The two of them weren't particularly close friends. If anything, they just ran in similar circles and knew a lot of the same people. But as she sat across from him at the table that night, Gou felt a kinship with Nitori that few people shared. And that kinship was what it was like to date a Mikoshiba.
Loud, brash, fiery – you could easily list off words that described all three of the siblings without having to pick up a dictionary. They filled any room with their presence and when there was more than one of them in a single place, no one else stood a chance.
Which was why Gou, from a small family consisting of her mom, her brother and herself, wasn't used to a dinner table that was quite as noisy as this one. Seijuro was sat in an arm-wrestling match with his mom, Momo was trying to outdo his dad with tales of the beetles he'd found over summer, Isuzu had two different Mikoshiba cousins in a headlock while an auntie cheered them on and there was a tiny Mikoshiba toddler (whose origins Gou did not know) crawling across the table, helping herself to and plates of food that were left unguarded. It felt more like something out of a Viking legend than a Japanese dinner table.
“I'm just going to head to the bathroom,” Gou said, over the cries of victory that came when the Mikoshiba Mom won the wrestling match, “It's down the hall and on the left, right?”
“Sure is, bae! If you get lost, just give me a call!” Isuzu yelled from over the top of her cousins.
“I will,” said Gou.
She got to her feet and headed out, into a corridor that felt much quieter in the absence of any Mikoshiba. Even after she went to the bathroom, Gou took a few minutes to stand in the hallway and take a quick break from it all. That was when Nitori joined her, walking out from the dining room to rest against the wall next to Gou. He gave her a small, knowing smile.
“First Mikoshiba family dinner?” he guessed.
“Y-yeah...! Isuzu and I have been seeing each other for a while, but this is the first time I've been in Tokyo long enough to come to one,” Gou replied, “She was so eager to introduce me to everyone.”
Nitori chuckled; “Ah, well... you were the object of affection for three of them for so long, you know? Momo and Seijuro were so proud of Isuzu when she finally asked you out – Mikoshiba have this unique sense of competition, I don't think they get jealous like normal people.”
“You make it sound like you've studied them,” joked Gou.
“Well, a few years dating Momo will do that,” Nitori said, “It takes a while to get used to them, especially if you're quiet, but I promise that you get used to it. Actually... it's kind of nice. My family are so traditional – dinner time with them in never as fun. They don't even like talking at the table.”
“How did Momo last when you took him to your house then?” Gou asked.
“My p-parents... aren't the most keen on Momo,” Nitori admitted, “But they respect my choices and I'm glad of that. I wouldn't have imagined it a few years ago, but now I can't see myself with anyone else. Momo's so dedicated and loving... I feel safe with him.”
“I can see that,” Gou agreed, “One time, this huge guy tried to cut in front of us in a queue, but Isuzu stared him down until he backed off – the guy didn't stand a chance!”
“That's just like Isuzu. When I first came to Tokyo to visit Momo, I got so lost. But Isuzu and Seijuro actually closed up this shop they were both working in at the time to come get me. I felt bad for putting them out, but it's like nothing is too much trouble for them,” said Nitori. He glanced fondly back towards the noisy dining room; “...Momo felt so guilty after that. I told him it wasn't a big deal, but he still took me all the way to the station on the back of his bike when I needed to go home.”
“You say that so casually, you seriously must be used to it. I remember when I first met you – back when Rin was your favourite person. You seemed so shy and nervous back then, but not any more,” said Gou.
Nitori gave a wistful shrug; “Momo works miracles. But anyway, that's why I came out to check on you. I know it might be a bit much, but... they get it. You don't have to worry. It'll take time, but one day you'll just realise that it's clicked and being here with them feels right. At least that was how it was for me, anyway.”
Gou nodded. She knew that she was serious about Isuzu and wanted to be with her. And for all they were brash, the Mikoshiba parents had been openly accepting of Isuzu's relationship with Gou, possibly from Momo and Nitori having been together so long already. It never felt like an issue to them and that kind of welcoming attitude was reassuring.
“...I think I'm ready to go back inside,” she said, turning to look at Nitori, “But thanks for this. I appreciate having someone who understands.”
“That's me all right,” said Nitori, “Maybe one day, when Seijuro brings someone home, we can both be the people who help them adjust to the Mikoshiba life.”
“We'll see. It'd take a strong person to date him,” Gou giggled. Although Seijuro did seem friendly with that Hoshikawa guy, so maybe there was something there. Regardless, as the two of them headed back for the dining room, Gou took a deep breath; “Here we go...!”
The volume hit them as soon as they walked through the door. It seemed as if pudding was being dished out now. But as soon as they were back in the dining room, both Momo and Isuzu looked up. Momo bounded over and hugged Nitori tightly.
“There's my Ai! Come on, we made your favourite!” he cheered, tugging Nitori back towards the table.
“Gou! Gou! You have to try this, okay? Dad's cooking is the best,” Isuzu called, waving widely from where she'd been helping put out the plates.
Nitori and Gou shared a fond look before going back to their seats. Sure, the Mikoshiba family had larger than life personalities, but they both knew that they wouldn't have it any other way.