"You'll get it soon, Kaidoh, I'm sure." Inui shifted the phone to his other hand and scrawled a note about Kaidoh in his notebook.
"It's okay, senpai," Kaidoh said.
"I didn't get my own power until I was older than you are." Inui drew a heart after Kaidoh's name. "I'm a late bloomer, I guess." Another heart, then a little happy cat face. "But now that I can read my opponents' minds, I can get into position to return any shot. I call it the Inner Eye of Infinite Calculation. We can think up some names for your power when we're out running."
"I'm sorry, senpai," Kaidoh said. "I can't make it today."
Inui sat down on the bench and stretched his legs. Five minutes and Kaidoh would be there for their usual Wednesday post-practice date of push-ups, ice creams, and kissing. Push-ups with their feet on the bench for extra effort. Ice creams from the cart run by the old woman who always looked at Kaidoh in a way Inui didn't like. And kissing behind a tree.
Push-ups and ice creams Inui could do on his own but for the kissing he needed Kaidoh. He pulled out his phone to check the time again and it rang in his hand.
"Kaidoh? I'm at the bench." Inui looked across the park. There were a couple of girls sitting beside their usual kissing tree, but it would take at least twenty minutes to get through the push-ups and then another fifteen for the ice creams, so they might be gone in time. "I think I should check your condition more thoroughly today. Momoshiro's got his power now and I really thought you would be first."
"That idiot." Kaidoh hissed a little down the phone. Or Inui thought he did; sometimes when the reception wasn't very good, Inui mistook static on the line for hissing. "Senpai, I--"
"Don't worry," Inui said. "I'm sure your power will be more elegant than smashing big holes in the court for your opponent to fall into."
"Of course. But senpai--" There was a wailing sound in the background of the call.
"Is that a siren, Kaidoh? Are you okay?"
"Shit -- I mean, I'm fine. There's a ... cat stuck in a tree. I have to miss the park, sorry."
The line went dead. Inui looked at it for a minute, then put it away. He drew a sad cat face in the margin of his notebook. Then he started his push-ups.
But he didn't have any ice cream, even though there was pistachio today.
"I'm calling it the Super Great Extra Large Beautiful Dunk Smash!" Momoshiro swung his racquet and nearly hit Arai in the face. "Want me to show you?"
"We only have three courts," Oishi said. "And if you put holes in them, we'll have to use our budget money to fix them and then we can't have a party after we win Nationals."
"Let's go to the soccer field, Momo," Kikumaru said. "That's like a grass court. You can play Kaidoh and I'll watch."
"That's a good idea," Inui said. He looked around for Kaidoh. Maybe playing Momoshiro would help Kaidoh's powers manifest. And then maybe after practice, they could have a laps, juice boxes, and kissing-behind-the-clubhouse date, since they'd missed the park yesterday.
"Kaidoh's gone," Oishi said. "He got a text message and ran off."
The notebook slid from Inui's fingers and fell to the ground. Was Kaidoh avoiding him? Was he seeing someone else?
"Inui." Oishi picked up the notebook. "Why do you have so many drawings of cats?"
Inui set his phone on the table and stared at it, waiting for it to chime. Kaidoh hadn't skipped out of practice today, but he'd left right after, before Inui had had a chance to talk to him. So that probably meant that he was going to stand Inui up for the third time, and on Friday night, too.
On Friday nights Inui's parents always went out to their ballroom dancing club, so Inui had to stay home to watch the apartment. And Kaidoh would come over for a date of homework, snacks, and Kissing Plus.
Inui looked forward to Kissing Plus all week. He could usually coax Kaidoh to stretch out with him on the couch and then get his hands here and there while they kissed. One week, he'd even managed to get Kaidoh's shirt off over his head, but then Kaidoh had been so pissed about the love bite Inui left just under his clavicle, he'd made Inui stick to push-ups only for a whole week.
But this week, Kaidoh was probably with someone else, like that guy from the baseball club that kept trying to talk Kaidoh into forming a battery with him, which was something Inui could totally do, he'd always been a decent pitcher, so why did Kaidoh want to go off with some other guy and make plans with him to go to the same high school and do Kissing Plus with him under the Aim for Koushien! poster in his bedroom?
Inui grabbed his laptop and hacked into the school student information database for the baseball player's home address. Time to stand up and be a man. Time to march right over there and send Inui's new micro mini spy drone copter right into that bedroom and get the proof for himself. And then maybe give that pitcher a surprise in his post-game ice cream.
The doorbell rang. "Hi, senpai." Kaidoh toed off his shoes.
"Kaidoh!" Inui grabbed Kaidoh in a bear hug, he was so glad he hadn't lost Kaidoh yet.
"Senpai?" Kaidoh said into Inui's shoulder. He did hug Inui back and Inui downgraded the baseball threat to monitor-only status.
"I got those seaweed chips you like." Inui set them out and opened his books. He just pretended to do his homework, though, and watched Kaidoh's hair fall over his eyes while he read his history chapter and Kaidoh's forehead wrinkle while he practised his kanji. Inui was starting to associate his school work with Kissing Plus to a degree that sometimes caused him problems in class, but right now he didn't care.
Kaidoh closed his math notebook. There was a bit of a flush along the tops of his cheeks and Inui's chest tightened so much he could hardly speak. "Couch?" he managed to say and when Kaidoh nodded and dropped his eyes, Inui stumbled over his own book bag in his eagerness to topple Kaidoh down beneath him and get as much here and there as he could.
Then the fire alarm went off.
"Shit!" Inui ran to the kitchen, but for once, it wasn't his fault.
"Senpai!" Kaidoh called. Inui rushed to the front room. Kaidoh had his hand on the door. "It's hot." A wisp of smoke curled up under the door.
"We can't go out that way." Inui tried to remember what to do. Wet towels over their faces? He crammed his phone into his pocket. "The balcony. There's a rope ladder for emergencies."
A tinkling sound, just barely audible under the screaming alarm, made Inui turn around. And stop. And stare, his mouth dropping open.
Kaidoh was sparkling. His hair had lengthened somehow, curling around his face. There was a glittery purple crown on his head. He was wearing shiny high-heeled boots and a short white dress. A tennis dress, but still a dress. And he was definitely sparkling.
Maybe hallucinations were a symptom of smoke inhalation.
"We have to get out of here, senpai," Kaidoh said and his voice, even though it was still sweetly gruff, had a new musical quality to it, like he might burst into song at any moment.
"Kaidoh." Inui managed to close his mouth, but he was still staring.
"Come on." Kaidoh grabbed Inui's arm and pulled him over to the balcony. When he slid the door open, more smoke drifted in.
"The ladder--" Inui pointed to the rope coiled against the railing. But in one graceful movement, Kaidoh swept Inui into his arms and launched up into the sky.
Flying. Kaidoh was flying and carrying Inui and Inui could see the flames now, licking out of the apartment next door, and Kaidoh's arms were tight around Inui and the night air was cold and Kaidoh was wearing a dress and fucking flying.
Before Inui could do more than gasp in some fresher air, Kaidoh set him down across the street. A fire truck screamed up and fire-fighters poured out.
"Kaidoh." Inui clutched Kaidoh's arm. The sparkles were making it hard to see, but it looked like the ladder on the truck was malfunctioning.
"Senpai." Kaidoh looked deeply into Inui's eyes and Inui looked deeply back into Kaidoh's eyes, after sneaking a glance at how Kaidoh's dress had ridden up around his thighs. Then Kaidoh flew off again, back towards the burning building.
Inui clenched his hands, digging his nails into his palms, and held his breath as Kaidoh disappeared back into the smoke, the trail of sparkles fading out of sight.
The fire-fighters trained a stream of water onto the building. A crowd gathered, shouting and pointing. Inui's lungs burned, but he wouldn't let himself breathe, not until---
Kaidoh burst through the flames, carrying the neighbour's corgi, Charlie, which he was definitely not allowed to have in his apartment and which often kept Inui from concentrating on studying with its barking. But Kaidoh looked so lovely and heroic and non-burnt that Inui would have given Charlie a whole bag of doggie treats right then.
Inui ran over and bear-hugged Kaidoh again, squashing Charlie and making him bark. After Inui let them go, Kaidoh handed Charlie off to the neighbour. Then they stood side by side, watching as the fire was knocked down.
"Kaidoh, I never knew you could fly." Inui thought about all the adjustments he would need to make to his data, assuming his notebooks weren't ruined with smoke and water damage.
"It's my power," Kaidoh said. "I got it last week."
"But why weren't you using it at practice? You wouldn't have got trapped in Momoshiro's hole like Kawamura did. Are you saving it for Nationals?"
"Senpai." Kaidoh turned to Inui, sparkles dancing around his head, his hair waving softly, even though there was hardly a breeze. "If you have special powers, don't you think you should use them to help people?"
"Oh." Inui frowned. That had honestly never occurred to him. He helped people, of course, like carrying packages for old people and not reporting his neighbour's illegal pet. But this-- "That's what you were doing all week? Saving people?"
A blush crept up Kaidoh's face and he nodded. "Maybe you and I could...together."
"Oh," Inui said again. Kaidoh was right, of course. And maybe Inui's power could be useful. He concentrated on opening up the Inner Eye of Infinite Calculation and scanning through the crowd. Most people were worrying about the fire. One woman was worrying about her promotion at work. His neighbour was worrying about the landlord. And--
"There!" Inui ran to a police officer and got her attention. "That fire-fighter there, the grinning one, he's an arsonist. He set the fire!"
The fire-fighter tried to run but was quickly caught. The fire was put out. The crowd broke up and people started leaving.
"They say we can't get back into our apartment until tomorrow." Inui pulled out his phone and texted his parents. "Have you thought about what your power name should be? What about TeniHime? Maybe you could add a racquet to the ensemble."
"You could stay at my place," Kaidoh said. "There's a bus in twenty minutes." He looked down at the ground and kicked a stone with his boot.
Inui looked at Kaidoh's shiny boots and bare thighs. At his clinging dress, still pure white even after all the fire and smoke. At his flowing hair and glittering crown. And then he looked into Kaidoh's mind.
Kaidoh was thinking about Kissing Plus Plus. Which Inui knew about from the encrypted files on his computer and which he had no idea Kaidoh was even aware of. Inui's chest got tight again. He put his hand on Kaidoh's shoulder.
"Why take the bus," he said, "when we could fly?"