Kaidou Shibuki was a strange man. Hozumi’s friends had all told her this when she’d started dating the man who was 7 years her senior. It wasn’t that Shibuki was unkempt or poorly- mannered, he simply carried an aura of strangeness around him, whether it was in the way he phrased his sentences, or his piercing eyes, or the intensity of his personality.
Hozumi was 16 when they’d first met. Shibuki was an enigmatic older man who’d reminded her of an actor from a drama on tv, and so Hozumi got a little doki-doki feeling in her chest when he’d come into the combini where she worked part-time after school. Their first encounter was brief; he didn’t linger in the aisles indecisively like many customers, or tachiyomi a magazine by the windows, next to the “Please Do Not Tachiyomi” sign. Just a pack of cigarettes and Hozumi had barely gotten out her cheerful “Arigato gozaimashita!” before he was out the door again, but she turned to watch him through the windows as he walked swiftly down the sidewalk. She decided that she liked him. The margins of her English notebook the next day had little scrawlings of his face.
“Uwaa... Kowai hito,” remarked her friend, peeking over her shoulder.
Hozumi grinned. “Chotto ne.” Maybe her mystery man was just a teeny bit scary-looking.
Shibuki’s combini visits were like clockwork. Eventually he noticed the girl behind the counter who wouldn’t stop eyeing him. He wasn’t good at making small-talk, but he began to chat with her in tiny snippets. At first he was “Kaidou-san,” but a little later he was “Shibuki-san” and she was “Hozumi-chan.” It was nice to see her pleasant face after a long day at the company he’d just started at, in a town he’d just moved to. He found himself missing her the evenings she didn’t work.
It kinda made him feel like an enjo kosai perv, asking a high school girl out, so it was a full month before he worked up the gall to do it.
“There’s a new movie out,” Shibuki said to her one day, in that odd manner of his that was gruff and sudden, but had a sort of tenderness deep under the surface.
“Oh, yes!” smiled Hozumi, her eyes lighting up. She’d been waiting patiently for this exchange. “It looks very interesting, don’t you think?”
“No, it looks pretty boring and tedious to me...” Shibuki said bluntly, departing from the well-tread script in this first step of courtship.
Hozumi’s face fell, but then Shibuki said, “But maybe you can come, and it won’t be so bad.”
“Yes, I’d like that very much,” answered Hozumi, looking into his eyes and still feeling a little doki-doki about the slightly uncouth young man.
And so the two became a pair, a fact of which Hozumi kept her parents conveniently ignorant. It wasn’t unheard of for high school girls to date college students, but Shibuki was 23, which was pure scandal. Hozumi’s classmates teased her about “forbidden love” and sighed about the romance of it all. Just like a shoujo manga!
Hozumi discovered she was pregnant in her second month. She confessed tearfully to Shibuki in her third month, and he not so much proposed to her as suggested that he would be agreeable to a marriage. Hozumi accepted, and they eloped in April. In May, little Kaoru came into the world. Legitimate, but just barely.
Although their parents’ anger flared up at the elopement, it subsided with the arrival of a grandson. Shibuki’s parents were more than pleased with the charming Hozumi, and eventually Hozumi’s parents learned how to deal with the weirdo their daughter had married. There was the grandson he had given them, which was like catnip to the new grandparents, and Shibuki could provide financially for her. But they also saw how Shibuki and Hozumi were such lovebirds together.
They even called them an oshidori fuufu, “mandarin duck and wife.” It was one of those old-fashioned phrases that meant the marriage was made in heaven, from the times when people thought mandarin ducks mated for life. Indeed, Shibuki and Hozumi were an old-fashioned couple, housewife and salary man. She wore an apron, he wore a tie, and Hozumi was just fine with that.
A few years later, Hozumi was pregnant with their second son, Hazue. They moved from Shibuki’s apartment to a large house, and Hozumi loved growing her own vegetables in the little garden in the backyard. Her homemade meals were always delicious and wholesome. Hozumi thought her household should be perfect, just like her family was perfect.
Hozumi doted on her sons, who were her little angels. Kaoru, who had developed a curious habit of hissing at the family cat, had the cutest scowl, just like his father. Hazue too, was the image of Shibuki.
“Pass me the shichimi,” said her eldest son, now a second-year in junior high. “Fushuuuu.” He’d never really grown out of that hissing sound he liked to make, although now it sounded more like a snake than a cat. Kaoru was so funny.
“Don’t put too much on. It’s not good for you,” warned Shibuki, ever the cautious father. He was still so intense, even after all these years. Father and sons regarded each other with with the same piercing eyes that Hozumi loved so much.
“It’s very hot. Let’s be careful not to burn ourselves.” Hazue was a good little boy, looking out for his older brother like that.
Hozumi gazed lovingly at them all, watching them eat her homemade udon and homemade yogurt. She’d even made the vegetable sticks from the plants she had grown in her garden. Three large bento sat on the kitchen counter in immaculate lacquered boxes, ready to nourish her three little men at lunchtime. Hozumi simply adored her family.
Looking in upon this same scene, an outside observer would have had perhaps a different reaction. There was definitely some strange ki floating around the Kaidou breakfast table. It was all the more disturbing because you weren’t quite sure what it was. The eldest son’s habit of hissing was bizarre in and of itself, and why didn’t the mother realize this? There was something intangibly creepy about his entire demeanor. Little 11-year-old Hazue was almost as scary as his brother. Was he warning him about getting burned by the udon or was it some sort of veiled threat...? Both boys spoke with their father’s characteristic deep-voiced gruffness. It was obvious that the father had supplied the creepiness gene here. But at the same time they were all very polite and well-behaved. Both sons got good grades, and Kaoru even excelled in English. The father was doing well at his company, moving swiftly ahead in his career, and the house that they lived in was quite nice. A certain love existed between them all. Was it possible that the Kaidou family was simply unaware of their weirdness? They were somehow very snakelike, save for the mother, who was more like a beautiful mouse.
Really, the question was: Had Kaidou chosen The Snake? ...Or had The Snake chosen Kaidou?
Coincidentally, this same question was scrawled in Inui’s notebook, underlined. He’d been analyzing his interest in Kaidou recently. It had started with Inui idly wondering why he seemed to be the only 3rd-year whom Kaidou regularly addressed as “senpai.” Kaidou addressed Tezuka with a respectful “Bucho,” and if someone pissed him off, they were teme-this or yarou-that. Otherwise... Kaidou often just started talking, skipping the issue altogether. It seemed sensible enough. Come up behind someone, scare the living daylights out of them, and then they’d listen to what you had to say.
We’re not dissimilar in that respect, come to think of it.
Kaidou was a boy of few words, fewer perhaps than even Tezuka, which made Inui wonder. From his research on Kaidou’s playing skills, Inui already knew they’d be desirable doubles partners, but his curiosity hadn’t been satiated. His mind was lingering over Kaidou. For some reason Inui had been deemed worthy in Kaidou’s mind, and he wanted to know why. It made him go “Hmm...” and adjust his glasses in a way that drove the ladies wild. And made the Seigaku Tennis Club members tense in fear. It was rather fun to give the club members a reason for their trepidation, but Inui decided to put off juice recipe development in favor of more research.
What kinds of new data can you show me, Kaidou?
The subject of Inui’s thoughts was currently taking his daily jog after school, diligently following Inui’s training menu but doing it all twice as hard as it had been planned. As he passed Inui’s apartment building, something drew his eyes upward, and he caught the movement of curtains in Inui’s window. It wasn’t like Inui not to train after school. He’d been training 2.25 times as much as the rest of the Seigaku members before he’d gotten back his place as a regular on the team. Except me, thought Kaidou, pleased with himself. He was only training slightly harder than me. They often ran into each other, as their homes were in close proximity. Once he’d encountered Inui drinking juice at the Southern edge of the neighborhood park, and then again at the Northern edge of the park, which had creeped him out a little. But it was stupid to think that Inui-senpai was stalking him.
“Tadaima,” breathed Kaidou, stepping into the entryway. He swiped at his face with the end of the towel around his neck as he toed-off his running shoes. No socks.
“Ah, Kaoru! Okaerinasai! I was just chatting with Inui-kun!” called his mother from the next room.
“I-Inui-senpai?” Kaidou froze. What the hell? He looked into the living room, and there sat Inui and his mother, sipping tea together as though there were nothing more natural in the world.
Inui turned to smile at him, glasses glinting with the setting sun. “Ya, Kaidou.”
Kaidou turned to his mother. “Kaasan,” he said, his voice taking a slightly boyish note.
He’s so flustered he doesn’t know what to say, Inui thought, delighted. Kawaii na...
“I had no idea you were friends with such a nice boy!” said Kaidou’s mother to her son. Then she turned to Inui again. “Kaoru never has friends over, but I know he’s always playing around that tennis club. Thank you so much for looking after him.”
“But of course,” Inui answered, ever the gracious senpai. “You have a very talented son.” Again, he smiled at Kaidou, who turned away with an embarrassed “Ch’.”
Disdainful of compliments, due to an overly ambitious nature.
“Oh, that can’t be true,” answered Kaidou’s mother, modestly. “but thank you very much.”
“He’s quite an... attractive player, even as a 2nd year.” Inui watched Kaidou slink towards the stairs out of the corner of his eye. Just the slightest suggestive intonation of the adjective passes unnoticed with the mother but subtly strikes the intended target. Kaidou paused, foot on the first step. There was a 93% chance that Inui would be invited to dinner in a moment, but Kaidou didn’t know that.
“Such flattering words! You’re too kind, Inui-kun,” blushed Kaidou’s mother. “We’d be honored to have you for dinner tonight.”
Disposition for blushing, inherited from mother.
“Oh, I couldn’t possibly...” replied Inui, like a good boy. He heard Kaidou hiss as he ascended the stairs.
“Please, I insist.”
Inui cocked his head to the side, making a show of his reluctance. “I’d hate to trouble you...”
“It’s no trouble at all. I hope my cooking isn’t too terrible...”
“I’m sure it will be delicious. Thank you very much.” Inui gave a little bow.
Kaidou’s mother excused herself, and Inui sat alone in the living room, feeling very content with his successful infiltration. Then he realized he was not alone. After a moment he heard sock-clad feet rustle up behind him, though the steps were too graceless to be Kaidou’s.
“You’re a Seigaku regular?” said the boy behind him, suddenly. Inui turned and pretended to be surprised to see him there. The boy was like a mini-Kaidou, with a deep voice that wasn’t as rough.
Unusual character traits are consistent in sibling.
“Ah, you must be Kaidou’s little brother. Yoroshiku ne.”
“Is Niisan any good?” demanded Kaidou’s brother, forgoing any formal introductions, apparently.
“Yes, I was just telling your mother how talented your brother is. Are you planning to attend Seigaku as well?”
“Huh, it’s a little boring for my tastes. All he does is run and run, and talk about that Echizen guy.”
Inui raised his eyebrows a bit. Echizen, eh? He knew Kaidou was determined to best Seigaku’s 1st-year regular, but he didn’t realize he was so obsessed with it. They’d both lost a match to Echizen at the beginning of the school year. I might do you a favor, giving you a distraction, Kaidou...
Kaidou’s brother took a seat opposite Inui and stared. Inui smiled at him, but there was no reaction. The boy tilted his chin down, chewing his full bottom lip, staring at Inui with unnatural calm as though he were waiting for something.
After five minutes, a respite from the silence. “...I’m Inui, by the way.”
Inui glanced at the stairway, after another full five minutes of silence. “Could your brother be hiding from me, Hazue?”
“Maybe. You’re kinda weird,” said the boy who’d been staring at Inui for ten solid minutes now.
“Ha ha. So I hear. Do you think your brother’s weird too?”
“Why would I? Niisan’s just like the rest of us.” A vague hint of suspicion.
Family lacks any perception of themselves as unusual... Home life atmosphere has resulted in independence from peers, strong self-image. Brother is perhaps not athletically-inclined... but appears to be affectionate towards elder sibling.
“Ah! I see you’ve met Hazue!” said Kaidou’s mother, gliding into the room like sunshine. “My husband should be home in a few moments, and then we’ll have dinner.”
Inui heard the key turn in the lock, and then the sound of shoes being removed in the entry way. Kaidou’s father looked like... a demon. A demon who was rather older than Kaidou’s mother too. Hmm... Age range of the mother estimated to be between 29 and 32 years... A comparison of data on Akutsu Jin suggests that Kaidou Kaoru’s mother is indeed even younger than Akutsu’s...
“Tadaima,” Kaidou’s father ground out, voice deep and rough.
Age range of the father estimated to be between 37 and 40 years...
“Okaeri!” chirped Kaidou’s mother, kissing him.
And the mother... would have been approximately 17-years-old at the time of first son’s birth. Additionally, unabashed displays of affection in the presence of non-family members. Interesting...
“We have a dinner guest tonight. Kaoru’s friend, Inui-kun.”
Inui rose and bowed. “Ojama shimasu. Inui Sadaharu desu. Dozo yoroshiku.”
“Huh, so Kaoru does do something other than run around the neighborhood and play tennis,” said Kaidou’s father, appraising Inui from head to toe, like the lord of the Makai.
“We’re all... fond of him, down at the tennis club, Sir,” Inui said with a straight face.
“Well, thank you for looking after my son.” There was something different about the phrase when Kaidou’s father said it. Inui could almost see the strange ki floating around the man.
“Kaoru, gohan da yo~!” called Kaidou’s mother up the stairs. She went to scoop out hot rice as Kaidou’s father sat down at the dinner table.
Kaidou appeared, smelling like a fresh shower, clad in a tank top and shorts. His hair was still slightly wet, and Inui enjoyed catching the mingled scent of Kaidou’s skin with his shampoo. He imagined Kaidou’s pheromones floating off of him like soap bubbles.
“What are you grinning at?”
“Oh? It’s nothing, really.” Inui pushed his glasses up.
Hazue narrowed his eyes at him. “You were looking at him funny, just now.”
“That’s enough, Hazue,” snapped Kaidou.
“Hn,” said his brother, giving Inui another look before retreating to the dinner table.
That evening’s supper was a gold mine of data. It gave Inui the opportunity to observe the entire family in action. On the outside he was Pleasant Conversationalist Inui-kun, but inside his head Inui was absorbing a myriad of information, fleshing out his idea of Kaidou, planning secret things.
Hazue kicked him under the table. “Oh, please chew carefully. Let’s be careful not to bite our tongues.” The boy gave Inui the most devilish smile.
“Hmm,” said Inui, returning the smile. Then he leaned in, pretending to pass him the bottle of ponzu, as conversation continued around them. “It’s far more important to lock your door at night... don’t you think, Hazue-kun?”
Hazue frowned at him in silence. He didn’t bother Inui for the rest of the meal, but he watched him like a hawk.
Although Kaidou’s brother was obviously suspicious of him, Kaidou’s parents appeared to be fond of Inui. The family seemed to work on their own unique level of normalcy, where Kaidou could hiss like a snake as much as he pleased, and Hazue could stare creepily at people and ask them abrupt questions. He was fascinated by how vastly opposite Kaidou’s mother was from Kaidou’s father. It was a rather charming marriage.
He kept an eye on Kaidou the entire time. Inui noticed he talked more than he did at school, which still wasn’t very much, but it was fair to assume that Kaidou was less inclined to discourse this particular night, in this particular situation. Kaidou ate fast, so Inui ate fast too. He wants to escape how awkward he feels... but doesn’t he realize that the sooner he finishes, the sooner he’ll be alone with me...? Face it Kaidou, you’re trapped.
“Gochisousama,” said Kaidou, standing up quickly. He turned to make his getaway.
“Gouchisousama deshita,” said Inui, rising gracefully, a beat after Kaidou.
“You eat almost as fast as Niisan,” commented Hazue, staring at Inui’s plate. With his chopsticks he snagged the last slice of pickled daikon from it.
“Hazue!” gasped Kaidou’s mother, horrified. “Apologize immediately!”
“Hai, sun’mase~n,” said Hazue, in that same sort of singsong monotone Echizen liked to use.
“Please excuse him, Inui-kun,” Kaidou’s mother said, enchanting in her utter distress.
“Haha, it’s difficult to leave any morsel of such delicious food. Thank you very much for having me,” said Inui good-naturedly, acting as though he were about to leave, although he really had no intention of doing so.
“Stay as long as you like,” said Kaidou’s father. “A night without studying wouldn’t kill him, once in a while.” He nodded towards Kaidou.
Kaidou’s back tensed. “It’s not your business, Oyaji.”
“You’re too serious Kaidou,” his mother added. “Please don’t be rude to Inui-kun.”
“Fushuuuu,” relented Kaidou, glaring at Inui.
So he’s his mother’s son, after all. “Gomen,” said Inui, as though he regretted the imposition.
“This way,” Kaidou mumbled, his annoyance clear.
“He’s such a shy, sweet boy,” sighed Kaidou’s mother, as Inui followed her son up the stairs.
Hebi ni niramareta kaeru. “When a snake watches you, you cannot get away.” The idiom carried such a lovely irony for this particular evening, Inui filed it away in his head to jot down later.
“Why are you here?” demanded Kaidou, as soon as he closed the door to his bedroom.
“We live so close to each other, I thought I might pay you a visit. Isn’t it natural for a senpai to look after his kouhai?” Inui said casually.
“Hn.” Kaidou grunted, accepting the answer. He thought back to the window at Inui’s place. “I didn’t see you jogging today. You’re skipping your training?”
“Were you looking for me?” asked Inui, smiling.
“Who the hell said that? Ch’,” said Kaidou, offended at the very thought he could possibly be concerned with Inui’s welfare. He flopped down on his bed, and his tank top rose a little, revealing a slice of Kaidou’s lightly-tanned back. Inui watched him with unconcealed interest. After a few moments Kaidou turned on his side, away from Inui’s gaze, tugging his top back into place.
He’s becoming more aware of me, thought Inui. It’s making him even more uncomfortable.
At last Inui turned away from Kaidou, surveying the room. It was reasonably large, much larger than his own, even with all the weights cluttering one corner of the floor.
Naturally muscular, judging from male members of family... but weight-training has been utilized to increase muscle mass. Possible body-image issues...
Well, if you don’t want me looking at you, Kaidou... “Do you mind if I look at your cds?”
“...Do what you like,” responded Kaidou, nearly giving Inui a nosebleed.
He doesn’t mean that, but it’s still fun to hear him say it. Maa na. Inui turned his attention back to Kaidou’s cds. Mostly Western rock music.... Led Zeppelin... Guns ‘N Roses... Journey... Poison... Whitesnake... Ah, here’s Kimeru, and...
“Rip Slyme, eh?” commented Inui. Kaidou didn’t answer.
A small stack of drawers sat next to the shelf of cds. Inside, Inui found bandanas in all different varieties of patterns and colors, neatly arranged according to their approximate position on the color wheel.
Unclear whether personal habits are result of an obsessive-compulsive disorder, or simply intensity in any and all pursuits.
“Why do you only wear the green one and the orange one? You have so many others,” Inui couldn’t help but ask.
“...They’d get dirty if I wore them on the court.”
He must collect them... that’s cute, thought Inui, despite himself.
“It’s interesting to see what you’re like at home. I couldn’t have envisioned it.” Inui closed the little drawers.
Kaidou had turned to face him again, lowering his guard a bit, perhaps thinking the earlier perceived danger to be imagined. “Nothing special,” he said with disinterest, his muddy green eyes regarding Inui.
“On the contrary Kaidou, I don’t think you realize how extraordinary you are.” How you could drive me crazy, looking at me like that... Make me do things I hadn’t planned on doing...
“Echizen is Echizen,” interrupted Inui, voice still calm but slightly impatient. “If you’re always looking to the side, your eyes will never rest on your destiny.”
“Is it? You’re so fixated on Echizen...” Inui turned dramatically to the dresser. “...I’m almost jealous,” he finished in a low voice. His eyes slid to Kaidou’s reflection in the mirror, gauging his reaction. Kaidou stared at Inui’s back for a few moments, and then he seemed to convince himself he hadn’t really heard what he’d thought he heard. His senpai couldn’t be that weird. Inui allowed himself a tiny grin. Gently he pulled open the top drawer of the dresser.
Kaidou’s underwear, white cotton briefs.
Ah, so normal. His mother probably still irons them for him...
Inui picked up a pair and rubbed it between his fingers. “I prefer boxer-briefs myself. They’re very comfortable,” Inui smiled at him pleasantly. “Would you like to see?”
“S-Senpai! What are you saying?!” Kaidou snatched the underwear and stuffed it back into the drawer, slamming it shut. “There’s nothing to see in there,” he grumbled, blushing fiercely.
“Sorry, I’ve upset you.” Inui sat down next to him on the bed, leaning back on one arm.
“It’s fine,” lied Kaidou, inching away.
“...How’s your training coming, by the way?” Inui’s hand rested casually on Kaidou’s thigh, stopping his escape. He squeezed a little. “Your muscle mass seems to be increasing nicely.”
“Yeah, I think I’ve gained a pound or two,” said Kaidou, stubbornly trying to slide away despite Inui’s hand.
“You’re never really satisfied with your body, are you? It seems like such a shame to take it for granted, Kaidou.” Inui leaned in a little closer, his arm on the other side of Kaidou legs, so that he was leaning over him.
“There’s always someone better out there... so I can’t give up,” said Kaidou, trembling a little, trying to keep his breathing steady while grasping at the last threads of his composure.
Inui moved in further still, a hand on the mattress at either side of Kaidou’s head, leaning on both arms now. He felt himself drawn to the vulnerability. There was some sort of scale tipping. The more Kaidou’s body twisted beneath him, the more Inui wanted to capture him. It was impossible now for Kaidou to move without pushing him away. “I find your earnestness charming,” Inui said in a quiet voice, and Kaidou frowned a little, because he didn’t want to be charming. “Lovely,” Inui breathed. The stillness in the room became acute. A distressed look crossed Kaidou’s face. “Hmm? What are you thinking Kaidou? You look a little tense...”
“Senpai...” Kaidou’s fear was seeping into his voice. Inui’s knee was between his legs, nudging them open. Kaidou fought him there, willing the muscles in his legs to keep his thighs from being pried apart But Inui was stronger, in both physical strength and will, at that point.
“Ahh, perhaps you’re uncomfortable...” Inui’s face drifted closer to Kaidou’s. “...like this. Perhaps I could help you feel better, somehow?”
Kaidou squirmed as Inui touched him again, a little higher on his thigh. He looked down in disbelief as Inui’s fingers slid just beneath a leg of his shorts. Inui’s skin tingled when he heard the catch in Kaidou’s throat.
“S-sawanee yo...” managed Kaidou .
“There’s no need to worry about that,” whispered Inui, barely an inch away. “But I think you might need to worry about *me*...”
Kaidou’s skin was burning. He lifted a hand to push Inui away at last but his fingers, traitorous, only clutched at Inui’s shirt. He made an odd-sounding sigh, helpless, and dying of embarassment.
“Lovely,” breathed Inui again, across the skin of Kaidou’s neck, extremely pleased. He almost felt a little sorry for how Kaidou was suffering at the moment, but ultimately Inui felt it was for the greater good. You’re too much fun to play with, Kaidou.
“Inui-senpai,” Kaidou said, eyes closed, voice wonderfully ecchi to Inui’s ears. His lips were slightly open, kissable. Kaidou had such nice lips. Inui admired his work for a moment, and then...
“Sore jaa... I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Inui’s weight left the bed, and when Kaidou opened his eyes again, the older boy was standing in his doorway.
“Oyasumi. Sleep well,” said Inui in his kindest voice, smiling his most evil smile. He closed the door to Kaidou’s bedroom and showed himself out, humming softly all the way home. Good data. *Excellent *data.
Kaidou Hazue leaned against the wall separating his brother’s bedroom from his own, an empty glass in his hands. What in the world had he just listened to?! Niisan’s voice had sounded so whiny and strange, and it freaked him out a little, to think that Inui guy had made him sound like that. Hazue hoped that cheeky pervert never came back.