. “H-Hey! Haru's not useless!”

Rin sighs again, and Makoto can practically hear him waving his hand over the phone. “I know, I know, he's just...ugh. I thought he would have at least said something over all these years, but only this Wednesday...I need a drink just thinking about it. Anyways, so, first date, huh?”

The tone of Rin's voice goes sly, and Makoto whines slightly, face still heavily red. Well, at least Rin's not Nagisa... “Y-Yes.”

There's a muffled snicker, before Rin clears his throat, sounding clear and professional. “Right. Whatever you're thinking, I can guarantee you with like a ninety-nine percent chance of accuracy that it's not going to require a suit and will likely involve water in some way. So, you wanna look good, but don't over-dress. Maybe wear your jammers underneath, get Haru hot.”

“Rin!” Makoto doesn't think his ears can get any redder before they burn off.

The snicker sounds again. “Sorry, sorry. But seriously – it's Haru, Makoto. He knows you better than anyone, and you know him. It's not gonna be anyplace weird.” There's a pause, then a snort. “Well. Maybe. It's Haru, he always weird.”

Makoto sighs, putting on his best impression of his mother's 'don't call your brother a half-used snot tissue Ran' voice. “Rin, Haru's not weird.”

“Please, last time I talked to him he complained that your local gym pool felt restrictive cause they used too much chlorine and it pinched his jammers and the water wasn't free. Your boyfriend's a starfish brain.” The grin in Rin's voice is obvious. “Well, at least he isn't a complete failure, since he finally managed to ask you out properly.”

And the blushing is back. Makoto rubs at his face with his free hand, feeling the heat in his cheeks, but he can't help the smile. Boyfriends. They're boyfriends now.

“Makoto, stop wasting my hundred yen on mooning over Haru.”

Makoto whines, cheeks getting even hotter. “Rin, stop embarrassing me! I-I wasn't mooning!” Much!

“Yeah, yeah...” Rin gives another little laugh, and Makoto can almost hear his smile. “Anyways, I really have to go, stamina training is such a bitch let me tell you, but remember what I said! Just dress nicely, like, don't you look pretty good in layers? Wear some of those. That one khaki jacket you had was pretty nice. Oh, and leave your contacts out, wear your glasses, trust me! It will be great.”

He can't help the small frown. His glasses? “Why my glasses? I don't really like...I mean, doesn't it look weird on me?”

There's a weird sound, like Rin's trying to swallow a cough or groan or something. “...Yeah. Trust me. Glasses. So, let me know how it goes later, all right? Remember, it's just Haru! See you later!”

“Goodbye, Rin, thank you!” Makoto smiles when the call beeps closed, before pulling his cell phone away from his face and sighing, brow furrowing in thought. Just Haru, huh? That almost makes it more scary – sure it's just Haru, but that means he has everything to lose because it is Haru. But then again...maybe Rin is right. It is just Haru, Haru who had said with no small conviction that Makoto was what he wanted. All his fears about them having to suddenly change from 'Haru and Makoto' into 'Alpha and Omega' haven't happened yet.

He just needs to...trust. Haru already had treated their relationship as dating, so maybe all he has to do is keep treating it the same as well.

Makoto lets out a deep breath. Sometimes he really wishes he could be like Haru, or Rin, or even Nagisa or Rei or Gou...hell, even his little sister Ran. They all had their worries, certainly, but they never seem so controlled by them like Makoto feels. Seriously, it's just an outfit, and here he is, spiraling out of control just due to possibilities! It's always what gets him – the possibility of a bad outcome. Even if in the end it turns out fine, not being able to account for everything at the start makes him feel like his life is flying out of his hands. It has gotten better since middle and high school, since the events of the last two summers, but still there's always that monster in the shadows of his mind, scrabbling at all the what-ifs and contingencies, making his stomach drop when he isn't able to plan out every possible step. He's not constantly in anxiety...but it's hard to think of anything else, sometimes.

Maybe...he should talk to Haru about it.

Sighing again, Makoto shakes his head, putting his phone down as he gives his face a few slaps. Right! It isn't time to get lost in his own thoughts! He still has to get dressed, the phone call with Rin took about ten minutes, so he has fifty left until Haru is supposed to show up. If he keeps panicking about it, he isn't going to be ready, and that's going to be worse than being the wrong type of ready, so he just needs to pick an outfit and go! Easy!

He rushes himself through the shower – ten minutes, time is ticking down! – and walks into his bedroom, towel around his hips as he dries himself off as quickly as possible. Straightening himself with determination, Makoto turns around and regards his bed with his fists on his hips. It's a minor disaster area as he's pulled every possible shirt he owns out and thrown it onto the bed. He'll have a lot of cleaning to do later. But right now, it's decision time.

Layers, Rin had said layers. And his khaki jacket? But it's summer outside, and Tokyo is far muggier than Iwatobi's open seabreezes ever were. He'd bake in that. Well, Rin's in Australia, isn't it opposite down there? So he'd be in the dead of winter. But he can still layer in the hot weather...

Makoto grabs one of his new favorite undershirts, a silky black v-neck. He normally liked to pair it with a colorful overshirt, like the red plaid one that had also become a recent favorite. Sadly that one is out of commission as Haru had...appropriated it lately, and Makoto hasn't seen it since. Instead, mulling over his many shirts, Makoto grabs a short-sleeved button-up, white with green criss-crossing streaks across the bottom, almost like paintbrush strokes. It's light and airy too, perfect for a summer day outing. Makoto slips on the new tops, smoothing down the black v-neck. It looks pretty decent, if he says so himself.

Nodding, Makoto heads to his dresser next, drawers all open with his pants and various other garments in disarray, some half-hanging out even. He will really need to clean later, oops.

Biting his lip, Makoto looks over his choices – mostly jeans, with some khakis and dressier black pants mixed in. Shorts, too, but Makoto doesn't really like how lanky he already looks, so he tends to only wear shorts around friends. So, proper pants, then.

He brushes his hands over all the different pairs he has – strange, really, how they look different but are all fundamentally the same in the end – before he pauses over one pair of jeans.

He's only worn them once, and swore to never put them on again. One of the many pieces of clothes his parents had showered him with when he moved out – so he'd have a proper adult wardrobe, they'd said – it looks like his mother had underestimated the fit of this brand at Makoto's size, and they're...snug. Alarmingly so. In his first few weeks in Tokyo, Makoto had been forced to wear them the once when he'd neglected to do laundry, caught up in the glamour of his new lifestyle, and had spent the entire day with the unerring feeling of being stared at. They had felt...painted on, for lack of a better term, and Makoto had felt massively silly in them, like he couldn't dress himself.

Haru, too, had looked at him just once when they met up for dinner later and declared that Makoto should never wear them again, and he should instead stick to clothes that fit, and 'I'm coming over to do your laundry tonight, Makoto', which Makoto had protested vehemently but Haru bulled on anyways, following Makoto home afterwards to do some cleaning with the laundry and cook him dinner, one of the first home meals he'd had since he'd gone to Tokyo.

Makoto's mouth crinkles up at the corners. He'd been mortified at the time, that after his exhaustive training Haru had been forced to do all his housework too, and he'd spent the next two weeks trying to cater to Haru's every need in return. But looking back on it, he'd really needed it at the time – only three weeks into his new life and he'd been lost, desperately trying to keep up with his schoolwork and all his new acquaintances, and foolishly trying not to impede on Haru in any way.

But Haru, once again, quietly came to his rescue – being mortified of Haru having to do his chores had centered Makoto a bit, made him realize that he needed to prioritize better, and that relaxing, soft night spent with his best friend in domestic calm, with a real meal in him and not just instant curry or takeout, had made him feel really at home for the first time since he'd moved to Tokyo. It had been one of the first things that made him confident in the fact that no matter where they ended up, his relationship with Haru would flow just the same.

It had been a good night.

Makoto shakes his head, clearing the memories. Good though they are, he needs to get dressed still! He almost moves his hand to the next pair of jeans, but pauses.

Actually, thinking back on it, with his new knowledge of Haru's jealousy – and really, that was such a strange concept for Makoto still, that Haru could be jealous about him – the way Haru had acted that day...he had seemed especially distracted that night, glaring off into nowhere. Or perhaps, at everyone. Rather like how he acted around Kisumi...

Makoto picks up the tight jeans with trepidation. Well...fortune favors the bold, perhaps?

They're the same squeeze to get into, even over the tightest pair of boxer-briefs he owns, and Makoto stares at his reflection in the mirror with red cheeks. The front doesn't show off too much, he supposes, which is fine, but his legs still look way too long like they always do – his mother gives him tight-lipped frowns about it, but he still prefers wearing his pants as low on his hips as possible to, well, 'minimize' the length they look. These, being so tight, sit a little higher, and accentuate everything. Really everything.

Makoto turns around and looks over his shoulder at his reflection, before blushing brighter and tugging self-consciously down on the white overshirt. It's only just long enough to cover his rear, but he supposes that's better than nothing. It's...this is a common thing for datewear, right...?

Trying to shove what he's wearing out of his mind, Makoto rummages through the rest of his drawers with red ears, pulling out a black belt from one and slipping that on, then pulling open one of the smaller drawers at the top that contains all his accessories.

He doesn't like accessorizing as much as Rin or Nagisa, it feels too flashy for his personal tastes, but he does like a tad of flair now and then, so he's amassed a good collection. He slips on a colorful beaded bracelet, then a double-strapped leather one. Haru has a matching pair of it, actually – the pair bracelets had been a birthday gift for Makoto once, and Haru had taken a keen interest in them, so Makoto had passed one over. They'd never worn them at the same time before, as even the thought would have caused teenaged Makoto's self-esteem to implode, but now the idea of wearing 'their' bracelets on their first date makes Makoto smile.

Lastly he pulls out a necklace, a simple black leather strap with a small green glass pendant, and fastens it on his neck, gazing worriedly into the mirror. He thinks he looks okay...painted-on pants aside. Maybe he should bring a bag with a change of pants.

Looking at his reflection, Makoto is reminded of Rin's last piece of advice – 'wear your glasses, trust me!' He frowns, unsure. He doesn't really like how he looks with his glasses, thinking them more of a necessary evil when he couldn't wear his contacts for whatever reason. His vision isn't terrible, but basically anything past ten feet becomes a blurry oil painting. He generally only wears the contacts for class to read the boards, taking them out when he changed for swim practice back in high school and when he gets back to his dorm now, but lately that ten-foot radius has been decreasing. He might need a new prescription – his father wears glasses all the time, so perhaps that is Makoto's inevitable fate one day too. Well, he doesn't mind his contacts, really...even though it took him a week to get enough courage to put them in for the first time.

But Rin had insisted on glasses. And he is a lot more stylish than Makoto...he should know what he's doing. At least Makoto hopes so. So Makoto picks up the brown leather case and slips on the rectangular brown frames, staring at himself through slightly sharper clarity. Well...it looks all right all around, he supposes. He wonders if he should wear something more special, he just looks like more of the same...but well, perhaps this is part of Rin meant too – it's just Haru. Wearing what he normally wears should be fine, right? He frowns at his reflection again, running his fingers through his still slightly-damp hair, trying to style it slightly more than the shaggy spiky mess it naturally fell into. Sometimes he wishes he had Haru's silky straight hair, which seems to obey whatever Haru tells it to, and not stick straight up in tufts like badly-mowed grass if he didn't glue it down with gel...

There's a knock at the door and Makoto jumps a meter, jolted out of his reverie with a squeak. Placing his hand on his chest, he glances at his bedside clock with alarm – apparently he's been dressing for the past forty minutes. Somehow.

Which means the knock is Haru.

Swallowing through his suddenly-dry mouth, Makoto takes a deep breath before steeling himself, fists clenching as he walks through his dorm to the door. He prides himself in that he only shakes a little as he opens the door.

It is Haru, of course, who looks up at Makoto with the tiniest hints of a smile forming, before those sky eyes widen, his mouth falling open slightly. Makoto would worry, but he's caught up in his own staring.

Haru looks...nice.

He's not really wearing anything different than normal, but something about the quality seems a little better. Makoto knows he's never seen the shirt Haru's wearing before – it's a blue scoop-necked t-shirt with its small row of three buttons undone, nothing special for Haru to wear, but the neckline is very wide and low, showing off a great deal of collarbone. It's also very clingy, made of some sort of silky material that hugs Haru's form very well, showing off all the results of professional training under a layer of cobalt blue, and Makoto feels his mouth go a little dry. Definitely new – there's no way Makoto wouldn't have noticed Haru wearing this before.

The rest of his outfit is fairly standard Haru fare – he's tied a white hoodie around his waist and is wearing a standard pair of khaki capris with his favorite white and blue tennis shoes, but it all comes together in a nice picture. While Makoto always likes how Haru looks, he knows the Alpha usually only throws on whatever's clean, and his usual standard of fashion is 'how quickly can I get myself out of it to swim'. So to see him look a little more put together with things he normally wouldn't wear because it was too clingy to strip out of...

Well, it's....nice.

“Makoto.”

Haru's voice jerks Makoto out of his thoughts, and he blinks rapidly, before giving a sheepish smile at Haru. “A-Ah, sorry, Haru! Good morning! You look...nice.”

There's the faintest darkening of Haru's cheeks before the Alpha drops his gaze. “...You...mmn. Are you ready? To go out.”

Makoto nods instinctively, still a little star-struck, before he gasps. “Ah, one moment! I need my wallet and stuff!” Whirling around he pelts towards his bedroom, grabbing his orange-trimmed wallet off his bedstand. He glances around quickly, mind grabbing at any possible thing he might be forgetting – clothes, glasses, wallet, oven isn't on, no running water – before picking up his brown leather bookbag and putting the wallet in there. Pulling the strap over his head, Makoto heads back towards the door, grabbing his keys and phone off the little console stand he and his dormmate had set up next to the door.

He sits down to put on his shoes, tugging on his boots and lacing them up. “I'm ready once my shoes are on. Anything else you can think of, Haru?”

“If you have everything, we can go.”

“All right!” Finishing up the knot on his second shoe, Makoto gets to his feet, giving Haru a smile that he hopes looks more confident than it feels – he's still incredibly nervous about where Haru's taking him. “Let's go?”

Haru nods, cheeks still faintly pink as he suddenly holds out his hand for Makoto to take, and Makoto's eyes instantly gravitate towards the dark stripes against his skin – the bracelet. He's wearing the matching bracelets too, and his fingers make Makoto feel far warmer inside than the muggy summer morning outside.

Makoto feels like he's going to explode, it's just...all so much. The dressing nice, Haru dressing nice, the bracelets, the hand-holding. If he got any happier he'd float away like a balloon.

“Let's go, Makoto,” Haru says softly, tugging on Makoto's hand, and Makoto can only follow his lead, only pausing for a moment to lock his door behind him – at least he paid attention to all the safety lectures, unlike Haru.

Then they're off.

Makoto doesn't know where they're going, but Haru clearly has an idea, and he's content to follow the Alpha's lead, walking towards the train station, hand in hand. Even just this is nice, being able to walk with Haru like this, as his mate and not just friend. It's something he's only dreamed of before, with a guilty feeling in his stomach like he was unfairly using his best friend. Sometimes he wonders if he's still dreaming.

But Haru's hand is real and firm in his, and Makoto can't help the smile on his face as they walk up the steps to the train station.

Haru stops before the route maps for a moment, giving them a long look, before nodding to himself and taking them to the ticket station. Makoto follows easily, intrigued. They haven't talked much on the walk here, more content to just bask in the other's presence, but he's curious about what Haru has planned. “Hey, Haru? Where are we going, anyways?”

There's a tiny sliver of blue as Haru glances at him out of the corner of his eyes, but he doesn't say anything, just looks back forward as they wait in line for tickets with a quiet smugness, and Makoto sighs in fond exasperation. All right, so it's a surprise, then. Haru's surprisingly fond of them, using his poker face to its very best, but he's always quietly pleased with himself.

Still, Haru's surprises are never bad – if sometimes...unusual, Makoto still remembers the pajama incident – so Makoto's content to wait and see. It'll make Haru happy.

Haru buys their tickets despite Makoto's mild protests – Haru can't pay for everything! – and board the train, Makoto's curiosity growing. Haru's bought tickets to Yokohama, so it will be a bit of a trip. What's in Yokohama that Haru would want to take him to?

They ride the train in most companionable silence, still holding hands – Makoto is content to watch the scenery pass by, amusing himself with guessing where they're going, and occasionally pointing out passing landmarks to Haru in a soft voice. Now that he thinks about it, he and Haru haven't really explored Tokyo much. He doubts Haru would hold much interest, but Makoto thinks it's a bit of a waste to live in one of the largest cities in the world and not at least look over its variety of amusements.

Well, Makoto thinks, Haru can't be the only one here planning dates. If Haru won't go on his own, then Makoto will just have to take him. He knows Haru will appreciate some of the sights in the end.

Makoto rubs at his face, cheeks red. It's still so weird, sometimes, to think of their outings as dates.

The minutes tick by as they travel – in half an hour, they're at Yokohama's main station, with Haru tugging him towards a transfer, towards the Kanazawa Hakkei station. Makoto's brow furrows as he contemplates the name – he feels like something about it is familiar, like he should know the location.

They board that train, another twenty minutes of Makoto's curiosity starting to really bubble over. He starts listening to the announcements, hoping he can glean some idea of where they're going out of something more communicative than Haru when he has a Surprise. The pleasant drone of the announcer holds no answers, simply listing off the next stop with robotic precision.

They arrive at the station, and Haru leads him out of the main station this time. Now walking, Makoto wonders if they're close, or if Haru will spill his secrets now. He cranes his neck around, trying to figure it out.

The neighborhood is fairly typical, nothing out of the ordinary he can see. They're closer to the sea here than their neighborhood back in Tokyo – he can smell the salt underneath the oil and heat of the city. Next to the ocean, in Yokohama? It does have a lot of seaside attractions if he remembers correctly. He'd looked up a lot of water-related activities when he learned Haru was moving to Tokyo with him, knowing that Haru would get homesick but never say it.

There was definitely something about “Hakkei” in those lists, but it's slipping him now. He looks at Haru, putting on his best puppy-look in hopes Haru would cave and tell him. “This is pretty far from home, Haru, what's out here?”

“You'll see.”

Yep, still in full Surprise mode. Makoto sighs. “Haru–“

Haru tugs on his hand suddenly, breaking up Makoto's planned sentence. “This way.”

He leads Makoto into yet another train station – connected to the other, this one is just a small, one-track station that seems to be under construction still, with the words “Kanazawa Seaside Line” displayed on the station. It all looks rather temporary, and makes Makoto all the more confused. What could possibly be down this line?

They board it anyways, and Makoto remains glued to the scenery, trying to solve the mystery before him. The line certainly is seaside, flashes of blue bay water through the buildings, and the stops drone on for a few minutes, before there's one announcement that Haru tugs on his hand for, indicating their stop.

“Next stop is Hakkeijima Station, Hakkeijima Station–“

Haru stands up as the train slides to a stop, Makoto following on auto. Hakkeijima? He knows he's heard that before, it's definitely something he looked up, but what

“Makoto, we're here.”

Haru's voice makes him look up, blinking, and he gasps as the station doors open onto an island, colorful posters advertising sea life everywhere. That's right! Hakkeijima Sea Paradise, one of the largest aquariums in Japan, complete with some of the largest tanks too, and an amusement park besides.

It had been one of the many attractions he'd babbled about to Haru at the start, wanting to share it with him one day – and, well, Makoto had definitely wanted to go too, an amusement park and aquarium, all in one? It had sounded amazing. Haru hadn't seemed interested at the time, though, just making an aside comment that the sea in Iwatobi was more free, and Makoto had just sighed and filed it into his mind as “maybe one day”. He hadn't been looking forward to figuring out ways to persuade Haru to go – the old 'look at all this water Haru wink wink' trick only worked so long as Haru could actually swim in it, after all, and Makoto didn't want to get kicked out an aquarium if Haru got disagreeable...again – but to think Haru would take him here on his own...

“You were excited about this one the most.”

Makoto turns to Haru, surprised, and the Alpha looks away, faintly red. “...When you mentioned a bunch of places in Tokyo. You lit up about this one when you were reading.”

He can only stare in amazement for a moment, taken aback. He hadn't thought Haru had listened much to his excited rambles about all the places they could go – certainly, not enough to pick up which ones Makoto had been most interested in for himself. But he had listened, and he'd remembered, months later...

Makoto squeaks and covers his face, knowing he's gone bright red. He's going to die, Haru is going to actually kill him from sheer embarrassment and happiness. Rest in peace Tachibana Makoto, age eighteen, cause of death is his boyfriend being too amazing.

“Makoto?” The worried voice makes Makoto peek through his fingers, and he'd be touched by Haru's concerned face if he weren't actually dying at the moment. “Is...is it okay? Here, I mean.”

He's even worried that Makoto doesn't like it. Why is Haru so perfect?

He whines and pulls his hands off his face, knowing that he needs to reassure Haru even if he really wants to run and hide under a blanket until he can deal with how perfect Haru is. He laughs, abruptly feeling the prickle of tears in his eyes. Oh dear, hopefully Haru doesn't take that as bad. “N-No, Haru...I just...it's perfect, really, you remembered, and I'm just...too happy...” He trails off, and keens slightly when Haru's concern doesn't let up, hiding his face in his hands again. “....D-Don't look at me, Haru!”

There's a pause of silence, before a soft sigh, barely heard over the seagulls and summer wind, and the sounds of happiness drifting from the park itself. Long fingers gently grasp Makoto's, and though he whines again when Haru pulls his hands off his face, he complies, pouting at the Alpha – his Alpha, the stupid silly beautiful man chose him – as Haru gives him one of his barely-there smiles.

“I'm glad you like it,” Haru murmurs, and Makoto can't help but give him the most smitten smile he can, cheeks bright red.

He loves this man so much.

Haru, with another gentle smile, wraps Makoto's hand up in his again, and heads for the information center, and Makoto feels like his cheeks are going to rip apart with how wide he's smiling. Haru buys them day passes – the park is pay-as-you-go, but clearly Haru intends to see everything, so the day passes for everything are more efficient, and they head into the park.

It's amazing. They don't try most of the rides – Haru is indifferent to such things, and Makoto is naturally terrified, as shameful as it is – but there's more than roller coasters. There's some cute little sea boats – “No, Haru, you can't jump off the boat and swim!” – and train rides, there's also a merry-go-round that Makoto teasingly pulls Haru into the line for. He grimaces, but Makoto laughs and knows Haru's just embarrassed. There's also a sea cruise that looks really nice, but Makoto thinks there isn't enough time in the day if they want to see the rest of the park, and they leave it behind with a wistful smile on Makoto's part.

Haru tugs on his hand, giving him a deep blue gaze. “Next time we'll go.”

Next time. Makoto's back to smiling so wide he's going to freeze that way.

Having exhausted the park part, they move into the aquarium, and it's beautiful. There's a whole farm-like section about living with the sea in harmony that Haru gives an approving nod, but it's full of children and he can see Haru's subtle wince at the shrieks, so he tugs Haru's hand and they walk past. The dolphin exhibit is wonderful, and they stand in a tunnel underneath the tank, dolphins swimming lazy arcs over them, and Makoto finds himself watching Haru more than the porpoises, those blue eyes wide and fastened on his favorite animal, sparkling brightly.

Makoto sneaks a picture on his phone, but the shutter sound startles Haru, and he glares at Makoto. “Delete that.”

Makoto giggles. “Okay, okay, Haru-chan.” Haru opens his mouth to protest the naming, but Makoto hits a few buttons on his phone, and he looks away, partially satisfied.

Makoto thanks every deity he knows that Haru's so terrible with technology – they have the same phone, Haru should know that the beep Makoto's phone made is not a deletion noise, but rather him setting it as Haru's contact picture. But, well. What he doesn't know won't hurt him, right?

They wander through the rest of the aquarium, through the petting zoo – they get to touch some belugas, which feel really weird but their clicks and squeaks are adorable, and Makoto indulges Haru and lets himself be dragged into the fish reef, ankle deep in water with fish swimming around them. Haru just stands there for like five minutes with his eyes closed, enjoying the feel of the water on his feet – though Makoto stops him from laying down in it.  Makoto pauses at nearly every trinket shop, gasping at all the cute merchandise.  He picks up souvenirs for the next time he goes back to Iwatobi – a cute small penguin plush for Nagisa, a pretty little shell collection for Rei, a pair of matching shark bracelets for Rin and Gou, and of course he can't forget his family.  An informative ocean booklet for his father, a comb with seashells for his mother, and two glittery water globes filled with colorful glitter and sea life for the twins – made out of nice hard plastic, too, in case they drop it or...worse.

Haru buys him an orca keychain, despite his own protests about Haru spending too much money.  Makoto buys him a matching dolphin one in revenge.  Haru snorts like he thinks Makoto's being stupid, but Makoto can tell he's happy by the gleam in his eyes – the old dolphin charm from the swim club had been lost several years ago, the charm getting too worn and falling off Haru's book bag to never be found again.  Haru had said it was fine at the time, but Makoto knows he'd been upset over losing the little trinket.

Seeing the new keychain get almost instantly clipped to Haru's keys makes Makoto smile.

After that, they go into the actual aquariums, wandering from room to room with soft blue lighting. Makoto cringes through the deep sea exhibit, probably crushing the bones in Haru's delicate hands, but Haru doesn't make a sound. All the exhibits, even that one, are gorgeous, and Makoto finds himself gasping in wonder at each change between rooms. It's like he's surrounded by the sea, but there's nothing dark that can hide in these tanks and drag him down. It's just clear and pure water wherever he looks, like the color of Haru's eyes.

It's amazing.

They end up in Zone Three, a dazzling display of thousands of sardines swimming in a shimmering cloud of scales and fins against their reef background and other tank inhabitants. It's gorgeous, and Makoto just watches the display in silence for a few minutes, Haru's warmth radiating at his side from their connected hands. The soft music and unique illuminations make the fish seem almost like an illusion, as if he really were in the middle of the vast sea.

For all the sea can be so frightening, it really holds some of the most beautiful things in the world, as well.

Makoto turns to Haru, about to ask him his opinion, but squeaks when he sees that Haru's gaze is glued to him, rather than the fish, he looks away, bringing up his free hand to hide his mouth in embarrassment. It's still a little much, to see Haru so focused on him, and only him. He thinks he hears the barest breath of a laugh from Haru.

Coughing to regain his composure, he turns to look at Haru again – who is definitely smiling teasingly at him, the bastard – and manages to smile sheepishly through his embarrassment. “H-Having fun, Haru?”

“Yeah,” The blunt and unrepentant answer comes, and Makoto pouts slightly, knowing the twinkle in Haru's eyes is at his expense. Stupid Haru.

Haru lifts their connected hands, drawing Makoto's attention to meet his gaze, which looks more serious than before. “Are you? Having fun.”

Makoto relaxes slightly, smiling at the seriousness in that question. “...Yeah. It's been wonderful, this place is amazing. I'm glad we came.”

The Alpha nods slightly, satisfied, and looks back towards the fish tank. “Good.”

His smile softening, Makoto also looks back to the aquarium, shifting his weight against Haru's with a soft sigh.

Rin was right, he really did worry too much, It is just Haru – Haru who cares about him, who loves him, who remembers silly things like which amusement parks perked Makoto's interest the most. It hasn't been much different than a normal outing between the two, but between the hand-holding and the knowledge that Haru planned all this just for him, it's also the most amazing trip Makoto's ever had.

He doesn't want it to end.

His stomach has other ideas, however, interrupting the moment with a loud protest about how he hasn't eaten all day, and Makoto blushes bright red. He'd been too worried this morning to eat, even the thought had sent his stomach already twisted with anxiety into a rebellious spiral.

Haru gives him a knowing look. “No instant curry again. You need to stop forgetting breakfast.”

Makoto whines, looking away. “I...I didn't have time!”

There's a soft hum from Haru, seeing the lie for what it was but not commenting on it, and he starts taking to the exit. “I hear you can catch and cook your own fish here, in that farm place.”

“Oh?” That's right, Makoto had read something about that. “That sounds wonderful, especially for you, Haru.”

“No real mackerel.” Haru sniffs, like the very idea is an affront. “And only deep-frying.”

Makoto smiles, knowing that is one area Haru is most picky about with his food, aside from the water content – the fresher the better, for Haru, who insisted on shopping in street markets and getting up early for the first shipments of fish from Tokyo's impressive fisheries. Even then, he knows Haru makes a unique little pinched face when he shops here in Tokyo – 'not as good as the old men back home', the face practically screamed. Makoto's just happy so long as it tastes decent, but Haru's always been about the detail.

“Well, it sounds good, but since we can't guarantee we'll catch anything, how about we just go to a restaurant? There's plenty here, and I bet at least one serves mackerel.” Makoto chirps, not really caring – right now, he doesn't care where they eat, so long as it's edible. Hell, even non-edible might be pretty okay.

They end up in a little seafood barbeque place. It's pretty expensive like most theme park restaurants are, and Haru insists on paying again, which makes Makoto feel bad. He just doesn't want to be one of those Omegas, the ones who take and take and take whatever the Alpha gives, the ones Haru had been unhappy with long ago. He says as such to Haru.

Haru gives him a long look at that, before gently squeezing Makoto's hand. “If you upsets you, you can pay for next time. Or we can switch, pay for what we pick, so you can choose where we go next time. But...”

He hesitates, and Makoto tilts his head, silently encouraging him to go on. Haru glances at him, before looking back out the expansive windows over the sea. “...I understand now, why it happens. I thought it was stupid when I was little, but...you, seeing you smile like you have, all day...I think it's worth it. To see you like this.”

He says the last quietly, with a red face not entirely from the sunset starting to shine into the windows, and Makoto feels his own cheeks burn.

Really, today has probably taken years off his life from embarrassment and happiness both, and he's going to blame Haru for every minute lost.

Still, he's not going to let Haru coast entirely by on that massively embarrassing – but cute, so adorable, whoever said Haru couldn't be sweet is massively uninformed, but Makoto doesn't mind keeping this side of Haru to himself – reason, so he squeezes Haru's hand with a smile. “Then, I'll pick next time.”

He knows that single line is going to cause him probably an avalanche of anxiety in the future and more overage charges to Rin, but in this moment, he thinks he doesn't care. Especially when, in the middle of their dinner, the fireworks over the bay start and they watch them out the restaurant windows, and Makoto finds himself just as captivated with watching them in Haru's eyes as watching the real thing – little stars of color reflected in that liquid blue like a masterpiece of glass artwork, and once again Makoto's breath is stolen with how lucky he is, to have this beautiful being by his side.

Today, Makoto thinks, has been the best day of his life. Even if it isn't super different from what they normally do, or a massive showing of money and fancy wine and restaurants, it's the most amazing thing he's ever done, and he closes his eyes and sends a soft prayer of thanks that Haru had had the courage, that they'd both had the courage to finally speak properly and admit their feelings, because now Makoto can't imagine living without this knowledge, this happiness.

Maybe they'd have even better dates in the future, Haru out-doing himself even more, or maybe something will just be so amazing that it will usurp this one, but Makoto thinks that, even then, this will remain as the best date they could ever have.