The sun was setting and Ryuzaki Sumire was packing up her things to go home, but Tezuka hung back, awkwardly.
"Ryuzaki-sensei," he said finally.
She inclined her head. "Yes?"
"I have a favor to ask you."
Ryuzaki nodded. She hoped it didn't have to do with playing Echizen again, although she rather suspected not; Tezuka had not demonstrated the slightest bit of reservation about that, whereas now he was positively diffident.
"With your permission, I would like to play for the quiz bowl club," Tezuka said. "The matches are held in the evenings and it will all be over in a month. I won't permit it to interfere with the tennis club in any way, of course." He spit the words out rapidly, staring at a fixed point located somewhere on her desk.
"Of course," Ryuzaki said, bemused. As if Tezuka would allow anything to interfere with the tennis club. Tezuka bowed his thanks and turned to make his escape. "Might I ask why this sudden interest in quiz bowl?"
Tezuka stopped, dutifully. "It was brought to my attention that all of the members of the quiz bowl team have dropped out due to lack of interest, leaving no one to represent Seigaku in districts. I felt that this would be shameful, so I volunteered myself as a player. Contingent on your approval, of course."
"What, all by yourself?" Ryuzaki teased gently.
"I will do my best."
"Of course." Ryuzaki didn't doubt it. She had never actually had Tezuka as a student herself, but of course, she had heard all about it in the teachers lounge. From the sound of it, it was something of a harrowing experience. No doubt, he was imminently qualified to be an entire quiz bowl team all by himself. She only hoped that it would be fun. Tezuka desperately needed to have some fun. "Don't overwork yourself."
"I'll be fine." Tezuka bowed again and left.
At the end of practice the next day, Ryuzaki made a general announcement to the team with a wicked glint in her eye. "All of you should wish Tezuka good luck. He's going to be taking over the Seigaku quiz bowl team single-handedly this month."
Tezuka looked stoic as his teammates reacted to this news.
"What? Quiz bowl?"
"Nya! Tezuka-buchou knows everything! Of course he'll win!"
"That's not even a sport!"
"Tezuka, I'm still not sure this is a good idea."
Tezuka held up one hand, quelling them instantly. "It's nothing," he said, keeping his voice level. "The other team members were unable to meet their commitment, so I volunteered to step in. It does not conflict with the tennis club. It is only for this month." He was sorely tempted to order everyone to run laps, but practice was supposed to be over, and besides, he couldn't assign Ryuzaki-sensei laps. He gave up and dismissed them all instead.
He didn't notice Inui hanging behind to talk to him until Inui was practically on top of him. "Tezuka," he said.
"You should have a teammate in quiz bowl," Inui said.
"I'll be fine," Tezuka said again, but Inui cut him off.
"I participated in a mathematics competition in elementary school and we placed first in the district. Also, I can gather data on our competitors and determine what subjects we ought to study. I estimate that I will be able to improve the chances of your winning by at least thirty-six percent." Inui pushed his glasses to the top of his nose. Tezuka stared at him. "I won't let it interfere with my training, of course."
"Of course," Tezuka agreed, bemused. As if Inui would let anything interfere with his training. Then, remembering himself, he added, "I will have you placed on the team roster at once, then."
"Thank you," Inui said, equally formally.
Inui called him for the first time before Tezuka even got home from school. "Tezuka," he said, "how are you doing in Japanese history? I'm sure that's going to be an important subject."
"Fine," Tezuka said, and hung up. He took off his shoes and kissed his mother on the cheek and settled in his bedroom with his copy of Le Petit Prince and his French-Japanese Japanese-French dictionary. He was up to chapître cinq in the French version.
His mobile rang. "Tezuka," Inui said, "who will our first competitors be? I'd like to begin gathering data on them as soon as possible."
"I don't know," Tezuka said, and hung up. He made a careful note in the margin of his book before he began on his homework.
His mobile rang again in the middle of his chemistry worksheet. "Tezuka," Inui said, "do you think I need to work on my derivatives? I'm still pretty shaky on the procedure, but this is a junior high-level competition, so perhaps I won't be required to use them."
"I don't know," Tezuka said. "Our coach said that he'd give us some packets of sample questions tomorrow. We can talk about it then." He hung up.
The next day at practice Tezuka let Inui set up one of his tests of skill, with Inui Juice for the losers. No one said anything to him about quiz bowl, although he thought he saw Eiji and Momo giggling about something. He had Inui match them up against Ryoma, who squeaked out a victory over them.
Other than that, it was an uneventful practice. He walked with Inui back into the school.
The quiz bowl coach was considerably less dedicated to the cause than Inui was. He greeted them perfunctorily, then left them in his empty classroom with a wad of messy photocopies and a padded briefcase containing an electronic device with cords and lights that resembled a battered octopus.
"There is no commitment to the quiz bowl club," Tezuka said, his lip curling slightly in disgust. "No wonder all the team members quit."
Inui plugged the buzzer system into the wall and flipped the small red switch on the back. It didn't do anything.
"The tennis club never has to work with sub-standard equipment," Tezuka went on.
"The tennis club does well in competitions," Inui pointed out.
"We wouldn't do well if all we had was sub-standard equipment," Tezuka said. Inui was opening up the plastic case with the screwdriver from his eyeglasses kit.
"I think I can fix this," he said. Tezuka looked over his shoulder.
"No, don't touch that," he said, "or it'll -- "
There were sparks and a fwoosh of smoke and Inui coughed and wiped his face with his handkerchief. "I think I shorted it out," he said. "I'm sorry."
"We can just ask each other the questions," Tezuka said finally. He helped Inui pack the buzzer system back in its padded briefcase. He figured that he could take it home and try to fix it there.
Inui sat at the sensei's desk with the photocopied questions. He read aloud: "This man devoted much of his life to the pursuit of alchemy and the Christian Bible. Name this scientist and philosopher better known for his study of optics and his three laws of motion."
"Isaac Newton," Tezuka answered. That was a simple one.
Inui marked something down in his omnipresent notebook. This one was labeled 'Tezuka Kunimitsu, Quiz Bowl'. He began rifling through the pages of questions.
"He was given the title 'the god of fiction' by his admirers. Who is the author of A Dark Night Passing and short stories such as Reconciliation?"
"Shiga Naoya." Tezuka remembered the name, although he had never actually read any of the stories. They went on for some time, with Inui trying out a variety of questions and taking careful notes.
"Shall we change places?" Inui asked, finally.
"Yes," Tezuka agreed. He resumed possession of the sample questions while Inui precisely tore out three sheets of notebook paper to use for scratch.
Tezuka decided to start with something easy. "A large piece of construction paper is point zero one millimeters thick. It is cut in half and one piece is placed on the other to make a pile. These are cut in half and all four pieces are placed in a pile. These four are cut in half and placed in a pile, and the process is continued. After the pieces have been cut and piled for the tenth time, what is the height of the pile in centimeters?"
Inui took down the numbers at first, but then calculated the answer in his head. "Ten point two four millimeters."
Tezuka shook his head no. Inui said, "But you have made ten cuts, which means that you take two to the power of ten -- "
"The question asked for a response in centimeters. Don't get careless," Tezuka cautioned. Still, he was pleased. Inui was much swifter at mental calculations than he was; he tended to spend more time thinking out the problem before reaching a solution.
"One point zero two four centimeters," Inui corrected himself. Tezuka asked a harder question and Inui answered it even faster
"We're running out of math questions," Tezuka noted.
"Yes, they constitute only about twenty-three percent of the total makeup of these questions," Inui said. He sounded disappointed.
"Your data tennis has paid off in more than one way, Inui," Tezuka put in. Then he looked away and said, "It's getting late. We should be getting home."
"Yes," Inui said. He took the questions and Tezuka took the buzzer system and they turned off the light and locked the door behind them.
Tezuka ignored his homework and took the buzzer system to bits all over his bedroom. He fell asleep before he had figured out what to do with it.
Tezuka and Inui didn't have a chance to practice again before their first quiz bowl competition, although Inui kept calling Tezuka to try new questions on him.
"Your accuracy is ninety-six percent, Tezuka," he said after Tezuka correctly identified the capital of Madagascar (Antanánarivo). "The Seigaku quiz bowl club will be strong."
"We will play our best," Tezuka allowed. Then he hung up.
Inui often called him while he was running, Tezuka noted. He was impressed by Inui's conditioning. His lung capacity was superb.
When they arrived at Sato Daini for their matches on Thursday evening, Tezuka and Inui stood out more than Tezuka would have liked. They were the only team who had only two players, rather than at least the requisite four. They were the only team whose coach had declined to show up, citing a previous engagement, which Tezuka suspected was at a hostess club. They were the only team who were unsure of where to go and what to do. Tezuka was glad he had allowed an extra half hour for registration.
"This week and next week we'll be playing in a round robin," Inui reported, flicking through the information packet.
"Who are we playing first?"
"What do you know about them?"
"There are six of them on the team and their coach has very long hair. Also, their tennis club is terrible."
"Before I was able to gather any further data, I was asked to leave the building," Inui explained. "It's much easier to collect data on tennis players. If you are unable to penetrate the school grounds, a pair of binoculars will suffice. For quiz bowl, perhaps some carefully-planted microphones would be useful."
Tezuka wondered if maybe, as Inui's captain, he should discourage this behavior. He decided that it probably wouldn't matter what he said either way.
"Let's go find the classroom where our first match is being held," he said instead.
The other team was there already, their four starting players seated together at one table, clutching buzzers in poised hands. Tezuka moved purposefully towards the empty table.
"What are you doing here?" demanded the high school kid draped over the podium at the front of the room. "This is the quiz bowl competition."
"We're the team from Seishun Gaikuen," Tezuka said evenly. The opposing team was whispering and giggling and pointing at them. Tezuka couldn't imagine what they found so entertaining and deplored their lack of sportsmanship. Inui took the chair at Tezuka's right and handed him three sheets of scratch paper from his notebook and a pen, just in case.
"Tezuka Kunimitsu, captain. My teammate, Inui Sadaharu."
No one reacted to their names. Tezuka wondered if maybe none of them even followed tennis. He had known that such people existed, of course, but he rarely actually met them. He was obscurely disappointed.
"All right," the moderator said, "everyone knows the rules, so let's just begin."
Inui started to protest that they were not, in fact, fully informed of the rules, but Tezuka whispered to him that they would be all right.
"Question number one is in Japanese history."
Inui made a sort of triumphant sound. Tezuka elbowed him to be quiet.
"In 1923, it -- "
A buzzer sounded from the opposing team. This was clearly a mistake of some kind, Tezuka thought. Nerves, probably.
"The Great Kanto Earthquake," said the boy with messy red hair who had buzzed in.
"That is correct!" the moderator pronounced.
"That's impossible!" Inui said.
"Shh," Tezuka said, automatically. He was staring at the Fudasei team, who were looking back, all brimming with smugness and glee. He was rattled.
"That's impossible." Inui bent his head to Tezuka's ear. "Perhaps they are cheating. They were in the room before we were."
"Question number two is in mathematics," the moderator went on.
Inui missed the beginning of the math problem because he was scribbling infuriated notes to Tezuka and Tezuka was writing scolding notes back and Fudasei got that one too. At the half, the score was 70-0 Fudasei.
"A love game," Inui muttered. He sounded low and broken.
"I wonder why Seigaku sent jocks to play on their quiz bowl team," Tezuka heard one of the Fudasei team say.
"Maybe they misread the flyers."
"Probably they can't even read."
"Take a deep breath," Tezuka advised Inui, who was fuming. He was feeling somewhat less than calm himself.
In the second half each question could earn your team a bonus question worth additional points, so it was possible for a team to rally and come from behind to win. Tezuka focused all his attention on each one as it was read.
"Question number eleven is in mythology. The third of these is now located in the imperial palace. The second is in the Grand Shrine of Ise in -- "
Tezuka realized what the answer was but he fumbled awkwardly for his buzzer and the red-haired Fudasei captain got it first.
"The Three Sacred Treasures or the Imperial Regalia of Japan," he said. His team got an easy bonus question, naming the gods of the sun, moon and storm, and brought the score to 100-0.
"Question number twelve is in mathematics. The graph of y equals the quantity x plus two times the quantity x - 3 intersects the x axis at points A and B. Find the length of AB."
Inui scribbled on his paper for a few seconds and then managed to knock his buzzer off the table. Its clatter echoed in the quiet room and the Fudasei team laughed. Their coach had the decency to cover her mouth, but she was laughing too. One of them rang in and took the question while Inui was awkwardly stooping under the table to retrieve his buzzer.
"IGNORE THEM" Tezuka wrote in large characters on his paper as the Fudasei team answered their bonus questions. He realized that his right hand was on Inui's knee and that he was actually gripping it rather tightly, but he left it there and Inui seemed to relax a little.
They played a little more calmly and took several questions. Inui was faster on the math questions than their opponents when he stayed focused and didn't sabotage himself, Tezuka noted with approval. The final score was a slightly less embarrassing 270-90.
Tezuka shook hands firmly and politely with each member of the Fudasei team, including their coach, who looked surprised. He signed the official scoresheet.
"Our next game is in another classroom," Inui reported, flourishing the information packet, and he and Tezuka left that one without another word to anyone.
"Do you know which way we're supposed to go?" Tezuka asked. In response, Inui pulled him around a corner into a hallway, but it appeared to be deserted.
"I'm sorry, Tezuka," he said, staring down. "This was all my fault. I should have realized how dramatically the effects of actual game play would affect my data and compensated accordingly. It was careless of me."
Tezuka stared for a moment. "No, it was my fault. I'm the captain," he said. "I should have ensured that we were familiar with all the rules and knew what strategies to employ. Besides, you scored more points than I did," he added.
"Our next game is in four and a half minute," Inui said. "If the opposing team is even half as strong as Fudasei, there is a zero percent chance that we will win."
"There are three more matches next week," Tezuka reminded him. "There is still a possibility that we can make it to the district finals if we work hard between now and then."
Inui brightened. "I will prepare training menus for both of us," he said, whipping out his notebook and writing furiously.
"And I will fix our buzzer system so that we can practice with it."
"I can help you with that." At Tezuka's raised eyebrow, he added: "I'll be more careful with it this time."
Ryuzaki caught Tezuka the next morning before school. "How were your quiz bowl matches?" she asked him.
"Inui and I have a good partnership in quiz bowl," he answered, leaving out the actual details of their matches, which they had in fact lost both of. Ryuzaki just smiled at him in that odd way that she sometimes did and told him that she would see him at practice.
At tennis practice that afternoon, Fuji insinuated himself next to Tezuka as he stood outside the chain-link fence, watching Echizen play Momoshiro. "How are things with you and Inui?" he asked softly.
"We lost our first matches, but we know what we need to work on before next week," Tezuka responded.
"Oh, but that's not what I asked," Fuji said, still smiling, before he drifted away.
That night Inui came home with Tezuka and accepted a cup of tea and said various polite things to his parents and grandparents (although Tezuka cut him off whenever he started quoting various statistics about Tezuka to them). Then they went back to Tezuka's room, where the buzzer system was still in pieces all over the otherwise neat floor.
"I found schematics of this particular buzzer system on the internet," Inui said, pulling out his laptop and a small leather toolkit from his racket bag. "I think that if we rewire it, it will be as good as new."
Tezuka looked at the schematics and instructed while Inui soldiered and screwed, but after a while he determined that Inui had figured out what he was doing. He found his copy of Le Petit Prince and the French dictionary, but the book stayed closed, his fingers in chap”tre dix. He watched Inui instead.
Tezuka and Inui practiced twice that week in the empty classroom of their absentee coach. The first time, they took turns asking each other questions and buzzing in using their newly-refurbished buzzers to answer them, until it became much more natural, like swinging a tennis racket. The second time, Tezuka asked Oishi if he would read the questions for them for a little while, if he wasn't busy, and Oishi said of course.
"I actually can't stay too much later, because my uncle is coming to dinner tonight," Oishi apologized after they had practiced for an hour. "But don't worry, because I arranged a substitute."
"Hoy! It's me, Kikumaru-sama!" Eiji tumbled into the classroom. "I've come to improve your quiz bowl team with my acrobatic play!"
"Eiji," Oishi said. Eiji huffed.
"I mean, I've come to read your boring questions out loud to you without distracting you or changing the subject or anything," he corrected himself sadly. Tezuka tightened his lips and thanked Oishi for his help.
"There is an eighty-nine percent chance that we will win both of our matches next week," Inui pronounced at the end of their practice. "However, whether that is enough to advance to the finals depends on the performance of the other teams. Based on my data, I estimate that the chances of this are only thirty-two percent." He rifled through his notebook. "One of our weak areas is sports."
Tezuka stared at him.
"Sports other than tennis," Inui clarified.
"Oh," Tezuka said. "I can study those."
"You already have foreign politicians and Nobel prizewinners and world rivers and American popular culture," Inui said. "I'll take the sports."
"We can study it together," Tezuka said. "I'll see you tomorrow."
On the train ride to Gyokurin, Tezuka flipped through the twenty-page list of Nobel prizewinners that Inui had printed out for him. Inui stood beside him with his own list. Both of them had quizzed each other thoroughly on the contents of these lists and knew them forwards and backwards, but they looked at them anyway, just because.
This time, they walked around like they knew what they were doing and ignored the other teams who were staring and occasionally pointing.
"If I'm not mistaken, the Fudasei team has been talking about us," Inui observed. "We will be able to confound all of our opponents' data. It should give us a significant psychological advantage, especially in our first game, which should be a particularly tough match against Gyokurin."
"Yes," Tezuka nodded. They had put away their lists and were standing together nonchalantly until it was time for the first matches to begin.
The senior members of the Gyokurin quiz bowl club were running around frantically making sure that all the buzzer systems were set up, all the tables and chairs had been arranged, all the moderators had been briefed and all the questions in their sealed envelopes had been distributed. Inui and Tezuka were waiting for fifteen minutes before the Gyokurin captain rushed in, told four of his teammates to go ahead and play this match without him, and deputized one of them as substitute captain.
"They have definitely underestimated us," Inui whispered to Tezuka.
"Very careless of them," Tezuka murmured back. "Shh," he added, as an afterthought.
Their moderator for this game was a teacher from Gyokurin. She introduced herself to Tezuka and Inui and read the rules aloud, the way she was supposed to. "I will be asking you toss-up questions that are worth ten points each. If you think you know the answer, press your buzzer and wait for me to recognize you by name before you give an answer. In the second half, answering a toss-up question correctly will also give your team a chance to answer bonus questions worth a total of twenty points. On a bonus question, you may confer with your teammates, but this is not permitted at any other time and any team violating this rule will be disqualified form the tournament. Does anyone have any questions?"
No one did. Tezuka and Inui were poised, buzzers in hand, paper in front of them, leaning forward attentively. Their opponents were fidgeting.
"Question number one is in science. It was discovered in 1766 -- "
Tezuka rang in. "Seigaku, Tezuka," she said, looking at him doubtfully.
"Hydrogen," he said. The moderator stared at her paper to make sure she was reading it properly.
"That is correct," she said. "Ten points for Seigaku."
"That can't be right!"
"Their team must be cheating!"
The moderator said there was no evidence of any cheating and would everyone please sit down. Inui pushed his glasses to the top of his nose. Tezuka began to feel excited.
The technique he had employed was somewhat similar to Inui's data tennis. It involved predicting what direction the question was heading in early on and interrupting the moderator to answer. It didn't come naturally to Tezuka, who would have preferred to listen to each question in its entirety, but Inui had coached him until he was reasonably proficient. After all, it would be impossible to beat the higher-level quiz bowl teams without taking risks.
"Question number two is in world history," the moderator continued.
Gyokurin's less-experienced players were completely demoralized and Seigaku dominated in the first half, 70-20. At the half, Tezuka and Inui sat back calmly while the Gyokurin players quarreled with each other about whose fault it was that they were losing to two Seigaku tennis players.
"How can they possibly expect to win like this?" Inui said, as the poor moderator asked for the third time for them to please give her their attention for the beginning of the second half.
"They don't expect to win," Tezuka said. "Which is why they won't. Zero percent chance," he added.
They didn't. When the Gyokurin captain stopped by to pick up the scoresheets, he laughed. "No, really, what was the score?"
"Two-hundred twenty to sixty-five," Inui chimed in. He held out his hand for a handshake that never came.
"How could you have let this happen? Were you even awake?"
Tezuka tactfully dragged Inui out of the room. "Who are our next opponents?" he asked.
Inui consulted his notebook. "Kakinoki," he said. "They should present no difficulty."
Tezuka frowned. "I thought they won both of their games last week."
"According to my data their playing is not exceptional. Their technique for winning involves distracting the opposing team with their revealing clothing."
"Ah," Tezuka said. They won, 160-145, and refused to give their phone numbers to anyone afterwards.
"This should be our most difficult game of the day," Inui whispered as the Fudomine team filed into the room and took their places opposite. "They're good and not easily rattled. And that girl over there can beat me on the math questions."
Tezuka craned his head to stare at her before he realized that he was being impolite. "Don't get careless," he whispered back to Inui.
They made polite small talk with the Fudomine players while they waited for the questions to be delivered to their room. The girl that Inui had singled out turned out to be in Tachibana's class, and she promised to give him the regards of the Seigaku tennis club. Then the game began.
The first question was in math, and Fudomine's Shimizu beat Inui to the buzzer. Naturally, Inui's data was accurate. Tezuka worked on clearing his mind and getting ready for the next question, which was in Japanese history.
Tezuka buzzed in and answered the Meiji Restoration, which was incorrect. Fudomine got to listen to the rest of the question and answered Rurouni Kenshin, which was. "Questions about manga should not be under Japanese history," Tezuka said, louder than he'd intended.
"Did you want to lodge a protest, Seigaku?" the moderator asked him.
"No. I'm sorry. Please continue."
He missed a question he could have answered about Hokusai, and then he took one about the Tokyo Yakult Swallows' pitcher.
"Well done, Tezuka!" Inui hissed.
"It is all thanks to your training menus," Tezuka answered. "Shh!"
They struggled through the rest of the first half and ended up with a score 60-30 Fudomine.
"The score deficit is nothing," Inui said, "We can make that up in one question in the second half."
Tezuka nodded. "We need to play the best game that we've ever played."
"Question number eleven is in world history."
Fudomine took the question, but they missed all their bonus questions on world rivers. Seigaku scooped up their twenty points and narrowed their lead.
The next question asked for the roots of a quadratic equation, and Inui rang in as soon as the question had been read and worked out the correct answer while the moderator was calling his name. Again they swept the bonus, which was also in math, and the score was 80-70 in their favor.
"We can definitely do this," Inui said. They lost two straight questions and only made up ten points on the bonuses, but they remained calm. Fudomine fumbled a question about the bones of the inner ear, which Inui took, and they got ten more points for identifying two of four United States cabinet members correctly. Fudomine couldn't answer either of the ones they missed, so their scores remained tied.
There was a question about literature that no one knew, and then question number seventeen was in science. "This man is the only winner of two Nobel Prizes for Chemi -- "
"Sanger," Tezuka answered, and with the bonus they brought their lead up to thirty points, but then Shimizu beat Inui on another math question and they tied the score going into the final question of the match.
"Question number twenty is in geography. It is famous for a large statue of Jesus on top of a mountain. Name this Brazilian city -- "
Fudomine buzzed in and answered S‹o Paolo.
"That is incorrect," the moderator said, and their team groaned. Tezuka didn't even wait for the rest of the question to be read to answer.
"Rio de Janeiro."
"That is correct."
They received a bonus in math, and Tezuka leaned so far over to watch as Inui was writing, he practically fell out of his own hard metal chair. Their final score was 170-140.
"We were completely defeated," the opposing captain said gracefully as he shook hands with Tezuka.
"Your team played very well," Tezuka responded. He said and did all the right things, but as soon as was at all polite, he and Inui broke away and scurried down the hall to find the tournament headquarters where the official scores were being written up.
Only half of the six games, including theirs, were posted. Inui began figuring out loud. "We did it, Tezuka! We made it into the top four!"
"How do you know?" Tezuka asked. "We don't have all the scores in."
"There is a sixty-seven point three percent chance that we have made it into the finals," Inui corrected himself. They stood back against the wall and waited for the final results, Tezuka silently, Inui with a lengthy explanation of the data underlying his projected results, until they had the score from the Kakinoki-Ooshogi game and both of them knew what it meant immediately.
"We did it! We're going to districts!" Inui was glowing and Tezuka was making an exhibition of himself and all the other quiz bowl teams were staring at them as they exchanged high fives and hand clasps and Tezuka was long past caring. He barely heard the official announcement of the final results: in the first seed, Gyokurin; second, Fudosei; third, Fudomine; and fourth, Seigaku. He managed to gather the information packet about district finals that would have gone to their coach if their coach had bothered to show up and the two of them were ready to leave.
Tezuka didn't know what he was expecting when Inui pulled him aside on their way out. He didn't figure it out when Inui placed one of his hands on Tezuka's right shoulder and wound the other one into the hair at the back of Tezuka's head. He still didn't understand when Inui kissed him.
Their glasses clashed and Tezuka's heart stuttered and Inui's lips were soft and thorough and his hands were warm, insinuating their way under Tezuka's shirt and finding the planes of his back. Tezuka forgot how to think, how to move, how to breathe; when Inui let him go, his own legs wouldn't support him, and he stumbled and fell back against the stone wall.
"Inui," he said finally, and then stopped, because he didn't know what else to say.
"I'm sorry," Inui said, looking down. "I always get your data wrong. I thought that you -- that we -- I'm very sorry."
He backed away and fled, not even noticing that he had left all this things on the ground at Tezuka's feet. Tezuka reached out, automatically, to gather the scattered papers and found underneath them the black and white notebook labeled "Tezuka Kunimitsu, Quiz Bowl".
Tezuka had never seen the inside of any of Inui's notebooks. Partly because it would be wrong and dishonorable and a grievous invasion of privacy and partly because Inui never, ever permitted anyone else to have access to them.
He hardly even hesitated before opening it, and he hated himself for it.
The first few pages appeared to be notes on his tennis, written in some kind of hybrid notation that probably only Inui could understand anyway, although he traced the pages with his fingers and picked out the arc of his zero shiki drop shot, the spin on one of his serves. In the later pages there were notes he had taken on their quiz bowl matches, which were tolerably clear.
Interleaved were pages he could make absolutely nothing of, until he found his own name and realized that they were in mirror writing. He read slowly and laboriously, until he blushed even hotter and snapped the notebook shut and cursed himself for having opened it in the first place.
He dialed Inui's number three times, but Inui didn't answer.
[Mirror Writing (NC-17) was originally posted between part three and part four. You may wish to read it now.]
The next week was long and empty and miserable. Inui was keeping away from him at tennis practices, avoiding him in the hallways, refusing to answer his phone. Tezuka was even quieter than usual and crossed his arms a lot and hoped that nobody would notice the difference.
Inui had sent him two emails. One was an extensive dossier analyzing all the data he had gathered on the three other teams who were playing in the quiz bowl district finals. The other was a stiff, formal thank you for returning his notebook.
Tezuka kept trying to write a reply to that second email, but he didn't know what to say. He couldn't lie and said that he hadn't read any of it, but he couldn't figure out how to admit to doing something so dishonorable, either.
He never got far enough to worry about what he would say about the things that he had read. The message stayed blank on his desktop.
Oishi knew that something was wrong, of course, especially when he offered to read questions for them to practice for the finals.
"Thank you," Tezuka said uncomfortably, "but I don't think that we're practicing again. It's all right," he added, "I think we're ready."
Oishi just looked at him unhappily. They both knew that that wasn't the kind of thing that Tezuka would say about any activity that he had committed himself to.
"All right," he said finally, "Good luck."
"Have you finished my book yet?" Fuji asked.
Tezuka started. He hadn't even noticed Fuji approaching behind him and he had no idea what he was talking about. "What book?"
"Le Petit Prince. I thought you'd be done with it by now, or I wouldn't have lent it to you."
Tezuka stared at Fuji suspiciously. He distinctly remembered Fuji giving him the book, not lending it to him. Also, he was pretty sure there was another copy in Fuji's racket bag.
"Of course, you've been busy with other things. And maybe the French is harder than English for you," Fuji went on, still smiling.
"I'm almost done," Tezuka said. "I'll give it to you tomorrow." He was only halfway done. He had been too busy being miserable all week to read or do any of his homework or take care of the garden or anything.
"Thank you." Fuji turned away before Tezuka could catch the expression on his face.
Tezuka turned back towards the tennis courts and stared and didn't see anything besides Inui.
That evening Tezuka packed his racket bag, told his grandfather that no one was to worry if he was out late, and took the train all the way across town to the oldest, rattiest, most disused public tennis courts that he knew about. He served balls at the crabgrass growing in the cracks of the court surface until he felt a little bit better, although his serves were subpar and there was a tightness in his chest that wouldn't go away.
Eventually he gave up and sat down with his back against the squeaky chain-link fence and read, this time from cover-to-cover and without even consulting the dictionary, which he mostly didn't need anymore. He read until he got to the last page with its single lonely star like the street lamp that cast its dirty light unevenly over the court in the twilight and he knew that he was being stupid and that he had to talk to Inui even though he had tried and failed all week long.
He began rehearsing the speech that he would make in his mind. It was wise and calm and logical and convincing like the essays that he wrote for class, except for the one that he hadn't turned in that week in Japanese history because he hadn't even been able to start writing about his topic (the rise of samurai). It would make everything right again.
Every single word of it escaped him when he heard a familiar voice calling his name.
Inui was standing half a court away from him, his hands pushed awkwardly in his pockets. "I knew you would be here," he went on. Tezuka stared at him with open-mouthed shock. "Actually, I thought it was probable that you would seek out an isolated tennis court, but I assigned this particular one only a thirteen point seven percent probability. I'm sorry it's so late now."
Tezuka rose to his feet in a single unsteady movement. "Inui," he began.
"Will you play a match with me?"
"Of course," Tezuka said at once. He had never refused Inui a match, actually; he had always managed to arrange something whenever Inui came to him, notebook in hand, prepared to test out his latest data. Now he pulled his racket back out of his bag and tried to focus on the game and the ball in the dying light.
"You're not playing seriously, Tezuka," Inui said after he took his service game easily and precisely. "I need you to play seriously."
There was something in his voice that Tezuka had never heard before, or maybe he had just never recognized it when he heard it. His stomach flipflopped and he faulted his first serve and then smashed his next one past Inui.
It got darker and the street light began to flicker and Tezuka and Inui kept playing until the final point, which neither of them was willing to give.
"I'm sorry," Inui said, letting his racket slip from his hand and clatter on the uneven ground. "I'll see you tomorrow. I will attempt to behave more normally and not cause you any further trouble."
"Wait," Tezuka called hoarsely, flinging down his own racket and crossing the court. He tried to remember all the things he had been about to say before. He thought there had been something about sight.
Inui turned back.
"We should take off our glasses first," Tezuka said, "before we ... well. It would work better."
Inui stared at him. Tezuka pulled off his own glasses first, which he jammed carelessly in a pocket with a couple of tennis balls, and then, hesitantly, half-blindly, reached for Inui's.
"I should have accounted for that in my calculations," Inui said. "I thought that I had thought of everything."
Tezuka peered up into Inui's face, which was surprisingly softened without the angular black frames, and then Inui was kissing him again and this time Tezuka did his best to kiss back.
Inui's superior lung capacity was useful for more than just tennis, he thought.
It was very late when Tezuka finally made it back to his house, but sure enough, his family hadn't worried about him. They were all in bed.
His phone rang before he even made it through the door. "Yes, I'm home," he said. "We should get some sleep before tomorrow." He hung up before he said anything else.
Inui was waiting for Tezuka outside his classroom at the end of the day holding a notebook labeled "Tezuka Kunimitsu, Quiz Bowl 2" and a bottle of Inui juice.
"Here, drink this," he said, "I formulated it especially for concentration and recall." As Tezuka stared dubiously at the purplish liquid, he added, "It tastes good." When Tezuka was still not reassured, Inui said, "I already tested it on the rest of the regulars this morning. They said they liked it."
Tezuka took a sip. It actually wasn't that bad. It tasted a little like passionfruit. "I think it's working," he said, keeping a very straight face. "The capital of Afghanistan is Kabul. The capital of Albania is Tiran‘ ... "
When they got to Fudomine, where the district quiz bowl finals were being held, Tezuka was startled to discover that they would be playing their game against the first seed, Gyokurin, on stage in the auditorium. He thought maybe this had been mentioned in the handout he had dropped on the ground and then never read.
He was even more startled to discover that his entire tennis team was already in the auditorium, along with Fudomine's Tachibana. Oishi, Eiji and Kawamura were holding up a banner that said GO SEIGAKU QUIZ BOWL; Kaidoh and Momoshiro were fighting over an armrest; Fuji was laughing at something, and Echizen had his hat pulled low over his face and was apparently sleeping in his seat. The handful of people in the auditorium from other schools were all staring at them. The Gyokurin team, who had already taken their places at one of the tables on the stage, were pointing and laughing.
"Welcome to the 5th annual Kantou regional quiz bowl finals," began the short fat man who was standing on the stage, microphone in hand. "I'd like to remind our audience today that you must be silent during the matches or you will be asked to leave."
The Seigaku regulars settled down as Tezuka and Inui took their seats on the stage.
"I hope you don't think that you're going to win this match just because you beat my junior players last week," the Gyuokurin captain said, just loud enough that only they could hear him. "We're going to crush you."
This time it was Inui who put his hand on Tezuka's knee under the table. They nodded at each other. Inui pushed his glasses back to the top of his nose.
"I am the vice-principal of Fudomine Chugaku and I will be reading the questions for these final matches," the man with the microphone went on. He read the rules and then asked the players to turn on the microphones at their tables and introduce themselves.
The Seigaku players in the audience stood up and waved their banner and cheered, silently, so that no one would be able to throw them out.
"Question number one is in mathematics," he began. "If the length and width of the hour and minute hand of a clock are four centimeters and six centimeters respectively, what is the distance, in centimeters, between the tips of the hands at two o' clock?"
Inui rang in while he was still scribbling furiously on his paper.
"Two times the quantity seven to the power of one half," he rattled off just in time, and the first ten points on the electronic scoreboard went to Seigaku.
"Nicely done," Tezuka whispered.
They played well during the rest of the half, although Gyokurin edged into the lead, 50-40.
"They are a formidable team," Inui said worriedly. "Their regular players are undefeated this year."
"We're just getting warmed up," Tezuka replied. He looked down at the broken pencil in his hand and realized that he had snapped it in half.
The second half began and Gyokurin beat them to the buzzer on a string of questions but kept fumbling the bonuses, including one easy one about constellations. With the points from the bonus questions, Seigaku actually managed to pull into the lead.
"This game is ours," Inui murmured, after the captain ignored the answers his team gave him, gave his own, incorrect answers, and then called all his teammates idiots.
"Don't get careless," Tezuka said automatically, and gave the correct top three exports of Japan.
They won by thirty points and the crowd cheered while the Gyokurin captain slammed down his buzzer and stomped off the stage without even shaking their hands, although the other players did and apologized for their captain's poor behavior.
The other semifinal game wasn't finished yet, so they had to sit and wait on the stage while the Fudomine vice-principal told jokes with the wrong punchlines.
"There is a ninety-four percent chance that Fudasei will win their match," Inui said, covering his scratch paper in equations.
Tezuka thought back on their first disastrous match, only two weeks previous. "Do you think we can beat them?"
"Maybe," Inui said. Tezuka raised his eyebrows. "My data gives us a ten-percent chance," he admitted, showing Tezuka his calculations.
"I have a feeling we will surpass your data in this game," Tezuka said. Inui nodded.
"Yes," he said, "you have a way of doing that." He adjusted his glasses.
The Fudasei team arrived, strutting onto the stage as if they owned it. The Fudomine vice-principal asked them what the score of their game was and their captain answered, 270-120.
Inui sucked in his breath. "That's higher than my most generous projection," he said.
"Forget about it," Tezuka ordered. "Concentrate on this match." Inui got out fresh scratch paper and handed three sheets to Tezuka.
"Now, if everyone is ready, we'll begin the final match of the quiz bowl tournament," the vice-principal said into his microphone. Tezuka leaned all the way forward in his seat. "Question number one is in literature. His best-known work was published in 1964, forty years before -- "
Fudasei rang in first. "Oe Kenzaburo."
"I knew that," Tezuka muttered.
"Shh," Inui said calmly. He took the second question, which was in chemistry.
"Oh, look. Apparently the tennis players learned something in the last two weeks," one of the Fudasei players stage-whispered.
"Question number three is in geography. Located on the steppe of Central Asia, this lake, called 'The Sacred Sea' in Mongolian, is the deepest -- "
Tezuka buzzed in with the correct answer, Lake Baikal, and Fudasei's captain just smirked and made two audacious guesses in a row, both of which were correct. The score at the half was 60-40 in favor of Fudasei.
"We can do this," Inui said. "They are vulnerable in math and science, and our abilities are closely matched in everything else."
"We can do this," Tezuka agreed.
The first question of the second half was in history and Fudasei buzzed in too early and missed it. Inui and Tezuka got a bonus about atomic weights of elements. Unlike Gyokurin, however, the Fudasei players weren't easily rattled by Seigaku pulling into the lead. They stayed focused and united and took the next question and swept the bonus.
Question three was a trigonometry problem and Inui answered it so fast it made Tezuka's head spin, but then their bonus was all about the Amau Doctrine which Tezuka only had the vaguest idea about and they only ended up getting five points out of it. They went back and forth for a while, and then Tezuka missed a question about Agatha Christie and Fudasei ended up with a seventy point lead with only three questions left in the match.
"Question number eighteen is in sports. His students included Funakoshi Gichin, Kenwa Mabuni, and Motobu Choki -- "
Tezuka buzzed in and named the father of modern karate, Itosu Yasutsune. They received a bonus in fine arts and narrowed the gap in their scores to forty points. Fudasei took question number nineteen and then missed their bonus because the only baseball player they knew was Nagashima Shigeo.
"If we take this question, we will tie the game," Inui whispered. Tezuka nodded.
"What happens if we tie?"
"Sudden death, I think."
"Question number twenty is in geography," the moderator began. Tezuka was leaning so far forward he was actually no longer in his seat. "It is the world's most northern national -- "
Tezuka buzzed in. "Reykjavik." The moderator peered at what was written on his paper.
"That is correct," he pronounced finally. "You will receive a bonus in mathematics." Tezuka read Inui's answers aloud and he knew even before the moderator said so that every single one of them was correct.
"Well!" the moderator said. "The score is tied! This is very unusual." He looked around him for someone to tell him what to do and the Fudomine coach hurried onto the stage, flustered, flipping through sheaves of paper.
Tezuka studied the faces of the opposing team. "If we lose," he began.
"We won't," Inui said confidently.
"It all rests on one question, and there is a very strong chance that they will answer it correctly," Tezuka argued.
"Maybe. But we'll answer it first." Inui sounded more confident that he did about statements that he could back up with actual data, and Tezuka couldn't help but believe him.
"Everyone please be quiet," the vice-principal told the restless audience. "I have five questions here for our tiebreaker round, but with the way these young people have been playing, I don't think we'll be needing them all. The first team to answer a question correctly will be the winner of this regional tournament."
He paused dramatically. The auditorium was perfectly silent.
"Our first tiebreaker question is in world literature. This fable about a fox, a flower, and a -- "
Tezuka buzzed in one last time. "Le Petit Prince," he said, and then added, quickly, because the vice-principal seemed ready to object, "or The Little Prince in Japanese."
The Fudomine coach jumped back on the stage and whispered something in his ear, and he said, "We will accept your answer, Seigaku. Congratulations!"
Tezuka knew he was supposed to shake hands with the Fudasei team and sign the score sheet and accept the trophy and behave with dignity, but he knocked over his chair and threw his arms around Inui and jumped up and down like elementary schoolers instead and the world didn't come to an end after all.
"Here's your book back," Tezuka told Fuji on their way out, thrusting it at him. "It was very helpful."
"Ah, good," Fuji said, beaming. "I wanted to lend it to Yuuta next."
"There is a zero percent chance that Fuji Yuuta is studying French," Inui interrupted, looking confused. "I know I have his class schedule somewhere ... "
"Never mind that," Tezuka said. He grabbed Inui's hand and distracted him.