Fandom: Hikaru no Go
Disclaimer: Not mine
Not for the first time, Shouji was starting to wonder if the vending machine on the sixth floor of the Japanese Go Institute was cursed. Either that or it had a grudge against him, because whenever he fed his coins into the slot and pushed the button for a cola, a can of black coffee would come clunking out instead.
"Stupid machine!" cursed Shouji. "Are you broken or do you just hate me? Well, no matter. We'll see how tough you are after I've finished beating you up."
He moved to the side and prepared himself to deliver an almighty kick to the offending object when a voice made him freeze on the spot.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you. It's not nice to the vending machine."
Shouji whirled round ready to give whoever had stopped him from wreaking vengeance a piece of his mind, but the words suddenly died and his tongue somehow managed to get stuck inside his mouth when he saw who was standing before him. "Sh-Sh-Shindou-sensei!" he stammered, blushing to the roots of his hair over being caught looking so stupid by the person he respected most.
"So, you got black coffee, huh?" smiled Shindou, noting the can Shouji held in his hand, and the young insei shuffled his feet. "That stuff is pretty awful."
"I wanted the cola," said Shouji in a very small voice, "but I always seem to end up getting the coffee instead."
"I guess it can't be helped." Shindou offered his own unopened can of soda. "I bought this earlier but I haven't had a chance to drink it yet. If you're thirsty you can have it."
"I couldn't," Shouji said as one side of his brain reminded him to be humble and polite while the other repeatedly shouted out "gimme". Much as he would love to accept something that came from the hands of Shindou Hikaru, even if it was a harmless and insignificant soft drink, he had to at least pretend that he had good manners.
"Go ahead and take it," said Shindou. "I was on my way out anyway. I'll get a drink when I get back home."
"You're sure?" asked Shouji, biting his lip, and Shindou passed him the can.
"Here. It's better than black coffee, right?"
Shouji took the soda with trembling fingers and immediately bowed down low. "Thank you very much, Shindou-sensei! Words cannot express my gratitude!"
"It's only a soda," said Shindou, bemused. "And enough with the sensei thing. It's making me feel weird."
"But you're a pro!" exclaimed Shouji, his eyes shining in adoration. "You were one of Japan's representatives at the Hokuto Cup! Korea is supposed to be super-strong and yet you really gave that Ko Yongha a run for his money. You're the most awesome go player around! You're my idol! I aspire to be just like you!"
"Well, as long as you don't skip all your matches the way I did when I became a first dan," Shindou replied with a self-deprecating laugh. "Are you taking the pro exams this year?"
"You bet!" Shouji enthused, pumping his fist into the air. "I fully intend to pass!"
"You were at the Wakajishisen, too," Shindou recalled. "You played against Touya, didn't you?"
"And lost miserably." Shouji's earlier excitement deflated, his shoulders slumping at the memory, but Shindou's expression was contemplative.
"You were going up against that guy, so I guess it couldn't be helped. Still, if you ever decide to get some extra help for the exams, I can tutor on my free days."
"Tutor?!" Shouji's voice rose to a humiliatingly high-pitched squeak, but he couldn't even bring himself to care. "You'd tutor *me*?" Then the shock wore off a little when he remembered that all pros taught less experienced players for a price as part of their job, and Shouji added urgently, "When are you available? How much do you charge?"
Shouji would have been far too stubborn to accept help from any other pro let alone pay them for their assistance, but for Shindou, all Shouji's principles went flying out the window along with his pride. It didn't matter that he'd spent most of his allowance for the month already on manga and take-out; Shouji was perfectly willing to grovel to his mother for extra cash and do whatever chores it took to earn it if it meant getting one-on-one tuition from his hero.
"You're an insei," Shindou told him. "Don't worry, I won't make you pay."
Shouji's already sky-high admiration of Shindou increased tenfold at that, and he mentally offered thanks and praise to whichever god had chosen to bestow such good fortune upon him. Then he promptly forgot the textbook deities he'd learned about at school and decided to devote the rest of his life to worshipping at the altar of Shindou Hikaru, who was as kind as he was cool.
"I-I-It would be an honour!" Shouji all but shouted as he bowed repeatedly. "I am forever indebted to your generosity!"
"It's really not that big a deal," Shindou tried to say, but Shouji just kept bowing. "How are you fixed for evenings? Would next Monday be okay?"
"Monday is fine!" declared Shouji. Even if it hadn't been, he would have found some way around it.
"Do you want to meet up at a go salon? Or would you prefer it if I came over to your house?"
Shouji thought about the hours his mother put in at work and the way their apartment was perpetually messy because she didn't have the time or energy to clean it when she got home, and he frantically shook his head. "We're... renovating," he lied, crossing his fingers behind his back.
"In that case, you're probably better off coming to my place." Shindou took a pen and notebook out of his bag, scribbled something down and then tore off the page. "This is my address. I'm not exactly a stickler for punctuality, so just show up any time after five."
Shouji took the paper, nodding fervently. Shindou gave him a smile and a wave and then took off, leaving the starstruck insei staring after his back. When he was gone, Shouji looked down at the address Shindou had given him. It didn't matter that Shindou's handwriting was worse than his own. To Shouji it was a gift from the heavens, and he fully intended to treasure it forever.
It took a few minutes for what had taken place to sink in, but once it had, Shouji let out a whoop and danced along the length of the corridor. That was how Oka found him, grinning like an idiot as he waved his arms around gleefully, and Shouji immediately seized the opportunity to start bragging about his luck.
"You'll never *believe* what happened," he crowed. "I met Shindou-sensei! He gave me his soda! And his address! And he offered to teach me - for *free*!"
"Have you been head butting that vending machine again?" sighed Oka. "Your brain must have been rattled pretty badly to make up a fantasy of this level."
"I'm not lying! Look!" Shouji shoved the paper in Oka's face. "It's one hundred per cent genuine. He invited me over to his house next Monday for a tutoring game. Ha! Are you jealous? You are, aren't you?"
"I am *not* jealous," sniffed Oka, but it didn't sound that way to Shouji. "I'll admit I acknowledge Shindou-sensei and his strength after playing him at the Wakajishisen, but Touya-sensei is still better."
"Think whatever you like," said Shouji, sticking out his tongue. "*You're* not the one getting free lessons from a pro."
"I don't need lessons from a pro, free or otherwise, and that's because I work hard at improving my ranking with what I'm taught in class," claimed Oka. "Unlike *you*."
But Shouji didn't even feel like fighting with Oka for once. He was much too busy reliving the conversation he'd had earlier inside his mind.
Monday couldn't seem to come quickly enough for Shouji. He suffered through school until the final bell rang and then shot straight home to get changed out of his uniform without bothering to say good bye to any of his friends. Unsurprisingly, the apartment was locked and empty when he arrived, but Shouji wasn't bothered by the lack of a mother to cook him his dinner for once. He didn't think he could have eaten anyway, not when he'd been anticipating his lesson with Shindou so much.
Shouji's insei record had improved after the Wakajishisen when he'd come to realise the distance between himself and the pros he looked up to, but he'd been studying like a boy possessed after Shindou's invitation. He was desperate to impress, which was why he'd pored over Shuusaku's kifu almost religiously. Everyone knew about the reverence Shindou had for the go saint. He was a Shuusaku calligraphy expert, or so the rumours went, and his own style bore an eerie similarity to the one by what many considered to be the best go player in history. In any case, studying Shuusaku would definitely put him in Shindou's good books, and Shouji was determined not to show himself up.
Despite Shindou's apparent tolerance for tardiness, Shouji arrived on his doorstep at five 'o' clock on the dot, pacing anxiously before finally plucking up his courage and ringing the bell. Shindou answered in a pair of jeans and a tee shirt with the number 5 on the front, and Shouji suddenly felt very overdressed in his best black pants and nicest grey shirt.
Shindou ushered him inside and Shouji apologised for the intrusion as he took his shoes off and lined them up carefully, not wanting to make a mess. The go board was already waiting in the sitting room, and Shindou instructed Shouji to take his place while he made tea.
Sitting in seiza had always been a pain for Shouji, but he tucked his legs underneath himself as he attempted to look serious and attentive. He could hear Shindou puttering about in the kitchen and took the opportunity to look around the apartment. It was about the same size as his own but so much tidier, and Shouji wondered whether he ought to start being neater.
"Sorry for making you wait," said Shindou as he brought Shouji his tea. "If you'd been a little earlier, you would have had the chance to meet Touya and request a rematch."
"Touya-sensei was here?" Shouji was startled. "Does he visit often?"
"Actually, he lives here," Shindou answered, and Shouji gawked in spite of his best intentions.
"But... I thought this was your apartment?"
"It is. Touya and I rent it together. I sent him out for groceries, so he'll probably be a while. He can't cook but he has this weird obsession with reading labels and comparing the nutritional value of food. I only gave him a short list, but I bet it'll take at least an hour before he gets back."
Well, that had certainly been unexpected. Shouji had no idea Shindou shared an apartment with Touya, but then there wasn't really much know about either of them outside of their go. Shouji had always assumed Shindou lived alone like all cool people did, so it was something of a shock to hear that the eternal rivals were living with each other. Like Oka's opinion of Shindou changing after the Wakajishisen, Shouji's respect for Touya had also gone up, although he was still very much a loyal Shindou supporter.
Just looking at Shindou as he took his place and adopted the proper sitting position with enviable ease and elegance made Shouji feel light-headed from being in his idol's presence. Shindou was so casual, so effortlessly talented, and so *pretty* that couldn't believe he'd been given the privilege to sit before him like this. Nase, the girl who had known Shindou during his insei days, had teased Shouji about his "cute little crush," but for all Shouji's inexperience, he dreamed of being a rival for Shindou someday the same way Touya was. If Shouji ever got to play Shindou on such a high level and have Shindou look at him with the same eyes he looked at Touya with, he was sure he would die happy.
Shouji had often entertained thoughts about what would happen after he passed the pro exams (assuming there were no insanely powerful outsiders like Kadowaki and Isumi taking the tests alongside him, of course), but recently he'd begun to fantasise about other things, such as Shindou purposely requesting to be Shouji's opponent for the new first dan series the way the former Touya Meijin had requested to play Shindou.
Lost in his own world, Shouji didn't realise Shindou was calling him at first, but he snapped to attention when he finally registered the sound of Shindou's voice.
"Are you ready? Would you like to place your handicap stones?"
Shouji blinked in surprise. Shindou had already taken the white stones for himself and left the black ones for Shouji. "Ah - yes! Right! Sorry!"
Ordinarily Shouji would have blanched at the idea of a handicap, but since he was all too aware of Shindou's strength, he put down a total of three stones. He knew he would probably need more, even though it was a teaching game, but he wanted to make it as close as he could considering he had the advantages of getting to make the first move and starting off with extra moku.
"Onegaishimasu," said Shindou, lowering his head, and Shouji followed suit.
"Onegaishimasu!" Unfortunately he bowed a little too low and a little too eagerly, which led to him cracking his forehead against the board and crying out in pain.
"That sounded like it hurt," Shindou said sympathetically, reaching out and lightly touching Shouji's forehead. "Are you all right? It'll probably bruise later, but at least you didn't cut yourself."
"Um... um... um..." was the most intelligent thing Shouji could bring himself to say with Shindou touching him like that. He couldn't even feel the pain anymore now that his whole face was as red as the setting sun, but he succeeded in mumbling "I'mfinethankyousolet'splay," and Shindou withdrew his hand.
A few moves moves later, Shouji was already starting to fold under the pressure. He spent much more time thinking than he normally would, and Shindou noticed his unease.
"You don't have to be so tense," he said. "I'd never go all out in a teaching game. Or am I really that scary?"
"Not at all!" Shouji protested. "It's just... well, I..."
Shindou regarded him seriously for a moment and then he smiled. "Everyone gets nervous. I did when I was younger. I still do, sometimes."
"It's not that," muttered Shouji. "Well, maybe. I guess I can't really explain it. It's stupid."
"Some worries are, some worries aren't," said Shindou. "I used to worry about beards because they scared me so much, and if that isn't stupid, I don't know what is." Shouji burst out laughing, and Shindou made a face. "It's not funny! I totally flunked the first match of the preliminary pro exams because I had to play against a hairy Godzilla!"
"But... but..." Shouji gasped. "A phobia of *beards*? That's so lame!" It took a while, but he finally managed to reign in his laughter as he wiped the tears from his eyes.
"Phobia or not, it looks like you've loosened up at last," Shindou told him approvingly. "If you're still feeling nervous, picture me with a moustache or something. You know, one of the big curly ones."
Shouji started snickering again, and just like that, the tension went away, not because of Shindou's suggestion but because he was being so normal and likeable. He wasn't arrogant or aloof like a lot of pros were, but fun to be around and also fun to learn from. Shouji's desire to impress was soon forgotten in his enjoyment of the game, and time flew by without him noticing. Shindou called a break as the front door opened and Touya stepped into the living room carrying two paper bags.
"I bought what you asked for," he announced, passing the bags to Shindou. "Now it's your turn to make dinner."
"It's *always* my turn to make dinner," Shindou complained, but he got up anyway and motioned to Shouji. "Let's switch. I have a student here who's itching for revenge."
Touya turned to Shouji, who paled under that familiar powerful stare. "Oh, from the Wakajishisen," he said, and Shouji very nearly put on a repeat performance of when he'd last been too enthusiastic with his bowing.
"It's an honour to meet you again, sir," he said, his nervousness from before returning with full force. "Sensei. Sir."
"I'll be in the kitchen," said Shindou, rolling his eyes. "Do you want to stay for dinner, Shouji?"
"Eh?" Shouji blinked. "I'm allowed?"
"I take it that's a yes," teased Shindou, and Shouji blushed self-consciously. "Okay, I'll make enough for three."
Touya took the seat Shindou had vacated once he left the room to pick up where he'd left off. Shouji had witnessed Touya's intensity for himself first hand, but Touya was surprisingly nice, although he wasn't quite as open and friendly as Shindou. He was more formal and reserved but he was still an excellent instructor, not that Shouji would ever dare picture him with a moustache even in secret.
There wasn't much else for Shouji to do after he'd finished helping Touya clear away the stones at the end of their game, although his stomach grumbled when he smelled something good coming from the direction of the kitchen.
"Are you hungry?" said Touya in amusement. Shouji nodded shamefully and wished his near-permanent blush would go away, but rather than waiting in silence, he tentatively tried to make small talk.
"How long have you and Shindou-sensei known each other?" he asked curiously. "Did you grow up together when you were kids or something?"
"Not exactly," said Touya. "Well, we were rather young when we first met, but it's not as if we've known each other all our lives." He paused before adding ruefully, "Although it does sometimes feel that way."
"So you're best friends?" pressed Shouji. "Wow. That's really awesome."
"Best friends?" Touya sounded surprised. "I suppose that's part of it. Shindou is a lot of things to me. He's also very important to me."
"Because he's your rival, right?" said Shouji. "That's so cool. I wish I had a rival like Shindou-sensei." 'I wish I had Shindou-sensei *as* my rival,' was what he truthfully wanted to say, not that he could ever utter those words to Touya. "Why did you decide to live with him? Was it so you could play more games against him?"
But Touya was spared from responding when Shindou shouted for him to set the table and Shouji knew better than to pester with questions during a meal. He even held himself back while eating, taking in tiny mouthfuls and chewing slowly rather than wolfing his food down like he usually did.
It was utterly surreal to be sitting at the same table as Shindou and Touya and actually eat dinner with them. Even more surreal was the way they discussed perfectly trivial household matters. They were so mature that Shouji felt like a five year old in comparison.
"You're picking up our suits from the dry cleaner's tomorrow, right?" said Shindou. "I have Morishita-sensei's study session to go to, so I won't be home till late. I'll put some leftovers in the refrigerator for you to heat up when you get back."
"What about you?" asked Touya.
"I'll probably call in at McDonald's with Waya."
"I thought I was trying to wean you off that place?"
"You also tried to wean me off manga, and that didn't work. Jeez, I slave over a hot stove for you every single day. Allow me to have *some* luxury."
"You do not 'slave' over anything, Shindou. The meals you cook are hardly complicated."
"Says the guy who didn't even know how to make cup ramen properly until I taught him."
What had started off as an unremarkable conversation between adults quickly degenerated into childish bickering, leaving Shouji feeling like he was the elder all of a sudden while Shindou and Touya behaved exactly like a pair of grade school kids.
After dinner, Touya was assigned the task of washing the dishes while Shindou pulled on his coat. "It's dark outside," he told Shouji. "Come on, I'll walk you to the station."
Shouji was putting on his own jacket when he happened to glance up and see Shindou kiss Touya. His jaw dropped in disbelief, but Shindou didn't appear to notice as he told Touya that he would see him later.
They walked to the train station in silence, with Shouji deep in his own thoughts.
"You're being quiet," Shindou observed. "Something wrong?"
Shouji didn't know what to say. Whatever hope he'd had for his admiration of Shindou progressing to something that wasn't so completely one-sided was now lost. Shindou seemed even more distant and unreachable now than he had done before, all because Shouji had witnessed that moment of intimacy between him and Touya.
"Shindou-sensei," he said hesitantly, "how long have you and Touya-sensei been... love-love... with each other?"
"I've felt strongly about him for years now," said Shindou, only slightly embarrassed. "The love-love stuff is a fairly recent development, though."
Shouji nodded, subdued. "I see."
"Does that bother you?" Shindou wanted to know. "Me being with Touya, I mean. A lot of people don't tolerate our kind of relationship. I'd be kind of sad if you lost respect for me because of that, but I'd try to understand."
"I still respect you!" Shouji assured him quickly. "I still think very highly of you, Shindou-sensei. Touya-sensei too. It's just... well..."
It hurt. Shouji couldn't pretend that it didn't. Crushes, idolisation and hero worship couldn't even compare to the bond Shindou shared with Touya. To Shindou, Touya was a rival, a friend, a lover, but more importantly, an equal. Shouji wasn't any of those things to him. He was simply a student. He was Shindou's inferior. If he could change that at least...
"I'll work hard!" Shouji blurted, sincere. "I'll get stronger! I'll become a pro and make you acknowledge me someday! I might not be your eternal rival but at least I can be an occasional one!" He bowed very low and added solemnly, "Thank you for everything. Please look forward to my progress."
Oka wasn't the only insei confused by the change in Shouji's attitude the next time he turned up for lessons. "You're on a roll today," Oka remarked as they headed in the direction of the vending machine at break. "You're actually concentrating and listening to what the teacher tells you. Did something happen earlier this week? Did Shindou-sensei really have that much of an effect on you?"
"It's nothing like that," Shouji insisted, and Oka grinned.
"Then, what is it? You're not bragging like I thought you would. Did you make a fool of yourself? Can't you bear to face him anymore?"
"It's not like that," Shouji repeated, refusing to rise to Oka's bait for once. "I want to boost my ranking some more before the exams come up. I've even started visiting go salons for extra practise. I'll do everything I can in order to pass."
"Don't be so serious!" said Oka in alarm. "I'm still ranked above you, so you'd better not forget about me. If you're going to get better, then so am I! Don't think you're going to leave me behind!" Shouji fed his coins into the machine, and Oka blinked when he pushed one of the buttons. "Huh? You're not getting cola?"
"I just felt like being different," Shouji said airily. "Laugh if you want but it's one of my first steps towards becoming a pro. Not that *you'd* understand."
Oka didn't, but as they argued on their way back to class, it couldn't be denied that there were changes taking place.