Hikaru came home much later that night than he usually did. Mitsuko was sitting up on the sofa waiting for him, debating whether or not it might be a good idea to purchase a mobile phone for her son.
"Hikaru!" she said, standing as he opened the door and closed it. He bent over, taking his shoes off.
"I'm home," he said in a lackluster voice.
"I was worried-you should call if you're going to be late."
Setting his shoes down, he straightened and she saw for the first time the scuffs on his face and rips in his shirt. "I got mugged on the way," he said.
Her hands flew to her face. "Are you hurt? What happened? Should I call the police? Let me get the band-aids-"
"Mom," he cut her off, "I'm fine. I'm just tired. I just want to go to bed, okay?"
She looked at him, at this son she sometimes felt she knew less than most mothers knew their sons. He was a man now, had somehow turned into one a long time ago without her noticing. She had to respect that. "You're sure you're all right? They didn't do anything to you, did they?"
"I'm fine," he said, but his smile was pained. "I just want this night to be over with." He started up the stairs.
"Call me if you need anything," she said.
He stopped halfway up and turned to look at her. There was something deep and mature in his eyes, and also something vulnerable, which frightened her. She wasn't used to Hikaru needing anything. "Thank you, Mom. Good night. I love you."
And with that, gentle words she hadn't heard from her son in years, he vanished. Mitsuko stood still as she heard the door to his room open and close. "Hikaru...?" she asked wonderingly.
Hikaru sat in his dark room, back against the closed door, and listened as his mother came up the stairs herself and went to bed. His hands were knotted tightly together to keep them from the throbbing pain in his neck. The high collar of his red plaid shirt had hidden the marks from her view. He doubted she'd've understood what they were anyway.
He'd been stupid. He'd spent three years haunted by a ghost and never, ever considered that Sai's existence meant that other things were possible too. Never considered that there might be big bad things out there like in a manga. Never considered that he might run into one of them-or they might run into him. Never considered...
Hot tears ran down his cheeks and dripped onto his ruined shirt. He tried to keep his rough breathing quiet, so that his mother wouldn't come and check on him. Hikaru silently shook. "Sai," he whispered to someone who was no longer there, "I'm scared."
by K. Stonham
first released 4 February 2006
Since his infamous forfeiture run shortly after becoming a pro, Shindou Hikaru hadn't missed a single game. Most Go players missed one or two occasionally due to the flu or a bad cold, but in all the time Touya Akira had known him, Shindou had never had a sniffle or even a toothache. He was ridiculously healthy.
So when his sudden absence was announced and explained, Akira was surprised. Shindou was sick? He'd been just fine the night before when they'd parted ways. They were supposed to have another match at the salon today, and while Shindou could be irresponsible, he was never flaky about Go these days. He would have called Akira...
With sudden irrational fury at Shindou's lack of thinking, Akira slaughtered his opponent. He was going to go see Shindou as soon as he was free, and find out how sick he really was.
When his mother knocked on his door and announced he had a visitor, Hikaru was sitting in his bed listlessly paging through a volume of Shuusaku's kifu. On a good day, any one of the games would have entranced him for hours.
Today was not a good day.
He expected Isumi or Waya to be his visitor. He did not expect Touya. For some reason he hadn't even thought Touya knew where he lived. He and Touya regarded one another as Hikaru's mother withdrew, murmuring an offer of tea and snacks to be brought up shortly.
Piercing cyan eyes glared at him. "You don't look sick." Touya draped the jacket he carried on a chair and crossed the room in three strides, laying the back of his hand on Hikaru's forehead. The glare intensified. "You don't feel sick."
Any other day, Hikaru would have responded to Touya. Today, he just turned to look out the window, letting the book slip from his hands.
"You threw a match, Shindou," Touya stated angrily, and, yes, that knowledge did hurt, but the gaping despair that swallowed Hikaru made it almost nothing. And Touya must have sensed that, because his tone suddenly softened. "What's wrong?"
Hikaru turned to look at Touya, who sat on the edge of his bed and looked at him, blue-green eyes now compassionate and confused.
None of the solutions that had been running around in Hikaru's head worked. He needed to let someone in-he couldn't stand this on his own. He knew his strength, and he knew he was not that strong.
He didn't know if Touya could believe him. He didn't know if their friendship and rivalry was strong enough to withstand what he wanted-needed-to say.
He hadn't even told Touya about Sai yet.
"We'll always play together, won't we?" he asked. He needed the promise.
"Of course." Touya looked puzzled.
"No matter what?" Hikaru pressed.
"Shindou, what's going on?"
Hikaru took a breath and let it out. He unbuttoned the high collar of his shirt and turned so that the angry red marks, half-healed puncture scars prominent, faced Touya. "I got... assaulted last night. On the way to the station."
Touya's eyes were wide, his hand halfway to the marks. "What?"
"Guy came out of nowhere, bit me..." Hikaru took a deep breath, shoved down his feeling of nausea. "I couldn't move." It felt good. The nausea bounced back up.
"Have you reported him to the police?"
"Touya, he had fangs," Hikaru said snarkily, upset and not trying to hide it. "He sucked my blood. As far as I'm aware the Tokyo police don't deal in vampires."
"Deal in... what?"
"Vampires." Touya continued to look blank. "Don't you read?"
"Apparently not the same things that you do."
Hikaru stared, then abruptly got out of bed and went to his bookcase. He thrust several manga at the other Go player. "Here. Enjoy."
Touya took the volumes, eyeing them like they were snakes. "Thank you. What are they?"
"They're about vampires, moron. Consider it research material."
"Research for what?"
Hikaru sat down on the floor, forehead on his knees. "Everything I've ever read about vampires agrees on this: if they make you drink their blood, you become one of them."
Touya looked slightly paler than usual. "The guy who assaulted you made you drink his blood?"
Hikaru looked back down at the floor. The feeling of mist and moonlight, the memory of hot, metal-salty liquid on his tongue... "Yes."
"That's... sick. You need to report him and get tested-"
"Touya," Hikaru cut him off, miserable and upset. Why couldn't it have been Waya or Isumi? Either of them would have at least known what a vampire was. "Read the damn manga."
By the time he finished skimming the manga, Akira was thoroughly confused as to what, exactly, Shindou was trying to tell him. He hadn't thought that getting assaulted-even by the type of pervert who bit people and made them drink blood-would shake Shindou so badly. His eyes drifted to Shindou's throat. The marks were hidden again, the shirt collar hastily buttoned up when his mother had come in bearing the promised tray of snacks.
A tray that Shindou hadn't touched. He'd poured himself a cup of juice to go with Akira's and not touched it. He just sat there, gazing off into space, the fingers of his left hand brushing the cover of the book he'd been reading when Akira came in.
"Shindou," he said, catching the other's attention. He hefted the volume in his hand. "You can't really believe this."
Shindou's smile was small and knowing. "You've never had anything happen to you, have you, Touya?" he asked softly.
Only you, Akira wanted to reply but didn't. "You're saying you have?"
The smile sharpened. "Oh yeah. It scared the crap out of me at first, but I got used to it pretty quick. Eventually he disappeared, though." His fingertips caressed the cover of his book. His smile turned sad. "I still wish he hadn't."
Akira had the feeling he was on the verge of finally figuring out Shindou's great secret. He could almost taste the question formulating in his mouth: Who- But he let it die. Shindou had promised to tell him someday and he had decided to respect that promise.
"You really think this is real?" Akira asked, knowing the answer but needing confirmation.
Shindou was many things, but he was neither stupid nor a willful liar. "I know it is," he said, nodding.
"You're really going to turn into one of those vampires?"
"I think so, yeah."
There were many responses to that, few of them socially correct. Fortunately the one that floated to the surface of Akira's mind was "What about Go?"
"Most everything says vampires don't get along with sunlight. Figuring out how to get to and from the Institute may be tricky." Shindou's hands clenched into fists. "I'm not giving up, though."
"What about-" Akira looked back at the cover of one manga, at the bloodstained mouth of the antagonist. "What about the blood?"
Shindou looked down. "I haven't figured that part out yet." One hand crept to his collar. "I'm not going out and attacking strangers, though."
Akira looked at his own hands and thought about the bite of the needle when a doctor drew blood. Shindou's neck had looked mauled, though. "Did it hurt a lot?"
"At first," Hikaru said, remembering sharp pain and paralysis. "Then it got kind of numb and hot at the same time. Then..." His voice trailed off.
"Then?" Touya prompted.
"Then I stopped caring." Hikaru didn't want to remember how good it had become, how he'd stood there for a few minutes or a few eternities letting some freaky mugger guy suck his blood because the way it made him feel was better than anything, better than release, maybe even better than Go... "I, ah..."
Touya glanced at one of the manga. "Like that, huh?" he asked softly. It could have been a rhetorical question. Hikaru chose to take it as one, turning his face away and not answering. "How much did he take?"
"Dunno." How did you tell how much blood you'd lost? "I could walk home okay, so maybe not too much."
"Hmm." Touya looked up, and Hikaru saw speculative thought in his face. "Shindou, why are you telling me this?"
"Because you know me better than anyone," Hikaru answered. He took a breath, feeling the cold fear that he'd been trying so hard to master since the night before. "And because if anything happens, there should be someone who knows." He smiled, but it was bitter. "Vampires are supposed to be killed by stakes through the heart, or sunshine, or lopping off their heads and burning the body."
Touya's eyes were wide now, horrified. "Shindou-"
"I suppose there might be other methods too. It's all Western stuff. I wonder if a priest or an onmyouji might work?" Hikaru mused. His eyes met Touya's again. "If I turn into a monster, I'd rather be dead." He smiled again, but felt calmer now. "After all, it's not like dead's the end. I can personally guarantee that."
"You can't expect me to kill you."
"I expect you to do whatever's necessary," Hikaru replied, harsher. "Do you really think Waya or Isumi-san would believe me about this?"
He held Touya's eyes for a minute before the other conceded, reluctantly, "No."
It took three days for Hikaru to die.
He felt it coming, and wanted to rebel, but couldn't. There was no place to run, nowhere to hide, and nothing to fight but his body itself. The "sick" excuse held good for the fact that he had no appetite. The liquids he ingested under his mother's watchful eye were barely held down until she left the room and he could throw them up. Only water would stay down, and not very much of that. Everything started tasting nasty in short order.
He didn't hurt, but it became hard to breathe. Moving from his bed to sit across his Go board from Touya wiped Hikaru out. The game was a balm-even though he found it hard to concentrate on whatever Touya was telling him had happened at the Institute that day, the game itself still absorbed him and stopped the world from sliding out of focus.
He spent the nights after Touya left gazing out of the window at the moon, falling in and out of short naps, wondering if he'd been fair or even right to put this on Touya's shoulders. Maybe he shouldn't have. Maybe he should have let Touya, too, think he was just down with the flu.
Maybes didn't change things and it was too late now to go back.
And maybe he was only dying for real, and wouldn't come back...
Hikaru curled around his fear, cold, and didn't try to deny that tears were leaking into his pillow.
Shindou lay on his bed, eyes closed, as they played a game of mental Go, mapping the board in their minds alone. It had taken fifteen minutes the day before for Shindou to recover from the three-foot journey between bed and Go board; today he hadn't even tried.
"If I don't come back, mind if I haunt you?" Even like this, Shindou retained his sense of humor.
"As long as we play Go."
"Of course. 10-3."
Akira visualized the move, noted its significance, and decided to ignore its threat in favor of consolidating more territory. "9-7."
"Aa." Shindou thought for a moment. "Touya. In case I don't come back. Sai-"
"Don't tell me," Akira bit out. He closed his eyes against the sudden heat behind them. His throat felt tight. "You're going to come back, one way or another. Tell me then. Whenever you're ready. Not just because-" His voice broke.
Shindou was quiet for a moment. "All right. When things are normal again."
Things would never be normal again, Akira thought bitterly. No matter what happened.
Later that afternoon, Shindou died.
One moment it was afternoon, the next it was twilight. Hikaru blinked and wondered if he'd fallen asleep. He pushed himself up, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed, still a bit sore.
Touya sat against the wall by his desk, staring at Hikaru, eyes wide, mouth a little open.
"What?" Hikaru asked.
"You're alive," Touya said amazedly.
"Of course I'm-" The missing afternoon hit and Hikaru's eyes widened in comprehension. One hand crept over his heart, which beat a steady pulse. He felt cool, though. Like he'd spent a few hours lying dead, he realized, with no heartbeat to pump warming blood through his body. "I died, didn't I?"
Touya nodded and swallowed. "You seem to have come back."
"Someone had to keep your mother out."
How much courage must that have taken, Hikaru wondered, to stay in a room with the dead body of your friend, not knowing if you should call someone or if he really was going to come back as a monster? He read Touya's eyes, imagined the passing minutes and hours, the underlying fear, the emptiness, the not knowing...
"Thank you," Hikaru said quietly.
Touya nodded in response. "Do you feel any different?"
Hikaru took stock and considered. "Not really." He stretched. "Like I've been in bed too long, maybe."
Touya wasn't talking about water. "No," Hikaru answered honestly.
Hikaru smiled. "Ramen sounds good," he admitted. He frowned. "If it still tastes the same."
Ramen, unfortunately, did apparently not taste the same. Akira held his chopsticks still while Shindou muttered "I wonder if everything's going to be like this." Shindou looked up. "Oh, go ahead, eat," he admonished. "Just because my taste buds are whacked doesn't mean you should starve." He sighed and inhaled the steam rising from his bowl. "At least it still smells good."
"If you're sure," Akira replied, and resumed eating. "At least you're over your... flu."
"Yeah. Let's see if I can make my game tomorrow," Shindou replied.
"Did you have any thoughts on that?" It was like trying to talk in code where others could hear them.
"I can either leave before dawn, or see if I can make it like regular." Shindou smiled thinly. "If I'm not in tomorrow, it'll be because I tried to go later and couldn't."
"You're going to try it so soon?"
"I have to try it sooner or later. Better sooner so I can get on with my life." Shindou stared meditatively into his bowl. "Unlife," he whispered.
Akira's eyes narrowed. "At least you're still around to have one," he commented tightly.
Shindou twitched in reaction. "I know. Be grateful it didn't kill me all the way, right? Stupid mugger freak," he spat. Akira had to agree.
There was a long moment of silence at their table before Shindou gestured at Akira's bowl. "Eat up. I'm paying, after all."
Akira arrived even earlier than usual the next day, half-hoping Shindou had changed his mind and decided notto test his limits on his first day as a vampire.
The clock ticked onward for what seemed hours, mocking Akira's hopes of Shindou having sense for once in his life.
Five minutes before game time, he finally gave up and went to his seat, trying to calm himself and ready for the game. If sunlight had ended up being too dangerous after all, Shindou would have decided to stay home for one more day. Akira breathed and meditated, finding his center, ready to attack and respond.
One minute before game time, Shindou finally showed up, going to his own seat and squeaking in under the buzzer. Akira looked briefly at the back of his head and relaxed. Just Shindou and his accustomed tardiness. Then it was time for the game to start, and everything in the world vanished except Akira's opponent and the game between them.
The lunch buzzer snapped Hikaru out of his game and he breathed in relief, stretching slightly. He'd been having difficulty staying in his game zone all morning. Unfortunately, now that he was out of it, there was nothing to distract him from the pain.
The 4-Dan he'd been playing against-very traditional moves, but good at avoiding baited traps-nodded politely to him and went off to lunch. Hikaru glanced over the board, counting up where he had territory, what he could do in the next few moves.
Hikaru yelped in surprise as Waya's hand slapped down on his shoulder.
"Welcome back," his friend said, grinning.
"Thanks," Hikaru said, with a grin of his own. "The flu sucks."
"Don't have to tell me."
Isumi examined Hikaru's face. "If I didn't know you better, Shindou, I'd say you spent your time at the beach and forgot sunblock," he teased.
Hikaru winced. "That bad, huh?" The way his skin had started burning on the way to the game this morning had clued him in that he definitely didn't belong out in sunlight. It probably hadn't even been ten minutes' exposure between his house and the subway, the subway and the Institute. "My bed's right next to the window," he improvised. "I think I spent most of the last few days asleep."
Waya nodded. "Want to go out to lunch today? Ramen," he wheedled.
Hikaru shook his head. "My stomach's still not back to normal. I'll take a rain check, guys."
"Sure. See you after lunch, then." Waya sauntered off with a half-wave and Isumi, with a polite nod, followed after.
Hikaru let out a sigh and wondered how long he could continue to dodge meals with his friends-he had the very definite feeling that regular food was out of the window from now on. Maybe he could pretend to be like Touya, develop an interest in not eating during lunch break? Or just go along for the company, nurse a soda and hope no one noticed he didn't actually drink from it?
"You cut it close this morning," Touya observed from behind him.
"I overslept," Hikaru said sheepishly. Touya nodded and just looked at him. "Does it really look that bad?"
"You look like a lobster," Touya said frankly. "Sunlight?"
Hikaru nodded and looked down at the Go board. "I'm thinking maybe if I use sunblock it'll help. And sunglasses," he added with a wince, remembering how too-bright the sunlight had seemed.
Touya sat down next to him. "Did you look in the mirror this morning?"
Hikaru nodded, mouth compressed into a tight line. "Nothing," he replied.
Touya was quiet. There was not much you could answer to that, Hikaru guessed. "How's your game going?" he asked, wanting to get away from the subject.
"Well enough. Yoshiwara-san is a bit sloppy in her defense."
"Tell me about it."
When their group came back from lunch, Shindou was still in the same spot he'd been when they left, talking animatedly with Touya Akira. Even if his appetite was still gone, at least his enthusiasm level was high, Isumi Shinichirou noted. The room had seemed quieter the few days Shindou had been out. Well, it hadbeen quieter, but it had also been lacking the subtle energy he generated.
His sunburn was already starting to fade, which was good.
Shindou greeted their return with a wave and an unspoken invitation to join his and Touya's conversation. The three of them-Shinichirou, Waya, and Ochi-drifted closer. It turned out that Touya and Shindou were discussing the styles of their opponents, neither of whom Isumi had played yet. He listened, taking note of everyone's opinions on their playing styles against the time when it might be useful. Soon enough the conversation expanded to include all of their opponents. It could have been a scene out of any day of their professional lives.
His stomach twisted as Hikaru stood to go record his win the next game day. He shoved the gnawing discomfort to the back of his consciousness as something to be dealt with later, not now and certainly not here. He added the days up as he crossed the room. Three days since he'd become a vampire, three more before that since he'd had real food... people fasted for a lot longer than a week, didn't they? And it wasn't like he'd been trying not to eat... he just hadn't figured out a good place to get blood yet. The idea of robbing a blood bank was laughable. He wouldn't know where to begin planning. Besides, didn't they mix stuff in with the blood to make it last? He wasn't sure how well his body would handle the stuff, whatever it was. He'd already decided there was no way he was going to be like the dickweed jerkwad who'd done this to him, so drinking from people was right out. That narrowed him down to animals. Fur aside, cats and dogs he'd eliminated because he likedcats and dogs. So far his best thought had been to find someplace that had cows or horses and to take things from there. He was still working on how to avoid getting caught.
He marked the triangle above his name to record the win, and straightened.
Blood rushed through his ears, deafening. The room temperature seemed to drop twenty degrees. Hikaru had only felt this way once before in his life.
Sai? he thought incredulously, turning around. But before he saw the ghost, the world went black and Hikaru felt the weightless sensation of falling.
Shindou just couldn't do anything quietly. Case in point: collapsing in the game room instead of out in the hall, distracting three-quarters of the players from their game. Four or five die-hard jerks didn't even look up, though, too absorbed in their games to notice the way Waya Yoshitaka's friend fell as though pole-axed. He mentally sneered at them as he went to help. Hell, even Touya Akira, who Yoshitaka still thought was a stuck-up jerk even if he and Shindou did get along, half-rose from his seat.
Between them Yoshitaka and Kuwabara-san (the 3-Dan Shindou had been playing, no relation to Kuwabara Honinbou) managed to get Shindou out of the room and ensconced in a small office, lying down on a sofa. Apologetically, Kuwabara left-he had no reason to stay. Yoshitaka hesitated, torn-this was his friend, but in there was his game and he didn't want to forfeit.
"I'll stay with him," a voice said from right behind him, making Yoshitaka jump.
Touya Akira regarded him with cool eyes. He'd snuck up quietly as a cat.
"Don't you have a game?" Yoshitaka asked.
"My opponent resigned," Touya responded. "Don't you?"
Yoshitaka looked toward the door again, torn.
"Go," said Touya. "I'll stay with him."
Nodding, Yoshitaka stepped toward the door.
Shindou wouldn't want him to lose.
Akira sighed and closed the door after Shindou's friend. He turned and regarded the unconscious teenager on the sofa, and closed his mouth on the snarky comments he wanted to make on stupid Go players who couldn't take care of themselves and interrupted everyone's games with their melodramatic antics.
After all, it would be so much more satisfying to unleash his anger on a conscious Shindou.
So he sat down on a chair and settled in to wait.
Fortunately, his waiting was short.
Hikaru woke with a pounding headache.
"You are an idiot, you know," the voice of his closest friend reassured him. Hikaru winced and clutched his head. "Aspirin?" Touya asked.
"I don't think I can have them," he answered, remembering how bad they'd tasted on the way back up when his mother had made him take a couple.
Silence, and a sigh. The world outside of his eyelids dimmed slightly and he heard the faint squeak-rattle of blinds being closed. "Better?" Touya asked.
Hikaru cracked an eyelid. It still seemed very bright in the room, but he'd already figured out that his eyes were more sensitive than they used to be. "Some. Thanks." He levered himself up, still pressing one hand to the side of his head. Dah-dum, dah-dum.
"So," Touya said conversationally, taking a seat in a chair that faced Hikaru, "are you going to tell me why you passed out in the game room, or am I going to have to guess?"
"Don't," Hikaru bit out, angry. "You've got no right to lecture me when you don't have a clue-"
"Don't I?" Touya demanded. "If I remember correctly, I was the one staying with you when you were sick and... dead." His raised voice dropped down to a whisper on that last word and it seemed to sober his anger.
It sobered Hikaru's too, and he looked away. "Sorry," he mumbled.
"Mm." Another quiet sigh. "You haven't been eating, have you?"
"I'm not exactly high on choices," Hikaru pointed out. "I'm working on it."
"And passing out."
"I wasn't planning on that."
Touya actually cracked a smile. "No, I don't imagine you were."
"What're you doing in here?" Hikaru asked. "You were still playing, weren't you?"
"He resigned two moves after your collapse."
"Oh." Hikaru closed his eyes and concentrated on slowing down his breathing, relaxing his shoulders and back. It would make the headache go away faster. Akira's chair squeaked, and he heard the shh-thock of the door being latched. "Thanks," he said quietly.
"Have you ever been really scared?" Akira asked.
"Yes," Hikaru replied honestly. "Scared of dying."
"Then you'll know how I'm feeling right now."
Hikaru opened his eyes to see that Touya had unbuttoned his shirt halfway, the collar flicked neatly open to expose his neck.
Part of Hikaru wanted to be in shock and yell. Part wanted to flee the implicit offer. A very tiny part was glad Touya was making this easy on him. And a part of him just smiled wryly, understanding now what Touya had been setting up and spinning moves ahead into the future, trying to figure out how this was going to turn out.
"No," Hikaru said.
Akira was trying not to think, and it was only making him think faster. All the things that could go wrong... he could die from this. And he very much did not want to die. But neither did he want Shindou to die, and he very much did not see where his friend/rival was making any progress on the "eating" part of his condition. And he told him so.
"I'm working on it," Shindou replied. "I was thinking... animals. Cows or something."
"Shindou," Akira said with a feeling of solid dubiousity, "we live in a major metropolitan center. There are no cows within fifty kilometers of here."
Shindou crossed his arms. "There are trains. And buses."
If Shindou was going to be stubborn, so was he. "Right. And once you manage to find a cow, what are you going to do with it?"
"I haven't gotten that far yet," Shindou muttered, which Akira could only regard as bad planning on his part.
"You can see twenty moves ahead on a Go board and you trip over your own feet when trying to get a meal," he informed his counterpart. Angering Shindou was easy. Pushing him to move the way Akira wanted... that was harder. Not that a very large portion of himself actually wanted Shindou drinking his blood, but... "Shindou, you need to eat."
"Not from people!" Shindou refused. He met Akira's eyes. "Not from you."
"Have you thought of the fact," Akira said softly, and he was afraid, so afraid, that this would work, but even more scared that it wouldn't and he'd end up watching Shindou Hikaru die again, "that there is a difference between what is taken and what is freely offered?"
Shindou closed his eyes and exhaled. "I know there is," he answered. His eyes opened and in the darkened room they were the gray of smoke. "That's not the point."
"Then what is?"
"If I can stop."
"Shindou," Touya said quietly, "you can stop." And there was such serene surety in his voice that Hikaru wanted to hit him on general principles.
"You don't know that!" Hikaru denied. "I don't know that! If I screw up-"
"Then I die," Touya said, and though his voice shook just a little, his eyes were calm.
It shook Hikaru, how much trust Touya had in him. If their positions were reversed, would he be doing the same? He thought about it, about how he'd altered his whole life chasing after Touya. "I can't do it," he said helplessly, and Touya's eyes hardened a little. "I can't let you die."
"Then don't," Touya said, and took a step toward him.
Hikaru knew when he'd lost.
"I don't even know how to do this," Shindou muttered, eyeing Akira's neck.
"Then what were you going to do with the cow?" Akira couldn't resist ribbing him. Inside, though, he felt cold. This was really happening. He'd offered his blood to a vampire, which everything he'd read online agreed was a Really Bad Idea.
"Wing it," Shindou replied cheekily. He smiled at Akira, but it was nervous. "Like this."
"What did the guy who attacked you do?"
It was like a brick wall had slammed down between them and Akira kicked himself for bringing up the memory.
Still, Shindou did seem to take something from it, pacing around so he was behind Akira, fingers parting Akira's hair, brushing it aside. "Like this," Shindou said softly by his throat, and Akira fought to resist shuddering. It was all ice through him now, the fear. "Don't," Shindou said. "Don't be afraid." He laughed, but it sounded nervous. "It's making me even more afraid."
"Sorry," Akira apologized, and found to his horror that his voice was trembling. "I can't seem to help it."
Shindou pushed gently and Akira followed. They ended up sitting back on the sofa, Shindou still behind him.
"Just do it."
"You sound like a Nike ad." Still, Shindou put lips to his neck. They were warm, and he could feel Shindou breathing behind him, chest rising and falling in an even rhythm. It helped calm Akira some. Then Shindou bit and there was pain, like a doctor putting the needle in wrong and wiggling it about, trying to find a vein, only a thousand times worse. It was teeth, and no matter how sharp they were, Akira would've preferred a needle-
Then, slowly, the pain began to recede beneath the pounding of his blood and the heat of Shindou's mouth, like a kiss-
And the heat spangled off, reflecting, refracting, into warm melting pleasure and suddenly he understood Shindou's obscure references to what he'd felt because it felt good, so good, and Shindou could keep drinking forever if this was what it was like... wave after wave of pleasure and relaxation, like that instant after release where one floated free of life and gravity. No rules, no restrictions, only being and breath.
And mercifully it did go on for forever, until it slowly eased away and Akira felt Shindou's mouth on his neck again, a tongue gently lapping, and then, finally, cessation.
It shocked him, where he'd just gone. That Shindou could have taken him there. That he wanted to go again. His hands were trembling.
Shindou's breath by his ear was soft and low. He wondered if the other Go player, too, couldn't think of anything to say.
Eventually, the murmur came. "Thank you," Shindou said, and in his voice was self-knowledge and a hint of pain, but also relief and the something profound that surfaced tantalizingly in his games played now and again... the hint of the Hand of God that Akira had seen so long ago in him, and would not give up on chasing until it was fully revealed.
"You're welcome," he replied in words that were entirely too inadequate to convey any of his confused feelings.
Akira sat in front of his computer, staring off into space as the day changed slowly into night. Around him the house was silent, empty, perfect. Like his life would have been if a brash twelve-year-old with bleached bangs and the playing grace of a thousand years' weight hadn't derailed Akira's carefully groomed plans one day. A life spent in the study of a higher art-what more could any man ask of the gods? But somehow, unasked-for, Akira had been given more. Footsteps had echoed through the empty halls of his house for years, chasing him, causing him to run faster. Those echoing steps had finally caught up to him and now they raced one another, hearts beating in thrilled exhilaration as they sought the goal. And sometimes the goal didn't seem to matter as much as the running toward it together did.
It had taken Akira a long time to place a name to that feeling: friendship.
Akira's own reputation amused him. The perfect son, the perfect student. The isolated "ice prince" of the Go world, destined for great things, perhaps even greater than his father. When he dreamt of the future, he imagined himself and Shindou, rivals still, in cutthroat competition for the top titles. And it seemed likely to become reality, that together they might touch the hand of God.
Somewhere along the path to that goal, Akira had come to the realization that he was only half of an equation. The Hand of God could not be reached alone; there had to be someone against whom he could play, someone to strive with together toward that goal. Only Shindou had crossed the line and sat down as an equal across the board from him. Only Shindou flustered and infuriated him, melted Akira's shield of icy reserve, made him stare in awe, cry in pain, and shake in hate.
And now, also, in pleasure.
He hadn't considered that possibility.
The hours of research he'd spent on the 'Net and in libraries since this whole thing started, studying vampire mythology, skimming works based on it, as well as what Shindou had carefully not said, should have warned Akira. Instead, blindly confident, he had charged straight into disaster.
It was, he mused, in many ways reminiscent of his first meeting with Shindou.
What to do with what he now knew? At the moment, Akira couldn't imagine volunteering again to serve as a meal for his friend, but he also couldn't imagine what else could be done. Shindou had been quite serious about his stupid livestock plan. For him to drink from any other person, given Shindou's nature, they'd have to know and assent. And the last thing Shindou would want would be for anyone else to know his latest secret.
So, it came down to friendship.
Having been willing to offer himself once, how was he reluctant to offer himself again? Shindou had stopped with no discernable damage to Akira other than the faint pain that lingered in the bite marks even now. He'd felt physically fine.
Frowning, Akira sat up straighter and moved his mouse. His screensaver vanished and he logged online, hitting a search engine.
Hikaru laid stones out across the Go board. He felt better than he had in a week. In fact, he'd felt all afternoon like he was on a sugar buzz. It disgusted him.
Drinking Touya's blood hadn't been as gross as he had thought it would be. No messiness, no blood smeared all over the place at the end of it, incriminating both of them, merely two reddish marks already starting to heal and this feeling of life surging through Hikaru.
The blood hadn't tasted bad. Not at all like the way it had before. It was warm and salty and smooth. Somehow it tasted clean, like exertion and Touya's game play: strong and heady, exhilarating. It had been intoxicating, like riding the hardest, fastest roller coasters just because you could, and getting high on their dips and slingshots and falls.
And he'd stopped drinking despite the allure of that taste, because there was a voice in the back of his head-sounding amazingly like Sai had sometimes-telling him that was enough, you don't need anymore, think of your friend before yourself. Don't make the both of you ill.
It had been uncomfortable to realize they'd both ended up with erections. Hikaru had been hoping-wishing-that his bite wouldn't have quite the same effect on Touya that the pervert bastard mugger's had had on him, but no such luck. They'd avoided one another's eyes all the way to the station, where they'd boarded separate trains to go home.
And Hikaru had been setting out stones like mad ever since he got there, recreating games left and right, studying patterns for a few minutes before clearing the board and starting again. He felt like a hummingbird on crack, and he hated it. But neither could he seem to settle down and do any work.
Finally he gave up, sorted the stones into their bowls, and went downstairs.
"Hikaru," his mother said, leaning her head out of the kitchen, "are you going out? What about dinner?"
"I told you, I ate before I came home," Hikaru answered, lacing up his sneakers.
"Where are you going?"
"Dunno. Maybe to Haze. I just feel like running some." Running all this extra energy off.
"Mmm. I'll leave some on a plate in case you get hungry when you get back," she said unconcernedly. "Can you stop at the convenience store and pick up some nori? We're almost out."
"Sure. Be back later."
Hikaru tucked his hands into his jacket pockets as he walked. The moon was only half full, but it was more than enough light to illuminate the street for him. The full moon would be as bright as daylight. Still more proof that vampires belonged out at night, not during the day, going to and from the Go Institute and tutoring lessons...
Hikaru could as soon rip out his heart as give up Go. No, vampire or not, he belonged there, not here in the night.
A smile on his lips, he broke into a light jog the rest of the way to the Haze track field.
Akira found Shindou more or less where he'd been directed to. At some point a windbreaker had been shed by the side of the track as Shindou ran, and Akira stood by it.
Shindou was long-legged and graceful in the moonlight, giving Akira the vague mental image of a colt running for the joy of running. He spotted Akira as he came around the curve, and started to slow. He was breathing hard and his t-shirt was patched with sweat, but there was a glow of satisfaction to him that was hard to ignore.
"I always knew you were a dumb jock," Akira remarked as Shindou stopped next to him, leaning over slightly to try and catch his breath.
Shindou grinned. "I was until I took up Go. Soccer team. I've lost a lot of stamina; I used to be able to run farther and faster."
"So what are you doing out here?"
"Burning off energy. It was driving me crazy." Shindou straightened and brushed his damp bangs off his face. "What are you doing here, Touya?"
"I needed to talk." Akira handed Shindou his windbreaker. "Do you have some time?"
They ended up on a loping walk around the suburb. "Cooling down," Shindou said, smiling. Akira rolled his eyes. Still, it was companionable and more normal between them than the rest of the day had been. "Are you feeling all right?"
"Fine," Akira answered. "You?"
"I've been on some kind of high ever since. Weird. I hope I burned it out of my system-I couldn't concentrate on Go at all."
Akira frowned. If that happened every time, Hikaru could lapse in his playing. Fall behind him. "That's not good."
"Tell me about it." They walked on a bit further. "Look, about what happened earlier. It won't happen again."
"Shindou. Yes, it will. You haven't got a chance of finding a cow anywhere close enough. You're not the type to drink random people's blood. I doubt you want anyone else to know. So, yes, it will end up happening again." Akira stepped off the curb and started across the street.
"Do you always have to be right?" Shindou asked lightly, causing Akira's eyes to narrow in suspicion as he looked at his rival. Shindou was never so casual about things that mattered. They reached a small park and Shindou almost beelined for the swings. He twisted one up several times, kinking the chain until it was high enough for him, then started on a second. "Sit, Touya. Swing if you like."
Maybe his excess energy wasn't quite burnt out after all. Cautiously, Akira took the first swing as Shindou finished his work on the second. But Shindou didn't start swinging, just sat there and looked up at the moon. "My body can try to convince me all it likes that I belong at night and away from people," he said quietly, "but when I already belong somewhere else, what my body wants doesn't matter. The soul is more important." He looked at Akira. "What happened earlier doesn't mean anything. Well, it does, but not like that."
Akira nodded. "We're not one another's types."
"You have a type?" Shindou joked. Akira scowled and Shindou half-ducked, grinning. "Sorry, sorry," he apologized.
"Depending on how much you need, and how often, you might only need one... donor," Akira said quietly.
"That's a lot of hardship on you," Shindou observed, looking down at the sand.
Akira shrugged. "I'm not sure there are that many options. But if you keep getting blood-high..."
Shindou pushed himself gently back and forward with one foot. "As soon as I can figure out what caused that, I'll work on it."
Akira nodded, knowing that was the best either of them were going to get.
"Want to come over to my place?" Shindou asked. "My parents are probably in bed by now. We could play a game, and I think my mother was going to leave some curry in the oven for me, if you're hungry. I owe you at least a meal."
"Sure," Akira acquiesced, standing. "As long as the game doesn't go too long."
"Speed Go!" Shindou enthused, bouncing up off the swing.
Life managed to remain relatively normal for Hikaru. Of course, after having spent three years hanging around with the Go-obsessed ghost of a Heian courtier, he was not quite sure his definition of "normal" was the same as most people's.
He made his apologies, some sincerely and some more casually, for his collapse, blaming it on his recent flu. He was carefully nonchalant as he told Waya that Touya had made sure he'd eaten something. Touya was within earshot at the time, and Hikaru could see his mouth curving up at that one.
"You have the amazing ability to tell a lie while still speaking the absolute truth, Shindou," Touya told him later at his father's Go salon. Hikaru just smiled and placed his move.
It remained a shock, not seeing his reflection in mirrors. It was washing his face in the mornings that was the worst. After that it pretty much subliminated for the rest of the day. At least with his students, Hikaru didn't need to worry about seeming different. The most they noticed was that "Shindou-sensei's got a new pair of shades." Game days were harder-he spent time with his friends at lunch and he couldn't always be ducking out on them. He was currently settling for skipping half the time, sometimes taking walks or reading Go Weekly, sometimes sitting in the game room and studying his opponent's moves. Touya usually did the same thing. The days he did go to lunch with his other friends, he nursed a soda, claiming a big breakfast, or took small sips from a bottle of water while they all laughed and talked.
"The beach!" Waya insisted. "This Thursday. C'mon, Shindou, you have to come."
Hikaru shook his head. "Can't, sorry." He did want to go, but the thought of how bright it would be and how much a real sunburn would hurt deterred him.
Nase, finally a pro and so eating lunch with their group again, made a "mou" of disappointment at him.
"Maybe next time," Hikaru said. "Hey, we could go to an amusement park! Roller coasters!"
"You're on," Waya agreed, a daredevil grin on his face. Isumi just dropped his head in one hand and groaned.
Math and biology ran through the background of Akira's mind these days whenever he thought about Shindou in terms of anything other than his game play.
The human body contains approximately five liters of blood. The usual amount for a blood donation is half a liter. How much did Shindou drink? Unknown. The human body can replace the fluid lost within twenty-four hours, but replacing the red blood cells may take up to two months. Donation is not recommended more than once every fifty-six days...
Akira pictured half a liter of water, replaced it with his blood. Was that how much Shindou had taken? It seemed like a lot. The rate of the pressurized blood flow through the two bite marks, multiplied by the time spent drinking... He wanted to hit something in frustration. He didn't know any of the variables. He couldn't figure out how safe or unsafe this might be. He altered his diet in the meantime, trying to eat all the things that were said to be good for building up the blood.
If a train left Osaka at 10:44am, he thought darkly, heading for Tokyo, a distance of 523 kilometers away, travelling at an average speed of 262 kilometers per hour, and another train left Tokyo at 11:05am, heading for Osaka and travelling at an average speed of 234 kilometers per hour, how many survivors would there be when they collide?
"Fine!" Akira yelled, slamming his hands down on either side of the Go board. "Be that way!"
"I will!" Shindou yelled back, face flushed with anger. "I'm going home!" He stalked out, snatching his backpack from a bemused Ichikawa, and slammed the door behind himself.
Akira threw himself back into his chair. Why couldn't Shindou see- He glowered at the board.
Eventually, though, like a stormy sea, his anger calmed and he was able to regard the game with clearer eyes. It hadn't been a bad game, but it hadn't been particularly close either. Akira had long since stopped keeping track of how many games they'd each lost to one another, realizing just how childish doing so was, but he thought he was slightly in the lead. Of course, Shindou probably thought the same thing. But the numbers, in the end, weren't what mattered as much as not letting Shindou get ahead of him.
Akira straightened and looked at the board, unfolding his arms. He touched a stone with one finger. If he'd played there instead of here, could he have saved himself from being cut? But Shindou would surely have responded...
Contemplatively, Touya Akira studied his lost game.
It was a week and a half before Hikaru needed blood again. He groaned and flung his arm over his eyes when he woke that morning to his stomach's gnawing. He knew his vague daydreams of not having to do this again had been totally unbased, but still, having them had been nice. Now he had to ask Touya. Howto ask Touya? And when and where would be private enough to ensure not getting caught? He huffed, annoyed, and got up.
Luck wasn't with him, though-he didn't have a chance to talk to Touya before their games started, was dragooned into lunch with Waya, and then Touya finished his game and left before Hikaru did.
He was splashing water on his face in the men's room after the game-it had been close, and Hikaru definitely needed to figure out what he could have done better-when Waya came in, loudly sighing.
"Did you lose?" Hikaru asked.
"Yes, damnit," Waya replied. "Pisses me off-" His voice broke off and he stopped moving, looking at a point beyond Hikaru.
Hikaru blinked and turned to see what Waya was staring at.
He didn't see anything, though, but the men's room mirror.
He turned slowly back to Waya in growing horror, knowing what his friend was seeing... or, rather, not seeing.
"Sh-Shindou?" Waya asked uncertainly, growing paler.
At least, if Hikaru had to chase after him, Touya was in the expected location: his father's Go salon.
Hikaru came in quietly, handing his bag to Ichikawa-san with barely a murmur. She looked at him in surprise; he smiled wanly, knowing he wasn't his usual self at the moment.
He settled into his usual seat across from Touya and waited.
Touya frowned. "Is something wrong, Shindou?" he asked, beginning to clear away the game he'd had laid out.
Hikaru debated with himself for just a moment, then let his chin drop, regarding his hands where they crossed on his lap. "Waya found out," he murmured, barely above a whisper.
Touya's hands stilled.
"Mirror. In the restroom," Hikaru continued. "I was so stupid. I wasn't thinking..."
"Like that's new," Touya said, but his tone was anything but cutting. "What did you do?"
"Ran," Hikaru answered. "I couldn't face him, couldn't think of what to tell him." He sighed. "I'll have to at some point, I know, but... this is not a good day."
"Hmm." Touya let the stones waterfall from his hands into their bowls. "Do you want to play?"
"Always." Hikaru straightened and reached for the black stones, pulling out one. "If you win, I'll take you out to dinner."
Touya paused before setting down his stones. "If you win, I take you out to dinner?" he asked quietly, beginning to count them.
Hikaru nodded, looking away.
He played white.
He ended up treating Touya to okonomiyaki, which didn't seem very Touya-ish, but over time Hikaru had learned that his rival was a lot looser than people would think. Well, looser around him, anyway. He had a hard time imagining Touya eating something so casual around anyone else.
Hikaru sipped at his water while Touya ate. "I still say the bonito flakes make it look like it's in its death throes," he objected, watching the shavings writhe in the heat rising from Touya's meal.
"Drop it, Shindou," Touya warned. "Criticize your own food instead of mine."
Instead of being an amusing in-joke between the two of them, the way Touya had intended the remark, the comment hit Hikaru in the chest and lodged there.
And Touya knew him well enough to see that, despite how cool Hikaru tried to keep his expression. Touya's chopsticks lowered and he looked like he was trying to find a way to unsay his words. Or do anything to make it better.
"I think any response I made to that would end up sounding like a yaoi fan's dream," Hikaru said softly, smiling, rescuing him. Because Touya hadn't intended to hurt him, and Hikaru could be adult about these things when he needed to be. He sighed softly and rested his head on one hand. "You want to know the funny thing about this, Touya?"
"What?" his rival asked quietly.
"I never wanted to be special or different. These things just... they seem to keep happening to me."
"All of twice."
"Once is chance, twice is coincidence... if something happens to make a 'third,' I swear I will begin believing the universe is conspiring against me."
Akira remembered a family trip to the beach when he was small, and his first experience with the ocean. He'd been different then, he thought, filled with laughter and childish prattle. It had been easy, then. He remembered watching the waves roll in, a deep jade green that turned into white froth around his ankles. His father had put an arm around his shoulders as he watched.
"It's not the water that you should watch for, Akira, but the motion of the wave," his father had said.
"Why?" Akira had asked.
"The water is only wet, but the wave is what will pull you under and take your breath away."
Akira still thought about that in his rare expeditions to the ocean. He preferred not to go in the summer when it was thronged with tourists, but in the autumn instead when the days were gray and cooling and he could stare meditatively into the sea without anyone walking in front of him. The motion of the wave...
Shindou, in some ways, with his eyes nearly the color of the autumn sea, reminded him of the waves. He was deep and composed of mysteries; his own power moved him forward, reaching heights and depths in his game moves, and finally he ended in a roaring crash of achievement, white foam washing across the board as the waters retreated to begin their next move. When Akira considered how he'd alternately ignored and been fascinated by Hikaru for the years between their middle school tournament game and their first game as pros, he realized he'd forgotten then what his father had said. He had been concentrating on the momentary position of the water rather than its overall spectacular movement.
It's not the water that will drown you; it's the wave...
A quarter-liter, more or less. He'd asked Shindou to see if he could figure out how many mouthfuls of blood he was actually drinking. Shindou, of course, had wanted to know why, and when Akira had spelled out his research, his eyes darkened for a moment. More pain. Akira was apparently on a roll tonight, and felt like a heel. But Shindou had bounced back like a bright five yen coin and cheerily agreed to the experiment.
It hadn't been quite as intense this time, or quite as long, but still... nice. Ironic, somehow, that the one person who could unfailingly get under Akira's skin was also able to make him feel like that. "Shindou," he said quietly, a bit later when they were still hanging out, doing nothing more than look over some old games they'd already discussed, seeing if they could find anything new in them. Sometimes changed eyes could spot new differences, openings not before seen, moves that could have been made. "What does it feel like to you?"
Shindou looked up at him from the board. "Have you ever been to Okinawa?" he asked. Akira shook his head. "We went there on a vacation when I was seven or eight. The ocean's so warm it's practically like being in a bathtub. I spent hours swimming. My mom worried until she figured out I wasn't going to drown."
"And?" Akira waited for the point.
"For me... it's like being submerged a few feet underwater at Okinawa. The light shines down so you can still see, the water cradles you warmly, and you can taste this clean saltiness in your mouth." Hikaru stopped, rubbed the back of his head with one hand. "That sounds stupid, doesn't it? I guess it's just hard to explain."
"No." Akira shook his head again. It somehow fit, that while he found freedom in these bloodlettings, Shindou, the other side of the coin, his opposite, counterpart, and... partner, he guessed, found something more resembling peace. "Here, this hane-tsuki..."
Shindou shook his head. "It doesn't play out three moves later."
They lapsed into silence for a few more moments, examining the board. "And you, Touya?" Shindou asked quietly, returning the question.
Akira looked up, but Shindou's eyes were calm and easy. "Pleasure," he answered honestly. He couldn't imagine talking to anyone but Shindou like this. Not that he intended to talk to anyone else about this.
Shindou nodded. "I kind of thought so."
"Was it the same for you?"
A frown marred Shindou's features and he looked down. "Yeah." His voice held a note that was distinctly unhappy about what had happened to him. Akira couldn't blame him in the slightest. To take that feeling and have it used against you, used as a weapon to immobilize you while something was stolen... Shindou was regarding him again. "It's... freely given, and not taken?" he asked, and his eyes were as serious as Akira had ever seen them.
"Freely given," Akira agreed quietly, with the unspoken You're not like that person between them.
Shindou looked at him for a moment longer, then his head dropped slightly forward, bangs hiding his eyes. "Thank you," he whispered, voice rough. Akira looked away, his own throat slightly tight. He busied himself with clearing away the game.
Yoshitaka clicked to place his stone, then leaned back in his chair, waiting for his opponent to place a move.
He knew what he'd seen. There had been the mirror, and his reflection, and Shindou, and Shindou had had no reflection. There was no way it had been an odd angle on the mirror. Most damning of all had been Shindou's expression and the way he had bolted.
Yoshitaka frowned. He'd known for as long as he'd known Shindou that he had secrets. This, though, went beyond anything he had wondered about before.
"Are you still there?" Isumi asked through the phone cradled between Yoshitaka's shoulder and ear.
"Yeah. Just thinking."
Yoshitaka sighed. "What does it mean when someone's got no reflection?"
There was silence for a minute from the other end of the line. "Have you been watching horror movies again?"
"That was one time!"
"Have I ever mentioned how cute you are when you're scared out of your wits and can't sleep by yourself?" Isumi was laughing.
Isumi laughed for a little longer, then sobered. "All right. But why the question about reflections?"
Yoshitaka slumped a little more, his eyes on the screen. "Tenkuu" still hadn't made his move. "No reason, I guess."
He sighed. "In the men's room today... Shindou didn't have a reflection in the mirror."
"Are you sure-"
"It wasn't the angle, all right! I thought about it. A thousand times. I would have seen it. It was just like... he wasn't there at all."
He'd taken less blood this time. And he wasn't at all hyperactive like he'd been before. "Thank God," Hikaru muttered, flopping backwards to lie on the floor of his room. He watched the ceiling for a few minutes, then levered himself back up. He began clearing away the stones he'd laid out from kifu of his next opponent. He'd gotten home late to begin with, and it was after midnight now. At least his first lesson the next day wasn't bright and early.
White and black spilled from his hands into their bowls and he put the lids on, placing the bowls atop the board, ready for the next day. A lesson at ten, another at two, Morishita-sensei's study group later...
He froze momentarily. Morishita-sensei's study group.
Hikaru sighed unhappily and continued cleaning up. He didn't know what to tell Waya. He didn't even know what Waya was thinking.
Maybe, he tried to cheer himself, Waya would have decided the whole thing was a product of his imagination.
Right. Hikaru's luck hadn't been running that way for quite a while now.
He frowned. Well, whatever Waya thought, whether it was the truth or not, he'd get through it. It wasn't like he hadn't had to survive inquisitions before. Just that then they'd been related to Sai instead of himself...
Hikaru sighed and stood to turn off his light. He'd deal with Waya when he had to. There was no sense, he told himself firmly, in borrowing trouble before he had to.
The first thing Hikaru noticed was that Waya smelled like garlic. The second was the silver cross around his throat.
Right. So much for not assuming things. He ignored Waya and made his greetings to the rest of the group.
All through the game analysis and a match with Saeki and another with Shirakawa (the former he won, the latter he lost), Hikaru politely ignored one of his closest friends. And apparently Waya wasn't quite ready to shout out in the middle of the study group his accusation that Hikaru was a vampire.
It crossed Hikaru's mind that it was perhaps a very good thing that people at large no longer believed in things like ghosts or vampires.
He and Waya always left together, so they left together today. They got half a block down the street before Waya asked, sounding puzzled, "Why isn't it working on you?"
"The garlic. The... cross."
Hikaru shrugged. "Garlic just smells. The cross..." He reached out and picked up the pendant where it lay on a chain at Waya's throat. "Y'know, the J-Pop look really isn't you."
Waya was staring at him, eyes wide. "What the hell are you, Shindou?"
"I thought I was your friend," Hikaru replied. "Apparently I was wrong." He let the cross drop and walked onward.
Waya just stood there for a second, then there were footsteps and he caught up, grabbing Hikaru by the shoulders and wrenching him around. "Look, will you tell me what's going on? I know you didn't have a reflection. Don't think I haven't noticed you haven't eaten with us in weeks. You're weird, Shindou, but I thought you trusted me."
Hikaru's eyes were drawn to the cross again. "And I thought you trusted me," he said softly.
Waya put a hand on the pendant. "You... promise not to attack me if I take it off?"
"Waya," Hikaru pointed out, "it didn't do anything to me when I touched it, and if I was going to attack you, I could have done it anytime in the last few weeks."
Waya's hesitant look faded as he took that in. "Aw, hell," he groaned, and removed the jewelry, stuffing it in one pocket. "I'm going to kill Isumi-san."
"I kind of told him," Waya admitted. "What?" he demanded at Hikaru's look. "He's my best friend and he knows about this kind of stuff!"
Shinichirou got up at the knock on his door. He wasn't expecting any visitors, but it was too late for it to be door-to-door salesmen either.
He definitely wasn't expecting it to be Shindou and Waya side-by-side.
He closed the door and undid the chain before letting them in. "What are you doing here? Can I get you anything?" he asked as they took off their shoes.
"No thanks," Shindou replied.
"Me either," Waya agreed. "Are your folks home?"
"They're out tonight."
Shinichirou finally pegged the faint odor around Waya. Garlic. He can't have been serious about that, he thought. And then, Ah. That's what they're here about.
Half hiding a smile, he followed the two younger pros into the living room. Waya was here to apologize... this should be interesting.
"Isumi-san, do you have a mirror anywhere?" Shindou asked.
"Um, in the restroom," he replied.
Shindou nodded. "Fine. Come on, let's settle this about me having a reflection or not."
Waya flicked eyes at Shinichirou as he led the way and flicked on the light. Shindou stepped in front of the two of them to prove his point.
"See?" he asked, but to Shinichirou's surprise, Shindou wasn't asking Waya, but himself.
"Of course," he replied, looking up at the mirror.
The words died half unspoken in his throat.
In the mirror, he saw himself and he saw Waya, but Shindou might as well not have been in the room.
Shindou walked closer and waved his hand in front of the mirror.
He turned and smiled. "I think you're right that Isumi-san didn't believe you, Waya."
Shinichirou turned to face Waya. "Waya...?" he asked.
Waya nodded. "I told you he didn't have a reflection," he said.
Shindou regarded the two of them calmly. "I think the three of us should have a talk."
"So if you're a vampire, that means you drink blood, right?" asked Waya. They'd moved back to the living room. Waya perched on a chair, Isumi on the sofa, and Hikaru leaned against a wall, the focus of their questions.
Hikaru sighed. "Yes." It wasn't the main question he didn't want to be asked, but...
"Whose?" Isumi asked quietly.
That was the one Hikaru didn't want to answer. It wasn't for his own sake that he was hesitant, though, but for someone else's. "I'd rather not say."
Waya leaned forward. "Shindou, who?"
Hikaru squirmed. "I don't want to tell you before getting their permission, okay?"
"It's Touya, isn't it?" Isumi asked. There was surety in his voice.
"Him!" Waya exclaimed. "He hasn't got enough warm blood to-"
"That's enough," Hikaru hissed at Waya, glaring. "You may not like him much, but he's my friend, okay?"
Waya glared back.
"So it is him," Isumi said quietly, breaking their stalemate. He smiled when Hikaru looked at him. "He's the only one you'd trust enough."
"Shouldn't that be the other way around?" Waya asked. "I mean, no offense, Shindou, but I wouldn't want my blood being sucked..."
Hikaru rolled his eyes. "I trust him, and he trusts me, okay?"
"This is... safe?" Isumi asked. He seemed to be having a hard time putting words to his intention.
Hikaru frowned. "No," he answered, looking down. "He mathed it out and I probably need something like four times what someone's supposed to donate."
Waya's eyes bugged out. "Four times?"
"Not all at once!" Hikaru snapped, irritated. "Something like a quarter-liter once a week."
"That's... not too much," Isumi said contemplatively.
"If you're saying what I think you're saying, Isumi-san," Waya warned.
Shinichirou shook his head. "It's just a thought now. I'd want to know more of what I was getting into before I offered," he said, looking at Shindou.
To his surprise, Shindou blushed.
"Shindou?" he asked.
"Um." The younger player looked at the carpet and scuffed it with his toe. "It's... sexual," he muttered in explanation.
Waya's eyes looked like saucers. Shinichirou knew his own were wide at that as well.
"It's not my fault!" Shindou defended. "It just... is."
Waya recovered first and started laughing. "You... and Touya..." he gasped.
"It's not like that!" Shindou protested. "Waya!"
"He is very pretty," Shinichirou added, hiding his own smile with one hand. "You have to admit that, Shindou."
"They both know?" Touya asked.
"Waya told Isumi-san," Hikaru replied, studying his options. "I had nothing to do with it." If he cut Touya there...
"And they're okay with it?"
"I think so. They were having way too much fun making fun of me." No, cutting Touya wouldn't lead anywhere fast, tempting though the idea was. Ah, there. Hikaru selected and set his stone.
"Making fun?" Touya was eyeing the new move, trying to figure out if Hikaru had anything deeper planned than its surface meaning. As it happened, Hikaru did, but he wasn't about to tell his opponent.
"I told them what it felt like," Hikaru said, waiting to see where Touya moved.
Touya slowly raised his head. "You told them?"
"Yeah, well, I-"
Touya slammed his hands on either side of the table, startling Hikaru, and half-rose from his seat. "Shindou!"
Touya's anger wasn't much of a surprise. Hikaru had known it would be coming. "Touya," he said quietly, looking around at the other patrons, who by now were almost used to their infamous rows but still looked over at the shout anyway, "not here."
Touya sat back down. He stared at the board. "You had no right..."
"Shall we continue the game now, or should I leave and we'll resume when you're in better control?" Hikaru asked coolly. It was his life, he had a perfect right... and Touya was getting upset over the wrong thing, in a way.
Touya's response was setting a white stone on the board. Hikaru smiled inwardly. Good, Touya hadn't seen it yet.
"I cannot believe I lost to you because of that," Akira declared. Shindou ignored him and fished change out of a pocket to put in the vending machine. "That was so underhanded."
"And you wish you'd thought of it first," Shindou retorted, punching in two selections. The drinks rolled down into the retrieval area of the machine and he stooped to grab them, offering the coffee to Akira. He was right, of course, but Akira was not about to let him know that.
"Thanks," Akira said.
"Go is a meeting of minds, and yours is disturbed," Shindou said. "You were distracted, and didn't see it."
"Did you have to tell them?" Akira asked petulantly.
"I didn't," Shindou replied. "They pretty much figured it out on their own. I think Isumi-san might be thinking of offering me his blood too, but, well, it's not fair for him not to know what it involves, is it?"
Akira frowned. "I'm not sure if you drinking from anyone else is a good idea."
"You were the one who figured out you probably can't sustain me all by yourself," Shindou pointed out, sipping his water.
"I know." The bitter sweetness of the milky coffee brightened Akira's tongue then vanished. He sighed and looked at the can. "If he does offer, you should probably take him up on it. Assuming he doesn't panic and run after the first time."
"Yeah." Shindou looked pensive. "He's very conservative."
"Oh, and I'm not?"
"No." Shindou grinned. "You want people to think you are, and you dress the part, but you're really not."
"C'mon, Akari," Hikaru said. "We're going to be late."
"You try crossing the city in geta!" she retorted. The wooden shoes clattered down the steps as they tried to make the train.
"You didn't have to wear a kimono!"
She sniffed primly and caught herself on the door handle, swinging inside the car just ahead of Hikaru. "It's a festival. One wears traditional clothing to festivals."
Hikaru, who was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and board shorts, rolled his eyes.
The door slid closed behind them and the train hummed to life, moving out of the station.
Akari held on to a support bar, swaying slightly with the motion of the train. "I've never been to Touya-kun's home before. You're sure it's all right that I'm coming too?"
"He said to bring you," Hikaru answered. "Isumi-san and Waya are going to be there too, and some of the other Go players we hang out with."
"I'm going to be the only girl, aren't I?" Akari muttered. One hand touched the drape of her kimono, white with red and blue flowers spilling over it. "Maybe I overdressed," she worried.
"You look fine, Akari."
Akira knew better than to expect Shindou would be decently dressed for the temple festival, but he was still slightly irritated at just how casually his rival was garbed for the occasion. "Shindou, Fujisaki-san," he greeted, opening the door wider to let them in. "Did you find the way all right?"
"Unlike last time," Shindou replied, and his tone was airy enough that Akira knew Shindou was trying to get under his skin. He ignored the attempt.
"Thank you for inviting me, Touya-kun," Fujisaki said, slipping out of her geta.
"Not at all," he replied. "Some of Shindou's other friends are already here. I don't know if you know them..."
"Some," she replied. "I've met Waya-kun and Isumi-san."
"Waya-san hasn't arrived yet. Nase-san is also here," Akira told Shindou, "and Ochi-kun is in with the members of my father's study group. I was thinking we should wait until Waya-san arrives, then head over to the temple."
"Sounds good to me." Shindou grinned. "Time enough for a quick game?"
Akira smiled back. "Certainly. I'd be honored to give Fujisaki-san a game of shidou-Go."
Shindou laughed at being out-maneuvered. Fujisaki blushed and stammered and said she was honored and not worthy. Akira just smiled at her. He liked her perhaps the best of Shindou's friends. "Come with me," he invited. "There's a Go board out on the patio that's not being used."
It was half an hour before Waya arrived and Akari enjoyed the time thoroughly. Hikaru was a good teacher whenever he came to the high school she attended and played games of shidou-Go with the Go club, but she seldom had his attention all to herself, and certainly never the advantage of other pros offering their insights on her play as well. And she wasn't the only one in kimono, though neither was Hikaru the only one in casual Western wear.
"Let me see," Waya said immediately upon arrival, dropping to one knee to study the board. "Hey, not too bad, Akari-chan."
Akari blushed, though she knew that the compliments she'd been getting from all these pros were just nice words. The most honest had been Hikaru's "You've gotten better. Now, if you'd only placed your stone here..." Still, she liked these people and the atmosphere was good. She wondered what she'd done in a past life to end up surrounded by Go. Of course, following on that thought was wondering what Hikaru had done to get sucked into it so completely.
The girl Waya had brought with him wore a pretty kimono in a pale blue with water and morning glories on it. She was looking around. "Dad's going to hit the roof when he hears you brought me to Touya-sensei's home," she remarked. "Hi, Shindou-san."
"Hey, Shigeko-san," he replied. "Shigeko-san is Morishita-sensei's daughter," he explained to Akari. "This is my friend Fujisaki Akari."
"Nice to meet you," Shigeko said, bowing. Akari responded in kind.
Touya began clearing the stones off the board. "Now that we're all here, shall we head up to the temple?" he asked.
"Booth games!" Hikaru bounced straight to his feet.
"Bet I can beat you in catching fish," Waya said.
"You're on. Loser buys drinks for everyone."
Looking at Shindou, Shinichirou thought, you would never notice anything different. No paleness, no abnormally long eyeteeth, no aversion to sunlight-though he had confessed to using high SPF sunblock these days. The only difference, really, was in what he ate.
The thought of drinking blood was disturbing, but Shinichirou guessed he could get used to it, given some time. The sexual aspect of it that Shindou had confessed to, though... that he wasn't as sure of.
Part of Shinichirou wanted to step up and join the fish-catching contest between his two friends, but he held back when Touya did it instead, catching one easily with the paper net while Waya's broke.
Touya had become a lot more approachable these days. There had been a time when Shinichirou wouldn't have thought the young genius would have noticed any of them to ask the time of day. Since Shindou had appeared, though, entering the insei class and announcing he was Touya's rival... well, there had been a lot of changes.
Even if Waya, spitting and cursing like a wet cat, still didn't quite get along with Touya.
"Pay up, Waya," Shindou, laughing, instructed. He stood and handed the fish he'd won (one gold, one black, swimming around in a clear plastic bag) to Fujisaki. "Here, Akari. What are you going to name them?"
She held the bag up to eye level, then looked beyond it at Hikaru and Touya, who was just standing up. "The yellow one is Hikaru and the black one is Akira," she declared mischievously.
Touya actually blushed at that. "What will you name this one?" he asked, stepping forward and handing her the single fish he'd won.
She took a moment to think about it, then answered "Yuuki." It seemed to be a joke between the two of them given the way that Shindou burst out laughing.
"Hikaru, do you want some takoyaki?" Akari asked him as they passed the stand. It smelled good.
"Maybe later," Hikaru answered. "Do you want some?" He felt for his wallet.
"Hikaru, this isn't like you!" she accused, stopping in front of him, hands on her hips. "You haven't had a thing to eat at the festival!"
Hikaru shrugged. "Just not hungry, Akari." Which wasn't true, entirely. "I'm not going to starve to death if I don't get something to eat here."
Her eyes softened a little. "I'm worried about you. Your mother told me you haven't been eating at home recently."
Hikaru rolled his eyes, thinking Great, they're starting to notice. "Akari, do I look like I've lost any weight? My schedule's just picked up recently. I've been eating when I can fit it in." He smiled, trying to distract her from the subject. "So, did you want me to buy you some takoyaki?"
"I can pay for myself," she replied and went over to the booth. He followed and snatched her bag from her hand, holding it up out of her reach.
"My treat, Akari," he insisted. "Thanks for worrying about me."
Yoshitaka obediently won a water balloon for Shigeko. Her eyes lit up in delight and she bounced it up and down from its string.
Pfeh. Girls and their toys. He sternly ignored the fact that he'd been just as delighted by them until he turned ten and discovered Go.
Yoshitaka raised his eyes to see Touya leaning against one of the booth's support poles, a red matsuri fan held casually in one hand, bright against his dark blue yukata. He watched Shigeko, a half-smile on his face, then his attention was wrenched briefly away by a familiar laugh from further down the aisle.
Oh crap. If Touya ends up being stuck on Shigeko, Morishita-sensei will kill me! Yoshitaka panicked momentarily before realizing that Touya hadn't looked back at her since being distracted by Shindou. He stood, vaguely relieved, with an even vaguer background thought that it was bad enough having to compete with Saeki, whom he liked, for Shigeko's time. Adding Touya to the mix would make life downright impossible.
"Shigeko-chan! Come look! You have to see this. They're so cute!" Nase appeared out of nowhere and grabbed Shigeko, dragging her away to a booth selling dolls.
Touya raised his fan briefly to his mouth, then lowered it. "You know," he said quietly, "Fujisaki-san is right."
"Huh?" Yoshitaka didn't follow.
Touya glanced at him in irritation. "You weren't listening when she was trying to get Shindou to eat."
"We're not all obsessed with Shindou the way you are," Yoshitaka sniped back.
"A fact which I will never understand," Touya replied sagely. Yoshitaka wanted to hit him. "In any case, she's right. He hasn't 'eaten' in about a week."
Realization slowly dawned on Yoshitaka. "You can't be serious. Not in this crowd!"
Touya's eyes were cool and he shrugged. "There are other, more secluded, areas to this shrine."
Yoshitaka's mouth tightened into a line. "I'm not letting Isumi-san go first," he said. "It's not that I don't trust Shindou, but..."
"The fear of the unknown," said Touya. He glanced sideways at Yoshitaka, blue-green eyes looking through girlishly long, dark lashes. A half-smile hovered on his lips again.
"What?" Yoshitaka demanded, wanting to know just about him Touya Akira found amusing.
Irritatingly, Touya just walked away, still smiling, over to the booth where Nase was exclaiming over miniatures.
Akira liked being able to get under Waya's skin. It was gratifying revenge for all the snarky grumblings the other player made about him. Oh, sometimes he found things about the other player tolerable-he set out decent moves on the Go board, and his devotion to his friends was admirable-but for the most part Yoshitaka Waya reminded Akira of too many of the people he'd had to deal with in school.
In school, being different wasn't a good thing.
He supposed he should be above this pettiness, but he, like Waya, was only human. And it was only human to become irritated at the things that hurt you. And it did hurt sometimes, Waya's words and the words of others like them. Thoughts made reality, and sometimes those thoughts made Akira bleed. He couldn't help it that he'd been taught to play Go since he was old enough to hold a stone. He couldn't help it that his father had been the Meijin. When had it become his fault, the love for the game and the fact that he was good at it? When had excellence become a flaw?
Only Shindou had never looked at him that way, in envy or in hate.
Well, perhaps in hate, but not hatred of his skills. Hatred of the fact that Akira refused to wait for him, forced him to run ever faster to catch up...
Akira found himself smiling more genuinely. Fujisaki had joined the other two girls at the doll booth, cooing delightedly.
"Girls," Shindou opined.
"If they sold PS2 games, you'd be having the exact same reaction," Akira replied.
Shindou swatted at him.
When the boys disappeared, Akari didn't notice at first. She and Asumi-san and Shigeko-chan were busy looking at a booth that sold cute hair ribbons and clips. Eventually, though, she noticed that her escort was gone and straightened to see if she could spot him. He wasn't to be seen, though, and slowly she realized that Touya and Waya and Isumi were also gone. There was no way they'd been ditched-Hikaru might have done that once upon a time, but not these days, and the other three definitely wouldn't.
"I'm going to find out where the boys went," Akari told Asumi. "I'll be back in a bit."
Asumi nodded and picked out a new pair of sparkly clips for Shigeko to try on.
Akari wandered the aisles of the festival for a bit. Maybe Hikaru had finally gotten hungry and gone to get some takoyaki after all? But he wasn't at that booth, or anywhere else at all. Not even the Go booth was graced by the presence of the four young pros.
Slowly, she wandered away from the festival itself and deeper into the grounds of the temple. The noise faded to a muted background level as she climbed steps. She took a deep breath, loving the scent of summer plants and the lazy dust floating in the warm air.
She came to an area where tall pines shadowed the ground, needles breaking the light, dappling everything. It was so quiet here.
Hikaru stood with his friends in a clear area. Smiling, Akari started toward them, then stopped.
Something was wrong. Slowly the scene unfolded its meaning for her. Touya stood watching, the fingers of his left hand brushing the right side of his neck as he leaned casually against a tree trunk. Beyond him, closer to the other two, Isumi stood watching too. His body was much less relaxed than Touya's. In front of him was Waya, eyes closed, neck bared. And behind Waya, head bent over Waya's neck, Hikaru...
Akari shoved a fist in her mouth to keep from making a sound, and watched with horrified eyes.
Hikaru was drinking his friend's blood.
Her knees trembled and she didn't know whether to collapse or to run.
In the end, running won out. She whirled and fled.
Akira stood watching the other three. Heknew, if Isumi and Waya didn't, that there was no real need to worry about Shindou taking too much. No, he was here solely as moral support, because despite his brave words, Waya had needed it.
He wondered if it felt the same for Waya as it did for him. That blinding pleasure...
There was a soft sound from behind him, and Akira turned to see a brown-haired girl in a familiar kimono fleeing.
His eyes widened with realization. She'd seen!
He couldn't let her leave. Not like this, thinking that about Shindou-
Before he knew what he was doing, Akira was running after her. And he knew this temple, didn't trip going down the steps like she did, knew the shortcuts to take. He caught up to her in short order. "Fujisaki-san!" he said, catching her by the arm.
Her eyes were wide and wet and frightened.
"Please," Akira said, panting a little, "wait. I can explain to you..."
"You're not like him, are you?" she asked. Demanded. Pleaded.
"No." Akira shook his head. "No, I'm not. But I'm his friend, and I know the whole story."
"He's a monster! Hikaru is-"
"Shindou is not a monster!" Akira cut her off. He calmed himself, though. "Please, Fujisaki-san... just hear me out before you start calling him those things." He looked into her eyes. "He's your friend."
He must have convinced her, because she nodded and sat down on a post behind her, hands folding into her lap. She looked down and away. "He was-Hikaru was-drinking Waya-san's blood. Wasn't he?" She looked up again, challenge in her eyes.
"Yes." Akira saw no reason to lie to her. She'd seen what she had seen, and there was no way to undo that. "He is a vampire, yes. He can't eat normal food now. But what Waya-san was doing was completely voluntary. I swear to it."
"Why?" she asked.
Akira sighed and sat down beside her. "Remember when he was sick last month?"
Things were mostly all right with Waya, Hikaru decided. Well, at least their friendship wouldn't end over this. Whether or not Waya would volunteer again to let him drink his blood... that was another thing. But at least Isumi seemed a good deal calmer about the whole matter now.
They were about half the way back to the festival when they came upon Touya and Akari sitting together, talking.
"Akari?" Hikaru asked. "Did you come looking for us?"
She stood, and so did Touya. Hikaru's eyes flicked from one to the other.
"She saw, Shindou," Touya said.
It felt like being kicked in the stomach, those three words. "Aw, crap," Waya muttered from his right, but to Hikaru it might as well have been a thousand miles away.
Akari... had seen...
She looked up into his eyes. Into his soul, in some ways.
And she smiled. It was nervous, but it was a real smile. "Hikaru... you should have told me."
"How long have we known each other?"
Akari nodded. "The next time something like this happens, I expect you to tell me at once." She turned and flounced back to the festival, leaving Hikaru staring in her wake. His gaze slowly wandered to Touya, who looked bemusedly after her.
"Why do I have the feeling," Isumi asked, "that you just worked a minor miracle, Touya-san?"
Touya just smiled softly. "You know, Shindou," he said, "I'm beginning to wonder if you really deserve that girl."
Hikaru glared at Touya for the mere implication that he might try to steal Akari away, and ran after her. "Akari, wait up!"
Behind him, his three friends looked amusedly at one another and after him.
"That was fun," Shindou said, arms crossed behind his head as their group strolled back toward Touya's house. "Ochi should've come."
"He was probably smarter than we were to take advantage of the chance to study with Touya-sensei's group," said Nase, fanning herself. Inside her purse was one of the dolls she'd admired earlier. Shinichirou had bought it for her.
Touya smiled a little. "He's been wanting to study with Father's group for years now," he admitted.
"So why didn't you invite him?" Shinichirou asked.
Touya shrugged a little. "He wanted me to invite him formally when he defeated Shindou."
"Like that's ever going to happen!" Shindou scoffed.
Waya cuffed Shindou upside the head. "I seem to remember how badly you sucked when you joined the insei class."
"That was then," Shindou retorted. "This is now."
Shindou hadn't changed at all. That fact now rested easily in Shinichirou's mind. He'd worried a bit that there might have been some subtle alteration, a dangerous side that came out under hunger or duress, but Shindou remained Shindou; brilliant, effervescent, outgoing, and uncomplicated.
Maybe, Shinichirou thought, he'd just watched too many horror movies. Reality was in no way guaranteed to reflect fiction-in fact, he preferred that it didn't-and the damning accounts of Hollywood certainly didn't touch on Shindou's life. He could see how facets of the condition had been embroidered upon, and where the legends had sprung from the truth, but aside from the drinking of blood, was there really anything so terrible about what Shindou had become? And even that was being dealt with on a voluntary basis.
Nase elbowed him in the side, and Shinichirou realized he'd been spacing, caught up in his thoughts. "What?" he asked.
"You played Wakizashi last week," she explained to him. "What did you think? Touya-san has a match with him tomorrow."
"Oh." He collected his scattered mind. "He's pretty good, but he's not that strong on reading ahead. Don't try cornering him, though-he fights like a weasel to hold onto his territory."
Touya gave a sharp half-smile and Shinichirou almost thought he could read his thoughts for a minute. There would be a battle with cornering involved and Touya Akira was going to enjoy every move of it. The moment passed, though, and all Touya said was "Thank you for the advice." But the look he and Shindou shared between them let Shinichirou know that he had been anything but wrong.
The train they caught for the ride home was emptier than Hikaru would have thought. He and Akari were able to find a pair of seats easily.
"Today was fun," she said. "Thank you for taking me."
"I keep telling you, Touya told me to bring you," he objected.
She smiled and shrugged. "You didn't have to."
Like he could deny Touya anything, was Hikaru's immediate response. Then that thought coupled up with another to lead to a third, and he paused. Was it possible that Touya liked Akari? He'd purposefully sent the invitation, after all, and as much as hinted at that she shouldn't always be Hikaru's...
Would he mind so much if Akari ended up with someone like Touya? Touya was intelligent, well groomed, well mannered, an excellent Go player... he would probably be a good husband and father, come to think of it.
I think, Hikaru realized with a sigh, I could give Touya anything. Even Akari, if it made them both happy.
He sat up a little straighter and considered himself in contrast. He wasn't quite slovenly, but he didn't have Touya's undeniable style. He wasn't as good-looking or wealthy, and while he was just as good a Go player, he was smart enough to realize that wasn't one of the main criteria most women had in choosing boyfriends or husbands. Plus there's the small matter of drinking blood, which is not too likely to be appealing.
And Akari... really didn't seem to mind any of it.
He looked at her. They were only seventeen. It was too early to start thinking about any of this... wasn't it?
Akari had a dream sometimes where Hikaru looked at her the same way he looked at Touya across a Go board. That intensity, that passion, like she was the center of his world... Then she usually remembered what happened to anyone either of them faced across a Go board, and laughed, dispersing the dream. Go was fun, Go was interesting... but Go was not her life, and she didn't feel like being slaughtered the way their opponents were. She also knew all too well the pitched volume to which their fights about moves could get.
No, that life wasn't for her. She was glad of the moments she was able to get with Hikaru, though.
"Akari," he said eventually, "what are you planning to do?"
"After high school," he clarified. "I mean, are you going to get a job, or go to college... or get married?"
"Every girl wants to get married," she answered. Hikaru looked serious for a change. "I'm hoping to get into college. I was thinking of studying to be a teacher."
"Hmm." He leaned back and looked across the aisle. "A teacher. What subject?"
"Math?" His tone was disgusted.
"Or maybe history," she admitted. "I haven't decided yet."
"History..." He seemed speculative now. "History's not so bad. Are you aiming for any particular college?"
She shrugged. "Something local, I hope. Whatever I can get into, really. I'm not sure if I want to move out and into a dorm, though."
"I hope you don't go too far away. It'd suck not being able to see you."
She hoped she wasn't blushing, since it hadn't really been a compliment. "You've never been interested in my plans before," she said. "What brings this on?"
"I never thought about them before," Hikaru defended himself. "And... nothing in particular. I just wondered."
They fell into silence after that for a while, the train gently rocking, Akari's hands holding her purse, with Hikaru by her side.
The fireflies buzzed about, and Akira knew he should go in and study, but he couldn't make himself... not just yet.
Inviting the other young pros to the festival had felt like jumping into a pool of ice water. He'd been terrified out of his wits inviting them, knowing they were going to say no and laugh at him for trying to socialize with them...
But they hadn't.
Could it have been like this all along? That things would have been so easy and fun? Of all the other pros, only Ashiwara and Shindou laughed honestly around Akira. They had been the only ones he'd ever counted as friends. The both of them made friends so easily, and Akira couldn't deny that he was jealous of that. Seeing the way people flocked to the two of them made him feel like he was living his life in the shade.
He leaned his head back and looked up into the sky, searching out the few stars not washed away by the light pollution of the city.
For the first time today, he'd seen Shindou's eyes while he'd been drinking blood. Those eyes were changeable, going from a deep forest green in pain and sorrow to a jade green in his normal state to the incandescent cat's-eye green Akira had only seen once, when Shindou's opponent had pissed him off beyond all measure. Akira smiled at the memory. Shindou's anger had been cold and the game over with quickly. You just didn't challenge Shindou like that and not expect a bloodbath. At the time it had been frightening; in memory it was exhilarating.
Today, though, Shindou's eyes had changed again. Briefly, flecks of blood had colored his green eyes, making them resemble one of Akira's mother's pendants.
"Bloodstone," he mused aloud, and wondered if the comparison would amuse or annoy Shindou.
He took a breath and smiled a little, making a mental note to mention it to Shindou, then straightened and stood, turning to go inside. There were hundreds and thousands of games the two of them still had to play against one another, and he didn't have the slightest intention of letting Shindou take the lead. And he had kifu to study for his match tomorrow with Wakizashi.
Outside, the fireflies mated and shone through the night.
Yoshitaka tilted his computer chair back and examined his ceiling without really looking at it.
Point: Shindou-feeding was now a demonstrably safe activity. With witnesses, even.
Point: He didn't feel the worse for wear. Even the slight soreness of the bite marks had disappeared by the time he got home.
Point: It had indeed been very, very nice and he was still a teenager.
"I'm not gay," Yoshitaka said almost inaudibly. Then he sat up straight. "I'm not gay!" he repeated loudly to himself. Then he slumped back into his chair again.
Just because freaking Shindou had made him feel like that, it didn't prove anything. It wasn't natural, wasn't anything real. It was totally an effect of the vampirism. Shindou had even mentioned it. It didn't count for anything.
Hell if he knew how Touya had survived that at least twice and not gone back begging for more. Feeling like that... Yoshitaka could see how it could become addictive. He stifled a mental snicker at the thought of oh-so-perfect Touya on his knees, begging Shindou to drink his blood just one more time.
He let his weight fall forward on the chair so that he was looking at his computer screen again. He thought firmly of Shigeko and their cake dates, and, as he logged on to the Internet, Yoshitaka smiled at the thought of her expression.
Shindou might be a kick-ass Go player, and he might have some kind of weird vampire sex powers, but there was no way he could ever beat out a cute girl's smile.
She stopped and turned in the middle of the street. It was almost sunset and the air was turning from gold to flame. The light softened Hikaru's lines, erasing the sharpness of adulthood from his face if not from his eyes. "Yes?" she asked.
"Are you really... all right with this?" His hand made a vague, encompassing gesture in the air. No matter how sharp he might be on a Go board, in some ways he would always be the Hikaru she'd grown up with, good with people and bad with words. It was all right; she understood him.
"Not really," she said honestly. And that hurt him; he went still. "But it's not like I have a choice, is it?" she asked. "Like with your Go. It came into your life and it changed you. This... this vampirism is like that too."
He looked away. "I didn't realize you'd wanted me to stay the way I was," he said lowly.
"I did then." She took a step closer to Hikaru, drawing his eyes back to her. "But now... I'm not sure we'd still be friends if you hadn't changed." Akari smiled, remembering fondly the brat he'd been before he found Go. "It changed you for the better, Hikaru. Maybe this will be like that too."
"You really think so?" His tone was serious, his eyes doubly so.
She thought about the way she'd found out. About Hikaru's other friends keeping watch while he drank. About the little breathy moans that spilled from Waya's mouth and the expression on his face. And the way Touya's fingers had kept brushing the same spot on his own neck. It made no sense, but... "Hikaru, do you like boys?"
That, in its own way, was an answer. Akari nodded, more to herself than to him. "I think you'll learn things, Hikaru. Things about yourself, maybe. As long as you stay you, though, I'll always be by your side."
His eyes shifted a shade darker. "Even though I'm like this?" he asked, hands open, spreading wide.
Akari paused. Nodded. "Yes," she replied.
Hikaru's grin could have lit the sky, but all he said was "Want to stop by my place and play a game?"
Men, Akari decided, assenting, expressed their affections through different means.
For Hikaru, it was through Go.
Days turned into weeks turned into months. Autumn expressed itself with an unexpected cold snap, and Akira was never more grateful for the sweaters he huddled in going between lessons and games and study.
"Are you going to the party?" Shindou asked one evening as they shared an elevator going down to street level. They'd practically closed down the Go salon with their game discussion tonight.
"I'm not sure," Akira answered. They'd both received invitations to a mixer costume party that the Go Association was sponsoring. He knew he should be good, and responsible, and attend, but... "I have no idea what I would dress as," he admitted.
"Hmm." Shindou leaned his head back against the wall. "Waya had the idea of doing a classic monster set. There's me and him, Isumi... I think Ochi wanted in on it too." He snickered. "He's going to be a mummy."
"Sounds interesting," Akira said, trying to envision that. Ochi wound up in bandages...
"Want my help with a costume?" Shindou's head was tilted to one side as he regarded Akira. "We found a couple good costume stores."
"I'm not cosplaying as some J-Rocker," Akira informed him.
"Awww." Shindou's smile melted, then sprang back, fully formed. "How about a harlequin? Costumes are all about being something you're not."
"What are you going as?"
Shindou grinned, showing off his eyeteeth. "Dracula."
The other player shrugged, unrepentant. "Why not?"
Akira couldn't find an answer to that one. "You are insane."
"Says the one who complains about no truth in advertising."
Hikaru waved goodbye and headed toward his station. It was annoying in some ways that he and Touya had to take different train lines to get home-it would be good to have more time to talk-but at least hisstop was closer to the parlor. Touya had to walk down three blocks and over two to get to his train line.
What costume would suit Touya, drive him mad, and yet be so perfect that he had no chance of rejecting it? Hikaru mulled it over as he went down the steps, mind skipping through the selection of costumes the shops he, Waya, and Isumi had visited carried. No, not that one... Touya would never agree to that one either... the momentary vision of Touya dressed in that particular costume flitted behind his eyes and he had to screw up his face to keep from laughing out loud...
He fumbled for his wallet and the train pass it contained, still thinking. He'd have to take Touya along to the shops, though, to pick something out (Touya trusted him, but not far enough to wear something he picked out, sight unseen)... when would their schedules permit?
He finally found the pass and palmed it, stepping up to the turnstile as he put his wallet away.
His eyes flew wide as the world went cold, and a scream from nowhere hit him like a kick in the gut.
He had no way to move, to struggle, to fight. Fangs bit deep into his neck, paralyzing Akira, and the sour cold in the pit of his stomach drowned out the feelings of pleasure he could feel distantly battering at his mind. This was nothing, nothinglike Shindou's gentle feedings. Akira tasted bile in his mouth and wanted to swallow it down, but even that was denied to him.
It was never like this with Shindou. Why couldn't he fight?
Then he was knocked down, the fangs ripping out of his skin, blood hot, a familiar voice shouting, words that made no sense, and Akira's stomach of bile and coffee emptied itself out onto the ground of the alley. He coughed, choking on the burning liquid. Words started to make more sense, and he levered himself up, looking.
"You fucking bastard prick! What the hell were you doing to him? No one messes with my friends!" The words were accompanied by the sound of flesh hitting flesh and breath being forced from lungs. Watching Shindou fight put Akira in mind of a wildcat-all tawny and muscles and blow after blow, kick after kick, and never giving up. It was obvious the other vampire had neither Shindou's strength nor his fury.
"Shindou." Akira got to his feet. "Shindou, stop." Shindou didn't hear him.
Akira staggered a few feet closer, growing more disturbed by the violence his best friend and eternal rival was spending on his attacker. If he wasn't stopped, he wondered vaguely, would Shindou stop? Akira couldn't let that happen. Shindou would never be able to live with himself. He wouldn't be able to live with himself.
Catching Shindou's drawn-back fist in his own hand seemed like plucking a butterfly out of frozen air. It caught Shindou's attention, certainly; he looked at Akira. "Shindou," said Akira quietly, and with weight, "stop."
Shindou looked in his eyes for a minute, then nodded and wordlessly released Akira's attacker, who crumpled to the ground. Then his gaze caught on Akira's neck. "Touya, you're bleeding!"
The cement wall was cold and unforgiving against Hikaru's back, a perfect contrast to Touya, in front of him, warm and yielding, almost boneless.
"Would you have stopped?" Touya asked, the muscles of his elegant neck vibrating under Hikaru's lips with the question. "If I hadn't stopped you, that is."
Hikaru looked up at the unconscious form a little closer to the mouth of the alleyway than the two of them. "I don't know," he answered. "I still feel like beating the shit out of him for what he did to you and what he did to me."
Touya went tense in Hikaru's arms. "He's the one?"
"Yeah." Hikaru went back to lapping up the blood. It was coming slower now as Touya's body and whatever analgesics and coagulants there were in vampire saliva finally started working.
Touya laughed shakily. "Then I think I'd want to get in a few hits of my own." His head dropped back against Hikaru's shoulder.
Touya was strong. This attack would shake him, but not break him. Hikaru knew this, could see it laid out like black and white stones on a board. Some food, some sleep, and some time, and Touya would be fine. It was probably a good thing that Hikaru'd been the one attacked first, though. Not that he thought he'd managed it with any particular style or grace, but he suspected that turning into a vampire would've been far worse for Touya than for him.
"You've stopped bleeding," Hikaru observed. Touya's blood normally tasted like sake and plum blossoms and breathtaking game play straight from the heart, but this time it had tasted thin and sour, cold. It had tasted like Touya's fear, and Hikaru hadn't liked the taste of it at all.
"That's good," said Touya, but he made no effort to move. Hikaru dropped his head forward, chin resting on Touya's shoulder. Touya's sweater was ruined. Touya's lips were right next to his ear.
"Shindou?" Touya murmured.
Hikaru took a breath, held it, let it go. "You're welcome."
Around the time Akira felt able to face standing and moving again, his and Shindou's attacker started showing signs of regaining consciousness. Akira and Shindou exchanged glances with one another, and without needing to say a word, flanked the fallen vampire.
"If you're awake," Akira said evenly, "we'd both rather like a word with you."
The man coughed, rolled over onto his back, and flung an arm over his eyes. "Too damn bright," he moaned. Akira was puzzled for a second. The alley was actually fairly dim-right. Vampire.
"Why the hell did you attack my friend?" Shindou demanded, voice tight. "Why did you attack me?"
The man (thin, Akira noted-almost too thin) lifted his arm, revealing reddish-brown curls and dark eyes, and looked at Shindou. "Oh, you," he said.
"Whaddaya mean, 'oh, you'?" Shindou demanded.
The man levered himself up, feeling gingerly at his face and wincing. "Didn't think I'd see you again," he commented. "Most don't survive the change. You washed up nicely, though." He licked at a cut. "You smell like sunlight. Guess you got off easy, huh? Lucky."
"You fucking prick," Shindou said lowly. Akira could see him trembling, his fists clenched, knew how close Shindou was to resorting to violence again.
"Why did you attack us?" Akira asked, drawing Shindou's attention away from the other vampire. "Why did you change him?"
"You ever been so hungry, kid, that your stomach would gnaw its way out through your spine just to get to eat one blessed grain of rice? If you could eat rice, that is. So hungry that you can't hear words anymore and all people sound like the droning of bees?" The man's hands had dropped to his lap and he stared meditatively toward the far end of the alley. "If you get hungry enough," he said lowly, "you no longer have control. Of anything."
"Bullshit," Shindou retorted. He always got cruder when agitated. "You could try asking, y'know."
The vampire snorted. "What human," and he said the word with a sneer, "is going to let one of our kind drink their blood?"
"I do," Akira said quietly. The vampire's head whipped up to stare at him. "And kindly don't imply that my friend isn't human," Akira added, with a touch of his game glare creeping into his gaze.
"You let him?"
Akira shrugged. "He's my friend," he said, as if that should be all the answer he needed to give. And really, it was.
Shindou dropped down on one knee, face to face with the other vampire. Akira started, seeing Shindou's eyes gone to the lambent cats' green he had only ever witnessed once before. "If I ever see or hear of you attacking people again," Shindou promised, voice low, "I will hunt you down and beat you unconscious again, then throw you out in the sunlight and stay to make sure you not only writhe, you die. Got it?"
There was something in Shindou's raw presence and force of personality at that moment that felt very familiar to Akira. It was like the Shindou he faced across the Go board in true battle-but even that Shindou seemed a shadow of this one. The Hand of-
"Don't piss me off," Shindou warned the pale vampire. "I've got a god on my side." He stood, dusting off his jeans, and looked at Akira. The scary cats' eyes color was abruptly gone. "We have trains to catch, don't we, Touya?" Akira nodded. Shindou handed him his satchel, then shrugged on his own backpack. "I'll walk you," Shindou said. "Don't want any more lunatics going after your throat."
As they left the alley, Akira looked back at the stunned vampire still sitting there, shook his head in resignation, and walked on.
Shindou never looked back.
"You know a god?" Akira asked half a block later.
Shindou huffed and stuck his hands in his pockets. "Yeah," he admitted. "I'm not sure he'd be happy with what I did back there." A speculative look crossed his face. "Then again, maybe he would. Never sure with him."
"What's he the god of?" Akira asked.
Shindou's smile was small and sweet. "Go," he answered softly, and there was no trace of mockery or teasing in his voice. "One of them, anyway. I'll tell you about him-"
"-Someday," Akira finished for him, and smiled back at his friend. "I'm willing to wait for it."
"You, willing to wait for me?" Shindou laughed. "That's a first."
And talking of Go, they walked forward together to their destination. For now, Akira thought, it was only the train station. But as the train station was only a stop on a longer journey, so too were moments and obstacles only stops on a greater path. And together, surely, someday...Fin
Akira tugged at the cuffs of his shirt and looked warily at his reflection in the glass. It wasn't too late to back out. He could turn around and not go... not have to be seen like this.
He inhaled a deep, calming breath and let it go. Shindou would laugh to see him in this outfit, but Shindou's laughter would be much, much worse and more cutting if he didn't show at this function at all. And there was the tiny chance that he might get to see that look of shock and surprise in Shindou's eyes...
Akira examined his reflection again. White linen shirt, nicely bloused even if it did show a bit more skin at his neck than he was really comfortable with, check. Black slacks, more form fitting than he was used to, but falling in clean lines... check. Black leather boots, calf-high, neatly turned down with a roguish air, check. Bandanna not messing his hair up too much, check. And-he turned his head to one side to make sure it was still in place-clip-on gold hoop, check.
He did have Shindou to thank for the idea. Out of all the costumes in the shops he'd been dragged to, the pirate ones had attracted him the most. But Akira absolutely refused to wear something so cheap-looking. So he'd bitten the bullet and asked his mother. She'd been delighted, making him wonder how long she'd been wanting to help him dress up.
And now here he was, riding alone in an elevator to the ballroom the Go Institute had rented as a venue for this event.
He was not going to let Shindou use his non-appearance as a chance to ridicule him.
Determined, Akira swung around and faced the opening door.
Hikaru was nursing a soft drink while watching Ochi play Nase. The higher-ups who had set up this shindig had been bright enough to realize that a room full of professional Go players and no boards would have been cause for mutiny. Still, there were food and drinks, a dance floor that no one was really paying attention to yet, but only ten boards to play on. People had to socialize somehow. Hikaru smiled at the thought of Go players being forcedto talk to one another. It smacked of a level of social sadism he could appreciate.
Then he felt as much as heard the approach of his rival, Touya's presence, as always, preceded by a fluttering cloud of whispers and people moving aside to grant him his own clear area of space. Hikaru practically rolled his eyes at the thought. Why, exactly, did everyone think Touya was so untouchable? Sure, he was a Go genius, but he was still just a player of the game like the rest of them.
Then he turned and saw what his rival was wearing.
When he found his voice again, it was to say "Touya, I didn't even know you knew ass-fitting pants existed."
Which made Touya go stark red and utterly broke everyone's concentration from the game on the board.
But if Touya was good at one thing (other than Go), it was recovering from the things Hikaru threw at him. "I didn't know you had class, Shindou," he bit back, visibly eyeing Hikaru's own costume. His tone was just on the verge of snappiness.
"Heheh." Hikaru spun, modeling his costume, his cape flaring out. He flashed his plastic fangs for good effect. "I didn't want to go with what was in the shops."
"Neither did I." Touya walked closer, toward the board. "Who's winning?" Immediately attention shifted back on the game.
Yoshitaka sipped at his juice, watching the dance floor. Damn, who knew Isumi could move like that? Shindou, that was no surprise, but Isumi? Totally breaking character, of course (since when could Frankenstein dance?), but all the cooler for it. Yoshitaka smiled to himself in pleased surprise and wished again that he'd been able to talk Shigeko into coming with him, but she had exams coming up and had adamantly refused to come. Akari had used the same excuse on Shindou, apparently, so Nase, dressed up as one of the characters from Card Captor Sakura, was in high demand as a dance partner.
Some people, of course, didn't seem to find girls necessary for dancing to the faster stuff.
"Who knew Touya-san couldn't dance?" Ochi observed from where he stood next to Yoshitaka, sipping his own drink from beneath his bandages.
Yoshitaka snickered, watching Ashiwara (dressed, appropriately, as an overlarge puppy) and Shindou try to teach their friend how to dance. "I'd kill myself if I ever looked that awkward," he replied. It was true; on the dance floor Touya's usual aristocratic flare deserted him and he moved with all the jerky grace of a puppet. Even if he had come in looking like sex on a stick (as someone had so charmingly described his costume), he was totally failing to score on the dance floor.
Shindou, on the other hand, was a natural, thrashing with energy, flowing with music. The dark green poet's shirt he wore floated around him, deep velvet cape flaring dramatically. Yoshitaka had no idea how he was managing not to get tangled in it, but had to admit that Shindou carried off the vampire motif with panache. He smiled into his drink at the thought and pretended not to notice Ochi's speculative eyes on him.
Panting slightly, Shinichirou twirled Nase off the floor so that they could both get some drinks and cool down. It had been fun to dance like that, he hadn't in ages. And Nase was definitely not a bad dancer.
"Here," he caught at the edge of a table. "What do you want?"
"Cold Oolong, if they have it," she requested, sitting down. Her face was flushed, but she was smiling.
"Be right back." He was smiling too, he knew, as he went off to get them drinks.
"Oh, man, he's got it bad," Yoshitaka moaned as Isumi went back to the table, two drinks in hand.
"You're speaking like you don't." The speaker was Saeki, who had eventually bowed out gracefully from their unspoken rivalry for Shigeko's affections. They were still friends; Saeki's small smile was wicked. Of course, it helped that he'd come dressed as a badass shinigami from Bleach. Looking at the bright orange wig, though, was giving Yoshitaka a headache.
"Well." He leaned back against the wall, adjusting the wolf's head mask so it was a comfortable cushion behind his head, and thought about Shigeko's smile. "Yeah." Then he looked at his friend, whose grin had gotten broader. "It's not like that!" he half-shouted. "She's still in middle school! Geez!"
"You move like a stick," Hikaru told Touya as they both sat down. He looked over at his friends for support. "Tell, him, Isumi-san!"
"You could use some practice, Touya-san," Isumi agreed calmly, always the peacemaker.
Touya glared at them all a bit, including the giggling Nase, but relented. "I've never danced before."
"And it shows," Hikaru agreed before Ashiwara joined them, handing a cup of cold green tea to Touya.
"No one can be good at everything, Akira," he said easily. "Myself, I'm terrible at karaoke."
"I never got good grades in science," Isumi put in.
"Ugh, English was the worst for me!" Nase pouted. "I could just never get how the words were supposed to fit together."
"And you, Shindou?" Touya asked.
Hikaru tilted his head up a little, looking up at the ceiling as he thought about school. "Everything," he admitted eventually. "I was only good at sports, though I did get to liking history later."
"I think your problem, Akira, is that you're so good at so many things that you feel like you should excel at everything," Ashiwara chided with a smile. From anyone else, Hikaru would've expected bristling or ice from Touya, but since it was Ashiwara, Touya just looked down and blushed, smiling a little.
He had to get Ashiwara to teach him how to do that.
Akira stretched just a little. It was very late, but he'd actually had a good time, despite the noise and crowd and dancing. He hadn't thought there were that many pro Go players willing to put on silly costumes and spend time they could have spent studying their game mingling with one another instead. Well, at least the conversation had mostly involved Go, so it hadn't been a night entirely wasted.
"That was fun," Shindou said from behind him. "I really was surprised by your costume, though... where did you even find that stuff, Touya?"
"My mother made some of it," Akira admitted, unclipping the hoop earring. He massaged at his earlobe; it was sore from the pressure and weight. "I shopped for the rest. What about you?"
Shindou shrugged, undoing the frogs on his cloak. He'd taken his plastic fangs out and stowed them in a pocket almost as soon as they'd left the party. "I shopped around at some of the pricier costume shops."
"You didn't take me there."
"Found 'em after you told me you'd already decided on a costume." Shindou shrugged. "Since I'm not exactly spending money on food anymore, I decided to splurge." He smiled widely. "The looks on people's faces when they saw you...!"
Akira gave a small grin himself. That had been part of the point of the costume. "Game?" he offered.
Akira fetched the Go board and stones while Shindou slid the fusama leading to the yard wide open, letting the moonlight into the darkened room. He stood there for a moment, one hand on the frame, looking up at the sky. "Shindou?" Akira asked.
"Just looking at the sky," Shindou answered. "Full moon tonight."
"Does that mean anything special?"
Shindou shook his head. "I don't think so. It just feels different. More alive, maybe. Or maybe that's just me." He turned away from the sight and knelt on the floor, moving closer to the Go board. "Touya," he said quietly.
Akira turned to look at him again and found Shindou's face very close to his. "What?" he asked.
Shindou looked deep into his eyes, seeming to be searching for something. He nodded. "I thought so." He drew back a little.
"What?" Akira asked, confused.
Shindou smiled. "I do have a reflection. I could see myself in your eyes."
It made sense, somehow, that Hikaru could find a reflection in people's eyes, especially Touya's, but not in mirrors. Or, really, when he thought about it, it didn't, but he decided it was One Of Those Things about being a vampire that he wouldn't understand soon, if ever. He examined Touya's play in the upper left corner closely. It feltlike Touya was trying for something deeper there, but he hadn't figured out just what yet.
The flutters in his stomach weren't helping his concentration. He rested his chin on one fist, considering his move.
"Shindou," Touya said. Hikaru looked up. "Do you need...?" The question was left appropriately vague.
Hikaru looked back down at the edge of the board. He still wasn't comfortable with this part of things, probably wouldn't be for a long time if ever, but it was the way things were. "Probably," he agreed.
Touya moved away from the Go board more toward the open fusama, unlacing his pirate shirt to open wider at the collar. His long black-clad legs stretched away. He looked like he should be a character in one of those manga that girls read. Hikaru knelt behind him, fingers brushing Touya's hair aside. It was longer, he noticed... Touya was growing it out. He briefly wondered why, then just as briefly wondered if he wanted to know why. He dismissed the question from his mind.
In the moonlight, he drank his eternal rival's blood, a half-finished game on the board behind them, waiting for their return.
A long story, originally sparked by a piece of HikaGo artwork that had four of the characters dressed up as the classic movie monsters. And I wondered, what if Hikaru really was a vampire? Because making Akira into a vampire is too easy. He's got the effete gothy looks, after all. But Hikaru? Who is summer and sunshine and athletics? That was a challenge. And many months later, incorporating at least two other pieces of canon HikaGo art, here is the result. I hope you enjoyed. I thank my many friends for poking at me for more, and especially Jeanne and Aishuu for acting as sounding boards during the rough patches of writing, and also my wonderful husband Douglas for helping me at 2a.m. to figure out just what the text editor was doing wrong that was munching my html code. And overall, I dedicate this story to the memory of my Jack, who was perhaps only a cat, but also a beloved best friend who brought good things into my life. Like Hikaru, he was golden and sunshiney and affectionate. I miss him, always shall, for his time here was far too brief.