It's 6000ºC on the surface of the sun and 38ºC in Tokyo, far too hot to play, but Kaidoh calls and so Inui plays anyway.
Kaidoh serves and the sharp toc arrives half a beat behind the ball, the sound still ringing in Inui's ears as the weight of his own return stretches his arm. Kaidoh sends the ball back and it hits the cord, falling on Inui's side of the net. Inui could get it if he dived, but heat rises from the court like the stones in a sauna and he just stands and watches it fall. Two games behind now.
He joins Kaidoh on the bench. Inui pulls off his glasses and swipes his arm across his forehead but it just makes the sweat run into his eyes.
"Here." Kaidoh holds out a handkerchief.
"Thank you." Inui wipes his face. He drains his second sports bottle. Kaidoh goes over to the sinks. "Keep drinking," Inui says. "You don't want to get dehydrated."
Kaidoh pulls off his bandana and sticks his whole head under the tap, turning his face to catch the stream of water in his mouth. His shirt is dark with sweat and he strips that off too, soaking it under the faucet and wringing it out over his bare back and arms.
Nothing Inui hadn't seen before, but today he can't take his eyes away. His face swells with heat and he feels light-headed. He puts the handkerchief in his pocket. "I think I'm getting heat stroke," he says. "Let's go inside."
The wind is 6 metres per second when Kaidoh's text arrives. By the time Inui gets to the court, it's 10 metres per second, pulling at the net and ruffling the pages of Inui's notebook.
Kaidoh is already there, stretching his hamstrings. Inui crouches behind him, hands on Kaidoh's shoulders, pushing down. Even with his head bent, Kaidoh's hair still touches his collar. Inui wonders when he last got it cut.
Kaidoh sits up and his hair brushes Inui's hand. Inui jumps back. "We should work on your net play," he says.
He sends short volleys to Kaidoh, pulling him up front. Kaidoh hits the ball back, but Inui picks it up easily. A plastic shopping bag sails through the court, bobbing and weaving like a teasing ghost, and they stop while Kaidoh chases it down.
"Focus on your opponent more," Inui says. Kaidoh nods and flips his racquet from hand to hand, knees bent, eyes fixed on Inui.
A gust sends Inui's next shot wide. "Sorry," he calls, but Kaidoh is already diving for it, sliding along the clay, nearly lost in a cloud of dust. Inui jumps the net. "Are you okay?" And something the size of a small asteroid lodges under his eyelid.
Inui blinks and blinks again. Water leaks from his eye and runs down his face. The asteroid refuses to disintegrate.
"Senpai?" Kaidoh pops up in front of Inui, gruff, dirty, and half blurry.
Inui pulls his glasses off and plucks at his eyelid. "Something in my eye." He blinks and tears and feels stupid. And also in pain. Lots of pain. "It's quite painful." He has some eye drops in his bag, if it hasn't blown away by now. "I just need to get--"
"Here." Kaidoh grabs Inui's chin and steps in, so close that Inui can feel his body heat.
"It's okay," Inui says.
"Shut up." Kaidoh peers into Inui's eye, like he's Inui's optometrist, the one who tried to talk Inui into getting contact lenses and how much more would that hurt now? Inui can feel Kaidoh's breath on his face and he wonders if he'll be able to tell what Kaidoh had for lunch but all he can smell is spearmint.
"What did you have for lunch?" Inui says and grabs Kaidoh's shoulder to steady himself.
"It's a bug," Kaidoh says and teases it out with the corner of his handkerchief. Then he wipes Inui's cheek.
The pain drains away and Inui feels a bit limp. "You must be a great big brother." He puts his glasses back on. Kaidoh's cheeks are flushed. Another shopping bag flies towards them and Kaidoh ducks.
"It's too windy to play," Inui says and lets go of Kaidoh's shoulder.
The radio calls for 7 millimetres of rain; Inui's favourite meteorology site says 9. His own interpretation of the raw data predicts 8.5.
A few drops are already hitting the windowpane when Kaidoh knocks on Inui's door, bandana tied over his head and tennis bag slung over his shoulder. Inui sprays his glasses with anti-fog before they go out.
"Let's jog there," Inui says, and Kaidoh nods, feet already springing forward. Inui keeps pace behind, watching the rhythm of Kaidoh's swinging arms, his tensing thighs. They should work on serves today, Kaidoh needs a better second serve.
The courts are empty and Kaidoh drops his bag under the bench, where the ground is still mostly dry. "Let's have a match," he says.
"I thought we'd work on--" Inui kneels to take out his racquet. He looks up at Kaidoh through the droplets on his glasses. Kaidoh is holding out a new can of balls. "A match sounds good."
Inui wipes his glasses on his shirt before he serves. He aces it and the look on Kaidoh's face makes him smile. The next point isn't so easy and the first game takes longer than he'd estimated.
Kaidoh keeps his own service game and Inui has to adjust his strategy: Kaidoh is playing more seriously than anticipated. Inui bounces the ball, feeling it damp against his palm. He looks across the net. Kaidoh sways back and forth, eyes dark, his shirt streaked with rain.
Inui grins. If Kaidoh thinks he can beat Inui, then good luck to him. He serves. He wins the point. Kaidoh scoops up the ball with his racquet and flicks it back to him.
There's a noise like thunder and the rain crashes down on them. In the time it takes Inui find where the ball has rolled, he's soaked through.
He picks it up. Kaidoh is still standing on the court, ready to receive. Inui wants to walk to the baseline, to serve, to play. He squeezes the ball and feels water squash out of it into his hand.
"We have to stop," he calls. Kaidoh doesn't change position. "Kaidoh."
"I don't mind the rain," Kaidoh says.
"We could be injured," Inui says and Kaidoh shrugs, like he doesn't believe it or just doesn't care. "Anyway, I can't see."
Kaidoh walks back to the bench, his shirt clinging to his back, translucent as grease paper. He pulls out a collapsible umbrella.
"We'll finish the match," Inui says. He has his own umbrella but he lets Kaidoh hold his over both of them, wet and cold as they both already are.
Their shoulders bump together as they walk. They stop at Kaidoh's turn-off. "You're soaked," Kaidoh says. "Do you want to come over and take a bath?" His face is still shiny with the rain. "You don't have an umbrella."
Inui shivers, one great tremor through his whole body. "I do have one," he says and runs all the way home.
The clouds are piling up like heaps of ash when Inui gets to the court for self-training. "Is it going to rain again?" Kaidoh says and Inui turns around.
Kaidoh looks down, scrapes his foot back and forth over the singles line. "I'll hit with you. If you like." It's a cool day but his arms are bare, his legs too.
"We didn't get to work on your serves," Inui says.
"No." Kaidoh hitches his bag higher on his shoulder. "I mean -- I thought I could help you train. For once."
"I don't think it's going to rain." Inui says. Kaidoh smiles, then hides his mouth with his hand. He picks up the bucket of balls and Inui nods. "Feed me some lobs."
They work on smashes. "How's my form?" Inui calls. The air is chilly now and he's glad he's working hard. "Are you cold?"
Kaidoh narrows his eyes. "More extension," he says. "A sharper angle." He sends over another ball.
Inui smashes. Kaidoh nods. Inui grips his racquet tight and smiles.
He goes to the net and Kaidoh meets him. "Backhand next," Inui says. "Do you think?"
Kaidoh nods again. "You're working hard."
"Are you sure you're not cold?" Inui says and hail streams down around them, on them, jumping and bouncing like a jackpot of frosty pachinko balls.
"Maybe a little," Kaidoh says and they sprint for the sideline. Out of the corner of his eye, Inui sees Kaidoh slip and fall, but when he turns, Kaidoh is up again.
They drop onto the bench under cover, nearly deafened by the clatter on the plastic roof. Ice melts in Inui's hair, down his back. Kaidoh's calf is bleeding. He shrugs when Inui points it out.
Inui rummages in his bag for his first-aid kit. Kaidoh shrugs again. Inui kneels in front of him. "This will sting," he says, the exact moment the hail stops.
"You don't have to yell," Kaidoh says and Inui laughs. He gently cleans the scrape and disinfects it, steadying Kaidoh's leg with his other hand.
"You don't need a bandage." Inui is still holding on, two hands around the curve of Kaidoh's calf, thumbs on either side of the abrasion. Kaidoh's skin pricks up in gooseflesh. "You are cold," Inui says. "Do you want my jacket?"
Kaidoh's muscles tense into Inui's palms. "I should go," Kaidoh says.
"The hail is melted," Inui says.
Kaidoh stuffs his racquet into his bag. "Your backhand is fine," he says and runs off.
"Perfect temperature," the radio says when Inui wakes up. "Great for getting out doors."
"A sunny day," Inui's mother says when Inui sits down for breakfast. "Sun exposure is important for vitamin D production."
"No wind," the bookshop owner says when Inui stops to buy a magazine. "Easier to read outside."
"Clear skies," Kaidoh's mother says. "Fresh air is so good for you."
"Did you want to play tennis?" Kaidoh says. His head is bare and his hair is rumpled up. The scrape on his leg is healing.
"No," Inui says and shuts the door behind him. He takes a step forward, towards Kaidoh. He can't see, he can't hear, he's spinning, storm-tossed. He puts his hand on Kaidoh's shoulder. Swallows. Squeezes. "No."
Kaidoh grabs Inui around the chest, jamming his head into Inui's shoulder, locking his hands at the small of Inui's back. "Neither do I," he says into Inui's collar.
It's 37ºC in Tokyo when Kaidoh calls.
"Let's play tonight, when it's cooler," Inui says.
"Can we finish our match?" Kaidoh asks.
"Of course." Inui stands up and looks out the window. "Our apartment is air conditioned," he says. "If you want to come over."
There's only static on the line for a moment. Then: "Okay."
Inui puts down the phone and starts to tidy his room.
It's a beautiful day.