A/N: So longer chapter updates won, given that they had almost double the votes. Your patience impresses me! I love you~!

(The sad thing is this chapter was mostly done a month ago aside from the last section, but then I had last minute essays and then final exams. Then I was totally hyped to finish it but foolishly thought I could do so after watching the finale of NBC's Hannibal. No. I couldn't.)

The reviews were epic last chapter! Thank you thank you thank you! Let me love all of you!

Disclaimer: I do not own Hikaru no Go.

Pairings: (dry look)

Warnings: That poor bird.

Chapter 11

Cruel Embroidery

"Does it have a name?"

The words were spat from a mouth used to lying, every syllable dipped in a tone of casual acquaintanceship that adequately hid the belied contempt. It tasted like iron in his throat, meaningless in its entirety but soothing as it interrupted the silence. It was the silence that he could not take - it was accusatory and disdainful, invalidating his existence.

Fujiwara Mitsuo hummed in assent, violet eyes never straying from the cage. The bird trapped within had feathers as green as a fresh apple, tapering off into a bright yellow before topping with a light flush of red-orange for its head. It chirped intermittently and hopped from its perch to cling to the bars at the bottom, protesting its cage with a click-click-click of of gnarled claws on metal.

"Momo," Mitsuo answered.

The boy's smile was crooked. "Terrible. How unoriginal."

Mitsuo chuckled. "I wasn't a very creative nine-year-old," he acknowledged. He turned back at the impressed whistle this comment prompted, peering at the other male curiously. The boy shrugged, cocking his head to the side with a casual smile.

"I didn't think birds lived that long," was the explanation.

Mitsuo smiled. "Momo has always been by my side."

He took a seat behind his desk. It was a monster of black-painted wood and glass, L-shaped in its entirety and providing far more room than a home office required. His filing cabinets were lined behind him like soldiers of hidden paperwork, unwelcome and ugly but matching the purpose of the room consistently. The floor was white tile, left unhidden to better catch anything unwanted, the walls bare of any decoration or distraction. The windows were high and wide, illuminating the ceiling with choked daylight that didn't quite reach the room's inhabitants. Most of the illumination was provided by the archlights crisscrossed over the ceiling, brights bulbs that shined with a hospital glow.

The boy lay sprawled over the lone leather couch stationed in front of Mitsuo's great desk, a dour burgundy piece of furniture that contrasted with the monochrome setting. Along with the single vase of wisteria blossoms that sat on Mitsuo's desk, these were the only two splotches of color in a room otherwise void.

"Ah," the boy said after a moment, understanding having dawned. Mitsuo's smile never wavered in the ensuing silence, having waited patiently for his companion to reach his own conclusions.

Shinya was a remarkably astute boy. The moment he had been cornered by one of Mitsuo's men, the boy had put two and two together and then attempted to run. If it hadn't been for Kawai's quick thinking and reflexes, their one lead to finding Masaki would have vanished into the shadows of Shinjuku. For a drug dealing deviant, Shinya was surprisingly sharp; the moment they had mentioned wanting to meet Masaki to better discuss their options and possibly see this 'Gate' where the teen pimp stored his goods, Shinya had shut up real quick.

Finding information on Masaki alone was hard enough, which was a point of due consideration. For the extensive network the teenage pimp ran, it was nearly impossible to pinpoint an exact location for the boy. He was a ghost as far as Mitsuo's contacts were concerned, and tracking down any leads on Masaki had taken the better part of a month. Kawai had only been able to find information that the teenage pimp was the ringleader through one of his own underground contacts, who had now disappeared and was presumed dead. Whoever the power-holder was behind this Masaki, it must be someone as influential as Mitsuo himself.

Mitsuo scanned the documents spread out over his desk. Black text stared back at him, feeble attempts at organizing the chaos of the world into a format meant to be rationally understood. These figures were meant to represent a host of broken people, as if their motivations could be properly assigned words, as if sentiments and thoughts and reactions could be rationalized into some type of predictable coherency.

Shinya spat blood onto the floor. Red scattered across the tile like a dozen tiny, blossoming flowers. The boy smeared it with one errant foot, a spasm forcing his limbs to kick out helplessly. The teenager's right eye was swollen shut and his left had taken a blow that had left blood draining from a wound across his eyebrow. A few deep breaths later, Shinya relaxed; the chains wrapped around his wrists and ankles keeping him locked mostly in place rattled in time to the bird's chirping.

The office was needlessly noisy.

Mitsuo stood again.

The wings beat at his fingers and the trilling was startling, jittery, betrayed. Its tiny beak and talons could not reach enough flesh, its feathered body was too light to shield and stop him. Such a poor, powerless creature that fought to live but was too weak to do so within his grasp. Brittle, hollow bones gave way and were crushed; the trilling stopped; feathers twisted and weaved within his fingers, a mesh of green, yellow, and orange dyed red.

His late wife Saika had been pretty but she'd been dead long before Mitsuo had gotten to her. With her pale skin and long, dark hair - she looked less alive than even the frailest of porcelain dolls. She was boring, with no ambitions or passions, nothing in the way that marked her alive. He knew, knew that if he'd ever bothered to wrap his hands around her thin neck she wouldn't flail as his lovely bird had done.

"Why don't you love me?" she'd ask him on her worst days.

"I never could," Mitsuo would answer honestly.

Thus the only one who had been shocked by Saika's death was Sai, who had found her hanging from his bedroom's ceiling fan. Mitsuo understood Saika's character far better than his son, knew the location was her own petty way of getting back at her family: her final taunt to the man who had never loved her and the son she envied with every breath she had drawn. To Saika, death had been a means of revenge.

There was nothing merciful or serene about death. It was merely a state of nonexistence; his lovely bird did not look peaceful as a corpse, it merely looked bent and gruesome. Mitsuo had never understood the sentiments associated with death, as if it were something noble and virtuous. Death was uselessness, death was an end; death became the anthem upon which the weak could tout because it was better to see it as virtuous than an inevitable conclusion.

Sai was a breath of life in the monotony. His son was nothing like Saika; he was energetic, cheerful, interested in everything and never shied away from a challenge. It never mattered what lessons Mitsuo put him through, Sai would accomplish them and shine, gratified to have learned and willing to use those skills. Even Saika could not hinder her only child's progress, no matter how often she threw discouraging words at him.

As Sai grew, Mitsuo only grew to love him more and more. Sai would smile and laugh, would steal flowers from the gardens out front and hand Mitsuo the petals, would try to whisper secrets into his mother's ear that were too innocent to be considered as such. But innocence does not last, not in this world and definitely not in their family; Sai had grown and watched and listened.

Sousuke had been the tipping point, the one that had sent Sai running but the decision itself would be the one that would save Mitsuo's only child. Sai understood his father on some fundamental level and correctly feared him for it, had known that with the death of his mother and with the breadth of such horrifying, limitless love that Mitsuo offered, he would not survive. So he'd gone to Saika's brother and begged for sanctuary, was granted both that and a future career.

Sai's escape and subsequent cutting of ties to his patriarch's side meant nothing to Mitsuo, especially with what was promised in the long-run. He'd been keeping tabs on his independent son the entire time of course, but even he had been taken by surprise the moment Sai had started to withdraw from his personal trust fund.

Kawai's early observations yielded little results, aside from the new information that apparently Sai had decided to finally take on a student. Mitsuo understood enough about Sai's career to see that his son was held in high-esteem and that it was unusual he had yet to dedicate his time to teaching - that was probably a combination of his parents' faults and Sousuke's influence, in retrospect - and that perhaps Sai had yet to understand what it meant to be a teacher. ("Think I should tell him that usually students spend more money on their teacher, rather than the other way around?" Kawai had mused one day.) But then the reports started to become more in-depth, the picture started to clear-

And then Shindou Hikaru had moved in.

Kawai's early reports indicated the boy was a trouble student, with only one family member not worth the effort it took to threaten her. Hikaru, though - Hikaru was interesting. A boy that had escaped his own home in a way very different from Sai's method, who believed in nothing and no one, whose smile was the acid to Sai's honeyed look.

"In conclusion," Kawai had stated, smirk on his lips twitching into a full-blown grin. "Your son has been purchasing a child prostitute for four months."

Mitsuo didn't care about the profession. He didn't care about the victims, he didn't care how many kids had been trapped under this juvenile criminal Masaki, he didn't even care that the boy his son was obsessed with was in far worse shape than first perceptions realized.

Mitsuo only cared because Sai cared. He loved Sai, would have given him the world a thousand times over had he but asked for it. His thoughts were dominated by what he could do for Sai, all while knowing what he would have done to Sai had Mitsuo been even slightly less restrained.

Sai's escape to Saika's brother had been what had saved them both.

"Where is Masaki?" Mitsuo asked. He'd asked it several times within the past few hours, playing his part in this senseless litany. People weren't statistics, weren't marks on a graph, weren't the case studies accrued by professionals who loudly condemned them. If they were, the boy across from him would have told Mitsuo everything he'd wanted to know long ago instead of lying beaten on a sofa, far from where anyone could hear him scream.

Shinya smiled at the sunlight. "Far away from you, you crazy asshole."

Blood ran into the cuffs of his shirt. Mitsuo watched it seep in, red on pale blue. He turned and moved back over to Shinya's sprawled figure. Violet eyes evaluated the teen before him, consideration lined in his expression.

"I'm merely trying to secure a better future for your 'Itsuka'," Mitsuo explained. It did not sound sincere, a curious quirk of tone he'd never been able to remedy. The only thing he could do was make sure it didn't sound false, but the teen proved not to care either way.

Shinya laughed without humor, teeth a light sheen of crimson from his own blood. "That's a fucking lie and you know it!"

Mitsuo didn't react to the call-out. "Family is important to me," he said instead. Shinya's laugh died down. Mitsuo stared at him evenly but Shinya matched the look with a soft smile, more genuine than anything Mitsuo had shared in his entire life.

"Why do you think I'm not telling you anything?" the boy posed.

Mitsuo sighed, turning around to return to his desk. He pressed the call button on his desk phone, a buzzer to signal for Kawai to return. Shinya was resilient but he was only human; he would crack eventually.

"Say, old man," Shinya drawled. "Just how many Momos have you had?"

The door opened and admitted Kawai into view.

The Fujiwara patriarch's eyes trailed idly over the wisteria blossoms trapped within the vase on his desk. The petals were fresh, unlike the crushed and dying petals that a young Sai would hold out for him in one open palm.

"My son is 28 years old now," Mitsuo answered. "And I only wanted him to see beautiful things."

Honda brushed the bangs out of his eyes with a low sigh, idly crunching down on the lollipop he'd been sucking. "Makemashita," he allowed with a general crackling of candy muffling the concession.

"Thank you for the game," Hikaru replied. A moment later saw the blond-banged boy sitting back, posture relaxing into something more casual and losing the predatory look that had eclipsed those glaring green eyes since he'd taken his seat across the goban. If he hadn't found himself playing against Hikaru so regularly, Honda would have been more intimidated by the younger boy's behavior. As it was, this constant losing streak to Class A's newest entry was as absurdly common as Waya bullying others into getting sushi for dinner or Mashiba heckling everyone to get the advantage.

"Maybe he wants to prove himself?" Ikeshita had suggested, gentle in his words but blind in his assumption. The idea of "proving himself" implied something was amiss with Hikaru's status within the class, or that something was inherently wrong in his playing. Shirakawa-sensei may have skipped some general conventions in regards to the blond-banged boy, but there was no mistake - Fujiwara Hikaru was insei material. Rather than proving himself, he was asserting himself: he would play at full strength at all times and damn where everyone else was if they faced him on the goban.

I should probably be scared, Honda thought. It was clear to all of them that Hikaru was going to rise straight to the top of the insei class; even now Isumi was starting to falter in front of Hikaru's growing strength while Waya equally lamented and encouraged the younger boy's every success.

And honestly, Honda was scared. He knew with Hikaru's introduction into the insei institution, his chances of passing the Pro Exam this year had lowered considerably. Previously what had been the highly-contentious third open spot to those of Class A had now been pushed to Waya, as Hikaru rose past the older boy with startling speed.

Honda may be scared of what Hikaru meant to his prospective career, but it was hard not getting excited by the idea that he got to see someone so promising rise to power. Shirakawa-sensei's hawk-eyed attention consistently locked onto Hikaru was understandable for this reason.

He'll keep getting stronger, Honda thought. So I should keep playing against him for as long as I can if I want to get any better.

"Do you want to discuss the game?" Hikaru asked. A polite, well-mannered smile met Honda's eyes. Hikaru was composed when seated at the goban, doubts melting away from his shoulders to become the shroud of shadows plastered to the ground behind him. Whatever he may say away from the goban, no matter how he acted before he took his place across from his opponent, whoever he was any moment he wasn't playing - that all fell away once the game started.

"He's a monster," Uchida had muttered, her hands shaking and her head bowed in defeat.

Honda agreed with the sentiment. Awe inspired terror, and envy multiplied that terror a hundredfold. If someone climbed so quickly with not even a whisper of that strength being seen in any capacity before, it was natural to fear that kind of power. Touya Akira at least had the reputation beforehand, as well as the tournament credentials; Fujiwara Hikaru had slipped in with no one the wiser and cut down his opponents before they even understood what was happening.

But Honda - he liked monsters.

"Maybe later," the older boy waved off, starting to clear the board. Hikaru had a very keen memory and would be more than able to recreate it, even a week later. "I don't think I have enough candy on me to heal my wounded pride if we did it now."

Hikaru cocked his head to the side, curious but amused. He reminded Honda of the cat that wandered about his neighborhood; a capricious, unfriendly furball that tore into birds and other opportunistic meals frequently as if to gorge itself. It seemed that the more Hikaru learned about the people in his vicinity, the better he felt. Honda knew knowledge was the key to power but for some reason, Hikaru had chosen to observe his classmates carefully in order to better emulate them.

This was a silly thing to do, in Honda's opinion - why on earth would anyone want to copy Waya? (At least Hikaru had the presence of mind not to incorporate the more unsavory elements of their class, like Mashiba.) And it wasn't as if the younger boy was any good at mimicking the likes of Waya and Isumi; his mannerisms were more alike to Nase and the personality he took on when discussing games was too rambunctious to be anyone but Hikaru.

Isumi had mentioned that the blond-banged boy was likely just testing the waters, as according to Kishimoto - Honda still can't believe Isumi even keeps in contact with the weirdo - Hikaru had a bad habit of assuming the worst about the people around him and himself. He probably just didn't know how to act accordingly in this type of environment, which Honda could understand - with Shirakawa-sensei as the instructor and with people like Waya in the upper tier of Class A, whatever regal image they may have possessed was shattered.

Not that I'm any better, Honda mused in good humor.

"I've been meaning to ask you," Hikaru hedged slowly, eyes on the fourth lollipop he'd seen Honda procure in the past hour alone. "How do you get away with eating in here? I thought food and drink were banned in the study areas."

Honda hummed noncommittally, sticking the lollipop into his mouth as he mulled over the question. "Well, you could say Shirakawa-sensei owes me? So he turns a blind eye on it… It's not like I'm making a mess or anything."

Hikaru blinked in surprise. "He owes you?"

Honda nodded, expression reserved. He leaned over the board in a conspiratorial fashion, voice low and even as he continued. "You can't tell anyone, but awhile ago I found Shirakawa-sensei sleeping in a tent in the middle of the woods. He was homeless."

Hikaru's eyes widened, his body stilling. The man that controlled the insei institute had been as destitute as the likes of Rizumu? It was a hard thing to picture; the man always looked so comfortable in his station of life, imagining anything besides Shirakawa in total control of his surroundings felt unreal.

"The last member of his family had died in a car accident and he was left with nowhere to go," Honda said quietly. "I was walking back with my older cousin at the time when we stumbled across him, and he invited Shirakawa-sensei to stay with us."

"That was nice of him," Hikaru said uncomfortably. That hit a bit too close to home for him.

Honda shrugged, nonchalant. "In truth, we were just too lazy to do any housework. So in exchange for doing the chores, Shirakawa-sensei could stay for free. It wasn't that big of a deal until my cousin came crashing in, looking to fight me..."

"In exchange for housework?" Hikaru had echoed, sounding almost eager. Honda stared back at the boy, bemused; that wasn't exactly what he'd been expecting his captive audience to latch onto. Just another oddity of Fujiwara Hikaru, Honda inwardly snorted.

"Anyway, you can't tell anyone. This was years ago and sensei is still so embarrassed over it," Honda persisted. "He still can't take pickles in his curry because that was the only dinner my cousin could make. I guess being an award-winning author means nothing in the kitchen…"

Hikaru only nodded. "Yeah, I can see that."

Honda wondered if that agreement stemmed from the issue of embarrassment or whether Hikaru had indeed suffered the horrors of pickles in curry. The younger boy sure didn't look inclined to clarifying.

Honda hid a snicker, pulling out a couple of hard caramels and dropping them onto the goban. Shirakawa-sensei looked up from across the room at the sound, glaring at Honda with an unimpressed look but saying nothing. Honda didn't bother to acknowledge the look, instead winking cheekily at Hikaru as the younger boy took this as verification of their relationship.

"For you," Honda pushed. He stood from his spot, Hikaru following suit after stashing the candies into his pocket. Just because Honda gave them to him didn't mean he had the same protection from Shirakawa-sensei and he wasn't going to risk angering the terrifying instructor.

He didn't need to worry over Shirakawa-sensei's pensive look, as Waya took that moment to enter the classroom. Honda exited with a little smirk, Waya none the wiser as Shirakawa's attention shifted to the lackadaisical teen.

Hikaru, with the most casual air he could muster, took a few steps back and to the side. This conveniently placed him close enough to the bookshelf lined with study materials, leaving him looking almost innocuous as he silently perused the titles and waited for the other shoe to drop. While he greatly appreciated Waya treating him like a friend, especially despite his initial reluctance, that didn't mean he was going to foolishly walk down the wolf's throat with him.

"Waya-kun," Shirakawa-sensei purred with a menacing smile, slinking up from where he had been examining one of the more damaged Go boards. Isumi, who had been standing closest to the entryway, easily outpaced his friend and was across the room in a few quick strides. Hikaru envied the older boy's ability - was it because Isumi's legs were so damn long?

"Good afternoon, sensei," Waya gritted out politely. The glance he shot both Isumi and Hikaru spoke of betrayal. Isumi looked away guiltily but made no move to distract their teacher while Hikaru focused pointedly on the Honinbou Shuusaku book clasped in his hands.

"You're later than expected. Perhaps you think you don't need to bother with punctuality if it's just the insei class?" Shirakawa-sensei mused aloud, sounding exaggeratedly thoughtful and concerned. Hikaru wasn't looking up but he knew Waya was matching that falsely-sympathetic expression with a horrified one. "Maybe I should talk to Morishita-sensei about how easy this class is for you…"

"No!" Waya replied desperately. "I'm learning a lot, I'm even learning right now!"

He speedily went to the closest person - Hikaru - and grabbed hold of his sleeve, tugging him forward to display as physical evidence. "Fujiwara and I study plenty together! We even studied last night!" Waya tossed out.

Shirakawa's eyes flashed. "Is that so? Because I seem to remember receiving a call from Morishita-sensei last night complaining about your ability to eat him out of house and home." Waya turned pale, his frenzied mind suddenly recalling how he had spent most of the evening at his teacher's place last night for extra tutoring. While the idea itself was meritable, the fact that he'd (reflexively) lied to Shirakawa was sure to gain some unwanted attention.

"He called you…?" Waya choked out instead.

Shirakawa-sensei frowned. "I am in your study group, you simpleton!"

Smooth, Waya, Hikaru thought critically. Considering that he was still trapped within the older boy's hold - Isumi really wasn't kidding, Waya was pretty handsy - Hikaru decided he may as well do what he can to pry his fellow insei out of the sticky situation.

"That wasn't even a study session-" Waya started defensively.

Shirakawa grinned, a predator through and through. "I have eyes and ears all over the place. Best remember that, Waya-kun~!"

From what Hikaru had gathered from past interactions with Shirakawa-sensei and from what he's observed, the man was a natural-born politician with an easy smile and cruel tongue. He presented the proper image to those he had little to no power over, a master of the honey-and-vinegar method that would have made him more dangerous in a profession that didn't involve a board game.

Shirakawa was also quite fond of teaching, although Hikaru had yet to discern if that was because the man enjoyed the feeling of being levels above those he taught or he just liked to see what he could mold. Either way, it was an unnervingly powerful position that Shirakawa was well aware of and appreciated.

"Study group?" Hikaru piped up, pulling on what he felt to be an adequately puzzled expression. Shirakawa and Waya immediately had their attention on him, and Hikaru wasn't too surprised to see that they were equally bemused by his interruption. Probably forgot I was here, Hikaru inferred. "What is that? You guys get together and...study Go?"

Waya blinked. "Of course. Why do you sound so confused?"

Hikaru flushed. I'm still new to this whole Go-playing-career thing, you jerk! "Well, I mean, don't you usually form study groups with people on your own level? Shirakawa-sensei is our instructor, so…"

"Study groups are commonly held under a high-ranking player," Shirakawa explained, his lecturing tone audible. Only the fact that Hikaru had heard about his troubled background softened his usually reflexive acidic response. "For both myself and Waya, we are apprenticed under Morishita ninth-dan. Those in the study group generally just fall under that rank, which is why you have myself - a seventh-dan - and an insei like Fluffy here."

"Did you just call me Fluffy!" Waya screeched.

"Study groups are invite-only, though, so you either have to have a member of that study group introduce you or get the attention of the mentor," Shirakawa continued on blithely, utterly ignoring Waya's outburst. Hikaru wondered if this was how the man bragged but his tone didn't sound arrogant, just matter-of-fact. Still, whoever this Morishita was, Hikaru was starting to feel sorry for him; a viper like Shirakawa mixed with the spitfire Waya seems like an explosive combination to have, and for a study group no less.

"Not that you are in need of joining a study group," Shirakawa's smile was starting to morph into his customary smirk again. Hikaru steeled himself; the man caused trouble just for the thrill of it. Who had let this tyrant run the insei school and why would they continue to inflict him on future generations? "I'm certain Ogata ninth-dan is more than enough in terms of studying."

Hikaru could hear the man's laughing tone. He seemed to be the only one, though, as Waya whipped around with a look that was moderately impressed. Hikaru didn't really understand the boy's reaction; from what he'd gleaned, Waya's own teacher was of equal ranking. Ogata couldn't be that odd of an occurrence.

"Isn't Ogata-sensei really...intense?" Waya asked, the restraint on the last word making it sound like it should have been something more severe.

Hikaru cracked a grin. "If by 'intense' you mean he's 'a vitriolic, condescending jerk with a hidden masochistic streak', then yes. He's definitely that."

Shirakawa looked pleased, obviously finding Hikaru's vaguely-disparaging remarks to be more along his own viewpoint. (That disturbed Hikaru slightly because he was sure he didn't want to mirror the man's personality in any shape or form.) Waya was taken-aback but Isumi had taken the pause in conversation as a cue to rescue Waya from himself, pulling the younger boy towards a goban as Hikaru hurried away to get out of Shirakawa's immediate vicinity.

"If you think this is really over, you have another thing coming~!" Shirakawa-sensei promised lightly, leaving the classroom with a smile that promised vengeance.

Nase and Fukui took this moment to disengage from their totally passionate, not-at-all-staged discussion of their game, craning around to give Waya similar looks of patronization. The rest of the insei (sans Honda, who was likely still downstairs by the vending machines) turned their attention away from Waya as if scared they would get caught up in Shirakawa's retribution.

"You really need to stop antagonizing Shirakawa-sensei, Waya," Nase chided. "Now you're even dragging Fujiwara down with you."

"I am not! Shirakawa-sensei likes him because he's Ogata ninth-dan's student!" Waya snapped back. It was a credible defense; Shirakawa picked on Waya because they shared the same Go teacher, and he obsessed over Hikaru because his teacher was known friend of the insei instructor.

Sai would be crying right about now, Hikaru thought idly. "Shirakawa-sensei does seem to like terrorizing Ogata-san," he contributed.

Isumi perked up noticeably, peering at the blond-banged boy with thoughtful eyes. "Ogata ninth-dan is your teacher?"

That would be quite odd, because from what Isumi had gleaned from Hikaru's games, the boy's playing style was nothing like Ogata ninth-dan's style. The man could be aggressive on the Go board but Hikaru's was aggressive and bewildering; careful planning was mixed with surprising hands that were starting to work out more frequently than before. Some of those hands had seemed familiar, but he'd attributed that to whatever Hikaru's obsession was with Honinbou Shuusaku, as the boy's attention often lingered over the famed Go player's books.

"Uh oh, Isumi-san's fanboy tendencies are showing," Nase mused as she passed, heading towards one of the free gobans to recreate her last game against Shirakawa-sensei.

"Fanboy?" Hikaru echoed dubiously.

Isumi was flushed bright red at this point. "I'm not a fanboy, I just appreciate Ogata-sensei's skills!" he insisted. While Waya was known for his devotion to the likes of Fujiwara Meijin, Isumi had instead been impressed by the likes of Ogata ninth-dan. The man was cool and composed, always ready with a look of confidence that could send his opponents into panicked fits. Isumi appreciated that confidence more than anything else as it was something he severely lacked.

"I never would have figured he was your type," Hikaru commented. Nase stifled an inappropriate laugh, not noticing the way Hikaru's eyes tightened at the corners in a flicker of regret. He hadn't meant for the poor phrasing to be indicative of a double entendre.

"He's a very respectable Go player," Isumi said defensively, ignorant of any other implications.

Hikaru nodded, smile vacant. "He's a very good player, yeah," he agreed openly. He turned his attention back to the study materials with an open smirk. "Just kind of an asshole too."

"I see respect isn't high up there on his student-teacher relationship credentials," Nase teased.

Hikaru shrugged. "He's around often enough but he's not really my teacher."

"Then who is?" Fukui asked curiously. "Did you learn from a family member?"

Hikaru's look turned shuttered, his smile grim. "Someone like that."

"Oi, Touya-kun! Kishimoto-senpai is at the door for you!"

Akira looked up, mildly surprised at his classmate's call. Sure enough though, Kaio's Go club captain stood at the door with a taciturn expression, eyes rested on Akira himself. The younger boy had not even begun to pull out his lunch, so he only left his bentou at his desk as he rose and walked over to greet the upperclassman.

"Bring your lunch, we're having this conversation in private," Kishimoto ordered imperially.

Akira inwardly sighed at the tone. He wondered if Kishimoto had always been such a tyrant but, in retrospect, he realized he didn't know very much about the older boy besides the most basic of facts. From further exposure and interaction, Akira could see that Kaio's First Board was far more eccentric than his studious looks had suggested.

Getting his lunch and following the older boy down the hallways, Akira allowed himself to be lead up the stairs and to the roof of their school building. He hesitated only briefly as they passed a 'No Students Beyond This Point' sign, having felt challenged by Kishimoto's derogatory gaze when Akira slowed down at the juncture.

"As captain of a school club, shouldn't you follow the school rules?" Akira asked quietly, keeping his tone polite.

Kishimoto snorted, "I need fresh air to think and I don't want any of those gossipmongers to overhear us."

They paused at the padlocked door, Kishimoto reaching into his pocket in order to pull out a couple small tools. Within a minute he had picked the lock and ignored Akira's vaguely scandalized expression with professional ease, none too gently pushing the younger boy forward and into the open air of the rooftop.

"You need to learn some life skills, Touya-kun," Kishimoto lectured airily.

Should I start hotwiring cars? Akira thought, more irritated by the tone than the suggestion.

Kishimoto closed the door quietly, padlock left by the frame so that they wouldn't be locked out should someone stumble up the steps. He took a seat against the wall, placing the plastic bag of his school lunch next to him and motioning for Akira to join him.

"What did you want to talk about?" Akira asked politely, taking a seat next to him.

Kishimoto pulled out a dolled-up package of cookies from the bag, handing it over to Akira without an explanation but shooting the beginner-dan an irritated look when he didn't immediately take it. Akira allowed it to be placed in his hands, openly staring at the pastel shade of purple and the ornamental white bow that kept the bag closed.

"We made gingersnap cookies in HomeEc today," Kishimoto shrugged off blandly. "I don't like gingersnap so you can have them."

Akira was still staring at the present. Why...Why is he so good at this…

"A man should have a variety of skills, Touya-kun," Kishimoto reprimanded lightly.

Akira managed out a strangled, "Yes, of course, you're right."

Kishimoto nodded once decisively, pulling out a hamburger steak sandwich and politely waiting for Akira to get over the cookies and set out his own bentou. Once the Go pro had set his present to the side and finally pulled out his lunch, Kishimoto took a few bites, eyes meandering the length of the chainlink fence that kept the roof area secure.

"Did you ever hear the reason why the rooftop is off-limits?" Kishimoto finally asked, once Akira had finally begun to dig into his own lunch. The freshman shook his head, eyes on his upperclassman and now hesitant to take another bite.

"You can keep eating, I'm just going to talk at you for awhile," Kishimoto waved off. He flashed a satisfied smirk at the young pro once he finally started eating again. He began with a quiet sort of veneer, taking on a passive tone as he recounted. "It's actually a rather recent rule. It was started in my second year."

Kishimoto took a bite of his meal robotically, chewed it, and swallowed. His eyes were distant as he recalled the events that had been smeared across Kaio's history and shadowed Kishimoto's class with every conversation they never had. It was easier to ignore than to acknowledge, and how could anyone expect a group of kids to cope and deal with it by themselves?

Kishimoto wondered at their weakness. "It was after a freshman boy committed suicide by jumping off the roof. His name was Sakurai Takahiko; he was a member of the Go club."

For a long moment, Kishimoto said nothing. He stared evenly at the fence. It, too, was a new addition - Kaio's sad attempt at saving face so that no more of their students painted the walls red with bloodsplatter.

"Was he a friend?" Akira ventured quietly.

Kishimoto smiled without humor. "No. We never spoke. All I remember about Sakurai from club meetings is him standing off to the side, reading over the study materials. He didn't play games often, and when he did he always lost."

Kishimoto wrapped his sandwich back up in its paper. He never could finish his food. He made a note to get a croissant later when he purchased his coffee.

"The school blamed his parents and his parents blamed the school. But the students - we all knew why. He was being bullied," Kishimoto continued. A bird landed on the fence, head twisting this way and that. It was blind in one eye. "The bullies were a small group of boys in his homeroom. They didn't hurt him every day but the fear had already been planted, and fear has a tendency to leech and grow. It was enough."

And what had any of them done to stop it? The sense of community his teachers attempted to foster meant little in the face of any aberration. No one would stick up for Sakurai. To be a part of the community, that meant doing little to dissuade; it was better to keep to yourself than intervene in affairs beyond you. Kishimoto could lambast as much as he wanted but when the moment came - would he still do so even if it meant finally being on the receiving end?

The fear was enough because people like him had enabled it to do so.

"There's a zero-tolerance policy about bullying here," Akira realized.

Kishimoto's look turned wry. "Officially. Officially, a lot of things aren't supposed to happen." He finally turned to look at his underclassman, matching the younger boy's tentative stare with his own certain one. "But that never really stops them from happening, Touya-kun."

Touya Akira was a prodigious Go player. He came from a noteworthy background, he had impeccable poise and maturity for someone so young, and he was a force to be reckoned with when it came to Go.

The world was not confined to Go, however, and neither were the relationships between people. Touya Akira was more than just a professional Go player and son of the former Meijin: he was Kishimoto's underclassman, he was a freshman student isolated from his peers, he was quiet and unused to social contact if a goban wasn't involved in some way.

He was remarkably pure. It had hurt, the first time Kishimoto had noticed it. Akira's world revolved around Go and that was it; everything he lived and breathed by was the board game. It was astonishing and the passion was inspiring, but it limited Akira in ways he had yet to realize.

Life was the look on Hidaka's face the first time Kishimoto had kissed her; it was the patience with which Yun-sensei taught; it was the cold onigiri left wrapped in his home fridge; it was the humble words that Tsutsui spoke with as fire raged in his eyes; it was the blood that had come gushing out of Sakurai's crushed frontal lobe; it was the taste of coffee in the morning; it was Hikaru's free touch and haunted eyes.

Go was life to the boy - but life was so much more than stones on kaya wood. It was something so miserable that children their age would throw it away, it was so wonderful that people fought to keep it, it was beautiful and horrible, both a tragedy and a miracle.

Touya Akira was pure and suffocating.

"You should try and become someone stronger," Kishimoto advised quietly. "I just hope you realize that strength itself is not confined to the physical reality or the goban."

Rhythmic pounding of the wooden spatula against the cutting board was audible for several long minutes, all in which Ogata didn't bother to turn around. He was cutting the leeks and garlic into acceptable size at the moment and couldn't spare his attention. The pounding finally subsided, allowing the soft tones of the radio playing jazz - who had picked that? - to finally filter in.

"I'm done mashing them," Hikaru piped up. "Now what do I do?"

"Did you add the salt and pepper?" Ogata asked without turning around.

A pause, a shuffle of movement, then a cheerful "Yeah!"

Ogata glanced back over his shoulder. "I've already diced the onion for you. Fry it in oil first, then add the chicken."

Hikaru shuffled over to the stovetop. "How much oil?"

"Enough to fry the vegetables without burning them but not too much so that we have to drink it."

There was an agreeable humming noise. A few minutes passed, in which the clattering of pans and the stovetop flaring to life interrupted the jazz melody. Ogata finally finished up with cutting the vegetables and fruits, then turned to join Hikaru at the stove. His own pan was next to Hikaru's frying concoction, quietly bubbling away and nearly opaque with bone fat. From prior experience, he knew it'd need about another hour.

"Did I ever tell you about the time Sai managed to burn vegetables while boiling them?" Hikaru asked casually.

Ogata smirked, unaccountably amused. "He's a natural at impossible things."

The boy laughed lightly. Ogata added the chicken to the wok, along with some more seasoning. Hikaru watched him with sharp eyes as if to memorize the exact amount silently.

"How are your insei classes going?" Ogata asked. It sounded awkward, even to him.

The look on Hikaru's face clearly screamed 'are we really going to do this?' but surprisingly, what came out of his mouth was a polite (and slightly strangled) "Good, I guess. I'm in Class A now."

Ogata, of course, already knew about Hikaru's quick rise to the top insei class; Sai had been chirping incessantly about it for over a week now and shooting off enough sparkles that even Ashiwara was having a hard time maintaining direct eye contact. The amount of smugness was only doubled by Akira, which was odd because Hikaru had not mentioned hanging out with the beginner-dan recently. Then again, Ogata had half a mind to believe that Akira and Shirakawa were conspiring together to better improve Hikaru's playing, which was enough of a mental image to make Ogata queasy.

I should probably mention something to Akiko-san soon, Ogata thought. He already knew he was lying to himself.

"Getting along with the other kids?" Ogata continued. He tried to interject a tone of condescension in there, which was easy enough to do; insei in particular always managed to rile up his patronizing side.

Hikaru visibly bristled but remarkably kept his tone calm and even. "Yeah, we even hang out sometimes."

"Do you go shopping with them?" Ogata asked curiously. "I notice your style has changed."

At this, Hikaru subtly turned away - a marker of distance, the visible evidence of his attempt to hide something. Ogata's attention sharpened, keen-eyed and watching Sai's student closey. He knew something had been wrong with the kid for awhile now, it was just hard to pinpoint what outside of Hikaru's usual issues. This new development was alarming because both men had been able to see that, in some way, Hikaru was backtracking.

"Yeah, well, you know - insei..." Hikaru deflected readily. "I needed a different look."

Needed - not wanted.

Ogata allowed them to fall back into silence, contemplating this admission. Hikaru had acquired new information recently: he now belonged to the insei class, Sai was the Meijin, and he was Sai's only student. Taking into account the value of perception, which was something Ogata was used to manipulating and Hikaru was used to dealing in, then this entire shift in attitude and even fashion style was the kid's attempt at following what people would perceive as an appropriate student for Sai.

Hikaru was attempting to change into someone that other people would think Sai's ideal student would be. It should have been an unsurprising and expected reaction of the boy, but Ogata knew both he and Sai had foolishly never considered it. It was also incredibly harmful; Hikaru had enough self-worth issues already, adding on this paradigm of 'Sai's ideal student' would break him.

Ogata sincerely hoped Akira had nothing to do with it. Given that Hikaru was wearing khaki pants, a pale blue collared shirt, and a nondescript dark brown sweater - he looked like an Akira with better color-coordination.

Ogata would have to tell Sai tonight. This was a heart-to-heart thing that Sai himself would have to personally deal with it, considering that Hikaru was trying to fit some falsified image of Sai's perfect student. Sai didn't have a mental image of the perfect student or perfect child; as far as Ogata knew, Sai adored Hikaru - every broken and crooked piece of him.

"It doesn't suit you at all," Ogata stated bluntly. Hikaru's head whipped around to stare up at him, surprised. Nothing about this restrained, bland image suited Hikaru - he was far more than that. He was caustic and thorny, rang out with more hollow compliments and sarcastic assents than subdued acquiescence. He wrapped his truths in insults and his fake smiles were nearly always teasing because the real ones were small and painful and alive.

This colorless mockery was unbefitting of Sai's precious charge.

Ogata spotted the hairclip left atop the counter; it was fake pearls lined intermittently into the golden wire, artistic and needlessly decadent. God knows where Hikaru had bought it from or how he'd managed to do so with a straight face, but it was definitively welcome sight to Ogata now. He picked it up, carefully opening it so that this cheap, gaudy thing would not break in his hands.

Hikaru watched him approach with wide eyes, distinctly unbelieving. Ogata from a year ago would be just as shocked, but the Ogata now was a different man. The person who had wormed his way into a child's life, even if his first intentions for doing so had been anything but benign, did not leave such an interaction without some change. People changed because of other people, indirectly or not - this was merely another facet of life.

Ogata swept up as much of the blond bangs as he could - they were getting ridiculously long now, he'd cut it himself if Hikaru wasn't up for a visit to the hair salon soon - and to the side, sliding the clip into place and securing them out of the way from those wide green eyes.

Ogata matched that bewildered look with a serious one. "Much better," he nodded decisively.

Then he flicked Hikaru in the forehead and curtly pointed out his chicken was burning.

"What were you and Fujiwara talking about so fervidly yesterday?"

Honda grinned, brazen in his attitude despite being addressed by the intimidating man. Shirakawa had caught the boy alone by the vending machines again, as the brat always ended up purchasing some sugary swill to drink after being at the institute for over an hour. Shirakawa inwardly acknowledged that while the confidence would no doubt filter down well into the boy's gameplay, it also meant Honda became a bit too comfortable with his place here.

I spoiled him, Shirakawa acknowledged. Troublesome child.

"Oh, nothing much," Honda shrugged off cheerfully. "Although I think I may have gotten him to believe that we are the starting chapter of Fruits Basket."

"What." Shirakawa's dry tone said it all.

Honda nodded, grin growing. "I guess I can't talk about manga with him. I was hoping that would be his thing, though, especially with the way he dresses."

"Just because he has a decent fashion sense doesn't make him a cosplay model," Shirakawa reprimanded. "You really fed him some tripe background story?"

Honda frowned exaggeratedly. "How was I supposed to know he wouldn't pick up on it? I even made it so obvious, I stopped just short of saying I turned into a rat because of the zodiac curse."

Shirakawa sighed. "And here I was hoping you would talk about something more important."

"Aw, come on, it was cute. I even made you Tohru when clearly that should have been me. If anything, you're probably Akito."

Shirakawa twitched. "Don't be impertinent, Toshinori."

Honda snickered. "Sorry, sorry! It's funny that you're so interested though," he admitted. "He's really good so I'm not that surprised."

Shirakawa smiled wolfishly. "I'll make sure the whole lot of you are up to par. Maybe the shockwaves your entry will send out will rejuvenate how boring the scene is currently."

Ah, so you want to cause a stir, Honda deduced. And now you've found the key to that.

"No wonder you're starting to get so many calls from Touya Akira," Honda mused. "I wonder how many little birds are already chirping about this."

Shirakawa frowned. "Far more than you should know about," he answered. "And how did you know about Touya's calls?"

"Saw your call log," Honda said blithely.

"Stop stealing my phone whenever you feel like it!"

"Technically it's borrowing," Honda pointed out. "...how did you know about Fujiwara? There's nothing about him anywhere: no tournament records, no club records, nothing. I looked but there was only smoke."

Shirakawa smiled. "Perhaps you're looking in the wrong direction. Not everything has to be based off a trail of awards." He leaned forward, voice lowering to make sure they were not overheard. Honda Toshinori, Shirakawa knew well enough, could be trusted with most anything. "Sometimes the only thing you need to know is a name."

He waited a moment as Honda visibly tried to connect the dots. The boy was troublesome and some of his habits were still mired in the delinquency he had yet to cast off, but there was no denying Honda was brilliant. This was no more obvious in the way recognition dawned in those dark eyes, understanding sweeping over his features in awe.

Hikaru was obvious, it was just that people were unwilling to believe. A fixation on Honinbou Shuusaku, a connection to Ogata Seiji, and a frightening amount of talent to be sculpted? He couldn't have been a more conspicuous choice of student if he tried.

"Fujiwara," Honda breathed out.

Shirakawa laughed. "Amazing, isn't it? Monsters really do breed other monsters."

"Nase, what do you think of Fujiwara?"

It was obvious Isumi was uncomfortable to even be asking such a question, having avoided a direct look at the girl next to him and shifting just slightly from one foot to the other. He knew that it was inappropriate to be talking about someone when they weren't even there, and he knew this invite for the girl's opinion could be misconstrued as gossip behind their friend's back. But still, something nagged at the back of his mind whenever they spent time with Hikaru; something in the boy's behavior was off even if Isumi couldn't place what.

Asking Waya or Honda would only be troublesome: the former would blow off his worries as inconsequential and rude, while the latter would only make up some story just to watch Isumi twitch. Fukui and Nase were more observant, however, and Nase in particular was one of the most mature kids in the insei class. Isumi could trust her judgment, for the most part.

"Fujiwara, huh?" Nase echoed thoughtfully. She stood pretty as she pleased in a floral, ruffled sundress and jean jacket. Standing together near the subway station exit, they made a cute couple - at least according to a few older passers-by who deigned to comment. Isumi had blushed and stammered out his correction as Nase visibly preened.

"His fashion sense is so much better than our's," she stated after a moment, completely serious.

Isumi nearly buckled, giving the girl a baffled look when she only flashed him a small smirk. With a sigh, he spared a moment to regret not inviting Fukui out on this venture instead; at least the younger boy would take him seriously.

Nase chuckled at his expense, before with a small shrug of her shoulders, she turned her attention back to the sidewalk. "Well, he's a very good Go player. So much so that it's almost scary."

Isumi nodded. He definitely understood that sentiment; just a few weeks ago Hikaru had climbed his way into Class A. Now he was even beating Isumi in their practice matches, outpacing him by maybe a dozen hands ahead. Sometimes Isumi would gain the advantage, Hikaru having not yet perfected his hand in yose or getting sloppy while defending - but the potential was there. The blond-banged boy hadn't stopped evolving, had yet to stagnate at all in his learning so that with every game he grew stronger.

Honda had mused that perhaps Ogata-sensei had really struck gold with finding this student, that the man was a curiously good teacher despite his vitriolic attitude. Despite Hikaru saying that Ogata was not his teacher, it was hard to believe it with the sheer amount of talent the boy possessed - what kind of Go player would pass off mentoring such a student? Shirakawa's close attention was obvious as well, an ever-present shadow whenever Hikaru played a ranking match.

"He's strong," Isumi agreed. It was an undeniable truth.

Nase grinned. "But that's not what you're really asking about, is it?"

Isumi nodded, once again shifting slightly.

Waya was touchy-feely, casual despite their age difference no matter what suffix he used to address Isumi. Waya was comfortable in his skin and with who he was, even if that didn't extend to his strength in the game.

Hikaru, though, was different. It wasn't noticeable at first; his touches were similar to Waya's, fleeting and casual with no other meaning despite a show of friendliness. It was not as if his fingers lingered, unlike his eyes: they would trail from Isumi's hands to his face but avoided his eyes, as if meeting the older boy's look would divulge some secret guilt. There was something distinct in the way Hikaru carried himself, as if he wore his skin like one does a costume - not altogether unusual for kids growing up, bodies adjusting through puberty. But Hikaru and his fleeting touches were unusual in that he gave them too easily yet looked as if he were sick of himself for doing so. There was something about himself Hikaru was not comfortable with, and whatever it was, it hung about the boy and sought comfort from the close proximity of those around him.

Hikaru sought contact because it was the only source of comfort he understood, and he seemingly hated himself for it.

"He's surprisingly crude for someone who behaves so tactfully at the institute," Nase mused aloud. Her tone conveyed it was without serious thought, the smile never leaving her lips. It was a dangerous look on the girl because it meant she had given Fujiwara Hikaru due thought and had reached a decisive conclusion herself. "He'll take advantage of you if you let him but he won't pick on you for your weaknesses. He's not cruel, but he's cunning and he knows how to use those around him."

Isumi cocked his head, eyes doubtful. "You make him sound like Shirakawa-sensei," he pointed out dubiously.

Nase shook her head. "Shirakawa-sensei is manipulative with a healthy - too healthy - sadistic streak, but he does it for the greater benefit for both himself and those under him. Fujiwara… I don't think he really knows what he's doing, he just thinks he has to set up a security measure for himself."

The girl straightened the cuffs of her jacket boredly. "If anything, I'd say he's scared. I don't know of what or why, but Isumi-san - I don't really think it's any of our business."

Isumi blew out a breath, staring past the crowds on the sidewalk. He could name a few dozen reasons why they should care just off the top of his head but he kept the words at bay. This was Nase's view, her assertion and her right; if she truly believed nothing could be gained from further analyzing their friend, then there was nothing more she would contribute.

"Even though he's our friend?" Isumi asked.

Nase snorted. "You can't hope to understand everyone."

Isumi frowned. Nase was painfully honest when it came to her observations, frank to such a degree that it was hard just to have a conversation with the girl that didn't leave her partner wincing. Honesty, though an admirable trait, was not one that was so keenly observed in Isumi's life; it was much better to lie and keep the wool over one's eyes, preserve the world as a beautiful, mysterious place.

Nase did not share this sentiment and the older boy was fairly sure she never had. Her honesty was her greatest strength but she wielded it so carelessly that she inevitably hurt others more than she helped them, so it must be of some consolation to the girl that she never cared much for mayweather friends in the first place. Still, sometimes the blunt truth she espoused came across more as belligerent idiocy or tactless cruelty, so Isumi was hardly going to emulate her.

"Isumi-san, do you ever play on NetGo?" Nase asked. It was a sudden turn in conversation, leaving the older boy blinking in surprise.

"...No," Isumi finally responded tentatively. He'd always preferred games face-to-face, because despite his lack of confidence there was something comforting in knowing and seeing the flesh and blood of his opponent. NetGo and other internet forums lacked the human connection Isumi desired.

"You should visit it sometime, or at least read some of the forums," Nase advised casually. "It's gotten pretty interesting recently."

Isumi's unimpressed look wasn't insulting, merely bored. "I think I heard Waya saying some of the pros went on there. It would be worth checking out." At some point in the future. Maybe.

"Sometimes the interesting things aren't the pros. Although you do learn - a lot." Nase's smile was challenging, the look in her eyes laughing at a joke only she understood. "Like the importance of wisteria."

Having finally caught sight of the person they'd been waiting for, Isumi couldn't respond. Hikaru was maneuvering his way around the crowds that were exiting the station, smiling and waving at the pair as he made his way towards them. He was dressed in dark blue jeans, with a black button-up shirt left open to reveal a nondescript dark grey shirt underneath. A floral mix of red, white, and light pink flowers were printed on the collared shirt's chest and shoulder areas, matching the white chrysanthemum hair clips keeping his bangs to the side.

"Sorry I'm late," Hikaru gasped out once he'd reached them. "Ogata-sensei refused to let me leave until- uh, until I finished this tsumego problem."

It was an obvious lie but neither of them were going to point it out. Hikaru just really didn't want to explain that Ogata had essentially called him out on acting so unlike himself and then refused to let him leave until he'd returned to some of his normal flair. This had led to the strangest half hour of his life, in which Ogata grilled him on looking presentable for an afternoon out with his friends.

As if I would trust the fashion advice of someone who owns that many white suits, Hikaru thought derisively. Ogata may dress better than Sai in terms of casual wear, but that didn't mean the man was exactly a fashion icon.

"We should eat first," Nase suggested brightly.

Isumi's lips twitched up in a smile, "Didn't you say you just ate lunch-?"

Nase casually elbowed the older boy in the stomach, carefree grin on her lips as her eyes afixed on Hikaru brightly. The bond-banged boy wisely agreed with her, taking a hasty step back just to be sure. Isumi had one hand rubbing over his abused ribs with a weak smile, keeping silent as Nase cheerfully claimed to a know "a really good sandwich place around here!"

Sai was pacing about his apartment under Ogata's severe eyes, which for them was starting to become an unfortunately common occurrence. Luckily it was Saturday, which meant Hikaru would get to come home to a frantically-trying-to-comfort Sai and then wake up on Sunday to be subjected to Shirakawa's questionable mercies. Unintentional or not, with Sai and Shirakawa's influence always in subsequent sets, Hikaru's go and his confidence in his play was improving. However, this didn't necessarily translate into other matters - as Sai found out.

"He's backtracking," Sai said. He spat it out like poison, wringing his hands in his distress. "Of course he would think something like this! Why didn't it occur to me before?"

"You had other things to think about," Ogata reasoned out. "You can't expect yourself to reach the same conclusions he does, especially with how differently both of you think."

Sai's arms crossed in front of his chest, a defensive gesture highlighted by the frown on his lips. He looked equal parts regretful and furious; undoubtedly he would not forgive himself for letting Hikaru slide back into such thinking.

"There can be no excuse," Sai said decisively. "But my blunders aside, I need to focus on fixing this. You said he implied he wanted to change into - what? My 'perfect student'?" The Meijin spat out the last two words in disgust.

Ogata nodded, still displeased with how quick Sai was to blame himself. He privately believed the only blame to be had here were the culprits who had a hand in destroying Hikaru's sense of self-worth, definitely not the boy himself or Sai. He mentally noted to bring up this topic at a later date, preferably after Hikaru got this nonsense of becoming another Touya Akira out of his mind.

"What does he even think my perfect student would be like?" Sai mused, voice edging closer to distraught. It was bad enough having his father forcefully insert himself into the life Sai had spent so long meticulously building without him. Did he prompt Hikaru into this sort of thinking? Sai wondered, intense hatred for his father threading its way through his veins.

"Likely a smaller version of you," Ogata responded. "I think he's trying to emulate your wardrobe, at least enough for his tastes. It's also the reason he has yet to insult me or your cooking this week."

Sai's arms tightened, hands gripping his elbows in a show of aggravation. If the context had been different, many would see Hikaru's attitude shift as an improvement - a case could be made to say he was maturing. But this was backsliding, plain as day; for a boy so unsure of himself, this desire to change was not cultivated from a forward thought of the future but rather a desire to change into someone he wasn't for Sai's sake.

Perhaps the most toxic aspect of this backslide was that Hikaru had somehow gotten the idea that he was unworthy of Sai. The very idea that his precious charge was changing because he was so scared of losing Sai's love was horrendous to the Meijin; that Hikaru could even think Sai's affections were so fleeting and false was an insult.

Not that he has much to compare to, Sai thought viciously. Between the tortures of the adults he'd once serviced to the neglect he'd suffered from his parents, Hikaru's desire to appeal to an adult shouldn't have been surprising. Sai may be proving to be different from every other adult figure in Hikaru's life, but that didn't mean the boy's desire to entreaty to them would change so quickly.

Sai sighed quietly. "I'll have to speak to him directly."

"He'll deny it," Ogata pointed out.

"Doubtlessly," Sai nodded. "But if I do not address it plainly, he will never understand. Not enough people have been honest with him."

Ogata was about to make a snarky comment about the over-inflated value of 'honesty' but figured that wouldn't exactly be well-received by his friend at the moment. He kept his mouth shut and merely watched as Sai paced a few steps here and there, likely planning out how the conversation with Hikaru would go.

"Should I stay over tonight?" the ninth-dan asked.

Sai paused, then shook his head. "Thank you, but that won't be necessary. I don't think this conversation will force him to leave."

The Meijin ignored his friend's low mutter of "And what kind of conversation forced him to break down a furniture store?" with the ringing of the doorbell. Sai turned, suspicion lining his posture; it was too early for Hikaru to have returned from his Go salon-hopping venture with his insei friends and Sai never received visitors outside of Ogata himself. If it was Kawai again, Sai really was going to start investing some deep thought into moving to a different country.

Peeking through the peephole did nothing more than get him a good view of a shoulder and shaggy auburn hair. Giving it another moment's thought, he opened the door a scant half a meter - before it was casually kicked open. Startled, Sai jumped back a step just as a figure emerged from around the doorframe, a curl of smoke from a lit cigarette denoting their entrance.

"Hey there," the boy - a teenager with a feral look to his eyes and a smirk on his lips - greeted boredly. "So you're Fujiwara Sai, huh? Didn't expect you to be so fucking pretty."

Sai had frozen, violet eyes wide and close to gaping. Ogata had already leaped up from the seat of his couch, striding forward. The boy glanced at the ninth-dan with a criticizing look, sizing him up in an instant with nothing more than a small grin to show for it.

Sai was having trouble to calm his rapidly-beating heart. It was one thing to endure such a violent entrance - it was another to see it done by a familiar trace. Which begged a few questions: why was Kaga Tetsuo in his apartment and how did he know who Sai was?

"You are-" Sai started, baffled.

Kaga cut him off with a sneer. "Aian, if your brat ever bothered to mention me. But I'm actually here to drop something off - there's nowhere else for it, you see, so I guess you'll have to do."

A flash of russet brown hair and wide, cat-like eyes was all the warning Sai got as Kaga tugged forward what had been huddled behind him the entire time. The gesture was rough but not violent, meant to move rather than hurt.

"Just one more is all I can ask," Sai heard as Kaga backed away. "He'll die if he stays there. Tell Hikaru I'm sorry. He'll understand - but I'm sorry for that too."

Kaga disappeared around the doorway, closely followed by a surprised but furious Ogata. Their footsteps died down as they sped down the hallway and out of Sai's floor. The Meijin could not follow, righting the boy that had remained still and unresisting in his grasp.

In his arms, Mitani Yuuki stared back at him silently.

A/N: Kaga, no!

-On Mitsuo and Shinya: Shinya was mentioned in Chapter 6; he's Masaki's right-hand man and the ringleader of the drug circuit in the Gate. Mitsuo's group doesn't know that yet, though.

Mitsuo is just all kinds of obsessed with his son, to the point where it extends past love of family. I don't want to say it's incestuous, though, because Mitsuo is not sexually attracted to Sai. It's just a very unhealthy relationship for completely different reasons.

-The exchange over Mitsuo's bird (Momo): Mitsuo routinely kills his own pets - they're not even always birds - and then justifies it by saying he wanted Sai to only see cute, lively things rather than aging pets dying from any other ailments.

-On Shirakawa and Honda: Their relationship is innocuous and not at all illicit. Just to clarify - not even the slightest bit romantic or sexual. Shirakawa isn't into that! And Honda is straight... I guess. (I don't know, fluid sexuality for everyone!) But they do have a cute beginning that has nothing to do with insei.

-On Nase: She's not heartless, she's actually just very rational. Her priorities are different from Isumi's but since that section is from Isumi's view, she's coming off a bit too harsh. Really, the Nase here is pretty awesome. (grin)

-On Ochi: As if I would forget him. (sinister grin)

-On Hikaru's Rise: At the insei school, he's legitimately terrifying. He's risen to Isumi's level when he entered at what should have been on Maeda's in under a month. It's disorienting to the other Class A insei when someone they play one week is at their level and the next week, he's playing as one of the strongest insei there. As for NetGo (at which Nase implied), apparently someone caught on. (hint hint)

-On the Gate: A lot of things are happening there but there won't be an explication for awhile.

-On Rizumu: I know I tried to make it a big reveal but pretty much everyone already knew Rizumu was Mitani. XD

Questions, comments, concrit? The please...

Kindly drop a review.