Tezuka was nonplussed. "Practice, practice, practice?" he offered the punchline of a joke that someone had told him once, although it wasn't terribly funny.
"I think you have that part taken care of," she said, nodding at the tennis courts, where everyone was working twice as hard as usual. "What did you have in mind for transportation?"
"Aren't we taking the bus like we usually do?" Tezuka said. Sensei waved a ledger book at him.
"We would, except that we've already exhausted our budget, our supplementary budget, and our don't-tell-anyone-that-we-actually-gave-t
"Wait. What?" Tezuka said. "We had plenty of money before I left. What exactly has it been spent on?"
"For that, you'll have to ask your fukubuchou," Ryuzaki said, smirking.
"Oishi!" Tezuka shouted. "What happened to our--ten laps, all of you," he interrupted himself when he realized that the entire team had stopped to listen to them with interest. He lowered his voice. "What happened to our money?"
"I can explain!" Oishi said, blushing deeply. "We got lost and it was raining and it was the only place that would take us in, and anyway nothing happened!"
"Wait. What?" Tezuka said again.
"Oh, nothing," Oishi said quickly. Ryuzaki was covering her mouth with her ledger. Tezuka wasn't entirely certain that he wanted to know.
"Apparently, the tennis club is bankrupt," he said instead. "If we don't get some money somewhere, we're going to have to hitchhike to Nationals."
"That would be dangerous!" Oishi said. "We could be kidnapped and sold into sex slavery!"
"Sex slavery?" Fuji said brightly. "That sounds like an excellent idea."
Tezuka glared at Fuji. "No one is being sold into sex slavery," he said sternly. "Keep running."
Fuji started jogging in place, which was not exactly the same thing. "We could auction ourselves off for an evening to raise money for the tennis club," he went on. "It would be easy money. Which of course would be good because it wouldn't distract us from our training," he added.
"Absolutely not," Tezuka said.
The auction was scheduled for Friday afternoon. Inui and Fuji made flyers with little illustrations on them and wallpapered the entire school with them. Tezuka tore them down wherever he saw them and the staff took care of the other half, but he had given up on canceling the auction. He even agreed to allow himself to be auctioned off, for the good of the tennis club, of course, but on one point he remained firm.
"You can't have Echizen," he said.
"But our flyers promise all of the regular members," Fuji began, whipping one out of his pocket and indicating Inui's sketch of the member in question, which Tezuka considered to be highly indecent and bordering on shotacon.
"Also, Echizen is a very desirable property. I have estimated his going price at a minimum of fifty thousand yen. Probably more depending on the liquidity of the student body," Inui put in.
"Too bad you didn't ask me before you made the flyers," Tezuka said. "We are not auctioning off any of the freshmen. It would be wrong. I mean, it would be even more wrong," he added.
The auction was being held on the tennis courts, which Tezuka also felt was incredibly wrong, but the school wouldn't let them have any rooms and he had been unable to come up with any other suitable venues that would hold half the school and not cost exorbitant sums of money, so he had been forced to acquiesce to this sacrilege. The crowd was already starting to spill outside the fenced-in courts, and the auction hadn't even begun yet.
"So that's how you conduct an auction," Fuji concluded. "Does that make sense?"
"I think so," Kawamura said anxiously. "Uh ... attention, everyone ... "
"Oh yes. One more thing." Fuji tossed him a racket.
"LET'S GET THIS AUCTION STARTED, BABY! YOU WON'T GET ANY OF US CHEAP! BUUUUUURNING!"
The rest of the regulars were nearby. Momoshiro was putting even more wax into his hair. Kaidoh was trying to decide between three identical bandanas. Oishi was attempting to keep the surging crowd under control. Eiji was brushing his teeth again. Tezuka was hiding behind Inui and trying to pretend that none of this was actually happening.
Fuji found them all and herded them all onto the makeshift auction block. With rather more touching than Tezuka thought was strictly necessary, he arranged them all in a row, placing Tezuka on the far left. He stared unseeing into a sea of faces and green and white uniforms.
"Perfect!" Fuji said at last, surveying his handiwork. "Oh yes," he added. "Everyone take off your shirts."
A couple of girls standing near the front row overheard, and they began to shriek with hysteria.
"We are not taking our shirts off," Tezuka said.
Momoshiro already had his shirt off, and he had begun flexing and posturing. Kaidoh, hissing, stripped off his own shirt and flung it at Momo, and the two of them began to tussle. Soon Tezuka was the only one standing on the platform still fully dressed. He crossed his arms defiantly across his chest.
"Should I remove it for him?" Inui inquired.
Fuji considered. "No, you can leave it. I don't think it will hurt his price."
As Kawamura opened up the bidding on Kaidoh, Tezuka scanned the audience, which was primarily, though by no means exclusively, composed of females. He didn't see Echizen anywhere, which was a relief, of course. He didn't want Echizen involved in this tawdry affair. That was why he had excluded him from the auction.
Then again, it could just be that Echizen was concealed from his view by the taller members of the crowd. He continued to search.
"I HEAR ONE THOUSAND, BABY!"
"Oishi is worth more than that! Keep bidding!"
Fuji was taken by a large group of particularly terrifying girls who had pooled their money to stay in the bidding, which was fierce. Tezuka watched with indecent amusement as they stormed the stage and an increasingly-flustered Fuji tried to keep them from carrying him off of it. "The auction isn't over yet," he said. "I'll be all yours after that, I promise.'
Kawamura dragged Tezuka to the center of the stage. "HERE'S THE ONE YOU'VE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR!" he announced. "TEZUKA KUNIMITSU! BUUUUUURNING!"
Tezuka wasn't entirely certain what he had been expecting, probably because he had mostly been preoccupied with hoping that it would all be over soon. He definitely hadn't realized that there were that many people willing to pay large sums of money for what he considered the extremely unremarkable pleasure of an evening of his company.
"Eiji, you can't bid!" Fuji said, exasperated. "Besides, you don't have ten thousand yen."
"Oi, Oishi, do you have ten thousand yen?"
"Inui! You can't bid either!"
Tezuka crossed his arms and pretended that he wasn't listening to any of this.
He had a difficult time keeping his composure when he spotted a familiar silver head in the crowd. Atobe was watching. Worse still, Atobe had actually begun bidding. No one was going to be able to outbid him, although someone in the far back was certainly making a valiant attempt.
Tezuka wondered if his grandfather would be able to help him escape the country. He had liked Germany. Any other country would be all right, too.
He rejected this line of thinking. He had responsibilities to his team. Besides, Atobe would find him and have him brought back to Japan, probably within hours.
The bidding skyrocketed until it hurt Tezuka's head just thinking about it. He recrossed his arms and shifted his weight and looked for Echizen.
"One million yen!" the unknown man bid. Tezuka waited, cringing, for Atobe to double the bid and then possibly purchase the school for good measure, but oddly, he heard nothing besides the crowd (which was, to be sure, extremely loud).
"GOING ONCE! GOING TWICE!"
Atobe's head had disappeared as well, although Kabaji was attempting to manhandle someone that Tezuka thought he recognized from somewhere.
"SOLD, BABY! BUUUUUUUURNING!" Kawamura swung his racket around for emphasis. "AREN'T YOU GOING TO COME CLAIM YOUR PRIZE? BECAUSE IF YOU DON'T WANT HIM, I'LL TAKE HIM!"
Echizen Nanjiroh flopped onto the stage, closely followed by both Atobe and Kabaji.
"This monk assaulted my person and prevented me from bidding," Atobe proclaimed. "Right, Kabaji?"
"Usu," Kabaji grunted, picking up Echizen-san by his collar and shaking him like a dog with a rabbit.
"I don't know what you're talking about," Echizen-san blustered, looking completely unconcerned by his predicament. "Don't feel bad; even men twice your age don't have the balls to stay in a bidding war with me!"
Atobe howled with rage and began to describe the painful and anatomically improbable things he intended to do with Echizen-san's testicles.
Kawamura had dropped his racket in shock and was not at all equal to dealing with the present situation. "I'm sure we can work something out," he began.
"You already said that I won, so you can't take it back now," Echizen-san said. "That would be cheating."
"And you would know, wouldn't you, you dirty twisted perverted little cheater!" Atobe said.
"Ochibi!" Eiji shrieked, and Tezuka spotted Ryoma, who had slipped unnoticed onto the auction block. "You're so lucky that your father bought Tezuka-buchou for you! Only I think Kabaji is going to kill him," he added with big worried eyes.
"For Ryoma?" Echizen-san said. "I mean, right. For Ryoma."
Echizen Ryoma ignored all of them and looked straight at Tezuka.
"Want to get away from these idiots?" he said.
"Who are you calling 'idiot'?" Atobe and Echizen-san said in unison. They glared at each other and were momentarily silent.
"I am hereby withdrawing myself from this auction," Tezuka announced as loudly and authoritatively as he could muster, which was not very. "Thank you to everyone who participated; we appreciate your support. Have fun tonight," he added, as Fuji's new owners swamped him and Tezuka managed to escape in the ensuing chaos.
"Do I still get to keep you, buchou?" Ryoma asked, looking up at him sideways from underneath that cap of his. "I had plans."
Tezuka was suddenly concerned that his fears for Ryoma's innocence had been sadly misplaced. "I'm taking you home," he said.
Ryoma made a face. "I'm not going to be the one who explains to my mother where my father is," he said.
"Well," Tezuka said finally, "perhaps I'll take you to dinner first."