Rules of the Game Arc

DISCLAIMER: Hikaru no Go is a product of Hotta and Obata . . . damn them both.
PAIRINGS: Touya + Hikaru, Ko Yeong-Ha + Hikaru, Sai + Hikaru, others.
WARNINGS: M/M, Angst, Manga Spoilers, Suspension of Disbelief in effect, and Religious views.
NOTES: Will write for comments! Much thanks (danke) for all.

Chapter Five: Real Estate to Go

Touya Akiko was a very beautiful woman. Kouyo didn't often say so, but when his intense eyes looked at her they were always full of love and appreciation for what they saw and the things she did. Those eyes always said something different than his curt and often times rude words. Touya Kouyo was a reticent person; disliked loud things and was usually uncomfortable in any situation that didn't involve a goban and Go ke of black and white stones. It was a slightly irritating list of traits he had passed on to their only child, but she loved them both all the same.

Friends of the family often joked that if Akira had been female, sociable, and without a Go inclined thought in his body then he would have been the exact replica of Akiko. Instead he was just the opposite with Akiko's features. Mrs. Touya always laughed at the comparison because it was disturbingly true. She didn't understand her husband and son's passion for a game but then she didn't need to understand it to know that it made them happy. As long as her family was smiling then Akiko felt that she could smile also.

However, recently Touya Kouyo hadn't been smiling. He would sit in front of his goban and merely stare, as if waiting for someone to make a move. Only that person never did. It had been like that for awhile now. He had joined the Beijing team and the schedule of matches had kept him occupied for a time, however, when they returned home, he would descend again into his depressed state. Akiko was very worried about him and couldn't seem to find a way to help her struggling husband.

Akira was another one. It wasn't right for a boy of his age to be as socially inept as he was. He displayed no interest in the opposite sex - or even the same for that matter - and Akiko knew that even the littlest romantic interest in another human being would relieve her mind greatly. She didn't want her son to be alone all his life as he was more often than not alone now. He didn't do things that didn't pertain to Go, and he was something of an introvert. And while Akiko may not understand the principle behind Go, she didn't need to to know that it was important to her son, but it shouldn't be to the exclusion of all else. Akira's eyes were scary at times and she feared that their intensity would frighten any potential friends away.

All but that Shindou Hikaru boy, it seemed.

She'd met Shindou before, briefly. He seemed like a sweet boy, willing as he was to come visit her husband after his collapse. He was Akira's complete opposite. He hadn't been dressed the same as her son at all. His bangs had been bleached, his clothes baggy, he was the kind that wasn't comfortable in serious situations, and adults seemed to fluster him a bit. He was adorable. Not that she would ever consider trading Akira in but, Shindou's mother was so lucky. Akiko often wondered how a boy like him had gotten mixed up in Go when he seemed more suited to be in a video arcade or holding a skateboard. She'd once asked Kouyo how a boy of his nature had become a pro and he'd laughed and said that Shindou became a completely different person when presented with stones and a board. She'd responded by saying she someday hoped that Akira would be able to see the merit in that. Kouyo had exploded with laughter then, answering that Akira considered Shindou his rival. He would likely view Shindou's easy going nature as another competition and be as contrary as possible.

That was different, Touya Akiko thought. Akira acknowledging someone his own age, wanting to do things - Go related or not - with another person was a vast improvement over before. It was a shame Shindou hadn't met Akira when they were younger.

"Good morning, Mother," Akira calmly greeted her.

Akiko some how managed to not fall out of her skin. "Good morning. Breakfast is warming on the stove. Sit down, I'll get you a plate," she responded pleasantly instead. They were too quiet by far. It was like living with two ghosts. Growing up, Akira had been quiet too, no fits or tantrums from her son. It was a though an old man had been reincarnated in her son. Akiko couldn't hold back her sigh. "Did you sleep well?"

"Alright, I guess," Akira answered.

The boy's mother gave him an appraising look. Sweater vest, short sleeved button up shirt, ironed slacks, and hair impeccably combed. Akira was disgusting at times . . . Disgustingly neat. Just once she would like to hear him yell, just once she'd like to tell him to tuck in his shirt, pull up his pants, or buy some that fit. She wanted him to complain, just once. Mrs. Shindou was indeed a very lucky woman.

She had arranged a special breakfast between just the two of them for a reason. She wanted to learn more about her introverted son. He wasn't a very open person, and didn't express himself even to his family so she had to do things like this. The little she did know about Akira had been through careful observation over the years and pure mother's instinct. Those few facts about her son's life that she knew were like lit candles in a drafty room and invaluable to her. And so it may be a little late, but she was going to teach her son to talk.

"Where's father?" Akira asked as he took his seat at the table.

"Sleeping," Akiko answered with a self satisfied smile that her son could not see. Convincing Kouyo to butt out of her special breakfast hadn't been quite as difficult as one would imagine.

"This late?" Akira wondered.

Akiko couldn't help but giggle. Perhaps Akira could be naïve at times also. It was cute. "He was very tired," she answered smoothly. She placed a plate full of Akira's favorite breakfast foods down in front of him and then took a seat on the opposite side. Discussions should be carried on when eye contact was easiest.

"Ah," Akira commented and then picked up his chop sticks.

"Have you decided to attend high school yet, Akira?" she began pleasantly. Akira had taken the high school exam and passed, but he had never said whether he would attend or spend the rest of his life perfecting his Go.

The conversation had to be kept neutral but personal and general all at once. This of course limited subjects to only two events; school and work. Anything else she wanted to discuss with Akira required a bit more than neutral but semi-personal feelings and Akiko didn't know if her son could handle that yet. She wanted to take this slowly, drag it out and spend time with her only child . . .

She wanted to have him acknowledge her, his own mother, as someone who was just as great as his father even if she couldn't play Go.

"Not yet," her boy answered. He seemed to hesitate and Akiko pounced.

"Not yet? Are you delaying for a reason?"

"Not really . . . I don't think I am."

"Why would you say that?"

"Because I don't think that this reason pertains to my decision," the boy answered. And then, seeming to realize how much he had revealed, added, "Should this reason exist, that is."

It was too late though. As innocently as she could Akiko queried. "Is it because of work?" Who was she kidding? This was Akira, of course it was about work. "I realize how stressful title matches and the tournaments to get them are." But also true, this was Akira, her only baby, she had to be supportive no matter what.

" . . . It's not really work," the boy admitted after a while.

Akiko blinked, silently rejoicing that Akira had disclosed that much about his life. He looked like he needed to talk to someone who wouldn't turn the entire affair into a Go analogy of some sort. "Then what is it, Akira?" she asked gently, her beautiful face expressionless and honest all at once. If you couldn't trust your own mother, then who could you trust after all?

There was only more silence on Akira's part. Akiko sighed. She wouldn't prod any further; it must be too personal for her son's piece of mind to share. Akiko wanted to cry. They had just started and she had already failed. However, right when Akiko resolved herself to endure another quiet and neutral breakfast, she found herself saying the magic words. "Alright. We don't have to talk about that. How is your rival? Shindou Hikaru wasn't it?"

And those narrow intense eyes of Touya Akira, widened in alarm. "I thought you said we didn't have to talk about that," he blurted out.

Akiko blinked. "We don't," she answered. "I didn't say anything about it."

"But you said Shindou," the boy accused.

Akiko smiled. "Ah. Is he the problem then?"

And the poor child dropped his chopsticks as realized that he had just given himself away.

Aboard the train on the way to the Touya Go Salon the former ghost could only look at his friend and shake his head. Sai had known Hikaru was a little naïve and had hoped that with a little time and experience he would grow out of it. What had just happened not more than twenty minutes ago was proof that any such imaginings Sai had entertained had been only that: an overactive imagination.

To get the complex that the two had scouted in the newspaper earlier, two short subway rides had been required. As they had ambled through a developing neighborhood Sai couldn't help but wonder why that particular ad had jumped out at them. Maybe it had been that soft glow that had caught their attention. Admittedly it had been the very first thing Sai had seen upon turning to that section of the newspaper. He had thought it was a trick of the light because Hikaru and his mother hadn't seemed to notice it. However, it was as they walked Hikaru happened to mutter that he was sure these apartments hadn't been there before. It was an obvious clue that something was seriously wrong to Sai. Hikaru had claimed to have just come to this neighborhood before the Hokuto Cup Tournament for a tutoring session. There had been no mention of any apartments sprouting up. He said that the lot they were headed to had contained a busted tire, a shrub, and a puddle. Something was obviously suspect about the whole situation. However Hikaru had shrugged off the observation and happily plowed ahead.

They were met at the apartment complex by two men. One had golden hair and deep twinkling black eyes outlined in kohl. He wore a black buttoned shirt emblazoned with an angel fighting a dragon and black jeans. His partner sported white platforms blue bell bottoms and the tackiest combination of colors Sai had ever seen in a paisley shirt. His natural hair stood at attention like a black nimbus cloud encircling his head in place of a halo. A gold tooth winked at them when he smiled. Sai had been instantly reminded of Saint Peter and Archangel Gabriel. But the former ghost had shaken his head clear of the thought. There was no way those two would be there.

Of course there was always room for error.

"Yo cats, welcome to the Sainted Arch Apartment Complex, where the room is abundant and the prices heavenly!"

"Y-You two?" he had exclaimed. Gabriel had placed a finger to his lips to indicate Sai should keep it down. As if Hikaru wouldn't know the two on sight after Sai had transmitted pictures of them only yesterday. An archangel and a saint were not beings one could forget easily. He had looked over at his bleached companion then and noted that he was still staring at Saint Peter in something akin to awe at his attire, but there wasn't a trace in his mind to prove to Sai that the boy recognized the two spirits before them.

There was no way. But stranger things did happen and Sai had supposed that a little later, Hikaru would identify the two supposed businessmen. So Sai hadn't said anything, abiding by Gabriel's wishes for the time being.

"Come this way honored guests," Gabriel had murmured. "I have the perfect place for you two."

They had moved from the lobby to the elevator and gone up to the fifth floor. The perfect place turned out to be a spacious fully furnished two bathroom, three-bedroom apartment that spanned the entire top floor area of the complex. There was a pre-stocked small kitchen, with various foods that Sai couldn't help but notice was all of their favorites. There was also a room to entertain. Yes, there was a thirty-six inch television but something you don't find in the average home was that instead of a coffee table in front of the sofa and two recliners on the side of it, there was also a Goban. Shuusaku's Goban. The exact board Sai had spent one hundred and forty years in before Hikaru had found it. The blood stains were gone though, and the stones were new.

Hikaru had merely beamed, "Oh look! A Go board!" There was only genuine happiness at seeing it because it was a Go board, not for its significance. How had Hikaru missed that one? It had been so bluntly before him and yet there was no reaction.

The apartment - if one could even call it that - had an odd blend of old and new. Things Sai distinctly recognized from his childhood in the palace hung from the walls next to posters of modern day rock stars or priceless sculptures sat beside anime action figures. But the real split between the two time periods blending so perfectly together was two of the three rooms, obviously pre-set for their occupants. In what had to be his room was traditional tatami floors, oil paintings of flowers and Shuusaku's - his - old kifu hung from the wall. The Tale of Genji written in classic Japanese rested on a small dresser next to a vase with a single adornment. Sai's favorite cousin, alias the Lady Murasaki Shikibu though Sai had called her another name, had still been working on it when Sai had committed suicide. He had been glad to see it. The closet was full of his old Heian clothes; however, they were slightly modified to a more modern cut using the same cloth. Each outfit had its own decorative fan and hat of various styles. Against a wall was a bed roll, but next to it there was a lute and a flute, also his. Sai had picked up the antiquated lute and cradled it in his arms. With tears in his eyes he had turned to his friend and whispered, "Hikaru, I want this apartment."

"I want it too," Hikaru had admitted as he examined his own room, his eyes eating up the details and loving every square inch of it. "But I probably can't afford it," he had muttered casting an apologetic smile Sai's way. It was the first sensible thing the boy had said since entering the apartment.

"I'm sure you can," Gabriel had countered. "Because you're our first guest and the first to answer the ad in the paper -" Sai had wanted to snort at that. They were probably the only guest and the only ones who had seen the ad in the paper. "We are letting you have this apartment with zero down payment and only 1 yen per year. Utilities are a flat 1,000 yen a month that will never increase. And we do accept cash in advance for if you're absolutely certain you'll want to stay here."

It had to be illegal to take advantage of someone's stupidity like that. What was more; naïveté of that magnitude should be a crime. The Saints, while meaning well, were taking it a little too far for Sai's liking.

However, the second intelligent sentence to leave Hikaru's mouth was said then and Sai had felt a little better. "What's the catch," Hikaru had suspiciously asked them. It was finally sounding a little too good to be true to him.

"There is only one," the archangel incognito admitted. "You can never tell anyone what you got this place for. If you do our deal is null and void. If anyone asks, you tell them that the price varies from person to person so you don't know."

Sai had recognized the gleam in Hikaru's eyes immediately then and wasn't surprised in the least when he fished out a 10,000 yen bill and handed it over to the archangel. It would cover the rent for the next 100 years and eight months of utilities.

"Groovy," Saint Peter incognito beamed. He had Hikaru and Sai sign some paperwork. And Sai had marveled that the entire time they had been viewing he apartment, that the two had not said their names; introductions had never been made. And yet Hikaru . . . "We'll fax you all the necessary paperwork which you must keep. If anything happens we'll let you know. If anything breaks down, give us a call, the number is listed in your speed dial. Here are the keys." And that had been all there was to it.

As Gabriel and Peter were leaving Sai had piped up. "Can I talk to you for a second?" he had asked tentatively.

"Sure," the archangel answered without hesitation. Hikaru was still engrossed with the apartment that was now theirs and had merely waved him off when he said he was going out. The angel helped Sai walk into the hall and closed the door behind them.

"Why are you doing this?" the former ghost had queried the moment the click was heard.

"Because Gabriel screwed up yesterday," Peter answered with a disdainful scoff.

"Do recall that I am a warrior angel and you a lowly gatekeeper," Gabriel retorted irritably.

"Humble much?" the keeper of the Pearly Gates mumbled. But he remained silent as he sullenly played with the golden keys placed within his care. Sai had briefly wondered about the condition of the line to get into Heaven. If the Gatekeeper wasn't there did that mean Heaven was closed?

The Archangel had looked up momentarily and then shifted his eyes to focus on the floor to the right of him. He kneaded his bottom lip with his teeth, his brow furrowed. "He does have a point though," he told Sai a second later; his tone contrite and his eyes honest. "Yesterday I'd forgotten that God had to knit your body back together after being in its watery grave for a thousand years. I didn't take into account how weak you would be and as a result I caused Hikaru undue pain. God told me to think of way to make it better and I figured there could be nothing better than a practically free place to live for the rest of your lives."

"What about the real people who own this place?" Sai wondered.

"Don't worry about that, cat," Peter replied. "All taken care of."

As funny as it sounded, the whole affair seemed legit and there was nothing too much more Sai could think of to say. After seeing his room he didn't even want to object too strongly. "Thank you very much." He had bowed deeply and just about fell over. Sai had gracefully accepted Gabriel and Peter's steadying hands and couldn't help but laugh with them at his weakness.

"Take care, cat, we'll be looking in on you two from time to time." And with that, the two heavenly beings had winked out of existence.

Fujisaki Akari, purse in place of school bag in hand, and fresh coat of lip gloss applied, ambled down the street on her way home from an early morning Go class. Summer had made it possible for such an occurrence. In between casually brushing up on subjects for school or hanging out with her friends, there was always the off chance that she might become a Go genius and follow Hikaru on his journey.

The thought of Hikaru brought a nostalgic smile to her face. Hikaru had grown up and apart from her those last three years. However, Hikaru had grown well. She had always thought Hikaru cute in his own way, but now, without the baby fat, add the height, maturity, and steady income and he was . . . Hikaru became a person to consider for after high school, when one was ready to settle down. At the moment though, Akari admitted, she did in a way like Mitani too. Mitani was like Hikaru before Go, and what was more was that she was pretty sure he liked her too. She couldn't say the same for Hikaru though.

Hikaru rarely had time for her anymore, and even more rarely did he make time unless he was nervous about a game. She supposed he should be glad that she could play against a pro of Hikaru's skill level for free when many would die for that honor, but Akari couldn't help but think of Hikaru as her childhood friend who was always a little loud, thoughtless and naïve. Akari also admitted that she had followed him into Go, not understanding that people like Hikaru tended to excel at the most unlikeliest of occupations.

She would be passing by Hikaru's house on her way, she knew, and Weekly Go hadn't announced him having a game. It was still early and if Hikaru wasn't asleep he should only be practicing or something like that. She was going to drop in. A frown crossed her face when she thought of what Mitani would say about that, but Akari shrugged it off. Mitani was a boy she liked second only to Hikaru, but both of them were her friends.

Akari turned into the Shindou walkway and knocked on the door. It was opened a few seconds later by a flustered Shindou Hikari who did her best to smile encouragingly at the girl at her door.

"Hello, anything I can help you with Akari?"

"Is Hikaru here?"

"No, he and his friend left a little while ago." and here Ms. Shindou's face fell again.

Something prompted Akari to ask, "His friend?"

"Yes, Fujiwara Sai," Ms. Shindou answered.

Akari nodded. This was the friend Hikaru had mentioned he was going to learn Go for those few years ago. But she had never met this friend, and Hikaru had only mentioned him infrequently. "They went to play Go together?" Akari questioned.

Ms. Shindou only shrugged, "I'm sure they will at some point."

Fujisaki nodded and bowed. "Thank you. Please tell Hikaru I stopped by."

However, as she turned to go Ms. Shindou stopped her. "Akari . . ." she seemed desperate. "Y-you know how to play Go, right?"

Akiko recognized the adrenaline pumping through Akira's body, the blood rushing to his face gave away his embarrassment. Would he run? Would he stop and think about it logically? Would he stay and talk about it? There was only one way to find out. "Don't worry Akira. We weren't talking about it. That is what you wanted correct?"

"I . . ." and it seemed to Akiko that for the first time since breakfast, Akira finally realized that his mother was making an honest effort to sit and talk with him one on one. He seemed to understand that he often neglected the woman who had brought him into the world in favor of a goban. "That is to say, I think I would like to talk about it."

Akiko felt as though the light of heaven had finally shone down on her. "So your rival is the problem?" she prompted.

Akira nodded. There was more silence and the woman realized she would have to do all the work if she wanted to find out anything. But she felt she already knew what Akira's malfunction was. The boy was good at his job, the stones part of it that is. The social part is what stumped him. And with how jumpy he was acting over the mention of a person it could only be one thing. Her little boy had a crush. Thank God!

"So you find Shindou attractive?" she stated. She took a sip from her tea to hide her smile as Akira's face drained of all color.

"You . . ." the boy began, utterly aghast at what his mother was implying, even more shocked that she had figured out in seconds what had probably taken him months, or even years. "You know?"

So couldn't stop at least a little of her sarcasm from leaking over. "Really, Akira, what else could it be?"

"I . . . but . . ." Poor kid looked terrified and horribly out of his element.

"It is alright," Akiko murmured soothingly. "I happen to like Shindou. As a matter of fact, I think he's wonderful. And it's even better that you like him too. Now, does Shindou feel that way about boys?"

"I don't know. But he's always inviting me out places with his friends, and he's always touching me when we're together . . ."

"Touching?" Akiko immediately jumped on the word. The hell . . .

"Yes. When he says hello, he'll always touch my shoulder or something. And when we're sitting in the same booth at his favorite ramen shop he sits really close. And when we're discussing a game he always finds a reason to touch my hands," Akira explained. "And I think . . ." his voice dropped lower, as though he was less confident about this next revelation. "I think he actually became an insei because of me. Like he really wasn't going to pursue Go if I hadn't of blown him off as someone not worthy of my time . . . or something like that."

Poor Shindou, Akiko thought upon hearing that. The child had been in the same position she had been in with Akira. Wanting recognition but not knowing exactly how to go about it. Shindou had chosen to follow him into the Go profession. She could only be a listening ear. "So you think maybe, Shindou likes you?"

"Maybe. I was going to tell him today that I . . ." and Akira's voice failed him and his face rapidly regained color as he flushed again.

"Ah," Akiko commented.

"I'm just hoping I can get it out before he makes me angry or he gets irritated and leaves."

Angry? . . . Akira? . . . "What do you mean?"

"Well Shindou and I have been playing at the salon for some time now, and it always ends with the two of us screaming at each other. He just makes me so angry and . . ."

And Akiko could only listen and smile as her son went off on a tangent of all the things that aggravated him about Shindou Hikaru and all the things that made him laugh. She had never been happier.

The Touya Go Salon wasn't overly crowded the Monday afternoon when Touya Akira entered. Ishikawa greeted him with her usual bright smile and slightly flirtatious attitude, which Akira completely misinterpreted as pure kindness. "Amazing, Mr. Akira. I think this is the first time you've ever been late to one of your meetings with Shindou."

Impossible, the 3-dan always arrived at least fifteen minutes ahead of the arranged time. Today he was half an hour early. "Late?" Touya queried and Ishikawa pointed to the two figures seated at Touya and Shindou's usual table bowed over a game of sorts. Shindou was holding both go ke, however. He would place down a black stone and then pause. His partner's lips would move and then a white stone would be placed down directly after it. Was Shindou playing for the both of them? It seemed awkward but the bleached blonde didn't appear to be having any troubles with the way it was arranged. But to the matter at hand, Akira looked at the clock on the wall. It was saying twenty-eight minutes to the number. What was Shindou Hikaru doing here? And who was that sitting in his chair?

Even from the distance Touya could see that the girl was stunningly beautiful with her mass of long black hair, while in a ponytail, still spilling out of her . . . his seat to touch the floor. Her clothes, Touya had to say, he had never seen the like before; a mix of an old and new style, that artistically draped over her form. All in all, he had to say that she looked like someone Shindou would hang out with, more so than that Fujisaki girl in any case. He wasn't getting any answers this way, Touya realized, and walked toward the table.

He had first opened his mouth with every intention of announcing his presence and getting introductions out of the way so that he and Shindou could begin playing immediately and he could then casually let his feelings slip out somewhere after fuseki but before yose. The fact that there was someone else present didn't change his plans at all. When Touya Akira set his mind to something there was no going back; he would definitely keep his word. Of course, all the intentions in the world didn't stop him from taking a glimpse down at the board. The arrangement of the stones told the story of each of the players' brilliance. Black was good, but of he'd known Shindou was excellent already. White was better, however. He couldn't decipher how much better because he had only caught a glimpse before Shindou's hands ruined the shape.

"Sheesh, you never go easy on me," the boy complained.

"I thought you hated it when I did that," the other person - Touya wasn't quite as certain of the gender anymore after hearing it's voice - responded calmly.

"I do," Shindou answered, a growl in his voice.

"Then why are you complaining?"

It sounded like the beginnings of one of their fights. Touya had thought Shindou only did that with him. He had to put a stop to it. He cleared his throat. "Afternoon Shindou. You're early."

The other boy looked up at him with a scowl. "Are you whining after you begged me to come here today?"

"No. Whining is your department," Touya countered smoothly causing the other person to laugh, which quickly turned into a cough when Shindou shot it a look. "And who is this?"

"A friend," Shindou answered somewhat evasively. "He's going to be watching, is that okay?"

"Sure." And then the most peculiar thing happened. Shindou abandoned his seat to drag another one beside it and then helped the other - now known to be - boy rise, and walked him to the seat he'd gotten. What was wrong with him? First Shindou had been placing the stones for the both of them and he was now doting on the unnamed boy. Touya wanted to ask but was afraid that would be considered rude. So instead he sat in his chair, accepted the white go stone container from Shindou, in which he took comfort in their fingers touching, and then waited for him to put down his first move.

The fight began sooner than Touya would have liked, and what made it worse was that Touya himself was the one who had started it. He had been thinking about the game between Shindou and his friend when his opponent had placed down his stone. In the previous game, Touya hadn't been able to see any visible mistakes on Shindou's part. The game had had an intensity that he and Shindou had yet to discover in their games against each other. The game Touya had caught a glimpse of earlier hadn't been one between rivals, but something else. And when Shindou had placed his stone Touya had forgotten about his unconventional way of playing, he'd been expecting the same genius he had previously glanced at. "That was a stupid move," left his mouth before he could retract the thought.

"Stupid," Shindou scoffed. "I'm trying to compensate for this stupid move you did in this corner. You ruined both of our shapes."

"I did not."

"Yes you did."

"Did not."

"Did so."

"You know with that attitude you'll never beat me in an official match!"

"I'm not worried about beating you right now!"

That gave him pause. "W-What?"

"I'm not worried about beating you right now," Shindou repeated more calmly. "Now let's play."

"No. Explain what you just said."

Shindou huffed in irritation. "All I'm saying is that I want to prepare more for next year's tournament. Now let's play."

"No. You're saying that you aren't chasing me anymore . . . that you're . . ." Touya knew what next year's tournament meant without it being spelled out. Shindou had lost to Ko Yeong-Ha, someone he hadn't wanted to lose against under any circumstances. Touya didn't have that kind of rivalry with Shindou.

"It's only temporarily . . ." his opponent began.

"You can't do that. It's like . . . it's like you're cheating on me, Shindou."

"Cheating? Because I'm putting someone else's challenge to me before my challenge to you?"

When said that way it did justify Shindou's outlook on the whole situation, Touya acknowledged. However, he had been the one to protest he wouldn't take it back now. "Yes."

Hikaru looked at Touya incredulously before throwing up his hands and declaring. "I give up! If you're going to be this stupid then I've got better things to do today. Like move into our apartment." He helped his friend stand while Touya digested what he'd just heard.

"A-Apartment?" His steely eyes shot back and forth between Shindou and his guest. How were they getting an apartment together? How long had they known each other? Touya was well aware that Shindou didn't share all aspects . . . well really any aspects of his life with him but Touya was familiar with Shindou's circle of friends. And this person, this invalid wasn't in it. "You're moving in together?"

Shindou nodded enthusiastically though the anger still burned in his eyes. "Uh-huh!" He turned to go, his usual manner of stalking out of the building hampered but still obvious.

And suddenly Akira was overcome with a sense of desperation. He hadn't done what he'd said he would. He hadn't even brought it up. And now Shindou was moving in with some strange - beautiful - guy that he had never seen before. He had no idea if Shindou even thought the guy was pretty, or if any boy was pretty. Things were not going well. But even if he couldn't ask half of what he wanted to know, even if his original goal would not be accomplished this day, he had to know one thing. Now. "W-Waitaminute! Who is this guy?"

"Would you like snacks for this study session, or will you geniuses feed off each others' brilliance instead?" Akiko's smile and slightly odd sense of humor was always a highlight of his day, Touya Kouyo acknowledged as his beautiful wife set a cup of tea before him. She then returned to the dishes she'd been washing before his arrival into the kitchen.

Akiko knew nothing of Go, but when it came to running the household, finances, public appearances, and taking care of her family his opinion was that there was no one who excelled at it more than she. It had been brought to his attention earlier that not everyone in their small family likely understood her true value and for that Kouyo felt very guilty. At times Akira seemed Akiko's son in name only, his independence and lack of social skills alienated him from almost everyone, but especially those who didn't play. Many times, Kouyo had considered having another child, but there was no guarantee that another wouldn't follow in his footsteps and then there would be two who ignored their own mother. It was wrong for such a wonderful woman to be so cheated.

It was these thoughts that had him answering, "'Feed off each other' . . . Really, Akiko, you make us sound like parasites." She laughed merrily, a sound that after so many years of marriage he hadn't tired of. "Snacks would be appreciated, thank you." She seemed to glow at these words. But then, his keen eyes had already noted that she seemed happier today than she had in a long while. He could only assume her special breakfast went well; he would not ask.

"Akira seems to be running late," he commented and then took a sip of his tea.

"He has a busy day planned," Akiko answered.

The occasional clink of dishes was a soothing sound, Kouyo absently thought. "He said nothing to me," he began.

"But I know," Akiko's reply was positively gleeful; it was as though she were gloating.

The doorbell sounded and Kouyo knew it could only be Ogata and Ashiwara. They had long since dispensed with the formality of waiting outside for the door to open. Ringing the doorbell was simply a courtesy at this point. The door creaking slightly as it opened merely confirmed his guess. One of these days, he was going to have to talk Akira into dragging his rival to a session. Kouyo didn't doubt Shindou would protest to the invitation. After all this time the boy might still harbor lingering guilt for his having retired after that match with Sai.

His entire body ached when he thought of Sai. Would that they could play another game. Just one more and Kouyo swore he would be satisfied. But that was likely a lie. One more game wouldn't be enough. It would be only an appetizer of Sai's intelligence, and Kouyo wanted the full course. In that, he supposed Akiko was correct in referring to them as 'feeding off each other'. Perhaps Shindou would decline the offer because of Sai, knowing that Kouyo would likely bring it up; try to schedule a rematch.

"Evening," Ogata replied as he and Ashiwara entered the kitchen. "Akira not here?" He seemed surprised.

As Kouyo shook his head negatively the door opened once again. It took only seconds for Akira to enter the room, there was something in his eyes that Kouyo could not name, or had ever seen before. "Akira . . .?" he began, but his son bypassed him as his mother turned from the dishes. He briskly crossed the kitchen and - much to the surprise of all present - laid his forehead on his mother's right shoulder. Something suspiciously similar to a sob escaped him and Akiko's sudsy hands were instantly around him in a tight hug, and then she drew him from the room.

Her voice was soft and soothing but still discernible as they walked down the hall to a private room. "Come now, Akira, don't . . ." Her voice failed. "What happened, Sweetie?"

"What happened?" his son's voice broke. "Sai happened."

"Sai . . . what is a Sai, Sweetie?"

There was only a muffled answer; they had moved too far away. But it was enough. Touya Kouyo took a sip from his tea, and when he looked up again his eyes accidentally met the gleaming eyes of Ogata. He didn't need a mirror to know that the same calculating look was in his own eyes.

~ End Fuseki ~ . . . ~ Begin Hoshi ~