Title: Exchange

Word Count: 3004


A/N: I nearly stabbed myself writing this. Stabbed, I tell you. Okay, like, I thought I could manage crack pairings, but I so very can't. I rewrote bits and pieces of an Inui/Ryoma one-shot about three times until I just deleted it and all decided to write crappy little snippets that didn't connect. And since I couldn't write it, I did the IPod Challenge (read it on another fandom) where you put your Ipod on shuffle and write a small snippet about the song that's playing in the amount of time the song plays. If that makes sense. So that's my excuse for it being crappy!

The Web Challenge; Oh, and this is for SyrenHug's weird pairing web challenge thing. It's pretty much (as quoted from her) :

The Web Challenge is a challenge that was thought up by me and totally co-founded by AtobeLover that promotes the writing of weird pairings. We do mostly Ryoma- centric one-shots or fics but it's not limited. The rules are pretty simple:

Since I'm the first one to start I write my weird pairing then at the end of it I throw the next pairing down below. AtobeLover gets to go after me but after that she gets to pick the next pairing and it's free game.

It doesn't matter how many people do that pairing as long as they keep the ball rolling by choosing the next pairing at the bottom.

So, I choose Ciel D'Serendipite. And I guess I'll put the pairing at the bottom like AtobeLover did.


Ryoma didn't expect his absence to hit so hard.

He didn't expect to miss the pile of notebooks beside their bedroom; the rows of shiny glasses under the drawer; the taste of his lips against his own. He didn't expect to miss the 'You've improved by 5%"'s and the "Have you been drinking your assigned milk?"'s. He didn't expect to miss the pain in his tippy toes when he leaned up and tried to kiss him, or the arms that wrapped around his waist to lift him up.

He didn't expect to miss him, in general.


Inui saw Ryoma again five years later.

In ways, Ryoma hadn't changed at all. He was still small, with a cap pulled over his head, Ponta can at his mouth. Inui had sat and observed him for days, scribbling in his notebook. They would talk under the trees, share apartment bedrooms, watch over the cityscape at night. Inui continued to scrawl data in his notebook, almost shocked at the lack of change. It was only when he realized what had changed that Inui's blood ran cold.

In the months that Ryoma had come back, he hadn't touched a racket. He hadn't even mentioned tennis.


Inui decided that Ryoma didn't give a crap. About anything.

The revelation made Inui's pencil freeze above his paper, and his eyes widen. His throat went tight. For the briefest moment, he almost felt sad (maybe he would dissolve into white dust) but the feeling was gone as soon as it had come. Ryoma was by his side, head tilted as he slurped Ponta, and Inui realized that the close contact was just enough for him.


"It's not that hard," Ryoma drawled. "You know, falling in love."

Inui glanced up from his notebook. They were lying under a tree by the hill, Inui sitting upright with his notebooks splayed around him. Ryoma was on the ground with his limbs sprawled. They'd been spending more and more time together, although Inui wasn't sure why. First, Ryoma had insisted Inui train him. Then, he even offered to watch how Inui made his juices.

And now this – this love thing.

Inui cleared his throat. The faintest flush crept on his cheeks. "I'm not falling in love."

Ryoma grinned. "Inui-senpai, we can go slow if you want."

This time, Inui didn't try to hide his bafflement. Apparantly Ryoma already thought they were an item.


Inui had observed Ryoma and Tezuka's relationship from afar. They're unyielding love, their perfection, their happiness together – he had ignored the stabs and twists in his gut, and instead took data, predicting and claiming how far they would last. They were only in high school, after all, so the chances of the relationship wasn't high. But after observing their perfect sync, trust in each other, and reliability, he had come to the conclusion that they would have a beautiful happy ending.

So that was why when Ryoma had come to him one night, eyes puffy, hair askew, that Inui realized that data wasn't always right. And as he held the crying boy in his arms, he wondered how a relationship that was supposed to be, meant to be, had broken apart. And he wondered why he felt so wrongly happy about it.


When Inui woke up, the bed beside him was empty. Ryoma's things were gone. The door was left a crack open.

A few miles away, Ryoma drove in his car, eyes closed, music splaying from the radio. His tennis racket and belongings were shoved in the back. It felt so good, to finally escape the trauma of a relationship that had never meant to be. Inui didn't show love, or affection, or care. He relied on data, and only data. Ryoma was sick of it.

With the sunlight on his face, Ryoma tilted his head up, the faint outlines of a smile on his lips. He was finally free.


Ryoma never really noticed Inui. He did see him, and acknowledge him, but Inui had never captured his interest.

It wasn't until the fateful volleyball game when Inui's pants came off that Ryoma realized just how sexy he was.


When Inui first saw Ryoma, really saw him, he didn't think he was anything. He was just some cocky new freshman with the ability to actually hit the tennis ball over the net. No big deal. A little over average, but nobody special. In fact, Inui hadn't even bothered to do intensive data collecting, despite that he knew he might have to play a match against him for the ranking tournament.

Then, Ryoma beat all the juniors without breaking a sweat. Still, Inui didn't open his notebook.

But then Ryoma beat Kaidoh – Kaidoh, who Inui had trained for a year, putting effort and exhilaration, perfection his routines so he couldn't be defeated. Kaidoh and him and thought up strategies, built his muscles, perfected his snake. And now, this freshman had single-handedly defeated him.

It was after that that Inui realized he had better get himself prepared.


All Inui saw was gold; gold, gold, gold.

At night, in the morning, in his half-hearted sleep, through his glasses, in his breath, his dreams, his life – it was gold. The colour haunted him. Slanted eyes, the curve of a smile; a lithe body serving; baby fat cheeks; lips so soft and bold that they drew his breath away. He felt it all, every day, every minute, without relief.

His notebooks grew dust as he cried on the inside. Sometimes, when he numbly passed the streets, he thought he saw a glimpse of Ryoma, with another boy, who was just as tall as Inui, with glasses as well. And he was reminded of the colour gold, and how hard a heart could hurt without its rightful counterpart.


Ryoma liked to have fun; he liked to mess around.

And, well, Inui wasn't fun. He was boring. Almost as boring as Tezuka-buchou, but at least Tezuka had tennis. Ryoma wasn't sure when he had started to drift away from his boyfriend. He had started faking calls of being busy with tennis, or having too much homework, when in reality he was with Momo, and Kikumaru, and his other friends.

And he wasn't sure when he had started to kiss those other friends, but it was all so fun; he loved the variety. He loved how they actually held him, unlike Inui who'd never said a word of affection. A part of him felt kind of guilty, but he decided the fun he had was worth it.

Then, one day, Inui caught him. Ryoma swallowed when he saw the shock on his face, and the tremble in his hands as he gripped his notebook.

And despite all the fun, seeing his face made all the 'worth it' go down the drain.


Years later, and the words they exchanged were brief.

"You're doing well," Inui nodded. "Seven point five inches taller."

"You stopped growing," Ryoma noted, hands shoved in his coat pockets to keep warm from the cold. "Still way taller than me, though."

And then they would part ways, neither in the mood for awkward, small talk. But Inui wouldn't go right away; he would stare in the distance of the airport where Ryoma's head bobbed away in the mill of crowds, until his lithe figure was just a spot in the distance, a speck of sunlight that once drew the whole world towards him.


The first time they kissed, it was summer.

The heat bore down on their backs and neck as their limbs tangled on the beach. Endless sunlight cradled their faces. Inui grasped Ryoma's hair, lips mushed in desperation, with Ryoma's small hands around his waist. He had to bend so far down (he was so tall) and Ryoma had to crane his neck so hard it hurt (he was so short) and their lips clacked with teeth (they were so inexperienced) but it really wasn't all that bad.

When they broke apart, Inui's face glinted.

"There's a 90% chance you're going to kiss me again in less than five seco- mmf."


When Ryoma broke apart and forgot his tennis, Inui was there.

"To the left now," Inui sprinted to the other side of the court. Ryoma struggled with his mind, and thoughts, but Inui's directions were simple. He leaped forward and hit it left. Before he could even get back into position, he heard, "A lob, now!" and Ryoma didn't think, or break apart, but instead, he jumped forward and let the ball fly.

Inui lobbed the ball back. "Cyclone smash."

And even though the move hurt his whole body, his mind, his heart, Ryoma did what he was told; because this was his tennis, the tennis that had crumbled into pieces. And Inui was helping him bring it all back together.


"How hot am I now?" Ryoma asked. He was lying in the sand, feet stretched out to the shore.

Inui glanced up from his notebook, scanned his half-naked body, and swallowed. "Uh…a 10."

Ryoma loved this game. He loved seeing Inui blush, and feel awkward. And since Inui relied on data, it was fun making him 'rate' how hot he thought he was. They did this every time they went to the beach, and even though it was kind of stupid, it was enjoyable enough for Ryoma to be satisfied. With a smirk, Ryoma unwrapped a popsicle from the cooler and licked it. He waited until it was just hot enough for the popsicle to drip down his chin, forcing him to slurp and lick and tongue it.

Inui watched him the entire time.

"So," Ryoma snickered. "How hot am I now?"

Inui gulped, and averted his eyes. "Off the scale."


Inui knew it was his fault.

He stared through the glass windows of the hospital. He stared at the pale boy huddled under the blankets, the machinery that wired around him. He stared at the doctors and nurses hurrying around. He heard the other regulars, his parents, all crying. And Inui wondered – with a swallow that hurt so hard it made him want to fall to the ground – how after the amount of data he had collected, he had failed to miss such a factor.

How did he not see that Ryoma wasn't happy?

How did he not see the emptiness in his eyes?

Inui's finger slid past the glass pane. Or maybe he saw – maybe he saw everything – and maybe he just hadn't wanted to believe it.


Sometimes, they still heard about each other.

Ryoma remembered sitting on the couch, eyes-half lidded as he flipped through the channels. The humid night heat slipped in through the window, and he was so tired that he barely realized it was Inui on the television. His spine jerked upright, hands in fist. Inui was now a scientist, making new discoveries every day, meeting new people. Doing all these things without him.


Every night, after he got home from a long day of work, Inui was settle down on his own couch routinely. He would flick the channel to tennis without a glance at the screen. He would curl up with his blankets and notebooks, and he would record Ryoma. He would record his data and moves. He would do it all even though he himself had stopped playing tennis years ago.

Each forehand he saw made his heart ache.

Each backhand made his hands tremble.

And each smirk that was so empty it made the stadium roar made him long for what was before.


Ryoma traced Inui's face with his finger.

Outside, pellets of ice thundered on the ground, and the lights in the bedroom flickered on and off. Ryoma shifted under the blankets of their bed, eyes soft, breath gentle as he kissed Inui's nose, his cheek, his forehead. From the crack of the open window, cars rushed by, oblivious to the suffering of his partner.

"I'll make you better," Ryoma promised. The lie hung bitter on his tongue, and Inui continued to breathe so shallow it hurt. "I promise."


He was hypnotizing.

Inui watched Ryoma walk to him, hair unruly, eyes unfocused. Unique was an unfavourable word; he wasn't really unique, he didn't have traits that others didn't. He was more like – Inui struggled for the right word, pen hovering above his page – weird. Unusual. Odd. He was an enigma that Inui could never understand.

At first, he thought he had Ryoma all down. Cocky, bratty, arrogant – but then slowly, the layers of the boy unfolded, and Inui was left questioning all the data he'd collected.

"Inui-senpai," Ryoma smirked, scarf tight around his neck. He leaned in and kissed Inui's cold lips.

But then, maybe he didn't have to understand.


Inui remembered when they were children; or, teenagers, but teenagers were really children anyway. He remembered when he used to be good enough. When he used to come and pick Ryoma up from Seishoun and Ryoma's face would light up. The way Ryoma would kiss him, like Inui was all he ever wanted, and that it didn't matter if all he was good at as was data and school.

But now they were older; living in an apartment that was as rocky as their relationship, with expectations that touched the tallest building of the city.

"Can't you be like buchou," Ryoma said, mouth over the steaming tea. "I win every time. Data tennis is boring."

Inui's fingers flexed around his pen. "That's how I play."

"Well, it's boring," Ryoma repeated, and Inui heard the meaning behind the words that weren't said.

And you're boring, too.


Inui grinned, adjusted his glasses, and fawned over the fact that his life was perfect. An empty glass was in his hand.

Ryoma lay limp on his swivel chair, unconscious. The drink dripped carelessly down the corner of his lips.

"Inui Juice version 3.6," Inui said. He clicked open his pen. "Check."


"Oi, your boyfriend can move!" Momo exclaimed.

Ryoma pulled his cap down, the loud music of the dance floor in his ears. "He's not my boyfriend," he muttered. He heard some whistles from Kikumaru and Momo, some shoves towards the floor accompanied by 'Join him Echizen, he has moves," with a bunch of giggles following afterwards. Really, he wished he could disappear. Or die. Inui dancing (trying to dance) was embarrassing.

"Look at him go," Momo snickered.

And the worst part was, Inui was doing the robot of all things. And he was winking, and suggestively grinding at Ryoma the entire time.


Inui used to think beautiful was angels, Fuji, and his own perfect stack of notebooks. He used to think beautiful was the garden planted out front, a new set of colored pens, a rose in the winter, rain against the windowsill. He used to think beautiful was silk, leather, and a perfect apple. He used to think beautiful was earth, sunlight, and the sky.

"Inui-senpai, I stole your notebook."

"Echizen, I suggest you give that back, or I'll put Inui Juice in your coffee."

Now, Inui knew what beautiful was. Beautiful was Ryoma's smile when they saw each other after a long time. Beautiful was the soft lips that captured his own even when they were upset with each other. Beautiful was the words 'mada mada dane'. It was the passion that overflowed Ryoma's body when he played tennis. The eyes that taunted, the smirk that mocked.

Beautiful was Ryoma; full, and whole, and happy.


They bumped into each other one year later.

"Inui-senpai," Ryoma took a step backwards, and brushed himself off. Inui grinned at the familiar sight: cap pulled down, mouth a pout, tennis bag over the shoulder. Sometimes, there really was no need to whip out his notebook and write data, especially when his lover didn't change. Inui held his arms out, and Ryoma stepped in.

"Che', it's way too hot," Ryoma said. "Do you have like, water?"

Inui blinked, and the faintest smirk gleamed on his face.

"Unfortunately not. But I do have Inui Juice version 5.7, if you'd like."

And as Ryoma made a disgusted face, it occurred to Inui that he hadn't changed much either.

God, those were crap. I'm sorry. Blame the time limit. I didn't edit either. Just to have an excuse for them being crap.

Pairing: Kirihara/Ryoma