Rating/Warnings: PG-13 for Inui's obscene use of Chaos theory to get into Kaidoh's shorts.
Summary: Things are different without Echizen, only, you know, not really.
AN: Spoilers for the end of the anime I suppose, but since that's not the good canon anyway, oh who cares. Thanks to marksykins for encouraging the emails and naming the fic.
The Echizen Effect
You have a match today, right?! Don't let those crazy foreigners eat you or anything!!!! Momo-chan and me are going out for burgers to cheer you on, but it's not the same without you. It's CHEAPER.
Oishi says I can't type that because it's mean, but what's really mean is READING OVER MY SHOULDER STUPID OISHI. YES THE CAPS ARE FOR YOU. THAT'S RIGHT TURN AROUND THANK YOU.
Do your best, Ochibi!!!!!!
I'm too tired to type because Tezuka-buchou made us run about a thousand laps today, and it was all that viper's fault! But Fuji-sempai said you had a match again today so I wanted to tell you that you have to win!!!!! So that you don't make us look like a bunch of losers!
We're going to kick ass at Nationals without you!
Momoshiro said you had a match today, so good luck. If you are having trouble relaxing, I could always make you another cd…
What Momo is trying to say is that we miss you.
Don't be careless.
"Ochibi knows what I mean." Eiji sniffs as he taps his racket against his shoulder and wipes sweat off his forehead with his wristband. "And anyway, it's not the same!"
"Yes, but you'll make him feel bad," Oishi replies patiently, reaching over to still Eiji's tapping and examining his racket where the grip tape looks like it is peeling. "Wouldn't you feel bad if you were in another country and all I said was that it was cheaper to go for ice cream by myself?"
"You say that now, Oishi!" Eiji protests, slapping away Oishi's fingers from his racket. "Nya, it only peels because you pick at it! And I don't think Ochibi has feelings about things that aren't tennis."
"Eiji!" Eiji silences Oishi by laying a finger against his lips and makes a shrugging motion to the left. Oishi follows the line of Eiji's vision and catches sight of Momoshiro.
He's been hitting a ball against the wall beside the courts, but had paused just as he was about to serve to himself again, and Oishi sees Momo's head tilt back farther and farther as he tracks the motion of an airplane across the sky, the roar of its engines a distant hum. Oishi looks back to Eiji, who is shaking his head a little with a sad smile.
"Oishi, I know we're supposed to go out after practice…" Eiji starts, and Oishi interrupts him by biting the pad of the finger that is still against his lips a little. Eiji yanks his hand away from Oishi with a pout, but his eyes are dark, dark blue.
"Go on, take Momo-chan out for burgers," Oishi says. Eiji asks if he's suuuuuure, hoi? But he's already smiling sweetly and Oishi smiles back and gives him a little push in Momoshiro's direction.
Things aren't so different with Echizen gone, Inui thinks, tapping his pen against the half-filled notebook page. And he should know, since he's spent the last week compiling a list of the four major ways the atmosphere of Seigaku is altered by the freshman's absence. This is a crucial juncture for them to lose such a major player, and the tone of these days might well determine the outcome of Nationals.
His data is always for the good of the team, after all.
1. Reduction in the practice time spent by Oishi Shuichirou, Third Year, and Kikumaru Eiji, Third Year; i.e., Seigaku's Golden Pair.
Eiji shoots a bright smile at Oishi as he jogs through the wire door off the court and over to Momoshiro, who is now leaning so far back to track the plane that he looks like he might topple over.
It wouldn't be the first time. Eiji reaches down and snatches the tennis ball out of Momoshiro's slack grip.
Outcome: Negative. While Oishi and Kikumaru work endlessly on their combination, they have not taken a tournament yet this year. Their performance will not improve at Nationals if they do not avoid distraction now.
Recommendations: Pair practice time and endurance training outside of Regulars' practice. Oishi and Kikumaru have reported success with private training in other instances.
2. General depression and high distractibility of Momoshiro Takashi, Second Year.
Momoshiro gives Eiji a faint smile, then shakes himself and fakes it a little better. When Eiji slings an arm over Momo's shoulder and murmurs something in his ear, Momo even laughs a little. He lets himself be led over to the clubhouse to change back into his street clothes.
When he and Eiji emerge, Momoshiro is wheeling his bike along with them as he's been doing all week, even though it's only him and Kikumaru now. He pauses uncertainly with the bike as they reach the corner of the courts, then throws a leg over it and tilts his chin at Kikumaru.
Kikumaru's "YAHOI" makes Momoshiro laugh out loud as he pedals the first few wobbly feet with Kikumaru's weight overbalancing the back of the bike.
Outcome: Unknown. It seems likely Momoshiro will regain his competitive edge, but the proximity of the National matches may prove disastrous.
3. Complete preoccupation of Tezuka Kunimitsu, Third Year, and Fuji Syuusuke, Third Year.
Since their match last week, Tezuka and Fuji won't stop playing each other. The first practice after Echizen's flight, the captain and Fuji warmed up together without verbal confirmation, and then immediately began a match. Inui nearly broke an ankle dashing for his notebook and began scribbling feverishly, despite Coach Ryuzaki's snarling at him. What was a few hundred laps in the face of improving his data for both Seigaku's captain and tensai?
Today, the third day, Tezuka and Fuji still show no signs of stopping, and Inui, head spinning with more data than he can properly analyze in several weeks, tentatively reaches the conclusion that there will be no shortage of data from now on.
Seigaku had been waiting breathlessly for those two to clash for more than two years. However, now that there's no wonder-freshman to send in as a distraction for either one of them, it turns out there's no way to make them stop.
"I know you two can hear me!" Ryuzaki is hollering at them, standing as close to the net poles as she dares, and even then she nearly has her eyebrows stripped off by a Hakugei.
A vein in the old bat's forehead is pulsing dangerously, and the exertion of screaming has
her putting a steadying hand against the ref's chair, but it's Horio, who has been charged on pain of death with keeping Ryuzaki from over-exerting herself so Sakuno can return to girls' practice, who actually passes out. Kachirou and Katsuo exchange long-suffering glances until Taka-san comes over to help haul him off the court into the shade.
"You're going to be running laps until you cry!" Ryuzaki screams. Tezuka's eyebrow twitches; Fuji's smile broadens. Inui makes a note to collect a sweat sample in order to further his work on the Gamma Inui Stamina Longevi-Tea.
Outcome: Positive, if Tezuka's shoulder holds under the strain. Their rivalry has improved their play by 15% in three days. Fuji has already asked for a few preliminary vector calculations for a fourth counter.
Recommendations: Get out of the way. Switch Ryuzaki's water bottle with a mild sedative.
4. Sustained absence of Kaidoh Kaoru, Second Year.
Inui had written 'disappearance' first, but then crossed it out; after all, it isn't as though Inui doesn't know where Kaidoh is. Inui flips his notebook closed and stands as the others finish their matches and head into the clubhouse. Non-Regular practice ended long ago, and now the cooling air is only interrupted by the steady thwock thwock of Fuji's counters and Tezuka's precise returns.
Inui tucks his notebook away into his tennis bag and then swings it up onto his shoulder as he leaves the courts. He doesn't follow the others into the clubhouse, although he does allow himself a small half-smile as he hears one of the showers go on and Taka-san bellow "OH MY GOD FREEZING!"
Picking up his pace into a jog, bag thumping steadily against his back, Inui turns the familiar right out of the school grounds, almost imagining that he can see the track Kaidoh has worn in the sidewalk with from his perpetual route.
While generally it annoys Kaidoh when Inui finds his routine predictable, and he often goes to great lengths to thwart Inui's data about the locale and duration of his runs, Inui learns after asking several key streetfood vendors that Kaidoh is running an old route, the one he'd used when they first began training together.
He wants Inui to find him, then. Inui begins jogging again, letting the smile stay since it's so determined. It fades on its own when Inui's thoughts turn back to his list. Kaidoh was not particularly close to Echizen, or no closer than he is to any other regular, and Inui has been puzzling over Kaidoh's reaction to the first year's absence over the last few days.
At length, Inui realizes that if it isn't the loss of Echizen specifically that is affecting Kaidoh, then there is really only one other explanation.
It takes ten minutes to reach the stairs that lead to the street courts, and Inui swings his bag to the ground and sits down on the fourth step up, the optimum height to both see down the sidewalk and stretch out his legs. If his breathing isn't back to normal by the time Kaidoh arrives, the kouhai will certainly give him a hard time about the brevity of his run versus his physical condition.
The street lights are just coming on as Kaidoh jogs up, sweat sliding down the corded muscles of his bare arms as the flex and relax, the edges of the green bandana nearly black with damp. Inui thought that he'd caught his breath, but he carelessly loses it again at Kaidoh's approach.
Kaidoh sprawls out next to Inui on the step in a controlled sprawl of limbs, droplets of sweat turning the pavement dark when Kaidoh tugs off the bandana and shakes out his hair. Inui holds out a water bottle, rolling his eyes and putting it to his lips when Kaidoh stares at him stonily until he takes a few swallows himself and raises an eyebrow. It isn't as if he's tried slipping potentially dangerous drinks to Kaidoh just when his body is desperate to absorb liquids quickly, Inui reflected wryly as Kaidoh's throat works, streetlight glimmering off the outline of his skin.
"I've been thinking," Inui says because there is a 27% higher chance that Kaidoh will talk about his problems if Inui pretends that they are his, "about Echizen leaving."
Kaidoh gives a noncommittal grunt as he bends his head and pours water over the back of his neck. Inui watches droplets slip through Kaidoh's hair and off his neck in a cascade of chaos theory.
In North America a 12-year-old spreads his wings, and in Japan it rains on Inui's parade.
"I'm leaving too." Kaidoh's fingers still, and Inui hurries to finish his thought, not because Kaidoh needs reassuring, but because he really dislikes fostering misunderstandings. "When I graduate."
Tossing his head back in another scatter of localized rain, Kaidoh eyes Inui neutrally, patiently. Inui opens his mouth, then closes it. He looks away, flexing his fingers around the notebook that it would really make him feel better to be holding right now.
He thinks suddenly of a picture frame on his desk, and of the careful way Tezuka mouths "Yanagi-san" around him, as if the syllables were sharp and delicate. He thinks of Renji smiling wryly at him over the net, opening his eyes just enough to enlighten Inui that things are different now.
A coward at heart, Inui tells himself that he is just worried that Kaidoh will look over a net at him someday the way that he looked at Renji.
"You should return to singles, Kaidoh," Inui says, watching the slide of a drop of water over his skin as he turns his hand slightly to one side and then the other. "The Boomerang Snake is perfected and your stamina is virtually unmatched on the circuit. Even if Momoshiro weren't in his current state…"
"Not yet!" Kaidoh interrupts sharply, making Inui start, and the water drop crashes to the pavement. Inui looks up to find Kaidoh's lips pressed thin and his eyes narrowed, but his voice borrowing the lilt of a teammate who is no doubt beating the pants off some hapless American seed as they speak. "Not yet, sempai."
Inui stares a moment longer, then lets the chuckle work its way free.
"Mada mada," he repeats, shaking his head, "da, ne?"
Kaidoh rolls his eyes and hands Inui back the water bottle, but when Inui reaches up to take it, Kaidoh runs fingers over the back of Inui's hand and down to his wrist. He pushes himself off the step while Inui's jaw is still dangling.
"You think too far ahead, sempai," Kaidoh says, tying his bandana back on and bouncing on the balls of his feet just a little to warm his calves back up. "Come over."
"It's a school night," Inui replies, feeling frozen and brilliant.
Kaidoh shrugs and jogs off, but his sneaker has barely struck the pavement a third time before Inui is snatching his bag off the ground on the fly and dashing to catch up, pretending the bag is what's going thump thump thump against his chest as he settles into an easy rhythm beside Kaidoh.
Their elbows brush once in a while, and Inui feels dizzy with the amount of public affection Kaidoh is indulging in today.
Outcome: Positive. At least one of Seigaku's doubles pairs should be working on their combination.
Inui taps his pen against the page thoughtfully, then casually moves up a few lines to scratch out "Time" from Momoshiro's recommendations, because rumor has it that he's turning into a ridiculous sap. He writes "Judicious use of Gayi-Tea" instead.
"Sap," mutters Kaidoh in his sleep, rolling onto his other side. His spine brushes up against the side of Inui's hip.
After watching Kaidoh for a few seconds, Inui tosses the notebook to the floor near his bag with the last line still blank and settles back against the pillows. He's been told he thinks too far ahead.
Congratulations on your match! Momoshiro stayed up to record it so we could watch it in the clubhouse this morning. He wanted to say congratulations as well, but he's out cold on one of Eiji's jerseys right now.
We are training hard here for Nationals, especially Fuji and Tezuka. You know how they are, no one can stop them…
Do your best.
You jerk! Dropping two games and making us worry like that! I had to stay up all night just to make sure you didn't humiliate Seigaku, and now I can barely even keep my eyes open! My nose is practically buried in the keyboard right now! Some of us still have school, you know!!!!
You better keep winning, or I'm coming over there!
I don't know what that idiot just emailed you, but he's got an 'I' key stuck in his nostril and I'm taking him to the infirmary.
Don't forget about our game.
To set your mind at ease about our training regimen and spirit going into Nationals, I have written a list of the key changes that have occurred here since your absence, and my own recommendations for making the best of the situation and maximizing our potential for victory at Nationals.
Firstly, the Golden Pair has been working on their combination as usual, but as you know they have not managed to procure even a single…