Epilogue:

The burly man behind the desk stared at the three boys sitting before him with a skeptical look on his features. It wasn't as if he didn't believe them, but if he was to take this case to the higher authorities, there was sure to be a scandal like never before seen. He leaned closer to the one that had been deemed captain of the group – since he was the only one who he could converse with easily – and tapped his fingers lightly on the folder in front of him.

"Are you sure you don't want to go ahead and press charges against them? They almost ruined your careers and tried to kill your friend here."

Akira shook his head lightly. "We would rather not go through all the legal…troubles."

"So, you are just gonna let them walk away scot free, hmm?"

The boy frowned. "No, I do not think they should get away with it, but rather than have them face the courts and have to make this even more public, why don't you find some punishment suitable for them. I am sure that the American legal system can find some way to compensate for all the troubles we have been through."

The officer coughed in embarrassment and drew back, a bit intimidated by the cold look that had come into the green eyes before him. In all his years of being in the police force, he had never met anyone so articulate and well versed as this young man and his reluctant admiration for the kid grew with each passing second.

"All right. Have it your way then. I am sure that your lawyers and theirs can come to a decision and settle it out of court. I just wanted to make sure you all knew what you were getting yourselves into."

He rose to his feet and smiled warmly, holding out his hand for a handshake. "It was a pleasure working with you boys. Pity, you didn't win your…eh…competition thing. Good luck next year, eh?"

Akira accepted the offered hand with a firm grip of his own as they all rose to their feet as well. "Hai, we will be here next year. Thank you for everything, officer. You have been of great help."

"No, problem. Anytime, okay?"

They filed out of the small and quite stuffy office, to meet the curious countenances of Amano and Ogata, who had been waiting outside for them throughout the questioning process.

"Well?" Came the anxious questions from the reporter as he darted glances amongst the group. "What happened?"

The officer lit up his pipe and replied quickly. "The kid decided not to let the issue go to court, which is a wise decision on his part. I doubt you all want to deal with even more of a media circus. So, have your lawyers meet and settle the damn thing out of court. The bastards get what they deserve and you all can go back home with no worries whatsoever."

Ogata nodded and turned to face Akira, who looked lost in thought. "Is everything all right?"

When he didn't give an answer straight away, Waya nudged him to respond and starting in surprise, he blurted out hastily. "Ah…ha…hai…everything is fine."

Hikaru and Waya shared a look, wondering what had happened to make their partner so…bleak. But both had a feeling that they already had an idea of what it was.

Today was the finals of the Go tournament.

And they were not in it.

It hurt in a way that they had not imagined. If it wasn't for the circumstances that had brought them to this point, they might have been the ones sitting before millions of viewers, playing the final and crucial game of a tournament that they had coveted for years.

Amano-san noticed the long faces and felt a tug of emotion in his chest, something he had thought he would never feel in all his years of professional journalism. Clearing his throat, he placed a winning smile on his features. "There is no need to kick yourselves over something you couldn't control. Perhaps, it was Fate that brought you this far. And besides, I think you already made Japan proud. The papers are talking about nothing but your bravery and courage."

Shindo smiled softly. "In that case…can we go to watch the finals now?"

This got Ogata raising a brow in surprise as Amano gasped softly. But, seeing the determined looks in their eyes, he was unable to resist their request.

"Hai…you may."

It was between Korea and China, as many had predicted and the matches were already on the way. And since they didn't want Ochi to feel left out, they had requested gobans in the hospital room. With three boards arranged neatly in a row in front of the bed, the four boys watched the TV screen with an intensity that had sent the adults who had tried to make conversation with them, leave the room in silence.

A lot had happened since Ochi's tale of his near-death experience. After giving the bespectacled boy his 'thank-you' gift (and sending him into a state of near shock), a nurse had come in to chase Akira and Waya out, stating that both patients had needed their rest. However, the excitement hadn't ended there. Ochi's grandfather and Hikaru's mother had been waiting in the lobby, anxious and with worried looks on their visages as they asked a million questions a minute about the state of their wards. Waya's mother had called as well to speak to her son, while Akira had spent about an hour on the phone with his parents.

Shindo's stubborn nature – or it could be due to the fact that his mother had begun to nag him to death – had forced the doctor to release him later that evening. He hadn't really suffered any major burns and besides the occasional light feeling of dizziness, he was ready to make himself scarce. But before that, all four had agreed to tell the story to Ogata…without the mention of the pictures. Also dragging Amano into it, the reporter had, reluctantly, called off his investigation, more to appease Akira's plea not to pursue it any further.

Hikaru placed the stone gently on the board before sighing heavily…for the umpteenth time. "We should have been there," he finally blurted as he glanced back at the TV screen. "If only…"

"There's no need to rehash the 'if onlys' again, Hikaru," Akira replied quietly as he stared at the brilliant move that Hon Suyon made against his opponent. "What's done is done. We don't have to keep thinking about it…and besides, there is always next year as Amano-san said, ne?"

Waya gave a light snort, his handsome face trained in scowl. "We could have won this year. Now, I have to wait for almost ten months before coming back here to compete again. Damn it!"

"The tournament will be played in China next year," Ochi said quietly. He was still cooped up in bed even though he sat upright and was also tuned in to the matches. "So, even if you do not make the team, you can still come down to watch us."

"Nani?! What the hell do you mean by 'If I don't make it next year'? Not only will I make it, but I will make sure you don't make the team either!"

"Oh? And how do you plan on doing that?"

Waya was beginning to turn as bright red as his hair as he bellowed angrily. "You listen here, you know-it-all! I will win every match I play from now till the day I get selected and by then, you will never be considered a possible candidate, because I will make sure I kick your ass each and every time we meet!" Damn…and to think he had actually kissed the smirking boy's cheek the other day. It was enough to make him gag.

Akira and Hikaru watched the arguing boys for several minutes, before exchanging small grins and facing their boards again.

"Well, that was a stupid move on Le Ping's part," Shindo said softly as he eyed the stone formations of the third board. "He should have played his stone over here and then he would have claimed more territory for himself."

"He already knows that playing there will be useless, Hikaru. I thought even you of all people would have noticed that he has a plan that will choke his opponent in yose."

Shindo scowled at the familiar condescending tone. "You should talk, Mr. I-am-too-smart-for-my-own-pants. Of course, I knew that! You don't have to lecture me, damn it!"

Akira remained silent as he watched the angry expression before giving a small smile and nodding softly. "It's good to see you back…Hikaru."

"Wha…where did I go to?" came the bemused question as he eyed the other across him.

But Akira only gave an enigmatic smile and shook his head. "It's nothing. I am just happy that you are…okay, that's all." And turning back to face the screen, he ended the conversation, leaving his blond companion even more confused than ever before.

The gala that was held for the champions of the tournament was indeed a festive one as every one mingled around the large ballroom, dressed in their finest eveningwear. The Chinese had been the surprise winners after all due to strong performances from their top ace players at the final moments of their matches. But even though the winning team was the top conversation for most people, it was the performance of the Japanese team that had everyone talking even more. Not just for their effort and their near dominance from their earlier showings, but for their, rather tragic, ending.

Both Hikaru and Ochi were heralded as heroes and were each awarded 'Most courageous player' trophies for the tournament. Such an award would have been given to the player with the most daring moves throughout the matches, but in this case, no one could argue that both boys deserved the accolades. The entire team as a whole were paid a handsome amount for being in the top five and another special recognition for their contributions to the event. All in all, the night had turned out to be quite interesting and fun-filled for the quartet.

As they all sat at their table joined by Ochi's grandfather, Hikaru's mother and Amano, each trying to talk to as many well-wishers and fans as possible, Akira stiffened as he noticed the group that was beginning to make their way towards them. With a light frown on his features, he glanced towards Hikaru, Ochi and Waya and also noticed the tense look on their faces as well. What in the world could they want now?

It was the coach that spoke up first with a sheepish look as he noticed that everyone on the table had their attention on them now. "Good evening…we won't stay too long, so don't worry." He cleared his throat and shoved a blushing Chris to the forefront, which in turn sent the four Japanese boys' fists clenching in anger. "You have something to say to them, right, Chris?"

The boy looked like he would rather not say anything, but seeing the cold look his coach gave him, he shuffled his feet and replied quietly. "I…I…er…I wanted to apologize for everything that happened to you." He lifted his gaze long enough to stare into the cold ones of Akira and feeling the chill run down his spine, he finished up quickly. "What we did was…inexcusable and we just wanted to thank you guys for not…eh…taking this to court or anything."

"Of course, we still fully intend to settle everything out of court," the couch piped in with a smile. "So, don't you all worry about a thing, okay? We…really, really apologize for every inconvenience." When he got no answer from the stoic faces before him, he gave a shaky laugh and began to move away. "We will be going now. Thank you for your time…and hope to see you all in a much better…eh… circumstances next year."

As they walked away, the puzzled Mitsuko blinked in confusion as she threw bewildered glances at the silent men around her. "What…what…what did he mean by that?"

They all exchanged glances before Ogata replied with a wan 'It's nothing important.'

Boxes lay opened on the floor, clothes strewn all across the beds and cupboards, as moonlight filtered through the lace curtains, bathing its soft glow on the tousled sheets and generally unkempt room. For several minutes, only the soft ticking of the clock was heard, before the doors burst open to reveal three boys hanging onto each other, each giggling and laughing loudly as they tried to find which bed to lay down on.

With each hair looking ruffled and unkempt, black ties now loosened and hanging off their half buttoned pristine white shirts, which were barely covered by the black suits, they staggered into the room and promptly fell upon a bed that wasn't so crowded with junk.

"Ouch! Get off my back, Hikaru! You're breaking my bones!"

"I can't! Akira is on my back! You get off!!"

The captain rolled off with a grumble, only to burst out laughing as two pairs of tickling fingers suddenly attacked him. Holding out his hands to ward them off, he begged for mercy, only to gasp as he felt Hikaru's lips seal his laughing ones in a soft kiss.

He pulled away with a grin. "There! I finally caught you laughing, Akira."

Waya groaned and buried his face against the longhaired boy's neck. "That was so cheesy and then some, Hikaru."

"Eh? What was so cheesy about it? Are you jealous that I didn't give you one?"

The redhead snorted and sat upright. "I don't really care what you think, Shin…mmmphff…"

The kiss was slow and sweet, for Hikaru had taken the red head by surprise. Lashes fluttered closed, lips parting to accept each other's questing tongue as they dueled silently for dominance. Akira moaned at the sight and unable to stop himself, he slid his hands beneath both boys' shirts, fingers seeking and finding their sensitive nubs to toy with as he licked his lips in anticipation. It seemed like it had been eons since he had been with both his lovers, but tonight - their last night in this country - he was determined to make it one that they would never forget.

Waya sucked in a harsh breath at the dual sensations, before pulling away from Hikaru with a harshly whispered 'Stop…onegai…we have to stop…'

The blond blinked in surprise, even though he himself was finding it hard to think with Akira still touching him in such a way. He reached for the flushed redhead's face and caressed it gently. "What…what's wrong, Waya? Don't you want to…?"

"That's the problem," came the desperate cry as he rolled off Akira completely and lay on his side to stare out of the patio doors. "I…I can't help thinking that…we are being watched…or…just…it just doesn't feel right, that's all."

Akira and Hikaru exchanged quick glances before giving each other matching smirks. And with no warning, they began to strip the clothes off Waya's body, sending the red head blushing and crying out in embarrassment.

"What? What are you guys doing? Cut that out! Hikaruuuuu…Akiraaaaa….aaaaahh!" He gasped as he felt the lips trail down his fevered skin and trying to curl himself up in a fetal position, he turned his face away and tried again. "We have to talk now!"

Akira lifted his head from his ministrations on the redhead's stomach, frowning lightly at the tone. "What do you want to talk about, Waya? I thought we had fixed up everything now. There is nothing to worry about."

Hikaru nodded and placed soft kisses along the trembling shoulders, as he wrapped his arms protectively around the lithe waist. "Everything is over now."

The redhead trembled and fought hard to gather his fumbled thoughts about him as Akira and Shindo seemed hell bent on making him lose his mind with pleasure. With a low groan, he sank his fingers into the bleached blond locks and gently tugged the head upward to stare into bewildered green depths.

"What.About.Us?" he finally asked with a serious look in his golden depths. "What happens to us now, Hikaru…Akira? We can't just go on like this without finding out…I mean…"

His voice trailed off as all three boys lowered their gazes at the weight of the question. They hated to admit that Waya did have a point. It was all well and good that they were in a relationship of sorts right now, but what would happen when they got back home? There was no way they could continue seeing each other without arousing suspicion. People were bound to talk and even if the scandal was kept secret over here, they doubted that it would be well taken back home.

Akira grit his teeth in frustration. He was still living with his parents, but he knew without a doubt that he would have to move out on his own as soon as possible. He had no intentions of doing anything underneath his parents' roof. At least…he could respect them in that light.

"I'm moving out on my own when we get back," Hikaru said softly. "And since Waya already has a place…Akira…"

Both boys turned to look at the longhaired boy with questioning looks in their eyes. The captain dug his fingers into his palms, biting his lower lip as he realized that he had a looming bridge ahead of him just waiting to be crossed.

"I…I will move out as well…" He said with a firm nod. "I will have to speak with my father and then…then…we will see…"

Waya sighed and raised his knees to his chin. "What if he is skeptical? What if he…?"

"I'm seventeen now. He can't control my life forever," Akira replied with a light scowl on his features. "And besides, you moved out when you were fifteen, right? So, why should mine be any different?"

Hikaru chuckled and shifted across the bed to wrap his arms tightly around Akira's lithe waist. "Yeah…there is nothing to worry about. We will just take turns spending the weekend at each other's places, that's all."

"But we are going to have to be careful," Waya said with a snicker as he moved closer to the duo, to wrap his own arms around their shoulders. "Although…it does suck to have to hide like this."

This had the boys sighing softly and nodding in agreement. The situation couldn't be helped. And even though society was a little bit more receptive to their lifestyle, they doubted that their society would welcome such a drastic change.

"To keep living a lie," Akira muttered huskily as he stared into the faces of the boys he loved. "We are just going to have to keep putting up the act for them, ne?"

"Heh…you always were a good actor, Akira," Waya replied with a light chuckle. "After all, you have been hiding your feelings for both of us so well, all these years. Geez…all the cold shoulder and aloofness you put up…it's hard to read you sometimes."

The 6-Dan had the grace to blush as he hid his face against Shindo's neck in embarrassment. "And what about you, Hikaru? How long have you been hiding your emotions for us?"

Hikaru's face darkened as two pairs of beautiful eyes that he must have fallen for so many years ago, stared at him with quiet anticipation. How long had he fallen for them? For how long had he wanted and needed these boys to be with him for forever if need be? He couldn't say that it had been from the moment they had met, because they had been young children, incapable of harboring such deep emotions at the time. No, it had been a steady and gradual experience. One that had come from years of spending time watching and learning each other's quirks and nuances - years of dealing with conflicting emotions that had ranged from the need for simple friendship to something much more meaningful and deeper.

And so after years of waiting, hoping and praying that such a day would arrive, he could only tighten his arms around the two boys as he lay back against the sheets, to stare at out of the window silently. No words needed to be said, for each boy knew that they would never be enough to convey what filled their hearts at this time. In just two weeks, they had discovered and had grown so much in more ways than they could imagine.

Tomorrow, they would have to leave a country that had filled them with memories that would last a lifetime. And even if their experiences here hadn't been completely happy ones, they still couldn't deny that it was something that they would cherish until their dying days.

Sai…my wish finally came true. We haven't won the fight to be together completely, if you know what I mean. We are still going to have a lot of obstacles to face and cross…but…but we did it, Sai. We finally won each other's hearts and that's…that's what's important, isn't it? Isn't it, Sai…?

With a soft sigh of content escaping his lips, he caressed his dozing lovers' backs in slow circles, a giddy warmth – one of love and pride – grew within his heart as a small smile came to his lips. For as sleep came slowly to claim his weary form, a familiar soft-spoken voice filled with similar pride and admiration, whispered ever so softly into his ear...

You have the greatest gift of all, Hikaru, for three winning hearts have finally become one…

OWARI