title: A Game of Exile
fandom: Hikaru no Go
characters/pairings: Waya/Isumi, vague Shindou/Touya, Ochi, Akari, others
rating: G/Teen
warnings: angst
summary: a year taken out of their lives.
notes: for blind_go, round three.
themeset - igo terms


ko~~~

He walked back and forth, pacing. Isumi-san was taking too damned long, once again. It wasn't as if it was a special day or anything, just another round of regulation matches. When Waya finished his match, he walked by Isumi-san, and it looked like he was controlling the board. Endgame shouldn't have taken that long.

The elevator dinged, and he turned excitedly. However, it was just Shindou and that Touya, arguing, of course. He scowled, and turned his back to them. They were becoming legendary, of course, for more than one reason. In fact, the Go Institute was considering making a policy about no speaking in the halls because of them. But they existed in their own world.

For some reason, it really bothered Waya.

He moved away from them, not really paying attention to where he was going. Not that it mattered, since they were too engrossed in their own debate over the minutiae of one or the other's of their games. Even if he'd been standing in the doorway itself, they would have walked by him without missing a beat.

He stuffed his hands back in his pockets, and went back to pacing, back and forth, forward and back, his eyes going to the elevator each time he turned.

What was taking Isumi-san so long?

"It can't be true!" some girl whined. "He's so cute! Isn't he too young?"

"Well, he's a few years older than us," another girl sighed. They were sitting across a goban from each other, but they weren't playing. He leaned against the wall, closing his eyes. Listening to them was as boring as not listening, so he didn't mind.

"Aw. He's always hanging out with that Waya, so I figured he was still blooming. Now he'll be plucked. That sucks."

Waya's eyes snapped open, and he froze.

The other girl snickered. "Well, I doubt he's engaged or anything at this point. I don't know how serious it was. But I definitely saw them. It looked like their mothers were with them, like a proper arranged date. Isumi-san looked so handsome in his suit! He looked so young. All the boys my parents want me to date are pizza-faced losers."

Waya wondered when that was. Isumi-san's parents were trying to set him up? Well, he knew they were more traditional than his family. And Isumi-san was the oldest son, and he always felt responsible for his little brothers. So, perhaps it made sense.

He was back to pacing again.

The thing was, he was never really sure that Isumi-san really wanted the same things that he did. Isumi-san was always so indulgent with him; he felt before like he was one of Isumi-san's little brothers. When he pushed things, Isumi-san let him, but did that mean that he really wanted to... like, kissing or touching? It was always him that initiated things like that, so he couldn't be certain. If Isumi-san met some cute girl who wanted to be his wife, that would probably be the best thing for him.

Waya just couldn't accept that.

He jumped at the pressure of the sudden hand on his shoulder. "What are you doing? Going back and forth like that. You're making me dizzy!" Isumi-san was there, smiling like he always did. His hair was messed up, probably from the way he'd been grabbing it during the game. It must have been a tough one, but.

"Did you finally win?" Waya complained. "Man, it took you forever!"

"I helped clean up after, too," Isumi-san chuckled.

"What? There are people who do that," Waya huffed. Isumi-san was always too nice!

"People like me, you brat, who volunteer," Isumi-san laughed, ruffling Waya's hair.

Normally, he liked any and all contact, especially in public, but it was such a big brotherly gesture... He ducked out from under Isumi-san's reach and stalked off. "So, are you hungry?"

Isumi-san followed him quickly. "I am. You want to go get something? We could get hamburgers, or ramen."

Waya scowled. "Shindou isn't with us. Let's go back to my place and finish off the Chinese we got the other day." He turned his face a bit. He couldn't help blushing. Isumi-san had spent the night, and they'd... Well, they'd also played a lot of Go, and that was good for both of them, so. That was always a good excuse.

"How about sushi, then?" Isumi-san said indifferently.

Waya stopped in his tracks. "Aren't you going to help me finish all that food off? It's a lot, you know! And you ordered half of it."

"Waya, don't cause a scene," Isumi-san sighed, looking around anxiously.

"What are you talking about?!" Waya shot back. Childishly. Damn it! What was it about being around Isumi-san that always made him so... petulant? "Why won't you just answer my question? Or do you have something to do tonight? Another date?"

"Another..." Isumi-san narrowed his eyes. "What do you mean?"

Waya could kick himself. "Your family is trying to set you up, right? So just say so if that's what it is. You don't need to shelter my feelings or anything dumb like that!"

"Waya... just what have you been doing?" Isumi-san asked, his voice low and... suspicious.

"What are you thinking?!" Waya stepped closer, getting right in Isumi-san's face. "I overheard something! Look, it's no big deal, as long as you're honest with me!"

"You shouldn't listen to gossip," Isumi-san said stiffly. "And you should think twice before accusing me of lying."

"I'm not, I'm wondering why you don't want to be with me tonight!" Waya exclaimed, getting frustrated.

Isumi-san looked around, scowling. But there was no one near them, and anyway, it wasn't like he was being that embarrassing! "You're acting like a spoiled child. I should think, then, the answer to your question would be obvious. Look, let's just cool off. I'll see you later, Waya."

Isumi-san started to walk away. One step forward, one back, always dancing around each other, but never gaining any ground or making any progress... "I'm not your little brother," Waya ground out. "I don't need you to scold me. And if you can't be bothered to tell me what's going on, maybe I don't need you at all."

Isumi-san stopped in his tracks. But he didn't turn around. "Are you threatening me? You're right, you're not my little brother. Even my youngest brother wouldn't be so stubborn and childish. You really need to cool down and start using your head, Waya." And he kept walking.

Maybe it was progress, finally. The pattern might have broken, at any rate.



tengen~~~

He stood in the middle of the entrance hall, alone. Well, it was a new start, it felt like. He couldn't help feeling nostalgic - he'd seen Isumi-san for the first time while standing over by the shop, and he'd met Isumi-san many times in the entrance, before a match. In their insei days, he would wait for Isumi-san, since his school was closer, and anyway, he would often cut out early. Things had changed, however. This was his choice, too. Isumi-san had called him three times since they last spoke, but he'd ignored them all. That was unfair of him, and probably even wrong. He was curious as hell as to what the messages were, but he'd been told to cool off, and he wanted to do just that. Until he was completely cold, if necessary.

It wasn't like Isumi-san was trying to see him. Isumi-san knew where he lived, and he knew when Waya had study group, and when he was teaching and working. He knew his match schedule. It had been two weeks since they'd parted ways on the sidewalk.

Broken up.

Though, it was stupid to think that way. It wasn't like they were boyfriends. He wasn't sure what they were... just that they weren't anymore.

He also wasn't sure why he had gotten to the Institute so early. It wasn't like it was an important match for him... just normal league play! The next week, matches for the Honinbou league would begin. Isumi-san would be playing, too. He would come in... Maybe... Waya was waiting to see, still, what Isumi-san would do. Would he look upset, would he try to talk to Waya...? Would he have bags under his eyes from lack of sleep?

Yeah, right.

No matter what he was thinking or not thinking, however, the fact remained that he was just standing there in the middle of the entrance hall, without a thing to do or a reason to be there.

Before too long, people started to come in, getting ready for the day's matches. He felt stupid just standing around doing nothing, especially when groups were going up in the elevator, so he went over to the store to pretend to browse through the merchandise.

Honda came in, his nose in a book. Or maybe manga. He had been reading a lot of late. Nase said something about a girl he was friends with giving him books to read. Seemed like everyone wanted a girlfriend. Well, that was 'normal,' of course, so. Whatever. Honda didn't look up as he walked by, so of course he didn't see Waya.

Saeki came in, with that Ashiwara from the Touya group on his elbow, pestering him about some coffee place or something. Saeki was too busy trying not to talk to Ashiwara too noticeably while Ashiwara was trying to attach himself to Saeki for him to look around at all. It wasn't like Waya was even trying to be noticed, so it didn't matter.

Shindou and that Touya came in, though, and everyone looked them. Everyone had to. They were already arguing, violently, so it wouldn't have seemed odd if they got to blows. Well, except for the mental image of that Touya throwing a punch. Shindou would have him on his back in a minute. But. That wasn't the point. One of the older dans rushed over from the public areas to try to hush them, and then Kuwabara-honinbou came up behind them, cackling about youth and the fire of go quickening his blood...

Waya felt something strange in the back of his throat. Everywhere those two went anymore, they seemed to be together, and they seemed to make a commotion. Which was fine, because it was just who they were, whatever weird connection they had. Rivals, they said. Sure. They were rivals. And Waya dearly hoped that Shindou let that Touya have it. But.

They went up, and it got quiet... and Waya realized, Isumi-san had arrived. He was with Sakurano from the Nine Stars Club. She had her hands on his arm, and was calling him Shin-chan over and over. Waya narrowed his eyes. She was trying to pin him down to a night to go out to dinner. As they passed him, Isumi-san's gaze wandered over to him... For a second, he thought they might have made eye contact, but Isumi-san and the woman kept walking. His expression didn't change a bit, he didn't say a word, he didn't nod or acknowledge Waya at all...

It was like he didn't even know Waya.

The feeling in his throat got worse. So much so, he felt like he was drowning. He pulled out his cell phone, and quickly deleted the voice mails that Isumi-san had left. He had a sick feeling that he didn't want to ever hear them. He stayed down in the shop until the last possible moment, and then ran up the stairs. He found his place in the playing room quickly, keeping his chin down, and as soon as lunch break began, he dashed off, just trying to get away without meeting anyone. He bought his lunch from a convenience store, and ate it on a bench in the middle of an empty park.

He didn't taste his food, and he lost his game. He left the Institute as quickly as he could, and when he got home, he shoved his goban in his closet. He wanted to go out and get some books or games or something, anything. He thought of maybe going home and letting his mom do his laundry and cook for him.

Instead, though, he stared at his ceiling, and thought about his position. He'd never really been the type to be alone. Still, it wasn't the worst position to be in, he finally decided. He could still make all the right moves. Just. He wasn't going to make them with Isumi-san anymore, but that was just a childish fixation, he decided.

That was what he decided.



hane~~~

Avoidance became his hobby.

It was easy to decide to just cut Isumi-san out of his life. Especially since he didn't need to discuss it with Isumi-san. But his friends were all Isumi-san's friends, and they were all often in the same place at the same time. He thought that it might just take a short while. At some point, he thought, the sight of Isumi-san laughing at someone else's jokes or being touched by someone else or even just sitting and relaxing with someone else would cause him no pain. He'd get over his childishness and he'd be able to be a friend again, which was all he was supposed to have been all along.

However, seeing Isumi-san laugh at someone else's jokes continued to cause a throbbing in his chest, and seeing someone else's hands on Isumi-san's arm still gave him sharp, stabbing pains, all over his body, and even just seeing Isumi-san relaxing before a match still made his stomach churn.

So he leaned to avoid.

He took the back stairs up to the floor for matches, and he either arranged to eat lunch in between with Saeki or he went off on his own. He would make plans to meet Shindou or Honda sometimes, but he was careful to make sure that they didn't meet anywhere that Isumi-san was likely to just be, and he made plans on somewhat short notice, so there was little chance they would be chatting with Isumi-san in the meanwhile. He still had people from their old insei group over from time to time, but he apologized ahead of time that his mother was making him keep more of his things in his apartment, since he was insisting on renting it, so space was even more limited. That way, no one asked questions.

He got used to thinking several paces ahead, even about the most mundane social or match related activities, to be sure.

He didn't want to accidentally run into Isumi-san.

He blocked Isumi-san's number from his cell, so naturally, he never got calls, though whether he would have gotten them anyway was something he chose not to think about.

He had to be committed to his path, though. After all, there was go.

He was scheduled to play Isumi-san. It would only be the third time, actually, since Isumi-san had become a pro. Part of him wanted to sit across the goban from Isumi-san again, and see what he could find in Isumi-san's stones. The friendship that he missed more than anything, if it was still salvageable, he was sure, was in their stones. And yet, it was also the one thing he couldn't bear to lose.

So, he signed up for an exhibition tournament in Okinawa at the last minute. Because he was missing a regulation match, they let him forfeit ahead of time. The Go Tournament that he was going to was going to be on the American base on Okinawa, and it would have amateur players from all over the world, from the American military and from all around Asia. It did seem like a worthwhile thing to do, and it was supposed to be a money-maker for the Institute; he'd never been to Okinawa before, so even though he was just running away, he was going to enjoy it.

Even though Ochi was the other pro who was going.

Of course, Ochi didn't take the same plane down that he did. Ochi's grandfather chartered a damned jet, and when Ochi landed, he had the audacity to complain that the bed on the plane was a bit stiff. He also wasn't staying in the same hotel that Waya was in. Waya's hotel had inadequate room service. He had his own car. He only liked riding in top of the line luxury cars, and would rather die than take a taxi, if he could help it. He wouldn't eat with Waya. He had a delicate constitution and he couldn't eat common food.

And still, it had been so long since Waya had unreservedly just spent time with someone from their insei group, he chose to just be amused with Ochi's snobbery and leave it at that.

The last day of the tournament, Ochi was playing tutoring games with two generals and a Hong Kong businessman - or possibly an arms dealer - until late into the night. Waya was there, too, doing shots with the artillerymen for every stone captured. He was playing six games at once, so... By the time Ochi was done, he was damn well trashed. When the generals got up, the normal soldiers jumped up, too, and said their goodbyes. Waya waved to them, feeling heady and foggy...

"You're going to be sick all over the goban," Ochi said archly, looking down at Waya.

Waya just grinned back at him. "Yeah, well... well. I won't!"

"Disgusting," Ochi sneered.

Laughing, Waya reached up and grabbed Ochi's vest, just to disgust him further. "Lesss play three hands. Ok? Ok? No, no, wait, like, let's play, play... whoever takes the first stone... the other one... the loser has to drink!"

"If you're trying to become an alcoholic, you don't need my help!" Ochi scorned, trying to brush off Waya's hand, but Waya had a good grip.

"Ochi, yer stupid. Sit 'n' play me," Waya insisted. Become an alcoholic... he'd have to drink for weeks to do that! Stupid Ochi...

His round little eyes narrowed, and his chubby cheeks puffed out, and for a second, Waya thought Ochi might actually try to hit him, but then he huffed, and pushed Waya's hand away, and stalked over to the other side of the goban. "I'm taking black, since you're hijacking me. Not that this will take long. I have no idea what you think you're doing, but I'm quite certain I can beat an inebriated idiot."

Waya laughed, but he wasn't totally sure what Ochi was saying. Ochi played a star point, so he took the opposite one. "'M tryin' to get a little liquor in ya to see if it'll loosen ya up, ya prick."

Ochi slammed his stone down. "Too bad Shindou or Isumi isn't here to babysit you. You're an unpleasant drunk."

That was like a splash of cold water. Waya picked up a stone, spilling a few more as he did, and he carefully placed it. "Shindou'd only come if that Touya was comin' too. And Isumi-san'd have to go get married or somethin'."

"If you're feeling sorry for yourself because your friends have moved on, the only thing you can do is catch up," Ochi haughtily declared.

Waya had a fit of uncontrollable snickers. He placed his stone, and it skittered a few places down, but that was a fine move, too. "Not everything is go, ya know, Ochi."

"Are you sure?" Ochi replied hastily.

That was damned funny, too. Well, maybe a lot of everything was go. It was Isumi-san's go that first attracted Waya. He instantly recognized it as something he was incapable of; not that it was necessarily better or worse, but it was a whole new way of thinking. He admired everything about Isumi-san's go, right down to the prim but strong way Isumi-san laid his stones. He tried to replicate it, but the stone slipped again. Ochi grunted with disgust, but Waya figured he was doing all right. "Yeah. It's just the non-go parts are lot more fucking harder."

"Can you hear yourself?" Ochi sneered.

"Do you see yourself, man?" Waya asked, choking back a chuckle. "I mean. Like. Really see yourself. 'Cause, like... man, get a mirror. It's time to, like, you know. Grow up!"

"I don't even know what I'm doing here," Ochi grumbled. "There's no reason for me to be indulging you."

"Jus'... jus' hear me out, 'kay, 'cause, like, this is... you know, this is wisdom from me to you, man. Get a haircut. Get some new fucking glasses. Ditch the sweater vests. I don't care if yer rich; that's even more reason to get out of the fifth grade! You've got, like, this absolutely horrible personality. And yer really judgmental. But, like, someday, you'll, you know, you'll meet someone you want... and you'll want 'em to think, like, good of you and stuff, and. Yeah." They were laying down stones fast. Ochi wasn't paying attention, though, probably because he was getting more and more pissed off. That was fine, though. Waya took advantage of a slip. "You have good points, man. You're, like, upstanding and all. Just get the fucking lead pipe out of your ass. And here, I got your stone." He picked it up, and flipped it between his fingers, dropping it. "Whoops."

Ochi jumped to his feet, sputtering. "You cheated!"

"Fuck off, man!" Waya laughed. "C'mon, just have a drink. Look, I'll have one with you. 'Kay? Le's have a drink together."

"Lush," Ochi spat out.

"Child," Waya returned, pushing Ochi's drink toward him. "Oh, c'mon! Let loose! There's, like, no one here to even fuckin' care! Jus' have a damned drink, you wuss!"

Ochi's whole face screwed up in the most distasteful way, and then he picked up his drink and threw it back, causing him to start coughing and sputtering. Waya started to laugh, but then he nearly sneezed his drink out his nose.

They played one rematch after the other until they both fell asleep in their chairs. But when daybreak came and the crews came to clean, they helped out, despite Ochi's complaints, stacking up the gobans for storage and gathering all the stones.

There wasn't much time before Waya's flight back. They stood together outside the base, leaning against a wall, but still wobbling a bit, waiting for Ochi's car, which he grudgingly offered to share. He wouldn't even look at Waya, though, but that was fine. The ride seemed ten times bumpier and louder than anything Waya could ever remember. The flight home was going to be great.

Just as Waya was getting out of the car to go to his hotel and get his stuff, Ochi spoke up, his face turned away and his elbow on the car door. "Isumi's not getting married. That was just a rumor. I played him last week. He says he's not even seeing anyone, but he is going to be moving out his house, once his youngest brother starts middle school."

Waya didn't know what to say to that, but then the driver yelled at him to close the door, and Ochi and the car were speeding off.



tesuji~~~

He would never throw a game. He had too much pride, and he took too much pleasure from winning to forgo it for any reason voluntarily. He was aware with each stone that he placed that if he won, and Isumi-san won, he'd be playing Isumi-san in the next round. He wanted to advance in the Tengen league, definitely. He didn't expect to challenge for a title just yet, but he wanted to, someday. That meant winning, and a lot of it. He wasn't throwing the game.

Each stone felt heavy, though. Important.

He looked across the goban after his hand. The trouble was, he was having a hard time reading the game. Maybe he was distracted, he couldn't be sure. His opponent was a 6-dan, so it wasn't like he was a slouch. Perhaps this was just a game Waya couldn't win, but he didn't like to think of that.

He kept thinking that he should be able to see a way to recover, but each time he played a hand, his opponent played faster and faster.

Hopeless.

It got to the point where he was only debating whether it was too soon or not to concede. Part of him wanted to just play to the end, regardless, but it was embarrassing to lose by more than a handful of moku. He had to just save face, eventually, and he resigned.

Normally, he supposed they should have gone through the game, but his opponent was anxious to go watch another game. Unsurprisingly, he went off to where that Touya was playing some upper dan. Isumi-san was still playing, concentrating hard on his board. Shindou was still playing, too, but from the look on his face, it was drawing to a close.

Waya got up and walked around behind, heading, it would have seemed, to Shindou's game. He looked over the goban casually. Shindou's lead was strong, but his opponent wasn't about to give up. Even though the game didn't appear to be close at all, Waya could see that there would be openings for Shindou's opponent, if he played his endgame tightly.

Now, why was it that he read Shindou's game so much better than his own?

Annoyed, he looked up, across the room. Isumi-san's game was finishing. He couldn't tell immediately who won, because they were still counting, and Isumi-san's face wasn't giving anything away. But if his game ended...

It was getting hard to avoid all the time, and anyway, he was beginning to think that it was pointless. He was pretty sure that Isumi-san wasn't even paying attention. He looked at the other side of the room, where the exit was, and he saw someone familiar peeking in. It was a cute girl in a high school uniform. For a few moments, he couldn't place her at all, and then he remembered.

Quickly but quietly moving to the door, Waya kept his eyes on her and her alone, and when he got close to her, he smiled. "Fujisaki-san?" he asked hesitatingly.

She looked at him for a heartbeat, and then she smiled brightly. "Waya-san, right? We've met before, at Hikaru's, right? How did you do today?"

He flushed, and scratched the back of his head. "Well, I'm sorry to say, I won't be continuing on." He tried to chuckle, but really... it was pretty damned annoying.

He expected her to show him some pity or look sadly at him, but she just narrowed her eyes, and then, after a second, smiled. "Well, you'll do much better next year, definitely. I was waiting for Hikaru, but after his match, he'll definitely want to talk to Touya-san... want to get a coffee downstairs while we wait for him?"

"Sure," he agreed, exhaling. It had been a gamble, but it paid off. She was going to get him out of there, and quite naturally, too. They went to the elevators, and if Isumi-san came out just then, he'd see Waya walking away with a cute girl, except he'd probably recognize that she was Shindou's friend, not his, and regardless, Isumi-san wasn't walking out just then, anyway.

The flaw in his plan was that now he had to make conversation with a girl who wasn't a go professional. He hoped she at least was conversant in go. "So, do you come to see Shindou's matches often?"

She laughed, looking a bit... regretful? "No, he wouldn't want that at all. Well, he doesn't want me to be here now, but I'm writing something for my school paper, and I wanted to see a league tournament match to help."

"Ah? You're writing about go?" Waya asked, very interested.

She smiled at him kindly, stepping out of the elevator. "We're doing a series on non-conformist professions of esteem, sort of... well, a distraction from upcoming exams, you know?" She laughed, and shrugged. "The stress is already starting to pile up, so we wanted to showcase fields that didn't fall into the norm so that, well, hopefully, if exams don't go well, students will see it's not the end of the world."

He nodded, only foggily knowing what she could mean. He had been so anxious to get the hell out of school, precisely because that stress was something he couldn't cope with, so perhaps... But it wasn't like just anyone could be a go pro!

"Well, I'm writing about the process to become a pro, and so on, so I wanted to have some firsthand experience with the pressures a pro faces." She shrugged as they entered the cafe.

"That sounds really cool," he said enthusiastically, because, well, it did, even if he didn't fully get it. They went up to the counter to order, and Waya moved quickly to pay for their drinks, which lead to some awkwardness between them. They sat in the corner so they could watch the elevators as they drank. Waya remembered as he sipped his drink that he really didn't like hot coffee. "It's convenient, then, having Shindou around," he teased.

She laughed, but she looked a bit uncomfortable. "Well, convenient... I doubt he'd agree."

He turned his coffee cup in his hands. "Sorry, have I said something bad?"

She shook her head rapidly. "No, no. Not at all. Well, I suppose it's natural, after all." She looked at him with a sad smile. "People grow up. They change. I'm busy with school and exams and writing and everything. Hikaru has go, and all of this, and... It's just, that, now, it seems like we're slipping further and further apart. I still try, but I wonder if it's useless, anyway. I don't even know if he notices. Sometimes, it seems like he does, and then sometimes..."

"Yeah, well," Waya shook his head, looking into the shallow depths of his coffee. "He gets pretty wrapped up in himself sometimes. And he's always with that Touya lately. But I doubt he's going to forget you, Fujisaki-san."

He looked up and found that she was smiling at him indulgently. He flushed, and quickly took a gulp of coffee, but it was too damned hot, and he ended up coughing. Laughing, she handed him a napkin. "Here, here. Well, I think we'll always be friends, just because, you know, we always have been. But I might be wrong. That would be... tremendously sad."

He blinked. She was talking about herself and Shindou, but he felt like her words were a bit too close. He looked over at the elevator, but it wasn't like Isumi-san would magically appear just because he was thinking about him.

He was always thinking about Isumi-san, anyway.

"Yeah, it is," he agreed quietly.

It was quiet for a second, and then she reached out and put her hand over his. He almost pulled away, but it wasn't unpleasant. Her hand was soft and warm; instead, he looked up, looked into her eyes. She smiled. "Sorry. Seems I'm the one that said something unfortunate."

"No," he shook his head, and he started to pull his hand away, but she tightened her grip. "No, really, it's not..."

"Did you break up with someone?" she asked suddenly.

"Wh-why do you ask that?" he asked, startled.

"Well, it just seemed..." she laughed self-consciously. "It just seemed like you might have."

"I-It wasn't like that. I mean. There wasn't anything really to break up," he sighed, feeling too bitter and too old. He pulled his hand away, and wrapped his arms around his stomach.

"That's even worse," she replied calmly. "That's like me and Hikaru. I often think I'd have an easier time getting over him if we'd actually dated, and he'd been a jerk, or I'd been one, or something." Her expression looked like a mirror of what his must have been. It was fascinating. "Having all these things unsaid and undone and unexpressed... it feels like such a..."

She was struggling for words, so he quickly supplied something, at least. "Such a waste. Makes you feel stupid."

"And hopeless," she nodded, but she wasn't really looking at him. "Like, if I had any sense at all, I'd've moved on by now. So what's wrong with me?"

He put his chin on his palm. "It's not always that easy. Maybe it's like you said. Someone needs to be a jerk or else you just can't convince yourself to stop caring."

She laughed. Really laughed, which made him smile, too. "Messy break-ups must be the best, then. I hope to find out someday."

He shook his head despite himself. "Well, I hope you have a really messy one, then. Like. Have a scene in the middle of a family restaurant, and throw water in his face, messy."

She laughed out loud, covering her mouth, but she didn't look embarrassed. "And I hope you have a messy breakup, like interrupting her date and starting a fight, which you lose horribly, messy."

Now, he was laughing. Fuck, that would be horrible. Especially if Isumi-san's girlfriend or fiancée or whatever ended up kicking his ass.

Impulsively, she leaned over and kissed his cheek. "Thank you, Waya-kun. For the coffee. Will you let me interview you for my article?"

Dazed, he nodded, feeling somewhat like a fish after an eel had slithered by. He wanted to touch his cheek, because it felt warm, and her lips had felt sweet, but he wouldn't dare do something so embarrassing right after making her laugh.

He turned to hide his blush, and saw Isumi-san leaving the Institute.



atari~~~

He leaned back against the brick wall, watching the water gather around his feet. Of course it would be raining. It was so damned cliché it made his head hurt. He wanted it to be a sunny and bright day, so at least he could go out during the break and just walk, but...

The toes of his shoes were getting wet. He should go inside, but it was way too early. There was still over an hour before the match would begin. He wasn't even sure what he was doing there. He should have gone to get something to eat, or drink, but his stomach felt unsettled.

He was playing Isumi-san today.

Actually, it was a good thing. After the match, any and all questions he would have would be gone. It was just this one match he had to get through.

It made him sick to think about it, but it would be over soon.

He stayed outside, watching his shoes and the bottom of his pants getting wet, feeling stupid for hoping that maybe Isumi-san would just appear, and they'd greet each other and awkwardly have some chitchat and then, maybe, Isumi-san would touch his shoulder or his cheek...

He was sick to death of feeling stupid.

He went in when the bottoms of his pant legs were soggy, his shoes were sopping, and he had fifteen minutes before the game. He went to the bathroom to dry off as much as he could, and to just stare at himself in the mirror, but he left when he had five minutes to go, and went to their goban.

He prepared in his mind a million things to say to Isumi-san, but he knew he'd say none of them, and he never got the chance, anyway. His palms got sweatier and sweatier, but even though time began, Isumi-san wasn't there. Waya's heart started to thump. Was Isumi-san really going to just forfeit not to see him? He knew there had to be bad blood, but he didn't think Isumi-san would do something like that...

He was staring at the clock, trying to figure out when, exactly, he could get up and just get the hell out of there when Isumi-san came running in. He bowed to the official, and then went quickly to the goban.

He kept his head down.

"Sorry," he muttered. "Ran late..." He stuck his hand into the stones, getting ready to nigiri.

Waya nodded mutely, and followed suite. Isumi-san had grown out his hair a bit. It was shaggy, and messy. It covered his eyes. Waya wasn't sure what he thought about it.

Isumi-san had black, and he started to play. He must have still been flustered from being late, because his first few hands were pretty haphazard, but Waya's hands weren't much better. It took a while for him to shake off the feeling of being across a goban from Isumi-san for the first time in...

Over a year.

After half dozen hands or so, they both started to settle into the game. As Isumi-san relaxed a bit, and lifted his chin some, his eyes focused on the goban, Waya felt himself relaxing, too, almost like no time had passed. He played the way he always did when he played Isumi-san, with one eye on the stones and one eye on Isumi-san.

He'd changed.

After Isumi-san played, Waya picked up a stone slowly. He looked over the board, considering a few different moves. "You grew out your hair," he said quietly.

Isumi-san looked up at him, and he ducked his chin down, concentrating on the stones to cover his embarrassment. "Yeah. It just kind of. Got away from me. Mom keeps telling me I'm giving my brother's a bad example, but..."

Waya played, making a face. Isumi-san's mother had too damned many opinions, as far as he was concerned.

Isumi-san cleared his throat, and then went back to concentrating on the board. Waya shifted uncomfortably, and looked around. Shindou was playing, too, concentrating hard while clinging to that damned fan. That Touya wasn't around, though. Honda was there, too, already looking nervous, and Ochi was in the corner, looking bored.

Isumi-san's clock clicked, and Waya looked back at the board.

The sounds of the stones on the goban, the clocks all around them, the quiet. It imbibed into Waya, starting in his fingers and seeping up into him. A lot had changed, but some things couldn't change. They were go players, after all. Professionals.

When the bell rang for lunch, he had to blink to break the spell of the game. He looked up at Isumi-san, feeling the familiar rush of happiness that rushed over him whenever he played Isumi-san. He looked up, and into Isumi-san's eyes, now hooded by his shaggy bangs.

Flushing, Waya stood up immediately, muttering something about time and vending machines and searching for spare change. Isumi-san, though, grabbed his sleeve.

"There's something I want to show you."

He couldn't refuse, at least, not without making a scene. Not that he really wanted to refuse. He nodded, therefore, and waited for Isumi-san to stand up. Waited for Isumi-san to let go of his sleeve, but he didn't.

Isumi-san led him down the hall and up the stairs and over to a reading room that wasn't in use. Waya didn't say a word, because he had no idea what to say. What could Isumi-san possible want to show him here? Was it something on Isumi-san's person, then?

They closed the door, and suddenly, it was crowded, the table in the middle and chairs around it consuming so much of the limited space in the tiny room. It really was just a place for discussions over kifu. Only one door out, Waya couldn't help but notice.

Isumi-san let his sleeve slip from his fingers. "I don't have anything to show you, actually. I just. I miss you."

He looked up at Isumi-san, startled. He felt enormous relief, but he couldn't allow himself to give in that quickly. "Why?" Isumi-san blinked at him, confused. Waya sighed. "Why did you miss me? It's not like... not like I'd gone off anywhere, or..."

"You cut me off," Isumi-san said. "You wouldn't return my calls."

Waya shook his head. No, this wasn't his fault... not after so long, it couldn't be. "You stopped trying. Anyway, you were the one who didn't want to be with me," Waya said, but it sounded like grumbling, like he was whining, and he really didn't want to, not at Isumi-san, not the first time they really spoke after so long.

Isumi-san ran his hand through his hair, pushing it aside, but it fell right back in his face, anyway. "I don't ever remember being angry. Or anything. I don't know how it happened, then. If I hurt you... I'd think that you hurt me, too. It was stupid. Waya." He reached out, and put his hand on Waya's head, his fingers getting into Waya's hair as he ruffled it, pulling Waya closer.

So, a year apart, just because of no reason at all, just because? "You... it was because... your family... your family will never accept this, right? It's ok to just say it. I mean. I don't know! Is that what's going on?" He looked Isumi-san in the eye. They used to be best friends, too. Maybe he'd ruined things by pushing Isumi-san for more. It was probably never what he wanted. But all he had to do was say so, and Waya would have backed off. Being friends was better than being alone.

Isumi-san looked away, and bit his lip. "That... that's a problem. But I don't want to think that it's a reason to just give up. What about your family? I mean, this is something we both have to deal with, right?"

"Are we dealing with it?" Waya asked sharply. "Because I'm not sure. I don't know. I could tell my parents... I don't know what they'd think, really. But I mean... are we even really there? I can't tell."

"I spent the night with you," Isumi-san said, his voice hushed, his face pained. "More than once. That's pretty serious, right?"

Waya's face felt red-hot. Well, yeah, it was, and yet... "I never wanted to force you..."

"You never did," Isumi-san said too quickly.

"You never started anything," Waya muttered, looking at his feet.

"It's complicated for me, Waya," Isumi-san said, exasperated. "There's the age difference. I can't forget that."

"It's not that big of a difference!" Waya complained.

"It is when I can still remember you as a kid in grade school. It is when my family keeps telling me I should be thinking about marriage, and you're at the age when you'd just be starting college. It's... it's just something," Isumi-san sighed, running his hand through his hair again. Actually, Waya didn't think it was a bad habit. "It's something when you still think of me as Isumi-san. Even after..." He blushed. "I don't think you've ever even thought about calling me by my given name."

Waya ducked his head down. That was true. But! Isumi-san was... Isumi-san... he couldn't help respecting him... "So. What? I don't get it. Are you getting married?"

"Of course not, Waya," Isumi-san said indulgently. He reached out gently and lifted Waya's chin. "I can't really imagine at this point meeting any girl I'd want to marry. Even though it's been so long since we've even talked, I still only think..." He coughed slightly, looking embarrassed, but hopeful.

Wait. "You'd been thinking about me? All this time?" Waya asked, astounded.

"Haven't you been thinking of me?" Isumi-san asked, blinking.

Waya looked away, feeling childish and stupid and... damn!

"Waya. Do you want to go out and just... get something to eat and maybe talk, maybe...? I have my own place now. You could come over and see..." Isumi-san coughed slightly, and he...

Waya couldn't even look at him. His expression was too embarrassingly raw. "Y-yeah, ok, sounds good." He nodded a few times, and if the damned room were bigger, he'd fidget and pace around.

"Ok," Isumi-san said, and he sounded so damned relieved.

And then he kissed Waya, right on the corner of his mouth.

"There. I initiated something. At least drop the -san, all right?" Isumi-san asked, laughing.

Waya didn't think it was possible to get any more mortified. And happy. Like he'd finally broken the surface of the water after being submerged for long enough to nearly give up. "G-got it, ok. Isumi." He had to bite his lip to keep from finishing it like always though. And that made him laugh at himself. And then Isumi-san started to laugh. And Waya laughed harder, because he was still thinking of Isumi-san as Isumi-san. And.

He took Isumi-san's hand, and squeezed it for a second. "Yeah, well... we have to get back so I can finish kicking your ass, anyway, so... yeah. Loser buys dinner, ok?"

"If you're sure you have enough money," Isumi-san challenged, flipping his hair back. "I'm in control of the board, you know."

"That's what you think now, because I'm letting you think that," Waya scoffed. "Just you wait. I've got only one way to go from here."

"Straight down," Isumi-san agreed, nodding.

"We'll see who's going down," Waya grumbled, irritated, but enjoying it, finally.

Isumi-san winked. "If you want that to be part of the bet, that's fine, too. I'm sick of my left hand, anyway."

And then the bastard turned to leave!

"I-Isumi!" Waya called out after him, laughing. He caught up and smacked Isumi on the shoulder, and shook his head. "If you're going to make the pot that rich, you can't possibly expect me to back down."

"Definitely not," Isumi said, his eyes sparkling. "You're much more fun to beat when you're fired up."

"Yeah, well, we'll see," Waya laughed, taking the stairs two at a time. "I'm getting hungry, too! I'm making you buy me sushi!"

"We'll be eating beef bowls tonight," Isumi said confidently.

"Let's find out!" Waya declared, jumping down over the last four steps. And Isumi called out, reprimanding him...

He wanted to laugh out loud, but he'd wait until they were alone again, finally.








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