A/N: Well, not as long as the last wait, right? -shifty eyes-

And thank you so much for everyone's well-wishes. (School? What's that? Can you eat it?!) And of course, thank you everyone for your reviews! I'm not lying when I say they really help and inspire me! :) You guys are awesome and I love feedback!

Disclaimer: I do not own Hikaru no Go.

Warnings: (for this chapter) Profanity - so much, like ohmuhgawd - and references to indecent things. Actually, this chapter is remarkably tame...

Chapter 5

Illuminating the Threads of Fate

Sai had crushed Touya Akira.

There could be no other way to describe the slaughter in the game; although according to the spirit, it had been unavoidable. Akira had enough talent to perk Sai's interest and keep the game interesting, but not enough to actually be able to even compete. It likely helped that on some level, both Sai and Akira were horrified by their surroundings and wanted to leave as soon as possible.

After Akira's defeated "Makemashita," and subsequent broken staring at the board, Hikaru gave him about one more minute of self-wallowing. Hikaru didn't mind if the boy wanted to cry and sniffle over a fucking board game while in the safety of his daddy's parlor - but when he was doing it in the storeroom of a brothel, Hikaru was a lot less lenient.

"Will you help clean up, shithead?" Hikaru snapped, swiping the black go stones into their allotted goke. "Or maybe you'd like me to leave you here? You're pretty enough that Bae could use you."

That prompted Akira into a flurry of motion. The boy looked equally sick and horrified, which as far as Hikaru could tell, was an improvement over lost and in despair. Sai seemed to choke back on something he wanted to say, and now that Hikaru thought about it - the ghost had been oddly quiet outside of competing against Akira.

Never been to a whorehouse before? Hikaru asked the spirit, sounding both mocking and curious. I thought the Red Light district was popular back in the day.

I have never! Sai cried out, horrified.

Hikaru should have known that. The spirit was probably asexual or something, if Hikaru could wager. Sai probably had never even seen a woman naked, even in art. The boy paused, casting a look over at Sai speculatively; the Heian era was known for some...interesting historical tidbits. And if Hikaru wasn't getting his history wrong, the people back then also had a thing for...admiring young boys. And Sai did seem oddly preoccupied with Touya Akira.

The disgust must have been strong enough to feel through whatever link they had, as Sai seemingly perked up and then understood whatever thoughts had been whirring through his vessel's mind. I have never thought that way about anyone! Sai instantly rebutted.

I learned it was pretty common back in the day, though, Hikaru pointed out, sounding a bit distant. Sai could practically feel the subconscious comparisons between him and Ying floating through the boy's mind.

It was, Sai allowed softly. There was no use lying. But I did not have any inclination of the sort. I was only interested in Go-

Are you sure that's just not the dead-ghost-haunting part talking? Hikaru shot back. What if that's all you remember from your past life because once you died, you had to concentrate on something to hold a grudge about?

Sai looked utterly flabbergasted. "I would remember having a thing for young boys, I should think!"

Well maybe you're repressed! Hikaru shot back. That's why you keep haunting little boys!

"I only appear to those who have a destiny involving Go!"

You did not just insinuate I have a Go-centered destiny, Hikaru snapped back, irritated. Hikaru froze as his eyes fell back onto the young go genius sitting across from him, closing the lid to the bowl of white go stones and settling it back onto the go board.

Hikaru slouched forward, face in his hands. "This is not fate, this is a fucking curse," he whined into his hands.

Fate, Sai retorted, sounding just a bit too gleeful.

"A-Are you going pro?" Akira asked, voice still carefully soft. Hikaru peered up at the other boy in sheer irritation.

"Yes, Aki-chan," Hikaru replied mockingly. "I'm going to use the money from drug trafficking and my cut of the whorehouse profits to take the Pro Exam, then buy myself a goddamned castle with money made from small arms deals and selling national intelligence secrets to the highest bidder."

Akira looked ready to say something waspish in response to the patronization but cut himself off as if he suddenly realized their surroundings. Hikaru rolled his eyes, standing up and moving towards the door. He fully expected Akira to follow, but instead the boy grabbed onto his wrist with unnerving force.

"This," Akira started haltingly. His eyes flicked around the room, although Hikaru wasn't really sure whether 'this' meant Hikaru's situation or just his attitude. "Won't stop me from searching you out. You're brilliant, and I-"

"This is starting to sound an awful lot like a love confession," Hikaru interrupted dryly. "A bit aggressive though, aren't you?"

Akira flushed, turning red. Hikaru didn't pay him much mind, staring at the boy a little more intently. He now had his own devotee. Which was cute and all, in a really freaky-stalkerish way. It also showed that Touya Akira was going to be another stubborn little bitch to add into his life, as if Sai and Mitani weren't bad enough.

Hey Sai, Hikaru called out. The spirit looked undeniably pleased that Akira had pretty much stated he was going to force himself to be a permanent fixture in Hikaru's life. (Finally! A good influence!) Hikaru didn't glance over at the ghost, keeping his eyes on Akira as a small smile bloomed on his lips. Do you know how we test a man's character in the present day?

Something in the boy's tone must have tipped the spirit off, as a worried frown developed on Sai's face. "Hikaru-"

"Okay then, Aki-chan," Hikaru agreed brightly. "So you wanna be my new friend?"

Akira blinked, taken by surprise. "Well, uh... Yes?" Not really what he had in mind, but befriending the snarky youth would at least ensure that he'd be seeing a lot more of him.

Hikaru's smile was positively devious. "Awesome! Let's prove your worth then, shall we?"

Akira didn't get a chance to say anything - Hikaru's punch leveled him to the floor.

Between the harbor walkway of the Chuo Ward's thin channel and a research facility that Mitani could not, for the life of him, recall the name of, lied a walkway just under a hundred kilometers long. The research facility was a large structure, several stories tall with numerous windows - all small and so darkly-shaded that outsiders could not discern even a shadow through the obsidian panes. The walkway itself was sun-burnt brick, worn with use and age but clean courtesy of city protocol. The side closest to the facility was lined with the tall, oppressive wired fencing denoting the area as off-limits; the other guarded by shrubbery and trees that sometimes obscured the view of the harbor beyond them.

At high noon on any given day, there could be many people traversing this path; in the daylight, it was serene and pleasant. Now as the sun dusked in the distance and cast shadows along the planes of burgundy that made up the walkway, the path looked surreal and treacherous. No one tread near at this hour although the distant thrum of traffic could be heard nearby, past the building and over the trees.

It was further away than Mitani's usual haunting grounds, truth be told; the area itself was new to him. He would never have bothered coming this far but for some reason his closest friend had been in a sour mood all week. Hikaru, Mitani had learned, could be a right bitch; the other boy's tongue had been sharp all week for no reason Mitani could discern.

The dull sound of flesh being hit and the low whine of someone trying not to choke on the taste of their own blood drew back Mitani's eyes. He'd filtered out the grunts of exertion as background noise, at this point, but that didn't stop him from grimacing as Hikaru socked one boy straight in the nose without even a shred of hesitation.

The boy - taller than Hikaru by a head and outweighing him by at least five kilos - hit the ground with a whimper. The only other figure nearby was another boy who was still on the ground, tears brimming in his eyes. He was watching Hikaru decimate his friend in horror, the area around one of his beady eyes swelling into what looked to be a painful bruise, a thin trail of blood leaking from his nose. He had one arm curled around his stomach, having been hit straight in the gut, but his entire body trembled in fear.

Both older boys wore the familiar uniform of a nearby junior high school. They were second years, according to the pins on the collars. Getting their asses handed to them by a kid not even out of elementary school must be a major shock to the ego, Mitani thought privately.

He'd thought of helping Hikaru, at one point - but after the boy so brutally took care of the first boy before tackling the other, the cat-like boy realized his involvement was unnecessary. If nothing else, this was a great stress reliever for Hikaru; already, his friend was losing some of the tension in his shoulders as he swiftly dealt a vicious kick to one boy's shins, sending the junior high student to the ground again.

And really, the two older boys brought it on themselves. The small, bloody carcass of the cat they'd tortured to death was testament to the fact. Sharpened sticks stuck out of its furry body like needles in a pincushion, the red of its blood dying its once gray coat a dull burgundy. From the top of its left lung to the hindquarters of its left leg ran a jagged cut, the flesh peeled back to expose the organs inside to the hungry mouths of flies and other insects. The head had been crushed under one blow from a large rock, the splatter of blood and the way the jaw was left unhinged suggesting the cat had been mid-yowl before its life unceremoniously ended.

Hikaru had taken one look at the corpse before launching himself at the animal's killers. The older boys - perhaps expecting either reverence or pants-wetting fear from their younger counterparts - hadn't put up much of a fight against Hikaru's brutal onslaught of violence. Hikaru was quick on his feet, used to fighting and unafraid of pain.

The older boys may have been stronger but they didn't have their opponent's near-primal need for victory and utter viciousness in securing it. What Hikaru lacked in actual power, he made up for in ruthlessness; he scrambled, he bit, he clawed, and he hit and continued to hit until the pain got to be too much for the other to bear. It was disconcerting to realize that Hikaru had such a high pain threshold; it made something sick with nerves settle in the pit of Mitani's stomach at the implications.

Hikaru finally released his prey - blood streaming from his victim's nose, eyes squeezed shut in terrified anticipation. The friend managed enough willpower to rise to shaky knees, grabbing the dazed boy by the cuff of his uniform sleeve and pulling him away from the panting boy. Hikaru's eyes were hard flints of emerald, his mouth relaxing from its predatory smile that dominated his face for the entirety of the one-sided fight.

"I never figured you were a cat-person," Mitani stated blandly.

Hikaru didn't look at the redhead as he answered, wiping off his blood-spotted hands on the dark black of his shirt, "I'm not."

Mitani let that statement sink in, settling comfortably into the elapsed silence. The nearby streetlights were clicking on as the sun sunk into the harbor's waves, the last shreds of light staining the skies the same red that ran from the feline's corpse and soaked into the brick.

"You're planning to go to Hazechuu, right?" Mitani finally asked. "The school festival is this weekend. I have nothing better to do and neither do you, so let's go to it."

Hikaru glanced over his shoulder at his friend, raising an eyebrow with a teasing smile, "Why, Yuuki-kun - are you asking me out on a date? I think I'm blushing."

Mitani rolled his eyes, "I just wanted to check out the scene. See what kind of pit we landed ourselves in."

"Sure, whatever," Hikaru agreed easily enough. "Feed me too and I won't even complain."

"You are such a whore," Mitani sneered.

Hikaru waved his hand in a dismissing motion, the last of the smears of blood wiped away. The lamppost above Hikaru clicked on, casting a shadow over his eyes and giving the wide smile on his lips an unsettling gleam.

"Akira-kun won't be joining us today?" Ashiwara asked in confusion, a small frown on his usually-smiling lips as he glanced about the room. The others looked around as if to search for the boy, save Ogata - whose own eyes had turned to their teacher. The Meijin's facial expression did not so much as twitch but there was a strange tension to the older player's shoulders that those who knew him well could detect.

"It's Sunday, isn't it? Maybe he's out with friends instead of spending it with a bunch of geezers," Sakagawa mused good-naturedly.

Aside from Ogata and Ashiwara, who were present at every meeting, there were only two other pros present excluding the Meijin himself. Sakagawa Tarou was a rising 2nd-dan, although personally didn't find him to be proving anything worthy of mention. A mediocre player by all accounts, rising steadily but unobtrusively. It was his first time at the Meijin's study group, having been invited by an on-and-off again member. Andou Haruki was one such member; a 4th-dan with a smug smile that Ogata may have too much fun wiping off.

Ashiwara's frown deepened, "But Akira-kun never misses a study session!"

"He doesn't feel well," was Touya Meijin's reply. The topic was dropped at the dispassionate tone and the study group thus continued as usual. The vague tension that seemed to hover around the top player of the go world, however, made Ogata's legs leaden after discussion concluded and the other members filtered out into the late afternoon. Ashiwara remained behind as well, helping to pick up some of the stray kifu papers laying about.


Touya Akiko's startled cry drew all three men's attention. The Meijin was the first one to respond, already striding out of the room, but Ogata was only a step behind. Ashiwara was startled into movement as Touya pushed open the sliding door with worrying force, the loud slam of its attempted rebound jolting the younger player before it was caught by deft, hard hands.

The three men crowded into the hallway but they didn't need to go farther as they caught sight of the cause of Akiko's distress. Ogata's breath hitched when his eyes landed on Akira; the boy stood frozen in the entryway of the front door, gritting his teeth and scowling, the left side of his face darkly-bruised. He was shaking as if the tightly-wound control of his emotions was all that was keeping him from bolting, but his eyes were narrowed and spit more fire than Ogata had ever seen before.

"I am not ill,"Akira managed out and it sounded almost like a hiss with the way he drew it out. Both Akiko and Ashiwara flinched at the tone; Ogata was too shocked to move at the sheer disrespect - Akira has never been so discourteous, especially to his own mother. "Since Father wanted me to sit the study session out, then I will practice elsewhere. I cannot afford to get weak."

The boy's eyes caught on his father, widening in surprise for a moment before looking away - a contorted mixture of apprehension and defiance. Touya Meijin did not hesitate as he stepped closer to his son, face and voice even. "Where do you plan on practicing?"

Akira's fists clenched at his sides, "Anywhere. I'll find a Go parlor somewhere."

"And if that isn't enough?" Touya continued on.

Akiko's expression hardened, her stance becoming more aggressive as she gazed at her son with a foreboding expression. No matter how politely she spoke, nor how demure she appeared - Touya Akiko has never been a weak woman. Those who mistake her soft-spoken demeanor for weakness would soon be faced with a rude awakening.

"You came home last night beat up and refused to tell us anything," she began ominously, making even Akira wince. "And now you intend to run right back out without telling us where you're going? One day off from Go won't hurt-"

"I have to do something," Akira finally broke. He is the most desperate any of them have ever seen, a child shaking with pent-up energy rather than fear, his face so animated with expression that it made even his strict parents quiet in order to take in.

"Anything is better than sitting around doing nothing as he gets stronger! Every second of every day, he grows stronger! If I am to mean anything to him, I must be able to compete!" Akira is yelling by the end of it, panting to catch his breath and ignoring the way his shouting reopened the cut in his lip and a few drops of blood dripped out.

Ah, Ogata thinks. So it finally happened.

Akira finally found a rival.

Where are we going? Sai asked, voice lilting up in excitement. Hikaru perked up at the tone; Sai had been remarkably quiet and reserved since the Touya Akira incident, so it was nice to hear the ghost sounding...more like himself. Hikaru was a bit shocked by himself to find he actually preferred the sweet, childish Sai to the less noisy one.

The school I'll be going to in a few months is having a school festival, Hikaru answered. I guess you wouldn't have gone to one before, huh? This should be interesting.

"Will there be go?" Sai asked.

Hikaru didn't even bother trying to restrain his eyeroll. I doubt it. It's not exactly a popular past-time, he replied. He was currently making his way towards Haze Junior High, although the sidewalk held more pedestrian traffic than the boy had anticipated; the school festival proved to be surprisingly popular. Sai had been walked through no less than fourteen times now, and the ghost had seen fit to cry out in dismay over each person passing through his body.

"Then you can introduce it!" Sai suggested brightly.

Or not, Hikaru returned blithely, cheerfully ignoring his possessor's subsequent whine. Reaching the gates of his future school, Hikaru quickly evaluated the students; there were a trio of girls in costume greeting visitors, and just further in, the walkway was crowded with both patrons and students trying to lure them to the stalls that lined the sides.

"Could you have taken any longer?"

Hikaru glanced behind him at the gruff tone, smirking as his orange-haired friend drew to a stop next to him with a disgruntled frown. Mitani had both hands shoved into his pockets and stood with a slouch, the scowl on his lips drawing concerned eyes from some passers-by. The boy looked like a regular punk - so much so that Hikaru couldn't help but snicker. If anything, to Hikaru - Mitani looked more like a cat throwing a hissy fit.

"I was just trying to make myself look pretty for you, Yuki-dear," Hikaru returned lightly.

"Hard to make an ugly mug like your's look attractive," Mitani snorted, shuffling past his friend and further down the walkway. Most of the students didn't bother with trying to draw them in - but kudos to the jiu-jitsu club for mustering up enough courage to try - so their walk through Haze school grounds was rather unimpeded except when they had to get through the throngs in front of the popular booths.

True to his word, Mitani bought Hikaru some food - the takoyaki was slightly burnt and they were a bit too overzealous with the sauce, but Hikaru wasn't going to complain about getting hot food. Mitani even handed it over with little complaint, aside from a snide comment implying something negative about the marital status of Hikaru's parents during his conception and birth.

They were just walking by an onigiri stand manned by the girls' tennis club all dressed in magical girl cosplay - Mitani showing a little too much interest whereas Hikaru was eyeing the onigiri hungrily - when Sai caught sight of the Go club stand.

"Hikaru! They're playing Go!" Sai cried excitedly, grabbing onto his vessel. Hikaru tried not to show that he was being strangled, wincing only slightly before Sai let go with another excited squeal.

"I'm gonna go check that out," Hikaru said dryly, walking in the direction of the small booth. A boy with straight-cut black hair and glasses that seemed to dominate his face was sitting opposite of an old man, smiling politely as he waited for the older gentleman to place his stones.

"I think you spend too much time with Go-sexuals," Mitani sneered, although he dutifully followed his friend. "You're starting to act just like one."

"No one asked for the peanut gallery's opinion, shithead," Hikaru returned, parking himself next to the booth to glance over the tsumego on the board.

The old man had already placed the first stone but had then been caught in the trap and gave up shyly. The boy thanked him and once the seat had been vacated, Mitani not-so-kindly shoved Hikaru into it.

"Why do you always gotta manhandle me?" Hikaru complained.

Mitani smirked at him, "Because you're a helpless little bitch."

The older boy blinked at them - either stunned by their lack of manners or the very un-Go-like demeanor both preteens had. Hikaru looked over the prizes, especially once Sai pointed one out with a squeal that sounded far too fanboy-ish.

"Hikaru, Hikaru, look!" Sai cried excitedly, fan out and practically dancing in place. "This book...!"

Hikaru's eyes landed on said book: Touya Meijin's Go Tutorial.

Let me guess, Hikaru sighed - although he was mostly amused rather than exasperated. You want it?

"Please, Hikaru!"Sai begged, latching on to the boy.

Hikaru looked up at the older boy, "Guess I'm next."

The boy started out of his stupor, "R-Right." He began placing stones, forming a tsumego problem in Hikaru's right-hand corner. It looked much simpler than Hikaru would have guessed - Mitani snickered next to him - but he dutifully placed his answering stone without bothering to wait for Sai to answer.

"H-Hikaru-!" Sai sounded moved to tears.

I've seen you play enough that I can at least solve simple problems like this, Hikaru dismissed. He still had a telltale blush of pleasure as the small crowd of geezers around the booth did a little cheer, though.

"Listen," Mitani interrupted, one hand on the back of Hikaru's chair as he leaned forward to address the bespectacled boy. "Don't let his idiotic looks fool you - this guy is really good, okay? Insei-good. Give him the hardest one you got."

The older boy's eyes widened, gaze switching back to Hikaru in shock. "You're an insei?"

That started a small murmur of awe among the geezers. Hikaru twitched in annoyance, shooting Mitani a small glare as the cat-like boy only scoffed.

"I'm not," Hikaru corrected curtly. "Just give me the hardest problem, okay? I just want the damn book."

The bespectacled boy nodded with a quiet stutter of acknowledgement, placing stones again. "This is the hardest one. You'd need to be at Touya Akira's level to solve it."

Hikaru froze completely, hand in the goke as the words were processed. Mitani cocked his head at his friend's inaction, raising an eyebrow as Hikaru began to shake. Just as the older boy started to look worried - had he somehow offended the thuggish child? - Hikaru threw back his head and laughed.

"Aki-chan's level!" Hikaru managed out between snickers. "I can't believe it! He's a fuckin' rank!" He broke down into more laughter.

Mitani blinked, processed this, then twitched. "That girly-boy was Touya Akira?"

"A kitten like you has no right to judge," Hikaru rebuffed with a grin.

"I am not a fuckin' cat!"

The older boy hesitantly interrupted, "Um...the problem...?"

Hikaru wiped away a few stray tears, clamping down on any more snickers. "Right, sorry," he apologized airily. Sai lightly hit him with his fan for his poor manners - "And will you stop picking on poor Akira-kun!"- but looked over the tsumego dutifully.

"3,14. 1, 15. 4, 15," Sai answered. Hikaru echoed it, to the bespectacled boy's and onlookers' obvious shock.

Mitani looked over the tsumego with a frown. He knew he'd have trouble with it - and especially be unable to solve it as quickly as his friend had. Not for the first time, he wondered at just what level Hikaru was; if what he'd heard from the boy was true, he'd even defeated the Meijin's son. Mitani may not have been as into go as others, but he was in deep enough to know the celebrities of the Go world and the rising stars. Touya Akira was one such expectant talent.

What are you? Mitani wondered, looking back at his friend. Hikaru was not paying him any attention, gladly receiving the Meijin's Go Tutorial book with an exasperated smile. He flipped through the pages boredly, dull strands of blond hair falling into complacent green eyes. How can someone like you exist without warning?

"So he beat a Touya Akira-level problem?"

A cigarette was smashed onto the go board, searing black ash onto the tengen point. Heads whipped up to look into a tall teen's face; red hair fanned out like a fiery mane, matching eyes glaring down at the board and the two boys sitting on opposite sides of it. The bespectacled youth stood with a small cry of outrage, although Hikaru remained seated as he surveyed the newcomer.

Mitani locked a hand onto Hikaru's shoulder, leaning down but keeping careful eyes on the red-haired teen. "Don't start anything," Mitani advised into Hikaru's ear, barely above a whisper.

Hikaru inwardly snorted. Like I'd bother, he mused.

"Who cares about a pathetic guy like Touya Akira?" the redhead sneered. "I've beaten that pathetic loser!"

"Kaga!" the bespectacled teen shouted, trying to rub the ash away with a napkin. "You messed up the board!"

"Didn't I tell you to give up on this stupid game, Tsutsui? Shougi is so much better!" the redhead said, throwing away his cigarette.

Hikaru propped an elbow on the table, cheek leaned against his upright fist as he listened to the older boy talk. The older men that had been crowding around were quickly dispersing, to Tsutsui's agitation; Mitani just looked bored, still leaned over Hikaru's chair. The boy with two-toned hair didn't bother with interrupting Kaga's tirade against Go or Touya Akira - although Sai was visibly starting to bristle. Hikaru didn't see why he had to get involved in the Shougi King's little episode.

"So how is your little Go Club going, eh?" Kaga jeered.

Tsutsui looked away, frown on his face. Mitani was back at Hikaru's ear with a scoffing, "If you joined the Go club, you'd make all the players cry. Don't bother."

Kaga turned his stare to them, "What the hell is up with you two? Why don't you be good little kids and run along?"

Hikaru grinned back at him, "Does that make you 'Daddy'?"

Kaga spluttered. Tsutsui went an interesting shade of red, but Mitani ignored his friend's antics in favor of picking up the Meijin's book. So he wanted this? Mitani mused, flipping through it idly. "You could learn more from Touya Akira about his father than anything this book can teach you," Mitani remarked.

Whatever reply Hikaru was going to make to that was cut off when Kaga swiped the book from the orange-haired boy's hands with a fierce scowl. "Who cares about that loser! You won't learn shit from him!" the shougi player declared, then ripped out a handful of pages from the book before throwing it to the ground in disgust.

"Kaga! That wasn't your's!" Tsutsui cried out.

Sai started to sob, "Noooo! Our book!"

Truth be told, Hikaru didn't gave one damn about the book. But he did care about his possessions - and he'd won that book, fair and square. (Or Sai won that book fair and square using Hikaru as his voice, technically.) It was now his, and this Kaga just ignored that fact and ripped apart his property. Not only was that wildly disrespectful, it was a challenge to Hikaru's authority; that, Hikaru had learned, was not tolerable behavior.

All it took was one show of weakness. In front of people like Ying, or Zhi - simpering and bowing was expected. Hikaru knew his place and role there. But in relation to this junior high student, Hikaru owed no debts and was not at risk. And what couldn't kill Hikaru, Hikaru could hurt.

Just as Hikaru was about to rise from his seat - there must have been something to his grin, as Kaga had stopped heckling Tsutsui and was eyeing him warily - Mitani's hand slammed down on his shoulder and forced him back into his seat. To the cat-like boy's credit, he wasn't the least bit scared; his eyes were for Kaga as he maintained his steely hold on his friend.

"That's gonna cost you," Mitani told the older boy in a bored tone. "Those tutorial books go for ¥2800, you know? You'll need to re-imburse it."

Amidst his inner outrage at being stopped, Hikaru could suddenly foresee a future in law for his friend. In a strange way, it suited him; Mitani could become a very successful lawyer. He was naturally corrupt and everything, too!

Kaga looked taken aback, "There's no way it costs that much-"

"It costs ¥2850, actually," Tsutsui interjected severely. "I even have the receipt, if you want proof, Kaga."

"Looks like you owe me some cash," Hikaru purred, not quite feeling the need to pound the older boy's head in anymore. "You can start by buying me some onigiri for my lunch, Shougi King. Then we can play a little Go and see if you can back up that claim of beating Touya Akira - which I don't believe at all, by the way."

Kaga glared down at him, "Touya's nothing but a weak little shit!"

"Maybe," Hikaru allowed softly, smirk on his lips. "But that weak little shit is my friend-" Now Mitani looked to be having the heart attack, "-and I can't have you saying all kinds of shit about him, you know? Aki-chan is a real sensitive little princess."

Kaga looked thrown by the way Hikaru so casually slandered his self-proclaimed friend. Hikaru waved him off in the direction of the onigiri stand with a pointed look and devilish smirk. Mitani was going through something of a whirlwind of emotion; on one hand, he should have expected such a statement out of Hikaru. The guy was like a magnet for freak events. On the other hand, Hikaru didn't exactly 'make friends' like normal people...

Oh fuck me, Mitani groaned inwardly. He beat the shit out of the Go Prince.

"I don't like your mouth, you little brat," Kaga growled, looming over the sixth grader.

Hikaru wasn't very impressed, "Oh, how I love the way you talk dirty to me."

Kaga's skin crawled, and he backed up a step at Hikaru's smile. Maybe it was better if he maintained at least a meter of distance between them...

"Onigiri, please~!" Hikaru called.

Or maybe I'll just smack him, see if that works, Kaga mused in irritation. Students nearby that noticed the Demon King's growing ire were quick to flee the area.

"I thought it was you."

The soft voice grabbed all four boys' attentions, although the majority of them didn't recognize the speaker. She was a cute girl, most definitely - soft brown hair done up in fashionable pigtails with pink ribbons, dressed in conservative cream-colored dress with black stockings. She didn't look like a junior high student - likely just another visitor of the school festival - but her eyes weren't on the booth or even on either of the junior high students present.

No, her eyes were reserved for Shindou Hikaru.

"I didn't think I'd ever see you again," she continued on, moving a step closer. Hikaru stood abruptly, incidentally throwing off Mitani's hand.

"Just lost my appetite," Hikaru said curtly, turning his eyes to the redhead. "I'll take cash."

Kaga scowled, "I don't have that money on me, shorty!"

"Hikaru!" the girl shouted, fists balled at her sides. It was hard to tell whether she was growing more furious, or more sad - her eyes were beginning to scrunch up in either rage or tears. "Don't run away from me!"

The effect was immediate: Hikaru turned around to face her but didn't take a step forward, green eyes narrowed in hate. The girl flinched at the sight but bravely stood her ground, lips pressed into a thin line and silent.

"Leave me the fuck alone, Akari," Hikaru growled back. "Take a hint and fuck off!"

"Th-There is no need for that kind of language-!" Tsutsui tried to interject.

Hikaru respected that interruption by kicking over the table holding the goban. Mitani winced, watching as the goban board landed with a harsh thud; it showed that the board was credibly made in that it didn't even crack. The goke were made of the same wood but their ride down had thrown all of the stones to the floor in a scattered mess. The smaller prizes met the same fate; the can of soda had been hit by the goban and was scratched open, the contents of the beverage leaking out in a fizzing mess.

"Someone's throwing a temper tantrum~!" Kaga whistled.

Just as Hikaru was about to launch himself at the redhead in a totally misdirected rage, one ghostly hand fell on his shoulder.

"Hikaru, control yourself," Sai chided, voice gone dangerously soft - all childish delight and innocence gone from his face. "You are in a public place; you should not cause a scene here. It would only bring trouble."

Hikaru shot the true source of his ire - Akari - a glare as he replied, I would have been fine if she hadn't shown up! She should know I don't want to see her damned face!

"And why is that?" Sai questioned.

None of your fucking business, Hikaru answered after a short pause. The way his shoulders tensed and how his eyes took on a slightly cornered-animal look, Sai knew to let the subject drop; there would be another time to address it. While Hikaru was so obviously agitated wasn't that time.

"Nevertheless, you have no control over where people decide to be," Sai said. "If her presence irritates you to such a degree, then let us leave."

Hikaru scowled but knew the ghost was right. He didn't like it - but that was the reality. If Akari - and damn her for ruining such a good moment - wanted to be at the Haze school festival, she was well within her rights to be.

"Mitani, let's scram," Hikaru ground out.

"Alright," Mitani agreed immediately. Without a friend to walk around with, it wouldn't be much fun anyway. He'd just have to drag Hikaru to a go parlor or something to get him into a better mood.

Akari looked to be mentally debating the merits of forcing Hikaru to speak with her, but when not only Hikaru but also Mitani gave her dark looks, she wisely decided that perhaps there was a better time and place for forced conversations.

Besides, she'd stumbled upon the answer to a question that had too long been unanswered. If Hikaru was here, it was likely he planned to attend Haze Junior High in the near future; she had expected as much. The rumors she heard here and there had now been confirmed.

She turned and scampered away with one last, lingering look back at her former childhood friend. She'd have that talk with him, eventually - but not today. She'd have all of their shared middle school years for that.

Hikaru relaxed slightly as the girl disappeared from sight as quietly as she had come. Why she chose this of all times to approach him, he didn't understand. It doesn't matter, Hikaru reminded himself bitterly. We have nothing to do with each other anymore. She burned that bridge down and threw the fucking ashes into the ocean herself.

He knew that Akari wasn't the type to tell someone she wished they were dead unless she meant it.

"You little brats think you can just break things and run off?" Kaga interrupted. Hikaru glared over at him, already on a hair-trigger and in no mood to play around anymore with the older boy, but the Shougi King had other ideas. His widening smile was testament to the fact. Kaga looked far too excited for someone who owed a sixth grader money. "You broke Tsutsui's booth," he pointed out, sounding seconds away from laughing.

"It doesn't matter-" Tsutsui piped up, wishing every one of these violent psychopaths would just leave him and his poor booth alone.

Kaga utterly ignored him, "So you owe him. He needs three people to fill out three boards for the Go tournament next month. Since you solved that tsumego problem, you can't be complete shit - so you'll do."

"I'll do?" Hikaru echoed, disbelieving.

"You'll be...second board," Kaga said after little deliberation. Tsutsui's "Hey! Isn't it my Go club? Why are you assigning boards?" went ignored, as did Hikaru's resulting affronted expression.

"I'll be first board, Tsutsui's third board," the red-haired demon continued drolly. "Unless your friend wants to compete for third board against Tsutsui, so we can watch the esteemed Go club captain cry at not even being involved in the tournament."

"You're in shougi!" Tsutsui cried out, clearly finding all the wrong things to be upset about in this scenario.

"Not interested," Mitani piped up boredly.

Hikaru looked ready to reject the whole thing - the goban wasn't even broken, so why did anyone have the right to bitch? - but Kaga loomed back over him with a devious smile as he continued, "And I'll pay you back for that shitty book at the tournament. I should have enough cash by then."

Hikaru hated being manipulated into doing things - but he hated losing money even more. Besides, it was just a Go tournament - nothing to it. He'd just go in, have Sai breeze through it, and walk out a richer man.

"Fine, whatever," Hikaru agreed with a huff.

Tsutsui took back whatever negative things he thought about the blond-banged boy - he was a saving grace! Finally, I can go to the tournament! the boy thought happily.

"We're going to be in a Go tournament?" Sai cheered excitedly.

Which was the exact moment Hikaru remembered what the ghost said about only haunting people who have destinies tied in with Go.

Fuck it! Hikaru cried internally, giving up. I don't care anymore!

A/N: Shorter than the last - sorry. But Kaga was really fun to write with! And did you get the Obvious Hint from the Akari interaction? I was only throwing it into your faces (with as much love as possible). XD This chapter was very light compared to the other chapters; it even ends on a fairly cheerful note. :)

Note 1) Props to anyone who made the connection between Hikaru punching everyone he makes friends with. If you know where the concept comes from - ouch, right? I know there's usually more than just one, but circumstances being what they are... It's a start. Do you see how this could go? For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, no worries - it will be explained eventually, in-fic. :)

Note 2) Akira. The relationship between Akira and Hikaru (and Sai) is developing very differently from how it did in canon. People are affected by their relationships to other people - it's a part of growing up and being part of society - and Akira will be affected by these changes. Keep a close eye on Akira; I love him too much to ignore him, and his character growth is important.

Note 3) If you somehow haven't noticed, this story features gangs - or more technically, crime syndicates. So far, the ones introduced are the Triads (Ying and Zhi) and the Korean mafia (Bae). Special note: Bae falls more in line with the Korean syndicates based out of N. Korea rather than the Korean yakuza.

I also have another HnG story up, if you're interested in checking it out~! It's a bit, uh... -shifty eyes- ...darker than this one.

Next Chapter Teaser: Winter Tournament, Mitani's and Akira's Epic Hissy Fits, and Yun-sensei not having enough energy to deal with all of this...

Be kind and drop a review. Remember how much I love feedback? A little love never hurts~!