Summary: It was just a strained muscle. Really, the pain was insignificant and he could ignore it (or at least that's what Rin was telling himself). But his roommate was just so willing to take care of him… and his hands were warm.

Rating: K+

Warnings: Light language, light Rintori, spoilers for the end of Free!, tidbits taken from High Speed! and the Free! Drama CDs

This is my first Free! fanfic, written for IchigoOtaku as a late birthday present! I'm a bit nervous because I don't feel like I have a great grasp of the characters' personalities, so I'm not sure if it's good or not. There's not much to the plot either, but hopefully it's just cute enough?

Anyways, everyone enjoy and happy birthday Ichi-chan!

Practice had been bad.

It started during his stretching when Rin noticed stiffness in his right lower ribs but decided to ignore it. Swimming is an excellent therapy for back pain after all. However, when he dived off the board and into the water, mid-way through his typical thousand meters of free warm-up, a shooting pain brought him to a quick halt. He almost wanted to hide himself under the water at the concerned cry Nitori gave, not wanting the loud first-year to bring attention to him and just brushed off the younger's anxieties, saying he had decided on a different stroke.

But within a few meters of breast, he quickly discovered this stroke was even worse. He didn't dare try back, so he switched to butterfly and found it to be easiest though twinges of what he was quickly realizing was a strained muscle, continued to niggle at him the entire warm-up. Still, he carried on right into his speed training, grimacing when his dorm mate started tacking on pleasantries before telling him his time because he knew he wasn't preforming well.

After his fourth run, he was slightly mortified to discover Nitori wasn't the only one who noticed. Forced to tread at the edge of the pool while Captain Mikoshiba scolded him for practicing with an injured muscle, he was immediately sent back to his dorm with threats of clean-up duty if he even dared return before it fully healed. He tried to be indifferent about the whole thing, having recently made a resolution with himself to reign in his bad temperament after all that had happened the past few months, only to humiliate himself more by struggling just to get out of the damn water.

It was amazing he managed not to bite off anyone's head as he left.

And now here he was, staring out at the balcony and trying to stretch his arm behind his head only to find it hard not to cringe. He was a little worried, not remembering a time he had hurt himself so badly and mentally ran a check list of all his recent extraneous activities to try and figure out what he had done. Perhaps it was when Nagisa, in his normal jubilant nature, jumped on him from behind last week? But that happened so long ago. Or maybe it was from him and Nitori moving their desks over to make room for an organizer between them? It wasn't like those flimsy things weighed much though.

He was just ruling out the possibility of it being the harder-than-concrete chairs he sat in for a third of the day during lessons when he heard the soft click of the door and an even softer, "Senpai?"

He let his arms drop, turning to face the platinum-haired teen, chastising, "You shouldn't have left practice."

"Ah-!" Nitori drew himself up ramrod straight, saying in a rush, "Well, I just wanted to make sure you were okay and I have a lot of homework to do anyways and I really should call my family-"

"Alright, alright. It's fine I guess." Rin waved his excuses off. Yet, it was a little strange because he knew Nitori was rather friendly and seemed to get along with everyone well, so why had he left? Was he selfishly monopolizing his attention and making him feel like he had to be there? "Though, you can practice with the others you know?"

"I-I know but… it's not the same without Rin-senpai." The boy looked up at him from under his bangs, smiling shyly. "Seeing you swim so remarkably encourages me to do my best."

"Huh?!" This kid was unbelievable sometimes! He could feel his cheeks burning as he snapped, "D-Don't say such embarrassing things with that face!"

"I'm sorry!"

As the other flailed about, he rubbed the back of his neck (making sure it was with his left hand), grumbling off-handedly, "Never mind. You said you had homework right? I do too; let's do it together."

And just like that Nitori was all smiles again. "Yes, Rin-senpai!"

As they were gathering their books and papers onto their desks, his roommate shot him a troubled look when he heard him give a soft hiss. "You are going to be alright, right?"

"Ah." Rin affirmed, settling down in his chair. "It's just a strain. No big deal."

"And… you're not mad at Mikoshiba-buchou?"

The question took him by surprise and he almost asked why Nitori would think that, but it wasn't like he had given the younger to think otherwise. Before the Regionals Relay, he had had a pretty bad habit of becoming enraged by the littlest of offenses, too wound up about everything to act with the respect those around him oftentimes deserved. Hence his newfound resolution; though, considering he had nearly stormed from the pool center, he knew he still had a ways to go.

He made a note apologize for his behavior in the morning.

At least he could feel accomplished that he hadn't blown up at his roommate even once in the past two months, though he could tell with the tentative way Nitori would bring up certain topics he deemed 'sensitive' by refusing to meet his eyes and would apologize profusely, that he was always on edge of being chewed out. It was partially the boy's nature, but he knew a good deal of it was of his own fault too.

It only strengthened Rin's resolve to be extra kind to the other.

"Iie. He was right to tell me off." He spoke up finally. "I shouldn't have been pushing myself if I was hurting enough that it was affecting my swimming. I could have injured myself worse trying. It's fine though; I'll rest up and be back as soon as it feels better." He shot a look at his dorm mate, saying in a tone that called for no arguments, "But you better not skip any practices just because I'm not there alright?"

"R-Right…" Nitori conceded quickly.

"And…" Rin added with a smile, "Maybe I'll come by if I'm feeling up to it. Time you exclusively for once, eh?"

The other was suddenly beside himself with happiness. "Really senpai?! Oh, that would be marvelous!"

Definitely would have to come by.

They worked on their homework until it was time to head off to the Samezuka cafeteria for dinner. They returned, finished the rest of their work and turned in for the night. Rin sighed as he laid down, forced onto his left to keep any pressure off his back. At least he was on the bottom bunk; he wasn't sure how well climbing a ladder would go. Inflammation had no doubt set in and he disliked the increasing amount of extreme caution he had been forced to put into every movement from sitting back to leaning over.

His mother (after reprimanding him for being stubborn like his father) would say he was having an off day and tomorrow would be better.

Tomorrow came.

It was not better.

He wasn't even sure if it could be called 'tomorrow' because the hour was barely a few minutes after midnight and it was pitch black when he awoke, having moved onto his back in his sleep only to be awoken by an excruciating spike of pain just under his lungs that throbbed with every breath.

He pulled himself onto his side again, but when that proved useless, sat up until the throbbing edged away to a light aching. He tried lying back down. Immediately, the muscle was screaming again. No matter what position he tried it made little difference, though his back was by far the worst, sending a cringing amount of agony through him that left his body instinctively trying to curl up.

Finally giving up, he edged out of bed as quietly as he could, pacing the room as he tried to stretch out the pull. Despite his best efforts though, he somehow roused his roommate, hearing him twist in bed, a sleepy voice calling, "Rin-senpai…?"

He turned his head, seeing blue eyes peering down at him wearily, and mumbled, "Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you."

The other blinked at him before glancing at the digital clock they had set on the far side of the desk, sleep-muddled brain taking some time to process this, before saying, "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, don't worry about it." He answered. "Was just heading back to bed." To prove that statement he climbed back onto his bunk.

"Alright. Goodnight senpai." The younger said, some rustling above telling him Nitori was getting comfortable.

"Night." He let out a breath, gently moving his body down onto the sheets. It was no use though, his nerves continuing to flinch in protest. He tried to elevate his torso on his pillow then, when that failed to work, his hips, his shoulder, his arms. Nothing was comfortable. How could a strained muscle really be this bad?

He was just beginning to panic that maybe it wasn't a muscle at all. That he had possibly injured himself more than he thought, torn some ligaments or cracked a rib, when he heard a soft sigh from above. "Senpai, does it still hurt?"

He cursed under his breath, not realizing his tossing about was keeping his roommate up. "A-A little." He admitted finally. "I can't sleep."

"Mmm…" There was a thoughtful pause. "I think I have something that might help." The ladder groaned as Nitori climbed down it and Rin sat up, watching him cross the room to their shared bathroom, wincing some at the sudden light when the flip was switched. There was some rattling about and after a few minutes, Nitori returned, juggling three items in his hand that he set on Rin's desk before turning on the lamp, enveloping the room in a dim yellow glow. They each had one, in case one of them happened to be working late on their studies while the other wanted to sleep. It was easier on the eyes than the bright white fluorescents screwed into the ceiling.

His roommate held out a glass of water and some pills. "My mom told me before that I can take four of these when I'm in a lot of pain." It wasn't anything special, just some off-the-counter painkillers, but he didn't complain, readily swallowing them down. "And then this should help to." Nitori said as he held up a tube that Rin thought might be toothpaste at first before realizing the kanji read 'muscle cream'. "I use it sometimes when my shoulders really hurt after practice."

He wasn't a stranger to the product, knowing the cream worked similar to a heating pad by warming the skin and relieving the pain deep under. "Alright." He replied, pulling off his shirt carefully then paused awkwardly when the platinum-haired teen held the tube out towards him. "Uh… could you… uh…"


He ground his teeth some, struggling to speak, "I can't move my right arm well and it would be weird with my left… so could you uh…"

Nitori stared, then his eyes widened as realization hit, face flushing brightly. "O-O-Oh! Y-Yes of course! I'd be happy to! Wait, no! I-I mean not in any perverted way! I just mean, anything that would make you more comfortable is-" He was rambling again.

"I get it." Rin quickly interrupted before he got drowned by the other's nervous chatter, turning around and saying, "It's on the right. Lower ribs."

He held back a shiver when the other brushed his fingers over the skin, the touch light and barely there as if worried even the slightest pressure might cause him to tip over screaming. "Here?"

"Little lower… More to the le- yeah there."

"Okay." There was a soft pop as the cap was opened, a minty scent wafting into the air that reminded Rin of the white heart candies with lovey-dovey sayings on them that were popular in Australia during Valentine's Day. Coolness touched his back, the cream slowly and tenderly being rubbed into the sore spot. "I-Is this okay? A-Am I being too rough Senpai?"The first year's voice was jumping all over the place.

He shut his eyes tightly. Shit. It sounded like they were having terrible movie porn sex or something! "No, that's fine Nitori."

"Okay, just let me know if I am." Was the near inaudible response.

Once the last of it was rubbed in the other hurried off to wash his hands. Rin could already feel the burning setting in, like the July sun beating at his back, and he sighed softly, the sensation not altogether unpleasant. The narcotics were probably starting to kick in too, a rush of sleepiness running through him. He was just stretching back out onto the bed when Nitori returned. "Is it better Rin-senpai?"

"Mmhmm…" He replied pleasantly enough. "Thanks."

"Ah, you're welcome!" The room was plunged into darkness with the soft click of the lamp. They exchanged goodnights once again and, after a time, Rin was finally able to find sleep again.

The medicine wore off around four and he was brought back to wakefulness, aching even more – if such a thing were possible. Of course, strains get worse before they get better. Determined not to wake Nitori yet again, he simply sat up in bed, thumbing through one of his books for literature, reading by the pale light of dawn.

By the time the other swimmer awoke, Rin realized he hadn't understood even one word of his reading.

"Up already senpai? Did you sleep well?" The teenager asked cheerfully.

"Better but not great." He answered truthfully. When the other frowned unhappily, he considered maybe he should have lied but wasn't sure if he could have. The day hadn't even started and he already felt beyond exhausted. It was utterly pathetic.

But, his roommate didn't seem to think so, saying sympathetically, "Perhaps you should take today off?"

He shook his head. "What's the point? It's not like I'll be sleeping."

"But how will you carry your bag?" Rin wanted to point out he had two shoulders, but the idea in general did make him balk. While he was pondering, Nitori continued to coax, "You should really rest some more senpai! I can give you more medicine and let your teacher know you're not feeling well. I'll bring your work to class and get your nightly assignments too. I'll even bring you breakfast!"

"Uh…" Rin was oddly reminded of the time the other had asked him, hypothetically, who he would date between him and Captain Mikoshiba if they were girls. He had imagined the first-year to act exactly like this, overly giving and offering to do about a hundred and one things to please him to the point his planning skills border-lined OCD. It had been an incredibly annoying fantasy.


It was odd; he didn't find it at all annoying now. In fact, after losing his father and having spent the better part of his teenage years out on his own in Australia, the idea of someone taking care of him for just a little while, especially when he felt so incapable right now was… extremely welcomed.

"Alright, alright." He said, holding up his hands in surrender. "You win. I'll stay in today."

The silver-haired boy seemed to light up like a Christmas tree and Rin kind of felt a weird sort of twist in his gut that, like the muscle cream, was not altogether unpleasant. The other practically sped off to get him a meal, claiming he would sleep better with a full stomach, and returned in no time at all. After eating, he helped him locate his work and again took the pills and had an application of cream added to his skin.

Smiling proudly with his job well done, Nitori shouldered his bag and said, "Sleep well senpai!"

"Yeah." He responded, but as the other started to head out, he called, "Hey, wait."

The other froze instantly, turning to look at him, "Yes? Is everything alright?"

Rin nodded, standing up and walking over to him. "I just forgot something."

"Oh? What is i-i-i-" The younger's words failed him utterly as his bangs were pushed back and soft lips kissed his forehead.

"Thank you, Ai." He whispered against the warm skin.

Nitori swallowed twice to try and gain his voice, his face taking on a very brilliant shade that put Rin's hair to shame. But it was nothing compared to the smile that sparkled brighter than all the night stars. "Any time, Rin-senpai."

He watched the other leave, practically floating out of the room, and grinned.

His mother was right.

Tomorrow is better.

A/N: So just some quick notes:

-Firstly I came up with this idea when I in fact pulled the same muscle Rin does in this story several weeks ago. So, trust me when I say he's not being a drama queen about the pain or how hard it was to lie down or do just about anything. My mom had to give me a vicodin (this is a painkiller you need to get prescribed from a doctor) so I could sleep. Everything else from ice to muscle relaxants barely worked if at all. Granted, at his age and being so athletic, it's highly unlikely Rin would pull a muscle to this degree… but then we wouldn't have a story now would we?

-Secondly, for those of you who didn't happen to catch it in the final episode (I certainly didn't until much later) 'Ai' – short for Aiichirou – is Rin's nickname for Nitori. And, yes, it also means 'love' so it can have a double entendre. But, from what I can gather from the second Drama CD, Rin doesn't call Nitori by his nickname often – usually only when he's in a happy mood. Likewise, after being given his nickname, Nitori also started calling Rin by first name. It was this moment in the anime I fell in love with this ship, seriously.

And that's it! Hope you guys liked it!