InuKai, PG, 850 words.
Post-ep for 167.
Disclaimer: Konomi, not me.
Spoilers for episode 167. Don't read if you don't want to know.
NB: I may retitle this later. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to write a post-ep and then give it a non-spoilery title?
After the match, Kaidoh left without speaking to anyone else. He went for his run and concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, on getting enough air into his lungs.
He worked out in the park, counting his crunches, his pushups, his swings. He added twenty more of each and felt the pull in his muscles, the resistance that was so close to pain.
He went to the sports complex and fed coins into the ball machine, hitting and hitting until all his money was gone.
Then he went home. In the bathroom, Kaidoh scrubbed himself with a pumice stone until his skin was burning. He climbed into the tub and sat, eyes closed, sliding back until only his head was above the water.
And the knot in his chest got bigger and bigger, expanding with the heat, until he couldn't contain it any longer and tears spilled out of his eyes, rolled down his face, and dripped off his chin into the water.
Kaidoh punched the side of the tub and water splashed onto the floor. Crying, at his age. As if he weren't angry enough at himself already. As if he weren't already aware that he was weak, so fucking inadequate.
His head was beginning to ache. Kaidoh swiped his arm over his eyes. He got out of the tub and rinsed his face with cold water, blew his nose, got dressed.
He told his mother he had to study and she brought his supper to his room on a tray. Kaidoh took a bite but couldn't seem to swallow. He left the rest to get cold.
There was a full length mirror hanging on one wall. Sometimes, Kaidoh used it to check his form on different swings. Now he stood in front of it and stared at himself. His hair was too long, almost brushing his eyebrows. His eyes were still bloodshot. There was a pimple beside his nose, white-tipped and swollen. He squeezed it and it burst, spattering the mirror with pus. He got a tissue and cleaned it off.
There was a knock at the door. "Kaoru," his mother said. "It's Inui-kun."
Kaidoh slid the door open. "Please tell him that I will call him back."
"No," his mother said. "He's here."
When Inui came in, Kaidoh wanted to push him back out again. He didn't want Inui to see him, to see his straggly hair and blemished face. He didn't want Inui to know that he'd been crying.
He stood in the middle of the room, arms folded across his chest. "Senpai," he said.
"Kaidoh," Inui said. "I wanted to see if you were all right." He moved closer.
Kaidoh turned away. "I'm fine," he said. "Thank you for your concern."
"You played well."
Did Inui think Kaidoh didn't know that? Kaidoh had played his hardest, his best, and it still wasn't good enough. All the work that he had put in, all the discipline, the training, the practice. All the hours and hours and hours and it still wasn't good enough to beat that grinning fool who spent all his free time eating and mouthing off.
I did everything you told me, Kaidoh wanted to say, and I still lost. But instead, he just said, "Thank you."
"Kaidoh," Inui said. He stood behind Kaidoh and put his arms around Kaidoh's shoulders. He pressed a kiss against Kaidoh's cheek. "If there's anything I can do..."
It was just like the hot water. Something was coming loose inside of Kaidoh and he wanted to turn around inside Inui's arms, to bury his face in Inui's chest and sob until the ache was gone. To have Inui stroke his hair and whisper to him that everything was going to be all right.
Kaidoh blinked hard and bit his tongue until he felt like he could speak without choking. "Inui-senpai," he said. "I have to go out for my run soon."
He could feel Inui's sigh against his back. "All right, Kaidoh," Inui said. He kissed Kaidoh's cheek once more, then let go. "I'll let myself out. See you tomorrow."
"Good-bye," Kaidoh said and listened to the door close. He put his hands over his eyes for a moment. Was this how Inui had felt in the spring, when Kaidoh had beaten him and pushed him off the Regulars? Kaidoh couldn't imagine Inui wasting time crying, hating himself because he was weak.
No more, Kaidoh thought. No more crying. No more weakness.
He went out for his run. The air was cool against his skin and it was easier to hold himself together. No more, he said with every step, no more.
If the training he was doing wasn't enough, then he would do more. Tomorrow he would ask Inui how he could improve, if there was something new he could learn. If he was weak, that just meant he could be stronger.
Kaidoh picked up the pace and sucked air into his lungs. At least he could be ready for next year.
And who knew? Maybe he'd beat Echizen.