Time Travel for Beginners by Halrloprillalar
Prince of Tennis, InuKai, PG-13, 3800 words
Inui needs a favour.
Thanks to the Boy for brainstorming and kestrelsan for beta.
Time Travel for Beginners
Kaidoh knocked on the door and wished for a time machine. Not to see if Seigaku would win the Nationals. Not to roam the heroic past as a legendary samurai. Not even to pick up tomorrow's winning lottery numbers.
All Kaidoh wanted was another chance.
Inui was sitting on the bed, his back against the wall, and he didn't get up when Kaidoh came into the room. "I'm sorry I didn't come out to meet you," he said. "Actually, that's why I called you here."
"Inui-senpai?" Kaidoh could see that Inui's forehead was damp, like he'd been sprayed with a plant mister. He looked pale, too, his skin the colour of straw. "Are you all--"
A grimace flickered across Inui's face. "Excuse me," he said and bolted past Kaidoh.
Kaidoh waited. The room seemed different from before, but that was probably because everything seemed different now. There was a little more scribble on the walls, a few more books and papers on the desk. Inui had changed his screensaver to an abstract pattern that swirled and grew and folded in on itself in a way that made Kaidoh dizzy to watch.
This was almost where he had been standing, one week ago. Twenty centimeters to the left. Kaidoh moved and tried to let himself be pulled into the past, to when he had been here and Inui had been there. Kaidoh looked up, at the space where Inui wasn't. If not a time machine, what about a wish-granting magical animal? What about divine intervention?
Inui came in, not quite brushing Kaidoh's shoulder as he passed, and sat down on the floor.
"Inui-senpai," Kaidoh said. "You're sick."
"It's not contagious." Inui looked up at Kaidoh. "Just a juice experiment that didn't work out very well. That's why I asked you to come."
"Can I get you something?"
"No," Inui said. "You have to help me sneak out."
"Sneak out. My mother won't let me go out like this."
"She's right," Kaidoh said. How could someone so smart be so stupid?
"Don't fuss," Inui said. "If there were something you had to do and you were sick, would you let it stop you?"
"You see?" Inui wiped his forehead. "I have a plan. You'll go out and tell my mother that--" Another grimace and Inui was out the door again.
No time machine, then. Instead, Kaidoh wished he were anywhere but here. Inui was acting like nothing had happened and so was Kaidoh, but still tension was hanging in the air like smog. Kaidoh wanted to make an excuse and go home, but he had to keep Inui from going out sick like that.
"Inui-senpai," Kaidoh said when Inui returned. "You should stay in."
"It's fine, Kaidoh."
"But if you have to rush off every five minutes..."
Inui frowned. "I guess you're right," he said and sat down again. "Time for Plan B."
Of course Inui had a Plan B. "What is it?"
"I'll have you get it for me."
"Stomach medicine? Tea?" Kaidoh's mother always said tea was the best thing for an upset stomach. "A magazine?"
"No," Inui said. "Data."
"From Kuroshio. They're a school from Wakayama but they're here for a training camp. I just found out and today is the last day. We could face them at Nationals, so it's vital that I get their data." Inui looked up. "You'll have to go instead of me."
"But I..." Kaidoh began to feel like he had drunk Inui's juice as well. "I don't know how."
"It's not hard," Inui said. "All you have to do is sneak up to the court and videotape them and do some observations and recording."
"It's like being a spy. So of course you can't let them see you." Inui got up and went over to his closet. "You'll need to be disguised."
A disguise could be cool. A spy disguise. Maybe Kaidoh could be in all black, like a ninja. Or in camo so he blended into the trees.
"Here you go." Inui handed Kaidoh a dark blue jacket and matching baseball cap. "Your bandana is too distinctive." Inui reached out and Kaidoh thought he was going to pull it off Kaidoh's head. But he let his hand drop again.
Kaidoh took it off himself and shoved it into his pocket. Then he put on his disguise. It didn't feel very spy-like.
"Some sunglasses might be good," Inui said. "But they would impair your vision. Here's a notebook, two pens, stopwatch, binoculars, videocamera, directions, and a headset for your phone. I'll talk you through the whole thing."
Kaidoh didn't know if he was reassured by that or not. He took the satchel from Inui and slung it over his shoulder.
"Call me when you get there," Inui said and ran out of the room.
"Inui-senpai." Kaidoh adjusted the headset. It felt weird to have it hooked over his ear. He kept thinking it would fall off and the cap got in the way. "They're practicing on an outside court."
"See if you can get closer, Kaidoh. Is there cover?"
"Some trees and bushes." Kaidoh tried to walk silently, like a man of the forest, at one with nature. Then he stepped on a pop can. He hissed.
"Sorry." It would be difficult to get close enough to see and still be hidden. "I'll have to climb a tree." Kaidoh found a likely-looking tree and shinnied up it. The bark scraped his hands and knees and a spider crawled down his back. He almost dropped the satchel trying to get it out.
"Is everything all right?" Inui said.
Kaidoh heaved himself up onto a sturdy branch and took a deep breath. "It's fine." He had a good view of the court from up here. The sun was behind him and there was a nest of baby birds further along the branch. Where was the mother? Someone should be looking after them.
"Okay, start up the video camera."
Which button was he supposed to press? "Uh...senpai, how do I turn it on?"
"Hold down the red and blue buttons together for three seconds. The light will start to blink."
The red and the blue. Which were on opposite sides of the camera. Kaidoh had to let go of the branch to press them both, but when he looked through the viewfinder, he could see a blinking light, so it must have worked. He trained the camera on the birds. They were scrawny, with fluffy grey down and yellow beaks. One was smaller than the rest, with a bigger, yellower beak. Kaidoh hoped it was getting enough to eat. Was that spider still around?
"What do you see?" Inui said and Kaidoh swung the camera to the court.
"There are eight of them," Kaidoh said. "Most of them are playing practice matches. One singles, one doubles. Two are hitting serves."
"Tape each one for three minutes, then start on the timed readings. For those, just consult the template in the front of the notebook. You'll need the stopwatch and..."
It felt like Inui was right behind Kaidoh, whispering into his ear. Like his voice was sliding into Kaidoh's brain, tickling down his spine.
And Kaidoh could still hear the echo of Inui's words from last week. He could still feel the weight of Inui's hands on his shoulders. "I like you, Kaidoh." The warm press of Inui's mouth against his forehead. "I thought you should know."
He could still feel it all, a week later, but it was fading, the warmth, the weight. And he could still feel his own body, mute, immobile. He had just stood there, looking down, not able to say a single word.
He had tried. Then and since. I like you too, senpai, that's all he needed to say. But the words stuck in his throat, like pieces of cracker too sharp and dry to swallow. He tried to write them down, but his pen hovered over the page and his fingers wouldn't move.
If they were a week in the past, Kaidoh knew, things would turn out just the same.
Kaidoh moved the camera onto another player. He'd lost track of time, but it was probably around three minutes. And he hadn't quite taken in all of Inui's instructions.
"Senpai," he said. "Could you tell me about the template again?" There was no answer. "Senpai?" Maybe Inui had had to leave the room again. But when Kaidoh listened more closely, he could hear Inui breathing softly. He was asleep.
That was good. Inui was obviously feeling terrible; this would help him get better. And it was pleasant to listen to him like this. Soothing. Kaidoh remembered their own training camp, waking up early and watching Inui sleep in the grey dawn light, wishing he could curl up close beside him.
Then Inui started to snore. Kaidoh disconnected the phone. Good for Inui, bad for Kaidoh. Now he would have to wing it. Kaidoh switched the camera to the next player, that was easy anyhow. Kuroshio were skilled, all of them, and he wished he could play them now.
The birds began to cheep, high and shrill, like Kaidoh's alarm clock at 5:30 AM. He glanced over. A large bird -- their mother, finally -- flew in and perched beside the nest. Now they opened their beaks, straining upward, pushing at each other. The mother shoved an insect into one of them. Not the littlest one, Kaidoh noticed. Then she looked over at Kaidoh.
It was a disconcerting stare, black and beady. Kaidoh shifted on the branch and looked back at the court. Hopefully, he hadn't messed up the video. He moved on to the fourth player.
There was a whir and a blow and the mother bird was diving at Kaidoh's head, flapping and pecking and squawking, like she was trying to say something very important to Kaidoh and that something was: Get the hell away from my nest.
"Okay, okay." Kaidoh shielded himself with one arm and put the camera into the satchel with another arm and hung onto the branch with his third arm, only he didn't have a third arm, and so he swayed and fell, down, down, to the ground.
There didn't seem to be anything broken, except one of the pens. There was ink all over Kaidoh's shorts and his leg was bruised. Inui's jacket was smeared with mud. The camera, miraculously, was fine.
Kaidoh stood and brushed leaves and grass off himself. No more trees. But what then? How would Inui handle the situation? Kaidoh could call for instructions, but he didn't want to wake Inui. Okay, Inui would probably sneak in close and get the data from a covert position. That clump of bushes was the most covert. Kaidoh just had to get over there.
He dropped to the ground and crawled through the grass like a commando, silent and lethal. Maybe this spy thing was working after all. Kaidoh could be sneaky, sly, stealthy.
Halfway there his phone rang. It was his mother. "Will you be out much longer, Kaoru?"
"Yes," he whispered. "I'm doing some important work for the tennis club."
"Oh, that's just like you, Kaoru," she said. "You're such a hard-working boy. But you should speak up a little. When you come home, will you pick up some things for me?"
Kaidoh squirmed until he could get the remaining pen out of the satchel. He couldn't put his shopping list in Inui's notebook, so he wrote it on the palm of his hand.
"Do your best," his mother said. "And don't stay out too late, all right?"
"Okay," Kaidoh said. He kept crawling, but he didn't feel much like a spy anymore.
He settled into the bushes. He was right up by the court now, so it should be easy to get the rest of the data, if he could figure out Inui's system. But there was more videotaping to do first.
The wire fence was a little problematic, but Kaidoh positioned the camera so that it wasn't too bad. Only a shrub was poking him in the back. Kaidoh shifted. Now two shrubs were poking him. He would just have to endure it. But the camera was out of alignment again.
Kaidoh ground his teeth. He had to get this right. He fixed the camera angle and ignored the various bits of vegetation that were irritating him. The cap slipped into his eyes and he pushed it up with a hiss before he remembered to be quiet. He held his breath for a moment, but nobody looked over.
All right, finish the videotaping and then move on to the timing. Kaidoh could do this. For Seigaku and for Inui. Maybe this would help things somehow, ease the tension a bit. Maybe it would help Kaidoh to speak up. I got the data for you, Inui-senpai, and by the way, I like you too.
The sprinklers came on.
Kaidoh dodged out of the way, clutching the camera under his arm, trying to weave through the spray. He stepped on something hard, there was a crack, and a stream of water hit him square in the face.
"Dammit," he yelled and ran, snagging his jacket -- Inui's jacket -- on the bushes as he pushed through them. By the time he got out of range, he was soaked. The camera was wet and he scrubbed at it with his shirt. The light was still blinking, so that was a good sign. He turned it off to let it dry.
The list on his hand was all smudged and he tried to remember what he was supposed to buy. At least he was out of those stupid bushes. Out of the bushes. Out in the-- Kaidoh turned around.
The whole Kuroshio team stood by the fence, looking at him. Their eyes reminded Kaidoh of the mother bird. "Who are you?" one said.
"I'm--" What was he supposed to do? Inui would have had some plan for getting spotted. Kaidoh could run, they wouldn't be able to catch him, but then he wouldn't get the data. And he wasn't going back to Inui without it. He needed a story, a spy identity story.
"You're a spy."
"No," Kaidoh said. Not much of a story.
"Then what are you doing here?"
"I'm--" This was bad. He could feel the pressure building inside his head, his nerves begin to twitch. This was like a game he wasn't ready for, a move he couldn't counter. What would Inui say, if he were here? "I'm a reporter."
"In that case," one of the players said, a tall boy with bleached hair. "Come on in." He opened the gate and came over to Kaidoh. "You can see better."
"It's fine," Kaidoh said.
"No, no." Bleach-boy put his hand on Kaidoh's shoulder. Kaidoh wanted to jerk away, but he managed not to. "You're our guest."
Kaidoh didn't know what else to do, so he let the boy walk him inside the court. He put the camera back into the satchel in case he had to make a break for it. His head throbbed now, his muscles tensed, urging him to run. The gate clanged shut behind them.
The team circled around and Kaidoh set the satchel down at his feet. He had to concentrate just to keep from clenching his hands into fists. The situation was completely out of control. Calm down, he told himself. Calm down and think.
"Who are you?"
"I told you."
"You're too young to be a reporter."
Kaidoh could feel his heart pounding against his ribcage. "A school reporter."
"From which school?"
"From...yours." Stupidest answer ever.
"We've never seen you before." The circle started to close in. Kaidoh shifted from one foot to another and glanced over his shoulder.
"I just transferred."
"If you're from our school, why do you have to hide?"
Kaidoh hissed and didn't answer. He wasn't sure he could even talk now in any sort of normal fashion. What was he going to do?
"You're just a punk-ass pansy from some weak Tokyo school," the blond boy said.
Kaidoh's guts were churning now, everything inside him stirred up and pulsing. His vision narrowed, black around the edges, focused in on the bleached-blond asshole.
"You probably can't even play tennis. Do you know how to hold a racquet? I bet even the girl's team is too strong for you."
Everything was sharp and clear now, every slow word from that bastard's mouth, the sunlight glinting off the chain around his neck, the high ringing in Kaidoh's ears.
"Here's what we do to girly boys who can't mind their own business." The players laughed and the blond reached out for Kaidoh.
Kaidoh hit him in the face. It knocked him back into one of his teammates and they both went over. The rest of them stared. Kaidoh took off the cap and threw it on the ground. He pulled the bandana out of his pocket and tied it over his head.
"I'm Kaidoh Kaoru from Seigaku," he said and the fight began.
"Are you feeling better today, senpai?"
"Yes," Inui said. "I must have slept eighteen hours. I'll have to make some adjustments to that recipe. But what about you? Your face is bruised."
Kaidoh didn't answer.
"Fighting with Momoshiro? Try to hold off until after Nationals, at least. You don't want to be injured."
"I'm fine," Kaidoh said. He gave Inui the cap and jacket. He'd been able to clean the mud off, but the jacket was snagged from the bushes. "I'm sorry about the jacket."
"Did you get the data?"
Kaidoh handed over the satchel. Inui pulled out the notebook and flipped through it.
"Let's see, Fujisawa..." Wicked punch, Kaidoh remembered. "...Murata..." Impressive kick. "...Yukihiro..." Karate. Kaidoh's ribs still ached. Inui looked up. "Good job," he said. "I'll go over it and the video more closely later."
Kaidoh looked up at Inui. His heart beat faster, his stomach felt queasy. Forget the time machine, say it now, Kaoru, say it now. I like you, senpai. Kaidoh opened his mouth and closed it again. The words choked him so that he could hardly breathe, let alone speak.
Inui was closing the book. In a second he would step away, he would start talking about tennis and training and data, and the tension would just build up between them until Kaidoh couldn't stand it any more and had to leave. Kaidoh's nails dug into his palms, blood pounded in his temples. He couldn't let that happen.
"About your weight training," Inui said.
And Kaidoh kissed him. He didn't know how to kiss, but he did it anyway, pushed his mouth up against Inui's, then pulled away. Inui didn't say anything and Kaidoh looked down. The strain between them seemed worse than ever now. Maybe Inui had changed his mind about Kaidoh, maybe it had all been a joke in the first place.
If he had a time machine, Kaidoh thought, he would go back to the beginning, to a different club or a different school, so this would all have never happened. And then he wouldn't feel like this anymore.
He turned to leave. Leave and never come back.
"Kaidoh." Inui put his hand on Kaidoh's shoulder. Kaidoh looked up. Inui was smiling, a true smile that made Kaidoh's breath hitch in his lungs. And then Kaidoh couldn't see Inui's face anymore because Inui's arms were around him and his cheek was against Inui's shoulder.
It was real. Kaidoh breathed in the clean-laundry smell of Inui's shirt and put his arms around Inui's waist. His eyes were stinging so he closed them. He could feel Inui's heartbeat as well as his own, could feel Inui's chest rise and fall. Kaidoh's shoulders were bare and Inui's fingers were on his skin.
Kaidoh smashed the time machine to pieces.
"Is this okay?" Inui whispered in his ear. Kaidoh still couldn't speak, so he nodded. "Sit down." Inui loosened his grip and pulled Kaidoh down to the floor with him. "I thought you didn't like me," Inui said.
"No," Kaidoh said. "I..."
"Here." Inui touched the side of Kaidoh's face. Kaidoh winced. "Sorry," Inui said. Then he leaned in and they were kissing. Kaidoh tried to match Inui, to open his mouth a little and angle his head. Their noses bumped together.
"Relax." Inui took off his glasses and Kaidoh was surprised by how big Inui's eyes were without them, how clear. Then Inui moved closer and Kaidoh couldn't see much anymore. Inui's mouth covered Kaidoh's. This time it seemed to work.
Inui's mouth was warm and not quite soft, moving slowly against Kaidoh's lips. Inui linked their fingers together and Kaidoh held on tight. He could hardly believe this was happening. That he was touching Inui. That everything was okay.
Kaidoh opened his mouth wider, pressed deeper, it was so good, he wanted more. He felt like one of the baby birds, clamouring for an insect now now now, and that thought was way too weird, so he stopped thinking at all and just kissed Inui until his jaw was sore and he was late for dinner.
It was a perfect day. The sky was blue, the cicadas were singing, the air was warm. Kaidoh felt like he could run a marathon today and still have enough energy to play five sets of tennis. And win, of course. The marathon and the tennis. A perfect day.
He was about halfway home when his phone rang. "Inui-senpai?"
"Kaidoh," Inui said. "I'm impressed. I didn't expect you to be quite this good the first time."
Kaidoh's face burned. Did normal people talk like this? What was he supposed to say to that? At least he had done all right, though.
"The data are so extensive."
Oh, the data.
"You've got all their strengths and weaknesses, their special moves, even their blood types and hobbies. You have a real flair for this."
"Thank you, senpai." A perfect day and Inui was happy. Even perfect-er.
"You'll have to show me your technique."
Kaidoh stopped dead. There was no way he could tell Inui what had really happened. Though it had been satisfying, beating Kuroshio down like that. Kaidoh smiled. In the end, the problem had been getting them to shut up.
Anyhow, Inui would forget about it when he got further into the data.
"Now, next week, there's another team in town I want you to..."
Kaidoh sighed and wished for a memory ray.