Author's Note: A nice long chapter to wrap everything up. In retrospect, I could have done a lot more with this fic, but I don't think I started to really get comfortable with the pairing until well over halfway through. It was a fun challenge though, and hopefully an ice-breaker to get some more people into this pairing? Thanks to everyone who took a chance on it and reviewed.
The Probability of Dating
Inui stared at the rows of figures, carefully written out on a fresh page of his notebook.
Fuji's incredibly bold actions had forced his hand. He was out of time. He couldn't delay any longer, couldn't wait for an appropriate occasion – he needed to make something happen, and he had to do it fast.
His chances had already dropped to 19 percent.
He averted his eyes from the ugly numbers. It didn't matter. He was going to have to take the plunge. The odds were far lower than what he was comfortable with, but he'd seen success under less favourable odds before. That was in tennis, though, and largely due to the fact that Echizen, Tezuka and Fuji all had that tendency of blowing his data out of the water in every single match they participated in.
With such a low percentage, the probability of Echizen getting spooked and running off before he even had the chance to convince him was high. He'd have to corner him somewhere long enough to get a proper answer, rather than a knee jerk reaction.
Even then, the probability of success... It was depressing to think about.
Snapping the notebook shut, he stood and started pacing around the room. There was a knock on his door, but as absorbed in thought as he was it went unanswered. Ten minutes later when he finally recalled the noise, he opened the door to find a tray of rice balls wrapped in plastic. The hallway was already dark. He quietly retrieved the tray and munched on one. Cabbage, tomato and raw pumpkin filling. Not exactly ideal for keeping his mind alert at the late hour, but it contained an excellent array of nutrients. He'd forgotten to eat dinner. A grievous oversight in his daily diet and training regime.
It was getting ridiculous. He had to take his chances and confess, even though the percentages didn't favour him. By now, he'd become emotionally invested in the experiment. He couldn't allow it to fail without at least staging a last ditch effort, even if that last ditch effort was almost equivalent to a kamikaze dive.
What was the optimal time and place, though?
As soon as practice ended. He'd have to get Echizen away as quickly as possible, before Fuji could move in again.
The senior started making plans. He went to bed in the early hours of the morning, but still didn't feel prepared, and spent at least an hour staring at the black fabric of his eye mask. When he did sleep, all he dreamt of was failure, and those horrible, taunting numbers.
There was no morning practice – the girl's team had requested extra court time in the lead up to their own tournament – but Inui arrived to school an hour early anyway. Butterflies danced in his stomach, and classes seemed fly by at an incredible rate. He utilised his usual breathing exercises and mental routines that sharpened his focus before an important match, but they didn't seem to help.
It was reckless. Perhaps it would simply be better to run interference against Fuji and… no, he'd made the decision. Even if the probabilities didn't favour him, even if the data suggested that patience was the best course of action, he couldn't bring himself to wait any longer.
Like that time he played against Yanagi, he had to abandon the data to get anywhere.
Everything relied on that afternoon practice. He didn't recall walking to the clubhouse or getting changed, but before he knew it he was out on the courts, dressed in his regular's jersey. Tennis balls thudded on the warm clay around him.
"Nothing good today, Inui?" Oishi asked kindly.
He blinked, perplexed by the sight of the vice-captain in front of him. "Pardon?"
Oishi gestured towards the notebook held in his hands. It was open, but the pages were completely blank. "Oh. I… I have all the data I need already."
It was a lie. He didn't have nearly enough. Not for this.
Oishi gave him a funny smile and a pat on the back before jogging over to his doubles partner. Inui watched as they shared a quick brush of hands, standing so close together that they were almost touching. It looked like they were discussing tennis strategies, but the senior had gone to some trouble to cultivate a rudimentary ability to lip-read, and could easily discern the sweet nothings they were whispering in each other's ears. It was difficult to contain what he knew was an irrational bout of jealousy. How did it occur so naturally for them? Did experience really make that much of a difference? In his experience, hard work, research and dedication would make up the disparity, but-
"Inui!" Tezuka called. He snapped to attention; having to run laps would ruin everything. "Practice is almost over. We'll run the drill now – please set it up. Get the freshmen to help if you need it."
So soon? He wasn't nearly ready yet. "Certainly. It will only take a minute." He didn't call for the freshmen to help, though did take a moment to locate Echizen. He was busy watching Kaidoh and Momoshiro play doubles against Arabaki from class 3-C and Inohiko from 2-A. The first-year glanced up and caught his eye. He smirked across the distance, jerked his head towards the non-regulars, and mouthed, 'Mada mada dane'. Inui smiled in response, and wrote the first notes in his book for the day.
Now he was ready.
He set out the baskets with sweaty palms. His throat felt dry as he read out the playing order and rules of the drill, but an eerie sort of confidence had settled over him. The feeling was not dissimilar to the side effects he'd experienced after drinking a botched batch of Super Deluxe Penal Tea Version 2. He hoped it wasn't going to be followed by vomiting.
The drill was an exercise of average difficulty – six balls, alternatively delivered to forehand and backhand at varying speeds, to be hit into one of the three baskets set out on the court. A routine designed to develop accuracy under a variety of conditions, but at the speeds they were using and the predictable layout of the exercise, not something the current crop of regulars couldn't handle. Inui didn't want any of the others to fail it, after all. But in 11 out of 12 of the previous set ups of this nature, one regular would always strike out.
Tezuka naturally dispatched the challenge without difficulty. Oishi, Kikumaru and Kaidoh didn't have any problems either. Echizen did it with his eyes closed just because he could. Momoshiro's last shot nearly went wide, but caught the edge of the basket and bounced safely in. "Saved!" he cheered as he went past, waving his racquet in the air. "Sorry, Inui-senpai! Doesn't look like you'll get to test your juices on anyone today!"
At that moment, a tennis ball struck the corner of the basket, and then rolled innocently along the court to bump the fence.
"Hoi, Fuji! You did that on purpose!" Kikumaru yelled
Fuji smiled serenely, as though he hadn't declared himself a rival and tried to molest the target of Inui's affection only the day before. "But I'm curious." He held out his hand expectantly, while the other regulars looked on in rapt fascination.
Fuji always did like showing off his ability to tolerate his beverages; he was much too talented to mess up such a simple drill – any drill – unless it was on purpose. It was a common enough occurrence; on any drills that the junior regulars passed with ease, he'd strike out for the punishment drink. The record stood at a reliable 97 percent.
But this was one rivalry that the data gatherer had already won.
The prodigy raised the cup to his lips. "So what's this one called?"
Inui grinned maliciously. "You don't remember Aozu?"
Fuji's eyes widened, but it was too late – he'd already taken the first mouthful. The cup fell from his hand, and bounced once against the court before tumbling to a stop, leaving a trail of viscous liquid behind it. The easy-going smile wavered, the blue eyes rolled up into the back of his head, and then the prodigy started to tip backwards.
"Fuji!" Kikumaru managed to catch the slight senior before he hit the ground. Oishi hovered nervously over his unconscious figure.
"Inui!" The Coach barked. "I thought I'd banned that drink from practice!"
"My apologies, sensei. I must have mixed it up with my Super Healthy Special Blend Inui Juice." He brought out a translucent dark green liquid that resembled unset jelly.
"Practice is over anyway," Tezuka said. As predicted, the captain's disdain for Fuji purposely throwing the exercise outstripped his annoyance at Inui bringing Aozu to practice. He raised his voice to address the whole club. "Everyone finish up your drills! Second years are clearing the courts today!"
"You too, Momoshiro," The Coach said sternly when the power player casually kept walking towards the exit.
The freshmen cheered while the second-years groaned. Inui quickly packed away his juices and hurried to the changing rooms after the rest of the club.
He showered and dressed in under two minutes – the edges of his hair still drooped from the droplets determinedly clinging to them. Unimportant – his hair never received any attention other than a few harsh scrubs with a towel anyway. He tugged on his shoes, expertly tied the laces twice so that they wouldn't come loose, then headed over to where Echizen was currently hunched over his own sneakers. Perfect timing. So far, everything was going according to plan.
"Echizen. Are you free this afternoon?"
The freshman glanced towards the door – Momoshiro was clearing the courts, and Fuji was still out cold. "I guess. Did you have something you wanted to do?"
He got a curious look at that, but Echizen wasn't one to ask many questions. "Okay, just let me get my bag."
Inui's patience only lasted until they reached the clubhouse exit. He grabbed Echizen's wrist and pulled the high school freshman along behind him. "This way." Fuji would wake up eventually, and there was a chance he'd be out for blood. Inui intended to have concluded everything by the time that happened.
The first-year didn't get the chance to protest, half-running to keep up. When they were a safe couple of blocks away, he allowed himself to slow down, but didn't release the slender arm in his grasp. How Echizen could persistently return such powerful shots with such narrow wrists continued to confound him. Although thinking on it, a great number of matters relating to their youngest regular continually befuddled him.
They'd walked for approximately twelve minutes when Echizen finally spoke up. "Inui-senpai, where are we going?" He hadn't asked to be let go yet, but Inui didn't let himself get excited at that – he'd witnessed Momoshiro dragging the freshman halfway across town on his 'not-a-dates' with Tachibana An before.
It was a good question – he'd been so concerned with getting Echizen away from interfering forces that never once did he consider where to go after that. It wasn't an area they usually visited - in his efforts to avoid running into people they knew, they'd headed into a thoroughly residential area. "Please wait a moment. We're nearly there." Casting about for an appropriate destination, he spied a small, quiet park and headed there.
He stopped underneath the largest tree and finally released the freshman's wrist. The setting was far from optimal… not romantic at all. The park was half-buried in litter, and the brick walls of the public toilets were covered in graffiti. But Inui doubted Echizen would let him drag him across town again in search of a better location.
The freshman looked around, but Inui couldn't read anything from his facial expression. As much as he observed, there were times when the finer nuances of Echizen's expressions remained too subtle for him to accurately define. "What's this all about, Inui-senpai?"
Right. This was the moment. "Thank you for coming with me. It means a lot to me." No reaction. "You see I wanted to ask you…" Inui fumbled with his words. He'd written a speech in his notebook beforehand, but assumed that if this was anything like oral assignments in class, he'd be penalised for reading from a script. "You've, um, heard about the festival next week, correct? I'm not sure if it's something you really enjoy going to, even though past accounts have you attending every year and staying until the standard curfew, but I always quite enjoy going, and thought maybe if you wanted some company…" Strange, when he'd written it out, the words hadn't sounded quite so rambling.
Echizen squinted at him, flecks of gold buried amidst the brown almost glittering in the afternoon sunlight. He tilted his head to the side as if considering a very unusual cat.
"...Senpai, are you hitting on me?"
…And with that, Inui forgot the rest of what he was planning to say. He stared at the freshman for a long moment, then gripped his chin with his fingers, lifted his face upwards as far it would go, and captured the parted lips.
Even though he'd read up extensively on the subject, it was entirely on instinct – this certainly wasn't the optimum angle he'd been planning for. He felt Echizen's adam's apple bob against the edge of his palm, felt small hands grip his shirt to keep his balance. And somewhere, very distantly, he was aware of Echizen arching up on his toes, and tentatively returning the kiss.
It ranked as the most amazing experience of Inui's life, beyond even winning the Nationals. And he couldn't quite figure out why he'd waited so long. So this was what it was all about – this moment, this feeling of contentment and completion and then on top of that the dangerously rationality-degrading sensation…
Oh. He'd forgotten everything he'd read about breathing technique. And once he thought about it, kissing wasn't supposed to factor in to his confession at all. Somewhat reluctantly, Inui straightened and broke contact. His hand dropped limply to his side, but his fingertips felt like they were burning. He only barely resisted the urge to check them.
Ryoma's eyelashes fluttered briefly, and there was the faintest whistle as he exhaled breathily. He rocked back on his heels, a slight flush colouring his face, then pinned his senpai with a lazy golden stare.
"So you're asking me out?" he asked flatly.
Inui fiddled nervously with his glasses. "I really can't think of any way to make my intentions more obvious."
Ryoma – when did it become Ryoma? - rolled his eyes skyward and shoved his hands into his pockets. After a moment's consideration, he said, "Okay."
At first, the data-gatherer was rather certain that he'd misheard. "Pardon?"
"I said okay. I'll go out with you." When Inui didn't respond, he poked him once in the side. "Senpai?"
"I'm sorry. I'm just… surprised."
"I thought… I was worried you might want to go out with Fuji instead. I thought I was considerably lower in your esteem."
The freshman returned his hands to his pockets and tilted his head to the side contemplatively.
"When he discovered my feelings, he started to court you," Inui extrapolated. "I confess that I don't have much experience in such matters – the probability of him winning-"
Ryoma's eyes lit up as though he'd just cracked a difficult shot, then his expression almost immediately morphed into a scowl. "Che, that was annoying. I wondered why Fuji-senpai suddenly started trying all that stuff. I guess he was having fun competing with you."
"Competing with me?" Perhaps he was the one who'd been naive. He'd assumed from the very beginning that Echizen was oblivious, but it was easy to forget that while the freshman was quiet, he was always watching, and often understood more than he let on.
"Un. But then it was like you just gave up. That was even more annoying."
"It was pretty obvious you had no clue what you were doing," he confirmed in a droll tone. "But I guess it doesn't matter. You managed to do the important things right anyway."
"When did you figure it out?" Inui asked dazedly. "I made many attempts at gauging your reactions, but the data never suggested that you were aware of them."
"I thought something was weird for a while, but honestly? Not until you made that new juice." So that had made it through. Inui made a mental note to thank Kaidoh for his advice. "I thought on it for a while, and…" Ryoma shrugged. "Sometimes you can be kind of cool, senpai, but then you always ruin it by being a nerd. You obsess over all that data, yet you're actually a pretty emotional guy. You're a walking contradiction." He folded his hands behind his head. "But I guess that's what makes you interesting. You're not so bad."
"There was still a chance you weren't even-"
"Sort of impossible not to be, after seeing my father harp on about his magazines since I was kid," Ryoma muttered under his breath sourly.
"I see." Remarkable. His fingers itched for a pen, but were caught by a sweaty hand before he could reach for his notebook. The freshman impatiently tugged him towards one of the park benches. The paint was old and peeling and the frame structurally unsound, but Inui's head was still in the clouds so he sat down without question.
"You're kinda tall senpai," the first-year explained with a huff. "And you talk too much." And then brought their lips together again.
It went a little longer this time – Inui felt a little surer of what he was doing, and the angle was much more comfortable, but compared to what he'd seen on television and from spying on the Golden Pair, it was still rather sloppy.
"The probability of you agreeing was only 20 percent," Inui remarked breathlessly after they broke apart. Perhaps he shouldn't have been so surprised, though. Ryoma did have a way of always defying his data.
The high school freshman smirked. "Data again, senpai? Che, it's not any good with this sort of thing."
"It's not as if you have any experience in the matter either-"
"Shut up," Ryoma ordered, but instead of waiting for the senior to comply occupied his mouth instead.
Ah. It made sense, then, why Kaidoh told him not to rely on his data so much, and why despite the probabilities being against him he was here now, making out with Echizen Ryoma in what might be the most unromantic setting in the prefecture. These matters were supposed to be decided by the heart, not the head. It was amazing that Ryoma already understood this; all evidence up until now suggested that the freshman had the social sensitivity of a brick.
Eventually, the cold steel reality of the creaky chair they were sitting on started to sink in. For Inui more so since Ryoma had taken the liberty of using his lap instead of the rickety park bench. They stood up, brushing the crusted flakes of paint from their pants. "So we're officially dating?' he asked, a little tentatively.
Ryoma rolled his eyes. "How much more official can you get?" He plucked Inui's notebook out of his bag, opened a random page, wrote down a couple of lines, then snapped it shut before he could see. "There, it's in the data."
Inui took the book reverently, and flipped open to the page. He read the words – written in expert English – with a faint smile on his face. Words that Ryoma would never say out loud. "Thank you."
The freshman brushed it off, and peered up at him instead. "Hey, if we're going out now, you should let me see you without your glasses, right?"
"My glasses?" Inui touched the edge of his frames, confused. "What do my glasses have to do with anything?"
"That's the way it always goes in those dating sims, right?"
"Dating sims?" The senior was mystified.
Ryoma's face turned an interesting shade of red – something in the range of light magenta. Inui decided it was rather cute. "You know… my cousin had some and…"
Inui nodded sagely. That solved the last of the conflicts in his data. "Of course. You don't like Momoshiro being better at something than you either."
"Che. He might start getting a big head and acting like the monkey king or something." Ryoma tapped his foot impatiently. "So? Take them off." He tugged on the sleeve of Inui's shirt.
The senior just pushed his glasses against the bridge of his nose. "But 68 percent of the articles I read suggested that some mystery was vital for an exciting relationship."
"That means 32 percent don't think that," Ryoma retorted stubbornly. He reached for the glasses, but even though he'd put on some height, so long as Inui leant back a little, he couldn't quite grasp them. And it had the added benefit of the freshman stretching up against his chest in a rather pleasing manner.
Ryoma halted and eyeballed him warily. "…That smile is kinda creepy, senpai."
Inui immediately plastered a much more serious expression on his face, but the freshman just raised an eyebrow and backed away cautiously.
It was just the beginning, after all. He needed to be careful. He still had so much to learn, especially if he couldn't rely on data for it.
"Let's go somewhere else. I'll buy you a Ponta to celebrate." It had the intended effect - Ryoma perked up and was at his side again immediately, grasping his sleeve.
Maybe he couldn't rely on data for everything. But it certainly had its uses.
Thank you for reading!