Made To Be Broken by Halrloprillalar
Prince of Tennis, Inui/Tezuka, PG, 3500 words.
Inui sees Tezuka acting strangely.
Thanks to the Boy and kestrelsan for beta.
Inui waited forty-three seconds until he started to worry.
Tezuka had never been late before. It was the same every school day: at 7:20 AM, Inui and Tezuka would meet behind the tennis club house. Inui would ask Tezuka how he had slept. Tezuka would ask Inui about the weather forecast. They would kiss twice, then go change for practice at 7:30.
And now it was almost 7:21 and Tezuka had not arrived.
The first thing Inui had noticed about Tezuka was his tennis. It was graceful, skilful, measured, and precise. Clearly, Tezuka was the rival Inui needed at Seigaku, someone to emulate and to defeat.
The second thing Inui had noticed about Tezuka was his routine. As Inui gathered more and more data on Tezuka, he found that Tezuka's whole life was as precise as his tennis: methodical, calm, exquisitely scheduled. After only two weeks, Inui knew exactly where Tezuka would be at any given time.
The third thing Inui had noticed about Tezuka was how attractive he was. Though that might have still been the second thing.
He began to use the data he collected not just to improve his tennis, but to facilitate meetings with Tezuka, before school, at lunch, after practice. Once he determined that Tezuka was habituated to his presence, Inui initiated romantic proceedings.
Gifts, compliments, frequent subtle touches: all went exactly according to Inui's meticulous plan. The scheme culminated in Inui's carefully rehearsed confession and Tezuka's grave acceptance.
It was gratifying, but at the same time, Inui couldn't help but be frustrated that his data were so useful in wooing Tezuka but still so inadequate to defeat him.
Tennis, Inui concluded, must be more complicated than love.
Inui checked his watch a second time. 7:22. Maybe the watch was faulty. He continued to wait, but it soon became apparent that he was going to miss practice if he didn't leave right away.
Perhaps Tezuka was unwell, though Inui had never known Tezuka to be ill before. In any case, he was there on the court when Inui arrived. "Tezuka," Inui said, "I missed you this morning."
Tezuka frowned. "Were you waiting?" Then Fuji asked Tezuka a question and Inui couldn't press the matter.
But it worried him. Maybe after two years, three months, and five days, Tezuka no longer wanted to be with Inui. Still, he had seemed just as usual last night, when they had studied together and discussed tennis team strategies, as they regularly did on Tuesdays.
Inui resolved to keep a close eye on the matter.
Horio was late for practice. It was really unfair, having to get up so early in the morning. That was okay for the other first years; they didn't have his two years tennis experience. Well, except for Echizen, but Echizen was always late too.
He took a shortcut across the grounds. There was a place he could climb over the wall without having to go around to the entrance. Maybe that way he could come in like he'd been there all along. Except he was in his school uniform. He ducked behind a shrub to change.
Horio clutched his practice jersey against his chest. He really should have changed one bit at a time instead of stripping down to his underwear. He turned around slowly.
A tall man was watching Horio through dark glasses. His jacket hung over his shoulders and he wore a sweatband over his forehead.
Yamato reached out and put his hand on Horio's head.
At lunchtime, Tezuka was in the usual place. Inui relaxed. They brushed their fingers together, then settled down to eat.
"Tezuka, why didn't you meet me this morning?" Inui said.
Tezuka looked up. "You didn't ask me to meet you. Was there something you wanted to discuss?"
"No," Inui said. "It's fine." But of course, it wasn't fine. He and Tezuka had been meeting in the morning ever since this school year began.
"You seem agitated, Inui. Are you all right?"
"Horio-kun!" Kachiro called out. "You'll be late to practice. And you weren't even there this morning."
Horio didn't look up. He was feeling strange, he'd been feeling odd all day. Probably that was why he hadn't gone to practice that morning, though it was hard to recall.
Maybe he should go to the nurse and get some medicine for indigestion or something. After all, he had to take good care of himself, for the good of the team. He could be called on at any time to substitute for someone who overslept or stupidly hurt himself.
Yes, the nurse's office. But when Horio's feet stopped moving, he found himself outside the grounds, beside a large shrub. The odd feeling was even stronger now, but he didn't think it was indigestion. Not like that time he had eaten the egg sandwich that had sat out on the counter overnight. More like the time his mother forgot him on the bus when he was five, a mixed sense of adventure and unease.
How did he get here, anyhow? Was someone playing a prank on him? Some of the senpais, the ones who couldn't make it as Regulars, were pretty jealous of him. He wouldn't put it past them to bully him.
"Ah, Horio-kun, I'm glad you returned."
Horio looked up at Yamato's smile and it all came back to him at once.
After school, Inui headed for the courts. He thought he saw Tezuka going down the corridor where the second year classrooms were, but when he looked, Tezuka was gone.
When Inui got to practice, Tezuka was already there. He didn't gather the members up to address them, as he did every day, but instead worked on smashes with Fuji.
"Oishi, has Tezuka said anything to you?" Inui asked.
Oishi looked around the courts. "Have you seen that first-year, Horio? He was supposed to set up the nets but he didn't show up."
Inui sat down to watch Tezuka. There was something odd about his smashes; they seemed familiar but strange at the same time. Inui got out his stopwatch and notebook. Maybe this would be his big break, the key to defeating Tezuka at last.
Tezuka went off with Oishi after practice, which was normal. They took care of paperwork and other club business on Wednesdays. But when Inui got outside the school entrance, there was Tezuka, waiting for him.
"Where's Oishi?" Inui asked.
"I don't know," Tezuka said. "I think he went somewhere with Kikumaru." He started walking, then turned back when Inui didn't follow. "Has there been a change of plans, Inui?"
This was disquieting. How had Tezuka become so impulsive and forgetful? "Sorry," Inui said. "Let's go."
He let Tezuka lead the way. Inui talked about whatever he could think of that didn't relate to Tezuka's strange behaviour. He told Tezuka about his latest juice recipe and his experiments with a heavier racquet and the pet cat his neighbour had adopted. And just when he had got to the part about the cat getting into the juice, Tezuka stopped in front of a book and magazine store.
A book and magazine store that used to be the coffee shop that he and Tezuka came to every week last year, before it closed. Every week on Wednesdays.
"My treat this time," Tezuka said and went into the store.
"You mustn't tell anyone."
"Yes, Yamato-senpai." Horio wondered if that really meant "anyone". Maybe it meant "just people who can keep a secret".
"You're a special boy," Yamato said and smiled.
Yamato-senpai thought he was special! Well, it just proved what Horio had been telling people all along.
"You're trying very hard, I can tell. Now, let's do that again and see if you can't improve."
Inui convinced Tezuka to go home, though Tezuka wouldn't let Inui accompany him. Inui had never actually been to Tezuka's house. Tezuka's mother was frequently ill and so they never had guests.
Since Inui's own schedule was completely compromised now, he went to the park and sat on a bench to think. Why would Tezuka take Inui to a restaurant that wasn't even there anymore? It was like he'd forgotten what year it was.
The smashes -- Inui sat up straight -- the smashes from that morning. That was Tezuka's technique from early in second year. No wonder it had seemed so familiar.
Clearly something was wrong with Tezuka. Some sort of dementia caused by an injury or disease, maybe. Or a brain tumour. Inui felt a tightness in his chest and his hands went cold.
Tomorrow after school, he would make Tezuka go to a doctor.
In the morning, Tezuka met Inui at the usual time. "Will it rain today?" he said and Inui relaxed. At practice, Tezuka behaved and played normally as well, no regression or lapses. Maybe this had just been a temporary aberration.
After practice, Inui saw a new freshman who reminded him of Tezuka. Tezuka had no siblings, but maybe it was a cousin of his, just transferred to Seigaku. Inui headed over to where the boy was picking up balls, but Fuji stopped him to ask a question about factoring polynomials.
"Is it all right to miss practice again?"
"This is the best time for me to spend with you."
"I think Oishi-senpai is going to yell at me."
As Inui passed the cafeteria, he saw that first-year again, the new one who looked like Tezuka. The likeness really was striking. Maybe his tennis would be striking too, someone to challenge Echizen.
Inui thought he saw Tezuka down the second-year hallway again, talking to some boys, but it couldn't have been, because he was sitting on the bench with his lunch when Inui joined him.
"Tezuka, is that new student your cousin?"
"No," Tezuka said. "I don't have a cousin."
After class, Inui and Tezuka walked to the courts together. Only Tezuka was already there. More than one of him, in fact.
The rest of the club members huddled around the edge of the court while two Tezukas played a singles match against each other. There was a first-year picking up balls for them, the mini-Tezuka from that morning.
Inui's brain went into turbo mode trying to make sense of it. He turned to Tezuka -- to the Tezuka beside him -- but that one was already walking out onto the court. Two more Tezukas arrived from somewhere and soon all six were playing tennis.
"Inui, what's going on?" Oishi grabbed Inui's arm.
"I don't know." There were six Tezukas, but they weren't identical. They were different heights, different levels of ability.
"Do something, Inui!" Kikumaru grabbed Inui's other arm. "This is creepy."
Tezuka at different stages of his development. But what hypothesis could explain so many versions showing up all at once? Inui's eyes narrowed and everything clicked into place. "It's obvious," he said. "Tezuka is--"
"A robot," Fuji said. Everyone turned to him and stared. He shrugged. "I thought you knew."
"Yes," Inui said, and tried to look like he hadn't been about to say "a time traveller".
"But what are we going to do?" Oishi said.
Echizen got his racquet and started out onto the court. Kawamura grabbed his shoulder. "Be careful."
"Jeez," Echizen sulked. "Why can't I play them?"
"Yeah," Momoshiro said. "I want to see Echizen play the small one."
"You play the small one, Momo-senpai."
Kikumaru reached across Inui to tug on Oishi's sleeve. "Oishi! Let's play doubles against two of them."
"Eiji, it could be dangerous."
The situation was rapidly deteriorating and Inui had yet to come up with any sort of explanation or plan of action. He had never faced a situation remotely like this. Without data, he was at a loss.
The first step, then, should be to gather some. He readied his notebook and stepped out onto the court. "Tezuka...s," he said. "Please tell me your purpose in being here."
They all turned to him at once, the sun flaring off the lenses of their glasses. "Inui," they said in unison. "Don't let your guard down." Each pulled a ball out of his pocket, threw it in the air, and served.
One of the balls clipped Inui's shoulder as he dove out of the way. That would leave a nasty bruise. Arai caught another in the chest and went over backwards, breath knocked out of him.
Kikumaru screamed and everybody else gasped.
"Watch out," Oishi said. "They're not behaving normally."
"What should we do?"
Inui thought rapidly. He had never before been confronted by a mad robot attack. As well, his judgement was somewhat clouded by the revelation that his long-term boyfriend was in fact a mad robot. Six mad robots. But when it all came down to it, the robots were attacking using tennis. And so, logically, the thing to do was--
"Use your special moves," Fuji said.
"Damn," said Inui. "I mean, yes, use your special moves." The Tezukas spread out and readied for another serve. "Pick one," Inui said, and got ready to receive from the latest model before Fuji could take that position.
"Hey," Momoshiro said. "No fair, Mamushi! There isn't one left for me." He shoved at Kaidoh and Kaidoh hissed and shoved him back.
"Be ready for a second wave," Inui said and the balls hailed down. He managed a sharp jack knife, aimed directly at Tezuka's stomach, which he calculated as the most likely location of the robot's power cell. But Tezuka easily returned it and Inui had to throw up his arms to keep from taking a ball to the face.
Serve after serve, return after return came from the Tezuka-bots, each ball a little faster, a little harder than the last. Inui deflected a few, but the Tezuka Zone pulled them in and back they came, like tiny meteorites plunging to earth.
Momoshiro and Kaidoh sniped at each other, but were still standing, at least for now, returning the balls they could and yelling at each other for the ones they missed. Blood trickled down Momoshiro's face and he swiped it out of his eyes before leaping up for another smash.
Kawamura ran right at the robots, waving his racquet and screaming, but a Zone ball hit him in the back of the head and he fell onto his face. Oishi went down too and Kikumaru crumpled over his unconscious form, wailing and seeming not to notice the balls pummelling his body.
Echizen was grinning, actually grinning, and so far as Inui could tell out of the corner of his eye, treating this as just another tennis match. On the sidelines, someone was yelling, "Ryoma-sama! Ryoma-sama! Win, win, Ryoma-sama!"
Some of the first years formed a phalanx and charged from behind, but the littlest Tezuka kicked over a basket of balls and they tripped and fell into a mass of arms, legs, and whimpering.
Fuji's racquet glittered in the air, it moved so fast, returning almost every ball. But he was tiring, Inui could see, slowing, missing more and more, taking a blow to the arm, then another.
Momoshiro dropped to his knees. Kaidoh tried to drag him off the court, but a forehand drive toppled him and they both lay still.
Inui's arms burned and his legs were so heavy they would barely move. It was too late. Their chance of defeating the robots was 0%. He saw the ball streaking straight for his face but couldn't lift his racquet. Too late for him.
"This is the moment you have been training for," Yamato said. "Are you ready?"
Horio drew himself to his full height and puffed out his chest. "Yes, Yamato-senpai. But why do I have to wear this outfit?"
"You just do," Yamato said. "That's the special outfit."
"It's a dress!" Also, it was pink, with a sparkly tennis racquet that trailed pink and white ribbons. Horio hadn't seen himself in a mirror, but he felt that it would hardly suit his manly good looks.
"It looks good on you." Yamato leaned down and smiled. "Now let's go."
Horio peeked around the fence and stared at the courts. Everywhere, fallen players lay on the ground, some bleeding from their wounds. The Tezuka robots advanced on the few still standing, chanting, "Don't let your guard down," and raining down deadly balls.
"Now," Yamato said.
Horio raised his sparkly racquet and everything stopped, freeze-framed. He felt the power surge into his limbs, like a wind rushing through him. He hoped it wouldn't blow his skirt up.
First, he went to every fallen player and touched him on the forehead. Bright light leapt from his racquet into their bodies and their cuts healed and abrasions faded. Even Ikeda's acne cleared up.
One by one, Horio hit the balls suspended in the air and sent them into the empty basket. That wasn't his special magic powers, though, that was skill.
Then he gave each Tezuka robot a shove, pushing it onto its side on the court. After a moment's thought, he did the same thing to Echizen. He raised his racquet to start up time again.
"What?" Horio looked over at Yamato, who was disentangling the pile of first-years.
"You can't let them see you like that. Nobody can know about your powers." Yamato laid Kachiro gently down beside Katsuo. "Behind the fence again."
Well, Horio wasn't really eager to be seen in a pink dress. And he could tell them about how he saved them later. Yamato probably meant he wasn't supposed to tell the media, that's all.
He got into position and waved the racquet again.
Inui blinked when the ball completely failed to hit him in the face. The robots were all lying on the ground, still moving their arms and legs, but ineffectually. And Inui's arm didn't hurt anymore. Around him, boys got up and shook themselves out. Everybody seemed fine. Until Momoshiro tried to give Kaidoh a bloody nose for "molesting him while he was unconscious". Inui started over to stop the fight.
Inui turned and blinked some more. "Renji! What are you doing here?"
"I came as soon as I could," Yanagi said. "I'm sorry about the robot malfunction."
"How do you know about the robots?" People crowded around, staring at Yanagi.
"Because I built them."
"I built the robots."
"Oh!" Kikumaru said, "that explains Sanada."
"Sanada isn't a robot," Yanagi said.
"I'm glad you got here in time to save us," Inui said. He felt a little funny about seeing Yanagi again, but was glad the robot attack was over.
"I didn't save you," Yanagi said. "They were like this when I got here." He walked over to the robots and shut each one off.
"Those robots are dangerous," Oishi said. "We could have all been killed!"
"I'm sorry," Yanagi said. "Circumventing a robot's natural desire to kill humans is the hardest part of being a roboticist. It's a very tricky bit of programming. I don't know why they malfunctioned, though. I run thorough diagnostic routines regularly."
"But why did you make the Tezuka robots in the first place?" Inui said.
"Well." A slight flush appeared on Yanagi's face. "It was for you. I missed you so much after I moved away that I had to figure out a way to be close to you again. A tennis playing robot that attended the same school as you seemed like the best idea."
"So all this time..." Inui felt his cheeks flush as well. "When Tezuka and I..."
"Yes," Yanagi said. "I was monitoring. Sometimes real-time or sometimes I would review afterwards. And of course, I programmed the robots to respond to you."
"Oh, Renji!" That was the most romantic thing Inui had ever heard. His heart melted like chocolate ice cream on the sidewalk. He hugged Yanagi and Yanagi hugged him back.
Echizen picked up his tennis bag and headed off the court. "Where are you going?" Oishi called after him.
"Hyoutei," Echizen said. "Since buchou and Sanada are both robots, there's only the Monkey King left."
"Sanada isn't a robot," Yanagi said, over Inui's shoulder.
"All's well that ends well," Fuji said. "I guess I'll be Singles 1 from now on."
"Oh, I can fix one of the robots and leave it here for tennis," Yanagi said. "Come on, Sadaharu, I'll show you how it works."
The courts were empty. Five of the robots were buried in the high-jump sandpit. Yanagi and Inui had taken the sixth away with them, for maintenance and testing.
Fuji swore and dropped his remote control into the trash. Too many complications. But next time...
"Horio," he called. Horio peered out of the clubhouse. Fuji smiled sweetly. "What a pretty dress," he said. "Come on, I'll buy you some ice cream."