"I still don't see why I have to take you out," Mitani grumbled, poking at his ice cream with a bit of wafer. It wasn't that he really minded but this hadn't been exactly what he'd planned to do this weekend and it wasn't as though she had even suggested that it would be a good idea.
No, that had all been Fujisaki's fault. A casual question as they packed up the go club's things into the cupboard and she had looked at him in surprise, eyes wide and mouth making a little 'o'. He supposed Kaneko had helped him study for the exams and he had passed them but he hadsaid 'thank you' and that should have been enough, shouldn't it?
Not in Fujisaki's mind. He had been prodded and fussed over until he had found himself inviting Kaneko out so he could treat her to ice cream. Her response had been a rather flat look (Mitani had sighed inwardly in relief) and then Fujisaki had burst into the conversation, exclaiming about it being a great idea, and how it was very lucky that there was no school the next day.
"It was easier than arguing about it with Fujisaki-san," Kaneko said, though she was eating her ice cream happily enough. Well, she would, Mitani acknowledged sourly. He was paying, after all. "We'd never hear the end of it if we didn't agree - you for not being properly thankful and me for not making you."
Mitani spared a moment to wonder exactly how the power in the go club had ended up with Fujisaki, who was a fairly terrible player and whose only distinction was being friends with Shindou and being one of the first club members.
"The idiot just doesn't take no for an answer! Mitani, come to the tournament. Mitani, start studying. Mitani…"
"Don't expect me to be helping you with your work next year though. Now you've caught up, there's no reason why you should need help - it's not like you're stupid, whatever it looks like sometimes."
Mitani finished the wafer in one bite, turning his attention to the ice cream as he came to the sudden realisation that it would melt if he didn't get on with it.
"It's not like I want your help anyway."
"I bet you're glad you got into a school with a go club, though," she pointed out with the little smile that she always got when she knew she'd won the argument. He grunted in response, swirling the chocolate and vanilla together in a puddle at the side of his bowl.
"Besides, it's your problem if you want to swot, not mine." The library was not a place that Mitani enjoyed spending time and there was no way he wanted to go home and study every evening. There were better things to do with himself.
"You're going to have to 'swot' yourself, if you want to get into a decent university," she said, pointing her spoon at him for emphasis. "That is what you want to do, isn't it? It would be a bit of a waste if you didn't."
"Maybe," Mitani said, noncommittal.
"You have thought about this, haven't you?"
He made a noise that might have been agreement.
"Okay then, what do you want to do, then?" Kaneko demanded. Honestly, this was as bad as having her tutor him. There was loads of time before he had to make up his mind.
"Office job, I guess," he muttered at last. That was probably safe. Her eyes narrowed, though, and he wondered why she seemed to care that much. To tease him about it probably.
"You honestly don't know? Your parents haven't asked you about it?"
"'s not like I see them, is it? What do you want to do then, if you know so much about it?"
That was bound to get her off-topic. She was as bad as all the other girls when it came to talking about herself.
"Well, university first, of course, and then I think I'd like to study to become a lawyer. It's going to be tough to get into a good law course but my teachers think I should be able to do it, if I work hard."
He had to admit that she'd probably be good at it. One look at her face when she was getting annoyed and any self-respecting criminal would crumble.
There was an awkward silence and they both turned back to their swiftly melting ice creams. It wasn't like they'd ever talked much to each other - before it had either been all about go or all about their work. Personal conversation had never come into it.
"Mitani-kun, when you were little, did you have an idea of what you wanted to be?" Kaneko asked. She seemed determined to get an answer out of him.
His mouth twisted in a kind of half smile.
"When I was really little? I wanted to be a go player. I could beat all my friends and sometimes I beat the geezers in the go salons, so when I was a kid I thought it was possible. It's not like that was ever realistic, though. I'm not like Shindou, the school tournament is about as far as I'll ever go."
"Well, you could still work for that, couldn't you? You can take the pro exam until you're thirty, I think, and that's years away."
Mitani looked at her. She seemed to genuinely believe that it was possible. She really was hopeless sometimes.
"Look Kaneko, I'm not good enough. If I wanted to stand a real chance, I needed to have become an insei five years ago. You know Kaio's Kishimoto? He was an insei and washed out. Other than Shindou, the only person from Haze who might even stand a chance Tsutsui-senpai's friend, Kaga. Just forget it, okay? I'll join the go club in high school, so leave it there."
"I'm joining the go club in high school as well," Kaneko said, stepping neatly into the new topic. Mitani let her with some relief. Why he'd said all that, he really didn't know. "Doing it properly this time, not just doing it when there's no volleyball. It's not like I'll ever make the volleyball regulars so I can focus all my attention on go."
"Liar," Mitani said. If she'd though that she'd have dropped volleyball while they were still at middle school – she'd been guaranteed a place on the go team then, if nothing else. "It might be that too but you really just don't want Fujisaki chasing after you again all year."
"At least Fujisaki-san cares enough to do that. We probably wouldn't have held the go club together at Haze without her. You've got a lot to be thankful to her for."
Mitani groaned. "At this rate, I should have just taken her out for ice cream and been done with it!"
Kaneko laughed. He watched her suspiciously.
"I wouldn't worry about that - Tsutsui-senpai looks after her and I doubt they'd appreciate you cutting in."
Mitani stared at her. Did she really mean…? She couldn't possibly.
"You mean they - Fujisaki and Tsutsui-senpai - are together like that?"
"You didn't know? Well, I suppose boys don't notice things like that and it's not like you're around that much anyway. They started going out a couple of months ago. Apparently Tsutsui's very sweet and Fujisaki has no problems getting rid of Kaga whenever he tries to tag along, so that's okay."
"Oh," Mitani managed, sitting back in his seat, staring blankly at his ice cream . He had thought that he'd kept track of the go club members with the same sort of unconscious habit by which he followed the flow of territory on a goban. It was lucky that he'd never been interested in dating Fujisaki himself, despite what Shindou had said once or twice when they passed in the corridors and had paused for a few sentences of awkward conversation.
Mitani hadn't really thought about girls much at all. There were more important things to worry about, like go and then the exams and… He raised his gaze to eye her suspiciously. Surely she wasn't hinting? Maybe this had been Fujisaki's way of doing her friend a favour or something.
"Kaneko?" he began warily. She looked at him, looking unimpressed at the flush on his cheeks. He wasn't sure whether he wanted to hug or strangle her when she laughed, hair flopping into her face.
"You think I want to date you? You? Not any time soon. I like my guys a bit taller, for one."
Mitani looked everywhere but her face as he pushed the water jug across the table to her, sloshing water over the top as his hand fumbled. He wasn't sure what he thought about being told that.
"Well, that's good then. I… have you finished?" he asked. If she'd finished eating then maybe he could escape and hole up in the go salon for the rest of the afternoon. She drained her glass, putting it carefully back on the dry part of the table. There was only a little melted pool left of her ice cream.
"Clearly," Kaneko said. "But you haven't."
He looked at his own bowl. She was right, there was still most of a scoop left. Mitani weighed up the options and decided that it was worth sacrificing. She'd probably insist on staying and watching him eat it otherwise.
"I'm done, thanks," Mitani said standing up abruptly. Kaneko picked up her bag from the floor and fell in alongside him as he headed for the door.
"Okay, so where now?" she asked expectantly.
Mitani stopped dead in the doorway, ignoring the sour look sent his way by a man trying to come into the shop. Where now? He had thought that was all - he'd taken her for ice cream, hadn't he? He eyed her cautiously out of the corner of his eye as she propelled him out of the way with her usual disregard for his comfort. Whatever she said, this was closer to a date than anything else - he certainly wasn't treating her like he would one of the guys from the club. There was no way he was taking her to the cinema though. Not at all. She'd probably want to watch some soppy romance and he'd have to fork out for tickets and drinks as well, and it wasn't like he had much money to start off with.
"I was going to head to the go salon. I suppose you could come, if you want," he conceded at last. At least that wouldn't destroy his budget. With any luck, she wouldn't want to play and would be happy just to watch, otherwise he'd have to explain to the old men why he'd come with someone who was practically a beginner.
No, that wasn't quite true. She was competent, compared to most of the club, and with a handicap she was a reasonable challenge. That didn't mean that he wanted her to come though. Most of the men who were likely to be there had known him since he was a kid and showing up with a girl would invite teasing for weeks if not months.
Kaneko was showing no signs of reluctance though.
It probably hadn't been such great planning to go to the ice cream place right by the go salon, even if he had planned to go straight on. If she'd had to walk for a while, she might have given up. Still, it had to be better than the ice cream.
"Come on then," Mitani said, pausing at the kerb to let her catch up. "But don't get used to it."
He crossed the street with his hands in his pockets. She could tag along just this once.