They're popular on the exhibition circuit. Touya puts together nineteen squared perfection, Shindou punches haphazard but strangely effective holes in it, someone (usually Ashiwara, the dorama-addicted showboat) emcees in a giddy rush of breathless embellishment and the crowd pants like it's watching porn. Then somehow each bout descends without fail into schoolyard violence, minus the skinned knees and pulled pigtails, and Shindou's just waiting for the day someone cops a goke in the nose. It's no wonder they keep getting asked back for more.
Shindou doesn't mind a bit. The money's good and the attention's fun, but in the end it's the company he enjoys best. He likes watching the emphatic decision of Touya's familiar fingers and seeing the sheen of sweat spread across his bowed, absorbed face beneath the hot stage lights. Sometimes Shindou has to smack himself over the thigh to keep from brushing the damp swing of hair from Touya's cheeks, and luckily the bite of his fan's bamboo staves is still sufficient to remind him where he is and where his attention should lie, because Touya would probably sock him with something much harder than a go stone if Shindou embarrassed him like that in public. Their cat and dog show is one thing, a much-loved spectacle that brings them even greater fame than their prodigious ability at go, but some things are still private. Besides, Touya considers inattention during a match a personal affront, and Shindou knows what's good for him.
That's partly why they take the train back home, because Shindou doesn't know how to drive and Touya sucks. Waya always mocks them and says their combined lack of motoring skills demonstrates a sad lack of testosterone, but Shindou's always liked riding on trains with Touya; it reminds him of the day Touya first took his hand and dragged him through the rain back to his dad's go salon.
There's no rain today, just a bitter winter chill that gnaws at Shindou's bones; he's been sitting seiza all day and well into the evening. The carriage is crowded with shivering, cranky passengers – the heating must be out – but two small boys smile at them shyly and offer their seats. Shindou grins at them, and at their proud parents - they might be fans, but more likely they're just in awe of Touya's stately presence - then herds Touya into the seat next to the window. The train rocks and clatters over its rails, making its passengers lurch against one another with resigned smiles and apologies, but Touya sits down in an unhurried manner, settling the folds of his kimono about himself calmly and ignoring Shindou's growls of impatience.
The edge of the seat starts biting into his ass as he waits half an eternity for Touya to arrange himself, and Shindou says finally, "Come on, budge up." He toes insistently at Touya's zori until Touya shifts over with an exasperated humph, and Shindou crows inside at this undeniable proof that he can still drive Touya mad. The break in Touya's composure is momentary – they're not playing go, after all, so he's on his dignity – but Shindou considers it a win.
Boyish giggling snares his attention, and he looks down the aisle to find the two otherwise well-behaved kids engaged in a rowdy bout of jan-ken-pon as they stumble between the braced legs of their fellow passengers. One of the boys chooses stone, over and over, his clenched fist pumping defiantly, and his brother is almost doubled up with laughter over this dogged approach to the game. Rather than meeting the barrage of stones with a ream of paper, he starts making up increasingly absurd hand gestures in response, and Shindou watches in appreciation, thinking, trombone? Ramen cup? Beckoning cat? He snorts at one particularly obscene and unmistakable gesture, and joins the boys in a groan of disappointment when their mother stops the game with a sharp word.
"How old are you again?" asks Touya in a tone of seemingly polite interest.
Shindou grins. "Same as you. Twelve forever."
Touya humphs again, and Shindou wishes he could see Touya's grumpy face, his raised brow. He's so accustomed to facing Touya across a goban that sitting beside him still feels a little unsettling sometimes. Their legs press together, warm and clumsy, and Shindou swallows hard as he scrubs his right hand over his thigh. His shirt cuff looks slightly frayed – from negligence, not poverty, and Touya has probably been biting his lip all day not to mention it – and his fingers are chapped from the cold, restless without a stone to hold. He can feel a stripe of bruised skin through his trousers.
"Stop that," says Touya, his voice so like the mother's admonishment that Shindou laughs out loud. "You'll ruin the crease in your pants."
"I think the crease disappeared a good twelve hours and who knows how many games ago," says Shindou. The train rattles around a curve, and Shindou's body strains against Touya's, then rights itself with a jerk as the train returns to the straight. The neon lights of Tokyo are a blur behind Touya's breath on the window, and Shindou shivers. "My hands are cold."
"You shouldn't have forgotten your gloves," says Touya.
"Bah, gloves are for the weak," says Shindou, just to make Touya roll his eyes, even if he can't see it. His unquiet hand clenches into a fist, and then Touya's fingers close over his gently, capturing him, before drawing their clasped hands beneath a fold of his obi.
"And you're not weak," says Touya. Shindou's breath catches, and he feels, somewhere under the layers of brocade and warm cotton, the answering hitch of Touya's belly. Touya will not look at him, but Shindou can see the telltale spread of fog across the window; Touya is breathing fast.
"Just sore," Shindou says, because he doesn't keep secrets from Touya anymore. His hand turns in Touya's, settling into the dry comfort of Touya's palm. "It was a long day."
"Is it bad tonight?" Touya asks softly.
"Not that bad," Shindou says, because sore or not, he's always up for another game.
"Shindou," Touya starts, and then stops with a sigh, his head dropping back against the seat.
Shindou leans back also, and follows the line of Touya's absent gaze. There's an Asience shampoo ad plastered above their window, and Shindou's surprised. "I didn't realise they even made that brand anymore," he says. His nose fills with the memory of eucalyptus.
"Why should you?" says Touya acerbically.
"You having a go at me?" Shindou teases, nudging at Touya with his shoulder.
"You certainly didn't have to shave it all off. Just because one of your students said you were beginning to resemble Kuwabara sensei..."
"As if," says Shindou, shuddering. He looks about anxiously; if ever there's a ghost he doesn't need, it's the old Honinbo goat himself. "Besides, you've got more than enough hair for the both of us."
Touya humphs again, and since they're not on stage Shindou reaches with his free hand to tug at Touya's veil of crisp, white hair, then tucks it behind his ear. He stretches across Touya's lap and traces a grid of jerky lines through the cloud on the window; there's no need for nigiri, and Shindou simply pokes a defiant fingertip at 3-4 in the upper right. Touya's breath is warm against his cheek as he whispers, "For old time's sake, Shindou?"
"Who's old?" scoffs Shindou. "Just don't take three minutes for your first move though, huh, or we'll be at our station before we know it."
"I won't lose to you," Touya counters, and the game begins to soar just like the first time or the one hundred thousandth, except that they are all different, wonderful, and the other passengers can only watch as the train journeys on.