Akari walked before Hikaru. Of this, there is video evidence: her father has filmed her crossing the kitchen floor with quick steps, while Hikaru remains sitting at his mother's feet, seven months and a lifetime younger than her. Akari is twice his age and ecstatic to have the world at her feet even if she can't even reach the top of the table. Their mothers laugh at her childish amazement of seeing the room from twice the height that Hikaru can. There are wind chimes in the background. Akari almost makes it out the door before her mother catches her.
Akari's new shoes are made for running; bright blue, they bring spring to her steps so that she has to run everywhere. Hikaru, half a head shorter and shoes a size smaller, never catches up. His are grey from sand and dust, and he loudly envies Akari. Her mother tells her to take care so her new shoes stay clean. Akari spends half a day carefully watching her feet and avoiding puddles; then she forgets it because the shoes demand she runs, racing the wind and leaving Hikaru yelling to wait up.
Two months later, the shoes are getting too small.
Akari and Hikaru are not afraid of heights. Their fingers are strong around branches, the soles of their shoes rugged against bark. Hikaru wants to know how far they will see from the top of the tree. Akari follows and pulls herself higher by the branches he stands on, hoping no-one tells mum about this. Hikaru is allowed to climb trees. Akari will be scolded. She only looks down when the tree start bending under her fingers. It didn't look this high from below, but she tightens her grip in defiance and turns to the sky. She does not fall.
Akari and Hikaru grow surprisingly even; there is never more than a centimetre between them. Mostly, it is in Akari's favour - she is more than half a year older than him, after all, how could that ever be fair. Hikaru's mother measures them monthly and keeps record in a notebook. Hikaru is never as eager as Akari for this, but takes it as a personal affront that she is taller even if she's a girl. He fidgets and complains. Akari stands still in effort not to tilt her head back as Hikaru's mother balances the book on her head.
Akari is a metre and half above ground and sees past the trees for a fragment of a second before Hikaru kicks his legs. She plunges and then he is above her, laughing although they're getting too old for the playground. Akari hits the ground with uncomfortable force, and retaliates by kicking as hard as she can, sending Hikaru downwards as she soars. It isn't high at all, but it is higher than ground level, and the world looks different from above. Hikaru grins as they pass each other, lingering in equilibrium for a moment that stretches vastly beyond them.
Go stones are binary, black and white, and the players take turns placing them. Hikaru only teaches her when she nags. They sit in the chemistry classroom with the Goban between them, and Hikaru keeps taking her stones. She followed him here because they've always done everything together, but it's no fun to always lose; Tsutsui-san says that Hikaru is a weak player, but Akari is too weak to keep up with him. He shows no mercy as he kills her groups, sullen as his white stones take over the Goban, and her black ones are returned to the goke.
Hikaru stands taller than her - Akari has to tilt her head back to look him in the eyes. She wonders why she never noticed before, and wonders if it is because they don't see each other so often now that Hikaru - suddenly - is too good to play in the school Go club.
Sometimes, they play teaching games. Sometimes they don't, and Hikaru captures more and more of her stones. Sometimes Akari wonders how it happened that Go is the only thing still keeping them together. She looks up at Hikaru, and thinks that boys grow much too fast.
Hikaru made a promise to tutor her Go club, and surprisingly keeps it. This is where she catches him, halfway out the door just as he's leaving; she can't bear the thought of months and years of seeing his back in front of her. It is here that she reaches out and pulls him back to her, and she can tell that that he's not understanding anything. Akari has nothing to offer Hikaru, so she remains in the same spot and uses him for balance as she stands on the tips of her toes, and teaches him to kiss.
She can see the bright blue sky through the open window. It's like being little and lying one her back beside Hikaru, cloud watching on the roof when her mother was out. Their childhood had seemed as endless as the sky, the world wide open for any amazing thing to happen when they just got bigger, the future never quite reaching them.
It passed her by somewhere on the way towards getting here, so she closes her eyes to focus on what is important. She opens them only after Hikaru has finished, and sees nothing but the ceiling of his room.
Akari turns twenty the day she wakes up and understands that she can never learn the things from Go that Hikaru did. It was always futile to follow him there. In fact, she thinks, she hasn't gotten anywhere at all by following him.
She packs the suitcase without folding her clothes.
It is her birthday, and Hikaru is still nineteen, seven months younger and sleeping like a baby with his naked feet poking out beneath the blanket. The sun isn't up yet, but the sky is clear as Akari leaves the keys on the kitchen table and walks out the door.