Kaga was having a quiet smoke behind the school science labs - a great spot where he could see a teacher coming before they got a look at him - when he saw a kid doing a truly pathetic job of hiding in the bushes. Dressed in pale grey against the brown leaves it was laughable. Then he recognized the uniform - Kaio Junior High.
What was some posh Kaio kid doing alone at Haze Junior High... on Kaga s patch? A stupid Kaio kid. And who was he hiding from?
Kaga stubbed out his cigarette and crept up, real quiet, behind him. He looked over where the kid was looking and saw Shindou-kun. Shindou was doing his I've got a cell phone act - real random that Shindou, but brilliant with the right encouragement.
Well, the Kaio kid was so concentrated on Shindou not noticing him that he didn't see Kaga coming. It was perfect.
One move and he'd got him from behind - an arm around his neck and the other pinning both his hands, little girly hands - had to be a seventh grader at the most.
"What have we here?"
The kid gasped but didn't cry out - looked like he didn't want to risk Shindou hearing. But then Kaga saw who it was and the shock almost made him let go. Touya Akira. Kaga swung the other boy around to get a proper look; Touya struggling with all his puny might. It was that little prick Touya Akira alright - same prissy page-boy haircut he had since he was six. He didn't recognize Kaga though.
But why was Touya here? Then Kaga remembered Shindou, and how Touya had adulated Shindou's game at the tournament they'd gate-crashed with Tsutsui. Now that was one of Shindou s brilliant moments, with Kaga's encouragement, of course.
"You came to see Shindou? he said, loudly enough to make Touya wince. "Hey, you came to Haze to see your pal." Kaga released his hands and clapped Touya on the back, then got a hold of him again by his thin shoulders. "Let's call him over." He took a deep breath "Sh..."
The effect on Touya was magnificent. He would have hit Kaga or tried to gag him if he hadn't still been holding him. Kaga stopped himself before he'd shouted for real.
"Look he's just over there. Let s go see him," Kaga suggested and pushed. "Don't you want to?"
"No, no." Touya begged.
It was beautiful.
"We could do something else instead," Kaga tightened his grip. "If you don't want me to call Shindou, we could...How about we play a game?...Just the two of us."
Touya regarded him directly, eyes wide and defiant. Unafraid.
"I'll play you," he declared. Then you ll let me leave. It was so cute because Touya obviously thought they d be playing Go.
As it turned out, Mr Touya my-Go-puts-me-above-all-of-you Akira sucked big-time at Shougi.
Not only was his army decimated but, with just a rook, his king and six pawns left, Touya simply hadn t understood that it was a lost cause. Whatever move Touya made now there were three ways Kaga could win in just one or two more, but still Touya stared at the board looking for a way out.
Kaga sighed with contentment and allowed himself to preen his spiky mane as he waited. Finally, he made Touya the proposition he d been contemplating for years: "Want me to lose"?
At first, Touya didn't seem to register. He was totally focused on the remainder of his forces, while the rest lay in Kaga s trophy bowl waiting to be used against him.
"You're good," he said at last.
"Huh?" Kaga wasn't ready for a compliment, of all things, from Touya Akira.
"Have you ever played Go?" Touya's eyes left the board and met Kaga's, round, wide and earnest. "You might like to try it".
Kaga had underestimated Touya; underestimated his ability to knock someone for six without trying - just by being himself. That Go game he'd played with Touya years ago, the game Kaga's Dad had made such a big deal over - where Touya had asked Kaga Want me to lose? and had promptly done so -, it simply hadn't mattered to Touya; nor had anything of the kids Go club it seemed. Touya didn't remember having played Go with Kaga, ever.
"Oh, but I ve played Go before." Kaga clenched a fist under the table but kept his voice low and steady, even sweetened it a tad. Touya was perhaps the only person in the world that he couldn't brag to about his Go.
We've played Go before, he added. With the other hand, he toyed with one of Touya's generals, twisting the piece between his fingers and taping each side in turn on the table, making a rhythm like approaching footsteps.
"I am sorry. You know I've had so many opponents..." It was impossible to tell whether he meant condescension behind a veil of politeness or whether it was said in all innocence. The effect was the same. Was Touya really sorry? No. No more than Kaga was for manhandling him earlier.
"Well I m even better looking now." Kaga tossed his head and bared his teeth in a wicked grin. "It's no wonder you didn t recognize me."
"It's people s Go I remember."
Touya might as well have added and yours was totally unmemorable. Kaga wanted to hit the table, to scatter the pieces everywhere, but more than that he wanted this victory - a real one - against Touya Akira. Or, better still, to give it away to Touya in repayment, just because he could.
And no one ever forgets your Go. He thought bitterly.
"What?" Touya was staring at him and Kaga realized that he'd actually muttered his thoughts aloud, with all the cynicism he felt. He was sharp enough to spot the flicker of disquiet in Touya's face though - the first true sign of fear the kid had shown since Kaga had grabbed him. Interesting.
"Don't know what it's like, do you?" he went on, matching Touya's stare, which had regained its confidence. "To get passed by like you're nothing." Kaga pressed his advantage. "Or do you?"
Touya was rattled but was hiding it well. Kaga knew the signs: there was a slightly deeper pink tinge to his skin and he d moved closer to the edge of his chair - nothing more. He almost appeared composed, and his glossy hair was immaculate despite the roughing up. He looked a perfect little darling, just like when he faced Kaga as a child.
That game with six-year-old Touya had marked the end of Kaga's sham with his parents. But even before then, when Kaga learnt Go because his Dad wanted it, he knew what he himself wanted. But as for Touya Akira...He just stayed right on track behind his Go-Meijin of a Dad. Do you even have a goal in life apart from growing up to be just like your father? What a sad case.
He couldn't feel sorry for Touya Akira. Even if he'd been the caring type, Kaga doubted he could muster sympathy under the circumstances. Besides, it struck him, as the pieces fell into place, that there was no need.
"Shindou!" he pronounced, like a magic word, and didn't even need to look at Touya to know he'd struck home.
Shindou - another Go-obsessed head-case. What better revenge than to wish Shindou in all his crazy randomness on Touya? If all Touya knew of Shindou's Go was his beautiful game , and that was his goal then he was in for a serious wake-up call when boy wonder had an off-day. Then, with a sudden smile Kaga remembered Shindou defending the honor of the Haze school Go club...with a toilet mop. He laughed. Touya flinched at the sound, and Kaga laughed some more.
There was noise in the corridor; they were no longer alone. Surprisingly, it wasn't members of the Shougi club come to play, but just a girl - a small, flat-chested, first-year girl.
"Touya-kun?" She beamed.
Girlfriend? Fan? Go groupie? She was rather underdeveloped as girls went but it was Touya she'd just called to, not Kaga, so that was still a point to Touya. However...Now that Touya had an audience to impress...
"So would you like me to let you win then?" Kaga whispered, before she came any closer.
"Why would I want that?" It was as though Touya was scandalized it wouldn t be proper play - the little hypocrite. He stretched out a slim hand and moved his rook forward four spaces to take one of Kaga's pawns. It was all the invitation Kaga needed. He took advantage of the unprotected rank to corner Touya's King.
"Check-mate." Kaga savored the word as it rolled off his tongue, admiring the four-piece team he'd set up to achieve it.
Touya didn't answer and Kaga looked up to see him already following the girl out of the room. He didn't care whether he won or lost to Kaga at Shougi any more than he cared whether he won or lost to Kaga at Go.
Alone, Kaga admired his handiwork one last time. It was a shame Touya lacked the skills to appreciate such things. Then he wondered how Touya would interpret Shindou's random universes on the goban and found himself grinning again.
Finally, he cleared the board and set about laying it out for something much more important - his next game.