The next morning, Inui awoke at exactly twenty minutes past four
Tattered Strips of Green
Disclaimer: Prince of Tennis belongs to Takeshi Konomi. I do not own Prince of Tennis or the associated characters.
Author's Note: This story takes place twelve years after the start of Prince of Tennis.
Warning: Mentions of apparent attempted suicide. Mentions of relationships between two males and between a male and a female.
The young man was still, too still, as he lay in the coils of an enormous snake. At first it seemed the hissing viper would crush the fragile human, but on closer inspection the constantly shifting body formed a protective barrier of scales.
The serpent's head and upper body swayed hypnotically back and forth, back and forth, creating afterimages that confused the eye. There was no way past the viper. No way to slip past its cold, cold gaze and get to the one within its care. But once, not too long ago, someone had managed it. And now the human was so still within those sheltering coils. Still and soaking wet, one wrist outstretched while blood flowed like a river….
Ryoma awoke from his doze as the bus began to slow for one of its scheduled stops, shuddering slightly at the nightmare that had held a touch of memory. He lifted his own wrist to look at the ribbon of green and white cloth encircling it.
"Kaidoh-senpai," he said softly, closing his eyes for a moment as memories flooded through him.
He ran as the rain pounded down, his cell phone still clutched in his hand. The river. He had known it would be the river. They all had. And when the rain had started to fall, most of them had realized it would be that night.
By the time Ryoma got there, Momoshiro was already in the water, struggling against the current to bring his limp burden to shore. He jumped in to help without a thought, a fresh wave of fear filling him as he grabbed a cold, lifeless arm. Were they too late?
Together, he and Momo pulled Kaidoh to shore, the older of the two immediately attempting to resuscitate their friend. Ryoma only then noticed that Fuji and Eiji were there, the tensai kneeling on the muddy ground to bandage the ugly, jagged slash across Kaidoh's wrist.
The anguished cries caught Ryoma's attention. Inui was there, on his knees and punching the ground as he screamed in denial. That kind of behavior wasn't like him, but then again, that woman never could have driven Kaidoh to this if Inui hadn't…
A set of weak coughs broke through his thoughts. Kaidoh was alive. But he wasn't Kaidoh anymore. There was only the serpent….
…It was evening, eight months later, and Tezuka was on the phone when Ryoma walked into their home.
"You know I don't approve of this, Inui," the former captain of the Seigaku tennis club said coldly.
"Tezuka-buchou," Ryoma interrupted, holding his hand out for the phone. A normal person would have called his lover by his given name, but to Ryoma, Tezuka-buchou was Tezuka-buchou and always would be.
"It's me," he said into the receiver after it was handed over by a frowning Tezuka. And Inui answered with two words that explained everything.
"Takeshi?" Momoshiro Ann questioned softly as her husband hung up the phone. Their five-year-old son, Keisuke, stood quietly by her side.
"I have to go," Momo answered. "Would you call your brother and have him watch the shop for me?"
"That was Inui-san, wasn't it?" she asked.
He nodded in answer to her question before crouching to ruffle Keisuke's spiky red hair. "You be a good boy while I'm gone, okay?"
Momo smiled and headed upstairs, Ann following close behind him, where she helped him pack a week's worth of clothing. He gave a brief nod of thanks before gently pushing past her and heading outside.
He wasn't planning to take his bike, but he went to it anyway, setting down his bag as he knelt to study the right handlebar. There was just enough light left to see the strip of cloth tied there. It was faded and fragile after all the years it had been exposed to the elements, but it was still mostly in one piece. Once he managed to get it untied, he gazed at it with a slightly wistful look.
It had been a week before the third-years were to graduate, and they had all known that something was up when Kaidoh had left practice early, blushing for some reason and staring at the ground. When practice had ended, the eight members closest to Kaidoh had each found a strip of green bandana with their belongings.
The next day, Momo had been the one to give him a new bandana, the green and white cloth signed by everyone who had received a piece of the old one. Tezuka's signature had been there with everyone else's, but the captain had still made Kaidoh run fifty extra laps for leaving without permission. Kaidoh hadn't seemed to mind.
Momo sighed with soft regret at the memory and attempted to tie the old piece of bandana around his wrist. Ann came up beside him and quietly did it for him.
"Are you sure this is the right thing to do?" she asked.
"She knows who I am, so all I'm going to do is support the others."
"You know she never would have been able to push him over the edge if Inui-san hadn't already forced him so close to it."
"I know," Momo said softly, standing up and turning to go. He looked back at her over his shoulder. "She meant to hurt him, Ann-chan. Inui thought he was doing the right thing. And that makes all the difference."
"It's okay, Eiji," Inui said into the phone. "The others will be in the area within a few hours, but we aren't going to meet until morning. Just make sure you're at the park by six."
As his conversation neared its end, Inui heard someone come into the house. He hadn't expected him back so soon, but his predictions regarding the other man had only been correct forty percent of the time in the last several months.
"Whatever you're planning has to do with her, doesn't it?"
He slowly hung up the phone, forcing himself not to flinch at the disdainful tone. He didn't answer and he didn't turn around. The other man already knew the answer to his question, and if Inui turned around, he would have to face those cold, empty eyes.
He guiltily wondered if Ryoma and Momoshiro had done the right thing eight months ago. The person standing behind him was breathing and had a beating heart, but Kaidoh, his Kaidoh, was dead. And Inui was no longer certain he could ever be brought back to life.
"Tch. I don't know why you're even bothering. You don't have the right to hate Yukiko. You threw me away long before she did."
As Kaidoh walked away, Inui's fists clenched, his short nails digging into his palms. He wouldn't cry. It wasn't like him. It would be illogical.
"Damn it," he muttered softly as slow tears trailed down his cheeks.