Inui hadn't calculated how he might take advantage of being with Kaidoh for an entire week during tennis training camp, because the probability of getting Kaidoh alone had only been 15% and taking action in front of their teammates lowered Kaidoh's receptivity factor by a whopping 90%. Inui was always watching, however, and collecting data in hopes of better odds.
Spread out on futons on the third night of camp, with the moonlight spilling in from the open window, Inui listened as Momoshiro wove a ghost story with surprising chills. Kikumaru couldn't keep still, crawling all over Oishi and Echizen, clenching and hiding behind them. Fuji, of course, looked amused by the tale, his chin propped on his fist, while Kawamura's eyes appeared as though they might pop out of his head (though the percentage of it actually happening was in the decimals).
"'I want my liver'," Momoshiro said in a low voice, dragging out the words. Inui admitted to the effectiveness of Momoshiro's change in tone, as goosebumps rose on his bare forearms. He caught movement from the corner of his eye and his breath stopped for a moment of fright before he realized it was only Kaidoh curling further under his blanket.
Inui pushed his glasses up his nose and stared at the lump Kaidoh made on his futon. In the dim light, Inui could barely make out that Kaidoh was actually trembling beneath the covers. Earlier, before Momoshiro had started his story, Kaidoh had been the lone protestor, saying he wanted to sleep rather than hear "that idiot tell a children's tale." It was warm in the room, so Kaidoh wasn't shaking from cold. All indicators pointed to him listening and being scared by the ghost story.
Kikumaru's jumping into Oishi's lap and clinging in fear sparked an idea in Inui's mind. Would it be possible to get Kaidoh to cling similarly to him? If a x b = c, where a stood for Kikumaru, b was the story, and c equaled cuddles, then a x b should also = c when substituting Kaidoh for Kikumaru.
But Kaidoh ≠ Kikumaru and that meant the basic equation wouldn't work. He needed to factor in Kaidoh's pride, a large negative. On the other hand, Kaidoh's fear in relationship to the scariness of the story could work in Inui's favor. (-x + a)by = c.
Inui knew he should figure in environmental factors, as well, such as the presence of the team, Kikumaru's behavior, the dim lighting and even the blanket. Inui shifted on his futon, mind buzzing with computations. If (-x + a)by/(d - e)(e + f + g) = c, where d = the team, e = Kikumaru,f and g = the lighting and the blanket respectively, by assigning numerical values based on past data gathered, he had a 53.69% chance of getting his hands on Kaidoh. Not a strong percentage in Inui's favor.
It was still tempting to try. Luck couldn't be computed and, if he failed, he could pass it off as concern for Kaidoh's health, pretending that the shivering did, in fact, equal cold.
"Don't do it, Mizuki!" Kikumaru said, peeking from behind his hands. With his teammates' attention riveted on Momoshiro, Inui crawled stealthily across the futons to Kaidoh's huddled form.
"Kaidoh," Inui whispered, "it's Inui." His hand hovered above where Kaidoh's shoulder should be, given the size of the ball Kaidoh made factored with his flexibility.
Kaidoh stopped shaking abruptly and a second later, a defiant eye peered out from the shell of the blanket. "I'm not afraid."
"Of course not. I—" am concerned that you're cold, Inui planned to say, but the words halted on his tongue as a different idea took root. He knew Kaidoh had a strong protective streak. By manipulating the data, adding a new factor into his calculations, the percentage of success jumped 13.22 points.
Inui's heartrate increased and his palms sweated slightly. The odds were much more favorable now. He glanced at the others, making sure they were paying attention to Momoshiro rather than what he was doing. Ensured that they were, he served the ball into play. "I may be a little afraid."
The defiant eye widened. "You, senpai?"
Inui nodded and laid his hand on Kaidoh's shoulder. "I thought, perhaps, sitting close to a friend like Kikumaru is would help."
Kaidoh emerged from the beneath the covers, his hair mussed. He looked at Kikumaru, who had somehow squirmed his way inside Oishi's sleep shirt, making them appear to be a two-headed man. The blush that stained Kaidoh's cheeks was visible in the moonlight. "You want to sit like Kikumaru-senpai with me?" he said, sounding scandalized.
Inui adjusted his calculations regarding Kikumaru's forwardness and Kaidoh's response accordingly and decided to still chance it, even though the percentage of success had dropped. "Perhaps not exactly like Kikumaru. I simply wanted to move nearer to you, Kaidoh."
"Ffshhh." Kaidoh looked away sharply. Inui slumped in defeat.
"Never mind," he said and started back to his futon.
"Wait—." Kaidoh grabbed Inui's wrist. Inui sat back on his heels. Not raising his head, after an uncomfortable length of silence Kaidoh murmured, "Stay."
Inui hid his excited smile by adjusting his glasses. Advantage: Inui.
Inui shifted onto his stomach beside Kaidoh on the futon above the blankets. Lying down again, Kaidoh pulled the covers up to his chin. Propping his head up with his hand, Inui turned his attention to Momoshiro once more, silently reveling in his victory. It wasn’t a 100% win, as he wasn't exactly snuggled up to Kaidoh, but Kaidoh wanted him close.
"The knock came at the door," Momoshiro was saying. He rapped his knuckles on the floor in a slow, mood-setting knock. "Mizuki's heart raced and she clutched the phone tightly. Could it be the man who'd been calling her, demanding his liver? She didn’t have any livers in her refrigerator, as she'd told him over and over again.
"There was another slow knock." Momoshiro knocked on the floor. Kawamura gulped and Echizen clutched his pillow tighter. "Mizuki crept towards the door. She would use the spy hole and prove it was just a neighbor or a delivery. The knock sounded again. Gathering her courage, she was about to look through the spy hole when the phone rang. RIIIIIING."
"Ahh!" Kikumaru bumped his head against Oishi's face when he startled at Momoshiro's sudden loud phone imitation. Fuji laughed behind his hand, as Oishi tightened his hold around Kikumaru, who was trying to turn around to apologize, the buttons over the sleep shirt straining with his movements. "Sorry, Oishi."
"It's okay. Just sit still, or you're pop the buttons on the shirt," Oishi said.
Inui tried not to reveal his glee when Kaidoh scooted closer during the ruckus.
"Mizuki laughed at herself, for being frightened by the ring." Momoshiro smirked at Kikumaru and went on. "She leaned against the door, allowing her heart to calm before answer the call. 'Hello?'
"'Mizuki,'" Momoshiro said in his scary voice. "Why won't you answer the door?'
"Mizuki's breath caught in fear as a knock sounded again." Momoshiro rapped on the floor. Beside Inui, Kaidoh moved even closer and a hand slipped out from under the blanket to clutch Inui's sleep shirt. "From over the phone line and behind the door, she heard a man's voice say, 'I want my liver'."
Inui got the chills again. Momoshiro was very good at telling ghost stories. He almost jumped when the blanket was shifted over him. He looked at Kaidoh, who was huddled beneath the covers, his face half-hidden by shadows. Wide, frightened eyes stared back at him, though his tone remained gruff. "You were cold," he said.
"The doorknob rattled. The man was trying to get in!" Momoshiro continued. "Mizuki screamed in fear. AAHHH!"
"AAHHH!" Kikumaru screamed.
"AAHHH!" Kawamura did, too.
"AAHHH!" As did Kaidoh, who buried his face against Inui's side.
Echizen appeared as though he'd swallowed his tongue. Oishi wiggled his finger in his ear from the piercing scream and Fuji merely laughed.
Inui blamed the racing of his heart on Kaidoh's nearness. He turned onto his side, his back to the others, allowing Kaidoh to curl even closer to him. Breath rushing from his lungs like one of Kaidoh's hissing exhales, his hand hovered above Kaidoh, wondering if he should dare to try and hold him.
"Mizuki dropped the phone and ran as the door shook on its hinges…," Momoshiro's voice faded in the background, overwhelmed by the rushing sound in Inui's ears. He swallowed nervously. What he wanted was a reach away, but he was almost afraid to take it. He clenched his fingers into a fist.
The data presented five possible outcomes if he were to try it:
Inui wasn't too concerned with the last possibility, since Kikumaru and Oishi were wearing the same clothes. He was most fearful of the third possibility. He liked Kaidoh a lot. He valued the friendship they had, because he knew Kaidoh was reserved and blunt to the point of being rude. The combination made it difficult to get to know him. Inui was one of the few who had persevered and could consider himself close to Kaidoh. Losing their friendship because Inui liked Kaidoh more than proper mores dictated would hurt. Could he really chance that happening?
"'I WANT MY LIVERRRR,'" Momoshiro's scary voice rose in volume and Kaidoh made a muffled cry of fear, his face pressed against Inui's chest. Inui reacted without thought for the data, wrapping his arm around Kaidoh protectively.
Kaidoh curled into Inui, trembling. The victory in holding Kaidoh was overshadowed by the urge to deck Momoshiro. Inui rubbed his hand up and down Kaidoh's back and murmured soothing nonsense words. Their legs were tangled together under the blanket. Momoshiro's story reached its pinnacle with a whimper from Kikumaru and an air of anticipation.
"The ghost's hand passed through Mizuki's skin, right over the scar from her operation. She screamed in pain as her new liver was ripped from her body. The ghost held it triumphantly, his mangled face splitting into a smile before he faded completely, leaving Mizuki to die on her bathroom floor, regretting the day she agreed to receive a transplant from a car crash victim."
There was a moment of silence that hovered in the air like a lingering ghost, then Fuji started clapping.
"That was great!" Kawamura said.
Kikumaru burbled enthusiastically, "So cool! So cool!"
"Kikumaru, stop wiggling around," Oishi said.
"What did you think Echizen?" Momoshiro asked.
"Mada mada dane – ooafh."
"It's over, Kaidoh," Inui said quietly, ignoring the playful thumps and wrestling of Momoshiro and Echizen behind him. He continued rubbing Kaidoh's back with soothing strokes.
Tension bled slowly from Kaidoh and he finally loosed the tight grip he had on the front of Inui's sleep shirt. "I wasn't scared," he stated.
"I know." Inui shifted his elbow on Kaidoh's pillow, his cheek propped by his hand. His back blocked the moonlight coming through the window, casting deep shadows on Kaidoh's face when he tilted his head. Suspicion and defiance colored Kaidoh's eyes, but Inui reassured him with a small smile.
Kaidoh's belief in Inui's response chased the doubts away, but he continued gazing at Inui. Inui felt a tightening in his chest. Heat radiated under his palm where it lay on Kaidoh's back. The air seemed to thicken, making it hard for him to breathe. His heart thudded loudly in his ears, drowning out the sounds of the others. His gaze drifted to Kaidoh's lips. Thoughts of measuring the fluxuations of his body vanished abruptly. Nervousness sprung inside him, warring with the strong desire to kiss Kaidoh.
Kaidoh must've read Inui's mind, because his eyes widened, but he didn't look away. His fingers clenched Inui's shirt again. His lips parted and he exhaled with a slow hiss. "Ffsshhh."
Invisible strings ensnared Inui, drawing him closer to Kaidoh. He lowered his head, his gaze flicking between Kaidoh's eyes and his lips. A small part of his brain told him the angle would prevent him from reaching Kaidoh's mouth, but then Kaidoh tilted his chin at the last moment and their lips met.
Inui's world narrowed its focus to the warmth and soft pressure of Kaidoh's mouth against his own. No amount of data had prepared him for how it would feel. Kaidoh…
A peal of laughter from Kikumaru startled them apart. Kaidoh's face colored red and shoved away from Inui. Inui's arm dropped from where it had been around Kaidoh and he swallowed thickly. His lips tingled. A wary glance over his shoulder proved no one had witnessed the kiss; his teammates were too busy horsing around with each other. He turned back and was stricken by Kaidoh's horrified expression. His heart plummeted when Kaidoh scrambled to his feet and fled the room.
Inui dragged himself back to his own futon, berating himself for daring a kiss when just holding Kaidoh had been risky enough. Kaidoh probably hated him now. Inui punched his pillow and cursed his stupidity. That's what he got for not sticking to the data and going with his feelings, instead.
He counted 182 different ways to call himself an idiot before sleep put him out of his misery.
Inui was depressed. Kaidoh had avoided him all day, wouldn't even look in his direction, just as he'd feared. He had a difficult time keeping his head in the game, making freshman mistakes and tripping over his own feet. His calculations had been off not once, but twice. It had been a bad day.
And it wasn't over with yet.
"Inui, go and find Kaidoh for dinner," Ryuzaki-sensei told him, as the others filed into the dining area.
Despite not wanting to, Inui would never disrespect his sensei's orders. "Yes, Ryuzaki-sensei."
Inui trudged down the empty halls, remembering that Kaidoh had been behind Echizen when they'd come inside after training. He checked in the bedroom and stuck his head into a few other rooms he passed. The sliding door to the bathroom was standing open and he finally found Kaidoh inside.
Kaidoh stood in front of the long sink, staring hard at his reflection in the mirror hanging above it. His hair and bandana were damp around the edges. He was saying something to himself, but his voice was too low for Inui to hear.
Inui squelched the urge to run away and cleared his throat. Kaidoh jumped, spinning around. He gripped the edge of the sink behind him. "Inui-senpai!"
"Kaidoh." Inui chest hurt at the fearful look on Kaidoh's face. Even if Kaidoh never spoke with him again, he couldn't stand to see that expression aimed at him. He lowered his eyes and bowed stiffly. "I apologize for my forwardness last night. It will not happen again."
"Ryuzaki-sensei told me to let you know it was time for dinner," Inui rushed on, before the painful lump closed his throat. He straightened from his bow and pivoted on his heel for a fast escape.
Inui stopped and stood stiffly with his back to Kaidoh. "Yes?"
Silence was his answer. Inui closed his eyes briefly as the last of his optimism crumbled. It was a lesson to be learned: always trust the data. He started walking again.
"I didn't not like it," Kaidoh blurted suddenly from behind him.
Inui's drew up shortly, with a sharp intake of breath. "What?"
Kaidoh hissed and, after a brief moment, muttered, "You heard me, senpai."
Inui turned slowly. Kaidoh still stood by the sink, with a white-knuckled grip on the edge. A vivid blush stained his cheeks and across the bridge of his nose. He stared at his feet. Hope bloomed in Inui. "Kaidoh…"
Kaidoh glanced up and looked away sharply. "Just don't do it around the others," he said gruffly.
Inui wondered if elation could be measured and, if so, he was sure his went off the chart. He entered the bathroom and walked right up to Kaidoh. Kaidoh stiffened, but now Inui knew it wasn't in disgust. He still hesitated, though, when he went to touch Kaidoh. He finally laid an awkward hand on Kaidoh's shoulder, unsure of what to do next. All his calculations had been made on how to win Kaidoh's affections, not what to do after his victory. "They're, uh, waiting on us for dinner."
"Oh." Kaidoh's expression volleyed between relief and disappointment. "We should go."
"Yes." Inui needed to get his notebook. He dropped his hand to his side, his mind already abuzz with ideas and equations. If a + b/x = c, where a and b were Kaidoh and himself, x was the environment, and c represented kissing—
A hand around the back of his neck, tugging him downwards, interrupted the flow of calculations. The brief press of lips against his own surprised him. Kaidoh looked equally as surprised by his audacity and he fled a moment later.
Still standing in front of the sink, Inui's glasses reflected what he saw in the mirror. His cheeks were flushed and a highly unusual, Fuji-like smile was making itself visible on his face. He'd have to add a note to his data.
Apparently, Kaidoh was only afraid of ghost stories.