Title: Don't Hate the Player
Recipient's name: Everyone!
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created by Konomi Takeshi. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Notes: Happy Holidays, everyone! I tried working in as much geekiness and age-appropriate fumbling as I could. I hope you enjoy this!
Things have been different for Inui since tennis season ended; he still practices frequently of course -- at least after his injuries heal completely -- but Inui still feels like he has far more free time than he once did. It's unnerving for reasons he can't quite articulate, and there's nothing Inui dislikes more than being unable to articulate things.
Inui is lost in thought on his way home from school, hands shoved deep into his jacket pockets when his phone starts ringing. The read-out indicates that it's Yanagi. This is confusing as Inui hasn't heard from Yanagi since Nationals. He doesn't blame Yanagi for his lack of contact, though. He's made no grand overtures himself and he'd believed that their last doubles match had been the end of that particular chapter of his life. Apparently he'd miscalculated.
When Inui answers, they exchange pleasantries and two minutes, twelve seconds of small talk. Inui is trying to find a tactful way of asking why Yanagi called him when Yanagi suddenly asks, "Sadaharu, are you free tomorrow?"
Inui is. He has far more free time now. "Yes, Renji. Why?"
"Would you like to play a game?"
"No, not tennis. You should still say yes."
Even once he arrives at Yanagi's home, Inui doesn't precisely understand what's going on, which is one of the most frustrating things for a data player, but he doesn't complain. He just sits down on Yanagi's living room floor and tries to make himself comfortable as Yanagi sets up the game console. This is something he'd done a million times as a kid and back then it had felt like there was a ton of room to stretch out. But he's no longer a kid and there are an extra thirty-point-five centimeters to account for now. The level of comfort he once felt in this room is no longer there. Inui supposes this is a side-effect of growing up. He doesn't know how much he likes it.
Yanagi is smiling a little, popping open a silver briefcase and showing off the five game controllers stored inside. They've all been modified from their original configurations, improving their grip, making the buttons more easily reachable for quick play. Inui has to admit that he's impressed.
"Go on," Yanagi encourages. "Choose one."
Inui selects one that's been refinished in a shiny metallic green.
"Are you sure you want that one?" Yanagi asks. His voice is bland, but Inui recognizes a psych-out when he hears one.
"Renji, are you playing games with me?"
Yanagi's smile widens. "Always, Sadaharu. Isn't that obvious?"
Given the circumstances, Inui has to admit he probably has a point.
Twenty rounds later, Inui also has to admit picking the green controller was a mistake, though he's not sure that anything would have really helped him.
Yanagi is an expert at Super Super Attack Fighters Extra Special. It's not like Inui really believed Yanagi would invite him over for something he didn't excel at, but Inui hadn't believed he'd be so terrible at it himself. But he is improving. He manages to get a kick in that Yanagi hadn't anticipated, making Yanagi gasp in surprise and Inui clench his fist and mutter "Yes" in victory.
"Nice, Sadaharu," Yanagi says, recovering right away. He throws a five-star attack Inui's way and Inui watches his power bar drain down to nothing. His fighter's oversized muscles sag and he collapses his knees as PLAYER 2: VICTORY flashes on the screen.
"Thank you." Inui knows that he just needs a few more rounds and they'll be evenly matched. "Want to play again?"
Yanagi's mother clears her throat from the doorway. "He does, but he can't. It's getting late and you both have studying to do. Would you like to stay for dinner, Sadaharu?"
Inui checks his watch and gasps out loud when he notices how late it's gotten. He gets to his feet and gives a little bow. "I'm very sorry, Yanagi-san, but I can't stay. I promised my mother I'd be home for dinner tonight."
"Next time, then." She stretches up to pat the top of Inui's head. It's a long stretch; the last time he saw her, he had to look up to meet her eyes. "It's nice seeing you here again."
Yanagi walks him out. "I'll call you," he says and touches Inui's wrist briefly before shutting the door behind him. Inui circles his index finger and thumb around his own wrist as he walks to the train station. They touch easily and he can make them overlap if he extends his fingers a bit.
The next day Inui buys his own copy of Super Super Attack Fighters Extra Special and a pair of sure-grip gloves with velcro adjustment straps to wear while he plays. Playing the computer is far more predictable than playing Yanagi and far less fun, but by the time his father shouts at him to turn the television off and go to sleep, he is winning seventy-eight percent of the time. Data indicates that he'll be at one-hundred percent within the week.
When he climbs into bed, the game is still burned behind his eyelids, two martial arts fighters engaging in battle with fireballs and explosions of glittering effects. The faces in his head look far more realistic than the computer renderings and they strongly resemble Yanagi and him. Inui sticks his hand inside his sweatpants and jacks off, coming in under a minute, far under his average masturbation time.
He's sweaty and a little weirded out by his choice in fantasy fodder, but he falls asleep very quickly and doesn't remember it the next morning.
Yanagi calls Inui three days later, and though there's an eighty-six percent chance that he was calling to invite Inui over again, Inui saves him the trouble by inviting himself over the following afternoon. He notes that Yanagi sounds rather pleased and amused when he does so, however.
They sit on the floor of the living room again, cross-legged with their knees bumping every so often. If Inui were to move eight centimeters to his left, this problem would be alleviated and they wouldn't touch at all. He stays where he is.
In the middle of the fourth fight, Yanagi suddenly pauses the game (Inui hadn't been winning so he doesn't really mind) and asks, "Have your injuries sufficiently healed, Sadaharu?"
A look of confusion crosses Inui's face until he realizes Yanagi means the injuries he'd sustained during their doubles match at Nationals. Inui nods. "Kaidoh made sure that I was properly bandaged before we went back to the matches. No long-term effects linger."
Yanagi's shoulders slump; there is a seventy-nine percent chance that this is due to relief. "That's good," he says. "I'm very glad to hear that."
"Please let Kirihara know that as well."
"I will. Akaya is," Yanagi pauses, "unpredictable."
"But talented," Inui says. He bumps their knees together again and makes it look accidental. Yanagi has never shown a particular propensity toward apologies, but there was really nothing to forgive in the first place. "That talent needs to be encouraged."
"Perhaps. And you did manage to make the mummy look work for you." Yanagi unpauses the game, and Inui manages to get in three hits before Yanagi recovers. "You'll stay for dinner tonight, won't you?"
"Of course, Renji. I already checked with my mother."
Inui has been on the phone with Tezuka for five minutes, sixteen seconds. Tezuka hasn't said anything in reply yet, but Inui can hear his breathing through the earpiece, a comforting repetitive mantra. Inui could almost meditate to this.
"My gameplay has improved again, though I still haven't beaten Renji," Inui says.
Inui is doodling in one of his notebooks. He draws a cat with slitted eyes. Tezuka breathes.
"I'm not sure why he wants to rekindle our friendship, though my data indicates that this is a positive interaction for both of us."
Inui shades the cat's tail and begins an outline of a ninja with too much upper-body weight and tiny little legs. Tezuka breathes.
"Another fifteen match-ups and I'll be able to crush his strategy." Inui gives the ninja throwing stars. "Aren't you proud of me, Tezuka?"
There is only breathing on the other end.
"Of course I am, Inui."
Inui is so surprised by this reply that his pen slips off the page and he ends up with a dark black mark on his bedspread. The ink should wash out easily enough. At least he hopes so.
"Thank you, Tezuka. Do you have any idea what Renji might be thinking?"
Tezuka is silent for a moment. "He probably enjoys your company. Many people do. Goodnight, Inui." Tezuka hangs up.
"Good night, Tezuka," Inui says to nothing.
Yanagi calls Inui again on Monday and invites him over for Wednesday afternoon. Of course Inui accepts. He practices Super Super Attack Fighters Extra Special all evening on Tuesday until both of his parents are threatening groundings and he beats the computer opponent one-hundred percent of the time.
His data is perfect when he visits Yanagi, and sure enough, Yanagi only beats him once before Inui is winning consistently.
"You've been practicing," Yanagi says unnecessarily as Inui's fighter executes three perfect flips and lands on his opponent's shoulders, crushing his neck with his thighs.
"Were you trying to impress me?"
Inui smiles but doesn't reply. He knows that Yanagi already knows the answer to that question. Inui takes the win.
There's a difference this time; instead of playing non-stop until Yanagi's mother calls them to dinner, they mutually decide to stop playing and end up spread out on their stomachs on the living room floor. Yanagi's head is pillowed on his forearm and his arm is stretched out, the tips of his fingers barely brushing Inui's arm. They're quiet and Inui can't stop looking at Yanagi's profile, the way his eyes are closed, the slope of his nose, his mouth, his chin. It feels odd but Inui doesn't look away.
"Genichirou has a girlfriend," Yanagi says suddenly. His eyes open a little and Inui is glad that he has his glasses to hide behind, even though Inui knows that's not an effective strategy for avoiding Yanagi. They know each other too well.
"Oh?" No one on Seigaku's team has a girlfriend as far as Inui knows. And Inui would know.
"Her name is Seika-chan and he spends a lot of time following her around looking baffled."
"Do you not like her, Renji?" Inui asks. He's not entirely sure why Yanagi has brought this up.
Yanagi shakes his head. "Whether or not I like her is irrelevant."
"Of course it's not. Sanada is your friend," Inui says. "If I had a girlfriend, I'd want you to like her."
"Sadaharu wants a girlfriend?" There's something to Yanagi's voice. It's new, whatever it is, and Inui is thrown by it.
Truthfully, Inui knows that developmentally and socially he should say yes, but he's never really given girls on an attainable basis very much thought. Girl idols, yes, but not so much the girls in his class. He has the time, but he'd rather spend it on tennis, on his training, on Kaidoh's training, on school, and now with Yanagi again, like old times. He thinks about lying but there is only a five percent chance that Yanagi will believe him. "I've never really considered it," he says finally. "Girls, I mean."
Yanagi looks very pleased with this answer. "Me either," he replies right away.
At dinner that night, their knees bump together on six occasions and when the side of Yanagi's foot presses against Inui's, they leave them pressed together, Yanagi's body heat seeping through Inui's sock. When Inui goes home, there is a spreading warmth that expands in his chest and he smiles twelve times for no quantifiable reason.
It's strange. Nice, but strange.
Inui spends much of the morning in a daze. In math, the teacher calls on him to explain a problem from the homework and Inui has no idea what number they're on. His teacher looks disappointed and warns him that if it happens again he'll have to stay after school to clap erasers and wash blackboards even though he's not on clean-up duty this week.
It's uncharacteristic of him and he knows it, but every time he lets his mind drift for more than a second or two, he's flooded by thoughts of playing video games with Yanagi, of their knees bumping and feet touching, and he's filled with dread when he wonders if Yanagi will stop inviting him over now that Inui is consistently defeating him at the fighting game. Logically Inui knows this is improbable, but he can't help feeling concerned. He feels sixty-two percent less logical than usual, which is a worrisome drop.
At lunch, Kikumaru and Fuji are tussling over Fuji's tray, engaged in an epic battle for Fuji's dessert. Finally Kikumaru gives up and slumps in his chair.
"I've just been having a hard day," Kikumaru whines. "Show some sympathy for your friend!"
"I have plenty of sympathy, Eiji." Fuji pats his hand. "I just think you should get your own food."
Inui pushes up his glasses. "What's troubling you, Kikumaru?"
Kikumaru lets out a noise of anguish and covers his face with hands, sobbing into his palms. The odds that he's really crying are very low. Inui tilts his head to one side and regards him curiously.
Fuji chuckles and pats Kikumaru's hand again. "Oh, Inui. It's girl trouble. Eiji likes Kimiko-chan in class two but she doesn't return his feelings."
"There's a hole, right here." Kikumaru traces a circle around the middle of his chest and pounds the center. He draws the circle slightly lower and more to the right than where the heart sits biologically, but Inui wisely keeps that information to himself. Contrary to popular belief, he does occasionally know when to keep his mouth shut.
"There will be other girls," Fuji says sympathetically.
"I don't want other girls!" Kikumaru wails pitifully. "I want her."
Fuji shrugs and shakes his head at Inui. "The heart wants what it wants," he says. "Sometimes you find someone that you want to spend all of your time with, and it just won't accept any substitutes."
"Like going to their house after school several afternoons a week and thinking about them even when you're not with them?" Inui doesn't mean to let that all spill out, but it's almost like he can't help saying the words.
Fuji's eyes open and Inui is immediately reminded of Yanagi. He feels a little trapped underneath Fuji's gaze. "Yes, Inui, like that. Are you speaking from experience?"
"No." Inui quickly stands up even though he hasn't finished his nutritionally balanced lunch. "I have to go... away. Goodbye." His escape is quick and messy.
The afternoon crawls by. Inui dislikes the feeling of having acquired new data without means to test his theories, so he grows impatient with his classes simply for existing. After he returns home, he forces himself to do his homework and sit through dinner with his family before allowing himself to do what he wants. This is, quite frankly, agonizing.
Finally, when the clock reaches a reasonable hour and he has time to himself, Inui digs his mobile phone out of his bag and punches in Yanagi's speed dial number. Yanagi picks up in one and a half rings, almost like he was anticipating a call. Something happy bubbles up in Inui's chest and he realizes how much he's been fooling himself. He's cautious, however; when it comes to Yanagi experience has taught him not to get his hopes up too high.
"Took you long enough, Sadaharu."
But maybe that's different now, too.
"I've always needed to consider every option, Renji," Inui replies, but he's smiling. "You'd think you'd be used to it by now."
"You know me too well," Yanagi says and he sounds like he's happy, too. "So you've worked it out?"
"Yes. You missed me."
Yanagi doesn't respond.
"You missed me a lot," Inui says gleefully.
"Not everything is about tennis, Sadaharu."
"No," Inui agrees. "I'm coming over tomorrow."
Yanagi sighs the sigh of the long-suffering. "Well, if you insist."
When Inui shows up at Yanagi's door the next day, he doesn't know what to expect. It feels like there are insects inside his stomach beating their wings against the lining and possibly burrowing into his lungs. His breathing has gone a little funny.
Yanagi acts like nothing has changed. He leads Inui into the living room, allows him to choose a controller, and turns on the console.
A game screen Inui doesn't recognize appears on the screen.
"Super Super Attack Fighters Ultra Special," Yanagi says, and when Inui looks at him out of the corner of his eye, he's smiling widely. Inui gets it; the game has changed, if it was ever a game at all.
He lets Yanagi kick his ass once, twice, three times, and then he reaches over and plucks the controller out of Yanagi's sweaty hands and tackles him to the floor.
"Did you need something, Sadaharu?" Yanagi asks. He sounds a little like he's laughing and he looks very appealing flat on his back.
"Perhaps," Inui says, propping himself up on his palms. "If you were willing to help." Then he ducks his head down and presses his mouth to Yanagi's. The rims of his glasses press against Yanagi's cheeks and when Yanagi reaches up to pull them off, they don't stop kissing. Inui doesn't know where his glasses are and he doesn't care because kissing Yanagi just feels so good.
Inui opens his mouth to suck in air, or maybe say something more, he doesn't know, but it ends up not mattering because Yanagi takes the opportunity to slide his tongue inside Inui's mouth. This feels approximately five times better than Inui's preliminary calculations had anticipated. Yanagi swipes his tongue along Inui's bottom lip and Inui mentally corrects to ten times better.
"Is that all right?" Yanagi asks, pulling away a bit. He sounds less amused and more breathless now. Inui nods, blinking down in amazement. "Sadaharu, you have very pretty eyes."
"Thank you, Renji," Inui says and gasps as Yanagi pushes at Inui's hip, rocking them until Inui is settled between Yanagi's legs, Yanagi's ankles delicately wrapping around Inui's calves and lining their hips up.
Yanagi arches up; Inui groans and steals another kiss. They rock together as every coherent thought is driven out of Inui's head, his hands tangled in Yanagi's hair. Yanagi's hands are pushing up Inui's shirt, his fingers rubbing steadily along the base of Inui's spine. Inui lifts his head to pant open-mouthed against Yanagi's collarbone, where his shirt has been pulled aside, and he thinks he's chanting "Renji, Renji, Renji" when he comes.
Inui lets out a shuddery breath and collapses flat against Yanagi, until Yanagi groans and pushes him off.
"You're heavy, Sadaharu."
"Are you...? Did you...?"
"I'm-- I'm fine, Hakase."
Inui is glad that Yanagi sounds as dazed and shocked as he feels. He rolls over onto his back and spreads out, feeling sticky and sated as he moves his arms and legs in happy shag rug angels. Inui laughs out loud when a box of tissues Yanagi throws lands on his chest.
"Next time, please allow me time to lock the door," Yanagi says.
Inui doesn't even bother with embarrassment, he's so happy. He stares at Yanagi, who's all blurry at the edges. "So you're saying that there will be a next time."
Yanagi doesn't reply but even without his glasses Inui knows he's rolling his eyes because the answer is obvious. Inui knows Yanagi very well, after all.
Art by ?- if you happen to know, please drop a line so the artist can be properly credited.