title: Old Friends
fandom: Free!
characters/pairings: Makoto/Haru/Rin, Nitori, Kou
rating: Teen
warnings: snippyness, morning cuddling, big brother angst
summary: Makoto has to figure out how not to get in the way.
notes: part of the Happy Household Club, finally moving on with the plot!

"No, it's not going to be a problem," Makoto smiled easily. "Don't worry, I've got it covered. ...It doesn't matter what Rin has planned, I'm going to make sure he's keeping Friday night free. You have my word, Kou-chan." He nodded, even though she couldn't see him over the phone. "Are you really ready for this? Introducing him to the boyfriend?

"Any hints for your pseudo-big brother?" Makoto asked her cutely, but she only laughed in response. "Fine, be that way, but I really wouldn't have told him anything! ...I wouldn't have! You have no faith in me. It's distressing," he sighed.

He entered Rin's office. Rin should be done with class soon, but that morning, he'd told Makoto to just make himself at home in Rin's office until Rin got there. Makoto checked the desk, and Rin wasn't there, so. "You can say that, but if you really trusted me... ...It's not my fault Rin is... persuasive! ...I was not about to...!" he sighed. "I'm actually meeting your brother in just a minute, so I should go. We'll see you Friday, and I'm looking forward to it. Take care, Kou-chan." He hung up his phone, still smiling a bit.

Little sisters were cute, after all!

"I see you're still hanging around."

Makoto started, and turned. Against the wall in Rin's office, there was a ratty old couch the swim team liked to hang out on to bug Rin while he was working. And on that couch, sat... Makoto forced himself to smile. "Nitori-kun. How... unexpected. It's... been a while, hasn't it?"

"It has, Tachibana-san," Nitori smiled pleasantly. He'd grown considerably since high school, and was probably taller than Rin was. He was still fit, and he'd gotten some better sense about hair cuts. He had his legs primly crossed, and he was wearing a crisp, stylish three-piece suit with a plaid starched shirt and a bright red tie. "You don't work at Samezuka, do you? I thought you were... like a nurse?"

Makoto kept smiling. He just kept smiling. "I'm a physical therapist. I'm just visiting... Rin has me talk to the team a few times a year to give them pointers on preventing and treating injuries. And... you? You're... not working here, are you?" Makoto hoped.

"Oh, no," Nitori smiled a bit too suavely. "I teach at an all-girls boarding school nearby. Our schools coordinate festival weeks so that our drama clubs can do a joint production. I'm chaperoning the girls."

"Ah..." Makoto pointedly looked around. There were certainly no high school girls hiding in Rin's office.

"They're in class now," Nitori responded to Makoto's unasked question. "But, I really am surprised to see you. Well, I always was. I knew, even way back in grade school, that Senpai had a strong interest in Nanase-san, so I never had any trouble understanding when they got... closer. But to add a third... element, and for you to still be a part of the equation..." Nitori trailed off, looking poutingly puzzled.

Makoto steeled himself. "Let me guess, you're a science teacher?" he tried to deflect.

Nitori laughed. "Guilty as charged. But, I'm also the drama club's supervisor."

"Really? That's... oddly fitting," Makoto just smiled.

"You think so? Well, I'm not the only one. But, it's useful, you know. My school is as big into the arts as Samezuka is into sports, so." He half-shrugged. "There's plenty to do."

Rin came into his office, and beamed. "Great, you're here!" As he walked by, he pinched Makoto's ass. For some reason, Makoto found Nitori's smirk to be judgmental. "The guys will be here soon, you can set up like previous years? It's a little hectic with the festival shit going on, but I think most of them are happy to have the break. Oh, and you remember Ai, right?"

"We've been catching up," Nitori assured Rin, his expression suddenly that of the dutiful kohai.

Makoto tried not to let the fact that Rin casually used Nitori's given name bother him. There was no reason for him to be bothered, he told himself.

He was only partially successful, though.

"I've got the presentation covered. What's your homeroom doing?" he asked Rin, keeping his tone light and cheerful.

Rin rolled his eyes hard. "The bastards are doing a food stall. They thought it would be easier. I kept trying to tell them it would be a ton of work... but it's nothing compared to the goddamned club's traditional cafe. I tried again to shelve that stupid tradition, but no one will let me," Rin grumbled.

"I wish I could have seen it in person," Makoto winked at Rin, who gave him a grumpy look in return. "Rin in a maid's dress in high school... Rin could have served us drinks..."

"He was very cute," Nitori purred.

Makoto bit the inside of his lip. "Well... I'd... I'd better set up..." he said nervously. It was time to bring this to an end, wasn't it?

"I'll be out there with the guys in a bit," Rin nodded to him. "And, hey, Makoto, thanks, once again."

"Don't mention it," Makoto smiled at Rin, and he got a smile back.

Obviously, he didn't need to concern himself with a snippy, jealous kohai. He just had to remind himself that Nitori was Rin's friend, and everything was fine...

...And he'd be gone soon, anyway.

Makoto closed the door behind him and called out, "I'm home," leaning against the door to push his shoes off. It had felt like a long day, though... he shouldn't complain. Rin's students were interested in what he had to say, and asked good questions, though a couple stayed after to essentially get free therapy. He was late, then, for an appointment with an old man who didn't want to hear about high school swimmers. And then Makoto had a meeting with his boss in which she mentioned how unusual it was for him to keep a patient waiting twice. She didn't seem to mind too terribly much, but he felt guilty.

He hadn't noticed anything unusual in the genkan when he walked into the living room to see his lovers.

And Nitori.

"Hey, you're a bit late. We were waiting on dinner for you!" Rin winked at him. All three of them were sitting on the couch, which meant there was no place else to sit. Nitori was smiling serenely at Makoto while subtly leaning against Rin. "Thanks for this afternoon. The guys really liked it."

"Oh, no problem..." Makoto was not going to stare at Nitori. The other man was obviously enjoying it too much. "So we're all... that is... It's... good to see you again... Nitori-kun."

"Thank you, Tachibana-san," Nitori smiled brightly.

"You don't need to be so formal, sheesh, it feels stiffling when you do that!" Rin teased.

Nitori turned his body slightly to face Rin and in the process brushed against him. "I'm sorry, senpai."

Rin rolled his eyes and ruffled Nitori's hair, which pleased Nitori no end. Haru got up and touched Makoto's arm. "I'll get dinner on the table," he said quietly.

"I'll... get washed up and be right there," Makoto replied, dazed. He watched Rin and Nitori on the couch for just a moment longer, and then nodded and headed off to the bedroom.

Dinner. At their small table in the kitchen, with four grown men around it. It was crowded, wasn't it? Their apartment was too small for the three of them, but when it was just the three of them, it just felt cozy. Occasionally, they had Kou or Ran, or Ren when he was on break, to visit, but... a stranger...

Makoto hung up his tie and chastised himself. Nitori was not a stranger. He was Rin's important friend from high school. That was right. This was no an invasion.

It was nothing to worry about, either. And Makoto... really ought to just ignore him, anyway.

That was easier to do when the man wasn't in Makoto's own home, of course...

The alarm went off, and Makoto slapped at the bedside table, but he missed the alarm. Four times. He crinkled his face and whimpered a bit, desperate to make the noise stop.

Rin crawled over him, and turned off the alarm. Happy, Makoto relaxed, and got ready to sleep a bit more. Rin had other ideas. He bit Makoto's nose, and then his chin, and then his earlobe.

Makoto groaned, and pouted. "Wasn't that just the first alarm?"

"Pretty sure there's only one," Rin teased him, his hand moving over Makoto's stomach. And then lower.

Makoto grinned, but he was keeping his eyes shut. "But, there's still time..."

"Time for what?" Rin asked huskily, his lips on Makoto's earlobe.

"Noisy," Haru complained, and he pulled all the covers so he could wrap himself up into a covers-cocoon, and he turned his back to them.

Makoto opened his eyes blearily. "Hey... hogging the covers, Haru!"

"Oh, leave him be," Rin circled his finger around Makoto's bellybutton, and nipped at Makoto's neck. "He's being grouchy. It's time to wake up, you two!"

"Says who?" Makoto blinked, sticking his bottom lip out.

Rin smirked, and turned Makoto enough to kiss him softly. "Says... our places of business. And you have to stop by the builders this afternoon, remember?"

"I remember," Makoto smiled, stretching out a bit. "Since when do you remind me of these things?"

"Since our builders are my sister's employers and she sends me like twenty texts a day reminding me of things," Rin rolled his eyes. He touched Makoto's lips, playful. "Why do you have to meet with the builders today, anyway?"

"The architect is coming to see the site, and we have to give our choices for the roof and the siding and stuff like that, we talked about all this with my mom last week, remember?" Makoto reached out and caressed Rin's sides with his fingertips, causing Rin to squirm.

"Oh, right, right, your mom made us a binder. That's some serious stuff," Rin ran his fingers up and down Makoto's collarbone.

"We're building a house, so yes, it's serious," Makoto laughed.

Haru grumbled from his covers-pile.

"I won't be here for dinner, either, so you two are on your own," Rin pouted. And his fingers moved down to circle Makoto's nipple.

"Festival stuff?" Makoto asked, trying not to get too excited by Rin's playful, teasing touches.

"Nah, well, sorta, I'm going to dinner with Ai," Rin explained.

"Again?" Makoto said before he could even think. He blinked. Rin was looking at him, surprised, and Haru even turned just a little to listen to them better. "I mean... Ah..."

"He and the other drama teachers are taking the kids doing the play out for pizza, and they asked for other volunteers to chaperone, and he roped me into doing it. Why? You have a problem with Ai?" Rin smirked, and tweaked Makoto's nipple.

Makoto tried to object, tried not to moan. He tried not to look at Rin. Haru was watching him now, too. He had to recover. "That's not it, of course that's not it. I'm sorry, I'm... I'm still waking up, that's all."

"Tachibana Makoto, bad boys who lie get punished," Rin arched his eyebrow, and it sent a cold shiver down Makoto's spine that was equal parts anticipatory pleasure and dread. Being punished could be a very, very good thing, but getting between his lover and his lover's old friend was unacceptable.

"No, it's..." Makoto sat up, which seemed to take a disproportionate amount of effort. "Stop teasing me. I thought you said we had to get up?" Makoto leaned in and nipped at Rin's bottom lip.

Rin gave him a suspicious yet suggestive look. "That I did... I did not say we had to get out of bed..."

Haru sighed, and rolled over onto his back, closer to them. He put one arm over his head, and looked up at them pleadingly. "Noisy."

Rin and Makoto laughed. "Is Haru begging for attention?" Rin asked, feigning disbelief.

"Sounds like it to me," Makoto winked at him.

Rin flopped to one side of Haru, and Makoto went to Haru's other side. Rin started to nibble on Haru's ear, and Makoto was about to lean in and kiss Haru, but Haru looked at Makoto, and too much was conveyed in his dazzling blue eyes, and Makoto felt lost and exposed.

Afraid of what Haru was thinking, Makoto closed his eyes and leaned in, pressing his forehead to Haru's.

The hallway was crowded and boys were running around, yelling, throwing things to each other... generally, creating chaos.

"The Festival opens tomorrow?" Haru asked dubiously.

Makoto chuckled. "It sure doesn't look like it, huh? I suppose all school festivals are like this... I don't really remember our school festivals that well. I mean, I remember them... do you remember what our class did our third year?"

Haru rolled his eyes and looked away. "Something troublesome."

Makoto smirked. "Which year was it that you were sick the whole week leading up to the festival?" Haru just sighed heavily and refused to look at Makoto. "I remember you really were very sick. By the end of the week, you'd completed your pokédex."

"I had pokérus," Haru replied diffidently.

Makoto just shook his head, but he couldn't deny that Haru was cute in his own way. "Well, you did make the posters for our class first year, so."

"What a pain," Haru replied crankily, as if just remembering was effort.

"I think Rin's homeroom is this way..." Makoto craned his neck, trying to see... he wasn't sure what, because he didn't remember the number of Rin's class, only the general direction. He was also keeping an eye out, though, for drama students, girls, and a teacher associated with female drama students. If at all possible, he'd rather just avoid...

"Tachibana-san! Nanase-san! Did you come to get a preview?"

Makoto's heart dropped, but he turned and smiled brightly. "Nitori-kun, hi. Rin invited us to check it out, yeah. He said he'd be here all night, so we also offered to drop off some refreshments," Makoto lifted the cooler he was carrying, full of drinks and snacks.

"Ooh, that will be appreciated!" Nitori's eyes widened with pleasure. "One thing Samezuka was never that great with... vending machines." He wrinkled his nose in remembered displeasure.

"It must be interesting, working on a festival at your old school," Makoto nodded, looking around.

"Makoto," Haru tugged on Makoto's sleeve. "We're going to swim, too, right?"

"H-Haru? N-no..." Makoto paled. Why did Haru think...?

"But the swim team is doing festival junk," Haru made a face. "So the pool is free. Right?"

Makoto opened his mouth, but he wasn't sure how to respond. He didn't want to disappoint Haru, but...

Nitori snickered. "Nanase-san hasn't changed at all. How refreshing and delightful! It's no wonder Rin-senpai gets along so well with you." Nitori looked pointedly at Makoto, and it wasn't hard to deduce that he was thinking Makoto was the odd duck out. "I'm sure it'd be no big deal. The swimming pool is in a whole other building, so there's really no one around there to care. Rin-senpai will have the keys, so let's go ask!" Nitori was speaking pointedly to Haru, like Makoto's otherness had caused him to simply disappear.

Makoto sighed, and followed Nitori. Haru came up to him, and their hands touched briefly. Makoto looked at Haru, and Haru looked at Makoto.

Of course, Haru understood, but while that was reassuring in some ways, it just made Makoto feel embarrassed, mostly. He had to do better.

He should not be allowing Rin's snotty kohai to get to him so much.

The first thing Makoto heard from his lovers when he entered the apartment Thursday night was, "You're late! I thought we planned to... what are you wearing?" Rin was giving him a withering look, like any reasonable adult coming back from work in track pants and a t-shirt ought to be evaluated for mental instability.

Despite the fact that Rin was always in athletic clothes at the end of his workday... granted, he was an athletic coach, but...

Makoto sighed quietly. "A patient threw up on me today, and this is all I had to change into."

"Why is a patient throwing up on your during physical therapy? Were you doing something weird to some old man?" Rin asked, clearly very amused by his own teasing.

Makoto did not roll his eyes, but he had to resist the urge strongly. "It was a little girl. Her arm had been crushed in a rock slide. She's already had a ton of surgeries to repair her arm, so now she's finally learning to use it again. She was reacting badly to her pain meds. She was so tiny, too..." Makoto pressed his lips into a firm line. The little girl had cried and cried because she made oniichan dirty! and her mother was barely able to calm her down for her session. Not exactly a productive hour. Afterward, his regular patients teased him about his wardrobe.

And a receptionist made off with his dirty clothes, promising to clean them for him. That was unnecessary and would require him to thank her properly...

"Making cute little girls cry, after all she'd been through. What a cad!" Rin joked.

"Rin," Haru said warningly. He was watching Makoto.

"What?" Rin pouted, defensive. "I'm only teasing."

"I'm surprised you didn't have exciting plans with Ai-chan anyway," Makoto shot back before he could think about what he was saying.

Rin's eyes lit up, and Makoto's heart sank. He went to the bedroom to change, but of course Rin was following him. Haru trailed behind, watching them.

"Oho, so finally he says something! Or, almost says something. Mr. Perfect-Manners-Always-In-A-Good-Mood-I-Like-Everyone-Tachibana almost expressed a nasty opinion! Wait, I need to get my phone, I need to make some kind of commemoration of the day, let's take a selfie together!" Rin crowed.

"Rin, don't," Makoto sighed.

Rin stepped in front of the dresser, eyes narrowed and challenging. "No. I think I have some allowance here to needle you a little. It's pretty obvious you don't like Ai. Even he's mentioned it, all, Senpai, did I do something to offend Tachibana-san? I don't know what your deal is, but I'm kinda hoping you're jealous because Ai was the first guy I lived with," Rin winked at Makoto saucily.

Makoto wouldn't have even said anything if he hadn't already had a terrible, stressful day. If he wasn't haunted by a sweet little girl whose arm looked like it had been in a wood chipper trying so hard to get back to normal. If the whole week hadn't been wrapped up with Rin's former roommate. If he wasn't constantly worried he was missing some detail with the builders. If he wasn't fielding texts and messages from his mom ten times a day about all the things he should be doing for the house. If he wasn't...

"Don't be s-silly," Makoto folded his arms over his chest and looked away. "Why would I be jealous? Are you suggesting I have reason to be? I don't think so, though. And I have... I have no reason not to like Nitori-kun." He shrugged indifferently, but he wasn't looking at Rin.

Haru edged closer to them.

"You don't have any reason not to, but it's really obvious that you don't. For fuck's sake, Makoto, you aren't required to like every single person on the planet! It'd be nice if you liked my friends and all, but it's just one person, and he's pretty busy, anyway. Why don't you just admit it! Crack the veneer of perfect and find out that we will still love you!" Rin teased.

Makoto looked at Rin sidelong and opened his mouth, but no. He wasn't going to get drawn into some stupid fight over a stupid kohai who was constantly being snippy to him. And then going to Rin to complain that Makoto didn't like him! It was all ridiculous, and Makoto wasn't going to go along with it. He turned away, abandoning the idea of changing, and he headed toward Haru and the door. "It's time for dinner, right? I was late, that was the first complaint of the evening? So let's eat."

"Oh, my god, you really can't do it, can you? You can't admit that you don't like someone! That you might not be the most perfect and loving and giving person on the planet!" Rin threw his arms up in the air dramatically and shook his head in amazement.

Makoto glared at him. "I never said I was any of those things! I never thought I was perfect! Stop saying that! And I'm not the one who dislikes someone here, it's him..." But he bit off what he was saying.

What good was this going to do? Badmouth Rin's friend and say there was some kind of weird animosity between them? That Nitori was clearly prepared to 'lose Rin' to Haru, but not to him? What was the point? Nitori was still Rin's friend. He'd been Rin's friend when Rin wasn't able to be close with Makoto and Haru. He was important to Rin.

"What? What did he do? What's the problem here? Why are you so afraid to say it? Just let it out! Let me have it! I'm a big boy, I can take it!" Rin declared, getting closer to Makoto. He wasn't going to back down. He had the same look on his face and same disposition as when he was fighting with Haru. But now he was facing Makoto.

Makoto was feeling trapped. "I already said, it's nothing, let's just drop it," Makoto looked away, backing off. He didn't want to have this conversation, not anymore, not ever again. He just wanted out.

"No, I'm not dropping it! You're my lover and Ai is my friend and if there's a problem, I wanna know about it! I think I have the right to know about it! So just tell me! What horrible, awful thing has he done? Did he say something? What? Tell me!" Rin wasn't letting Makoto off. He kept moving closer.

"Rin," Haru pled.

Rin shook his head. "No! He should be able to tell me! Why wouldn't he be able to tell me!? What? Do you think Nitori has the hots for me or something? You think he wants your place here? Do you not trust me?"

"It's not about that!" Makoto instantly retorted.

"No? Then what difference does it make what he thinks of the three of us? Huh?" Rin was scowling, and moving closer to Makoto, almost forcing Makoto toward the genkan.

"It doesn't, none of it matters, that's why we should just drop it," Makoto urged.

"Just tell me what he said to you! Why won't you just tell me!" Rin demanded.

"Because I don't want to fight with you, Rin!" Makoto burst out.

And then he turned and took off. At least he shoved his feet into shoes before he bolted out the door, but that was it, no jacket, no keys... he just ran. He took the stairs down, jumping as he got to the bottom to quicken his pace. He went out of the building and down the street toward the ocean and then he took the road alongside the beach, just... getting away...

Which was... it was stupid, he was literally running away from a stupid fight with his lover who enjoyed fighting just because he was too scared of upsetting Rin to stay. It was all so stupid and he was the stupidest and he had no idea where he even thought he was going, but...


He turned around and Rin was there, and Haru was just behind him, looking terrified. Rin was glaring, and he was... he was wearing Makoto's hoodie...

"Just what's the big idea? You just took off, like, what the friggin' hell, Makoto!" Rin asked.

Makoto felt stupider and stupider, and guilty, because they were both worried about him, and this was all his own fault for not just ignoring Nitori and letting the other man get to him... "Forget it, I'm sorry, I just..." Makoto was tired, damn it. He looked out at the water, at the moonlight on the waves. "Just give me some time. Go back and eat dinner or whatever."

"No!" Rin stomped closer. "You can't just... run off, that's... that's just childish, Makoto! You're being childish! Stop it! Y-you... you didn't even put on a damned jacket before you ran off, you moron!"

"Well, how could I? You're wearing it," Makoto sighed, feeling... strung out and useless and... shit, he shouldn't have said that, but...

Rin snarled, and he ripped the hoodie off of him like it was burning his skin. "Fine, whatever, take your goddamned hoodie back!" He threw it at Makoto, though it didn't even get halfway the distance to him. "You know the only reason I wear your clothes is because I like how big and cozy they are, like... whatever, just do whatever the fuck you want!" He turned around and stormed back toward the apartment.

Haru panicked. He looked from Makoto to Rin and back to Makoto, his expression nakedly easy to read.

Makoto smiled ruefully, and gestured toward Rin. "Go with him. Make sure he's ok. I'll be fine."

Haru nodded, but he looked at Makoto for a moment longer. "Don't be long," he ordered Makoto, and then he jogged off after Rin.

Makoto watched them both go and then he trudged over and he picked up his hoodie. He smelled it. He did know exactly why Rin liked wearing his clothes, and while it could be annoying when, for instance, Rin took his boxers and left Makoto with nothing to wear just before it was time to do the laundry, he'd always found something endearing about it that mitigated the aggravation. So why would he say something like that?

Makoto put on the hoodie, and the he ambled along the road, taking the steps down to the beach. He sat down on a rock and watched the waves crashing in until he felt numb. He should have gotten something to eat, but he didn't have his wallet. He didn't know how much time passed when he stood up again, but he scrubbed his face with his hands, and made his way back toward the apartment.

He would have to just apologize. Apologize and apologize until Rin forgave him. It was his fault, anyway, and he should never have let Nitori get to him, and it wasn't Rin's problem to deal with, and Rin was allowed to have friends that weren't friends of Makoto's, but it was Makoto's job to not get in Rin's way, because he loved Rin, and he... he...

He didn't want to do anything, anything at all to jeopardize that.

He took the elevator back up to their floor, even though it was slow, just to give himself that extra few minutes to think. He'd have to say something so Rin wouldn't be upset with him anymore. He wasn't sure exactly what to say, and that was a problem, but... He had to knock at the door. It only took a few heartbeats for Haru to open it, though. Haru looked relieved to see him, and Makoto felt guiltier. He smiled at Haru and shucked off his shoes. He went inside.

Rin was pacing in the living room, and when Makoto came in, he just glared at him. Makoto took a deep breath, hoping some deity that took mercy on men in a threesome would give him the eloquence to make it all ok...

Rin dove toward Makoto and threw his arms around him, clinging to Makoto like Makoto might try to run again. "Don't do that!" he pled into Makoto's hoodie. "Don't just leave! I'm sick of people just leaving... what if something happened to you and... Don't ever just leave, ok!"

Makoto was ready to shoot himself in the leg. How stupid he'd been, and how much pain he'd caused Rin because he'd been stupid...! He wrapped his arms around Rin tightly, and just closed his eyes. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm so, so sorry, Rin. I just. I'm sorry. I didn't want to fight..."

"I didn't want you to leave!" Rin complained.

Makoto tightened his arms around Rin.

Haru came to them and put his hands on their back. "Hey, let me in," he urged.

"Goddamnit, Haru," Rin sighed, but he opened one arm and Makoto did the same and then all three of them were clinging together. Rin sighed, and nuzzled Makoto's chest. "We're idiots," he exhaled.

"I'm sorry," Makoto squeezed them, wishing he could start the whole damned day over.

Coming out of the convenience store, Makoto popped open his energy drink, and looked up into the sky. This was not a good lunch, but they were going out to dinner with Kou and her new boyfriend, so that was something. And the week was nearly over, and it was a good week to be over.

He went around the corner, and nearly slammed right into Nitori.

"Tachibana-san! Oh, how fortuitous to run into you!" Nitori beamed.

Makoto braced himself, and smiled. "Ah... Nitori-kun. Is everything all right with the festival?"

"Oh, yes, well, we had a small crisis with one of our costumes, so I've been sent out for supplies to do some quick repairs." He held up his shopping bag sheepishly. "I've already been to three train stops, looking for stuff. I should have gone straight to the mall, but I thought this would be faster... Do you know, is there someplace to buy collar stays?"

Makoto just stared at him for a minute. "Oh! Um... I think if you go down the next block, there's a shop with a sign saying Cleaners in front, but Harada-san sells all sorts of things there, so just ask?"

"Thank you, that's very helpful!" Nitori smiled brightly.

"Well... good luck. I hope the show is a success," Makoto offered.

"Knock on wood," Nitori winked at him. He took a few steps in the direction that Makoto had suggested, but then he turned and smiled oddly at Makoto. "You and Rin-senpai both seem a bit... on edge. I hope everything is all right?"

Makoto blinked, and made sure not to let anything show on his face. "Oh? Yes, of course. Rin is probably a little stressed because we're going to dinner with his sister and her new boyfriend tonight."

"Ah... yes, I know," Nitori murmured. "So that's it, mm? He's been like a real bear this morning! I guess that's it, huh..."

"Did you think it was something else?" Makoto asked. He shouldn't. If Rin had confided something with Nitori... well, it was his right, there was nothing wrong with confiding in a good friend. That was good for Rin, that he had that. Less good for Makoto that Rin's confidant was someone who disliked Makoto, but...

"No, nothing, I just... I thought perhaps he'd had a fight with Nanase-san or something," Nitori shrugged, laughing it off.

"With Haru? No, he didn't," Makoto shook his head.

"It's only that, back in high school, Rin-senpai was so fixated on Nanase-san. He seemed so focused on everything and anything Nanase-san did. And I remember a few times when they'd gone a bit overboard with their... competitiveness, and how edgy Rin-senpai would get afterward. It just sort of felt like those times," Nitori cheerfully rambled.

Makoto felt his head and stomach lurch in different directions, leaving him uncertain about the reliability of his feet. He had a lot of emotions swirling together and clashing from what Nitori said, but he didn't know how to process them. "Mhm."

"I was always a tiny bit jealous of Nanase-san," Nitori told Makoto in a pseudo-confidential manner. "He really seemed to inspire Rin-senpai in a way that I... well, it wasn't to be, that's all. I'm so happy for Rin-senpai that they're still together."

Makoto's eyes widened.

"Oh!" Nitori laughed. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it like that. All three of you, of course. Hm. It's not really my place to say something like this as an outsider, but I've never been able to figure out if Nanase-san is just really generous, or really needy. I mean, even with Rin-senpai, he still included his childhood friend in his relationship..."

Makoto looked away, looked up at the blue sky between the short buildings. He took a deep breath. "You're really sure that Rin was only interested in Haru, and I'm just an accessory, huh?"

"Like I said, it's not my place to say anything. I'm just an outsider," Nitori shrugged, still smiling.

Makoto nodded. "Yes, you are. And maybe you've thought over the years that if Rin was going to have two lovers, why couldn't you be one of them? But you've got it all wrong. Rin had always pursued Haru's swimming, but that's one thing and this is another. Rin and I became friends first. If you think Rin and Haru got together and I just managed to sneak in the middle, you've got it all wrong. Rin has always been mine. I didn't have to get in the middle. That's why it works with us. No one had to be added. We belong together."

Nitori was giving him a look that could either be amused or devilish. "Senpai... has always been yours?" he asked incredulous.

Makoto opened his mouth, flummoxed, but Nitori just laughed, and waved to him.

"I really should get those collar stays and get back to Samezuka. I hope I didn't bother you, Tachibana-san! See you in a bit," he winked, and then he took off.

Makoto stared after him, and then he just groaned, and downed his energy drink.

The week would have to come to an end soon, right?

Makoto rushed inside, not even bothering to call out. When he got into the living room, he asked breathlessly, "I'm not late, am I?"

"Nope!" Rin answered him breezily. Haru peeked in from the bedroom, still buttoning his shirt.

"Rin said we have to look nice," Haru told Makoto, and then he got back to dressing.

"Ah... yes, I know, thanks," Makoto smiled. He took a deep breath. He'd been sure he was late, but... Rin was watching him, and Makoto knew that look, and... He smiled at Rin, and straightened his tie. "I... I should change my... shirt..."

"Yes, you should," Rin gave him a positively smoldering look.

Flushing, Makoto went to the bedroom. "So... so I gather the festival went well today?"

"Eh, it's over, thank god, and no one hassled me when I took off, so," Rin shrugged, following Makoto into the bedroom.

"That's good," Makoto smiled at Rin. He dropped his blazer on the bed and undid his tie. Rin was watching him like they weren't on their way out to dinner. Haru tucked his shirt into his nice jeans, fixing his hair.

Rin bounced on the heels of his feet, and went over to the closet. "I'll get you something to wear!" he offered.

Makoto was relieved that Rin seemed so... relaxed? "No animal prints," he begged. Rin turned and stuck his tongue out at Makoto. Makoto felt about a ton of stress slip off of him. "You really seem to be in a good mood. I hate to bring it up, but I didn't think you'd be so bouncy right before meeting your sister's boyfriend..."

Rin shrugged, still smiling. "Mm, you know... I guess I'm just feeling so loved, you know?"

Makoto had a bad feeling, but he wasn't sure what Rin meant, so. He slipped his shirt off. "Well, you are loved, yes."

Haru sat down on the bed and waited quietly, watching them.

"No, I just mean... It's a good feeling. Being loved. Like..." He pulled out a v-neck pullover, and tossed it to Makoto. Rin had bought this for him a few years ago. "Like I've always belonged to someone."

Makoto had picked up the pullover, but then he froze. He just froze. And then he closed his eyes, groaning. "Oh, god, he... he told you..."

Rin laughed joyously, and Haru looked at them, curious. "Who told him what?"

Rin bounced over to Makoto and opened up the pullover, directing him to put it on. "I mean, I already knew I belonged to someone, or two someones, really, it's just the always. To always have been someone's..." He tugged the pullover down, and revealed Makoto's bright red face.

"Rin, wait..." Makoto started. Rin threw his arms around Makoto and grinned up at him.

"Are you saying I haven't always been yours?" Rin asked, playing at pouting.

Haru furrowed his brow. "Makoto was mine first," he insisted.

"Shut up, Haru," Rin rolled his eyes.

Haru scowled, and opened his mouth.

"Guys..." Makoto warned, still feeling embarrassed.

Fortunately, their doorbell rang.

"He was," Haru told Rin, going past him to get the door.

Rin made a face and straightened out Makoto's pullover, and then they trailed after Haru. Kou was already in the living room when they got there. Haru closed the door, and then Nitori came in and stood next to Kou.

"Ai! What are you doing here?" Rin asked, still cheerful.

"Oh, my god," Makoto groaned, his face falling into his palms.

"What?" Rin asked.

"It's good to see you, senpai, Tachibana-san, Nanase-san," Nitori beamed, and he put his arm around Kou's shoulder.

"I thought we were having dinner with your new boyfriend," Rin asked his sister.

"I've been such an idiot," Makoto sighed.

"I apologize, Tachibana-san," Nitori winked. "I may have taken an opportunity to... have a little fun with you this past week."

"Ai, have you been misbehaving?" Kou asked him, pinching his side, causing him to crumple and snicker.

"No, I just... well, I'm very happy for the two of you," Makoto smiled ruefully.

"Why?" Rin asked him.

"I think they're dating," Haru said casually.

"Huh?" Rin stared at Haru. "No, they're not."

"Yes, they are, Rin," Makoto said quietly.

"No! They can't be! Ai is my friend! Kou is my sister!" Rin hotly informed Makoto.

"I'm not sure what you think those roles entail that would prevent dating, but they are," Makoto quietly broke it to Rin.

"No!" Rin shook his head.

Kou wrapped her arms around Nitori's waist and squeezed him, smiling. He quickly wrapped his arms around her. "Yes, oniichan. And... I'm thinking... we're doing pretty well and we're in a good spot, so it was time to finally tell you."

"No!" Rin shook his head more violently.

"Are we getting dinner?" Haru yawned.

"Yes!" Kou beamed. "I hope you don't mind, Haruka-senpai, but I've really wanted to try that new Chinese place?"

Haru shrugged. "They do a nice steamed snapper. Let's go."

"Ooh, he's not going to eat mackerel?" Kou snickered, bumping into Makoto.

"Probably for a late night snack," he teased back.

Nitori tickled her waist. "Hey, hey, no flirting with your old senpai right in front of me!" he complained.

"That's punishment for giving Makoto-senpai a hard time!" she stuck her tongue out at him. He tried to bite it, but she pulled away too quickly.

"WAIT!" Rin cried out. "Waitaminute here! Look, there's some sort of weird... Kou-is-dating-Ai thing going on here that absolutely makes no sense and I completely did not agree to, and until we sort this out, no one is going anywhere or eating anything!" He desperately stomped his foot down for effect.

Kou rolled her eyes. "C'mon, let's go."

"No!" Rin childishly shot back. He pointed at them. "Kou! I forbid you to date Ai!"

"You can't forbid me to do anything, idiot," she sighed, taking Nitori's arm.

"Ahhhh! Then, fine, Ai! I absolutely forbid you to date my little sister! I'll... I'll never speak to you again!" Rin tried, more frantically pointing at them.

"That's really sad, senpai, and it's going to make family gatherings awkward, but..." Nitori shrugged helplessly.

"Rin, let's go," Makoto urged.

"But!" Rin pouted.

Makoto held up his jacket, inviting Rin to wear it.

Sighing, Rin came forward, but he made Makoto put the jacket on him. "None of this makes any sense," he mourned.

Makoto rubbed the back of Rin's neck soothingly. "It's ok, Rin. It's going to be just fine. You trust him, right? He's your good friend. So it's ok."

"My little sister!" Rin pointed out.

"Rin," Haru took Rin's hand gently. "We're going to eat now."

"Haru..." Makoto sighed.

Kou was laughing brightly outside the door, holding Nitori's hand firmly.