C as in Cookie by Halrloprillalar / prillalar
Prince of Tennis, Inui/Tezuka, 3500 words, PG.
Inui can't resist a mystery.
Thanks, always, to kestrelsan for beta.
"Are you just going to throw those away?" Eiji said. Inui couldn't see what "those" were because he was pulling his practice shirt over his head.
"Yes," Tezuka said. Inui yanked and his collar got caught over his glasses. He heard a thump and a rattle. One more hard pull and the shirt was off. His glasses were askew, but he could see finally.
He craned his neck to see what was in the trash bin. Which turned out to be Momoshiro. "You should never throw away cookies!" Momoshiro said. "That's bad luck, really bad luck." He fished out a package wrapped in a blue and pink napkin.
"Who are they from?" Eiji darted over and jerked the package out of Momoshiro's hands.
"No one," Tezuka said. He climbed out of his workout pants and tucked them into his cubby.
"No one?" Inui straightened his glasses. "It is extremely unlikely that a package of cookies could spontaneously generate inside the clubhouse."
"Just unlikely?" Fuji said.
"Don't eat them all yourself, Eiji-senpai!" Momoshiro clamoured after the package as Kikumaru hugged it to himself.
"According to quantum physics it's technically possible," Inui said. "But the odds are so small as to be non-existent." He turned to Tezuka. "Was there no name?"
Tezuka shrugged and buckled his belt.
"You're probably wise to dispose of them," Inui said. "Unlabelled food could be a health hazard."
"They're poison?" Kikumaru yelled. He dropped the package and Momoshiro caught it.
"Did you make them, Inui-senpai?" Momoshiro said. He sniffed at the package.
"I don't bake," Inui said.
"Then they're fine." Kikumaru snatched the package back and ripped it open. He popped a cookie into his mouth. "Chocolate chip!" he said around the crumbs. Momoshiro took two.
A slip of paper fell out of the package, floated to the ground, and was immediately stepped on by Momoshiro.
Inui grabbed Momoshiro's ankle. Momoshiro yelped and leapt backwards. Inui picked up the paper.
~ from your secret admirer ~
"Tezuka," Inui said. "You have a secret admirer."
"Oh," Tezuka said.
The next day after practice there was another gift waiting in Tezuka's cubby: a snow globe of Niagara Falls. Tezuka aimed for the trash bin. "Don't you want it?" Kawamura said. "I'll take it." Tezuka tossed it over.
"Is there a card?" Inui asked.
Kawamura turned it over. Stuck to the bottom: ~ from your secret admirer ~
"Who do you think it is?" Inui said.
"I don't know," Tezuka said. "Do you have any spare over-grips?"
The next day it was cookies again. Sugar cookies with pink icing in a bakery box. Tezuka didn't get a chance to throw them out -- Momoshiro just picked them up and started sharing them around the room. Tezuka didn't take one.
There was something a bit weird about all of this. Not weird that someone was giving Tezuka presents -- he was always getting letters and presents in his shoebox from girls and once in a while from boys too. And not weird that Tezuka was disposing of them -- he never kept anything.
But these gifts were anonymous. They didn't ask for a meeting or any acknowledgement of interest. And they were appearing in the club room during afternoon practice. Inui didn't know who, he didn't know how, and he didn't know why.
It bothered him.
He followed Tezuka out the door and caught his arm. "Wait."
"Inui," Tezuka said.
"We should try to figure this out," Inui said.
"It's a mystery! We'll be detectives."
Tezuka looked at Inui and Inui wondered if there were an in-person equivalent of hanging up on someone.
"Okay," Tezuka said.
"Too bad you threw out all the clues," Inui said.
"Sorry." Tezuka poured more tea for Inui. "But I can't accept any gifts."
Inui leaned back against Tezuka's bed. "We could have dusted it for fingerprints."
"I don't think cookies hold prints very well."
Inui laughed. "I do have one of the notes." He put it on the floor between them. It was plain white card-stock, like a thin business card. The message had been printed on a computer, not handwritten.
"It doesn't say who."
"But we know when and where," Inui said. "We could install a surveillance camera."
Tezuka looked at Inui. "A stakeout."
"Stakeout? You mean wait there ourselves?"
"We'll catch the perp in the act."
"Perp?" This was a whole new side to Tezuka. Including a whole new vocabulary. "Do you ... watch a lot of TV in your spare time?"
Tezuka glanced over at his bookcase, his face possibly very slightly flushed. It was hard to tell. "I read a lot of procedurals," he said. "It's ... good English review."
"I'm sure it is," Inui said. "A stakeout is a good idea. Except -- you realise we would be missing practice?" A muscle twitched in Tezuka's cheek and Inui braced for the snap back from homicide detective to tennis captain.
"We work the case," Tezuka said.
"I estimate a 98% chance of success with this method," Inui said. "I mean -- we'll catch the unsub this time, partner."
"Inui," Tezuka said. "What kind of cookies do you like?"
"Get in." Inui held up the lid of the storage container. Everyone else was out on the courts, working through the special Super Max Marathon Menu Inui had supplied to Oishi.
Tezuka climbed inside. Inui followed him and lowered the lid. "I cut some slits here."
Tezuka peered through the holes. "I can see the cubbies."
"I positioned it at lunch. Now all we have to do is wait."
Inui sat back, pulling his knees up. Tezuka settled in beside him. There wasn't much room -- they were pressed together at the shoulder and the thigh.
"Cookie?" Tezuka said.
"You brought cookies?" Inui took one out of the bag and pulled the wrapping off. The crinkle seemed extra loud in the enclosed space. He took a bite. Caramel, his favourite.
"Stakeout supplies." Tezuka pulled out a thermos and poured a cup of coffee for Inui.
"I could have brought some juice." Inui munched and sipped and watched and wished he'd cut a few more slits in the container. There wasn't much airflow happening. He yawned. "Sleepy."
"That's why we have coffee on stakeouts," Tezuka said.
Inui yawned again. What was taking the secret admirer so long? Although if it were someone in the tennis club, the Super Max Marathon Menu might be preventing him from getting away to plant today's gift.
The door opened. Oishi came in. Inui clutched Tezuka's arm. Oishi was the perp! It made so much sense. He'd been following Tezuka around ever since first year. And he was the shy and nervous type, so he wouldn't come right out and confess. They had him now!
Oishi picked up a stopwatch and left.
"Another cookie?" Tezuka said.
Inui let go of Tezuka's arm. Of course it wasn't Oishi. He wouldn't keep leaving gifts that were just being thrown away. Inui slumped back and drank his coffee.
He was on his second cup when the door opened again. He re-clutched Tezuka's arm. They both leaned forward, pressing their glasses to the holes in the plastic.
A boy with a towel draped over his head like a hood crept through the room, looking over his shoulder after every step. He stopped in front of Tezuka's cubby and took a bag out of his pocket.
Inui and Tezuka jumped up, spilling coffee all over themselves. "Aha!" Inui said. The boy screamed. The bag fell. Jellybeans rolled all over the floor.
"You have the right to remain silent," Tezuka said.
It was Horio.
It made a lot of sense, really. Of course he would be naturally drawn to a great tennis player like Tezuka. And based on his estimation of his own skills, he would be able to sustain the delusion that Tezuka might return his affection, even after his gifts were constantly rejected.
"I'll tell you everything!" Horio wailed.
Inui sat him down on the bench. Tezuka took a folding chair from along the wall and unfolded it. He turned it around and sat, straddling the back. "Talk," he said.
"Okay, it's like this--"
Inui put his hand on Horio's shoulder. "I would really advise you to talk. My partner can get a bit...violent when things don't go his way."
"So I was--"
Tezuka stood up and pushed the chair with his foot until it toppled over and collapsed.
"I can't control him when he's like this," Inui said. "You really should tell us what we want to know."
"I'M TRYING TO!"
Inui flinched back. Tezuka picked up the chair and leaned it neatly against the wall.
Horio swiped his arm across his forehead. "It wasn't from me. There was an anonymous note in my shoebox this afternoon with the bag of jellybeans. Naturally, I assumed it was a present from a girl. I get those all the time. I have two years dating experience, you know.
"But the note said to put the jellybeans into Tezuka-buchou's cubby during practice. Or else."
"Else what?" Inui asked.
Horio shuddered. "I don't know. It said if I succeeded I would be rewarded and if I failed I would be punished." His mouth dropped open. "I'm going to be punished! That person is going to get me!"
"We can protect you," Tezuka said. "If you give up your boss."
"Actually, we probably can't," Inui said. "Do you still have the note?"
"It said to destroy it," Horio said. "I don't know who the boss is." He grabbed his towel and pulled it over his head. "I'll have to hide."
"We have a safe house," Tezuka said.
"Actually, we don't," Inui said. "But I'll tell Oishi you went home sick."
Horio ran out the door, jellybeans crunching under his feet.
"Next time I get to be the bad cop," Inui said.
The next day it was a keychain: Miffy and Melanie. Tezuka held it out.
"I'd better take that," Inui said. "For evidence."
"You like Miffy, Inui?" Kikumaru said. "I have that keychain too."
Could it be Kikumaru? But if he liked someone, he would probably just grab them and kiss them. He wouldn't have the patience for a long campaign. Or think of being anonymous.
Inui looked around the room, in case anybody was showing signs of guilt. Whoever it was -- someone in the club or not -- Inui was getting pretty tired of it. "You think they'd take the hint by now," he muttered.
"Are you coming over tonight?" Tezuka said.
Inui wiped sweat off his forehead. Which mixed with the flour on his hand into a sort of paste. Inui swore. The recipe hadn't seemed too complicated at first, but then there were all these special baking terms like "cream" and "fold" which the YouTube demos had completely failed to properly explain.
Not to mention they only had one egg instead of two. But the cookies were in the oven now. All he had to do was wait.
And shower off all the flour paste. Also, there was butter in his hair.
He was just lathering up when the smoke detector went off.
"Sorry I'm late." Inui tossed Tezuka a package of butter cookies. "I had to stop at the store."
"Thank you." Tezuka opened the bag and they each took some.
"I think we should take a look at all the evidence we've collected so far." Inui laid the identical notes, the keychain, and three jellybeans on the floor between them.
"It's not much," Tezuka said.
"True," Inui said. "But we have other data as well. We know that the person is using other people to plant the gifts."
"And that they scare Horio."
"That could be anyone," Inui said. "It does narrow the description of the person we're looking for. But not enough."
"Maybe Horio should wear a wire," Tezuka said.
"If they haven't already rubbed him out. Anyhow, it seems like they use someone different each time."
"This is driving me crazy." Inui ran his hand through his hair. "I should have figured this out by now. There's something I'm still missing."
"It doesn't matter," Tezuka said.
"I don't like not knowing," Inui said. "It's frustrating." He leaned back against the side of the bed and forced himself to think.
The bed shook a little as Tezuka sat down next to Inui. Inui kept running the facts through his brain, trying to make them form a pattern.
"Inui." Inui turned his head. Tezuka was looking at him. "Inui, you..."
"What is it?"
"Crumbs." Tezuka put his fingers under Inui's chin and brushed the corner of Inui's mouth with his thumb. And then he kissed him.
Tezuka's mouth was warm and his fingers were warm and Inui wondered if this was from one of Tezuka's police procedurals. Tezuka moved back, but he didn't drop his hand. Someone leaned forward, it might even have been Inui this time, and then they were kissing again, both of them, and everything was warm.
They pulled apart. Tezuka slid his fingers through Inui's and sat back against the bed. Inui sucked air into his lungs. He stared at a tennis poster on Tezuka's wall. He squeezed Tezuka's hand. He couldn't think of a single thing to say.
"Inui," Tezuka said. "Do you want another cookie?"
They kissed until it was time for Inui to go home.
Inui woke up happy but he couldn't remember why. Then he remembered and that made him twice as happy, possibly even three times, though it was hard to say without an accurate scale of measurement. He didn't stop smiling the whole day, even when he spilled hydrochloric acid on his hand in chemistry.
They hadn't solved the mystery, though. Not even Inui's subconscious had given him any help. It just didn't make any sense -- there was no pattern to the gifts. One day home baked cookies, the next day store bought. Random trinkets, without any theme. Unless... A glimmer of an idea came to Inui. Unless Tezuka himself...
But when practice was over, there it was: another gift in Tezuka's cubby.
Inui grabbed it before Tezuka could. It was a postcard book of Ishikawa Kenji photos. Inside the front page was the usual note. Inui crumpled it and threw it in the trash.
"Inui," Tezuka said. "Do you--"
"Why can't they leave you alone?"
"Matter," Inui said. "So you keep saying. Why don't you care?" He threw the postcard book into his cubby. Something inside it dislodged and slid partway out of the pages.
It was a photo. Of a girl. "It's--" Inui stopped. He didn't want Tezuka to see. He didn't want Tezuka to know.
"I'm leaving." Inui slid the picture up his sleeve. He grabbed his bag and ran out of the club room.
"Inui," Tezuka called. But Inui kept running.
He stopped around a corner to look at the photo. He knew this girl, Kimura, she was in his class. And she was in the archery club, so she might still be around. If she wasn't out stalking Tezuka.
Inui tracked her down near the school gates.
"How did you do on the literature exam?" she said.
"What kind of guys do you like?" Inui said.
Kimura dropped her book bag. "What?"
"What kind of guys do you like?"
She flushed. "I'm sorry, Inui-kun. I already have someone that I like."
"I know that," Inui said. "I'm trying to find out who..." This was all wrong. Kimura was not the kind of person who would be circuitous or draw things out. Not to mention terrorize Horio. If she liked a guy, she would just let him know. If she sent him a present, she would sign it.
"Who," Inui said again. Something twisted inside his head, like his brain tilting 90 degrees, and there it all was, the whole pattern, everything slotted into place.
"The exam was easy," Inui said. "I have to go."
Fuji was waiting for him in the club room.
"It's you," Inui said.
"I was baffled until today," Inui said. "A series of incongruous gifts from an anonymous admirer placed in the club room using a complicated method." He dropped his bag and paced around the room. "Why go to so much trouble over the method and pay so little attention to the gifts? Why remain so carefully anonymous and then slip up over a photo?"
"Why indeed?" Fuji said.
"There was no pattern that I could see. And then I realized that that was the pattern. The gifts were all re-gifted, things the secret admirer had received from their own admirers, that's why they seemed so unrelated to each other."
That bubbling was inside Inui now, that brain-fizzy high that only came when he had a great idea or wrote a beautiful algorithm or hit a perfect winner. "And why go to all the trouble of placing them in the club room when they could easily go in Tezuka's shoebox? Especially when Tezuka kept throwing them out? To draw the attention of someone else, someone there."
Inui stopped in front of Fuji. "The gifts weren't gifts," he said. "They were a puzzle."
"The puzzle was the gift," Fuji said. He put his hand on Inui's arm. "From your admirer."
"Fuji..." Two days ago, Inui had had zero admirers. Now he had two. It was awkward, but exciting too. What if they fought over him? What if they played a match over him? The data Inui could get!
There was a crash outside the club room. Inui yanked open the door. A ball cart was turned over, tennis balls rolling all over the ground. And Tezuka's back, disappearing behind a building.
"Oops," Fuji said.
"Tezuka!" Inui called. Tezuka didn't turn around. Inui didn't know if he should run after him or not.
"It was a good plan," Fuji said. "Until it backfired."
And back to awkward. "Um, Fuji..."
"Is my application being considered?" Fuji said.
The data, Inui thought. But... "I'm sorry," he said.
Fuji sighed. "I'll have to throw myself off a bridge, then."
Inui stared. "What?"
"I'll get over it, Inui," Fuji said. "I'll just need to find something to distract myself in the meantime."
So, back to one now. Or maybe zero. "Fuji," Inui said. "Do you know the difference between creaming and folding?"
"Your grandfather let me in." Inui closed the door behind him. "I thought he was going to make me fight him first."
Tezuka was sitting on his bed. There was a novel beside him but he wasn't reading it.
"Were you staking me out?" Inui said.
"No." Tezuka picked up the book. He didn't open it.
"Probability of that being a lie: 96%."
"It doesn't matter."
"Stop saying that!" Inui took a step into the room, then stopped. His heart was pounding and he wanted to smack Tezuka upside the head. And then kiss him. And then get thrown out of the house and possibly beaten up by an old man. Or ... something.
He took the package out of his bag. "Tezuka." He stood beside the bed and held it out. Wrapped in a blue napkin, with a handwritten label: from your admirer, Inui Sadaharu.
Tezuka put down the book, swung his legs over the side of the bed, stood up. He looked at Inui.
Inui's stomach clenched. About ten stupid remarks tried to force their way out of his mouth. He bit his tongue and waited.
Tezuka took the package. Inui flicked his eyes to the waste basket by the desk. "Thank you," Tezuka said.
Inui's knees nearly buckled with relief. "I hope it's the thought that counts, because they're pretty burnt."
"Inui," Tezuka said, with a look that was nearly a smile and a suggestion on his cheeks that was nearly a flush. And then Inui couldn't wait any longer so he kissed him. Tezuka put his arm around Inui's neck and their glasses fogged up and Inui wanted to smile but that would have made it too hard to kiss.
Then they ate the cookies. They were terrible.
"I'll improve my technique before our next case," Inui said.
Tezuka kissed him again.
"Oh, Momo," Fuji said. "Can I talk to you for a minute?" He flashed a smile at Inui, then slid his arm around Momoshiro's waist. Momoshiro looked uncomfortable.
Inui nodded. Everything seemed okay with Fuji, thank goodness.
"You too, Kaidoh," Fuji said. "I need both of you for this."
Maybe "okay" wasn't quite the word. And maybe Inui had had a narrow escape.
"Inui," Tezuka said. "Are you coming over tonight?"
"I am," Inui said. He smiled. Tezuka's cubby was completely free of anonymous gifts. Fuji was suitably distracted. Kimura had given Inui a recipe for cookies that didn't have to be baked. And tonight there would be more kissing.
Everything was coming up Inui.
A man opened the club room door. "Is there a Tezuka Kunimitsu here?" He set down four dozen roses, a huge box of chocolates, and a puppy. Also a card: From Atobe Keigo.
"Oh, shit," Inui said.