"Kaidoh, have you ever been tongue-tied?"
Kaidoh stares back at him, a guarded look on his face. "Senpai?"
Inui has been intentionally asking Kaidoh random questions for the past ten minutes while they have been working on homework in the Kaidoh family kitchen. "Have you ever been at a loss for words?"
"I know what tongue-tied means."
Inui knows that Kaidoh does. "Since you did not answer, the reasonable assumption is that you do not know the word."
"Don't you have homework?"
Of course Inui has homework. That is not what is important. "Have you ever been tongue-tied, Kaidoh?"
Kaidoh shrugs and turns back to his textbook. "No."
Inui does not write that down. The answer is not what is important. "Have you ever traveled outside of Japan?"
"Senpai, even if you don't have homework, I do."
"What makes you think I don't have homework?" Kaidoh doesn't answer, still studying his textbook. Inui tries again. "Have you ever traveled outside of Japan?"
Kaidoh doesn't seem the least annoyed when he shrugs and answers, "No."
Inui tries another approach. "What is your favorite vegetable?"
Shooting him a suspicious look, Kaidoh says, "Are you making a new juice?"
"And if I am?"
Kaidoh stares at him and then shrugs for the third time in the past couple of minutes. "Asparagus." He looks back down at his textbook.
Inui taps his pencil. This is going to take more thought.
Inui opens his notebook to a fresh page as he watches Momoshiro careen into Kaidoh at practice. Lately, Momoshiro has been initiating contact with Kaidoh more. Inui has several theories as to why but is not completely positive as to which is the correct one. He is not completely positive he wants to know.
Kaidoh pushes Momoshiro back. "Stop running into me!"
Inui makes a notation. Kaidoh has been pushing more too. This was almost certainly a direct result of Momoshiro's increased contact.
Momoshiro laughs as he's pushed several steps back. "Viper, you're too easy! So easy, like your tennis!"
"My tennis is better than yours, any day!" Kaidoh shouts, grabbing Momoshiro's shirt. Momoshiro laughs again and pulls Kaidoh's bandana off. Inui's hand twitches slightly as he writes that down. The odds, Inui thinks, are probably high that Momoshiro will take Kaidoh's bandana again in the near future.
He looks up from his notes and observations. "Yes, Oishi?"
Oishi gestures exasperatedly towards Kaidoh and Momoshiro. "Can't you do something about them?"
"Do something?" Inui needs more clarification as to what that means. Inui could do many things.
"Can't you stop them from fighting? With your data? This is getting ridiculous!"
Inui doesn't say anything back as he looks at the half-page of information he has just taken. Could he stop them?
"What is it like having a rival, Kaidoh?"
Kaidoh pauses in his sit-ups. Inui is holding his feet. "What?"
"A rival. What is it like having a rival?"
Continuing his sit-ups, Kaidoh grunts a little. "That's a stupid question."
No it isn't, but Inui can see how Kaidoh would view it that way. "What is it like having Momoshiro as a rival?"
"Annoying!" Kaidoh spits out.
That is not the complete answer and Inui likes complete answers. "It cannot just simply be annoying."
"You know what having a rival is like. You have rivals, Inui-senpai."
"You're mistaken, Kaidoh. I do not have a rival like you do."
Kaidoh pauses in his sit-ups again and frowns. "What about Tezuka-buchou?"
Inui laughs. "Tezuka does not acknowledge me as a rival. Therefore, we are not rivals."
Kaidoh frowns deeper. "What about that other data guy?"
"Renji?" Inui doesn't particularly want to talk about Renji, but he will if it will help the conversation. "Renji does not acknowledge me as a rival, either. Rikkai Dai's philosophy does not allow for it. Always win, after all."
"But he didn't win."
"It doesn't matter. In his mind, in all the Rikkai players' minds, there is no one better than them and no one worthy of being a rival except each other." Inui is over-simplifying the matter but he doesn't want to try and explain what he and Renji are when Inui is uncertain himself. Whatever it is, it is not rivals. "So, you see, I do not know what it is like having a rival like Momoshiro."
"Well, it's annoying." Kaidoh goes back to his sit-ups.
"I would think that it would be challenging, having someone try to defeat you consistently."
"I don't want to talk about the idiot."
Inui smiles. Of course Kaidoh doesn't. Kaidoh usually doesn't want to talk much of anything. He and Kaidoh are very different in that way.
Inui Sadaharu knows that if his teammates were to guess who he has the most completed notebooks on, they would likely say Tezuka. Some might say Fuji. Fuji himself might smile and say Kaidoh. Someone who has known him from his youth might guess Renji.
They would all be wrong.
Inui currently has thirty-three notebooks on himself, soon to be thirty-four. That is eleven more than Tezuka, fifteen more than Renji, seventeen more than Kaidoh, and twenty-one more than Fuji. Technically, he has eighteen notebooks on Fuji but he estimates that the data to fill six notebooks is false.
Everyday, Inui comes home from training, calculating, predicting, to his scattered room. He spends his evenings inputting his data on his teammates, Seigaku's opponents, world professionals, into his computer. And then he recalculates his own statistics.
He does it every night, hoping to see something different.
"How many bandanas do you own, Kaidoh?"
Kaidoh hunches his shoulders and for a moment, Inui thinks he's getting to him. But then the shoulders relax and Inui realizes that Kaidoh was probably trying to relieve a sore shoulder muscle. "I haven't counted."
"If you had to guess?"
"Maybe five." Kaidoh is doing his math homework. He has made a few mistakes already and every time Inui told him, Kaidoh simply corrected them and then said thank you.
"Where do you buy them?"
"I don't know. My mother gets them for me."
Inui ponders telling Kaidoh where his mother gets the bandanas but he thinks that Kaidoh might view that as more creepy than irritating. "How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?"
Kaidoh rolls his eyes. "As much as it can."
"That is not a proper answer."
"If you want a good answer, ask a good question."
Technically, Kawamura is the one who starts it.
Most of the tennis team have left the clubhouse. The only ones left are Kikumaru, Fuji, Kawamura, and Inui. Conversation ebbs and flows as they finish changing out of their practice clothes, most of the conversation settling around the Kantou Tournament and their win against Rikkai Dai. However, it doesn't stay there for long.
"Who do you think will be the second doubles pair for Nationals?" Kawamura innocently asks.
"Huh?" Kikumaru says, his shirt halfway on. "What do you mean, Taka-san?"
"Well," Kawamura says, rubbing the back of his neck, "you and Oishi will be doubles one for most of Nationals. I was just wondering what we're going to do for doubles two."
"Do you think we should give it a go, Taka? We could make a name for ourselves as the Burning Pair," Fuji says, a small smile on his lips.
Kikumaru laughs and Kawamura looks embarrassed. "Ah, no! You're too good to be in doubles, Fuji! We need you in singles."
While Fuji demurs that point, Inui speaks up with the obvious. "Considering that it is Nationals, the second doubles pair should be one that is reasonably established. It wouldn't be wise to test an untried pair at such an advanced level of competition."
"Well!" Kikumaru says, closing his locker and putting his hands on his hips. "I guess we should ask Kaidoh who he likes better, Inui or Momo!"
There was a brief silence in the clubhouse and then Inui says, "Excuse me?" He has a suspicion of what Kikumaru means and doesn't particularly like it.
"Kaidoh's played a lot of doubles by now and he's only played with you and Momo, Inui. Whoever he feels the best with is the one he should team up with for doubles two!"
Fuji chuckles. "Well, I guess that's one way to decide it."
Kikumaru starts ticking points off on his fingers. "Kaidoh has played with Momo twice and Inui twice. Both pairs have won once and lost once..."
"Kaidoh and Momoshiro won against St. Rudolph by default," Inui says quietly.
Kikumaru grins at him. "It's still a win, though! Kaidoh hates Momo but they work really well together. Kaidoh gets along with you, Inui, but you two don't seem that close, not like rivals are."
Fuji seems amused. "Who do you think Kaidoh should play doubles with, Eiji? In your expert opinion?"
"Hmmm." Kikumaru taps a finger against his cheek. "That's a tough one! But I think he should play with Momo. Sorry Inui," he adds, with a grin, "but their combination seems easier!"
Nobody says much more on the subject after that. Fuji starts talking about Tezuka in Kyuushuu and Kawamura tells them about a sushi he's learning to make and Inui writes, "Inui->Kaidoh<-Momoshiro," in his notebook for later.
"Who do you prefer playing doubles with, Kaidoh, Momoshiro or myself?"
Kaidoh spins around suddenly and pushes Inui. Surprised, Inui loses his balance, pinwheels his arms, and then falls to the ground.
Kaidoh stands above him, his eyes glittering. "What kind of question is that, Senpai?"
Inui stares up at him, his heart beating fast. He wonders if Momoshiro ever feels like this when pushed by Kaidoh. He wonders if it's why Momoshiro bothers Kaidoh so often.
"Senpai, aren't you going to answer me?"
Inui collects his thoughts and gives a non-answer. "It's just a question, Kaidoh. You don't have to answer if you don't want to. You haven't objected to all the other ones I've asked."
Kaidoh hisses and turns. "It's a stupid question. I'm not answering it."
Inui watches him walk away. "And asking what your favorite vegetable isn't a stupid question?"
Kaidoh doesn't answer that one either.
Inui Sadaharu has many goals. They are all listed in order of importance in his oldest notebook. When he completes a goal, he makes a checkmark on the list. There are not nearly as many checkmarks as he would like.
The beginning goals are childish ones. To be smart, to be strong, to make his parents proud, these are all too vaguely defined. The first real, concrete goal on the list is to win the doubles bracket at all of the Grand Slam Tournaments with Renji. Inui knows that this will never happen, but he hasn't scratched it off the list.
As one might expect, the majority of what is written down involves tennis. The goal to defeat Tezuka is underlined and highlighted. The goal to figure out Fuji has an accompanying three pages in another notebook that defines exactly what that means. The goal to make his serve faster than Ohtori Choutarou's is almost in his grasp. At the bottom, Inui has listed the goal to play doubles with Kaidoh at Nationals and win.
Inui calculates the probability of reaching his goals every day. He knows that it is not necessary to calculate his chances every day or even every week. But he does so because it is a reminder of what he is working towards.
Inui calculates his chances of reaching his goals and the outcome has not been favorable of late. He prods the data this way and that, trying new equations. He is determined and confident that he will eventually see what he wants to see but some days, that determination and confidence fails him. And when it seems obvious that he will never reach Tezuka's level, when it seems obvious that his serve will not become fast enough, when all the arrows are pointing to Momoshiro, that's when Inui thinks, I'm losing.
When he thinks that, he does push-ups until his arms won't push anymore and he's gasping. Then Inui sits back down at his computer and comes up with five different strategies that will help change the numbers.
Inui is determined to capitalize on yesterday's success. "Kaidoh, what are you scared of?"
Kaidoh tenses. "Nothing," he says, his body contradicting his answer.
"You have to be scared of something. All people are."
"I'm not." Kaidoh is still tense. This direction of questioning is very promising.
"Perhaps I could inform you of what you are scared of?" Inui opens his notebook to a random page full of data on a practice match between Fuji and Oishi but Kaidoh doesn't know that.
"Stop it." Kaidoh is now hunched over his homework and Inui begins to think that maybe he should listen to Kaidoh but he doesn't.
"On a superficial level, you are afraid of the otherworldly: ghosts, ghouls, monsters, and what lurks in the dark. Like all the other regulars, you are afraid of losing your spot on the team. On a personal level, you are afraid of looking weak before-"
"Are you trying to get me angry?!" Kaidoh finally shouts, shoving his homework away in a flurry of papers and turning to glare at Inui.
Inui is not surprised at the action, but he still hesitates too long before answering, "Of course not, Kaidoh."
"You've been trying to get me angry," Kaidoh says, staring at Inui with a frustrated look in his eyes. "Why would you do that, Senpai?"
"I haven't been," Inui protests again.
"Then why all the questions? I thought you had all of my data."
Inui is silent for a moment. Then he inexplicably says, "I am afraid of some things."
Kaidoh slaps his hand down on the kitchen table. "How is that an answer?"
Adjusting his glasses, Inui tries to think of how to express what he means without saying too much. He doesn't think he can. So instead of speaking, he opens his notebook to a blank page and writes on it. He tears it out and hands it to Kaidoh, even though every instinct is telling him to not do so.
Kaidoh takes the paper and glances at it. "This doesn't make any sense. It's all math."
"The K is you, the I is me, the M is Momoshiro, the N is Nationals."
Kaidoh looks at the paper some more. "This second equation looks wrong. One side is bigger than the other."
"Yes," Inui says, his stomach currently the habitat of a million caffeinated frogs.
"I still don't know what this means." Kaidoh crumples up the paper, the paper with Inui's heart baldly written upon it. "Tell me, senpai, why you were trying to get me angry?"
"You and Momoshiro make a good doubles pair."
Kaidoh looks even more irritated. "So? Why won't you answer my question?"
Inui forces a smile onto his face. "I have to go home now, Kaidoh. Perhaps tomorrow." He stands and gathers his schoolbooks quickly.
"I didn't think you were a coward, Inui-senpai."
Inui stiffens. "I can let myself out. I will see you tomorrow at practice," he says as he leaves.
The one time that Inui attempts to stop one of Momoshiro and Kaidoh's fights after Oishi asked him to, he ends up with his shirt covered in Inui juice and Kawamura has to help him separate the two second years. Every time Inui had tried to tell Kaidoh to ignore Momoshiro, Momoshiro said something else and it was as if Inui didn't exist.
Inui develops to the tentative hypothesis that despite all his data, it is likely impossible to come between two rivals. He needs more information on this, though.
Inui is in the clubhouse the next day during lunchtime. Despite what others might think, not a lot of the tennis team members come to the clubhouse during that time of day. Some of this is because on nice days, eating outside is a popular option. Some of this is because people like to eat with their friends and there isn't a lot of room in the clubhouse. Some of this is because it is known that Inui mixes up some of his juices in the clubhouse during lunch.
Actually, it is probably mainly because of his juice that people stay away from the clubhouse during lunch. Inui appreciates this notoriety under most circumstances, particularly when he wants to be left alone.
Today, he stares at his blender. He needs to think about finding another doubles partner. He doesn't really want to; even Horio would know the low odds of creating a highly proficient combination this close to Nationals. It makes better sense to concentrate on singles.
The door to the clubhouse opens and Inui ignores it. He knows who it is though. Unfortunately, that same notoriety that keeps people out also lets people know where he is. He really didn't expect for Kaidoh to let matters lie but he had hoped for more time to consider the situation and come up with a logical explanation.
Kaidoh walks up beside him and throws a crumpled piece of paper on the table. "I want you tell me what this means."
Inui picks up the paper and folds it into careful fourths. "It is not important, Kaidoh. It is just data."
Snatching the paper out of Inui's hand, Kaidoh unfolds it and places it back on the table. "It's important to you. Tell me what it means."
"It is just an idea I had regarding doubles. As I said, it is truly not important." Inui wishes he had spent the previous evening coming up with answers to these types of questions instead of doodling Kaidoh's name in one of his notebooks and crossing it out in horror.
Kaidoh is silent for a moment and then says, "You keep talking, like the idiot. Talk, talk, talk, except you, senpai, you used to say things worth listening to. Now, all you ask are stupid questions. And then you ask questions to get me angry." Kaidoh is glaring and unnaturally verbose. Inui is thankful for his opaque glasses.
"I apologize, Kaidoh. I will keep your opinion in mind in the future."
Kaidoh shoves Inui and Inui is expecting it. He staggers back a few paces but keeps his balance. "Just tell me what's on the paper, Inui-senpai! Then I'll never bother you again since you don't want me to!"
Inui's breath catches. "Excuse me?"
"You don't want to play doubles with me anymore but don't want to say it. That's what the paper means, doesn't it?"
Inui stares at Kaidoh. Their random and not-so-random conversations roll around in his mind. "That isn't what it means at all."
Kaidoh looks angry. His eyebrows are drawn in, his fists are clenched. "I don't believe you."
And Inui is stepping forward, smoothing the paper out on the table. He doesn't want Kaidoh to misunderstand. "The first equation shows your strength at doubles. The second equation compares your doubles combination with Momoshiro against your doubles combination with myself."
Studying the paper, Kaidoh nods. "Okay. And what's the last one about?"
Inui is silent as he tries to think of how best to explain. When Kaidoh opens his mouth to hurry him on, Inui blurts out, "The last one measures my regard for you."
"Oh," Kaidoh says.
Inui waits for a moment and when Kaidoh doesn't say anything further, says, "That's all that there is on the paper."
Kaidoh points to the second equation. "You think me and the idiot play better doubles than I do with you."
"Then what do you mean?"
Inui takes a deep breath. "It means that I think you may enjoy playing with Momoshiro more than playing with myself and that you may eventually be a more effective pair."
Kaidoh stares at him and Inui is yet again grateful for his glasses. "That's stupid."
"Considering how easy the combination is between you two, it is not. Despite the fact that you two have not truly trained together, you held yourselves well against Rikkai Dai. Such ease without the hard work can be appealing and it's meaningful even if you don't like it."
Kaidoh is still staring. "So that's why you asked who I liked playing doubles with more. You think I don't want to play doubles with you."
Inui hides a wince at the situation being stated so plainly. "Essentially."
"You want to play doubles with me."
Perhaps it was not too late to run out of the clubhouse? "Yes. I never thought that was in doubt."
"And the questions." Kaidoh narrows his eyes. "You were trying to be like Momoshiro."
Now, Inui winces. "No. I was attempting to, ah, rile you up. Like rivals would."
"You were trying to rile me up during homework and training?"
"Not the best strategy but I didn't want to attempt doing so during practice or a match. I wanted to be certain of the effects."
Kaidoh shakes his head, crumples the paper with the equations, and throws it away. "Inui-senpai, you're not my rival."
Nodding, Inui says, "I know."
"I don't want you to be my rival."
Inui already knows this. "That's fine."
Kaidoh shoots him a look. "Do you want me to be your rival?"
Inui opens his mouth to say yes, to make it easy, but that doesn't happen. "No."
Slamming his hand on the table so hard it shakes, Kaidoh yells, "Then tell me what all this is about!"
Inui reaches out and steadies the blender. "I have a high regard for you, Kaidoh." And with that, he turns to leave.
A hand fastens around his forearm and yanks him back around. Kaidoh looks challengingly into his face, less than a foot away. Inui stares back and for a moment, his instincts get the better of him. He answers Kaidoh's silent challenge.
He kisses Kaidoh.
It's not much of kiss, as far as Inui knows of such things. He bends, brushes his mouth against Kaidoh's, and then straightens. Kaidoh's eyes are wide and surprised, the challenge in them gone. Inui tries to move away but Kaidoh's hold on his arm is still tight, so he waits for Kaidoh to decide what to do.
Kaidoh blinks a couple of times and then his eyes narrow in determination. Before Inui can quite read his intent, Kaidoh pulls Inui down and kisses him back. It's a clumsy pressing of Kaidoh's lips to Inui's own and as brief as the previous kiss was. That doesn't matter to Inui; the length of the kiss is not what is important.
Kaidoh pulls back and Inui realizes that he is grinning. There is silence for a long moment.
"I don't know what to say," Kaidoh finally mutters, turning his head and letting Inui's arm go.
Inui can't stop grinning. "Would it be accurate to say that you are currently tongue-tied?" Kaidoh rolls his eyes in answer. "We don't have to speak of anything in particular right now, Kaidoh. We could just talk about tennis, if you want."
"Tennis?" Kaidoh relaxes and looks back at Inui expectantly.
Inui hopes that Kaidoh never stops looking at him. "I have an idea for a new type of shot, one that is like your Snake Shot but uses a gyro spin..."