When Shindo Hikaru was very small, his father tried to be around a lot and play with him. But then he got older, to the clumsy, uncertain ages of six to ten, when boys are neither cute children nor mature adults, but klutzy, curious, obnoxious creatures that adults tolerate until they get older.
That was when his mother really took over. Between Akari and his mother, Shindo Hikaru was a momma's boy, even if he didn't know it. He was still fairly brave and tough, often getting into fights (sometimes over whether or not he was a momma's boy), roughhousing, playing contact games like soccer and competing viciously. But when he came home, he could sit quietly at his mother's feet as she cooked, or made him cookies. Sometimes he even helped her, as much as a six-year-old boy can help anyone bake. She never yelled if he spilled things, knowing that his hands were growing too fast for him to keep track of them. And the food always came out ok in the end, so why should Shindo Masao know if Hii-chan had helped?
And whenever he was hurt, for whatever reason, she would kiss the injury, large or small, and take care of him. If it was particularly bad, she would only kiss near the wound (especially if it was open and bleeding), but those kisses and that gentle care meant more to Hikaru, even as a child, than he could express. Kaasan was always so patient with him.
Around friends, school-mates, teammates, Hikaru would act like a punk and ignore the small hurts. But when he went home, his mother still kissed each bruise the same and hugged him afterward. He knew he was too old for such treatment, at ten, even eleven and twelve, but it soothed him, and she smiled with her whole face whenever he asked her for help. It was so rare, that whole-face smile, and Hikaru had a feeling it was just for him. The smile that mothers only showed their children.
He could only give back the smile he gave everyone, but one day he noticed those smiles felt different after all. In front of other people, friends and strangers and acquaintances, he would smile a big, goofy, toothy grin. Sometimes he was really that amused, but more often it was an overstatement of his feelings. Often he didn't want to smile at all, but did it because people expected it. His mother saw a small, honest smile. Akari saw it sometimes, too, but mainly it was his mother.
When he tripped over a hole in the soccer field running at full-tilt and cut up his leg and sprained his ankle, she was the first person out of the stands and rushed him to the hospital. She restrained the kiss until all his friends left the room, and that kiss gave Hikaru permission to cry over the injury and cling to her like a toddler again.
When he broke his wrist after a middle-schooler beat him up and he still fought back, even three years younger, he refused to cry as he limped home, only giving in when she kissed the hurt flesh.
And when Sai vanished, and Hikaru cried into his futon for days, his mother patiently took him comfort foods: soup, ramen, soba, until he couldn't resist the delicious smell and ate. He drank thirstily to replenish his fluids. And then he broke down in tears again, laying his head in her lap like a child, and she kissed his forehead when she tucked him back in.
"I don't know what happened," she murmured, tucking his hair away from his face. "And you don't have to tell me. But – as your mother – I hope that you stop hurting, soon, because your pain is unbearable to me." She kissed him again and stayed until he fell asleep.
It was by chance that Hikaru had injured himself as an Insei, and certainly by chance that Isumi was the only person around. It wasn't a bad injury, just a large splinter that lodged itself in Hikaru's palm, after Hikaru had slammed that palm into a poorly sanded picnic bench in an emphatic point of the conversation. Hikaru flinched heavily, and Isumi's eyes widened.
"It huuuuuurts!" he moaned. "I gotta splinter!" Hikaru yelped, looking at the afflicted palm. "It's as big as a spear."
Isumi sighed. "You're being overdramatic."
"But Isumi-san, it huuuurts!" Hikaru thrust the palm out. "See?"
It was a rather sizeable bit of wood, and it was embedded very deeply in Hikaru's palm. Isumi started to panic a little, especially at the blood welling at the edges of the puncture wound.
"A-ano, what do I do? How do I help?" he asked aloud.
"You have to kiss it better!" Hikaru exclaimed. "Urk!" he exclaimed immediately after, realizing what he had blurted too late to take it back. "Ano, I mean…"
Isumi caught the flailing wrist and brought it to his face for inspection. Hikaru saw his head lower closer…and closer…he felt the brush of lips against his palm, near the splinter, but he didn't really believe his eyes. Despite himself, he relaxed at that little peck. Isumi pulled the "spear" out while Hikaru was distracted.
They never spoke of it again, though Hikaru blushed whenever he saw Isumi for the next week or two.
Shindo Hikaru was forever surprising the Go world. He became one of few openly gay players at the tender age of seventeen. Some of the stodgy old conservatives wanted to throw him out, wanted to refuse to play him, but they were told they didn't have that power – and if they wanted to forfeit, neither the Go Institute nor Shindo would stop them.
Touya-former-Meijin had taken it in stride, telling Shindo he was still welcome at their house any time, especially for study groups but also if he ever wanted to play Touya-former-Meijin. Touya Akiko smiled and agreed. Touya Akira barely noticed the announcement, far more concerned with Shindo's impending match against him than with his rival's sexuality.
Shindo's friends all took the news very well, though they told a few more coarse jokes to see if they could get him to blush. He usually told them fouler ones and they went back and forth until someone was too embarrassed to reply. Morishita even tolerated this teasing in study group, though he, surprisingly, would defend Shindo if the other boys started to seem truly mean-spirited. Shindo was touched by these occasional moments of protection. He was less touched by Morishita's offer to set Shindo up with some gay nephew of his.
Ogata, when Hikaru saw him, treated him exactly the same. As did Ashiwara, and most of Touya-former-Meijin's study group. Kuwabara-Honinbo winked more saucily now, but Kurata was the same egotistical Kurata as always. In many ways Hikaru's life barely changed at all. Until Yashiro propositioned him.
That was embarrassing. He did like the Kansai pro, even found him attractive, but not exactly as someone he wanted to date. He put his refusal down to the difficulty of long-distance relationships, and the hint that Shindo was not interested in a one-night fling with anyone scared Yashiro away.
Shindo did want a relationship with one person, though. Unfortunately, that person was completely oblivious to his interest, so his advances, his outright innuendos, and even his bluntest of come ons was usually only taken as a request – to play Go.
Desperate, Shindo went to Isumi for advice. Waya wouldn't understand, he was uncomfortable discussing this with the "adult" Go players, and Yashiro had a conflict of interest. Akari had no idea how to make advances – girls usually only had to worry about receiving them.
It was down to Isumi.
Isumi sighed heavily. "I don't know why you think I can help you any more than anyone else," he stated, "but I will try." He seemed rather disappointed, though. "You should try something unmistakable. You're still being too subtle for…this person." Shindo had refused to tell him who. "Chocolate, flowers, girly gifts. Even if he thinks you're brainless, he's got to realize something's up when you give him random romantic gifts…unless he's brainless. No jewelry, clothes, or Go-related items. If you ask him to a meal, take him to a nice restaurant, preferably one that caters to homosexual couples. Touch him, but don't be forceful."
"Ok, Isumi. I hope that's enough," Shindo laughed. "Who'd have thought he would be this blind?"
Isumi nodded, but didn't comment on that thought. "If you…need to ask more, you can always come to me," he said softly.
"You're a great friend, Isumi-san," Shindo beamed, hugging the taller boy impulsively. Isumi tensed for a second, but relaxed just as Shindo began to let go.
"It's…not a problem."
It was a tearful and broken Shindo Hikaru that returned to Isumi's home the next week.
"What is it?" asked Isumi, deeply concerned. Hikaru was crying so hard he could barely speak.
"H-he…just kept asking to play G-go!" he wailed. "And when I told him – flat out – that I liked him, that I wanted a relationship, he said he liked me too, but we were already friends and what could I possibly mean? So I told him, even more bluntly, that I wanted to have sex with him, he went really white and asked, 'You're gay?' like it was the worst thing in the world. And, really, how the hell could he have not noticed the entire column in Go Weekly that was dedicated to me coming out of the closet? It was on the front page, with a HUGE picture of me next to it?! AH! HE'S SUCH A MORON!" Shindo yelled. Isumi patted his shoulder uncertainly.
"What happened after that?"
"H-he said there are ways t-to c-cure m-me of 'th-that' and I didn't have to be like 'th-that' anymore if I didn't want to…that I was just confused right now and I didn't r-really l-like g-guys or him and…th-that he could f-find m-me a n-nice g-g-g-girlfriend," sobbed Shindo, stammering the whole way through on choked hiccups.
"It's not your fault he's an ignorant, bigoted moron," Isumi said firmly. "Now stop crying and forget he said anything. Forget that idiot was ever born."
"His parents are so great about it," Shindo mumbled. "Where did he pick up all this bullshit?"
His parents? Isumi wondered. It must be Touya Akira, then.
"Such views are not always inherited from parents. Sometimes they are learned from elders, or peers," Isumi said after a pause. "Try not to think about him. Sometimes foolish people say foolish things. You can forgive him and pretend to be what he wants you to be; hetero and safe, or you can ignore him the way he's ignored everything about you."
"How did you get so wise, Isumi-san?" Shindo asked with a watery smile, wiping his eyes with the knuckles of his right hand. He was intolerably cute like that. He sighed. "I just wish I could get a serious relationship. It's so hard to find a good man!"
"Not everyone is so blind to your charms, Shindo," Isumi said quietly, as he lifted Shindo's chin with his hand. "Touya Akira is a fool, for more reasons than one." And then he kissed Shindo, and both of them felt better.