The Boy at the Beach, or Five Times Akira Met Hikaru
by K. Stonham
first released 1st May 2010
Tokyo in summer was best described as hot, humid, and generally miserable. Nonetheless Akira didn't see why he should have been dragged away from his current project of exploring every floor, hall, nook, and cranny of the Institute to sit on a sandy beach that was even hotter and more humid than home. Sitting in the shade of a beach umbrella, he resentfully paged his way through a book of Go problems designed for much older children, determinedly ignoring the sun, the sand, the waves lapping at the shore only meters away, and the distant cry of seabirds.
That is, he sat reading until he was poked in the shoulder and looked up to find a boy his own age brightly grinning at him. "Whatcha doing?" the other boy asked. Most of his hair was slick and dark with water but the fluffier bangs had air-dried to a light brown shade.
"Reading," Akira replied, evaluating the stranger. He stood barefoot on the hot sand and bare-chested too, unlike Akira who wore a shirt with his shorts because his skin was fair and burned easily.
"I'm Hikaru!" the other boy introduced himself, thrusting a hand out. "Wanna be friends?"
"Hikaru!" a woman about the same age as Akira's mom called, jogging up the sand toward them. "Don't go running off." Her dark gaze rested first on Akira then flitted to his mother. With a small smile of acknowledgment on their lips, both women bowed minutely to one another in the mutual understanding way of unintroduced Japanese mothers. "You shouldn't bother people."
"'M not bothering him," Hikaru protested, dodging his mother's attempt to grasp his arm. "This is my new friend!"
"No I'm not," Akira felt obliged to point out.
"Could be," Hikaru rebutted, continuing to avoid maternal contact.
"Do you even know his name?" Hikaru's mother asked, finally succeeding in grabbing her offspring.
"No," Hikaru answered. "What is it?" he asked Akira.
Akira looked at his mother. She nodded and gave him a little finger-waggling gesture that he decoded with no difficulty into a suggestion to make friends with the other boy. "...Touya Akira," he mumbled, turning back toward Hikaru.
Hikaru beamed at him. "His name's Akira!" he reported to his mother, who merely sighed and released her son.
"Stay out of trouble, Hikaru," she warned him. "Don't go in the water."
He nodded vigorously. "Wanna see the tidepools?" he asked Akira.
"...Sure," Akira conceded reluctantly after another glance at his mother. He put a place marker in his book and set it carefully down on the beach blanket.
"Great!" Hikaru grabbed his hand and dragged him off toward the water. Behind them, Touya Akiko murmured an invitation and Shindou Mitsuko accepted, taking a seat on the blanket and pulling out a comb for her long, damp hair as their offspring wandered off in an only semi enforced adventure.
When Akira slipped and fell into the water, getting throughly drenched and minorly scraped, Hikaru didn't laugh at him. Instead he extended a hand down to fish Akira out, careful not to get pulled in himself, checked worriedly over Akira's injuries, and dragged him off to the concessions stand that Hikaru's father ran. Sitting side by side later, each with a cone of flavored shaved ice, listening to a story about the mermaids that cried pearls who lived offshore, Akira came to the decision that, even if his scrapes still burned under the bandaids, the other boy might not be that bad after all.
For the rest of the two weeks he spent at the beach, Akira and Hikaru were near inseparable.
Despite his mother's reminders that they'd been to this beach resort before when he was little, Akira honestly couldn't remember much about it. Not that it mattered. They were on this vacation for his father's health, or so she insisted, and despite his father's not quite eyerolls whenever she brought this up, ultimately Kouyo gave in wordlessly, gracefully, and with a small smile that showed his adoration for Akiko.
And if Akira happened to have overheard late one night a discussion between them about his mother not being comfortable with the way Ogata looked at him... he would never admit it. Nor would he confess to having noticed any difference in the distance his father's best student kept from him following a discussion his father had had with the other pro out in the garden, carefully out of anyone's earshot.
This trip was because of his mother. Really. Not because of his father, and not because of him.
His father, unfortunately, seemed to be taking the "vacation" concept too far, in Akira's opinion, and refused to spend hours under the shade of the beach umbrellas playing Go on the portable board Akira had packed in his luggage. Akira suspected the demure approving smile his mother gave his father at this proclamation had something to do with the decision.
So he sat under the shade of the umbrella, all alone, determinedly ignoring his parents who cavorted in the shallow surf, his father playfully splashing water at his mother like someone much younger and much less dignified. Obviously his parents had been replaced by aliens for the duration of this vacation, and the best way to proceed was to study on his own until they all returned to Tokyo and everything reverted to normal.
"Hey." Akira looked up from his book to find a suntanned boy his own age, with fluffy light-colored bangs and the rest of his hair dark and wet, sitting cross-legged by him on the sand. "Are you a kappa?" the other boy asked.
Was he a... "No!" Akira snapped and turned back to his book.
"Just checking. Because your hair kind of looks like one's and kappa sometimes drown people and that wouldn't be good for the businesses at the beach," the boy continued, oblivious to Akira's ignoring him.
"I am trying to read," Akira pointed out, inching his book higher as if to prove his words.
"You sure you don't want to go look at the tidepools or something?" the boy asked. "Most people do while they're here, even if they can't swim."
"I can swim perfectly fine," Akira replied, lowering the book again and glaring at the boy. "I just don't want to be here, wasting time."
Green eyes met his and the other boy drew an idle line in the sand with an index finger. "You know, I might be wasting my time with it, since I live here and all. But you're a visitor, and I bet you're gonna have that book just the same whether you're home or here. But the ocean's not going back with you to wherever you came from."
"The ocean," Akira rejoined, "will go away. Go," he said, hefting the book again, "will stay. Which is the more important to me, you can decide."
The other boy's eyes focused on the book. "What's Go?" he asked.
"A game of strategy," Akira replied. He sighed when the other boy didn't seem to be going anywhere, set down his book (marking his place first), and pulled his portable board out of the beach bag. Unfolding it, he set it at the edge of the blanket, placing the baskets of black and white stones to one side. "The stones are placed on the intersections of the lines," he explained. "Black goes first. When they're all placed, the player with the most territory on the board wins." It was a simplistic explanation suited to a raw beginner.
"Huh. So you just cover the board until someone wins?"
"Hardly." Akira set a few stones on the board with a practiced finesse that showed he had been playing the game since he was old enough to understand the rules. He was, after all, the Meijin's son. "Here. The stones are linked in horizontal and vertical lines and can't connect diagonally. If I close this eye with a last stone, here, the two inside are taken as my prisoners." He deftly removed the two white stones from inside the surrounding black.
"But why didn't white just make another move and get away?" the boy asked, leaning across the board, studying it.
"Perhaps the player's attention was elsewhere on the board," Akira's father said, returning to the blanket, damp with brine. "Or perhaps it was a sacrifice to allow stones elsewhere to live.
Akira's mother, meanwhile, was staring at the boy with a narrowed, speculative gaze. "...Hikaru-san?" she asked.
"Ah?" The boy looked up at her.
Akiko laughed, soft and delighted. "I thought that must be you! Your hair is unique," she explained. "Is your mother around?"
"Um." The boy raised a hand to the back of his head and looked out at the ocean. "She's visiting family today. She'll probably be back tonight."
"It will be lovely to see her again," Akiko said. "Akira-san, you probably don't remember, but the last time we were here, you and Hikaru-san spent a lot of time together."
"I don't-" Akira started, but Hikaru's eyes were wide open and he jabbed a finger at Akira.
"Ah!" he said. "I knew I knew you! You freaked out about the baby octopuses! And we had shaved ice at my dad's!"
The scenario sounded vaguely familiar, prodding at a hazy recollection that had happened half his lifetime ago. But it was more filial duty and parental expectant glances than any fond memories which made Akira ask if Hikaru would like to learn how to play Go.
For once, Akira didn't hate the beach. He was too worried about his father, too conscious of all the directives and decrees the doctors had given not only Kouyo but his wife and son as well, all too familiar with the type of heart attack survivor who would try too much and too soon, insisting all the while that they were fine. And it was damned irritating how much more easily his father was taking this than anyone else! Didn't he understand that he'd almost died, and Akira didn't know what he'd do without his father?
He buried his anger under concern and helping as best he could, ignoring it when his father just looked at him in that way that expressed mild exasperation. Honestly, parents made the worst patients!
"Akira-san," his mother said, exchanging first one type of look with her husband and then another, entirely different type of look with her son, "perhaps you might go to the concessions stand and get us some cool tea?"
"Of course, Mother," he replied, not really fooled as to her (and his father's) motives. But being an obedient son, he slipped on sandals and made his way across the sands to the concessions stand.
The middle-aged man who'd run it the previous day wasn't there and instead a teenage boy minded the shop, smiling and laughing and chatting with the few off-season customers while selling them what they wanted. "No, sorry," he told one. "We don't offer takoyaki." Wait, Akira thought, pausing as he came up to the small wooden shack, isn't he...?
The boy looked at him, tilted his head slightly to one side, then straightened again, eyes going wide. "Akira?" he asked, sounding delighted.
"Hikaru," he replied, then caught himself. They were older now. He was almost an adult, or was at least earning more income than many adults. Such childish familiarity was no longer appropriate. "Shindou," he said instead. He hadn't remembered the other boy's surname, but there was no real need, not when the concession stand sign read "Shindou's Snacks."
"...Touya, then," Shindou said, drawing his enthusiasm back into himself a trifle reluctantly. He smiled, though. "It's been a long time. What can I do for you?"
"It has. Two cold green teas, please, and one cold oolong. I'm surprised you're not lifeguarding."
Shindou stilled. "I'm not a good enough swimmer," he replied, turning to rummage around in the icebox behind the counter. "Do you still play Go?" he asked.
"Yes. I'm a professional now."
Shindou paused to look at him. "Wicked. I have a friend who'll love to know that."
"And you?" Akira felt obliged to ask.
"I play a little online." And indeed there was a laptop tucked away in the back corner of the shack on top of a small shelf. "I kind of took it up after you showed me a little bit, and my friend taught me some more. Here you go." He slid the three requested drinks across the counter and made the coins Akira gave him in return disappear. "Here, a special. For you." He held out a red snowcone.
Akira blinked at it.
"Strawberry. That was your favorite, right?" Shindou smiled beatifically at him.
"Yes. Thank you." Akira juggled the drinks so that two were tucked between the crook of his arm and his body, and took the shaved ice with his other hand. He paused a moment before offering "You wouldn't care to play a game sometime, would you?" His father was refusing to play him at the moment, citing his heart condition though Akira had the frustrating sense Kouyo was refusing for some other reason. And it wouldn't hurt to see how far Shindou had progressed as an amateur.
Shindou beamed. "I'd love to!"
When he took the drinks back to his parents and explained about the snowcone and his inviting the other young man to a game, his mother's eyebrows raised for a moment before her face transformed into a smile that Akira couldn't quite read. "How nice, Akira-san," was all she said, and once again he had the frustrating notion that both his parents were seeing things, moves, openings, that he wasn't.
He stared at the move in shock, then looked up at Shindou.
I play a little online.
Over the last five years there had been one player who had taken the international online Go community by storm. No one knew anything about him... or her. Only that "sai" had come from nowhere, played like no one else, and had never, ever been defeated. Pros saw the printouts, discussed them, studied them. Waited online in queues for hours, to play the master.
Waited online to play his apprentice.
"beachboi" was never online at the same time as his teacher; it was generally thought that they used the same computer. And it was very obvious that the one was the student of the other; their styles, the flavors of their playing, were very similar yet very distinct. But where "sai" had been brilliant from the first day he had appeared online, it hadn't been until months later, nearly a full year, that "beachboi" had appeared, and he had been a pedestrian player at first, utterly mediocre. Utterly forgettable.
That had been then, though, and this was now. Though he wasn't yet quite as well-known as his mentor, "beachboi"'s rate of improvement had been meteoric. Astounding. Nearly impossible to believe. It was obvious that he was a natural, and that he played frequently against an undefeated, possibly even undefeatable, teacher, learning.
Akira met Shindou's sea-green gaze, then dropped to the board. "'beachboi'?" he asked, shaken.
Shindou blinked, then his gaze dropped to the board, examining their play more carefully. His eyes widened. "You're 'Akira'?" Shindou asked, referring to Akira's NetGo name, in a tone of incredulous I-should-have-known recognition.
He hadn't been able to return to the seaside resort in five years. It was funny, in its own irritating way, how the universe had seemed determined to keep him from going back. Whenever a break came up in his game schedule Shindou wasn't at the resort, disappearing for weeks on end on what he called "family matters." Akira had long since begun wondering if "sai" was a member of Shindou's family, or perhaps the other way around, since if "beachboi" wasn't going to be online, "sai" was guaranteed not to be as well. But Shindou wouldn't say a word about his elusive mentor. He refused to, in fact. It had been the source of some rather spectacular e-mail arguments between them (almost as heated as their messaged exchanges regarding their games, in fact) that had led to frosty silences of several weeks a few times. All Akira knew were those first few oblique sentences about the friend who had taught Shindou to play.
But now, finally, their schedules coincided, and so Akira was back at the beach resort. It hadn't changed much during the intervening years. Despite what poets might say about the sea being ever-changing, it was also, in its own way, constant.
It was the things man built that changed, and as he approached the concessions stand, Akira noted with mild amusement the "and Ramen!" that had been painted on to the end of the sign. And indeed there was the smell of good ramen broth in the air and several patrons lingering around at tables that were also new, catching noodles up in their chopsticks, slurping broth down.
Shindou, a dark bandanna wrapped around the back half of his hair, keeping all but his bangs out of sight, looked up and grinned as Akira approached. "Touya!" he greeted with the wave of a ladle.
"Shindou," Akira returned with a cool nod.
"Gimme a half hour and I'll be off and we can go do something together. Or did you want to try our ramen?"
Akira ended up declining the offer of ramen but waited at one of the tables, unfolding the portable Go board he carried in his bag and using it to recreate one of his professional matches. He sat there, evaluating possibilities while not too far away Shindou laughed and joked with his customers, cooking up and serving them his ramen.
It was in fact almost exactly a half hour later that Shindou slid into the seat across from Akira's, studying the board himself. "Pro game?" he asked. Akira nodded. "You got trounced."
"I did not!" Akira bristled.
"You totally did," Shindou retorted, unruffled. "Who was your opponent?"
"Ogata Seiji, ninth dan. One of my father's students."
"Ah." Shindou nodded. "What if you'd played a keima here...?"
The vacation was in its way relaxing. Around Shindou, Akira felt like he could let his shields down. The other man had no expectations of him the way other pros did, no preconceived notions of anything other than his gameplay.
They played marathon face-to-face games which were somehow exhilarating in ways that their online matches weren't. Shindou's touch on the stones had improved over the years, Akira noted. His water-softened calluses weren't quite as prominent as a pro's, but the way he held stones between index and middle fingers was as elegant as any professional's grasp. But Akira consciously didn't bring up their ongoing argument about Shindou going pro. It wasn't that Shindou lacked any skill or any confidence (he was in fact, a better player and more self-assured than many of the pros Akira knew). No, it was his simple, stupid refusal to leave behind this rural resort and move to Tokyo. His reasons made no sense, and sounded like weak lies, but on this point he would not be budged.
That argument had cost them eight months of not talking to or playing against one another. Akira didn't want to repeat the gap.
Eventually, though, Shindou put an end to the matches each day and dragged Akira off to explore areas of the resort he'd never visited before. One day they ended up on the far north end of the beach where the ground sloped abruptly upward to form cliffs that were bisected by a cold-running river. There were caves in the near cliffs, deep and cool and smelling of the briny seawater that flooded them during high tide. On the far side of the river, though, the bay was deep even at low tide. If there were caves there, they were unexplorable without diving gear.
"It's called Leaping Rock," Shindou told him, waving at the promontory opposite. "Someone jumps every few years. Some of them make it. They call them mermaid rescues. Others... wash up on the beach later. They say the merpeople ate those ones." His face was grim, and Akira wondered if Shindou had ever seen, or worse found, one of those half-decomposed bodies. If that was perhaps the reason that someone who had lived his entire life at the beach never swam. "It's a lie." He shook his head. "I can understand, kind of, why someone couldn't stand to live any more, but... it's such a waste."
The imagery stayed in Akira's mind for the rest of the day, and when he woke in the early hours of the morning to use the restroom, he couldn't help glancing out of his room's windows at the silver-limned cliffs, imagining a black speck throwing itself out from the top into the black embrace below, falling, falling-
He woke with a gasp from the dream to sunlight on his face.
The last morning of Akira's stay, Shindou played slowly, clearly wrestling with something. Akira, curious, waited him out.
"Your dad," Shindou finally said. "He's the Meijin, right?"
"Yes," Akira calmly replied, considering the stone Shindou had placed.
"He doesn't play online."
"If you asked him," Shindou said, and it sounded like the request was being dragged out of him against his will, "do you think he would?"
"If you want to play my father, Shindou," Akira replied, making his move, "come to Tokyo." He looked up from the board and blinked, surprised to find Shindou's eyes wide and pale, his complexion slightly ashen. "Shindou-"
"Not me," the other man bit out. "'sai'."
Akira blinked, surprised. Shindou was finally admitting to the connection? And 'sai' wanted to play the Meijin? "Father despises players who won't reveal their real names or show their faces," he said finally.
"It's not that he won't," Shindou said, and there was desperation-and truth?-in his voice. "He can't. Please, Touya!"
A flurry of thoughts whirled up like a windsurfer caught in a sudden gust of air. A shut-in, perhaps. With a severe physical ailment of some kind. "sai" was Shindou's reason for not leaving this resort. He had to be. Perhaps he was an old man, who had only started sharing his skill with others after being approached by a bright ten-year-old asking for lessons. He'd probably never even seen a computer before Shindou had introduced him to NetGo...
"How badly off is he?" Akira asked softly.
Shindou hesitated before replying, "He can't even place his own stones. No one can see him."
It was a lot to take in. And it potentially explained a lot about the mysterious genius. "I'll ask my father," Akira said. "I can't promise anything."
Shindou nodded. "Thank you."
5. 25 (5x5)
The Meijin was dead.
The news rang through the Go world like the reverberations of a temple bell. Go salons were variously closed or open late in a show of respect and mourning. His funeral service strained the seams of the hall that had been rented. His widow wore black.
His son and heir, never gracious at the best of times, moved through life and the forms of mourning with all the jerky grace of an ill-manipulated wooden puppet. For a change, his peers of age as well as those of skill saw that he was hurting and tried their best to help. Or at least to keep their remarks to themselves.
It didn't matter.
It was nearly three weeks after the cremation before Akira turned on his computer. Out of habit he checked his e-mail first. His eyes immediately focused on one particular name, startled for a moment out of his malaise. Then he opened the mail.
"I'm sorry," Shindou had written, three and a half weeks prior. "If you want to talk with someone who knows what it's like, give me a call." He'd even thoughtfully included a number.
Akira forgot to breathe for a moment.
Five years. Five years and Shindou thought he could just e-mail an apology, a note of sympathy, and everything would be okay?
Five years since he'd helped set up that internet game between his father and "sai."
Five years since his father's loss, since his whole demeanor and playing style had changed to where he was almost a stranger to his son.
Five years since not only "sai" but "beachboi" as well disappeared, and no one knew anything about where they'd gone to...
Five years that he'd watched his father long for nothing more than one more match with the elusive master. Which Shindou hadn't given him. Not a face. Not a name. Not a game. Nothing.
Breathlessness collapsed into cold fury fell apart into aching loss. Akira crawled into his futon without doing more than turning off his monitor. If he cried himself to sleep, he didn't remember it.
It was almost two months later that he made his plans and his reservations and told his mother where he would be going. Her smile was sad but gentle. She was slowly starting to heal from the loss of her husband. She was so strong. "He always liked that resort," she murmured. Akira nodded because it was true. But his father, he thought, had loved the resort not for itself but because his mother had loved it. "Won't it be cold, though, Akira-san?"
"I've packed sweaters," he assured her. It would be cold, and deserted, and lonely. No tourists, not at this time of year.
Akiko nodded silently. "If Shindou-san is there, or his mother, please give them my regards," she requested.
"Of course," Akira replied, nodding once.
He didn't see the worry and concern in her gaze as it followed him from the room.
The beach was cold, windy, and completely deserted. The usual summer shacks for snacks and souvenirs and suntan lotion were closed for the off-season, boarded up and lonely. Even the sky was overcast and dismal; the roaring waves were cold and heartless. Only scavenger birds paced the surfline, pecking at the wrack for anything it might have brought them.
No giggling children. No laughing, splashing teenagers.
He'd asked at the hotel and found that the entire family had left, as they apparently always did, for the off-season, and would be back to work come spring. No one knew where they went, other than to visit relatives. And the number Shindou had given him always went straight to voicemail.
Akira was too well-bred to huff a sigh, or to snarl, or to show any outward sign of his annoyance other than a certain tightness of his shoulders that was, he felt, entirely understandable. There was nothing to do at the sandy beach other than watch the waves endlessly roll in, gray and dull, so he hiked a half-mile to the bridge that spanned the river-carven gorge, pausing halfway across to look down and wonder just how long the water had run this course to carve its path so deep. Hundreds of years, surely. Perhaps thousands. Maybe even since the day Amaterasu had come back out of her cave.
On the far side of the bridge the path forked into three tines; one led up the gorge, one led away from it, and one followed the gorge back to the sea. He chose the latter, wanting to know what the sea looked like from this height. Wanting to know what the last sight was of all those suicides Shindou had mentioned. The roar of the surf was muted here, wan winter grass shivering in the salty breeze. Other than the sound of wind and waves, it was completely silent. It was, Akira thought, like he was alone in the world.
When the path reached the cliff it took a sharp turn right that he ignored. There was no guard rail, only a faded warning sign, white kanji and red warning triangles painted onto a weathered board. Carefully, Akira walked past the sign, minding his footing.
At the very edge of the cliff you could see forever.
It was beautiful, and left his chilled lips breathless as he stood there for a long time, gazing out at the sea.
Eventually, however, the cold and the wind and the silence grew to be too much for him and with the thoughts of a hot soak and something warm to drink, Akira turned to go. Dirt and pebbles shifted under his turning foot, casting him off balance and Akira had only an instant's surprise before he fell.
For a long second there was nothing but the wind rushing past him and the sheer cliff growing taller, then he plunged into the deep, cold sea. Instinctively he gasped, then choked on the bitter seawater. He flailed against his heavy coat and was slammed against rocks by the underwater current. Unable to breathe, panicking, he couldn't even tell which way was up. And the dark water began to get darker and all Akira could think was that his mother wouldn't know he hadn't meant to...
Then strong arms wrapped around him and dragged him down into the deep.
When Akira woke, his lungs and throat ached and there was a bitter salt taste in his mouth. But he was warm and mostly dry and somewhere close by a fire crackled, filling the air with the scent of woodsmoke. He was naked, with blankets both below and above him, and his skin felt gritty with salt and sand. Ungluing his eyelashes from one another, he blinked his eyes open and waited for them to focus.
He was in a cave, one that looked familiar. To his right was a fire, and beyond it was... Shindou. As naked as Akira was, except for...
Akira's eyes widened and he slowly sat up. He'd at first thought that the other man had shorts or swimming trunks on, but he now saw that the black-mottled yellow below Shindou's hips was in fact skin, and while most of it was tucked under Shindou as he faced away from Akira in a modified seiza seat, some of it wasn't.
Two long tentacles lay between Shindou and the fire, coiling and uncoiling in a way that put Akira in mind of someone drumming their fingers against a flat surface. Another tentacle hovered mid-air on Shindou's other side as he considered what was before him, a gleam of white positioned between two suckers like a...
...Like a Go stone held between two fingers.
Moving noiselessly, Akira stood, wrapping a blanket around his waist for modesty. Silent, he moved across the sea-worn stone of the cave floor and peered over Shindou's shoulder at the game. The grid was drawn onto the uneven cavern floor in thin chalk lines, and the pieces were not the slate and clamshell Akira was used to, but rather sea glass and pearls. An open drawstring bag of each rested by the game's outline. It was still too early in the game to tell which side had the advantage of the other, but it was clearly a game between two masters.
It was between "sai" and...
Shindou suddenly noticed Akira's presence and yelped, jerking to the far wall of the cavern so abruptly that he might as well had teleported. Akira was left blinking.
"You... you... you!" Shindou stammered incoherently. Then he seemed to get a hold on himself because his expression clarified into terrible rage and he flowed back down to and across the floor, moving on his tentacles like a fog bank rolling across land. "What the hell were you thinking?" he demanded. "If I'd known you were going to try to kill yourself with it, I'd never have told you about the cliff!"
"Really, Shindou," Akira replied deadpan because if he thought about how close he'd come to dying, he wasn't sure he'd be calm himself. And one of them needed to be the voice of reason. "It's not all about you." He eyed the other man's lower half. "Though I do think we need to have a talk."
"You..." Shindou's rage was clearly not sated any. A tentacle whipped around Akira's wrist. "Sit," Shindou commanded, another tentacle pointing at the opposite side of the game from himself. Akira tugged experimentally but Shindou's grip was strong and he couldn't escape it. Shrugging, Akira obeyed and sat down. "Why the hell did you jump?" Shindou asked. "You were damned lucky that I got to you!"
"I didn't jump," Akira informed the... whatever Shindou was. "Believe it or not, I was just admiring the view, and slipped when I turned to go back to my hotel."
Shindou stared hard at him for a moment, then seemed to accept the statement, because he relaxed. "Good," he said.
"I was told that your family was visiting relatives," Akira said pointedly. "Obviously you're not."
Shindou glared. "I was, actually. And the word you're not asking about is 'cecaelia'."
"How, exactly...?" Akira questioned, trying to word the question as delicately as possible, and failing to come up with a suitable phrasing.
Shindou smirked. "You know that Hokusai print about the fisherman's wife?"
Akira blanched, automatically picturing it. Shindou's quiet, gentle mother in the place of the pearl diver, and a pair of octopi...
Shindou rolled his eyes and flicked a tentacle tip against the center of Akira's forehead. "That was a joke," he informed Akira. "I get it from my mom's side. She's a mermaid." He used the English term that Akira barely recognized, rather than the Japanese ningyou. "Our family's colony's just off the coast here. Which is why I happened to be near the river and available to save your ass."
"So you've been like this your whole life?" Akira asked, tugging the tentacle that hovered in front of him over to one side. It uncurled in his hand, which felt weird... all skin and muscle and suckers, no bone to give structure or limit to its movement. "How does it work?"
Shindou shrugged. "I get wet, tentacles come out. I dry off, I get legs. My mom's lucky, she's got a tail. Land people find that sexy. Or at least my dad did. Me? Land girls don't really go for tentacles, no matter what anime says about it. And sea girls go for 'em all too much." He shuddered.
"So is this why you wouldn't move to Tokyo?"
"Do you have any idea how polluted and noisy Tokyo Bay is?" Shindou asked. "You couldn't pay me enough."
So Shindou needed water, then. "Not even to play me?" Akira asked.
Shindou was silent for a minute, then looked away. "I'm sorry about your dad," he said, voice soft, deliberately changing the subject.
"And I'm sorry about 'sai'," Akira replied, making his voice equally soft. Shindou turned his head back, staring at Akira. "He's gone, isn't he?"
Shindou swallowed. "Not long after he played your dad," he admitted. "This," and a finger, not a tentacle, tapped at the drawn game, "was our last match. He disappeared in the middle of it."
Shindou's mentor had died mid-game with him? Akira was aghast at how horrible that must have been. Worse than finding a decomposing body on the beach. Or in the sea, he amended to himself. It was no wonder Shindou had stopped playing. Still, "Why didn't you tell anyone?" he asked. "A lot of players would have wanted to attend his memorial service." Akira's father among them.
Shindou gazed at Akira for a moment, then shook his head gently. "There was no memorial service," he said quietly. "Sai... Fujiwara no Sai was a ghost. He drowned a thousand years ago in the same river you almost did."
Akira stared at Shindou, unsure whether or not to believe him. On one hand, Shindou was clearly not entirely human and might know what he was talking about. On the other hand... a ghost?
Shindou just shook his head. "You're so human, Touya," was all he said before he began clearing away the game pieces, multiple tentacles at once making fast, nimble work of sorting the pieces back into their bags.
"Wait," Akira said, grabbing at one of those bruise-yellow tentacles before it could dart away. It coiled almost reflexively around his wrist. He raised his eyes to Shindou's sea-green ones. "Play me, Shindou," Akira demanded.
Shindou practically moved into his room at the hotel for the week Akira had reserved it. Between the volume of their game commentary there and in the lobby, Akira was fairly certain that he would be blacklisted from staying at the hotel ever again. And while the thought made him blush hot, he couldn't deny how utterly infuriating and pigheaded Shindou was, and it was clearly the reason Akira was put on Earth, to beat some sense into the stubborn cecaelia's thick skull!
And during the time while Shindou was either sleeping, sprawled across the totality of the bed and snoring loudly, or spending time with his colony in the sea, Akira did research on seaside towns an hour or two away from Tokyo by train, and specifically the water pollution levels in the ocean by them. After sneaking in some phone conversations with his mother and asking her do some legwork for him (something she seemed entirely too pleased to do, especially after he mentioned Shindou), Akira printed out a list of possibilities and presented them to his erstwhile roommate.
"You," he said bluntly, "are wasted here. If you won't move to Tokyo, move within commuting distance and come play me."
Shindou flipped through the sheaf of papers, then looked suspiciously at Akira. "Why are these all two-bedroom apartments?" he asked suspiciously.
"You don't really think I trust you to live on land all by yourself, do you?" Akira drawled.
There was just an instant's pause before Shindou tackled him to the floor of the hotel room. And for years afterward, whenever anyone asked if that was a hickey they saw peeking out from under Touya Akira's shirt collars or cuffs, he would reply in a deadpan tone that he'd been attacked by an octopus.
Author's Note: This was written (and not completed) for the Livejournal community "blind_go"; specifically round 8, aka "the cliche round." The cliches I ended up using are listed below, and the story was prompted by a chat with the other authors which somehow ended up crossing over HikaGo and Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch. Except I decided to use my love for the movie Splash, my research on cecaelias, rusalkas (which is why Hikaru and his mother always have wet hair even though Akira never sees either of them actually in the water), and the fact that Sai drowned so he might well be a water ghost... This story ended up beta'd by Toothycat, Aishuu, OkamiMyrrhibis, and of course my Wonderful Husband, all of whom helped me hammer it from its original state into something at least approaching coherency. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu...
Akiko secretly knows everything long before anyone else
Heart attacks Kouyo dies, Akira mourns
ROMANCE (OR WHAT PASSES FOR IT):
Everyone knows Akira and Hikaru are meant for each other - except for them Akira and Hikaru fighting over go
SO CLICHÉ IT HURTS:
ARE WE SURE THIS ISN'T CANON?:
Ogata pervs on young boys Hikaru telling Akira about Sai