It took three months for them to make the arrangements for Akira's return to the pro leagues. He turned eighteen, and Christmas and New Year came and went. He only noted the milestones distractedly, since he was working on reclaiming his game skills.
It was his father who spent hours a day with him, helping to work out a system that would be feasible. Akira had known his father possessed nearly immeasurable wells of patience, and he knew the task was trying his father's skill to the utmost.
It was like relearning the game from scratch. He understood all the rules, but playing each game mentally required intense focus. He had to learn not only to memorize the game, but mentally predict as well. Since he'd gone a while without playing, his moves were also sloppy, something his father took advantage of.
It was the hardest thing Akira had ever done. Learning Braille was simple in comparison, because he had no framework to deal with. This was like learning how to walk after being paralyzed – he knew he could do it, but there was question if he'd ever do it as well as he had before.
"People will not show you sympathy, just because you are blind," Kouyo said. "Or rather, the strong players will not – and you should not take advantage of the charity the kinder ones offer you. It is degrading to your skill to be given a handicap; you should seek to overcome your disability instead."
Ashiwara was one of those kind souls, offering immense handicaps, and opportunities to redo a move. Akira tried to hint that it was insulting, but the other pro didn't seem to get it. In the beginning Akira had been grateful for Ashiwara's willingness to lose, but gradually he'd come to resent it. His blindness did not make him less of a person, but Ashiwara couldn't look beyond it.
Even Ogata was hesitant around him. He offered few games, but started to relay the gossip of the Go world. Kurata had claimed the Meijin title; despite a brief health scare that sent him to the hospital for a week, Kuwabara had again defended his title. Shindou, Ogata announced in January, was still his usual incomprehensible, infuriating self.
"Shindou's either a martyr or a high stakes gambler," Ogata said. "I think he threatened to quit if you weren't given the chance to play again."
A part of Akira wanted to say something sarcastic about how Shindou had already quit once, so it wasn't a big deal, but the bigger part recognized what a sacrifice he had offered. Shindou would back up his threat, and damn the consequences to his own future.
Shindou was doing well, winning the match to enter the Meijin league, which bumped his rank up to 7-dan under the new promotion system. He would stop by like clockwork every other day, encouraging Akira and sharing the news of the Go world. Occasionally he would help by describing a game he'd just played, asking Akira's opinions.
But Shindou stubbornly refused to play him. "It's got to be a real game," Shindou insisted. "I'm not going to hold back."
It took a while to make arrangements, but in February, Go officials came to a consensus on what the guidelines would be. Akira would not be offered extra time, which meant he had to think more quickly than his opponents. As soon as he spoke, it would be the equivalent of letting his fingers leave the stone; the move would be final. The game had to be conducted privately, so his speaking would not interfere with other players, and an Institute official would oversee the entire match to ensure fairness.
He practiced against his father under those rules as Ogata served as an "official," but never won. He had never defeated his father in a fair game, so it was no surprise. However he still felt like he was operating under a two-stone handicap. He played some of his father's students, and won all those matches. He wondered if it was pity or uneasiness that made them soft, since few played up to their usual levels.
When the Institute sent him notice that he had a game scheduled for February 20 against Shindou Hikaru, he nearly had a nervous breakdown. He needed more time, he wasn't ready to face Shindou, he couldn't do this...
His father, wisely, took him aside that evening. "The greatest game I played was one I lost," Kouyo said as they sat in their customary spots in front of the goban.
"Against Sai," Akira said, remembering that remarkable match with clarity.
"We learn through both our wins and losses. If you go in believing you're going to lose, then you've already been defeated."
"I'm scared," Akira admitted. "I don't know if I can do this; I feel like I'm entering a reverse-komi match for the Honinbou title."
"Let me have confidence for you," Kouyo said, with a gruff edge to his voice. "I believe in you. I will never be ashamed of any game you play as long as you try."
Akira nodded, feeling his wavering resolve firmed by his father's faith.
The morning of the game was cold, and his mother made sure he dressed warmly. He had a new pair of mittens, the kind where the top could be pulled back to free the fingers for delicate movement. He took the white cane with him, but relied on his mother's steadying hand to get to the car. He couldn't see the slippery spots, and his cane wasn't much good for detecting them.
After he settled in the car, he leaned his head back against the seat. He was more sensitive to the motion of the vehicle, hearing the motor jump into life. His mother snapped on her seatbelt, and then started the twenty-minute drive.
She was quiet for about half of it before speaking. She was still unsure how to handle him. "Your father wanted to come," she said, "but he told me you asked him not to."
"I need to do this on my own, mother," Akira replied.
"I don't see why you can't ask for the support of your family," Akiko answered.
"I don't need to ask - I know I have it," Akira said. "But I also need to know that I can depend on myself. That this-" and he waved a hand to his eyes, "isn't going to prevent me from doing what I love."
"I see," Akiko said, and Akira was tempted to retort angrily. Until he'd lost his vision, he hadn't realized how casually sight was referred to in every day speech. She was quiet for the rest of the drive, only speaking up to announce they had arrived.
Akiko pulled the car to a stop. "We're at the Institute, Akira-san. Did you want me to go with you?" His mother had never been in the Institute, not even when her husband had played his title match.
"Shindou's going to meet me here," he replied. He adjusted his collar and ran his hands over his pants, attempting to iron out any wrinkles his clothing had acquired. "Do I look all right?" he asked, for lack of anything better to say. He had never been particularly fashion conscious, but now that he couldn't see his own reflection, he had to rely on others to ensure he looked socially acceptable.
"You look fine," his mother assured him. "I think I see Shindou-kun – he's about a block away."
He sat patiently, waiting for Shindou to arrive. He imagined the other pro wearing a heavy winter parka – the one that had the "5" on the back – with his cheeks flushed from cold. A few moments later, there was the sound of someone tapping on his window, then the whir of the motor as his mother hit a button to slide it down.
"Hey, Touya!" Shindou said, and he sounded excited. "You ready?"
"I am," he said, opening his own door. He moved carefully, cautious of the curve.
"Great," Shindou said. "Don't worry about him, Touya-san," he said, directing the response toward the car. "Let's get going, Touya. I'm cold."
"Maybe you wouldn't be if you would wear gloves every once in awhile."
"How did you know..."
"Because I know you, Shindou." The repartee was familiar, comforting, and Akira felt himself start to relax. "Mother, thanks for the ride. I'll call you after the match."
"Good luck," she murmured, and then the window rolled up, and seconds later the engine revved as the car pulled away.
That left the two of them alone. "Shall we get going?" he asked Shindou.
"Um, sure. Do you need help?"
"Just keep talking, and I'll follow you."
Shindou agreed, and started a monologue about how annoying his mother was, recounting a story about laundry, his goban, and a stone that was missing from one of his go kes. The story was amusing, and Akira was able to find the door to the Institute easily. Shindou held it opened, and Akira went in first.
He could hear the normal flow of the conversations ebb as soon as the door opened. The lobby, usually populated by the transient Go players and fans, was a prime place to hang out. He knew that everyone was staring at him.
"That's Touya Akira," he heard an older man's voice say, cracking from age. "I guess he's going to play today."
"Really? How can he play if he can't see?" The words were hushed, but audible to Akira. It was amazing how much sharper Akira's hearing had become.
It was a good question. Akira knew that this game would either mark his return to the pro leagues, or be his final match. He needed to prove to the Institute that his blindness didn't make him incapable.
"Don't pay attention to them," Shindou whispered in a voice which was barely audible to Akira himself, and likely impossible for anyone else to decipher. "I want to play you."
A thrill – of terror or excitement, or maybe both – surged through Akira at those words. "Shindou..." Akira thought about turning back. This really was insane.
Shindou stopped him, instinctively sensing Akira's fear. "Use my arm," Shindou said. "Trust me."
It was a lot to ask, but Akira took the proffered limb. He trusted Shindou to help him find the Hand of God, and that was the deepest trust he knew. Surely he could trust Shindou to walk him through the Institute.
"We're at the elevator," Shindou announced, pausing. He felt Shindou lean away, probably to hit the up arrow for service. A couple of seconds later, there was a "ding" and the rush of the doors sliding open. "We can get on – there's no one else here."
Akira stepped carefully, remembering to be cautious of the divide in the floor. After pulling off his mittens, he shoved them in a pocket. Feeling carefully, he found the control panel. He touched the numbers on the elevator, reading the uplifted dots. Feeling the "six," he pressed the corresponding button.
"Did you read the Braille?" Shindou asked, sounding curious.
"Yes. Numbers are easy to know," Akira said. "They're some of the first things I learned."
"Is it hard?"
"It's like memorizing joseki," Akira replied. "Once you detect the patterns, there's memory tricks that help."
"Would it work for kifu?" Shindou asked.
"Kifu?" There were many times that Akira had problems trying to follow Shindou's train of thought.
"You could set it up so that one raised bump means white, two means black. Then you place it on a variation of kifu paper – you could even have raised lines for the grid. It might be popular – there's a lot of old people who are losing their sight that love Go."
Akira had never thought about transforming kifu into something for the visually impaired. "That's an interesting idea," Akira said after a moment, but Shindou wasn't done throwing out ideas.
"You know, you could probably even get a special Go set made – engrave the stones with one and two bumps – that way you'd be able to play without having anyone else interfering. It wouldn't work for Institute play, but I think it'd help you if you need to tutor or just play with friends."
It would take someone like Shindou to propose modifying the structure of a game that was over a thousand years old. Shindou was always so unorthodox that he didn't realize how revolutionary his ideas were. "It might be something, but all of this is assuming that I play well enough to keep professional status," Akira replied.
"You're Touya Akira. Of course you're going to play well," Shindou scoffed at Akira's pessimism.
The way he said it unsettled Akira. He wondered if Shindou was intending to throw the game in an effort to "help."
"We'll see. We don't know what will happen until a game is played," Akira returned stiffly.
"Um, we should get off the elevator, Touya, or we're going to be late," Shindou said a second later.
They had been so busy talking that Akira hadn't notice the elevator stop, or the doors opening. He'd been concentrating on Shindou's voice, forgetting about their surroundings. He blushed furiously; not paying attention could lead him to serious problems.
But he trusted Shindou to make sure nothing happened to him.
They moved down a hallway, Akira leaning a bit more heavily on Shindou's arm than mere guidance required. His hand on the white cane was sweaty, and he felt that peculiar mix of terror and elation that overcame him before a game start to build in his stomach.
He wished he'd paid more attention those times he used to come here, because he couldn't perfectly recall the floor layout. There were several meeting rooms – the kind used for group sessions – on this floor, and he couldn't remember the one they'd be playing in.
Finally Shindou stopped. "We need to take our shoes off here," he said. "And jackets."
Akira nodded, and let go of Shindou's arm to shed his coat, which Shindou took seconds later, promising to hang it up. Bending down, he used his index finger to help slide his feet out of the shoes. Holding them in one hand, he waited for further direction.
"Give me your shoes too, and I'll take care of them." Shindou took them, and he heard a rustling sound as they were placed within a cubbyhole. "This way," Shindou said, putting a hand on Akira's elbow. There was a sound as a door slid open, and then Shindou was encouraging him to step into the room. He could feel the tatami under his sock-shod feet.
There were several people already present. The soft murmur of voices stopped, and Akira couldn't guess how many were there. Shindou guided him forward.
"Heya, Ochi! What are you doing here?" Shindou asked, sounding surprised.
"I volunteered," said Ochi, his voice sounding uptight. "Someone needs to place the stones for Touya-san."
"Thank you," Akira replied. He was surprised at the younger boy's presence. He had thought Ochi detested him after the incident with pro exam tutoring.
"Don't thank me," Ochi answered. "I'm being selfish. I need to beat both you and Shindou, because I'm going to be the best. If you can't play, that is limiting to me." Akira imagined Ochi straightening his glasses.
"Touya 7-dan, Shindou 7-dan, if you would like to have a seat, we can get going with the explanations," a feminine voice said from the side.
"You can sit right where you are," Shindou murmured softly into his ear. "The board's to your left, but Ochi is gonna need to sit in front. I'll be on the other side."
He nodded, sliding into seiza, placing his cane against his right side. There was a shuffle of motion, and everyone claimed their positions.
"Let's get started," the female voice said.
Takuchi Dani was the official the Institute had designated to oversee this match. Akira couldn't recall meeting her before, but he liked her voice. It was a pleasant alto, and she spoke carefully, each of her words enunciated without slurring.
"The game's going to be played under the supervision of another pro," Takuchi said. "For this game, Ochi Kousuke 4-dan will place Touya 7-dan's stones, and control the timer for him. Since this is the first match to be played in this fashion, a number of Institute officials have requested to oversee the game, to which both Shindou 7-dan and Touya 7-dan have agreed.
"To nigiri, Touya 7-san will state "one" or "two" after Shindou 7-dan has drawn his stones. Ochi 4-dan will state the coordinates of any move Shindou makes aloud. Are there any questions?"
Akira shook his head, and assumed Shindou did the same because seconds later there was the sound of stones moving as Shindou drew to nigiri.
"One," he said. He won black.
He had played his father for weeks using the modified rules, but he knew this would be different. This was official competition, and would reflect on his record. It wasn't a private game, where the outcome would be hidden. This was for real.
He shut his eyelids, pretending he was playing in another of those games against his father, where he sought only to take another step toward the Hand of God. This was something he could do; he was a Go player, and his fighting spirit would not allow him to back away from the challenge.
"16-16," Akira said, and second later a stone made a soft, distinctive sound as Ochi played the hand.
A second later, another click followed as Shindou played. "4-5," Ochi announced.
"16-14," Akira replied swiftly.
There was a longer pause this time, but Shindou finally placed a stone, which Ochi announced as, "4-17."
"4-15," Akira replied after a moment's thought.
Shindou was quick to reply, and they fell into a rhythm. It was strange to be using Ochi as his conduit, but as the game progressed, Akira let himself be lost in the battle for territory.
They played fiercely, not ceding anything to their opponent. Akira could tell that he had lost ground in their race against each other; Shindou had continued to play competitively against other pros. His game was sharper now, and Akira found himself fighting – and losing the battle.
He was proud that he managed to bring the match into yose – the part of the game where Shindou was weakest – but he did not manage to wring any additional moku from it. When they were done, Akira imagined the board, and knew that he had lost by two moku, even before Ochi announced the result.
"Thank you for the game," Shindou murmured. Shindou had not treated him gently. Shindou had not accommodated for Akira's blindness. Instead, he'd cold-heartedly gone after what the win, not caring what others thought. Only Shindou could do such a thing. Only Shindou dared to bait the dragon inside of Akira.
"Thank you for the game," Akira echoed. Akira felt tears running down his cheeks, but made no motion to brush them aside. He wasn't crying out of sorrow, but out of relief.
He could still play. It might have been more a challenge for him than most professionals, but Touya had always had the courage to take the difficult route. The path to the Hand of God might be harder, but there was still a road Akira could take.
It took a while to get through the final formalities. Shindou did his best to rush things along, but officials had questions for them that needed to be addressed. It had been a good game for both players, and Akira was convinced that he would be allowed to continue in his pro career. It might take a while to sell everyone on the new methodology, but if most players responded like Ochi – unwilling to let Akira's Go fade just because he couldn't place his own stones – it would work.
"Would you like to come over to my house, and discuss the game with me?" Shindou asked, after the officials declared themselves satisfied with the players' responses.
Akira was surprised by the invitation. He had only been to Shindou's house once, when Shindou's parents had thrown a party for his sixteenth birthday. "I guess?" he said uncertainly. "How will we get there?"
"We can get a cab," Shindou said.
"Do you know how much that would cost?" Akira asked. Shindou's house was a ward past where the Institute was. Taking a taxi would be pricey.
"I can spare it," Shindou said testily.
"We can take the subway, Shindou," Akira replied. "Just let me call my mother, and we can go." He stepped out into the hallway, following the lead of his white cane as he left the still-conferring officials behind.
His mother sounded dubious when he told her of his plans. "If you wait half an hour, I can come to drive you both there," she volunteered.
"Mother, it will be fine," Akira said. "Shindou will make sure I get there, and I'll call for a ride when I'm ready to leave."
"Tell her my mother will serve us dinner, and my dad should be able to give you a ride home," Shindou said.
Akira relayed the message faithfully, then bid her goodbye. He knew she wanted to make more objections, but he was running off the rush of adrenaline the game had given him. He didn't want to go home to his quiet house; he wanted to continue to feel vital and involved. "Are you ready to leave?" he asked Shindou.
Shindou retrieved their coats and shoes, helping Akira into his. "Do you want my arm?" he offered.
"That would be nice," Akira agreed as he slid his mittens back on. A moment later he felt Shindou's arm in front of him, which he took gladly. It was easier than messing with his cane, and he had less fear of bumping into something.
They managed to make it downstairs without incident. The lobby hushed as they walked through, a kind of reverent silence that Akira appreciated. Just as they were about to hit the door, someone called after them.
"Yo, Touya! You'd better be ready for next week, because I'm going to kick your ass," a cheerful, somewhat mocking voice called. He recognized it, and understood the inherent acceptance that motivated the speaker.
"In your dreams, Waya," he retorted, a smile curving his lips. He heard Shindou's laughter and the playful jeering of Waya's comrades. There were other players that wanted to play him. It was exciting to recognize that he couldn't wait to play them, either. He wanted to play those real matches, in the never-ending pursuit of the perfect move.
As they stepped outside, the cold struck him like a fist. He shivered, pulling a bit closer to Shindou. "Is it dark out yet?" he asked.
"Getting there. It's almost 5:30," Shindou answered. "Mom said a warm snap's supposed to come through tomorrow."
"Doesn't help us much now," Akira replied, his teeth chattering.
"Well, I just keep thinking that spring will be here in two months," Shindou replied. "I'm going to take some driver's courses, I think."
"Owning a car is very expensive," Akira replied. The idea of Shindou with a license to operate a two-ton vehicle of metal was enough to make him shudder. On second thought, he had to admit that no one could be worse behind a wheel than Ogata. Or that bastard who had hit him... Mentally Akira shook the thought loose, returning his attention to the conversation. "I'm sorry, I missed that?"
"I said it is, but it'll be easier," Shindou answered. "In the long run, that is."
"Do you plan on doing a lot of driving?" Akira asked.
"Definitely," Shindou replied. "Careful, there's stairs here," Shindou warned.
"Stand on my other side so I can hold the railing," Akira ordered.
Stairs were a nightmare, but he wasn't going to let himself be conquered by them. They made their way down slowly, and Akira gained an appreciation for Shindou's patience. He was so used to watching Shindou bounce around like a hyperactive cricket that his care was something surprising, yet appreciated.
Others weren't as considerate. Tokyo was a city of crowds, and they were about to enter the rush hour commute. He could feel the press of the people around him, and wished he hadn't been so stubborn to decline his mother's ride. He was surrounded by hundreds of strangers, each representing a variable he couldn't control. He could hear them, but couldn't see them, and he couldn't trust them to not bump into him, not to separate him from Shindou.
He tried to keep from panicking.
Shindou must have sensed Akira's unease. "Take my hand," he murmured. He pulled his arm away swiftly, but before Akira could feel its absence, Shindou's hand was wrapping around his. Shindou slyly pushed the top of Akira's glove back, so their fingers could touch. "I won't let anything happen to you," he promised.
They stood together, their fingers linked. They probably made a strange spectacle, but they managed to pay for their seats and get onto the next train fairly quickly. Shindou maintained a tight grip on Akira's hand the entire time, and though Akira was still terrified, he was calmer.
Shindou was eerily quiet, but Akira had his own thoughts to consider. They managed to claim seats, nearly unheard of during the rush. Maybe a bit of Shindou's good luck was rubbing off on him. Heaven knew that his own luck wasn't much to rely on.
They sat closely together, their sides touching as their joined hands rested on Akira's left knee. The ride took 40 minutes, and they didn't say anything to each other. Akira spent the time listening to what was going on around him, mentally promising himself that he wouldn't let his stupid pride get in the way of his common sense again.
Finally the train stopped for what seemed like the twentieth time. The car was less crowded by then, as salarymen and students had gradually vacated it. "We're going to get up; our stop's next," Shindou announced. He rose to his feet, and then helped Akira to stand.
It was less stressful than their entry into the system had been. Leaving was quicker, and they managed to hit street level within minutes. Shindou kept a hold of his hand, and Akira didn't object. They were walking in Shindou's neighborhood, not his. He didn't care what the onlookers thought.
"It's dark now," Shindou said. "I can barely see anything."
"It's always dark for me," Akira murmured more to himself than to his companion.
"I'm sorry," Shindou replied. "I wish..."
"Wishing doesn't get us anywhere," Akira replied. "The only thing that helps is acceptance."
"Maybe, but we can decide what we accept and what we don't," Shindou replied. "We're turning right here," and the gentle tug on Akira's hand led him.
"Are you saying I shouldn't accept my blindness?" Akira asked incredulously.
"No, hardly," Shindou said. "There's a lot of things in this world we can't change. But we can decide how we deal with it – are we going to accept the limits of everyone who has come before, or are we going to test those boundaries? Another right. Anyway, you're blind, you have to deal with it. But you don't have to accept what they, whoever in heck they are, tell you you can do."
It was as close to a motivational speech as anyone dared to give Akira. He opened his mouth to say something, then thought better of it. Shindou wasn't trying to be obnoxious; he honestly believed what he was saying.
"Whatever, Shindou," Touya murmured to himself.
The rest of the walk didn't take that long, and within minutes they were inside Shindou's home, taking off their winter gear. Shindou's mother was very kind, welcoming them. He was ashamed to say he couldn't recall what she looked like. "I hope you like sukiyaki, because that's what we're having tonight. It'll be another hour or so – I wasn't expecting you until about eight."
"That's fine, Touya and I will discuss the game," Shindou replied. He paused for a long second, waiting, and then sighed. "C'mon, Touya – my room's at the top of the stairs."
Climbing this set of stairs was better, even in his slippered feet, because he could brace himself against the railing, as Shindou followed. Then Shindou led Akira to his room, shutting the door behind them with a resounding click. Akira's attuned ears noticed a second click, the sign of a lock being thrown.
"The bed's right in front of you, feel free to have a seat," Shindou said. Akira, wondering about the tenseness in Shindou's voice, obligingly took the proffered seat.
"What's wrong?" Shindou demanded in a curiously flat voice.
"Nothing," Akira replied.
"Like hell. Something's bothering you. You barely acknowledged my mother, which isn't like you, Mr. Manners. You also barely said anything on the train, and you were snapping at me on the way here. What's bothering you? You can tell me, Touya," Shindou said.
"It shouldn't feel like such a challenge to take a subway," Akira said in frustration. "I clearly can't handle public transportation on my own, and no one sane is going to be able to help me around whenever I want to go someplace."
"I would," Shindou replied. "Call me crazy."
"Shindou..." He just shook his head, unable to voice his thoughts.
"Don't you get it, Akira? It's not just about you – it's about us! You're my rival, and damned if I'm going to see you left behind." Shindou spoke fiercely, the way he did whenever Shusaku's honor arose. There was a rustling sound, and the bed creaked as Shindou sat down beside Akira. "You're stuck with me, like it or not, because I'll be damned if I let you throw me off."
"Thank you," Akira said, wondering why Shindou's vow of loyalty didn't make him feel incensed. Instead, he felt relieved, like another one of the uncertainties of his life was being answered. "Can I touch your face again?"
"Sure," Shindou agreed.
Akira reached his hand out toward Shindou, moving slowly to avoid poking him in the eye. His fingers brushed against Shindou's cheeks, over his shut eyelashes, across his forehead. The features felt the same, but the six months since the accident would have wrought subtle differences to the eye.
I will never see what he looks like again, Akira realized. In my mind, he will always look eighteen.
"Have you kept dyeing your hair?" Akira asked, trying to cover for his prologued silence. He dragged his fingers along Shindou's jawbone.
"Yeah, still the bleached bangs. Mom's trying to convince me to stop so I look more professional, but I don't think I want to."
"You shouldn't," Akira replied. "You should keep them blond, I mean." He found himself blushing. "Are you wearing one of your "5" shirts today?"
"That sounds almost like you're hitting on me," Shindou said in a slightly breathless tone of voice. "No, not today – I wore a dress shirt for our match."
"Maybe I am," Touya replied, and his touch stilled whatever Shindou might have said by traveling to Shindou's mouth. Shindou's breath caught, but he held still as Akira traced fingers over his lips. Then Akira leaned forward, pressing a gentle kiss. Shindou responded a second later, reaching out and pulling Akira into an embrace.
Suddenly Akira was convinced he wasn't alone. He had a vision of the future, as intense as a prophecy. He and Shindou would pursue the road - both to the Hand of God and through life itself - together. He couldn't think of anything he wanted more.
They kissed for a long time, and Akira reveled in the sensation of warmth and acceptance. He must have been blind even before the accident, to not realize what was right in front of him. After a while, they finally had to pull apart to catch their breath.
He smiled, and let himself run his fingers over Shindou's face. Shindou leaned his cheek into Akira's touch.
"Akira?" Shindou said, and Akira could hear the unvoiced question.
"Hikaru," he answered, trying to keep his voice from shaking, "I don't need sight to see you."