The ocean's salts are thick in the air, adding to the heavy weight of anticipation. It is all so close, the endless expanses of rolling waves and tranquility. When Makoto listens closely, past the hum of crashing waves and calling seabirds, he can make out the subtle sound of Haruka's heart, pounding in perfect rhythm with the smooth tempo of the sea.

"Okay, go on ahead," Makoto says quietly, not wanting to disrupt the beautiful sparkle of wistful concentration in Haruka's eyes. He gets one of those quick, precious smiles as he claps a hand on Haruka's back for the slightest moment. It's all he had time for, as soon there is no body under the cloth. Makoto smiles warmly. Haruka is in the water, right where he belongs.

"Mako-chan, that's amazing! Did Haruka actually wait for your permission to get into the water?" Nagisa asks excitedly, jumping in front of Makoto, jostling the gear strapped to his back and walking backward along the boardwalk to look him in the eye.

Makoto's smile grows with pride as years of companionship flash before his mind's eye. Years of sitting on the shoreline, watching Haru dance with the water, and it with him. "I guess so. He does this every year on the first day of summer. I kind of watch over him, in a way, so he makes sure to check in with me every so often." It's the truth, a privilege Haru reserves especially for Makoto. He obeys no one like he does Makoto. Not only that, but with Haru's parents out of town for the week. In a way that's almost childlike and is extremely endearing, Makoto thinks, he has to be on his best behavior to get to swim. Not that Makoto would, could, ever dare hold any of this against him. He only wants to see Haru happy, and be happy with him, plain and simple.

Nagisa hums an acknowledgement and throws up his arms, taking in the warm sunrays that make the water glisten and the heart soar.

For a moment, Makoto wonders if this is right, letting Nagisa come along. He's their friend, of course, and he always brings laughter and joy to each day, but this is Makoto and Haru's tradition. For years, when Nagisa and Rin had dropped out of their lives, it was just the three of them. Two boys turned men, and the ocean. Makoto considers all of those hours spent on this beach to be the best of his life. He could just sit and bask in the serenity as his best friend knew total happiness, occasionally washing up to share a comfortable silence, broken only by the even panting of wet on dry land. And being in the water together… When they know trouble in their lives, Makoto and Haru can sit together and picture these times, and the all the difficulties of living was away, if only for a moment.

These are their times, simple and pure and eternal in their own right, forever held and remembered by the permanence of the sea.

But Nagisa is a good kid, and everyone deserves to know the beauty of the First Day of Summer Swim. At least, that's what Makoto has been repeating to himself since their plans were overheard and neither he nor Haru had the social confidence not to offer Nagisa an invitation. So, he can give it a try. For the sake of old friendships, Makoto will share his ocean and his Haru and his tradition, no matter how much it feels like saltwater on an open cut.

The loose feeling of sand beneath bare feet brings Makoto out of his thoughts. Relax, a voice from deep within him mutters. Do you really want your precious memory tainted by your worries? With a soothing breath of ocean spray, he clears his mind as best he can and begins to set up their area of the beach. Between he and Nagisa, they have managed to carry all they need from the car in one go. Tent, cooler, folding lounge chairs, picnic basket, towels, more towels, blankets, extra food, fire supplies. Nothing says summer teenhood memories like camping out on the beach, and by now, setting it all up just the right distance from the tide brings a wave of nostalgia upon Makoto.

At least Nagisa hasn't gotten permission to join them for the night. Back by 7, as ordered by the Hazuki family. It's an awful thing to think, Makoto knows, but he can't get the peace it gives him out of his mind. Nagisa is now peeling off his clothes and splashing around in the shallow waters. Meters beyond, Makoto can barely make out the swift form of Haru, dashing about beneath the surface. He springs up briefly, whipped his hair in his signature move and gives Makoto a curious look. Makoto knows exactly what it means, and it makes him happier than he has been yet today.

Aren't you coming in?

And so he does. The water is warm and clear and rich and heavenly, and he gets to share it with Haru. Makoto will never love the water the way Haru did, he is certain. But when he enjoys it this much, and lets it into his soul, he can almost understand. During these fleeting moments of total clarity, he feels a little closer to Haru, as well, as if he can peer into his mind and feel all he hides behind that apathetic mask, for a couple perfect seconds he wishes could last eternity. It is incredible, the blissful feel of the water enveloping Makoto, enveloping Haru, enveloping them and the life they have been living together, side by side, for as long as either can remember. There is no time, no existence outside the wetness. Just two bodies, two souls, and a world of water for them to experience together. The three of them can come together in this space, and be one and infinity.

Makoto openes his eyes and gazes through the water into Haru's, blue and brilliant. They are as infinite as this world they share, he know. Haru is smiling, this perfect smile Makoto is sure only he has ever seen. Because only he has ever shared this world with Haru, and seen this entity that they manage to create where none has existed before.

It is reality's jealousy that pulls them out of this paradise. This perfection knows fatalism, the cruel fingers of which pry the air out of their lungs and demand they both resurface and end this beauty. Such an incredible moment cannot last, inherently, because of what it is. Two humans and water, and humans cannot live in water nor in themselves, no matter how desperately they desire. When they can finally overcome this fact of life, it only lasts but a second, and now Makoto stares through loud, suffocating air at Haru, and Haru gazes back, and this is why they come every year. Makoto and Haru share an intense love for this feeling, a love which triumphs over all life itself.

Wordlessly, because no words are needed, they swim slowly back to shore and sit in the shallow water, allowing the smooth waves to lap at their feet, their ankles, their knees. A mellow joy blankets them like the clouds and warms them like the sun and carries them like the birds. Endless aqua stretches before them, patient but beckoning. Long moments pass before Haru gives Makoto a quick glance of question, answered by a nod, and swims back out to their passion. His passion. The passion.

A deep sigh, and Makoto resigns himself to falling from this high, fully and completely. It is only now does he remember that Nagisa is there, somewhere. Oh, over by the tent. Makoto joins him and sets down in a lounge chair, feeling the last drops of sweet water slip from his all-too-human skin.

"That was beautiful," Nagisa murmurs, quieter than Makoto thought was possible for this particular individual. "You two in the water."

"Oh, um, yeah. Thanks, I guess," Makoto says, suddenly feeling entirely judged outside of his comfort zone, and Nagisa doesn't make it any better. It's not nearly as peaceful out here as it was in there, and he misses it already. Previous years, when that wonderful time in the water with Haru would end, he could hang out on the shore and just watch in awe and tranquility, because the whole point of these trips was just that, tranquility. And even though Nagisa wasn't even doing anything, something about having another human there at all disrupts the feeling. Makoto just sort of smiles and looks Nagisa in the eye, wondering why he's such a jerk, not wanting to spend time with his own friend. Bad Makoto, bad.

He decides to distract himself by staring out into the ocean, watching Haru, just as he would have any other year. His friend is beautiful, Makoto realizes. Just as fluid as the sea, just a part of the sea itself. It's a wonder why Haru is cursed with breathing air at all. He belongs in the water. It's his home. And it must be a sad life, Makoto muses, to be bound to flesh and bone, always so close to what he's clearly meant to be, yet still too far away. Always too far away, except for those few perfect seconds, the ones he lives for. The ones Makoto loves to be there, beside him, to witness.

That's it. It's like, down in that water, he can see Haru being his truest self. Doing what he's meant to do. Makoto has the honor of being invited along as Haru comes home. He's taken in, and made part of a loving family, until they're both kicked back to the curb. But, with or without him, Makoto wishes Haru had been born something else. A dolphin, or a fish. Just something that would let him live that perfection all his life. Haru's an amazing person. It's what he deserves.

At least, they can always stand side by side as they get up from that hard sidewalk and wander the streets, waiting to find home again.

Meters away, Haru swims freestyle, steadily beating around in the water. He dips and swerves and turns with this remarkable grace Nagisa was right, it's beautiful. That determined expression, the flow of his dark locks, his toned muscles and beating heart, quiet thoughts and silent dreams, all coming together in one masterpiece of a person. Haru is beautiful.

"Mako-chan, you were only in the water a few minutes. Don't you want to get back in?" Nagisa asks, startling Makoto completely. Dang, he had been enjoying that.

"Oh, uh, no thanks. I'm… hungry?" Not hungry at all. But he needed some excuse for sitting back and watching Haru for a while. If he went back now, Nagisa would want to swim with them. He just didn't want that to happen. It even amazes Makoto, this protective nature he suddenly has. His Haru. He wants to keep Haru happy, always, and always with him or the water or both and no one else. Someone else could hurt him, or try to take him away from his water. They'd tried before. Makoto had watched them, and although Haru barely knew it, fought them off. He protected his friend, and didn't want any judgmental air breather who didn't understand to try to change such him. Haru was perfect, just the way he was. Why did everyone insist on interfering?

"So, are you going to get some food?" Oh, right, Nagisa. If Makoto was going to pretend to be too hungry to go in the water, he should probably grab a sandwich or something. Nagisa tossed one in his lap and sat down beside him before Makoto could do anything else. He muttered his thanks and stared down at the sand. "Are you okay? You seem… preoccupied."

"Oh, yeah, I'm fine. I guess my mind just likes to wander this time of year."

Nagisa smiles that Nagisa smile and takes a giant bite. He barely chokes his down before waving his arms and shouting out, "Ne, Haru-chan! Come have some lunch!"

"He doesn't usually have lunch today," Makoto says quietly.

"Hm. As long as he's okay." Lunch is uncomfortable, although Makoto tries not to let it show. This just isn't the way it was supposed to be. 360 or so days out of the year, Nagisa is a welcome part of eating lunch. But these days aren't for sharing. Oh, well, only 5 more hours until Makoto can stop being this horribly selfish, out-of-his-skin sort of lobster.

Haru swims up to the shore shortly after lunch is packed away. "Taking a break?" Nagisa asks suddenly, jumping to his side and splashing around a bit in the shallow waters of the tide.

"Sort of." Haru and Makoto say it together, as Makoto swings back to their base camp and grabs a beach ball. As Haru plants himself in a tidepool, with the water still up to his waist, Nagisa mucks around until he slips, then regains his footing and bounces close by. Makoto joins them, creating a triangle and tossing forth the ball. It bobs about between the friends, bouncing off fingers and palms and wrists as pleasantries float on the air. At one point, Haru dips his head below the water and erupts up so the plastic bounces off his head and straight into Haru's face. Makoto wonders if he gave it that precise direction or not, and is glad to see Nagisa laughing it off. Somehow, though, it makes him feel even worse about himself. Guilty.

"Makoto!" Haru calls, not looking up from the water he's watching slip from his grasp. "Try to lighten up a little." To anyone else, this is a very simple, shallow sentence. Lighten up. It's summer, so it's silly to be bogged down with worries. But Makoto knows what he mean. Relax and enjoy yourself as best you can. We'll have our time. Makoto smiles.

Tossing the ball around grows old fairly quickly. Before too long, all three gentlemen are on their backs, drifting lazily on the bends and shifts of the water's surface. A canopy of fluffy clouds drifts with them, changing on the wind and creating a nice, moving painting for their enjoyment. The water is thin and slippery beneath them, but powerful, and holds them up just the same. One should not underestimate the power of the sea. Never, never, never. The sun is warm and their chests are dry, although water engulfs their necks, lapping over their windpipes in a threatening sort of caress. The water is in control.

Nagisa wanders off to the restroom or to find some ladies or something. Makoto doesn't really know or care what. He sees this as an opportunity to return to that divine place while he's absent, because he's found he especially doesn't like when people watch him and Haru in the water together. This is theirs. Why can't others get it through their heads?

All thoughts of others, of his guilt and his doubts and his yearning, all slip away as Makoto and Haru descend together. The water takes them into its sweet embrace, and the feeling returns. There it is, the perfection.

Haru is smiling and completely alive and free and happy. Makoto gets to feel it, the peace, the contentment, radiating off of Haru and seeping into his own essence. They share, and they love, and there's space between them, but it doesn't feel like there is, because it isn't air. It's water. It's home, and it's wanted, needed, revered, worshipped. Haru and water. They are Makoto and everything else outside him for him to enjoy. They are his mind and his heart and this moment is the eye of the storm that it life. Joy and appreciation fill the space left by the dwindling oxygen in Makoto's lungs, until the look he's staring into Haru turns into one of bittersweetness, because they need to resurface.

Why. Makoto thinks it, and sees Haru thinking it. Not a question, a demand. A pleading, distressed cry behind an apathetic mask and beneath smooth muscle. Why. Why, respiratory system, are you such a cruel fact. Why must you hold hold Romeo from Juliet, and give them poison that wears off after fleeting moments of ecstasy, moments of freedom from their birth. Why turn such a magnificent tale into a tragedy of a lost man who will never know a forever peace.

Makoto doesn't question why Haru allows him to experience that greatness with him. He doesn't want to think about why he's allowed to read the tale, to stand beside Haru and share those rare moments. He loves getting to know Haru such a way. He doesn't want to jinx it. Anything but that.

Nagisa's back soon, as clarity turns back to the chaos of breathing and walking and doing stupid human things. As he goes back to rest on a beach towel, Makoto mentally slaps himself for wondering if Nagisa could ever comprehend the world he enters with Haru. What ridiculous arrogance. Deep down, though, he's certain of the answer, arrogant as it may be. Haru is the only one who will ever understand what they share.

By now, Makoto can fain fatigue and sit in the sand without Nagisa thinking too much of it. He basks in the glow of the beach, the rolling salty gusts of ocean air, and enjoys these minutes of First Day of Summer. It's amazing how long he can just watch Haru, and think about him, without getting bored. But it happens every year. Makoto would sit there forever if he could, as it's the next best thing to being in that water, sharing that feeling.

Haru comes to shore, to, shortly after, for the first time all day. He's tired, Makoto can tell, but it's overwhelmed by contentment. Nagisa trots after him.

"Dinner?" Makoto asks, pulling the cooler out and handing them some fish. Haru, familiar with old routines, piles high some weeds and sticks to form a tiny campfire. A match, a spark, and they have heat for their dinners. Nagisa watches, impressed, at how well Makoto and Haru function together.

"Are you two telepathic or something? You never told me that!" Nagisa says with a pout. "I wish I could be telepathic, too!"

"We're not telepathic," Haru deadpanned, dumping his fish in the pan. The heat hit it in ripples.

"We just have a lot of history," Makoto said proudly, maybe a bit too proudly, a smile adorning his lips. He looked Haru in the eye as he did so, appreciating the happy twinkled that flickered to life.

"Aw, I missed everything. You two are so close." With that playful whine, Nagisa popped some warm food into his mouth, sighing in pleasure.

Dinner was not unlike lunch, long and uneventful. Makoto certainly didn't sneak glances at how Haru slowly ate his food, savoring it and sucking on it within his mouth. And Makoto didn't notice how the last few water droplets caught the light of the dancing fire and sparkled against tone muscles. And he definitely didn't pay attention to the way his a day in the sun made his clear skin glow. But how could Makoto not notice the way he twitched and fidgeted, kind of begging to be back in the water, even as he enjoyed his meal? Before Makoto's eyes, Haru kept this up the entire meal. It was kind of amusing and kind of sad and kind of sweet, and Makoto couldn't wait to watch him run back like a kid to a Christmas tree.

"Well, I should be going. It's almost seven."

What's that look Haru's sending Makoto? Oh, probably not so obvious. Oops. But Nagisa doesn't seem to notice the sigh of relief Makoto releases, so it's probably okay. They bid quick farewells, and Nagisa takes off into the sunset. Once he's out of sight, Haru grabs Makoto's waving hand out of the air and drags him across the beach toward the water.

Haru doesn't say a word. He's just tugging Makoto along with him, determined and giving off an unswayable aura, the likes of which Makoto has rarely seen.

"Ah, Haru?"

He doesn't look back, doesn't really falter, but he slows somewhat. "We haven't spent enough time in the water together, Makoto. The kick-off of the summer isn't right this way."

"Uh, I thought this was about the normal amount. I mean, I usually spend a lot of time on the shore, while you like to swim alone." Makoto doesn't know why he's complaining. He wants to be in that water, too. Haru's forcefulness is taking him by surprise.

"I want to spend more time swimming with you." And, just like that, Haru picks up speed again for those last few feet until he's leaping headfirst into the ocean, Makoto close behind.

Bubbles rise around them in a flurry, taunting little devils, as Haru smiles beneath the water, eyes ablaze with passion. His death hold shifts down and he weaves his fingers with Makoto's. Makoto's heart soars, just to see his Haru like this. Another perfect moment.

This has to be the first time, though that Makoto and Haru touch while they're like this. He swears he can feel Haru's pulse through his hand, which is warm and pleasant, and feels as if it belongs there. It's all the most natural thing he's ever experienced. The heaven of their world blurs the senses, clears the mind, and has Makoto beside himself. It's almost as if he can see both of them, floating there in the ocean, hair waving lazing, fingers and eyes locked. Makoto can see this perfection, just as he can see out of his own eyes.

And down there they remain, as long as possible, until Makoto jerks, needing that horrid oxygen. They resurface together, into the air that grows colder as the sky darkens around them. It's harsh on their lungs, and Makoto finds himself coughing and sputtering on it, and on the water clinging to his lips. Even though his eyes are now clenched shut, he can hear Haru choking, too, on their mortality. Makoto pulls the hand he's still holding, and draws Haru toward him. Leaning on one another, they regain their breath, and Makoto appreciates how warm Haru's body is against the dropping temperature. Such a beautiful work of art Haru is, Makoto cannot forget for a second. All simple oppositions and elegance, but sturdy. Hearty. Passionate.

Makoto doesn't notice he's breathing close to normally again. Instead, he's focused on the feeling of Haru's heartbeat against his chest. When did they get that close? No matter, he likes it this way. Loves it this way, and he has the idea that Haru loves it this way, too, because he lingers before pulling back. His eyes, usually so calm, hold a stormy sea. Maybe that's what he is. Not a sea creature in a man's body, but a sea itself. Roaring and constant and graceful and elegant and powerful and untamed and smooth and righteous and-

And they're under water again, huddled together, and Makoto doesn't have to watch those beautiful eyes dance. He can feel Haru, feel the blood in his veins and the yearning in his heart and the simple joy of this moment. Right here, right now. That's all there is, once again, but for the first time, because it's right here, right now. The water around them. The water in them. The water is them. Makoto knows that Haru experiences this just as he does. There is no doubt, no need for communication. Haru must truly care for him to desire to share this.

They rise again, just before running out of breath. Haru dives back before Makoto, high on the feeling. And as much as Makoto understands that he lives for this, he wants Haru to stay safe and not hurt himself. He takes a breath and dives in after, chasing after him.

Ah, it's become a game. Playful, adventurous. Sort of cat and mouse, but with a touch more adoration. Haru darts around at record speeds, throwing Makoto taunting classes and teasing smirks, just before taking off again in a new direction. Freestyle, of course, and he's absolutely free and having the time of life, just like Makoto. Makoto follows, half obedient and half rebellious, in a heated pursuit. He wants to feel what it feels like to touch Haru again. So he'll swim and swim and chase and chase until he catches up with his god of the sea.

Dart left. Wide turn right. Straight, straight, straight. Almost there, almost got him.

But then the ocean starts turning in an unpleasant way. Makoto's dizzy, so he nods to Haru and the paddle back to the sky. This is getting frustrating. Makoto gives Haru a warm smile. Haru understands and they head back to shore. Makoto can't feel the bitter of the bittersweet. He's too immersed in the glow of the moment, still radiating in his heart and stretching out to make his limbs tingle and his mind fog with pleasure.

The sand is slick, but not as slick as the water. It runs between toes and gives slightly beneath muscular young men as they through themselves against the ground. This summer is different, Makoto realizes. Just a slight change, as if clouds that have been gathering for years have finally begun to drizzle hail and sparks upon his life. Something welling has finally spilled over. He can't quite put his finger on it. And he doesn't have to. Instead, he can lay beside Haru on the beach, and they can catch their breath and stare up at the stars and imagine themselves and the sea and dream this dream called eternity.

And even though it isn't swimming, this is pretty nice, too. Not nearly heaven, but a cloud. Something close, sufficient for the moment. And this can last them. If they are bound to bodies, at least they can enjoy this for as long as they wish. (When Haru being cursed turned to Makoto being cursed as well, he isn't sure. Perhaps that's what changed from last summer to this one? No matter, he simply accepts and enjoys it.)

The final streaks of blue bleed from the sky, replaced by stars which wink visible. It's nice. Just, nice, and Makoto doesn't have to think about it, like he thinks about everything. He can just sit and feel, feel Haru beside him, and live a memory he will one day cherish as much as little else.

The tide reaches up and taps Makoto's feet, up to the ankles. With this angle, it must be touching Haru's, too. Slowly, silently, Makoto moves his leg over, centimeter by centimeter, to graze Haru's. Their skin touches, and touches the water. Out of the corner of his eye, Makoto watches a tiny grin spread across Haru's face.

In a whirl of motion, Haru seizes Makoto's wrist again, firmly lifting it from the ground. Makoto sits up to watch Haru hold his hand tightly, surely, and dip the connection into the rise of the tide. The side of their fists touch the cool water, and it feels like electricity, crisp and new and fun. Such a simple little sensation, but it means a lot to both of them, so that way they stay, watching the ocean sway up to meet them in the darkness. The stars shine down and play games of gleaming light on the constant movement of the water's surface, and the water is so clear that sometimes the starlight shines right through to the sand beneath. The sea birds have quieted, and now only occasionally flutter about the sky, meters out. The ocean is calm, as they are. The beach is theirs.

I wonder what Haru's thinking. It's a gentle thought, a vague curiosity, but it makes Makoto turn his head the tiniest bit to try to read Haru as he always has. Haru is staring sweetly at this world, acting as kindly as it can. But it's not enough. That interesting gleam has returned to Haru's azure eyes, that longing Makoto now knows well.

"It's getting late," Makoto says.

"Not yet."

"You're getting tired."

"I've never had this much fun before."

Makoto's taken aback, just a little. Haru is always a freestyle swimmer, only needing himself and the water. Other people could come and go, but their enhancement to the experience was negligible, or so Makoto had always thought. How can he refuse? "One more time, then."

"One more time."

And they pick themselves up, linked hands first. Slowly, feet take careful steps into the sea, then knees kick and hands cut the way, and they swim with their heads just above the water and look at one another. "I wish it could last forever." The words barely fall from Haru's lips, so quietly Makoto isn't sure if he was even supposed to hear them. But Haru's looking him in the eye as he says it, so maybe he was.

The squeezing of hands, and "Me too," and down they go.

And their world is theirs again, and the surface doesn't exist, and this is life as it should be.

Seconds pass, and bubbles rise from their lips and tangle in their hair and they don't even swim, they just stay put, immersed in the ocean and the love and all of it. It's just so very right. Maybe it isn't either of their conscious efforts, but there is now no more distance and Makoto can feel Haru's skin and the brush of his soft hair against his cheek and there it is again, his heart pounding in an otherwise still chest as they both hold their breath for dear life.

If only it could last forever.

Why can't it. Why can't this last forever.

It's a shared thought, by them and the water.

Why can't this last forever…

Something's happening. Haru twitched. Makoto gently guides him off, not letting go of his hand. Haru's face says, quite clearly, that he needs air. It's midnight, and his carriage is turning to a pumpkin. He has to return to the surface, as little as he wants to. But Haru shakes his head.

Makoto points his finger up. Reality.

Haru shakes his head again, more vigorously. It was an unwise choice; he clasps his free hand against his forehead and grits his teeth, but makes it clear he wants to stay, and that he wants Makoto to do the same. Stay here with me. Just a little longer.


Just a little longer.

It's dark under the water, and it's true that Makoto can only vaguely see Haru, but he knows that he doesn't look good. They're only a few meters below the water, but a few meters is enough to make this sensation, and enough to hurt them. Makoto's supposed to protect him. Haru is childish at heart, stubborn and simple and impulsive. Makoto is supposed to take care of him. He wants to. If Haru gets hurt-

You're not invincible. Come on. Please.

I want to stay. A shaky finger points to one man, two, then around them. Here. With you. I-

Haru's eyes fall shut. He slackens against Makoto.

Oh god, oh god, Makoto embraces him and throws himself up, up, up, up to the stars and the air and for the first time, he can't get out of that special place they share fast enough. It's empty and cold and stings to have Haru like a doll against him.

Air. There it is, and Makoto probably takes a really deep breath, but he doesn't notice. He's too busy leaning Haru's head back and opening his mouth and trying to see which direction the shore is. There, a faint outline in the distance. When did they get so very far out?

Please, please, please, please-

It takes an eternity, but they're on the sand. Makoto drags the limp body of his special friend up, letting his feet tangle in the saltwater, hoping the sea will give Haru its blessing or its power or something.

Please, please, please, please-

Haru's not moving, and though Makoto's dizzy and lightheaded, he runs as fast as long legs can carry him to his cell phone. An ambulance is on its way. The seconds pass in a quick blur and give him whiplash as he fights off terror and panic.

Please, please, please, please-

Makoto puts one hand on top of the other, place them on Haru's chest, and starts compressing his chest, like they always teach you to do, but you never think you'll have to. Tears mix with lose drops of sea water and drop onto Haru.

Come on, Haru, please-

-28, 29, 30. Without a moment's hesitation, Makoto closes Haru's nose and breaths into him, trying to not get desperate and choppy, even though he can feel himself crumbing into the sand. 1, 2, 3. Hands, 1, 2, 3-

Haru coughs.

-4, 5, 6, 7. Haru opens his eyes. Makoto falls on top of him, feeling Haru's heartbeat against his cheek as he continues to cough and sputter. Makoto sit up, pulls Haru into him, and squeezes tighter than he probably should but he doesn't care because Haru is alive.

Thank you.

It's cold in the hospital waiting room, and Makoto doesn't know what to feel as he overhears a receptionist talk to the Nanases, who aren't supposed to be back for another three or four days. So he just sits there. And waits. And waits. And for water's sake, "How long until I can go in to see Nanase Haruka?"

The receptionist clicks a couple things on her computer behind the counter. "Just a few more minutes, hun. Don't worry, he'll be alright." Maybe it would be more reassuring if he could see him. The ambulance had snatched Haru from him around 3 hours ago, and Makoto needs to get in there. He has no idea what he plans to say, but he needs to start saying it soon. He couldn't stop fidgeting until he did.

Makoto stares across the empty, stark white room at a fishtank. A fishtank. Stupid, lucky fish. They just swim there, and are too dumb to even know how good they've got. What Makoto wouldn't give to let Haru a set of gills. If he had, none of this would have happened.

One fish, an angel fish, turns and stares back at Makoto. Or he's paranoid. No, that fish is definitely gazing at him curiously, just as he does to the fish. Makoto wonders what the fish would be thinking, had it the capacity.

Maybe lucky human.

It isn't all it's cracked up to be, fish. The fish turns and swims away, a foot or so to the other side of its home.

Makoto taps his foot. The beat reminds him of lapping waves. He twiddles his thumbs. Unconsciously, he makes them hold one another. Consciously, he thinks they look like when he held Haru as he dragged them to shore. He grabs an old magazine. Every face is Haru's until Makoto blinks at it in disbelief a few times. Distractions clearly aren't working.

With a deep breath, Makoto decides to go to a happy place. The only happy place he can think of, the one he's always relied on, is sitting on the shoreline, watching Haru in his element, or swimming with him, feeling his skin and his soul, feeling the entire ocean beat with in time with his pulse. Makoto runs out of his happy place, slamming the door behind him, when he starts crying again.

"You can see him now," the receptionist calls, and Makoto's legs can't carry him fast enough down wide corridors which close in around him and over harsh tile that isn't nearly as lovely as sand. When he finally gets there, to the wooden door with the Nanase Haruka scribbled on a label next to it, he stops dead in his tracks. His lungs are empty, and he can't seem to breathe at all, a notion which frightens him and only makes it worse.

Just as Makoto's finally reaches out to grasp the dull metal doorknob, the door pulls open into the room. An intimidatingly tall doctor with terrifyingly cold eyes is standing there, so Makoto steps out of his way.

"Are you Tachibana Makoto?" The doctor asks, briefly checking a notebook from the pocket of his scrubs.

"Um, yes."

"Good. He's been asking for you. Wipe your eyes, son, he'll live. I believe you're responsible for that, correct? Good job. You're a good friend. Now get in there, you only have a few minutes. Visiting hours ended hours ago, and I'm making an exception. He'll be released tomorrow, anyway."

"Uh, yes. Thank you very much." Makoto gives a tiny bow, which the doctor waves off as he starts down the bleachy hallway with a yawn.

The room is small, almost too small to fit the bed. It's dimly lit, and every bit as white as the rest of the hospital. There's a heart monitor and an IV, but fortunately neither are in use at the moment. In the center of the room is one gorgeous boy, looking pale and weak in a thin hospital gown and apathetic expression, except for his eyes. Those beautiful eyes are filled with too many emotions to distinguish.

Makoto just stands there, muttering Haru's name under his breath over and over as the vision of Haru blurs in his eyes. He's shaking, and numb, and he doesn't even care. He just thinks he should be in that hospital bed. He doesn't even know why, but he can't help but think that somehow, it's his fault. And he deserves this far more than Haru. If only he could suffer instead. Haru has suffered through his curse long enough. He only wanted to be happy.

"Makoto!" Haru snaps when Makoto doesn't do anything.

Sniff. "Haru." Trying to scrape together some sort of composure, Makoto walks over and sets down in the chair next to Haru's bed.

"Come here." Closer he comes, as close as he can. Haru grabs his hand, his grip surprisingly strong, despite his current condition, and places it over his beating heart. The touch is painful and wonderful, and the pulse is steady. Haru closes his eyes, takes a deep sighing breath, opens them again, and turns his head to face Makoto directly. "Makoto!" He softens his voice, his self before continuing. "Stop crying. I'm fine."

"You're only human!" Makoto says too loudly, too viciously, because he's desperate and dying inside. He grits his teeth and trembles and looks up to see Haru thinking and placing his hands over the one on his heart, unfazed. How can he be so calm when Makoto's so scared and sad and angry at life and himself?

"I'm glad I'm human."

"No, no you're not! You should be free! You should be in that water, forever! Isn't that why you stayed down there so long?! Isn't that why…"

"Makoto, you don't understand something."

"It doesn't matter. I'm sorry, Haru. I'm sorry you can't live in that water forever. I'm sorry I didn't save you sooner. You almost died, and you're only human, and I'm just sorry." Makoto drops his head into the mattress next to Haru.

"Ma-koto," he hears Haru say softly, unsteadily, probably in disbelief. Calm and sturdy Makoto, with that ever-present warm smile, is breaking to pieces. "I'm not upset. You don't have to be, either. I just made a mistake." After a moment, "I know I'm only human, and I'm glad I am."

"Then why would you put yourself in danger like that?" The words fall into the sheets before Makoto can stop them.

"Because I like being in the water with you. I'm sorry I upset you, and that you had to save me, but I just wanted to be in the water with you, and I felt safe. I like being human, because I can get that feeling, and you can be next to me. And you shouldn't be sorry for things that aren't your fault. You did nothing wrong."

Makoto doesn't say anything for a while. He just clenches the hand pressed into Haru's chest. That feeling, a heart, and the lungs nearby. They're so mortal. "I thought I was going to lose you. Don't scare me like that again."

"I won't."

Makoto lifts his head, and the confusion in Haru's eyes has faded. He likes what he sees. Affection, caring, devotion. Without breaking his gaze, Haru takes Makoto's hand off his heart and entwines their fingers so they're holding hands against the hospital bed. With a moment's hesitation, Makoto grabs a paper cup of water from the night stand and dumps it so it seeps between their hands. Then there's the soft touch of a tissue as Haru soaks up the water and throws it aside. "No water."

And finally, finally, Makoto understands. He doesn't have to say it, because he's pretty sure Haru already knows. I love you, too.

The scary doctor doesn't kick Tachibana Makoto out after the few minutes are up. What's the harm of letting the kid sleep there? He looks happy that way, next to Nanase Haruka. Like he belongs there. Like a fish in the sea, or better.

Haru demands they go to the beach the following morning, as soon as he's discharged. "We didn't get to stay the night. We'll have to do that tonight."

Makoto couldn't deny the appeal of spending another day beside Haru, of getting to sleep next to him. His condition: "You have to let me protect you this time. I don't want to lose you." Haru returns his warm smile, and it's all the answer Makoto needs. As they walk along the boardwalk, Makoto looks out over the ocean, pondering it's passive role in all this, and thinking a little about how strikingly similar it is in color and mannerism to Haru's eyes. He's so deep in his thoughts that he's caught a bit off guard when Haru grabs his hand—he'll really have to get used to that—and starts pulling him a different direction than they've always gone to get to that water. Makoto doesn't say a word, trusting that Haru knows what he's doing.

They end up beneath the boardwalk itself, silhouettes against the backdrop of the late morning sea. Silently, peacefully, creating a little piece of heaven for them to enjoy, Haru leans into Makoto, wrapping impressive arms around his back and clinging on.

Instinctively, because it's the most natural thing in the world, Makoto places his hands on Haru's hips and ghosts his lips softly over Haru's. Blue eyes, tenderly reflecting Makoto's own image, flutter shut.

And in that moment, there is no boardwalk, not beach. No past, no future. Just this blissful moment of soft lips and warm skin and feelings that radiate into each other until two are only one. The moment is long, constant, perfect, and Makoto doesn't want it to ever end. He breathes through his nose, feeling the air in his lungs, and feeling Haru whisper against his lips.

"You leave me breathless."