Title: Playing Favorites
Author: A. A. Incognito
Pairing: InuKai
Warnings: shounen ai, sort of
Rating: PG
Note: Started in a power outage, spawned from the desire to write Momo and Kaidoh fighting. Lost direction in the middle. Feh.
Summary: Inui has managed to make Tezuka rather displeased with him, and so is given the job of keeping Momoshiro and Kaidoh from killing each other for a day.

Playing Favorites

Inui put his head in his hands and vowed to never force another Inui Juice on the team--for at least a week. This was not worth the data he had obtained.

"Well MAYBE if you weren't so STUPID--"

"Who are you calling stupid, you moron--"

"YOU! You are stupid! Face it! You haven't even--"

"YOU'RE the stupid one--"

Kaidoh and Momoshiro had been at each other's throats even more often as of late, and Tezuka had graciously given the job of preventing them from killing each other to Inui. Inui strongly suspected it had something to do with the shade of green Tezuka had turned when he had been coerced into drinking Inui's latest batch of juice.

Currently, Inui had Kaidoh trapped in the window seat while he sat on the aisle, but Momoshiro was sitting just across from them. They didn't really need to shout in order to be heard, but when had that ever stopped them?

"Inui."

How Tezuka managed to make himself heard through their fighting, Inui had never been able to determine, even after pages of decibel-related calculations. There was just something about the disapproving "shouldn't you be doing something about this?" tone that cut through any sort of noise.

"If you two do not cease fighting in the next five seconds you will be drinking nothing but Aozu version delta for the next week."

Ah, blessed silence.

"That's not fair, HE started it!"

"I started it?! YOU started it!"

"What the hell are you talking about, you stupid mamushi?!"

Or not.

"Two weeks!" Inui raised his voice to be heard.

Slightly stunned silence, this time. Perhaps it would last longer than seven seconds.

"Er, senpai..."

Inui slowly turned to stare at Momoshiro, glasses catching the light and reflecting it ominously. "Yes?"

"N-nevermind."

"Hmm."

Then there was a little tug on his sleeve. "Sorry, senpai."

It was hard to remain stern when Kaidoh did something so unintentionally cute. He nodded slightly to Kaidoh and turned again just in time to stop Momoshiro from sputtering a protest at the less hostile treatment. Just because he was supposed to stop them from killing each other didn't mean he had to be fair. And Momoshiro had been the one to "start it."

They arrived without further incident (because the bus ride was only 24 minutes and 45 seconds long) and piled out to set up Seigaku's area of the bleachers as they waited for the other schools to get there. Inui and Kawamura were sent to fill up the team's water cooler, having been deemed the strongest, although Kaidoh was a very close third.

When they came back they found the two juniors picking through several baskets of balls -- the freshmen had apparently mixed up a hopper of flat balls with practice balls, and some unholy person (62 chance it had been Fuji, 36 Tezuka, 2 Ryuzaki-sensei) had seen fit to put Kaidoh and Momoshiro to work to rectify the problem. Together. Inui headed toward them automatically but paused when he heard their conversation.

"It's not fair, you're Inui-senpai's favorite."

"Are you completely stupid? I get threatened with Inui Juice just as much as you. Probably more."

Eleven percent more, actually, but Inui was too curious about where the conversation was heading to interrupt.

"You're still his favorite!"

"I'm not."

"Are."

"Not."

"Are."

"Not."

"ARE!"

Kaidoh twitched visibly and slammed a dead ball into the basket so hard it bounced. Kaidoh's control over his temper was a tenuous thing at the best of times; punches were going to start flying unless someone interrupted. Inui glanced over at Tezuka and sighed. Lucky him.

"Momoshiro. Kaidoh." The two second years jumped and twisted around to face him, looking guilty. How to get them to leave each other alone...? "My data shows that there is an overwhelming probability that you are incapable of not fighting for the duration of this trip. As I have been placed in charge of keeping both of you in one piece, this presents a problem."

"We could not fight if we wanted to!" Momoshiro said with a sour look at Kaidoh. "Couldn't we, mamushi?"

"Don't call me --" Kaidoh started to retort, then closed his mouth with a snap and glowered silently.

Excellent. Now to seal the deal. "My data is almost never wrong."

"It will be this time!" they chorused, scowling at each other.

"That was clever," Fuji said when Inui went over to advise him to rotate his wrist a few degrees less when he served to lessen the strain. Inui nodded in acceptance of the remark. "Kaidoh is your favorite, though, isn't he?"

"I can't deny that."

"Saa, we all have our favorites."

As Inui moved about the courts observing Seigaku's warm ups, he decided Fuji was 83.33 correct. Fuji and Tezuka favored Echizen above their other kouhai; Oishi and Eiji, the latter in particular, were most fond of Momoshiro--though Eiji also liked to tease Echizen; Kawamura was too inherently nice to prefer one over the others. Not to say that any of the third years disliked their younger counterparts, far from it. Seigaku was a team built upon good relationships between its members.

By the time he made it back to the bleachers, Momoshiro and Kaidoh had finished sorting the balls and were off hitting on a distant court, quiet for once except for the sounds tennis. Inui frowned slightly, deprived of his normal warm up partner. There had to be a hitting wall somewhere in the general vicinity of the courts...

Without warning, the regulars' youngest member jumped down from the top bleacher and landed lightly in front of him. "Senpai."

"Echizen."

"Momo-senpai asked me to switch places with Kaidoh-senpai once you were done coaching everyone."

"You listened to him? That's rare."

Echizen shrugged. "Felt like it. And I really hate your style of tennis."

Ignoring his last comment, Inui said, "A few of the other schools are already here. We'll start the official matches within the hour." Not that they were really 'official' -- the coaches of several schools had gotten together and decided that a "mock" tournament in the downtime between real tournaments would be good practice for their teams. St. Rudolph, Fudomine, Ginka, Yamabuki, and Hyotei were among the participants.

"Aa. Still time to warm up." So there was. Inui followed Echizen over to the court where Kaidoh had just hit a flawless Boomerang Snake.

"Excellent, Kaidoh," he remarked, because it had been. His kouhai had worked hard for that.

"Thank you, senpai," Kaidoh ducked his head a little. "Do you want to warm up?"

"If you'd oblige me. The matches today aren't formal, but being unprepared would be careless."

"Are we going to play singles or doubles?" They moved to the next court, standing on opposite sides of the net, but only a few feet away. Inui... wanted to play doubles, perhaps against the D1 pair from Hyotei. A match with them would be interesting, but there was a 96 probability that Kaidoh would want to use this as an opportunity to hone his singles game.

"Whichever you prefer," he said finally. Kaidoh tensed and stared past Inui, slightly to the left. Inui glanced at the other court out of the corner of his eye and saw Momoshiro mouthing the word "favorite" in an exaggerated manner. "It must be frustrating, not fighting with him. You can do it as much as you like once you're out of Tezuka's earshot. And mine."

"I just want him to leave me alone about idiotic things," Kaidoh muttered, then hissed, "I think we should play doubles to prepare for the national tournament."

Inui smiled. "Still going to play doubles with me, then?" he asked, and wasn't surprised when Kaidoh didn't answer. "I'd like to start by serving, if you don't mind."

"Fine."

They rallied for half an hour before the coaches called them all together to start the real matches. The large crowd of tennis players was directed to stand in two groups: those who wanted to play doubles, and those who wanted to play singles. He and Kaidoh elicited some strange looks when they followed the Golden Pair over to stand in the doubles group. Hyotei's D1 was there, as well, standing off to the side.

"He's very protective of his partner," Inui observed aloud as Shishido paced back and forth between Ohtori and the other players. "Do you have a favorite senpai?" he asked suddenly, hoping to catch his kouhai off-guard enough to answer honestly.

"Wh-ye-uh." Hiss.

"I see."

"You heard Momoshiro?" It wasn't really a question.

"Difficult not to, wouldn't you agree? Don't worry, you won't hurt my feelings by being honest." There was approximately an 89 chance that it wasn't Inui, which he expected. Penal Tea and Inui Juice weren't precisely endearing, not that they were meant to be. And he'd forced Kaidoh into a doubles partnership. Twenty-five percent probability that it was Tezuka.

"Momoshiro should be calling you stupid, not me," Kaidoh muttered, almost under his breath.

One eyebrow rose -- just what was that supposed to indicate? That it was idiotic to even entertain the notion that Kaidoh might like him best? That Kaidoh had no favorite?

"I don't want to play doubles with anyone else."

"You've been paired with Momoshiro several times."

"Not because I wanted it," he scowled.

"Are you trying to insinuate that you prefer me over the other regulars?"

Kaidoh just looked at him without speaking, which Inui had come to learn usually (90) meant "yes." Inui grinned and reached over, removing his kouhai's bandana to ruffle his hair affectionately. Kaidoh hissed and grabbed his bandana back, but didn't try to escape. Probably because he had learned there was no escape from Inui.

"You're my favorite, as well," Inui told him, still smiling. Kaidoh blushed, just a little, and then they turned their attention toward the coach who was assigning the matches. In a rather severe deviation from his normal behavior, Kaidoh tucked his bandana back into his tennis bag when they moved to the court where their first match was. It was hard to determine if the action meant anything, but Inui decided it gave him permission to ruffle Kaidoh's hair whenever the mood struck him, as long as he did not abuse the privilege.

The coaches had set the matches up so it was a tournament, of sorts, between each individual singles player and doubles pair. He and Kaidoh easily won their first match against the D2 pair from Ginka, then went to watch the Golden Pair play until their next match was announced -- 97 likely it would be against Hyotei's D1.

"The Scud Serve shouldn't be a problem this time," Inui said quietly. "You can return my serve without difficulty 93 of the time, and Ohtori's is only ten kilometers per hour faster, on average."

Kaidoh nodded and shifted his weight to his right foot. "We'll beat them."

"Barring any drastic developments, we should."

"We will."

That was one thing he'd always admired in Kaidoh. Defeat just wasn't an option. "We will," he agreed, and then their names were called and they went to face Shishido and Ohtori. Shishido in particular looked less than thrilled to see them. Ohtori, on the other hand, waved. Kaidoh looked embarrassed, but returned the gesture with much less enthusiasm, causing Inui to raise an eyebrow. Were the two second years familiar with each other beyond the first match they'd played? Kaidoh normally wasn't the type to make casual acquaintencas.

It was a match of moderate length, since there was no need for them to throw away the first games in order for Inui to collect data. They won, 6-3, but "easy" was not a word to describe the game. When they shook hands at the net, Ohtori asked Kaidoh how "it" was coming. Inui had no idea what "it" was. Kaidoh did not share his confusion, and replied that he was "close" to "it."

Inui and Shishido exchanged bewildered looks over the net as their partners carried on a conversation with no obvious content.

As they walked away, Inui nudged Kaidoh's shoulder and asked, "What was that?"

"He talked to me at the junior invitational training camp. We... have something in common." Inui tried to gather more information, but Kaidoh determinedly gave him the silent treatment until he dropped the subject.

There were three pairs left in the end -- Seigaku's D1 and D2, and Hyotei's D2. They drew lots to see who would play first. Inui and Kaidoh were left to play the winner of the Golden Pair and Oshitari-Mukahi match.

Both Eiji and Mukahi looked dead at the conclusion of the set, having played three matches with a minimal amount of rest in between. Oishi decided to forfeit the last match to Inui and Kaidoh, since it would still be a Seigaku victory -- and Eiji was too tired to swing a racket. Kaidoh didn't look particularly happy about winning in such a manner, but Ryuzaki-sensei seemed pleased with their performance when they all flopped down on the benches to watch the last of the singles matches.

"No notebook?" asked Kaidoh.

Inui looked away from where Atobe and Tezuka were facing off. "Not today. I've already observed 95 of the players here."

"Oh."

A small part of him was concerned about Tezuka playing Atobe after their last match had resulted in Tezuka's injury, but he knew their buchou would not make such a mistake again, especially in a practice match. Inui was more focused on the relatively slight distance between himself and Kaidoh. The second year shifted slightly -- he probably felt awkward sitting down on the bleachers instead of standing -- and the distance between them lessened to 11.43 centimeters.

"Hey, mamushi, how'd you do?" Momo called, finally noticing the doubles pairs.

"Better than you," Kaidoh growled back and shifted again. Ten centimeters.

"I had to play Tachibana-san!"

"So?"

"What do you mean 'so'?" Momo said crossly, closing the distance between them. Inui sighed to himself. "Tachibana-san is good! Really good! I bet that's why you played doubles instead of singles -- you were afraid of all the high-ranked players."

"I am NOT --" Kaidoh jumped to his feet, hand automatically going for the collar of Momo's shirt. Inui grabbed his other wrist and pulled him back down, which unfortunately resulted in a domino effect -- Kaidoh was almost in Inui's lap, leaning heavily against him, and Momoshiro was sprawled in an undignified manner half on the cold metal bench, half on Kaidoh.

"No fighting," Inui intoned ominously, a supporting hand on Kaidoh's back to keep him from falling off the bench entirely. He didn't seem in any sort of hurry to remove himself from Inui's personal space.

Momo looked up from where he was picking himself up, panicked. "Uhhh I didn't mean to please don't make me drink Aozu? I'll um I'll... please don't make me drink it! I won't say another word to the mamushi for the rest of the day!" A dramatic thunderclap punctuated Momoshiro's pleading, and within seconds it had begun to pour. Inui tipped his head back to stare at the clouds incredulously, and could feel Kaidoh copy the motion as his head rested against Inui's arm. Momo took the opportunity for what it was and ran.

"That wasn't supposed to happen," Inui said dubiously. There hadn't even been the slightest chance of rain today. On instinct, he looked over at the score of Tezuka's match -- six games all. Perhaps it was divine intervention.

"It did, though," Kaidoh replied. "Feels good."

It did, at that. There really wasn't a reason to move to a sheltered location just yet. With a start, Inui realized he was still holding onto Kaidoh's wrist. Perhaps that was why the other boy hadn't moved more than two centimeters away.

The other Seigaku club members were congregating around Ryuzaki-sensei under one of the covered picnic areas, so Inui reluctantly stood, letting go of Kaidoh's wrist in the process, only to offer his other hand to help the second year up. For a moment he thought Kaidoh would ignore it, but he didn't. They reached the edge of the crowd just as their coach ordered everyone back on the bus.

As he didn't trust Momoshiro to not start a fight once again, Inui herded Kaidoh onto the bus ahead of him, and made him sit next to the window. Then he rummaged around in his bag and produced two towels -- his backups -- and handed one to Kaidoh, who was staring with unconcealed amusement at Momoshiro's drooping hair. Momo, epitome of maturity that he was, stuck his tongue out and mouthed "favorite" again, but this time Kaidoh just shrugged and kept drying himself off.

Technically, Inui should have offered the other towel to Echizen, who was the most likely to catch a cold after being out in the rain due to his less mature immune system. But it was only a small chance, and Kaidoh... was his favorite.

end?

Why must this be the only thing I have finished in a month?