First posted to my writing archive, Apples For Me, on March 20, 2008.
Title: A Deeper Calm
Characters: Touya Kouyou/Fujiwara Sai
Words/Rating: 2400+ words / PG
Summary: A very chaste romance-that-is-not-a-romance. Fujiwara Sai finds Touya Kouyou in the afterlife.
Betas: With much love and gratitude to M, R, and A, for their love and beta services. You're all too good to me.
Author's Notes: Title inspired by a line from Wordsworth's "Upon Westminster Bridge". This fic is located in the Pearly Gates universe (found on my writing archive), but it stands alone and occurs before the events in Pearly Gates. Written for a request on the Hikago kink meme, and dedicated to the not-very-anon requester who asked to remain anonymous.
It had been a week since Touya Kouyou's death. When he'd first arrived, he had noted with pleasure that there were hot springs in the afterlife; today was his first visit.
This spring was exactly like the one he had loved best when he had been alive, down to the flowering cherry tree by the water's edge. Pink petals floated on the water's surface, which was smooth and still as glass. Entering the warm water, Kouyou leaned back against solid rock, closing his eyes to enjoy the heat. The only sounds he could hear were made by the wind as it caressed the surrounding trees. He relaxed, listening to their soothing rustling.
Behind him, he heard the paper door slide softly on its rails.
Kouyou turned his head, but saw no one. Turning back, he closed his eyes again. It was strange that the door should open without a hand to move it, but over the past few days, Kouyou had seen chairs move of their own accord, children's toys appear and disappear, and bicycles move with no riders. He had become somewhat more accustomed to these occurences now; they had not been difficult to accept. It was the afterlife, after all. One must expect things to be different.
"Good day, Touya-dono," said a gentle voice behind him.
Kouyou turned, surprised to be addressed, and paused, the greeting on his lips unspoken. His first thought was, What beautiful eyes. It seemed impossible he could have forgotten such beautiful eyes, but he could not place the youth who kneeled by the water's edge. He doubted he could have forgotten the curve of that smile, the peach-smooth skin, or the lustrous black hair that shone even in this heat, yet his memory remained stubborn.
Was this his first new acquaintance in the afterlife, then? Everyone Kouyou had met in death, he had known in life, from his father, who had appeared in the white archway, down to his cousin Hiromasa, who had preceded Kouyou in a motorcycle accident by months. It was a moment before Kouyou remembered his manners, and then he shifted to face the other man, nodding his head politely. "Good day to you," he replied, searching his memory for a name that did not come.
He was treated to a radiantly beautiful smile. "How wonderful it is to be able to speak to you in person at last," the man said. "It was unfortunate I was not allowed to welcome you at the gate, as you did not know me in life. I have been waiting, all the same. Might I sit beside you?"
"Of course," Kouyou said, moving to the right a little, though there was an abundance of space. Welcome him? He still could not recall the youth, though the other seemed to know him. Perhaps this was one of his acquaintances' sons? Kouyou could not recall any of them. Or could this youth have been one of the many amateurs scattered across Japan? Someone Kouyou had encountered at a conference? He had met other pros here, older ones who had served as his mentors when he was younger. Kouyou thought this youth seemed a little too young to have followed the world of go closely enough to recognize Kouyou. Still, go was a universal pursuit that transcended the boundaries of age. Akira was young, too.
Kouyou paused, trying to remember. Akira? The name felt immensely familiar, and it caused a swell of pride to form within his breast, but he could not recall who it was. It was not the name of anyone he'd met so far in this world. Perhaps someone he had taught. It shamed Kouyou that he could not recall a student, though. Not facial features, not age, not even a last name.
It seemed the other man had entered the water while Kouyou had been lost in thought, for he now spoke from beside Kouyou instead of behind. "Touya-dono?"
"My apologies." Kouyou pulled his thoughts into order. "Even in the afterlife, one cannot trust one's memory, it seems. You remind me of a person called Akira, but I cannot recall any more about him beyond his name."
A look of sympathy showed on the other's face. "Akira must be very important to you, if you remember him even now."
Still alive? Remember him, even now? Kouyou considered these words. "Did you know him?"
"Perhaps," the other man said, and he turned his head from Kouyou to look at the cherry blossoms. "I apologize. I cannot say."
"I see. Then instead, you might supply me with your name. You have mine, and I am at a disadvantage," Kouyou said.
The youth turned, and then waved his hands before him, splashing water as his cheeks colored. "Oh, of course! I'm so sorry. I've been waiting for you so long I've forgotten you don't know who I am. My name is Fujiwara Sai."
The connection took a moment, and then a jolt of recognition stiffened Kouyou's spine. He stared at Fujiwara. Impossible--Fujiwara was in his early twenties at most! Sai's go had spoken of millions of games and decades of experience. Could someone so young have played so well? Was the other a genius blessed with intuition so remarkable it allowed him to instinctually read the stones that far and that deep?
The disbelief Kouyou felt must have been visible on his face, for Fujiwara smiled. "Would you like a game?" he asked. There was a sparkle in Fujiwara's eyes that spoke of eagerness.
If this was indeed Sai, then this place was truly heaven. If not, perhaps Fujiwara would prove an interesting partner anyway. Kouyou was curious to see what sort of go Fujiwara would play. "It would be my pleasure," he said.
Fujiwara was indeed that Sai.
"I have nothing," Kouyou said. His heart was pounding in his chest. "It is you," he said, looking up in wonder at Fujiwara before breaking into a smile. "You've been waiting for me." You wanted to play me again, too.
Fujiwara nodded, and gestured at the goban where Black and White pushed and merged into each other's territory. "As you waited for me," he said, and his entire being seemed to be alive with joy.
They played another game, and then another, not realizing the approach of night.
Kouyou awoke to the chirping of birds and the realization that he had fallen asleep beside the goban. He had not slept on bare tatami since he had been much younger, but his back did not ache. Such were the benefits of the afterlife, he thought, smiling.
Fujiwara's head rested on the goban. Had Fujiwara been awake, Kouyou would not have stared at the other so, but the other man seemed sound asleep. Fujiwara's long hair trailed down his back and shoulder, the ends tapering down to his robes. Kouyou registered for the first time that Fujiwara's clothes were styled after those of the Heian era, with the loose sleeves and billowing panels of cloth about him. He had somehow overlooked this, last night, and Kouyou was surprised at himself for doing so; it must have been the excitement of finding Sai.
He looked back up at Fujiwara's face to find that his eyes were open, and they were studying him just as intently. Their gazes met; neither of them averted their eyes. Kouyou was surprised at himself by this. And yet ... he could not look away.
"Good morning," Fujiwara said, and his smile shone like the morning sun.
Kouyou realized that he was smiling widely, too. "Good morning," he said.
They played game after game of go until the moves began to merge and overlap, and then they adjourned to the warm water, soaking in companionable silence until one of them suggested returning to the goban. Occasionally they would pour tea for each other, the steam rising from their teacups encircling them in a cocoon of fragrance as they contemplated and debated, discussed and advised. They slept without futons, lying on each side of the goban, and when they awoke the next day, they played again.
Days passed. The cushions they used moved closer as the formality of acquaintances was exchanged for the closeness of friends. The first time Fujiwara fell asleep atop the cushions, Kouyou did not bother to wake him nor move him to a futon, and instead lay down beside to rest himself. Every night after that, they laid side-by-side as brothers, speaking to each other into the night until both of them trailed off into sleep.
Some days later, Kouyou opened his eyes to find Fujiwara studying his face. He watched Fujiwara watch him for some time, and then spoke. "You study my face as if it were the goban."
Fujiwara looked surprised at first, but then he chuckled, soft and musical. "Do you mind? You do not look away," he said.
"It does not bother me," Kouyou said. It allowed him to study Fujiwara, too. "Did you sleep well?"
"I did," Fujiwara said. "Did you?"
When Kouyou nodded, Fujiwara smiled. "I'm glad. Another game?"
They bathed in the evening as the sun's rays cast a golden glow across the sky. As the last of the light began to fade, Kouyou suggested they head inside for another game; when Fujiwara assented, Kouyou stepped out of the water. It was getting dark; he turned, extending a hand to Fujiwara. The younger usually moved slowly within the water, and seemed to be very careful about where he stepped.
Fujiwara hesitated a moment, looking at Kouyou's outstretched hand, and then at Kouyou's face.
Kouyou realized it was the first time he had done this, and then wondered why he had. Fujiwara had been perfectly capable of getting out of the water without his help. "I apologize," he said. "I acted without thinking." He began to retract his hand.
Fujiwara grabbed it before he could do so. "Don't," he said.
In the dim twilight, Kouyou could not accurately read his friend's face, but something in his voice had seemed almost desperate. Was Fujiwara afraid of offending him? He squeezed Fujiwara's hand in a gesture of reassurance. "If you wish."
"I do." Fujiwara's grip tightened in response, and then Kouyou pulled, and he stepped out of the water.
Fujiwara's go that night was more cautious and conservative than Kouyou had ever seen. Kouyou suspected his action by the water's edge had affected Fujiwara. "Is something on your mind, my friend?" he asked as they cleared the stones.
Fujiwara didn't answer until the last white stone was placed within the go ke. Then he said, "Touya-dono, how did you die?"
"A heart attack," Kouyou answered. "It was quick."
"The cause of my death was drowning." Fujiwara's voice was very low.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Kouyou said, glancing out towards the pool. "Does it still bother you to recall it?"
"No, not anymore," Fujiwara said. "It was a long time ago." He got up, as graceful and fluid as he always was. "Come, let us have tea."
Fujiwara did not speak of it again until two nights later when Kouyou had closed his eyes to immerse his senses in the warmth of the water again. "I killed myself," Fujiwara said.
Kouyou opened his eyes, turning to Fujiwara. "You did?" he asked, surprised. "May I ask why?"
"I disgraced myself and my family, and I did not have the courage to commit seppuku as an honorable man should. Instead, I stole to the river one night and walked into the middle of the stream. The water was very cold, but I welcomed it." Fujiwara was staring at the water's surface. "I found myself at the side of the river the next morning in this life."
It was difficult to think of a response to this revelation. Kouyou watched Fujiwara, who continued to look fixedly at the surface of the water. "I see."
"My parents and my siblings appeared the day after," Fujiwara said. "My sister ... she was--" Fujiwara's voice caught, and Kouyou watched as the other man swallowed, closing his eyes. "She was three. They beheaded her for what I had done. They killed my entire family, because of me. And I couldn't even defend myself against the accusation."
There seemed to be no words for what Kouyou felt. He laid a hand on Fujiwara's shoulder. "I'm sorry." They sat that way for a few minutes.
After some time, Fujiwara sighed. "Touya-dono, may I ask a favor?"
"If I can help you, I will," Kouyou said. He wondered what it was.
"I wish to close my eyes, but I do not wish to get up. May I?"
"Of course," Kouyou said. Moving closer, he patted his left shoulder. "Lay your head here. You need not fear the water."
"I don't," Fujiwara said, but he laid his head where Kouyou indicated. "Thank you."
That night, Fujiwara tossed often. He made soft noises of distress which woke Kouyou. After watching Fujiwara turn left, right, and left again, Kouyou had had enough, and he reached out, laying a hand on his friend's arm.
Fujiwara stilled, and then relaxed, the tenseness of his muscles beginning to fade.
Perhaps Fujiwara had been having a bad dream, but it seemed as if things were better now. Kouyou shifted his pillow closer, and slept again, his hand remaining on Fujiwara's arm.
In the morning, Fujiwara was curled up in his arms. Kouyou noted the look of peace on Fujiwara's face and said nothing.
One day, Kouyou woke to a new name in his head. Kuwabara's here.
He sat up, pulling his arm out from under Fujiwara's head. Fujiwara stirred. "Touya-dono?"
"I must meet Kuwabara," Kouyou said. He was not quite sure how he knew this, but he knew it. Kuwabara was waiting for him.
Fujiwara nodded, sitting up. "Of course," he said, smiling. "I hadn't realized you were this close."
Close? To Kuwabara? Kouyou paused a moment, and then frowned, turning to Fujiwara. "We weren't. We aren't."
The expression on Fujiwara's face was first that of confusion, but then it cleared into a bemused smile. "I see. Come back soon, then. I'll be here."
Kuwabara's welcoming took three full days, just as Kouyou's own had. Though it was not an unpleasant experience, Kouyou found himself greatly relieved to return to the hot springs. Fujiwara was in the main room before the goban. When Kouyou slid the door open, Fujiwara looked up. His face instantly lit with joy. "Touya-dono, welcome back," he said, getting up.
Kouyou was not prepared for the hug, and he had to step back a little to brace himself against the force of Fujiwara's embrace. "Now, now, I was only gone three days," he said, laughing, patting Fujiwara's back.
"Three very long days," Fujiwara said, letting go of Kouyou as he pouted. "I missed you!"
Kouyou looked at Fujiwara, smiling and beautiful before him. It was good to see him again. "So have I," he said, meaning it. "Come, let's have a game."