title: the Unknowns
fandom: Hikaru no Go
characters/pairings: Hikaru/Akira, Touya Kouyo, Ogata, Waya
rating: G/Teen
warnings: none
summary: Touya Akira feels something is wrong.
notes: none

He doesn't know what this feeling is. He stares at the stones, just to make sure. He's known for three hands now, but there's no harm in playing a few hands longer than necessary; to give up without necessity is unthinkable. A miraculous answer isn't going to just come to him. But.

He clears his throat.

He's lost before. He's even lost to Shindou before. Only once, in regulation play, and never, ever in league play. He'd really come to believe that this was his year, he was going to get a title this year, he was going to get this title, this year. Meijin. It was going to happen.

Not anymore.

"I've... got nothing."

Something cold, dark, and insidious winds through his belly. He doesn't know even how to describe the feeling. It makes him feel sick. Shindou looks up at him with shining eyes. He looks halfway ashamed, halfway enthralled. Touya feels sicker and sicker.

"Good game," Shindou says, and Touya nods.

He doesn't know what this feeling is, and he doesn't like it.

He switches off his computer, aware of the time. He still feels restless, though, so he slips out to the kitchen to make himself some tea, maybe. Maybe he'll have some milk, instead. Last month, when his parents were traveling, he tried to make himself some warm milk, but it didn't work to his taste, and cold milk would feel heavy in his stomach if he tried to sleep after drinking it, so. Tea, perhaps.

The light in his father's salon was on.

Touya stops outside the door, which is still open, and he watches his father for a few moments. His mother has already said something to him. Your father is becoming more and more preoccupied. He spends more and more time alone, before a goban, even on the road. You should talk to him, Akira-san. You should try to get him to open up. He'll talk to you.

He has no idea why his mother would think that his father would talk to him. He can't remember having a conversation with his father that lasted more than a few sentences that wasn't about go, and he's certainly never talked to his father about feelings before. Of course, this is somewhat about go, isn't it? It's just.

He's not the one his father needs to talk to.

That feeling that he's been fighting for over a week now comes back, hard enough to choke him. He walks past his father's salon, confident that his father won't notice him, and he is both not disappointed and disappointed. When he gets to the kitchen, though, he discovers that he has no desire for tea, so he fishes out the bottle of sake from the upper shelf. This is the truly good stuff, a gift to his father from some important person in the government ages ago. Touya opened it a few months ago, when he was home alone, and no one has yet noticed it. Naturally, though, since his father rarely drinks unless he's being prodded to, and Touya has only been drinking a glass at a time. Still, he feels something, realizing that he is basically stealing from his father, and no one notices or cares. He pours himself an improperly large glass, puts the bottle away, and goes back to his room.

He's been having trouble sleeping for a while now, so the alcohol feels good.

"You should talk to my father about Sai."

"What?" Shindou looks up at him, startled.

Touya's lips quirk. They'd agreed to have lunch together today about a week ago. The Honinbou league matches were beginning soon. Thank the heavens, though Touya hated to feel that way, it was unlikely they'd face each other unless they both made it to the semifinals. However, rather than eat together, they are sitting at the same table, eating food at the same time, while Touya watches Shindou read Weekly Go and pore over Kurata's latest kifu. It's not the same.


"Where is that coming from?" Shindou puts him off, like he always puts him off. Touya makes a face, and looks down at his plate of yakisoba.

"He's driving himself crazy, and you know something. Don't you think you're being selfish?" Touya challenges. He's being unreasonable, because, yes, this is coming out of nowhere. Except Touya is living with his father, and he can see how his father's obsession has grown in the ten years since he 'retired.' His mother is right to be worried.

And somehow, this is now Shindou's fault. Just because it is.

Shindou looks away, and closes the damned paper, which is something at least. "Look, Touya, it's not what you think. I can't do anything for your father." He looks pained, but somehow that only serves to irritate Touya further.

He stabs his dish with his chopsticks. "You won't do anything. Someday, you said. You're always full of promises," and Touya is aware that he sounds bitter and jaded. That's fine.

He wants Shindou to taste some of what he's feeling.

Shindou just narrows his eyes, though. "What the hell has gotten into you?" he asks, and Touya just glares at him in return. "You've really had your knickers in a bunch lately. I'm not trying to be difficult here, Touya, but I think you're trying to take something out on me that doesn't have anything to do with me. Look, everyone goes into a slump every now and again..."

"You know what? I don't think you have the right to give me advice," Touya declares, sounding more haughty than he feels, but it's better than sounding how he feels. "Ok? My father is killing himself over this... this obsession with Sai. I get that now might seem a strange time to bring it up, but I'm serious. You owe him something." There's something that he just can't say, like that Shindou and his precious Sai are responsible for his father's retirement, but it just doesn't feel right enough, and he can't use an ineffectual weapon.

There's just something not right about the way his mind is thinking, and he knows it, and he can't understand it, just like he no longer understands how he feels half the time.

Shindou looks at him warily, like he can read Touya's mind. He doesn't have to, though. Touya knows, after all these years, that Shindou blames himself for only-the-gods-know-what when it comes to Touya's father. Finally, Shindou sets his chopsticks down carefully, and wipes his hands with his napkin. "I'm gonna head on out. I need to clear my head." He stands up without waiting for Touya to respond, and walks out without looking back.

Touya closes his eyes. This isn't how he meant for it to...

It's late, so Touya goes on the search for his father. They're sharing a hotel room, which is a bit strange, he feels, for both of them. Even though this convention is in Tokyo, many of the events and games last late, so it's just as well not to be worrying about getting to and from the hotel, but they will need some rest before the next day's adventures.

His father, not surprisingly, is in the game room, sitting at a table near the corner before a goban, lost in thought. There are less than a half a dozen people still there, and those are mostly entertaining themselves with drinking games and speed go. The only pro Touya recognizes is that friend of Shindou's who hates him so much, and he's not paying any attention.

In fact, Touya thinks that no one is paying attention to his father until he gets closer to his table, and then someone sits down in front of him.

"Kouyo. You've become quite preoccupied these days."

His father barely looks up. Touya is behind him, so he can't see his father's expression. "I didn't realize that members of the Diet were here at this little affair."

The man chuckles humorlessly. "Oh, I've just been enjoying some behind-closed-doors discussions. So illuminating, aren't they?"

"I would have thought that you'd be getting ready to retire," his father responds, tapping his finger on the goban. Even while talking, his father is thinking about this game, this phantom game...

The man looks at his father's finger for a moment. "I may be getting old, but I still have enough friends in the party to keep myself busy. I have friends in the other parties, too, so I can still be useful. And I know enough dirt to keep myself employed," he says, smiling. "In fact, if things go well, I might be taking a cabinet position soon."

"Is that so? Politics are so uncertain. It seems like we're always being told to vote for a new Prime Minister these days. You should think of retiring. Spend some time with your family."

"My family is the number one reason in my life to keep working," he laughs, "besides, you're hardly a ringing endorsement for retirement. ...My son will be taking a position in the Diet soon. It's a proud thing, isn't it? Seeing your son carry on the work you began?"

Touya's back stiffens.

"Mm. You have a son in my care. Though I suppose... since you don't acknowledge him..."

Touya's mind spins. Eh? What does his father mean?

The man just laughs, though. "Now that's a rare thing! We've talked over a dozen times since you took that child on as a student, and you've never once mentioned him. And now, out of the blue... You're a surprising man, Kouyo. In your old age, you are becoming surprising."

"Once you stop surprising people, you're dead," his father deadpans.

"Well, neither one of us are dead yet," the man laughs. He leans in, though, and tries to get his father to look at him. "Who are you playing? What kind of a ghost are you chasing? ...It's a very, very long time ago, but do you remember when we were both on the student council?"

"You're asking me to remember something that happened in middle school? Senpai?" his father barks a laugh, and it's a strange sound. So unfamiliar. "You're asking too much!"

"If a man with grey hair and lines all over his face calls me senpai, I really will feel old. But way back then, you were just a first year, and I was a third year. You were running yourself ragged during the cultural fair, trying to do everything yourself to make it... special, or something. I told you back then, if you work yourself to exhaustion, then you won't get to enjoy the day you're working for. Hey." He puts his finger on a stone, capturing his father's attention. "Do you still enjoy this game?"

Touya doesn't breathe while he waits for his father's answer.

Touya Kouyo sighs. "What's this? Enjoy? What else in life is there to enjoy?"

Touya stands up calmly, looking over at the other match only briefly. Since that match is still ongoing, discussion of his match has been suspended, but he feels like that's just as well. He doesn't like how emotional he's become. It was just a loss. Disappointing, to say the least, since he was at the quarterfinals for the Honinbou league.

He can still win a title this year. It's still possible.

He steps out of the room, and he's not surprised that no one notices. He didn't look at the other board, but he knows Shindou's face pretty well by now. Yeah, he knows Shindou's face.

He goes to the vending machine and fishes out some coins from his pocket. He feels like cotton has been wrapped around his brain. He can't quite get his thoughts to move like he wants them to, something is... off, perhaps. There are lots of choices here. Hasn't he used this vending machine at least a dozen times? He wonders if it is raining outside, if it was raining outside when they arrived (he can't remember), if maybe he isn't hungry (they've been playing for hours, and he skipped lunch as usual), and just what he should do about dinner.

He should think about what drink he's going to buy first, right?

"Jealousy does not suit you."

Touya gives Ogata a look. The older man never seems to be quite sure what role he should have in Touya's life... rival, older brother, senpai... It feels like he's about to get some advice, and he's not in the mood.

Somewhere inside of him, he feels like he shouldn't feel this way. Something is... off...

"Just who exactly am I supposed to be jealous of?" he asks coolly, and he turns his attention fully to the machine. He starts to feed in coins, though he still doesn't know what to order.

"If you ask the question, I might really answer you," Ogata replies, grinning. Touya can understand why so many of his peers find Ogata creepy, though... Well, Touya knows he's really not, he can just do a very good impression of a creepy person at times. "He'll get a title before you. Isn't that funny?"

Touya's back stiffens. "His game's not over yet. And anyway, he'll have to face Zama-sensei if he wins."

"I'm amazed that you lost to that man," Ogata shrugs. "Anyway, Shindou's game has... evolved. I suppose it's all the time he spent overseas last year. What was it, he was in Korea for... two months?"

"Five," Touya grudgingly corrects.

"And then he spent some time in China, with that... computer group."

"The International NetGo Project," Touya sighs. He has no idea what he wants to buy. He's not even sure he's thirsty.

"That's right. That Waya kid has been living there half the year since it got started up. He must be a better programmer than a player," Ogata smugly dismisses. Touya does not smile at that. He doesn't. Much. "Yeah, but playing in China and Korea... young players have such great opportunities these days. Your father has really opened doors. Shindou even won that one tournament in Korea..."

"The LG Cup," Touya replies, though he's not sure why he's helping Ogata remember.

"Oh, yeah. That's a lot of money," Ogata sighs.

Touya gives him a dirty look, but Ogata's not paying attention.

"That game in there... it's incredible. Even I'm willing to admit I'm impressed. Of course, he did beat me to get here, so I suppose it's vanity, too, but still. Kurata's been really fired up to take this title, and Shindou is leading him by the nose now. Why didn't you go abroad with him? Last year, I mean. Being 9-dan isn't as impressive as being a title holder," Ogata snidely reminds him.

Touya feels something overcome him. Like... maybe he should... punch something? Except, Touya has never punched anything or anyone in his life. He'd thought about punching Shindou more times than he could count... Wait, did slamming your fist into a table or a wall count as punching? Maybe he'd done that before. That isn't really the point, though. He wants to actually punch something.

Or maybe Ogata.

"Didn't I already tell you? Jealousy doesn't suit you," Ogata laughs.

He doesn't like being laughed at. He doesn't think he deserves it. He hates this feeling, this unending feeling, in his belly... is this supposed to be jealousy, then? He doesn't know, and he doesn't think he cares to know. Ogata doesn't know everything. "So, you're sure that Shindou's going to win it all, huh?"

"The winner of the Honinbou title this year will be decided next week, when Zama loses to Shindou," Ogata says declaratively, as if he can see the future. "That old coot Kuwabara isn't going to make it easy, but he's halfway into his grave already. He refused to just step down, but he's been hospitalized three times since the New Year, and his children have been begging him to retire. This is his swan song, and Shindou gets to be the one to hear it. I can't help being a bit jealous myself," he says, shaking his head.

Touya hadn't heard about Kuwabara-sensei's health. He just doesn't pay attention, is what it really comes down to. He doesn't pay attention to gossip, or chatter. He is always focused.

That was supposed to be good for him.

"You should get a haircut."

"Now you're just being mean," Touya complains.

Ogata laughs, and leans over, pushing a button. Wait... that was... "You haven't really changed your style in years. You don't really get it, because... you've always had this upward trajectory." He was taking the coffee he ordered, but that was Touya's money... "You've always, always been getting better, better, better. No one can sustain that, Akira-kun. So, you've hit the first real slump of your career, of your life, I suppose, and you're 25, 26, however old you are, and you have no idea how to deal with it, so it just keeps getting worse and worse. If you watched it, it happens to certain star baseball players, too. They grow up never having any trouble, and then after a while in the majors, they suddenly can't get a hit to save their life."

He is drinking the coffee that Touya, apparently, bought. "Like you expect me to believe that you watch baseball."

"More than you do," Ogata counters. "I'm giving out good advice here! Listen for once! Change your hairstyle. Buy some new clothes. Look at your friend in there. He takes a break and spends half a year abroad, and suddenly, he doesn't have blond bangs anymore, he's got a red streak over his left ear. He still wears jeans and brightly colored socks, but instead of t-shirts and hoodies, he wears button-downed shirts. This is why he's going to beat that pompous ass Zama. He's going to breeze in there looking casual and comfortable, and he'll have all this... youth and vitality attacking with every hand. Look, you're in a slump! It's no big deal, we all have slumps in our careers. So what I'm telling you is... even a superficial change can help you to change everything.

"When the only luck you've got is bad luck, you've just got to shake things up. Small differences breed big differences."

"Please stop," Touya wearily begs.

"You should listen to me," Ogata says, sounding surprisingly serious. He ruffles Touya's hair, which is annoying. "I'm definitely giving you good advice. For a long time, I really didn't care if you won or lost, and probably preferred it if you lost. But... you... your dad... isn't..."

Touya looks at Ogata, alarmed, and that embarrasses Ogata enough to look away.

"I'm just saying... it's time for a change. Aren't you tired of things being the way they are?"

Shindou is getting ahead of him.

This time, of course, it's because Touya's not keeping up. For every two steps Shindou takes, Touya is only taking one. Still, Shindou doesn't realize it. He's still talking, too, his voice wafting back on the chill night air, his words diluted and breezy.

Touya can't take it anymore. He stops.

Shindou is still going, and his back is becoming hard to distinguish from the darkness. It was only due to politeness that Touya stuck around for the discussions after the matches. They were good discussions, too, with some good points by several respected pros, but finally, it was time to bring an end to it, and it was Ogata's idea to go out for drinks to continue their conversation. Touya was going to bow out, but Ogata said something sly like, Oh, Akira-kun probably can't go, right? Making him sound like he was still a kid and needed permission to stay out past his curfew.

It was sly, and Touya knew he was being played, but he smiled, anyway, and said he'd go. When they'd eaten and drank more than they should, and it was time to leave that izakaya, Ogata suggested another place, and Kurata suggested a place, and the group started to divide up.

That was when Shindou suggested they slip off together.

Watching Shindou walk away, though, Touya has to strain to think of the reason he went along with it. It's because of nostalgia, right? He can't remember now when they last went home together. It was certainly more than a year ago. Before...

Touya really can't take this anymore. This feeling, this horrible, horrible feeling. It's not jealousy. He's convinced himself of that, even though he does admit, yes, he is jealous of Shindou. He didn't go to Korea when they were both invited because he wanted to concentrate, focus, on getting a title. This was supposed to be his year. His! He's in a slump? That's news to him! He's already a 9-dan! That's what he'd been working on last year! Shindou is still only a 6-dan, and yet... and yet...

Even Zama-sensei admitted there was a good chance 'this punk' could get a title by the end of the month.

It's not like the bitter feeling of failure. Touya admits he's not quite sure what that feels like, but if he's ever failed at anything in life...

Well, yes, he has failed. Thanks to Shindou. So much of his youth spent trying to figure that punk out. Trying to unravel some... mystery. Some undefinable quality that meant that Touya was trapped, but he couldn't even see the bars of his cage. He knows the taste of failure, at least a bit. He doesn't know this... this sick feeling.

So, if it's not failure, and it's not jealousy, what is it? What's... what's wrong with him?

"Touya? What's wrong with you?"

Touya's head jerks up. It's a bit too jarring, hearing his thoughts aloud. Shindou is looking at him quizzically, and suddenly... Touya just wants to spit venom at him.

"Exactly when is someday? Is that another way of saying never?"

"What?" Shindou asks, sounding genuinely confused. Then, he looks away, his cheeks flushing. He pushes a hand through his hair. It somehow adds to Touya's feelings that the hair between Shindou's fingers is mostly black, except that one shock of red, and Touya...

Doesn't know what Shindou's hair feels like when it's that color.

"Are you still on about that?" Shindou exhales. "C'mon, Touya. Look, I really sympathize with your dad... more than you know... but there's nothing I can do about it."

Touya narrows his eyes, unable to look at Shindou. Unable to even think about him. This feeling he can't take... it's poisoning everything inside of him. "Selfish. You've always been such a selfish bastard. I don't know why I ever thought anything would be any different."


"You've always walked through life, doing whatever you like, just as if... just as if you have blinders on. You only see what you want to see, you only care about what you want to care about. I feel stupid for having invested so much of my time and energy in you," Touya spits out. It's only half true. Or, even if it's all true, it's not like he really means it. Shindou has his faults, but so does he. He's not saying these things because he really thinks it, no.

He's trying to hurt Shindou.

"Touya, listen to me!" Suddenly, he's being grabbed. Shindou's fingers dig into his shoulders, and Shindou shakes him. It's so shocking, Touya's mind goes blank. "There's nothing I can do!" Touya's eyes widen, and he realizes... Shindou's eyes are wet and desperate. And. His voice broke twice there, and he... might cry? "Honestly, if there was... anything I could do... anything at all... I would have done it, ages ago."

Touya can't speak, because he doesn't know how to process all the raw emotion that Shindou is pouring out. Something that never occurred to him before, something mundane and reasonable that should have occurred to him long ago, something that he now realizes his father probably already knows, it's like something on the tip of his tongue that he can almost reach.

His father... and Shindou...

"I don't know what you want from me, but whatever it is, I don't think I can do it, so please... I mean... is this really what all this is about?" Shindou asks desperately.

Touya blinks. "What... all this?"

"I mean, is... all this really about your dad, or is there some other reason why you're... you're mad at me?" Shindou squeezes Touya's shoulders some more.

Touya realizes that this is the first time they touched ever since...

"I'm mad at you?" he asks, but his voice is deadpan. "What possible reason could I have to be mad at you? Nothing's ever changed between us, right? It's not like we're particularly close, really. So why should I be mad at you?" He wants desperately for Shindou to not be touching him but he doesn't want to make a scene or try to fight him off physically.

"Not particularly close?" Shindou's voice is sounding anxious, maybe even desperate.

Things are getting out of control. Touya wants to take it all back. He shouldn't have said anything.

"Since when have we been not particularly close?" Shindou demands, and damn, he's going to bruise Touya's shoulders.

Touya turns his head away and tries to shrug off Shindou's hands. "I don't know. We're so close that you up and leave the country for half a year and never say a word."

"I said words!" Shindou immediately counters, but he lets go so he can gesture wildly. "I told you I was going! We talked about it!"

"We talked about how you were going to Korea for a few weeks," Touya spits out, his voice getting louder. "You were gone for months!"

"I sent you emails! I sent texts! We talked!" Shindou's arms swing around meaninglessly, exasperated.

"You told me what you had already decided. It wasn't a discussion. You never asked how I felt." It sounds damned childish when he puts it like that. He rushes on, before Shindou can counter him. "You didn't consult me. And since you got back, you haven't even tried to... I mean... we were going to move in together, a year ago. Now every time we're together, it's so damned awkward..."

"We were going to move in together. I found us a great apartment. And then you said you didn't want to leave your parents' house. You wanted to be there for whenever your father came home. You wanted me to move into your father's house. I don't even know... how, exactly, you expected that to work out. So I admit it, sure, I guess I ran away. I went to Korea, and I had fun there, and I took every chance I could to extend my time."

Touya narrows his eyes. Ok, this is jealousy. The taste makes him sick, but it's still a different feeling. He hates jealousy. "I'm sure you had plenty of fun. You and that Ko sure got to be good friends, huh?"

"What. The hell... are you even suggesting?" Shindou spits out. Now, he's getting mad, too. Wait, does that mean that Touya was mad? "I don't know about you, but I haven't had sex or even kissed anyone since our last time. Are you actually thinking that I went off to Korea to cheat on you?"

"I didn't say that!" Touya replies, his voice more shrill than he expects. "That's not it, it's just... You ran away. You said it! You did a really good job of running away, too. And now there's... nothing left..." Now, he's making meaningless gestures.

"Stop," Shindou commands, and Touya has to look at him. His voice sounds... "Just stop, right there. You are not going to break up with me in the middle... of a damned park at night... after drinking... what the fuck, Touya?!"

Touya shakes his head. He needs to clear his thoughts... somehow... "Break... up? How can we break up when we're not even together? How can you think we're together when... you came back, but the first time I saw you was at a damned league match. You didn't even call me, you... you sent a damned email!" He takes a step back, and then another. He needs space... "So how exactly are we anything to each other anymore?"

"Well, we've never broken up! I've never thought of us as broken up!" Shindou exclaims.

It seems absurd, suddenly. It's like he just realized, they are in the middle of the park, it is late, they have been drinking. And Touya's been losing, and Shindou's about to get a title. Touya rubs his forehead. "You sound like a child. I don't even know if... if I even know that I know you anymore."

That seems to have shut Shindou up, at least for a moment. But, surreally, Touya can predict the next words out of Shindou's mouth, perfectly.

"This isn't happening."

Of course it's not.

"We're not doing this right now."

Ok, Shindou, then when would be a good time to discuss how our relationship ended a long time ago, and we didn't even notice?

"I'm not listening to this anymore."

Of course not, it's not what you want to hear. It's not what Touya wants to hear, either, but hey.

"You're a lousy drunk."

"I'm not drunk," Touya bitterly interjects.

"Whatever! This is not happening!"

And Shindou storms off, which is fitting.

There are tears on Touya's cheeks, and he stupidly looks up to see if it's raining.

He hasn't been studying. He's supposed to, because... that's all he's supposed to do, really. He's a go pro. They play games, and they study. He doesn't have matches, so he's supposed to study. He missed study group twice now. He has the kifu of Shindou's win over Zama, but he hasn't really looked it over. Just knowing that Shindou did win, and he's on his way to get a title...

That was all he needed to know. For now.

When the doorbell rings, he first tries to get to his feet, but then he remembers that his mom is there, so he stops trying. He listens, though. He wasn't expecting anyone, but since his father is home, there are always guests.

Few, though, that really capture his father's attention.

He doesn't hear the voice of the guest, but he hears his mother say a familiar name, and he jumps to his feet. As soon as he opens his door, he can hear his voice.

"I'm sorry, Touya-san, but I'm not here to see your son. I'm here to see your husband."

"Oh! I'm so sorry, Shindou-kun, I just assumed...!"

"It's a natural assumption," Shindou laughs. "Is it all right, though? Is... Touya-sensei free?"

The pause before his mother's answer is barely noticeable, but Touya feels it. "Of course, of course. You know the way to the salon, of course, Shindou-kun."

"Thank you, Touya-san."

Shindou is being so polite. So kind.

Touya sneaks out and stays close to the wall. Shindou gets to the door to the salon, and watches Touya's dad for a moment. Finally, he clears his throat, and steps inside.

Touya is aware his mother sees him peeking, but he doesn't bother being embarrassed.

"Touya-sensei, do you mind if I join you?"

Touya doesn't hear his father's response, if there even is one, but he hears Shindou settle himself down. Is he opposite Touya's dad? Is he in seiza?

"Mm. I don't recognize this game... are you playing yourself? You're white, he's black?" Touya freezes. He knows that his father doesn't speak, but he must have made some kind of response, because Shindou laughs a bit. "I do it, too. I play against my imaginary him. I do it in matches, too. Any time I'm in a rough spot... I've never been in a game where I didn't think, If Sai was playing right now, he could win. Of course, I only saw him lose once, really... and that... didn't exactly count..."

Touya furrows his brow. He wants to burst in there and ask a ton of questions, but mostly, he wants to hear how his father will reply.

"And? How is black doing? As him, I mean."

Frustrating. These two men are always frustrating Touya lately.

"Not bad... though, if you don't mind?" He hears the very soft sound of stones sliding over wood. "I'm right, right? This was the order? Because... this hand was good, but this hand... feels more like him."

"Mm. You're right. Interesting."

"Would you mind if I took over black? I'd like to continue this."


Touya relaxes against the wall. The sounds of stones has always been comforting to him. He stares at the shadows on the wall, and imagines that he can imagine the game going on in there, but it doesn't really matter.

His heart is pounding in his chest.

"You're not... looking for him still, are you, Sensei?" Shindou asks quietly.

His father doesn't reply for a long time. Finally, he hears his father sigh. It's a heartbreaking sound. "No. I know. He's not in this world."

"He never really was," Touya thinks he hears Shindou say. "Or, that is... I'm sorry. I should have. I mean, like this... I just. I don't. I like to think... I want to believe... that someday, people will know him. Really know him, through my go. I can never be him, but. It's egotistical, but... I wanted to be able to play you when I could really... see, Sai would still be able to win this. I'm getting cornered. But I want to be able to reflect him in my hands."

Then, Touya hears his father laugh. It's not something that he ever heard that much, even when he was young, even when his father was much younger. It makes Touya want to cry, for some stupid reason.

"That is what every teacher wants to hear from his student. Sai... would be very proud, I think."

"Sen... sei..." Shindou clears his throat, and Touya almost laughs, just because he can see Shindou fighting off the tears.

Stupid. It's all been so stupid.

"I... I don't know. But someday. I hope."

"I understand you're about to take on a giant role in our world. When exactly do you think you'll be ready to carry the mantle?"

"Oh... I guess in about... a thousand years," Shindou replies, and he sounds so damned cheerful.

"Thank you for the game, Shindou-kun. I look forward to your upcoming games with Kuwabara-sensei."

"Please don't pressure me, Sensei!" Shindou laughs. "Thank you very much. And... I'm sorry."

"There's no reason to be."

Touya realizes that Shindou is getting up, so he moves away, but he doesn't hide back in his room. Shindou is saying goodbye to his father, and thanking his mother for her offers of hospitality. His mother shows Shindou to the door, but she breaks off when she sees Touya there, hovering in the shadows. Shindou sees him at the same time, but he doesn't do anything more than smile a bit.

His mother walks away, so when Touya is fairly sure they are alone, he tugs on Shindou's sleeve. "Thank you."

Shindou shakes his head, still smiling a bit, but there's no smile in his eyes. "I meant it, you know. We didn't break up." He starts to shove his feet into his shoes. "We'll talk, soon. Ok?"

Clumsily, Touya grabs at Shindou's collar, and he moves in too quickly, their noses hit in the wrong way, but he keeps at it, even though he's already way too embarrassed. They kiss, but it's like the way kindergartners kiss.

So stupid!

Shindou grins, and Touya, damn it, damn it, damn it, he loves that grin. "You've always been so bad at initiating things," he teases. Now, his smile is in his eyes, too.

But Touya's just too damned busy being embarrassed! "Sh-shut up! Idiot. Like you're so suave."

"Compared to you," Shindou continues to tease. But, there's something serious about his demeanor that Touya doesn't pick up on until... "Here, let me show you."

Shindou puts his hands on Touya's jawbone, and he pulls Touya in. This kiss... is not like a kindergarten kiss. This kiss makes Touya feel hot, like he needs to grab ahold of Shindou just to stay on his feet.

Shindou takes a step back, and Touya is hazily aware of Shindou's tongue as he licks his lips.

"We'll talk. Soon."

He feels that he's too old to be self-conscious just about walking into a room with friends. Well, with some friends. He tells himself that, and so it acts like a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Matches are still the better part of a half hour away, but there's no way that one person in the break room actually has a match. After all, he's just finished the second match of the Honinbou title.

"See, I still say that not connecting here was a major mistake."

"Waya, you're going to make my brain explode. Is that what you want? Is it like some sort of master plan?"

"Look, right up until this point, you were pretty much following his flow. This is definitely the point where things turn around, so there has to be a mistake here..."

"Wa~ya. If you're trying to get me to say that I shouldn't have won, then just forget it. Chalk it up to my brilliant, long-range plans! And please, let's stop discussing this! You're giving me a complex!"

"Look, I can accept that you were... ok in the first match. But there's no way you pulled off a come-from-behind victory on this one..."

Touya stands right behind Shindou. Waya glances at him, and then stops dead in what he was saying, so Shindou tips his head back to see what Waya is looking at. Touya thinks now that there's no way he's too old to feel self-conscious, but it's too late.

"Hey, Shindou. Waya. Nice game yesterday. What are you even doing here?"

"Hey, yourself. You cut your hair!" Shindou points, as if that wouldn't make it all the more embarrassing. Despite himself, Touya rubs his fingers through the very short strands.

"Yes, yes, I think it's fairly obvious."

Waya snorts and looks back at the kifu he's been poring over, and that makes Touya feel more self-conscious, too. Weren't people supposed to feel more comfortable about themselves as they aged? Touya doesn't remember ever feeling this way when he was a teen!

"Wow. You look good. Your eyes look so big now. You look..." Shindou just stares at him, smiling.

Touya feels his cheeks getting hotter. Ah, this is no good...

"I think I liked it better when you two weren't getting along."

"Waya! That's mean!" Shindou laughs. He's not looking at Touya like that now, so there's... no more reason to feel self-conscious, right?

"Watching you two flirt makes me sick," Waya mutters under his breath.

Touya wonders if anyone hears, but he just sits down next to Shindou.

"Seriously, why are you even here? You don't have a match," Touya asks, ignoring Waya. Things usually work out better if he just ignores Shindou's friend.

"No, I don't," Shindou laughs. Of course he doesn't. He's about to get his first title. As a 6-dan.

That sick, dark feeling is just a hollow echo, though. Even when he tries to get himself worked up.

"But I was meeting Waya and Isumi this morning to go over the match yesterday. And I thought... well, maybe after your match, you might be free." Shindou looks shy. It's...

He doesn't want to think about Shindou being cute. "Mm. Well, I guess so. You don't mind stopping by the salon?"

"Ah, it's been a while," Shindou sighs, leaning back.

"You sound like an old man," Touya laughs. "Maybe Kuwabara-sensei is rubbing off on you."

"From the way that old coot lost this game, I think this idiot is rubbing off on him," Waya grumbles. He just can't let it go...

"You know, I'd appreciate it if we could stop talking about Kuwabara-sensei and rubbing off. I still have at least two more matches where I have to sit across from him," Shindou sighs, sounding really put upon.

Snorting, Touya stands up. "Two more? You have a lot more than that. You're still a thousand years too early."

"Oho, is that so?" Shindou grins. "And yet, I beat you in the Meijin League preliminaries."

"Yes, and then you lost to Yashiro. I would have won."

"You can't say that, since you lost to me. Hey, I'm gonna have you calling me Honinbou before long."

"You can have me call you that now. In your dreams," Touya flatly replies.

"Seriously, go back to hating each other," Waya sighs, standing up. He rolls up the kifu and stuffs it in his pocket. "It's so much easier for the rest of us."

"I'm going in," Touya shrugs. "Are you really going to hang around here all day?"

"I was thinking about going to an arcade or something," Shindou replies, serious.


"I'm never losing to you again," Touya wearily teases, standing. He smiles as Shindou objects, and lets Shindou's voice carry him out as he heads to his match.

He's playing a lower-dan today, but he's lost his last three regulation matches, so he doesn't plan on taking anything for granted. He can't help feeling a little confident, though. He definitely plans on beating Shindou at the salon later.