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FIC: Space, Time, Telephone
inukai hands
prillalar wrote in inukai_exchange
Title: Space, Time, Telephone
Author: prillalar
Recipient: marksykins
Rating: G
Wordcount: 5000
Summary: In which the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies do not collide. Also, Inui makes some phone calls.

Author's notes: Marks, I always hoped that someone would assign me to write for you in a tenipuri exchange. Finally, someone did!

Thanks to kestrelsan for beta and encouragement.

+

"Hi, Tezuka," Inui says. "I've been working on a new star configuration for the purposes of enhancing pre-sleep relaxation. I'm experimenting with a galaxy layout instead of a close-view star field to see if it's less distracting. However, I'm unable to decide between elliptical and spiral. What do you think?"

"You have the wrong number, senpai." Kaidoh shifts the phone to his other hand and picks up a free weight.

"Well, that explains why you haven't hung up yet," Inui says. "So, Kaidoh, what do you think?"

"About what?"

"Elliptical or spiral? Or maybe a ring galaxy?"

"Is this for school?" Kaidoh does a curl, slow up, hold, slow down.

"No," Inui says. "I have these glow-in-the-dark star stickers that I put on my ceiling to look at before I fall asleep. But I get absorbed in finding patterns in them and I stay awake too long. Are you following the training menu?"

"Yes."

"I'm not sure about the body-weight exercises. We might need to change that part of the routine. Let's compare notes on Friday. What do you do to get to sleep at night?"

"I...what?"

"How do you sleep at night?"

"I just sleep," Kaidoh says.

"I will never understand that," Inui says. "You'd think sleep would be like any other skill, improveable through repetition. But it's not. Anyhow, sorry to have disturbed you."

Kaidoh puts down the phone and finishes his curls. He looks at Inui's scrawled instructions pasted on the wall. He is following them. Mostly. Even if it seems wrong, taking advice from someone he defeated. Someone who's not even on the team.

Above the menu are the names, three of them in Kaidoh's own careful handwriting. He touches each one with two fingers: Echizen, Fuji, Tezuka.

He goes downstairs for a drink. Hazue is sitting at the table, doing homework and chewing a pencil. He looks up and grins. "We start tomorrow, right?"

"Maybe. I'm pretty busy."

"I'm all ready!" Hazue scrubs at his page with an eraser. "Stupid algebra."

Kaidoh sets a glass of juice down beside Hazue. He goes back up to his room.

When it's late, he lies in bed, looking up through the dark, wondering what he does to get to sleep at night. But the question still doesn't make any sense.

He closes his eyes and thinks about hitting the Boomerang Snake: his stance, his swing. Tomorrow he'll get it for sure.

And then he sleeps.

+

Kaidoh walks slowly down the aisle. The wall is hung with racquets. Each one has a card pointing out the frame composition, the head size, the pro endorsements. If he reads them all, he'll be here an hour.

He pulls one off the wall and gives it a swing. Unstrung, there is no resistance. He tries another, too light, too airy. He puts it back.

As he turns, he catches sight of Inui in the shoe aisle, his phone to his ear. Inui gives Kaidoh a wave. "So, Tezuka," he is saying. "The Alfa II is out. I think the improved structure will give me greater jumping power. You would probably also benefit from-- Tezuka?"

Kaidoh finds the racquet he usually uses. He takes it down and flips it back and forth between his hands. Inui comes over. "It's the best racquet for your style of play," he says. "And you can never have too many backups. Some of the pros go through six racquets in one match. I went with spiral in the end."

"Spiral?" Kaidoh tucks the racquet under his arm.

"Spiral galaxy," Inui says. "I'm not sure it's helping, though. I yawned all through literature class today." And he leaves the store, pulling out his phone on the sidewalk.

"Tournament Nylon, fifty pounds," Kaidoh says to the stringer. He wonders why Inui keeps calling someone who hangs up on him.

+

It is still ten minutes early when Hazue calls. "I'm on my way," Kaidoh says. "Do some stretches to warm up." When he gets there, Hazue is jumping up and down. "What are you doing?"

"Jumping," Hazue says.

Kaidoh tosses him the new racquet. "Get on the court."

"What do I do?" Hazue stops in the deuce court, the racquet hanging at the end of his arm.

"Just hit the ball back." Kaidoh sends over an easy volley. Hazue swings and misses. "Keep trying."

Thirty balls later, Hazue is still swinging at air. "It feels weird. And my arm hurts."

"Try serving instead." Kaidoh pushes the empty bucket off the court. Hazue picks up a ball and looks at it.

"What do I do?"

"Didn't you read the rule-book I gave you?"

"Some of it, but--"

"You've seen it before," Kaidoh says. "Toss and swing."

"Like--" Hazue tosses the ball into the air. He jumps too late and the ball passes under his swing. He stumbles and falls, his racquet clattering onto the court.

"Are you okay?" Kaidoh wants to jump the net and pull Hazue up. But they're training.

"I'm fine." Hazue grabs his racquet. His eyes are watering. "I can get it."

Hazue tries again. He doesn't get it. "I have to go work out," Kaidoh says. "Pick up the balls and bring them home with you."

"I'll get it tomorrow for sure." Hazue runs for the bucket.

"Don't miss the one under the bench," Kaidoh says and jogs away.

+

Kaidoh takes a breath and pulls the cables. In to the chest, out to the sides, one slow set to failure. His stomach growls. He gave Hazue his second serving of curry at dinner.

He lies down and works his legs, adding another bar to the ankle weights. Halfway through the set, his phone rings. He stretches, fingertips just barely catching it, and scrambles it over.

"Hi, Tezuka," Inui says.

"This isn't Tezuka." Kaidoh does another lift.

"I did it again," Inui says. "That's pretty odd, isn't it? Maybe my contact list is buggy. Let me--"

The line goes dead. Kaidoh closes his phone. It rings again.

"No, that worked okay," Inui says. "So I was thinking about getting some fish for my room. They can be soothing. And not too much upkeep. What do you think?"

"I don't know." Kaidoh sits up.

"Have you ever had fish?"

"Just goldfish after summer festivals." Hazue always loved them, begging Kaidoh to catch just one more. He kept them in jars that stunk up his room until their mother put her foot down.

"Those never last long, do they? Are you doing okay with the training menu?"

"Of course." Kaidoh switches legs.

"The ranking matches are coming up."

This is so obvious, Kaidoh doesn't bother to reply. He counts in his head, two more lifts to finish the set. He glances at the paper on his wall. In my block, he thinks. I'll be ready.

"I might get some tropical fish, probably just tetras to start. They're small and they school so they're fun to watch. If I can find the space for a tank. My room's a bit...full. My dad is always at me to clean it up. Do you have a lot of stuff in your room?"

"I have to go running," Kaidoh says. He pulls half the bars from his weights.

"Of course. Be careful running in the dark. You should wear some sort of reflective vest so you're visible to traffic."

"Good night, senpai." Kaidoh puts down the phone. There's a knock and his door slides open.

"I though I'd do some racquet swings out in the yard," Hazue says.

"Do one hundred," Kaidoh says.

"Are we training again tomorrow?"

Kaidoh stands. "You won't have time for all the swings if you don't start now."

Hazue nods. He stands in the doorway for a moment, then ducks his head and disappears.

Kaidoh ties a bandana over his head. He touches the names on his wall, two fingers, one by one. "I'll beat you all," he says. Then he goes out for his run.

+

"Five-point matches today," Inui tells them. "Switch service after every point. Oishi, Kaidoh, you're up first."

Kaidoh tosses the ball and thinks of Hazue, a swing and a miss. For a second, he thinks he'll fault, but he catches the edge of the line and Oishi has to dash for it. It still takes Kaidoh too long to win the first point. He pulls Oishi back and forth with the Snake, but Oishi can target the ball wherever he wants. They fight it out to the very last point and Oishi's unforced error.

"You're doing well," Oishi says. "I'll have to work on my stamina."

Next Echizen crushes Momoshiro. "Take it seriously, Momo," Kikumaru calls. But he is, Kaidoh can tell. Even if he laughs when he loses.

Then Tezuka steps onto the court. "Mister Tezuka, beware!" Kawamura yells, red-faced on the baseline. He holds the ball out like he's delivering a challenge.

"Beware yourself, Taka-san." Momoshiro pushes in beside Kaidoh.

"You should talk, loser." Kaidoh jostles Momoshiro with his elbow and shoots him a glare as an extra. A murmur runs through the crowd and he realizes he's missed Tezuka's winner.

"I like to talk," Momoshiro says. "Not just hiss, like some people."

And Kaidoh does hiss, before he can stop himself. But he keeps his eyes on Tezuka, watching him throw, leap, serve. Ace. I'll beat you, he thinks. But he can't see how, when Kawamura can't even touch the ball.

Just behind the empty ref chair, Inui clicks a stopwatch, scribbling in his notebook between every point. He can see it, maybe. He can see something, anyhow.

If Kaidoh read what Inui wrote, would he even understand it?

+

Kaidoh serves. Hazue dives for the ball. He misses. And misses again.

"Again, please!" Hazue calls. He catches the edge of this one and it knocks the racquet out of his hand. He runs for it, snatches it back up, gets into position. "Again, please!"

Kaidoh serves. Hazue misses. Kaidoh picks up a ball. Was Tezuka this bad when he was learning? Kaidoh can't imagine it. Was he that bad himself?

"Work harder," Kaidoh yells. He serves the ball. Hazue misses again.

Kaidoh's phone rings. He jogs to the sideline and fishes it out of his bag. "This isn't Tezuka."

"I know," Inui says. "So, I was in the store today and I saw these new squid flavour crackers. Have you tried them?"

"No."

"I bought some and they're okay. I don't think I'll get them again, though. You did pretty well in the practice match today. You should loosen up your grip on your backhand."

Kaidoh doesn't respond. He watches Hazue pick up balls and drop them into the bucket.

"I found these MP3s online to help me sleep. Sort of ambient music with brain entrainment sounds. I'm going to try them tonight."

"I have to go, senpai."

"Okay," Inui says. "I'll talk to you later."

Hazue is waiting in the ad court, racquet in hand. "Hit against the wall," Kaidoh says. He picks up his bag and jogs to the river bank.

Five hundred racquet swings, Inui's menu says. Kaidoh does a thousand.

+

"Hi, Kaidoh," Inui says. "I added another galaxy to my ceiling. Though it turns out that staring at galaxies after reading about the vastness of space makes me dizzy. Did you ever think about how huge galaxies are? The Milky Way contains somewhere between 100 and 400 billion stars."

"No." Kaidoh puts down his weight and drops onto his couch, switching the phone to his other ear. He can't keep two sets of numbers in his head at the same time. And he hasn't done 400 billion arm curls, no matter how hard he's working.

"The Milky Way is currently engulfing two smaller galaxies. And in 3 billion years, the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy will collide." Inui pauses. "When I think about how I'll never get to see that... Did you ever want to go into space?"

"No," Kaidoh says. When he was nine, he planned his career as a space ranger. But space was always about ships and robots and battles and bravery. Not galaxies. Not stars.

"Didn't you? I might yet, I guess. But not to see the galaxies collide. What did you want to do? Before tennis."

Is Inui writing all of this down? Some strange data to predict Kaidoh's play. Or maybe it's another strategy. "You're just trying to distract me."

"Kaidoh?"

"Ranking matches are coming up." Kaidoh closes the phone and drops it on the couch. This won't work on him. He picks up his weight. He starts the count over again.

There's a knock at his door. "I'm busy," Kaidoh calls.

He stares at the names on his wall and lifts his weights and forgets to count at all.

+

Inui blows his whistle. "Footwork drill for Regulars. Best time gets a Miffy sticker."

Kaidoh jostles between Kawamura and Momoshiro as they line up for their turns. He watches Tezuka go through the drill, his movements so smooth and connected, even his hair hardly seems to bounce.

Then Kaidoh watches Inui. How does he know what exercises they should do? How to train them? It's working, they're getting better. Kaidoh is getting better.

"Go." Inui clicks his stopwatch. Kaidoh concentrates on the drill, trying to glide like Tezuka. He stumbles. "Don't think about your feet," Inui says. He looks tired.

Are the galaxies keeping you awake? Kaidoh wants to say. But Inui is already talking to Kikumaru.

After practice, Inui hands Kaidoh a folder. "I updated your training menu." Kaidoh waits for him to say something about brain entrainment or schools of fish or Kaidoh's lung volume but he just turns away. "Tezuka," Inui says. "Did you give any thought to--"

Kaidoh plunges out of the clubhouse, stuffing the menu into his bag.

He runs fifteen kilometres, does his body-weight, his shuttle runs. He meets Hazue at the court and watches him fail and fail again.

He goes to the sports complex and gets change for the ball machine. The Boomerang Snake will work eventually. He just isn't trying hard enough.

Kaidoh pulls his racquet out of his bag. The folder comes with it and falls open on the ground.

Behind the scrawled menu is a sheet of glow-in-the-dark star stickers.

+

Kaidoh doesn't know what a galaxy should look like. So he just puts the stickers on any which way, some clumped together, some spread out. He lies down but he can't see them against the white ceiling. He turns out the light but they still aren't there. The back of the sheet says it will take a couple of hours for them to absorb enough light.

His phone rings. He snatches it up. "This isn't Tezuka."

"Why the hell will you say that?" Momoshiro says. "Oishi-senpai told me to call you to tell you morning practice is cancelled tomorrow."

"Okay, you've told me." Kaidoh shoves the phone into his pocket. He grabs his racquet and goes out into the yard.

Hazue is already there, doing racquet swings. Kaidoh stands beside him and matches him.

"I'll do better tomorrow," Hazue says.

I suck as a brother, Kaidoh wants to say. I suck as a teacher. "Work hard," he says instead.

400 billion swings later, Kaidoh goes up to bed. When he turns off the light, the stars are shining.

+

At lunch time, Kaidoh goes into the courtyard between the buildings. He sits down, knees up against his chest, back against the wall. He pulls out his phone.

He opens and closes it three times before he makes the call.

"Kaidoh?"

"Thank you, senpai," Kaidoh says.

"Did you put them up?" Inui says. "Do they help you sleep?"

"I wasn't sure what kind of shape to make."

"It doesn't matter," Inui says. "Find your own shapes in them."

Kaidoh clenches his fingers against his palm. "Senpai...why?"

"It's fun, I guess. Creative."

"No. I mean...why do you help me?" Kaidoh opens his hand and clenches it again. "Doesn't that make it harder for you?"

"Kaidoh." Inui pauses. "A lot of reasons. I'm your senpai. It's good for Seigaku. Training someone else helps me learn."

"Oh." Kaidoh looks up at the sky. A cloud is drifting by. It looks like a frog.

"And so when I defeat you, I'll know it's because I'm strong."

"Senpai."

"I can see you from the window, Kaidoh. Look up." Kaidoh looks up. Inui leans out from the third storey and waves.

Kaidoh jumps up and runs out of the courtyard. "I'll talk to you later."

"Good," Inui says.

+

Kaidoh rushes through his math problems but he still has three left at 8:59. He closes the book and lies down on his couch, head on one armrest, feet on the other. He drops his phone onto his chest.

It rings at 9 PM precisely.

"This isn't Tezuka," Kaidoh says.

"Tezuka turns off his phone at 8:30," Inui says. "I've never been able to find out how late he stays up after that."

"Is that important?"

"You never know what's important. How late do you stay up?"

"About ten." Kaidoh scrunches down until his head is flat on the couch cushions.

"And when do you fall asleep?"

"About ten."

"But how? It takes me at least an hour. I start thinking about tennis or black holes or how shaved ice was invented and then I'm lucky to drop off after midnight."

"I just think about nothing," Kaidoh says.

"That's kind of what a black hole is," Inui says. "There's one at the middle of every galaxy, sucking stuff into it until it's a bunch of nothing."

"Senpai--" Kaidoh squeezes his eyes closed, then opens them again. "How do people learn things?"

"People learn in different ways," Inui says. "I learn best by reading. Other people are better with auditory learning -- lectures and such."

"Lectures?"

"Of course, that's mostly for information and theory. Motor skills are different. Some people need a demonstration. Others need constant feedback."

"What about..." Kaidoh looks over the back of the couch, at the paper on the wall. "What about Tezuka-buchou?"

Inui laughs. "I think he's pre-programmed. Like a robot. I just need to figure out how to read his memory. I wonder if it would be hard to make a robot. I'd like to have one. Well, we already have a robot vacuum cleaner. How about you?"

"I'd like to beat him," Kaidoh says.

"Me too," Inui says. "And I will."

+

"Your grip should look like this," Kaidoh says.

Hazue wraps his hand around his racquet. "Like this?"

"Not quite." Kaidoh moves Hazue's fingers. "Try it like that."

Hazue swings the racquet back and forth. "It feels weird."

"Just try to return the ball." Kaidoh sends over an easy volley. Hazue connects and the ball goes into the net. "It's okay," Kaidoh says. "You're getting it."

The practise for an hour. By the end, Hazue is returning most of Kaidoh's shots. "This is fun!" he calls.

"Yes," Kaidoh says.

+

"Ranking matches are coming up," Inui says.

"I know." Kaidoh rolls onto his stomach, arms propped up on his pillow, phone pressed to his ear.

"Who do you hope will be in your block?"

Kaidoh looks over at his wall and reads the names there for the 400 billionth time. "I'll beat whoever I play." He wants to try. Every day, he wants to try. But there's an unspoken rule about challenges between Regulars and so he waits.

"Maybe we'll play again," Inui says. "I won't lose to you a second time."

"Yes, you will." Kaidoh wonders what it would take to beat him. Before, Inui was weak. But now Kaidoh thinks he might be strong.

"I've been working hard." Inui pauses. "I'm going out of town for the weekend. For mountain training."

"Oh." Kaidoh curls up on his side.

"I'll be back pretty late on Sunday."

"Oh," Kaidoh says again. It's strange, but inside of him he can feel this blank spot now, like one of those black holes at the middle of galaxies.

"But I'll see you at morning practice on Monday."

There's silence for a while. Kaidoh can hear Inui breathing. "How are the MP3s?"

"Which MP3s?"

"The brain ones," Kaidoh says. "For your sleep."

"They didn't work," Inui says. "But I'm sleeping pretty well these days."

+

The weekend is the same as always. Kaidoh cleans his room. He does his roadwork. He stands on the river bank and swings his racquet until his neck and shoulders are burnt from the sun.

He goes to the sports complex and hits with a ball machine. Over and over, around the pole. The ball still won't go in, not even on the doubles court. He throws his racquet on the court and swears. He wipes the sweat from his face. Then he gets more change and tries again.

It's just the same as always except for that black hole feeling still inside of him. His phone is in his pocket and he wraps his hand around it, even though he knows it won't ring.

+

At 9 PM, Kaidoh turns out the lights and lies down. He wonders where Inui is, if he worked hard today. How the mountain air smells. If Inui's neck is sunburned too. If Inui wonders how Kaidoh is doing.

And Kaidoh's phone rings. He's already smiling before he answers it.

"How's the training, senpai?" Kaidoh rolls onto his side, his arm flung over his pillow.

"Harsh," Inui says. "I'm sore all over. And I think I ate a bug. But I should get a good result. The thinner air is good for stamina training. You can get a similar effect by wearing a face mask when you run. You should try that."

"I will."

"I'm surprised I have service up here. I'm outside, lying on a sleeping bag, looking up at the sky. It's so quiet, it's weird."

Kaidoh turns onto his back, his free hand over his head. "Weird?"

"It's so dark here, without the light pollution from the city," Inui says. "The moon isn't even out. And the sky is full of stars. They are so many, it's like dust. But sparkly."

Kaidoh looks up at his ceiling. The stickers don't sparkle but they glow. He imagines himself on the mountain, lying on a sleeping bag, looking up at the sky.

"I can see the Milky Way," Inui says. "I can see the whole universe. It makes me dizzy. Kaidoh, I wish you could see it."

And Kaidoh is suddenly so happy he's humming, the whole universe is humming. "Me too," he says because he wants Inui to know he's smiling.

"I should be sleepy," Inui says. "But I'm not."

"Neither am I," Kaidoh says and they stay on the line until Inui's battery dies.

+

"I prepared this for you on the train." Inui hands Kaidoh a folded paper. "For the Boomerang Snake. It should help."

"Thank you, senpai." Kaidoh tucks it into his pocket. He wants to say something else to Inui but he doesn't know what. So he just looks up at Inui's face until he can't any more and then goes to warm up for practice.

They line up for reflex drills. Kaidoh watches Oishi and Momoshiro hit. Then he watches Inui watching them, tapping his pen on his notebook. Tezuka is standing next to him, then Fuji.

"How are Inui's camping skills?" Fuji says.

"Rudimentary," Tezuka says.

Kaidoh jerks his head.

Inui laughs. "That's mean. I'd say I rate at least an 'adequate'. And it's only low because you made me leave the Big Book of Camping behind."

Kaidoh's gut twists. His hand tightens around the paper in his pocket, crushing it into a wad. He drops it on the ground.

"Kawamura and Kaidoh," Inui says. "You're up."

"No," Kaidoh says. Inui looks at him. Everyone looks at him.

"Kaidoh," Tezuka says.

"No." Kaidoh pushes his way off the court, banging into Inui and bumping Tezuka for good measure. Everyone is calling after him now.

He doesn't look back.

+

He goes to the court where he trains with Hazue. He swings his racquet, slicing the air to ribbons. He does it again. But he's still sick inside.

If the Milky Way collided with the Andromeda Galaxy today, it wouldn't be too soon.

There's a stray ball under the bench and he scrapes it out with his racquet. Then he hits against the wall, no plan, no practice, just slamming the ball with all he's got, until the sweat is running down his back and soaking his bandana.

He doesn't hear footsteps but he knows someone is behind him. "Aren't you going to get in trouble for leaving practice?" he says.

"Kaidoh." It's Tezuka.

Kaidoh turns around. Run two hundred laps, pick up a thousand balls, a smack upside the head -- whatever Tezuka dishes out, Kaidoh doesn't care.

"I came to hit with you." Tezuka takes a ball out of his pocket. "Get on the court."

Kaidoh stare for a moment. Then he steps up and grips his racquet. He can feel all his muscles pulling tight, wound up, ready. Tezuka starts the rally and they hit back and forth. Kaidoh tries to pull Tezuka around with the Snake, but he can't. Tezuka reaches it easily, like they are just warming up.

Then Tezuka sends one deep to the baseline. "Try it," he calls. Kaidoh hits it around the pole. It doesn't even touch the alley.

"Again," Tezuka says. They build up momentum and Kaidoh tries again. Fail. "Again." Fail.

Twenty times, Kaidoh hits the Boomerang Snake. Twenty times, it fails. He drops his racquet on the court.

Tezuka comes to the net. "Kaidoh," he says. "Practising with bad form means all you learn is bad form."

Kaidoh looks down.

"Don't leave practice again." Tezuka turns to go.

"Buchou." Kaidoh's voice is louder than he means. "Do you..." He swallows hard and tries again. "Do you like Inui-senpai?"

Tezuka stops, his back still to Kaidoh. He's silent for 400 billion years. Then he speaks. "I think the question is: who does Inui like?"

After he's gone, Kaidoh stretches out on the court and looks up at the sky.

He's still watching the clouds when Hazue arrives.

+

At 8:55, Kaidoh picks up his phone. He's hardly taken a breath when Inui answers.

Meet me," Kaidoh says. "At the park."

"Isn't it too late for you to be out?" Inui says.

"Yes." Kaidoh opens his window. "I'll be there in ten minutes." He puts the phone in his pocket and leans out to grab the tree branch. He swings to the ground, then runs all the way.

He waits under the big tree in the middle of the park. He checks his phone for a message, checks the time. He squeezes his hands into fists, lets them out again. He stares at the purple glow of a drink machine by the toilets. He wonders if he should just go home.

Then Inui jogs into view. "It took me a while to distract my mother so I could sneak out."

"Senpai," Kaidoh says. "About today."

Inui opens his mouth, like he's going to say something. But he closes it again and just waits, looking down at Kaidoh.

"I'm sorry." Kaidoh looks down too. "For my behaviour."

Inui takes a crumpled sheet of paper from his pocket. "Do you still want this?"

"Thank you." Kaidoh reaches out. Inui doesn't let go and they're holding the paper between them.

"I can never tell," Inui says. "Your tennis, sure, but, you--" He drops his hand. "I can never tell."

"Senpai." Kaidoh can hear the traffic from the road. He can hear the hum of the drink machine. He can hear his pulse beating in his ears.

"I'm going to get in trouble." Inui turns to go. And Kaidoh can feel the black hole inside again, that empty space that needs to be filled up.

He darts forward and wraps his arms around Inui, pulling him in, his back tight against Kaidoh's chest. "Me too," Kaidoh says.

Inui stops, his whole body rigid. Kaidoh holds on, pressing his cheek against Inui's shoulder. "Kaidoh," Inui says in a voice Kaidoh has never heard before. Inui's muscles relax and his ribs compress.

Kaidoh tightens his hold. "Can you tell now?"

He feels Inui laugh before he hears it. Then Inui twists around and hugs Kaidoh. His hands press against Kaidoh's back and Kaidoh can feel the weight of every fingertip against his skin. Kaidoh's body heaves in one great spasm of breath and he pulls Inui down onto the grass.

+

"The city lights are pretty," Inui says. They're lying side by side, looking up at the sky. The grass is wet but Kaidoh doesn't care.

"Especially the drink machine," Kaidoh says. Inui laughs. He takes Kaidoh's hand and slides their fingers together.

"That's how galaxies collide," Inui says.

"Like a drink machine?"

Inui holds up their hands. "Like this. There's so much empty space inside a galaxy that stars don't crash into each other, they just fit in between."

Kaidoh squeezes Inui's hand. Then he closes his eyes. "What kind of bug did you eat?"

+

It's nearly eleven when Kaidoh climbs back through his window. His homework isn't finished. He decides to do it in the morning.

He smoothes out the paper and reads the instructions. Tomorrow, for sure.

He touches the names on his wall: Echizen, Fuji, Tezuka. He gets a pen and adds Inui's name to the list. "I'll beat you all," he says.

-fin-

I'm surprised Tezuka didn't leave Inui behind with 'the big book of camping'... though maybe now Inui knows when Tezzie goes to bed :)

It was nice to see Kaidou open up as the story progressed, helping Hazue and putting up the star stickers (I love glow-in-the-dark stars), answering the phone with "This isn't Tezuka"... hehe, he IS funny!!

and such a rebel! saying no and walking out on practice, naughty Kaidou!

Inui might have been too distracted by his phone call to write down Tezuka's bed time. :)

I can tell you're fond of star stickers! I'm glad you were fond of the story as well.

I'm not even in the fandom any more, but your fics make me unbelievably happy. ♥

That is so great to hear, thank you!

Argh, this was so, so lovely in every possible way. I loved the slow, understated progression of their relationship, the way you could track Kaidoh working his way toward understanding.

"And you can never have too many backups. Some of the pros go through six racquets in one match. I went with spiral in the end."

I loved that! It's so Inui to just add in this little old detail at the end and expect Kaidoh to be following.

"Footwork drill for Regulars. Best time gets a Miffy sticker."

Oh god, I laughed so hard.

I also loved all the Hazue (!!!!) and Tezuka actually getting it, holy crap! It's a miracle. This part made me simultaneously achey and overjoyed:

"I think the question is: who does Inui like?"

Lovely lovely lovely. ♥

I did try to make this a bit more understated than my usual -- I'm glad that worked for you!

And who doesn't like Miffy? (I kind of hope Tezuka was the one who won the sticker.)

Commenting as I read along! Because it's more fun that way. Or funner? Because fake words are always more fun! Funner. Whatever. ;D

Oh god, I love how Tezuka always hangs up on Inui. XD They have such a strange friendship, I cannot help but giggle at it! I'm glad you think it's just as amusing. XD I can tell!

And ahhh god, Inui's random tangents and segues. He would swear the transition made sense in his head.

HAZUEEEE. <3 Sexy Kaidoh #2. I can never get enough Hazue. God, he's just so sweet. Poor little boo. I'll teach you tennis, Hazue. *lech lech*

Fff. XD Kaidoh is so diligent. Can't he see that Hazue wants to be just like hiiiim? (Give it up, Kaidoh. Echizen's ~*special*~, Fuji's a freak and Tezuka's... well, Tezuka. You'll never beat them.)

OH OH MOMOKAI. I spot it there. ;D Hi there, Momokai. How kind of you to jostle each other and be cute in an InuKai story. ;D *rolls around*

God, Kaidoh! You are such a machine! One day your arms are going to turn into tanks! Then noodles. So enjoy it while you can, noodle boy.

You know, if Hazue was any sweeter, I'd have to put him in my coffee.

omgggg. <3 Smiling Kaidoh! I think this is the first time he's smiled during the story! He loves Inui's random calls. <3

OH NO. TEZUKA IS STEALING HIS INUI. And just when Kaidoh was starting to feel special... ;____;

PULLING DOWN INTO THE GRASS. YES. <3 Let those teenage hormones wash over you, boys.

I LOVED THIS HAL. SO MUCH. <3 All the caps lock should tell you. ;D *rolls around* Another wonderful and endearing InuKai fic. They are so sweet together.

Hee! I love your streaming comments. :)

Hazue is such a sweetie and Momo and Kaidoh will always jostle each other when they meet. But it's always Inui and Kaidoh in the end. Even Tezuka knows this.

I was smiling when Inui and Kaidoh were talking on the phone until Inui's cell phone battery died. ^____________^ Such a lovely mental picture.

That was the central image for me in the story and it made me smile a lot too. :)

Still so amazing.

Your Inui is so Inui and your Kaidoh so Kaidoh.

I know I've already told you this, but this is so beautiful ♥.

You were above and beyond talking me down over this one! Thank you so much, as always. :)

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Thank you! I think Inui enjoys chatting at strong, silent types. :D

<3

Your Inui is always the bestest Inui.

Ah, the full-fledged jealousy moment! That must be my absolute favorite. So unexpected and brilliant! That whole sequence since bastard!Fuji spills the beans until Tezuka asks THE question. (In my mind this story connects well with "No matter what", so this would be the universe in which Tezuka actually loves Oishi, like, you know, canon, too. ;D)

I enjoyed all the process from "calling Kaidoh by mistake" until they just call each other out of unconscious need and peaceful comfort. I wonder if Inui made the mistake on purpose the first time, because he already had that much interest in Kaidoh, or his interest and feelings evolved along the fic, just like in the series.

I always get stressed out in fics with so much talk of training menus and how many exercises they do. But I loved the subplot of Kaidoh helping Hazue learn how to play tennis, taking a leaf from Inui's data book. : )

There are so many sweet moments and good lines. And I really, really like the pace you give to the story, so many things happening, one after another, all interesting. Ah, the jealousy moment! It tops it all! SWEET!!!

ALSO! The detail of Kaidoh having the names of "Echizen, Fuji and Tezuka" written down as motivational goals. And adding Inui at the end. Loved that too!

Taking notes as I go, and considering who this is by, I expect this to run long and contain a lot of exclamation points. LET'S SEE IF MY PREDICTION IS RIGHT.

Author's notes: Marks, I always hoped that someone would assign me to write for you in a tenipuri exchange. Finally, someone did!

What an amazing coincidence!!!

"Well, that explains why you haven't hung up yet,"

Already dying.

Even if it seems wrong, taking advice from someone he defeated. Someone who's not even on the team.

HAL, THERE IS SO LITTLE FIC FOR THEM IN THIS TIME PERIOD. I AM SO EXCITED THAT I'M ALREADY BREAKING OUT THE CAPS LOCK!!

He wonders why Inui keeps calling someone who hangs up on him.

Persistence makes progress, Kaidoh.

HAZUE!!! Ugh, I love Kaidoh the big brother.

"I did it again," Inui says. "That's pretty odd, isn't it? Maybe my contact list is buggy. Let me--"

The line goes dead. Kaidoh closes his phone. It rings again.

"No, that worked okay," Inui says.


Subtle like a ticker-tape parade, Inui.

Do you have a lot of stuff in your room?"

"I have to go running," Kaidoh says.

"Of course. Be careful running in the dark. You should wear some sort of reflective vest so you're visible to traffic."


What I love about Inui -- and seriously, how many times in the past few years have I started a sentence like that -- is that he almost never gets offended, even when other people would have long gone over the deep end. It's so unfair, but that only makes me like it more when he is pushed over the edge. Sorry, Inui.

Next Echizen crushes Momoshiro. "Take it seriously, Momo," Kikumaru calls. But he is, Kaidoh can tell. Even if he laughs when he loses.

Aw, I love all MomoKai implicit understandings.

God, you write all of Seigaku so well. It always makes me so happy when you write them because I have a little internal YES THAT IS THEM meter that dings happily whenever I read your fic.

"Again, please!" Hazue calls. He catches the edge of this one and it knocks the racquet out of his hand. He runs for it, snatches it back up, gets into position. "Again, please!"

LOL as if there's any question Hazue and Kaoru are related.

Best time gets a Miffy sticker.

Ooh!! :DDD

Behind the scrawled menu is a sheet of glow-in-the-dark star stickers.

♥♥♥♥♥

"I can see you from the window, Kaidoh. Look up." Kaidoh looks up. Inui leans out from the third storey and waves.

♥♥♥♥♥ (Don't mind me, I'm just being reduced to speechlessness.)

Well, we already have a robot vacuum cleaner.

*runs away*

"This is fun!" he calls.

"Yes," Kaidoh says.


Oh gosh, so adorable. :DDDDD

"Maybe we'll play again," Inui says. "I won't lose to you a second time."

"Yes, you will."


Best flirting ever!!

"I can see the Milky Way," Inui says. "I can see the whole universe. It makes me dizzy. Kaidoh, I wish you could see it."

And Kaidoh is suddenly so happy he's humming, the whole universe is humming. "Me too," he says because he wants Inui to know he's smiling.


I think my eyes have literally turned into hearts now. Haaaal, how do you make everything so adorable and perfect all the time???

"How are Inui's camping skills?" Fuji says.

"Rudimentary," Tezuka says.

Kaidoh jerks his head.

Inui laughs. "That's mean. I'd say I rate at least an 'adequate'. And it's only low because you made me leave the Big Book of Camping behind."

Kaidoh's gut twists.


Oh god, poor Kaidoh, but man, picturing Tezuka and Inui camping together like the secret good friends that they are is AMAZING.

He's silent for 400 billion years.

lol of course he is. I love you, Tezuka.

Kaidoh tightens his hold. "Can you tell now?"

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

There's so much empty space inside a galaxy that stars don't crash into each other, they just fit in between.

*sigh*

I'm so sorry I couldn't get to this right away (like, making sad faces daily at my computer sad), but I knew I needed a big chunk of time to devote to it, so I'm glad I waited to read it. And you did reduce me to exclamation points, just like I predicted. THANK YOU, HAL. YOUR WRITING MAKES ME SO HAPPY.

I'm so glad you're happy with this! (And no worries about the delay -- I know you've been busy.)

It was a real challenge, setting this in that time-frame, but I liked getting to work with Kaidoh's wariness and independence. And, of course, Inui's half-clueless persistence. :) (And Tezuka, poor boy.)

I will paste all the exclamation points in my scrapbook, to pore over when I am old and grey (and probably *still* in this fandom). :D

Of course Inui can't fall asleep! He's got too much information zooming around in his brain. I loved the star stickers and Kaidoh not knowing how to teach Hazue, and the whole thing was just adorable.

I think it's hard to write these two as *not* adorable. *g* So glad you enjoyed!

I really like this :) Nice story.

I think this might be one of my favourites of yours. Inui is just *so awesome* here; he is the hottest of all possible Inuis. He is the Inui I wanted to write but couldn't. He's so laid back and smart and distracted and scary and socially inept and *Inui*. I felt like I could hear it when he laughed. And Kaidoh! Training his little brother! Jealous of Tezuka! (and Tezuka! {{{Tezuka}}}). And so brave, of course. Fantastic.

Also, I wanted to thank you for running the exchange, I had a lot of fun! And some anxiety. but mostly fun.

That's so great to hear! I don't know how Inui can be so anal and laid-back at the same time, but he really is. I love him so much -- I'm glad you think I did him justice here.

I'm glad you enjoyed the exchange! I think that anxiety is endemic to exchanges, but hopefully fun is too. :)

Wow, delayed comment! Why is my life structured wrong.

I'm with Poi on this one, re: favorites. You pull off something really amazing here where Inui remains, like, present and so totally Inui (see above, Poi's "laid back and smart and distracted and scary and socially inept") and yet obscured to the reader until Kaidoh starts to figure things out, and even that is subtle. Until Kaidoh's clarifying gesture. :D

And it's all just really realistic but touching at the same time. Kaidoh and Inui slowly gravitating into each other's empty spaces.

Also, Tezukaaaa. I love him.

And you're great.

That's so kind of you to say! I had more than one crisis over whether I was being subtle or just boring, so it's good to know it worked for you. :) And poor Tezuka. I really do owe him one.


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