title: Even if I tried again
fandom: Free!
characters/pairings: Makoto/Rin, Haru, Nagisa/Rei, Sousuke, Gou, Aki-chan, Sasabe
rating: T
warnings: angst, mild cussing and sexual situations
summary: Makoto and Rin break up.
notes: future fish au, ie, fireman!Makoto and policeman!Rin, in someplace like Sydney, Australia. (even though it takes place in Australia, i still use some of the name conventions, like -chan and oniichan, because it can be hard to translate that fluidly into english. let's assume that our boys grew up in a type of japanese enclave in sydney? thankyou.) somewhat inspired by I Couldn't Be Your Friend by Tegan and Sara.

"So, you see," Rin cleared his throat, his smile wide, forced. "It just sort of... happened. It's not like it was... I mean, that's not why..."

Makoto shook his head, staring sightlessly at his hands on the table, Rin's hands so close...

"And you know, the one thing that would never change is... we're both still your friend. I hope that... I hope that, well, we can just avoid all the awkwardness, and just... just focus on that, on being friends and all," Rin finished up, clearly running out of gas.

Makoto raised his chin, smiling a smile that didn't reach his eyes. "No, I... Rin, you know, I could never wish anything but happiness. For you, and for Aki. Obviously. I just want you to be happy, so... I'm really glad for you." His shoulders relaxed and his smile seemed less forced.

Rin sighed with relief. "That's great, because I know we're going to keep running into each other and you know I only want you to be happy, too, so..."

Makoto pulled his hands back, and leaned against his chair. "I only want the both of you to be happy, but Rin, I'm sorry, I don't think I can be a friend to you."

"Wh-" Rin gulped. "What?"

Makoto had to look away from Rin's wide eyes. "I'm really sorry. It's my own problem, so I won't cause any awkwardness for you, it's just." Makoto stood up, even though they hadn't even ordered yet. Rin had launched right in before the waitress could come get their drink orders. "I appreciate that you took the time to tell me about this in person. That really does mean a lot to me. I'm much happier hearing it from you than from anyone else. But I. I can't be your friend, Rin," he shrugged, smiling sadly at Rin. "I'm still in love with you."

Rin froze, and Makoto quickly made his escape.

Even after getting outside into the sunshine, he felt like he couldn't breathe. Something was constricting his chest. Maybe it was because of the sunshine. It was so bright, it hurt his eyes. He just couldn't get adjusted.

A month hadn't passed since they'd broken up, and Rin was already serious about someone else. If he said that wasn't why they broke up, Makoto had to accept that, but it didn't change anything for him.

He'd been left behind.




"You haven't been answering your phone."

Haru's voice was low and sullen. Makoto looked up from the alley cat he was petting, and smiled brightly. "I'm sorry, Haru, it's just... been really busy at the firehouse, I've been... you know, on call... my thirty-six hour stretch..." he shrugged.

Haru narrowed his eyes, and sighed. He held out a takeout container. "I saved you lunch."

"Thanks, Haru!" Makoto took it appreciatively. "Your food is really still the best."

Haru grunted, and he looked balefully at the cat who was looking hopefully at him. He wasn't allowed to interact with the alley cats while he was on break. "Rin was in here with her last night," he told Makoto calmly.

"Ah," Makoto nodded, giving his attention back to the cat.

"I gave him the smallest lobster we had," Haru sniffed disdainfully.

Makoto smiled at him, but he shook his head. "You don't have to do that," he told Haru.

Haru looked away like it didn't mean anything to him one way or the other.

Makoto rubbed under the cat's chin. "You know, when he said... when he told me it wasn't working out... I was sure it was probably because of someone else. I was really afraid he was going to hook up with Sousuke! I don't know if I would have been able to take that... being thrown aside for his partner... but it's Aki. We've known her forever, she's great. And. And, because it's, well, it's a her... I bet Rin just... he wants to get married, start a family. I can't blame him for that." He looked up at Haru.

Haru wasn't fooled by his smile. He looked more put out the more Makoto smiled.

"He said that... that wasn't why he broke up with me, not, not because of Aki, but I bet he decided that he just... he just realized that he really couldn't give up having his own children, and that... he didn't need to make it complicated, so. I'm happy for them. I really am, I just wish them the best." He nodded, assuring the cat that he was being straightforward.

The cat inclined his jaw a bit higher.

"You going to Rei and Nagisa's this weekend?" Haru asked quietly.

"I, uh, picked up a shift for one of the guys. His kid's birthday party is this weekend, so," Makoto apologized.

"You're working a lot lately," Haru said, his voice urgent with concern.

"Yeah, that's why I've got to get home and hit the sack," Makoto stood up.

Haru stood up, too, alarmed. Makoto usually stayed longer on his way home from the firehouse.

"Thanks for lunch, Haru. And... thanks for being worried, but really, I'm fine," Makoto smiled brightly.

Haru glared at him, folding his arms over his chest. "I'll bring you dinner tonight."

"You don't need to put yourself out," Makoto objected.

"It's no trouble," Haru huffed, turning his head to the side.

"Thanks, Haru!" Makoto replied brightly. "I'll see you later, then!"

Haru watched Makoto go down the alley, letting the cat rub against his ankles, at least.




Makoto dashed out of the bathroom, hastily fastening a towel around his waist, scrambling to find his phone. Next to the bed? Definitely not there! He climbed over the bed, flipping up the covers to look for the phone.

His towel came off as he scampered off the bed to the living room, where his phone was just about the fall off the coffee table from the vibrating. He answered it in a panic.

"Yes! I'm here!"

"Makochan, that took too long! What if I was Captain Sasabe calling you for an emergency!"

"Well, I was in the bath!" Makoto whined, going back to the bedroom to get his towel. "Anyway, I recognized your ringtone."

"Oh, good, I was afraid you were avoiding me."

"Eh?" Makoto plopped down on his bed, naked. "Why would you think that?"

"Welllll. You were supposed to be at the kickoff party for the new season of SpaceMan NagiNagi's Squishy Friends! but you bailed at the last minute. And you didn't come to Rei's dinner party last week. And we were going to meet you for the new superhero movie, but you suddenly had to work..."

"I'm sorry about that," Makoto quickly apologized. "Work's just been... you know... a bit busy, a lot going on, and..."

"You just don't wanna run into Rinrin," Nagisa sighed.

Makoto was unable to respond.

"Haru said that we should give you space and all but we miss you, Makochan! Don't tell me that you have to work tonight, because I won't believe you! You wouldn't answer your cell if you were on duty, and if you aren't on duty now, then you have the night free!"

"Well... yeah..." Makoto shifted.

"Great! Reichan got us a BOX at the Olympic Stadium, ahh, ANZ Stadium, you know? The rugby match tonight! It's a huuuuge box he got with his company, and we're gonna eat like pigs!"

"That sounds great, Nagisa," Makoto smiled wanly, his voice struggling.

"Great! Reichan got us a limo, so we'll swing by to pick you up right after we get Haru! Oh, and I hope you're not working early because we've got lots of champagne in the limo and..."

"That sounds really awesome," Makoto closed his eyes, his body tense with guilt. "But I'm sorry, I'm not working tonight, so I promised Ran and Ren I'd let them spend the night. I'm really sorry, Nagisa."

"...Makoto. You can't isolate yourself forever..."

"I know, and I promise, I'm not, it's just... work... busy... and... you know, Ran and Ren will be graduating from high school, so..." Makoto squirmed. Telling lies was a bad thing to do, he knew.

He wanted to be good company, but he'd spent too many rugby matches watching Rin get worked up about every play and every call. Rugby and Rin were too connected for Makoto. What Makoto wanted most of all... that was probably... no, it was definitely...

He wanted Rin back.

Since he couldn't choose that, he had to choose what he could and couldn't deal with everyday.

"Makoto, I'm really worried about you. I mean. I don't mean this, like, in a bad way, but... Rinrin's moved on, and... I think..."

"I'm sorry, Nagisa, but my siblings are at the door now. I'll talk to you soon, ok?" Makoto's voice was unexpectedly cold.

"O-okay, Makoto... soon, then. That's a promise."

Makoto hung up, and stared at the ceiling. He stared at the ceiling for so long, he decided to just forget about doing anything, and go to sleep. But, even after he closed his eyes, he saw the ceiling.




The garage door was open in the firehouse. Haru approached it tentatively. There were no lights or sirens, so it didn't seem like there was an emergency, but. It was a firehouse. He had to be careful.

Since there wasn't anyone to stop him, he stepped inside the garage. The firemen were checking and loading the firetruck. Captain Sasabe was barking orders, and the firemen were jovially going about their tasks. Haru stood quietly at the garage door, but he didn't see Makoto. After a few minutes, Sasabe saw him.

"Haru-chan!"

Haru made a face. Sasabe had come to their school a long, long time ago to teach them about fire safety. Of course, since Makoto became a fireman, Haru knew Sasabe. But, Sasabe still saw them both as cute little kids in his class. "I brought some sandwiches." He raised the bag he brought from the restaurant. It wasn't wise to come to the firehouse unprepared.

"Ohho, great! Hey, everyone, let's take a little break!" There was general whooping and cheering from the crew as they crowded closer. Haru quickly handed his bag off to Sasabe, who gave it to someone else to distribute.

Haru narrowed his eyes. "Makoto is...?"

"Oh, right!" Sasabe laughed. He went to the pole in the back, and craned his neck back. "Tachibana! Visitor!"

"Yes, Captain!" Makoto's voice came down faintly. A few heartbeats later, Makoto came sliding down the pole in his fireman pants, but just a t-shirt. "Haru!" He looked happy to see Haru.

Haru's lips twitched. He motioned to the back, and they slipped out the back door to the alley behind the firehouse.

"What's going on? Is everything all right?" Makoto asked. He didn't sound overly concerned, but that was because it wasn't that strange for Haru to come see Makoto when he was staying at the firehouse.

However.

"Rin and Aki got engaged," Haru said unceremoniously, not knowing how to soften the blow.

Makoto stared at Haru, a look on his face that made Haru ball his hands into fists. He stumbled back against the wall, and put his hand in his hands. "Ah... yeah... that's... that's quick, but then... if Rin wanted to start a family... and Aki did, too..."

Makoto's voice was breaking up, and his shoulders were trembling. Haru became deeply concerned that Makoto might start to cry. He edged closer to his friend, preparing to reach out to pat him on the shoulder if necessary.

Makoto heaved a huge sigh, and he leaned back, tipping his head back to look up. His eyes were clear. So far. "It really was fast, though. Makes me think... he had to have been anxious to end it long before he actually broke up with me, huh? Oh, I feel guilty. I wonder how long he stuck with me, unsure how to break it off?"

Haru edged closer, his expression dark. Haru wasn't used to Makoto's voice being so expressionless, and he didn't feel any sympathy for Rin. "Makoto, I... I'm sorry. I wanted to tell you as soon as I found out... Nagisa... said he'd talked to Gou..."

"Right. I guess that means everyone knows," Makoto said blankly. He looked at Haru and smiled at him, but his eyes still looked dead. "Thanks, I'm glad I heard it from you. I don't know why I'm so... I mean, I knew this was coming. Not this fast, but..." Makoto shook his head, closed his eyes, and slapped his cheeks. He took a deep breath, and tried smiling at Haru again.

Haru was still fixated on Makoto's eyes.

"We broke up almost six months ago now, so. I don't really have any reason to get upset about what Rin does now. It's just," Makoto laughed, and it was a hollow sound. "I don't really know how long it will take for me to... figure it out.

"How not to be in love with him." Makoto bent over again, rubbing his thighs.

Haru's nails were digging into his palms. "Makoto..." he started, but nothing else would come out of his throat.

"I'll be ok, Haru," Makoto assured him by rote. He straightened up, moving like an old man. "Anyway... I shouldn't be... getting distracted like this, I've got... well, I'm doing the laundry now, but. You know. Work. Have to stay focused."

"Come to my place when your shift is over. I'll cook for you," Haru told Makoto.

"Thanks, Haru," Makoto rubbed his face. "I love your cooking," he said, his voice blank and empty. "I'll let you know, ok? Anyway, I'll be here for tonight, anyway," he shrugged. "I really am ok," he told Haru.

Haru's expression suggested that he thought Makoto should stop lying to him.

"Like I said, I knew this was coming... I just. Oh, man. You don't think they'll invite me to the wedding, do you?" Makoto asked, his eyes widened.

Haru bit his lip. Whatever he thought, he didn't want to tell Makoto.

"Well, I doubt it, I mean. I'm the... ex," Makoto stared at a brick that was just a little darker red than the bricks around it. "So, that's weird, right?"

"You and I will do something that day," Haru said definitively.

"No, you have to go," Makoto shook his head.

"I don't," Haru scowled.

"No, they're your friends, you have to go. I'll... probably have to work, anyway," Makoto dismissed.

"He's hurting you," Haru said in a low, pained voice.

Makoto looked at Haru, and for one breathtakingly horrible second, it seemed like he might just crumple up and break. Makoto looked away, and straightened his shoulders. "Well, that's the risk with... with relationships. But, he's still your friend, I hope, and so is Aki."

Haru looked at Makoto dubiously.

Makoto reached out and squeezed Haru's arm. "Thanks, though, Haru. I don't know what I'd do without you!" he laughed, and Haru scowled deeper. Makoto shook his head, turning to go back into the firehouse. "I know, I know, I'm useless without you," he cajoled.

"It's not me you need," Haru muttered under his breath, far too quietly for Makoto to know he'd spoken.




Makoto opened his door, and immediately apologized, "Ah, Haru! I'm so sorry, I thought I called you, I'm not going to Nagisa's party this year! Ahh, you even carried the food up here, didn't you?" He reached out to take the tray from Haru, at least.

Haru scowled. "You told me. I'm dragging you to the party, anyway."

"Haru..." Makoto sighed, turning to put the tray down on his counter. "I really can't, I..."

"It's New Year's Eve," Haru cut him off forcefully. "We always spend New Year's Eve at Nagisa's. He always makes us drink too much. Then, he always ends up in our laps, singing silly songs, and then Rei always has to drag him off and make him drink coffee or something. It's our tradition. You can't... you can't let all this..." Haru broke off, looking away, shifting from foot to foot anxiously.

Makoto rubbed his arm guiltily. "I... I know. I just. ...I can't, Haru. Not yet. Hopefully... next year..." he looked away, too, and coughed a few times. "I promised Ran and Ren they could spend the night here. They're on their way. I... I said they could drink some beer, too, so." He sighed.

Haru and Makoto both stared at different parts of Makoto's floor awkwardly.

"It's not fair," Haru huffed.

"It's my own fault," Makoto smiled and shrugged. "I'm the one who can't move on. Do you know... if they've... set a date?" he asked quietly.

Haru shrugged. "I haven't gotten an invitation."

Makoto nodded. He brushed his hair back, shuddering. "I... ran into them. While Christmas shopping. It was... like, the day before Christmas Eve. They were so... couple-y. She was holding his arm, and he was... We chatted. It was kind of awful," Makoto tried to smile, but it was like he was shrinking before Haru's eyes. "They were wearing matching scarves. Well, not matching. She had a Gryffindor one, he had a Slytherin." His head drooped down. "I used to be his Gryffindor."

Haru stood there, fixated.

Makoto took a deep breath, and raised his head, forcing himself to cheer up for Haru. "Like I said, it's my own problem. I don't want to inconvenience anyone else over it. I've got Ran and Ren. You go on, have fun. Drink a lot for me, too," Makoto winked at him.

Haru made a face. "I'll just stay here with you and the twins."

"Eh? No, you can't..." Makoto shook his head.

"I can if I want to," Haru folded his arms over his chest.

"No, but..." Makoto bit his lip. He pointed to the tray. "You made food! Nagisa will be expecting that, so...!"

"They can make do," Haru shrugged. "We'll eat this. Ran and Ren can't be made to eat your cooking, anyway."

"I was going to order pizza," Makoto frowned. "Haru..."

"Nagisa can order pizza," Haru stubbornly continued. "If you kick me out, I'll just wait outside your building for Ran and Ren. They'll bring me up, and then you'll be forced to let me stay."

Makoto sighed, and gave in. "Well... if you're sure... I really didn't want to break up the party, though."

"Not like I want to go to some party with him and not you," Haru muttered.

"I wish you wouldn't talk about Rin like that," Makoto said quietly. "I'd really hate it if I disrupted your friendship with each other. Besides, he's not a horrible person or something."

The look on Haru's face clearly expressed that he did not agree with Makoto.

Makoto smiled honestly. "Oh, come on. He just... wanted something else. He's still Rin. He's still..." Makoto didn't finish the sentence, but he didn't need to, either.

Haru knew how Makoto felt about Rin.

Stepping past Makoto, Haru took his tray into Makoto's living room and set it on the coffee table. "So, you're letting the kids drink? Will this be their first time?"

"Considering some of the trouble Ran's been in this year, no, definitely not," Makoto laughed. "But they were grounded because Ran snuck out and borrowed dad's car and left it without gas and Ren helped her cover it up, so... coming here was the only way mom and dad would let them do anything fun."

"I can't believe those two are big enough to be getting into that kind of trouble," Haru wondered, sitting down on Makoto's couch. "I still remember when they were small and cute... and they got into trouble because Ran was chasing Ren with a baby blue-tongue and he knocked over the bunny cake your mom made that Easter."

"Oh, I remember that," Makoto groaned, plopping down next to Haru. His expression wasn't unhappy, though. "Ren hid in my room and cried and cried because it was all Ran's fault! and Ran got an extra week of grounding because she snuck out of her room during dinner to steal candy."

"And your mom got mad at you because you were sneaking them candy, too," Haru remembered.

"Our house was cleaner than it had ever been that Easter," Makoto nodded, grinning. "And Ren ended up keeping the blue-tongue as a pet," he rolled his eyes.

Haru smiled.

"Thanks, Haru," Makoto said quietly. "I'm... I'm glad to see in the New Year with you."

"You'll always have me, Makoto," Haru softly promised.




"More people speeding," Rin commented absently.

"In theory, as police officers, we could do something about that," Sousuke offhandedly suggested.

"Mm," Rin rested his chin on the wheel.

Sousuke started to poke at Rin just for the fun of it, but Rin was ignoring him, so Sousuke poked harder. Rin huffed, but that was it, so Sousuke got bored, too.

"Valentine's is next week," Sousuke remarked.

"So it is," Rin replied quickly.

"You have plans?" Sousuke asked.

"God, I hate going out on Valentine's. Stupid couples everywhere. What a stupid holiday. I guess Valentine's sex isn't bad, but," Rin pouted.

"I'm sure your fiancée will love to hear that," Sousuke shook his head.

"What?" Rin looked at Sousuke, confused.

"You do remember that you're engaged to get married?" Sousuke teased.

"Of course I remember that!" Rin snapped, turning his face away.

"Do you remember her name?" Sousuke continued with amusement.

Rin just sighed and rolled his eyes.

Sousuke watched Rin carefully. "I have reservations at Momofuku Seiōbo."

Rin sat clutching the wheel for a few moments. "What?"

"For Valentine's day. I have a reservation." Sousuke paused, but Rin didn't say anything. "It's gonna cost me about a month's pay! I hope it's worth it."

"...I'm not going in with you," Rin scowled. "You know I don't like stuff like that!"

"I'm not inviting you!" Sousuke jostled Rin.

"Then why are you telling me?" Rin pushed Sousuke back. Their cruiser started to rock.

"I thought you should know since I'm taking your sister!" Sousuke held his arm up to fend off Rin's attacks.

Rin froze.

Sousuke peeked at Rin from under his arm. "We've been going out for about three months now. Gou said you knew, but I told her you didn't. I thought you... should know..."

Rin blinked a few times, and then he started to punch Sousuke's arm. "What the hell? You're dating my sister!? I didn't give you permission to do that!"

"You didn't back in high school, either!" Sousuke laughed, letting Rin hit him. "Didn't stop us. You just stood between us walking to school, and pretended nothing was going on. Not even when I went to the drug store to get..."

"Shut up! Sheesh!" Rin flopped back in his seat, glaring at the traffic going by. "I thought she dumped your ass!"

"Back then, yeah, she didn't want to try to keep dating after I left for college," Sousuke smiled. "But we've stayed close. We... decided to try it again. It's... kind of serious. So, I don't want to keep anything from you."

"You can keep some things from me," Rin grumbled darkly.

"I'm not going to ask you to make a drug store run with me again, don't worry," Sousuke laughed. "I just wanted you to be prepared. In case... things continue..."

"Ahh, I get it, I get it!" Rin cut Sousuke off. "Damn, she must have been hard up to go after some ex. Whatever, whatever, but there's no need to rush into things. Remember Gou's a year younger! She's not necessarily looking for something permanent!"

"A year younger," Sousuke grinned. "That's not that different. Plus, who are you to tell me not to rush into it? Mr. I Still Can't Stop Thinking About My Ex But I Proposed To My Girlfriend This Weekend By Mistake Whoops. Asshole."

"It wasn't a mistake, exactly," Rin put the car into drive and edged out to turn onto the street. "It was just something that happened, we ended up talking about it, decided together... jackass, I've already told you this!"

"I know," Sousuke amicably agreed.

"Anyway, there's a big difference between you picking up again with my little sister and me and Aki. A big difference. You two have all kinds of baggage. That time she said you cheated on her and you said you were on break," Rin pointed out.

"That was a tv show, she was just mad at me for dating that girl she hated, it wasn't the same as Ross and Rachel at all," Sousuke countered. "Fortunately, you and Aki have no baggage, right?"

"We've been friends for years, it's totally different," Rin breezily replied as he pulled out.

"I think you're carrying around one bag, and it's heavy enough to break your back. I mean, if I tried to carry Tachi--" Sousuke started.

"Shut up," Rin growled.

"Rin, what are you doing?" Sousuke sighed.

"I'm heading back to the station. Our shift is up," Rin said calmly.

"Half the time, you don't even remember that you're engaged. Have you set a date?" Sousuke pressed.

"We're not in any rush," Rin put him off.

"Of course not, because you can't stop thinking about--" Sousuke continued,

"Shut up!" Rin soared through a yellow light that was changing. "I think you're the one who can't move forward!"

"Right, that makes sense," Sousuke put his chin on his hand and looked out the window. "I'm worried about you. So is Gou."

"Don't bring my sister into this. And keep your hands off her!" Rin snarled.

"Right, right," Sousuke sighed. "I'll just sit back and watch you make one huge mistake after the other and keep my mouth shut."

"Thank you, that's all I'm askin'," Rin nodded firmly.

"Idiot," Sousuke muttered.

Rin pulled into the station, and parked the cruiser. He got out and headed to the station without waiting for Sousuke. He turned in their onboard computer, and headed for the locker room.

Sousuke was right behind him.

"I am sorry I didn't tell you about this thing with Gou sooner," Sousuke told him quietly.

"I'm begging you, shut up," Rin whined.

"I just didn't want to say anything in case... you know, it didn't work out again. But..." Sousuke shrugged.

"Please shut up, just... fine, whatever, I'm sure you two are doing the right thing, whatever," Rin furiously began to unbutton.

"And sorry for giving you hard time about Tachi-" Sousuke started.

"Rin! What are you doing?"

Rin flattened against his locker as his sister came flying in. "I'm... I'm changing, Gou, this is the men's locker room!"

"Forget that, there's been a three-alarm fire at the Delphinidae Arms," Gou said urgently.

Rin's mouth didn't work for a moment. "That's... Haru's building..."

"They got out the residents without major injury, but..." Gou glanced at Sousuke briefly. "Two firemen have been admitted to the hospital."

Rin's eyes widened. "You don't mean..."

"Makoto's been taken to St. Vincent's," Gou told him miserably.

Rin started to shake his head. He looked from Gou to Sousuke and then back to Gou. "I... I have to..." He looked down and started to fumble at rebuttoning his shirt. He was having trouble with it. "I have to go, I have to..." He gave up on his buttons and reached for the car keys.

Sousuke reached out and took the keys first. "Gou, tell the squad captain I'm borrowing a cruiser to escort Rin to the hospital, and then I'll bring it right back."

She nodded. "Thanks, Sou. I'll wait for you."

"Great, c'mon Rin," Sousuke grabbed Rin by the collar and shepherded him off.

As soon as Sousuke got out of the garage, he turned on the lights, speeding to St. Vincent's. He couldn't look at Rin, but he tried to smile, anyway. "It's probably nothing, you know. He'll be fine, I know it."

Rin was staring unblinkingly out the window. He shook his head, "No, I knew this would happen. I knew it." His voice sounded haunted.

Sousuke pressed his lips together, but he didn't try to argue with Rin. He just kept his focus on weaving through the streets safely.

"I knew it," Rin echoed.

It took Sousuke less than five minutes to get Rin to the hospital. Rin jumped out of the cruiser as soon as they pulled up to the emergency. He went in the paramedics' entrance, wildly looking around for who-knew-what. A nurse came up to him, and before she could ask him anything, he asked her, "Where's Makoto? The fireman, where...?"

"Matsuoka?"

Rin recognized that voice. He abandoned the confused nurse, and went behind a curtained cubby to find one of Makoto's brother fireman, an older man named Dan.

"Kid, you look like hell," Dan told him.

"Where's Makoto?" Rin looked around, like maybe he was hiding under the cart with the bandages. "Is he...?"

"I don't know, kid," Dan looked at him sadly. "I dislocated my shoulder and broke a rib. Tachibana was... worse off. They took him upstairs, third floor. I was gonna go up there, but the captain told me to stay put or else."

"Thanks," Rin turned to leave, and then he spun around to face Dan again. "Uh, you're ok, right?"

"I'm fine, kid, go find out what's going on with Tachibana," Dan grinned at him, like a dad or something. Rin didn't know if Dan was a dad, but he took off.

When he got to the third floor, he got off the elevator and then stood there dazed, not sure where to go next. He heard grunting, and then two familiar voices. He headed toward them, and found Nagisa, Rei, and Haru in a small waiting area.

Haru was sitting in a chair, grunting and pulling on his hair, rocking back and forth.

Rin stood in front of him, shocked. He reached out to touch Haru, but that caused Haru to jerk back, and then he started to pound his fists against his skull, rocking faster. "H-hey!" Rin put his hands out, trying to shield Haru. "Stop that, Haru...!"

"Rin, no," Nagisa pulled on Rin's arm, separating him from Haru. They watched Haru, and after a minute, his rocking slowed down, and he went back to just tugging on his hair.

"What the...?" Rin shook his head.

"Haru's... in shock. He just needs space. And for Makochan to be ok..." Nagisa sighed.

"What the..." Rin turned his face away from Haru, and looked at Nagisa. He narrowed his eyes. "Why are you in that stupid puffy spaceman costume?" he demanded.

"I was doing some promos when we got the call!" Nagisa pouted. "Rei was in the lab," he sighed.

Rei straightened his glasses and adjusted his singed lab coat.

"Your shirt is all buttoned wrong!" Nagisa accused.

"What the hell is going on?" Rin wailed.

Nagisa and Rei looked at each other, and they pulled Rin further away from Haru.

"The... the fire started..." Nagisa sighed. "Haruchan was experimenting in the kitchen with a new recipe, when he... got distracted by a documentary on tv about dolphin migration."

Rin rolled his eyes. "Oh, my god, that freakin' idiot..."

"Well, when he realized that his kitchen was on fire, Haruchan sort of... um... panicked..." Nagisa looked at Rei nervously.

"Don't tell me that he threw water on a grease fire, because if you tell me a chef did that..." Rin warned.

"N-no, it's not..." Nagisa slumped his shoulders. Rei put his hand on Nagisa's neck for reassurance. "Haru saw the flames, and he... he grabbed his aquarium and ran out of the building. W-without calling or... anything..."

Rin's jaw dropped. "No. That didn't happen."

"It was his upstairs neighbor who called it in, when his floor started to get hot and he smelled flames," Rei continued calmly.

"Oh, my god, that moron, no wonder he's..." Rin scrubbed his face with his palm.

"Makochan wasn't supposed to be on duty," Nagisa told Rin mournfully. "But when he heard the address of the fire... He'd already been working for twelve hours."

Rin's body went rigid and he stared at Nagisa.

"He was doing fine, really, he saved the life of a five year old boy, but... when he was carrying the boy out, he noticed a cat had passed out by the stairs..." Nagisa continued.

"No," Rin tried to stop Nagisa with a shaking voice.

"So, he went back in for the cat, and he... he gave the cat his oxygen mask," Nagisa told him quietly.

"What?!" Rin roared. Rei looked around, hoping that Rin hadn't bothered any of the medical staff.

"He got the cat out, but he passed out almost immediately. I guess his airways have been scorched? And..." Nagisa looked at Rei.

"They're giving him hyperbaric oxygen," Rei explained. "Monitoring his brain activity, and they already used an endotracheal tube to try to clear his lungs. Until he regains consciousness, though, there won't be any way to tell the extent of his damage."

Rin's legs started to give out, so he found the nearest chair. "So, Makoto... could have brain damage... from saving a cat."

Nagisa looked at Rei fearfully, and Rei pressed his lips together. "They're doing everything they can. We just... have to wait..."

Rin looked over at Haru, who was trying to pull his scalp off by his hair while muttering to himself. Rin stared at him as he clung to the edge of his chair. He took a deep breath. "Has... has anyone called his parents...?"

"Captain Sasabe did, but they're... they're on vacation. They're going to work on getting home, but it's... it's late, so..." Rei replied.

"What about Ran and Ren?" Rin asked mechanically.

"They're staying with their aunt," Rei answered. "His parents... didn't want them told until we knew more about..."

Rin nodded. That was logical. But.

Rin sat there, holding onto his chair to keep from falling off, starting at Haru. Nagisa and Rei talked to each other in low voices. Sousuke and Gou came in, but Rin was busy staring at Haru. They sat opposite Rin, Gou clinging to Sousuke, who had his arm around her. Rin remembered to blink. Captain Sasabe and a few other firemen showed up. They were loud at first, but they settled down. One of them knew Sousuke. They all gave Haru a wide berth, and only Sasabe tried to talk to Rin as he stared at Haru.

They waited.

Finally, a doctor came out. Captain Sasabe went to her immediately. "How is he?"

"Vitals are good, it was touch and go there for a bit, but so far, so good. He's weak, and we're going to keep him on the oxygen overnight, but he's conscious, and able to respond to vocal commands, so that's a good sign. We'll know more, of course, once we can take out the tubes, but I'm optimistic," she smiled tightly at Sasabe. "He can see maybe two people, max. Is his family here?"

Rin stood up. "Ah, not yet. We'll go, c'mon Haru." He went to Haru and grabbed him by the arm, dragging him along roughly without looking back.

"Hey!" one of the fireman objected, but Sousuke was already smoothing it over.

Rin pulled Haru along to follow the doctor, who was looking at him oddly. He smiled at her weakly. "We've... known him forever, we're like... brothers."

"Uh huh," she nodded. "Is he ok?" she pointed to Haru.

"He will be, once he sees Makoto," Rin muttered.

They were let into Makoto's room. Makoto's bed was surrounded by a plastic tent and he had tubes in his nose and a mask over his mouth and tubes in his arms and he looked pale and ashen and the room was a mess and there were discarded needle covers and bits of paper all over and Makoto's chest had the ECG leads on and his breathing sounded raspy and horrible. Rin went to one side of the crowded bed and Haru went to the other side.

"M-Makoto?" Rin asked, licking his lips.

Makoto's green eyes fluttered open, and he looked from one to the other, and then slowly, very slowly, he smiled. He reached up, his arms moving haltingly, and touched their hands.

Haru broke down and started to sob on Makoto's hand, and Rin covered the hand he had with his other hand, and squeezed. Makoto blinked at Rin, and then he deliberately turned his gaze to Haru.

"Right," Rin muttered, but he wasn't about to let go of Makoto until Haru had exhausted himself sobbing.




"And another thing! I'm going to be keeping in touch with your doctors, and you're not even going to show your face in the firehouse until a week after they say you're cleared, do you understand me?!" Sasabe's voice boomed down the hallway.

"Yessir," Makoto's response was just barely audible.

"Good! I'll be back in the morning! And you're damned lucky I don't clock you for putting me through all this worry, Tachibana!" Sasabe barked.

"Yessir, sorry, sir," Makoto replied weakly.

Grumbling, Sasabe marched out of Makoto's hospital room.

Rin ducked behind a ficus to avoid meeting the cranky fire captain. Obviously, he cared a great deal for all of his men, and since he couldn't do anything to make Makoto just all better, he was barking at everyone, even the cute nurses.

Once the coast was clear, Rin slipped away from the ficus and into Makoto's room. Makoto was sitting up on the side of his bed. "How's it going? Are you deaf yet?" he teased.

Makoto looked up at Rin, his expression instantly brightening. "Rin! Well, my head is ringing, but that could be from the medicine," he smiled.

"I, uh, brought you one of those stupid alien toys from Nagisa's stupid show," Rin held out the toy reluctantly. "It's, uh, green, at least."

Makoto took it, giving it a squeeze. "And squishy."

"Squishy, yeah," Rin grinned at Makoto goofily. "So... how are you?"

Makoto shrugged. "I think I'm fine. They want to run one last series of tests for brain damage."

"Make sure they know you were brain damaged before the fire," Rin told him.

Makoto rolled his eyes good-naturedly. "Yes, yes."

"Giving your oxygen mask to the damned cat," Rin grumbled.

"I've heard it," Makoto laughed.

"Yeah, well, doesn't hurt to say it again. Don't ever do that again, I mean, damn, that's basic, Makoto," Rin shook his head, looking at his feet.

"I know, I'm sorry," Makoto squeezed his alien. "I won't do it ever again, promise."

"Well..." Rin shrugged, embarrassed.

"The good news is... if my chest scan is clear again tomorrow, they're going to release me," Makoto beamed.

Rin smiled in return. "That is good news."

"Yeah," Makoto grinned, and then he leaned forward, resting his forehead on Rin's shoulder. "I can't wait to get back home to our place. For it to be just the two of us." He burrowed his forehead against Rin, who was standing stock-still, his eyes wide and panicked. "Oh, but the doctor said it would be a few weeks before I was up for... vigorous activity." Makoto pulled back to grin at Rin. "So..."

"Ahh!" Rin hysterically shook his head, moving his hand jerkily to touch Makoto's hair. "I... guess we can hold off..."

"Yeah, but..." Makoto took Rin's hand and brushed his lips against Rin's knuckles. "We could still cuddle. Nonvigorously."

"I... I... I..." Rin stared at Makoto's sultry expression. "I don't know if I can hold back."

Makoto laughed, tossing his head back. His laughs dissolved into a yawn, though. "Oh, I'm sorry, Rin!" he apologized quickly.

"Don't be," Rin smiled with affection. He moved forward, and hesitantly leaned down to kiss Makoto's forehead.

Makoto beamed at him.

"Get some rest. We're going home tomorrow." He picked up Makoto's alien, and brushed its face against Makoto's cheek.

"'Kay. Will you be able to take tomorrow off, or...?" Makoto asked.

"Oh, of course," Rin nodded, too much.

Makoto yawned again, and then he let Rin help him swing his legs up into the bed. "I feel ancient! I've heard some of the older guys talk about smoke inhalation... I never thought I'd end up... you know, our equipment is so much better these days..."

"Sure, if you don't give it to the cat," Rin teased him, pulling up the sheet.

Makoto smiled at Rin, and Rin brushed Makoto's bangs out of his face. "Thanks, Rin. I love you."

Rin didn't miss a beat. "I love you, too."

He kissed Makoto goodnight, and then he tucked Makoto's green alien next to him to watch over Makoto in his place. He closed the door behind him.

Then, he panicked.

He started down the hall, turned, turned the other way, and then he sprinted to the elevator. It opened, letting Haru out. Rin grabbed onto him, nearly causing him to drop the box he had, probably with food Makoto wasn't supposed to be eating. "Haru! Do you still have a spare set of keys to Makoto's place?"

"Eh? Of course?" Haru glared at Rin.

"Ok! I need your help!" Rin shook Haru for effect. "Makoto's memory is messed up! He... he thinks we're still together, he doesn't remember breaking up! I need to borrow your keys so I can move back in tonight!"

"Rin," Haru stared at Rin. "What the hell are you talking about? You're engaged to Aki."

"Yeah, I can't do anything about that right now! He's coming home tomorrow and he's expecting that I'm going to be there so I have to be!"

"Rin," Haru tried to be more forceful. "You dumped him. He's got to be forgetting because of some sort of trauma-related amnesia! He'll remember, and then what?"

"Well, by then, we'll be back together so it won't matter," Rin shrugged. "Look, I've got a lot to do if I'm going to move back in by morning, are you going to help me or not?"

"You're insane. Why did you even break up with him if you were just waiting for an excuse to get back together? You'll just end up dumping him again once you're over this. I'm not doing that to him," Haru scorned.

"Look..." Rin dug his fingers into Haru's arms. He took a deep breath, looking down. "Do you remember... last year, that old fireman died in the fire at the auto body shop?"

"Uh..." Haru furrowed his brow. "I think I remember Makoto going to a funeral..."

"I was on call that night, I was securing the scene. I saw him being taken out. He was... his skin was all... burned and broken and bloody, he looked like something from a horror show, I just.." Rin swallowed hard, looking away. "I...

"I started having nightmares. Nightly. I kept seeing Makoto all burned, dead, I just... I couldn't cope, and I... I thought maybe... if I distanced myself a bit... maybe I'd be less afraid..." Rin laughed bitterly. "But then Makoto was really hurt, and while we were sitting there waiting... I realized..." Rin looked right into Haru's eyes. "He could have died, Haru. He could be dead right now. And there's no way to be... distanced from that. All I accomplished was throwing away eight months we could have been together."

Haru flinched at the bitterness in Rin's voice. His lips twitched, and finally he sighed. "You're a complete moron. I don't know what you plan to do about Aki. And it's not going to go that smoothly when he remembers. But." Haru looked away, his eyes troubled. "Fine, I'll help, but..."

"Great! He's asleep, so you shouldn't be bothering him anyway! Let's call Rei and Nagisa, they can help. I'll call Sousuke, too. Aki's working tonight, so... I'll just. I'll have to talk to her later..." Rin pushed Haru back into the elevator.

"You're hopeless," Haru sighed.




"So, are you all right?" Rin wiped his hands on the dish towel, hovering over Makoto on the couch.

Makoto grinned rakishly at him. "You can stop hovering. I'm not going to break into a million pieces."

"Well," Rin tossed the towel to the kitchen, and sat down facing Makoto, tucking his leg under his bottom. "Even if you just break into a hundred pieces, it'd be a problem. I've never been good at jigsaw puzzles." He reached out to touch Makoto's chest with his fingertips, being gentle.

Makoto ran his hand up Rin's arm. "I'm not that fragile. And you admitting there's something you're not good at it is frankly creepy. I'm fine, Rin, I promise. Let's just get back to normal. Or, as normal as we can be when we're both taking off of work."

Rin's eye twitched once. Boldly, he moved his hands to Makoto's waist, slipping his hands up under Makoto's shirt, laying his palms on Makoto's skin. "It's... not so bad, huh?" He smiled nervously at Makoto.

Makoto chuckled, and leaned forward, kissing Rin like it was something he did daily. "You tell me," he said in his bedroom voice.

Rin bit his bottom lip, and lifted Makoto's shirt, rubbing his hand over Makoto's chest, over his lungs. "You're still coughing at night," he murmured.

"Yeah, but it doesn't hurt. And it's just after I lay down. It's getting better. I'm getting better," Makoto promised.

"You've lost weight," Rin sighed, tracing the lines of Makoto's pecs with his fingers.

"Have I? Well, I suppose, being in the hospital..." Makoto frowned as he looked down at himself.

"No, that's not what I... never mind..." Rin furrowed his brow, and then he moved over, straddling Makoto's lap. He took Makoto's face in his hands, letting his fingertips dig into Makoto's hair. "I love you," he fervently told Makoto, and then he kissed Makoto desperately. He bit Makoto's lip, and nibbled on Makoto's jaw. "Don't forget that... no matter what... I love you."

"I love you, too," Makoto wrapped his arms around Rin, pulling him closer. He tried to kiss Rin, but Rin was too frantic, too needy, so he just let Rin take the kisses he needed, where he needed them.

Rin chewed on Makoto's earlobe. "I love you so much... I'm so in love with you. No matter what, never forget that."

"I know, Rin, I feel the same way, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you," Makoto slipped his hands up the back of Rin's shirt.

Rin curled Makoto's hair around his fingers, and looked into Makoto's eyes. "I love you. I'm in love with you. I need you."

"You've got me," Makoto swore.

Rin kissed him, moving his hands down to Makoto's neck. Makoto inhaled sharply, and Rin's eyes widened. "Is this too vigorous? Are you ok?"

"I'm more than ok, that was a more-than-ok kind of gasp," Makoto laughed, taking Rin's hand and leading it down to underscore his point.

Rin blushed, looking at Makoto's crotch. He hadn't yet been cleared for vigorous activity, but. No, he didn't want to hurt Makoto, never again, but.

"It's ok," Makoto promised, breathing under Rin's ear. His lips touched the side of Rin's neck reverently. "I'll let you know if it's too much. Trust me. It's more than ok."

"Good," Rin shuddered, reaching down to open Makoto's pants.




Rin just clocked in when Sousuke came to his elbow.

"How's Tachibana?"

"Doing better, sorry for abandoning you the past few days," Rin smiled at Sousuke apologetically.

Sousuke waved him off. "And he doesn't think it's at all strange? You being back with him?"

Rin headed to their workstation. "Eh... his memory is really... spotty. He knows things about the past eight months, but it's like his brain has just patched over the breakup parts." Rin sighed heavily.

"He's going to remember," Sousuke warned Rin.

"I know, and if I didn't, everyone and his brother would remind me," Rin grumbled.

"And no one has told him, everyone is going along with the gag?" Sousuke asked.

"Well...!" Rin threw his hands up, leaning back against their desk. "It's not like he's seeing a lot of people! His parents have been calling him, of course they were at the hospital. But... you know what the Tachibanas are like, right? They're just... nice. I don't know what they even think of it all, but..."

"Well, how do you think he's going to react when he does remember?" Sousuke leaned against the desk next to Rin.

"How should I know?" Rin grumbled, looking away. "It... it doesn't matter, because when he does remember, well, I'll be there and we'll just... just..."

"Forget it ever happened?" Sousuke dubiously supplied.

"Well..." Rin's shoulders slumped.

"Ma'am, you can't come back here!"

"Don't ma'am me and don't tell me what to do," Aki commanded, marching toward Sousuke and Rin.

Rin stood up straight, his head pounding. "Ah, it's ok, Kowalski, this is..."

Aki got in front of Rin and with an open palm, she slapped him hard enough to be heard from the other side of the station.

"Ah, it's ok, guys, it's Rin's girlfriend," Sousuke told the room full of cops who just watched a brother cop get slapped. He further diffused it by smiling and chuckling.

Rin took Aki's hand and led her off quickly to the nearest conference room.

"This should be an interrogation room. You deserve it, asshole," Aki pulled her hand out of Rin's grip.

"Yes, I do, and I'm sorry," Rin began.

Aki slapped him again, this time with only half the force. "Shut up, you are not sorry, that's the problem! I can't even believe you! I can understand wanting to be with Makoto now, but you don't even try to see me face-to-face? I get off a twelve hour shift to this bullshit?" she threw his crumpled up note explaining how he had to leave her and move back in with Makoto in his face.

He shrank back. "I know, I know, I..."

She held her hands up, stopping him. "I don't care. God damn it, Rin." She brushed her hair back, exhaling. "You should thank your sister. I was prepared to slice you open until I talked to her. She talked me down. At least, enough that I'm not interested in choking you on your intestines." She crossed her arms over her chest, and glared at Rin. "You know, I feel like such an idiot."

"No, Aki..." Rin tried to assure her.

"Shut up. I feel like an idiot because I always knew that you were still in love with him," she accused.

He stared at her blankly, and she rolled her eyes.

"Oh, c'mon, Rin, on our first date, you nonstop talked about him. Our second date, too. I didn't mind. I had my own baggage going. After being involved with a drunk, I guess I figured still in love with his ex was manageable in comparison. We were friends, and it just all felt so natural... that's why we both rushed things," she looked annoyed to be admitting it.

"Aki..." Rin tried, but she wasn't done.

"We did rush things. I don't even remember how we decided to get married, but I remember that we both regretted it and we both knew it and we were both too chicken shit to admit it. Problem was... we could have been happy together. We could have had a good life." She glared at him, and he couldn't say anything.

She was right.

"Our kids would have been fucking gorgeous, too," she huffed, and he smiled wanly. "So you can't fuck this up again." She punched him in the chest, and she sure wasn't holding anything back. "I don't know what happened the first time, but this time, you can't fuck this up. Because you royally fucked me over to get him back, so you have got to make it work."

"Aki, I'm so sorry," Rin said, his voice breaking.

"Yeah, you are," she agreed, but she'd lost her steam. She took the backpack off her back and shoved it at him. "The last of your shit from the apartment. I'm taking over the lease. At least this debacle with you has gotten me out of my parents' house, so that's good. You can give me your set of keys," she held out her hand.

He blinked, and then fumbled through his pockets, getting his keys out. He had to start a few times before he could slip them off the ring.

"I'm keeping the diamond, too," she informed him. "That's proper, because it was a gift. I'm gonna hock it and get a rottweiler. And I'm gonna train him to attack stupid men who hurt me." She looked at him defiantly, her eyes pained.

"I hope you can forgive me someday, Aki," Rin begged.

"Well, not if you're going to just fuck this up with Makoto again," she shook her head, turning. "...In time, maybe. But first, I'm going to be really furious at you."

"That's reasonable. Thank you, Aki, for... everything," Rin tried to smile.

"You're an idiot," Aki growled, and then she marched off.




Ran poked her head into the firehouse first, with Ren crouched behind her. She took a step inside when she didn't immediately see her older brother, and her twin squeaked, nervously following after her.

The squeak was enough to get the attention of an older fireman, who came over to greet them, smiling broadly. "Ran! Ren! Look at you two, when your brother started here, you were just this big!" he laughed, though his estimate of their height was a bit off.

Ran smiled anyway. "Today's our brother's first day back, right? How's it going, Mac?"

"Eh, that dumb kid is tryin' to prove that he's still Superman or something," Mac shook his head, laughing. "But the Cap'n won't even let him carry the hose. He's in the back now, polishing helmets."

Ran and Ren looked at each other, visibly relieved. "Thanks, Mac!" they said in unison, and they trotted off to find Makoto.

Their brother was putting the last of the helmets back into its cubby when they got there. "Makoto!" Ran dashed over to Makoto and threw her arms around his stomach. Ren hurried to catch up, also grabbing a hold of their brother.

"Guys!" Makoto laughing, patting their heads. "Aren't you supposed to be in school?" he asked them sharply, but he was smiling.

"We get lunch!" Ran rolled her eyes. "Since we're seniors, we can leave and come back." She made a face at him, as if it was ridiculous that Makoto would question them.

"Can you take a lunch break?" Ren asked him hopefully.

"We brought a mom-made lunch!" Ran boasted.

"Ohho, good timing, you two!" Captain Sasabe came up behind them and boomed. "It's about time someone who is still recovering got off his feet!"

"Captain, I've been cleared to work," Makoto complained.

Sasabe tapped Ran on the forehead. "Take your brother upstairs and make sure he relaxes," he ordered.

"Got it, Cap'n!" Ran saluted him, and then she took one hand and Ren took the other, and Makoto had no choice but trail after them.

"You know, I know you two aren't supposed to leave campus," Makoto sighed.

"No one really cares," Ren told him cheerfully.

"Ren," Makoto shook his head, but he didn't resist as they pushed him up the stairs and over to the living room area where they could sit on a couch together, Ran and Ren flanking Makoto. Ren pulled out the lunchbox from his backpack, and Ran got out the fruit juice from hers. Together, they set lunch out on the coffee table in front of them.

"When you two work together, you're scary," Makoto teased.

"It doesn't happen a lot," Ran breezily shrugged.

Ren snorted, and handed his brother a sandwich. "Are you really ok? I mean, being back to work..."

"I've been back for half a day now," Makoto smiled at his little brother. "And so far, all I've done is clean out the fridge and wipe down the helmets. Though, cleaning out the fridge was pretty dangerous..."

Ran and Ren exchanged a look. "Well... your job doesn't have to be dangerous, right?"

Makoto stopped mid-bite. "Of course not, that was just... a joke. Sorry."

Ran scooted closer to him, and put her hand on his chest. "You're not coughing a lot? It doesn't hurt to breathe, right? You don't get any burning?"

"No, I'm fine, even my doctor has cleared me," he assured her, putting his arm around her.

"But, you have scarring... you're getting plenty of rest? And fluids? You're not overdoing it because you think you can't let anyone take care of you, right?" Ren fussed.

"No, lil bro, I'm not," Makoto laughed, ruffling his hair. "In fact, even if I wanted to, I wouldn't be able to stop Rin from taking care of me, so."

Ran and Ren looked at each other again, and then Ran smiled brightly at her brother. "That really surprised us, you know! I was kind of glad that cop was gone, even though you were really bummed about it, but I guess he's being a good friend?"

"Eh?" Makoto looked at her, confused.

"You always said you were fine, but we could tell on New Year's Eve how unhappy you were," Ren said quietly. "I'm glad he's back. I always liked him."

"No, you didn't," Ran replied snottily. "You're just a kiss-ass."

"Shut up, I did, I mean, not a lot, but I didn't hate him or anything," Ren shot back.

"New... Year's Eve...?" Makoto echoed, his expression dazed.

"We had fun!" Ran quickly amended. "We had lots of fun with you and Haru, and the food was great, it was great, we could just tell..." she looked at Ren desperately.

"I wasn't complaining, I was just saying, that yeah, it was a lot of fun hanging with you at your place, but we knew you would have rather..." Ren fumbled.

"Not that you didn't want to be with us! And it was sure a lot better than being glared at back home!" Ran continued for her brother.

"Yeah! It was just like when we were kids and Haru would come over and spend the night and we all watched movies! So that was great!" Ren beamed.

Slowly, Makoto raised his hand to his face. "New... Year's... Eve..."

Panicked, Ran and Ren looked at each other, and then they grabbed onto their brother. "Oniichan, are you ok?" Ran asked.

When he didn't immediately reply, Ren jumped to his feet.

"N-no, I'm fine, I just... I... I... had... forgotten... that... on New Year's Eve... but..." Makoto looked like he was trying to do calculus.

"Are you sure you're fine?" Ran asked, moving to stick her face right up to her brother's nose, looking him over.

Ren looked around wildly, and then he got out his cell.

"I-I'm fine, I'm really fine," Makoto rubbed the heel of his palm over his face. "Why does no one believe me when I say I'm fine?" he mourned.

"Because you say that no matter what," Ran worried.

"Haru-chan? It's Ren, Ran and I are with Makoto at the firehouse, but he's acting odd..." Ren spoke into the phone.

"Ren," Makoto wearily called out to his brother, warning him.

Ren turned his back to Makoto, and Ran put her arms around him. "You don't need to do so much, oniichan. It's all right, we're here."

"We were eating lunch and he just suddenly got... weird... Oniichan, do you have a headache?" Ren asked him.

"It's not that..." Makoto sighed, but he was still rubbing his face. "It's just..."

"He keeps saying he's fine, but he looks exhausted, Haru-chan, Ran and I have to go back to school soon, what should we do?" Ren asked Haru.

"Ren, I'm at the firehouse, Captain Sasabe will look after me, I'm fine," Makoto insisted.

"Ok, got it, thanks, Haru-chan," Ren hung up, and smiled at Ran and Makoto. "Haru's coming over to get oniichan. He said if we had to go before he got here to make sure to let the Captain know that he was coming to take oniichan home."

"Oh, Ren," Makoto sighed, putting his hand down in his hands.

Ran clung to him. "Oniichan, we're just worried about you. We love you! So we can't help but worry about you and want to help you."

"It's just your first day back," Ren said soothingly, sitting down next to Makoto. "Of course it would be tiring."

"Guys..." Makoto began, but the two of them clung to him tighter.

"Haru-chan said he'd be coming right away, so it shouldn't be long," Ren told him.

"You didn't have to call Haru," Makoto gently scolded, but his tone was too haggard to have teeth.

"It's ok for Haru to come, right? I mean, he's your friend. You'd do the same for him," Ran told him.

"That's not the point," Makoto groused.

"You're not the only one who's good at taking care of people," Ren whispered. "Just let us take care of you, ok?"

"I... I would... I'm not..." Makoto took a deep breath. "You two really should be in school..." he whined.

"We know," Ran winked at Ren. "We have to eat lunch, though!" She quickly reached out for a sandwich.

Ren followed suit, leaving Makoto little choice but to watch them eat.

Haru rushed up the stairs ten minutes later with Captain Sasabe on his tail.

"Makoto?" Haru looked him over.

"Kid, I told you to tell me when you were getting tired!" Sasabe boomed.

"No, I really am fine..." Makoto started, but no one was listening to him.

Sasabe slapped Haru on the back. "You take care of him, ok? I'll take the kids back to school. Can't be supporting truants, right?" he winked at them.

Ran and Ren squeaked, and rushed to gather up their things.

Sullen, Makoto got up and followed Haru. He didn't say anything while they walked down to Haru's car, and Haru didn't speak, either, but he didn't take his eyes off of Makoto the entire time. However, when Makoto was quiet, Haru couldn't speak, either.

They got in Haru's car, and Haru was about to take a left, and Makoto asked, "Can we go back to your place?"

"Sure," Haru looked at Makoto from the corner of his eye. "I'm still staying with Nagisa and Rei, but they shouldn't be home."

"That's fine. I'm just not... I don't think I should..." Makoto started to laugh darkly. "Oh, my god. We broke up. Rin and I... we're not..."

"You remembered," Haru said under his breath.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Makoto asked Haru.

"Let's... just let's get back to the apartment, and then we can talk. Properly." Haru squeezed the wheel.

Makoto nodded, rubbing his forehead.

Haru sped up.

They got back to Nagisa and Rei's place, and Haru made Makoto tea. They sat down in the living room, and Makoto nearly finished his cup before he said another word.

"I'm guessing... that he felt guilty after I got hurt, and he... just didn't want to upset me," Makoto stared into his cup.

"You'd be guessing wrong," Haru replied calmly.

Makoto started to laugh. "I can't believe... I actually forgot... oh, shit, did he actually move all his stuff into my place? What about Aki? This is so messed up..."

"It is, but it's not what you think," Haru continued to speak calmly.

"Haru..." Makoto shook his head.

"He told me about it. About why he broke up with you, and why needed to get back together with you," Haru spoke firmly.

"It... It's been so long, he's..." Makoto's voice shook.

"He never stopped loving you," Haru insisted.

"That's impossible," Makoto groaned. "I can't believe this..."

"Makoto, you have to listen to me," Haru edged closer.

"It's like it's happening all over again," Makoto chuckled. "The first time... I was just as blown away. I came home from work, and he was there... but he'd already packed up... Of course, it had been the end of a three day spell. And then he just said it. I'm sorry, but I've got to leave. I thought he was going to tell me that he'd been... transferred or something. And then he. He told me it just wasn't working out, and..."

"You have to listen to me, Makoto," Haru's voice became more urgent.

"I can't believe I made him... and I even... We... oh, god, Aki's going to hate me," Makoto moaned.

"No, he broke it off with her," Haru shook his head.

"What? But that's awful!" Makoto wailed. "Haru...!"

Haru moved in front of Makoto and took him by the shoulders. "You have to listen to me! I know... I mean, this has to be confusing for you, I understand that, so please... listen..."

Makoto stared at Haru with wet, unblinking eyes.

Haru inhaled slowly. "Look. Rin is a moron. That fireman who was killed last year... he was on the scene. It screwed him up. He got scared... he had nightmares. So, he ran away. From you, he thought that would make him less afraid... that you'd die on the job. I guess he was in a big rush to run away, so he hooked up with Aki fast. But then you got hurt, and he realized. Being separated didn't make it any less painful. It made it worse. Stupidly, he thought since you'd forgotten the breakup that he could just pretend it didn't happen, and then the two of you could get back together. Again, Rin is a moron."

Makoto half turned his face away, his lips parted, seemingly struggling to get some words out. "But... that..."

"If you don't believe me, there's only one thing you can do. You have to talk to Rin. Even though he's stupid," Haru scoffed. "Just think. In the past few weeks since you got out of the hospital, has Rin been acting like he's... acting?"

Makoto furrowed his brow. "Well..."

"Talk to Rin," Haru advised.

"I... I need to... sort this out in my head..." Makoto rubbed his temple. "The past few weeks..." He flushed slightly.

Haru smirked, and moved back. "See? Rin is a moron."




Rin heard the noises in the kitchen as soon as he walked in, so he rushed over there. Makoto was at the stove, wearing his loose track pants and a tank. Rin put his hat on the counter, and grinned. "You're not going to burn the place down like Haru, are you? I think I'm going to have to ask you to step away from the stove for the safety of us all."

Makoto looked over his shoulder, and grinned. "I'm just reheating something that Haru made last night. And technically, you know, Haru was only cited for negligence. The faulty wiring and nonfunctioning smoke alarms were determined to be at fault by the fire marshal. I told Haru that building didn't seem to be up to code, but he just liked the name of the place..." Makoto shook his head in disbelief.

"Well, you can help him find a new place. Someplace that passes the fire marshal's inspection," Rin winked at him, pinching Makoto's ass.

Makoto turned the stove off, and turned to face Rin, smirking. "There's actually an opening in this building... I wasn't going to mention it until I talked to you about it, but..."

"Haru, living in the same building..." Rin made a face. "Only if we can be sure he won't burn the place down again. Honestly, getting distracted by a damned dolphin documentary... I really don't get that guy sometimes!"

"Him being close would have been a great comfort to me during the time that we weren't together. Although, for the most part, I didn't want to burden anyone else with how I was doing, anyway. So maybe I wouldn't have let him in, it's hard to say... But if Haru hadn't set fire to his apartment, and we weren't back together... at this point, it might have been good. Ah, but if he hadn't set fire to his place, I suppose he wouldn't be looking for a new place... mm..." Makoto mused.

Rin deflated, leaning back against the counter. "You... you remembered... that's... why you... didn't come home last night..."

"I'm sorry about that," Makoto looked at Rin sidelong, grinning. "I just needed some time... it was really strange. Like... everything was slightly out of focus, but I couldn't get my bearings to figure out what was wrong. And then Ran and Ren mentioned spending New Year's Eve with me, and everything shifted right into place."

"Oh, my god... Makoto, look..." Rin started. He looked pale.

"I talked to Haru. He explained what you told him. After I listened to him and thought about it some, I came to some sort of understanding about it. And then I had some thinking to do." Makoto took a deep breath, and faced Rin directly. "I mean, if you'd asked me to choose between my job and you, I would like to think that I'd be able to answer you immediately, you, of course. But, it's not the simple. Even now... I'm not sure if Captain Sasabe will ever let me at the scene of a fire again, considering my condition... but it should be possible. So, if you were to ask me now... I'm just not sure. Partially, it's just..." he smiled, and looked down at his feet. "There's never been anything else I've ever wanted to be, so I'm not really sure..."

"I'm not asking you, though!" Rin hurriedly interjected. "I wouldn't, I mean, that's why I... but now, it's different, so..."

"It's just that, I understand. I mean. I'm in love with a police officer," Makoto gave Rin a devilish look. "I do understand. Being afraid."

"I..." Rin's eyes widened. He swallowed hard. "I always wear a vest, I swear."

"I know," Makoto nodded. "And I'll never take unnecessary risks. Er, again. But we both know that our jobs are dangerous." Rin looked down, and Makoto continued, smiling. "And we both know that our jobs are part of who we are. And why we love each other."

Rin looked up, and met Makoto's affectionate gaze.

"So, the only question is... are you sure you're ok with dating a fireman? Because... breaking up with you once was awful. Reliving it in my memories a second time was worse. A third time might be devastating," Makoto tried to make it sound like a joke, but it wasn't, and Rin could clearly tell.

Rin stood up straighter. "There isn't anyone else I want to be with, Makoto. It's my hunky fireman or no one," Rin winked.

Makoto laughed, and then he looked at Rin. "And.. you're sure you're ok with... well, with not having kids?"

Rin turned red, and he fidgeted. "Well! I mean, we can adopt, something like that! I don't know! Not, like, right now or anything, but maybe, someday. I don't think of that as being, well, like a purely biological thing. I mean. Why would you even..." He looked at Makoto, and then his jaw went slack. "Ah... is that... why you thought... I was..."

"You got engaged awfully fast! And you just... walked out on me! So I figured... I mean, at least that made sense...!" Makoto explained, flustered.

"Yeah, I mean, I suppose, but it's just..." Rin took a step forward, and put his hands on Makoto's waist. He smiled up at Makoto shyly. "I'm perfectly happy with the life I can live with you. Promise."

Makoto smiled nervously, and ran his hands up Rin's arms. "Ah. And. And, what about Aki? I mean..."

"Oh, she's gonna be mad at me for a long, long while. And she already traded in the ring I spent three month's salary on in for a dog," Rin sighed. "But she gave me very explicit instructions on what to do now that I am very anxious to follow."

"Oh?" Makoto raised an eyebrow, grinning.

Rin leaned up and bit Makoto's bottom lip. "So. Are you feeling up for... vigorous activity?"

Makoto smirked, and his hands moved around to Rin's backside. "As I keep telling everyone... I'm fine. Vigorously... fine."

Rin chuckled, and pulled Makoto down to find out for himself.




 

epilogue...

 

Sousuke fixed his tie, smoothing down his waistcoat. He looked himself over in the mirror, doing a quarter turn to get a view of his backside. "You know, I wouldn't want to wear one of these things regularly, but damn it, I look fine."

"You're staring at your own ass. I can't believe I'm letting you marry my precious little sister," Rin deadpanned.

"You're not. You tried to convince Gou not to marry me. Last night, you were offering to take her away somewhere if she wanted to get out of it," Sousuke returned jovially.

"People have second thoughts! It happens!" Rin huffed.

"Should I get Aki's point of view on that topic?" Sousuke winked at Rin.

"I hate you. I can't believe you're marrying my sister. You're going to be my brother in law. This sucks. I even have to stand up for you. How in the hell did this all happen?" Rin groused.

"Oh, stuff it," Sousuke shrugged. He turned fully around, looking over his shoulder to see if he could get a better view of his ass. "Listen to you whining! Like you weren't preening a minute ago, too!"

"Well, I actually do look amazingly hot in this monkey suit," Rin sniffed disdainfully. "Don't be surprised if Makoto drags me off to the sacristy for a quickie during the homily."

"Oh, I think Tachibana can control himself. Better than you, at least. Before he left to check how it was going, you were drooling worse than the damned cartoon wolf thing," Sousuke snickered.

"I was not drooling, Makoto was giving me the look, I'm telling you, I'm getting some before you defile my sister with your stupid heteronormative ceremony, and what cartoon wolf? The one with the road runner? When did he drool?" Rin scowled.

"No, not Wile E. Coyote, the one who hooted at the girls, you know what I mean," Sousuke told Rin.

Rin looked at Sousuke like he was pumping ooze out of his ears. "I don't think you and I watched the same cartoons. What kind of shit were you into?"

"We did watch the same cartoons!" Sousuke laughed. "We watched them in my den, eating those licorice whips! You know what I'm talking about! There was the wolf who hooted at the girls, and then the sophisticated wolf, but then that one hooted too..."

"Sou, I have no fuckin' clue what you're talking about," Rin shook his head, mystified.

"Oh, come on!" Sousuke laughed, frustrated.

"Guys?" Makoto peeked in, smiling. "They're lining up in the back, so it's time for us to do our thing."

Rin stood up and stretched out. "Ready, Sousuke? Because if not, I can find my sister a better man..."

"Over my dead body," Sousuke smirked. "Let's go."

Rin slipped his arm around Makoto's waist as he passed him. He quickly kissed Makoto's cheek. "I'm glad we're never going through this."

Makoto raised an eyebrow. "Are you saying you don't want to marry me, Matsuoka Rin?"

"Oh, I wanna marry your fine ass," Rin grinned, displaying his teeth. He pinched the aforementioned fine ass. "I just meant all this church shit and everything."

"I can't believe you just said that out loud, in a church," Makoto laughed. "That's a sin, I think."

"Well, why stop at one? Wanna commit a few more sins with me?" Rin purred.

"Tachibana, I'm trusting you to keep this brat in line," Sousuke sighed, looking out at the congregation gathered. He took a deep breath, and threw back his shoulders. Giving Rin a withering look, he sighed. "He's got the rings."

"Don't worry, I'll keep my eye on him," Makoto promised. He looked at Rin affectionately. "Always," he added.

Rin licked his lips.

"I swear to god, if you turn my wedding into some kind of gay porno, I will castrate you. Both of you. Now, let's go.

"We can't keep Gou waiting." Sousuke turned at attention, marched off to his place at the altar, and Makoto and Rin followed, their fingers brushing against each other's only once.








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