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It’s funny how things turn out, Tsutsui thinks to himself as he stares into his sake cup like it’s the most interesting thing he’s ever seen. He was the go nerd in junior high, and then high school, and then university, while Kaga was the impossibly cool genius who pretended not to know him when they passed each other in the hallway. And yet here they are, twelve years after they first met over a goban, meeting up for drinks every week as if they were the best of friends.

And maybe they are friends, Tsutsui suddenly realises with the momentary clarity of thought that comes in between orders of sake.

“When is that fucking drink gonna come?” Kaga grumbles at the same time that Tsutsui has this epiphany. He’s crushing his discarded jacket against the back of his chair, Tsutsui notices, and his tie and the top buttons of his shirt are undone just far enough that Tsutsui can see the base of his throat, the edges of his collarbones. Tsutsui’s mouth goes dry, and he averts his eyes to stare into his cup again.

“Kaga, are we friends?” he asks the table.

The waitress arrives with another bottle of sake and a flirtatious smile for Kaga, and Tsutsui doesn’t get a reply because their cups are full again and Kaga is laughing over something that Tsutsui doesn’t understand, but he laughs as well because he can never resist Kaga’s grin and Kaga’s eyes, bright and sharp even when he’s pretty sure that Kaga is as drunk as he is.

Later, as they’re stumbling out of the izakaya and trying to help each other to walk straight but really just making things worse, Kaga leans in and murmurs into Tsutsui’s ear, “We’ve always been friends, you idiot.”

Tsutsui can’t hold back the shiver that runs through him at the sensation of Kaga’s warm breath in his ear, and he tells himself that he’s happy that Kaga thinks of them as friends; it’s more than he expected, and he tells himself not to be greedy.

***

Without scrutinising his own motives too deeply, Tsutsui decides to invite Shindo to drink with them the following week. When Kaga shows up to find the two of them laughing over old times, his eyes flash coldly for a second, but the expression is so fleeting that Tsutsui almost convinces himself that he imagined it.

“Hey, Kaga! Long time no see,” Shindo says, and Tsutsui smiles despite himself because Shindo Hikaru hasn’t changed in all this time; oblivious and cheerful, he dispels the odd tension between Tsutsui and Kaga with his bright words and a quick grin.

“Shindo,” Kaga replies in greeting and drops with careless grace into the empty seat on the other side of the table. “How’s it going?”

“Can’t complain,” Shindo says with a shrug.

This has to be the understatement of the century, Tsutsui thinks, though he says, “He was just telling me earlier that he won his game today, and now he’s one game away from the Meijin league! Isn’t that amazing?” A little belatedly, he realises that he’s gushing like one of Shindo’s many fans, and he feels his cheeks heating up in embarrassment.

“Hn,” is all Kaga says, and when the waitress comes to their table to flirt with Kaga as she does every week, Tsutsui drains half of his beer in one go and tries not to watch her strip Kaga with her eyes.

“You okay, Tsutsui-san?” Shindo asks quietly, and Tsutsui nods just a bit too quickly. “Um,” he says, and Tsutsui can almost visualise him fishing around in his mind for something harmless to say. “So... you’re an office worker now, aren’t you? Do you like your company?”

Tsutsui nods again, and tries not to show how grateful he is for the change of topic. “It’s nothing exciting, not like being a professional go player or the head of the sales department in an international corporation-” he flicks a brief look at Kaga, who’s still chatting to the waitress, “-but it’s not bad. It pays the bills, in any case.”

“Well,” Kaga suddenly cuts in, and Tsutsui looks up to find that the waitress has finally left, “Shindo can pay for this bill. Right, Shindo?”

“Hey! Shouldn’t it be the senpai treating the kouhai?” Shindo squawks indignantly, and he sounds just like he did ten years ago when Kaga would bully him into doing whatever it was that Kaga wanted.

Kaga snorts. “What did you get for the Honinbo title, fifteen million? Twenty million? You can treat us to a few measly drinks, you little brat.”

“Whatever,” Shindo grumbles, and turns pointedly away from Kaga to talk to Tsutsui, who tries to focus on Shindo’s words, he really does, but he can feel Kaga’s eyes on him - measuring him, dissecting him. Sometimes he thinks that Kaga can read him like an open book, and this scares him more than anything in the world.

“...so Touya was like, “Oh yeah? Then why don’t you prove it?” and I did, I totally kicked his ass that day,” Shindo laughs, which is Tsutsui’s cue to smile, so he does. He glances across the table to see Kaga smiling too, a wry little twist of his lips that makes Tsutsui’s stomach flip.

He looks away. “Does this mean that you’ll be taking the Meijin title from Touya-san next year? I read in Weekly Go that he slaughtered Kurata 9-dan last month with his three straight victories,” he says, and his enthusiasm is only half-forced; his interest in go has never waned, even if he doesn’t really play anymore.

“Yeah, he played a brilliant series,” Shindo says, and he sounds so proud of his rival that Tsutsui just has to laugh.

Kaga leaves earlier than usual that night because he has to go to work the next day, and Tsutsui watches as he stops to talk to the waitress on his way out.

“Does he know?” Shindo asks, and for a moment Tsutsui considers pretending not to understand what he means. But Shindo’s voice is surprisingly kind and without pity, and when Tsutsui says, “I don’t know,” they both pretend that Tsutsui isn’t lying. And this is when Tsutsui realises that Shindo has in fact changed, and that maybe he’s the only one who hasn’t.

***

He calls Kaga the following Thursday after staring at the number on his phone for almost his entire lunch break, and when Kaga picks up on the first ring, he’s so surprised that he forgets the words that he’s been rehearsing in his mind all week.

“Tsutsui? What’s up?” Kaga says, and the sound of Kaga’s voice in his ear makes Tsutsui shiver again.

It’s not fair, he thinks.

So he takes a deep breath, and blurts out, “Sorry for calling you at work but I wanted to let you know in advance that I can’t make it tomorrow night and this way you have time to make other plans, right? Sorry again for bothering you, bye-”

“Wait, wait,” Kaga interrupts, and Tsutsui waits. “Why can’t you come tomorrow night? We always go drinking together on Friday night.” Kaga pauses, and Tsutsui holds his breath; then he asks, “Do you have a date?”

“A d-date?” Tsutsui squeaks, and has to cough to clear his throat. “Um. Y-Yes, I have a date.”

“Who is he?” Kaga demands to know, and Tsutsui nearly falls off his chair in shock. “Is it someone I know? Is it Shindo?”

Tsutsui falls off his chair.

“Ow,” he whimpers, and when he manages to climb back into his seat again, he says as firmly as he can, “I am not going on a date with Shindo-kun, and it’s none of your business anyway. Goodbye, Kaga.” And he hangs up before Kaga has a chance to say anything else that will turn Tsutsui’s world upside down.

***

Really, he thinks as he rubs at his eyes and holds back the urge to yawn, he should’ve known that Kaga would show up on his doorstep completely drunk at two in the morning.

“Hey, ‘Tsui,” Kaga slurs, leaning against the doorjamb with his tie hanging undone around his neck and his hair sticking out in all directions and still looking better than anything Tsutsui has seen all week. “How was your date?”

“It... was fine,” Tsutsui mumbles, and he knows that his face must be bright red because it always is when he lies.

“Hmm,” Kaga says, and reaches up to brush his callused fingertips against one hot cheek. Tsutsui is too shocked to move or speak, but not to think, except his only thought at the moment is that Kaga smells ridiculously good. “Is he here now?” Kaga asks, his voice soft; dangerously soft, Tsutsui thinks. He knows this voice, and he knows that things usually don’t end well for the people on the receiving end of it.

“Is wh-who here?” Tsutsui stammers, and he feels like he’s thirteen again - cornered in the science room after school and scared of what Kaga will say or do next, all the while hoping desperately that Kaga won’t notice the hard-on tenting his pants.

Whether Kaga at thirteen ever noticed it is something Tsutsui will probably never know, but Kaga at twenty-five leans in even closer, his breath tickling Tsutsui’s ear as he whispers, “Your date, ‘Tsui. Guess he didn’t satisfy you... or are you just happy to see me?”

Tsutsui squeezes his eyes shut and breathes shallowly through his mouth, trying to block out the sight and smell and feel of Kaga standing so close to him; close enough to touch, and it’s just not fair and he tells Kaga so in a small and not-quite-angry voice.

“Life’s not fair,” Kaga replies, and Tsutsui wishes that Kaga weren’t so coherent when he’s drunk, because then it would mean that Kaga knew what he was doing and this would be okay.

“You can’t do this,” Tsutsui says tiredly, and pushes Kaga away; the fact that Kaga allows himself to be pushed only seems to prove his point. “You can’t do this when you’re drunk and then pretend it never happened and flirt with the waitress next week while I watch and pretend to smile, because it hurts. So just... don’t.”

“Tsutsui...” Kaga says, but Tsutsui shakes his head sharply.

“Go home, Kaga.” He tries to close the door, but finds Kaga’s hand in the way. “Kaga...”

“You never answered me,” Kaga says, and his words are still slurred but his voice is hard. “Is your date here?”

“There was no date,” Tsutsui says, and closes the door with a soft click.

***

Tsutsui almost doesn’t expect Kaga to show up the next week, but he does, and he walks into the izakaya without glancing at the waitress who beams at him in welcome. He sits down in his usual seat and says, “Hey.”

“Hello,” Tsutsui replies cautiously.

“I’ve had the longest, shittiest week in the history of the world,” Kaga announces, and promptly relieves Tsutsui of his beer.

“Hey! I was drinking that,” Tsutsui protests, but Kaga is grinning, and Tsutsui has never been able to resist Kaga’s grin. So he sighs, and presses the button to call the waitress over; as he’s ordering two more beers, he realises that Kaga is watching him with an intent expression on his face. “What?” he asks, and fidgets nervously with his glasses. “Why are you staring at me?”

“No reason,” Kaga says with a shrug, and continues to stare at him even when the waitress returns with their order. She shares a puzzled look with Tsutsui but doesn’t linger, and this is when Tsutsui realises what Kaga is doing.

“Kaga... about last week...” he begins to say, but Kaga cuts him off.

“I’m not drunk now, right? And neither are you. So whatever I say or do, I mean it, and neither of us can blame it on the alcohol or pretend it didn’t happen,” he says, and Tsutsui thinks that he’s never seen Kaga look this serious except in front of a shougi board. Then he adds, “And if you don’t want me to flirt with Ayumi, then I won’t.”

“Oh my god,” Tsutsui mumbles, and covers his burning face with his hands. “Why do you remember that?”

And even without looking, he knows that Kaga is smirking when he says, “ I remember everything I do when I’m drunk. I remember everyone I do, too.”

“Oh my god,” Tsutsui says again into his hands, but Kaga is laughing, and he can’t help but smile too because Kaga’s laugh is his favourite sound in the world.

When his cheeks are no longer absurdly and unattractively red, he peeks through his fingers to find Kaga looking right back at him, his eyes sharp and clear. And Tsutsui’s heart skips a beat, his breath catching in his throat, because he thinks that as long as Kaga keeps looking at him like that, things are going to turn out okay.