Title: Skipping Stones
Author: Luce Red
Series: Hikaru no Go
Disclaimer: Characters are the property of Hotta and Obata, Jump, Shueisha and their affiliated companies.
Summary: Hikaru meets the Kaio Go club.
The two students of Kaio Senior High School were slightly taken aback to see one of their own, albeit of the junior school, sitting at one of the tables at the back of the fast food restaurant with a student from another school. A surreptitious glance revealed that the uniform was that of Haze Junior High's. The two of them, apparently already finished with their food, were talking animatedly. At least, the boy from Haze was; his friend was listening with a look that could only be characterized as fascinated horror.
"... or you could secretly move the stones when counting territory, or add a couple of stones from your pocket when your opponent isn't looking..."
"Shindou," the Kaio student said.
"... or take away one or two stones..."
"... but sometimes you can trick them by... Huh, what?"
"Shindou, that sounds like the most unethical set of tricks I've ever heard. Wherever did you learn all that?"
The Haze student grinned, his expression slightly abashed. "Oh, er, I heard it from one of the old geezers from one of the salons I used to go. You probably don't know about them, they play for money in those places."
"I hope not. You used to go to these places?" The Kaio student sounded disapproving.
"Just the once..."
"Okay, twice! Really. It was kind of frightening, actually. All the customers there looked really tough, and fierce, and they smoked continuously, and it was dim, and even the person at the counter was this middle-aged woman who scowled all the time, like you owed her money and was trying to get out of paying... Scary."
"Not everyone is as nice as Ichikawa-san, I guess."
"Yeah, especially towards you. I mean, Touya, how is it you get coffee and cake when you play with her?"
"That's because I play shidougo with Ichikawa-san, Shindou. If you let me play shidougo with you..."
"Hah! In your dreams..." The outburst stopped when the Haze student saw his friend's expression, and made a face at being baited.
They fell silent. The Haze student tapped his fingers on the table a few times, then nodded at the exit. "Come on, let's go. I want to go to the bookstore before heading home."
The Kaio Junior High student nodded, and stood up. He was just about to follow his friend towards the exit, when he stumbled slightly over the bag placed on the floor. "I'm sorry," he murmured, then his eyes widened. "Senpai-tachi?" he said.
Itou and Kojima nodded a greeting. "Touya, it's been a long time," Itou managed to say. After the first junior high Go tournament in which Touya was third board, the much resented prodigy had quit the Go club, and none had been more relieved than the two of them, not to mention Okumura, who was one year younger. Thereafter, they heard that Touya had become pro, and they had barely even seen him in school.
"Touya, you're so slow..." His friend approached, then glanced at them. "You know them?"
"My senpai," Touya said, his eyes expressionless as he watched the two of them. "From the Go club."
"Really?" The Haze student tilted his head to one side, studying them. "I'm Shindou Hikaru," he said, relieving their curiosity. "I was in the Haze Go club," he grinned suddenly. "One of the best times I had there was playing Go with Tsutsui-san and Mitani. But Kaio has a huge Go club, doesn't it?"
Kojima regained his nerve. "So, the great Touya Akira plays Go with junior Go club members as well?" he sneered.
Shindou looked taken aback at his tone, and his temper went up. "Hey, watch what you're saying," he retorted. "Why shouldn't Touya play with Go club members? He plays with Akari, too, and she's the first board for the girls' Go club tournament. Hey," he turned to Touya at that, as if distracted, "Akari asked me to ask you if you could tutor her, Kaneko and Tsuda on Saturday. I'll be there as well."
"It's okay, I don't have any games that day," Touya replied, though he was still watching Itou and Kojima. "Let's go, Shindou," he glanced to his side. "Did you say that you needed to buy some study guides? You'll never pass English at this rate."
Annoyed at being ignored, Itou interrupted. "So now you're playing with Haze students?" he snorted. "They can't play for shit," he sneered.
Shindou's face grew red. "Why, you!" he lunged at them, only to be held back by Touya. "Let me go, I'll show him who can't play!"
"We'll be leaving now. Goodbye," Touya said loudly over the sound of Shindou's complaints, and began to walk away, his hand still on the back of Shindou's uniform to stop him from attacking the two of them.
Itou and Kojima watched as the two of them disappeared out of the door.
"I wonder who's the other kid with him," Kojima said.
"You heard him. Shindou Hikaru, from the Haze Go Club," Itou said.
"Huh. The Haze Go Club. They lost so badly in this year's tournament at school, didn't they?" Not hearing agreement, Kojima turned to his friend, who was frowning. "What is it?"
"Shindou Hikaru. The name sounds a bit familiar."
Kojima looked uncertainly at him. "You mean he's a pro like Touya?"
"What? No, couldn't be. I know," Itou slapped his palm on the table. "He was the third board in that tournament. You know, the one that Touya was in? He even insisted on being third board, remember?"
"Yeah. I thought it was just like him, acting in such an arrogant manner and pushing to have his way..." Kojima grumbled. "That's him." He began to grin. "Who would have thought it? Touya Akira is now friends with a brat from Haze."
Itou began to smile as well. "I heard they were going to a bookstore. It's probably that one," he nodded towards the enormous bookstore opposite the restaurant. He pulled out his phone. "I'll call Okumura."
"You're Shindou Hikaru, aren't you?" Okumura said boldly.
The boy with bleached blond hair, hugging a stack of books that seemed to be mostly manga, blinked in surprise. "Yes, I am. Who are you?"
"My name is Okumura Yoshiko. I'm Touya's classmate."
"Oh. Er, are you looking for him?" Shindou asked. "He's over there," he waved a hand at the opposite end of the store. "In the Go books section." He frowned when Kojima and Itou stepped out from behind a shelf full of shojo manga. "Hey, aren't you Touya's senpai? Oh, yeah, you said Haze students can't play Go!"
"They lost to Kaio in the tournament, didn't they?" Kojima retorted, managing to silence Shindou.
Okumura smiled. This was too easy. "If you are Touya's friend, you probably know that he lost to us."
Shindou looked blank. "Lost to you at what?"
Kojima gritted his teeth. "At Go!"
Shindou looked puzzled, before he laughed. "Ha ha, nice joke. No, really, Touya is over there." He nodded in the same direction. "He spends ages there, even though he has tons of Go books already."
"You don't believe us?" Itou asked.
"Touya wouldn't lose to someone at school," Shindou said.
This was going nowhere, Okumura decided. "If you're really his friend, you must be good at Go, too," he said, testing the other boy's reaction.
"I'm not bad," Shindou agreed, but he suddenly looked thoughtful. "I do spend a lot of time trying to beat Touya, though," he said.
Okumura, Kojima and Itou relaxed. As they expected, this boy was not that good. Well, he was from Haze, wasn't he? They probably didn't even have a proper meeting room for their Go Club there.
"Would you like to play a game with us?" Kojima asked.
Shindou's eyebrows rose. "All three of you?" he asked.
"Is that too difficult?" Okumura said, the expression in his face turning sly. "After all, you're Touya's friend, playing the three of us should be easy."
"Huh." Shindou put down his manga. "If I beat you, you have to take back what you said about Haze students not being able to play Go," he said.
"Fine," Itou said.
"There's a Go parlour downstairs. Let's play there," Okumura said before Shindou could back out.
Shindou looked down at the books he was carrying. "I've got to pay for them first," he said. "And tell Touya that I'm leaving first."
"I'll tell him for you," Kojima said hurriedly, exchanging looks with Itou and Okumura.
"Tell him if he's thinking about buying the Jowa biography, don't bother. I can lend him my copy," Shindou called after him, before turning towards the counter. Itou and Okumura watched as he paid for six books in a wide range of topics--an English grammar guide, three volumes of manga, a book on the Heian period, and one on Go. They would have made a comment, but Kojima came back at that moment.
They made their way to the Go parlour located below the bookstore. If Kojima expected the hushed atmosphere of the place to intimidate Shindou, he could find no sign of discomfort. There were only a few customers. The girl at the reception counter was pretty and looked to be around their age. Kojima noticed that she dimpled cheerfully at Shindou when he paid his entrance fee. Inwardly, he bristled.
"Are these your friends?" she asked.
Shindou looked around at Kojima and Okumura. "Not really," he said with a shrug. "But we met in the bookstore just now."
The girl snapped her fingers. "I just remembered! I ordered the Kimura Takuya book there last week, and they called me to collect it." She looked around. "Well, no one else seems to be coming in. I'll just pop up there now." She glanced at them. "Unless you need some help?"
"We can manage, thanks," Shindou said.
She beamed at him. "Thanks!"
They made their way towards an unoccupied cluster of tables. Shindou was about to sit down, when Okumura raised a hand to stop it. "Let's try something different," he said.
Shindou's eyes narrowed. "What?" he asked.
Itou stepped in. "Instead of playing with the three of us directly, you have to play blind Go," he said.
All three of them were pleased to see Shindou's expression turn uncertain.
"So it's like that, is it?" Shindou asked after a while.
"What do you mean?"
Shindou raised his chin. "You think you can make fun of me by expecting me to play blind Go? Sorry, I'm not playing." He reached for his bag of purchases, and turned to leave.
"Oh, are you afraid now?" Okumura taunted.
"Yeah," Kojima said. "Are all Haze students like this?"
"It's true. Haze students can't play Go for shit," Itou said, watching Shindou's back stiffen.
"Fine." Shindou turned back, his expression fierce. "I'll play your game." He set down his bag on one of the chairs. "You sit down here," he said, indicating the three tables between them, "and you can take Black. I'll sit over here." He pulled a chair out and set it so that its back faced them. "Ready?"
Itou glanced at Kojima, who glanced at Okumura.
"I said, 'ready?'" Shindou said, more loudly.
One of the patrons at the far end yelled, "Stop making a noise!"
Shindou ignored him. "Well?" he asked the three of them.
It was amazing how quickly the easy-going expression on Shindou's face turned serious. Itou, Kojima and Okumura found themselves seated, looking at the Go boards. Itou nudged Kojima as Shindou gave a 'huh' and said down, his back to them. This could still work. Kojima nodded, and said, "Please give me your guidance," in his his most neutral voice. Itou and Okumura smirked, and echoed him.
Another 'huh' from Shindou before he repeated the phrase.
Kojima opted to go first. "5-3," he called, setting down his stone.
Before twenty minutes had passed, the three of them realized that they had been hopelessly outclassed. Shindou didn't seem to have a problem playing blind Go with the three of them. He wasn't even fazed by Okumura's irrational playing style, and instead countered with equally irrational-looking hands. He called out replies swiftly, with barely a moment's thought.
This wasn't what they expected from a Haze student, Kojima thought, thinking furiously.
How could he be so strong? Itou wondered.
Okumura cracked first. Unnerved that his randomly placed hands were being defeated so effortlessly, he finally said, "I've lost."
"Thank you for the game," Shindou said, unruffled. "Kojima-san. It's your turn, isn't it?"
Kojima gulped. He simply couldn't see what other steps he could make. "Right. I... I surrender."
"Me too!" Itou said hurriedly.
"Oh. Thank you for the game, then," Shindou stood up, and approached them, his attention on the Go boards rather than on the three of them. "That was interesting," he remarked. "I've never played blind Go with three people before."
Kojima, Itou and Okumura gaped at him.
"Well?" Shindou asked after nodding and muttering to himself over the three games.
"W-What?" Itou asked.
Shindou's eyes narrowed. "You said you'd take back what you said about Haze students who can't play Go."
Kojima nudged Itou. "You're the one who said it!" he whispered.
Itou glared at his friend. "All right!" He faced Shindou reluctantly. "I take it back," he offered, then added, "I'm sorry, okay!" when Shindou continued to glare.
"Huh." Shindou huffed, turning to pick up his books.
"Shindou-kun!" The receptionist girl had just entered, clutching a package in her hands. "Are you finished already? I was planning to watch!"
"Yeah. I thought you got back long ago, Hiroko-san."
"I met Touya-san at the bookstore and chatted for a bit," she said. "I thought you'd be playing Go with him."
"Not today. I have to go home and study," Shindou heaved an exaggerated sigh.
Hiroko giggled. "Oh! Maybe you can study with Touya-san!" she said. "He's still at the bookstore."
"Still there!" Shindou shook his head. "I better go and drag him out. He promised to help me revise for my English test. 'bye, Hiroko-san."
"'bye, Shindou-kun. Come again with Touya-san next time!"
As Shindou left, Hiroko approached them. "Excuse me," she asked. "Do you need any help?"
Itou asked, "Does that person come here often with Touya?"
Hiroko glanced towards the exit. "Oh, you mean Shindou-pro? Occasionally. They come to the bookstore upstairs quite often, you see..."
Okumura cut in. "Shindou-pro?" he echoed. "That Shindou Hikaru? He's a pro?"
Hiroko stared at them. "You didn't know that?" she asked. "Then why were you playing with him?"
Okumura smiled weakly. "We...er, we heard that they were friends of Touya."
Hiroko snapped her fingers. "And you're friends of Touya-san!" she concluded. "Same uniform."
Kojima said, "Sort of."
"Touya-san and Shindou-kun are such good friends," Hiroko said. "I heard that they're rivals too," she added in a conspiratorial tone.
"Uh... that's nice. We'll be going now," Itou said. He was getting a sick feeling in his stomach.
"Not going to play anymore?" Hiroko asked.
"That's okay, thanks." Kojima forced a smile and walked out, the others following him.
Behind him, Hiroko called cheerfully, "Please come again!"
"Isn't Touya graduating this year?" Itou asked on the way back to the subway station.
"Yeah." Okumura looked worried. "I hope I don't run into him at school. God knows what Shindou told him about us..."
As it turned out, Touya did not go to the graduation ceremony at all.