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The Teaching Game

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Hikaru stepped out of his track pants, leaving them in a pile on the floor. Standing in Touya’s room in just boxers and an undershirt, he felt profoundly exposed. He crossed his arms. 

“Touya. You’re sure this is all right?” he said.

“Yes, of course. My old things should fit you fine,” Touya said from the closet.

Hikaru glared at Touya’s ever-widening back as it arched under the soft blue robe. The intimacy of their relative undress made Hikaru’s ears hot. There was something exciting about it too; part of him couldn’t help but steal glances to see how they measured up. He memorized each image like he memorized the moves of a game, instant and clear, knowing he would need to review them later.

Touya was leaner, taller, more angular than Hikaru now at nineteen. He had his mother’s features, but he carried himself more and more like his father every day. A part of Hikaru was jealous when Touya continued to outstrip him for height—the difference was almost three inches now— but today it came in handy.

Touya returned with an armful of cloth. He looked down at their bare feet on the tatami and hummed.

“I have size 28 tabi.”

“That’s my size too,” Hikaru said.

Touya handed him a pair of tabi and looked him up and down. 

“That t-shirt won’t work. Use this,” he said, handing Hikaru a pastel yellow under-robe. 

Touya leaned against the wall and watched openly as Hikaru laid the robe over a chair. Hikaru hesitated for a moment, then stripped his shirt off and dropped it over the pants on the floor.

“Left side?” Hikaru said, lifting the robe.

“Like this,” Touya said, leaning in as Hikaru slipped into the robe. He tucked the robe tight and Touya tied the thin belt around it, seeming completely at ease with how close it brought them. Hikaru swallowed. He could smell Touya’s hair, light and floral, and a hint of something heady underneath, vanilla and tonka bean and musk. Touya pulled a long strip of cloth from the pile draped over his arm and fixed it around Hikaru’s neck, pinning it down against the collar of the robe.

“Put the tabi on now, it’ll save me having to do it for you later.”

“All right.”

Hikaru slipped into the tabi and fidgeted with the eyelets, growling when he failed to hook them closed.

“All this for a teaching game!” Hikaru sighed. 

“It’s eight teaching games,” Touya mumbled as he dropped to one knee to help. “And this is a favor to the Ki-in to court a new sponsor for the Hokuto cup.”

“I get it, I get it,” Hikaru said. “Thank you for helping me.”

“Thank you for helping me,” Touya said, tugging Hikaru’s robe straight as he stood. “The woman who organized it is a good student, I promised to take care of her friends.”

“Okay, now kimono?”

Touya cocked his head. 

“How tall are you?”

“Five seven, five eight maybe,” Hikaru said, shrugging. 

Touya went to the closet and carefully brought out a rust brown kimono.

“This should fit.”

He held it open and Hikaru slipped his arms in, pulling it closed around him. Touya smoothed his hands down Hikaru’s back, adjusting the fall of the cloth so the pleat sat between Hikaru’s shoulders. His hands seemed to linger a little at Hikaru’s waist and Hikaru felt the heat pool low in his belly. He took a shaky inhale to steady himself, but Touya’s hands were on him again, pulling an obi around his waist from behind. He gasped.

“Too tight?” Touya said, concerned.

“No, it’s fine,” Hikaru said, biting his lip as Touya tied the obi.

“Now get the hakama, it’s on the chair. I’ll tie it for you, it’s kind of a pain.”

It was a pain. Having Touya’s hands all over him was a pain, and Hikaru knew in the back of his mind that he’d have to do something about it. Maybe not today, but soon. 

When Touya finished fussing over the garments and pulled away to check the effect, Hikaru found himself more disappointed than relieved.

“Done,” Touya said.

Hikaru looked down at himself and frowned. He took his fan from the pocket of his pants and tucked it into the hakama.

“Done now!” 

Touya rolled his eyes, but he was smiling.

“All right, give me just a moment,” Touya said.

Hikaru watched Touya dress, tracing the line from narrow hips to the broad shoulders with his eyes as layer by layer the points of Touya’s angular physique were softened by deep violet silk. Touya tucked his collar and adjusted his sleeves, and Hikaru thought painfully of Sai. 

“Well?” he said.

Hikaru licked his lips. Maybe he’d do something about Touya Akira sooner than later. There was an increasingly long list of things he would like to do right now, and if he didn’t start soon, he’d never get through it. 

“Good. Yeah. You look good.” 

Touya’s eyes darkened.

“I meant are you ready?” 

Hikaru shook his head and laughed. Touya had a chilly a way of sidestepping any hint Hikaru threw at him. But Hikaru knew, he just knew they felt the same. Maybe it was time to lay things out more clearly.

He was ready. 

“Yeah, let’s go.” 

 

***

 

It was a spring festival sponsored by an investment banking firm. Touya’s long-time student was the wife of the CFO, and at her suggestion they’d been asked to play public teaching games for the group of company wives who met twice a month for games of go and sweets and gossip.

There were nine of them gathered around the platform, fussing over little details, wiping the boards clean with a giddy impatience. 

The setup was Touya’s design: he and Hikaru sat back-to-back in the center of four encircling tables. Each pro would play shidougo with four women. The ninth woman, the newest addition to the group, sat alone at a board to the rear where she would place and record a game of blind go between the two young pros so that, time permitting, the women could be guided through the discussion of a high level game. 

It was a marvelous idea, so typical of Akira-sensei to think of something so perfect, Matsuda Yui thought to herself.

When the boys arrived, Yui busied herself with introductions. Though they were barely eighteen, the boys had formidable presence in their formalwear, and Yui’s group was positively fawning. 

It took some diplomatic corralling to divide the women between the young pros—some of the women simply couldn’t decide which boy they’d rather play—but finally the group found itself seated. 

“Onegaishimasu!” came the decidedly high-pitched chorus.

Hikaru pulled his fan from the belt of his hakama. He’d taught his share of young wives, and he understood a bit about how to talk to them. He opened his mouth to speak, but one of the women beat him to it.

“Akira-sensei has gotten so tall,” Yui said, defaulting to Touya’s given name, as she’d been using it since he was eleven. “When he started teaching me, he just about reached my elbow.”

“It would hardly do for me to stay so small,” Touya said, voice honeyed with a practiced charm. “It’s much easier to reach across the board now,” he said, punctuating with the sharp clink of a stone. 

The women erupted in giggles. Two of the four in front of Hikaru blushed, clearly smitten. 

Hikaru gripped his fan. Touya was too good with women for such a nerd, too confident. Gentle flirting came too easy. 

“4-3,” he said, glancing back at Touya. They were seated so close that Touya’s hair brushed Hikaru’s ear as he turned. 

Doubt crinkled Hikaru’s brow—Touya never flirted back with him, or any other boy that Hikaru knew of.

“4-3, the young wife to his left said, placing Hikaru’s stone. 

“I’d like you to observe the flow of play, Hideki-san,” Touya said to her. “I’m eager to see what you observe. 15-4.”

“The flow of play?” she asked as she placed Touya’s move.

“Yes!” Hikaru said with a smile. “Every game is a universe. Move by move, you create a world together.”

The women hummed and nodded as they placed their moves with syncopated clicks.

“Some games are a battle, others are a dance,” Touya said. “And the play can flow from one to the other depending on the situation.”

“It’s a conversation with no words that unfolds between two people,” Hikaru said as played each board in succession. “That’s why they used to call go ‘hand talking.’”

“My, my,” a woman on Touya’s side said, “When I was your age, Akira-sensei, ‘hand talking’ meant quite another thing entirely.”

The women erupted into giggles.

“Be serious now!” Yui chided. “I’m sure our teachers are skilled conversationalists.”

The women giggled again.

“To be honest, our schedules are so busy,” Touya said, “we’re lucky that we even find the time to play each other for fun, let alone much else.”

The women took this in with a murmur. Hikaru thought of all the little ways they could get to hand talking in between matches, after review sessions, on the way to matches, overnight in hotel beds and at hotel bars and those long quiet nights when Touya’s house sat empty. There was plenty of time, if you knew where to look for it.

“Well you won’t be young forever, sensei. I hope you both find some time to enjoy your youth here and there,” said the oldest woman on Touya’s side.

“Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Hikaru said brightly. “I don’t think there’s anything I’d rather do most days than this. Right, A-ki-ra?” he sing-songed. “15-16.”

Hikaru could feel Touya shift behind him in response to his given name. 

“I’d have to agree. 3-17. And besides, unlike my friend Hikaru here,” he said to the women in front of him, “I’ve never known any other life. The game calls for sacrifices, and I’ve never resented making them. After all, it means I get to do what I love at all times.”

Hikaru grinned. Touya had answered his peep with typical vigor.

A woman to Hikaru’s right stared at him in wonder. 

“Ehh, so you haven’t been studying your whole life like Akira-sensei?”

“No, I got a late start,” Hikaru said. “I had to sprint the whole way from total beginner just to catch up.” 

“He chased me for three years,” Touya said. “But he did catch up.”

The women hummed their amazement. 

One by one the games fell into an easy rhythm. The women played well enough for hobbyists, and the blind game passed with their usual familiar speed. Before Hikaru knew it, they were almost in yosei. 

He took the opportunity to unfold his final play.

“Tanaka-san, do you like the beach?”

The pretty short-haired woman in front of him smiled.

“I do! My family would vacation in Okinawa every year. Why do you ask?”

Hikaru touched the fan to his lips.

“Because this game reminds me of the beach. There’s an ebb and flow like waves, and the play is light and relaxed.”

“What about our game, sensei?” asked the woman next to Tanaka.

“Hmmm. A quiet forest at night. It’s dark and thick and difficult to see through.” 

The women on Touya’s side perked up.

“How interesting! What about us, Akira-sensei?” 

Touya considered the boards before him.

“If I had to name them? This one is a tango,” he said to Yui. “Deeply rhythmic with abrupt changes in direction. And this one, a fugue, with complex counterpoint.” 

“And this game feels like a spring storm, light and warm with a little bit of lightning,” said Hikaru.

“And this one, Ito-san, feels to me like a hymn, sincere and restrained,” said Touya.

“And this is for sure a mountain range with peaks and valleys.”

“And at last in this game I see a lullaby. Wouldn’t you agree?”

The women hummed and murmured and nodded and beamed at each other and their young teachers.

“But. What about sensei’s game?”

Everyone, even Hikaru and Akira, turned to the youngest woman, who sat alone in front of the board that bore the blind game. A pregnant quiet settled over them.

“Our game?” Hikaru said, touching the fan to his cheek. “Akira?”

Touya blushed at the sound of his given name in Hikaru’s lips. He closed his eyes and cocked his head.

“A symphony,” he said.

“Paradise,” Hikaru said with a nod.

The quiet lingered.

“So!” Hikaru said, rapping the nearest goke with his fan. “Let’s review.” 

 

***

 

Hikaru felt like he took up an inordinate amount of room on the packed train in his wide hakama. 

“I think that went well,” Touya said coolly.

“Yeah me too,” Hikaru said, shifting as the next batch of people filtered in. He ended up pressed against Touya’s side and the closeness made him hot. He shifted his hips away to hide his growing hardness, red to the ears, and it brought them thigh-to-thigh. 

Touya relaxed into the touch.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those women signed up for lessons,” he said discretely. “They got attached to you rather quickly.” 

Hikaru rolled his eyes.

“Yeah well if they do you can keep them. Unlike you, I don’t like to flirt with middle aged ladies.”

Touya’s eyes went wide.

“Flirt? You think I was flirting with them?”

“You were definitely flirting with them.”

Touya pinned Hikaru with something suspiciously close to his game face. 

“So you’re an expert on flirting now?” 

“No, you are!” Hikaru said. “You could have told them you kill puppies for fun and they’d still look at you all starry eyed.” 

Touya shifted in the tight corner of the train till he was facing Hikaru directly.

“Oh please, you were the one flirting with them, telling them their games were like a light spring rain.”

“You said a game was like a tango. That’s such a line.”

Touya scoffed. 

“Well you, you said our game was like paradise! I suppose that’s flirting too then!”

“That was totally flirting,” Hikaru said, grinning.

Touya looked genuinely shocked. And then pleased. And then concerned. He frowned, eyes going dark and distant the way they did when he was reading as far forward in a tense game as he could.

Hikaru pressed his advantage.

“So playing with me is like a symphony, huh?” 

Touya’s eyes snapped up and he flushed a deep pink from his neck to his ears.

“I suppose it is,” he said, looking away.

They rode the rest of the way in silence. They got off the train in silence and they walked to the Touya house in silence, and Hikaru wondered if all this silence was going to drive him insane. 

They slipped off their sandals in the entryway and Touya turned and said fiercely:

“Play with me.”

Hikaru thought he had Touya in atari on the train. He said a silent prayer to the god of go that he wasn’t misreading this game.

“Okay.”

They sat down at the board and took up stones for nigiri. Hikaru dropped two black stones, but Touya’s fist stayed tightly closed.

“Why would you flirt with me?” 

Hikaru sighed.

“Why are you asking me stupid questions? Just nigiri.”

Touya dropped the stones onto the board.

“Why can’t you have just one normal conversation?”

They traded gokes. 

“Why can’t you take just one hint? You’re the dumbest smart person I ever met.”

Touya leaned up out of seiza.

“I’m dumb? You’re even dumber if you think that flirting with me is an acceptable tactic. I thought you were above that.”

Hikaru got up on one knee and pointed his fan.

“No, really, you’re dumb if you think that’s a tactic!”

Touya stood and crossed his arms, even the rush of heavy silk sounding angry.

“No, truly, I’m offended. Flirting with me to distract me. Don’t ever do that again, it’s insane.”

Hikaru stood himself, mirroring Touya’s defiant posture.

“Well maybe I am insane, because only an insane person would be attracted to somebody like you!”

Touya’s glare began to melt.

“And don’t tell me what to do! I—I’ll flirt with you if I want to,” Hikaru said, the volume of his voice dropping word by word.

Touya’s face was a perfect composition of confusion and wonder and exasperation and just a touch of that hot fury that made Hikaru’s palms sweat.

“So you—oh my god,” Touya said, eyes narrowing. “You actually like me.”

Hikaru sighed. 

“Yes, duh. Yeah. I like you. How could you not, ugh. Double like. It’s so obvious. Capital ‘L’ like.”

“Hm. I see,” Touya said, face suddenly, lethally serious. 

Hikaru swallowed painfully. 

“Well. This changes things,” Touya said quietly.

Hikaru’s heart dropped from high in his throat to down low in his stomach. 

Touya’s eyes were hard and focused and Hikaru knew had to do something before the moment calcified into a wedge between them. He tried to queue up an apology or an explanation that would fix whatever changed. They were eternal rivals, they had to get past this. 

He could take it back. He could say it was all a joke after all and deal with Touya’s anger. He could tell Touya to forget he ever said anything and promise never to flirt with him ever again, ever. Yes, that’s it. He steeled himself, took a deep breath.

Before any words could leave his mouth, Touya was kissing him. The fan fell with to the floor with a soft thud.

The found one anothers’ arms and sunk clumsy to the floor together, knees bumping, hands scrambling to grip forearm and bicep and shoulder and then Hikaru’s hands were cupping Touya’s face and Touya’s long fingers were curling gently around Hikaru’s neck.

“You, you—” Hikaru said between fevered kisses. “How long have you—”

Touya’s grip on his neck tightened a fraction. 

“Longer than I can remember,” he said. “Maybe the whole time. It’s hard to say.”

Hikaru pulled back, ignoring the little huff it drew from Touya’s pinked and swollen lips.

“Then why didn’t you, I mean,” Hikaru faltered under Touya’s exploratory pets. 

“Why didn’t I…?”

Touya’s hands were tugging at the knots that held up Hikaru’s hakama. He felt himself coming undone by those long fingers he knew so well by sight and longed to know just as well blind. Hikaru felt himself opening like the layers of the kimono under Touya’s warm, seeking hands, and suddenly it didn’t matter one bit how they got there. All that mattered was that they were there, finally there, Hikaru’s hands in Touya’s silky hair, noses bumping, hearts beating a wild vivace.

“Never mind, just kiss me again.”

And when their lips met, he thought ‘this really is paradise,’ it’s not a line, this is vital, warmth and light and food and shelter and air and water and everything he needed, had been needing for so long. And he could hear it, the way they moved, the rustle of discarded silk, the wet slide of skin, the husky color of Touya’s voice as they moaned into each other's shoulders. Touya was right, he was so so right, and nothing had been so right before. It was like a symphony, that dark voice saying Hikaru Hikaru Hikaru, a fantastic set of variations on the theme that was this feeling, this ecstasy, a building crescendo that spilled over the both of them until they were spent and rubbed raw against the tatami, half-robed and smiling and giggling and twining their sticky hands together over the scattered stones.

Touya hooked his leg around Hikaru’s, eyes fogged with lust but shaped in the paraphrase of a challenge.

“I’ve got nothing,” Hikaru said, flopping down onto his back.

Touya leaned in and kissed him softly.

“Thank you for the game.”