Nothing exciting ever happens in Iwatobi.
People vanish, but it's usually because they've up and moved somewhere better. People don't go missing around here, Haru reasons. Especially not when they're only twelve years old.
There's restless whispers by his classmates of a kidnapping or someone running away. He doesn't indulge in something so pointless.
(Why would it matter to gossip? How does that help anything or anyone?)
It does seem odd however. Almost two days pass, and everyone else becomes uneasy, quieter and weepy.
The missing boy had been in one of Haru's classes. (Was it English? Haru tends to block out that subject, gazing pointedly out into the window towards the ocean, daydreaming about swimming far, far away.) The boy had been moved next to Haru's own desk recently. As far as Haru remembers, they've never spoken.
He spots a crystal-clear, emerald vase, filled with pure white chrysanthemums on Makoto Tachibana's desk.
Haru wrinkles his face in revulsion, grasping his fingers over his nose and holding his breath. It's like fish too rotten to eat, or diving into humid, bacteria-infested waters.
It appears no one else can sense the overwhelming stench coming off the flowers. One of his female classmates throws him a dirty look, nudging and murmuring to another girl ahead of her. Within a few minutes, most of his class either glare in Haru's direction or speak loudly to their friends.
"Nanase-kun is awful — how could he be so disrespectful — ahh, don't look at him! don't look at him! — what a coldhearted — terrible — that's so shameless — it's no wonder he doesn't got friends—"
Haru's ears pressurize before he releases an exhale, gasping in and hauling out of his seat. It doesn't matter to Haru that he pushes past other people, in order to get out, away from the reek of decay.
Of course he doesn't have any friends.
Friends seem bothersome. They will be needlessly loud and cause trouble.
Haru purposely ignores his mobile phone vibrating endlessly, tossing it into the depths of his book-bag. It's probably his homeroom teacher. He changes out of his school uniform without hesitation, fiddling uncomfortably with his neck clasp-hooks on his collar, dragging a finger underneath them.
A pair of cargo shorts and his favorite, bright blue hoodie — that's what Haru pulls out of his drawer.
It's leftover rice and miso soup for lunch. Haru considers the mackerel in his refrigerator. His stomach cringes at the memory of the putrid funeral flowers on Makoto Tachibana's desk.
He doesn't have an explanation for that.
With one hand, Haru reaches for the cabinet's handle. To greet him is an array of pots and pans he doesn't need. A huffing noise. Should have organized this earlier, he guesses.
Haru glances up momentarily while rooting around for a saucepan, and then nearly jerks backwards against the opposite counter-top, soundlessly startled. A boy—the boy—melts into existence. From nowhere. He stands right in the middle of Haru's kitchen, staring down amazed at his palms.
"Whoooooa… that's new…"
His instincts tell him to defend himself, even if it's just someone Haru's own age dressed in a striped undershirt and a baggy, green sweater. Haru scrambles for the rolling pin, holding it in front of himself.
"… How did you get in here?" Haru demands, his shoulders tensing.
It's a dumb question, and he knows it because Haru saw what he saw, but the other boy's face goes comically relieved when Haru addresses him. "You can see me—? Oh my gosh, you can SEE me!"
He doesn't expect an outburst of laughter and a hug.
It's not really a normal hug. The other boy lacks any ounce of body heat and he's… soft? The kind of squishy-soft Haru expects that hugging butter would feel like.
Haru's eyes widen. His hands let go of the rolling pin, as it bangs against the floor.
The name blazes through Haru's mind, jolting in lightning-quickness.
"I've been trying to get someone's attention for the whole day!" Makoto cries out, holding onto Haru's upper arms with now transparent-looking fingers. Haru hasn't missed that detail, even while shocked.
Is he… a kind of earthbound spirit?
There's only one way to know.
"What do you want?"
"I'm… I think I'm stuck?" Makoto gives him a large, bashful smile, rubbing the back of his neck. While he answers, Haru gazes over him in faint suspicion. He's tall. And he's muscular for their age-group. "I've been trying to walk home, but I can't make it very far. I think it's because of you."
The bashful smile fades. Haru blinks, unmistakably confused as Makoto lowers his head and winces.
As far as he can tell, Makoto is popular and well-loved among their peers. Cheerful and helpful, and talkative.
Definitely he's someone who would be missed by the school and any family.
None of this Haru gathers from experience — it's visions from Makoto touching him. He remembers his grandmother being the one to discover Haru's sensitive gift, advising him to learn control and offer prayers for lost souls. They rarely spoke of it while Haru's parents came home from traveling abroad.
Haru has always done as his grandmother asked—even after her sudden passing. And yet, she never came to him. She was never a lost, earthbound soul. His grandmother moved on without telling him goodbye. Haru practiced closing himself off from wandering spirits or negative energy, even managing to stop the touch-induced visions.
That is until…
Makoto and his dumb crush! As soon as the embarrassed boy admits it, Haru frowns and scrubs harshly at his reddening cheeks. How can anyone be so unfortunate and develop romantic feelings?
But what Haru can't figure out is…
"How could you not know if you're dead?"
Makoto whines a little in frustration, leaning over the table with his chin on his palms. He observes Haru on the other end, slowly eating his bowl of rice. "I've never died before, Haruka — I don't think I'm supposed to know," he protests, despite the glance of outward skepticism.
"Haru." The other boy says softly, without expression, "Call me Haru."
Makoto's face softens. Haru gulps down his mouthful, feeling warm all-over for the third time.
The sun dips beyond the horizon, and Makoto's still there, following Haru upstairs. He peeks out the window as Haru slips on his pajamas, becoming excited about the lone, unlit house below the temple-archway.
He finds out that Makoto used to live there, when they were both infants. It had been before Makoto's family chose to move across the seaside town, further away from the ocean. Haru pities him.
"Your parents aren't here?" Makoto asks, brows furrowed, sitting on the edge of the bed. He clasps his hands together patiently. "Where are they? Don't they call?"
Haru shifts under his quilts, turning onto his side. His voice deadpan. "They're never here."
"… Is it lonely?"
You're here, so no, not really.
Haru doesn't dare utter the intrusive, sentimental thought, pressing his cheek to his pillow.
Makoto may be tall and strong, and the first person in their class who has been so blatantly friendly to Haru — but he's useless like this.
Haru sighs over wasted eggs. They materialize through Makoto's fingers and explode into colorful yolk at their feet. The burnt toast flopping into the mess.
"I was trying to make you breakfast," Makoto explains, his lower body fading out. He's been doing that since morning, but he's never floated around weightless? Does that mean Makoto isn't a spirit…?
Haru finishes cleaning up the mess, wiping his forehead with his arm.
"You could hug me before… what's the problem?"
"I could be losing energy or something like that. If I am a ghost…" Makoto gasps horrified. He cups his hands against his mouth. "Haru-chan, I really don't wanna be a ghost. Ghosts are scary!"
Despite the -chan, Haru feels his lips twitch up in amusement.
"Makoto is the least scariest ghost there ever was…"
The other boy looks so happy that Haru imagines a gleam of tears in Makoto's eyes. Not that it's possible.
"Really?" he squeaks out. Makoto's arms envelope him once again, and it's weird how Makoto doesn't feel soft anymore or smells like anything, Makoto's brown hair shifting against Haru's throat.
Haru sinks down into the newest vision, and it comes to him instead like a gentle candlelight— the door springs open, and the twins shout out, racing for Makoto kneeling down to laugh and embrace them.
His own hands grasp loosely around Makoto's waist.
It's been a full day, Haru realizes.
He's missed probably a hundred phone calls, but no one's showed up.
Sunlight glows a dim orange against Makoto's tightening features, while they stroll towards the road.
"Is something wrong?" Haru asks, gazing towards the ocean as well. It looks so peaceful to him right now, the waves rising and falling in hypnotic and drowsy motions. Makoto's nostrils flare.
"It's so scary," he murmurs, shying away behind Haru. "I don't like it."
Haru starts to grow tired of hearing that. "The ocean is the ocean. There's nothing scary about it." Their hands brush, as Haru intertwine their fingers and urges him forward. "Come on—"
"No!" It's more of a yelp than a word. Makoto's eyes squeeze shut. "Please don't make me!"
"The water won't hurt you. We could leave my house and see your family—"
"I can't, Haru! I can't!"
Haru's impatience crests when the other boy struggles to get free, and that's when Makoto's panic filters through him.
The stench of rotting fish invading Haru's nostrils, but—
— a mouthful of sea water, inhaled straight into his lungs — the throbbing, increasing agony in Makoto's bleeding leg — the craggy, dripping cave walls blackening — Touma and Itsuki — they left him behind —
Haru doesn't realize he's screamed out his name, wrapping his arms around himself protectively. He's covered in ice-cold sweat. His heart pounding frantically, traveling up to the back of Haru's mouth.
He squints his eyes, sorting through the mental fragments. Haru knows the only network of caves near Iwatobi are the ones by the coastline, but they're dangerous with the high tide and slippery rocks.
Makoto's there — whatever left of him is there.
After a rushed, nearly hysteric call to the police station, Haru sprints for the beach, heading for the caves. It's all the way on the other side of town.
By the time he gets there, the paramedic unit's boat is ready to go. One of the adults throws an arm across Haru's chest, knocking him sideways.
"Watch it, young man!"
"I know where he is!" Haru calls out, waving his arms above his head. "He's my friend! I saw him!"
With some disbelieving, reluctant looks and grumbling, one of the paramedics volunteers to watch after Haru, strapping a life-jacket onto him and telling him to remain inside the boat. Or else.
As soon as they're within the entrance cave, Haru leads them with mumbles and nods.
They need to hurry.
He's really not known for heeding authority figures, or for his patience — so when Haru spots Makoto's body floating limply, he unbuckles his life-jacket and dives in headfirst.
The rotting fish… it's the smell in the humid, cloudy water washing over Haru's skin.
Haru surfaces, his dark bangs clinging to his eyes. He gags noisily at first before seizing onto one of Makoto's arms, dragging him towards the paramedic's boat before the adults heave both of them out.
There isn't enough light to get a decent examination of Makoto. Haru's punishment for disobeying leaves him back with another life-jacket and being watched over guardedly until the shore greets them. He doesn't care at this point.
Flashlights bob over them, and Makoto. Haru's eyes linger over Makoto's exposed leg…
His mostly digested rice comes back up, vomited onto the sand. Haru feels a pair of hands on him, smoothing back his hair out of his face as he trembles and vomits more weakly, guiding him towards the ambulance.
"Let's get you somewhere safe..."
When Haru and the paramedics found him, Makoto had been in a coma from drowning. For almost three days.
Along with the the septic shock from his wounded leg, it's a miracle he survives.
There's so many questions running around Haru's head. How… could Makoto reach him? He was never dead. Dying, but not completely dead. The flowers on Makoto's desk… had they been a telltale sign as well?
Everything else pieces together — Touma and Itsuki; two of their classmates who befriended Makoto. As soon as Makoto wakes up, Haru intents to expose them for the cowards they are. They knew Makoto had been left behind in the caves and told not one person, in fear of being landed with the responsibility.
And they will be.
Makoto's family has kissed and embraced Haru so many times that he squirms and flushes. He doesn't deserve praise. Makoto is the strong one — Haru only gave him a chance to be listened to.
He will continue to be strong, and Haru knows it. Makoto's right leg ends up getting amputated to the hip. Haru will help him in whatever way he needs it.
A snorting, soft laugh.
Haru lurches in the visitor's chair, glaring up at a semi-transparent Makoto.
"Don't. Do. That."
Makoto's smiling lips part, breathing out silence.
Haru peers around, stunned as he disappears. Makoto's bleary, green eyes flutter open, his body waking.
"Makoto?" he asks, climbing to his feet and hurrying to the bedside. Soon enough, the nurses would be alerted by the change of brain activity and interrupt them, but Haru selfishly wants the first moment of Makoto's conscious world. However vulnerable it is, however terrifying, when Makoto tilts his chin.
It takes a long-stretched moment, but Haru realizes the other boy stares numbly over the missing leg.
"That's new…" Makoto's voice rumbles out, partly drugged.
Something fragile breaks in Haru's chest, burning and raging, pushing the hot tears out of Haru's eyes. He clutches onto Makoto's hand grasping his, burying his face into warm skin, crying quietly.
He can't be lonely again.
Not without Makoto.
The water embraces him, and then releases him.
Haru tosses his head back, ripping off his swim-cap and his goggles, shaking off droplets wildly. The familiar, heady scent of chlorine surrounds him.
On the edge of the pool, Makoto waits with an affectionate smile, reaching out with his hand. He doesn't look so different at eighteen-years-old — he's still tall and overly muscular, and Haru still isn't vocally complaining.
"You're really good at this, Haru-chan," he announces cheerfully, grasping onto Haru's wet hand.
"Drop the -chan."
As Haru climbs out of the pool with his help, Makoto's balance falters, nearly toppling them. Haru touches his boyfriend's side, keeping him steady. "Sorry, sorry," Makoto says, chuckling. He rubs his hip, shifting his weight on his prosthetic underneath his jeans. "I'm still trying to get used to the new one…"
"Mm," Haru hums out, distracted by the slip of pink tongue over Makoto's bottom lip.
He leans in, pressing a kiss against it, mouthing over the shape and licking slowly over the rim of Makoto's lips.
"Haru!" Makoto whispers, turning a bright red as Haru's teammates snicker nearby.
Ever since the drowning, anyone who knew them back in middle school saw this coming. Or so they claim. In general, Haru's classmates treated him with a little more kindness. He tolerates them, for Makoto's sake.
"Not sorry," Haru mutters, beginning to smile when Makoto, with his cheeks heated, returns the kiss.
Free! isn't mine. I took a chance and helped out modding/participated in the Makoharu Valentine's exchange on Tumblr and I think everything went well! The person I was matched with is Princess_andromeda from AO3. Their request was pretty open except for asking for Starting Days canon or ages. Or at least that's how their request felt constructed. I know a BL manga years ago called "Me Niwa Sayakani Mienoedomo" that I borrowed the plot from, and helped me with the title. I hope that everyone reading did enjoy everything and the happy ending, and please leave your thoughts if you have a moment! It makes my day! Thank you! C: