The Dogs and the Bees by Halrloprillalar / prillalar
Prince of Tennis, Inui/Kaidoh, G, 4200 words
It's not a date.
"This is why I don't eat in the cafeteria." Kaidoh yanked his lunch box across the desk, out of Momoshiro's grasping hands.
"Jeez, it wouldn't hurt you to share once in a while." Momoshiro pulled over a chair and straddled it backwards. "Oishi-senpai asked me to come tell you that we're practising in the gym today."
"Okay, you told me. You can leave now."
"Yeah, so I heard that Inui-senpai was going over to your place for supper on Friday."
"So, I just thought--hey, is that a monkey over there?"
Kaidoh tightened his grip on his lunch. "Did you really think that was going to work?"
Momoshiro shrugged. "Can't tell until you try. So, I just thought that maybe you could invite me over too."
"But your mom is the best cook ever! Remember that time she made snacks for the team?" Momoshiro made a face that was probably supposed to be cute or something, opening his eyes wide and grinning like an even bigger idiot than usual. "Come on, it will be fun. Or something."
"No!" Kaidoh took a bite of his lunch and chewed in a way that was meant to tell Momoshiro that the conversation was over and he should go away.
"She's not cooking anyway."
Momoshiro frowned. "Is she okay?"
"That's good. So your dad is cooking? Is he as good a cook as your mom?"
"He's not cooking! They're going to Hazue's parent-teacher night." Kaidoh was starting to think he should keep bags of banana chips in his desk. Then whenever Momoshiro hung around being annoying, Kaidoh could pitch one into the hall and Momoshiro would be sure to chase after it.
"So you're getting take-out? I know this place that makes great katsudon. We could order from there."
"I'm cooking, idiot. And there's no way I would ever cook for you, so forget about being invited."
"Oh?" Momoshiro stopped with his hand halfway to Kaidoh's lunch. "You're cooking dinner for Inui-senpai and nobody else is going to be there?"
"I just never thought you'd have the nerve."
"The nerve to cook?"
"To ask Inui-senpai on a date."
"A--" Kaidoh's chopsticks clattered onto the desk. "A what?"
"An intimate dinner for two. A special evening you will both treasure." Momoshiro grinned. "A D-A-T-E."
"It's not a date!" Kaidoh jumped out of his seat and grabbed at Momoshiro's collar. But Momoshiro dodged out of the way.
"Whatever you say, Mamushi." And he left, waving as he went out the door.
When Kaidoh looked down, he found Momoshiro had taken half his lunch.
Kaidoh threw his bag in the corner and lay back on his couch. He closed his eyes so he couldn't see the calendar on the wall, the red notation on Friday.
Of course it wasn't a date and of course Inui wouldn't think it was a date. It was just to thank Inui for his help and support, that was all.
Except what if Momoshiro told someone, like Arai, or Echizen, and then they told someone else, like that stupid noisy first year kid or Kikumaru or, really, what if Momoshiro even thought about it loudly, because Inui seemed to find out everything anyhow, and then Inui thought that Kaidoh thought it was a date?
Kaidoh grabbed his phone. "Inui-senpai," he said when Inui answered. "About Friday night--"
"We're still on for dinner, aren't we, Kaidoh?"
"Yes," Kaidoh said. "I just wanted--"
"Because I'm really looking forward to it."
"That's good," Kaidoh said. "Just to be clear--"
The door banged open. "Come out and catch for me." Hazue tossed a mitt and hit Kaidoh in the stomach.
"Not now!" Kaidoh said.
"Is this a bad time, Kaidoh?" Inui said.
"It's just my brother," Kaidoh said and waved at Hazue to get out and leave him alone for five minutes.
"Come on," Hazue said, definitely not getting out and leaving Kaidoh alone. "I have a game tomorrow."
"What did you want to say, Kaidoh?"
"About Friday night--" But there was no way Kaidoh was going to mention the word date in front of Hazue. It was like that thing Inui had told him about, that if you publish a headline in the paper saying "Mayor Did Not Run Over Puppy" that people would start to think the mayor had run over a puppy even though the headline said he hadn't. "Um...about the food. Do you have any allergies?"
"No food allergies or sensitivities," Inui said. "I am, however, allergic to bee stings."
"There won't be any bees on Friday," Kaidoh said. Hazue started to laugh and Kaidoh made a face at him. "What kind of food do you like?"
"I like croquettes and shrimp soup," Hazue said. "And honey-coated bees for dessert."
"Recently, I've been experimenting with consuming a perfectly balanced nutritional mush for all meals," Inui said.
Nutritional mush? Kaidoh could just remember how when Hazue was a baby, their mother would grind up food for him. Maybe they still had the grinder somewhere. "I guess I could..."
"Anything is fine," Inui said. "I'm sure whatever you prepare will be delicious."
"It's going to get dark," Hazue said.
"I should go," Kaidoh said.
"Tell Hazue-kun to rotate more in his wind-up." Inui rang off.
Kaidoh put down the phone. "What kind of croquettes?"
"Hurry up!" Hazue pulled Kaidoh off the couch and down the stairs.
Kaidoh thought about calling Inui back later, after Hazue was in bed. But it was pretty obvious he didn't think it was a date or he would have cancelled. And the puppy thing probably applied to Inui as much as to anyone else.
In the yard, he crouched down with his mitt and watched Hazue stretch. Momoshiro was obviously trying to annoy Kaidoh; he didn't seriously think Kaidoh and Inui were having some sort of date. But if Momoshiro's stupid remarks got back to Inui, that could be awkward. But it was nearly impossible to get Momoshiro to shut up.
Not to mention Kaidoh still had to narrow down the menu. If he didn't want to serve unbalanced mush.
Hazue wound up and threw. A bee buzzed around Kaidoh's head and he dropped the ball.
"I thought you didn't eat lunch in the cafeteria."
Kaidoh pushed the lunch box across the table to Momoshiro. Momoshiro opened the lid and reached for a croquette. Then he stopped.
"What's the catch?" He picked up a croquette and looked it over. "Are these poisoned? These are poisoned, aren't they?"
"They're not poisoned." Kaidoh took a deep breath. "You can eat them if you tell me which kind is better. And you have to stop saying weird stuff about me and Inui-senpai."
"You mean about your date?" Kikumaru plopped down beside Kaidoh and leaned over into his space. "I didn't think you'd be so romantic, right, Oishi?" Oishi took the seat next to Momoshiro, frowning slightly.
"A sentimental snake," Momoshiro said with his mouth full.
"How many people did you tell?" Kaidoh wanted to grab Momoshiro and smack him but they'd already got warned for fighting in the school twice this month. "And it's not a date!"
"Aw, he's shy!" Kikumaru squeezed Kaidoh's shoulders.
"How long do you think it took him to ask?" Momoshiro grabbed another croquette.
"Come on you two, don't tease him," Oishi said and Kaidoh relaxed. Oishi would keep Momoshiro and Kikumaru from spreading false rumours just for fun. "It's his own business who he dates."
There was a hot moment when Kaidoh thought he might punch Oishi. "It's not a date," he said and sat on his hand.
"Hey, these are really good," Momoshiro said.
"So, which ones do you like better, asshole?"
"Momo, is Kaoru-chan making you lunch?" Kikumaru said. "Is he dating you now?"
Momoshiro sprayed crumbs across the table. Which was pretty gross, but not nearly as gross as the idea that Kaidoh would date that idiot. "Aw, Eiji-senpai!" Momoshiro whined.
Kaidoh snatched the lunch box and jammed on the lid. He jumped up and knocked his chair onto the floor. He whirled around. And banged right into Inui.
"Ah, Kaidoh." Inui looked down and Kaidoh looked down and the lid was off the lunch box and the last croquette was mashed onto both their shirts.
"I'm sorry!" Kaidoh scraped at the croquette, brushing the worst of it into his handkerchief.
"Are you okay, Kaidoh?" Inui took Kaidoh by the shoulders. "Not to worry, I know a chemical compound that will easily remove the stain."
"I can clean it," Kaidoh muttered.
"I just wanted to confirm that we're still on for Friday." Inui smiled down at Kaidoh. Kaidoh nodded, relieved. So Inui still hadn't heard the date rumours.
"Too bad you missed the croquettes, Inui," Kikumaru said. Kaidoh turned and fixed Kikumaru with the most threatening glare he could muster. "Momo says they're delicious. In fact--" He broke off with a yelp, like someone had kicked him under the table. At least Momoshiro was good for something.
"If you'll give me your shirt before practice," Inui said, "I'll add the stain-remover."
"I said I'll clean yours," Kaidoh said. "It was my fault."
"Taking each other's clothes?" Momoshiro said. "What does that mean?"
Kaidoh lunged at Momoshiro. Inui grabbed Kaidoh's arms. The lunch box fell into Kikumaru's lap.
Kaidoh didn't offer to clean his uniform too.
"It's a special formula." Inui opened the door to the chemistry lab. The room lights were off, but Inui snapped on a small lamp on one of the benches. "A short treatment and the stain will lift right off."
Which sounded exactly like the stain remover Kaidoh's mother bought for the laundry. "I said I would clean the shirts, senpai."
"And I said I would do it." Inui opened a cabinet and pulled out some flasks of liquid. "Unless you'd like to exchange shirts and then compare results."
"I was the one who got them dirty." Did Inui think that the whole shirt thing was part of Kaidoh's date plan? That Kaidoh was trying to manoeuvre some sort of shirt-swapping laundry date as well? No, that was crazy. Nobody would think that.
"By my recollection, it was a mutual effort." Inui poured dollops from three different flasks into a beaker and stirred it with a glass rod. A strange smell wafted up from the beaker. "However, in the time it would take to properly apportion the blame, I can clean both shirts." He pulled his shirt over his head and spread it out on the lab bench. "Watch." He drizzled the mixture so it covered the entire croquette stain.
Kaidoh watched. The smell was harsher now, sharp like turpentine and stinging his eyes. But the stain did seem to be lightening. "Okay," he said and unbuttoned his own shirt.
"Quick!" Inui yanked Kaidoh down behind the bench. "Hide!"
Kaidoh's knees banged onto the floor. "Ow!"
"Shh." Inui shifted, squatting on his heels and bracing his arm against the side of the bench, across Kaidoh's shoulders. "Someone's coming." With his other hand, Inui yanked out the plug for the lamp.
Kaidoh's throat dried up. The crazy laundry date idea didn't seem so crazy now. Not when Inui was hiding rather than be seen with Kaidoh. Well, forget that. Kaidoh crawled out from under Inui's arm.
Inui caught Kaidoh's shoulders, holding him in place. "Stop," he whispered. "I'm ... well, I'm not supposed to be in here after last week. You'd think we don't even have a chemical shower."
Kaidoh relaxed. He was totally blowing things out of proportion, seeing dates lurking everywhere like ghosts in a haunted house. Inui wasn't ashamed to be seen with Kaidoh, he was just...breaking school rules. Kaidoh tensed up again.
Footsteps approached the door. Inui's arm tightened around Kaidoh. Kaidoh held his breath. Inui was still breathing. Kaidoh could feel it, Inui's bare chest pressing against Kaidoh's side, Inui's breath blowing across Kaidoh's temple. And both their hearts were pounding, Kaidoh could feel that too, shaking his ribs inside and out.
The feet stopped. A bead of sweat dropped from Inui's face onto Kaidoh's cheek. Kaidoh's chest burned, he wanted air but it would be too loud, he needed too much all at once. Inui's fingers dug into Kaidoh's shoulder, hard enough to hurt.
The door slid closed. The footsteps faded. Kaidoh sucked in air. Inui's muscles slackened, but he didn't let go of Kaidoh. "Wait a bit," he said, his mouth over Kaidoh's ear.
Kaidoh shifted so his legs weren't cramping. Inui wiped the sweat off his forehead. "Do you like croquettes?" Kaidoh whispered.
"I think it's safe." Inui unfolded himself and plugged the lamp back in.
The stain was gone. Along with all the cloth underneath it. Inui stared at the shirt, his mouth falling open into an O. He didn't say a word, just traced the ragged edges of the hole with one sad finger.
Warmth flushed through Kaidoh, like ginger in his blood, and he reached out to touch Inui's hand. Inui pushed his glasses up and Kaidoh jerked back, just in time.
The hairs on Kaidoh's neck prickled and the synapses in his brain fired and he knew, just as though he'd read the newspaper headline Kaidoh Kaoru Does Not Love Inui-Senpai, that he did. Date or no date. That he did.
Inui looked up. Kaidoh looked away. "It's ruined," Inui said.
Inui would make a list if he didn't know what to do. He would examine the situation. He would write down the data and do an analysis and make some graphs and diagrams and possibly blow something up and at the end there would be a box, outlined in red, with The Answer inside.
Kaidoh went running instead. If he ran far enough, maybe he'd find The Answer, hiding behind a tree or crouching underneath a bus bench. If he ran fast enough, maybe he'd leave The Problem in the dust behind him.
Or maybe he'd end up under a tree, no answer, just sweat running down his face and confusion sitting heavy in the pit of his stomach.
He flopped down onto his back. The ground beneath him was cold and he could feel a pull, like gravity, but it wasn't down, it wasn't up, it was inside out, a vacuum in his chest and guts, so hollow that it hurt.
He could still feel Inui's arm around him, Inui's mouth against his ear. If it happened again, could he stop from turning, from trying to fill up that space? Could he sit at the table with Inui and keep from reaching over?
Kaidoh sat up and rummaged for his phone. It would be rude to cancel but so much worse to do ... something else. So much worse to trick Inui into this dinner that was probably engineered by the sneaky parts of his brain to be a date after all.
"Kaidoh," Inui said. "I'm glad you called."
A bee landed on Kaidoh's arm. Kaidoh froze. He'd never been stung before.
"Are you still there?"
"Yes." Kaidoh wondered what happened to Inui if a bee stung him. Did his arm get red and bumpy? Did his throat swell up so he couldn't breathe?
"Have you seen Casino Royale yet? I can bring the DVD along tomorrow. We're still on for tomorrow, right?"
"About that," Kaidoh said. The bee crawled further up, towards Kaidoh's elbow, probably looking for pollen or whatever bees looked for when they were out and about. Like a good place to jab in its stinger.
"If you don't want to watch a movie, we can just hang out."
"About the dinner, it's just that--" The bee stopped. It stared at Kaidoh, serious and dangerous like those old men who played Go in the park. No pollen here, Kaidoh thought loudly at it.
"That was a good idea about the croquettes, by the way. I had three different kinds today. They're not as nutritious as the mush but they taste way better."
Just say it, Kaidoh told himself. He took a breath. The bee flicked its wings. Warningly. Kaidoh narrowed his eyes at it. Another flick.
"Oh, that's the smoke alarm again," Inui said. The line went dead.
The bee flew away.
Kaidoh ripped up a handful of grass. He lay back and let it fall over his face. He sneezed. Then he picked up his phone again.
"I'm not going on a date with you," Momoshiro said.
"You only wish," Kaidoh said. "What's the number of that take-out place?"
"Thank you for having me." Inui was as tall and smiling as ever. But there was something different. His hair, maybe? Or just the twisty empty feeling in Kaidoh's stomach.
Well, probably the empty feeling was due to Kaidoh not eating breakfast. Or lunch. But the twistyness was all because of Inui. His hair really did look nice.
Kaidoh gestured at a chair. "Thank you for coming."
Inui sat. He laced his hands together on the table, then pulled them apart. He glanced around the room and pushed up his glasses. "You have a nice house," he said. And pushed his glasses again.
He's twitchy, Kaidoh thought. And there could only be one reason why: Inui suspected. Kaidoh grabbed the bowls from the counter. He squared his shoulders and cleared his throat. "Inui-senpai," he said, in a voice too loud for the room. "This is not a date."
Inui's mouth dropped open a little, sort of like when he saw the hole burnt through his shirt. He locked his fingers again. "I see."
"I just thought you should know," Kaidoh said and put the food on the table.
The katsudon was tasteless. How could Momoshiro say this was the best take-out ever? Kaidoh could barely chew and swallow. Inui was pushing his around his bowl as well.
And the room was filled with a noisy silence, water glasses clunking on the table, throats clearing and clearing again.
Kaidoh hadn't thought to prepare any conversation. With Inui, he never had to. "Um," he said. "It was hot today."
"Five degrees above the historical average for this date," Inui said and pushed his glasses up again.
And that was it. Kaidoh gave up trying to eat and just stared into his bowl. This was a total disaster. He wanted to blame Momoshiro, for the takeout, for the whole stupid date thing, but, really, it was his own fault. For the food, for the dinner, for making Inui think he was weird.
He pushed his chair away from the table. "I'm sorry," Kaidoh said. "You don't have to stay."
"Kaidoh." Inui put down his chopsticks. "Do you want me to leave?"
Kaidoh didn't know what to say. The room was quiet again, but with a still, nervous silence. All he could hear was the hum of the refrigerator, the thud of his heart.
Inui stood. "I don't want to inconvenience you."
Kaidoh wanted to yell at Inui to stay. He wanted to shove Inui back into his chair. But he was frozen, like the dog in the middle of the road, watching the mayor's car bear down on him.
Inui gave Kaidoh a tight little smile, the kind where only your mouth changes. "I'll see you at practice," he said.
And a bee flew into the room.
It headed, like it knew, straight for Inui, and bobbed in the air around his head, a humming ball of black and yellow danger. Inui went still, his fingers tightening on the back of the chair.
Kaidoh didn't know what would happen if the bee stung Inui: if he'd break out in spots, if he'd get dizzy and sick. If he'd swell up and die.
The bee flew closer, juking back and forth, clearly trying to decide whether to sting Inui's nose or his ear. "Don't move," Inui said.
By the time the words reached Kaidoh's ears, his legs were springing across the room, his arm was shooting out, his hand was closing around the bee.
It buzzed angrily against his palm. Kaidoh ran for the window. Pain shot through his hand, like he'd stuck a pin right through his skin. His fingers squeezed. When he opened them, the bee was squished. He dropped it into the sink and waited to swell up and die.
"Did it sting you?" Inui came over and shut the window.
"I'm fine." So far, he didn't feel any itching or swelling or red bumpy-ness. His hand really smarted, though.
"Let me see." Inui took Kaidoh's wrist. Kaidoh resisted for a second, then let Inui open his fingers. There was a small red bump in the middle of his palm. "I'll get the stinger out."
"But you're allergic."
"It's a mild allergy. And I'll be careful." Inui got out his student ID card. "Come here into the light." He steadied Kaidoh's hand and bent over it, scraping at the bump with the edge of the card. "If you squeeze the stinger the poison sac will burst and it will get worse."
Kaidoh was all for keeping the poison sac intact. He held still until Inui straightened up and showed him the stinger on top of the laminate, lying over Inui's photo like a faint scar across his cheek. "Thank you," Kaidoh said.
"You shouldn't use a racquet for a few days." Inui was still holding Kaidoh's hand. "Or you could practise your left-handed game."
"Okay," Kaidoh said. He knew he should pull his hand away now, but he didn't. He could feel the sting throbbing like a little pulse. And Inui's fingers curled around his wrist, tight and strong.
"I'll get you some ice to stop the swelling." Inui let go of Kaidoh's hand. He turned away and found a towel, reached in the refrigerator for an ice cube. Then he stopped, his back to Kaidoh. "I didn't think it was a date," Inui said in a low voice. "But I hoped."
"Oh," Kaidoh said and his heart gave a quick sideways beat.
Inui put the towel into Kaidoh's hand. "Hold onto that for a while." He was looking away from Kaidoh now, like there was something interesting at the side of the room instead of just the table.
"Uh--" Kaidoh cleared his throat. "The food is getting cold."
Inui turned his head. "Okay," he said and sat down.
Eating left-handed was awkward and the katsudon was just as tasteless as before. Kaidoh pushed the rice around his bowl, mounding it over the pork. He glanced up at Inui.
Inui bit his lip and looked away. "Kaidoh," he said. "I--"
Kaidoh jumped to his feet. He grabbed the bowls off the table. His palm throbbed, his stomach twisted, his heart beat wildly. And he opened his mouth. "Inui-senpai," he said, that too-loud voice again, "would you go on a date with me?"
Inui's mouth dropped open again. But more like he had just discovered the most effective laundry stain remover of all time. Or had managed not to run over the puppy in the street. Or something good, anyhow. "Yes," he said. "Yes, I would."
Kaidoh felt shy and happy all at once. He turned his back and put the bowls in the sink. He went to the counter for the pudding. "What kind of date?"
Then Inui was behind him, arms on either side of him, braced against the counter. Kaidoh froze. He could feel Inui's breath on the back of his neck. A tingle chased over him, like a million bees buzzing under his skin.
"How about dessert?" Inui said.
Kaidoh turned around.
"I made you lunch." Inui pushed the box across the cafeteria table. "Try it."
Perfect golden brown croquettes nestled inside neat paper holders. Kaidoh picked one up and took a bite. Inside, it was bitter, with a pasty texture. "Mmm," he said and hoped it was convincing.
"They're made from the nutritional mush," Inui said. "Everything you need to get you through the day."
Kaidoh gulped down water and took another bite. It wasn't that bad. Not if he didn't chew much. And kept thinking about eating the leftover pudding in his book bag afterwards.
Under the table, Inui's calf brushed up against Kaidoh's. "When you're done," Inui said, "there's something else I want to give you. In the chem lab."
A warm shiver ran down Kaidoh's back and up into his face. He kept his eyes down on the lunch box and tried not to smile right there in the cafeteria.
Maybe he'd just give the pudding to Momoshiro.
Comments of any kind are always appreciated. :)