Cabotage ~ originally a nautical term describing the movement of goods or passengers between two points in the same country, along coastal waters, by an agent registered in another country.
The sun has dipped below the skyline and a single star burns through the mélange of sunset sky. Three teens float in the water of the recreational harbor listening to the muffled sounds of early evening falling on a major city. It's different in Tokyo than in the Iwatobi of their shared youth – more traffic sounds, less ocean waves; more human murmur, less wind in the trees; and the sky isn't nearly as clear, but it's comforting just the same.
Haru lifts his arm and points to the twinkling pinprick of light. "Make a wish," he says.
"Don't tell me you still do that," Rin says, disbelief clear as he turns his head to see where Haru is aiming.
"I do," Makoto says, eyes closed, making the same wish he always does. Ripples lap against him, his body relaxed now that he's revealed his future plans and gotten validation from Rin, enthusiastic as always, and Haru, his small smile speaking volumes.
"Why am I not surprised about that?" Rin says, sarcasm laced with affection. "But you, Haru? Come on," he says, addressing the boy floating beside him. "I thought you were the logical, serious type. Wishing on stars is a bit—" He pauses, searching for the proper word. He's a college man now, after all. "Whimsical, don't you think?"
Rin is tempted to laugh, but Makoto is quiet and Haru dead serious, so he simply chuffs, unwilling to spoil the tranquil atmosphere. "So, what did you wish for? No, wait, I can imagine."
"You can't, so don't." The subtle emphasis Haru puts on the last word shuts Rin up. They continue to float in silent companionship as the sky transitions from tangerine, magenta and gold to indigo, purple and black.
Without warning, Haru stands in the waist-high water and wades into shore at a quick pace. Rin and Makoto stand, Rin looking at Makoto with a questioning gaze. Makoto shrugs with a smile and follows Haru.
"Damned kids," Rin says, sounding like an irritated but fond parent.
On shore, Haru sits on the boardwalk, toes pushed into the sand while he pours excess water out of his sneakers. Makoto sits beside him, leaning back on his elbows, legs stretched out beyond Haru's. They watch Rin as he strolls towards them pushing his hair off his forehead with both hands.
"This reminds me of when we were kids," Makoto says.
"Ah," Haru says in agreement.
Rin is nearly up to them when he turns to watch the skyline while it blinks brighter with artificial light and the sky above grows dimmer, few stars able to pierce the glow, though a honeyed moon rises through the clouds on the distant horizon visible at the harbor's entrance. Without turning, he says, "Thanks for bringing us here, Makoto. Tokyo is different than Sydney and neither one is really home, but at least the ocean is still the ocean."
Makoto sits up, drawing in his knees and resting his forearms on top. "I was looking for a bookstore one day and found this place by accident. It reminds me of Iwatobi, a little, so I come here now and then. I missed home something awful at the beginning of the semester - my family, my old room, the familiar streets, even school. Everything, really. Tokyo was big, noisy, too crowded. If it wasn't for Haru being here, I might have gone back after only a few weeks." He looks at his best friend who meets his gaze and lingers.
Rin faces them and Haru looks away, but not before Rin notices how they look at one another, like two conspirators with a shared secret. He drops onto his knees and sits back, kiza style. "You were lucky to have each other. I was just a kid and by myself when I went to Australia the first time. I was excited about the swim team, but everything else was so strange."
Haru looks at Rin. "Your homestay parents seemed really nice."
"They were – are," Rin says. "Lori and Russell are great people." He tells Makoto, "They even got a dog just so I wouldn't feel lonely."
"Winnie, right?" Haru says.
"Yeah," Rin says with a chuckle.
"I miss her. And Steve."
"I always wanted a furry pet," Makoto says, "but my mom has allergies, so I settled for goldfish."
Haru says, "You practically 'own' every stray cat in the neighborhood back home."
"That's true, but they like you, too."
"They like that I feed them."
Makoto's sunny countenance grows somber. "Do you think somebody is feeding them now?"
Rin says, "Cats are really independent. I'm sure they're fine though I am a little surprised to hear you got involved with it, Haru. You seem like a dog person, to me."
"Haru had a dog, once," Makoto says.
Haru looks at the water. "Makou, though it was almost Makoto."
"You know," Rin says with a sideways grin at Makoto. "I always thought it was a little odd that Haru gave his dog a name that sounded a lot like yours and you," he says with a jut of his chin, "didn't mind."
"Why would I mind?" Makoto says.
Rin shakes his head. "Typical."
"Makoto is Makoto," Haru says.
"What?" Makoto asks, genuinely confused.
Rin looks at his befuddled friend. "You are so easy-going it makes me crazy."
Makoto chuckles and rubs the back of his neck. "What's the point of getting upset over small stuff?"
"Small stuff? How 'bout any stuff? You never get upset."
Haru says, "Not true."
Rin is taken aback. "Not true?"
"I saw Makoto get upset this year."
"This I have to write down." Rin begins to air write, "Dear Diary, I learned today that Tachibana Makoto got upset about something."
"Hey," Makoto says in mock indignation. Haru is silent, bending forward to re-don his sneakers, mouth growing tighter as he recalls the incident to which Makoto refers and which Haru would rather forget.
"So," Rin says, curiosity piqued, "when was this monumental moment-?"
"Long story," Haru says in gruff manner before standing up. "It's getting late."
"Sure," Rin says, straightening up, as well. He waits for Haru to elaborate, but no words come forth. Rin nods, a knowing look on his face. "Don't tell me it was another fight between you two."
Makoto watches them from below with a grin. "It was fight, alright, but not between us, Rin." He unfolds himself to full stature with more grace than the gangly high schooler he used to be ever could. It's self-confidence, something Makoto has acquired without noticing, like another inch of height, shoulder girth and wisdom. "But I'm not at liberty to share the details unless Haru-ch, Haru, is okay with it."
Rin looks at Haru's silent profile. "Well?" Haru looks at Rin from the sides of his eyes, but says nothing. "Come on, tell me. This is called male bonding. We share things about ourselves and get closer. I actually wouldn't mind getting closer to Makoto now that I know he might be my trainer one day. Right, Mako?"
His deliberate use of the name and its implication isn't lost on Makoto, who's prepared to make a quick comeback until he spies Haru's stiff posture. He can't tell whether he's angry or upset, maybe both so he says, "Another time, right Haru?"
Haru's voice is low and steady as he says, "I'm hungry and I want to change into dry clothes."
Rin growls. "Sometimes you're a real prima donna, you know that, Nanase?"
Haru turns in place. "Like you're not?" he says in a soft but sharp tone, looking directly at Rin, whose eyes have widened.
"Hey, Haru. Rin." Makoto says over Haru's shoulder in a low voice as he watches Rin's surprise morph into annoyance. "It's been a long day for everybody. How 'bout we share a taxi instead of taking the train in damp clothes?" He looks at Haru's profile, then Rin. "We can drop you off wherever you're staying, Rin."
Rin's brow knits as he looks at Makoto, searching for an answer he's certain Makoto knows but isn't telling, the unspoken communication between his friends always a bit eerie. "No thanks," he says. "I'll call Sousuke. He came in for the race, so I offered to share my hotel room if we could use his car to get around town."
"He's here?" Makoto says. "I didn't get the chance to speak with him today. Is he doing alright?"
Rin's expression eases, then breaks into a shark-toothed grin. "Yeah, he's doing great, actually. His shoulder is healing and he expects to be swimming again soon."
Makoto smiles though he still keeps an eye on Haru. "That's awesome news. He plans to race again, right?"
A decisive nod. "If I have anything to do with it, he will."
"Then it's definite."
Makoto puts his hand up for a high-five and Rin meets it, hard, the clap reverberating in the air as they share a laugh, the tension in the air released.
Haru says in a steady voice, "Can we please go now?"
Rin gives a moue, saying, "What's up with the sudden sour mood? You were fine until a few minutes ago." Rin looks down at his sneakers, his expression shifting to one of dismay. "I'm the one who should be ticked. Just look at my sneaks now. Brand new, too."
"They'll dry," Haru says without intonation but which sounds, somehow, sarcastic.
"I bet they cost a couple thousand yen, though." Makoto says.
"Several," Rin says.
"You do have expensive taste in clothes," Makoto continues. "But you look good - most of the time." Payback accomplished for the Mako jibe, Makoto style.
"What do you mean most of the time? I look good all the time."
Makoto chuckles as Rin reaches down into his gym bag and brings out his phone. Thumbing a button, he waits. "Sousuke? Yeah. Can you pick me up? I'm in a park somewhere." He smiles at the answer he gets. "Hang on." He pauses. "Just where the fuck are we?" He receives and gives the location, then listens for a few seconds more before excusing himself and stepping away to finish his conversation.
"Everything okay?" Makoto asks Haru, who turns to meet his friend's concerned gaze and nods. Makoto squats down to grab his phone from his backpack. He stands, slinging the pack onto his back, then calls for a taxi while Haru watches the seabirds that circle the skies above them, their long wingspans telling of journeys far asea and far away. Haru's eyes are equally distant and while Makoto is glad they've shared time with Rin, he also wants time alone with Haru. Maybe they can have dinner together.
Rin rejoins them. "He'll be here in twenty minutes. He can give you guys a lift back to your dorms, if you want to save money."
"Thanks," Makoto says, "but that's out of your way and I'm sure you guys just want to get back to your hotel."
Unexpected color rouges Rin's cheeks as he says, "Whatever." Rin looks at Haru, then at the birds he watches. "You know, Haru, we have a lot of history. Some of it good, some of it not so much, but we've always managed to stay friends. I think it's fair to say we push one another to be better, at everything. I like the rivalry as long as our friendship remains solid."
"Ah," Haru says without changing his gaze or his stance.
"That goes for the both of you. I hope you know that," Rin says, looking at Makoto who nods. "And," he says, then pauses. He sees Makoto's interest, but waits until Haru turns his attention to him, as well. "As long as we're being Bro-sephs here, there's something I want you both to know."
Haru remains still while Makoto's upper body leans forward, chin dropped, eyes soft. Rin looks from one to the other as he speaks in a quiet voice. "I- uhhh- I came out a few months ago, but only to a few people, like Lori and Russell. And Gou. I haven't told my mom, which I know sounds awful but, I will, soon. Sousuke knows because he knows me better than anyone and we're sort of, kind of, together? It's a work in progress, but it's on the down low, okay? I figure you two would understand and I want to start sharing this with people I trust."
It's quiet between the three childhood friends for a full half minute. Rin looks away, then back at his friends, eyes moist, lips tight but with a slight quiver. Finally, Makoto says, "Thank you, Rin, for trusting us. Believe me when I tell you we get it more than you know."
Rin's mouth opens and he inhales a great breath, breathing out on a lopsided grin and wiping at his eyes. "I knew I could count on you guys."
Haru says, his expression unchanged but his voice soft, "The people who matter will say it doesn't matter because it doesn't."
"I wish that were true, Haru, but this isn't Europe or America," says Rin. "The Japanese press and public might not be so accepting of a gay athlete."
"We're talking about moving onto the global stage."
"You are," Haru says and Makoto's throat tightens.
"You'll be there, too," Rin says, louder than necessary and firm, "Or I swear I'll kick your ass from here to Okinawa, got me? And don't give me your usual monosyllabic response."
Haru looks down then back at Rin and in a nonchalant manner says, "I didn't realize you knew so many big words, Matsuoka. Guess that 'whimsical' uni you're attending is doing you some good, after all."
Makoto watches their exchange with wary eyes, familiar with their banter, but ready to intervene. He's about to say something, but is stopped by Rin's raucous laughter.
"You kill me," Rin says after catching his breath.
"I'm saving that for tomorrow," Haru says in a deadpan manner.
Rin arches a brow. "We'll see about that." He picks up his gym bag and slings it over his shoulder. "Oh. One more thing." He steps into Haru's personal space, leaning in until their faces are centimeters apart. Haru pulls back a bit, but stands his ground. With narrowed eyes Rin says, "You're a scary-good swimmer, Nanase Haruka, and cool as fuck, but you also walk on the weird side and this guy," he says pointing two fingers gun-style over Haru's shoulder at Makoto, who waits with a bemused expression on his face, "is a prince. Don't take that for granted 'cause friendship is great but," and here his voice drops into a more seductive tone, "you can have what you both know you both want."
Rin's face shifts to one side so he can see Makoto, whose ears are bright red, but whose eyes are shining. "Maybe it's old news, but if not, 'bout time it was, don't you think?" he says, before stepping back.
He saunters away with a wave of his hand, leaving Makoto and Haru frozen in place as they watch Rin's familiar figure grow smaller until he mounts the staircase at the end of the park. He disappears and they are, for the first time that day, together and alone.
Author's Notes: All I wanted when I watched Free! in August of 2017 was to see about the fuss and fury. I watched S1 and S2, thought it was a cute sports anime and that was that. But no, something had hooked into me so I watched again, paying closer attention and yup ~ I fell into the hole of a new fandom. I wan't looking for a new otp, yet when Makoto and Haru had their fight in Eternal Summer, I cried. That's when I knew I'd fallen in love with Them – stupidly, completely, irrevocably. Thank goodness Kyoani loves them as much as I do and changed directors after S2, giving us Starting Days, Timeless Medley, Take Your Marks and the Makoharu fest that is S3. I knew I'd write Makoharu one day and here I am, a year later, more knowledgeable about the characters, the story and the fandom than any sane person should be – in other words, a fan and, more specifically, a Makoharu fan. More chapters to come.
End – Chapter 1 - Cabotage