title: happenstanced
fandom: Free!
characters/pairings: Gou, Ren, Ran, Makoto
rating: G
warnings: cuteness
summary: Gou runs across someone she knows.
notes: for Household Foundation series, a pre-HHC series.

Gou swung her bag way out in front of her, and let gravity pull her arm backwards. She started to whistle, but she didn't know what song it was that she was attempting to get out. Crossing the street, she entered a park. She probably should have gone straight to the station from school, but since nothing was quite working out as she'd hoped, she decided instead to treat herself.

She didn't know why she stopped, but something did give her pause. She looked around a bit more carefully. Under the park's jungle gym, there was a little boy crouched, hugging his knees. He was cute enough in that posture that she was tempted to get out her phone and take a pic, but once she really looked at him, she realized why she stopped.

Swinging her bag some more, she turned and headed for the jungle gym. Acting casual, as if she were in the custom of sneaking under jungle gyms and just hanging out, she went close to the boy, and smiled at him. "It's Ren-chan, right?"

Tachibana Ren started, and then looked at her with glassy eyes, which widened once he recognized her. It was adorable how his whole body language changed instantly, and he went from looking frantic to looking like he wanted to appear aloof in just a few moments.

He was definitely going to grow up to be a lady-killer.

"Oh, hey. You're Gou-neesan, right? You're friends with oniichan," he smiled at her shyly.

She crouched a bit lower, and edged closer to him. "That's right! Aw, I'm glad you remembered my name! So, how's it going, Ren-chan?"

He shrugged, his tiny shoulders a little spastic in the gesture, belying the intent. "I dunno. I guess ok. You?"

"I'm fine, thank you," she smirked. So was this what it was like to get a kid to try to talk about his day? "Where's Ran-chan?"

Ren turned his face away, trying to hide the deep frown that appeared the second she'd said his sister's name. "Oh. She's with her friends. Doing girl stuff, I guess."

"Oh, girls do that sometimes," she nodded seriously. Poor kid, did his sister ditch him?

"Yeah, whatever. I was going to meet up with my friends," he emphasized, perhaps a bit too much, "but I... I wasn't sure where they were meetin' up, and..." he trailed off.

Gou's heart sank. It was easy to understand what had happened, poor kid. He was cute and sensitive. She wondered if Makoto-senpai had been like that when he was Ren's age. That was about the age he was when he was swimming with her brother, right? Just about... Her memories of her brother's relay team from that age were fuzzy, and frankly, she mostly just remembered Rin. He'd been... basically her whole world back then, and it was hard enough on her that he'd transferred schools. Just like Ran, he was always just doing whatever he pleased!

"Ah, you know, that sounds exactly like my day!" Ren looked at her, surprised. "The school's pool is outdoors, so the swim team can't practice this time of year. I thought we were either going to the aquatic center or doing conditioning, but Nagisa-kun informed me just as they were leaving that it was time for a 'guys' day' or something, whatever that means." She wrinkled her nose in disgust. She could imagine a few things, but it was hard to imagine either Makoto-senpai or Haruka-senpai agreeing... Makoto-senpai was too polite and Haruka-senpai wasn't interested in anything but water and fish, as far as Gou knew. "So, I went to find my friends, but they'd already left school." She shrugged, and then winked at Ren.

His little mouth was open, forming a cute little 'o', as if the idea that Gou could have been ditched was just blowing his mind.

"Hey, I have an idea," she nudged him. "Why don't we go get doughnuts together? It's much healthier if you don't eat alone."

"Like a date?" he pressed instantly.

She laughed, picturing Makoto-senpai's response to that. "Ok, sure, why not? You wanna?" She held her hand out to him.

"Ok!" he grabbed her hand, and started to move immediately. She followed him out of the jungle gym, not willing to protest when he led her to the smaller arch so she really had to get low. That was fine, because he was happy, and then they were out and on their way to doughnuts.

They walked hand in hand to the little doughnut shop a block and half down from the park. Gou let Ren pick, amused by how he pressed his face to the display's glass, ogling the choices. When they each had their doughnuts, they went outside to sit on a bench and eat together. Ren spread a napkin on his lap and placed the doughnut right in the center, delicately breaking it up into pieces to eat it neatly.

After the first bite, he looked up at her with delight, and declared, "It's good!"

She resisted the urge to stroke his hair, and nodded. "It is!"

"Thank you, Gou-neesan," he said shyly, looking down at his treat.

"Thank you," Gou winked at him. "Like I said, isn't it healthier because we're together."

He grinned at her like he was pretty sure she was telling a joke, but he wouldn't laugh just in case she wasn't. After another bite, he looked at her shyly. "Are you really not dating my brother?"

Gou absolutely did not choke on her doughnut. "Nope, I'm not. Why? Do you think I should?"

"Mm," Ren thought about it, taking another bite. "Well, I don't know. I don't know how I'd feel about oniichan dating anyone. If he had a girlfriend, he probably would have less time to play with us. I don't think I'd like that. But, I guess it'll happen eventually or something. I mean, he'll probably have to go away to go to college."

"Yeah, that's true," Gou nodded.

"That's gonna be really sad," Ren sighed.

She patted his back gently. "I know. I felt the same way when my brother left to study abroad. I thought I'd never get over it. It just takes time, though. Older brothers... end up doing what they have to do, after all."

"Yeah, but oniichan is..." Ren stopped himself from finishing, looking sheepish. Gou almost laughed, just thinking about what he might have been thinking. "Anyway, you weren't stuck with Ran." His shoulders slumped, just thinking about it.

Eyes twinkling, Gou took another bite to keep from laughing. After she had swallowed, she sighed sympathetically. "That's true, that's true, but... as you get older, you might find her easier to deal with. And you'll be getting older, too, maybe you'll have your own girlfriend, something like that..."

Ren snickered. "Yeah, but I don't like any of the girls in my class. Oh, I guess there could be a transfer... and the high school is different..." he mused.

"There you go! And with Makoto-senpai not around, you two won't be able to compete for his attention," she teased.

"That's true," he responded fervently. "But, oniichan is always super fair about everything. And he's kind and sweet and when he helps with homework, he's always really patient."

"He sounds perfect," Gou bit her lip.

"If you wanted to date him, that would be ok," Ren half shrugged. "But, you'd have to let oniichan take care of Haru-niisan, too. Because Haru-niisan needs oniichan."

"Yeah, I already figured that out," Gou nodded seriously.

"Well, if oniichan was spending more time with you, I guess I could spend time with Haru-niisan and keep him company. Like, if you two wanted to spend a night kissing or something." He looked up at her with honest, almost hopeful-looking eyes.

It was hard not to laugh, but he was so sincere...! "Ah... well, that would be very generous of you. Is that an offer just for me, or would you do that for anyone?"

Ren's expression clouded. "Well... who else would there be?"

She could break his heart and let him know that the list of people in their school who would be interested in spending the night 'kissing' with Makoto-senpai was quite long, but... "Well, what about my big brother?"

He reared back a bit. "Your brother?"

"Sure! He and Makoto-senpai are good friends! Would you keep Haru-senpai busy for my brother?" she probed.

Ren made a bit of a face. "But, I don't think it's a good idea for oniichan to kiss your brother. He'd probably cut his lips on your brother's teeth or something."

The fact that it was her brother's teeth, and not his gender, which made Ren think kissing was a bad idea was almost too much for Gou. "His teeth aren't as strange as they first appear. He's actually kind of sensitive about them, you know," she confided.

"Really?" he looked at her, like it had never occurred to him that Rin might have actual feelings.

"Really really!" she swore.

Ren considered it. "Well. I don't mind spending time with Haru-niichan..." he hedged, and Gou's heart nearly broke. "But, I think I'd have to keep an eye on oniichan if he were alone with your brother, too," he looked at her apologetically. And then he leaned over and kissed her cheek. "But you're a really nice little sister. Your brother is lucky."

She couldn't take it. She threw her arms around him, and squeezed him tightly. "I've got a better idea! You're so cute, Ren-chan, why don't I just date you?"

He squirmed hard, still careful not to be too violent. "Noooo, I'm too young to be tied down!"

"Oh, so you're going to date other girls, too!?" Gou laughed. "If you're going to grow up to look anything like your brother, you're going to be in soooo much trouble when you're my age!"

"I won't be as cool as oniichan!" Ren wriggled. "And I'm a good boy!"

Gou just laughed, squeezing him a bit harder just because he was jiggling around so much.

Ran was bragging extra hard about every little thing she did, but Ren just coolly ate his dinner, not even letting her bait him into asking questions or showing interest. He already knew she was doing girl stuff. What interest did he have in doing girl stuff? Oniichan didn't really care, either!

Ran was dumb.

When she finally took a breath, oniichan turned to him and smiled brightly. "And what did you do today, Ren?"

He straightened up. It was his time. "Oh. I had a date with a cute, older girl."

"Ehhhhh?" Ran dropped her meat into the broth, splashing it, but she didn't even notice. "What are you talking about? You didn't have a date! With who? Where did you go?"

Ren just smiled serenely. "It's not a good idea to kiss and tell," he informed her sadly.

"Kissing!?" Ran shrieked.

"Inside voice," their father reminded Ran.

"Ren?" oniichan looked at Ren, somewhat stricken. "Is there... something you want to tell us?"

"It was just a date," he shrugged, keeping it casual. "No biggie."

"Oh," oniichan replied, but he looked worried.

Ren smiled. He didn't want to worry his big brother, but at the same time, it was nice that he could.