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A Pretty Good Year

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A Pretty Good Year


They have three rooms: one, the main living area, to which is attached two bedrooms and a kitchenette. In the living area, Akira puts a table that his parents have been meaning to get rid of; it's short and requires one to sit on the floor, to Hikaru's immense dissatisfaction, but -- Akira points out -- it's free. "I have a zillion yen," Hikaru replies irritably. He looks thoughtful for a moment, then adds, "Actually, so do you."

There are two beds: one is large, in the room to the right. It's never made, and it takes up almost half the room. They've shoved it up against the wall so that they can put a shelf against the other wall, which means every night, someone has to crawl into bed the hard way. In the other bedroom, there's a smaller bed, another bookshelf, and a long table that's serving as a desk, on which two computers, a ton of books, and a foldable goban sit.

Scattered throughout the apartment are slippers, half-used pads of kifu paper, miscellaneous bits of mail, and articles of clothing belonging to both of them. On the wall by the door, Hikaru has taken to taping up game notices, and neither of them can really be bothered to take them down, so once every month or two, they stand before the giant monstrosity of tape and paper and make a decision about whether or not anything there is actually important.

"Probably not," Akira says.

"Definitely not," Hikaru agrees.

By the big window in the main living room, they keep Akira's goban: it's the better of the two good ones they own. In their room, next to the shelf, they keep Hikaru's goban. Sometimes they argue over which one they use more; ultimately, it doesn't really matter.

Akira continues to go back to his parents' home regularly to keep the house in order, and it's not till around April before it finally crops up in one of his conversations with his parents. They congratulate him on winning back Kisei, then ask him whether he'd like it or not if they spent their month off back in Japan with him?

"Oh," he says, laughing weakly. "That's right... I should let you know. I've sort of moved out... I guess? I should have mentioned it earlier."

They're not terribly surprised, but, his mother says, "A little sad." Still, they haven't been really living together as a family for years; the house in China is more his parents' home these days than the one in Japan.

On one of her visits back from China, his mother comes by the apartment and straightens everything out for them. "So this is your room," she says, while she's rescuing Hikaru's laptop out from under a giant pile of books: kifu, tsumego, theory.

Akira nearly slips up and says no. It's close enough to being his, anyway. He's given up and moved all his clothing to the closet here; Hikaru's clothes could fill a department store all by themselves, and he's always accidentally taking Akira's ties. Akira wouldn't really mind if he would just put them back, or at least not wrinkle them, but he never does, and they always turn up eventually squashed under the goban or stuffed into the pocket of Hikaru's suit jacket or on one memorable occasion, in the trash, tangled up in a McDonald's burger wrapper.

"Never mind," Hikaru says, when they discover it. "I'll buy you another one."

"Yes, but why is it here in the first place?" Akira says, deeply aggrieved. "And why can't you wear your own ties?"

In the mornings, they roll out of bed together and have miso and rice -- perhaps the only two food items they're always sure to have on hand and ready to eat -- and then quibble over the bathroom as they get ready for their games or respective study groups. On days when they don't have anything else to do, they like to play -- sometimes at home, or sometimes at the go salon, or sometimes wherever Hikaru decides would be interesting. Sometimes they just stay in their room and fuck, long and slow and patient, all afternoon. That can be pretty nice, too.

After all this time, Hikaru still seems to like it best when Akira fucks him, face to face, with Hikaru's legs spread and his ankles hooked around Akira's waist. Akira is happy enough to oblige. He can't really think of anything he finds quite so delightful as the sight and sound and feel of Hikaru underneath him and around him, panting and shuddering, his fingers tangled in Akira's hair as he urges him, "More, more."

One time, after sex, they lie in the half-light of the afternoon sun sneaking in through the drawn curtains, and Akira says, "Are you going to clean yourself up, or do you want me to?"

There's no answer, and he nudges Hikaru in the side. "Are you asleep already?"

Still no answer, so he jabs harder, with his elbow. "Hikaru."

Hikaru jerks awake all of a sudden, clutching his side protectively, and says, "What did you call me?"

The conversation that follows is ridiculous; Hikaru has been calling Akira alternately Touya and Akira for at least a month, and Akira hasn't commented on it. "I just had sex with you," he points out irritably. "Twice. I think I can call you by your first name."

"No, no," Hikaru says, looking weirded out. "You always call me Shindou."

"What's the difference?"

"No," Hikaru says decisively, "You should just keep calling me Shindou."

Like most of their arguments, it peters out when they finally both lose interest and decide to move on, and then it crops up again and again and again at unexpected times.

"Shindou, the trash," Akira says, late one Sunday, when they've just about finished dinner. Then, again, when he receives no response: "Hikaru. The trash."

Hikaru looks up balefully at him. "Shindou, you mean," he says, through a mouthful of rice, but goes ahead and takes it out. He drags the bag all the way down the stairs, clanking and hitting things and humming to himself the whole time, which is at least partly why the neighbors complain about them three times a month, Akira thinks. He would just take the trash out himself, but he's always doing it; if he can deal with Shindou's noise, the neighbors can deal, too.

It goes on like this for months. Literally, months. In May, Akira challenges for Honinbou, but loses in the sixth game to Serizawa-san. Before those matches are even over, in July, Akira also challenges for Gosei, and after five long matches, defeats Kurata-san at last. Now he's Touya Kisei Gosei. It feels pretty good. The fifth match is in Tokyo, and Hikaru comes in person to watch.

After Akira has finally finished with all the interviews, they return home late at night on the train; it's not too crowded at this hour. It's been a long day, and Akira is too tired to care about the look the salaryman sitting across from them gives him when he slumps into Hikaru's side and lets his head rest against his shoulder.

"Hey," Hikaru says, quietly, nudging him. "Touya."

"Mm," Akira says, closing his eyes.

Hikaru doesn't say anything else for a moment; then, slowly, he shifts and puts his arm around Akira's shoulder. "So, pretty solid game today," he says, the way he does when he thinks he's being clever by offering a compliment first. Akira feels it against his cheek before he hears it: Hikaru suddenly bursting into his stupid laugh. He never changes. "No, okay, I'm lying, we have to go over the mid-game again later. What was that?"

"Later," Akira tells him, and falls asleep.

Summer slowly comes to an end; over the course of the year, they play each other several times, though rarely on any decisive matches. In September, Hikaru wins the challenger spot for Ouza. After that match, they come home and eat cold leftovers, and then Hikaru insists on playing speed go before bed.

"Hey, we're having a pretty good year, this year," he says, still grinning uncontrollably, before he passes out minutes later in the middle of the game.

"Moron," Akira sighs. "Didn't I tell you you were tired?" He manages to wake him up eventually by doing a very bad job of dragging him into bed by force.

"What are you doing to me," Hikaru moans.

"Oh, good," Akira says, relieved, and lets go. Hikaru immediately collapses into his shin. "Get into bed by yourself. You're heavy."

"Ow, ow, ow," Hikaru whines. "I hate you."

In the morning, Hikaru buries his face into the pillows and refuses to get up and insists Akira go check the mail. "No, Akira, Akira's turn," he says obnoxiously.

Akira gets the mail, then comes back in and chucks Hikaru's game notices at his head. "Get out of bed, Shindou," he says. "It's already ten." Then, suddenly and decisively, he adds, "And I'll call you Hikaru if I feel like it; I've been doing you for long enough. Get out of bed, Hikaru."

Hikaru peers out blearily from between the covers. "What?" he says, frowning. "Are we still arguing over that?"

They blink at each other for a moment. "Well, fine," Akira says at last. "I guess not."

"Wait, no," Hikaru says, bubbling into laughter. "No, but I want to argue about it. Hey, hang on, where are you going? You have to correct yourself; my name is Shindou!"

"Idiot," Akira laughs, throwing the rest of the mail at his head. "Forget it, I've decided to call you Idiot. Get out of bed already."