Touya Akira is, without a doubt, utterly brilliant.
(Not that Hikaru would ever tell him that, but the point stands.)
He is incredibly tenacious and fierce in pursuit of his own goals, and once he zooms in on his target, he tears down every obstacle on his path until he has it. He always plays to win - just ask anyone who has faced him across the goban, seriously - and he is too damn good at ripping apart defenses and sending his opponents running.
(It is the most beautiful thing, actually, but Hikaru is not about to inform him of that, either.)
But the thing is - and Hikaru can definitely bring up the kifu of his games against Touya to prove it – direct attacks are not always the best strategy. They sure are effective in battles, but sometimes a little subterfuge will get you miles further than direct confrontation.
For example, in cases like this, thinks Hikaru as he lies on his bed in the hotel room in Beijing. He has just hung up on Touya, who is apparently a stubborn old man worse than his grandpa if he cannot openly admit that Hikaru's victory over some Chinese 9-dan was the most awesome thing this week, and his voice is sore from arguing for - he checks his phone - one hour twenty-seven minutes, and he thinks if he has make do with these phone calls any longer, he will stab someone.
It is unacceptable. They are eternal rivals - anyone will tell you that - and it's absolutely unquestionable that it should take priority over everything. It is vitally important that they have enough time to spend playing against each other, pushing and pulling each other to new heights, and yeah, maybe screaming into each other's faces every so often, if Touya insists on being blind to the obvious truths of Hikaru's words. And with their schedules being packed too tight with an ever-increasing number of official matches and other commitments, it's totally unacceptable that their quality rival time together should suffer from it.
It's a good thing Hikaru has already thought up a solution for that. True enough, it will take up some time and not a little bit of stealth to carry out the plan, but Hikaru is pretty confident he can pull it off.
Touya can sometimes be stupid, thinks Hikaru, but that's okay, because Hikaru can always point him the error of his ways by outmaneuvering him.
* * *
The flight back home is exhausting and overall way longer than it should have been. It must be the unexpected delays, Hikaru thinks as he struggles to stand upright in front of the airport timetable, he's no good with them. Not after three weeks of doing things that were not playing against Touya.
He impatiently tugs at the straps of his carry-on bag and wonders if he can call Ashiwara-san already, or if 7 a.m. is still too early. The thought of starting on implementing his clever plan as soon as he's back in Japan is the only thing that keeps his eyes open after a sleepless night.
By the time his plane lands at Narita airport, it's already nearing noon. Hikaru dials Ashiwara's number even before he's cleared the customs, and the man clearly has a good grasp of and healthy respect for eternal rivalry, because without further questions he agrees to leave his copy of keys to Touya's apartment for Hikaru to pick up. Ashiwara is a great person, Hikaru thinks as he ends the call with heartfelt thanks.
Touya's apartment is predictably quiet and clean when Hikaru finally enters it. He would laugh at the familiar museum-levels of prissiness of the place, but his knees are weak with the relief at finally being here. Hikaru's legs buckle under him and he collapses on Touya's couch, asleep almost the very minute that his head touches its surface.
When he wakes up from what feels like hours spent lying unconscious in the same position, if his sore limbs are anything to judge by, it is to see Touya standing in the doorway, watching him.
"Didn't someone tell you that it's creepy to stand around staring at people when they sleep?" Hikaru croaks out as he rubs his eyes and tries not to sound too happy. It's not very easy, not when it's been three weeks, not when Touya is finally there, within arm's reach, only slight creases on his otherwise immaculate suit and barely perceptible tightness around his eyes showing that it has been a long day for him, too.
"Didn't someone tell you that it's creepy to break into other people's apartments?" Touya returns, raising his eyebrow in his very Touya way that means he's not actually angry, but will not hold back with criticism on principle - that very Touya way that Hikaru hasn't seen for what feels like years, Hikaru thinks, as he rebuffs with something half-hearted about Ashiwara and the key and tries not to grin. It wouldn't do to scare Touya off by acting like a happy loon, he reminds himself, not when he has not yet secured his territory.
"If you're here then make yourself useful," Touya says before Hikaru can come up with something clever to further his plans. "Get up so we can play."
And somehow this is best and the rightest thing either of them could have said, and Hikaru feels a bubble of warmth in his chest grow so large that he can't hold it in anymore, and he's beaming, delighted with being back to Touya, with being able to sit opposite him and play him again, and he thinks Touya must be happy about it too, even if he's still lingering in the doorway with a half-smile on his face.
* * *
For the next several days, Touya is almost completely preoccupied with his upcoming opening game for the Kisei title. The match is going to be held in Brazil, which is important enough to be doomed to have major media coverage, and conveniently far away so that Touya's hands are too full with preparations to pay attention to what Hikaru's doing.
Seriously, he doesn't even have much heart to nag Touya about his duty not to shame their rivalry in those faraway lands and show a decent game against Ogata, or the time to quietly (very, very quietly) feel furiously proud for Touya.
He is too busy using the camouflage offered by the rush of preparations to lay down the first stones of his genius plan.
It's nothing too conspicuous.
On the next day after his arrival he drops by his house to say hi to his mom ("Hikaru, are you leaving already, you just got home!"), pick a few things from his room ("Stay for dinner with us!") and check up on his goban ("Well, at least call me every other day and don't forget to eat!"), and then returns to Touya's apartment.
He brings only the essentials with him - a few of his most inconspicuous t-shirts, stuff he can wear to the Institute, a couple of kifu collections he wants to study, and a few snacks. Hikaru is sure that they will go unnoticed in the depths of Touya's half-empty shelves and cupboards, especially if Hikaru keeps a low profile on things.
It is not some sort of statement, Hikaru thinks as he puts his shampoo on one of the bathroom shelves, behind Touya's toiletries. He's just making sure he has his base here, a lynchpin to his strategy and a perfectly valid explanation why he doesn't need to return to his parents' house just yet.
Days before Touya's departure pass by, and he doesn't protest or otherwise comment on Hikaru's continued presence in his apartment. Hikaru takes it as a sign that his plan goes really well. Not that he has expected Touya to object, Hikaru amends hastily, because that wouldn't have made any sense. Touya is just as committed to their rivalry as Hikaru, so it only stands to reason that more time in each other's company that can be spent playing Go should be a good thing in his books, too. Would be, if only he had thought of it.
Still, Hikaru is happy, and quietly pleased with his progress.
* * *
It's not until Touya actually leaves after a sleepy morning game of speed Go that Hikaru remembers that Touya's apartment is a boring, boring place which offers nothing in the way of entertainment (unless your idea of entertainment is an assortment of Chinese dictionaries or worse, Korean textbooks).
Hikaru uses the opportunity of having the apartment all to himself to establish his territory a bit more, drops by to see his mother ("Hikaru, I'm glad you dropped by! Dinner's ready!"), his goban and pick up a few more things from his room ("Hikaru, do you want seconds? Why are you raiding the bathroom, do you have some foreign tournament again?") to carefully deposit them later at various corners of Touya's apartment. He goes grocery shopping to fill Touya's pathetically empty shelves with real food, solves one book of Go problems and goes as far as vacuum-cleaning the whole place.
He feels very accomplished and his presence here more than justified, but by the end of the second day, he completely runs out of things to do in his free time. Once he has wrestled with time differences to confirm that by now Touya must have regained consciousness after his million-light years-long trip to Sao Paulo, he picks up the godawful phone again.
"Hey Touya, let's play a game," Hikaru says without beating around the bush. Surely, Touya must feel it too, that restlessness that can only go away in a game between them. Hikaru can swear his brain becomes idle if they don't play too long, and he's itching to go ahead, slam the first stone furiously on the board and then a torrent of them right after it, to get swept away in the stream of their game.
Apparently, Touya feels the same, Hikaru thinks as he grins fiercely into the phone pressed against his cheek, because he agrees without hesitation, and the pa-ching of stones on the goban is faced-paced on both sides and it is exhilarating and fulfilling and just what both of them need.
But the fierce pacing and sheer aggression of this game is no reason to get carried away, Hikaru thinks with a smile as Touya misses that one small move in the center, completely misses its importance and walks right into the trap Hikary has been setting up. It's not even a hand later that he hears a ragged breath on the other end of the line and a grudging admission of defeat.
"Wow, I hope you won't play like that against Ogata tomorrow," Hikaru says, wiping the sweat off his face with the sleeve of his shirt. The game leaves him nearly trembling with excitement and exhaustion, but still, he has won, so he feels like rubbing it in. "Then they will have to reschedule everything, because no way would you last long enough to make it a two-day game."
A thumping noise is his answer, and then Touya's muffled voice reaches him.
"Shindou, I hate you so much."
And it's because he can just imagine the sight Touya presents at this very moment, probably plastered facedown on his hotel bed, glaring angrily at the phone through the shiny mop of his hair, Hikaru laughs, completely happy with the world.
When Touya mercilessly trashes all of Ogata's formations on the board in an efficient reenactment of this game two days later, Hikaru observes all the improvements and precise adjustments Touya has brought into it, and his heart feels light and very, very hot.
* * *
Hikaru takes his own preparations for Touya's return very seriously. Of course, he is looking forward to seeing him and playing him again, but Hikaru is aware that this is a very crucial stage in his plan. He has to casually convince Touya that Hikaru's presence in his living space is all-around beneficial to Touya - not just as the easiest way to play each other, but also, um. Good. In a more... flatmate-like sense, too. Flatmates is a good, rivalry-compatible word, right? And Touya will see the truth of it if Hikaru just shows him what a great flatmate he makes.
So he cleans up the apartment again, puts away his own things even more neatly than before, and even goes as far as to call Akari to ask her about something easy to cook. However, she refuses to be understanding at all, and instead of just telling him what to do, she grills him on what kind of a cooker he plans to use (like, aren't they all the same anyway, what does she care?) and whether he has a cutting board and knows how to stir-fry things. Because of that, not only does he run out of time to actually cook anything, but also almost misses the moment Touya comes back.
"Hey, you're back! I made tea. Do you want food? I'll make some!" Hikaru greets him, desperately trying not to think that his plan is threatened by something as stupid as a cooker.
Touya just stands there with his suitcase propped against the wall like one of those polished adults from airport ads, and thoughtfully looks at Hikaru as if he proposed something outrageous. Hikaru gulps and tells himself that he hasn't said or done anything even remotely outrageous yet, and unless Touya is a psychic, there is absolutely no proof there are any plans of this sort in Hikaru's head at all.
"You're offering to... make me food?"
The cautious way Touya says these words would have been offensive if Hikaru wasn't more worried about the transparency of his own intentions.
"I can make food. I'm great at food. Like, I could probably cook every day and stuff for... people."
Hikaru tries not to look at Touya, and prays to gods he hasn't messed it up yet.
Flatmates, flatmates. Please don't let Touya suspect anything and ruin this wonderful, wonderful plan.
Why did he think that this was going to be easy, Touya never makes it easy for him.
When Touya lets out a small huff, the one that interviewers get to hear sometimes when they are clearly being stupid and Touya is too polite to strangers for his own good to tell them that directly, Hikaru looks up in alarm. But Touya has already marched off to inspect the rooms - all the rooms, including even the bathroom, and what can be so interesting in the bloody bathroom cabinet, for god's sake, there is not that much stuff there anyway.
Hikaru finds hovering over Touya's shoulder too stressful and unproductive, and strategically retreats into kitchen. It's still salvageable, he thinks furiously as he prods the vegetables with a knife. How hard can cooking be anyway? He'll do it, and Touya will stop being so goddamn suspicious, and will happily forget about the hair mousse, because it's such an unimportant detail and -
"Shindou, are you moving into my apartment without asking me?"
God, Touya, would it hurt him to be less, less - less difficult?
"Is this about the hair mousse?" Hikaru asks, aware how pathetic it sounds, but not yet ready to give up on his plan. "Because it isn't like you're lacking space or anything."
"That isn't what I was asking."
Difficult and stubborn and absolutely terrible at being lead around. Hikaru feels cornered.
"Do you think I should move into your apartment?" he asks, and tries to come up with a list of things that would be worse than Touya saying a flat-out no. Sharing a flat with Kuwabara comes to mind, or beach holidays with Ogata, which are plenty terrible and Hikaru will need a brain bleach to erase these mental images, but somehow the sight of Touya watching him silently, quite possibly thinking life-ruining things, terrifies him so much more.
Kuwabara AND Ogata on a beach holiday. Hikaru wants to claw his eyes out.
"If you want to move your stuff in, just move your stuff in. Don't drag in bits and pieces."
Touya says that evenly, as if he was commenting on a match, and Hikaru has never heard anything better, and he wants to yell and laugh and slump down on the floor in relief, and also probably jump at Touya. But Touya just stands there, looking pristine with his prissy suit and shiny hair, quiet and calm and a little bit perfect, so Hikaru reminds himself not to ruin this, and just smiles.
* * *
Now that his presence in the apartment is established, Hikaru eases up enough to throw himself with full energy into his Honinbou qualifiers. It's not that he hasn't paid them enough attention before - he always does, because he is all too aware of the gap between himself and Touya, of every league he is not in, of every missed opportunity to play against Touya in an official match. But now he feels more anchored, more comfortable, and facing opponents who have spent the better part of their lives trying to get into the league feels easier somehow. Smoother.
And it definitely doesn't mean that he puts his plan on hold, either; on the contrary, he played his move, Touya answered, and they both turned their attention to different parts of the board. They will come back to these stones once other formations have grown and added new layers of meaning to the game. In the meantime, Hikaru thinks it wouldn't hurt to give Touya some time to get really used to the new arrangement before attempting... anything else. When the time is right, Hikaru is sure he'll think of what could possibly be... attempted, but for now, they can both reap the benefits of the current situation.
And judging by how awfully he plays his next two Kisei games, Touya definitely needs to all the benefits, too, which Hikaru is happy to provide. He points out all the lame-ass weak moves Touya had played - seriously, does he go into the matches against Ogata wanting to lose? – and kindly explains in detail what would have been a better strategy.
It becomes especially pleasant to yell at Touya about his mistakes once Hikaru wins his way into the Honinbou league, and can feel his fingers curl in excitement at the idea of league matches they will soon play against each other.
Touya manages to win his fourth game by being absolutely ridiculous and shamelessly playing Hikaru’s Go for all the world to see. Hikaru yells at him extra hard until Touya calmly points out that Hikaru's Go just happened to be a part of his own.
Hikaru finds that agreeing quietly is the only thing he can do not to cry.
* * *
Touya continues to benefit greatly from their new living arrangements, and Hikaru doesn't have to sputter over the kifu of his fifth Kisei match and threaten to unsubscribe from their rivalry. It fact, it is so good that Hikaru has barely anything to say about it, and Touya seems to understand, because he is going about the house with some newfound zen, looking at the world serenely from under his long hair, smiling inscrutable half-smiles and generally making Hikaru very, very restless.
Not because of Touya's smooth voice or exceptionally long, thoughtful stares, mind you. It's just Hikaru doesn't know what brought this zen on, and whether it will last Touya through the sixth game, which is very important, because Ogata has had enough of this winning Kisei title matches business.
Hikaru worries, and does his best to help Touya with preparation: they play game after game, and have long discussions, and for all means and purposes Touya seems immoveable - tranquil and balanced, as if some great Go truth has descended on him and bestowed upon him insights yet unknown to Hikaru. Such an epiphany itself would not be the problem; being eternal rivals means that whatever one of them learns, the other will eventually learn, too, because that's just how their never-ending race works. Hikaru is just worried that somewhere in this zen there is complacency, and Ogata will jump on it, because he knows Touya's game too well and will sniff out any weakness, real or imaginary, and exploit it without hesitation. Nasty opponent, Ogata Kisei Juudan.
But apparently, Touya has no appreciation for Hikaru's concern, because instead of being grateful for all the worrying he does, Touya still finds some fault with him.
"Will you just stop doing that!" he snaps.
Which is completely unfair, because Hikaru has only been standing by the bookshelf absolutely not doing anything but thinking of Touya's game and his own rival duty to help improve it.
"I'm not doing anything," Hikaru says, making a point to demonstrate his offense, and puts away Touya's Chinese self-study book that somehow turned up in Hikaru's hand.
"Yes, you are."
"No, I'm not."
"Yes, you ARE!"
There is something comforting about the fact that Touya's zen can be temporarily put on hold to make place for their quality discussions, Hikaru thinks gleefully, and prepares for a long argument.
"Oh, I'm sorry," he drawls. "Maybe I should just hover in the air so I don't touch the floor or anything. Or you should tie me too the kitchen table so I don't accidentally put a finger on your precious... Chinese dictionary."
When his creative insult to Touya's neurotic habits is met with complete silence, Hikaru grows bewildered. Does Touya think he is above this now?
Hikaru peers into Touya's face with suspicion, looking for an explanation in the shape of his clear, dark eyes or sharp lines of his face, but all he sees is this eerie calm of a person in possession of some sacred knowledge.
And then Touya, Touya Akira of serene eyes and pristine suits and fierce games, his eternal rival and now also his flatmate, speaks up in his most agreeable, smooth voice.
"Shindou," he says evenly, "I would tie you up wherever you wanted if you'd let me."
Hikaru's first thought, when it formulates itself not without some difficulty, is that Touya is speaking Chinese to him. Clearly, all these foreign languages have addled his grasp of Japanese, and his overworked rival has started using some outlandish expressions that translate really badly to normal human speech.
Then it occurs to Hikaru that Touya might be making fun of him. That Touya has somehow gained an insight into the darkest, farthest and most thoroughly avoided corners of Hikaru's mind, and saw something... funny there. And it is a terrifying thought. But Touya's still giving him that even, clear-eyed look that is nine parts seriousness, one part disarming straightforwardness, and Hikaru is so, so confused.
Confused and very, very lightheaded.
"You... wa-," he starts off, but then his voice cracks and he needs to start again. "I'm sorry? What did you just say?"
And he really, really, needs to hear Touya say something, and it is becomes imperative that he hears what this all means, because if Touya keeps speaking this Chinese of his and Hikaru doesn't make sense of it, he will miss something vitally important, and that would truly be terrifying.
"You heard me," Touya says. "Now, do you want to play or not?"
You heard me, Touya says.
You heard me.
The words ring in Hikaru's head, over and over, and soon it feels like every cell in his brain is ringing with them until it's a pleasant buzzing that drowns all other sounds out.
So this is how it is, Hikaru thinks wondrously. While he is spinning his webs and laying out traps, Touya has ideas and wants of his own and states them as clearly and loudly as possible. Like a declaration of war.
Hikaru blinks off his daze and looks at Touya, properly looks at him and his ridiculous zen in the face.
"Really? Huh. Yeah ok, we could do that," Hikaru says, casually.
What did Touya expect, seriously? That he'd back off?
Touya blinks, a slow movement of his heavy lashes that momentarily hides his eyes from view, and Hikaru thinks, ha.
"The Go or the tying up?" Touya carefully enunciates every syllable, and it occurs to Hikaru that Touya must be really invested in his answer.
It is the best thought ever.
Hikaru leans back on his arms to get a better look at Touya.
"Well, you know, we just played Go and everything."
The silence between them stretches. Touya keeps watching him, and now it’s Hikaru's turn to meet his eyes serenely.
Touya seems to have reached some sort of decision, because he gets up, unhurried and steady, and carefully moves away the goban. Then he turns to Hikaru, and with the same precision of movement, grabs him by the collar and pulls him up onto his feet.
Hikaru grins right into his dark, shaded eyes. He absolutely does not object to a slight change of plan to accommodate this turn of events.
"So, kitchen, was it?"