The Heart of a Snake

(a Prince of Tennis future fic)


By Orla


Part Three



Disclaimer: Not mine – damn!



Kaidoh rolled over and sighed, gradually sliding from asleep to awake in the early morning light filtering through the curtains. Just one minute more.

Something cold and damp touched his leg and he sat up with a yelp of surprise, now fully alert. His eyes fell on the culprit and Kaidoh sighed. “Stripes… stupid cat!”

The very cute, half grown kitty mewed and Kaidoh felt his resolve crumple as his cat butted its head against his hand. “You want food, huh?” he grinned and got up from his futon, scooping the cat up with one hand and tickling it affectionately under the chin. “Always hungry…”

Yawning, Kaidoh padded to his kitchen/dining area and, setting Stripes down, started to put together breakfast for himself and his companion. He smiled down as the cat weaved between his legs. Just six months ago, Stripes had been a pathetic bundle of fur that he rescued from the river and now, it was a happy, healthy cat that adored him. “One happy ending for you,” Kaidoh put down a bowl of food and then snagged some natto for himself. The smell from the bowl was obnoxious as usual, but he reminded himself that it was a healthy breakfast and besides, it tasted FAR better than any of the noxious juices Inui had ever dreamed up.

Halfway through his bowl of sticky natto, a knock sounded at the apartment door. Grumbling a little to himself, Kaidoh stalked to the door and opened it.

“Good morning!”

“Hazue?” Kaidoh blinked at his younger brother. “What…?”

“I have some training this morning,” Hazue Kaidoh stepped inside and kicked off his shoes. “Thought I’d stop by and thank you for helping me the other day.”

Kaidoh frowned at Hazue’s back. Considering that all he had done was help Hazue by lending him his bike and that was a normal thing anyway, this seemed like a feeble excuse. However, he wasn’t unhappy to see his brother and therefore decided not to question him. “You’ve had breakfast?”

“Yeah,” Hazue wrinkled his nose at the half-finished bowl of Natto. “Ugh. You’re still eating that?”

“It’s healthy,” Kaidoh defended his choice of breakfast.

“It stinks,” Hazue bent down to stroke Stripes. “Bet you miss Mum’s cooking now.”

“I come round enough not to miss it too much,” Kaidoh shoveled the rest of the natto into his mouth and gulped it down, helping the process with a gulp of water. “Besides, they’re the one’s who got this place for me.”

“True,” Hazue spun on his heel and face his brother, his expression remarkably like Kaidoh’s in its intensity. “So who is she?”

Kaidoh almost spat out his drink. “Wh… wh… what?”

“The girl you took to Kawamura’s sushi restaurant,” Hazue raised an eyebrow. “I went there late last night with Mitsuru and Kawamura-san told me you had dinner with a pretty girl.”

Shit! Kawamura and his big mouth! Kaidoh swallowed. “Uh, she… she’s just… Ryoma Echizen’s cousin… I met her at the tournament,” he glared at Hazue. “She’s nobody I’m seeing again.”

“Oh,” Hazue looked closely at his brother’s red face. “Good thing I didn’t mention her to Mum then.”

Kaidoh gulped. His parents had been dropping steady hints for the past year about how he should start to think about his future and the ‘nice girl’ he should settle down with as a responsible older son would do. “Yeah,” he agreed, more fervently than he meant to. “Good thing.”

“Not that it wouldn’t be a bad thing for you to have a date, big brother,” Hazue smiled. “There’s nothing wrong with living life,” his fingers brushed along a white scar that marred his forehead. “Especially when… you don’t know what’ll happen next.”

Kaidoh looked down at his right hand and heard the squeal of stressed tires again in his memory…

He’d only had his license for a month and the car for just two weeks. It was a present from his father, but it came with the condition that Hazue would have part ownership when he got his license and in the meantime Kaoru was to drive Hazue when needed. He didn’t really need to be asked, he was used to helping out his little brother.

So, that night he picked Hazue up from a concert. The rain was coming down hard and it was dark, but with few cars on the road there didn’t seem to be much danger. Hazue was talking about the concert and Kaidoh nodded at the appropriate times, his eyes on the road.

The oncoming car seemed to come out of nowhere, swerving madly along the road and heading on a collision course with them. There wasn’t much time to think. To stay on course was suicide, but there wasn’t much space to move, so Kaidoh took the only option he could and turned the car sharply away from the other one.

Tires squealed madly. Hazue was yelling and then there was a sickening crunch. He blacked out for a while, but it couldn’t have been for long. When he came to, Hazue was unconscious, blood all over his face and the car was crushed and crumpled in the front. Kaidoh didn’t stay still for long. Getting his brother out was the only thing on his mind and somehow he managed it. Laying Hazue down, he heard the screaming and turned to see the other car – also a mangled mess – on the other side of the road. The driver… Kaidoh couldn’t (or didn’t want to) remember much, but he knew the driver was dead. His passenger was very much alive, but trapped and she was screaming, desperately trying to get out and away from the corpse.

He didn’t think, he simply acted to save her. The door was stuck, but he wrenched it open and yanked her out. As she sank to her knees, he heard the sirens and then an even better sound: Hazue’s voice.

“Kaoru… Kaoru… your _hand_!”

He glanced at his right hand and as he saw the bloody mess was aware of a screaming, acute pain that adrenaline had suppressed until now. Thankfully a blissful oblivion took him and as he tumbled down to the ground he was barely aware of Hazue catching him.


“Of course if you DID have a girlfriend then it would really take the pressure off the both of us.”

Hazue’s blasé comment jerked Kaidoh out of his memories and he shot the teenager a sharp glance. “I don’t see you actively dating,” he responded curtly and Hazue smirked.

“But you’re the oldest, Kaoru…”

xxxxx

“So who is she?”

Kaidoh nearly jumped five miles straight up when Inui popped up behind him and spoke. As it was, his drink rocked violently and would have spilled over his tray had he not caught it in time. “Inui-sempai!” he looked reproachfully at the tall, spiky-haired young man. Inui had once organized his training and terrorized the club with his juice and was now studying nutrition at Kaidoh’s college, which meant they frequently had lunch together.

“Sorry, sorry,” Inui didn’t sound very apologetic. “So, who is she?” he repeated, his glasses glinting in the sunlight.

Kaidoh gaped at him. How many people had Kawamura talked to? “Nanako Echizen,” he said finally as they sat down at one of the cafeteria tables, knowing that Inui wouldn’t give up until he gained his ‘data’. “Cousin to…”

“Ryoma Echizen,” Inui nodded knowingly. He pulled out a small black book and flicked through it. “According to my information, she took a degree in medicine and now is a nurse at a local hospital. Still resides at the Echizen home,” he paused and gave Kaidoh a long, considering look. “Quite a pretty young woman.”

“Feh, what do I care?” Kaidoh bit savagely into his bread roll, trying to pretend that his ears weren’t burning.

“Care about what?” a calm, mildly questioning voice intruded and Kaidoh’s blood chilled.

“Ah, Fuji,” Inui greeted the former tennis prodigy turned psychology student. “Kaidoh claims he does not care about Ryoma Echizen’s cousin, Nanako.”

“Oh~?” Fuji turned to regard Kaidoh who was wishing that he could just disappear, right now. Having Inui on his case was bad enough, but Syusuke Fuji as well was a horror to even contemplate.

“It was a bet!” Kaidoh burst out, crumbling beneath their stares. “We made a bet and she won. That’s ALL!” he stood up abruptly. “And I doubt we’ll meet again. Excuse me!”

Fuji and Inui watched him stalk off, radiating irritation, and then looked at each other.

“He seems to be protesting a bit much,” Inui observed.

“Indeed,” Fuji smiled and rested his chin on his hand. “This may prove to be very interesting.”

xxxxx

“What a lousy day,” Kaidoh pushed aside his books and leaned back, stretching. Curled up on the couch beside him, Stripes lifted his head and mewed, almost as if he was asking a question. Kaidoh sighed and gently stroked the kitty, finding the action soothing to his frazzled nerves. “Kawamura-sempai must have told the entire neighbourhood, not to mention most of the tennis club!”

He picked up his book and tried to study again, but for some reason Nanako Echizen’s face kept springing to his mind, distracting him.

“Fsssuh!” Kaidoh hissed. “Why? It’s not like anything would happen even if I wanted it to happen anyway. She’s older and…”

The phone shrilled sharply, interrupting his list, and he snatched it up. “Kaoru Kaidoh.”

“Oh, thank goodness!”

He almost dropped the phone. “N-Nanako-san?”

“Yes. Oh, Kaidoh-san, I’m so sorry to call you like this, especially when it’s so late…”

“That’s… all right…” How did she get my number?

“But I really don’t know who else to ask…”

She sounded almost near tears and Kaidoh felt a chill run through him. “Are you all right?” he asked urgently.

“Yes… no… oh, Kaidoh-san… I need your help!”



To be continued...

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