Backhand by Halrloprillalar / prillalar
Prince of Tennis, Inui/Kaidoh, G, 1200 words
Keep your eye on the ball.
"Look," Inui says and hands the binoculars to Kaidoh. Kaidoh looks, out onto the St Rudolph court where Akazawa and Kaneda are practising.
"How's Kaneda's backhand?" Inui says.
"Rough." Kaidoh passes the binoculars back. Inui is writing in a notebook, curving lines on a diagram of the court. He pulls his cap down over his eyes and raises the binoculars.
Kaidoh pulls his cap down too. It's black, with a Hanshin Tigers logo on the front, and it's too tight around his forehead, like the feeling right before a literature exam. "For camouflage," Inui said, before they came.
There's a tiny yellow leaf in Inui's hair, just behind his ear. There's a freckle on his cheek. There's a lanyard around his neck, a stopwatch hanging from it.
Kaidoh pulls out the leaf. Inui turns and Kaidoh shows it to him.
"I'll teach you my system," Inui says. He picks the leaf out of Kaidoh's hand and sets it down on the page. "Now, if this is the ball--" There's a shout from the court. Akazawa waves his arms. "They made us!" Inui grabs Kaidoh's hand and they run.
Six blocks away, they stop and lean against a retaining wall. "Here," Kaidoh says and hands the cap to Inui.
"Keep it," Inui says.
"Keep your eye on the ball," Inui says. He reverses the video. "Here."
The review screen on the camera is small and Kaidoh leans in to watch. He's on the court, he hits. Next is Inui's one-handed backhand down the line, out of frame, but Kaidoh can see it anyhow, so smooth and placed just right.
"You're three steps from where you should be." Inui points with the tip of his pen. Kaidoh leans in more, elbow to elbow, knee to knee. Inui shifts, puts his hand on Kaidoh's shoulder. "Do you see?"
"Show me again." Kaidoh breathes, feels the weight of Inui's hand as his ribcage expands.
"Right there." Inui pauses the video. "You're hesitating."
Kaidoh looks away, out over the court. There's the empty tripod, the bottles of water, the can of extra balls. "Your backhand."
"What about it?" Inui says.
"I'm glad you came." Inui takes Kaidoh's arm.
"It's no problem." Kaidoh opens the door, leads Inui out to the elevators.
"The ophthalmologist dilates my eyes every time," Inui says. He's wearing a big pair of sunglasses over top of his glasses. "Everything is blurry. Good thing my phone is voice activated."
He holds Kaidoh's elbow all the way home.
He unlocks the apartment door. "Come in for a while." Kaidoh follows him inside. Inui closes the blinds in the living room. "The light hurts my eyes."
"Your parents," Kaidoh says.
"Out of town." Inui takes off his sunglasses. "They travel for work a lot. Have a seat."
Kaidoh sits down on the couch. The room is large for an apartment. Western furniture, a big TV, stacks of books and magazines.
Inui pulls a notebook out of his bag and squints at the cover. He sits down beside Kaidoh, their knees bump together. "Read the last entry to me."
Kaidoh reads it back, stumbling over Inui's shorthand. It's about their practice match, that's all Kaidoh can tell. He works his way through a columns of numbers, Inui leaning over his shoulder, like he can see what's on the page.
The notes mean nothing but Kaidoh remembers Inui's backhand down the line, the set of his shoulders, the turn of his hips, the stroke of his follow-through. And Kaidoh. Three steps from where he should be.
"You have a nice voice," Inui says. He takes off his glasses and rubs the bridge of his nose. His pupils are huge and dark. He puts his hand on Kaidoh's back, between his shoulder blades.
Kaidoh has that tight feeling around his forehead again, around his chest as well. His skin is prickly. His cheeks are hot.
Inui bends down. His hair brushes Kaidoh's ear. "Kaidoh."
"Your backhand," Kaidoh says.
"Oh." Inui sits back. He takes his hand away, puts his glasses back on. "Do you want to watch TV?"
Kaidoh puts down the notebook. His chest is still tight. He takes a breath. "Okay."
Kaidoh settles the cap low, just above his eyebrows. He ducks down, crouching, peering through the leaves.
Inui is hitting against the practice wall. Forehand, forehand, same angle, same speed. He's in his green warm-up suit. His bag is sitting on the sideline, a notebook propped up against it.
Kaidoh doesn't have binoculars. But he's close enough to see Inui's hair sticking to his forehead. To see the stopwatch hanging around his neck.
The leaves shake around Kaidoh, just enough to feel against his face. He holds his breath and his heart slows, the leaves go still. Inui keeps hitting, forehand, forehand, identical form. Repeat one hundred times, Inui always says.
Something tickles Kaidoh's arm. A spider, picking its way along, looking for something. He flicks it off and it struggles for a moment, then crawls away.
He looks up just in time for Inui's backhand.
It flows out of Inui, his hips turning, his arm extending, the ball flying. Kaidoh's chest goes tight. Inui catches the ball. He bends over his bag.
Kaidoh's phone vibrates against his thigh. How's my form? the text says.
Kaidoh raises his hand, then drops it again. He rubs his forehead, pulls off his bandana and stuffs it in his pocket. He digs his fingernails into his palms until his eyes water.
He knocks on the door.
His phone rings. He pulls it out. "Sorry," Inui says. "There's someone at--"
The door opens. Inui grins. Kaidoh puts his phone away. "Inui-senpai." Kaidoh's voice echoes through the hall.
Inui steps aside to let him in, leads him into the living room. "I was just calling to--"
"Inui-senpai," Kaidoh says again. The room seems smaller today. There are more piles of paper. Inui's sunglasses are still on the coffee table. The blinds are still closed.
"Do you want to see these 3D photos I took?" Inui rummages in one of the piles. "You take two photos from different angles and then you relax your vision until the dots line up and--"
"Inui-senpai!" No more words come out of Kaidoh's mouth. He can feel them there, a cold lump sticking in his throat. He should have repeated them a hundred times. He digs his nails in again.
"Kaidoh?" Inui lays the photos down. He pushes up his glasses.
Kaidoh grabs him around the chest. He locks his arms behind Inui, squeezes Inui's ribs, presses his forehead into Inui's shoulder. He waits, his heart pounding like he's done five sets of wind sprints, his ears ringing, his face burning. Inui's watch beeps, the hour or the half-hour.
Then Inui hugs him back. Puts his arms around Kaidoh, his mouth against Kaidoh's temple, squeezes just as hard. "Kaidoh," he says. "You like my backhand this much?"
"That too," Kaidoh says.
Comments of any kind are always appreciated. :)