"Ah, that damned left corner again!" Aishiwara moans, throwing his hands in the air, and Touya can't help but laugh, and they leave the discussion of the game at that.
He checks his watch surreptitiously while Aishiwara is picking out his stones, and hopes that he managed to swallow the sigh before it reached his face.
"Won't you stay for some tea, Akira-kun?" Aishiwara offers, pushing himself to his feet and stretching a bit. "I'd love to hear if you've had any news from your father in the last week or so."
"I can't, I'm afraid." Touya stands gracefully—Shindou always complains about he can do that after sitting on his ankles for hours—and bows. "Shindou's match will probably end in the next half-hour or so."
"Well, it is Golden Week," Aishiwara shrugs, giving Touya a rueful smile, and Touya doesn't bother to stop the sigh this time.
He hates Golden Week, regarding it's approach with even more loathing than he does dentist appointments or being forced to accept rides home in Ogata's car. He hates it even more when he ends up being forty-five minutes late and the lights are already on in the apartment by the time he gets to the door.
Touya takes a moment to sniff the air and tries his hardest not to think about last year when his Jyudan match ran long and he came home to find burning stirfry setting off the smoke detector and Shindou slumped listlessly on the floor in front of the stove. Every cabinet door had been open and the chairs had been shoved away from the table, and Shindou hadn't moved except to grab at the cuff of Touya's pants when he got close enough and ask if he'd fallen asleep.
That Shindou goes a little crazy during Golden Week is common knowledge on the Professional Igo circuit, but while the most common question murmured to Touya is whether he thinks Shindou will start skipping matches again, the thing that scares Touya the most is that he has no idea exactly what Shindou will do.
Several years ago, Shindou had refused to sleep for days on end until Waya drugged his ENERGY INFRUISION MANGO. The year after that, Shindou had broken up with Touya without any explanation, only to show up at the end of the week wearing exactly the same clothes and asked if Touya wanted to move in together.
"It's been like this since he became a pro," Shindou's mother had told Touya when he'd showed up the first time with darting eyes and lot of questions he couldn't exactly find the words to ask. He'd curled his hands around the teacup tight enough that they would stop shaking. "The first year he was just so sad…last year he put everything in his room in the hallway and painted, floor to ceiling and refused to say why. He never tells me anything about it."
Touya had nodded a little and winced when he shifted on the hard wood of the kitchen chair; he tugged the edges of his sleeves down to make sure they were covering the finger marks wrapped around his wrists.
The slam of a drawer from inside the apartment shakes Touya out of his thoughts, and he finishes turning the key in the door. He has to swallow twice before he can get a proper "I'm home!" out as he's toeing off his shoes.
"Hey." Shindou comes around the corner and leans on the doorway, arms crossed. His eyes have rings under them, and he's wearing the ratty yellow pullover Touya has tried to throw out twenty-seven times, but he looks more or less okay and is even smiling just a little. "I hope takeout is okay."
Reaching out with both hands, Touya breathes a sigh of relief when Shindou lets Touya hug him tightly, story about the power loss in the subway completely forgotten. "Takeout's fine," he mumbles against Shindou's collar.
"My mother called." Shindou pulls back enough to cup Touya's face between his palms, thumbs brushing his cheekbones. "She said you were worried about me."
Touya drops his eyes guiltily to the side, but presses his cheek against Shindou's touch.
"You should just ask me about it," Shindou says. "Just because I didn't tell her…you're different, you know."
"I know why you hate Golden Week, Shindou." Touya pulls back until Shindou's hands drop from his face and catches them with his own. He does, more or less; Shindou's never told him the story, but Touya feels like he's pieced most of it together by now. "But it doesn't make the things you do any less…"
He doesn't look to see Shindou's reaction, but keeps a hold on his hand while he drags them both to the kitchen to eat what little takeout either one of them can stomach before they just give up and go to bed.
Touya's sitting in their living room, on the floor with the coffee table pushed out of the way for the antique goban, his fingers buried in the goke of white stones, and he knows that he's dreaming because there's a man sitting across from him with the biggest, most ridiculous hat Touya has ever seen.
Also there are sakura petals drifting down, for whatever reason. Touya wonders if he's been watching too much daytime television again.
The man is still and serene, and is probably the prettiest man Touya has ever seen outside of Bento Beatbox, and Touya can't help but follow the man's gaze down when he drops his eyes.
The surface of the goban has dark splotches in one corner, and Touya reaches out to touch them without thinking, but then realizes that the wood itself is stained and thinks that Shindou is going to freak out, if that time with Waya's orange-pinapple daquiris is any indication.
Touya jerks his hand back when the man moves, but the man merely lays a single black stone before pulling his hand back and tilting his head just a fraction, watching Touya expectantly.
Touya wakes with a start, grunting at how being yanked out of sleep that deep is almost physically painful. He takes a few deep breaths, slowly realizing that Shindou is spooned tightly up against his back, hands curling and uncurling against Touya's stomach.
He's whimpering very softly, breath hitching. He's dreaming.
Rolling over, Touya slides a hand into Shindou's hair and tilts his head back to kiss him fiercely, throwing a leg over Shindou's hip. Shindou comes awake with a jerk, wincing against Touya's mouth, but Touya just wraps around him more tightly and lowers his head to suck at Shindou's throat until he's pleading in half-syllables and sinking fingernails into Touya's lower back.
Shindou is loose-limbed and unhelpful when Touya rolls him over onto his back, and Touya doesn't trust himself to do anything more complex then to pin Shindou's wrists above his head and thrust against him until Shindou is trembling and sticky underneath him.
"Shaking my shoulder works just as well," Shindou murmurs, already falling back asleep, and Touya grunts something noncommittal and tangles a leg in between Shindou's, arms tightening around Shindou's chest until he sighs a little protest. The shape of them together is all sharp angles, but right now Touya welcomes the slight discomfort as a reminder of how tightly they can press together.
Two years ago, Touya had gotten up long before Shindou on the first day of Golden Week, long before dawn had even thought about breaking, and locked Shindou in the bedroom before lying down on the floor in front of the door and going back to sleep. He was startled awake several hours later by Shindou pounding on the door and demanding to know what the hell was going on.
"If you're trying to out-freak me," Shindou had roared, "it's not going to work!"
"You can say that again," Touya had grumbled, laying his head back down on his arm and wishing he either had remembered to bring out a pillow or dared make a run out to the couch to grab one.
This year Touya stands over Shindou, who is both snoring and drooling, in the gray Tokyo dawn and thinks about trying the same stunt this year, only Shindou really does need to go to his next three matches if he wants a serious shot at Honinbo, and anyway Touya isn't hankering to replace either the bedroom window or his gokes again.
Instead he runs fingers through Shindou's bleach-rough bangs and wanders into the kitchen to make breakfast.
Shindou isn't one for traditionally breakfast usually, but Touya feels chilled so he gets out the container of miso Shindou's mother brought over a few days ago. While it heats on the stove, Touya fingers the pile of mail on the table and blinks for a second at the scatter of dried sakura petals mixed in with it until he remembers the spring bouquet Akari had brought over last week.
He rolls one of the petals between his fingers, crushing it, and thinks about a single black stone until Shindou staggers into the kitchen, circles under his eyes like he hasn’t slept at all, and demands to know why they're having breakfast like it's the freaking Heian Era or something.
Touya murmurs something or other as Shindou wraps himself around Touya's back and yawns in his ear, and they burn their tongues on the spoonful of soup Touya lifts to test.
Touya falls asleep on the train, or at least he thinks he does. There's still the steady clack-clack of the wheels and the sway of the turns, but the man in the ridiculous hat is sitting across the aisle, watching Touya serenely with his hands tucked into his large sleeves.
There's something cool in his palm, and Touya looks down to find a magnetic goban in his hand, the same black stone as before stuck in the corner.
It's a pretty innocuous opening move, Touya finds himself thinking, if a little dated. The trick is figuring out whether it would be more advantageous to use a modern response, or to reply in kind…
"Wake up, idiot," Shindou says, shaking Touya's shoulder. "Our stop's next."
Touya looks up, blinking until Shindou's face comes into sharper focus, then looks down to find his hands empty. He flexes his fingers a few times, and Shindou asks if he's got a cramp from last night, making the grandmother beside them tsk.
Across the aisle, there's a little girl whacking her brother in the head with a sprig of sakura, sending petals scattering across the seats.
"You seem distracted," Isumi murmurs, pitching his voice low so that it doesn't disturb the other pairs of Go players in the room. "By which I mean, you only beat me by half a dozen moku instead of double that."
Flushing just a little, Touya bows his head. "Forgive me, Isumi-san. My mind was not entirely on the match."
"No offense, I'm sure," Isumi says, but he asks Touya to go to lunch with him and politely says nothing about Touya's sudden blush.
At the restaurant, Isumi excuses himself to use the restroom. When Touya looks back across the tiny table, the man is sitting across from him, beautiful and patient as a statue. He's wearing traditional court clothing, Touya notes for the first time, his hands folded inside his sleeves.
Touya looks down at the table, and there's a single circle drawn on the square of his napkin, filled in with a scribble of ink, and a pen lying beside the napkin on the table. It's the corner again.
"Who are you?" Touya asks. The man is smiling with just the corner of his mouth. The smile is vaguely indulgent, as if Touya is someone very young but familiar to him, perhaps a student.
A light touch on his shoulder makes Touya turn; he finds Isumi peering down at him, brow slightly knit.
"Touya-kun?" Isumi asks. "Are you feeling all right? You had your eyes closed."
Touya turns back to the seat across from him. It's empty.
"I've been sleeping rather poorly," Touya says slowly. "But I'm fine, really. Sorry to trouble you, Isumi-san."
"Ah, it's Golden Week." Isumi accepts Touya's explanation without further question as he slips into his seat, and when he gives Touya a small smile of understanding from across the table, Touya shivers a little.
When the waitress arrives, she has a tiny sprig of sakura pinned in her hair.
Touya sees the man over and over. He can't sleep at all but falls asleep everywhere. The black stone is a an odd-colored onigiri at the conbini, a sesame-covered anpan at the bakery, a parking lot with only one car in the corner, a chain link fence with a small crow poking his head through the metal.
The vending machine outside his father's go salon has inexplicably been refilled with all white cans of tea, except the one black can of coffee in the lower corner. Someone bumps Touya's shoulder, but when he turns around, there's only a sea of people with their faces hidden by umbrellas.
"Are you coming in here or what?" Shindou demands, sticking his head out of the doorway and making a face at the rain. "It's pouring, hurry up!"
"I'm just getting a drink," Touya says, fishing coins out of his pocket. He virtually never drinks coffee, but he finds himself pushing the corner button without much thought, and the warmth of the can feels good in his palm. When he looks back up, Shindou is staring at the people going by, expression oddly vague.
"Ne, Touya," he says. "Did you know? Umbrellas haven't changed in a thousand years."
"A thousand years?" Touya repeats, following Shindou's gaze. A mother is tugging her daughter along by the hand, their umbrella soaked dark pink so the white pattern of sakura stands out more brightly. "You'd think they'd have come up with a way to keep our feet dry in all that time."
He nearly drops his coffee when Shindou seizes him by the front of the shirt and kisses him roughly, right in the doorway of his father's salon. By the time Shindou drags him inside, Touya's cheeks are hotter than any can of coffee, and he can't look Ichikawa in the face for at least a week.
By the third day Touya feels as if everything is edged with fog and his eyes are itchy with sleep, and when Shindou asks if Touya's lost it or what, Touya is honestly starting to thing that maybe he has. It's driving him crazy, this game, more than the man or the sakura or what it all means, the fact that they never actually play the game, just that one goddamned black stone, over and over and over.
At the Go Institute, the man is standing by the fish tank in the lobby as if waiting for someone; when Touya gets into the elevator the bottom corner button is burnt out, round and dark. When the doors open, Touya thinks about the outdated opening move, and somehow his feet carry him to the old kifu room. He lingers in the doorway without really knowing what he's doing there, breathing in the scent of the crumbling papers.
"Looking for an old game?" Kuwabara asks, right in Touya's ear, and cackles his creepy cackle when Touya nearly jumps out of his skin. In his weakened state, Touya blurts out the whole story, the dream and the man in the hat and the single black stone.
He expects Kuwabara to laugh some more or make fun of him, but all Kuwabara does is raise an eyebrow.
"So why don't you play?" he asks. Touya blinks. "This guy sounds pretty persistent. Besides, Golden Week is almost over."
"Eh?" Touya asks. Shindou and his Golden Week meltdown are famous in their own circle, sure, but Touya has never worried before that it's the kind of thing people Kuwabara's age gossip about with, say, his father.
"It's a special week, after all. You might miss your window of opportunity," is all Kuwabara does say, before shuffling off to terrorize somebody else with his silent, slippered approach.
Touya can't help but think Kuwabara is right, and maybe that's the lack of sleep talking, but on the other hand it certainly can't hurt to try. Shindou has a run of teaching matches scheduled and won't be home until a couple hours after Touya. And anyway, Touya thinks as he drags the goban in front of the couch, coffee table shoved to the side, even if Shindou finds him sleeping in front of the board, he wouldn't bat an eyelash unless Touya was drooling on the wood.
He sits in front of the couch so that he can tip his head back against it, and falling asleep is as easy as closing his eyes and taking several slow, deep breaths.
When he picks his head up again, the man is waiting for him wearing the same hat, the same patient half-smile. Sakura petals are drifting down, and Touya has no idea why he didn't notice this the first time, but he's wearing a bright yellow yukata with a pattern of fives all over it.
"I swear this isn't mine," Touya says, and the corners of the man's eyes crinkle. "Who are you? Why have I been dreaming about you all week?"
The man doesn't answer, only waits patiently with his single black stone still on the board.
"I guess it doesn't matter, if you only want to play," Touya finally says, thinking about what Kuwabara said about missing his window of opportunity. The dream feels hazy and so real at the same time, his arm heavy when he tries to move it, the glass stones cold and smooth against his fingertips. He plays his own stone in the opposite corner, and it's like a sort of relief in his chest, to finally see both colors on the board.
The man doesn't move for several seconds, and Touya wonders if maybe he's misread this bizarre sakura-filled tsumego after all. But then the man finally reaches for another stone and plays it, the sound crisp and sharp. Each of them play several more stones in turn, a traditional joseki that Touya recognizes as one that Shindou often plays, notable because it's older than both of their fathers, but for some reason in Shindou's hands, that's never been a disadvantage.
It isn't until the man pulls a paper fan out of his sleeve and taps it against the edge of the board that Touya understands.
"You?" he asks. The man lifts his eyes from the board for the first time since they started playing and looks Touya in the eyes. "It's you, isn't it? Shindou's…" Touya trails off, not sure how to finish that sentence, but the man's half-smile turns full at the mention of Shindou's name, a smile full of warmth, and Touya knows he's right. "You're Sai. The go inside Shindou's go."
Touya ponders what to say next as if thinking about his next move. Why appear to him and not to Shindou himself? Is Touya supposed to give him some sort of message? News?
"He might become Honinbo this year," Touya says, watching the man's face closely to see if that's what he's supposed to do. "He only missed Oza by one match last year, and he got so mad I thought he'd flip the board."
A flicker of amusement runs over the man's face as he plays his next stone, and then he sits back as if satisfied. Touya frowns at the board, holding barely more than a dozen stones and with two corners all but naked.
"That's it?" he asks. "But we've only just started."
The man gives Touya the tiniest of bows, and then Touya opens his eyes and finds himself alone in the living room. Somehow he knows the man will not be back, even if Touya falls back asleep. Not knowing what else to do, Touya quickly recreates the board from his dream. After the last black stone is placed, Touya reaches for his own white stones, but then simply sits, sifting the cool stones through his fingers. He doesn't know what the next move should be.
When Shindou comes in, hair smelling of rain and cigarette smoke, Touya is still sitting in front of the goban, still staring at the stones. He only looks up at Shindou's sharp intake of breath.
"What," Shindou's voice is curiously flat, like when he's so angry his vocal cords can't keep up, "is that?"
"I've been having this dream all week," Touya explains. Shindou drops to his knees on the other side of the board with a careless whump, his eyes digging into Touya so sharply that Touya looks back down at the board instead. "There's a man in a white robe and a hat, and he wants to play a game with me. So we played. But we only got so far and then he vanished, and I don't know what any of it means. It was Sai, right? Was this a game the two of you played?"
"Why do you get to see him?!" Shindou demands, and when Touya looks up from the board, Shindou's eyes are glassy, fingers curled around the edge of the goban so tightly Touya wonders if he'll flip it. "Why you? I've been looking for him everywhere since I was fifteen, and all I ever see are his goddamned white stones—"
"White?" Touya interrupts. "He's black. He went first."
"He…what?" Shindou looks like he's been slapped across the face.
"He's black," Touya repeats, more confused than ever. "I'm white, he's…Shindou, what's the matter?"
"He's not," Shindou whispers, voice suddenly edged with desperation, "he's not, I was black. I was always black, and we were playing, and I fell asleep, and when I woke up…" Shindou looks away, looks like he did when he was younger, lost and angry and hurt.
"You never finished your game," Touya understands suddenly, empathy stinging in his chest because this game has been driving him out of his mind for three days. He can only imagine what it's done to Shindou after the better part of a decade. "He played as you."
"How could you have played white?" Shindou demands. "How could you have? How could you have played the exact same game?"
Touya shakes his head; it's a little odd but not unreasonable, given how much the two of them play. Touya doesn't feel like that's the important point at all. "He played for you, so we could continue. So the game could finally finish."
"No, it can't!" Shindou roars, his sudden volume making Touya flinch. "He's gone and he isn't coming back, so we can't ever finish it! He's gone!"
"But you aren't," Touya points out. The more worked up Shindou gets, the more Touya wonders if he ought to just leave it alone, but then he thinks about having a lifetime more of Golden Weeks just like the ones they've been having, and he figures he can't hardly make it worse. "You're here, and I'm here. We should finish it, don't you think? Otherwise you'll just keep looking for him."
Tears spill out of Shindou's eyes, no matter how furiously Shindou tries to scrub them away, and Touya feels desperately guilty for bringing the whole thing up.
"Never mind," Touya says. "Let's just—"
"Just play already," Shindou orders, voice thick. He's still trying to wipe away tears, but his eyes are fixed on the board. "It's your turn. That jerk left in the middle of a turn so hurry up and go."
Touya worries for a moment that he'll play the wrong thing, be unable to complete Sai's game to Shindou's satisfaction, but then he lets it go. There must be a reason it's been handed over to him, he figures. He's sure later Shindou will just tell him it's because he also looks pretty silly in large hats.
They play until so late that it's actually early. They both have matches in the morning, but it doesn't seem important. All the other noises in the apartment and out on the street seem hazy and muted, only the click of their stones distinct. At the end they count territory without shifting stones, the shapes and connections too elegant for Touya to want to break them. Like birds, Touya thinks, or fish.
"You won," Touya says in the end. "By three moku."
Shindou's smile only turns up half of his mouth. "You won. They didn't have komi a thousand years ago. He played you a teaching game once, the first time we met."
"I remember," Touya says. He knows now that wasn't his first game with Shindou, but that doesn't make it any less important.
"He said you'd be a dragon," Shindou murmurs, as if mostly to himself. Touya stands and stretches, then tugs Shindou up when he makes no move to get up himself. They really do need to go to bed.
Touya goes over to shut the window for the night, but Shindou stops him with a hand on his elbow.
"Leave it," he says. "My mom always says you should leave one open so spirits don't get trapped."
"Or in case one comes back to visit?" Touya asks, taking Shindou's hand and squeezing it. He leads Shindou to bed and they collapse on it, neither of them bothering to strip off their clothes. Shindou curls up so tightly against Touya that it's impossible to tell where their shapes begin and end. It's not as elegant as birds or fish, but Touya loves it fiercely all the same.
In the morning, sakura petals are scattered across the floor of the living room, blown in through the open window. One is on the board, on a spot neither of them played.
"That damned left corner again," Shindou growls, making Touya choke on his tea laughing, and they leave the discussion of the game at that.