I'm sorry but I just had to write this.

TW: use of the r-word. This is a word I hate but had to use it for the story. I apologize in advance.

It was a cold day in Tokyo. Cold enough for the much needed and desired heating system in the apartment building to be turned on almost to a maximum but thankfully not cold enough for the clouds to open up and let the snow fall. Inside one apartment, Nanase Haruka, former Olympic freestyle swimmer with a gold medal proudly stored away in a box of paraphernalia, laid hunched in a chair near the shared bed. His head rested against his crossed arms and was tilted to the right. It was an extremely uncomfortable position but it was all he could do nowadays. He wouldn't allow himself to sleep in the bed he'd shared with Tachibana Makoto anymore. Makoto needed it more than him and that was just fine with Haruka. At least he was wise enough to sleep with a blanket draped over his doubled over body as the weather became chillier as the year drew to an end.

Haruka shuddered as he felt something wet hit his cheek. It was enough to wake him up to wipe it off. It was drool. He sighed. Time for the day to begin. He looked up to the source of drool and smiled at him. "Good morning, Makoto. Let me wipe your mouth. You were drooling again." Makoto let out a high-pitched squeal as Haruka grabbed the white rag on the pillow to wipe the green-eyed man's mouth clean. Haruka grunted as he straightened his back. He really needed to find a better sleeping position. "Are you ready for a bath, Makoto? Can you nod for me, Makoto? Come on, let's get you into the bath." The pair of emeralds flicked around the room, from the ceiling to the window, never on Haruka. He pretended it didn't break his heart to see his soulmate like this.

This was one of the harder parts of their daily routine. Makoto was taller and heavier than the former swimmer and Haruka did not have idiotic strength like his fiancé. Not only that, but Makoto had lost almost complete function of both his legs so he couldn't aid Haruka from the bed to the bathroom or from anywhere in general. He could only kick his right leg on occasion and he usually did it when he was upset. However, none of that would ever stop the raven and he succeeded every morning. As unfortunate as it was for Makoto to be wheelchair-bound, it was a blessing that the chair was there to help Haruka transfer his fiancé to where he needed to be.

That didn't mean he didn't place excessive strain on his body every time he did it.

Haruka pushed the large wheelchair down the hall to the bathroom and pushed the door open with his left hand. A tiny white cat ran out when the light turned on. Haruka nodded at the cat.

"Good morning, Therapy Cat." He had adopted Therapy Cat for Makoto two days before. Haruka couldn't come up with a name for the feline and settled for what role she was fulfilling. If Makoto could still talk, the raven wondered what he would've named the newest member of their small family.

He wondered if he'd be able to take care of a tiny kitten like Therapy Cat when Makoto needed his attention 24/7.

He let the water warm as it filled the bath. He stared into the clear liquid and could see the mask of misery he wore. How long had it been since he last took a bath? When was the last time he swam? He shook his head rapidly and winced when his shoulder tensed. He massaged the muscle absentmindedly as he shut the faucet and tested the warmth of the water with his elbow. Fairly warm, not borderline scalding. Perfect.

"Okay Makoto, time for your bath. Help me undress you." It was like taking care of a non-cognitive, wheelchair-bound three-month-old baby trapped in a twenty-four-year-old man's body. The months had already begun to blur so Haruka couldn't remember how long he had been in this routine but he knew it must have been a while. If he held out for this long, he has proven he didn't need the help of others. He didn't need help. He didn't need help. He didn't.

The doctors said he could still hear, Haruka thought as he pulled Makoto's shirt over his head. It makes sense. If he couldn't hear me, he wouldn't have lifted his arms when I asked him to help me, right? He sighed and struggled with Makoto's pajama bottoms. But he can't talk. What does he do with what he hears? Does he know why I say that I love him? Does he even know who I was to him before all this happened?

Haruka decided to stop thinking about that. Right now, he had to start thinking about Makoto's bath.

For the most part, it was an undemanding task to bathe Makoto. The only difficulty would be moving Makoto's left arm, which would often be locked in place or, worse, Makoto refusing to move when he was having a rough start to his morning. Haruka always felt the latter was worse because now Makoto would never be able to tell him why he was having such a lousy day, and that always hurt the former swimmer. Today was a good day. The young man sat down peacefully, making excited noises as the warm water enveloped his body. Haruka smiled. Today was good. Maybe tomorrow he could give Makoto a nice shower.

Haruka scrubbed Makoto's skin ever so gently and did his best to lift his left arm to wash his armpit. Makoto let out a gurgly laugh that reminded Haruka of when Nagisa would tickle his sides. He smiled woefully. In about an hour he'll see his friends again. After all, it was a part of their routine.

Carefully, Haruka washed away the soap from Makoto's skin and drained the bath, lifting Makoto out and onto the toilet to dry him off. Once the task was complete, Haruka brought Makoto back to their bedroom. He opened their shared closet and picked out Makoto's clothing first. He could feel the chill of the outside world with his feet and he shuddered. Makoto would need to be bundled up even more than usual. After dressing Makoto, another relatively easy task in the mornings, Haruka changed next. He often doesn't think about which shirt should go with which pair of trousers (not that he ever did). Makoto occupied every thought in his brain, every fiber of his being. It was hard but he needed Haruka.

"Alright Makoto, time to get dressed. We're leaving to see our friends at the coffee shop. Remember the coffee shop?" Haruka knelt down, attempting to meet Makoto at eye level and tried to intertwine their fingers together.

"Hwaaaaa!" Makoto shouted and his hand clenched into a fist, much to Haruka's dismay. As much as he wanted to, it would never help Makoto to break down crying. So he would do just that, not break down and cry. Haruka returned to the closet and pulled out two jackets and a sweater. He pulled the hats and mittens tucked away in the pockets and sleeves. He groaned quietly and rubbed his shoulder again, as well as the left side of his neck. Maybe he should call Sousuke or Nao-senpai later that day. He did his best not to force Makoto into the sweater and larger jacket but Makoto's arm was locked in place again.

Haruka inhaled deeply through his nose. It would not be helpful to get frustrated. Just deal with the situation like the previous times this has occurred. Finally, Haruka succeeded and zipped up the jacket, and then he covered himself with his jacket. He tugged Makoto's hat past his ears and forced Makoto's hands open to put the mittens on. He lifted the hood and, deciding it was better to be safe than sorry, found a scarf in a drawer and covered the lower half of the wheelchair-bound man's face. Haruka cringed as he tugged the hat and gloves on. He hated the feeling of gloves but he couldn't risk getting sick. Who would take care of Makoto if he caught a cold? He couldn't ask their friends; they were... busy. They were busy and had their own lives. That was why.

As he fumbled with the doorknob, he heard tiny mewls behind him. Turning around, Haruka saw Therapy Cat threading her way through the spokes of the chair's wheels. Could he bring her with them? Asahi's sister wouldn't mind. Shrugging, Haruka searched for a spare scarf to wrap Therapy Cat in to protect her from the cold. She seemed to appreciate it and meowed in approval. Before bringing the feline to Makoto, he grabbed the tray that could be attached to Makoto's wheelchair. It clicked in place. Then he laid Therapy Cat on the tray.

"Aauuuw," Makoto moaned. His right hand stroked the kitten's head and he grinned as she purred. Haruka glanced into the kitchen, making sure Therapy Cat's bowls were empty. They were.

Good. She must've eaten while I bathed Makoto. Maybe Haruka should make a mental note to take Therapy Cat to the vet when he had the time. He would remember it. Definitely. "Ready to go, Makoto?" he asked as he opened the door and grabbed the keys from the hook next to the threshold. Makoto made a happy noise that made Haruka smiled. Even though he couldn't talk anymore, Haruka knew him so well for so long. that he could tell what Makoto was feeling through the noises he made. It made him appreciate the almost telepathic relationship they have. Haruka frowned.

The almost telepathic relationship they had. He was the one to speak for Makoto now, not the reverse, what used to be their normal. He pushed the wheelchair through the threshold while trying to not beat himself up. He should've appreciated their connection long before this had to happen for him to do that. Long before this had to happen to Makoto.

He shivered and not just from his cold thoughts but the cold outside. It had to be at least ten degrees below freezing. He had to be quick. He locked the door behind him and pushed the wheelchair forward. Here came another hard part: pushing the wheelchair down the stairs. Makoto was heavier and the added weight of the large wheelchair did not help at all. Haruka couldn't wait for the day he could move to a new apartment in a building where the entrances didn't lead directly out to the outside and there were elevators. Of course, that was like waiting for Makoto to say "Haru" in his angelic voice. No matter how much Haruka's heart ached for it to happen, he knew it never would.

He pushed back the tears that wanted to spring out. Focus on getting the damned wheelchair down the stairs.

Eventually, Haruka got all three of them down to ground level. He began his long walk to the coffee shop. He passed by the parking lot and jumped when he heard an engine start. He turned his head and saw the car leaving. He could see his vehicle from here. His grip on the handles tightened as he pushed forward.

He would never get in another car again. Ever.

The walk to the coffee shop owned by Kurimiya Akane was always tiring and probably one of the stupidest things Haruka does on the daily but he just couldn't, he just could not drive here. He couldn't.

(Or wouldn't?)

He removed the scarf and hats from him and Makoto. Carefully, he unwrapped Therapy Cat from the scarf and put her back down on the tray. It was nice and toasty inside. There were a few people already there- a mother and her daughter, a group of young people (university students, most likely), and an elderly couple- but they were in their little worlds, just like Haruka. As long as he didn't give any attention to them, they wouldn't notice him. Makoto threw his head back in silent laughter, probably thinking of something funny that Haruka would never know about.

"Good morning, Haru," Akane called from behind the counter. She was already making coffee. She smiled at the two young men. "The usual?" Haruka nodded. He was grateful for Akane's generosity. She never charged him for his orders since she knew he was struggling with money and Makoto's care. At first, Haruka had insisted on paying regardless of the little to no money in his wallet, but Akane insisted that he deserved the right to free food. Besides, she said she earned more than enough from the meals that other customers paid for and the tips that accompany them. She paused in making the pot of coffee and called over her new employee. "Yui, take over for me for just a few minutes. I'm going to start preparing Haru's order." The atrous-haired college student nodded nervously and went behind the counter. Yui finished the pot of coffee when she noticed two customers. And one of them had a tiny feline with argent fur.

"Excuse me!" Her shrill voice made almost everyone in the shop jump. Well, except for the elderly couple. They only noticed something was wrong when they saw the young woman stomping over to the table occupied by the two young men. Akane almost dropped the plates she was carrying. Haruka looked up at the employee. She must be at least eighteen. This was probably her first official job.

"Yes?" he responded. Yui glared and crossed her arms over her chest.

"Sir, I don't know what you think you can do but no animals are allowed in the shop." Makoto was stroking Therapy Cat's back when the young woman reached for her. The kitten leapt away, frightened by the stranger's hands attempting to grab her. Makoto screamed, and everyone covered their ears. Even the elderly couple. He began to kick and at one point, he hit Yui's shin. She hissed in pain, grabbing her leg for a few moments. Breathing deeply, she yelled over Makoto's screaming and said, "Sir, get that cat out of this building."

Haruka wasn't listening. He was trying to calm down a crying, kicking, and screaming Makoto while trying to see where Therapy Cat was hiding from the mean girl. (She was underneath the stools of the elderly couple. The woman was cooing at how cute the kitten was.) "Makoto, it's okay, it's okay! She's right over there with the really nice elders! Please Makoto, don't cry. It's okay," Haruka began to shout then whispered realizing that being loud wouldn't help Makoto.

"Yui. Come here," Akane ordered sternly. Her employee went stiff but obeyed. She spoke softly as if to prevent others from hearing her castigating her young employee. Really, she wasn't doing exactly that; Akane was explaining Haruka's situation and why she tolerated the actions either of the young men did. Understanding dawned on Yui's countenance, then guilt. Akane smiled and patted her head. She whispered, "Go apologize to him. Apologize to their cat as well now that I think about it," she added. Yui nodded and turned around. However, she didn't get to do so immediately with what occurred next.

Haruka was wiping away the trails left behind by fallen tears when he heard the little girl ask, "Mommy, why is that man in a wheelchair?" He didn't mind the question. She was young, likely six years old or younger. It was her mother's response that stabbed him in the gut. Repeatedly.

"I don't know, sweetie. He might just be retarded."

Retarded. Retarded. RETARDED. The disgusting word resonated in Haruka's head. Frustration boiled over and he slammed the table with an open hand. Makoto jerked away but didn't do much, even when Haruka began to yell.

"How dare you have the audacity to call Makoto such a word?! I hope someone you love gets into a car and the same thing happens to them! Then you can call them retarded all you want!" He panted, his throat already feeling sore. He hasn't yelled like that in so long. He clenched his hands to fists then let them go. He dragged a chair closer to Makoto, sat down, and tried to take his right hand into his palms. Makoto refused at first but then let the former swimmer do what he wanted to do. Haruka could tell; his muscles relaxed significantly. (To him, it was significant. To another person, they probably would not have noticed the change.) "Sorry for yelling. I got angry. Please forgive me," he whispered and cleared his throat. He kissed the back of Makoto's hand then leaned close enough to kiss the top of his head. The wheelchair-bound man made a noise that Haruka hoped meant that all was forgiven. He felt a tap on his shoulder. He didn't want to face anyone anymore but he knew he had to. He looked up to see Yui. She was holding Therapy Cat in her arms. Before she could stop the feline, she had jumped down to Makoto's tray and rubbed her tiny head against his arm.

"I'm very sorry for the way I acted, sir. I'm also sorry to your cat. Please forgive me," she apologized and bowed. Haruka sighed. He didn't need her pity; he and Makoto needed food.

"You're forgiven, Yui. I understand your position. I'm sorry for not calling ahead of time to mention the fact that Makoto now has Therapy Cat," he informed her. Once he said that out loud, he mentally facepalmed for not thinking about doing so earlier. He forced a smile on his face. "Makoto, are you hungry? I'm hungry, too," he said in a cheerful-but-not-too-cheerful voice. He never spoke to Makoto like he was a child. It agitated him when people did that. Talk to him like a normal adult! he wanted to scream to the whole world. Yui nodded vehemently, making Haruka cringe. You'll get whiplash if you keep jerking your head like that, he thought.

"Of course, sir. Would you like some coffee first?" He nodded, but only to put the young woman at ease. He also wanted her to leave him alone for at least a few minutes. He ran his fingers through Makoto's hair and wondered. He wondered about Makoto's old job as a swim coach. Surely, Makoto would still be working as one part-time if he weren't like this. Would he travel with Haruka even if he no longer had hope to be an Olympic swimmer? He didn't even linger on that thought. Of course he would. Makoto would always be by his side. He always was.

And now it was Haruka who had to be by Makoto's side.

Yui returned with a cup of too sweet coffee. Haruka didn't complain. She was a nervous young woman in college. He would forgive her, especially since he didn't explain his sugar preferences to her.

Before they left, the elderly couple joined Haruka and Makoto for a few moments. The woman smiled and held Makoto's hand with the delicacy of an angel. "Hello. Makoto, is it?" she asked Haruka. He nodded. "Well, aren't you the handsome man. You both are," she complimented with a soft smile.

"Hope he gets better soon," the man said, pulling his hat on. Haruka's grin felt even faker.

"Me too." He didn't have the heart to tell the couple that Makoto had brain damage and no one gets better from brain damage. No one gets better.

The couple left and Akane brought over Haruka's order on two plates. Applesauce, mashed bananas, onigiri, and grilled mackerel. Even though it was small, the smile he gave Akane was genuine. "Thank you."

"You're welcome. I'll get Makoto a glass of water." She left just as the bell on the door ringed, announcing either an arrival or departure. It was an arrival.

"Good morning, Haru-chan! Hi, Mako-chan!" Nagisa skipped over to the table and held out an open hand. He grinned widely. "Mako-chan, can you give me a high five? C'mon, high five!" Makoto's hand was already held up high. He wasn't looking at Nagisa directly, only behind him, but he slowly opened his hand. Nagisa pressed his small hand against Makoto's larger one and cheered. "Yay, Mako-chan! You're as smart as always! Say hi to Rei-chan!" Makoto laughed out loud and Nagisa joined him. Haruka nodded at Rei, who was busy removing his scarf.

"Good morning, Haruka-senpai. Good morning, Makoto-senpai. How is your morning?" Haruka was thankful. Rei spoke to Makoto the same way he did a year before. So did Nagisa, even if it seemed a bit exaggerated. Everything Nagisa did was exaggerated, even with his job as a tour guide of Iwatobi. (Everyone wanted to see the small fishing town of a famous Olympic freestyle swimmer.) Haruka shrugged and winced at the pins and needles in his shoulder again. He remained unfazed to the worried glances Nagisa and Rei shared.

"It's not as great today," he admitted. He didn't go into detail as to why. He just wanted to eat and help Makoto do the same. He thanked Akane for the glass of water and waited for Nagisa and Rei to finish ordering their breakfasts. He held up a spoonful of applesauce to Makoto, waiting for him to see him and open his mouth. Slowly, Makoto grinned and craned his neck close enough to take the spoonful into his mouth. Haruka smiled. The day was slowly getting better. "So how's life for the both of you?"

"We're settling into our apartment just fine," Rei informed.

"I wish we had a better place to sleep though," Nagisa pouted. "The floor's so cold, Haru-chan!"

"I bet it is," Haruka commented. He ate his mackerel slowly, attempting to enjoy as much as its taste as he could. "I need a better place to live." Akane returned with the two younger men's breakfasts. Haruka shrugged his left shoulder and tilted his head to the right.

"Haru-chan, are you okay?" Nagisa asked with a mouthful of pancakes. Rei gently slapped the back of the blonde's hand. "Ow! Rei-chan!"

"Haruka-senpai, are you taking care of yourself? Do you need to take a break from being Makoto-senpai's caretaker?" the spectacled man queried. Before he could finish his sentence, Haruka was already shaking his head.

"Can't," he responded tersely.

"But how will you take care Makoto-senpai when you cannot even take care of yourself?" Nagisa gasped.

"Rei-chan, don't say that," the smaller man winced. "Haru-chan, I'm sure he didn't mean-"

"No, it's okay," Haruka interrupted, holding up his hand to silence the younger male. "I understand. It's just difficult right now."

"Why not let us take care of Makoto-senpai today? Then you can relax," Rei suggested. Haruka inhaled to protest...

Then stopped himself. Rei was offering. Could he do that to him? He probably had a busy day today, Nagisa as well. He shook his head slowly. "I don't want you to burden yourselves. You probably have a lot of work to do."

"No, we don't. And it's not a burden to hang out with Mako-chan! Right? Wanna hang out with us, Mako-chan?" Nagisa cheered and tickled Makoto's side. The wheelchair-bound man threw his head back and laughed. "Yeah, we can go bowling and eat a bunch of food and go shopping and visit all the cat cafés in the city..." He continued to ramble on. Rei and Haruka chuckled.

"Please, Haruka-senpai. I don't want to see you neglect yourself. You deserve as much care as Makoto. Uh, sorry if that seemed insensitive," Rei added. Haruka smiled.

"It's alright. Let's just finish eating already."

They ate and conversed peacefully. Makoto had calmed down entirely and petted Therapy Cat the same way a feather fell to the ground, slow and gentle. Haruka began to cover up Makoto and the small feline when he felt someone tug his sleeve. He looked down to meet the six-year-old girl's brown eyes. She was holding her mother's hand with her left and a bundle of money in her right. She held it up to Haruka.

"I'm so sorry for what I said, sir. I didn't mean it, truly," the woman apologized. Her forehead was creased with worry.

"It's alright, ma'am. I apologize as well. I should not have said what I said. What's this?" he asked the young girl.

"It's a gift. Money for whatever you want," she answered with a smile of purity. Haruka smiled back.

"I can't accept that. It's too much," he insisted.

"No, please. I won't go about my day as easily unless you take it. You deserve this," the woman requested- actually, more like ordered. Out of respect, Haruka smiled and took the money. There was a lot of it.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome. Take care, both you and him," she said with a warm smile. She squinted and asked, "I feel like I recognize you." Haruka felt his cheeks warm.

"Does the name Nanase ring a bell?" Nagisa chimed in. Once the name was uttered, the woman's eyes widened in surprise, then turned to glass from sadness.

"Oh... I'm so sorry. I hope for the best for the two of you." The woman's voice cracked repeatedly. Haruka gave her a sad smile.

"You shouldn't have to apologize for something that had nothing to do with you. But thank you. Have a good day." He waved goodbye as the two of them left.

"Bye bye!" the little girl called out. Haruka turned back to the two younger men.

"Alright, hurry up you two. I want to relax and I want to make sure you take good care of Makoto."

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for the next chapter!