title: [...] to say but it's OK
fandom: Free!
characters/pairings: Haru and Rei
rating: G
warnings: none
summary: Haru encounters Rei, who needs advice from a senapi...
notes: written for a prompt from postscriptress/patriciaselina, which was actually rather fun, so thank you!!

Haru crouched down low and held his hand out passively. He knew his fingers still smelled of fish from breakfast, so it wouldn't be long at all before the neighborhood cats were edging closer. He kept himself perfectly still, not even looking down. He looked up at the sky crowded by the eaves of his house, the tree, the clouds...

He felt whiskers, and then he felt a tiny little nose bump his fingertips, and then he felt a scratchy tongue scrape his finger clean.

"...it's not really that it's a problem, of course, not per se, I wouldn't really classify as a problem, but it's been on my mind, and..."

Footsteps crashed up the stone steps outside Haru's house, and the cats scattered. Haru sighed inaudibly, and he looked up to see who disturbed his furry friends. He thought he'd recognized the voice and when he straightened up, he realized that he should have. Standing outside the Tachibana's gate was Rei, who was talking to himself and holding his head haphazardly and looking very nervous. He took a deep breath and he was about to open the gate, so Haru spoke up.

"They're not home."

"Ahhh!" Rei nearly fell off the step. He turned, looking harried, and blinked four times. "H-Haruka-senpai! I didn't even... I didn't mean to bother you, I... Ah, Makoto-senpai isn't...?"

"Were you supposed to meet him?" Haru asked. It wasn't like Makoto to forget a meeting with a friend, but it wouldn't have been unlike him, either. Haru wouldn't describe his friend as being flighty, but he was hardly focused, either.

He was Makoto.

"No, I just... I wasn't... That wasn't why I was... Oh, were you supposed to do something with Makoto-senpai today?" Rei asked him.

Haru shook his head and furrowed his brow. Why would Rei even think that? Makoto would certainly never forget about a meeting with Haru. And then Haru realized that it might appear as if he was waiting for Makoto. "His siblings' school... there's some kind of pageant today. Ran is playing the Evil Witch, and Ren is the tree stump." They both seemed really happy with their roles. Haru would have expected Ran to be the Princess, but maybe it wasn't the kind of pageant play thing that had princesses...

"Oh! Oh, I see... Did... you want to go, Haruka-senpai?" Rei asked gingerly.

Haru didn't really understand Rei's considerate attitude. Perhaps Haru seemed to be lonely to Rei? But until Rei showed up, Haru was with the cats, so... "No, Makoto's going to take a video. Actually going would be a pain."

Rei smiled at him, and it was a lot like the way Makoto smiled at him. "You're really like a part of their family. Well, I suppose you're right. And this way, Makoto-senpai's little siblings can get to tell you all about it."

Haru nodded. He still didn't quite understand Rei, but at least Rei understood. "Did you need something?" He pointed at the Tachibana house. "Can I help?"

"Oh!" Rei flushed, and looked away. "No, it's not like... no, I mean, I was going to see if Makoto-senpai... It wasn't anything important, really, actually, it's probably for the best, it's really stupid, I think, maybe, I just..." Rei was fidgeting, and he wasn't looking directly at Haru.

Rei tended to make things more complex than necessary. It had to be difficult to spend as much time thinking as Rei did. Haru went up a few steps, and then he sat down. He watched Rei until Rei sighed and sat down on the other side of the step from Haru.

Rei sighed a few more times, and then he started, but he stopped almost immediately. "It's just... well... I was going to ask... about Nagisa-kun..." Rei finally stuttered out.

It wasn't like Rei to stutter.

Haru didn't think Rei was actually going to ask anything, but that was fine, in its own way. "Love is hard," Haru said quietly, looking down the step. Since Rei had sat down, one of the cats was now peeking out from around the gate, so Haru held his hand out.

Rei stared at Haru, turning bright red. Haru didn't think he was far off the mark, but maybe Rei didn't realize. Or maybe Rei didn't realize that Haru would understand. Rei finally heaved a heavy sigh, and then hung his head down. "N-no... I suppose not..."

The cat took a few steps closer, watching Rei to see if he was going to start moving or talking again. Cautious, but advancing, the cat reached Haru's hand. Haru smiled.

"I think it's worth it."

Haru was a bit surprised by his own words. He wasn't sure why he said them, or if he really believed it. Had he ever been in love? Could he tell what the worth was?

The cat rubbed his chin against Haru's hand, and Haru had vague thoughts, unformed and shapeless, and he decided to just let Rei decide if his words were good or not.

"It is, you're right, Haruka-senpai!" Rei beamed, and the cat scooted around to hide behind Haru's leg. Rei laughed at the cat's skittishness. "Thank you."

Haru shook his head, keeping the cat in the periphery of his vision. He was sure he hadn't said anything that merited thanks. "Do you... want something to eat at my house while you wait for Makoto, or...?" Haru asked awkwardly. It was difficult to host people. Usually, people just walked into his house uninvited.

Rei was still smiling brightly. "No, I think... actually, I need to go see Nagisa. But, really, Haruka-senpai, thank you." He bowed shortly to Haru, and then tilted his head to the side upon straightening up, all the while smiling.

Haru blinked. Rei was... odd, but Haru thought it was a good sort of odd. "Well. Next time, then."

Rei looked stunned, and then replied happily, "Yes! See you at school tomorrow, Haruka-senpai!"

Haru nodded mutely, and watched Rei clomp off cheerfully.

The cat had hidden himself entirely behind Haru's shoes and wrapped his tail around his body. Haru smiled at him, and scratched behind his ear. "He's gone. He's all right, though. Come out and say hi the next time."

The cat gave Haru a look that clearly indicated what the cat thought of Haru's intelligence level.

Haru rubbed under the cat's jaw, and then he looked up at the Tachibana house, unusually quiet. He took a deep breath, and looked back down at the cat. "Well. Maybe it's time for a run, then? You wanna run with me? No, cats don't need to exercise, do they?"

The cat raised his chin haughtily, reveling in the superiority of catdom.

Haru nodded. "Ok, then. I'll go alone." He stood up and stretched out. He looked at Makoto's house one last time, wondering just what he said to Rei that was so helpful, and what Makoto would have said, assuming Rei had actually asked him something. "When I get back, we'll have dinner."

The cat mewled at him, so Haru took off. Going to school was so tedious, but days off with nothing to do were equally tedious.