Cut and Colour by Halrloprillalar
Prince of Tennis, InuKai, Data Pair. PG13, 2500 words.
They could have been together all those years and it would feel just the same.
Timeframe: Junior selection camp.
Inui jumps and slices a crooked swath of hair from his forehead. Yanagi closes the door to their room. Inui stares at himself in the mirror. "I neglected to make my monthly appointment and my hair has grown so long it is impairing my vision."
"Sit down." Yanagi sets a chair beside Inui.
"Do you know how?"
Yanagi drapes a towel around Inui's shoulders and takes the scissors from his hand. Inui sits and Yanagi runs a hand up the back of Inui's head. Then he cuts.
Inui watches him in the mirror. Yanagi starts at the crown, working down the back, twisting each piece of hair between his fingers before he trims the end.
"These scissors are terrible."
"I use them to cut tape," Inui says. Yanagi's fingers slide behind his ear, lifting the hair.
"Take your glasses off."
Inui sets them down on the desk. There's no point in looking in the mirror any more, so he closes his eyes. Yanagi tilts Inui's head forward and Inui feels Yanagi's fingers on the nape of his neck, hears the whine of the scissors.
It's soothing and Inui drifts a little, tired from a day of Sakaki's training. There's nothing to stop him from relaxing. On the court with Yanagi, here in the room, they could have been together all those years and it would feel just the same.
Yanagi cut Inui's hair once when they were eleven. Inui remembers the sound of the scissors around his head, Yanagi's sharp elbow digging into his shoulder, while Yanagi cut the burrs away, dropping each one into Inui's hand. Inui looked at them afterwards with his magnifying glass, to see what made them grip so tightly. He'd forgotten until now.
"Renji, do you remember," he says and there's a knock at the door. Inui jumps again.
"Don't do that," Yanagi says. He raises his voice. "Come in."
The door opens. There's a blur, but it's a blur that Inui recognises, that he's seen before, hopes to see again. "Am I late?" Inui says. He brings his watch up to his face and closes one eye so he can read it. "I'm late." He's been drifting longer than he thought.
"That's okay," Kaidoh says. The blur shifts and Inui knows that Kaidoh's face is clouding with irritation.
"Ten minutes," Yanagi says and turns Inui back to face the mirror.
"Sorry," Inui says. "I'll come find you." The door bangs shut and he's not sure Kaidoh heard. Yanagi holds Inui's jaw as he cuts along the hairline and Inui shuts his eyes again. Ten minutes. So long as Kaidoh will wait.
Yanagi stands in front of Inui and trims the hair along his forehead, where Inui botched it. Their knees bump. Hair falls onto Inui's face and makes him want to sneeze. Yanagi wipes it away with the edge of the towel. "Here." He hands Inui his glasses.
Inui looks in the mirror. His hair looks good, too short across the front, but that's his own fault. "It's better than the last time."
"You have a dent in your skull," Yanagi says and taps his fingers on the top of Inui's head.
Inui finds Kaidoh in the weight room. He's working his legs, pushing ten more kilograms than Inui advised. Kaidoh's breath gusts out with each rep and Inui listens to it until Kaidoh stops pretending not to see him.
"Sorry," Inui says again. "I lost track of time."
"It's okay," Kaidoh mutters, and rubs his face with a towel.
"Come on." Inui takes him to the meeting room their group used today and shuts the door behind them.
"Not here," Kaidoh says.
"No one will come in." Inui reaches for Kaidoh's hand. Kaidoh's face is still clouded, but Inui has seen that look too many times to be bothered by it. He leans down and kisses Kaidoh's face, on the cheek, then again just beside his mouth.
Kaidoh's fingers tighten around Inui's and he turns so their lips brush together. Inui catches the back of Kaidoh's head and they kiss again, serious kisses, open-mouthed, long on spit and short on air.
The first time they kissed, the second and the third, Kaidoh hardly moved under Inui's mouth and pulled away as soon as Inui let him go. But the fourth time, he flared like a struck match and now he can't get enough. When they're together, Kaidoh pushes Inui back, pushes him down, and rakes him as though he's got to keep Inui from escaping. He would frighten Inui, if there were room left in Inui for anything but arousal.
Inui is back against the table now, half-sitting on the very edge, Kaidoh standing between his thighs and pulling Inui's head down. Kaidoh's other hand twists into the back of Inui's shirt. His thumb slides down inside Inui's waistband and Inui shudders, his insides foaming up like vinegar poured onto baking soda, and nearly his outsides too.
Yanagi pours water over himself and his hair flattens, clinging close to his scalp. Inui looks at it and wonders if Yanagi has any dents in his skull. He wonders why he doesn't already know.
"Renji," he says, and Yanagi turns around. "I'll wash your hair for you." It sounds much stranger echoing in the bathroom than it did inside Inui's head. At least they are alone.
Yanagi looks at Inui, not speaking. A bead of water drips from the end of his nose.
It was a stupid thing to say. "Never mind." Inui picks up his pumice stone and rubs it on his heel.
"All right." Yanagi holds out his bottle of shampoo.
After a moment, Inui takes it. He stands behind Yanagi and pours shampoo into his palm. It's cold against his skin. He rubs it into the top of Yanagi's head and it doesn't take long to reach thermal equilibrium.
There's no mirror for them both to look into, but Inui thinks Yanagi's eyes are closed, it's only logical. He spreads the lather, using the tips of his fingers to push it through Yanagi's thick hair.
Inui has never done this for anyone before and he tries to remember how it is when he goes for a cut: it's a massage, not just a wash, so relaxing that he sometimes forgets to think at all for fully two minutes.
He digs in firmly with his thumbs, his fingers, along the hairline and moving back. Yanagi's skull is smooth and Inui can't find any irregularities until he gets back to the occipital crest. There's a bump and Inui runs his thumb over it. "It's a bump," Inui says. "Your brain is bulging out."
"Mmm," Yanagi says. He reaches up and dabs at his eyes.
"Sorry." Inui wipes the suds off Yanagi's forehead, away from his eyes. "Almost done."
The door opens and the rest of their group comes in. "We just beat the rush," Yanagi says.
"Inui," Mizuki says. "I didn't realise your talents extended to being a beautician."
"It's our fall-back plan." Inui rinses the shampoo from Yanagi's head, smoothing the soap out with one hand as he pours the water with the other. "When we're too old to play tennis, we'll open up a shop together. Renji will be in charge of cuts and colour."
"Sadaharu will be the manicurist." Yanagi rubs his face with his hands, pushes his wet hair back from his forehead.
They get into the bath together while the rest are washing up. Inui leaves his glasses on; he's not familiar with the room and he wants to know where everybody is. They steam up almost right away and he dips them into the water, to heat them up and clear them.
"Still, I don't remember that on your list of careers," Yanagi says.
"Oh, did he have a list?" Fuji says.
"It's not important." There are water drops on Inui's lenses, but he can see around them. Kaidoh is in the corner, on a stool, scrubbing himself, and Inui can't help but watch the muscle and bone moving under his skin, wet hair straggling behind his ears, soap and water sliding down his back.
"Scientist, astronaut, tennis pro," Yanagi says. "Novelist, actor, shaved-ice vendor."
"I just said that I could make better syrup myself." Inui looks down as Kaidoh slips into the water, he doesn't want anyone to catch him staring. "Anyhow, you wanted to work at the amusement park."
"I liked the food." Yanagi gives Inui a tap on the shoulder with the side of his fist, too weak to be called a punch. Inui remembers how sometimes after practice he would go home with Yanagi and they would soak in the bath together. Inui's apartment only has a shower.
Inui slides lower in the water and glances at Kaidoh. He's sitting too far away to easily reach, not that Inui would reach for him. He's looking right at Inui and when their eyes meet, Inui feels a tightness under his diaphragm and he can't look away. He smiles at Kaidoh. Yanagi's knee bumps Inui's under the water.
Yanagi leans forward. "Kaidoh," he says and Inui feels a twinge as Kaidoh's eyes flick away to look at Yanagi. "Your nails are very neat. Did Sadaharu do them for you?"
Kaidoh flushes and looks down at the water. Inui's stomach fills with ice and he's two beats behind with his elbow in Yanagi's side. "Who does yours, Renji?"
The water slaps the side of the bath as Yanagi leans back, his shoulder tight against Inui's. "I thought you did."
Fuji gives Inui a look, but nobody else seems to be paying much attention. They're laughing about their own jokes, complaining about sore muscles and hard practices.
"Sadaharu, what did you think of Sakaki's volley drills today?" Yanagi says.
Kaidoh gets up and leaves.
Inui is on his way back to their room when Kaidoh darts into the hallway and grabs him by the wrist. "Kaidoh," Inui says. Kaidoh's grip is tight and it hurts him.
Kaidoh pulls Inui into a room and shuts the door. Inui doesn't get to take in much more than a few brooms and a can of green paint before Kaidoh pushes him up against a shelf and kisses him, his mouth, his face, his neck.
Inui can barely keep up. The shelf presses into his shoulders and he pushes Kaidoh forward a step to get away from it. But Kaidoh forces him back again and after a while Inui doesn't notice the pain.
"I like you like this," he whispers in Kaidoh's ear and Kaidoh shakes against him, his cheek growing hot against Inui's.
It's nearly lights-out when Kaidoh lets Inui go. "You go first," Inui says and touches Kaidoh's cheek. Kaidoh looks down and then he's out the door. Inui waits five minutes, reading the labels on the cleaning products and rubbing his wrist. It's still sore.
"I think something bit you," Yanagi says. Inui looks in the mirror and sees the red mark on his neck. He pulls his collar higher and hopes he isn't going to have a bruise. Despite what the Internet says, the toothbrush method never really works.
Yanagi doesn't say anything else, just gets into bed. Inui changes quickly and turns out the light. He sits in bed, knees pulled up and his head cradled in his arms.
Tomorrow the rest of the selection will be announced and they will be done. Inui wants to be on the team. More, he wants to be on the team with Yanagi, playing doubles. Any resentment Inui had towards him went in their singles match, blown away like last year's leaves.
He turns his head and looks at Yanagi. The curtains don't close all the way and a bar of pale light hits the wall beside Yanagi's bed. Even without his glasses, Inui can see Yanagi lying on his back, one arm over his eyes. Here in the dorm, on the floor of Inui's room, on the grass under a tree, fifteen, eleven, it's all the same.
"Renji," Inui says.
"What is it?"
But Inui doesn't have anything to say. "Go to sleep." He gets up and finds his toothbrush and pads down the hall to the toilets.
Inui packs slowly. He doesn't want to leave the camp, this room. He watches Yanagi tuck his clothes into his bag, check his equipment carefully before he puts it away.
"This was the best part of the camp," Inui says.
"Yes." Yanagi drops his bags onto the floor. He looks at Inui.
Inui meets his eyes and he feels that tightness under his ribs again. "It's like you never left."
"No, it's not."
Inui's mouth dries up and he can't think of anything to say. So he crosses the room and stands in front of Yanagi, so close that they breathe the same air, blow it out on each other's faces. "Renji."
Yanagi doesn't move. Blood pounds in Inui's temples. His palms grow damp. "Sadaharu," Yanagi says and if Inui opened his mouth, he could swallow his own name.
Then his watch beeps the quarter hour and Inui remembers the assembly, the camp. He closes his eyes for a moment. "We'll beat you at Nationals," he says.
"Rikkai won't lose." And they step away. Inui's hands are shaking.
He stuffs the last few things into his bag and runs his hand through his hair.
"Sadaharu," Yanagi says and Inui looks up. "Pull your collar higher."
Momoshiro and Kaidoh stand in the aisle of the bus, arguing about where Momoshiro's bag should be stowed. They grab at each other's arms, collars, yell in each other's faces. Inui remembers watching them play together against Rikkai. He remembers the burrs Yanagi dropped into his hand, the tiny hooks snarled around with hair. Oishi yanks Momoshiro back and Inui reaches out for Kaidoh's arm.
Kaidoh drops into the seat beside Inui. As soon as the bus starts moving, he falls asleep, breathing loudly and drooling a little from the corner of his mouth. He worked hard at the camp, maybe harder than Inui kept track of. Kaidoh's hands are resting in his lap. His nails are very clean.
When they arrive, Kikumaru begs Oishi to go back to the school and practice right away. Inui puts his hand on Kaidoh's shoulder. "We'll be your opponents," he says. "All right, Kaidoh?"
"Yes," Kaidoh says and looks up at Inui.
After practice, Inui tries to learn the shape of Kaidoh's skull. But Kaidoh pushes Inui back and kisses harder and Inui forgets to try again.
Inui buys a set of barber's scissors, gleaming and sharp. They chirp like a cricket when they open and close. The same day he sends them, he gets a package in the mail: a manicure set in a black leather case.
He smiles and sets it on his shelf, beside his Nationals notebooks. Then he goes out to meet Kaidoh for a run.