MomoKai + Horio -- did anyone have any doubt that this was me? :D
Content note: In a older variation of rock - paper - scissors, snake beats frog, frog beats slug, and slug beats snake. According to the internet, anyhow. :)
Kikumaru grabbed Kaidoh around the neck and pulled him in just before the flash went off. "Take another one, Fuji," Kikumaru said and tightened his hold. "Come on, Kaidoh, smile."
Spots swam in front of Kaidoh's eyes. He tried to smile, but his mouth was full of rice and he choked before Kikumaru let him go.
"Cough it up, Mamushi." Momoshiro banged him on the back. "Here, drink." He shoved a cup of tea into Kaidoh's hand. Kaidoh coughed and drank and breathed. He liked breathing. He was used to it.
He wasn't used to the medal around his neck, though. They were all wearing them. Kawamura kept his on while he made sushi and served tea. Kikumaru polished his on his sleeve and held it up whenever there were photos. Oishi held his in two hands and stared down at it, smiling. Even Tezuka touched his medal once or twice with a look on his face that made Kaidoh drop his eyes and turn away.
Kaidoh couldn't remember ever being so happy. It was like there was a shiny golden glow beaming from everything. And getting in his eyes. Kaidoh blinked. No, that was the light reflected off of Momoshiro's medal, which Momoshiro was carefully angling at Kaidoh's face.
"Stop that." Kaidoh jammed his elbow into Momoshiro's ribs.
"Make me." Momoshiro shoved Kaidoh with his shoulder. Kaidoh pushed and they shifted back and forth, throwing all their weight against each other. Then Momoshiro slipped aside and Kaidoh sprawled into his lap.
He scrambled to push himself back up. He got one hand onto Momoshiro's thigh but Momoshiro put him in a headlock and rubbed the top of his head with his knuckles. Kaidoh jammed his elbow into Momoshiro's stomach and they both went over backwards. Momoshiro's medal hit Kaidoh in the face. He hissed and Momoshiro laughed right in his ear.
"Jerk," Kaidoh muttered, but he was still full of shiny glowy happiness. He twisted and grabbed at Momoshiro's arms, but Momoshiro bearhugged him and jammed Kaidoh's face against his neck.
And then there was that feeling. Not the shiny glowy one, but the hot prickly one. The jumpy tingly wanting feeling that Kaidoh couldn't seem to stop having, no matter how often he told himself that it was stupid nonsense.
Momoshiro tightened his grip and Kaidoh knew that he was feeling just the same.
"You're so noisy, Momo-senpai," Echizen said.
Blood rushed to Kaidoh's face and he jerked away from Momoshiro. He was going to have to get out of here soon. Momoshiro settled back into his place and his knee brushed Kaidoh's. Soon. Together.
"Let me have one of those." Momoshiro filched two pieces of maki from the platter in front of Kaidoh.
Kaidoh caught Momoshiro by the wrist. And then let go again. "You eat too much."
"You complain too much."
Echizen picked up his tea and moved to another table.
"See what you did?" Momoshiro said. "Let me have another." He leaned across Kaidoh and Kaidoh couldn't help moving a little so their arms touched.
"We've been here too long," he said.
"No we haven't-- oh! You mean we should--"
Couldn't Momoshiro be subtle for once? "We're inconveniencing our hosts."
"Right," Momoshiro said. "Just let me finish this." He pulled another platter in front of him.
Kaidoh tried to feel annoyed, but the happy glowy shininess and the jumpy kiss-me tinglyness were both still bouncing around inside of him and there just wasn't any room for anything else.
Fuji stopped by their table and Kaidoh sat up straight. "We're going to have a party to celebrate," Fuji said. "On Tuesday evening at my house. So keep yourselves free."
"Yes," Kaidoh said.
"Party!" Momoshiro picked up the last piece of sushi. "Thank you, Fuji-senpai."
"Oh, Fuji!" Kikumaru hung onto Fuji's arm. "We don't have any invitations yet. I'll draw you some."
"Do you have time to get them ready, Eiji?" Fuji smiled. "Six o'clock, all right?" He moved to the next table, Kikumaru trailing after him.
Kaidoh looked over at Momoshiro. "Are you done yet?"
There was a grain of rice on the corner of Momoshiro's mouth. He licked it away. "Okay, okay. Stop nagging me." But he didn't sound any more annoyed than Kaidoh felt. He reached behind him for his bag.
"I'm sorry for intruding on your celebration." It was Inoue, the reporter. "Can I ask you some questions?" He sat opposite Kaidoh.
Now Kaidoh was annoyed. But there was nothing he could do. Momoshiro, the idiot, was grinning and giving Inoue a description of his new special move, the Ultra Jack Knife, which was basically a plain old Jack Knife that Momoshiro hit extra-hard.
"You've become quite a strong doubles pair," Inoue said. "To what do you attribute your success?"
"Hard work," said Kaidoh.
"Luck," said Momoshiro.
Inoue smiled. "How does it feel to play together?"
Their doubles matches were always crazy -- some crazier than others -- but somehow, they always got it together before the end. And when they did, it felt like Kaidoh could read every one of Momoshiro's moves, like he was hitting all of Momoshiro's shots as well as his own.
"It's okay," Kaidoh said.
"Someone's got to watch this guy's back," Momoshiro said and slapped Kaidoh's shoulder.
"Your combination is very good," Inoue said. "Kaidoh-kun, during the tournament you also played several doubles matches with Inui-kun. How would you compare that to playing with Momoshiro-kun?"
Doubles with Inui was always stable. Inui planned strategies, Kaidoh carried them out, they won their matches. Kaidoh felt calm and confident, playing with Inui. "I was happy to play with Inui-senpai," Kaidoh said. "He is also a very strong singles player."
"And I'm not?" Momoshiro punched Kaidoh in the arm.
"I wasn't talking about you." Kaidoh raised his hand, but let it drop. They couldn't act that way in front of Inoue.
"Let's have a picture of the second-year pair!" Shiba appeared and raised her camera. "Move in closer."
Momoshiro put his arm around Kaidoh's shoulders. "Smile, Mamushi."
The kiss-me feeling pushed at the inside of Kaidoh's chest and made it hard for him to breathe. But it wasn't hard for him to smile. They held up their medals and Shiba flashed photo after photo.
"You need a cool nickname," she said.
"How about the Amazing Momo-chan?"
"She means for both of us, idiot."
"Okay, the Amazing Momo-chan and Mamushi." Momoshiro grinned at Kaidoh.
"If I'm the snake, you're the frog."
"If you're the snake, I'm the slug."
"Ha ha, Vermin Pair!" Kikumaru yelled.
Kaidoh looked around. Everyone was watching them. "Sorry," he muttered and looked down at the table.
Inoue laughed. "I'll be watching you two in the winter tournaments." He went to talk to Fuji and Shiba followed.
There was still tea in his cup. Kaidoh picked it up and drank. Momoshiro hit him on the shoulder and the tea slopped down Kaidoh's chin. "Come on, Kaidoh."
"Watch out." Kaidoh wiped off his face. Kaidoh put on his shoes and reached for his bag. Their shoulders pressed together. Just a few more minutes. A few short steps to the door.
"Kaidoh," Inui said. "I want to have a word with you."
Kaidoh's gut twisted with disappointment. And then with guilt over his disappointment. He owed Inui so much, it was wrong to feel this way about talking to him.
"Inui, Kaidoh." Fuji held up his camera. Inui put his hand on Kaidoh's shoulder and the flash went off.
Kaidoh blinked and let Inui steer him into the corner of the restaurant. "What is it, senpai?"
"You played very well in the tournament, Kaidoh."
The glowy happiness surged up again. Inui never praised anyone unless he meant it. "It's thanks to all your help." Inui was a bit scary at times, but he had spent a lot of time and effort working with Kaidoh. Kaidoh would never be able to thank him properly.
"Thanks to your hard work." Inui smiled.
Kaidoh remembered watching Inui, the strength and precision of his arm, the power of his shots, the economy of movement. The absolute focus on the court. "You played well too, senpai," he said.
"Thank you, Kaidoh." Inui put his hand back on Kaidoh's shoulder.
Behind Inui, across the room, Momoshiro was hanging onto Echizen, and Kikumaru was squeezing both of them from the side. "Momo-senpai, that hurts," Echizen said.
Kaidoh wanted to go over and tell them to stop roughhousing. It was completely inappropriate.
Crap, he'd missed what Inui was saying. "I'm sorry."
"If you need any help with anything, just let me know."
"Thank you." Kaidoh looked up at Inui and wondered if they were done now, if he could excuse himself.
"I wanted to give you some suggestions for--"
Fuji appeared at Inui's elbow. "Inui, can you come help settle a bet with Taka-san?"
"Ah, sorry Kaidoh." Inui squeezed Kaidoh's shoulder and let Fuji lead him off.
Kaidoh sighed. He was off the hook for now. He looked at Momoshiro and their eyes met. Momoshiro nodded and grinned, then shrugged Kikumaru off his back. Kaidoh picked up his bag and Momoshiro picked up his bag and they stood looking at each other for a few seconds. "Come on," Kaidoh said and they went to pay their respects to Tezuka and Oishi.
"Thank you for your guidance," Kaidoh said.
"Yes," Momoshiro said, "Thank you."
Oishi was still smiling. "You played so well," he said and touched them both on the arm. "You were fantastic."
"You did well," Tezuka said.
"Thank you, buchou," Momoshiro said.
Kaidoh could only nod. To hear those words from Tezuka. There was a lump in his throat and he swallowed hard. Momoshiro took his arm and pulled him away. They thanked Kawamura and his father. Then they headed for the door.
Kaidoh wanted to bolt, to grab Momoshiro and run. But that was definitely not an option. They went up to the bar.
"We're taking a few days off from club activities," Ryuzaki said.
"Okay," Momoshiro said. Kaidoh nodded and turned to go.
"When we resume, the third-years will be retiring."
Kaidoh looked at Momoshiro. Momoshiro looked at Kaidoh. They both looked at Tezuka. Then back at Ryuzaki-sensei. Kaidoh's heart slammed against his ribs. Me, me, me. Let it be me.
"Decide between yourselves," she said. "You have until Thursday morning." She smiled. "Otherwise it will be Arai and Ikeda."
It had to be Kaidoh. Not Arai, not Ikeda, not Momoshiro. Especially not Momoshiro. Momoshiro would let the club degenerate into chaos. There would be no discipline, no care.
"Watch out!" Momoshiro grabbed his shoulder.
Kaidoh teetered on the curb as traffic sped by.
"Dumbass," Momoshiro said.
"Shut up." Kaidoh pictured himself walking into the practice and everyone falling silent. The first-years would look up to him. The second-years would defer to him.
"Are you going to wear that all the way home?"
Kaidoh pulled his medal off and stuffed it in his pocket. He clenched his hand around it and the edges bit into his palm. His chest felt tight, like there was a fist squeezing his ribs. Him, it had to be him. He would make them train harder, practice even more. They would win the winter tournaments and Seigaku would stay on top. He would make Tezuka proud.
Not to mention, Momoshiro would have to do what he said.
"Hey, Mamushi!" Momoshiro was standing a meter away at the entrance to the alley, waving his arms in the air. "We turn here."
In the alley, behind a coffee shop that nobody ever visited, there was an enclosed spot where they came after school and jockeyed with each other not to be the one with his back up against the metal grille. Sometimes they ate in the coffee shop afterwards. The food was terrible.
Kaidoh walked back.
"Come on." Momoshiro grabbed Kaidoh's arm.
Kaidoh pulled away. "It has to be me."
Momoshiro looked down the alley and then back at Kaidoh. "What?"
"It has to be me."
The tops of Momoshiro's cheeks went pink and his eyes got wide, like they did when he was in the middle of a tough match. "Are you saying there's someone who's...not you?"
"Are you saying it should be you?"
"Should be..." Momoshiro laughed. "Oh, I get it."
Then Kaidoh got it too. He hissed. Like he would even care.
"Of course it should be me," Momoshiro said.
"I'm clearly a leader."
"You couldn't lead a fish to water."
"And you could?"
"I'm the strongest." Kaidoh crossed his arms over his chest.
"No you're not, I am."
"I am." The bag slipped off Kaidoh's shoulder and he pushed it back up. "I'll prove it."
"You do that," Momoshiro said.
"I will." Kaidoh's bag fell again. He dropped it on the ground. "A match. Tomorrow."
"Monday evening," Momoshiro said. "I have a family thing on Sunday."
"Fine." Kaidoh picked up his bag.
Momoshiro caught his wrist. "Come on then." Momoshiro tugged and Kaidoh started to go with him. But the fist was still around his chest, crushing out his breath. It had to be him.
"I have to train," Kaidoh said and ran all the way home.
Monday morning, there were drawings on Kaidoh's school shoes, scrawled in black marker: a snake on one and on the other, a blob that was probably meant to be a slug. It had feelers, anyhow. "Bastard," he muttered and pulled them on.
Five envelopes were tucked in the back of his shoe box. Kaidoh stuffed them into his bag. He'd had a few fan letters before, after tournaments, but this was the most at once.
People called out their congratulations to him as he walked to his classroom. His face got hot and he looked down at the floor. The envelopes crackled in his bag.
After his first class, he took them into the toilet and read them quickly. They were all from girls. Watching your dedicated effort touched me, one of them wrote. Your graceful play is wonderful. It made his face hot to read that about himself.
Another girl had drawn Kaidoh and Momoshiro after a doubles match, racquets crossed and beaming smiles on their faces. Kaidoh didn't think he had grinned like a fool. Not like Momoshiro.
None of the girls asked Kaidoh to go out with them, which was a relief. In the spring, he had got several letters from one girl, telling him that she loved him and asking him to be her boyfriend. She would hang around tennis practice every day and watch him.
He could hardly talk to her at all, let alone tell her that he wasn't interested, and he got more and more uncomfortable. He was close to just giving in and going out with her, since he didn't know what else to do. But Inui had helped him write a letter to her, turning her down. "You shouldn't go out with someone out of obligation," Inui said.
During science class, the teacher lectured about survival of the fittest and Kaidoh drew a picture of a snake swallowing a frog. The frog had a dopey smile. The snake had fangs.
He counted down the hours until the match. At lunch, he did a visualization exercise, picturing himself hitting perfect serves, perfect returns, winning every point of every game. Across the court, Momoshiro dropped to his knees. "A complete loss," he said. "You're the strongest one."
It had to be Kaidoh.
After school, he went to put the drawing into Momoshiro's shoebox. There were already a few envelopes in there and he slid the folded paper between them.
"Leaving me fan mail?" Momoshiro said.
Kaidoh turned around. "Who would write you fan mail?"
"Eight people this morning." Momoshiro reached past Kaidoh and pulled out the envelopes. "And five this afternoon. Not including you." He unfolded the drawing and laughed. "I'm going to win."
"I'll kick your ass," Kaidoh said.
"You couldn't kick my ass if you had six legs."
"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."
"Then you must not ever listen to yourself." Momoshiro opened one of the letters. "Did you know that I'm a true hero and my graceful play is wonderful?" He looked up and their eyes met.
Kaidoh remembered their doubles matches, chasing around the court, reading each other's moves, the play flowing between them. Then the alley: the smell of the garbage, the knocking of the rusting pipes, the heat of Momoshiro's mouth as they pushed at each other.
Forget it, Kaidoh told himself. They could go back to the alley after Kaidoh was captain. "I'm going to win," he said and turned away before Momoshiro could retort.
There was one more fan letter in Kaidoh's shoe box.
Me. Kaidoh served and the ball hit the drink can squarely, knocking it over with a clang. Me. The next serve brushed the top and sent the can rolling. Me. He'd picked out Momoshiro's favourite drinks to target. Which wasn't difficult, since the greedy moron would drink nearly anything.
Me. Me. Me. Three more cans went down. Kaidoh's stomach churned, like it always did before a match, and he could feel his supper sitting there, unmoving. He closed his eyes. He took a deep breath, like Inui had taught him. Then he blew the last can away. Time to go.
He jogged through the park, just fast enough to keep his muscles from cooling down. The sun was setting but the air was still hot and he pulled off his bandana to wipe his face. There were lights at the street tennis court, so they would still be able to play. Kaidoh wondered if that would give Momoshiro an advantage; Kaidoh hadn't played many night games.
It had to be him. If he lost, he might as well just transfer to Kakinoki or some other school. Deep breaths. It had to be him.
Some kids were making a fuss nearby and Kaidoh tried to ignore them. People didn't know how to behave in public anymore, his father often said. There was no respect.
He was just passing them when he heard a voice he recognized, a loud annoying voice. "I'm sorry, I'll take care of it for sure." Kaidoh turned and there was Horio, the loud annoying first year from the tennis club, the one that was always hanging around Momoshiro.
Horio was with two older boys, probably in high school. It figured he was annoying them too. Probably trying to hang out with them or bragging about something. Well, at least that meant he wouldn't be watching the match.
"We'll take care of you," one of the boys said and pushed Horio to the ground. The other one kicked him in the stomach. Three times.
Kaidoh knocked him down before the fourth.
"What the hell?" The second boy took a swing at Kaidoh and just clipped his jaw. There was a red stain all down the front of the boy's shirt, but it didn't look like blood. "We'll take care of you too, if you want."
Kaidoh struggled to keep his balance. His face hurt where he'd been punched. He backed onto the first boy and almost fell, then hit out at the second, landing a blow on his shoulder.
Horio uncovered his head. His face was pale and dirty. "S-senpai?"
At least the brat was conscious. "Get out of here," Kaidoh said and dodged another punch.
The boy on the ground grabbed his ankles and Kaidoh went over. They struggled with each other and Kaidoh ended up on top, hitting the boy in the face as the boy clawed at him. Kaidoh took a blow across the back and fell to the grass. The stained boy stood over him, lifting his foot to drive it into Kaidoh's stomach.
Kaidoh rolled out from under and staggered to his feet. His back ached, his face throbbed. And he could feel the burning inside of him, the buzzing fire of a lighted fuse. "Come on," he said and raised his hands. They came at him. The fuse burned away. His fist lashed out and things exploded.
Inui was always telling Kaidoh to think before he acted. Kaidoh didn't understand how that was possible. His body moved before he knew that it was going to, it didn't ask him his opinion first. He hit, he kicked, he dodged, he grappled. He hurt.
The red-stained boy was the toughest and he was the one who drove Kaidoh back, dodged his punches, hit him so hard he nearly lost his wind, and Kaidoh couldn't cope because he had to keep at both of them at once.
It was wearing him down, trying to make headway, trying to keep himself from being hurt. He couldn't take them down. He couldn't stop them from flanking him. He was going to go down and then it was going to hurt badly.
He yelled and his body made one of those non-thinking decisions. He turned his back on the red-stained boy and punched the other boy full on the nose. The boy screamed and clutched his face. Blood ran out through his fingers. Now his shirt was stained too.
An arm went around Kaidoh's neck from behind, but he was ready for it and got his hand inside so he wouldn't choking. They struggled for a while, then Kaidoh bent the boy's arm and got free. He turned and struck out, landed blows on the boy's chest, knocking him back. Kaidoh had his balance now, his momentum. He raised his fists again.
"Come on." The bloodied boy was a few metres away, waving his arms. "Let's go."
The stained boy backed up, his eyes on Kaidoh. "You'll be sorry," he said, then he turned and they both ran.
Kaidoh fell to his knees on the grass.
"Kaidoh-senpai! Are you all right?"
It took a moment for Kaidoh to register Horio. Then he remembered the reason he was fighting in the first place.
"You saved me," Horio said. He knelt down beside Kaidoh and offered a grimy handkerchief. "Thank you. Thank you."
Kaidoh touched his fist to his mouth and it came away bloody. Not much, though. It could have been worse. His lip was cut and he would have a few bruises tomorrow. Right now, he just hurt.
"I was just walking along, eating some shaved ice, I always get raspberry because it's my favourite, and that guy stuck out his foot and tripped me."
The sun was down behind the buildings now and the air was cooler. Kaidoh wanted to lie down on the grass and stay there until the aches went away and Horio went away and he thought of what he was going to say to his mother about the blood.
"And when I fell, the shaved ice went flying and got all over his shirt. And I said I would pay for it, but then they started beating me up and then you came and saved me."
At least he wasn't really injured. Nothing that would keep him from playing--
The match. He was late. Kaidoh jumped to his feet and reached for his bag.
His racquet was lying on the grass, broken in half.
Kaidoh felt sick, like he'd trained too hard in the heat and wasn't sure whether or not he was going to throw up. That was his new racquet, the one he got just before Nationals. "If you're serious about tennis," his father had said, "you should have good equipment."
Now it was just trash. The shaft was snapped. The racquet was dead.
"It was the one with the bloody nose," Horio said. "He took it out of your bag."
Kaidoh picked up the handle. The broken ends of the shaft were jagged and sharp. He imagined hitting the bloodied boy with it, breaking his arm, cutting his skin.
"I'm really sorry. I'll take care of it, I promise."
He stabbed it into the earth. It stuck there, upright, like a stupid worthless broken tennis racquet.
Kaidoh wanted to slap Horio, he wanted to scream. "Think before you act," he said. If Horio hadn't been so stupid in the first place. He hissed and Horio cringed.
"Y-yes." Horio looked down at the grass. "Are you all right?"
The handle slowly toppled over. Kaidoh stared at it, at the head lying beside it. He shoved them both into his bag.
"Shut up," Kaidoh said. "And get lost." Then he picked up his bag and ran.
He ran through the park, along the streets, the same route he'd followed twice already today. His body ached, but he still throbbed with anger and it wouldn't let him slow down.
When he was exhausted, he dropped onto the sidewalk, his back against a stone wall. It was dark now and the pool of light from the streetlamp didn't quite reach him. He wiped the sweat off his forehead. His bandana was gone.
"Dammit!" He'd taken it off just before the fight. He must have dropped it in the park. How many things could go wrong in one day? Then he remembered Momoshiro. "Dammit!" Kaidoh slammed his fist against the pavement. The match was supposed to start an hour ago. What was he going to do? His other racquet was being re-strung; he wouldn't have it back until Thursday.
He rummaged in his bag for his mobile and scratched his arm on the broken handle. His phone was off. There were six voice messages. He deleted them and called Momoshiro.
"Where are you?"
"Something came up," Kaidoh muttered.
"Well, get over here. And now you have to buy me lunch tomorrow too."
"It has to be another time." He couldn't play a match this important with a borrowed racquet.
"Then buy me lunch on Wednesday. Just come play."
"Not lunch, dumbass, the match."
"Are you forfeiting?"
The sweat on Kaidoh's neck turned cold and he hissed into the phone. "No! Something came up."
"Two lunches, then."
Kaidoh punched the sidewalk again. But if it meant he didn't have to forfeit. "Two normal-sized lunches."
"Okay, okay. When can you play? The party is tomorrow."
"Thursday." He'd have to pick up the racquet and the store was pretty far away. "Thursday evening."
"Jeez, if you can't beat me now, three days of practice isn't going to help."
"I can beat you now!"
"Then why aren't you here?"
Kaidoh hung up. Three days of no practice wasn't going to help either. Was it better to use someone else's racquet or not practice at all? Inui would know the answer.
By morning, Kaidoh's lip wasn't swollen any longer and the cut was hardly visible. He still hurt all over, though. His morning run was painful and he wished he could just soak in the bath instead of going to school.
Horio was waiting for him at the school gates. Kaidoh tried to walk past him, but Horio grabbed his sleeve. "Senpai," Horio said. "Here." He held out Kaidoh's missing bandana. "You dropped it in the park and I took it home and washed it for you."
The bandana was clean and freshly pressed, like it was new. Kaidoh put it into his bag.
"Well, my mother helped me, but I did most of it myself. Thank you again for saving me."
The sun was in Kaidoh's eyes and his head was aching. He wanted to get to class before he ran into Momoshiro.
"I'll take care of the racquet for sure, but it might take me a while to get the money. For sure by the end of the month. I'll have more money after my birthday."
Kaidoh turned to leave.
"I can't wait to tell everyone how amazing you were! The way you took on both those guys at once and beat--"
Kaidoh grabbed Horio by the collar, hoisting him up to his toes. Horio squawked. "Don't tell anyone."
"No, I won't--"
"Anyone." Kaidoh let go and Horio staggered and dropped his bag.
"Yes, senpai," Horio said. Kaidoh left before he could say anything else.
After school, both Horio and Momoshiro were waiting for Kaidoh at the school gates. Kaidoh wondered if he could climb over the wall in the back instead, but they had already spotted him.
"Kaidoh-senpai!" Horio rushed ahead. "I didn't say anything to anybody about you-know-what." A button was pinned to his jacket, obviously home made, green ink on white paper. A blobby picture and some scrawled text. "Can I help you with anything? I could pick up balls while you practice or do errands for you."
Kaidoh squinted at the button. Kaidoh Kaoru for tennis club captain. "What the hell is that?"
"I'm supporting you all the way!" Horio dug in his bag. "I made a bunch of these. Here."
Momoshiro leaned over Kaidoh's shoulder and plucked a button from Horio's hand. "Campaigning, Mamushi? Is that why you put me off?"
"No," Kaidoh said, so loudly that people turned to stare. "I'm not and it's not why."
"Why are you supporting this loser, Horio?" Momoshiro said.
"Well...because..." Horio looked like he might explode.
"Scram," Kaidoh said and Horio took off.
"You were supposed to buy me lunch." Momoshiro dropped the button into his pocket.
"You could buy me something now." He put his hand on Kaidoh's shoulder. "Come on."
Weak coffee and stale pastry and fifteen minutes in the alley, pressed together tight. Kaidoh swallowed. "The party is this afternoon. And I have to train first."
"Oh, right." Momoshiro dropped his hand. "But don't bother with any special move practice -- it won't do you any good."
"Here you go!" Kikumaru held out a folded piece of paper. Kaidoh juggled with his glass and plate, trying to free a hand. Inui reached past him and took it.
On the front was a picture of Kaidoh drawn in a balloon-y cute style. He was scowling.
"It's your invitation!"
Inui flipped it open and inside were the details of the party and some sketches of tennis racquets, tennis balls, and smiling mice. "Very nice."
"But we're already at the party," Kaidoh said.
"Here's yours, Inui." Cartoon Inui was smiling, but in a creepy way. Kaidoh thought the mice would do well to run away. "Come on and sing with me." Kikumaru grabbed Inui by the elbow. Inui slid Kaidoh's invitation under the plate where Kaidoh could clamp it with his thumb and went off to do karaoke with Kikumaru.
Kaidoh sat down on the floor, his back against the wall, and watched the party. Fuji's living room was really too small for this many people and Kaidoh wondered why they hadn't just gone out to karaoke in the first place.
Kawamura was in the lone chair, still banged up from last week, being fussed over by Fuji's older sister. She put her hand on his arm and he blushed hotly. Inui and Kikumaru were singing now, a Morning Musume song, and banging into each other as they fumbled the choreography. Probably that was just Inui. Fuji and Oishi clapped along. Echizen was across the room from Kaidoh, leaning against the wall and reading a tennis magazine. And beside him was Tezuka, just standing.
Kaidoh wished it were him there beside Tezuka. Then maybe he could soak up some of Tezuka's aura. Everyone respected Tezuka. Just like they'd respect Kaidoh, when he was captain. He'd have an aura too. Everyone would listen to him. Everyone would keep their distance.
"Yo." Momoshiro slid to the floor next to Kaidoh. He jogged Kaidoh's arm and juice splashed onto Kaidoh's shirt.
"Watch out, idiot."
"Here." Momoshiro scrubbed at Kaidoh with a handkerchief. The stain spread.
"Just leave it." Kaidoh drained the rest of his glass and put it down.
"You're not wearing your button."
"It doesn't go with this shirt."
Momoshiro plucked the invitation from Kaidoh's hand. He laughed. "It looks just like you."
"I don't look like that." Kaidoh pulled Momoshiro's invitation from his shirt pocket. He had the same dopey grin as the frog. "But your dumb face is perfect."
"Hey." Momoshiro elbowed Kaidoh in the side. Kaidoh elbowed him back and Momoshiro grabbed at Kaidoh's arm and Kaidoh got that tingly wanting feeling again. Then Kaidoh looked over at Tezuka.
"Ten minutes?" Momoshiro said.
Kaidoh stood. He crossed his arms.
Momoshiro hauled himself up. "Or now, sure." He grinned.
"No," Kaidoh said. He couldn't let Momoshiro distract him like this. It had to be Kaidoh. It had to be.
"What's the matter with you?" Momoshiro frowned. "You keep blowing me off."
There was a crumb of pink icing on the front of Momoshiro's shirt and Kaidoh stared at it.
"I know you're grouchy, but you don't have to be a jerk too."
Kaidoh looked Momoshiro in the eye. "Leave me alone," he said. "You're the enemy."
The colour left Momoshiro's face. Kaidoh braced himself for a smack or an insult, but Momoshiro just stood there, his mouth half open and his eyes wide.
A wave of nausea hit Kaidoh. He turned away from Momoshiro and almost ran to the toilet. He locked the door and stood there, eyes closed, until the queasiness was a little less.
When he got back to the party, Momoshiro was singing with Eiji, messing up the lyrics and choreography as badly as Inui had. "Come on, Momo," Eiji said. "We practised this!"
"You're next," Fuji said to Kaidoh. "I have the perfect song for you."
"I have to go." Kaidoh grabbed his things, even though Tezuka would never duck out on a club function like this, and ran out into the open air.
Kaidoh punched his pillow. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw stupid Momoshiro's stupid hurt face, and it was keeping him awake. He got up and went to the kitchen for a glass of water.
How could he have predicted Momoshiro would react that way? They'd fought lots of times and yelled insults at each other even more. And now Momoshiro was all sensitive? It wasn't like Momoshiro was his fucking girlfriend or something. They were ... Kaidoh wasn't sure just what they were. But whatever it was, it was all because of that pervert.
Kaidoh couldn't even remember exactly when it had been, just that they'd been out playing doubles at the street courts, extra practice and a chance to crush that Fudomine rhythm freak and his mumbling partner. It was a hard match and for a while, Kaidoh thought they wouldn't pull it out. But they managed somehow, fighting extra hard and finally falling into sync.
It was such a rush. Momoshiro dragged Kaidoh back to his house so they could review the match, but they were both so wound up they couldn't concentrate. They ended up shoving at each other, not fighting, just roughhousing, blowing off steam. Momoshiro got Kaidoh pinned down and Kaidoh knew he had to twist away before Momoshiro dropped a loogie on his face.
But instead, Momoshiro darted in and kissed him, a sloppy smack that hit Kaidoh's lower lip and chin.
"That's disgusting," Kaidoh said.
"Yeah," Momoshiro said and did it again. And they just kept going, short fumbling kisses, almost laughing in between. When it started to turn serious, Kaidoh made an excuse and went home.
He worried about what would happen the next day, but nothing really did. Momoshiro was a little weird and Kaidoh was little awkward, but nothing major. It was all pretty normal.
Except that Kaidoh wanted to do it again.
What a stupid decision that had been. Kaidoh refilled his glass from the tap. He should have known it wasn't really normal. He should have known it would turn Momoshiro into a weepy girl.
He wasn't going to back down. Momoshiro was just a stepping stone for Kaidoh. But it wouldn't be fair if Momoshiro wasn't playing his best when Kaidoh beat him and became tennis club captain.
Kaidoh put his glass into the sink. He'd apologize in the morning, if that would get Momoshiro off his back. And his stomach felt less queasy already.
"Ah, Kaidoh." Inui blocked Kaidoh's way out of the entry room. "I was just giving Horio some suggestions for your campaign." He was wearing a green button: Kaidoh Kaoru -- Discipline and Order. "I think this is a better slogan, don't you?"
Kaidoh just stared. Maybe he was still asleep in bed.
"And his posters are not as effective as they could be, although his enthusiasm is commendable."
"I must say, a free vote is a novel approach to deciding the captaincy. However, in this case, it may be the best method. That way, the whole club has a voice in the matter."
"There's no vote," Kaidoh said.
"No?" Inui looked down at his button. "Maybe I jumped to conclusions. What about a written test? You could decide based on superior knowledge of tennis rules and strategies."
"Or you could ask Tezuka to decide."
And that would be the perfect method. If Tezuka picked Kaidoh. If Tezuka thought Kaidoh was a worthy successor. Discipline and order. It really wasn't a bad slogan. But what if Tezuka didn't pick him? And it wouldn't settle things with Momoshiro. "It's fine," Kaidoh said. "We'll take care of it."
"Okay," Inui said, but he looked disappointed. Then he brightened up. "I'll prepare some drills for you to use at practice next week. In fact..." He took out his notebook and started scribbling in it as he walked away.
Kaidoh went to look for Momoshiro. On the way, he saw a Kaidoh Kaoru for Tennis Club Captain poster. He tore it off the wall.
He found Momoshiro in the second-year hallway, talking to Arai and Ikeda. "Momoshiro," he said. "I--" He stopped and stared at Momoshiro's chest. Momoshiro was wearing a button. An orange button, only somewhat better made than Horio's, with the slogan: Momoshiro for captain. Because he's nicer. "What the hell is that?" Arai and Ikeda were wearing them too.
Momoshiro gave him a nasty look. "I have nothing to say to the enemy."
"This isn't a popularity contest!"
"Lucky for you," Momoshiro said. "You're still going to lose the match. But now you'll know that you just don't suck at tennis."
"You bastard." Kaidoh clenched his fists. "I came here to--"
"You suck at tennis and nobody likes you."
The words were like a blow to Kaidoh's chest, almost knocking the wind out of him. Kaidoh lunged but Momoshiro side-stepped him and it was Arai who went sprawling. "Ow! Watch it, Kaidoh," he said.
Kaidoh took a deep breath. He walked up to Momoshiro until they were centimetres apart. His whole body trembled with the effort of not hauling off and punching Momoshiro right there in school. "I'll fucking crush you."
"Bring it on." Momoshiro's voice was low and Kaidoh could tell how serious he was. "I'll smash you into nothing."
"Guys..." Ikeda grabbed Kaidoh's shoulder. Kaidoh shoved him and he staggered away.
"Thursday," Kaidoh said. "We'll see who's stronger. It doesn't matter who's nicer."
"Don't run away this time," Momoshiro said and left before Kaidoh could say anything more.
During classes, Kaidoh stared at the slug on his shoe until he almost saw the feelers waving at him. At lunch, he took a marker and blocked it out. He drew a squashed frog in the space that was left. Snake beats frog. Kaidoh beats Momoshiro.
Kaidoh felt sicker than ever.
After school, there were three more Kaidoh posters in the hallways. Kaidoh ripped them down, along with two for Momoshiro and one for the AV club that he got by mistake. He tacked that one up again. This had gone far enough.
He found Horio behind the main building, hitting a tennis ball against the wall. Horio looked up and his arm jerked. The ball flew out behind him and hit a girl in the leg. "Watch out, twerp," she yelled, and whipped the ball at Horio's head. Horio ducked. Kaidoh caught the ball.
"It has to stop," he said.
"I'm sorry!" Horio cringed. "I just wanted to do some extra practice so I'd be ready for the ranking matches."
"The posters. The buttons." Kaidoh squeezed the ball so he wouldn't smack Horio upside the head. "There's no fucking vote."
"But Momo-chan-senpai has--"
"I'll deal with Momoshiro." Kaidoh squeezed the ball again, tighter. It was spongy and nearly useless. "Just stop."
"Okay." Horio unpinned the button from his shirt. "And I'll have the money for your new racquet really soon. I'm doing extra chores for my mother. Yesterday, I watered all her plants and cleaned the floors and--"
"Give me your racquet." Horio handed it over and Kaidoh took a few swings. But it felt all wrong -- the frame was too light, the grip was too narrow. He tossed it back to Horio. "Don't practise with a dead ball."
"I'm sorry," Horio said. "I don't have any new ones and I promised myself I wouldn't spend any more money until I paid for your racquet. Except I had shaved ice yesterday, but that was after I was tired from all the cleaning."
"Shut up." Kaidoh pulled a can of balls from his bag, the ones he'd bought for the match with Momoshiro. He threw them at Horio, wishing he could aim for the head like that girl.
"Th-thank you." Horio clutched the can.
"Open the fucking balls." Kaidoh thought Horio was going to break all his fingers, but he got it open eventually. "Swing!" Horio hit the ball against the wall, forehand, then backhand. "Your form sucks," Kaidoh said. "Raise your elbow on the backhand."
"Okay!" Horio called.
"And follow through properly."
"Do that five hundred times. Every day." Kaidoh turned on his heel. That would keep Horio out of the way for a while.
On his way home, Kaidoh passed the alley. He walked down and stood inside the enclosure. Just being there was enough to make him hot and jumpy and angry because he still wanted to press Momoshiro up against the metal grille and kiss him until they were both breathing hard.
He punched the grille and swore at the pain. Then he punched it again.
There was a note in Kaidoh's shoebox. Don't wuss out this time. He crumpled it and threw the wad of paper into Momoshiro's box. Don't make my stomach hurt, he wanted to write back. Stop messing up my life.
He spent the day with his insides bubbling, unable to think at all. He passed Momoshiro in the hallway and neither of them spoke. Momoshiro's face was sullen and he didn't even look at Kaidoh. Kaidoh wanted to grab him by the shoulder and force him to look Kaidoh in the eye. Instead he went into the cleaning closet, grabbed a broom, and slammed it over his knee. The wooden shaft broke with a loud snap and it made him feel better for a few seconds.
Kaidoh looked at the jagged ends of the handle, like the useless pieces of his broken racquet, and his eyes began to sting. He'd fucked everything up, he'd got it all wrong somehow, and even winning the match wasn't going to help. He threw the broken pieces into the back of the closet and slammed the door on his way out.
After school, he went to pick up his racquet. Even though the shop had had it for nearly five days, it still wasn't ready, something about a new employee and a lost work order. Kaidoh got food from a convenience store, then went back to the shop, glaring at the stringer as he worked.
Finally, it was done. Kaidoh stuffed the racquet into his bag and took off, dodging and weaving through the people on the sidewalk, chafing at the stop-lights, and made it to the park with two minutes to spare. The courts were at the other end and Kaidoh slowed to a jog.
Halfway there, he met Momoshiro. Momoshiro still had that sullen look and it was so wrong on his face, Kaidoh wished he could erase it and draw in a stupid smile instead. They stared at each other for a while. Kaidoh felt like he was in the stringer's vise and his guts were being stretched tighter and tighter.
"Come on," he said finally. "Let's get this over with."
"Suits me fine," Momoshiro said. And five boys came up and stood in front of them.
Kaidoh recognized two of them. "Momoshiro," he said. "Get out of here."
"You didn't think we'd forget, did you?" One of the boys stepped forward. "That brat never did pay for my shirt."
"Who are these guys?" Momoshiro said.
Kaidoh's heart slammed against his ribcage. He dropped his bag onto the ground. "Nothing to do with you. I'll handle it."
"There are five of them!"
The boy cracked his knuckles. "We're going to snap you like that racquet." He waved his hand. The boys circled around Kaidoh. Momoshiro stepped in closer, turning so they were back to back.
"I said it's none of your business." Kaidoh eyed the three in front of him, trying to gauge which one to take on first. "Just go!" The circle started to close. Kaidoh watched the boy in front of him, then delivered a sharp kick to the kneecap of the one of the left. He yelped and sank to the ground. And the fight was on.
Kaidoh punched at the chest of the one in front of him, the ringleader, but the boy turned and the Kaidoh hit his shoulder instead. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the one on his right dive in and Kaidoh got his elbow up and into his gut just in time to stop the grapple.
"You are so cold, Kaidoh, did you know that?" Momoshiro yelled over the sound of the fight. "So cold!" Kaidoh couldn't see him, but he could tell that Momoshiro was still standing.
"You're too laid back," Kaidoh called. He took a blow to the stomach and lost his breath for a moment. He hit at the boy and sent him staggering back out of the circle. "You're sloppy."
"Is that why I'm your enemy? Because I'm sloppy?" Momoshiro banged into Kaidoh from behind and they braced against each other for a few seconds, breathing hard.
"Because we're opponents, idiot!"
"Hey," the ringleader said. "I'm the one you're fighting."
"Right," Kaidoh said and punched him in the face.
"We're rivals," Momoshiro yelled. "That doesn't make us enemies." He grunted and Kaidoh thought he must have taken a pretty good punch to the gut. "Except you hate me now."
Kaidoh hit the ringleader again and knocked him down. The kneecap boy was on his feet now and Kaidoh kicked him in the other knee. "You're the one that hates me," he yelled.
"You should be more like these guys," Momoshiro said. "They all came out to help their buddy in his time of need. They wouldn't let down a friend. Except that one who's running away."
"They'll all run away before we're done." Kaidoh slammed his fist into someone's side. Someone else tripped him and he went down. He rolled to avoid a kick. Momoshiro shoved the boy out of the way while Kaidoh scrambled back up to his feet. Kaidoh lashed out and hit the boy's nose. Blood poured down over his mouth and chin. He stumbled away, whimpering.
Kaidoh and Momoshiro leaned back to back again, catching their breath, looking around them. "I've got one left over here," Momoshiro said.
"One here too." Kaidoh raised his fists.
"Sorry," the boy said, and took off, his friend right behind him. Momoshiro and Kaidoh slumped to the ground and flopped onto their backs, heads together, bodies angling off like the hands of a clock.
"Okay, you shouldn't be like these guys," Momoshiro said. "They give up too easily."
Kaidoh ached all over. His eye was swollen and his ribs were bruised. His hands were sore from throwing punches. But his stomach wasn't queasy anymore. "Momoshiro," he said. "You're not my enemy."
"Jeez, don't be so sentimental," Momoshiro said and Kaidoh could tell that he was grinning.
And maybe Kaidoh was grinning too.
Momoshiro stretched and tucked his arms behind his head, so his elbow was poking into Kaidoh's cheek. "Who were they anyhow? And what was that about a racquet?"
"Okay, okay. I'll find out some other way."
Kaidoh looked up at the sky and let the breath sigh out of him. He still wanted to play Momoshiro and beat him. He still wanted to be captain of the tennis club. But those two things weren't really linked anymore. Anyhow, if it was all about who was the strongest player, that was probably Echizen. At least for now.
Still, they had to decide before tomorrow morning. Kaidoh stretched and rolled to his feet. This match was really going to hurt. "Come on, let's play." He held his hand down to Momoshiro.
Momoshiro grabbed Kaidoh's wrist and pulled. He grimaced and let go. "Fuck."
"My wrist." Momoshiro moved his hand up and down and grimaced some more. "It's strained or something. I'll have to forfeit."
"It's my fault," Kaidoh said. "I'll forfeit."
"Like I'd let you let me win!"
"You have to go to the hospital."
"It's nothing! I'll be fine in a few days."
"What if you're not?" If Momoshiro had to stop playing tennis because of Kaidoh... "Don't be such an idiot."
"I'll go tomorrow."
Kaidoh grabbed Momoshiro's other arm and hauled him to his feet. "Come on or I'll break your arm too."
"You're full of sweet talk today." But Momoshiro let Kaidoh drag him off.
"I'm still going to forfeit," Kaidoh said as they went through the hospital doors.
"Like I'd let you." Momoshiro went up to the desk and a nurse led him away.
Kaidoh paced up and down the hall while he waited for Momoshiro. On one of the down trips, he walked smack into Inui. "Senpai, how did you--"
"Horio called me." Inui took Kaidoh's shoulder and steered him to a seat. "He went to meet you in the park and saw you two were in a fight with a dozen high school students and Momoshiro's arm was broken."
"There were five," Kaidoh said. "And it's not broken. I think." Was Horio following him everywhere now?
"I must say, I'm really impressed at the way you've taken Horio under your wing."
"Though I think it's a bit early for you to be teaching him the Boomerang Snake."
"So I prepared some guidelines for you on how to best work with him. Some of it is based on the methods I used with you."
Inui had methods he used on Kaidoh? Kaidoh took the notebook Inui held out. Kohai Training Manual was written on the cover. Kaidoh wasn't sure he wanted to look inside. "Thank you," he said, because he had been well brought up.
"You've matured quite a bit, Kaidoh," Inui said, like he was Kaidoh's freaking father or something, and not less than one year older than him. But it was still kind of nice to hear. "I'll check in on your progress with Horio next week."
The doors opened and Momoshiro came out. "It's fine," he said. "I just can't play for two weeks." And Kaidoh was so relieved to see loud annoying Momoshiro that he almost forgot about being stuck with loud annoying Horio.
Inui left them outside the hospital after doling out advice on Momoshiro's wrist, Kaidoh's black eye, and the best way to organize ranking matches.
They started walking home. "I'm still forfeiting," Kaidoh said.
"I'm forfeiting first." Momoshiro shoved Kaidoh.
Kaidoh shoved Momoshiro. "I'm first."
"I won't lose to you!" Momoshiro said. "I'm the king of forfeits!"
"Idiot," Kaidoh said and tried not to smile.
When they reached the alley by the coffee shop, Momoshiro turned to Kaidoh. "You still owe me two lunches." Kaidoh grabbed his arm and dragged him into the enclosure.
"I'll buy you three," he said and pushed Momoshiro up against the metal grille.
Momoshiro turned up in front of Ryuzaki's office with a "Kaidoh Kaoru - Order and Discipline" button on his shirt.
"As if!" Kaidoh pulled it off.
"Well, we have to decide somehow." Momoshiro took the button from Kaidoh and put it in his pocket. "Unless you want Arai and Ikeda lording it over us."
It was too late to ask Tezuka to decide now. Kaidoh looked at Momoshiro. Momoshiro looked at Kaidoh. Kaidoh nodded and they both held out their fists.
"Jan! Ken! Pon!"
Kaidoh gave the new racquet a swing. It was perfect -- wrapped and weighted just right -- and he couldn't wait to use it. He'd gone halves on it with Horio, after reading the section in Inui's manual about "Compromising to Build Trust".
"Are you sure your wrist is okay?" he called across the net.
"I told you five times." Momoshiro stretched his hamstrings, one leg, then the other. "The doctor said it was fine to play." He took two balls out of his bag and tossed them to Kaidoh. There was a snake drawn on one and a blobby slug on the other.
"Like that's going to help." Kaidoh put the snake into his pocket.
"The mental game is just as important as the physical game," Momoshiro said. "Okay, let's see who's Singles 2."
"Who said we were playing for Singles 2? The line-up should be a different strategy every time."
"Inui-senpai must have brainwashed you somehow. So why did you want to play?"
"To see which of us is stronger, dumbass."
Momoshiro grinned and moved into position. "Just serve the fucking ball, Mamushi."
"Mamushi-buchou to you," Kaidoh said and tossed the ball into the air.
Comments of any kind are always very welcome. And there's more fic here: Prince of Tennis Fic by Halrloprillalar.