Always Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide by Halrloprillalar / prillalar
Prince of Tennis, InuKai, PG, 3900 words.
Inui buys Kaidoh a pet.
It was a bug. In a clear plastic box with ventilation screens in the side and flip-top lid, a few cubes of what looked like carrots on the bottom and a bowl of bright blue gel that looked like nothing on earth. The bug looked like a bug, all long jointed legs and feelers that were probably reading his thoughts and were those wings too? How many appendages did one insect need?
"It's a pet cricket," Inui said. "Do you like it?"
Kaidoh hoped Inui wasn't reading his thoughts right then. Because Inui was beaming hopefully with his bright new boyfriend smile and Kaidoh liked that smile. He liked it a lot. He just didn't like bugs.
"Thank you." Kaidoh dropped his eyes to the box, to the cricket, which in addition to the legs and wings and feelers had two completely other pointy things sticking out of its rear end. Probably twin poison stingers. Then he looked back at the boyfriend smile. "I like it very much." His forehead started aching and he rubbed at it. "Thank you."
"The gel is so he doesn't drown when he's drinking," Inui said, and pulled Kaidoh into a boyfriend hug, close squeezed, with Kaidoh's head against Inui's shoulder. Kaidoh squeezed back. The cricket waved its antennae and Kaidoh knew it was watching his every move.
"Half my allowance," Kaidoh said. "You should be doing this for free."
"I need the money for supplies." Hazue grinned.
"There are lots of supplies!" Kaidoh pushed the bag with his foot and bottles clinked together. Besides a huge jar of the blue gel, Inui had left two jars of the orange cubes and a bottle of wet green mess he'd probably concocted himself. Kaidoh assumed it was for the cricket. There was extra sand, rocks, bits of cardboard to make a Happy Cricket Playland.
"Are you sure? It's hard to read Inui-san's writing." Hazue squinted at the six page manual. "He might eat a lot."
"It's only five centimetres long. It can't eat that much."
"Does it say to change the sand every day or every week?"
Kaidoh grabbed the manual. "Every week. I think. Okay?" He threw the booklet down on the table. Inui had pasted a scientific drawing of a cricket on the front, with all the parts labelled. "I have to do my homework."
Hazue patted the top of the box and the cricket jumped. Kaidoh flinched and felt really stupid about it. "I can keep him in my room," Hazue said. "No extra charge."
"No." Kaidoh glared at Hazue, at the cricket, at the universe. "It's my pet. I just need someone to look after it."
"I'll check on him in the morning." Hazue left with a wave and Kaidoh's money in his pocket.
And then they were alone. Kaidoh and the cricket. It sounded like a children's book, the sort with flat colourful pictures and an uncomplicated story about a cheerful boy and his cheerful pet and their cheerful adventures. Kaoru and the Cricket. On the cover of the book, they were both smiling.
Kaidoh wasn't smiling. He wasn't afraid of bugs, because who would be that lame? But he didn't like them. They were crunchy and skittery and mostly legs and they showed up in odd places and didn't even ask before they crawled on you or flew in your face. Even though this one was in a box, Kaidoh could tell it was thinking about it, biding its time, calculating the trajectory to Kaidoh's nose.
But the worst thing about this bug was that it made Kaidoh lie. And Kaidoh did not lie. He prided himself on his straightforwardness and honesty. People called him blunt and harsh, but Kaidoh Kaoru would not lie, not to anyone. Except, apparently, to Inui. Sixteen times in nineteen days.
Every time Kaidoh lied, he got a strange tightness in his forehead, like an ice cream headache. But that didn't stop him. The lies just fell out of his mouth: yes, I like that TV show that you like; no, my mother won't mind if I'm late for dinner; yes, it's a good idea to get matching wristbands; yes, I like horrible bugs as pets.
The horrible bug was staring at him. Kaidoh glared back until it crawled to the other side of the box and climbed up on the gel. Round one to Kaidoh.
Which was idiotic. Kaidoh shook his head to get all the stupid out, and bent over his homework. He only had to stare the cricket down three more times before he finished.
The note fluttered out of Kaidoh's shoebox and he lunged after it, but too late.
"What's this?" Sakawa said. "A love letter for Kaidoh?" That asshole from Class Six. Kaidoh wanted to smash his face in but he was already on warning for fighting.
He grabbed for the note. Sakawa spun away and Kaidoh's fingers closed on air. "Give that back." He clenched his hands and hissed in Sakawa's face.
"I didn't think snakes could read." Sakawa took a step back. "Let me help." He unfolded the paper. Kaidoh just waited. "What the hell is this?" Sakawa turned the paper upside down, then right-side up again.
"Snake language," Kaidoh said and snatched it away.
In history class, he got out his decoder wheel and slid in the appropriate disc. It took forever to work out Inui's notes and not just because of Inui's handwriting. Every character had a different number to subtract in order to find the new corresponding character. The first time, Kaidoh had missed the meeting Inui suggested in the note because Kaidoh hadn't got that far decoding in time. So then Inui made the decoder wheels, which helped a bit. And it made things all sneaky and spy-like. Kaidoh wanted them to have code names too, but he could never settle on the one he liked best.
Each key disc only got used once -- there were a whole envelope of them -- and then destroyed. Inui said they should be burned, but when he was in class, Kaidoh just tore them up. Inui called it a One Time Pad and said the cryptography was unbreakable and nobody would ever know they were exchanging notes. Then he'd drawn a cartoon of his face on the decoder wheel.
Kaidoh got out a new disc to code his reply. And no more lies. A relationship should be based on truth and honesty and no lying to each other ever.
Good morning, Kaidoh, Inui wrote. Kaidoh imagined Inui's voice saying it, right next to Kaidoh's ear, and that was like a boyfriend smile, shiny all over and tickling down Kaidoh's spine. Good afternoon, senpai, he coded. Then he stopped and wondered if that was technically a lie since it was still morning. But it would be afternoon when Inui read it, so really it wasn't.
Did you sleep well? That was a bit sticky. The ugly bug's chirping had kept Kaidoh awake for an hour. Then, when it stopped, he still couldn't sleep because he kept waiting for it to start again. But after he finally dropped off, he didn't wake up until morning. So, that could count as a yes. And, anyhow, it would take too long to encode a complicated explanation. I slept well was good enough.
I hope the cricket is okay. Have you named him yet? So far as Kaidoh could tell, the cricket was fine. He'd left the room when Hazue came in to check on it, but Hazue hadn't reported any problems. And so long as Kaidoh thought of a name before he wrote down the answer, he wouldn't be lying about that either.
He spent ten minutes trying to think of a good name for a stupid ugly bug besides Stupid Ugly Bug but he wasn't doing any better with that than the code names. Mr Cricket is fine. Mr Cricket. Stupidest name ever. It sounded like something Momoshiro would come up with.
Let's meet after practice. And that was another smile, fifteen minutes of Inui all to himself. I'll be there, he wrote and tore up the used code wheels. His forehead didn't ache at all.
"Here is good." Inui stopped behind the clubhouse. "Okay?"
"Okay," Kaidoh said because anywhere with Inui was good. Inui put his hand against the wall beside Kaidoh's head and looked down at him. There was something fizzing in the air between them, almost touching Kaidoh's skin. Kaidoh wished that he were tall as Inui, so he could do that too, lean in, lean down, not up. He might still grow. "How tall do you think I'll be, senpai?"
"178 centimetres," Inui said. "At a rough estimate." And he leaned down even more and kissed Kaidoh.
Kaidoh jumped back, not because they were kissing, which was a boyfriend thing that he liked very much, but because they were kissing where anyone could come by and see them and Kaidoh didn't like that at all and he liked even less that he'd just banged his head against the wall.
"Are you okay?" Inui put his hand on the back of Kaidoh's head. "I don't feel a bump."
"I'm okay." Which was the truth because even if Kaidoh's head hurt, that was nothing, pain was nothing. "Anyone could find us here."
Inui adjusted his glasses. "The chances are very low -- 3% at best, so long as we confine our private activities to two minutes or less." He reached into his pocket. "I have a stopwatch."
And there was nothing Kaidoh could do in the face of Inui's percentages and timekeeping, except to say right out that of course he wanted to kiss Inui, just not in public, even at only 3%, and relationships should be built on truth and honesty. "My aunt is visiting," he said and bolted.
Kaidoh ran along the sidewalk, weaving between people, dashing across the street when the light was yellow. He rubbed at his forehead, but the brainfreeze didn't go away. Stupid Inui, making Kaidoh lie all the time and getting him a stupid bug for a stupid pet. And how could he care so much about unbreakable codes but not about being seen kissing behind the clubhouse?
Kaidoh slammed the door behind him, ripped his shoes off his feet. Pets should be furry or feathery, they should be cute and fun. And how could Inui have all his data, how could he know 178 centimetres and not know that Kaidoh hated bugs?
Kaidoh pounded up the stairs. Maybe they should just forget it, forget about the whole stupid boyfriend thing. Maybe he would call Inui and tell him so. Kaidoh banged open the door to his room.
The lid was off the cricket box.
"I'm really sorry." Hazue pulled out the dresser drawers. "I was changing the sand and then mom called me for breakfast. I didn't mean to lose Tarou."
"His name is Mr Cricket." Kaidoh tipped up the couch cushions. He found a bread crust, a tiny stuffed monkey, and ¥427. But no bug.
"I call him Tarou."
"Well, he's my pet and I call him Mr Cricket." Kaidoh shook his futon out a third time. How could he have lost Mr Cricket like this? True, Hazue left the lid off, but Kaidoh was responsible for the situation. Inui had gone to all the trouble to get him a present and Kaidoh had ruined it. Inui worked so hard at being a good senpai and boyfriend and Kaidoh was just a failure.
They looked until supper time. "I'm sorry," Hazue said again. He held out the money he'd got from Kaidoh yesterday. "Here."
"Never mind. It's my fault." Kaidoh closed the door behind them, in case Mr Cricket was still in the room. But when he looked again after supper, he couldn't find him.
He tried to work on his homework, but his stomach hurt and besides being a failure boyfriend, he was alone in a room with an escaped cricket who was likely plotting to launch himself at Kaidoh's face when he was least expecting it. Unless Mr Cricket had squeezed under the door.
Then the chirping started. Kaidoh tried to track it down, but he couldn't figure out where it was coming from. He was creeping around the room with a cone of paper in his ear when his mobile rang.
"I wanted to say good night," Inui said in his boyfriend voice and Kaidoh's blood went heavy with guilt. He had to own up, no matter what.
"Thank you for calling. I--" Kaidoh lay down on his futon, knees curled up to his chest. "I'm sorry for running off."
"That's okay," Inui said. "How is your aunt?"
"My...oh. She's well." Which was completely true, so far as Kaidoh knew.
"And how's Mr Cricket? Are you having fun with him?"
It was time to confess, get it off his chest, feel better. But Inui sounded so pleased to have made Kaidoh happy, wouldn't that be making Inui feel terrible just so that Kaidoh could feel better? Kaidoh hit his forehead with the heel of his hand. "He's chirping."
"Only male crickets chirp," Inui said. "I'll bring some more of the Special Cricket Green for him when I come over tomorrow evening."
"Your mother asked me to come over and help you watch the house while they take your brother to a school concert." Inui lowered his voice. "I'm looking forward to it."
"So am I," Kaidoh said and hoped Inui couldn't hear his brainfreeze over the phone.
"If you take the number of chirps in a 15-second interval, then add 37, you'll have the correct temperature in degrees Fahrenheit. Good night, Kaidoh."
Kaidoh turned off the lights and pulled the covers over his head, counting the chirps and wondering how you converted Fahrenheit to Celsius and how difficult it would be to flee the country before tomorrow evening and what it would be like to wake up with a cricket on your face.
The crickets were 50 for ¥700. "I just want one," Kaidoh said to the shopkeeper.
"Oh," said a voice behind him. "Buying supper, Mamushi?"
"Shut up, Momoshiro." Kaidoh clenched his fists.
"Isn't this what snakes eat?" Momoshiro grinned.
"None of your business."
"I bet I could eat more than you," Momoshiro said.
"Let's have a contest."
"You'll never--" Kaidoh stopped. He hissed, took a deep breath. "Don't be stupid. I'm not going to eat crickets."
"Actually, many people eat crickets," the shopkeeper said. "They're good dry roasted."
"Can I get--" Kaidoh forced himself to look closer. He needed a male cricket. There was one near the top that looked pretty damn male to him. "--that one."
"That's not even a snack," Momoshiro said.
"Get your own," Kaidoh said and took out his wallet.
He got home just as his parents were leaving. "Inui-kun is already here," his mother said. "You should be more punctual."
"I'm sorry." The paper bag in Kaidoh's pocket twitched and he shuddered.
"Dinner is on the table, Kaoru. Don't keep your senpai waiting." She stood in the vestibule, watching him, like she couldn't trust him not to run off, which was actually the case. So they went, Kaoru and the Second Cricket, to meet Inui.
He was sitting at the table, drinking tea, and when Kaidoh came in, he smiled, the shiny boyfriend smile, and for about ten seconds, there was nothing else inside Kaidoh's head.
"Thank you for coming over." Kaidoh reached out and they linked their fingers together. The cricket struggled and the paper crackled. Kaidoh pulled his hand away. "Um...we should eat." He sat down gingerly, because he had a bug in his pants and he couldn't do anything about it. Except send it a mental message not to chirp. Or get out of the bag.
Over dinner, Inui told Kaidoh all about the wheelchair tennis matches he'd seen on TV and the origins of lawn tennis from court tennis and what the plastic things on the end of shoelaces were called. Kaidoh ate as slowly as he could, but eventually, the food was gone.
"Let's see how the cricket is doing." Inui got up from the table.
"But we haven't had dessert yet." Kaidoh cleared the table and took out the bowls his mother had left. "Please eat." Inui sat down again. Kaidoh dawdled over his pudding, then drew out the clean-up too.
"It's all very good," Inui said. "Please thank your mother."
Kaidoh nodded. He just had to distract Inui so he could complete Operation Replace The Cricket With An Exact Replica Or At Least Close Enough. All without lying. "That television program you like is coming on now."
"Let's watch in your room. I can check the cricket during the commercials."
"But--" Kaidoh couldn't say it was more comfortable here, because actually his couch was nicer. "There's more space down here.
"I don't mind," Inui said. "And I brought my thermometer and stopwatch to check the accuracy of the chirp temperature conversion."
Kaidoh tried to think, but he was all out of ideas. "Senpai--" he said and stopped. His palms were damp and he wiped them on his pants.
"Kaidoh." Inui put his hand on Kaidoh's shoulder. "Are you nervous about being alone with me?"
"No," Kaidoh said. With all the lies and stress and bugs in his pants, it hadn't even occurred to him that this was a perfect chance for some more boyfriend activities. Further boyfriend activities. With a chance of discovery of nearly 0%.
"It's okay," Inui said. "We can take things slowly. Just television and cricket-watching, no pressure."
Kaidoh didn't want to take things slowly. Maybe if he just grabbed Inui right away...but the cricket would get squished or escape and, anyhow, Kaidoh couldn't enjoy himself as long as it was in his pocket.
"Come on." Inui pulled gently on Kaidoh's arm and Kaidoh couldn't come up with any more excuses. When they got to his room, he turned on the TV right away. Maybe he'd think of something before the commercial.
"You know, never mind about the show," Inui said. "I'll download it later. Let's check the cricket now and then watch a movie."
Kaidoh turned off the TV. His heart was pounding and he had brainfreeze even though he hadn't told a single lie. There was no way out now.
"Excuse me for a moment," Inui said. "I have to use the toilet."
Relief poured down Kaidoh's body, like a bucket of water dumped over his head. As soon as Inui was gone, he flipped open the box and shook Mr Cricket II inside. Mr Cricket II looked kind of pissed off, but he wasn't dead. Kaidoh dropped onto the couch. He wasn't dead either.
"What movie do you want to watch?" he said, when Inui returned. "I have some new ones."
"That's a different cricket."
Kaidoh's heart started beating in about eight places at once, but primarily his throat and brain. "What do you mean?"
"This is a female. See the ovipositor at the end of the abdomen?"
So that was what that thing was. Kaidoh looked down at the floor. He tried to say something, but the pounding in his throat made it hard.
Kaidoh jumped to his feet. He swallowed. "Mr Cricket got away. It's all my fault, I'm sorry."
"That's okay." Inui patted Kaidoh's shoulder. "I'm glad you liked him enough to want to replace him." He looked into the box again. "What do you call her?"
"Uh, Mrs Cricket. I'm really sorry."
Inui grinned. "Good name. And it's okay. As long as you're happy." He sat down on the couch. Kaidoh joined him and started the movie. Inui reached out and Kaidoh took his hand.
Kaidoh had been waiting for this movie, but he hardly saw it now. He stared at the screen, eyes almost unfocused, and moved his thumb over Inui's finger and felt all his muscles relax. Things were happy and shiny and boyfriend again.
Then he saw something moving on the wall.
Kaidoh hissed before he could stop himself. He had a good thick hard-cover dictionary across the room. One well-aimed throw... But he couldn't do that to Mr Cricket, not after all they'd both been through.
"What is it?" Inui squeezed Kaidoh's hand.
"Look." Kaidoh pointed. "We should catch him." He would man the box and Inui could catch Mr Cricket and Kaidoh wouldn't have to share a room with a loose insect anymore.
Inui picked up the box. "You grab him and I'll open the lid."
Oh shit. Kaidoh stared at Mr Cricket. Mr Cricket stared back.
"He'll get away," Inui said.
Well, it wasn't like Kaidoh was afraid. Not of a stupid bug. He moved up slowly. A little closer, and he'd pounce, grab the cricket off the wall, toss him lightly into the box. Just a little closer.
Mr Cricket launched at Kaidoh's face. Kaidoh yelled and flailed his arms and closed his eyes and fell backwards onto the floor.
"Are you okay?" Inui said.
Kaidoh opened his eyes. Mr Cricket was crawling along the arm of the couch, like he was trying to take Kaidoh's seat, like he was trying to take over Kaidoh's life. No way was Kaidoh letting him do that. No fucking way. He shot out his hand, quick from the shoulder, and when he brought it back, Mr Cricket was inside.
Inui opened the box and Kaidoh tossed the cricket in. Then he shook his hand out. He looked Inui in the eye. "I don't like bugs."
"That can't be right," Inui said.
"According to my data..." Inui pulled out a notebook and flipped through it. "You like...oh." The tops of Inui's cheeks went pink.
"I guess my handwriting is a bit messy," Inui said. "I thought it said you liked insects but actually, it says you don't." He frowned. "And I bought you a cricket. I'm sorry."
"It's okay." Kaidoh wanted to punch the air because now he didn't have to keep bugs in his room. Or his pants. But Inui looked so sad.
"I really wanted to get you a nice present."
Kaidoh didn't know what to say, so he grabbed Inui around the middle and hugged him, a boyfriend hug, warm and close. After a few moments, Inui hugged him back.
"Do you want me to take them away?" Inui asked.
YES, Kaidoh wanted to say, but, "Hazue likes them."
"Then let's put them in his room." Inui picked up the box, Kaidoh packed up the food and blue gel and, finally, Kaidoh's room was cricket-free. "But, Kaidoh," Inui said, when they got back. "You should have told me. You can tell me anything. Relationships should be built on truth and honesty."
"I'm not nervous about being alone with you," Kaidoh said, and pushed Inui down onto the couch.
"I got you a replacement present." Inui smiled and Kaidoh smiled too, because it was Inui and there weren't any bugs.
It was a shirt. A shiny black ugly shirt with huge white ugly flowers and some sort of ugly cloud-like things. And a really huge collar.
"Thank you," Kaidoh said. "I like it very much." And rubbed his forehead.
Comments of any kind are always welcome.