.

.

The water is all he ever knew, all Haru ever loved with his entire being.

But… friends.

He stares in undisguised, fearful longing across rivers and lakes, when the small bands of teenagers and children hurry across dirt and brush in the nearby fields and roads. Their colorful book-bags and lunch pails flapping against their legs. They yell and shriek towards each other, clapping hands and sticking out their tongues.

They have something.

Friends is… that something Haru does not have.

The children — appearing no older than Haru himself — run with such free spirits, laughing and shoving each other, their grins broad and sunnier than the gleaming pond's surface.

One of boys catches Haru's eye, slowing down and then waving curiously. His windswept, straight hair seems an unusual and vibrant hue, like the blushing water lilies. Despite himself, Haru's awestruck expression blushes just as deeply.

He waves back to the boy, never moving from his sitting rock, showing enthusiasm but… uncertainty. That's when a humming, sweet-sounding noise escapes Haru's lips, growing in volume, reverberating from his throat. It's welcoming; it's full of his hope and desires without the spoken words. The boy's head perks up.

From the pond's distance, he cannot see the boy's eyes glaze over, euphoric, unthinking.

Haru watches in obvious bemusement as the other child drops his things, opening his arms towards Haru in the universal sign of acceptance and treading into the water, splashing up to his ankles, to his knees and then his neck. His many layers of clothes must be heavy in the water, keeping him off balance.

Bubbles leak out from depths, as the blushing red color floats and vanishes underwater. After several long moments, Haru panics, leaping off his rock and swimming after the drowning, enchanted child.

His hands return empty, trembling violently. Miserable, low cries overtake him, rattling Haru's chest.

"Don't cry, Haruka."

He swallows hard, those little, pale fingers lifting and clenching together.

"Don't ever cry for them."

His mother's voice echoes disapprovingly within his skull. Haru bows his moist, dripping face, exposing his teeth and slamming his fists in an unforgiving rhythm against his temples.

"That is your only weakness, my love."

A scream of mourning, of brutal emotion, rips out of his throat and heightens, frightening the loons awake.

.

.

Everyone living here in Iwatobi owns at least a boat.

His uncle's fishing boat has two cabins below deck, and enough space to comfortably walk. Makoto wishes to high hell he was anywhere else right now. They're nine miles from inland, rocking unsteadily as a oceanic-dark, towering storm cloud climbs and approaches in the distance, rumbling and jolting with bursts of lightning.

The wind picks up, fluttering Makoto's electric yellow and grey tee-shirt.

He can smell the rotting fish and churning water below them. The only thing keeping his head leveled is the twin sensation of mini hands gripping onto his swim trunks. Makoto touches Ren's and Ran's wrists at his thighs, fighting to keep the worry out of his voice.

"Uncle, how soon can we make it to shore?"

The older man adjusts his baseball cap, eyeing the younger kids staring up at him with big, expectant eyes. He smiles so largely and toothy, like they're celebrating a special holiday, and Makoto can see right through it. It would be so much easier if he couldn't. Even without reading his surface thoughts, he knows they're in trouble.

"Don't be so glum, rugrats. We'll be outta here long before it starts raining on our heads!" their uncle announces triumphantly, now looking straight at Makoto. The sense of danger vibrating between them. "You mind helping me lift anchor and we can get ourselves going ship-shape?"

Makoto nods, quick to agree and kneeling down to the twins.

"Big brother?" Ren asks with concern written all of his expression, tugging Makoto's arm.

Ran says quietly at the same moment, "It looks so scary." She points towards the darkened, low-hanging clouds brewing. "Are you sure nothing bad's gonna happen?"

Makoto smiles reassuringly at this, clasping their hands gently into his.

"I'm sure we'll miss it," he explains. "Why don't you two count the fish we caught in the buckets downstairs? Let me and uncle get us back home."

"You promise?"

Makoto chuckles, running a thumb over Ran's cheek affectionately. "Definitely."

With their heads a little higher, both of the kids race towards the staircase, banging open the cabin's doors. He closes the one leading up the ship-deck, glancing towards the storm once more crackling and thunderous across the ocean, blocking out the early afternoon sunlight. It's coming right for them, isn't it?

A sweeping, familiar terror crawls inside his gut.

He hates it.

The ocean is nothing but treacherous and murderous, bringing sorrow onto others. It took the lives of so many people who worked hard in their village, who wished to come home to their loved ones and suddenly never could. (How could any person love such an unpredictable and unforgiving thing?)

Ren and Ran could not stop talking about deep-sea fishing during the height of summer, and Makoto agreed to this trip to watch over his siblings and entertain them while their uncle provided his boat. Their parents approved, and even with his fear of the water, Makoto found himself happy to spend time with his family.

It's another hour before their fishing boat gets slammed. It's a whirlwind of chaotic waves and rain, three miles from inland.

Makoto desperately attempts to keep the sail from blowing away, tugging slickened, thick-knotted rope as his uncle hollers out. They're barely keeping upright at this time. He turns his head at the noise of a door rattling open. Makoto glimpses a citrus green hoodie. The boat tosses sideways, flinging what appears to be a orange blur into the air.

Ren shrieks at the top of his lungs for his sister, falling down and clutching helplessly to the cabin-door. Makoto lets go of the rope without hesitation, springing towards the boat-railing. He screams for Ran, over the deafening booms and crashes of foaming waves on top of waves, and hears nothing else.

She's lost in the raging, unforgiving sea.

Makoto screams out her name again, and then heaves himself up, preparing to jump over the railing. His body feels like it's been punched, as soon as he hits the frothing, cold water, hands over his head. Swimming has never been any real trouble — but this, shivering and panicked, unable to navigate to the surface.

His lungs shudder and protest. Makoto's head finally breaks the surface, only to receive blinding, icy rain in his face.

He shuts his eyes and chokes for oxygen, mouth filling up with salty, turbulent water and struggling to breathe as a new, larger wave rolls upon him. Unable to call out for Ran, Makoto conserves his strength, weakly kicking up at least to keep his head above. He feels himself tossing in the ocean, struck with another dizzying wave.

That's when it happens — his panic, his lifelong fear of the ocean clamors alive. It tightens up his lungs, unyielding as Makoto sinks.

Drowning feels heavy, weighting down each limb. Fear ebbs away, chased out by the growing darkness.

Makoto's regrets… they ebb away as well, lighheadedness and warmth spreading all the way down to his toes. And then he's falling, out of the water, as if rudely flung onto the wet sand. Makoto continues to lay sideways, violently coming back to life, coughing and vomiting the seawater out of his nauseated, hot stomach and his lungs.

He's freezing, even with the golden slits of sunlight peeking into his opening eyes.

There's someone here with him, Makoto realizes, still gasping loudly for air.

Ran…?

No. No, it can't be.

A young and muscular man leans right over Makoto, blocking out the sun, their faces inches from each other.

Dark, cropped hair spills over his forehead, water droplets splashing onto Makoto's cheek. His milky-pale features bunch up in an outright frown. His eyes are clear enough, a blueness reflecting a peaceful, morning sky, like this morning — and Makoto wheezes out, grimacing in semi-anticipation as slim, pale fingers hover over the side of Makoto's face.

As if meaning to touch, and then… he's…

The man gazes up towards the left, as if stunned, caught.

Makoto's water-plugged ears pick up the sounds of footsteps and a mingling of different voices.

"Wait…"

He's gone – vanished completely from Makoto's line-of-sight, long before Makoto mumbles out for his attention. Flashlights bob and multiply in his surroundings, and then, the regulation-standard, blue helmets of the rescue crew peer over.

"Found him!"

"MAKOTO—!"

"Get the respirator! Now!"

He blinks sluggishly, discovering the faces above him greying and hazing out.

"You — the port outside — unresponsive — hang in there, kid —"

Gone.

.

.

It's the opposite of drowning.

The ocean's water deep, deep down feels warm against his naked skin, like a sweet, aching pressure. He's suspended inside it, dark and down but CLEAR all the way through for miles and miles, swirling with tiny, iridescent bubbles. No painful stinging in Makoto's emerald-bright eyes, wide open and alert inside the tons of saltwater.

Bolt-quick, something shimmers in front of him, radiant-glossy and blue. It's a… fish tail?

Makoto stretches a hand towards it, fingers uncurling and separating—

—and coughing awake, sucking in air weakly through his nasal cannula.

There's faces around him, clearing out from blurriness.

"MAKO-CHAAAAAAAAAAAAN!" Nagisa hollers out, launching out of his folded chair. He's nearly successful colliding into the other boy, with all intentions of hugging him. Makoto's mother reacts without saying a thing, smile never wavering. She gracefully pulls on the back of Nagisa's oversized sweatshirt to halt him in his tracks.

Ren stares at his brother, eyes filling with tears. His face scrunching and turning red as he weeps noisily, clutching onto Makoto's empty, limp hand.

A hospital? Makoto gazes around in mounting confusion, getting up on his elbows.

He was outside… and

"W—where's Ran!?" Makoto blurts out, his panic returning full-force.

They had been in the ocean.

"Asleep in the next room, sweetheart. She's doing just fine. Shhh," his mother tells him, smoothing Makoto's bangs back. "You saved her. I'm so proud of you."

"I didn't—listen, someone saved me," he explains, frenziedly. "I couldn't find her."

One of the doctors steps around her, holding up a notepad.

"Well, she was found alongside you, Tachibana-san. What did this person you look like? Can you give a description?"

"Beautiful," Makoto says awed. The loudest reaction is Nagisa, as the younger man howls out a laugh, slamming both hands over his mouth. Ren joins him, no longer crying but giggling and ducking his head.

Makoto's mother and uncle exchange faint, knowing looks, but smile politely.

"Any… other description?"

Makoto scratches at his neck, unable to hum thoughtfully due to his sore throat.

"… He didn't have a shirt."

Nagisa's laughter stifles out into his hands, but increases in volume as he quivers head to toe, flushing bright red from the effort of not laughing. The doctor glances over Makoto unblinkingly, capping his pen and turning to Makoto's mother, explaining her son is still water-logged and needs rest to process his trauma… …

.

.

It's late, way past visiting hours. Nagisa creeps in, shutting the curtains to Makoto's hospital room window.

"Did you really see someone?" he asks, passing up the cushioned hospital seat for the edge of Makoto's bed, throwing his weight down.

"Hmhmm," Makoto breathes out, nodding. "I wonder… if he saw me from the beach…?"

"But—oh! But what if he was a mermaid?"

He knows that familiar, thrilled glint in Nagisa's eye.

Makoto humors him anyway.

"Wouldn't he be a 'merman' then…?"

"He saw you drowning and made up his mind and saved a human for the first time!" Nagisa claps his hands together and smiles so big, leaning forward. He pinches his chin, stroking his fingertips over it. "I wonder if his father is mad about that… and the human treasure collection he has…"

Makoto sighs, rubbing over his exposed arm taped with a drip. "Nagisa, this isn't a movie."

"But how do you know mermaids aren't real?"

"They just aren't."

Nagisa smirks, looking suddenly very pleased with himself.

"Some people would be say that about magic…"

Makoto rarely ever gets angry around his friend, but he feels a jab of exasperation pinpricking his chest. Nagisa knows better than to discuss any of Makoto's extracurricular unless it's a safe and private space. Preferably not the local town hospital he's being forced to stay until the blood-work finished.

"Nagisa…"

"Sorry, sorry. I remember—also!—" Nagisa fishes into his neon-pink book bag, holding out a small, polished amethyst. It's a dark purple and tinier than Nagisa's palm. Makoto remembers leaving it out on the history textbook on his desk. "Thought you might need this. I'm pretty sure it's the right one…?"

It is — Amethyst was pure for healing. Makoto accepts the weight, focusing unconsciously on the cleansing energy.

"Thank you, Nagisa," he whispers, also accepting the quick, comforting embrace from the other man.

"Get better soon, Mako-chan."

Nagisa waves, sneaking himself back out into the corridor before sunset.

Some people would say that about magic

Magic is… he doesn't think it's real. Not really.

What is real is Makoto's feelings. He's been unable to explain why he can read someone's immediate and emotion-charged thoughts surfacing, or the feelings associated with an object—just because he touched a person or that object. Focusing on something else helps. Something he owns.

The healing crystal, for one.

Feeling tired, Makoto squeezes his large, broad fingers around his amethyst.

He drowned. Almost.

Which means he and Ran were saved… by someone he can't even find now. Was it the young, topless man he saw before fainting on the beach? His wide, blue eyes … there had been his amazed and frantic expression, staring down closely on Makoto. Like he couldn't believe Makoto was a real thing.

Like he was magic.

Makoto didn't realize it the first time, but the other man opened his mouth to speak… and then appeared hesitant, pressing his lips together firmly.

Why?

Makoto closes his eyes and lies backwards on his pillows, brows furrowing.

Who… was he?

.

.

The ocean appears so much calmer, drowsy and bright in the wee hours.

Makoto ventures his way across a narrow strip of sand, towards the coves and the beach where he and Ran had been discovered by the rescue team. His doctor released him in good health yesterday, and Makoto found himself willing the courage to return, even a yard from the soft-surging of white-capped ocean surf.

He needs answers.

And only one person can give them to him… if Makoto can find them. The blackened rocks are smoothed, but slippery, as Makoto climbs over and then peers into the deep, seemingly bottomless waters. "Hello?" he calls out, lifting his head and gazing around. Makoto doubts anyone is nearby, but…

The water bubbles.

Makoto tilts his head, watching each of the air bubbles rise, erupting noiseless.

"Hello? Is someone there?"

They must be underwater, or perhaps it's a creature — Makoto bends towards the water, opening his mouth. "Hello!"

More bubbles and now ripples.

He thinks over his decision and then locates a pebble, not throwing it in — in case it was an innocent little sea animal — but letting it tumble into the sea. The wet pebble returns after a full minute, aimed at Makoto's face, smacking him in the center of his forehead. He lurches back with a flinch, clutching his head.

"Ow, ow, ow…"

A young man surfaces up to his chin, with a shock of flattened, black hair against his milky skin.

"You don't have to shout at me, idiot…"

Makoto chuckles with some difficulty, eyes crinkled. "Sorry! I wasn't expecting anyone to—," he pauses, looking over the other man's stoic features and oceanic, clear blue eyes. "It's you," Makoto announces, smiling elated. "You're the one! The one who saved me and my sister, aren't you? Where have you been—do you live in the nearby area?"

He looks about Makoto's age torso up, smaller built but muscular, and he's… leaving?

"Wait, please don't go yet!" Makoto shouts, as his companion turns their back on him. "We didn't even get to thank you… for…"

A long, reluctant sigh.

The young man turns back around, swimming up to Makoto's rock. Makoto's smile broadens as he leans over and reaches out.

"My name is Makoto."

A dripping, pale hand meets Makoto's fingers, grasping lightly.

"… Haru."

"Nice to meet you, Haru."

He half-expects a merman and blames Nagisa for putting that into his head. But, in fact, Haru is not.

He has two long legs and small, muscular thighs, and a very naked

As soon as Haru is upright and out of the water, Makoto stammers and turns a hot pink, covering his eyes, "U-Um, do you often swim without your clothes?"

The other man lifts a disbelieving eyebrow, his arms falling to his sides.

"I don't need them."

"You… don't?"

"I live in the water. It makes it harder to swim."

"Live in the water…" Makoto repeats this, looking at his companion perceptively but keeping his smiling, green eyes on him. "You're not human, are you…?" Haru's shoulders tense up, as does his chest at his next inhale. Makoto waves a hand frantically, chuckling again. "It's nothing, it's nothing—I'm being silly. Thank you for saving our lives."

Haru's shoulders relax.

"You shouldn't have been in the water," he says with a little more heat, as if accusing Makoto of something. "Not if you didn't trust it."

Makoto blinks. Is Haru mad about that?

"I see … Is that what you believe about the ocean, Haru?"

"The will of others don't command the water. You just have to know what it's feeling, and then tame it."

He's never met anyone so passionate about the ocean. Treating it like a living thing, needing to be respected.

Makoto nods, beginning to frown and dropping into a sit on the smoothed, blackened boulder.

"I feel like you would have a lot to teach me," he admits. "I guess I can't understand."

Haru glances over him, mirroring the studious frown.

"… You're afraid of the ocean."

"Yeah," Makoto tells him softly, lowering his face. "Maybe… just talking about it helps?" Uncertainty fills him up, that old, old fear gnawing at his stomach as Makoto's eyes skim the waters. He summons the courage to stare into Haru's face, smiling so pleasantly. "Would you like come have dinner with me?"

"No." The answer is quiet but immediate. Makoto's smile vanishes, but Haru adds, as if it's an feeble excuse, "I shouldn't. Bad things happen around me."

"I don't believe that."

Despite Makoto's warmth, Haru shakes his head, deadpanning, "You don't know me, Makoto."

And before a sorry, the other man slips back into the foaming waters, vanishing too.

.

.

What did non-mermans like to eat?

Makoto chooses grilled mackerel, preparing it with rice and packaging it up neatly. He visits the beach outside the coves, carefully maneuvering around the rocks. It's been five or so days since Haru spoke to him, and Makoto feels grateful when he spies Haru on the rocks. He's dressed for once, having accepted the pair of jammers Makoto left for him.

"Hungry?" he chirps, presenting the boxed meal to a now interested Haru. "I brought you this."

Haru pops open the lid, taking a cautious, tiny sniff.

"… Smells good."

"Figured it might." Makoto has no idea what Haru's diet is, but he's more than happy to share the cooking. His parents are happy to see Makoto so active after a drowning accident, but he doubts they would be inclined about him hanging around with a complete, and sometimes naked, stranger.

He's used to Haru's quirks by now, the pointed silences, the nonverbal cues — and that's the odd part.

Haru doesn't feel like a stranger at all.

Makoto opens his own lunch, setting it on his lap. "My grandfather used to have a nursery song about mackerel. Mackerel, mackerel, little sea fishy~" he recites, singing a bit off-key. "Down you swim, swim~" Haru recites it with him offhandedly, and then, everything suddenly changes.

Haru's lunch capsizes into the ocean below, floating away. He slams his hands over his mouth hard, gasping out and staring bug-eyed at Makoto.

It's almost terrifying.

Makoto blurts out, "What's the matter, Haru? You've gone pale!"

"I..."

Haru continues gawking at him, as if Makoto is supposed to explode. His trembling hands now gravitating away.

"What's… the matter with you?" he asks, incredulous.

Makoto doesn't mind that the lunch he made for Haru is ruined, practically flung away, or the semi-insult, but… Haru looks afraid of him.

"Huh?"

"You should be—" The shock and growing indignation outlines Haru's expression. "But you're… you're…"

"Haru, you're not making any sense. Are you sure you're okay—Haru!?" he yells after him, as his companion once again, jumps into the sea to escape him.

"Haru!"

.

.

The skies above are fluffy lilac clouds dabbed over the pinks and oranges.

Sunlight dims over the horizon, and Haru appears on the beach this time. He stomps up to Makoto, narrowing those blue, blue eyes.

"You're not human," Haru says, grumbling.

It's more complaining than him accusing Makoto.

"What brought this on?" Makoto asks patiently, seeing how Haru's fists clench up instinctively at his sides. Thank god he's taken to wear the jammers as a habit. Makoto does not want to have an argument on a public beach with either of them naked.

"I sang and you weren't enchanted. You didn't follow me and drown."

Makoto creases his brow. "That sounds awful—why would I do something like that?"

"Everyone does!" Haru raises his voice, and Makoto touches his shoulder. He meant for it to be consoling against Haru's frustration — and he sees it.

Floating corpses. A grade school boy with blushing red hair. A man with a heavy, bluish body and injured shoulder. A teenager with his glasses removed, his yellow speedo the only color to the surrounding darkness.

He takes a deep, swallowing breath, pulling away from Haru's bare skin.

"I'm so sorry," Makoto whispers. "I didn't know it was like that for you."

Haru isn't human after all.

He's lonely.

"I'm tired of everyone DYING around me…"

The pain, Haru's self-resentment resonates so profoundly, and Makoto feels his inner energy crave it, wishing to heal it.

"Haru-chan…" Makoto allows him hear this, and then steps in and embraces the other man. He almost expects Haru to flee, to push away or break apart with cries, but he only violently shakes against Makoto's front, shutting his eyes and breathing irregularly. "I'm here. I'm always here when you need me."

Really?

Always, Haru.

.

.

The water is… all he ever knew. Until Makoto.

It's been a whole year.

Haru cannot leave the ocean forever, but he has a home… near it. Makoto's fear hasn't ebbed, but swimming with Haru during balmy, serene mornings brings out his joy.

Makoto is a down-to-earth person. He's friendly. His good and pure nature suits him as a elemental practitioner of witchcraft. Makoto doesn't like the word magic, but he's the one hanging talismans and amulets from the ceiling. He carves protective runes Haru vaguely recognizes in stone-gates, around flowerbeds, and on the bedroom headboard.

Haru doesn't been alive long enough to know everything, but he's definitely older than Makoto.

It's their home— quaint and roomy, with morning glories and hydrangeas and camellia, ones that Makoto planted along the grassy inland. A white, fluffy kitten lounging and yawning in the bay window. Haru waits, expression vacant and arms crossed as a green-glossy, huge motorcycle roars up the pathway, clouding up dust behind it.

Makoto flips off the roaring engine, unhooking the bags of food and waving purposely the other man. His large fingers exposed through his leathered, dark biking gloves. The air is warm and sweet to Haru's nostrils, smelling like the light, seasonal rain of the coast.

"Hey, Haru-chan," Makoto greets him cheerfully, leaning in and tenderly pecking Haru's cheek.

"You're late," he states.

"I am. I'm sorr—"

Haru gestures out with Makoto's helmet, putting it between them. "You forgot this."

The guilt washes over Makoto's face.

"… You're mad?"

Haru doesn't say anything—but yes, yes.

"That was my mistake."

"You're human. You aren't going to live forever," Haru snaps, but keeping his expression tight. He accepts the sensation of Makoto's arm round him, guiding him inside.

Let's not talk about that… please.

Hrrn.

.

.

Haru picked out the aqua blue of the washed out planks on their bathroom walls. The furnishings in cast iron, and the tub spacious, enough for both of them. He can glimpse the ocean from here, through another bay window. Haru stares in longing. Makoto shifts against his bare back, rippling the bathwater, cuddling closer.

"Something on your mind?" he murmurs, hooking arms to Haru's waist.

"… It's nothing."

Makoto doesn't acknowledge that Haru is lying to him, but hums considerately.

"You can tell me anything. You know that?"

A nod.

But

Haru's lips separate, his voice numbed, "I'll never be human like you." Innocent. Haru will be the furthest from it as possible. "The first person I… lured, was just a kid like me." His family called him Rin. His grave remained away from the water; they couldn't bear to get near it again. He remembers that much about so long ago.

"I wanted to swim. Swim with someone who wasn't afraid of me, or could be controlled by me," Haru confesses, solemnly. "I thought if I distanced myself from everyone, it would be better… it was lonely." He feels Makoto's tan, muscular arms squeeze gently. "Then I met you… I felt drawn to you instead."

"Why?"

"Because… Makoto is Makoto," Haru says stubbornly, lips quirking.

"Heh. That's good… because I'm not afraid of you. Never have been." Makoto places a kiss, and another, behind Haru's ear. "You aren't lonely anymore, are you?"

No, idiot.

He sighs out, thighs falling for Makoto's hands wandering down his sides, lower and lower onto his cock. Haru squirms impatiently through the strokes and teases, grabbing onto Makoto's fingers wrapped to the base and jerking faster.

A muffled, amused laugh.

Makoto knows how to do this with him — thumbing over the ridge of cockhead. He circles his palm at the next upwards stroke, pressing a finger to trace lightly over the vein until Haru arches up his hips a little from the tub, his head spinning pleasantly. Haru twists in place, pressing up against Makoto's chest and kissing the natural lift of Makoto's mouth as the other man happily relocks his arms to his boyfriend, moaning delighted. His fingertips drift over Makoto's jaw, spreading over his neck, adoring him.

He grinds up slowly to Makoto's own cock, feeling him harden to Haru's naked belly. That's when kisses break, and both men stumble out of the bathtub. Makoto's hands guide him forward, once more, until they're stretched out on the quilts, dampening them with the scent of lavender and rosemary.

There's no better want, kneeling in the cradle of Makoto's legs, nibbling down on a shoulder-joint and feeling Makoto's gentle shudder.

Haru wants to cherish the feeling, of every blessed inch, inside and out. He waits for Makoto to prepare himself with lubricant and Haru's fingers before getting inside his body. He's never regretted, or lost his arousal while burying himself deep, clinging to him until Makoto's energy radiates from him, anticipation and rapture and love.

It's clear as endless sky in Makoto's eyes. Everything is clearer than ever.

Haru… Haruka… he loves

His real name will never pass Makoto's lips, but he gladly claims them nonetheless, tasting salty-sweet.

.

.

They rarely fight.

"When were you going to SAY anything!?"

This feels like an explosion within Makoto's chest, burning and engulfing, unable to be soothed.

"Soon. I promise it was soon…"

"But you said you wouldn't LEAVE!"

The letter to Tokyo University, typed so neatly with their accepting words, flutters onto the tabletop.

"Haru, there has to be MORE than this! More than just one place in the world! I feel like sometimes I'm trapped here!"

Because he wants Haru to come with him. To share his dream.

As soon as Haru storms out of earshot, disappearing into the corridor with his face scrunching up in anger, one of Makoto's fists slams into the wall. He didn't mean to… Haru isn't the one trapping him here. Makoto has wanted to leave Iwatobi ever since he was a child. But it must have sounded like it…?

Makoto approaches the bathroom door, tapping his knuckles on it. Haru needed the water when agitated or stressed, he discovered early on.

"Haru… Haru, can I come in?" he murmurs. "I'm sorry about what I said."

He slides open the door, peeking in. Haru seats on the tub's edge, dry as bone. The moisture comes only from Haru's reddened eyes. Tears, real tears roll down Haru's cheeks and Makoto has never seen him cry before. His heart weighs heavy with twinges of regret.

Haru's voice trembles, as the other man joins him inside, "Makoto, it hurts…"

"I know. I'm so sorry… I didn't mean for it to happen like—"

Haru's arms wind quickly around his stomach. He jolts forward, nearly toppling off the tub, bending in and crying out pained.

"Haru!" Makoto shouts, a cold rush of panic going up his spine. He races over, gripping onto Haru's shoulders to keep him upright. "What's going on? Haru, answer me!"

"It… h…urts…"

The tears streaming down Haru's face slowly deepened to a thick, dark red, glistening bloody to his pale skin.

"Need… the water…"

Unthinkingly, Makoto's left hand reaches for the faucet, but he stops. The ocean surges in the distance through the window, shimmering in aqua greens and blues against the sunlight. Makoto reacts immediately, scooping Haru's legs from underneath him. He'll run if he has to.

The secluded, mineral-rich beach resides below the cliff-side, and Makoto carries him all the way down. It feels like hours. His legs tired. His back muscles strain with the effort to keep Haru from collapsing in the piggyback position. There's wet warmth dripping onto Makoto's neck and he firmly concentrates on the task.

"You're going to be okay…" he says it like a mantra, toes digging into the tan, hot sand. "Haru, it's going to be okay…"

"Mako-to…"

"We're here. We're right here, see?" Makoto lowers him into the waters, thankful for once of the ocean's presence. Haru floats limply against the softly rolling waves, staring up dazedly at Makoto's face. "I'm not gonna leave you…" he insists, breathing harder than ever, cradling Haru's damp, greying face. "Not ever, Haru."

Blood drizzles from Haru's nostrils, leaking from his ears and tinting the blue, foaming waters.

How can he stop this? What is— happening —?

No response.

"Haru! Haru-chan!" Makoto yells out, close to hyperventilating. Tears stinging and cascading from his eyes. "Please…"

It's impulsive and selfish, but Makoto presses his mouth against Haru's fiercely, willing him to answer. The waters lick at Makoto's knees, soaking through his jeans. Haru feels solid and real, but too cool to the touch, and Makoto's lips come back smeared with mucus and Haru's red blood.

"Makoto…" comes a dull, soft whisper. "…is Makoto…"

The laughter erupting out sounds like a bark and a gasp. "Yes," Makoto says, blinking rapidly and gulping for air, petting his fingers lovingly through black, floating strands. "You're right—I am. I won't change. I promise, Haru… I wont leave you…"

Haru's sallowing, thinning features ease, devoid of pain.

With mounting, open-mouthed horror, Makoto witnesses the other man fade around the edges, becoming transparent. Haru's blue eyes dissolve into the color of the water, as if his atoms break apart and evaporate into the foaming seawater.

And then, Makoto's hands clutch at nothing. He's gone.

Gone.

A scream of hopelessness, of a sharp, sudden grieving that howls within Makoto's entire being — the noise echoes across the sea, all the way up the cliff-side to the pathway where Nagisa halts on his pink-painted bicycle. He shivers a little and looks around to the garden, eyes widening on nothing in particular.

.

.

He wakes, as if from a nightmare, but Makoto's eyes are open and bulging.

He can't breathe.

The fresh air does not calm him, or fill up his lungs.

Makoto wheezes out, trying to get out anything in. He grabs at his throat with one hand, dragging himself through the too-heavy waters crashing around him. Makoto thinks he hears his name, shouted far, far away, and clogs up in his ears. He stumbles deeper in, tumbling and losing his balance in the waters.

The pain feels like hell-fire, sparking without warning. Ocean water cools, soothes it away.

… He's not drowning.

It's the opposite.

Makoto strips off his long-sleeve underwater and rest of his clothes, diving down deeper. He inhales finally, and exhales tiny, iridescent bubbles. He can breathe.

How?

His legs mean to kick forward, to propel him, but they feel… bound together. He's no less swimming gracefully and powerfully miles beneath the waters, though Makoto never admits to be an exceptional swimmer. There had been no reason to love swimming, but this… …

Makoto's eyes catch a glimpse of radiant-glossy, twin fins. The blue coloring reminds him of Haru's eyes.

No…

Haru.

He waits for Makoto across the way, suspended in the water, arms hovering upwards. Makoto doesn't waste time, merman or not, colliding into Haru's smaller, muscular body and hugging him securely as they roll sideways. Haru mutters a noncommittal protest, wincing as Makoto's emerald-green slaps harshly against his own fin.

Makoto is too emotional, too happy to shed a tear. The ocean would not accept it.

You're real.

Haru's words form effortlessly inside his mind, heartening and strong. He nudges his face into Haru's neck, chuckling out bubbles as the other merman hugs him even tighter.

And you promised me, Makoto.

He did.

Neither of them feels as if this is a curse, even if it may be — but Makoto thinks he can learn to love the ocean this way.

The same way he loves Haru.

.

.


Free! isn't mine. I've been wanting to post this for ages! Now I can! :) I ended combining The Little Mermaid animated w/ the original story, but also a bit of the folklore about the Fossegrim. But for those who don't know what the Fossegrim is: it's a magical creature that lives in brooks and streams (and other large bodies of water). It can take many forms, but especially a human-like appearance. They don't have fins or are mermaids, but they kind of resemble sirens. If you hear them sing or play the violin they carry with them, you may get enchanted and drown trying to reach them. Fossegrim are not evil: they don't hate humans and will take on human lovers, but the tragedy is eventually they go home to the water. Or may die if you speak their true name. Go look up the folklore! It's so neat!

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading my longer brainchild and please all thoughts/comments are deeply appreciated!