Tattered Strips of Green
Disclaimer: I do not own Prince of Tennis or any of the associated characters.
Author's Note: Thus ends the story of the revenge against Yukiko and Kaidoh coming back to himself. I have a sequel in mind though that will be the story of Inui and Kaidoh dealing with their issues. I won't be posting until it's finished though, so it might be awhile.
Three of the four men stared at her, two of them shocked and one studying his handiwork with a pleased expression. The fourth man took notes and made a comment about surprise being illogical in the current situation.
"Keh. Seriously. She looked like me when her hair was long. Did you think she'd somehow look less like me after I cut it?" Kaidoh asked as he put the scissors away. He also surreptitiously tucked Nabiki's discarded braid into her tennis bag.
The twelve-year-old cocked her head and blinked at them. They were in the tennis clubhouse at Seigaku, and Nabiki was wearing the usual workout clothes of a first year. A white t-shirt with blue trim and a pair of blue shorts. She looked exactly like her father had at her age.
Momo startled them all by suddenly snapping his fingers. "Hold off on the match. I'll be back in about ten minutes." He dashed out of the clubhouse before anyone could agree or object.
Oishi sighed. "I never should have agreed to this," he muttered.
"But you did," Kaidoh said bluntly. "And no going back on it. She's already enrolled as a boy."
Oishi frowned unhappily. "You're that confident she and Keisuke-kun will win? Against two boys who will probably be regulars after the next ranking tournament?"
"She's no Echizen, but she and Keisuke have been playing since they were old enough to hold rackets," Inui pointed out. "They both have also greatly benefited from the personalized training I've been giving them. They'll win the doubles match, and you will let them both play in the ranking tournament, just as you promised."
"I don't mind pretending to be a boy, Oishi-san," Nabiki chimed in. "It was my idea. If I want to become the best tennis player I can be, I need to play on the boys' team."
Oishi sighed again. It was her dream to go to the Nationals with the Seigaku boys' tennis club. He was not the kind of man who could crush a little girl's dream, even if he didn't think it was a good idea.
"I know, I know. I made a promise, and I'll stand by it. If you and Keisuke-kun win the doubles match, you can join, and the both of you can participate in the next ranking tournament."
Momo returned not long after that, practically dancing with glee as he pulled something out of a paper sack. It was a yellow bandana with white diamond patterns, identical to the one Kaidoh had worn during most of his first year at Seigaku.
"Wow," Momo said after Nabiki put it on. "That's both cool and kinda creepy. It's like going back in time. I almost expect her to start yelling at me and calling me an idiot."
Nabiki, in a rousing display of maturity, stuck her tongue out at him.
"Come on, everyone," Oishi said, resisting the urge to sigh yet again. "We've kept the boys waiting long enough."
They filed out of the clubhouse, Nabiki going out on the courts to join Keisuke and two older boys. They took up their positions, Nabiki and Keisuke on one side of the net with Aramaki and Utagawa on the other.
Oishi frowned as he watched them, wondering why Kaidoh and Inui had insisted that Nabiki show him her skills by playing a doubles match. She wasn't very good at it, leaving most of the work to Keisuke and only taking a few easy shots that came right at her.
"I think I've seen enough," he said as the third game of the match started. So far, it was two games to love, in favor of Aramaki and Utagawa. Oishi was a master at doubles, and he could tell there was no connection between Keisuke and Nabiki. They'd never be able to win.
"You haven't seen anything yet," Kaidoh insisted, watching the game intently. "She likes to use some things from her mother's style."
"I didn't know Hanatori-san played tennis."
"He wasn't talking about her," Inui said, looking at a smirking Kaidoh in annoyance. "We've had this conversation before. I'm not Nabiki's-"
Inui's jaw dropped as he and Oishi stared at Kaidoh in shock. Momo started snickering.
"All of you just shut up and watch my kitten play," Kaidoh said quietly, moving forward and hooking his fingers in the chain-link fence.
Out on the court, Nabiki and Keisuke lost their third game in a row. She should have been upset. Instead, she smiled and started laughing softly.
"This'll be easy," she said confidently.
Keisuke looked at her, startled. "Is it time already?"
Nabiki nodded. "I knew ahead of time who we'd be playing, so I didn't need to observe them much." She stared at their opponents and pointed her racket at Utagawa. "Our chance of winning is ninety-three percent. Prepare to be annihilated."
They clearly didn't believe her. Then the fourth game began, and Nabiki really started to play. She anticipated most of their shots, murmuring numbers to herself and calling out position changes to Keisuke.
"D-data tennis!" Oishi exclaimed in disbelief.
As they watched Nabiki and Keisuke play, Inui pressed up behind Kaidoh, lightly grabbing the other man's shoulders and resting his chin on his bandana-covered head. Kaidoh stiffened for a moment before allowing himself to relax. Over the years, he had grown a bit more comfortable with random acts of public physical contact.
They were both strongly reminded of their long ago match against Shishido and Ohtori. They had lost. Nabiki, they knew, would triumph.
Oishi unconsciously moved closer to the fence. As Inui had said, the girl was no Ryoma. But she was good, blending logic and instinct into a play style that was uniquely her own.
She didn't have the reach yet to copy her father's Snake, but as the games continued, she found the opportunity to hit several fairly competent buggy whip shots. Then, during the twelfth game, the ball headed toward the edge of the court.
Nabiki smirked and went for it, doing an odd hop to the side once the ball connected with the strings of her racket. She turned her body, the force of the spin propelling the ball forward as she hit it, using her entire arm to swing the racket. It wasn't quite a Boomerang, and would have been out in a singles match, but it was a beautifully executed around-the-pole shot. And it won the match, seven games to five.
"Looks like you'll have at least two new members when school starts," Kaidoh said smugly.
"Are you sure about this?" Oishi asked, clearly troubled. "What if Nabiki wants to do girl things, and gets made fun of because everyone thinks she's a boy? And what about possible relationships?"
"Nabiki is a tomboy, and relationships aren't going to be an issue," Kaidoh said, inclining his head toward the courts. "Take a look."
Aramaki and Utagawa were not happy about the outcome of the match. The former approached Nabiki while the latter went after Keisuke.
Nabiki had her back to the adults, preventing them from seeing her expression. They could see Aramaki's though. The boy paled and rapidly backed away from her, only stopping when her attention shifted to Utagawa.
She stalked toward him as he shoved Keisuke to the ground. He turned at the sound of her hiss, his angry expression turning to one of uncertainty when she scowled at him.
"Back off, bastard!" she snarled, shifting into a fighting stance. She was ready and willing to punch him if it became necessary.
"Come on, Utagawa," Aramaki said, creeping nervously toward his doubles partner. "This was just a test game, and they won. No need to be upset."
Utagawa turned away in disgust and the two of them quickly left the court.
"Way to go, Mamushiko!" Keisuke said cheerfully as Nabiki helped him to his feet.
She glared at him. "Don't call me that."
"Mamushiko, Mamushiko… fshuuuuu."
There was, Nabiki had discovered, only one way to deal with Keisuke when he was being annoying. She hit him with her racket.