Written for 14 Valentines: Women and Work.
Tezuka watched the tennis team practice their serves. His own arm ached just imagining the swing of the racket, its connection with the ball. Even in his dreams, tennis was pain. For a long time, he'd been able to go to sleep at night secure in the knowledge that he'd dream of the courts and of playing as though his racket were no more than an easy extension of his body, but now even that pleasure was lost to him.
Kaidoh overextended, and Tezuka bit back the urge to intervene. Already, Kaidoh was correcting himself, shifting his center of balance just enough to stay in proper alignment and still take advantage of the greater power his new stance afforded.
"Kaidoh's improving again," he said absently. "It's a shame that Echizen's so bad at doubles. They might make an interesting combination, otherwise."
"You could try partnering him with Fuji," Inui answered from beside him, and Tezuka considered the suggestion.
There was a long silence as they continued to watch the players, broken only by the occasional scritch of Inui's pen in his notebook, until Inui said, apropos of nothing, "Kaidoh likes cats."
Tezuka frowned slightly. "What does that have to do with tennis?"
"Not all of my data concerns tennis," Inui said and flipped to another page in his notebook.
Yes, but you don't tell me about it, Tezuka thought but didn't say. It wasn't true, either. Inui often shared personal information he'd collected on the Regulars, whether because he thought Tezuka might be able to use it or because he simply liked talking about his data. But Tezuka couldn't remember Inui ever commenting on Kaidoh's personal life before.
"Do you like cats, Tezuka?" Inui asked. "Or do you prefer dogs? Or perhaps guinea pigs?"
"I like both cats and dogs," Tezuka said after a brief pause.
"Interesting," Inui said, and made some more notes in his notebook.
There was no particular reason for Tezuka to remember that conversation, except that a few days later a fuzzy grey cat of indeterminate breed came up to the fence during tennis practice and started rubbing up against it. Kaidoh noticed it shortly afterwards and stared, the expression on his face an odd mixture of wistfulness and hunger and affection.
Tezuka pretended not to notice when Kaidoh left off doing his practice swings and went over to the cat. He petted it as well as he could through the links of the fence, and the cat butted its head up against Kaidoh's fingers.
A few minutes later, Kaidoh was back at work, with only the faintest trace of a smile lingering on his face.
"May I sit here?" Kaidoh asked politely, and Tezuka nodded. Usually Fuji or Echizen claimed the seat next to him on the bus, but today the two of them were seated next to each other across the aisle. Kaidoh sat down, his bag held in his lap.
He apparently hadn't thought to bring a book; he sat quietly in his seat and stared at his hands. Tezuka should have let him have the seat by the window. It would be awkward to switch now, though, especially since Tezuka couldn't think of a good excuse for doing so. Instead, he cast about for a topic of conversation, and finally said, "Do you own a cat, Kaidoh?"
Kaidoh looked at him with startled eyes, and then shook his head. "My father's allergic."
Tezuka nodded in understanding. "I wasn't allowed to have a dog when I was younger, for that reason. Only in my family, it's my mother who has allergies."
If anything, Kaidoh looked even more surprised at that bit of information, though Tezuka couldn't imagine why. Because they each had a parent with allergies? Because Tezuka had wanted a dog? Because Tezuka had once been young, too?
He sighed a little inwardly and changed the subject to the new playing formation that Oishi and Kikumaru had begun to use. Really, it was easier just to stick to tennis.
Tezuka could hear Momo and Kaidoh long before he reached the tennis courts. "I saw you and that girl you were with this weekend," Momo taunted in a voice pitched to carry, and Tezuka could imagine perfectly the angry flush that must be spreading over Kaidoh's face at having his personal life aired in front of the entire tennis team like that. "She was pretty. How'd someone like you ever get a girl like that?"
"Shut up!" Kaidoh shouted. He was never so loud as when he was fighting with Momo. "You don't know anything about it."
"I didn't recognize her. Is she from another school? Is she an older woman? Those are the best--"
"Don't talk about her like that!" Tezuka was near enough now that he could see Kaidoh throw the first punch, and Oishi and Inui quickly pulled the two of them apart.
"Momoshiro! Kaidoh! Twenty laps!"
Instantly, Momo and Kaidoh turned contrite faces at him before starting on their laps. Tezuka was pleased with their obedience, but he'd be even more pleased if they'd stop fighting in the first place.
After practice, he asked Kaidoh to remain behind for a moment.
Kaidoh looked at him expectantly, and Tezuka had to take a deep breath before he said, "I realize that your personal life is none of my concern, but I do hope you're being careful if you are dating someone. You could get in trouble if the school found out, and the tennis team would suffer if you were banned from participating or if you were suspended from school."
Kaidoh blushed deeply, as Tezuka had expected, but he muttered, "I'm not dating anybody. She's just my cousin."
"I see." For some reason, Tezuka's heartrate, which had elevated at having to discuss such a private matter with one of his teammates, didn't immediately go down. "I apologize for the assumption."
"No," Kaidoh said--the first time that Tezuka could remember Kaidoh contradicting him. "That was all Momo's fault. Thank you. For your concern."
Tezuka had paperwork to complete for the tennis club, which was why he was at the clubhouse early enough that he walked in on Fuji and Kaidoh, who were kissing in the far corner of the locker room.
He must have made some noise, because the two of them looked up suddenly. Kaidoh turned red, while Fuji smiled at Tezuka with perfectly feigned unconcern. Fuji's hand slipped down to rest reassuringly at the small of Kaidoh's back.
"Fuji," Tezuka gritted out. "I need to talk to you."
Fuji's smile didn't even falter, and Kaidoh shook his head miserably. "It's my fault, Tezuka-buchou. I asked him to."
Tezuka blinked. His immediate assumption--that Fuji had been taking advantage of Kaidoh, who was younger and almost deferential towards his senpai--was abruptly stood on its head. "All right," he said, hearing his voice as though it were coming from very far away. "But I never want to see either of you using the locker room for this purpose again. There are better places for you to go."
For a moment, Tezuka feared that Fuji would ask him where those better places were, at which point he would have to admit that he didn't know. But the two of them just nodded and apologized--Kaidoh's "sorry" considerably more persuasive than Fuji's--and left for the courts with their tennis rackets.
"It was a little bit my fault," Fuji said, his voice light, as he sat down beside Tezuka during practice later that day.
Tezuka slanted a look at him that expressed his complete lack of surprise, and Fuji's smile widened a little.
"Kaidoh asked me how to be sure whether you liked boys, and I said that the easiest way was to kiss one, and so he asked me to kiss him."
Tezuka let his eyes close, feeling the beginnings of an incipient headache. No doubt Fuji was still leaving a great deal out--the Kaidoh in his story didn't sound much like the Kaidoh that Tezuka knew--but other than that it seemed more than plausible. "I don't think that it's appropriate for you to be sharing that information without Kaidoh's permission."
He could hear the smile in Fuji's voice when he said, "Only with you, Tezuka. And I really don't think that Kaidoh would mind your knowing that."
"You should go back to practice," Tezuka said, trying his best to ignore whatever Fuji was implying with that statement.
"Of course. I just wanted to make sure that you didn't have the wrong impression, that's all."
Tezuka was not at all confident that Fuji hadn't corrected his previous wrong impression with an even more wrong newer impression, but that particular train of thought required thinking about things that he was trying to ignore.
Kaidoh's playing was off that day, but Tezuka could make allowances for that. More troubling was the fact that it didn't improve in subsequent days, but deteriorated to the point where even Momo stopped mocking his mistakes, and instead watched Kaidoh with concerned eyes whenever he thought Kaidoh wasn't looking.
If Tezuka had known how to fix the situation, he would have, but he didn't even know what was wrong. Surely Kaidoh must have realized by now that Tezuka would never tell anyone what he'd seen, though Tezuka hoped that his team already knew that they could trust him to that extent. And Tezuka's behavior towards both Kaidoh and Fuji was excrutiatingly correct; he did his best to treat both of them just as he'd always done.
Eventually, Tezuka asked Inui to devise a training menu that Kaidoh could follow during regular practices. At least he could gain some benefit during this time, until he resolved whatever problem he was facing that prevented him from playing properly.
Given the events of that week, Tezuka was truly astonished to answer his door on Saturday to find Kaidoh standing on the other side. "Please forgive my intrusion," Kaidoh said.
Tezuka stood there for longer than was polite, staring at him, until he remembered himself and invited Kaidoh inside. He waited while Kaidoh removed his shoes, and then led him to Tezuka's room.
Kaidoh didn't speak until Tezuka shut the door behind them, and even then he stared at the floor rather than look Tezuka in the face. "Fuji-senpai said that he told you," Kaidoh said. The skin around his mouth was nearly white, and he looked almost physically ill. Tezuka wished that he could offer Kaidoh a seat, but knew for a certainty that he would refuse it.
"Fuji told me something," he said cautiously, "though I wouldn't be so sure that he told me what you think he did."
"He didn't--" Kaidoh began, and then cut himself off, obviously unwilling to divulge any of his secrets that Fuji hadn't already exposed.
"I can tell you what he said," Tezuka told him. "Though first I want to make clear that nothing he told me has changed my level of respect for you, or changed the way I feel about you as a member of my team."
A hint of color returned to Kaidoh's face at his words, and he looked a little less as though he were about to vomit on Tezuka's floor. He nodded.
"Fuji told me that you were...questioning your possible attraction to other boys, and that that was why the two of you were...that that was why I saw the two of you together in the locker room."
Kaidoh listened to the brief recitation with the air of a man with a gun to his head. When Tezuka stopped speaking, he stood still for a long moment, and then raised his eyes to Tezuka's. "And that was all he said?" Kaidoh asked, in a tone of disbelief.
Some nameless impulse wouldn't let Tezuka leave it at that, because if he had misunderstood Fuji, then Kaidoh wouldn't think anything of his next statement, but if Tezuka were right...then he very much wanted to know that. So he shrugged his shoulders and said, "He also seemed to think that you wouldn't mind it if I in particular knew about your...preferences," and then he cut his words short because Kaidoh's face had drained of color so rapidly that Tezuka was almost astonished that he didn't faint.
"Kaidoh," he said cautiously. "Is what Fuji said true?"
"I would never have told you," Kaidoh said, his voice rough with emotion, and Tezuka nodded, because he knew that Kaidoh never would. He took Kaidoh's hand in his, disregarding the incredulous look that Kaidoh shot him at the gesture.
"Then I think that perhaps it's a good thing for both of us that Fuji did," he said.
Kaidoh shook his head in confusion, so Tezuka took a careful step closer and leaned down to kiss him on the mouth. Kaidoh froze for a long moment, and then he began to kiss back, his hand tightening on Tezuka's until it almost hurt. The feel of Kaidoh in his arms was nearly overwhelming, but a small part of Tezuka's brain kept itself distant enough to feel grateful to Fuji in one other respect: Tezuka might not have any experience with kissing, himself, but Kaidoh appeared to have more than enough knowledge for the both of them.