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Bad Impressions are for Free

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1. He's a well respected man

Ichiro doesn't know why he agreed to organize this class reunion, he really doesn't. It had something to do with being asked by his old crush Saki, a lot of alcohol and a promise he apparently made when he was 17 and stupid. It all translates to his wife being mad at him and working way too many hours for no pay or benefit at all.

Who knew that in this age of the internet and facebook and google people were still hard to find. At least he was getting to the end of his list and he didn't, in a fit of overconfidence, sign up for the decorating committee as well.

The next name on his list brought him up short. Shindou, Hikaru. Oh god he hadn't thought about Shindou in years. They had ever been friends or anything. That honour had gone to the likes of Fujisaki and, oh, he could still remember how weird he had thought Shindou to be, having a girl as his best friend. Till his hormones had finally caught up with him, and he had discovered the true genius of that. But they had been in the same schools and largely in the same class since elementary school.

They had even played football together on the school team for a while. Shindou had always been fun, but a bit too loud for his taste. Ichiro had been raised traditionally and if anybody was the antithesis to everything his parents had taught made agood member of society, it was Shindou. He wasn't proper, he didn't try at school, he was loud and never kept his opinion to himself. Nothing was moderated with him, it was always either nothing or everything.

He had actually left school after 10th grade and Ichiro had been weirdly jealous of him for a second, till he remembered what a stupid choice that was. Who quit school if they wanted to get a real job after all? To not become a loser? His parents agreed with him. When they heard, they said they felt sympathy for his parents, but really wasn't it always clear it would come to this with the boy?

He had done the clever and responsible thing and gone to university, like his parents had planned and now he worked at Samsung with a secure future. But that also meant long work hours, too long to have any energy left to devote to his son, who did who knew what with his free time.

He really didn't want to waste time searching for Shindou. It would probably be depressing and he doubted he would want to show up anyway (everybody knew you only went to those meetings to brag about your life – god he wished he could get out of it himself).

Fujisaki was probably still in touch with him though. He had already found her (married, part-owner of a little family business, active in local politics), so maybe she could contact him and take that unwelcome responsibility out of his hand.

The reunion had started without a hitch and he was standing by himself profoundly relieved that maybe he could now get his evenings back (Even though he knew it wouldn't happen. He had been leaving work on time these past few weeks and his boss had been understanding, but now he would have to work twice as hard to make up for it.), when he saw Fujisaki standing in a little group near him.

She had RSVP'd fast and had assured him she would tell Shindou as well, but he hadn't seen him and he was still morbidly curious about this silly, dumb, vibrant boy he didn't even really remember the face of.

So he went over, greeted the others in the little circle – Harada (single, owner of quite a bit of land in the countryside, it was a shame he had to move to the middle of no where, he would have a hard time finding a woman to go with him), Tsukida (married, two kids, housewife) and Saki (not married, but from what he had gathered not single, she was one of those art types, that never settled down and where no-one quite knew what it was they actually did. He had seen a few paintings she had done on the internet – as far as he could tell they showed nothing in particular only shapes and colours. They had unsettled him for some reason, so he hadn't looked any more)

“So, Fujisaki, did you get into contact with Shindou about this?” he waved his hand around, ”I'm really sorry again I didn't do it myself, but I was just so swamped - ”

“Oh, no it wasn't a problem at all, even if you had written to him, I would have probably needed to remind him to reply.”

“So, is he still going to come then?” he asked. He couldn't really believe it, but then Shindou had always had a devil-may-care attitude. Maybe he just didn't understand that he wouldn't get any points for being a factory worker or ramen chef or whatever it was he did.

“Oh yes,” Fujisaki replied, “I called him this morning and I sent him another text when I was leaving home, he better not have forgotten! He just had a function? Or an interview session or something like that and he said it could run a bit longer.”

He raised an eyebrow at that - interview? and had just opened his mouth when suddenly Fujisaki looked at something behind him and started smiling.

He turned around and at first he just didn't recognize him at all. Untill he looked again and then remembered the horrible, atrocious hair style. The bleached hair should have looked out of place. If someone had asked him before hand he would have said that the only outfit it could it could ever fit with would be surfer or skater clothes. Definitely not a suit that looked like it would cost him a monthly salary.

But Shindou just wore it with such confidence and ease that instead of looking ridiculous and out of place, it gave a playful, charming touch to his seeming sophistication. Shindou had always been sure of himself, but in a cocky, bratty sense. Seeing him now brought back memories from later, that hadn't played into his first recollection at all.

Shindou at 15, 16, suddenly not so loud any more, who stopped playing football and left right after school, whose math skills seemed to have improved over night. Who was scarily focused at the weirdest times. Who couldn't seem to shut up about Go. And who had made him feel like maybe he was missing somehing.

2. As I move my feet towards your body, I can hear this beat, it fills my head up and gets louder

Akira had had about enough. He had been on this tournament/making connections tour for the last 2 months and for some reason the travel gods had been angry at him. From the moment he stepped on the plane in Narita (which had been on time and he remembers thinking what a nice start and good omen this obviously was for the rest of the trip) thinks had gone awry.

First his luggage hadn't arrived at the airport in New York. The authorities had assured him it wasn't lost and so he had spent 4 hours just milling around waiting for his luggage to be found, which wasn't in another country, Mr. Touya, absolutely not. When they finally located it, Akira had been hungry, but so tired that he skipped dinner and just fell asleep instantly (after taking around 30 minutes to hail a cab that he was sure took him the scenic route to his hotel).

He was woken up the next day by Hikaru calling him to ask what the Go center in the Big Apple looked like. Which told him that he was late. I need to be dressed and on the other side of the city in 5 minutes, late.

The tour continued that way with late buses, cancelled flights, flooded hotel rooms and one time notably a sinking ferry – complete with life vests and rescue teams.

While he appreciated the laughter he apparently brought into Hikaru's life, who was the live audience to his running commentary and mounting frustration, he felt like he would go insane if it continued for one day longer.

The flight home had been the final disaster to top off these weeks of torture, which now had him arriving 4 hours too late with a stained, ripped shirt, and without his iPod. The only thing he wanted was to get home, curl up with Hikaru, vent and let the other ones laughter sooth a bit of his strained nerves.

He walked out of the gate, automatically scanning the crowd for the bright bangs of his boyfriend – as much as he hated the hairstyle it was extremely practical in situations like this – and when he finally found him he just – stopped. And stared. When someone nearly bowled him over from behind he shook himself out of his trance and swallowed around his suddenly dry tongue.

Hikaru was standing there in one of his geeky “5” T-shirts, holding up a bright yellow sign, which read “Welcome Home” and wearing a bright smile.

And Akira always forgot. Every time he went away for a while. They still talked every day, and they still loved each other and his face was on his mind and in his fantasies, always. But he always forgot how truly breath taking he was. How the whole room seemed so much more vibrant. How when he remembered, he was always so happy with Hikaru, but he forgot how he also felt so alive. Everything about him was so real, everything else seemed to dim compared to his smile and his eyes and his everything.

“Hey, what's the matter Akira, cat got your tongue?” Hikaru smirked at him, “Or is the reality of my irresistible hotness too much for you? ”

“Yes.” if Akira had the capacity right now he would probably be horribly embarrassed about the way it came out, throaty and low and truthful.

“Wh- What?” Hikaru looked surprised, but his pupils had dilated slightly.

“Yes, yes that, I can't - I just need to go home right now, ok?” Akira leaned closer to him – as close as he dared in a crowded public place and whispered, “I just need you right now.”

Hikaru took a deep breath, a flush high on his cheeks and said low and sure and so tangibly there“Yeah, yes let's do that.”

3. I don't know who you are and I don't know where you've been

Tomoko couldn't wait. After 3 years she would get to see her favourite great-nephew Masao again. It really had been too long and while she understood that Tokyo was a long way she had missed him. But there was no way she would let him and his family miss her 70th birthday. The whole family had been invited and it already looked like it would be a full house.

The door bell rang again and there he was. His wife was with him and standing behind them was their son. Tomoko wrinkled his nose a bit, because he still had that horrible bleached hair that made him look like a hooligan. She really didn't know why Mitsuko wasn't stricter with the boy. Why, if it had been her children or grand-children trying something like this, he would have forbidden them from making such a spectacle of themselves.

But then Mitsuko had always been kind of soft. Maybe if her Masao could be home more often. But it couldn't be helped. She just hoped that those rumours that the little rascal wouldn't even go to university would prove to be false.

It may have been cute when he was 11, the last time he had seen him, but he was 15 now, nearly an adult. At least he seemed to have calmed down a bit. She could say hello and then send him off to his cousins.

Toriko was bored, bored, bored. She really didn't understand why she let her parents drag her to these lame family parties. At least she wasn't alone in her misery, her cousins Kenta and Yuu were in the same boat.

“God, if at least more people of our age were around we could do something, or convince our parents to let us show them around.” Kenta groaned. All three of them lived in the village, so a tour of the place really wouldn't work as an excuse.

“Yeah, why are there only babies here?” she said.

“But wasn't aunt Tomoko saying something about how uncle Masao would show up?” Toriko asked.

“If by “said” you mean “wouldn't shut up about it”? Then yeah.” Kenta scoffed.

“Didn't they have a son our age?” she asked.

“Yes, yes they did.” Yuu said excitedly, “Hikaru! God we haven't seen him in ages!”

“Oh god, that is cool, Hikaru was always fun, finally someone to talk about video games.” Kenta said.

“Wait, who, do I know him?” Toriko asked.

“I don't know. I mean his family lived in Tokyo and we had more to do with him when we still lived there, but he was at a few of those family things.” Kenta said, “small, hyperactive, kinda dumb, with bleached bangs?”

She could vaguely remember a guy about her age running around, breaking things till the adults had send him out to play football with the other kids, while she had to stay inside, because her mother “needed her assistance”.

“Yeah, I think I know who he mean. So he's cool?” she asked.

“Well he is kinda geeky and, I don't know, the last time we saw him, he was being a bit weird, remember Kenta?” Yuu remarked, “like he would start talking randomly to something mid-air and he seemed even louder than usual.”

“But other than that he is just a normal kid -”

“Who is?” came a voice from the direction of the door.

She turned around and took the new boy in, to the shouts of “Hikaru, long time no see, man” from the other two boys. He certainly looked normal, in his brightly coloured T-shirt and his hair two different colours, a bright grin on his face.

“So what are you up to now?” Kenta asked, but Yuu interrupted,

“Don't be stupid, he needs to study for his high school entrance exams.” he turned to Hikaru, “have you decided where you want to go yet?”

Hikaru gave them a small smile, “Actually I'm not going to go to high school.”

They was a shocked silence, till Kenta said, “What? Man why, what else are you going to do?” while Yuu asked “Your parents let you do that?”

Hikaru shrugged, “Remember last time, I told you that I play Go?”

They nodded slowly. .

“Well I have been playing it professionally for the past year, and before you ask,” he turned to Toriko who had opened her mouth, ”yes you can play it professionally and yes you can earn money with it. But if I really want to make it, I need to be able to fully concentrate on it. School is just a distraction. It's not going to help me be a better Go player, so I just don't see the need to continue it. And to answer your other question, I've been earning my keep for a while now. My parents can't really say anything against me making my own decision.”

Silence followed this statement. It was weird, they were all the same age. But the way he looked at them, almost like daring them to challenge him. Challenge the way he just knew without a doubt, what he wanted out of his life, and he would grab it and hold it and not let go, you could see it in his eyes. He wasn't a kid like them, for some reason he had already made a step further.

Toriko smiled, stepped forward and said, “That sounds amazing! I'm Toriko by the way, I don't know if you remember me. I would love to hear more about what you do with Go.”

By the way his eyes started to sparkle with a sudden fire, she knew she had said the right thing.

4. And this dust is all that's left of us

Sometimes Mitsuko doesn't know if it happened over a long time and she just hadn't seen it. That, if she had only paid attention, she would have noticed, would have known. Yes, her son had been different, ever since he had started playing Go. Quieter, more mature, but also obsessive in a way that scared her sometimes.

The way he would sit in his room for hours and the only sound was his voice and the pitter patter of stones on his board. No music, no TV, only clack, clack, clack. But she had thought it was only part of growing up, of becoming an adult and at the beginning she was relieved that he seemed to develop a passion, take things seriously.

And underneath it all, she was still her little boy, still her Hikaru. Even in that horrible month, were he seemed to be devastated for no reason at all. Where she longed for the sound of stones, because more often than not, the only thing coming out of his room was total silence. Even underneath the grief she could see in his eyes and didn't understand, she saw her little boy with the skimmed knees and tear stained face. Older and wearier, but still there. At least she thought so.

It wasn't even a special day. It wasn't the day he told her he wanted to become a professional Go player (and she still couldn't really wrap her head around the fact that that existed) or the day he graduated or the day he brought Touya boy home as his boyfriend or the day he moved out.

It was a normal day in a string of normal days, where he came into the kitchen for breakfast and she looked up and - . She didn't recognize him. For 30 panic stricken seconds that seemed to take forever she didn't recognize him. There was a stranger in her kitchen wearing her son's face and she couldn't move.

Then time started up again and he looked at her and said he needed to leave in 20 minutes, because he had an important game. He was Hikaru, of course he was, but something had shifted. From one moment to the next, where she expected her son, her little boy, to be, there was a strange adult standing in front of her, that reminded her of this little person she had held in her arms.

But he wasn't him. For a moment she thought she would cry, just burst out into tears in the middle of the kitchen, but she caught herself, forced a smile on her face and asked, if he wanted her to pack him a lunch.

5. So raise your glass, if you are wrong in the right way

Shindou-Honinbo-sensei had invited her to a party. Honinbo-sensei had invited her to a party. She couldn't believe it. She had already pinched herself a few times, but the only thing that got her was an aching arm. But it couldn't stop her smile. Because Shindou Hikaru, youngest Go player to ever hold the Honinbo title had invited her, Sato Ai, 2-Dan very recent member of his prestigious training sessions, to a party.

He had turned around at the end of the last session and said “I'm throwing a little get together next week at my house. It would be great if you could show up.” And he had looked straight at her. And winked. Ai felt like she could fly.

So here she was at the door step of her esteemed teacher. Her idol. She needed to make a good impression. Shindou-sensei was smart, cultured, well connected and so gorgeous. He was always dressed in expensive suits and even though his hair was unusual it just gave him a youthful aura.
She could remember her first day at the institute after she had passed her pro exams. She had been so nervous. She knew she would have to fight and work twice as hard to make it in the pro league as a woman.

But she was determined. It was her dream and she would see it come true. Already on the first day she had gotten into an argument with some stupid chauvinistic pigs who tried to tell her that she should just go home. That she should be a good Japanese woman, get married and have kids. That she wouldn't make it, because women weren't as smart

She had been so mad she was sputtering, so mad that she couldn't even get the words out to tear down those ignorant, stupid boys who still lived in the 60s. That's when Shindou-sensei had walked in with a frown and told them that if they wanted to make such accusations that they better be able to back them up. That he had seen her test and had been impressed. That he hoped he would get her for her initiation game.

Then he had walked away and she had resoundingly beaten all three of them. Three weeks later she got a standing invitation for his training sessions.

She had agonized about what she should wear for days, untill she decided on dress slacks, a blouse and a blazer. Ai took a deep breath, put on her best smile and pushed the door bell.

There were several shouts as she waited and suddenly the door was wrenched open. It took her a second to recognize her sensei. He had on a garish yellow T-shirt that was patterned with black fives and jeans that had obviously seen better days. His hair was an untidy mess and his smile was wide and unrestrained.

“Ai-kun! You made it!” he shouted and then proceeded to engulf her in a tight hug. Keeping his arm around her shoulders, he manoeuvred her into his flat.

“Guys, Ai-kun is here! That means we have an even number now, which means we can totally play charade.” He shouted right into her ear. She was shell shocked. This wasn't how she was used to him at all. He normally had such a poise to him. Yes, he was happy and exuberant. But this was something else. She could practically feel him vibrating on the spot.

Several groans sounded from inside the living room and a Touya-Meijin-sensei came out of it with an annoyed expression. Shindou-sensei skipped - skipped! - past him, while he took her house gift with a mumbled “Thank you very much for coming, Sato-san. I just hope you know what you got yourself into.”

She really, really hadn't.

+1 We are the next time around

When Hikaru turned around he saw Sai. Suddenly he had tears in his eyes and he started to panic. What if he wasn't good enough, what if he hadn't done enough, what if Sai didn't even know who he was any more -.

But Fujiwara no Sai smiled, opened his arms and said “I have been waiting for you.”