A/N: Two Inui POVs will commence by this chapter and the next. The Tezuka POV will come by chapter 9 and then the flow of alternating POVs between the two meganes will go back as planned.
7) Less space for consequences
Everyday Inui looked forward to the day he can reckon his data into application. He persevered because there was no lack of skill during his risky undertakings. There was a calculated method in everything he sets his mind on. This compels him into the edge of gambling the stakes for the heck of it because he knows that he had already intentionally laid pieces down to his advantage. He placed an odd variable here and there and no sooner than he expected, a weaker opponent would find himself in a corner without available solutions. Inui had a way about him that paralyzes his contenders by reading their cards before they even tossed them for show. Given his concentration and talent in observation, Inui might be one of the most frightening athletes out there who sees a science in tennis and there is also the drive to defeat the one who had challenged him most of all, Kunimitsu Tezuka, and this fuels him from the surface to the core.
First things first, he tells himself. He approached Iku Agano who was leaning against the wall, chatting amiably with Sakuno and Tomoko.
“Inui-sempai!” Tomoko, the energetic freshman who worships their rookie, beamed at him. “Good luck with the ranking!”
“Thank you.” Inui nodded at her and then he smiled at their coach’s granddaughter. Sakuno blushed and smiled back.
“Is there something I can do for you, Sadaharu-san?” Agano prompted.
“Nothing, really. I though I stay here, if you don’t think it’s a problem.”
“Don’t you have a game later, sempai?” Tomoko asked, eyes wide.
Inui regarded her gently and answered. “I have to record data on the other matches first before mine starts. Besides, I have it all figured out. You shouldn’t worry about me. You should direct all your attention to Echizen. After all, you came for him, did you—”
And on cue, Tomoko screamed, “RYOMA-SAMA!”
Sakuno was tugging at her friend’s arm, begging her to lower her voice. She was blushing hard and Inui always found these two girls’ routine intriguing. But anyway, he ignored the distractions and focused his gaze on the student-teacher. Agano crossed her arms in front of her as she watched Echizen enter the court. She kept her eyes fixed on the spectacle unfolding before them. Inui should probably do the same thing too but he couldn’t keep his eyes off her even for a second. So he started talking to her. “Don’t you have classes, sempai?”
“No, I’ve wrapped up things an hour ago.” Agano glanced at him slightly before she looked back at the court. “Besides, I’ve been excited about this Intra-school ranking anyway. I know you are.”
“Yes.” Inui replied, pushing the glasses from the bridge of his nose. “I admit that I was quite shocked that this day had come already. I believe it will, hopefully, but not sooner than I thought.”
“You’re welcome, Sadaharu-kun.” Agano fanned herself with her hand and sighed. “It took some effort but the boy finally yielded and granted you a match with him.”
Inui nodded. “Do you want some refreshments, perhaps?” he asked.
“You mean your juice?” Agano chuckled, eyes glued to Echizen completely. “That’s a joke made in poor taste, you know.”
Inui decided to engage all his senses to the current match in hand but there was nothing interesting to it. Echizen kept his pace in a steady beat; going for the win without missing his game. The kid was growing with potential that even Inui has yet to properly record in data. Everybody else knew that Echizen is meant for great things. Tomoko and Sakuno and Horio and the other freshies know. Tezuka knows more than anybody else. And hell, he can bet even Agano, who barely showed any real interest in tennis, knows there is something special about her student.
“Promising, is he not?” Fuji approached from a corner. He nodded at the student-teacher as a greeting and she smiled warmly at him.
“It’s nothing like I’ve ever seen before.” Agano remarked. “I’ve watched plenty of action here in your court and you regular players maintain their skills but there is something else about Ryoma-san that I can’t put my finger on.”
Inui listened to this conversation as it went further while his eyes remained on the court. Fuji asked, “do you like tennis yourself, sensei?”
Agano didn’t answer that but instead she said, “I’m only killing time. Nothing else is left for me to do after my work in class is through. So I come here in your grounds and watch you kids play. It’s quite inspiring.”
“Indeed.” Fuji smiled wider. He addressed Inui this time. “I’ve seen Oishi’s copy of the matches earlier before they were posted, by the way. You must be wired for this all your life, am I right, Inui?”
“I wonder,” Inui answered vaguely. Echizen’s match ended on his terms fifteen minutes after it had began. Agano caught the freshman’s eye and waved at him and her student simply touched his cap and lowered his head as acknowledgment.
“You should definitely come here often, sensei.” Fuji suggested welcomingly.
“I intend to.” Agano looked at him. And then she turned to Inui and asked. “You’ve prepared well, have you not?”
Inui certainly had and he only responded with a smirk. He adjusted his glasses and read his notes one last time.
“Momoshiro-kun! Kaidoh-chan!” Agano called at the two sophomore athletes noticeably arguing in the corner. They were both startled and looked at her. Momoshiro waved as Kaidoh simply made hissing noises. Both of them approached without being told. She watched them for a while and Inui wondered if she wanted to say something to them.
“That was a pretty good game you had there, Kaidoh-chan, Momoshiro-kun.”
“Heh!” Momoshiro raised his arms up and placed them behind his head. “I only do what had to be done. But there’s still one last opponent to beat.”
“You should take this seriously, you idiot!” Kaidoh shot dagger-sharp glares at him. “You’re going to play Inui-sempai next, you hear me?”
“Who are you talk to me like you’re supposed to be the boss of me, viper?”
Agano blinked at the argument before her, lips pursed into a contemplative smile. Inui’s eyes were on her again and this has happened lately ever since he was around her often. She noticed him looking after a while and she held his gaze. Something hostile surfaced in her eyes but only for a second. She was smiling at him.
“Sempai, will you see all the matches through?” he asked her as he closed his notebook.
“I always finish what I start.” Agano answered, watching both Momoshiro and Kaidoh finish their quibble and walk to their respective corners.
Fuji looks like he wants to be part of the conversation for he interjected. “Well, I’m glad you enjoy this experience. Tennis breeds healthy competition and camaraderie.”
“I can see that this gives Syusuke-san an opportunity to express his talented self,” Agano complimented the prodigy. “And I suppose you want to acquire much more than you already have. This is a sport, after all. Sports are all about winning.”
“True.” Fuji looked off in a distance. “But winning hardly matters to me sometimes.”
Agano watched him carefully and Inui watched her watching Fuji. For the longest moment, none of them said anything.
Echizen was walking to their direction with Tomoko babbling about his awesomeness and Sakuno trailing behind. He greeted Agano and asked if she wants him to get her a Ponta. She accepted the generosity and he left to get some.
“You favor Ponta as a drink, sempai?” Inui had to ask. The information might be irrelevant but it was intriguing.
“Echizen has introduced me to it a few days ago.” Agano answered. “And it’s nothing like your juice, Sadaharu-kun, which I consider to be a darn good thing.”
“Ah,” Fuji opened his eyes to peer at the two of them. “The Inui juice rejuvenates me. It’s quite a replenishing concoction.”
Horio and his two friends winced when they overheard this. Inui laughed.
“Well, clearly, Syusuke-san, we differ with our definitions of ‘replenishing,’ if I may be bold to say so.” Agano said.
The matches come and go as the hour passed. Inui didn’t bother checking his watch as he wrote down the facts and final results of each match in his notebook. He was not surprised that Tezuka has no losses and that Momoshiro’s place as a regular seems to have slipped (might be partially his doing when he was claimed victor in that match). He wondered where he went though since Kaidoh seems bothered (even though he won’t admit expressing concerns for his rival). Ryuuzaki-sensei is calling the last players in the court. Inui pushed his glasses to the bridge of his nose once more and asked Agano to hold his notebook for him.
“Go, Inui!” Kikumaru cheered.
Inui was walking to his side of the court, eyes on Tezuka the whole time. The captain was twisting the racket on his hand, examining his grip. The expression on his face was unclear but as he looked at Inui from where he stood, it seems that they both knew that this game meant something else and it was written on their faces.
It began somehow and both players were thriving with serious energy that there is no saying who might win. The crowd gathered around them, fascinated and nervous.
The match produced an overcrowded tension and Inui wasn’t sure if he was even breathing but his focus was in its sharpest and that alone made him exert his efforts to a higher scale. Tezuka was no fool, never will be, and so the other megane had to find creative ways to force his cards out of him, if that’s what it takes.
I’m winning this one, Tezuka. Inui muttered as he exchanged a singular blow towards the captain. I have sufficient data on you.
He aced it when he got one point from Tezuka which the crowd took as a bona fide miracle, for starters. Inui wasn’t joking at all, they realized.
Even with that calculated attack, the captain still looked like he was meditating but his eyes lightened up with some kind of spirit which Inui knows can burn beneath the surface of that apathetic bravado of his. Tezuka glanced at him from the opposite side of the court, his face still an emotionless cement-block. But there was indeed fire in his eyes as he took a tighter grip on his racket, ready to strike Inui out of the momentum of his game. The other megane accepted the terms with benevolence only present to an athlete who finds the game more than just an easy catch.
They started again with another rally. Tezuka was getting aggressive now but even with an aggression, he maintains a cool head. Inui admired that strength of will from him but even though he was always swept away with that quality, he was nevertheless determined to destroy it. He predicted Tezuka’s next move; that drop shot, his trump card. He took a step to reach the goal and his legs felt the desperation and they moved to his accord.
He returned the ball and the crowd growled in amazement.
“Are you aware, Tezuka, that the probability of using your signature drop shot was ninety-two percent?” He asked the captain calmly.
Tezuka’s forehead was starting to sweat but his features remained immobile, cold. “Not only did you analyze the data...but it looks like you polished one thing, Sadaharu.”
“I feel like aiming higher.” Inui managed a small smile. He heard Kaidoh in the corner, saying something about Inui doubling his training regimen. He responded to that by saying that it was 2.25 times more to be exact. Coach Ryuuzaki added that Inui worked on his body too. Back then he was only able to predict the shot his opponents make but he lacks the sprinting capacity and the ability to return them.
Today it was different.
Another seven minutes and it was three-games-all.
“Data doesn’t lie.” Inui told Tezuka. And they moved forward.
As the game progresses into Inui’s favor, he told Tezuka. “Do you know that whenever you hit a drop shot, your racket head drops 3.2 mm?”
The crowd questioned his presumptions but they were constantly validated throughout the game until they were all convinced that his style of tennis really is flawless.
Inui could hear Coach Ryuuzaki telling them. “Hard work and determination often surpass skills.”
5-4, Inui leads.
Watch me, Agano-sempai, Inui thought, searching her momentarily in the crowd. I’m going to prove that philosophy today.
“Is Tezuka-buchou going to lose?” one of the freshmen asked aloud.
Inui was consumed with his own drive that out of nowhere, Tezuka did something his eye barely caught and the ball entered inside his court and he wasn’t even able to raise his racket (or move at all). There was a silence engulfing the air and Oishi shouted out what everyone was asking in their minds, “What was that, Tezuka?”
I want to know myself, Inui wiped the sweat on his forehead as he watched Tezuka return to the farthest side of his court.
“Come, Inui.” The captain declared. “The match isn’t over. Let’s keep going.”
Iku Agano crossed her legs from under the table, no less, as Inui figured because she does look like the kind of woman who does that often.
“It was very generous of you, Sadaharu.”
“I don’t mind. I like taking you to dinner.” Inui responded. “Been liking it for twice the occasion now.”
“I wasn’t talking about food, Sadaharu, I was talking about the match earlier.”
“Oh, that.” Inui smirked, slicing his beef steak with careful ease. “That was the most exciting time of my life in all my years of playing tennis.”
“Why do I get the distinct impression that it was not an exaggeration when you said that?” Agano wiped her mouth with her napkin.
“Because you’re intuitive for a woman your age?”
“A woman my age?” Agano raised her glass slightly and paused before she drank it. “I don’t want to think what you’re even implying.”
“I’m just a fifteen-year old boy who doesn’t keep his mouth shut. I appeared very rude there.” Inui corrected himself.
“Don’t be sarcastic.” Agano tapped her fingernails on the table. “I wouldn’t have dined with you if you were indeed a waste of my time. Besides, the reason why we’re even together inside this restaurant and no one has yet to bother us with questions is because you don’t look your age at all.”
“Well, yes, that may be true.” Inui chewed his food first before he replied again. “And we could safely assume that there won’t be anybody in Seishun Gakuen here to recognize us.”
“It would complicate matters.” Agano remarked. “I couldn’t imagine myself having an answer as to why I’m dining with a student in such a fancy place, let alone let him pay for it.”
“It raises interesting conjectures, if you ask me.”
“And many of which we will find very disagreeable, not to mention inappropriate.” Agano leaned against the back of her chair, sighing. “And one that would probably cost me my position.”
Inui smiled. “Then we should try to keep everything low-key, so not to upset the order of convention.”
“We’re getting by, I think.” Agano raised her glass. “A toast to that?”
Inui poured his champagne glass with Inui juice. “You know, sempai, since I don’t even look my age as you’ve kindly pointed out, I should—”
“Don’t even dream that I’d allow a minor be served alcohol on my watch. I’d sooner drop you off to your house if that happens.”
“My parents are barely home this month.” Inui said. “My invitation stands.”
They clattered their glasses together. Agano replied. “No, no, you know that’s where I draw the line. I couldn’t imagine the prospects of being alone with you in your house.”
“We can ask Kaidoh and the cat come by again.”
“And inconvenience such a fine young lad like Kaidoh-chan?”
“He’ll get over it.” Inui pressed on.
“I told you I don’t think that would be advisable.” Agano added. “Besides, you’re interested in having conversations with me and we’re doing well with those here on a public place, a restaurant where good company and food coincide.”
“All right then,” Inui gave up. “I don’t want you to think I’m being incorrigible.”
“I think a lot about you these days.” She watched the contents of her glass sway.
“I’m honored I occupy your interests.”
“You and Tezuka are quite the catalysts.” Agano looked off to the other table.
“I’m afraid you’ve lost me on your sentiment.”
“I’m simply saying that a woman my age, ripe with experiences but still young and bored, is just glad to have some change of pace in her lifestyle.”
“I’m also glad that I offer you comfort.” Inui placed his hand on hers. She looked at that and then she looked at his face. She was not smiling.
“Sadaharu, in addition to not looking like your age, you certainly act above it as well.” She didn’t pull her hand away.
“Tezuka’s best interests are in your heart, are they not?”
“I don’t know how to respond to that, sorry.” Agano blinked.
“You granted my request and made it happen. I suppose you care about me but your concern for Tezuka is far greater.” Inui withdrew his hand. “I just conclude that you desire for him in some other way that I don’t even want to name just yet.”
“You analyze too much and yet your results take a curve. How does it feel when, even in your prime, Tezuka still snatched your light?”
Inui pushed his glasses to the bridge of his nose. “A simple setback; I could claim it when I polish my data to other degrees of exactitude.”
“Admirable,” Agano smiled at last, “your convictions...”
They headed out by six-thirty. The rain was only a compliant drizzle but Inui figured that the lady he is accompanying still needs an umbrella on her head. They crossed several streets until they bumped into Fuji.
“Sensei? Inui?” the tensai didn’t care to hide his shock which he recovered from easily to give way to a smile.
Inui wondered if he should make excuses for this but Agano beat him to it. “I was out celebrating with some friends from my old university. The weather got questionable and Sadaharu-san and I run into each other along the way and he offered me assistance.”
“That’s quite lucky.” Fuji smiled wider. “But that’s a very nice suit you’re wearing, Inui and not exactly everyday clothing. Where you also attending a party when you run into Agano-sensei?”
“Oh, Sadaharu-san was just telling me that,” Agano chuckled with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Today is his birthday.”
Fuji’s smile was intact. “Dear me, I’m sorry. Happy birthday, Inui!”
“Thank you.” Inui nodded his head awkwardly. He’s not usually bashful but mentioning that when he firmly pointed out to Agano that he didn’t want anybody in school knowing it’s his birthday was very incredibly unnerving for him. He managed to respond in a robotic tone. “I feel the warmth of your greeting. I’m very pleased.”
It was Fuji’s turn to chuckle, either he could read the hostility or his amusement is genuine. “All right then. Do you mind if I join you? Consider it as a consolation for not getting you any present.”
“I’m not a big gift-receiver, anyway.” Inui remarked.
“Don’t let that stop you, Syusuke-san.” Agano patted Inui’s shoulder and then she took the umbrella from him. “Sadly, boys, I have to go and finish up checking school papers. I’m sure Syusuke-san feels the compulsion to make up for not knowing how special this day is for you Sadaharu-san. I’ll return your umbrella tomorrow.”
And just like that, she was walking away.
Fuji turned to Inui. “Did I say ‘compulsion’? I’m pretty sure I said ‘consolation’. Or was I—”
“No, you said consolation.” Inui buried his hands on his pockets.
“We shouldn’t stand on ceremony. The rain might get worse.”
Inui glanced at the book his teammate was holding. It was some kind of novel. He pointed at it and asked.
“Tezuka lent it to me.” Fuji showed it.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.
“Literature is very commendable for people our age.” Inui stared at the book for a long time even when Fuji tucked it under his arm.
“Indeed.” Fuji said. “I’m actually enjoying this particular book myself.”
“What’s it about?”
“Do you really want to know or are you just avoiding the prospect that I would go ga-ga on you about your birthday and insist that I must buy you a gift from a selected toy store that I know?”
“Um, well, not exactly.”
“That’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
Inui paused, contemplating a strategic and perhaps a more civil way to refuse this generosity without making it sound whiny. But because of the pressure of time, he thought on his feet and he said, “Fuji, that’s not necessary—”
“Don’t go telling me it’s not necessary. It’s a birthday’s oldest tradition and probably the only reason why people celebrate birthdays in the first place.”
“You mean besides acknowledging you exist and how grateful you are for it?”
“Yes, pretty much.” Fuji tapped his arm. “Now the store won’t come to us, you know, so let’s go to it!” Another cryptic smile.
Inui weakly smirked but he didn’t sign up to this but he was getting dragged to whatever store Fuji had in mind anyway so...
Another detail in his TEZUGANO notebook will be written later tonight, add Must buy the Oscar Wilde book to his to-do list and he’s good to go.