A Lick and a Promise by Halrloprillalar / prillalar
Prince of Tennis, InuKai, 3000 words, G.
Things get weird. Inui tries to work out why.
"Everyone cuts that corner." Inui slashed a line across his diagram of the tennis courts.
"I don't." Kaidoh didn't look up.
"I know you don't. But the first years especially don't like to run."
A leaf drifted onto Kaidoh's book and he brushed it away. "Tell them not to cut."
"That only works for a day or two. I need a way to alter their behaviour more permanently." Inui tossed his notebook onto the grass and stretched out on his back. The ground was cool, almost cold, and the chill felt good against the warm air. He closed his eyes and went through the creative idea generating process he'd read about on one of the productivity blogs he followed.
A bug landed on his mouth. Inui sputtered and propped himself up on his elbows. The bug was gone before he could see if it was a useful specimen. The tree branches moved with the wind, shaking sunlight into his eyes. He rolled onto his side and looked up at Kaidoh.
Kaidoh's back was against the tree and his legs were crossed, balancing his book. He turned the page and Inui just caught the picture of a cat disappearing underneath the words. It reminded Inui of his great aunt's cat, Tama-chan. He always ran and hid whenever he saw Inui coming.
Tama-chan also liked to scratch the furniture and eat any food that was left out, no matter how high up it was. Privately, Inui thought the cat could use a short sharp shock but his aunt never even tried to train him. Inui even went so far as purchasing a book called Your Perfect Cat Companion and leaving it around the house, but she only took the chapter on Fine Feline Dining to heart.
"Hmm," Inui said. If he recalled correctly, which of course he did, a good method of cat training was to spray the cat with a plant mister when it was about to do something wrong.
Inui leaned closer, in case Kaidoh was reading Your Perfect Cat Companion and was on the chapter on Maintaining Discipline. But it seemed more like a novel about two boys who stowed away on a pirate ship and had fabulous adventures. Involving cats, apparently. Kaidoh lifted the book a bit and Inui couldn't read any more. He dipped down to look at Kaidoh's arm instead, specifically the forearm, because it was there.
There were four freckles near Kaidoh's wrist and if Inui connected them with a pen, they would form a parallelogram, almost a square. There was a scrape just below Kaidoh's elbow, from when Kaidoh slipped and fell during his shuttle runs on Monday. And all the hairs on Kaidoh's arm were standing up, almost goosebumps, even though the day was warm.
Inui leaned down until they brushed against the end of his nose, so faintly he was only half sure that he felt it. He was so close that he couldn't focus, until he looked down, outside the smudged lenses of his glasses. He wanted to trace the lines between the freckles, measure the angles.
Instead, he put out his tongue and licked Kaidoh's arm.
It tasted like nothing at all, which was strange. Inui licked a second time, to be sure. Nothing, not even a faint hint of salt. Inui sat back. "Maybe if I hid and sprayed them with a hose."
And Kaidoh was frozen, holding completely still except for a muscle in his jaw, which was twitching. He was staring down at his book and his face was flushed, like he'd been running in the heat.
"To keep them from cutting the laps," Inui clarified. "It's effective for training cats, so I thought it might work for the first years as well. What do you think?"
"I don't know." Kaidoh kept his head down and his eyes on the page.
"We always had trouble getting you not to do too many laps." Inui rolled onto his back. "Would spraying you with water have made you stop?"
Kaidoh snapped his book closed and shoved it into his bag. He jumped to his feet.
"I have to run," Kaidoh said, even though it was still at least half an hour before his scheduled workout.
"Not yet, though." Inui sat up. Kaidoh was acting weird and it made Inui feel weird too.
"See you," Kaidoh said, weirdly, and left.
Inui lay on his back, looking up through the leaves, and wondered why.
He settled on a sprinkler system. That way he could automate the first-year habituation process and not have to take time out from his own training.
There was a garden supply store nearby that would probably have what he needed. Of course, shopping would be more fun with someone else along, not to mention a sprinkler system could be heavy, so Inui gave Kaidoh a call.
The phone rang quite a long time and Inui was just composing his voice mail message when Kaidoh picked up.
"Hello," Kaidoh said, and even though it was over the phone, Inui could tell that Kaidoh was standing all stiff and weird and awkward.
"Hello, Kaidoh. I was just wondering if--" Inui noticed that he was standing all stiff and awkward too. So if they went shopping, would it just be weird there too? Which would probably prevent Inui from properly evaluating the sprinkler systems. Also, it would be uncomfortable. "If you had a good run yesterday."
"Sure." Kaidoh didn't say anything else, which wasn't that unusual, but the way he didn't say it was definitely weird.
"Okay then," Inui said, and rang off. He gave his shoulders a shrug and shook out his arms until the awkwardness was gone. Then he sat on the bed to think.
Obviously something was causing Kaidoh's strange behaviour. Since he had been fine when they'd arrived in the park before, it had to be something that occurred while they were there. And since they hung out in the park like that fairly often, it had to be something unique to yesterday.
Maybe something Kaidoh read in his book, like when he was a baby he was bitten by a pirate and now he had a pirate complex which caused him to become weird. But that didn't seem very likely.
So maybe it was because Inui had licked him. Which, Inui had to concede, was probably not normal social behaviour. He'd just wanted to, somehow. But why would it cause all the weirdness?
The weirdness should be studied. Only then, would Inui know how to deal with it. But when he got out his notebook to take down some preliminary data, he found he didn't know the unit of measurement for weirdness. He didn't even know if it could be observed.
Inui dropped the notebook onto the floor. Then he licked his own arm.
It didn't taste like anything either.
Inui was wrist-deep in mud when his mobile rang. He held onto the pipe with one hand and stretched out, straining until he could just reach his jacket with his fingertips. He twitched the pocket and the phone fell out onto the grass. A bead of sweat rolled down his back. He stabbed at the speaker button.
"Senpai?" Kaidoh's voice sounded thin in the night air.
"Kaidoh." Inui's joints loosened and he smiled. "Are you having an enjoyable evening?" There still seemed to be a substantial amount of weirdness. Less than before, though. By maybe as much as 30%.
"Sure." There was a pause. "How about you?"
"Excellent." Inui wondered if the same amount of weirdness was experienced by both parties or if it could be different for each of them.
"Inui-senpai, I called to--"
Inui's grip on the pipe join slipped and he lunged to grab it again. The stack of jets clanged into a heap and Inui landed in the mud, the breath oofing out of his lungs.
"Am I on speaker?" Kaidoh said.
"Yes." Inui wiped his face with his free hand, smearing even more mud onto his glasses. Some dirt got into his mouth and it crunched between his teeth. "But nobody else--"
Kaidoh cut in. "You sound busy."
"I'm not," Inui said, even though he really was. Which was actually strange behaviour for him too. He wanted to tell Kaidoh he was glad that Kaidoh had called but all of a sudden that seemed like a strange thing to say. "Did you know that if you take the prime number 73939133 and chop off the last digit, you still get a prime?" Which was strange and probably not of general interest.
Water shot out and hit Inui in the face. He sputtered, forced the pipes back together, and started installing the jets.
It was eight pm when Inui finished. When he'd swiped the worst of the dirt from his face and arms, he picked up his phone and scrolled through his contact list. But it just felt too weird. Anyhow, Kaidoh was probably busy chopping the digits off primes.
Inui pulled his shirt over his head and picked up his racquet. He took out the new training schedule for Kaidoh. In case they ran into each at practice. Or maybe he'd just email it later.
He put it in his pocket and headed out to the courts. A bounce of excitement went through him: today was the premiere of the new Anti-Lap-Cutting system. First was stretching, then he'd turn the water on.
Unusually, nobody was on the courts yet. They were all clustered by the fence, staring through the wire and talking in excited voices. Some sort of special match? Inui pushed through a gaggle of first years so he could get a better view.
The courts were flooded.
Just in case, Inui calculated the odds that a freak torrential rain had fallen from the cloudless sky while they were in last period. They weren't good.
"We'll have to cancel practice." Tezuka stepped up beside Inui.
"It looks like it's worse down by D-court," Inui said.
"It's covered in mud. We're still trying to find out what caused it."
Inui spotted Kaidoh by the corner of the A-court fence. Their eyes met and Kaidoh looked the other way. Inui pushed his glasses up his nose. "There's a small chance there was a freak torrential rain storm this afternoon."
Tezuka turned. "Inui."
"Well, you know how cats hate water?"
Inui scooped up another shovelful of mud and poured it into the wheelbarrow. Clearly, he should have been more careful inspecting that pipe join. The training schedule fell from his pocket and disappeared under the muck. Clearly, he should have been more careful about everything.
By the time he was done, he was sore in muscles he didn't even know the name of. He made a rough job of washing up at the sinks, then dragged himself back to the club room to change.
Kaidoh was inside.
He jumped up when Inui opened the door, his book falling splayed onto the bench. He didn't speak and Inui could almost see the weirdness filling the room like fog, could feel it cold and clammy against his skin. If he tested the air how many parts per million would there be? "Kaidoh?"
Kaidoh picked up the book and smoothed the pages, closed it, put it back down. He opened his mouth like he was going to say something, then closed it again.
"Shouldn't you be out running?" Inui swiped his forehead with the back of his hand to keep the sweat out of his eyes. Kaidoh didn't answer, didn't look at Inui.
The worst of it was Inui didn't know where to look either or even what to say. Their conversations were usually fairly one-sided but this one was zero-sided, all of Inui's words sucked up by the weirdness.
Kaidoh picked up the book again and sort of leaned it against the top of his bag, like he was maybe going to pack up and leave but hadn't quite decided yet.
And Inui didn't care any more whether weirdness was a wave or a particle; he just wanted it gone. "Everything has been awkward between us," Inui said. "Ever since I licked your arm."
Kaidoh's head jerked up and their eyes met for one stabbing moment. "I--"
"So why don't you lick me? Logically, that should balance things out."
"I don't think..." Kaidoh held the book it in front of his chest.
Inui crossed the room and held out his arm. "Go on." Kaidoh didn't move. "Kaidoh. Please."
Kaidoh dropped the book. He circled Inui's wrist with his fingers. He bent his head. Inui waited for the weirdness to fall away, to feel normal again.
What he felt was Kaidoh's tongue slide carefully along the soft hollow of his elbow. What he felt was the hair on the back of his neck stand up and the cartilage in his knees liquify. What he felt was more weirdness, a different, crackling, better weirdness that reversed his polarity and pulled him in instead of pushing him away.
Kaidoh dropped Inui's arm. Inui lifted it up again, his wet skin cooling in the air, his wrist bare and bumping with his pulse. He brushed his fingers across the faint patch of damp, trying to assimilate, to synthesize.
"Senpai." Kaidoh looked away, sideways. The tops of his cheeks flushed pink and he tensed, like he was waiting for the starter's gun. "Okay?"
Inui wanted to move in, step closer, so he did, toe to toe, backing Kaidoh against the bench. He stretched both arms to touch the wall, trapping Kaidoh inside. Kaidoh went still, looking straight ahead, his breath puffing against Inui's breastbone. They weren't touching anywhere.
"Kaidoh," Inui said. "I believe I licked you twice."
The seconds dropped slowly by: two, three, four. Inui's shoulders ached from shovelling but he didn't lower his arms. Six, seven, eight and Inui didn't know what he was doing, what he was waiting for.
Then Kaidoh grabbed him around the chest, slamming their bodies together, pressing his cheek into Inui's neck. Inui rocked back, staggered a step, and wrapped his arms around Kaidoh.
They stood close, like two warm magnets clicked together. Inui could feel Kaidoh breathing, his ribs pushing against Inui's. Inui wasn't sure if he was actually breathing himself. Kaidoh's mouth moved against Inui's skin, the wet of his tongue swiping upwards and Inui definitely wasn't breathing now.
"Okay?" Kaidoh muttered and Inui sucked in enough air to manage a yes. Kaidoh stepped back, letting go. Inui caught him by the shoulders. He bent down, he couldn't not, and touched his lips to Kaidoh's. Just a brief press and then he let go altogether.
"Okay?" Inui said.
Kaidoh looked up. "Yes."
"Okay." Inui smiled and got half a smile back from Kaidoh before he looked away. It still felt weird, prickly exciting tongue-twisting weird, and Inui had no more clue about how to fix that than before. Maybe Fuji would know.
He let go of Kaidoh and went to his cubby to change. When he looked back, Kaidoh was still smiling. "I was going to offer to train with you now, to make up for missing practice," Inui said. "But my muscles need to rebound after such strenuous activity."
"I'm sorry." Kaidoh sat down on the bench.
"Tezuka-buchou said not to help you."
"I'm sure he knows best." Inui sat beside Kaidoh. "But I still have to figure out a way to keep the first-years from cutting that corner." He glanced at the book in Kaidoh's hands. The cover photo was a dog swimming in the ocean. Possibly towards a pirate ship, though that wasn't actually in the picture.
Inui didn't know much about training dogs, though he could read up on it. Or maybe... "I could get a dog, a fierce guard dog, and chain it up at the corner so they have to run around it so they won't get bitten." He grinned. "It's foolproof. I just have to figure out which breeds of dog are best." He hoped the dog wouldn't be too expensive; the sprinkler system had cost quite a lot.
"Why don't you just make them run more laps?"
Inui stared. "But that...makes a lot of sense, actually."
Kaidoh shrugged and put the book inside his bag. His sleeve rode up and Inui could see the parallelogram of freckles there. He reached out and traced them with his finger.
"Senpai." Kaidoh pulled his sleeve back down. "I have to go running."
Inui didn't know if he'd made a mistake or not. Kaidoh's shoulders hunched up as he walked towards the door. The weirdness rolled between them, filling all the available space, making Inui's chest ache.
Kaidoh stopped in the open doorway. He darted back to Inui and squeezed his arm, pushing his forehead into Inui's shoulder for a few seconds. Then he turned and sprinted out into the sunshine.
The ache bubbled away. Inui's shaky knees dropped him onto the bench and he laughed until his eyes watered.
Then he got out his phone and called Fuji.
Comments of any kind are always welcome. :)