Imagine an AU in which, for whatever reason, Shindou stopped playing go when Sai disappeared and didn't start again. This story takes place in such a continuity, many years later. Shindou hasn't been heard from in years. Touya Akira is a very successful go pro.
No sex. A small amount of profanity.
This will not be a happy story.
'This has to be the worst neighborhood in Tokyo,' Touya thought, 'and I just had to go and get lost in it.'
He hadn't imagined that there would be any problem. The reception was in a big, new hotel. One that Touya hadn't been to before, but he'd been told at the go association that there was a direct entrance from the subway station into the hotel. What he hadn't been told was how enormous the station was, even for the Tokyo subway. Three lines crossed there, and there were innumerable staircases, ramps and passageways. No doubt there had been signs directing him to the hotel but, his senses overwhelmed with signs directing him to this or to that, he had missed them and abruptly found himself out of the station and on an unfamiliar street in a decidedly bad neighborhood. This was not the Tokyo Touya knew. There was no sign of the hotel.
The evening was cold, damp and raw. Garbage swirled around in the gutters, kicked here and there by gusts of the February wind, which easily cut through Touya's expensive but thin topcoat. He pulled his hat down as best he could, stood on a corner and looked around for a trace of the hotel. The thing was huge, and must be quite close by. There ought to have been some sort of sign, a gigantic one by rights. But all he could see were garish neon signs beckoning him towards dive bars, cheap restaurants and no doubt disreputable hotels.
"Lost?" The mocking voice was raspy and harsh. Touya glanced at the speaker and immediately looked away. The old man looked like a derelict, and sounded a bit unbalanced. If you meet his eyes, he'll be able to tell that you're afraid. To calm himself Touya imagined that the man might be someone's grandfather. It didn't work. The idea instantly conjured up a pack of switchblade-wielding grandchildren crouching in the shadows, waiting for the signal to strike.
"I bet you're after that fancy new hotel. The Particle, The Pinnacle, The Pedestal, the Pederast, whatever they decided to call it. Urban fucking renewal. You know I used to live in one of the buildings they knocked down to build that craphole?"
"Well, I'm sorry about that," Touya said, still keeping his gaze down and trying to avoid eye contact. The man's trousers needed cleaning, or better yet a toxic waste disposal squad. But Touya was becoming less judgmental with every second spent in this place. "Please, the Pinnacle Hotel…can you tell me how to get there from here?"
"Yeah, yeah. If they hadn't spent so much money on granite and glass for the front they coulda afforded to put a sign on their side door. It's right over there."
Touya peered down the dirty alley the stranger gestured at. At the end was the gleaming black wall of a new modern building, with a small, discreet entrance not graced by anything in the way of signage.
"Or maybe they made it all understated 'cause they were scared that some of us from the neighborhood might try and go in there if we knew what it was", the stranger rasped at him. "As if we don't know. You go ahead. They won't throw you out."
"Thank you very much." Touya thought that he should give the scary old man some sort of a tip, but delighted though he was at the prospect of escaping this alarming situation, the idea of reaching for his wallet in such surroundings made him nervous. The man seemed to understand the situation precisely, and waved him off.
"Don't trouble yourself, Honinbou."
Relieved, Touya almost ran to the lighted doorway. No switchblade-wielding grandchildren pursued, and his kidneys remained unpunctured. The door led to an unmarked but clean and lushly carpeted passage. He soon found himself in a hotel lobby, where a placard announcing the go reception pointed him to the proper floor and room. Only once he was safely on an escalator gliding up to level M2 was his heart rate back to normal and his brain relaxed enough to start working properly again. Only then did it dawn on him.
The filthy old derelict had called him 'Honinbou'.
February turned into March, and the weather turned from ghastly to merely changeable. The go calendar remained reassuringly predictable, with its schedule of matches, events, and promotions. Touya continued his own personal routine, which rarely varied. Mostly he studied. What most people didn't understand was that studying was how he spent the bulk of his time. Matches were a diversion from his real work, in a way. Matches were a chance to put to the test what he'd learned in study, but the studying, the learning was the point of it all.
One thing kept intruding on Touya's otherwise disciplined thoughts: the man outside the hotel who had recognized him. That was just so weird. In the go world Touya was almost as famous as his late father had been a generation ago. He wasn't an especially charismatic personality, like Yashiro, nor did he dress in a way that made him stand out, like Ogata-san. He wasn't as good looking as Isumi. So despite his success he didn't actually have very many fans. But he did have four titles now, and some people were starting to say that eventually he'd have five as his father had had, possibly even six. Still, even that considerable success didn't make Touya Akira a household name outside the go world. Of course most amateur go players knew his name, and many would know his face as well, especially if they subscribed to Weekly Go. But the go world was small. Touya was recognized on the street from time to time, but this wasn't a common occurrence. All the more unexpected, then, for him to be recognized by anyone in that particular place on that particular night. The street had been dark, and Touya had been pretty well bundled up against the cold. Even an acquaintance might well have passed by him without noticing who he was, which made it highly unlikely for a person like the old man to know who Touya Akira was. Even more unlikely for him to know what Touya looked like, let alone to recognize him under such conditions. But that wasn't the most unlikely thing.
The man had called him "Honinbou". The accepted practice was to address a holder of multiple titles by the most prestigious one he held, and Touya was already the Kisei title holder when he became the Honinbou. There had been a brief period when people called him Honinbou by way of congratulating him on his new title. They then went back to calling him Kisei, which was as it should be. So why had the old man, who by rights shouldn't have known who he was at all, called him Honinbou, which nobody ever called him? He should have laughed off this minor mystery by now: told an amusing version of the story to Ashiwara or Ogata and then forgotten all about it. But for some reason he hadn't told anyone, and he couldn't forget.
The answer to Touya's predicament came to him one day. Sometimes at go, an unusual move would just come to him, and over the years he'd come to trust this intuition more and more. So when the idea popped into his head that he should go and find the scary old man, he decided to do it.
Touya's mother Akiko was a fan of crime dramas. He had heard detailed descriptions of many such plots over the years, all the more so recently, as his mother was now widowed and seemed to have little else to occupy her time. So he had an idea of how a fictional detective might proceed, though he realized the most likely outcome for him, a non-fictional detective, was that he would fail to find the man, make an ass of himself, and perhaps end up substantially poorer into the bargain. He went ahead anyway.
His first task was to find something inconspicuous to wear. He wasn't sure exactly what would be inconspicuous in that neighborhood, so he settled on things he figured likely to blend into the background anywhere. Colors fairly subdued without being aggressively black, white or gray. Nothing too expensive or too new, but not noticeably old or shabby either.
The neighborhood which had seemed so threatening in the wintry dusk seemed less so on an early spring afternoon. The residents seemed a bit down at the heels, but more than willing to talk to him, especially when he ponied up 500 yen or so in response to their rather shy declarations of need. But he quickly realized that this wasn't getting him anywhere. He'd give a panhandler a small bill, and ask after the mysterious stranger. His interviewees either said they had no idea, said that they did, or implied that a further donation would stimulate their memories. Either way the result was the same. He paid and paid — in small bills, but it added up — and left for home poorer but not wiser, except insofar as he had learned that this approach probably wouldn't work.
He couldn't think of anything else to do, so he tried again on his next afternoon off, and the pattern repeated itself. He scattered bread upon the waters, but nothing came back. Was he spending too little? Too much? Targeting the wrong people? He was targeting derelicts, but that seemed to cover most of the neighborhood anyway.
On his third visit he decided he'd had enough. It had just turned April, and the sun was out and pleasantly warm. He sat down on a bench in a small square, and began to reconcile himself to the idea of giving up the hunt. It was hard to do precisely because he wasn't at all sure why he'd started hunting in the first place. Well, at least he hadn't wasted too much time or too much money on the project. Maybe it would be best to cut his losses and let the mystery remain unsolved.
A man sat down next to him. A well-built younger man, with a medium-length beard.
"You're that guy who's looking for somebody, but he doesn't know who it is, right?" The man seemed more mentally focused than anyone he'd interviewed so far, which was promising in a way.
"Yes. An older man with a bad-sounding voice."
"Is that all you know about him?"
"He did me a favor. Also, he recognized me."
"And you are…?"
"I'd prefer not to say. Not that I mind people knowing who I am. A lot of people do. But I was going to use it as a test. If I found somebody who pretended to be him, I'd know he was lying if he didn't know who I was."
"That's not much to go on."
"He also told me that he used to live in a building that they tore down to build the Pinnacle Hotel."
"So he's been around a while. That's three years at least, maybe four. I think I know the guy you mean. I'll put you in touch with him for 50,000 yen."
Touya bristled. "That's outrageous. I've paid all kinds of people all kinds of money and never seen anything in return. Why should I pay you anything at all, let alone such a sum as that?"
"Only pay me if I the guy I put you in touch with is the guy you want. I'll set something up. You meet him. If it's the wrong guy, no charge. But if it's the right guy, you pay up. To be honest, the guy I have in mind for you, might not be the right one. Nasty-sounding voice, sure, but half the bums on the street have that going for them. That cheap rotgut they drink, it might as well be battery acid. No, I think he's your man for the simple reason that you don't fit here. People like you just don't come here, unless they're looking for kinds of sex or kinds of drugs that they can't get in the nicer places. You don't fit into the picture. And neither does he. He's not like the rest of us. So, are you prepared to risk 50,000?"
"What do I need to do?"
"Here's my phone number. Call me in a week. I'll see him before that for sure. If he's willing to meet you, I'll set something up, OK?"
When he called the number he wasn't expecting anything other than more of the same frustration and wasted time he'd gotten from this ill-advised quest so far. But the man gave him an address to go to, and a day and time.
The time tuned out to be the following night. Going into that neighborhood when it was dark made Touya nervous, especially as he would be carrying an envelope full of cash. If the bearded man turned out to be a robber, he supposed he could just fork over the money, wallet, watch, whatever and get the hell out of there. Hide carfare in his shoe or something, so he could get home. He'd gone this far along and hadn't done a sensible thing yet, so why start now?
The address turned out to be a cheap bar he'd walked past a few times during his searching, without ever going inside before. He went inside and found that he hadn't missed much. He on a stool for a while and nursed a beer. He rarely drank, and the beer tasted odd. The bottle was probably contaminated with all kinds of microbes, inside and out. Worse still, he felt even more out of place here than he had on the street. The seedy patrons of this seedy establishment gave him looks that Touya interpreted as saying "go home, outsider." He was just about ready to give up, pack it in and leave, when he heard a raspy voice over his shoulder.
"Lost again, Touya?"
Touya didn't even have to turn around, he knew. Raspy voice and all, it was him. Shindou Hikaru.
A/N: There will be about four chapters (exactly four unless I decide to split Chapter 3 in half). Chapter 2 is already finished, and so is Chapter 4 (mostly). Chapter 3 is proving difficult, but I'm working on it.