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sooner or later

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2006 is a strong year for them.  Despite multiple big losses, between the two of them, they take four of the Japanese titles, which is another way of saying that half the income of the Japanese go world is going into either Akira or Hikaru's bank account.  They celebrate the new year at Hikaru's house; Hikaru's mother brings out a big donabe and makes oden, simple and good. After Hikaru's father has had a few drinks, he starts cracking horrible salaryman jokes, at which point Hikaru starts shouting and making noise trying to drown him out.  Akira smiles secretly into his teacup.  When Hikaru's mother offers to refill it and says, curiously, "Hikaru tells me you've been playing go since you were two," he nods and confirms.  Somehow he ends up explaining the basics of eye shapes to her while Hikaru tries to physically remove his father from the room.

There isn't a goban in this house anymore, so Akira is drawing on a napkin with a marker when Hikaru comes back, dusting off his hands with a mission accomplished kind of sigh.  Hikaru's mother says, "I've come to understand a lot about Hikaru's life over the years, but I'm still just no good at understanding the game itself."

"Are you trying to teach my mom how to play go again?" Hikaru demands, sitting himself down between them and snatching the napkin out of Akira's hands.  "Hopeless," he declares.  "Totally hopeless."

His mother sighs the sigh of the very put-upon, and Hikaru beams at her.  "Don't worry about it so much," he says, waving his hand dismissively. "You don't have to know how to play go.  It's probably too hard for you, anyway."

"But I--" his mother says, then sighs again and smiles wearily at Akira, as though sharing a secret with him.  "Hikaru," she says, simply.  And that does say it all.

Outside, it's freezing.  They bundle up in three layers, thick jackets with scarves and hats and gloves piled up on top.  Hikaru's mother sends the whole pot back with them for leftovers, calling out, "Come back soon and return it to me, Hikaru, you hear?"

Hikaru, halfway to the car already, makes a dismissive gesture with one hand, yells back over his shoulder, "Fine, fine, when I have time, okay?"

The way she watches him stomp across the street to the car -- eyes dark, a little sad, a little worried -- makes Akira wish he could say something to her.  Something like, You don't have to worry so much.  I'm taking care of him now.  He brushes his teeth twice a day, and we almost always eat three square meals.  Once in a while I even convince him to buy food that once grew out of the earth.

Thinking it alone makes him want to smile.  Maybe one of these days.  He thanks her politely, then turns to go, but as he's doing so, she says, almost too soft for him to hear, "Thank you for putting up with my unreasonable son, Akira-san."

It's the hint of uncertainty in her voice that makes him look back at her, but when he does, she only turns a sheepish smile on him and laughs it off.  "Oh, never mind," she says, waving him away.  "I'm only-- it's so cold out, you should hurry before you catch something."

He thinks about the look on her face the whole drive home.