At fourteen years old, there is one thing pleasing to Inui Sadaharu, and that is a perfectly balanced mathematic equation. At fifteen years old, there are two things.
At fourteen years old, there is one thing displeasing to Inui Sadaharu, and that is a mathematic equation he cannot balance. At fifteen years old, there are way more than two things.
There is an infinite number of things displeasing to Inui Sadaharu. Inui knows, because in maths class, he's writing it out. Pi.
The back of Tezuka's neck is pale, where his hair and his collar don't align.
“Tezuka Kunimitsu is not a mathematic equation?” Eiji reads, fingering the small piece of paper that formerly was stuck to the inside of Inui's locker. “Why does Inui-senpai have something totally obvious pasted in his locker?”
“I'm not sure you should have been snooping around in his locker, Eiji.” Oishi, ever diplomatic, is trying to pretend the piece of paper does not exist. It seems perfectly obvious that Tezuka is not a mathematic equation. But it is difficult to decide what Tezuka is, so Oishi can understand confusion on the matter. Even from Inui.
“He asked me to get his green book. Beside the apple, he said, and beneath the pineapple.” Eiji says, as if this clears it up.
Fuji smiles, hanging up his jacket. “So Inui-senpai also carries pineapples in his locker.”
Everyone ignores him. Except Momo, who says something like if I had food in my locker, it wouldn't be a stupid pineapple! And Kaido, who points out that you always have food in your locker, idiot! And then Momo, who concludes that that's the point, moron!
“Perhaps...” Fuji begins, and Eiji waves his hands. “No! No explanations from you!”
“Perhaps,” Oishi picks up the thread. “Perhaps it isn't totally obvious.”
“You think so too, Oishi?” Fuji says, satisfied.
“Huh? Of course it's obvious!” Eiji waves the piece of paper at Oishi. “Tezuka can't be a mathematical equation! If he was, he'd be a really obvious one. Like, misbehaviour + getting caught = 7 million laps. Or letting your guard down + being careless = Buchou's head explodes.”
At this point, Ryoma walks in and pretends the locker room is empty. He manages it until Momo, throwing a tennis ball at Kaido, misses him entirely and pings it off Ryoma's cap. Then, Ryoma says, “Ow.” Then, embarrassed, he adds, “Che. It didn't even hurt. Want me to do that for you?”
“Tezuka's mathematic equation would be...straightforward,” Oishi concedes. “So he must be something other than a mathematic equation. Is perhaps what Inui is saying.”
“Or perhaps...” Fuji says, and then stops. And smiles. Eiji grabs the tennis ball and aims.
“You have 0.1% chance of making the shot,” Inui says, from the door. “And 99.9% chance the ball will bounce off the bench and hit you in the face.”
“Saa, Inui-senpai. Crushing their creativity.”
“Inui-senpai? Why do you have a pineapple in your locker?” Eiji says, dropping the ball back into his bag.
“It might come in useful,” Inui says, logically.
“And so that you'd ask him about it.” Fuji says, smirking.
“And what about this note?” Eiji presses, shoving the note at Inui, eyeing the flask under his arm with mild alarm.
Inui studies it and adjusts his glasses. “It might come in useful.”
Eiji just gives him a funny look.
“Maa, Inui. If Tezuka-buchou isn't an equation, what am I not?” Fuji asks.
Inui looks at Fuji. Fuji looks back. It takes Inui a second and a half to answer, and this is an unusually long pause.
“There is nothing that you're not.”
Fuji is a free-floating object in space and time. A shape-shifter. His chemical make-up changes, depending on mood and situation. It isn't that he's an actor, playing different roles – Inui finds this too sloppy an analogy – but that he has the ability to adapt himself to different situations. Like a computer, changing his own coding on impulsive amusement value. This is why Inui cannot analyze Fuji's data. It changes, all the time. Inui likes what is predictable. He likes maths and chemistry, both of which operate on a series of logical rules. What cannot be done, cannot be done. There are boundaries to knowledge and experimentation. Further than a simple line, things cannot exist. Fuji is not like that. You will think you have found the point beyond which Fuji cannot exist, and he takes a step further. His data is, in a sense, unsatisfying and unreliable. Chasing it, though, has been Inui's preoccupation for two years, and the pursuit is more satisfying than the end result will be, if he ever gets there.
Tezuka is different. Inui suspects that Tezuka has a core, a solution, that does not change. There is something in Tezuka that governs the way that he is, all the time, but that he hides so that it cannot be given a value. It helps that Tezuka is a principled person; there are things he will not do. Not just the big things – Inui knows no Seigaku member would steal or throw rocks at someone – Tezuka will not do a range of small and insignificant things. He will not ignore someone who gives him a card on Valentine's Day, despite the embarrassment he likely feels (Inui has discovered that Tezuka is somewhere close to shy around girls. 72% shy, 28% something else. Inui is still working on this). He will not ignore an invitation from a friend but he will hang up on one if the conversation does not sufficiently interest him. Sometimes, he will ignore the well-meaning advice of a friend but months later, can repeat it word-for-word. He does not eat carrot onigiri because he finds the texture unpleasant. If he is offered it by a friend's mother, he will always accept it and eat it as if he finds it delicious. Tezuka operates on a series of connected rules and these make him predictable. This is the data that Inui can analyze and balance. If Tezuka is offered carrot onigiri by Inui's mother, he will eat it. If he is in a restaurant, he will not choose carrot onigiri.
Where Tezuka becomes unpredictable is where he does anything involving something Inui would call 'heart', if it didn't seem very imprecise. Tezuka does few things with this 'heart', so it is not too encompassing a problem. At first, it makes his tennis impossible to analyze. Tezuka becomes something else when he plays, something of a shape-shifter, like Fuji. As if he connects himself to some internal mechanism that allows him to move beyond himself and play with passion and impulse. Tezuka yells a lot when he plays. In life, he does not yell. Inui has tried predicting when he will yell, but it doesn't work. There is no logic to it. He does not work on rules when he plays, but the moment-by-moment creation of body heat, serves, lactic-acid, points, the feel of the court under his feet. Inui cannot analyze this data, but he enjoys watching it, being its opponent. It is satisfying enough.
Tezuka is also unpredictable when he on a date. Inui has followed Tezuka on a date, so he has empirical evidence for the fact. There are few things Inui will not do, for the right piece of data. Tezuka's first date was with a girl called Minako, who is in their maths class. Inui described her in his notebook as simple-minded and unimaginative because she suggests they go the park and this is where everyone goes. This is a judgment made on sound evidence. They go to the park and she makes Tezuka buy them both ice creams, and then he eats his placidly whilst she talks about girlish things that make little sense to Inui. He doesn't think that Tezuka seems that interested but he is nodding, which means that he is paying attention. Tezuka does not nod randomly. They sit on a bench and watch the birds in one of the ponds nearby. There are carp beneath the surface of the water and Inui knows Tezuka likes carp. Minako does not like carp, it seems, so they watch from a distance. Minako seems to like talking a lot. She asks Tezuka what he does in his spare time (and Inui, branches poking him in the thighs, is pleased of this moment because Tezuka never answers that question from him) and Tezuka thinks for a minute. “Crosswords,” he says.
“Oh.” She says.
“And chess.” He adds, trying to improve on his first answer.
She seems crestfallen. Inui decides that she is stupid, too, not to realise the worth of a man who can play chess and do crosswords. Another solid, objective insight. When she tries to kiss him, after he has walked her home, Tezuka does not use 'heart'. Or much of his mouth, either, but Inui scribbles this out because it does not seem like scientific data. She seems even more crestfallen and lets herself into her house without a word. A strange look appears on Tezuka's face which Inui cannot quantify and so he writes, merely, “Tezuka Kunimitsu is not a mathematic equation”and returns home. After this day, he does something he has never done before, in all fifteen years of his life. He gives up on the idea of data.
At fourteen years old, Inui was secure in the notion that data would remain useful to him forever.
At fifteen years old, Inui realises that there are some people, some moments and some feelings – yes, feelings – that defy his data.
It's then, staring at Tezuka's shirt all folded in the practice room, that Inui thinks about the pale skin between hairline and white collar. That small vulnerable place Tezuka hadn't thought to cover up. Beyond data, Inui doesn't know how to act. He wants to be around Tezuka but he has no idea how to say so. It's then that he devises a thought of epic ingenuity: a training programme.
He stays up half the night, writing it down.
“Tezuka-b-?” He asks, after practice the next day. “Buchou?”
“Yes?” Tezuka is in the shower, and his voice comes out through the steam. That, in itself, defies data. Tezuka's voice should never sound that thick and laden. It should never conjure other images, unrelated and powerful for no reason at all. Water droplets. Curling black hair. Fingers running on skin. The line of a hip as it turns, turns in light and water and steam. Elements changing all around him. Inui can no longer remember what he was going to say. He frowns, flexes his playing hand. Tezuka's tennis hasn't changed, either.
“Have you made up your mind about the training plan?”
“I haven't had a look at it since you gave it to me this morning,” Tezuka says. Inui can't tell if he is imagining the apologetic sound to his voice or not. “I certainly will tonight, and I'll let you know in the morning. Is that satisfactory?”
“Very,” Inui says. “It has helped Kaido improve approximately 54% on his base standard.”
“He has made excellent progress since you began helping him.”
“I'm not sure it is possible to enhance your ability to such an extent. Mathematically.”
“We can all make progress. All of us.”
“I estimate that you could make a mere 4% improvement.”
“It is a worthwhile 4%, wouldn't you say?”
“I would say you underestimate your skill.”
“I think you do, too.”
There's a laugh, then. Or maybe it's the water in the drain. “In the morning, then,” Inui says. Tezuka opens his mouth to say something, but then closes it. “Goodbye, Inui.”
When Tezuka comes out from the shower, the locker room is empty and he likes it that way. He towels off his hair and then his face and then squints for his glasses. He left them on the bench, he thinks, and they are right there. They have been covered with a smaller towel to protect them from shower spray and his dripping water. It is a gesture he recognises as Inui and he is grateful for it as he pulls the towel away and puts them on. Which is when he spots the other object underneath the towel. Sitting, he holds the object in his hand, moving it around. Why would Inui leave this to him? Unless it is a training exercise he doesn't understand, but he hasn't said 'yes' to the programme, yet. Perhaps it is some sort of test of his suitability for training? It makes no sense. Pure Inui, then. He places it in his bag and dries himself off, deciding that he'll deal with it at home, where things are logical and quiet and suited to solitary musing.
On the way home, he sends Kaido an e-mail, just in case.
To: Kaido Kaoru
From: Tezuka Kunimitsu
Subject: Inui's Training Programme.
Excuse the random nature of this mail. I had to ask. Do you know if there is any training significance in the Rubik's Cube?
Tezuka sits at home with the object on his desk. No note, no explanation. Just a cube, with its coloured squares mocking him. Tezuka can do crosswords in fifteen minutes. His record is seven. He is accomplished at Sudoku and Mah'jong. He is expert at chess. He has even, though he is loath to admit it, discovered some talent at video games. What he cannot, hasn't ever, been able to do is solve a Rubik's Cube. At his first school, Tezuka remembers some of the other children having them. The only solution he remembers any of them finding was to peel all the stickers off and stick them back in their right arrangement. There was one child, perhaps, who managed to solve it properly – but by that point, all the others just assumed he'd cheated, too. Tezuka doesn't, as a rule, like the Rubik's Cube. There is no discernible talent to solving it. It is not based on logic or skill, but merely persistently trying different things until one works. This is the definition of insanity, supposedly, and absolutely a waste of time.
Still. If Inui has given it to him, he must feel that there is use to be gained from it. And Tezuka trusts Inui's stance on mental progression, for the most part. Inui shares Tezuka's love of pushing oneself to the limit. Tezuka taps the cube, to see if it will shatter and reveal a secret message. He can't help but find the idea exciting. It's a long time since he held such childish beliefs. Somehow, having the cube on his desk has brought something of that time back. The cube remains solid, though, and Tezuka is forced to give up that tack. He rummages in his bag and brings out Inui's proposed training plan. Alongside the expected programme of morning runs, dietary regulations, weight-lifting sessions and unusual training items, Tezuka sees written, 'Master Rubik's Cube'. There is no indication of what progress he can make through this achievement. It might as well say, 'Eat noodles'. Perhaps, as that would solve one's hunger, beating the Rubik's Cube will satisfy some mental starvation in his brain. Perhaps there is a part of Tezuka that needs, desires to solve the Rubik's Cube.
Or perhaps Inui is trying to drive him insane.
His 'phone beeps with an e-mail.
To: Tezuka Kunimitsu
From: Fuji Shuusuke
Re: Inui's Training Programme.
There are 64 ways to solve a Rubik's Cube. Perhaps Inui wishes to find a 65th.
Tezuka doesn't ask why Fuji is with Kaido. Perhaps his team are all in league with Inui, to overthrow their captain. Nothing, no-one, is safe anymore. He decides to do his maths homework and then go to bed. He might as well take Inui up on his training programme. If Inui is trying to drive him insane, it'd be better not to resist too much. The idea of that extra 4% is too tantalizing to resist.
When he turns the light out, an hour and ten minutes later (Inui has e-mailed him to say that he completed his homework in an hour, seven minutes – how about you?), he nearly jumps out of his skin.
The Rubik's Cube glows in the dark.
Tezuka puts the cube back into his bag the next morning and goes to school with it knocking against his books. By maths just before lunch, he still hasn't worked out a possible reason for Inui to give it to him. Inui is concentrating on the textbook in front of him and what the teacher is saying. He looks absorbed, in a way only Inui can. Which is why Tezuka is surprised, when a note skids across his desk. It is folded into a tiny crane shape, perfect for flight across an aisle. Of course. Tezuka slides his eyes sideways and Inui's gaze is still fixed on the blackboard.
Tezuka (it says),
have you figured it out yet? Accept my training programme.
You told me once that there is more to tennis than just physical fitness.
Prove it to me.
Tezuka stares at the way Inui signs his name. That has to be a joke. He knows who Inui is – there can only be one Inui, one Inui sitting across from him, one Inui that would send so cryptic a note. It only serves to confuse him further and he frowns. Turning the paper over, he scrawls a note back.
Inui (he writes),
I have figured out neither the cube nor the reason for it being in my bag.
I accept your programme. Mental resilience is important.
I doubt that mental strength is required to complete a Rubik's Cube, however.
Tezuka (sitting across from you).
He then tries to fold the paper back to its crane form and finds himself struggling. He has never been adept at origami – should it surprise him that Inui is? - and the crane looks more like a dog when he's done with it. A lame dog. Lame dogs don't fly. They sink and hit the floor.
Inui slides slowly down in his chair and reaches down, capturing up the forlorn paper into his hand. He crumples it, silently, into his fist and then slowly sits up straight. Their teacher is used to Inui's bizarre lesson behaviour and says nothing of it, and so Tezuka breathes out, at last. Inui holds his hand out, behind the cover of his textbook, reads the note and smiles. He scratches something with his pencil and tosses it back.
Tezuka (the crumpled ball rolled out reveals),
even you, Buchou, would be surprised.
Inui (who does not want you to reply, as you are terrible at origami).
At practice, they play together. This is partly so that Inui can suss out Tezuka's weak spots and partly so that he can admire the way his shirt moves across his shoulders – which it is most, he declines to consider. As always, Tezuka is formidable, even when not giving his fullest. His left shoulder is having a sore day; Inui can tell by the way Tezuka attempts to protect it, giving only short lobs with it and swapping hands for longer shots. It is particularly troublesome in extreme weather conditions, heat and frost. Inui loses the game but only 6-4. He feels that he should be proud, given the odds. He has made progress, too, approximately 6% on his last game against Tezuka. In the last month, this is his 9th loss against Tezuka. He aims to draw the 10th.
One more game.
“You have taken my data?” Tezuka asks, a little wry, as they head back to the changing rooms.
“You were letting me see it more, today,” Inui replies.
“Yes.” There is a hint of amusement in Tezuka's voice. “Did you get it all?”
“Some. Not all. We should practice more. Kaido and I trained on weeknights. With student presidency, you do more extra-curricular work than Kaido did. On average, 5 hours more commitments a week and 10% more homework. We should be sufficiently successful on four days a week.”
Tezuka just stares at him. “Four days would be fine. I'm already using four to train alone. Perhaps those would be the most useful to you.”
“I will need you to write down your current training programme for me.” Inui says, folding his jacket as neatly as the paper crane. “So that I can see where you've chosen to place your focus.”
“And the Rubik's Cube?” Tezuka places his shirt on top of his clothes.
Inui waves his hand. “Mental stimulation.”
“Yes.” Inui leans in close, removing his shirt. “Not unnerved, are you?”
“No,” Tezuka says, lips pursed. “That will be fine.”
“How long should I give you to solve my puzzle?” From Inui, this sounds positively filthy. Tezuka looks at him, narrowing his eyes, considering. He wants not to look idiotic, but also not to shoot himself in the foot. How long should it take the average person to solve a Rubik's Cube? Tezuka won't cheat – it's one of those principles, one of those core things – so, how long will it take him if he just uses his brain?
“Two weeks?” Inui suggests, putting him out of his misery. He nods, grateful. That sounds like more than enough time. Surely.
It's only when he sits, later on, that he realises that he's screwed. The cube sits, staring back at him through it's neon multiple mocking bastard eyes and Tezuka pushes it onto the floor in frustration. He has turned it this way and that, and yet he cannot work out its secret. There always seems to be one part missing, one element that won't move into place. When he goes to bed, after he has calmed down through the medicine of maths homework (“one hour, three minutes”, Inui's e-mail says. “What about you?”), he holds the cube in his hands. Maybe it can be solved with intuition. He turns off the light and moves it this way and that. He manipulates all one side to orange, but no more.
It's a start. He puts it on his bedside table, and sleeps, to dream of worlds where everything is pink except for him. He's purple and he doesn't fit, but he can't find his way out. And then, there's Inui. And Inui is green, like juice. “Here's the way,” he says. “Tezuka, here.” Only it isn't the way, at all. Inui is leading him into the centre of the cube, which makes no sense, because Inui's always helped him – and then, Tezuka wakes, never to find out what's inside the cube. He is cold, and sweaty.
He heads for school, vowing to burn all the lilac shirts in his wardrobe.
Seigaku team members --
As you are now aware, Ishikawa-sensei has issued an opportunity to all sports teams to earn special credit for our end of term reports. This will involve a week's stay at a regional Junior High School during the school holiday next week. Academic areas are first come, first served. If you could please write suggestions of subjects for the tennis team to be concentrating on, we will have a brief meeting before practice on Friday morning for open discussion.
PS – No, Fuji. Your suggestion was not academic.
Inui stares at the board. There is an 90% chance that his training programme and the Rubik's Cube will have to be postponed. He has not prepared for this. There is, he thinks, only one way to salvage the situation. He writes 'Maths' down on the sheet.
“We can't do maths,” Eiji whines, and Momo backs him up. “Just because Inui-senpai and Buchou are good at maths. It's so unfair.”
“It's like they're punishing us for doing well for the school. And we're missing our holiday!” Momo cuts in.
“Everyone wants to do the...easier subjects, Eiji.” Oishi says. “Perhaps we'd stand apart more, tackling something like maths. It'd be good for us.”
“Yeah, but we'd have to do maths, Oishi.” Eiji points out, stretching his arms up and behind his head. “There must be another choice.”
“Cookery,” Fuji suggests. “Inui is skilled at that, too.”
Eiji sticks his tongue out at him.
“I'd do cookery,” Momo says.
“You mean 'eatery'.” Kaido says, rolling his eyes.
“What do you think, Echizen?”
“Tch,” Ryoma says with a shrug. “I don't see why we can't just play tennis.”
“Buchou wants a perfect report card.” Eiji says, a little sarcastically.
“The sports teams tend to invest too much energy into their sports, not their work. And besides, we could all do with good report cards.” Oishi reasons, slightly wearily.
“Certainly,” Inui says, from the doorway. “Without it, Eiji-sempai's chances of a perfect report card are 36%.”
“Hey!” Eiji starts. “What about Momo-sempai's?”
“Man,” Momo says. “I better go along with this maths thing.”
“You better.” Kaido says.
“What did you-”
Tezuka clears his throat, following Inui in. Momo falls silent, unclenching his fists.
“Have we been discussing an academic area for us to concentrate on?” Tezuka asks, beginning to unbutton his shirt. Inui notices that he always starts from the top. “A serious one?”
“Inui wants to do maths,” Eiji sighs.
“We would be distinctive,” Tezuka muses. “Maths is an unpopular choice.”
“I would be satisfied with maths,” Fuji says. “How are you getting on with your little challenge, Tezuka? Are you at the 65th solution yet?”
Everyone's heads whip around. Oishi assumes a nervous pose, his mind drifting back to Tezuka's elbow. “A physio challenge?” he asks, and Tezuka shakes his head.
“What challenge? Buchou?” Eiji tilts his head to one side. “It's not tennis, is it?”
“No,” Tezuka says.
“Not exactly.” Inui says, strapping a weight to his ankle. Several gazes turn his way.
Ryoma bounces on his heels. “Doing special favours for the captain, Inui?”
Fuji chuckles. Ryoma scowls at him. “Not like that.”
Tezuka sighs. “Maths is our final decision? It would be a good choice. I hear that the football team have chosen geography. It's going...somewhat disastrously.”
“Not as badly,” Fuji says, still chuckling. “As the netball team's decision to do chemistry.”
A shadow darkens around Inui. “I wondered who had taken chemistry.”
“Indeed,” Tezuka says. “It's history or maths, at this stage.”
“Why didn't you say that in the first place?” Eiji glowers. “Maths, then. At least we get to go visit some other school.”
“Do we?” Taka asks, palming his shirt between his hands. It's been a while since they went on any trip that wasn't tennis-related. His father will be pleased.
“Mm,” Fuji says. “We get a week's worth of extra study, and then, like Pokemon trainers, we get a weekend to unleash our skills on some kids from another school. Tezuka-buchou, I choose you. And so on.”
Momo sniggers. “Yeah. The kids doing geography only picked it, y'know, to find out about some girl school's geography...”
“Can we go out and play, now?” Ryoma interrupts, pulling a face Tezuka recognizes as one he uses on his father.
“Wait,” Tezuka says. “Show of hands, please.”
Everyone reluctantly holds up their hands. Nobody looks particularly enthusiastic, except Fuji and Inui, both of whom have an evil glint.
“Maths or history,” Eiji mutters, as they make their way out of the changing rooms. “Is he serious...”
To: Tezuka Kunimitsu
From: Inui Sadaharu
Solved my puzzle, yet?
The cube is in Tezuka's bin.
To: Inui Sadaharu
From: Tezuka Kunimitsu
Working on it.
On the Sunday, they pile onto the bus. Ryuuzaki-sensei hauls bags around and slyly checks Momo's, which is suspiciously heavy. She steals a muffin and pockets it. Horio, Kachiro and Katsuo have turned up to wave goodbye to the bus. Horio is talking about his experience with higher-level maths. Inui recognizes that he is embarrassing himself but that the other two don't realise it. Sakuno remains at the back, half-waving at Ryoma, who ignores her. Inui waves cheerfully at her and she stumbles backwards, alarmed. Then, he turns his attention to the regulars' rucksacks. Fuji has a stack of magazines in his. As the bus pulls away, Inui leans over to read the titles. One is about poisonous animals. Another is a furniture catalogue. No wonder Yuuta left home.
Tezuka's bag is full of schoolbooks and higher maths texts. There is a CD player that looks four or five years old, and a navy sweater. On top of that is a cube with many coloured squares. Inui smiles to himself. If Tezuka has brought the cube with him, there's a 95% chance that his commitment in the programme (and Inui!) is serious.
“Is that a Rubik's Cube?” Eiji asks, craning his head over the seat to look at Tezuka. Tezuka nods mildly, not realising that the question demands explanation, not confirmation.
“I always had you down as a crossword sort of man,” Fuji says. “Then again, you do have masterful hands...”
“Is that your challenge, Buchou?” Taka asks. He sits alone, peacefully reading a book about sushi preparation. His father wrote the foreword.
“It's a training programme,” Inui says. “I have discovered that beginning with a Rubik's Cube leads to a 10% rise in mental dexterity during training.” Also, that the struggle to complete the Rubik's Cube puts thoughts of me inside Tezuka's brain 47% more than under normal conditions.
“Like listening to Mozart?” Eiji's face is one of total disbelief.
“A little,” Inui continues. “Only there's physical benefits, too.”
“Huh,” Ryoma says. “Tezuka doesn't need any training.”
“Everyone needs training.” Tezuka says simply. “Improvement is always possible.”
“We better get good reports after this.” Eiji says with a sigh. “I was planning to spend the week lying in and playing tennis and eating ice-cream.”
“Me too,” Momo says. “Not doing maths.”
“I'm looking forward to meeting everyone from Nanyo.” Oishi says, firmly. “Make some friends, work hard. I wonder if they're a tennis team, too...”
“I've heard that they're mathletes or something, whatever that means.” Eiji says.
“Means that where athletes have bulging muscles, mathletes have bulging...brains.” Fuji says.
“Inui-senpai, weren't you a mathlete?”
“Once upon a time, in a land far, far away.” Inui says. “I was a mathlete.”
The kids that greet them when they get off the bus look, to Inui, like mathletes. There's nothing outrageously pale and geeky about them, they just have concentrated looks. He remembers it well. Everything is figures, everyone a calculation to be completed. Life an equation to be balanced. Since joining the tennis team, he's become more and more dissatisfied with this outlook. People like Tezuka are more than numbers, more than data. The school kids greet them cordially, if suspiciously. The school is very fine, and they look very much a part of it, as if crafted from its stone. Eiji and Oishi exchange looks. Eiji whispers that this place reminds him of Hyotei and Oishi nudges him to shut him up. Ryuuzaki-sensei shakes hands with a man in a suit, who wears a mustache as if he's growing it for some sort of gardening competition for very large mustaches.
Inui falls into step beside Tezuka, as they're shown to their rooms. The kids are telling them about all the activities they're going to do, in proud voices. They're proud of their school the way Seigaku are proud of their tennis team. Everyone nods politely and Inui catches a strange expression on Tezuka's face as he looks around. Tezuka considered going to Hyotei, after all.
“You could have been somewhere like here.” Inui says.
“I chose tennis.” Tezuka says, by way of answering. “And my family couldn't afford it.”
“Be on my team.” Inui says.
“If we have to divide into teams. Be on my team.”
Inui looks at him. He doesn't have an answer to that. In this place, he could lose sight of Tezuka. He wants Tezuka on his team. “Why not?”
“Okay,” Tezuka says, simply. “I'll be on your team.”
“You have a Rubik's Cube on your desk.” A girl Chihoko says to Tezuka. Earlier, she told Inui that her name means 'a thousand excellences' and he's inclined to think that her smug boasting is not one of the combined total.
“Yes,” Tezuka says. “It's something I'm working on.”
She sniffs. “I solved it when I was six.”
“As did I,” Inui says, mildly. “I've found that some adults who could solve it as children, no longer can.”
“Really?” She says, looking surprised. “I bet Tezuka can.”
Tezuka smiles and Inui thinks he preferred her smug boasting to her saccharine flirting. Eiji nudges Fuji, who just nods his head, once. Chihoko is tallish, for a girl, and wears her hair in a sensible fashion. Her body curves in and out in the right places and she wears her uniform in a way that suggests she's aware of it. She has a serious face, though, and regards people as being ever-so-slightly beneath her. Which, Inui muses, they seem to be. There's something about her forthright attitude that Tezuka likes and Inui makes a mental note of this. A pained mental note, but a mental note all the same. He watches her doing a calculation in her head. Chihoko is tired of the boys at her school, who are clumsy and cowardly. Tezuka is available to her, and he is tall, confident and good-looking.
“But if not, I can help you,” she says to Tezuka, a small smile on her face. “If you like.”
As the week draws on, Inui compiles two notebook pages worth of information on what may, or what may not be, dates between the two of them. If he cannot date Tezuka himself, he likes to keep abreast of Tezuka's dating strategy through underhand means. Tezuka does not date in a conventional manner, but seems to define the word as an intellectual exchange rather than the swapping of bodily fluids. Chihoko is the girl who does not exist at Seigaku. She is the girl that exists in the schools Tezuka could have, should have gone to. He then wonders what Chihoko has that he himself doesn't. The answer is, he supposes, flirtation. And breasts.
The two of them sit underneath a tree on the grounds, which are spacious and quiet. The classes have all been dismissed and Inui and Tezuka and Chihoko are the only three around. Everyone else decided to go into town. Momo thinks there's a cinema that shows what he calls blue movies and so Oishi has worriedly gone with them. Inui realises that he hasn't seen the Rubik's Cube in a couple of days. It seems that Tezuka has other things to concentrate on. He is not, after all, on Inui's team.
“So what do you do when you're not coaching this...tennis team?” Chihoko asks him, and Tezuka scrunches up his eyebrows, thinking.
“I do a lot at school,” he says. “I'm student president.”
“Me too,” she says, agreeably, playing with the hem of her skirt where it pulls up over her knees. “What do you do outside school?”
“I don't have a lot of time,” Tezuka begins, slowly. “But I enjoy crosswords.”
She looks at him. “Crosswords.” she says, faintly.
“Chess.” He adds.
“What about fun stuff?”
“Yeah. Like...crosswords are okay, chess is okay...but, you know, what about...parties, and girls? What kind of music do you like?”
“You don't go to concerts?”
“No, I do. Sometimes. Symphonies...”
“No, no – modern concerts. You know? Koda Kumi? Utada Hikaru? Ayami?”
“It's not really...”
“We should go sometime. I think you'd like it.”
“Okay,” Tezuka says, unsure of what else to say. It's not that he doesn't like Chihoko. It's just that she seems keen to show him her knees and he's not interested in her knees. He's waiting to find a girl whose knees he's interested in. It hasn't happened to him so far.
“Can I get your mobile number, then?”
“I don't have one.” He says. “I'll give you my home number.”
She looks at him, hard. “You don't have a mobile 'phone?”
“No,” he says, confused. “I had one in Germany, but-”
“Are you just not interested?”
She's shoving her skirt down, now. “Are you just not interested. In me.”
“I like you.” He blinks.
“Then why aren't you doing anything about it?”
“I'm giving you my home number...”
“Oh! Forget it!” she says, standing and brushing herself off, showering him in bits of bark and grass.
“Er,” he says. “I'll see you later?”
She gives him a withering look, and stalks off. He climbs to his feet, realising that he's made some sort of fatal error, and treks after her. Inui watches her being all smilingly aware, the way only girls can be. He watches her turn, her books pressed to her chest and her blouse undone, just so. He feels a bit nauseous and puts it down to the lunch. She tilts her head, as if to say, 'well?'. Inui moves a bit closer, to get them back in range.
“What you should be doing about it is,” Chihoko is saying, now that Tezuka is just in front of her. They arrive at the doorway to the school, and she stops, puts her hand on the red bike rail. Tezuka turns back to face her, his back to the wall, not aware of what Inui realises is about to happen. Chihoko steps into his space and she's tall, so she commands it and his attention, too. She forces her curvaceous and commanding self between Tezuka's legs, reaches up a little, and kisses him. Inui can see that Tezuka isn't quite sure what to make of that. He realises that he's always spying on Tezuka's kisses.
The only thing that keeps him staring is watching Tezuka try to fight back. He's clumsy, beautifully so, as he figures out where to put his hands so as to least offend her. He settles for her back, a loose touch. His mouth is bigger than hers and he's gentle with it because he isn't sure how to use it. The kiss is lukewarm. She draws back, and there's a little disappointment in her face. She expected Tezuka to be something different. He is so tall and so dominating that most people seem to make assumptions about him. The future of the relationship is staring right at her and she realises, in that one kiss, that the person calling all the shots will have to be her. So, with a shake of her head, she moves past him and into the building.
Inui lets out his breath in one huge huff. Perhaps Tezuka will come back to his team, now.
Tezuka doesn't see anyone after dinner, that night. He spends most of the evening in his room reading chapters from his textbooks, to brush up for the coming weekend. He and Inui are up there with the best of other students, so the cramming isn't entirely necessary, particularly when everyone else is out in the courtyard playing basketball. He leaves the door ajar without thinking of it. He feels embarrassed about the afternoon and doesn't want to face his teammates. For all he can win a tennis match, it seems to be impossible for him to conjure up interest in girls. It's not that he doesn't like them – they're just not interesting enough for him to want to kiss. He wonders whether he'll ever find one that he enjoys kissing. They give up too quickly, girls. Once you don't kiss them in the right way or say the right thing, they drop you and move onto something else. Not like guys. Not like him. His eyes move upwards, catching the plastic glow of the Rubik's Cube.
He's a fine one to complain about people giving up, he thinks. He reaches out for the cube and settles into the bed. He won't give up. Not like Chihoko. His grandfather was right, after all. Girls are just a distraction.
Inui stops in the corridor, watching, deadly quiet. Tezuka's face is focused, his eyes sharp and critical. His tongue is sticking out and he's got music on, very faintly, through his headphones. It sounds classical. His hands move, turning the cube this way and that. Inui doesn't think he's ever, ever wanted anything as much as he wants this. Tezuka's hands. His eyes, almost crossed, big and soft and concentrating, face twisting with thought. His leg is spread out and his socked foot wriggles. He isn't aware of it, or that when it moves it moves the muscles in his thigh and at that, Inui has to stop looking.
Chihoko doesn't speak to Tezuka much the next day but Tezuka is focused on his maths and doesn't notice. They're assigned to groups to complete a project over the weekend and Inui is pleased that he and Tezuka are placed together. Also in the group, Inui notes, are four boys that are quiet, posing no romantic threat. Kaido, too, who watches the way Inui talks to Tezuka with faint interest. At the back of the classroom, Eiji's loud voice and Momo's loud stomach can be heard. Inui watches Tezuka's right hand move from palm-down on the textbook to loosely-wrapped around his knee, and wants to replace it with his own.
The data has been moving steadily further and further away from him. He no longer thinks coldly, in statistics. Every time he looks at Tezuka, there's a physical reaction. His gut churns. It's unpleasant, not at all how sappy songs tell you it should be. Crossly, he stubs his pencil to paper and it snaps. Tezuka lifts one eyebrow and looks over. Kaido hands him another pencil wordlessly. Inui takes it and sharpens it, catching Tezuka's eye.
The Rubik's Cube (he writes on their paper), have you completed it yet?
No -- (Tezuka responds) but I have made progress. I have two coloured sides.
Perhaps, (Inui writes) I could come to your room tonight and watch you?
I think (Tezuka responds) that would be fine.
Kaido looks over at them both and hisses, “that's not maths.”
Inui comes to Tezuka's room that night, passing some of the girls in the corridor. They go quiet and he realises that they're talking about the new boys. Chihoko has probably told the lot of them about Tezuka and the thought makes Inui feel angry for the first time in years. He doesn't say anything when he enters the room, just shakes his head when Tezuka offers to quieten the music he has playing. This time it's jazz. Not Inui's taste, but not unpleasant. He sits down on the chair by the desk and picks up the cube, which is coloured on two sides, as Tezuka said. Blue and orange. Inui knows instinctively that a few turns would bring the cube to its completion. Tezuka looks tired, his eyes soft and unfocused. Inui hands him the cube and he takes it, reluctantly palming it in his hands as if afraid to ruin the progress of days of hard work.
So Inui, being thoughtful and not very much underhand (perhaps only 2%), puts his hands over Tezuka's hands and encourages him. To turn this way, and then that, so that the cube begins to slot into place. Tezuka watches impassively, catching Inui's eye every so often, wordless and soporific.
“What does it mean,” he says, eventually. “If you do it for me?”
“If you let me help,” Inui says. “It means that you don't have to do it all yourself.”
Tezuka looks blank for a second. “I thought that was the point of the exercise. Solitary mental strengthening.”
“It's hard,” Inui says. “To complete a Rubik's Cube in two weeks without any practice. Without hints. There was always a 60% chance that you would need help.”
“The point of the exercise was to show me that I can't achieve all my goals alone.”
“No,” Inui says. “More that you can achieve your goals more wholly, more quickly, with other people's help.”
Tezuka nods. “Kaido, and the wet towel. He let you help him.”
“It was not appropriate to use a wet towel with you. Also, I don't use the same strategy twice. Mathematical suicide.”
“I see.” Tezuka says. He looks at the cube, which seems to lose something of its power, completed.
“I saw you with Chihoko,” Inui blurts out. He doesn't know where it's come from, exactly, only they're talking and it's not about tennis, not really. It's about all the stuff Inui's been trying to sort out, in his mind, categorize, but has been unable to. Tezuka's pale skin and his roughly folded shirts and his lame dog origami. And the line of muscle on his thigh. “I, er. She lacks determination.”
Tezuka looks briefly flushed but contains it admirably. “What do you mean?” Inui, he thinks, does not blurt. He makes calculated statements designed to offset. He can't think what this one is intended to do. Inui rarely talks about things like this. Tezuka has wondered before – whether Inui has ever had girlfriends. He never seemed keen on the idea. Too attached to his studies. There seem to be sides to Inui that Tezuka hasn't seen.
“A better person would have been more encouraging.” Inui says. “She got offended too fast.”
“A better person wouldn't have needed encouragement.” Tezuka responds, slowly. “I made her think things were something they weren't.”
Inui shrugs. “Nerves.”
“It's not...it's. Nerves, no.”
Tezuka looks down at him, awkwardly. “I don't know.” It's a huge confession, in a small voice. Inui suddenly sees him as the person rather than the role and it's a striking difference. It's no small wonder Tezuka's mother is so protective, he thinks. Tezuka is different when he isn't Buchou.
“Maybe the timing isn't right.”
“Or the person.” More daring, now, Inui looks at Tezuka, straight in the eyes.
Tezuka swallows down breath, feels it hard in his chest. “Maybe.”
“Solving a Rubik's Cube doesn't mean anything, on its own.” Inui says, standing up. He can't take much more of this. There's a line that exists that shouldn't be crossed and with every word, the line looms brighter and cleaner and more tempting. “Just like a game of tennis doesn't work, when it's just you playing it.”
“Inui,” Tezuka says, as Inui turns to leave. “Play a match with me. On Sunday. After this is over.”
“I think that it might be better to start the programme-”
“Not the programme. Not anything. Just tennis.”
“Ah,” Inui says. The 10th game. “Okay.”
Inui and Tezuka and Kaido's project is about Pi. In it, they discuss its irrationality. Its endlessness, Inui argues, means that it cannot be written as a fraction. There is no balancing of it. The ratio of two integers cannot be calculated. It merely goes on and on.
Inui likes Pi, very much. The idea of infinity appeals to him. But Pi is like Fuji. It travels forever in a way that defies understanding. Such a thing has no place in mathematics. There is no restricting Pi. There is no understanding the limits of Pi. Maths needs limits and boundaries, or it floats off into thin air, something vague and dissolvable, like smoke.
Inui argues that perhaps we need to indulge limitlessness in maths more. That there are things that can never be understood. Calculations that can never be solved. Equations that can never be balanced. That, as much as maths students will try, they will never succeed in beating the data. Pi stands for perimeter stands for people. Thusly, he argues, maths can teach us about ourselves as much as history, as literature, as philosophy. It is an investigation of the human psyche.
'Inui Sadaharu', he writes. Then, 'Pi (Private Investigator)'.
Kaido looks over this conclusion and says, matter-of-factly, “That's not maths, either.”
They only get a C, but Inui doesn't mind. He feels that he's learnt something more important than a grade, and more important than data.
On Sunday, he and Tezuka head for the courts. They're a little way away from the school and they're deserted because of the holidays. Seigaku's courts are open spaces, usually surrounded with spectators and other players. Nanyo's are thickly surrounded with trees. It gives the impression of playing in the middle of a forest, which Inui rather likes.
Tezuka's first serve is a warm-up, and Inui returns it easily. They rally without competition for a little while and Inui realises that he is no longer trying to predict Tezuka's data. He notices that, instead, he reacts upon impulse. Tezuka moves fluidly and so does Inui. Some of Tezuka's returns take him by surprise but by acting without thought, he is not caught out. This road is a steady downhill path towards exhilaration and so he gives in, to the game, to tennis, to Tezuka.
The pulse of lactic acid in his legs and the feeling of the sun on his back, the tightness in his shoulders replace the part of Inui where numbers were, where predictions and calculations and limits were. He feels the limitless possibility of every single shot, how much it frightens him not to know what's going to happen next, not to see a pattern emerging. He returns each shot with a crack of strings on ball and each time, it feels like an expression of something inside rather than just noise, rather than just consequence. They both yell. There's no pattern to it, but they yell, because tennis played without thoughts can do that to a player.
When he returns Tezuka's Zero Shiki, he has to pause and take in breath. Everything is suddenly very white, very bright and very noisy in his ears.
The score is 7-5, in the end, to Tezuka. This doesn't matter to Inui, as he sits down at the side of the court. What matters to Inui is that he finally understands tennis and Tezuka. He didn't draw the 10th game, but that's just a statistic. Tezuka didn't complete the Rubik's Cube in two weeks, but that's just a statistic. Inui put his hands on Tezuka's hands to help him. Tezuka put his hands on Inui's tennis to help him. The contact is what matters. The unpredictable, gut-churning contact that makes Inui feel that nothing else ever is going to be just like that. Tezuka sits beside him and Inui feels, for once in his life, totally out of control.
“How you feel about tennis,” Inui finally says. “Is how you want to feel about Chihoko.”
“Yes,” Tezuka says, quietly. “Or any girl.”
Inui looks at him, sidelong. “Maybe it's not the right girl, Tezuka.”
Tezuka looks back. “I think it's not girls.”
Inui takes a pause, gulps down too much water, nearly choking on it. “Ah,” he says. He nods. A moment passes. He looks at Tezuka. “There is an 100% chance that I hadn't picked up on that.”
Tezuka smiles. “Some private investigator you are.”
“Not with you,” Inui concedes. “I never could get much on you.”
“Despite following me on my dates.”
“Yes,” Inui says. “But I think that was more than just data.”
Tezuka looks at him, strangely. “What do you mean?”
Inui thinks about this, takes his glasses off and rubs the bridge of his nose between finger and thumb. “Girls don't understand the worth of someone who can do crosswords and chess.”
Tezuka looks back at the net, silent.
Inui continues. “I understand the worth of someone who can do crosswords and chess.”
Tezuka nods, thoughtfully.
Inui sighs. “Tezuka,” he says. “I understand the worth of Tezuka, who can do crosswords and chess.”
Tezuka looks at him, finally. He is baffled and then, suddenly, he understands. His eyes soften. He nods, and Inui nods, and smiles. There is silence for a few minutes. Then Tezuka reaches over, and takes Inui's fingers in his own.
Tezuka comes back to Inui's place after they leave the bus. It's Inui's suggestion, that they can go over the training programme. But they both know what's really going on. Tezuka realises, walking through the door, something of great importance.
“I'd like to see your knees,” he says. Inui looks over his shoulder at him.
“Certainly. I have two of them,” he says. “That's very rare, these days.”
Tezuka dutifully follows him up the stairs. His parents are out and Tezuka is glad of it. Carrot onigiri tends to appear when Inui's mother does, and it never tastes quiet like carrot onigiri. Inui seems to have inherited her love of strange culinary creations.
Inui closes the door behind him. Tezuka sits on the bed, Inui on the chair.
“Tezuka,” Inui says.
“Inui,” Tezuka replies.
Inui takes off his glasses and comes over to the bed. He's glad that when Tezuka leans in close, it's Tezuka leaning in close. All of the girls had to do that for him. So he closes his eyes, obediently, and he lets Tezuka kiss him. And then, he kisses back. Tezuka's mouth is bigger than his and hotter than his, and the clumsiness and the awkwardness that he's seen in Tezuka before dissolves away. Tezuka's hand rests on his back. Inui moves his to the space between hairline and collar.
Tezuka wriggles, breaks the kiss. He's ticklish there.
“What was on the list after the Rubik's Cube?” he says. It's a little cheeky and a lot charming.
Inui smirks, the corner of his lips turning upwards. “I wanted to investigate your creative spirit,” he says.
Tezuka leans back, narrowing his eyes. “Creative spirit.”
“Yes,” Inui says. His eyes flicker down Tezuka's body, onto his thigh, and back up again. “There are 64 sexual positions in the Kama Sutra. I was thinking that we could find the 65th.”