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Divine Intervention

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“I’m telling you, they won’t last a day.”

“What are you saying? That is impossible! Hikaru can be impulsive, of course, but Touya-kun is much better behaved. I can’t believe that anyone with such a strong sense of decorum can be persuaded to, ah, abandon their manners that quickly.”

“Ha! For all your experience in Go, I think it is obvious that it’s been literally ages since you last got any action.”

“What?!”

“If ever.”

“I’ll have you know... Ahem. It is beyond my dignity to argue about such personal matters.”

“I don’t see you holding back when it comes to those two idiots.”

“Well, you said it yourself there is still way too much for them to learn. By the way, how can you even continue smoking in… here?”

“Ho-ho, being dead is no reason to give up on the finer things in life.”

“Never mind, please forget I ever asked. No wonder you liked Shindou so much, you can be equally frustrating.”

“Therein lies the charm! Just ask young Ogata, oho-ho. But I was saying, those two youngsters are being too dense, when the truth has been glaringly obvious to anyone who’s observed them since they were fourteen.”

“Twelve, actually.”

“Oh? That is a part of the story I haven’t heard yet, you must tell me everything. Anyway, I bet my best tobacco that should one of them actually hear just what is going on in their rival’s head, it won’t be a day before they get it on.”

“That was unnecessarily crude, but I see you point. I did have enough opportunities to listen to that single-minded train of thoughts for a while, if you remember. But I’d still give them a week.”

“A week? Ha! You haven’t been young and stupid for a long time, friend. It’s a pity this conversation is moot, however. The way they are going, nothing short of divine intervention can make them go after something besides all those titles.”

“Oh, but Hikaru played an excellent game that last time, didn’t he? The comeback he made just before yose made me really proud, he has always been –“

At this point, a third party, quietly listening in to the conversation, chuckled to itself. Really, what’s one more divine intervention when the situation was definitely calling for drastic measures.

 

* * *

 

Shindou Hikaru was not having a good day. Surprisingly, this time it was not because he overslept again, no matter what Touya might say. Repeatedly had said. Stupid lark.

In fact, Shindou would have gone so far as to say that the day was going positively and quite literally insane, because he was hearing voices. Voices that seemed to belong inside the heads of the people around him. A person with a less resilient psyche, and admittedly, more conventional formative years would have run screaming and checked themselves in at the nearest clinic, but Shindou prided himself on being a mature adult wise in the ways of the world. So he was mostly just terribly annoyed and developing a headache. Which was so totally unwelcome too, because today Touya was finally coming back from Nagoya. After Shindou successfully defended the Honinbou title from him in an amazing game (even if he said so himself - if only he could show it to Sai!), Touya was travelling all over Japan wrestling the Tengen out of Ogata’s hands. That creeper deserved to be trounced, and Shindou had faith Touya could do it. Yesterday they played the second title match for Tengen in Nagoya, and Touya would be back tonight - and he’d definitely hear personally from Shindou just how incredibly stupid his sixty-seventh move in that game was. He seriously couldn’t wait to get to Touya’s Go salon after work!

But he hadn’t expected that today would be so tiring right from the start. He’d stayed the night at his parents’ house to fulfill the regular quota of son-ly presence in his mom’s life (she should really think about getting a dog, she had too much free time on her hands if she worried about him this much), which meant that first thing in the morning he had to listen to his mom fret and fuss over him for thirty minutes straight. It would have been bad enough without the echoing worry of her thoughts, really. Hearing both her lectures and her unvoiced concerns made his head pound. It was like listening to an old recording played from two stations with a few seconds time lag. Shindou winced and rubbed his temples. And what did she even mean he was still a clueless child?! He was a grown-up man of eighteen years, living on his own and paying his own bloody taxes! Anyway, the only reason he even spent the night was because he was mature enough to understand that moms needed to get some fretting out of their system in person. Plus, it wasn’t like he would be missing out on some late-night games with Touya, since he was out of town. And, Shindou added thoughtfully, his mom’s curry udon didn’t hurt, either.

It was a good thing he didn’t have any league games or other official matches today, only shidougo with that girl named Iwamoto. Or was it Yasumoto? Damn, he needed to look that up. Even Waya could keep the names of his students straight, and he was still a 3-dan, so how hard could it possibly be? Speaking of Waya, they agreed to meet today for lunch, didn’t they? Oh right, there was this new ramen stall that Waya would totally love! Shindou perked up at the thought of lunch, and also of the kifu of recent interesting Internet Go games that Waya promised to bring him. (Shindou really didn’t see why everyone was so big on pestering him about getting a computer, he could get by just fine between Waya’s sad but convenient addiction to his machine and Touya’s nagging texts.)

But first, Yamamoto. Something-moto. He was glad he never unpacked his bag, and the planner Touya insisted on giving him after that really minor incident – not important enough to remember, really, and definitely not important enough to have prompted the hissy fit Touya had thrown over it – was with him, and he could look up her name after he got on the train.

Man, shidougo. Today was going to be so slow.

 

Kawamoto Ruri was getting ready for her shidougo lesson, thinking what a nice day it was today. She liked the brightness of the sun that chased away the last of the rainy season, enjoyed how the abundance of light brightened all colors in the room, from the rich yellow glow of the goban to the cheerful blue of her favourite skirt. She felt like she was glowing a bit herself, full of restless energy, giddying excitement and budding confidence in her Go. But that wasn’t surprising, she reminded herself with a laugh, since she had such an amazing teacher. Shindou-sensei was one of the famed stars of the New Wave that the Weekly Go loved writing about. She had heard he had a reputation for being one steamroller of a player, but he was surprisingly patient as a teacher. His explanations were clear, and he always found just the right simple words for even the most complex things.

She blushed, admitting that even if she spaced out and lost the thread of his explanations at times, it was entirely her fault. But seriously, no one could blame her for staring since Shindou-sensei always came in casual clothes, and had a really nice jawline. And really nice hands. Anyway, even then he never refused to repeat his points (even if he sighed a few times too many, making her feel even more guilty). And surely, she was getting better at the game too! She had only been under his irregular tutelage for a month – a busy schedule of a title-holder didn’t allow for more regularity than that, Ruri thought with open admiration – and she already understood how to play in yose. Well, almost, she amended with a frown. Suddenly the doorbell rang and brought the smile back to her face. Yes, it was definitely a good day!

Shindou-sensei was dressed like one of those models from shiny ads for casual sportswear again, Ruri thought as she showed him inside the room. They sat down in front of the goban, Shindou (sensei!) smiling his megawatt smile and playing with the side pockets of his cargo pants, sprawled comfortably in his chair. Ruri started self-consciously fixing her hair, eyes to the side, making her damnedest not to stare, and reminded herself this was not a date, that she was paying for professional tutoring, and not, well, um.

“Do you want some ice tea, sensei?” Ruri felt embarrassed by the slight stutter in her voice. She really was so much better at this when they were playing or reviewing the games, when her mind was occupied with decidedly less distracting things. But sometimes it was hard to remember she liked Go for its own sake, and not because it gave her a chance to watch his face. Or hands.

This awkward pause was getting too long, really.

“Sorry, what?” Shindou-sensei was staring at her with an uncomprehending frown, and Ruri had to repeat her question. “Ah, uh, no. Wait. Yes. Thanks, water would be cool.”

When she returned from the kitchen with two glasses of cold water, the tray shaking a bit in her hands to the rhythm of her jumping pulse, Shindou-sensei was already laying stones on the board. She sighed with relief. Definitely much better at this when the difficult combinations on the board took her mind off his face. Or his neckline.

Shindou-sensei rubbed his neck with a frown and mutely stared at his hand for a moment before accepting the water with a mumbled thanks, and they started the game.

The unforeseen consequence of getting better at go, Ruri couldn’t help thinking, was that now she knew some fuseki well enough to play the opening hands of a game automatically. Which left her enough time to get really carried away at the sight of his ridiculously pretty fingers dipping into the goke for a stone, her heartbeat as stuttering as her speech would have been, had she been speaking.

A stone nearly dropped from Shindou-sensei’s hand. He caught it at the last moment, swearing something under his breath, and rubbed his temples. “A headache,” he grunted, and turned to stare at the sunlight pouring from the windows with something oddly resembling a personal grudge.

 

Five hours later, Shindou bid Yasumoto household his farewells and closed the door behind himself with a sense of great relief. Man, girls were weird! He took a deep breath and shook his head, hoping the warm summer wind would clear his head and take away some of the pressure he had accumulated trying to ignore Yamamoto’s thoughts with a straight face. Really, most of the time it was impossible to understand girls, and when you suddenly had moments of insight (sometimes of literal insight, Shindou grumbled) you wished you’d stayed ignorant. Gah. Who knew they thought things like that in the first place, huh. Now he really had a few words to say to the person who first claimed boys thought about sex every ten seconds. Did Touya think about sex every ten seconds? No, don’t go there. Rather, it would make for a nice argument which he could rub in the face of that wannabe psychologist, that every ten seconds Touya was playing a brilliant hand that would take both of them – because of course Shindou would be doing the same, he would no longer lag behind – closer to the Hand of God.

Hand, huh. Shindou looked at his hands again, flexed his fingers, inspected them closely from different angles, and then shrugged with something resembling second-hand embarrassment. Well, at least he was confident that not all girls were like that. Nope, definitely not. He couldn’t imagine Akari spacing off thinking about his pants – thinking about whatever part of his anatomy, he amended hastily, feeling distinctly uncomfortable - and thank god for that!

In dire need to stop thinking about such disturbing things, Shindou sped up and practically ran into the train leaving from the station. Food, the best distraction in the history of forever, awaited him at the end of the line.

And so did Waya, who was leaning against the wall by the station exit, looking through what was most likely the kifu printouts he brought for Shindou.

“Yo, Waya! How’s life? I’m starving. Are you ready for all the delicious ramen?”

“What?! No, not ramen again, Shindou! I’m pretty sure I’ll get ramen poisoning soon, urgh.” At least before you do, which is really unfair, because a normal person would have died from a diet like that a long time ago.

Shindou cocked his head to the side, surprised at the acidic tone of the unvoiced thought.

“Well, if you didn’t like ramen, why didn’t you say so before?”

Oh, I only mentioned it a couple of thousand times. Lasted as far as the next road turn, every time.

“Whatever, Shindou. Let’s go somewhere already, it’s not like you are the only one that’s hungry.” And your ramen addiction is not the worst of my problems. By far.

What did he even mean by that? Seriously, though. Waya was surprisingly grumpy for someone so young. Shindou shrugged and tried for a peace offering.

“We don’t have to go to that new place I had in mind. There is a ton of nice places in the area. Like we could go to that small – ” He hesitated. That one was a ramen place too, wasn’t it? And so was his favorite shop next the bookstore a ten minutes’ walk from here. He searched frantically in the recesses of his memory.

“ -mall, you know, the one with a bazillion clothes shops. There is bound to be some food there.”

I’m sure that made sense in Shindou-land.

“Shindou, that ‘small mall’ is the biggest shopping center for miles around. And I don’t know if you are familiar with the concept of food places besides ramen stalls, but yes, it has some food – two floors of it, actually.”

“Oh, I know. I’ve been there a couple of times with Touya, when he was shopping for ties. He took ages choosing just the right shade of ugly pink.”

Oh no, here it comes again. And there isn’t even any food yet to help me stomach it.

Waya was definitely an old man through and through, grumbling all the time, for no reason. Shindou started walking faster so as not to lose sight of his back; Waya was leaving the station a bit too fast for it not to look like retreating.

Whatever. At least Waya brought the kifu with him, and if he was determined to whine, then Shindou could be the adult of the two and busy himself with reviewing them. Touya would be proud, really. Shindou preened.

It wasn’t until both of them had wolfed down an okonomiyaki each that the conversation resumed. However, it was not about the kifu, because Shindou suddenly remembered the stress of his newfound revelation about girls. As a generous person concerned about the well-being of his friends, Shindou couldn’t let Waya stay in the dark about it, but he thought it was best to approach the matter delicately. The poor guy was looking harassed already, for some reason.

“Waya, what do you do to girls during shidougo?”

Waya choked on his tea and started coughing. He was really fragile, Shindou thought, offering him a glass of water.

“What brought this on?!” And here I thought we were doing so fine. “I don’t even have any girl students, Shindou. If that was a general question, I think I’d play the same shidougo as I play with any other student.” And why are you suddenly interested in girls?

Shindou frowned at this completely unnecessary comment, momentarily distracted from his original goal.

“What do you mean, you don’t have girl students? Aren’t they, like, the majority of the candidates the Go Institute sends your way?”

“What? No!” Are you rubbing it in my face?! Wait, this is Shindou. Same what-is-Kisei Shindou I’ve been friends with for years, so he probably really has no idea. “Most of the pros” – us mere mortals without a title – “usually give lessons to older Go enthusiasts, like the ones we sometimes play at the salons, and we also teach insei or children whose parents want them to start learning Go from pros at an early age.”

“Huh.”

Man, I really don’t want to know, but – “How many girls do you teach, normally?”

“More than half of my students are girls. Women. Whatever. I thought that was the norm – I think Touya’s students are about the same. His girls are so boring, though. You know, those long-haired types who wear pearls and never say a word. Covering up for Touya when he’s sick is so boring.”

THEY ARE ALL SO WASTED ON YOU. ON BOTH OF YOU. EITHER. WHATEVER.

“Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of Touya’s students are hoping to stay in his house for longer than an average shidougo class.” Not that it will ever happen.

“What do you even mean by that?” Shindou didn’t like the direction this conversation was going in and neither did his stomach, which seemed to sink somewhere below his knees like a dead weight. He probably shouldn’t have eaten that okonomiyaki as fast as he did.

Next time, try asking Touya if his parents brought him any omiai offers yet.”‘Shindou, it’s not important. It’s just that both of you get a lot of personalized teaching requests from young girls who’ve read too many issues of Weekly Go, so the Institute prioritizes those.” And it’s not like Amano-san has ever held back with interviews of you two. And photographs in color - oh yes, so many, many colorspreads. The man has an amazing business sense, gotta give him that.

“But Touya doesn’t have time for girls and that- that stuff! He spends his every minute working hard on his way to the top, because I am his rival, and he is mine, and that means if he pauses even for a moment, I’ll overtake him!” Yeah, definitely something wrong with that okonomiyaki, even breathing felt heavier now.

Heeeere it comes, and I can’t even be surprised anymore. Why are you doing this to me, Shindou? Is this my karmic punishment?

“Yes, of course you are. There isn’t a single person in the Go world our outside it who would question that.” Even Ochi gave up, in the face of your one true love. Oh, excuse me, I mean rivalry, of course. Far be it from me to assume that you two have graduated from kindergarten.

What was Waya even thinking?! Forget about the friendly advice, Shindou wouldn’t bother enlightening him. The man needed help, and soon!

“I – I have to go, or I’ll be late for my game with Touya,” Shindou wheezed, scrambling from his chair and heading for the exit. This day was positively insane, and so was Waya.

“Have fun!” I’m pretty sure Touya has missed you too, unlike the poor salon customers.

Shindou admitted he probably didn’t have to knock over so many chairs getting to the exit, but he was seriously in a hurry to leave. And it was totally Waya’s fault that he forgot to take the kifu, too.

 

When he opened the door to the salon, he was met with Touya’s back. He smiled for no reason at all and started walking to their usual corner, where Touya sat with his head bowed over a game laid in front of him, completely oblivious to his surroundings.

Shindou stopped in his tracks, caught up in the visions of brilliant shapes and hands that flared into existence in Touya’s mind, assembling and breaking down like complex, dichromatic molecules in a never-ending chemical reaction. He stood where he was, mesmerized by this wordless kaleidoscope and the look of perfect concentration on Touya’s face, reluctant to give away his presence if it meant putting an end to what felt like the most beautiful thing he had seen the whole day. Maybe ever.

He blinked slowly, his head feeling too light and too hot at the same time. That sure was one weird headache he had today.

Shindou. The thought broke the spell and put out the shimmer of pictures so abruptly that Shindou felt dazed for a second.

“You’re late. Did you forget your watch again?”

“Hello to you, too.” Trust Touya to be himself, insane day or no, Shindou grinned. “Waya was being a weirdo, and I forgot to get the kifu from him.”

“Very logical, Shindou, and answers my question, too. That’s definitely way more efficient than having your own computer, isn’t it? Though I guess then you wouldn’t be able to drag Waya around all the ramen shops in Tokyo.”

“I do not drag him to every ramen shop!” What was it with everyone and ramen today?

“You do, too. You force-feed ramen to everyone. Do I have to remind you that on one notable occasion, I had to rescue you from a stall where you were getting your ass handed to you by the late Kuwabara-sensei in a ramen eating contest?” Touya’s voice was dripping with righteous indignation, but Shindou didn’t have to read his thoughts to know he was remembering the incident with more amusement than annoyance.

“I miss the old guy, he knew a thing or two about the good things in life. But his tobacco smelled horrible!”

“I hope you as his successor to the Honinbou title do not feel compelled to pick up that habit.” I really don’t want to watch you handle cigarettes during the games, your fan is more than enough on its own.

Shindou frowned. Touya had never commented on his fan before. He assumed it was because Touya had figured it was related to Sai and had filed it under ‘things-we-don’t-talk about’.

“Yeah, no. Anyway, have you laid out the game against Ogata already? Do you see how dumb your sixty-seventh move was now?”

“If you think it was so dumb, why don’t you show me a better hand?” I was looking forward to that, Shindou. You and your hands.

Shindou felt a sudden itch at the back of his neck.

Stupid, dumb hands. Shindou didn’t realize he had been holding his breath until he exhaled noisily.

“I’ll show you stupid hands! Just look here.”

It’s not like I could stop looking anyway, Shindou.

Shindou looked up from the board and into Touya’s face, but Touya was rolling his eyes in an all-too-familiar expression. “Better hands, you mean. Keep your facts straight, Shindou.”

At least your facts. I understand some aspects of your are irredeemable, like your clothes. They seem to be in perpetual disarray, like someone messed them up on purpose.

First fan, now clothes?! He’d about had it with this day, thought Shindou nervously. Fashion critique from Touya was not something he signed up for when he woke up today. And the headache was getting worse, judging by the painfully loud heartbeat in his head.

“So what is your genius solution, then?” Unless you do something with those stupid – No. I’m seriously better at this when we’re playing.

A tiny bell started ringing inside Shindou’s head, a small noise that resonated with the dull thumping of his headache. He reached out his hand to pull the goke closer to his side of the table. And somewhere deep in his heart, he wasn’t honestly surprised when he heard ‘Stupid, perfect hands’. Only maybe his hands shook a little, and the ringing noise became louder, drowning out all coherent thoughts.

Stupid, perfect hands.

I’m honestly better at this when we’re playing.

We’re rivals, and not, um.

Do not go there.

There are moments in the game when a scatter of stones on the board, seemingly harmless and random just a moment ago, transforms into something dangerously tangible and very, very meaningful – all without adding a single stone to the picture. It just clicks with an almost audible noise that leaves you shaken, and wondering if your opponent sees the same thing. Too afraid to think this thought to the end, too afraid to spook it. Because then, if you are cautious enough, you can test the waters on your own terms.

Never before had Shindou wanted to be right so desperately, to make sure he had read the situation correctly. The stakes were so dizzyingly high, and on any other day he would have probably chosen to play more solid hands. Safer hands. But maybe he was allowed some recklessness on this insane day.

Mouth dry and heart thumping in his ears, he set out to test the waters.

 

Touya Akira was really good at compartmentalization. Of course, his mind of a Go pro would always be keenly analyzing disconnected pieces of information, trying to make sense and use of them, to connect them, to put it in Go terms. But when the pieces refused to connect, when they were an active contradiction in terms, Touya had learnt to accept them all anyway, contradictions and everything.

Without a doubt, he had Shindou to thank for that.

Right from the day when he first walked through the doors of this very Go salon, Shindou had been nothing but a contradiction – impossible to make sense of, even more impossible to ignore. It didn’t even matter how many pieces of the puzzle you had in your hands or how good you were at figuring things out, because the rules of the game kept changing constantly. Shindou kept changing constantly, and the only thing Touya could do was to pour all of his focus onto him - lest Shindou slipped out of his mind’s grasp - and take everything Shindou brought along in stride. Because stopping or questioning the logic of this exhilarating race they were both caught up in was never an option.

He didn’t remember the exact day when it had happened, but some time after the first Young Lions Tournament that they both played in, his mind was no longer occupied by the conundrum of Shindou’s first games. Those games, along with Shindou’s connection to Sai and the attention Shindou had received from renowned pros, including Touya’s own father, and later along with Shindou’s disappearance and his sudden emotional investment into anything Shuusaku – they were all just new contradictions and complications that Shindou had brought with him. So Touya accepted them one after another, unanswered questions and random promises and all.

And when he realized that he was, quite possibly, completely in love with Shindou, this knowledge got easily compartmentalized as well. So there were Shindou’s secrets, Shindou’s obnoxiously vague promises, Touya’s own thoughts on all of the above and his feelings for Shindou himself, and then there was their Go. And Touya could think as much as he wanted to about all of it – and he did, too, he couldn’t remember thinking about anything else for a long time now – but it changed nothing. Would change nothing.

Stopping was never an option, and Touya never did anything half-heartedly.

However, Shindou never made things easy for him. And mostly Touya didn’t mind that, because that was what made the challenge so good, but some days, he felt, Shindou did it exceptionally well.

Today was definitely one of those days.

Fascination with everything Shindou was a long-familiar activity by now, but maybe because it had been a while since they’d last played against each other, and because the last weeks had been exhausting – official matches against Ogata-san were always taxing - his mind kept on lingering on this subject, drinking in the familiar comfort and thrill that was Shindou as if he was discovering him anew. (Touya thought it was ironically fitting that Shindou brought controversy even into the wording of his thoughts.) The delight he felt in watching those stupid, beautiful hands and his admiration for those stupid, brilliant moves they played, the mystery that was Shindou’s skill at managing to make those ridiculous clothes look like they were just screaming to be messed with – everything was pushing at the limits of that small part of Touya’s brain that was allowed to think about this, promising that there could be more, whispering that it was right within his grasp. It was a voice he had learnt to ignore a long time ago, but ignoring Shindou, who suddenly seemed to have picked up on this wavelength, was much harder to do.

Because for some reason, Shindou’s fingers started slowly tracing the edges of the Go board between them. Touya helplessly followed the movements of Shindou’s outstretched index finger, which trailing mesmerizingly slowly from the corner on Shindou’s left to where Touya’s goke was. To where, his brain supplied unhelpfully, Touya’s hand was, fingertips resting on the edge of the goke, ready to dip for a stone – and wasn’t it a pity that Shindou wasn’t aiming for his stones as well? Touya could be a second too late to remove his own hand, the voice suggested, and quite possibly brush against those long, graceful fingers.

Quite used to tuning those kind of thoughts out, Touya had turned his eyes back to the stones on the board, when Shindou’s fingers brushed against his, setting the skin of his knuckles on fire. Touya turned to stare at Shindou’s hand, which was merrily playing with stones in his, Touya’s, goke and in doing so repeatedly touching his, Touya’s, fingers.

“Shindou, what are you doing?” ‘Are you, by some miracle, touching me on purpose? Wait, don’t answer that.’ “Did you forget that you were supposed to show me how white should have played instead?” ‘Are you going to stop touching me any time soon? Please don’t answer that.’ “If you are momentarily colorblinded, this goke has black stones.”

Shindou looked at him with a disconcertingly serious expression, his eyes bright as they sometimes were during their official games.

“I just had a new idea, Touya, and I was thinking it through. I didn’t think of it before, but it just might be the best idea I’ve ever had.”

‘Does this idea include touching me? That would qualify as the best idea ever, Shindou.’ Touya was feeling stupider by the minute, and the part of his brain that was allowed to have inappropriate Shindou thoughts was having a field day.

“I’m not sure I can appreciate the brilliance of this idea unless you do something about it. Just play it, Shindou, I don’t have all day.”

And then Shindou surprised him again: he broke into laughter. He was laughing a genuine, full-bodied laugh that lit up his whole person (and maybe the tips of Touya’s ears), and Touya was fascinated.

“Touya, you are so right! You are so totally right, and you don’t know it yet!”

Touya blinked, taken aback by the natural ease with which that phrase came out, completely unlike their usual argumentative remarks. Before he could think of a comeback – how could I even think of one when you suddenly agree with me? – Shindou leaned over the board and brought his face dangerously close to Touya’s, staring somewhere in the general direction of his ear with a disconcerting gleam in his eyes.

Next thing Touya heard was, “There is something on your neck.”

It wasn’t something he’d expected, even if he learned not to expect anything predictable. He brought his hand to his neck, nearly bumping it into Shindou’s jaw on the way – what was it with him today? And anyway, why was Shindou putting his jaw in places where it was so easy to touch? - and rubbed at his skin.

“No, you’re doing it wrong, Touya! You need a mirror.” Shindou laughed again, looking absurdly pleased with himself. “You need to go to the bathroom.”

And then, because Shindou was Shindou and never made anything easy for Touya, even if it threatened to send him reeling, he grabbed Touya by the wrist and dragged him towards the salon’s bathroom.

Touya had a moment to spare a grateful thought to the fact that the salon’s regular customers were used to Shindou’s antics by now and probably didn’t think much of this incident. Unlike Touya himself, who felt that this day was a menace to both his psyche and compartmentalization skills.

He barely managed to finish that thought as Shindou closed the door with a bang behind them and pushed Touya against it.

With his hands on Touya’s neck.

With his fingers cradling the back of Touya’s head.

Touya had a distant thought that when Shindou set out to test his sanity, he didn’t do half-measures either.

And then he stopped thinking altogether, because Shindou pressed his whole body against him in a kiss. And Touya found out that whatever strength was left it him was better spent on kissing Shindou back, and tightly holding on to Shindou’s wrists so that Shindou wouldn’t even think to take his hands out of his hair, wouldn’t stop pulling at it and tangling it between his stupid, pretty fingers.

And for once, Shindou didn’t make anything difficult at all, complying with his every thought as if he could hear them.

(Turned out, in the end Touya really did have something on his neck. Shindou, in his best tradition of aggravating Touya, nearly ruined the collar of his shirt and left a giant bruise above his collarbone. But Touya couldn’t find it in his heart to mind it, even if Shindou didn’t need to know that.)

* * *

“Oho-ho. Young love, what have you.”

“Twenty minutes. I can’t believe it took them twenty minutes.”

“What did I tell you? You are way too old to remember how these things work. Even though, to be frank, I didn’t think they’d be that vigorous, ho ho.”

“Please stop talking, Kuwabara-san.”

“I’m always betting to win, remember? And now you owe me.”

“I wasn’t betting anything. You said you bet your best tobacco – and anyway, how do you even explain your smoking here?!”

“Ho-ho.”

The God of Go smiled. His job here was done, once again.