Notes: Sheree, of course, betaed, and she is wonderful.

Terms:

Pocari Sweat: a sports drink. (It has amino acids!)

Chapter 6

Jigo: A drawn game.

I walked against the morning rush. Men in suits and children in uniforms rushed past me in dark blurs. I wondered if I stood out against their pristine outfits. My suit was crumpled, and it stuck tightly on my body, chafing my skin. I should change soon.

*"At last we meet Touya Akira. So you are Shindou's rival!"*

An older woman opening her bento shop for business smiled at me as I walked past her. I didn't know if I smiled back or not. The fresh smell of food permeated the air around her shop. My stomach churned, but I did not want to eat.

*"I asked Shindou if the reason that he keeps on losing to you is because he likes you so much that he didn't want you to feel bad."*

The sun shone mercilessly, and I was sweating so much that I could barely breathe. But I kept on walking, and my surroundings started to look more and more familiar as the pedestrian traffic thinned out. I was walking home.

*"He said that someday, my rival, my only true rival will be you."*

It was almost a surprise when I reached my house. I had never been away for so long before. I fumbled about in my pocket searching for my key, but when I finally retrieved it, it took me a few tries before I could get the key inside the slot. The gates opened with a loud metallic moan.

*"If he goes after any of my titles, I have no way of winning. If you came after my titles, I'd at least have a fighting chance."*

I should pick up a new suit, I thought to myself. The one I was wearing had a cigarette burn on it. Bracing myself against the hallway as I walked, I went to the closet where mother kept our formal wear, and slid it open.

Father's traditional robe was there. For a moment, I wondered wildly why father didn't take it with him to China on this trip.

I heard a small choking sound.

I supposed I must have made it.

Slowly, I pulled out father's robe. The fabric was so worn it felt unbearably soft against my hands.

It did not smell like father. It reeked of mothballs. Father had worn it so often it never smelled of mothballs before.

In my mind, I saw myself casting it aside. This wasn't father's robe. It couldn't be. But instead I found myself clutching on to the soft fabric as I slid to the ground, my back against the wall.

*"Your father had to walk the path to the Hand of God alone." *

"Do you want to play a game, father?" I asked. The still air did not answer me.

*"Father, I lost a game today," I had said.

"Oh? To whom?" Father looked up from his reading.

"To another boy who is also in the sixth grade. I…"

"Really?" Father frowned, and put away the newspaper he was holding. "Would you like to go over the game?"

"Could you play a game with me, father? I think it'll help me think."

"Of course, Akira-kun." Father waited until I placed three stones on the board.*

"Shindou beat me again today, father." I felt a tear sliding down my cheek, landing silently on father's robes. "Could I play a game with you, father? It would help me think."

I rubbed the wet spot I left on father's collar, and tilted my head back against the wall.

***

I woke to the sound of approaching footsteps. When I opened my eyes, Shindou was standing barely a meter away from me.

"Shindou," I started to stand up, but I felt myself falling back down again as waves of dizziness crashed against me.

"Touya!" Shindou's arms came around me, and he lowered me slowly to the ground again.

"I'm fine." I closed my eyes and willed the dizziness to dissipate.

"When was the last time you ate or drank anything?" Shindou was still holding on to me though I didn't need his help to sit straight.

"I…" I couldn't remember.

"Geez, you haven't eaten or drank anything since yesterday afternoon, have you?" Abruptly he released me. I opened my eyes and saw that he was fumbling through his backpack.

"Here." Shindou handed me a half empty bottle of Pocari Sweat.

Suddenly thirsty, I took the bottle and drank most of it in one gulp.

"How did you get in?" I asked. Shindou was still wearing his socks, and they were dry.

"You left your gates wide open," Shindou said. He was sitting down by my side, leaning against the wall.

We both stared forward, not looking at each other.

"You're lucky I came along. Otherwise your house probably would have been burglarized while you were passed out from low blood sugar," Shindou said after a moment.

"I don't consider you 'lucky', Shindou, in any sense of the word," I said.

"I just caught you as you were falling over!" Shindou said loudly.

"I wouldn't have tried to get up in the first place if you hadn't been here."

"You would have had to get up at some point!"

"Obviously!"

"You could at least thank me for closing your damn gates!"

"Thank you for closing my damn gates!"

"Why do you always have to be so stubborn?"

I opened my mouth to yell something back, but nothing came out.

Shindou sighed. "Why does everything always have to be a fight between us?" he asked.

"I don't know," I said. Outside, the sun was already setting. Dusk light sifted through the window.

"I'm not really that far ahead of you, you know," Shindou said as the shadows lengthened on the walls. "You were just convinced I was and you played really badly."

I squeezed the fabric in my hands and did not reply.

"Damn it, Touya, I know what I'm talking about! I have been staring at so many kifu of our games my eyes were falling out!" Shindou turned and looked at me.

"Have you passed me?" I asked quietly.

"Even if I have it's not like I'm going to leave you behind!" Shindou reached out and grabbed me by the shoulders. "What's the point of having me as a rival if I'm not a real challenge to you?"

I stilled at the question. Shindou's eyes were locked on to mine, and I could see my reflection in them. My rival.

"Why have you been losing to me?"

"Because I'm stupid!" Shindou said vehemently, and jerked away from me.

"Shindou."

"I wasn't trying to, you know," Shindou was staring intently at the wall across from us.

"I know." I said it automatically, but I did know. "You've never lost to anyone on purpose."

Shindou met my eyes. "Yeah." He looked very young. His bangs were falling wildly over his eyes.

"So did you figure it out?" I asked, my words falling out quickly, running into each other. "Did Waya help you figure out why you were losing to me?"

Shindou looked away again. "It doesn't really matter, does it? I mean I'm not anymore. It's not going to affect my go from now on." Shindou's hands formed tight fists.

"It matters to you." I spoke at the wall in front of us.

"I'll figure things out," Shindou said. Then he added, "Eventually."

"Ah." I said, and it felt like retreat.

We both continued to stare at the wall.

"I wish I could talk to Sai." Shindou's voice was so soft that I wasn't sure I heard his words until a few seconds after he had said them.

"Sai?"

Shindou shook his head frantically. "I… I… I mean I already told you Sai was my teacher, and let's just leave it at that, okay?"

I nodded. Sai.

"I wish I could talk to my father, too," I said.

Shindou's eyes widened, noticing what I was holding for the first time.

"I think my father would have loved to have played Sai again." I smoothed out the collar of father's robe. I was almost certain that father was thinking of Sai all those nights he sat alone in front of the go table.

"Yeah, I think Sai would have loved to have played your father again too." Shindou smiled.

Darkness was slowly seeping into the room.

"Do you want to play a game?" I pulled myself up along the wall.

"Rematch?" Shindou stood up too.

"Maybe."

"You, eat first." Shindou came closer, one of his hands reached out and braced the wall next to my head, blocking me in. "We have plenty of time to play."

He leaned in toward me, and he was so close that I could feel his heated breath on my face, but the room was getting too dark for me to clearly see his face. He smelled like ramen and sweat and sugar.

"'Cause you know, you are my rival and all. No way I'm letting you get off without playing me. I have lost hundreds of games against you, and you've got a lot of catching up to do. You and me… we are going to play hundreds of thousands of games," he said. His voice was so quiet that I could barely hear the words over our breathing.

A moment passed. Then another.

"We won't live long enough to play hundreds of thousands of games," I said.

"I have it on good authority that ghosts play go," Shindou said and I could hear the smile in his voice.

"Plan to haunt the Go Institute, do you?" I asked.

He laughed. Then he backed away from me. "You never know. I might haunt your go board."

He picked up his backpack from the ground, and asked, "So, wanna go to China Soba?"

"Didn't you just come from there? I can smell it on you." I stood up straighter.

"Yeah, well," Shindou put his hands behind his head. "We could go home, and order from the new Pizza-La."

"Okay," I said. "Let's go home."

Carefully, I put father's robes back into the closet, and retrieved my own kimono along with my other suit.

Shindou helped me carry my suit. He watched me closely when I locked the gate on the empty house. As we walked away, I did not look back.

***

When we got to Shindou's apartment, we heard a voice on the answering machine before we even opened the door.

It was Yashiro's voice.

"… SHINDOU! Where are you?! You were supposed to meet me for LUNCH! LUNCH!"

Shindou quickly unlocked the door. Kicking off his shoes as fast as he could, he raced to the phone and picked it up.

"Yashiro?" Shindou said tentatively, then he immediately cringed and pulled the receiver away from his ear.

I took off my shoes, turned on the light, and then I walked over to Shindou and relieved him of my suit. He was still holding the receiver an arm length away from his head.

I was walking over to Shindou's closet when I noticed that the go table had been moved. The go table now sat in front of the window, leaving the space between our futons empty.

For a moment I was still with the unexpectedness of it.

Shindou was suddenly behind me with his hand on my shoulder. I hadn't even heard him finish talking to Yashiro.

"Come on, let's put away your stuff, and order pizza," Shindou said. "Tonight I eat my last meal. Tomorrow, Yashiro is coming over to kill me."

"You moved the table," I said stupidly.

"Hn," he said. "Do you mind?" he asked more softly.

"No." I shook my head.

Shindou smiled.

***

The day I became a 9-dan, my father died. His last words were for me.

"Go is not my life, Akira-kun," father said.

"It's not?" I asked as I began to count the moku on the board. I was still getting used to playing father at three stones.

"No," father waited until I was done.

"Jigo," I announced after I finished counting both of our moku, knowing that father already knew.

"Sometimes, you have to know how to force a draw," father said.

***

~Owari