It never ceased to astonish him how Shindou, who could sit as still as a winter lake while he was in front of the goban, became unreasonably excitable when confronted with a cup of instant ramen.
"Cook, you stupid ramen!" Shindou admonished the innocent-looking container (its only crime was to be plastic), shifting from one foot to the other in front of the kitchen counter in barely restrained patience.
This was the person who could sit motionless for hours while studying a kifu.
"It only takes three minutes, Shindou," Touya said. "Stop shouting. And sit down. You look ridiculous hovering around there."
"But I'm starving!"
"You were the one who turned down Komiya's invitation for dinner. He was willing to go to that dingy little ramen place by the subway station you were talking about earlier, too."
Shindou pretended not to hear him, though Touya knew why his boyfriend had turned down the friendly offer from his opponent. Usually, Shindou jumped at the chance to explore yet another ramen stand that he had heard or read about, or seen featured on TV. But not today.
Shindou played one of those games today--the ones where he took twenty minutes to play the opening hand, and remained in deep contemplation throughout. One of those games where his unhurried manner matched his Go perfectly, with a deceptively simple fuseki that spread through the goban at a rate that seemed glacial but was in fact booby-trapped on every level. It only took the right--or wrong--move, and like an outstretched hand suddenly tightening in a fist, his opponent found himself trapped without hope of escape in Shindou's death-grip.
It was on days like this when Shindou played most like Sai.
Touya wondered if anyone, other than Shindou, remembered Sai anymore. Of course, Touya's father still did, but even Ogata had stopped referring to that mysterious player.
Only Shindou still held the memory of Sai so deeply in his heart that it seemed to wound him at times. Just like today.
Touya sat down at his goban, reached into his memory and began to lay out a game he had memorised years ago.
Minutes later, Shindou's head popped up, the cup of ramen in one hand and a pair of chopsticks in the other. "Are you playing without me?" he asked.
He sounded so aggrieved that Touya found his lips quirking up in a smile. "I'm replaying a game that I saw once," he said.
"Oh." The set of Shindou's posture loosened. He turned his head around to study the pattern of black and white stones. "I think," he gestured with his chopsticks, his forehead wrinkling in thought.
"I think that's one of mine." He slurped the soup from his cup and nodded, as though settling an internal debate. "Yup, I'm pretty sure it's mine."
"Yes, it is," Touya said. "I take it you still remember it, then?" It was easy to divert Shindou using Go, Touya thought as he watched Shindou light up. Much easier than kisses.
"Of course!" Shindou said. "I remember now. It was my first game in the Wakashijisen. I was playing against..." A comical look of dismay appeared on Shindou's face. "I don't remember who-"
Shindou snapped his fingers. "That's him!" he exclaimed, before he frowned and turned to Touya. "I didn't know you saw that game," he said.
Despite himself, Touya started to feel mildly dismayed. It was his fault that he had not seen the game, actually.
He had known all along that Shindou was just seated behind him. He had been tempted to win his own game quickly--he couldn't remember the identity of his opponent either--so that he could go and watch, but at that time, all he could think of was how Shindou had disappointed him by playing so poorly at Kaio. He'd been angry that the rival that he had identified hadn't manifested after all. So he had resisted turning around for as long as he could, until the sound of the stones from Shindou's Go board became totally irresistible.
"Ah... I only saw the yose stage," Touya said, hoping his awkwardness did not rouse comment. "I don't think you saw me; I left when the game ended," he said, finding himself looking down.
"I see." Shindou heaved a sigh. "You were still pissed off at me then, weren't you?" he said in the tone of someone who already knew the answer. "Anyone told you that it's bad to hold grudges that long?"
Touya eyed him, not sure if he was joking.
"But why are you re-playing this one?" Shindou asked, returning to the subject of the game. "It was so long ago, after all."
"I couldn't figure out the sequence of the hands," Touya said. "By yose, Murakami had all the advantage, but the loss was only six and a half moku."
" 'Only'?" Shindou echoed. "Why do you say that?"
"Based on the way Murakami was pushing you around, the loss should have been more. And if Murakami was really that strong, the game should not have dragged on to yose--it should have stopped in chuban."
Shindou made a face, but he did not deny Touya's analysis. "Yeah, you're right."
"Something must have happened in chuban," Touya went on. He looked at Shindou in enquiry, expecting him to furnish the details.
Shindou rubbed the back of his head. "Oh. I guess something did. See, I played here-" he pointed, "which was too weak to help the group here."
Touya watched as Shindou demonstrated. It was a hand that, on first analysis, looked weak and felt wrong, an amateur's mistake. But as the game proceeded, that weak hand had transformed it into an incredibly strong hand, perfectly located to take advantage of Murakami's weaknesses. Touya realised that he was looking at one of the first myosho Shindou had ever played.
Over the years, such hands had become Shindou's trademark. Over the course of a game--though not in every game--Shindou had developed the skill of playing a hand that seemed ordinary, even weak. Those unfamiliar with Shindou's Go either underestimated his skill level, or saw in those hands an opportunity to push their advantage. Whatever the response, it was usually the wrong one: before anyone realised it, that ordinary hand had become a brilliant hand. Shindou's skill in playing such hands made his opponents doubly nervous. How could one guard against a hand that would only appear ordinary, even wrong? But Shindou wielded such hands with a skill that was unparalleled by anyone else in the Go world.
It was, incidentally, a skill that Sai had never displayed. That was not Sai's way; Sai's Go was to lull his opponents into making mistakes, not to slip in a threat that would not be noticed at first glance. That was Shindou's strength in Go--his ability to read ahead and to make use of what he had analysed.
As Shindou explained, Touya could see him grow more relaxed, even boastful. He sat down beside Touya, the dregs of his cup ramen forgotten.
"I'm starving!" Shindou said after they had argued that game from beginning to end. "It's still early. Let's go out for dinner. I read about this ramen-"
"That dingy little ramen place by the subway station?" Touya asked, resigned. He thought he should have predicted this.
Shindou laughed shamefacedly.
"Just this once." Really, after years of living with Shindou, Touya had eaten in enough disreputable ramen restaurants to rank as an expert. He stood up, took his jacket and wallet. And was surprised by a kiss on his lips, before Shindou grabbed his hand and dragged him outside.