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-a dream within a dream- [how hikaru accidently inspired akira]

The first day he took the trains by himself to the Go Institute, Akira got lost.

He wandered out of the wrong station and walked down random streets, fruitlessly trying to make the unfamiliar buildings surrounding him seem less alien. Eventually, as though some force of gravity pulled at him, he found himself standing outside a small, seedy go salon, and he went inside without hesitation. Winding, narrow streets with bold metal signs and silent pedestrians were frightening, but Akira knew where he stood with go.

“Could you tell me how to get to the Go Institute?” he asked the receptionist. The old man had to lean across the counter to hear Akira’s soft voice, and when he did, he pulled out an old, stained pad of paper and jotted down a small map and some notes on it.

“You like go?” the old man asked him.

Akira didn’t understand the question. It was like asking if he liked air, or food. He settled for a shy nod.

“It’s nice to see youngsters interested in go,” said the receptionist, tearing off the paper and handing it to Akira before explaining the directions. Akira listened closely, determined not to lose his way again.

As he left the old salon, he wondered at the old man’s words. He was only vaguely aware, at this point of his life, that nine-year olds generally spent their time outside, chasing one another around playgrounds and visiting stores, not seated in seiza in front of an ancient grid of wood, playing an even older game.

He looked at the boy sitting next to him on the train. He seemed like a likely candidate, with his yellow t-shirt stamped with the number five—Akira was still young enough to appreciate the pun. “Do you like go?” he asked.

The boy blinked at him, seemingly uncertain, before suddenly scowling in a furious manner which some empathetic portion of Akira’s mind recognized as the Nagged Once Too Often expression. “No way!” said the boy emphatically. “Go is boring and… and stupid!” There was a briefly uncomfortable pause, during which Akira tried to imagine not liking go—how was go boring?!—and failed. But then the boy added softly, “But… Go has a cool sound.”

“Sound?” asked Akira.

“You know, like… when the stone hits the board. That pachi pachi sound. It’s sort of…” the boy trailed off and didn’t seem to be in a hurry to continue.

“Calming?” supplied Akira, thinking of his own experiences with go.

The boy gave a jolt and looked up in surprise. “Huh? Nah, not at all! More like… It sounds like life. I dunno. Like a heartbeat, or electricity, or something.”

Akira stared at him. For all of Akira’s supposed obsession with go—supposed because didn’t obsession mean over the top? Akira didn’t see how his love for go was anything other than natural—Akira couldn’t see what on earth the strange boy was talking about.

The boy obviously saw the clueless expression on Akira’s face, because he puffed out his cheeks, rolled his eyes, and said, “Whatever.”

The two sat in silence until Akira quietly excused himself and exited the train. This time, he found his way to the go institute without a hitch. He was rather proud of having worked his way out of the dangerous situation, and related the story to his mother that evening during dinner.

The horror that followed led to Akira getting his first-ever cell phone.

But as he lay in bed that night, it wasn’t the anticipation of new electronics that kept him awake. He thought of pachi pachi and life and heartbeats and jolts of electricity, and when he finally fell asleep his thoughts—rather than stopping—branched out. Dozing beneath a tree, a pachi pachi beat drumming through him, watching—feeling—the tree stretch up towards the sky, towards the heavens, the limbs spread like fingers, the leaves sparkling in the sunlight like jade go stones laid out in innumerable patterns of impossible complexity. Pachi pachi, and there was that boy saying with angry grey eyes, “Go is life.”

And when Akira opened his eyes, he wasn’t nine, and he wasn’t in bed—he sat in seiza before a goban, watching as his opponent bowed and uttered the formal words of resignation.

 

-if music be the food of love, play on- [how akira intentionally inspired hikaru]

 

The first time Hikaru took the trains and found himself at the Go Institute, he was lost.

“Yes, I know that big building says “go” on it,” he said loudly to thin air as passerby looked on, wondering if they should call the police. “I can read, you know, no matter how—what? No! We’re not going in there; I’m already late for my stupid—” At this, to the horror of those around him, Hikaru suddenly clutched his stomach, his face turning a distinct green. But then, just as quickly as his mysterious illness arrived, it faded, and Hikaru stomped up the steps to the Go Institute, grumbling under his breath the whole way.

Inside, the air smelled like what Hikaru was beginning to identify as “go”—the smell of wood and stone and burning focus. He shivered and rubbed his arms.

Someone laughed, and Hikaru turned to see a curly-haired young man, dressed professionally in a dark suit but somehow still managing to look bright and youthful. “Can you see the ghosts?”

When Hikaru’s expression instantly turned panicky, the young man hastily added, “Not really, of course. But you look a bit freaked out.”

Hikaru relaxed and rolled his eyes, wondering what kind of suit-wearing guy said ‘freaked out’ as though it were a normal part of his vocabulary. “That’s not from ghosts; it’s from go.”

The man laughed again. Hikaru was getting the impression that he spent a lot of his time laughing. “You think go is freaky?”

“Yeah, I guess. It’s really… intense.”

The man hummed softly, perhaps in a vague sort of agreement, and then asked, “Would you like to play a game?”

“I only just started playing,” said Hikaru. “I’m still not very good.”

“Oh?” Hikaru could see honest surprise in the other man’s eyes, and wondered what it was about his bleach-banged, jersey-clad form that the man thought screamed ‘expert go player.’ “That’s alright,” he said. “I’m interested to see what sort of style you use.”

Hikaru looked forlornly at his watch, but something seemed to prevent him from rejecting the man’s offer. He followed the man to a goban and sat down on one side, cross-legged.

The game began slowly, with Hikaru frowning and stuttering over his plays. The man raised an eyebrow at Hikaru’s awkward grip on his stone, but made no comment.

“You like using old plays,” said the man when the game had ended. He was still smiling, but had a thoughtful look on his face. “But your go isn’t organized enough to suggest that you spend a lot of time studying kifu. When did you say you started playing?”

“Last month,” said Hikaru, staring at the board with a strange expression.

The man’s eyes widened. “Last month?” he repeated. “That’s—”

“I thought go was boring and stupid,” said a new voice, and both Hikaru and the curly-haired man turned to see a boy with straight-cut bangs and an argyle sweater standing before them. He was angled towards the curly-haired man, but his glare was directed towards Hikaru alone. Hikaru desperately ran through his memory, trying to think of where he might have seen this boy before.

“Akira!” said the curly-haired man cheerfully, “Do you two know one another?”

‘Akira’ had opened his mouth to reply, but Hikaru beat him to it; he jumped straight out of his seat and pointed at Akira, screaming, “TRAIN!”

Everyone in the room turned to stare bewilderedly, but Akira only nodded his head calmly and said, “Yes. I’m surprised you remembered. It was a long time ago.”

Hikaru grinned, feeling rather proud of himself for remembering a boy he’d met so briefly three years ago. “It’s not every day I meet a kid as weird as you,” he replied, sticking his tongue out.

“Ashiwara!” The curly-haired man turned in response to the shout, his smile growing brighter. “Where have you been? I thought you were just going out for a coffee.”

“I got a little distracted,” he said, and, waving to Hikaru and Akira, left the Go Institute with a blond man who was wearing what was, in Hikaru’s opinion, a truly horrendous white suit.

Hikaru and Akira stood staring at the door for a moment, before Hikaru suddenly remembered the time and went into a fit of “aaaahi’msolate!”s.

Akira nodded disinterestedly when Hikaru made his unusual excuses, but ordered, “Come back here next week, around this time.”

Hikaru paused in his movements. “What? Why?”

“Because I want you to play go with me.”

“…Why?”

“Just do it!” Akira snapped, converting in that short moment from a gentle and reserved boy into what Hikaru privately thought resembled a giant hornet.

“Fine!” and he stomped off, forgetting to be in a hurry as he headed toward the station. Fifty or so metres up the walk, he suddenly shouted, “GAH! I just am, alright? I know I said before I wasn’t going to—hey, what? You’d better not bail on me—you’re gonna tutor me in go for this, right?! …Yeah, yeah… Anyway, aren’t I allowed to change my mind?” The people near him looked for who he could be talking to, but he didn’t seem to be looking at anyone, just wildly waving his hands and scowling at an innocent street sign. They exchanged nervous glances and hurried away from him.

(Hikaru was later confused, though pleased, to discover that on the crowded train, he somehow had an entire train car to himself.)

At the end of the day, instead of heading home, Hikaru turned onto the street that led to his grandpa’s house and, on arriving, climbed straight up into the attic room without even a shouted greeting. He pulled an ancient goban towards him and ran his fingers across the surface, drawing swirls in the dust as he traced over the stains of blood and tears.

“That kid… he seemed pretty into go,” he said to the empty room, still staring at the goban. “All angry and fierce and—and I don’t even know.” He reached out blindly, grabbed handfuls of stones from the two goke beside him, and opened his fists, letting the black and white stones cascade down onto the board, some spilling down onto the floor.

“It is kinda pret—kinda cool looking. The black and the white against the wooden grain, the shapes the stones make. But—”

His fingers moved quickly, sliding the stones into the shape of the game he had played with the curly-haired man.

“—But he wasn’t looking at the board.”

A final stone was moved into place, and the game replay was complete.

“Was he looking at me or at you?”

It wasn’t a good game—even he knew that. No, not a good game, not by amateur standards, not by weak-player standards, not even by the standards of the little kids he’d seen playing in their little-kid tournament. It was a bad game.

“I hope he was looking at me.”

Staring, glaring, burning with passion…

“I want him to see me.”

Hikaru closed his eyes and listened to the empty room. “Yeah, I guess so,” he replied to the silence. “Can I, though? I mean, I just started playing. I suck. How’m I supposed to get him to see me when I suck?”

He paused, head cocked to the side, and then he laughed. “You’re right… for once. You—you’ll help me?”

Always.

 

-end means beginning- [how akira and hikaru found each other]

 

After three years of playing against Hikaru regularly, Akira was used to Hikaru’s unbelievably fast development, his flashes of brilliant insight, and his vague references to a go-teacher he never got around to introducing. While others were floored by Hikaru’s antics, Akira took it all in stride. He was even beginning to believe, complacently, that he was so prepared for anything and everything from Hikaru that nothing Hikaru did could surprise him now.

He was, of course, completely mistaken.

“You’re giving up go?!” It was the fifth time he’d repeated this question, and it was dawning on him that Hikaru might not be telling some sick joke, that he might be for real. This called for major intervention. Was there a hotline for people contemplating go-icide? Akira didn’t know; it hadn’t ever occurred to him that such a thing could be possible. Who would willingly stop playing go? Who could willingly stop playing go? Surely there was some sort of built-in survival mechanism that would prevent it, just like the one that kept people from stopping their own lungs or their own hearts.

“No,” said Hikaru. There was none of his usual overly-casual drawl, or even his panicky-hyperactive screeching. The quirky grin had vanished from his lips, as had the wild passion from his eyes. Akira couldn’t recognize his--his--Hikaru in this painfully solemn, empty creature. “I’m not giving up go. I have already given up go. I haven’t played a single game all week. I will not play a single game ever again, unless—”

“Unless?” Akira managed to choke out. His voice sounded painfully tight and strangled, but Hikaru didn’t even glance his way.

Hikaru seemed oddly angry with himself. “Nothing.”

“Shindou.” Forget about the crackly voice, just don’t cry. “Tell me what to do. I’ll do anything, just don’t give up go. I can’t—I can’t—” Stop there, stop while you’re ahead.

Hikaru’s shoulders had tensed up, and his hands had clenched into fists, and it occurred to Akira that perhaps he wasn’t the only one struggling to hold in tears. “Touya—this isn’t—I’m not—it—this isn’t about you. Not because of you. There’s nothing you can do to fix this; it’s all my fault.”

It’s not you, it’s me.

Akira took a deep breath and shut his eyes, trying to get himself under control. “Okay, so you’re putting aside everything you ever wanted, sacrificing your every dream, ignoring the endless hours of work and effort it took you to get this far, all for no reason that you’re willing to admit to. Fine.” The back of Hikaru’s neck was starting to turn red, but Akira couldn’t tell if it was from shame or anger. “My question, then, is this: where does that leave us?”

Hikaru’s head shot up, eyes wide. “…Us?”

“Don’t mess with me anymore than you already are, Shindou. You know what I’m talking about.” Please, please tell me you really do know what I’m talking about, and that I haven’t just been imagining everything that I thought was between us.

Hikaru couldn’t speak. His face was white, sweat was beading on his temples, and his throat, despite working furiously, was only managing to produce strangled, unintelligible sounds.

Akira sighed. “Come talk to me when you’re ready, Shindou. Please.”

And he turned around and walked out, not looking back.

Akira had expected to wait for hours, or at most days, but it was weeks before he received any message from Hikaru. When it finally came, it was in the form of a five-word text:

miss you still cant play

Can’t, as though he didn’t even realize that it was really won’t.

Akira started meeting with Hikaru again a week after that. Their time together was punctuated by the awkwardness that appeared between two people who, no longer connected by a shared obsession, found they had no other common points. Hikaru would invite him to the movie theatre, and Akira would spend an hour and a half staring blankly at the screen, trying to understand around his throbbing headache why the people around him were laughing or gasping or sighing at the protagonists’ nonsensical antics. Akira, scrambling desperately to find ideas for possible non-go-related-excursions, would invite Hikaru to museums, and Hikaru would gaze around with the bland expression of someone who couldn’t tell the elegant pieces of artwork apart from the wallpaper.

And at first, Akira never mentioned go, because if Hikaru stormed out after a shouting match now, Akira wasn’t sure that Hikaru would ever come back. But then, walking back from the theatre, Akira caught Hikaru watching him nervously from the corner of his eye.

“If you really don’t like movies, we can find something else to do,” Hikaru said. “I don’t mind.”

Akira thought back over the past few months of experiencing what must be every cinematic genre ever filmed, and as he was deciding that no, he probably didn’t particularly like movies, he realized that Hikaru had been taking him to every available genre, as though he were as desperate to come up with something Akira might enjoy as Akira was for Hikaru.

“I don’t care what we do,” whispered Hikaru, as though he had heard Akira’s thoughts and spoken aloud to confirm them. “I just—I can’t lose you, too.”

Akira wordless reached out to take Hikaru’s hand. The awkwardness remained, but at least the uncertainty had left them.

For the first time, Akira realized that what they had didn’t need to be about movies, or shared hobbies, or even go; it just needed to be about them.

 

-more matter, less art- [see hikaru. see hikaru play go. play, hikaru, play!]

 

It wasn’t Akira who brought Hikaru back into go; no, it was one of those dozens of friends Hikaru seemed to acquire faster than captured stones. He resented that a bit, both the numerous friends and the fact that one of them succeeded in influencing Hikaru where he, Touya Akira, Hikaru’s boyfriend did not.

Still, it wasn’t to that Isumi Shinichiro character that Hikaru went, curling up body-to-body, arms and legs entangled, head in shoulder. It wasn’t to Isumi that Hikaru finally whispered his long-held secrets. No, only Akira had that privilege.

“Why are you so surprised? Did you think that because Sai disappeared, so would everything he’d shared with you?”

“I—I guess.”

“Did you forget that Sai loved--loves--you, and that he wants you to be happy, even if he’s not there with you?”

“…Touya, I really don’t need the whole standard speech.”

“Obviously you do.”

“Touya…”

“Shindou.”

Touya.

Shindou.

A brief tussle commenced, but when it ended, they were still wrapped around one another.

“I just… I still don’t know if I can handle the fact that he’s gone.”

“I thought you just told me that he wasn’t. That you found him in your game.”

“I can’t talk to a game, or get advice from it, or argue with it, or hear it laugh, or anything like that.”

“Who says you can’t?”

“…Touya? I know you’re like, really into go and everything, but…”

Akira sat up, smacked Hikaru with his pillow, and then quickly lay down again, snuggling back into the waiting arms and ignoring the way they shook with Hikaru’s suppressed laughter.

“Your gameplay is just an extension of you, Shindou. Surely even you must have figured that out by now.”

There was a moment of silence. Then, “…Hey, Touya?”

“Hmm?”

“Did I make a mistake? Not letting Sai play for me?”

He hesitated. Much as he wanted to reassure Hikaru, a part of him was drooling at the idea of being able to play against this immensely strong player and mournful at the lost opportunity. Still, “You would have never been able to grow as a player yourself if you’d always just let him play your games for you.”

“But wasn’t he more important to the go world than me?”

Akira sighed in no small part due to frustration. “Shindou, are you really so—no, wait, I see the problem: this conversation is too complex for your puny brain to handle—”

“Oi!”

“—So I’m simplify it down to the bones for you: Shindou Hikaru, I love you. Sai loves you. Your irritating, loud groupies love you. We all love you. You love us. You also love go. We love go, too. Let’s all play go together.”

“…This sounds as though it should be published as a classic children’s book starring Jane and her dog Spot and their shared adventures in running.”

“I’ll get the copyright later. Go to sleep.”

“I thought you wanted to play go.”

Akira sat up. “Now?”

“Why not?”

And so they did.

END