Would it be enough to go by
If we could sail on the wind and the dark
Cut those chains in the middle of the night
That had you pulled apart
year 1, month 1, day 25
Makoto can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong.
Swimming club practice has started. He’s warming up with the others by the track, and Haru is nowhere to be seen, even though his classmate Asahi is here.
Could it be he decided not to come? Since it’s still too cold to swim, and we’re just running and doing other exercises?
But even as the thought floats through his mind, Makoto knows that isn’t it. It’s not like Haru to skip out on practice at a whim.
Something is wrong…
A great weight lifts off Makoto’s chest at the sound of that soft voice. He looks up quickly. “Haru!”
Where were you? he wants to ask, but the words fade and die on his lips as he looks at Haru’s solemn face.
Haru’s still wearing his school uniform. He hasn’t changed into his PE kit. His bag is slung round his shoulder.
“Where’s Nao-senpai? I need to tell him something important.”
“Ah, I think I saw him over there…” Makoto points.
Haru’s gaze follows Makoto’s finger to where Nao-senpai is standing, on the other side of the track. He takes a few steps towards him, pauses, then turns around to face Makoto again; not quite meeting his eyes, not quite looking away.
“Haru?” says Makoto, hesitantly. “Did… did something happen?”
Haru is silent for a while.
“I’ll wait for you at the gate later,” he says finally, turning away and walking quickly towards Nao-senpai.
Makoto feels a sinking feeling settle in the pit of his stomach.
year 2, month 11, day 22
Makoto learns to recognise all the signs.
Restlessness. Irritability. The drifting gaze, the sense that Haru’s not quite present.
The sight of water. Any water.
The way Haru’s hand moves when it snaps up to the buttons of his shirt. Sometimes, just for variety, he’ll go for his belt first.
Makoto memorises every little thing. Today, his reflexes are lightning-fast, and he manages to whisk Haru away from the fountain in the mall even before he’s got his jacket off.
He makes a beeline for the supermarket and steers Haru in the direction of the fresh seafood section in hopes of distracting him.
Maybe we’ll get through this after all, thinks Makoto, as he watches Haru examine a plump mackerel with interest, and lets out a small sigh.
year 3, month 1, day 14
Makkou has led them on a merry chase today. Haru runs after him up the pavement, Makoto trailing behind.
Suddenly, Makoto’s footsteps stop.
“Ah, Haru, look!“
Haru bends down to scratch Makkou between the ears and restrain him. He turns around. Makoto is standing transfixed, staring at the building across the road.
Haru follows his gaze.
Those letters, painted in bold dark brown, are still there under the cartoon picture of the smiling swimmer. But the blue of the walls is chipped and faded, the Closed sign on the front door hangs askew, and it’s dark inside through the shaded windows.
“It feels so strange to see it like this,” says Makoto.
Out of the corner of his eye, Haru sees him shiver slightly, his brows drawn together with anxiety.
Haru doesn’t particularly want to see Iwatobi Swimming Club any closer. Here is fine, he tells himself; here, at this safe distance, he can walk away.
But without knowing it, his feet have started moving, of their own will, across the road.
“Haru, wait - ”
Makoto’s worried voice sounds from behind. He hears a small bark, and turns to see Makoto running quickly after him, Makkou scooped up into his arms.
As they approach the front door of the club, Haru remembers the day they first walked in here, him and Makoto, and how much simpler life had seemed back then.
I sound like a 90-year-old man, thinks Haru. What would Grandma say?
Makoto comes up to his side. He hands Makkou over to Haru. Haru picks up the bundle of squirming black fur, and Makkou gives him a lick on the face and a tiny yip.
They stand in silence for a while, gazing through the doors.
“I still have that toy,” says Makoto, and Haru knows he's reliving the same memory as he was just a moment ago.
“Me too,” says Haru.
Makoto smiles. “I know. I see it in your tub in the mornings.”
A flood of reminiscences washes over Haru as he stands there, looking into the empty corridors of the club. The day they met Rin. The day they watched Nagisa beat everyone at breaststroke. The day they won that relay. The last race he swam there, three years ago now.
I’ll never swim with Rin again.
The winter wind blows harshly at them, and a small layer of dust flies up into Haru’s face, making his eyes water and his nose itch.
“It’s been a whole year, huh… since the SC closed,” says Makoto, a wistful note creeping into his voice. “It’s been tough for you, Haru, having no pool to swim in.”
Makoto doesn’t mention the obvious, that they have a pool in school. They left that topic behind long ago, buried hastily in moments of long, drawn-out silence, secrets upon secrets in the quiet, infinite space between their clasped hands and their hearts.
year 1, month 10, day 3
Bet you’re surprised to get a letter from me! How are you??
My new school is really big. Everyone in my class is so serious about studying. Things are really different here. I haven’t gone swimming since school started, and my school doesn’t even have a swimming club! Can you believe that?
But I’m doing my best and working hard every day. I hope I can catch up with my classmates soon. They're all so smart.
I really miss you and Mako-chan and Rin-chan… but I’m sure we’ll swim together again someday! Definitely!
Please write back! I’ll wait for your letter! ^^
year 2, month 6, day 29
Makoto tucks Ran into bed and plants a kiss on her forehead. She gives a little incoherent mumble, and rolls over on her pillow, eyes still closed.
He glances over to the other side of the twins’ room, where Haru’s gently disentangling Ren from round his neck, and settling him into bed as well.
Smiling, Makoto goes over to give Ren a kiss too. “Goodnight,” he whispers.
They step outside quietly. Makoto closes the door behind them, and they make their way down the corridor to his room.
“Thanks for coming over to play with them,” he says, turning to Haru. “They love having you around.”
Haru’s gaze softens. “Well, I couldn’t say no after they baked me a cake.”
He picks up his bag from beside Makoto’s desk. “I’ll be off, then.”
“Ah, wait, hang on…”
Haru pauses, looking at him questioningly.
Makoto goes to his cupboard, opens a door and rummages through a drawer. He pulls out a small, flat package, wrapped in sky blue paper, and hands it to Haru.
“It’s a little bit early, but since your parents are taking you to Osaka for the weekend, I won’t see you… so, happy birthday, Haru.”
Haru takes the present from him. “Thanks.”
Makoto smiles. “Open it.”
Haru takes his time with the paper. He’s always been like that, never the sort of impatient child who’d rip away wrapping paper to get at his present quicker. His fingers work through the tape slowly, deliberately, peeling off the layers with care.
Makoto plonks himself down on his bed and pats the space next to him. “You should sit down. It might take a while. I, uh, used a lot of paper…”
Haru looks up, raising his eyebrows. “Why?”
“Um,” says Makoto.
Haru, still preoccupied with the present, goes over absently and sits down beside Makoto.
“Because the first layer didn’t look nice enough,” Makoto says, a little abashedly. “So I wrapped another layer around it. And then another. Until my mother came and asked me what I was doing and showed me how to do it properly…”
“So that’s why it’s getting more and more sloppy the more I unwrap it,” Haru murmurs.
“Heh. Sorry, Haru.”
He watches with a smile as Haru folds up each layer of paper carefully, putting it in a small, growing stack next to him, until he gets to the last layer.
The present unfolds in Haru’s hands, spilling out onto his lap in a cascade of dark blue cotton. “Ah - this is - “
“I thought it would be useful in the kitchen,” says Makoto. “So that the oil doesn’t spatter on your clothes when you’re cooking.”
Haru holds the apron at arm’s length and shakes it out. When he sees the dolphin on the front, a smile spreads gradually over his face, and Makoto’s heart soars.
“Thank you,” says Haru. “I’ll wear it.”
He tucks the apron into his bag, along with the pile of wrapping paper, and stands.
Makoto gazes upwards at his best friend. He wants to memorise the moment, the way Haru looks right now; the way his lips are curved in a lingering smile of contentment, the way the corners of his eyes crinkle ever so slightly, the way the deep blue shimmers in the moonlight shining through his window.
He doesn't want the moment to end.
He doesn't see Haru's smile often enough, these days.
“I’ll walk you back,” says Makoto, getting to his feet as well.
Haru shoots him an odd look. For a moment, Makoto thinks he’s about to point out that that’s silly, he’ll have to climb all the way up the stone steps and down again, but -
Without saying a word, Haru nods.
year 1, month 10, day 4
“I got a letter from Nagisa yesterday.”
Makoto looks up in surprise, green eyes peeping out from under his towel. “Nagisa?”
“Yeah,” says Haru.
He takes the letter out of his bag, and passes it to Makoto. “Here.”
Makoto reads it slowly, as they make their way out of the SC’s locker room. “Wow, Nagisa’s new school sounds really tough… and there’s no swimming club, huh?”
They walk down the corridor. Makoto finishes Nagisa’s letter, and hands it back to Haru.
“Nagisa’s right,” he says, resolutely. “I’m sure we’ll swim together again someday.”
Haru feels his heart clench tightly as he folds Nagisa’s letter back into its envelope, and puts it into his bag. Beside him, Makoto is looking at the wall of photographs. Haru knows exactly which one his gaze is lingering on.
Don’t look, he tells himself. Don’t look.
“All four of us,” says Makoto quietly, almost to himself instead of to Haru. “I wonder how Rin is doing in Australia? We haven’t heard from him for a long time…”
Haru looks down at his feet, and keeps his silence.
year 3, month 8, day 12
Makoto stirs sleepily, blinking a few times, then sits bolt upright.
What time is it?
He glances up at the clock on the wall. It’s almost 10 at night.
Ah, I fell asleep at my desk again…
There’s a knock on the door, and it opens just a crack. His mother peers round into his room.
“Makoto? You haven’t gone to bed, have you?”
“Ah, no, sorry, I just drifted off while studying…”
His mother smiles. “Good thing Haruka-kun came around, then.”
“Haru?” Makoto’s eyes widen, as he wonders if he heard wrongly.
“He’s at the front door. Looking for you. Do you want to go down?” asks his mother, but Makoto’s already on his feet, dashing out of his room and down the stairs.
Haru’s standing outside, staring up at the night sky.
Haru turns to look at him. “Sorry to disturb you and your family so late at night.”
“It’s fine, Haru, you know you can always come anytime…”
Haru opens his mouth again, as if to say something, then closes it and falls back into silence.
Makoto shuts the front door behind him and steps out to stand next to Haru. He looks up at the clear, cloudless sky as well.
“The stars are beautiful tonight,” he says.
Haru nods. “…Yeah.”
He pauses. “Makoto. Will you come for a run with me?”
Makoto’s taken by surprise, for the tiniest of moments, before understanding sinks in.
“By the beach?” he asks, gently.
That’s where Haru used to run with Makkou, almost every night. Until a few weeks ago.
Haru nods again.
“I’ll go get changed. Wait for me,” says Makoto.
year 1, month 1, day 1
Haru watches Rin run off. He feels like his feet should be moving, but he’s just standing there, stunned. He’s never been Rin’s match for speed anyway, out of the water; if Rin wants to run away from him, Haru knows he’ll never catch up.
Rin’s words echo through his mind like a ghostly voice, haunting him, as the light through the window dims. The sun is setting.
No, thinks Haru.
"I’m done swimming."
Rin. Rin, who left them all behind here to chase a dream in a foreign land. Rin, who showed him what it meant to swim with friends.
You stupid idiot - you, of all people - how can you quit?
“Rin,” Haru calls out again, weakly, but Rin’s already halfway down the corridor, too far away to hear.
Coach Sasabe comes out of the pool area then. “Haruka? Is everything all right? Rin seems troubled, somehow…”
Haru turns, and looks up at Coach Sasabe’s concerned face.
He doesn’t know what to say. He can’t think of anything right now but the image of Rin on his knees, crumpled on the floor, wiping the tears out of his eyes -
Coach Sasabe puts a hand on his shoulder. “Do you want me to send you home?”
Haru shakes his head. “It’s okay. I’ll run home,” he says.
“Ah, that’s right… you boys used to do that after practice, huh?”
There’s a growing lump in Haru’s throat, and his breath is short.
Will there ever be a you boys again? Will he ever see Rin again? Even if he does, will he ever swim with Rin again?
No. I can’t. Rin’s done swimming. Rin’s quitting.
Because of me. Because I made him cry.
Haru looks out of the window at the tree in the courtyard, casting a long, dark shadow on the ground. The light's almost gone now, and it's getting late, but Haru knows only one way to feel better when things are like this.
“Coach Sasabe… Can I swim for a little while more? Just a little?”
He knows it’s a lot to ask. He and Rin showed up just as Coach Sasabe was about to close up and go home, after all. Coach Sasabe must be wanting to leave. But Haru doesn’t know what else to do right now but swim. He has to swim. He has to be in the water.
The water will heal me.
Coach Sasabe doesn’t hesitate. “Of course, Haruka. Swim as long as you need to.”
“Thank you,” says Haru, almost inaudibly.
He takes one last look down the corridor. Rin’s gone now, out of sight.
Out of his life, maybe forever.
Haru follows Coach Sasabe back to the poolside, a sharp, painful ache growing in his chest.
The title and opening verse of this fic come from Vienna Teng's beautiful song of the same name.
This speculative story, exploring the time between Haru quitting swimming and the start of Free!, is something I've wanted to tackle for a while. It's such a rich and poignant few years for both Makoto and Haru, full of possibilities, and the inevitable pains of growing up. I can only hope to do these missing years justice.
I've marked it as a three-parter, but it may go a little longer. Definitely not an epic on the scale of "You and I", though. (I think the time skips would drive you all mad if that were the case - if they didn't drive me mad first, heh.)
Thank you for reading! As always, comments and kudos make my day ♥
Chapter 2: so i turned back to breathing
Silence, extended hands, Christmas and a promise to be kept.
year 1, month 1, day 13
Makoto climbs out of the pool and goes over to the benches to grab a towel. He watches his friends swim as he dries his hair.
Haru’s moving slowly through the water, taking his time. His freestyle is still as beautiful as ever, but there’s something about his stroke, perhaps his rhythm, that just feels the tiniest bit off to Makoto.
Since school started, Haru hasn’t quite been himself, Makoto thinks.
It’s not just that he’s quiet. Haru’s always quiet. It’s all these other little things that add up. He doesn’t look Makoto in the eye as much as usual. He seems halfhearted about club practice. He doesn’t smile.
Asahi had cornered him at the water cooler in the gym the other day, at club practice, and gone straight to the point in his blunt, brash way. “Oi, did something happen to Haru over the winter break?”
“Yeah. That guy… he’s even more antisocial than usual in class now. When I asked him if he swam much during the break, he just gave me a blank look! How weird is that?”
“I…” Makoto had started to speak, then stopped, trailing off. “I don’t know.”
And that’s the worst thing, he thinks now, sitting down on the bench with a heavy heart. That he doesn’t know. Even if Haru doesn’t say anything, Makoto always knows. Makoto can always read him. But not this time.
This time, Haru has closed off part of himself. Even to Makoto.
What’s on your mind, Haru? Makoto wonders fretfully, watching his best friend swim down the length of the pool, away from him. Won’t you tell me?
And to make matters worse, today, Nagisa is just as bad.
Nagisa’s swimming with the elementary schoolers on the other side of the pool, so Makoto hasn’t had a chance to observe him as much. But now that he’s looking at him, he can see the wild, careless splashes of his movement, the way his arms are flailing out recklessly.
Makoto finishes drying his hair. He lets the towel drop down to his lap, and twists the ends in his hands absently, nervously. It’s an old anxious habit of his.
Do I have enough strength for my friends? Can I be there for both Haru and Nagisa, on my own?
Sometimes, he isn’t sure, and the helplessness is overwhelming.
year 2, month 12, day 24
Wow, can you believe it’s our last year of junior high already? Time really flew by. We met so many people and made so many new friends here… and soon we’ll all have to go our separate ways again.
It’s a little bit sad, but I’m really grateful that I’ve always had you, Haru. Ahhh, this is getting kind of embarrassing, so I guess I’ll stop here.
I hope you like your Christmas present! You can use it at the beach.
year 3, month 2, day 20
Haru is startled out of his books by the sound of a tiny snore from Makoto. He looks up. Makoto’s head is resting on his arms, eyes closed, breathing deeply, glasses still perched on the bridge of his nose.
Haru leans over and prods Makoto’s cheek with his pencil, experimentally. Makoto doesn’t stir.
Haru looks at the clock. With high school entrance exams approaching, they’ve been studying after school every day for hours on end. Haru feels the exhaustion creeping up on him too.
“Makoto,” he calls, softly, wondering if he should shake him.
Makoto makes an indistinct mumble and a small yawn. He doesn’t seem to be conscious.
Just then, the soft chirp of Makoto’s ringtone sounds through Haru’s room. The phone’s sitting next to his hand, vibrating lightly.
Haru stares at it for a while. The caller ID lights up the screen, merrily flashing Home.
He reaches out to pick up the phone. “Hello.”
There’s a brief pause. “Haruka-kun? Ah - sorry to interrupt your studying - ”
Makoto gets his apologetic streak from his mother, thinks Haru.
“No, it’s my fault for unexpectedly answering,” he says, out loud, walking out to the corridor and closing the door behind him so he won’t disturb Makoto. “Makoto fell asleep. I think he’s really tired.”
“Oh! I’m sorry he inconvenienced you! I just wanted to ask him about dinner, so maybe you could wake him up - ”
Haru makes a snap decision.
“If it’s okay with you… he can continue sleeping here. I can prepare dinner for him."
“Oh no, we couldn’t trouble you and your parents like that!”
“It’s no trouble,” Haru reassures her. “I have to cook for myself today anyway. My parents are away on a trip.”
“You should have told us, Haruka-kun,” says Makoto’s mother, a tone of slight admonishment creeping into her voice now. “You know you’re always welcome to come over for dinner.”
Haru knows, but the Tachibanas are so generous to a fault that he can’t help but feel bad for imposing on them.
I always impose on Makoto.
“It’s fine. Please… please let me take care of Makoto.”
Haru says this almost impulsively, words coming out of his mouth a split second before he wonders what on earth compelled him to say them.
“Haruka-kun… you’re too kind.”
I’m not, thinks Haru. I’m selfish and difficult and stubborn, and still, Makoto sticks with me.
“It's no trouble. Really,” he repeats.
“Then, I’ll leave Makoto in your care. Thank you. Please, come over for dinner tomorrow and let us repay the favour!”
Haru assures her that he definitely will. He sends his love to Ran and Ren and goes back into his room, flipping Makoto’s phone shut and setting it next to him on the table. The slow, peaceful sound of Makoto’s breathing tells Haru he’s still sleeping.
Haru picks up Makoto’s jacket from the floor, lays it gently over his shoulders, turns up the heating, and goes downstairs to cook.
year 2, month 1, day 10
Makoto stands at the bottom of the stone steps, looking up in concern.
Haru was late for school yesterday, and the day before as well. He's not the sort to sleep in late, Makoto knows, so why…?
Ren tugs lightly on his hand. "Onii-chan, let’s go!“
Makoto glances down at him with a smile. “We need to wait for Ran.”
They’re supposed to be on their way to the twins’ school, but Ran’s still sitting on their front step, trying to tie her shoelaces by herself and staunchly rejecting any offers of help from their mother.
Makoto turns to look up the stairs again.
“Actually… sorry, Ren, could you and Ran just wait here for a while? I need to go to Haru’s,” he says, giving Ren’s hand a small squeeze before letting go.
“I want to go to Haru-chan’s too!” calls Ran, from the doorway.
“Not now, Ran. Maybe after school, okay? I’ll be really quick.”
Makoto drops his backpack on the floor by Ren’s feet, and takes the steps two at a time. He remembers the last time he felt like this, that evening he buried his goldfish, and they sat at the top of the stairs and watched the sunset together.
I need to see Haru. I need to see Haru now. Later won’t do. It needs to be now.
He knocks on the door. “Haru?” he calls out, raising his voice, but nobody comes.
Makoto looks at his watch. Haru’s usually up by now, preparing breakfast -
Suddenly, the door opens. “Makoto-kun?” a surprised voice sounds from above him.
Makoto jumps, and stares up, wide-eyed, at Haru’s mother.
“Ah! I-I-I’m sorry to disturb you! Welcome home!”
Haru’s parents are always travelling for work. Makoto hasn’t seen them recently. He hadn’t expected to see them this morning. They must have just arrived last night.
Haru’s mom smiles at him, the corners of her eyes crinkling. And Makoto thinks, Haru really has his mother’s smile.
It’s not quite warm and gentle, and it’s not bright like Nagisa’s, but it’s so kind, and it makes Makoto feel more relaxed instantly.
“Haruka is still upstairs getting ready. Do you need him for something?”
“I…” Makoto stammers, feeling awkward all of a sudden. “I just wanted to… tell him something. Um, important. Before school.”
He takes off his shoes, gives Haru’s mother a quick bow of thanks, and runs through the house and up the stairs before she can ask him any questions, because he’s not even sure what he’s doing himself.
Haru’s door is slightly ajar. Makoto knocks on it, then peers round into the room.
There’s no one there, but a wisp of warm steam wafts past Makoto’s feet then, and he turns to look at the bathroom.
Hesitantly, he walks over and gives the bathroom door a light knock. “Haru?”
He pauses. “I’m coming in,” he says, softly, and pushes the door open.
It takes him some blinking to see anything through the steamy bathroom. When the air clears, he sees the top of Haru’s head hovering in the water, eyes blinking up at him balefully.
As he approaches the tub, Makoto can see that Haru’s wearing his jammers inside, under the water. Since the SC closed a few days ago, Haru hasn't had the chance to swim.
Haru… you want to swim, don’t you?
So why don’t you?
The old question floats through Makoto’s mind again before he can help it. As soon as he realises, though, he pushes it firmly aside, back into the locked box where it came from; a box marked do not touch, ever.
He looks down at Haru, who’s still gazing up at him, blowing little bubbles through his nose. Funnily enough, Haru doesn’t look surprised to find Makoto barging into his bathroom first thing in the morning.
The same way he wasn’t surprised, all those years ago, to find Makoto frantically running up the stairs looking for him at dusk.
Did you know I was coming?
Makoto wondered that then, and he wonders that again, as a smile spreads over his face.
He extends his hand down. “Good morning, Haru-chan.”
Haru surfaces fully, and shakes the water out of his eyes.
“Drop the -chan,” he says, reaching up.
Their hands come together easily, as if they’d never been apart.
year 2, month 12, day 24
Thank you for the waterproof backpack. It’s useful. It’s also really waterproof. I tested it in the bath.
Thank you for your card too.
I drew a picture of you in the pool, when we were at that school trip to Kyoto this summer. Here it is.
Your stroke hasn’t changed. You still use all your power like an idiot. That’s why there’s water splashing everywhere around your arms. I used up all my blue paint.
year 1, month 1, day 13
Haru doesn’t really want to get out of the pool. But he knows he’s the last one in here, and from the far end, he can make out Nagisa’s blond head sitting next to Makoto on the bench.
He swims back, slowly. When he touches the wall and looks up, shaking the water out of his eyes, he sees a familiar hand reaching down to him.
“Good work today, Haru-chan.”
“Drop the -chan,” Haru says automatically, taking hold of Makoto’s hand.
Makoto smiles, and pulls him up.
As Haru walks towards the bench, he can see Nagisa staring off into space, looking dazed. He shoots Makoto a look. What’s wrong with Nagisa?
Makoto’s brows come together. He gives Haru a small, worried frown. I don’t know.
They reach the bench. Haru picks up his towel, and starts drying his hair. “Nagisa,” he says.
Nagisa’s head snaps up towards Haru. “Oh! Haru-chan!”
Is everything okay? Haru wants to ask, but he doesn’t know how. That’s a question for Makoto. It’s something Makoto would ask, for both of them. But today, Makoto is quiet. He’s picked up his towel again, and is fiddling with the ends in his hands, twisting them into tiny little knots.
Haru knows that when Makoto does that, there’s something on his mind.
Makoto… what’s with that worried look?
Haru turns his gaze back towards Nagisa. He settles for asking, “How was your swimming today?”
Nagisa’s face falls. “It was bad. My timings were all messed up.”
Great. I just made him feel even worse.
Makoto gives Nagisa an encouraging smile. “It’s okay, Nagisa, we all have bad days. Right, Haru?”
Nagisa’s silent for a while. He glances down at his hands, then out at the pool, before looking up at them again. “Mako-chan, Haru-chan… I have something to tell you, actually. My parents, they’re - they’re - ”
Nagisa stops mid-sentence, and takes a deep, gulping breath, swallowing.
“They’re sending me to a private academy in April. It’s a good school, but it’s really far away, so…”
Nagisa pauses again. He tries to smile, but Haru can tell he’s struggling. “So… it looks like I won’t be able to swim with you this year.”
Haru’s heart sinks a little more, a little deeper than it’s already gone, and the first thing that flashes into his mind is: First Rin. Now you, Nagisa.
He feels bad about it almost immediately. It’s not Nagisa’s fault. He can’t help it that his parents chose this school for him. But Haru can’t shake the feeling that one by one, his friends are leaving him.
He looks at Makoto. Will you leave me too? One day?
The thought makes his chest hurt so much he has to look away for a bit.
“Nagisa…” he hears Makoto say, gently.
“Ah, and I was really excited about it too… about going to school with Mako-chan, and Haru-chan, and swimming the relay together again in junior high…” says Nagisa, with a small sigh.
Makoto walks towards the bench and sits down next to Nagisa. He smiles at him, and puts a hand on his shoulder.
“Do your best, okay?”
Nagisa turns to face him, eyes huge and wavering.
“Haru and I, we’ll cheer you on from here. And one day, we’ll swim together again. So just work hard in your new school. It’ll be okay.”
Haru looks at Nagisa’s hopeful expression. One day…
“Yeah,” he says. “Do your best, Nagisa.”
Nagisa turns to Haru, lower lip wobbling, and leaps to his feet as he flings his arms around him in a sudden hug. “Haru-chan!”
Haru reaches up to pat the younger boy on the head awkwardly.
“Promise we’ll swim together again?” Nagisa mumbles, from within the folds of the towel round Haru's neck, where he's buried his face.
“I promise,” says Haru. “As long as…”
As long as you don’t leave me too, in the end.
“As long as you still want to swim,” he finishes, voice dropping down softly, so it’s almost a whisper.
“I’ll never stop wanting to swim! Never!” declares Nagisa, the bright smile they know so well spreading across his face like a sunrise, as he lets go of Haru and beams at Makoto as well.
Makoto smiles back warmly. “Shall we go? It’s getting late.”
Haru nods, and starts walking towards the locker room.
“Let’s have a race to the bridge!” Nagisa says, dashing past him.
“Hey! Not fair, you and Haru got a headstart - “
As he watches Makoto and Nagisa hurry ahead, Haru feels a smile come to his lips. Maybe, he thinks, just maybe, there’s a small chance that some promises can be kept.
He tries not to think of Rin as he speeds up his footsteps, first to a brisk walk, then a run, catching up to his friends.
All the scenes from this chapter turned out longer than I thought they would! So I upped the chapter count to four (and I have a feeling it might go on to five, eep).
There is some reference to the chapter in High Speed! where Makoto goes to look for Haru, and they talk about his fear of water. Hopefully it's understandable even if you don't know that scene, but if you're not familiar with it, you can read it in full here and I also made a post about it.
Thank you for reading! Comments and kudos make my day ♥
Next chapter: Sousuke. That is all.
Chapter 3: under this flooded sky
A quiet farewell, a search for solace, an unsent letter and a confrontation with an old acquaintance.
year 3, month 7, day 24
Haru sits on the front steps of his house.
His mind is blank. His gaze is empty. He stares up into the night sky, the silence pressing in all around, suffocating, choking.
He’s still waiting, he realises, for the bark and the barrelling bundle of warm black fur to come up from behind him. But he’s too old now to believe that miracles can happen, too jaded to be comforted by thoughts that he’s gone to a better place now, and too tired, far too tired, for - for anything.
He remembers his grandmother’s long illness, the wake, the funeral. He’d thought it was silly at the time; all the chanting and the rituals. Turning his private grief into a public show, an assembly of guests watching, the air smoky with the smell of incense.
Dogs don’t get funerals like that, only quiet farewells at the vet’s. You go there with your arms full, and you return empty-handed.
So. That’s it, Haru thinks dully.
Shorn of the ceremony and the rites, alone with his memories of Makkou, Haru realises he just doesn’t know what to do with himself now -
Then he hears the familiar footsteps coming up the stone stairway, and he turns.
year 1, month 5, day 12
An irritated frown spreads across Haru’s face. He doesn’t turn. “What do you want, Yamazaki?”
“I need to talk to you.”
Haru casts a glance over his shoulder, from behind his towel. Yamazaki’s still in his swimming trunks, water dripping down his shoulders, goggles round his neck. His arms are crossed, and he’s giving Haru a look of such intensity that the very air between them seems to turn at least ten degrees chillier.
Makoto’s already gone to the locker room with most of the other kids. There’s no one left by the poolside but them.
Haru sighs. “What?”
“I heard you’re not taking part in the SC’s tournament this year.”
Haru stares back at Yamazaki with narrowed eyes, not saying anything.
“I also heard you quit your school’s swimming team.”
“Yeah,” says Haru. “And…? Is that all?”
Yamazaki takes a step forward, gritting his teeth in frustration. He drops his arms and clenches them into fists. Haru wonders if Yamazaki’s going to punch him, but he just stands there, glaring.
Haru turns away. “That’s none of your business.”
“Why?” Yamazaki repeats in a low growl. “Nanase, you’re good. You could go so far! Why? Why are you quitting?”
“I don’t have to explain myself to you.”
“No, you're right. Not to me. But what about Rin?“
“I don’t have to explain myself to him either,” Haru snaps.
“Yes, you do!” Yamazaki retorts, raising his voice. “Rin left our school to swim with you! He’s working hard in Australia now because of you, Nanase, to catch up with you!“
Yamazaki stops for a breath, his fists tightening by his side.
“Doesn’t that mean anything to you?” he asks, staring straight at Haru, like he’s searching desperately for an answer behind his eyes.
Haru looks away. He doesn’t say anything.
Just then, Makoto steps out of the locker room. “Haru! Are you - “
He stops midsentence, freezing where he is, at the sight of him and Yamazaki.
“Mmm,” says Haru. “I’m coming.”
He turns and heads into the locker room, Yamazaki’s lingering gaze burning into his back.
year 2, month 5, day 4
The weather is so lovely now, thinks Makoto as he walks out of the school gate, taking off his jacket. The flowers are out on the trees, it’s warm and breezy, and best of all, soon, Haru will be able to swim in the sea.
It will all be better then, Makoto hopes with a firm, unwavering optimism; no more turning into a wrinkly prune in the tub every morning, no more stripping every time they’re near a fishtank…
No, stop it. Haru’s your best friend. If he wants to do these things, let him.
I just need to be here for him.
Isn’t that right? Isn’t that all he needs?
“Hey! Is that Makoto?”
The cheerful voice behind him jolts Makoto out of his thoughts. He turns, and nearly gets mowed over by a shock of pink hair running up towards him.
“Ah, Kisumi! Long time no see.”
Kisumi grins at Makoto, and slings an arm round his shoulder. “I heard you quit swimming…”
Makoto smiles. Same old Kisumi, he thinks, with the same single-minded obsession. He can predict the rest of the conversation right now.
“Yeah, I did.”
“So will you join the basketball club now?” says Kisumi hopefully.
Makoto shakes his head with a small laugh. “Sorry, Kisumi.”
“Oh well.” Kisumi shrugs, his grin and good cheer not in the least dampened. “I figured it was worth a shot. But why not? I mean…”
They walk side by side, out of school. Makoto looks at Kisumi, who’s staring at him with curiosity.
“The SC closed down, right? So it’s not like you’re busy with other activities.”
“I am busy, Kisumi,” says Makoto, smiling.
“Eh? You are?”
“Yeah. But anyway, how’s the basketball club doing?”
Kisumi lights up. “Great! We have a good batch of kouhai this year. Super competitive. Hardworking. Tall. Some of them will be taller than you soon, Makoto!”
Makoto laughs. “Sounds like your recruitment went well.”
Kisumi nods. “It’s going to be an exciting year. We’ll win for sure.”
His eyes are shining, and the grin on his face widens as he says this in a bright, confident voice; and Makoto can’t help thinking, in spite of himself, in spite of everything in his mind yelling at him to squash this notion…
This. This is what Haru needs.
It’s been more than a year since Haru quit swimming. Makoto doesn’t ask why anymore. He knows it’s pointless. But that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten - he still remembers, clear as day -
The way Haru used to come alive, in the water. The way he got fired up swimming against people like Rin. The smile on his face when he swam with friends, when they did the relay together.
Makoto wonders, not for the first time, if he’s really doing the right thing for Haru, and his heart feels a little heavier in his chest.
The sparkle of the sunlight on the sea catches his eye, and he breathes in the salt air deeply.
Soon, it’ll be warm enough to swim in the sea again, and everything will be better, Haru.
year 2, month 7, day 10
“Where are we going, Makoto?”
Makoto turns to him with a smile. “You’ll see!”
“It’s not another temple, is it?”
It’s not that Haru hasn’t enjoyed the temples. It’s just that Kyoto, as far as he can tell, seems to be nothing but temples; between Kiyomizudera (too big), Kinkakuji (too bright) and Ginkakuji (just nice), between all the zen gardens, bonsai and carefully landscaped koi ponds, his sketchbook’s filled up so quickly with drawings and paintings that there’s only one blank page remaining.
They’ve got some free and easy time on their last day, finally, and Makoto’s dragged Haru halfway across town on a train and bus.
“Here we are!”
Haru looks up, and he can’t help the small smile that spreads across his face. He shoots Makoto a quick glance.
Makoto’s beaming. “Hurry up, let’s go in!”
Haru shoulders his backpack and follows Makoto into the building.
The pool is huge.
Have pools always been this big?
Haru realises, with a start, that it’s been a long time since he’s seen an indoor pool like this.
“I thought this school trip away would be a good chance to swim in a nice pool,” says Makoto. “Since we don’t have one at home anymore - “
Haru’s already moving towards the poolside, dropping his bag on the floor, hands jumping to his shirt. And for once, Makoto doesn’t stop him.
As he dives in, the water embraces him like an old, old friend.
Welcome back, the ripples whisper in his ear.
Haru doesn’t know how long he swims. He loses track of time, loses himself, in the deep blue. It’s like entering another world. Everything’s so calm and quiet, here; here, nothing can get to him, here, he can be healed, he can be free…
It’s different, being in a pool. He’s only swum in the sea, lately. Different sensations. Different memories.
Haru comes to a gradual, slow stop. He looks up as he shakes the water out of his eyes, but Makoto’s not there. Glancing over his shoulder as he climbs out of the pool, he sees Makoto backstroking down the centre of his lane, creating a disproportionately huge splash.
It’s not really disproportionate any more, I guess, thinks Haru, watching Makoto swim as he towels himself dry. Over the years, Makoto’s grown into his size. He’s still a little gangly, a little awkward, but he’s taller now, broad shoulders filling out his frame nicely.
Still, Makoto’s using way more power than he needs to. Just like always.
Haru goes over to his backpack, which Makoto’s thoughtfully retrieved from the floor and put on the bench, next to his folded clothes. The canvas bottom of the bag is slightly damp.
Please don’t let my sketchbook be wet, thinks Haru as he rifles through his stuff. Thankfully, it’s not.
He sits on the bench for a while, watching Makoto in silence.
Makoto… do you miss swimming, too?
That old pang of guilt, that old frustration, comes back to him. Makoto’s always doing this, always making sacrifices for Haru, giving up swimming just to match him, like an idiot…
The water flies up around Makoto’s arms, in bubbles of blue-white foam.
Haru reaches into his backpack, almost without thinking, takes out his sketchbook, and flips it open to the last empty page.
year 1, month 2, day 15
I’m not really sure why I’m writing you this letter. It’s weird, huh?
Anyway… I wanted to tell you I’m quitting the school swimming club too. I tried to continue, but in the end, without Haru, it’s meaningless after all.
So let’s work hard at the SC and swim the relay together there!
I spoke to Nao-senpai yesterday. He asked me why. He asked me if I knew why you quit. I didn’t really know how to answer him.
Maybe I’m writing this because I don’t know how to tell you in person, just like I didn’t know how to tell Nao-senpai properly. I could only say sorry.
Whatever it is you can’t tell me in person… what if you wrote it in a letter too? Would that make it easier?
Um, actually, now that I’ve written that line, this letter is just getting weirder and weirder… I think I’d better not send it.
I’ll try to find some way to tell you in person, after all.
year 1, month 5, day 12
“Haru… what was that about?”
Haru shoots Makoto a glance from the corner of his eye as they jog home. “With Yamazaki?”
Makoto nods. “Yeah, he seemed upset…”
The concern in Makoto’s voice is almost too much for Haru to bear. “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it,” says Haru.
He speeds up his pace, thinking about Yamazaki and what he said. It seems Yamazaki doesn’t know what happened, even though he and Rin were best friends from school. Rin used to write letters to Yamazaki all the time. Haru wonders if he still does.
But even if he does, he obviously hasn’t told Yamazaki anything.
Which means I can’t tell anyone anything either.
The secret grows heavier in Haru’s heart with every step he takes, every word he recalls of Yamazaki’s, the anger in his voice, the bitter disappointment. He feels frustrated all over again. It has nothing to do with Yamazaki. If Rin doesn’t want to share, then it’s not for Haru to talk about.
And why is Yamazaki so fixated on Rin? Why is Yamazaki so fixated on making Haru swim just because he’s good, anyway?
Haru grinds his teeth in exasperation. Why can’t people just leave him alone about it?
He remembers an old saying that his grandma told him, once.
When you’re ten, they call you a prodigy.
When you’re fifteen, they call you a genius.
When you’re twenty, you’re just an ordinary person.
So he’s almost at genius, now. Great, thinks Haru.
Just six more years till I’m ordinary.
I can’t wait to be ordinary.
year 3, month 7, day 24
Makoto runs up the stone stairway.
His feet can’t move fast enough. He’s still clutching his phone, with the text from Haru on it. Only a few words. Makkou’s gone.
He can just about make out Haru’s silhouette on the front step of his house, head propped in his hands. The moonlight falls on part of his face, and he sees a shimmer of blue, gazing out into the night sky.
“Haru!” he calls out.
Haru turns. “Makoto.”
Makoto bends over, winded, as he reaches the top of the stairs. “I… I came… as quickly as I could,” he gasps, between breaths.
“You didn’t have to,” says Haru.
His voice is utterly expressionless, and that frightens Makoto more than anything else. That alone is enough to tell Makoto that Haru’s wrong. He had to come. He had to come, and fast.
Makoto goes over to Haru, and sits down next to him.
“I’ll stay here with you tonight,” he says.
Haru looks at him in surprise.
They haven’t really had a sleepover in years. They’d reached an age, sometime in junior high, when it just seemed silly not to go home and sleep in their own beds since they lived literally within a stone’s throw from each other, and it’d been that way ever since.
“You don’t have to,” says Haru again, a little bit of life coming back into his voice now, and Makoto feels his heart lighten somewhat.
“Haru,” says Makoto, firmly. “Don't argue. I’m staying.”
“Where will you sleep?”
“On the futon. In your room.”
“That futon hasn’t been used for years.”
“I’ll help you dust it off and put clean sheets on it.”
"I don't have a spare toothbrush for you."
Makoto reaches into his pocket and pulls out a toothbrush. "Brought mine."
Haru lapses into silence.
It’s the first time they’ve ever truly been alone like this at Haru’s, thinks Makoto. Without his grandmother, without his parents, and now that they’ve lost Makkou as well…
The house is quiet. Too quiet.
Makoto sits by Haru patiently, saying nothing, for a long while. Only the sound of their breathing fills the air, and the occasional chirp of the summer cicadas.
At last, Haru stands up. “Let’s go look for the futon,” he says.
Makoto nods, and gets to his feet as well.
I apologise if you are drowning in feels. Trust me, so am I. This chapter was generally a tough one for me.
I felt it was important to address what became of Makkou, because he was a constant presence in High Speed! 2 yet curiously absent in Free!, but it really didn't make it any easier to write. /heartbreak
I think I'm on track to wrap up next chapter... stay tuned!
Thank you for reading! your comments and kudos are my life ♥
Chapter 4: if my love could keep you alive
All the things that can't be said,
all the things that are understood nonetheless,
and finally, an unexpected reunion.
Would it be enough to go by
If there's moonlight pulling the tide
Would it be enough to live on
If my love could keep you alive
year 1, month 1, day 25
Makoto gets changed faster than he’s ever done before and dashes to the gate. His heartbeat pounds in his ears like thunder, so loud he can barely hear the sound of his own footsteps, and he knows it’s not because he just did ten laps round the track and then took off before cooldown was even complete.
His bag feels so heavy. He runs through the school, down empty corridors, past their classroom, past wondering stares and the odd, curious “Tachibana-kun?”
Voices in his wake, bare whispers on the wind to him.
He doesn’t even notice how hard he’s been running. When he sees Haru’s figure standing at the school gate, waiting for him, he tries to speed up and nearly trips over his own feet.
“H - “ he tries to call, but finds he’s suddenly really, really breathless. “H-Haru…”
Haru turns around. Makoto half expects to be scolded for using up all his strength to run here like an idiot, but Haru’s mind seems to be on something else. He doesn’t say anything, save for a soft, mumbled, “Makoto.”
They stand in silence for a while as Makoto catches his breath.
Haru turns away abruptly and starts walking ahead first. “Let’s go home,” he says.
Makoto takes a few hurried steps to catch up with Haru. He wants to ask so many things. The words don’t come.
It would be so easy with anyone else, he thinks, to simply ask what’s wrong?, but it’s different with Haru. Makoto thinks about Asahi, asking him if something happened to Haru over the winter break, and the sinking helplessness in his heart that he just doesn’t know.
So Makoto walks by Haru’s side, watching him with worried eyes, and he waits.
He keeps their silence, their shared space, and he waits, stealing time with every footstep they take, each little white puff of air they breathe out into the biting winter’s chill. They walk on, the moment frozen between them.
Finally, Haru’s voice shatters the ice.
“I’m quitting the swim team.”
Makoto stops in his tracks.
Haru keeps walking, for a few seconds, before coming to a slow pause. He keeps his gaze straight ahead. He doesn’t turn around to face Makoto.
Makoto sees the crack forming, as surely as the sun is setting behind them.
“Why?” he whispers. “Haru… why? I don’t understand.”
The words threaten to pour out of him like a torrent, now, and he bites his lip before he can say anything stupid. Anything that might hurt Haru more than he’s already hurting.
Because he’s obviously hurting, hurting badly.
Haru turns around, then. The carefully blank expression he sees there scares Makoto more than anything. He wishes Haru would let the hurt show, would look sad, would cry, maybe.
“I can’t tell you,” says Haru, almost inaudibly, but the words sound in Makoto’s ears like a crashing ocean wave, reverberating, leaving ripples, marks and debris on the sandy shore.
can’t tell you
Haru looks up then, for the first time, to face Makoto properly, eye-to-eye. There's a storm in the deep blue that meets Makoto's gaze.
“I’m sorry, Makoto,” he says, with the slightest waver in his voice, a tremor and a wobble.
And Makoto thinks, enough.
The depths of some anguish aren’t meant to be plumbed. The darkest parts of the sea hide monsters.
Makoto smiles gently at Haru, and nods.
“Okay,” he says. “I understand.”
year 4, month 4, day 5
Haru leans back in his tub and stares into space. The windows are steamed up, the water is warm, and he wishes he could stay in this comfortable cocoon all day.
The dolphin toy on the shelf smiles at him. But he knows it’s only a fairytale; he read an article about it once, about how dolphins aren’t really smiling, about how a dolphin’s smile is the greatest illusion of all.
Second year of high school already, he thinks.
Maybe I should call in sick today, too.
Just as he’s contemplating how many days of school he can get away with missing, he hears the faint ring of the doorbell from downstairs.
He sighs. So much for calling in sick, then.
Any time now, he knows, Makoto’s going to come in through the back door and into the bathroom to get him, and he’ll have to go face the world again.
Haru can’t say no to Makoto, much as he doesn’t want to go to school.
Just a few seconds more. A few seconds more with the water.
He sinks down further, till his whole head’s underwater, and he can pretend he’s lost in the ocean.
year 2, month 2, day 20
Three days after the SC closes, Haru starts wearing his jammers under his clothes everywhere he goes.
He’s not even thinking about swimming. It’s just that he feels naked without them. The thought of not wearing them for the foreseeable future, till the weather turns warmer and he can go to the beach, fills him with a blinding, all encompassing sense of no; they might lose their stretch and shape, he might forget the way they feel on his skin, and he can’t have that, he really can’t.
Five days after the SC closes, Haru lingers for a moment by the fountain in the mall. He looks at the cascade of water, and the fabric of his jammers tingles on his thighs, beneath his trousers.
Fifteen days after the SC closes, Haru leaves his jammers at home and tries dressing normally instead. It doesn’t feel right.
Makoto, as Makoto does, knows when something’s up. For two weeks now, he’s been looking at Haru with different eyes - not worried, not concerned, but just - watchful. Always watchful, and constant.
Haru treads carefully. He starts wearing his jammers again. He lets his gaze rest on bodies of water, then tears them away, forcibly reminding himself of what he gave up and what he can’t have any more.
With every step that he and Makoto take around each other, he feels the eggshells beneath their feet. He feels the hairline fractures.
He doesn't want Makoto to watch him with that look.
He's trying, really trying.
So it’s hard to say who’s more surprised when one day, Haru finds himself unbuttoning his shirt and undoing his belt in a home gardening store, in front of the koi pond display. He isn’t even quite aware of what he’s doing until he puts a toe in the water, and shudders all over with sheer delight at the feel.
He hears Makoto’s strangled yelp and a cry of surprise from the shop attendant, but as he sinks his whole foot into the water’s clear, calm embrace, the only thought in his mind is surrender.
year 3, month 1, day 8
Makoto stands up and stretches his arms overhead. "I think I need a break," he says to Haru. "Maybe I'll go for a short walk."
They're knee-deep in history, Makoto's head is swimming with dates and facts, and his body's threatening to atrophy if he sits stone still like this for a minute longer.
Haru looks up from his textbook. "Want me to come with you?"
Makoto shakes his head and smiles. "It's okay. I won't be long."
As he leaves the warmth of the library and walks down the corridor outside, hands stuffed in his pockets, he hears the low hum of club activities going on all around. There’s soft music coming out of the choir room, and across the way, he sees the art club painting some still life.
A cold wind whistles through the open door as Makoto passes by an empty classroom, and he shivers.
I’ll go get hot drinks for both of us, he thinks, turning his footsteps towards the gym, where the nearest vending machine is.
He’s nearly there when suddenly, out of a window, he sees -
It’s been a while…
He can’t help but slow to a gradual stop, and stay where he is for a bit, staring pensively out at the schoolyard.
The Iwatobi Junior High pool hasn’t been used for months. When the weather’s cold like this, the swim team spends their time training in the gym, round the track, or at joint practices with other schools who have indoor pools instead. In spite of that, though, the pool’s been well-kept, the water sparkling pristinely in the crisp cold winter air.
Makoto remembers all the hours he spent skimming the pool for leaves in autumn, in his first year. He thinks about Natsuya-senpai, and how serious he’d always been about pool maintenance, even in the off-season. It seems the practice has been handed down over the years, to the current captain…
Makoto turns in surprise. “Zaki-chan!”
“It’s been such a long time!”
And as Aki walks up to him, the familiar sunny smile spreads across her face. She stops by his side, gazing out towards the pool as well.
“It has, huh,” says Makoto. “I don’t think we really saw each other after…”
After Haru and I quit, he wants to say, but the words are heavy in his mouth.
“After first year,” says Aki, gently.
Makoto nods, and smiles. “Congratulations, Zaki-chan. You’ve done really well as captain.”
Aki blushes, and shakes her head slightly. “I didn’t do anything. It was all because of everyone’s hard work.”
“You won two golds at Nationals, right? In medley relay and freestyle?”
Aki nods, and her expression turns a little wistful, as her gaze flickers out the window in the direction of the pool again. She looks back at Makoto. “I was offered a place in a high school out of town. They have a really strong swimming team.”
“That’s wonderful, Zaki-chan!” says Makoto warmly.
“Mmm.” The sunflower smile flashes across her face once more. “I’m excited. But I think I’ll really miss swimming here, with all the others.”
She pauses for a split second, and when she speaks again her voice is soft, and uncertain.
“Tachibana-kun… what about you? Do you miss swimming?”
“I…” Makoto starts, then swallows.
He looks out at the pool, sighs and smiles.
“I do,” he says to Aki. “I love swimming. But I think what I miss most is swimming with Haru.”
Aki nods in understanding. “I miss Nanase-kun’s swimming too. It was always so beautiful to watch. I wish I could have swum with him this year…”
Her smile grows sad, then. “I might not get the chance to swim with him again,” she adds.
Makoto feels a lump come to his throat.
Me neither, he thinks.
year 2, month 1, day 5
Makoto’s heart sinks as the SC's duty manager flips the sign on the door to Closed, for the last time.
“Why?” he whispers, under his breath, though he knows it's pointless and he knows all the reasons why. He knows the costs of running the club are high, he knows they're understaffed, he knows the owners have other businesses that are doing better, he knows all these things because his parents and the SC managers have explained them patiently, but...
Makoto turns to see a familiar figure coming round the side of the building, pushing his bicycle.
"Ah, and Haruka too!"
Haru stands silently by Makoto's side. His gaze remains fixed - not through the glass doors into the empty corridors of the SC, but -
As if, thinks Makoto, Haru's worried about him. But that doesn't make any sense. Makoto's worried about Haru. What will Haru do without the pool? What will Haru do without swimming?
Coach Sasabe wheels his bicycle round to join them on the front porch.
"It's a sad day," he says, with a sigh. "Iwatobi SC's been around forever. Never thought I'd see it close."
"Coach Sasabe... what will you do now?" says Makoto.
"Who knows?" says Coach Sasabe, thoughtfully. "My grandfather left me his squid fishing boat a few years ago. Maybe it's time I take it out. Learn to fish properly."
Makoto turns. "Haru?"
"Let's go home."
And to Makoto's surprise, Haru reaches out to take his hand, giving him a light tug as he starts walking towards the main road. Makoto stumbles after him, waving goodbye to Coach Sasabe, who gets on his bicycle and heads in the opposite direction.
"...Haru?" Makoto asks, in wonderment.
Haru's hand is squeezing his, almost painfully. When Makoto speaks, Haru blinks, as if waking from a reverie, and his fingers uncurl and let go.
"Sorry," he mumbles.
Makoto shakes his head. "Haru, are you okay? Is it... is it really okay, for you? That the SC's closed?"
Haru shrugs. "Yeah. Makoto, are you... what about you?"
Makoto’s words trail off, as he thinks about the SC. The place where he and Haru started swimming together. The place they won that relay, back then. The place they met Nagisa and Rin. He feels a pang of guilt that they haven’t been that good at keeping in touch.
They used to see Nagisa still, now and then at the SC, though rarely, with his new school being so busy. But they haven’t seen him in months as year-end exams approach, and now that the SC’s closed…
Maybe we won’t see Nagisa again. Just like Rin.
Haru’s looking at him with concern now.
“We really had a lot of good memories here, huh?” says Makoto, wistfully.
A shadow seems to pass over Haru’s blue-eyed gaze, usually so clear. He looks away.
Makoto smiles. “Don’t worry about me. As long as Haru's fine, I'm fine."
Haru lets out a tiny sigh, so soft that Makoto thinks he probably wasn't meant to hear it.
year 2, month 7, day 31
They’re coming to the height of summer, a time Haru’s always dreaded because it’s hot, too hot, overwhelmingly hot; if the weather could stay in mid-June and never move he’d be happy. But as he floats on his back in the sea, he decides maybe the heat isn’t so bad after all, if it means he can be here in the water.
He only has these few months every year, now.
He sneaks a glance at Makoto, who’s sitting on the shore with his legs outstretched. The waves lap around his feet as he leans back on his arms, staring out at the horizon in the distance.
Haru doesn’t dare swim out too far, just in case. He has to make sure Makoto is okay. He can’t leave Makoto alone, here at the beach, with the sea all around them...
The thought chills him to the bone, despite the summer heat beating down on him and the warmth of the water’s embrace.
Makoto looks over in his direction then, and flashes him a cheerful smile and a wave, green eyes sparkling gently in the sunlight.
year 3, month 3, day 30
There’s a note on Haru’s dining table from his parents, detailing where everything in the house is kept and what to do if things break down, though he doesn’t really need it. His cheek’s still warm from where his mother kissed him goodbye.
Makoto stands on his front doorstep, the sun setting behind him.
“Makoto. Stop fussing. I’ll be fine.”
“But you’ll be all alone once I leave.”
“I’m not alone. I’ve got Makkou.”
A small, eager bark sounds from Haru’s feet.
“But what about - ” Makoto protests, but Haru cuts him off.
“You know I can cook for myself just fine.”
“But - ”
“Makoto, my parents aren’t worried about me. You don’t need to be.”
Makoto looks down at the ground, and his fingers start fidgeting, twisting round each other. He’s missing a towel in his hands, but Haru would know that old, nervous gesture anywhere.
“Makoto,” he says gently.
Makoto looks up.
Haru doesn’t say anything, just holds his gaze as steady as he can, praying, trusting, that Makoto will read everything in him, everything he can’t put into words.
A few seconds pass. A few breaths, in silence.
Makoto gives Haru a small smile. “Okay.”
I’m downstairs if you need me. I’m here, his eyes say to Haru.
Haru nods. “Goodnight, Makoto.”
year 4, month 4, day 5
“I didn’t bring lunch today,” says Haru, as they walk down the stairs from their classroom.
Makoto silently kicks himself for not bringing anything for him. Haru had called in sick yesterday, and he’d stayed in the tub really late this morning; of course he hadn’t been able to pack his own lunch. Makoto should have known. He should have.
“Go buy something, then? Ah, or, do you want some of this?”
He unwraps a small packet of dried squid his mother packed for him, and holds it out to Haru, who, as usual, looks profoundly unimpressed with anything that isn’t mackerel. Makoto’s just about to suggest they head to the cafeteria when a clear, high voice jars him out of his thoughts.
Makoto’s only ever known one person who calls him Mako-chan. But it can’t be -
A blond-haired boy is standing at the stair landing below them, waving excitedly.
“It’s been forever! I’ll be joining you here at Iwatobi High School.”
“Mako-chan?” he repeats, looking at Haru, as Haru says “Haru-chan?”
The realisation hits them both at the same time, and their eyes widen.
Nagisa laughs his bright, sunny laugh then, and in that second, Makoto feels his heart lift. It’s like the light breaking through a grey cloud he hadn’t even known was there, a cautious ray of hope. A spark, igniting something.
And maybe, just maybe, he thinks, as they make their way up to the roof together amidst Nagisa’s animated chatter, now that they’re together again - now that Nagisa’s somehow, miraculously, found his way back to them once more…
Maybe their world will start to change. Bit by bit.
It’s been just the two of them for such a long time, hanging on, keeping each other alive through the darkness.
This story's been an emotional ride, but it's been a real joy to write. Thank you so much for letting me share it with you.
I'll be working on some fic for the MakoHaru fic festival next, and maybe something for SouRin week. I also recently did a collection of Christmas prompt fics (which is why this chapter update took longer than usual!)
As always, you can find me on Tumblr for updates :)
Your support, comments and kudos mean the world to me - thank you!