"My name is Shiraki," he said without meeting Asanuma's eyes and took his seat.
"You must be strong to be representing Aoi High at the district tournament," Asanuma said chattily as they took their seats.
"Not at all. I want to be much, much stronger. That's why I'm here." Shiraki grabbed a handful of stones from the goke. "Nigiri?"
He took white. He preferred playing white, despite the disadvantage, because it allowed his opponents to reveal themselves first. Would they be cautious or aggressive? Stick to traditional openings or go for unconventional hands? He waited, expectant.
Asanuma placed his first stone at 5-5. Shiraki blinked. He had heard of such opening moves, of course, but he had not expected someone to attempt it during a high school tournament.
He glanced up and met Asanuma's eyes for the first time. The boy was leaning back in his chair, a playful smile hovering about his lips. Shiraki leaned forward and thoughtfully studied both the board and his opponent. When he finally responded, it was at the opposite corner of the board.
Shiraki won the game and went onto the finals with his school, but even when the rest of the tournament had faded in his memories, he remembered that first hand in vivid detail: the sound of the black slate ringing decisively against the wood, the little hitch of excitement he felt as his breath caught in his throat, and the gleam in Asanuma's eyes, waiting for his response.
The boy--Shiraki, wasn't it?--frowned a little and said, "Excuse me?"
"You're the one who defeated me last year. Are you second board? Do I get to face off against you again?"
Shiraki just nodded.
Asanuma laughed, as he pulled out the chair and took his seat. "I've been wanting revenge ever since you defeated me. You stopped us from going to the finals!"
"Well, it looks like you made it this year."
"Yes, and this time, I'm going to win." Asanuma placed both elbows on the table and leaned forward, narrowing his eyes as he scrutinized Shiraki's face. The other boy seemed unfazed and merely turned to greet his teammates who were also taking their seats at the table.
"Don't let us down, Asanuma," said Mizuki-senpai, as he sat down at the first board.
"Worry about yourself, senpai," Asanuma retorted, not taking his eyes off Shiraki.
He did win the game, but his palms were damp with sweat after having fought for every last moku in yose. He wiped them carelessly on his slacks before bowing and saying, "Thank you for the game."
"Thank you," Shiraki said. He looked unperturbed from the loss.
Asanuma's teammates were laughing and crying at having won the finals, but instead of turning to join them, he sat and watched Shiraki clear the stones from the go board.
"An excellent move, Sakae. Your go has grown much deeper over the past six months," his uncle said at their last game of shidougo. "You are too old to become an insei, but next year, you should consider taking the pro exam."
Shiraki's eyes widened. "Do you think I'm ready?"
"You probably will not pass on your first attempt, but I believe you have what it takes to eventually become a pro. If that's the path you want to follow."
His uncle's words echoed in his mind as he faced Asanuma across the board again--their third game--and felt his heart race. Their previous games had been close, but not like this. The cool air of the classroom where they were holding their match drew up goosebumps along his arms. The sound of each stone placed against the board rang in his ears with a peculiar intensity. Shiraki was aware of the slow ticks of the game clock, the scrape of metal chair legs against the floor tiles, and most of all, the soft exhales of Asanuma's breathing as he waited for Shiraki's next move.
Ages seemed to pass before Shiraki surfaced from the flow of the game long enough to realize that while he could battle for more moku, there could only be one result. He bowed his head. "I have lost."
Shiraki nodded. "You're the only person I've lost to more than once at this tournament," he said as he gazed at the line-up. He glanced at Asanuma, with a flicker of the eyes so quick that Asanuma would have missed it if he had not been watching Shiraki so closely. "Don't lose."
Asanuma slaughtered his next three opponents. The first two, admittedly, were not much of a challenge, but the third was not so easily dismissed. "Too bad," Asanuma said, halfway through the game. "Normally, I won't go all out, but I really need to win this game."
His opponent resigned within five minutes. Asanuma stretched and went to go sit at the board for his next game. He fidgeted in his chair and kept craning his neck to look for Shiraki.
When Shiraki took his seat across from him, Asanuma grinned and said, "You took your time getting here."
Shiraki replied calmly, "I didn't want to take any risks. I've been waiting for another match with you."
"You know, you could always just come find me at school if you want a game."
Shiraki met his eyes for a brief moment before returning his attention to the empty board between them. "Maybe I will. But it's different when we are competing. Nigiri?"
Asanuma took black, just like in their first game. He began confidently, playing his usual brash, aggressive style, but soon Shiraki's hands forced him to draw back and rein in his attacks. Asanuma hesitated, second-guessing himself as he tried to read ahead in the game.
"You've gotten much stronger," he muttered, frowning at the board, before reluctantly placing a stone.
"Yes," Shiraki said and played his next hand immediately.
Asanuma lost that game, but he did not feel any bitterness at the loss, only a breathless exhilaration.
"We are tied at two wins and two losses to each other. I've been keeping track."
Shiraki nodded. "Shall we see who breaks the tie?"
Asanuma laughed. "I'll warn you, I've grown stronger since you last played me."
"I have too."
Somehow, neither of them were surprised when their game ended in a draw.
"Next time," Asanuma said, clasping Shiraki by the arm.
"Indeed. I'll look forward to it."