<i>According to authorities around the world, there are five different kinds of health that human beings strive for: Physical, Mental, Emotional, Spiritual and Social. A healthy, happy life results from keeping all these elements in balance.</i>


A Hikaru no Go Sekkushiaru Roman Series

By Sailor Mac


Amano looked at the kifu spread out on the table in front of him. They were records of the recent games of some of the younger pros. Some were certainly impressive -- Ochi and Waya, especially, had been racking up a lot of wins. Others were mediocre, and there were a few that made him wonder how the players had gotten through even the earliest rounds of the pro exam.

And then, there were the game records over in the far left corner.

They were from two separate players, over a couple of weeks’ time within the last month. They showed flawless play, and two very distinct styles. One was an “attack”-type player, who went after his opponents ruthlessly. The other was more of a clever, sly strategist, whose stock in trade was to make the opponent think he had made a major mistake . . . before moving in for the kill.

These two had surpassed even his own expectations for them. He’d known for years that both of them were something special. But they had revealed themselves to be nothing less than extraordinary, true legends in the making.

“Shindou and Touya, right?” said a voice above his desk, making him look up. There was a tall, reedy man, around his own age, mid-40s or so, with a thick shock of carefully groomed salt-and-pepper hair and a perfectly tailored dark blue suit.

“Yes,” Amano said, reaching for his ever-present pack of cigarettes. He pushed his glasses back into place before drawing one out, offering the smokes to the newcomer, who waved them away.

“Just what I’ve heard they are,” the other man said, picking up one kifu and studying it. “All the older pros, they say they’re running scared of those two. Well, I guess that’s why I was called in by the top brass here. They know what they’ve got on their hands.”

Amano leaned across his desk, fumbling for an ashtray amongst the printouts. “Who are you? I haven’t seen you around here before.”

“Name’s Ishii Kazuya,” the man said. “I’m from Sato and Nishoka.”

“Isn’t that some kind of advertising agency?” Amano said, putting down his cigarette and starting to gather up some of the non-Shindou and Touya printouts. With all the people smoking in the Weekly Go office, the fewer pieces of paper left lying around for any length of time, the better -- they didn’t exactly want to risk burning down the entire Go Institute.

“Public relations and marketing,” Ishii said, beginning to help the mustachioed man pick up the papers. “We design campaigns to get people into the press -- politicians, musicians and the like.”

“So what brings you to us?” Amano said, taking a stack from the other man and adding it to his own. “The Go Institute has its own publication -- you’re in its office right now. And there’s always been Go writers at most of the major papers.”

“Yes, but that’s for the audience you have already.” Ishii ran his fingers over a dark, yellow-striped tie. “The brass here has decided to go after a new audience. They want to take Go to the kids. Show them it’s hip and cool.”

Amano leaned back, picking up the cigarette again and tapping off the ashes. This certainly wasn’t the first time he’d heard of something like this. Every few years, the Go Institute would try to get some hot young actor or idol singer of the moment to endorse the game. The few who agreed to it always ended up being poor spokespeople, posing cutely with a goban and stones but unable to answer even the most basic questions about play.

“And who are they trying to get this time? Some ditzy dorama queen?”

“Ah, no, that’s the beauty of this campaign.” Ishii grabbed a nearby chair, pulled it up to Amano’s desk and sat down, leaning over with a twinkle in his eye reminiscent of a mad scientist building a giant robot. “Rather than use idol singers or actors . . . we’re going to promote your young players as Go Idols.”

Amano dropped his cigarette so fast that he scorched his shirt. He pulled back from his desk with a small yell, feeling around frantically until he recovered it.

“You okay?” Ishii said, calmly.

“Well, you surprised me just a *little*, Amano said, brushing at the ashes on his shirt. “Who came up with that idea?”

“I did,” Ishii replied. “You’ve got two stellar talents in Shindou and Touya. There hasn’t been anything like them in years. And not only do they play good, they look good! I got a load of both of them when they were playing, and they’re the kind of guys young girls flip for! And you’ve got other up-and-comers who are lookers, too! Waya, Isumi . . .”

“They’re *Go players!*” Amano said. “Not SMAP!”

“Who says you can’t use a SMAP-type image campaign to market Go?” Ishii said, leaning back in his seat and crossing his arms. “Girls see guys who look like that, playing their hearts out, it’s gonna make them want to hit the Go salons. Boys see girls going to Go salons, then *they’ll* go there too -- because it’s where the girls are. In a couple of years, you’re gonna have so many kids clamoring to be insei, they’re gonna have to put an annex on this place to hold them all.”

Amano wanted to protest . . . but one certainly couldn’t deny that the Japanese insei program had been rather anemic in numbers in recent years, especially compared to the massive programs in China and Korea. It certainly would be nice to have Japan become competitive on the world stage again, but . . .

“Is it really worth selling the soul of the game?” he mused aloud.

“Who said anything about selling its soul?” Ishii replied, one hand running along his tie again. “It’s not like we’re gonna be holding tournaments in the middle of J-rock festivals or decking the players out in crazy clothes. We respect the dignity and tradition of the game. We’re just . . . putting a prettier face on it, as it were.”

Amano took a long drag on his cigarette, thinking this over. “Have you spoken with Shindou and Touya about this yet?”

“Nope. There’s supposed to be a meeting about this next week, right after some tournament they’re both playing in.”

Amano nodded. “The Young Stars Tournament.”

“Meantime, I’ve already started beating the drums a little,” Ishii said, standing up and pushing his chair away. “Got some newspapers who ordinarily wouldn’t cover Go sending people to the tournament. And now I’ve gotta run -- more newspaper people to meet with. Great meeting you!” He gave a small wave and rushed out of the room.

Amano sat back in his chair, crushing out his cigarette and reaching for another. Go Idols -- he never thought he’d see the day. He imagined Shuusaku would turn over in his grave at the very *idea* of Go players being sold like human UFO catchers.

But what if Ishii was right about the appeal to young people? What if it *did* bring them flocking into the Go salons, into school Go clubs, and, ultimately, into the insei program? What if Japan was finally able to fully reclaim its dominance of its own national game?

*Well, then,* he thought, *it would be worth it. But . . . I just wish they’d chosen someone other than Shindou and Touya. That’s like getting a star opera diva to sing Para Para songs.*

He sighed, getting out another cigarette. He’d known for a long time that Shindou and Touya were going to be the saviors of Japanese Go. He just didn’t know they’d go about it quite like *this*.

* * *

Hikaru rushed out of the door of the Go Institute, heading off in a different direction than he usually did. He wasn’t going to take the subway home today. Oh, no . . . he had quite another purpose in mind.

He knew he had to study and mentally prepare himself for the Young Stars Tournament. But there was something else he wanted to study first.

After all, he wasn’t about to let Akira get ahead of him in *anything*.

He turned the corner and headed toward a large building with a design reminiscent of a Greek temple . . . some architect’s concept of what libraries looked like in the West. It was the biggest library Hikaru knew of.

*They’ve got to have what I’m looking for,* he thought, pushing the door and entering a cavernous space filled with row upon row of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. The air smelled faintly of dust and ink. People glided between the shelves like ghosts, trying to make as little noise as possible.

Usually, Hikaru spent as little time in these places as possible. They reminded him of the school papers he always tried to avoid writing. He doubted anyone was going to assign a school paper on what he wanted to look up.

Toward the front of the room was a long desk of a light-colored wood, behind which a bored-looking woman with dyed maroon hair and a bright purple sweater sat looking through a magazine. Hikaru approached her, gingerly.

“Um, how would I go about finding information on . . . something?”

Without even looking up from her magazine, she pointed across the room. “Online catalogue, over there.”

Hikaru looked in the direction she was pointing, and his heart sank. He thought he wouldn’t have to use a computer for this. The row of PCs seemingly staring him in the face told him he was going to have no luck in *that* department.

He walked toward it slowly, like a hunter approaching a wild animal that could pounce any moment. He looked to the left, then the right, then quickly typed in the words he wanted to research.

“Holy *crap*!” he nearly shouted as an enormous list of books appeared on the screen in front of him. Every head in the library, it seemed, swiveled to look at him He pasted on his more innocent-looking smile as he frantically fumbled in his backpack for a pen and paper. Of course, the one time he needed something like that, there was none to be found.

Five minutes later, he was in what he hoped was the most remote part of the lobby, books stacked in front of him like cordwood. It wasn’t that he wanted peace and quiet so much as he didn’t want to be seen. Just his luck, a bunch of other Go pros would come in as he was looking at pictures like . . .

He turned the page of the big coffee-table book in front of him and came upon an illustration that made him blink. Or rather, illustrations. After all, there was a full page of them. At the top right, a naked woman on all fours, an equally naked man kneeling behind her, grasping her flanks, a look on his face that could have been either ecstasy or constipation (Hikaru wasn’t quite sure). Below that, the man was reclining on his back as the woman sat atop him. And next to that, the woman was sitting in the man’s lap, facing away.

It was a carnival of sex, a cavalcade of the kind of heated images Hikaru never thought he’d ever be actively seeking out. It was also all male-female -- but nothing that couldn’t be adapted for male-male use.

He smiled a bit to himself. Oh, yes, this book would do very nicely.

“You’re not the only one who can research sex, Touya Akira,” he whispered out loud.

* * *

Akira sat in the living room, a stack of kifu in front of him. He was trying to familiarize himself with the record of his opponent in the first round of the Young Stars Tournament.

This wasn’t his first appearance in the tournament, which was open to all top prize-winners 7-dan and under, but it was the first time he was going in as the favorite. There had been buzz all through the Go world for weeks that Touya Akira’s victory was assured, that this would be his first step on the road to the *really* big titles.

Akira made it a point not to pay too much attention to buzz. He knew he was just as vulnerable as any other player in the tournament. One slip, one wrong move, and it would all be over.

This made him all the more determined to win. Nobody was going to get by him. Not even Shindou Hikaru. *Especially* not him.

A glance up at the clock revealed that his rival-turned-lover was late. This was nothing unusual for him, of course, but Akira still found it a bit annoying.

He took a sip from the glass of water at his elbow and picked up the kifu again. He knew Shindou had been preparing for this tournament just as intensely as he was -- the last time they’d spent the night together, he’d been awakened by the sound of Go stones hitting the board. He’d gone downstairs to find Hikaru at the main family goban, the one where he played with his father, recreating a game.

*If we were living together,* he thought, *we’d probably be limiting our romantic activity, so to speak, until after the tournament. But as it is . . . we have to take whatever time together we can get.*

His parents were in China yet again. Akira often found himself wondering if he and Hikaru would have started sleeping together if his father had remained with the Japan Go Institute.

*We definitely wouldn’t have been doing it right under my parents’ nose,* he thought. *Absolute privacy is a must. Especially for a relationship like ours.*

He sometimes wondered if the other players noticed anything unusual about his interactions with Hikaru. He certainly treated him no differently in public. They still had their regular, loud fights, either at the Go Institute or his father’s salon.

*We wouldn’t be us if we didn’t ,* he thought, one hand coming up to absently toy with his collar as the other still held the kifu.

He looked at the clock again. A full *half-hour* late! What in the world was keeping him?

There was a knock, and Akira put the kifu down, striding quickly to the door. Sure enough, there was Hikaru, looking breathless and holding a large plastic bag in one hand.

“Hi!” he said. “Sorry I’m late.”

Akira eyed the bag. “Shopping?”

“Something like that.” Hikaru made sure the door was closed behind them, hiding them from public view, then leaned over and gave Akira a quick kiss on the lips. “Okay, I want you to do something for me.”

Akira frowned a little. “What is it?”

“I want you to go into the bathroom and get ready to take a bath.”

Akira blinked rapidly a couple of times. “*What*?”

Hikaru frowned. “Geez, are you deaf? I said, take a bath. Get undressed and on the washing stool.”

“Shindou, what the hell are you . . .” Akira pulled back a bit, his eyes reflecting confusion.

“Just do it, okay?” Hikaru said.

Akira gave a small sigh. Whatever it was, Hikaru was being persistent. So, he’d go along with it.

“But it had better be worth it,” he murmured to himself, walking into the bathroom and starting to unbutton his shirt.

In the back of his mind, though, there was a mounting excitement. Their previous encounters had excited him like nothing before -- well, Go was equally exciting, but in a different way. Nowadays, when he went to sleep, he ran over their evenings of lovemaking in his head almost as often as he ran over games.

He was just glad he had the extraordinary mental disciple honed over years of playing and studying his game. If he didn’t, he would have been overwhelmed by his sexual feelings, thought about sex all the time.

He couldn’t afford to do that. Especially when his lover was also his rival. So he had to separate his feelings into boxes, like stones going back in their go kes. Black to the left, white to the right. Go over here, lust over there.

The shirt ended up on the counter, followed by pants, socks and underwear. Akira folded each garment neatly and put them on the sink.

Once Akira was finished undressing, he sat on the plastic stool for washing, picking up the spray nozzle. What on earth was Shindou up to? Telling him to come in and take a bath . . . it was one of the *oddest* requests that he’d ever . . .

“Hey! Don’t do that. That’s my job.”

Akira looked up. There in the doorway was Shindou Hikaru, wearing nothing but a towel around his waist . . . slung low enough to be barely covering his vital areas, knotted loosely enough to look as if it were going to slip off any second.

It was the hottest thing Akira had seen in his life.

“Why are you . . .” he said, barely able to get the words out.

Hikaru walked over, slowly, and the knot at his waist seemed to slip a little more. Akira swallowed hard.

“I’m gonna give you a bath. What do you think I’m gonna do?”

Akira nearly fell off the stool. “Give me a . . .” But he had to admit that the concept was intriguing him in a big way -- and his body was starting to respond to it.

“Just give me the hose,” Hikaru said.

Akira handed it over, swallowing hard, wondering if his “interest” in the situation was visible to the other boy.

Hikaru began to spray Akira all over, making sure his body was thoroughly wet. Reaching for the tube of shower soap, he squeezed some into his hand and worked it up into a lather.

*Okay,* he thought, *now I just have to remember everything I read. First, the book on massage . . .*

He began to gently, firmly knead Akira’s shoulders, his fingers feeling for any tense muscles (because any Go player, no matter how good he was, was going to have them). Oh, yes, here was a knot that he had to smooth out . . . he concentrated on it, rubbing his fingers in tight little circles, feeling Akira relax beneath him.

Akira closed his eyes and felt himself leaning back, giving in to his lover’s ministrations. Hikaru wasn’t exactly a skilled masseur -- he was a bit too rough in some places, not firm enough in others -- but his enthusiasm was more than making up for it.

Not to mention the fact that he kept rubbing his chest up against Akira’s back, just quick, feathery touches, enough to make his lover gasp a bit and want more.

“How’s this?” Hikaru said, his sudsy hands working their way further down Akira’s back, kneading in wide circles.

“Ohh, yes,” Akira replied, leaning back more, suddenly wanting more than Hikaru’s hands on him.

“Good,” Hikaru said, his hands sliding around Akira’s body, caressing his stomach, making the other boy arch upward, as if to mutely beg Hikaru to move his hands lower. “Because I’m going to do your front now.”

Hikaru shifted positions, so he was kneeling in front of Akira, and his splayed hands moved up toward his chest, gliding over the flesh with exquisite slowness. Akira sucked in a breath, expecting him to pause at his nipples, caress and rub . . .

But instead, he continued steadily upward, brushing over the hardening buds for just a second. Akira let out a small groan of frustration.

Hikaru’s fingers slid down his arms, rubbing the lather in as he went, looking up at Akira with a sly little smile that said, “I know you want it, and you’re not going to get it. Not right away, that is.” This just made Akira shudder with a delicious, pent-up heat, one that would threaten to scorch him from the inside very quickly.

The blond moved downward, lathering his hands again, kneeling on the floor so he could begin to soap Akira’s legs. He had to tell himself to move slowly, to rub in small circles, moving upward by degrees.

*But this sucks,* he thought. *I want to put my hands all over him!* He knew that it would defeat the purpose, though. After all, the author of “The Cookbook of Sex,” which was the fifth book he’d read -- or was it the sixth? -- said that slow and easy was the way to go.

Right now, he wanted to deck the author of “The Cookbook of Sex.”

He caressed upward from his knees, reaching his thighs, which he massaged in long strokes, bracing his thumbs on the inner part and fingers on the outer. As he slid up, he felt Akira’s thighs push apart, presenting something else to his view, something erect and waiting for his touch.

Hikaru licked his lips, because he wanted to stroke his tongue over what he was looking at. But he restrained himself, and rubbed downward over the thighs, then up, then down again.

Akira had the knuckles of his right hand pressed against his mouth, struggling not to bite them as Hikaru’s fingers began a circular motion. He didn’t know how much more of this almost-but-not-quite he could take. He felt like he was going to burst. He was tempted to just leap off this stool, tumble Hikaru on the floor and have his way with him.

And then, finally, Hikaru’s soapy fingers were fluttering lightly up and down his shaft, and he jerked his hips, crying out, biting at his fingers to keep from coming. Hikaru caressed the head, just a bit, then slipped below, moving to the base, rubbing a little up and down, then working their way back up.

Down the fingers moved again, to the base, and lower, flickering against the sac beneath as Akira let out a deep, throaty sound. Up the shaft again, rubbing back and forth, then in little circles. . .

Then, the fingers stopped, and Akira felt the water spray hitting him again. He jumped. “Why did you stop?”

“Because it’s time to get in the tub.”

“But what if I . . .” Hikaru was grabbing his arm, pulling upward, and Akira had no choice but to get up and let himself be led to the steaming water. He eased in, submerging himself to his neck, his eyes following his lover as he slid in after him . . . turning around as he entered the water to give Akira the best view possible of his bottom. The tantalizing rump soon disappeared into the water, along with the rest of him.

Hikaru leaned over, caressing Akira’s chest. “You look *hot*.”

*I *feel* hot,* Akira thought. *This is even more boiling than his normal bathwater.* He imagined his skin would have a boiled-lobster hue when he finally emerged.

“Wait till you see what’s next after this,” Hikaru said, continuing to caress, his fingers brushing a nipple, making Akira jump.

“Next?” he said. “What’s next?”

Hikaru just kissed his lips lightly and said, “You’ll see.”

Akira settled back into the water, frowning a bit. This was unlike Hikaru, who normally was very spontaneous when it came to sex. This seemed almost like a performance, like Hikaru was choreographing some kind of porno film. (Not that Akira had *seen* any of those, mind you. But this was a lot like how he imagined such a thing would be like.)

Hikaru smiled to himself. So far, it was going well. Now, he just had to remember what was in “One Thousand and One Erotic Nights” . . . or was that “Honeymoon for Life”? Damn books were all starting to run together.

Hikaru leaned over and ran his hands along Akira’s arms, the fingers just barely skimming the skin. Akira moaned a little at the touch . . . just enough so that he could feel it . . . the hands were moving over his shoulders now, caressing and kneading as he’d done before.

This was doing nothing to help the aching hardness between his legs that had been aroused by Hikaru’s playful touches of before. Akira couldn’t wait for *what came next*, either. In fact, he was about ready to tell Hikaru to drop whatever this *performance* was, dry off and come to bed, *now*.

Hikaru was standing up, and Akira started to follow, only to find himself pushed gently down. “Nope. Not yet.”

“Hikaru, what the hell are you . . .”

“Hey, trust me, already!”

Akira submerged himself in the water as he watched the boy towel himself off lightly, then head out the door. There were sounds in the bedroom, a bit of scuffling, plastic ripping . . .

And then, a squeak-huff, squeak-huff noise that he couldn’t place at first. *If I didn’t know better,* Akira thought, *I’d think that was a bicycle pump. But that’s ridiculous. What on earth would Shindou use a *bicycle pump* for?*

Then, Hikaru’s voice from just outside the door -- “Close your eyes.”

“Shindou, what are you . . .”

“Just close them!”

Akira heaved a deep sigh and did as he was told. His patience was growing thin, his erection wasn’t getting any less painful, and all he could think was, *This had better be worth it.*

There were footsteps, and then a funny *whumph* noise and a slight breeze as something was dropped to the floor. Then the sound of Hikaru getting back in the tub and splashing a little, as if to make sure his whole body were wet.

Hikaru stood up, reaching for Akira’s hands. “Now stand up and get out of the tub . . .”

“I can’t do that with my eyes closed!”

“Geez! You think I’d let you fall?”

Akira was having none of that. He opened his eyes long and far enough to see the rim of the tub and stepped out.

And saw, out of the corner of his eye, a big rubber mattress -- the kind you’d float on in a swimming pool.

“What is THAT?”

Hikaru caressed his back. “Just lie down on it.”

“Lie down on it? Shindou, this is starting to get. . .”

“Look, excuse me for trying to put some extra spice in our lives!” Hikaru snapped.

“Spice?” Akira said. “This is starting to get *bizarre*!”

“How are you gonna know where I’m going with this if you don’t do what I say?”

Akira sighed and lay out on the mattress, on his back. *If this turns out to be something weird,* he thought, *I’m locking him out of the bedroom for life.* But he knew he just wanted Hikaru to do something, anything, to make the aching at his core go away.

Hikaru took the tube of shower gel and squirted a generous amount onto his hands, working it into a lather. Akira noticed that Hikaru had placed their tube of lubricant and a condom package beside it.

The blond knelt beside his supine lover and began to smooth the suds over his torso, moving from his chest down to his thighs, bypassing the organ that most needed his touch. *He’s lathering me *again*?* Akira thought. *Didn’t we do this once?*

Hikaru lay on top of his lover, full-length, and began to slide back, slowly, making sure every part of his skin was touching Akira.

Akira let out a gasp . . . the suds were cutting down the friction, so all he felt was a pleasant rubbing down his chest, then stomach . . . and then Hikaru’s manhood was contacting his, and he let out a cry, then another as the boy slid upward, breaking the contact.

But Akira felt Hikaru’s erection slide over his stomach, then chest, then back again. Hikaru let out a loud moan at this. So did Akira.

Hikaru shifted so he was on all fours, his chest and stomach against Akira’s but his hips held back enough so their erections were kept apart, and began to move in a rapid circular motion, literally massaging body-to-body.

Akira groaned, his hands reaching up to grab Hikaru’s bottom and squeeze, thrusting his hips upward, wanting Hikaru to rub against his lower regions, too . . . but the boy just pulled back more, avoiding contact, making Akira nearly whimper with frustration.

Hikaru sat up and gently pushed Akira on the shoulder, tipping him to the side, indicating he wanted him to turn over. Akira obeyed, keeping his knees bent a bit so that his aching hardness did not rub directly against the rubber of the mat, which would *not* have been comfortable.

There was the sensation of Hikaru’s sudsy hands moving over his back, smoothing down toward his bottom. Akira found himself biting down on his fingers, squeezing his eyes shut, his whole body feeling ready to burst into flame. When Hikaru’s hands lightly caressed his upturned rump, he thought he *had* burst into flame.

Hikaru’s body was on his again, his chest pressed against the gently rounded cheeks, moving upward slowly, too slowly, running over the small of his back, then upward . . . Akira felt Hikaru’s belly against his sensitive flesh now, and he arched upward, anticipating the feel of his lover’s erection rubbing against the cleft.

Instead, Hikaru pulled back, his chest sliding downward again, and Akira let out a long, low sound of frustration. Hikaru smiled to himself. That was just going to make what was to come later all the more sweeter.

He slid upward again, rubbing in circles as he did before, his chest swirling against Akira’s back. He felt the pleasure radiating from his nipples to the core of his being, and Hikaru shuddered a little . . . oh, yes, Hikaru was aching nearly as badly as Akira was, but he wanted to hold out for as long as both of them could stand it.

He moved up Akira’s body, rubbing, swirling, caressing, his shoulders growing closer to Akira’s, his manhood growing closer to Akira’s bottom. And then the hardened flesh slid between the firm cheeks . . .

. . . for a split second. Hikaru slid back down again, rapidly, and Akira let out a much louder groan of frustration.

Hikaru paused with his chest just shy of Akira’s rump, wriggling in circles again, feeling Akira wriggle along with him, the boys locked in a heated dance of sorts.

Then he moved upward, just as rapidly, and slid his manhood right between the cheeks of his ass, not penetrating, but just rubbing against the cleft. Akira thrust upward, gasping, pumping his hips, and Hikaru pumped along with him, throwing his head back and panting as he felt the firm flesh encase him, brush over him again and again.

“Ohhh, gods,” Akira moaned . . . this was exquisite torture, delicious and maddening at the same time, all that pleasure coming from his bottom, but his erection still aching, still needing release that wasn’t coming.

“Akira,” Hikaru groaned, thrusting faster. He knew he had to stop . . . he was going to come soon, he didn’t want to, not until he brought Akira to fulfillment as well.

He eased away, and Akira almost whimpered. He turned over, to see the boy holding the tube and condom packet in his hand.

“Your choice,” Hikaru said. “Me on you, or you on me?”

Akira reached out for the items. “How about me inside you, but you straddling me?”

“Hmm . . .” This was something they had never done. It fit the tone of the rest of the evening. “Okay!”

Hikaru got on all fours next to the mattress, leaning his bottom back so Akira could prepare him. He was so relaxed and aroused that the first finger went in with very little resistance and pain, and when the pleasure came, Hikaru had to bite his knuckles to keep from going over the edge . . . and bite them harder when a second finger slid in.

Oh, yes, this was not going to take long at all.

Akira slid out the fingers and wiped them off on a nearby towel, quickly putting on the condom and lubing it. Hikaru swung a leg over, sitting astride him, and leaned back, wriggling around . . . this wasn’t as easy as it first seemed. Every angle he tried just seemed to have the tip of his manhood pressing on a spot just above his opening, or just below. He moved his hips this way, that way . . .

Akira grasped his own erection, guiding it toward Hikaru’s entrance. And then, at long last, he connected, and started to slide in. There was the familiar sharp pain on first penetration, but Hikaru persisted, pushing down by degrees.

Akira looked at his lover moving down on him, eyes closed in passion, erection standing against his belly. Gods, but he was beautiful.

His fingers reached out and wrapped around Hikaru’s manhood, and as the boy began to thrust, Akira began to stroke to the same rhythm.

This just made Hikaru moan deeply in pleasure -- this was almost more than he could stand, the sweet sensations coming from front and back. He moved his hips faster, up and down, feeling his lover fill him, leave him, fill him again.

Akira’s eyes fluttered closed and his head tossed back and forth, hair softly sweeping over the rubber beneath them, as the tight heat enveloped him, seeming to bore straight through to the core of his body. He raised his hips to meet Hikaru’s every motion, his hand moving faster, wanting the boy to feel the same pleasure he was, to experience the same luscious near-madness.

Hikaru leaned forward a little, then back a little, his hips churning straight up and down, then in figure eights, feeling the differences in pressure, in stimulation -- light tingles here, a deep, throbbing, intense sensation there, and *here* . . .

There was a sudden explosion within him of heat and light, and Hikaru jerked his hips upward as he let out a yelp, wave after wave of luscious sensation flooding him, ebbing away, then flooding him again . . .

The sudden tugging of Hikaru’s sheath made Akira cry out in surprise, and then he suddenly felt himself seized with his own heated shudders, shaking him to the core over and over, his hips thrusting up against Hikaru again and again, until he sagged to the mattress, and Hikaru collapsed atop him.

Akira clung to Hikaru, kissing him softly, brushing his fingers over his hair. Hikaru snuggled against him, purring.

“Hey,” Hikaru said. “How was that?”

Akira raised his head. “Do you really need to ask that?” He kissed the top of his head. “Where on earth did you get those ideas?”

“Well, remember when you did sex research?” Hikaru shifted so he was lying with his head on Akira’s chest. “I did research myself.”

“You mean you finally learned to use the Net?”

“Nope,” Hikaru said, his fingers tracing patterns on Akira’s chest. “I went to a library, and read a bunch of books. Mostly sex manuals. And there was one about what happens in Soaplands. That’s what I did for you. I was a soap-boy.” He raised his head so he could look Akira in the eye. “Hey, I thought it would be hot.”

“Hot?” A shudder ran through Akira at the thought of the body-on-body friction, Hikaru’s manhood rubbing along the cleft of his bottom. “It was . . . unbelievable.”

“I read about a lot more stuff, too,” Hikaru said.

Akira took Hikaru’s hand and kissed it. “We can do the other stuff you read about after the tournament. We both need to focus on that now.”

He knew that when the tournament started, their relationship would shift gears entirely.

*I still won’t lose to you,* he thought. *You’re still the only player I consider a threat, Shindou Hikaru.*

* * *

“Hey, have you noticed more reporters around over the past couple of days?” Waya said, peeling the wrapper away from his Quarter Pounder. They’d decided on McDonald's for lunch yet again after their usual argument -- Hikaru wanted ramen, Waya wanted sushi, and Isumi just wanted some peace and quiet.

Across from him, Hikaru and Isumi exchanged a look. “We always have reporters in the building,” Isumi said. “Every one of the big newspapers has a Go correspondent.”

“I mean other than those guys,” Waya replied, jabbing a straw into the top of his soda. “There’s been a lot of people that I don’t recognize roaming around with cameras and notebooks.”

“Well, somebody *did* stop me this morning and start asking me questions,” Hikaru said, tearing open a packet of ketchup. “I thought he might just be some new guy from Weekly Go.”

“Have you ever known Weekly Go to hire anyone new the whole time we’ve been there?” said Waya around a mouthful of burger. He swallowed, then added, “I think those guys have put down roots in that office. You never see any of them leave the building, let alone quit the paper.”

“Well, I wouldn’t be surprised to see people wanting to interview Touya,” Isumi said, putting his soda down. “He *is* expected to win the Young Stars Tournament.”

“Is there anything he *isn’t* expected to win?” Waya grumbled, adding salt to his fries.

“Touya isn’t at the Institute today,” Hikaru said.

Waya knew full well that Akira wasn’t there -- Hikaru’s very presence was testament to that. Every time he and Touya were at the Institute the same day, they had lunch together. It bugged him that Hikaru had become good friends with his rival. It certainly wasn’t up to him to say who Hikaru could spend his time with -- especially since Waya spent so much of his own time nowadays with his girlfriend -- but he figured Hikaru could do better than some stuck-up snob.

“Yeah, well, if they’re outside press, maybe *they* don’t know he’s not here today,” Waya said, before taking another bite of his burger.

“They could be interested in Shindou as well,” said Isumi, picking up his own Quarter Pounder. “He *was* in the Hokuto Cup.”

Hikaru frowned to himself. He didn’t know if he liked the idea of being the object of press attention. He certainly wasn’t in Go for fame and glory. He was in it because of Sai, and because the game felt like a part of his very soul.

*And because of Touya*, he thought. *I still feel like I’m chasing after him. . . like I’ll always be chasing after him.*

“Just one guy talked to me,” he said, quietly.

“You know, it could be a good thing if Go is getting more attention from the press,” Isumi said. “The number of insei we have here compared to what they have in China . . .”

“Eh, that kind of stuff isn’t what gets kids into Go,” Waya said, picking up a fry and dunking it in a puddle of ketchup on a napkin in the corner of a tray. “Most of the people we were insei with either picked it up from their parents or at school.”

“Well, it’s the *parents* who read the newspapers,” Isumi replied. “Maybe if they played Go as kids, and had forgotten how much fun it was . . .”

“Maybe the Institute should just try to convince more schools to have Go clubs,” Hikaru said, picking up a French fry.

“Well, that’s an idea,” Waya said. “Hey, that’s where I learned Go. Isn’t that where you did too, Isumi-san?”

Isumi shook his head. “My neighbor was in the Nine Stars Club. She’d baby-sit me sometimes, and she’d take me to the place with her.” He looked at Hikaru. “What about you, Shindou? You never told us how you got started.”

Hikaru looked down at his food. He knew he couldn’t tell the truth. That was a secret shared with Akira, and Akira only -- it was one of the strongest bonds between them.

Sometimes he wished he could open up to anyone who would listen about Sai and watch their reactions as he detailed the games on the Internet . . . the beginner dan game against Touya Meijin . . . the horrible period when Sai left and he quit playing . . .

But he knew he couldn’t. They’d laugh and think he was kidding at best, call him crazy at worst.

“I found a goban at my grandfather’s house,” he said. Well, it certainly wasn’t a *lie*.

“Your grandfather played?” Waya asked, wondering if he was finally going to get a clue as to the mystery surrounding Shindou’s baffling talent.

Hikaru just nodded and said, “He had a lot of local-tournament trophies.” He then made a point of taking a big bite out of his hamburger.

Waya and Isumi exchanged looks. They’d gotten the message. Their friend was going to be as close-mouthed about his past as ever. And sure enough, when Hikaru swallowed the burger, he changed the subject.

“So . . . who are you guys playing in the first round of the tournament?”

* * *

Ishii was coming out of the Weekly Go offices as he saw Shindou rounding the corner. The boy had just come out of the playing rooms, clutching the fan that was always at his side during games.

A number of people had noted that Shindou’s fan wasn’t just the something-to-do-with-your-hands-when-not-holding-a-stone it was for most players. No, it was something of a battle standard for him.

“He tends to open and close it right before he goes on the attack,” one of Shindou’s opponents had told him. “When you see him do that, you’re pretty much screwed.”

*Good,* Ishii thought. *It gives him more personality -- more for us to work with.*

He figured he might as well introduce himself to the boy, if they were going to be a big part of each other’s lives in the near future.

Hikaru was about halfway to the elevator when a guy in a severe business suit suddenly blocked his path, causing him to almost crash into him. He let out a small yelp and stopped in his tracks so abruptly that he almost fell over.

“Hey!” he said. “Watch where you’re going!”

The man smiled at him a bit. “Shindou Hikaru, right?”

Hikaru folded his arms and frowned a bit. “Yeah. And you are?”

“Ishii Kazuya of Sato and Nishoka.” The man gave a low, formal bow. “I’m very pleased to be meeting you, Shindou Hikaru, since I’ve heard so much about you.”

“From who?”

“From the Go Institute.” Ishii reached up and began running his fingers along his tie, which was black with a dark gray pattern on it that perfectly matched the color of his suit. “They hired me because of you, Shindou. You and Touya. You have a great future ahead of you.”

“What do you mean?” Hikaru stole a look at his watch. He still had about an hour before he was to meet Akira at the Go salon.

“I mean, you and Touya are the future of Go. And my job is to promote that to the general public.”

Hikaru narrowed his eyes. “Promote?”

“Oh, nothing to trivialize you and the game. Just a few well-placed, respectful articles in the right magazines and newspapers -- ones that the potential Go players of tomorrow read.” He leaned over and said in a conspiratorial whisper, “I’m going to let you in on a secret, and don’t go blabbing it to everyone. I’ve set up an interview with Young Sunday. It’s just about a done deal.”

Hikaru blinked. Young Sunday was a general-interest youth magazine read by a sizable chunk of the Japanese under-21 population. Its usual subject matters were rock stars, professional jocks and actors. “Why would Young Sunday care about Go?”

“Why wouldn’t they? We’re going to make Go hip and hot. Once kids read about you, they’re going to know that you don’t have to be an old fuddy-duddy to play it.”

*So this explains all the reporters Waya was talking about,* Hikaru thought. His first reaction was disgust -- how dare the Go Institute cheapen the game like this? He could just imagine what Sai would have thought of it.

“Thanks, but I’m not interested,” Hikaru said, brushing past the man and starting to head toward the elevator.

Ishii rushed around to block his path again. “Look . . . I know you may be reluctant for publicity, but think of it as publicity for *the game*, not you. I read an article about you that was written after the Hokuto Cup . . . you said in it that you play Go to connect the past and the future. Well, that’s what you’d be doing here! You’d be reaching out to the future by helping to bring in the next generation of Go players. Think of all the kids who’ll be picking up their first Go stones because of *you*!”

Hikaru was going to protest . . . and then remembered a day, a seeming eternity ago, when he and Sai visited the fateful children’s Go tournament when he called out the answer to a problem -- the day when he first met Ogata and Touya Meijin.

He remembered Sai looking around at all the children playing, and his joy at seeing so many young people interested in his game, at knowing that Go would continue on and on in the current day, just as it did in Sai’s own time.

*Sai would want me to do this,* Hikaru thought. *He’d want me to bring more people into his game.*

He looked squarely at the publicist -- who he still didn’t feel he could completely trust -- and said, “All right, I’ll do your article. I can’t guarantee you that Touya will do it, but I will.”

“Splendid!” Ishii clapped Hikaru on the back. “We’ll have a meeting about this after the tournament. And for now, I’ll bid you good day.”

Hikaru rushed to the elevator and pushed the button. *Articles,* he thought. *What have I gotten myself into? Okay, I want to be a major titleholder someday, and you *have* to do publicity when you have one of those, but -- do I want the publicity now? Would being famous get in the way of my game?*

He shook his head, vigorously. No. Nothing was going to interfere with his game, with his efforts to reach the Hand of God. Not even connecting the past and the future was as important as that.

And he knew Sai would have felt the same way.

* * *

Akira gently lifted a piece of tuna sushi from the plate in front of him. He couldn’t believe he actually got Shindou to agree to come to something besides a ramen joint for lunch. Hikaru was liberally applying wasabi to his own food -- too liberally, as far as Akira was concerned.

*He’s going to burn his lips off,* he thought. He made a mental note *not* to have sushi with Shindou on a night they were going to be alone together. He didn’t want to kiss a mouth that would burn his like acid. Not to mention having said mouth on *other* parts of him.

Akira coughed delicately and lowered the food, taking a quick sip of tea, hoping his face wasn’t flushing. He and Hikaru hadn’t slept together since the night of Hikaru’s “soap boy” stunt. It wasn’t so much because of lack of available time, it was because both of them wanted as much time as possible to study before the Young Stars Tournament.

*I can’t think about doing *that* now,* Akira thought. *I have to stay focused on the game. I must win this tournament. If I let my guard down even a little, Shindou could catch me.*

“So who are you playing in the first round?” Hikaru said, after swallowing his mouthful of over-wasabi’ed sushi.

“Kadowaki,” Akira replied. “And you?”

“Matsushita,” Hikaru said. “I heard Isumi-san and Ochi are going to be playing each other in the first round. They haven’t played each other since the pro exam.”

“Amano-san was talking to me this morning,” Akira said, picking up another piece of fish and rice and gently dunking it in the little dish of soy sauce. “He said I should expect a lot more reporters than usual at the tournament.”

Hikaru looked up. All through their game last night, and earlier today, he’d been wondering if he should tell Akira about Ishii and his publicity campaign. This made the decision for him.

“The Go Institute has hired a publicist,” Hikaru said.

Akira’s eyebrows shot up. “Publicist?”

“Some guy who wants to push magazine articles on us and that kind of thing. He thinks it’ll bring more people in to the game.”

Akira dropped his chopsticks. “What *kind* of articles?”

Hikaru shrugged. “He said something about Young Sunday.”

Akira leaned across the table. “That’s a pop star magazine!”

Hikaru leaned back, crossing his arms. “I’m surprised you even know about it, Touya. You’re not exactly the Young Sunday type.”

“You can’t avoid it when it’s all around you on the subway,” Akira said, picking up his teacup. “Why on earth would the Go Institute want to put us in something like that?”

“Maybe because kids who might be interested in Go would read it?”

“The kids who read that magazine aren’t interested in any game that isn’t played on a PlayStation!” Akira was beginning to get a “game face” -- his eyes were burning, his mouth turning down in a scowl.

“Hey, I didn’t pick it!” Hikaru said. “Look, I’m not completely crazy about the idea either, but if it’ll help the game . . .”

Akira picked up another piece of sushi, his “game face” diminishing just a little. “They can’t compromise the integrity of the game just for a little publicity! Go isn’t just any game. Go has a *soul*. And that soul isn’t for sale.”

Hikaru didn’t say it out loud, but that had been his biggest fear ever since he first encountered Ishii. He knew all too well what show business publicity campaigns were like -- after all, he *did* have a pro musician as a cousin. He didn’t want to see the game of Go reduced to a three-ring circus.

He just replied, “We won’t let them.”

And he meant it. He knew he had a duty to Sai, and to the game he loved, to make sure its dignity was preserved. *And no tabloid journalist will change that,* he thought.

* * *

Okasoto Satoshi was bored.

The young reporter was sitting in a bank of other reporters who seemed to be happy about what was going on in front of them that night. There were excited whispers, people pointing at the main playing area, comparing of notes.

Okasoto certainly wasn’t happy. He didn’t know how he’d got stuck covering Go tonight, of all things. Wasn’t he supposed to be a rookie entertainment reporter? Well, at least he fancied himself one.

He took whatever meager entertainment assignments his editors could throw his way -- and the rest of the time got sent to cover things the senior reporters didn’t want to touch. Things like grand openings, civic group fundraisers, high school sports *other* than soccer . . . and now, Go. Which he didn’t know the first thing about.

The drab, brown suit he was wearing definitely matched his mood tonight.

The Young Stars Tournament had been moved out of the Go Institute to a nearby medium-sized arena that was usually used for martial arts tournaments. The gobans were set up on the playing floor, and next to each was a large magnetic standup board that was a mockup of a professional playing grid. Each board was manned by an insei volunteer who, as each move was made, put a large, round white or black magnet on the board at the place where a stone was just laid.

It was the two boards in the center that the other reporters seemed to all be buzzing about, because the games involved what were supposedly the two hottest young players around -- Shindou and Touya.

*Well, they’re good-looking, at least,* Okasoto thought. *Unlike that mushroom-headed guy over there with the big, round glasses. Or the one at the table next to him, with the bad complexion and the thick lips.*

When he was in school, most of the cool kids had called the ones who played Go geeks. These two were living proof *why*.

Okasoto stuck his pen in his shock of red hair and examined the notes he’d taken so far. There were more doodles than words. *Shows how much I’ve been able to get out of this,* he thought. He knew he was going to at least have to fake something if he wanted the kind of stories he *really* wanted to write.

*I’ll get some shots, anyway,* he thought, aiming his digital camera at Shindou as he was placing a stone and clicking away.

*Why couldn’t they have sent me to cover the *other* Shindou, the J-pop star?* he thought. *He’s a hell of a lot more interesting to watch than this guy. All he does is glare, play with a fan and slam stones onto the board.*

When he turned to take pictures of Touya, he thought, *This one is even worse. He doesn’t even have a prop to play with. He just sits there trying to look like someone you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. But with that ugly purple suit and that ridiculous Prince Valiant hair? Puh-leez.*

He couldn’t stand being in that place anymore. The clank of stones, the lack of air, the sheer boredom were getting to him. He got up, pushed his way out of his aisle past another clutch of people whispering and pointing, and headed outdoors.

As he pushed open the door to the courtyard, he could hear a collective yelp come up from the audience. Something must have happened. Didn’t matter. He wouldn’t have known what it was, anyway.

He sat on the step, stretching his legs and wishing a bit that he smoked. He’d have a valid reason for being out here.

*Maybe I can go to the backstage area before their games are over*, he thought. *Then I can grab them before the other reporters do, snatch some quotes, hightail it out of here and fake a story from that.*

He walked around to the back of the building. Sure enough, there was a back entrance to the locker room area, which someone had propped open with a cinderblock, probably to let fresh air in. *If it was as stifling as the main area, I don’t blame them,* he thought.

He pushed the door wide enough to allow himself to slip in. He found himself in a cavernous hall of industrial gray stone, lined with several doors that he assumed led to various locker rooms. There were the sounds of a few people moving around back here, and some voices talking quietly.

*Yep,* he thought, *I’ll just wander around until I find someone, then ambush them and throw some questions at them. That Shindou and Touya have to come here eventually. And when I’m done with this, no more Go assignments. Ever.*

* * *

Hikaru yanked open the door of one of the locker rooms and threw himself onto a bench, leaning over with his head down and his hands dangling between his legs.

He’d won his match, but just barely. And he’d made some stupid mistakes. Not they-just-look-like-mistakes-they’re-really-strategy -- *real* stupid mistakes.

When he heard the door creak, then close and latch, he didn’t have to look up to know who it was. He almost wished he hadn’t followed him here.

“Shindou . . .”

“I need to be alone for a couple of minutes.” Hikaru didn’t budge.

But Akira walked toward him anyway. “I saw the end of your match. Do you want to discuss it at all?”

“What, so you can tell me my strategy was lousy, my attacks were too weak and I don’t know when to cut someone off?”

Akira sat opposite him. “You said it, Shindou. I didn’t.”

“Well, maybe they were!” Hikaru leapt to his feet. “I thought I’d be able to handle it, playing in a judo hall, having reporters everywhere, but . . .” He paced to the other end of the room, rubbing the back of his head. “It didn’t feel like *real Go.*”

Akira stayed where he was, idly fiddling with his right cuff. “As far as these people were concerned, it wasn’t. I got a good look at those reporters. Very few of them are people who cover a Go beat on even a semi-regular basis.”

“I thought it would be good for the game.” Hikaru began to pace a bit. “But . . . with this kind of thing going on . . .”

“I think we need to have a talk with the other players,” Akira said, continuing to fiddle with his cuff. “Find out if anyone else thinks it threw their game off, too. And if that’s the case, we need to sit down and have a serious talk with this Ishii. We’ll agree to his publicity campaign on *our terms*. And that means *not* turning our games into circuses.”

Hikaru leaned back against the wall. “Why the hell did I agree to it in the first place?”

Akira got up and started to walk over to him. “Well, you *do* have a tendency to talk before you think, Shindou.”

Hikaru was going to snap at him -- until he remembered blurting out the answer at the children’s Go tournament, and telling everyone on his first day as an insei that he was Touya Akira’s rival, and numerous times when he challenged someone to a match, then realized he could be in over his head. (Not that it stopped him from playing the match anyway).

Instead, he looked up at the ceiling, leaned against the wall further, and said, “Oh, man, I don’t know how I’m going to get through my next match.”

“Focus on the board,” Akira replied, stepping just in front of Hikaru. “Pretend nothing else is there but it. Imagine you’re playing against me at the salon. That’s what I did.”

“How did your match go, anyway?”

“My opponent resigned. No matter what he did, he would have lost by at least seven moku.

*Figures,* Hikaru thought. *He destroyed his opponent, and I just squeaked by.* Aloud, he said, “Are you trying to make me chase you again?”

Akira leaned over toward him and said, “I never want you to stop chasing me. Ever.”

And then, they were in each other’s arms, their mouths coming together in a soft kiss, which rapidly deepened.

* * *

Okasoto was beginning to think he was out of luck. Apparently, very few of the players had come back here during the break between rounds.

*They must have all gone outside, or in the lobby,* he thought. *Meaning everyone else is grabbing the interviews. Meaning I have to wait through the second round of this thing before I can talk to anyone.”

Oh, he wasn’t going to sit through the second round. No way. He’d had as much Go as he could stand.

He was headed back to the main arena when he heard conversation coming from one of the locker rooms. *Maybe I’m still in luck*, he thought. He headed over there, rapidly . . . he saw the door to the room was unlatched, so he figured he’d have no problems knocking on it and requesting quotes.

As he got closer, he could see the occupants of the room, standing close together in the far corner of the room. *I really *am* in luck*, he thought. *It’s Shindou and Touya.*

But before he could knock, he saw Touya close the distance between himself and Shindou, pull the other boy into his arms and kiss him full on the lips.

His first instinct was to freeze in place. *It has to be some kind of joke, right?* he thought. But when he saw them pull closer yet, their lips beginning to part, he knew it was no joke.

His hand shot to his digital camera, his heart pounding. He just had a bigger, better story than any he could have concocted from just a couple of quotes. He had a bonifide scandal on his hands.

*With just this one shot,* he thought, *I can make my career. I’ll never have to cover crappy little events again.*

He aimed the camera, zoomed in, focused, and pushed the button.

* * *

The shrieking of the phone awakened Akira the next day.

He rolled over on his futon and reached up and out, fumbling for the old cordless that was on the little table by his bedding. It was an extension of the main family line. The press wasn’t supposed to know the Touyas’ main number, but they somehow managed to get it anyway.

“Hello?” he said, trying his best to make his voice *not* sound like a sleepy mumble.

“Good morning, Touya-kun,” the male voice on the other end said. “Kodachi, Daily Dispatch.”

“Yes?” said Akira, trying not to get too annoyed at reporters’ tendency to call him Touya*-kun*. “How may I help you?”

“I would like to get a quote from you regarding Shindou,” the voice on the phone said.

Akira frowned. This was unusual. Yes, Shindou had passed the first couple of rounds of the tournament yesterday, but so had Akira himself, and Isumi, and Waya, and several other players.

*Oh, well,* he thought, *maybe this is someone that Ishii talked to about doing a story on Shindou.*

“He and I have had a rivalry for several years now,” he said. “I have always had a deep respect for him. He is most definitely developing as an all-around Go player.”

A pause. Then, the person on the other end said, “Well, that wasn’t quite what I meant. Let me cut to the chase -- Touya-kun, what about that picture of you *kissing* Shindou?”

Akira sat bolt upright. “WHAT?”

“You mean you didn’t know about it?”

“What picture? Where?”

“In the Daily Mirror, on the gossip page.”

Akira felt like the world was crumbling around him. It was a nightmare come true. They’d been outed, forcibly outed, by a member of the press.

“I have no comment at this time!” he shouted into the phone, before turning it off and leaping to his feet. Rushing to his drawers, he grabbed the first pieces of clothing he could find -- shirt, pants, underwear, socks -- without regard for it they matched.

Once dressed, he snatched up his wallet and cell phone and dashed for the living room. Neither parent was there, thank the gods, he didn’t know if he could face them right now.

Rushing out the door and stepping into shoes, he made a beeline for the nearest convenience store, two blocks away -- which felt like two miles. He ended up crashing into an elderly woman walking a small dog in his haste. He bowed and shouted “I’m sorry!”, then rushed away as fast as he could.

He wondered if the woman had seen the picture.

When he reached the store, he brushed more people aside as he ran for the newspaper rack. There was the Mirror, a tabloid, stacked next to several other tabloids. His fingers trembled as he snatched it from the rack and began turning pages.

There it was. Slightly fuzzy, but still unmistakably him and Shindou, engaged in an openmouthed kiss. The caption said, “GO, GO, GO FOR IT! Touya Akira, son of the retired Touya Meijin and Go prodigy, seemed to get a bit too familiar with his professed rival, up-and-coming teenage Go pro Shindou Hikaru, backstage at yesterday’s Young Stars Tournament.”

The paper dropped from his hand to the floor. He stood rooted to the spot, white-faced, fists clenched, trembling with rage.

*How?* he thought. *How could they have gotten that shot? I closed that door! I know I did!*

The cell phone in his pocket began to ring. He ignored it. But when the person on the other end didn’t give up after ten rings, he yanked it out and looked at the caller ID. It was Shindou.

He pushed the talk button. “Hello?”

“Touya, have you been getting funny calls from reporters? Somebody claimed there’s a picture of us from last night . . . y’know, from that locker room.”

*Oh, gods,* Akira thought, *he doesn’t know yet. Or he does, and he’s in denial.*

“They’re not making it up, Shindou,” he said, quietly. “There is a picture.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m looking at it right now. It’s on the gossip page of the Daily Mirror . . .”

The phone abruptly cut off. *He’s gone to find it,* Akira thought. *He’ll go to his own convenience store, and he’ll see it.*

He bent over and picked up the paper, placing it back on the rack. Slowly, he turned and began walking toward the door, feeling eyes on him as he walked.

*How many other people have seen it?* he thought. *What are they thinking? What are we going to do now?*

* * *

Hikaru turned off his cell phone and just sat there for a moment, feeling like he’d just been hammered with a 20-ton mallet.

There was a picture out there in public of himself and Akira, kissing. Anyone could see it. His parents, his old friends from the Go club, his fellow Go professionals.

*Oh, gods,* he thought. *Akari is going to see it.* He had often wondered if his childhood friend had any romantic feelings toward him, even though she seemed interested in Mitani now. Not that he would have returned them, but . . .

He walked over to his goban and sat down, as if being near the board and stones would give him some kind of comfort, reassure him that nothing was going to change in his life at all. He opened one go ke and dipped his hand in.

White stones. Sai had always played white in their games together.

He picked one up and slapped it down to the board with a loud *pachi.* Just the sound of stone hitting wood was usually enough to send a tingle of excitement through his very soul, like a junkie about to get a fix.

It didn’t do anything for him now.

“Sai,” he said aloud, “what’s going to happen to us?”

He had a sudden urge to get out of the house before his mother saw the picture and confronted him with it. He knew he was going to have to deal with it eventually, but he wanted to postpone it until he had some time to *think* about what he wanted to say.

Unfortunately, he was too late. His mother was standing at the bottom of the steps, tears in her eyes, a copy of the newspaper in her hand.

“Hikaru,” she said, “why didn’t you tell me about this?”

“It’s none of your business,” Hikaru said, bluntly, trying to brush past her. She blocked his path, holding the newspaper above her head like it was an ax about to chop off his head.

“It *is* my business!” she said. “Hikaru, you may act like you’re not a part of this family anymore -- hiding in your room with your Go board all the time -- but you’re still my son! And if you have a . . . a problem . . .”

“It’s *not* a problem, Mom. It’s just the way things are.”

His mother lowered the paper, turning away, trembling. “It really shouldn’t bother me, should it? I mean, you’re not the first gay person we’ve had in the family. When we found out about your cousin, well . . . he’s a musician, right? And musicians are supposed to be a little strange. But you . . .” She covered her face with her hands and burst into tears.

Hikaru was rooted to the spot. He was torn between going to her and hugging her -- something he hadn’t done in years -- and just slipping out of the house when she wasn’t looking at him. He did neither. He just stood there and stared.

Finally, she looked up and said, “Is there anyone else? Or is it just Touya Akira?”

“Geez, Mom, do you think I’m some kind of slut?” Hikaru said, folding his arms across his chest.

“Well, I don’t know! You’re with other boys all the time!” His mother flung herself into a chair, still trembling. “And I know nothing about your life! How am I to know what you’ve been doing with them?”

Hikaru bristled. Was she one of those people who thought that all gays were promiscuous, that they were incapable of love?

“I have never . . . kissed any other boy,” he said, amazing himself with his calmness. “My other friends are just friends.”

“And Akira?” She looked straight at him, a piercing glance that was unlike her, a look that demanded the truth, and only the truth.

And that was what Hikaru gave her. He took a deep breath, and said, “He and I love each other.”

“I see.” She looked away, her hands pulling at and twisting her skirt. “Well, you’re still young, that could change . . .”

“It’s not going to change!” Hikaru rushed over so he was standing in front of her chair. “At least I don’t want it to change! I’m happy with Akira!”

There was a long pause, during which his mother fiddled with her skirt some more in silence. Then, finally, she said, quietly, “Akari was such a nice girl . . .”

“Oh, for the gods’ sake!” Hikaru turned away, then began to pace. “Akari had nothing to do with this!”

“You two were so close once!” His mother looked out the window, as if she could see a different future for her son out there. “I had always hoped that you would marry her.”

“Mom, Akari *is* a nice girl, I still care for her a lot, but . . .” He knelt next to the chair. “Look, it just wasn’t meant to be, okay? She likes Mitani, from the Go club at Haze.”

“Feh.” She looked away. “What does this Mitani have that you don’t?”

“Akari and I are in different worlds, Mom. We have been ever since I became an insei. She plays Go for fun, and it’s my life.”

His mother looked sharply at him. “If I had known Go was going to make you gay . . .”

“GO DIDN’T MAKE ME GAY!” Hikaru leapt to his feet. “That’s ridiculous! I don’t know any other gay Go players!” That was it -- he couldn’t take any more of this conversation. He was starting to get a headache -- and he *never* got headaches.

He headed for the door. “I’m going to the Go Institute.”

“Will you be back for dinner?”

“I don’t know!” Hikaru ran out the door, banging the door behind him.

* * *

Shindou Mitsuko leaned over, her head in her hands, as her son retreated.

She thought she’d be trembling over something like this, or feel sick. But she just felt strangely numb, all over.

Standing up, she turned and headed toward the kitchen, moving almost mechanically. She knew she was going to have to prepare herself for the inevitable conversation with her husband about this later.

As she opened the cabinet to take out a glass, the words he’d yelled at her -- “Go didn’t make me gay!” -- went through her head again.

*If it wasn’t Go,* she thought, *what was it? Was it because you stopped playing sports? Or maybe it was the people you were hanging around with? Or something you read, or watched on television . . .*

She poured a glass of water and sat down. This only served to remind her of how little she knew the young man her son was becoming.

*Maybe it’s my fault,* she thought. *If I had asked more questions, gotten more involved in his life, rather than letting him go his own way all the time -- but I never wanted to be a smothering mother. I’d read too much about how that . . .*

The reason she’d given her son his independence hit her full in the face, and she let out a bitter laugh at the irony.

She’d heard that children who were smothered too much by their mothers ended up gay.

* * *

By the time he got to the Go Institute, Hikaru was shaking.

He’d noticed people looking at him on the subway, a few of them whispering. He didn’t want to know what they might be saying.

He pulled open the door and walked into the lobby, headed for the elevator as fast as he could. He noticed a couple of young insei passing him, pausing, turning around, then looking away quickly.

*Looking away,* he thought, *because they don’t want to be caught staring.*

When the elevator came, he leaned against the wall, exhaling a long breath. He knew Waya and Isumi were supposed to be playing today, and it was almost lunch break. Maybe he could catch them and talk to them about this mess.

He went into the break room, which was empty at the moment, and sat down at one of the tables, breathing in the familiar air of the place that had come to be more home to him than his own house.

*I was going to tell my parents,* he thought. *Eventually. I never wanted them to find out like this . . . I never wanted *anyone* to find out like this.*

He wondered if he’d be able to sue the newspaper. After all, the picture *was* taken without their permission. But wasn’t there some kind of law about public figures?

“I’m not a public figure,” he murmured aloud. “Maybe Touya is, but I’m not.”

Or at least I *wasn’t*, he thought.

* * *

Down the hall in the Weekly Go office, Ishii was staring at the picture in the Daily Mirror, unable to take his eyes away. Because he was staring at his own ruin.

He knew he wasn’t going to be able to put any of his plans into action now. He couldn’t very well promote two boys who were mired in scandal as representatives of the entire Go world.

“Did they say anything to you yet?” Amano said from his desk, lighting up a cigarette.

Ishii shook his head. “No. The brass is having a pow wow of their own right now, trying to decide what to do about this.”

“They won’t discipline them,” Amano said, folding his arms over his chest and leaning over. “Even with the scandal, those two are too important to the future of Go.”

“Oh, I didn’t think they were going to kick them out.” Ishii was finally able to tear his eyes away from the photo and drop the offending thing on another desk. “But I’m sure they’re going to downplay them for awhile.”

“I don’t see why they should,” Amano replied, puffing on his cigarette again. “Their private lives have nothing to do with their ability to play the game.”

“You look very calm about all this,” Ishii said, walking over and sitting in the chair on the other side of Amano’s desk. “Has anything like this ever happened before?”

“No,” Amano said. “Not that I can remember. Go isn’t exactly a scandal-plagued game. But then again -- as far as I can remember, there haven’t been any other players quite like these two, who generated so much excitement.”

“Well, a lot of that excitement is gone now,” Ishii replied, fiddling with his tie twice as fast as before.

“The whole thing . . .” Amano rested his cigarette on an ashtray. “It doesn’t surprise me. Not at all.”

Ishii furrowed his brow. “But you just said this kind of thing hasn’t happened before.”

“I mean that it doesn’t surprise me that it was Shindou and Touya.”

The publicist looked at him in shock. “It doesn’t?”

“There was always something about them when you saw them together. An energy, an electricity. Like there was *more* there than a simple rivalry. I remember the day Shindou came back to playing . . . he quit for some time after turning pro, nobody ever knew why. And then, out of the blue, he marched into the Go Institute -- it was the day Touya made the Honinbou League, there were plenty of people and press there -- and announced to Touya that he wanted to play again. The look on that boy’s face . . .”

“Ecstatic?” said Ishii.

“Not quite.” Amano stubbed out his cigarette. “It was like . . . when Shindou was gone, Touya looked almost like he was in pain whenever he played. As if there were something *missing* from him. And when he came back, Touya gave him the intimidating look he gives all his opponents and told him ‘Come after me!’’ But, there was also . . . well, *relief* in his eyes.”

“Well, that could just be because he got his rival back,” Ishii said. “Don’t these players thrive on rivalry?”

“They do,” Amano said. “But . . . well, in my time I’ve had the opportunity to observe a lot of pairs of rivals together. The way they look at each other . . . when they’re going to play each other, their eyes are hard. Cold. Sizing each other up. When they’re away from the goban, at a social function or something, they’re casual with each other. Cordial, but not too close. But Touya and Shindou -- the way they look at each other is *intense*, full of passion, whether they’re playing or not. I sometimes feel like they don’t want to let each other out of their gaze. I’ve never seen anything else like it.”

“You think they might have been -- you know -- even then?” said Ishii.

“Possibly.” Amano tapped his cigarette on the ashtray. “But it’s never hurt their games, so . . . it doesn’t matter.”

“The general public doesn’t know their win-loss records,” said Ishii. “All they know is two good-looking boys who play the game -- boys they could relate to. Except now they *can’t*, because they’re . . . different.”

“I wouldn’t make that broad an assessment,” Amano said. “They may be more open-minded than you think.”

“Are they?” Ishii got to his feet. “Amano-san, I have been handling campaigns geared to youth for years. I definitely know how teenagers think and feel by now.” He headed for the door. “You handle Go, I’ll handle teenagers.”

Amano watched the other man go, then went over and picked up the offending paper, still open to the picture. He glanced at the fuzzy image for a moment.

Oh, yes, this was *no* surprise to him at all. In fact, the only thing surprising was that they had managed to hide a full-blown relationship from the rest of the Go world until now.

“Nonsense,” he murmured. “As long as both of them can still play, why make a big deal about what they do away from the goban?”

And he decisively dropped the paper in the garbage. Weekly Go would give *no* coverage to the matter.

* * *

Hikaru looked up when he saw Waya and Isumi start to come into the break room, after several other players.

“Hi!” he said. “Guys, we have to go somewhere, we have to talk . . .”

He saw a long look pass between them. It was a look that seemed to say, “I don’t want to talk to him. *You* talk to him.”

Hikaru jumped up from the table and went over to his friends. “Um, guys, is anything wrong?”

“No,” Isumi said, too quickly, not looking directly at Hikaru. “Um, we’ll go somewhere, right, Waya?”

But Waya was looking away from Hikaru, studying the wall.

“Why don’t we go downstairs?” Hikaru said with forced cheerfulness, starting to walk out the door. “We’ll figure out where we’re going once we get there. Waya, I’m willing to go for sushi if you still want . . .”

“Why him?” Waya said in a small voice.

Hikaru froze to the spot, then wheeled around to face the other boy. “Um . . . what?”

“Why him?” Waya turned to face Hikaru, eyes burning with anger. “Dammit, why *Touya*? You can do so much better than that bastard.”

“Waya . . .” Isumi was blushing and looking extremely flustered -- more so than he normally looked in a situation like this. He took hold of Waya’s shoulders and tried to steer him toward the elevator, but Waya brushed his hands away.

Hikaru stared at his friends, blinking. He had figured they may not be a hundred percent accepting at first, but he hadn’t expected this. “Why are you saying that? You don’t even know him.”

“I’ve seen enough to know what he’s about!” Waya said. “He’s cold, he doesn’t give a damn about anyone but himself! He’s a Go robot! He’ll just use you!”

“How is he going to *use* me?” Hikaru nearly shouted, hands clenched in fists. “Waya, you have no right to say . . .”

“I have a right to not just sit here and watch you mess up your life!” Waya shouted, his unruly brown hair seeming to bristle as he clenched his own hands at his sides. Isumi just stood next to him, eyes flicking back and forth from Hikaru to Waya, seemingly not knowing what to do.

“I’m not messing it up!” Hikaru shouted in return, slamming his hand down on the table for emphasis. “I know what I’m doing!”

“Then why did you let someone take your picture *kissing* him last night?” Waya said, leaning toward Hikaru. “If you knew what you were doing, you’d know that those pictures could ruin you!”

“I didn’t CHOOSE to have that picture taken, dammit!” Hikaru nearly screamed. “What, do you think Touya *hired* that photographer?”

There was a pause, when Waya just stood there, looking at the floor, holding his arms around himself as if to hold his emotions in check.

Then, he said, “You really think you can have a *relationship* with someone like that, don’t you?”

“I don’t think I can,” Hikaru replied. “I *do.*”

“Fine,” Waya turned and started to leave the room. “Enjoy it.”

Isumi just followed Waya, rushing to keep up with him.

“Waya!” Hikaru rushed after them, but they were already in the elevator, heading down.

Hikaru stood rooted to the spot, head down, arms hanging at his sides, tears welling up in his eyes. In less than 24 hours, he’d destroyed his relationships with his mother and his two best friends.

He was more lost, alone and directionless than he’d been since that terrible period right after Sai had left.

*Sai,* he thought, *I thought that loving Akira was the best thing that happened to me in my life, other than meeting you. But now . . . what have I done?*

* * *

Akira hung up the phone, feeling almost numb inside.

He’d had students cancel lessons with him before, always for perfectly legitimate reasons. A family vacation, an illness, a death in the family . . .

But he knew very well why he’d gotten the call he just did. The mother on the other end had sounded uncomfortable, stammering and coughing. She said that her sons’ school was going to bring in a Go pro to advise their Go club, and he would be giving them lessons, so she didn’t have to have private tutoring any more.

What she wasn’t saying out loud was that she didn’t want to leave her 9- and 11-year-old boys alone with a gay man.

He sank into a chair, head down, feeling rage steadily boiling inside himself -- partly at the woman, but mostly at the photographer who’d taken the picture, and the editors who had allowed him to run it.

*What kind of newspaper,* he thought, *is in the business of ruining people’s lives?*

He hadn’t been to the Go Institute that day. He wondered what kind of a reception he was going to get there. Oh, if anyone tried to give him grief about this, he could just invite them to play a game and silence them at the board.

The house was quiet. He hadn’t seen his father that day. His mother, who he’d seen at breakfast, had been overly polite and chatted brightly about trivialities like the neighbors’ new washline. In other words, did everything possible to avoid the *real* subject of the day.

He started to head back to his room. As he passed the Go room, his father’s voice came from within. “Akira . . .”

Akira stopped short, a small amount of nervousness rising within him. Was his father willing to talk about it, hear him out?

“Yes, father?” he said, coming into the room.

Touya Koyou was seated at his board, a game being recreated in front of him. Akira recognized it as a game he’d played against him not too long ago. The former Meijin was holding himself at a stiff posture, every muscle in his body seeming rigid, his face set in a grim mask. His eyes looked empty and haunted. It was the look of someone who had just been given exceedingly bad news.

“Akira,” he said, “I want to let you know that I am deeply disappointed in your choice of lifestyle.”

Akira felt his stomach sink down to his feet like a rock. This was the last thing in the world he wanted to hear.

“I want to explain, father,” he said, quietly.

“There isn’t anything to explain,” Touya Koyou replied.

“Yes, there is,” Akira said, sitting on the other side of the goban. “Father, Shindou Hikaru and I are in love. We didn’t plan it, we weren’t expecting it, it just happened.”

“You have always considered this boy your rival, haven’t you?” his father said, fixing him with a piercing gaze.

“Yes,” Akira said, keeping his own eyes fixed on his father’s. Akira was not one to look away, even in a situation like this.

“Then you have grossly misinterpreted your rivalry. Emotions run strong in the game of Go, Akira. You have to learn to separate the game and the emotions.”

“I keep them separate,” Akira replied. “I know what involves Go and what doesn’t.”

“Do you?” Touya Koyou folded his arms over his chest, studying his son as if he were a particularly complex pattern of stones. “Then why did you take your rival as your lover?”

“Because we understand each other,” Akira said, one hand reaching out to lightly touch the surface of the stones in front of him. “We understand each other better than I ever thought possible. And isn’t that what love is?”

Touya Koyou reached into his go ke and placed a black stone on the board. “I want you to *think* about your life choices some more,” he said. “You’re still young.”

“I did think about this, father,” Akira said. “I didn’t go into this lightly!”

But there was no reply from the older man. Akira knew the discussion was over.

He got up and left the room, fighting back tears, and rushed for his own bedroom. All his life, approval from his father was one of the things he’d always desired the most, and now he’d lost that.

The rest of the Go world could go to hell when it came to this. But his father . . .

He sat at his desk, his head in his hands.

“He’ll calm down and talk to me later,” he said aloud. “He’s got to.”

And then, it occurred to him that this was the first morning for as far back as he could remember that his father didn’t ask him to play Go.

* * *

Ashiwara walked into the break room to see Ogata sitting at the table furthest from the door, staring fixedly out the window and smoking a cigarette.

It was hard to tell if he knew. Ogata definitely looked grim and thoughtful -- but then again, when *didn’t* he look grim and thoughtful?

The younger pro sat opposite the older one, wondering how best to bring the subject up. He couldn’t very well just blurt out, “Hey, did you hear what everyone in the building has been saying about Akira-kun?”

He didn’t have to say anything. Ogata said, without turning around, “Have you talked to him at all today?”

“Him?” Ashiwara rubbed the back of his head for a moment, confused, until he realized he and Ogata were thinking of exactly the same thing. “Oh, *him*! No, I haven’t. He hasn’t been around today.”

“Perhaps it’s best he not come here, then,” Ogata said, turning around slowly. “He hasn’t got a game scheduled for the next day or so.”

“Why do you say that?” Ashiwara said. “Nothing has really changed, has it?”

“As far as I’m concerned, no,” Ogata said.

Ashiwara breathed a sigh of relief. “I was afraid you’d be upset about this.”

“Why should I be?” Ogata tapped the ashes from his cigarette. “Akira’s personal life is no concern of mine, as long as it doesn’t affect his Go. And so far, it hasn’t.”

“A lot of other people don’t feel that way,” Ashiwara said. “Everywhere I go, it’s all everyone has been talking about. The insei, the pros, even the receptionist.”

He was interrupted by a voice from the doorway saying, “Excuse me?” Both men turned to see a guy in a rumpled brown suit, with close-cropped black hair and a straggly beard, holding a notebook and pen. “You’re Ogata 10-dan, right? Can I get a quote about Shindou and Touya?”

Ogata fixed him with an icy stare. “I have nothing to say at this time.”

“You sure?” the man said. “Plenty of other people have been talking.”

“I’m *very* sure,” Ogata said, narrowing his eyes at the man.

The reporter shrugged his shoulders and left. Ogata crushed out his cigarette.

“That’s the fourth one in the last hour,” he said. “I don’t know who he got to talk on the record, but I’m sure it’s none of the top-ranked pros.”

“Maybe he didn’t get anyone, and he’s lying,” Ashiwara said. “I hope nobody tries to talk to his father about this.”

There was a long pause. Ashiwara wondered if *Ogata* had talked to Touya Koyou about this. He imagined the former Meijin, a staunch traditionalist, would not be pleased.

“They’ll get nowhere if they do,” Ogata said, reaching for another cigarette.

At that moment, another intruder stormed into the break room. But this one wore no suit and carried no notebook. It was a well-muscled guy in a black tank top, jeans and a leather jacket, with untamed-looking black hair, a full beard and a motorcycle helmet under his arm.

“Oi!” he said. “Where’s Shindou?”

Ashiwara blinked. This person looked familiar, somehow . . . but what would someone like this have been doing around the Go Institute?

“Um, we don’t know where he is,” he stammered. “He was in the building earlier, but . . .”

“We have no idea whether he’s still here or if he left,” Ogata said

“Never mind, I’ll find him,” the newcomer said, turning to leave.

Ashiwara turned back to Ogata with a frown. “Who *was* that guy?”

“I believe he was a candidate for the pro exam a few times,” Ogata replied. “Didn’t make it very far.”

* * *

Hikaru leaned against the wall, closing his eyes, exhaling a long breath.

He’d ducked into a side corridor. He thanked all that was holy it was deserted.

After the debacle with Waya and Isumi, he’d had several clumps of insei pass him, whispering loudly and trying not to stare, he’d had two reporters trying to get quotes out of him (he firmly refused), and he’d been approached by a young female pro who was all too eager to tell him, in a fawning, near-squealing voice, how very, very cute he and Akira were together.

He had no doubt whatsoever that the last one had a secret stash of yaoi manga under her bed.

At least he was alone for a moment. He would have left, but he didn’t want to go home until he absolutely had to -- not after that disaster this morning. And he didn’t want to go to Akira’s place. He didn’t know whether he was ready to face him yet -- and he *knew* he wasn’t ready to face Akira’s father.

*Why the hell did I kiss him at the tournament?* he thought. *I should have known something like that could happen. Why didn’t we make sure the door was locked and latched?*

He briefly considered getting out his cell phone and calling his cousin. He’d been through something like this, he’d understand, he’d be someone to talk to . . .

And then he remembered that his cousin was probably the *last* person in the world you’d want to ask for advice.

He pushed away from the wall, slowly, thinking that maybe he’d just go for a walk for a little while.

And then, a voice behind him yelled, “SHINDOU!”

He turned around -- and there was a bulking, bearded figure he never thought he’d see again. “Tsu-Tsubaki-san?”

“Come on. We’re going out.”

“Um, now?”

“Yes, now!” Tsubaki started to walk toward the elevator with rapid, heavy strides, forcing Hikaru to rush to keep up with him. “What, do you have other plans for the evening?”

“Well . . . no,” Hikaru said. When the elevator arrived, Tsubaki nearly shoved him into it, and he found himself stumbling for a couple of steps.

“Well, then, let’s go!” Tsubaki stabbed at the lobby level button.

“But . . . where are we going?” Hikaru said.

“We’re going to have a *man’s* night out,” Tsubaki replied, reaching out and slapping Hikaru on the back so hard he nearly fell face-first on the floor.

“I don’t know if I need . . .”

“Of course you need it!” The elevator arrived on the bottom floor, and Tsubaki strode out, Hikaru following him. “You never had one, right?”

“No, but . . .”

“No buts!” He strode out to his motorcycle, grabbed a spare helmet from the back and tossed it to Hikaru. “We’re going!”

Hikaru sighed and put the helmet on. Tsubaki wasn’t exactly the kind of person you wanted to fight with.

He had no idea what he was in for. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know.

* * *

Akira lay on his back on the futon, hands folded behind his head, staring up at the ceiling.

It was so hard to believe that a mere 24 hours ago, his life was still in balance, everything was going well and his private life was just that -- private.

One unethical photographer had blown that out of the water completely.

The call from the Go Institute had been the last straw. Apparently, the controversy was so out of hand that they were postponing the second round of the Young Stars Tournament and moving it out of Tokyo, just to get away from the media.

“We think it’ll be in Kyoto in about a week,” the voice at the other end of the phone had said to him. “We’ll call you when we know for sure.”

Akira brought one hand up so it was lying across his forehead and closed his eyes. He felt the beginnings of a headache coming on.

*I have to call Shindou,* he thought. *Maybe he was at the Go Institute today. Maybe he knows more about what’s going on.*

He reached for his cell phone and pushed the familiar speed-dial combination -- and got a recorded “I can’t come to the phone right now” message. He tossed the phone away.

*Leave it to him to not have his cell turned on at an important time,* he thought.

Briefly, he considered going to check his E-mail, but he knew all too well what he would find there. When he’d checked it earlier in the day, there had been five or six messages from reporters seeking quotes -- and about ten from girls and women. He had no idea how any of them had gotten his address.

*I wouldn’t be surprised if the tabloids employed their own hackers,* he thought.

The messages from the female senders had been the worst. Four of them were filled with happy-face emoticons and talked about how *wonderful* it was that he and Hikaru were together in such a manner that Akira could almost hear the words being read in a high-pitched, squealy voice.

There were another three messages -- he figured from the mothers of young players -- berating him, because “You are the future of Go, and you must set an example for the children who are just learning the game!”

But the remaining E-mails were the most disturbing. They were from women who decided that they wanted to cure him of his gayness, and they said just *how* they were going to do it in terms that left *nothing* to the imagination.

Just thinking about *that* made Akira’s head hurt more. He lay an arm across his eyes, as if to block out the memory.

A faraway banging noise made him sit up. Was that a knock on the front door? He turned and looked at the clock -- it was nearly midnight. Who would be coming here at that hour? His parents were both asleep.

When the banging came again, harder and more insistent, he rushed into the living room and opened the door. There stood a very agitated-looking Shindou Hikaru.

“Shindou!” Akira said, quietly.

Hikaru pushed by him into the house. “I’ve just had the worst 24 hours of my life.”

“So have I,” Akira replied, sitting down on the couch, wondering how he could be doing something so normal when everything had so completely gone to hell in a handbasket.

Hikaru flopped down in another chair. “My friends won’t talk to me, there’s reporters all over the place, they postponed the tournament --”

“I knew about the last one this afternoon,” Akira said. “They contacted me right after my lesson was canceled.”

“And then . . .” Hikaru sunk down in his seat. “My friend from the pro exam decided to de-gay me.”

Akira blinked, rapidly. “He did *what*?”

“You heard me.” Hikaru folded his arms over his chest. “Tsubaki-san came to see me at the Go Institute and dragged me out to a bar.”

* * *

Hikaru took a tiny sip out of the beer bottle Tsubaki had insisted on getting him. He wasn’t nuts about the taste of this stuff -- it was a bit like drinking liquified bread crumbs.

“You’ve got to chug it,” Tsubaki said. “That’s what *real* mean do!”

“I *am* real,” Hikaru grumbled, looking around at his surroundings. The whole place seemed kind of grubby and shabby. One of the neon beer signs over the bar was half-blown out, the round tables ranged haphazardly around the room were covered with scratch marks and gouges, and even the posters on the walls -- advertising prizefights and soccer games of the past -- were yellowed and faded.

The patrons were all male. While there were a few suited salarymen, they were the exception rather than the rule, and they stuck out like sore thumbs against the majority of the occupants. There were bikers in leather jackets and ripped denim, would-be bodybuilders in brief, tight tank tops, guys who looked like they hadn’t bathed in several days.

The only outstanding feature of the room was the stage, which sported a model-style runway which ran out into the audience. Indeed, the whole structure occupied about a third of the room.

*If they’re going to have a band,* Hikaru thought, *I wish they’d bring them out. I need something to distract me from . . .*

At that moment, a man with slicked-back dark hair and a pencil mustache, wearing a once-bright red but now sadly faded velvet smoking jacket, walked out onto the stage. The lights dimmed, and a loud “WHOOO!” went up from the expectant crowd.

“Thank you, gentlemen,” he said. “And now, the reason you all came here tonight . . .” More whooping. “Let’s bring them out! Starting with Momo-chan!”

A spotlight hit the stage, and a young woman with very long, pale-blonde hair was there, wearing what looked like a policewoman’s uniform. Except the blouse was cut way too low, the skirt was way too high and her footwear had heels so high Hikaru didn’t know how anyone could possibly walk on them.

“Um, Tsubaki-san,” he said, “what kind of . . .”

“Hey, just watch her!” Tsubaki said, clapping Hikaru on the back. “She’s hot, isn’t she?”

The woman was beginning to dance to techno music on the bar’s sound system, raising her arms over her head and shaking her hips provocatively as she moved toward the catwalk. Hikaru began to get a bad feeling about the whole thing.

Which was compounded when she began to unbutton her blouse.

* * *

“A strip club?” Akira said. “You went to a *strip club*?”

“Hey, I didn’t know that’s what he was taking me to!” Hikaru said. “He said something about going out together, so I thought we were going somewhere to play Go! Then, when we first arrived at the place, I thought it was a restaurant, and then . . .”

“You didn’t stay there, did you?”

“What kind of guy do you think I am, Touya?” Hikaru said, leaping to his feet. “Of course I got out of there! Soon as she threw her blouse, I was out the door. Tsubaki chased me, but I was already halfway down the street when he got out the door.”

“How did you get back?”

“Subway. Two blocks away. And people stared at me when I was riding it.” He sat back down again.

Akira got up and walked over to Hikaru, putting his hand on the other boy’s shoulder. Usually Hikaru would move back against such a touch, put his hand up to cover Akira’s, or reach up to pull Akira into his arms. Today, he just sat there like a stone.

“Hikaru . . .” he said.

Hikaru winced. The touch, the use of his first name -- this was emblematic of the relationship that had grown up around them, which he usually cherished. And which was currently wrecking his life.

*I can’t feel anything,* he thought. *It’s as if a wall has been put up between us.*

He stood up. “I think I’m going home,” he said. “I’m tired.”

Akira could only nod. “I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess?”

“Yeah, I guess so.” And Hikaru rushed out the door, without turning toward Akira for a goodnight kiss.

Akira watched him go, feeling a sense of dread that was rather alien to him. What if this publicity over their relationship ended up destroying the relationship itself?

He placed his hand on the door frame and leaned his head on it, remembering the metaphor he’d come up with to describe his life before all hell broke loose. Everything compartmentalized into two go kes. Love on one side, Go on the other. Black to the left, white to the right.

What he had now instead was two spilled baskets and a mess of hopelessly jumbled-up stones all over the floor.

* * *

When Ishii walked into the Go Institute, it was the first time he’d been there in four days.

He didn’t even know why he was going back. The Institute had dropped the Shindou and Touya publicity campaign. They’d made some kind of vague reference to “picking it up again when things calm down a little,” but that was it.

His co-workers at the agency knew very well what account he had been working on. He’d had tabloids shoved in his face several times a day. The one picture had led to something of a war to see who could come up with the most sensational story.

If one were to believe what had been printed, the two boys had been carrying on an illicit love affair for years, had been caught in flagrante delicto within the Go Institute several times, were known to hit on other male players -- and, according to one particularly unafraid-of-lawsuits publication, Akira was involved in a love triangle with Hikaru and a female J-pop singer.

As Ishii moved through the building, he could see the toll all of this had taken -- it was a far different place from a week ago. The groups of pros and insei he passed here and there weren’t laughing and chatting like before -- they were whispering, as if each thought he or she had the juiciest piece of gossip in the world and only wanted to share it with a select few.

He reached the elevator and pushed the button, listening to the group of young insei next to him.

“ . . . and my sensei said that Shindou seduced Touya,” a girl with a bushy head of blonde curls was saying. “He’s *always* been chasing after him, ever since he was an insei.”

“Well, *my* sensei said that Touya has always been *too* interested in Shindou,” said the freckle-faced redhead next to her. “He plays at the Touya Go salon sometimes, and he said that when Shindou isn’t playing there, Touya is always recreating games they played together.”

“Hey,” said the one boy in the group, who had a bristly buzz cut and rather beady eyes. “When Shindou quit playing . . . think they had a breakup then?”

“What makes you think they were going out then?” said the blonde. The elevator arrived, and the group crowded onto it, along with Ishii.

“What makes you think they weren’t?” said the redhead. “We don’t know anything. They could have been together since they were 12, for all we know.”

“Well, my sensei plays with someone who’s in Morishita’s study group sometimes.” The elevator arrived at the floor, and the teenagers piled out, as the boy said, “And *he* says that Shindou . . .”

Ishii turned and walked in the other direction, shaking his head. *How could two boys as smart as Shindou and Touya screw up so badly?* he thought. *You’d think they’d know enough to be careful.*

He decided to drop in on Weekly Go on the way to the main office. He walked into the door, waving at Amano, who was on the phone. The reporter waved back, then turned his attention to whoever he was talking to. Ishii walked over and sat in his now-customary seat, across from the other man.

Amano finally hung up, saying, “Hello there, sorry about that. We just got official confirmation that the second day of the Young Stars Tournament will be two days from now in Kyoto.”

“A shame they had to move it,” Ishii said, reaching up and playing with his tie -- a somber charcoal gray now, matching his suit and the mood of the Go Institute.

“The press will just chase them there,” Amano said, taking out a cigarette. “I’ve never seen anything like it. They’re still swarming over the building like locusts.”

“I can’t see why,” Ishii said. “It’s not as if anyone who’s opinion means anything is willing to talk on the record.”

“You’ve tried?” said Amano, lighting his cigarette.

“No, just observed other people trying,” the publicist said. “My campaign is pretty much dead. I’m on my way to get the final word on it.”

“Too bad,” said Amano, taking a drag. “But there’s a certain said irony to all this.”

“How’s that, Amano-san?”

“The Institute wanted publicity.” Amano paused, watching the smoke come up from his cigarette. “They were going to bring you in and pay you money. Then this happens. And suddenly, Go has a bigger public profile than it has in years.”

“Not the kind of publicity most people would want,” Ishii said, dryly, tugging at his tie.

“Yes, but don’t you have a saying that there’s no such thing as bad publicity?” Amano said.

“Well, that’s an old saying,” said Ishii. “Not a policy statement.”

Amano leaned back, taking another puff. “Sometimes,” he said, “those old sayings turn out to be extremely accurate. Like now.”

* * *

Hikaru used to love stepping off the elevator at the Go Institute.

He loved the squeak of the wood floors and the smell of varnish, the sight of dozens of people milling around, talking over their games that day, who their opponents were going to be.

Now he didn’t know if he was going to get off that elevator and find a reporter with a camera. Or some brat saying as he passed, deliberately loud, “Shindou is just a gay slut. I’ve heard he’s had half the players out there.”

Or a girl grabbing onto his arm and hanging onto it like a leech, breathlessly telling him that he and Akira were just the most *adorable* couple of all time. That had happened to him twice so far -- the second girl had even gone as far as to tell him how *hot* the picture in the Daily Mirror had made her.

No reporters today, thank the gods. He headed for the break room, hoping to find someone he knew, someone he could talk with.

On the way in, he passed a small group of lower dans who were so deep in conversation that they didn’t notice that the actual subject of their discussion was right in front of them.

“He’s just doing it to further his own career, you know,” one was saying. “Figures if he bangs Touya, he’ll get into the better study groups, and then move on to the really big tournaments . . .”

Hikaru clenched his hands into fists. There was a time in his life when he would have done something back to someone who said things like that. Trip them up, spill something over their heads, throw something . . .

He wanted to go back to that now.

He spotted Waya settling down with a can of coffee at a corner table. Nobody was with him. *Maybe I can talk to him,* he thought. *I haven’t ever since the day that damn picture came out.*

Waya looked up when he saw Hikaru approach, but that was it. No hellos, no “Hey! Over here!”

“Hi, Waya,” Hikaru said, sitting opposite him. “You heard we’re going to Kyoto day after tomorrow?”

“I heard,” Waya said in a cold voice, not making eye contact with Hikaru.

“I gotta pack tonight,” Hikaru said. “I’ll forget if I don’t.”

Waya just made a “hmm” noise and drank from his can.

Now Hikaru was getting annoyed. This was *not* Waya. He slammed his hands to the table. “Hey! What’s going on here? You’re not even talking to me!”

Waya gave him a cold look. “Maybe that’s because you let Touya Akira seduce you. I thought you were smarter than that.”

“Let him SEDUCE me?” Hikaru leapt to his feet. “You have *no idea* what our relationship’s like! Nobody seduced anyone!”

“I told you that you could do so much better than him,” Waya said. “I thought you’d realize that! He’s just going to end up using you to further himself!”

Great, Hikaru thought. This is the reverse of what those other people were saying.

“Nobody’s using anyone!” he said. “Don’t you realize there’s love involved?”

Waya looked away. “You really think someone like Touya is capable of love?”

That did it . Hikaru turned and rushed out of the room. He wasn’t going to take that. Not from Waya, not from anyone.

He’d go downstairs for a few moments, clear his head before his game. He stabbed at the elevator button, ignoring the stares and the whispers around him.

Fortunately, he was alone when he got on and rode down to the lobby. He stepped out, heading for the couches and chairs, the area where they had drink machines and a tank of fake fish, both of which Sai had loved.

And a television. Which happened to be on now, showing a picture of a toothy, too-perky blonde in a pink business suit.

“And the Go world is currently being rocked by a scandal unlike any they’ve had in years. No, it’s not betting on Go or thrown games, it’s a boy kissing another boy. Yes, it seems that Golden Boy Touya Akira met his one great defeat when he was led astray by a scruffy upstart.”

Hikaru threw himself in the chair and buried his face in his hands.

It wasn’t ending. It was just never-ending.

* * *

Akira shut the suitcase and pushed it aside. He’d gotten very used to packing. You had to, if you were going to play Go at the higher levels. His father had spent considerable time on the road when Akira was growing up, playing at tournaments around the country.

*My father never had a tournament moved on him because he was involved in a scandal,* Akira thought, picking up a smaller, carryon case. He already had his standard travel kit in there, he just needed to put in a few more items.

Usually, his father would come up and talk to him the night before a major tournament like this. But tonight -- nothing.

Of course, his father had barely spoken to him at all since their confrontation the day after the picture appeared in the newspaper.

Akira had kept hoping it would blow over after a day or so, that his father would come around and talk to him like normal. After all, they were still bound by Go, the thing that had defined their relationship since Hikaru was a small child.

But Touya Koyou had remained closeted in his Go room like a hermit, never inviting his son to join him there. And Akira had spent as much time out of the house as possible, at the Go salon if he wasn’t at the Institute. At least Ichikawa and the salon regulars acted as if nothing was wrong -- or at least they did in front of him.

He’d tried to get Shindou on the phone every day, without success. At the Go Institute, he never seemed to be able to track him down. On the one day they’d had a game together, Hikaru had fled before he could talk to him.

As he finished packing, he knocked a brown envelope to the floor, which spilled out its contents -- a book of love poetry and a note in a flowery, feminine handwriting saying how very, very kawaii he and Hikaru were together.

He’d gotten several packages like that over the past couple of days, not to mention more graphic letters from women who were positive that they could convert him back to being straight -- a couple even accompanied by photos of them in various stages of undress.

He put down the bag, pulled out his cell phone and dialed the familiar speed dial code. He didn’t know why he was bothering. He knew exactly what he was going to hear -- ringing, followed by a recording saying, “The cellular customer you are trying to reach is not available right now . . .”

*I’m going over there,* he thought. *I’m going to talk to him before we leave for this thing. We *need* to talk.*

He headed out to the living room. His mother sat reading a book. She looked up briefly at him.

“I’m going out for awhile, Mother,” he said. He couldn’t say *where* he was going. Not too long ago, he’d just say “I’m going to Shindou’s” and nobody would bat an eye.

His mother just nodded. She had probably figured out where he was going.

* * *

Hikaru knew who it was when the knock came on his door. He pulled a pillow over his head, willing the person outside to go away.

But he didn’t. The knock came again, harder and louder. Hikaru pulled the pillow down tighter.

*I don’t want to hear it, Touya,* he thought. *Just take what it was you were going to say to me and go home.*

But the door opened a crack anyway, and Akira poked in his head, saying, “Shindou?”

Hikaru just stayed where he was, stock-still.

Akira frowned as he entered the room. It was pitch-black. He reached for the wall, fumbling for the light switch -- he knew it was around here somewhere. His hand hit it, and the room became flooded with light.

Hikaru was lying on the bed, pillow pulled over the top of his head. The goban was clean, no stones lying on it. Everything else in the room was orderly -- looking like Hikaru had been just lying there, not touching anything, all day.

There were no bags, packed or otherwise, anywhere in sight.

“Where are your bags?” Akira said. “We leave tomorrow.”

“I’m not going,” Hikaru said, not removing the pillow.

“Not going?” Akira moved further into the room. “What are you talking about?”

“I *said* I’m not going!” Hikaru said, turning away from the other boy.

“You’re going to just stop playing again?” Akira said. “After everything you’ve accomplished in the past year? You’re a member of the Honinbou League, Shindou! You’re in the semifinals of this tournament! What did you come all this way for if you’re just going to fold when things aren’t going your way?”

“This is way beyond *not going my way*!” Hikaru sat bolt upright, flinging the pillow across the room. “Three-quarters of Japan things I’m some kind of gay slut who led the pristine Touya Akira astray. Everyone else just thinks I’m after publicity. Oh, except the girls who are drooling over the idea of us together. How the hell am I going to play Go like that?”

“You’ve played Go under bad circumstances before!” Akira nearly shouted. “You went up against me at the junior high Go tournament when you’d only been playing a year! You fought your way up from the bottom of the insei to become a pro in a matter of months! You came back from all those forfeitures -- “

“And I didn’t have the press hounding me when I was doing any of that!” Hikaru shouted. “I never wanted to be a celebrity! I just wanted to play Go! Now I’m a celebrity for all the wrong reasons, and it sucks!”

“You think you’re the only one hurting because of this?” Akira shouted back, hands clenched into fists, his long hair nearly bristling with emotion. “I have to listen to the same things you do! And my father isn’t playing games with me anymore. But I’m not stopping! Because I can’t stop. Go is who I am.” He looked at Hikaru, eyes burning. “And if you’re truly my rival, you’re not going to let it stop you, either!”

Hikaru’s face seemed to soften a bit, although his posture was no less tense. “Touya,” he said, quietly.

Akira spun around so abruptly that his hair bannered out around his face. “You can stay here all you want,” he said. “We’re supposed to be in Kyoto for that tournament tomorrow, and I’m going.”

Hikaru stared at his retreating back. Akira was going though with it, despite everything . . .

He sank to the bed. He still didn’t know if he could face it. The press, the other players, the . . .

And then a voice in the back of his head said, “If he’s in the tournament, and you’re not, that’s letting him get ahead of you, isn’t it?”

Hikaru sat up. Letting him get ahead . . .

“No *way*,” he said aloud. “No way in *hell*!”

He leapt from his bed and rushed to the closet, yanking out his duffel bag and starting to stuff it.

Halfway down the hall, Akira paused when he heard the sound. He walked quietly back, just far enough so he could peek in. He smiled to himself when he saw Hikaru packing.

Invoking their rivalry had worked.

“I need you, Shindou Hikaru,” he whispered. “Without you, my Go is empty.”

And he knew very well that without Hikaru, his *life* was pretty empty as well. Suddenly, what the rest of the world had to say about them seemed less significant than ever.

* * *

Okasoto couldn’t believe he was back at another Go event.

He’d gotten the scoop of a lifetime, had all his coworkers congratulate him, been offered a nice, hefty raise and better assignments -- hell, he was going to the J-Rock Awards next week!

But first, he had to get through this. “Since you did so well at the last Go tournament, we’re sending you to this one,” his boss had told him.

*Great*, he thought. *More of watching people put little rocks down on a board. Otherwise known as watching paint dry. And I sure as hell aren’t going to be able to sneak backstage this time, they’ve tightened security -- because of me, of course.*

He made his way to his seat, thinking that at least he got a free overnight to Kyoto out of this. It would have been even better if it had been Okinawa, but hey.

“Um, excuse me, I think that’s my seat,” said a man who had come up the aisle in the opposite direction. Fortysomething guy, graying hair, snazzy suit, the reporter observed.

*Probably the father of one of the players,* Okasoto thought. *I’ve heard a lot of them are rich bitches.*

“Seat E?” Okasoto said, looking at his assignment sheet.

“Never mind, mine’s F.” The two men sat next to each other. Okasoto got out his camera -- *Ah,* he thought as he opened the lens cover, *here’s my trusty buddy who made my career turn around.*

“Are you with Weekly Go?” his seat mate said. “I don’t recall seeing you in their office.”

“Nope, I’m with the Daily Mirror. I’m Okasoto Satoshi.”

“And I’m Ishii Kazuya.”

“You the father of one of the players?” Okasoto looked through his camera lens, trying to line up the best possible shots of the playing area.

“No. I’m sort of an employee of the Go Institute. Or, rather, I was.”

“Really?” Okasoto looked away from his camera. “What happened, you get tossed out?”

“Well, they had hired me to do a publicity campaign involving Shindou and Touya.” Okasoto noticed that the other man had a rather annoying habit of fiddling with his tie. And it was a *nice* tie too, silk and embroidered with little gold flecks. It looked like it cost as much as three of Okasoto’s own ties.

“Oh, yeah?” Okasoto said. “I took a picture of them not too long ago.”

Ishii couldn’t remember setting anything up with the Daily Mirror during his brief publicity campaign. “At the Go Institute? Or at one of the matches?”

“The last match, actually. Only it wasn’t *during* the match. It was during a break.”

Ishii frowned. During a break? The boys wouldn’t have sat for pictures during the break, it was painfully obvious what they had been doing during . . .

And then, suddenly, it hit him. He knew why the name of the newspaper sounded familiar. And he knew exactly when that picture had been taken.

He whirled around to face the other man. “You took *that* picture!”

Okasoto smiled and folded his arms across his chest. “Yes, I did,” he said, a touch of pride in his voice.

“Do you know how much damage you did with that shot?” Ishii was fumbling with his tie faster than ever, and his face was starting to take on something of a reddish tint. “I lost my contract with the Go Institute! A major publicity campaign was squandered! They lost their best chance in years to educate the general public about Go!”

Okasoto blinked rapidly. This kind of thing hadn’t occurred to him. Publicity campaign? They were actually trying to get people to *play* this boring game? *No wonder he’s upset,* he thought. *This game needs all the publicity it can get.*

He was going to reply when he felt a sharp jab in his ribs on the other side. It was another reporter, from another one of the dailies, a burly guy trying to focus a digital camera on the playing area.

“Sorry,” he said. “There ain’t much room for us to move around in here, is there? I mean, with all of us packed in and all.”

Okasoto took a look around him. Sure enough, the rows designated for the press had filled up, and then some. All around him were men and women with notebooks, miniature tape recorders and cameras. Some of them were talking amongst themselves, others, like the man next to him, were just trying to get the best possible shot of the stage.

He turned back to Ishii. “I don’t think I damaged the game’s public relations at all.”

Ishii turned even redder. “What did you say?”

“Take a look around you. Go never was *this* much in the public eye before.”

Ishii looked around. And around.

“They’re here for the wrong reasons!” he retorted.

“Yes, but they’re *here*, aren’t they?” Okasoto said. “They’re here and they’re going to write about Go.”

“They’re going to be hounding Shindou and Touya, not writing about Go!” Ishii snapped.

“And you can’t very well write about Shindou and Touya without at least *mentioning* Go, right?” said Okasoto.

“That’s all they’ll do,” said Ishii, practically twisting his tie in knots by now. “*Mention* it. And then spend the rest of the article speculating on their private lives.”

“Making Go look scandalous, glamorous, and attractive,” Okasoto replied. “You know what they say about no such thing as bad publicity.”

Okasoto was going to reply, but the words wouldn’t come. Because what Okasoto had said just hit home.

*If everything had gone right,* he thought, *and we had done the campaign, if I had drawn this many reporters, I would have been ecstatic.*

He sank back into his seat, overwhelmed with the irony. A smarmy reporter out to stir up trouble had done his intended job better than he ever could.

* * *

Hikaru was glad that the hall they were playing in had a “green room” area, with a main waiting area and several smaller cubicles.

He was in one of the cubicles now. He wanted to be alone. He had to make sure he stayed composed, focused.

In the next room, he could hear Waya and Isumi talking. Under normal circumstances, he’d be out there with them. Someone else let out a loud guffaw of laughter, probably blowing off steam before a tense match.

He wondered where Touya was. He hadn’t seen or spoken to him since the night before -- he had rode here in the bullet train alone, the first time he’d done such a thing. Usually, if he hadn’t been sitting with Akira, he’d be with Waya and Isumi.

But he couldn’t think of any of them right now. He had to focus on the game.

*This round determines the final four,* Hikaru thought. *I have to win. Losing isn’t an option at all. There’s too much at stake. I have to show people I can *play*.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to empty his mind, as Sai taught him to do so very long ago.

*I’ll win, Sai,* he thought. *I’ll win, and get everyone’s respect back. They’ll have no choice but to notice me for my *Go.*

He heard a voice outside calling, “Players to your positions! All players to your positions!”

Hikaru got up and left the room, eyes burning with determination, fan clenched tightly in his hand.

This was no mere game. It was war.

* * *

Waya poured himself a glass of water from the cooler and sank down on the chair, loosening his tie. He couldn’t believe he’d lost that game. He’d gained so much territory early on, and protected it fiercely -- and while he was busy doing that, his opponent was slyly grabbing territory all over the rest of the board.

*He snuck up on me just like Shindou does,* he thought, crumpling the cup and tossing it in the garbage.

The green room was deserted right now. He wasn’t the first person to have lost his game, but he was the first to come back here. The others were all watching Touya. He sure as hell wasn’t going to do that.

He clenched his hand into a fist when he thought of Touya Akira corrupting Shindou, taking advantage of their bizarre obsession with each other to seduce him. He was angry at Touya for doing it, angry at Shindou for giving in.

*No one was surprised that Touya turned out to be light in the loafers,* Waya thought. *But Shindou . . . Nobody expected this. Nobody.*

He knew Isumi was extremely uncomfortable with the very idea of Hikaru being gay. He’d just acted awkward whenever the boy was mentioned ever since that picture appeared. Most of the guys in the study group were, too -- when they’d discussed the matter, they tried to act as if they were being open-minded, talking about how horrible it was that Shindou had be be outed by the press, but their downcast eyes and nervous tics belayed their true feelings.

“Crap, I don’t know how I feel about this,” he said out loud, raking his fingers through his unruly mop of brown hair. “I don’t know if I hate this just because he’s gay or because he’s gay with *Touya*!”

At that moment, Isumi came into the room, looking strangely calm. “What happened?” Waya said.

Isumi sat beside him. “I won. The final four is going to be myself, Shindou, Touya and Murikami.” He looked away. “I just hope I’m not playing Shindou.”

“What do you mean?” Waya replied.

“Did you see how he’s playing today?” Isumi said, reaching for a water cup. “He’s absolutely savage. Playing lightning Go all the way. Cutting the other guy off. Using every psych-out in his arsenal. I don’t know why the game lasted as long as it did -- I would have resigned long before his opponent did.”

Waya blinked. He thought that all the publicity, all the reporters, all this mess would have knocked Shindou off-balance, made his game unstable. Instead, it was doing the exact opposite.

“I just don’t understand him,” he mumbled aloud. Whenever he’d said that, he’d always meant he didn’t understand Shindou the Go player. Now, he was beginning to not understand the *person*, either.

“And Touya . . . was Touya, but more so,” said Isumi, swirling the water in his cup around again. “He was very precise. Methodical. Almost like he was dissecting the other guy.”

“Not surprised,” Waya said. “He doesn’t give a damn about what people say about him.” He looked at Isumi. “So where are they now? Don’t see them around here.”

“I think they went back to the hotel,” Isumi replied. “They just disappeared after the match.”

They didn’t want to take that discussion further. It would mean talking about Shindou and Touya’s relationship, and it was something neither wanted to do.

Instead, Waya said, “When do you find out who you’re playing?”

“Tomorrow morning, first thing. There’s a drawing.”

* * *

Akira headed back to the hotel, a slight wind ruffling his hair as he walked on the side of the road alone.

Alone had been his typical state for most of his life. It had never bothered him, it seemed the most natural thing in the world.

Now, though, he was feeling the absence of Shindou beside him.

*When did he become enough a part of me that I feel like something’s missing if he’s not there?* Akira thought.

He was glad that no press saw him leave the building. He couldn’t deal with them following him back here. He’d managed to ignore their constant presence for the most part, but the very idea of their cameras being trained constantly on himself and Shindou was annoying him. Because he know those cameras weren’t there to capture their Go.

His hand slid into his pocket and grasped his cell phone as he headed up the hotel walk. Usually, when he was playing on the road, he called his father after the match and told him how it went.

That was before his father had stopped talking to him.

As he walked into the lobby, he saw Shindou headed toward the elevators, also alone. The other boy didn’t look back at him, just walked, jumped on the first elevator that came and disappeared from sight.

Akira’s hand clenched into a fist. He didn't think he’d ever feel this degree of pain over something that wasn’t related to Go. This hurt like those initial defeats by Sai, or his loss to Ogata in the Honinbou tournament.

He headed for the elevator and pushed the button. An elderly couple, who were also waiting, turned and gave him a peculiar look for a moment, their eyes saying, “Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” He remained looking straight ahead.

It seemed like an eternity before the elevator arrived, another one before it stopped at his floor. He pulled out his key card, pushed it into the lock and went in.

The first thing he noticed was that the light was on. He frowned -- he was sure he’d turned it off. Well, the housekeeping staff had probably been in there.

He headed for his bed -- and stopped short.

The bed was already occupied, by a young woman with red hair.

He stood rooted to the spot, mouth hanging open. And it hung open more when she slid upward, the sheet slipping down over her shoulders, just enough to see she was wearing nothing on top.

Chances were, she was wearing nothing on the bottom, either.

“Hi there,” she said in a sexy voice. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

Akira found himself starting to turn red with anger -- although he was still paralyzed. He raised a hand, pointed at the door, and said, “I don’t know who you are, or how you got in here, but I want you to get out. Now.”

“Now, what fun would that be?” The woman sat up, hair spilling over her shoulders, covers falling away to reveal an ample bosom. Akira quickly turned his head away. He’d never seen anyone outside his family naked except Hikaru. He certainly hadn’t wanted to see someone naked under these circumstances.

“I’m not interested in fun,” Akira said, wondering how he was even managing to get the words out.

“That’s because nobody has ever showed you the *right way* to have fun,” the woman said, starting to rise from the bed.

Now Akira suddenly regained control of his body, and began moving toward her rapidly, as if to push her back down. “I said GET OUT!” he shouted. “Or I’ll call the police!”

But the woman, nonplussed, just said, “You’re too uptight. You need to be loosened up a bit.” And she grabbed Akira’s tie and yanked him downward.

Akira found himself sprawling atop the woman. He tried to pull away, but she ensnared him like an octopus, wrapping her arms around him -- and one leg. He struggled, she held on tighter, laughing, trying to put her lips on his. She moved her head toward the left, he jerked his to the right. She moved to the right, he jerked to the left.

* * *

Hikaru was in his room, lying on the bed, idly flipping through the channels of the television. There was nothing there he particularly wanted to watch, but it was better than stillness and silence.

There was always his portable goban . . . he should run a few exercises, recreate some games, in preparation for the next day’s play. But somehow, that option didn’t seem all that appealing, either.

He flopped on his back and stared at the ceiling, hands folded behind his head. It was times like this when his head felt empty, because he was no longer sharing consciousness with Sai.

*Is it really *that* which is bothering me?* he thought. *Or do I just miss Akira?*

He was starting to mull this over when he heard the yell from the next room. He jumped to his feet -- was Touya in trouble? He rushed into the hall -- the other boy’s door was slightly ajar, and there was definitely sounds of scuffling, or maybe a struggle, coming from that room.

He pushed the door open and rushed in -- then stopped short when he saw Akira, on the bed, desperately trying to free himself from the clutches of a naked woman who definitely didn’t seem intent on letting him go. He was wriggling and twisting like a fly caught in a spider’s web, she was hanging on like a leech. When he seemed to have most of his body free, she’d wrap around him again and pull him down.

Hikaru began to chuckle quietly at the absurd sight. Which became full-blown laughter. Which became him roaring hysterically, tears pouring from his eyes.

The two on the bed froze. The woman dropped her guard long enough for Akira to free himself. Leaping to his feet and whirling around to face Hikaru, he shouted, “It’s *not funny*!”

But that just made Hikaru laugh all the harder, grabbing the bureau for support, bending over double and clutching his stomach.

“Stop it!” Akira shouted. “I could have been . . .” He didn’t know what the word for what almost happened to him was. Raped? But men usually didn’t get raped by women!

This just made Hikaru start to turn red, gasping for air as he clutched the bureau tighter.

Neither seemed to notice that the woman got out of the bed, uttered a small “Humph!” and grabbed for the brief black dress tossed casually at the side of the bed. She pulled it on, slid her feet into a pair of high-heeled black sandals and left the room.

“You . . . you should have seen it,” Hikaru gasped. “You were all tangled up . . . and . . . and she . . .” He dissolved in another wave of hysteria, literally falling onto the floor.

Akira was going to shout at him again . . . until a picture filled his mind of what the scene must have looked like. And it struck him as absurd. And then, the whole situation they found themselves in struck him as absurd. Their lives had been turned into a goldfish bowl, just because of their relationship . . .

He started to laugh himself, a small chuckle, and then bigger waves of laughter, and before he knew it, he was sinking to the ground to join Shindou, clutching at his sides, rocking to and fro as one wave after another of laughter tore through him.

They raised their heads, looked at each other -- and just started laughing all over again, first Hikaru, then Akira falling down to lie flat on the floor.

Finally, they began to calm down, Hikaru managing to slow down to giggles, then coughing loudly. Akira followed suit.

They sat up, facing each other, faces flushed, panting heavily. Akira couldn’t help but compare it to how they looked and sounded after lovemaking.

“Shindou . . .” he began.

Hikaru put up a hand. “Hey, it was just *funny,* okay?”

“You don’t have to apologize,” Akira said quietly.

The two of them settled into sitting positions, Hikaru with his arms wrapped around his legs, Akira with his legs carefully tucked under him.

“Well, geez, I needed to blow off some steam after today,” Hikaru said. “Tough game, and with all those cameras pointed at us . . .”

“It’s something we’re going to have to get used to,” Akira said, reaching up to idly play with his collar. “We’re going to have to get used to a *lot*.

“Like not having people talk to us?” Hikaru said. “My mother completely freaked out when she saw that paper.”

“What about your father?”

“Hasn’t spoken to me since.” Hikaru looked away and murmured quietly, “Not that he ever did before.”

“My father still isn’t talking to me,” Akira said, looking down at the floor, his hair softly falling in his face. “He talks a little, but -- not like before. And we’re still not playing our games.”

Hikaru could see the hurt in those eyes. *For him,* he thought, *this must be like losing Sai was for me.*

He reached out and put a hand on Akira’s -- not trying to grasp and hold, just applying a gentle pressure, letting his lover know he was there, and he cared. Akira’s head remained down for a moment, then he raised it slowly, his eyes meeting Hikaru’s.

“It hurts,” Akira said, “but I’ve decided I’m not going to let him change who I am. Who I am *now*, I mean.”

“You mean, in regards to the relationship with me?” Hikaru said.

“It’s more than that. I’ve found out a lot of things about myself in the past couple of months. Things I never dreamed. Not just that I’m . . . attracted to men . . . to *you* . . . but . . .” He looked down again, brushing his hair out of his face. “It’s hard to explain.”

Hikaru smiled a bit. “Try me.”

Akira looked up at the ceiling. “Well, for the first time, it felt like there was more to *me* than Go. Before you and I became a couple, I felt like my hands were only for placing stones. And anything I did between games was, well, just killing time between games. But now . . .” His hand shifted so it was clasping Hikaru’s. “I’m still a Go player. But now I’m . . . “ He looked down again. “I’m sorry. I’m not making sense.”

“Yes, you are,” Hikaru said. “You feel like a *full person* for the first time.”

Akira looked up. “Is it that way for you, too?”

“No,” Hikaru said, covering their clasped hands with his other hand. “For me, it was the opposite. I felt like a full person only after I seriously started playing Go.”

There was a long moment of silence, during which they both contemplated this.

Finally, Akira said, “So, what happens now?”

“I think we both know the answer to that,” Hikaru said.

Akira nodded. “It’s not going to be easy. But, in a way -- well, some of the pressure’s off now, isn’t it? We don’t have to worry about ‘what if people find out,’ because they know now.”

Hikaru sighed. “I kinda wish they’d found out a different way.”

“Do you think they would have reacted any differently?”

Hikaru thought of his mother’s tears, Waya’s anger, Tsubaki’s attempt to “de-gay” him. He shook his head no.

“We’ll just figure out how the people in our lives feel after a few months,” Akira said, “and go from there. Some of them may come around by themselves.”

*And there’s others,* Akira thought, *who may not come around at all.* He just hoped his father wasn’t among the latter group.

Hikaru leaned over and wrapped his arms around Akira, drawing him into a tight embrace. They stayed that way for a long moment, just savoring the closeness they hadn’t enjoyed since the night the picture taken.

Then, Hikaru shifted so his forehead was against Akira’s, so that their faces were close together, but their lips tantalizingly apart, and said, “You know, it would be a shame to waste the fact that we’re here in this room together.”

Akira hugged him tighter. “It would definitely be a shame.” He felt the old, familiar heat rising inside him, starting to chase away all the bitterness and hurt of the days since the photo appeared. It had never felt so good.

“It’s just too bad that we don’t have any . . .”

“We do,” Akira said. “I put my overnight kit in my bag, and I have some condoms and K-Y in there.”

Hikaru pulled back. “You’re kidding.”

“Well, we *do* travel together a lot.”

Hikaru suddenly found himself bursting into laughter again. “If people knew that *Touya Akira* traveled with a sex kit . . .”

“It is NOT a sex kit!” Akira huffed, reaching up for the bag on the nearby dresser. "Look, I’ll show you what . . .”

But he didn’t finish the sentence. A hand reached up and grasped his and a pair of lips crushed against his own as he was tumbled backward onto the floor. His lips opened, and he let out a small growl deep in his throat as Hikaru’s tongue probed for his own.

Akira let out a gasp, his arms coming up around the other boy. He kissed his way along his cheek, nibbling a bit at the skin as he did so, and then just buried his face in Hikaru’s hair, inhaling deeply -- oh, yes, the slightly herbal scent of his shampoo was intoxicating, making his heart beat faster.

Hikaru began to writhe against him, pressing their bodies together, his hands gripping at the back of Akira’s shirt.

Akira tumbled them both onto the floor, hands reaching for Hikaru’s shirt buttons, feeling like he was never going to get them undone -- of all times, why did he have to be wearing a dress shirt now? He had to get it off, had to feel Hikaru’s naked skin beneath his fingers.

He pushed the fabric aside and ran his hands up and down his chest, feeling the smooth skin, the taut muscles underneath, and then, the rapidly hardening buds of his nipples. Moaning, he leaned over and began to lash at one of the buds with his tongue, making the other boy arch and cry out.

Hikaru tangled his fingers in Akira’s hair, panting, raising his body off the floor, trying to push himself onto his lover’s mouth. One leg came up and wrapped around Akira’s hip as he ground his pelvis against his lover’s, feeling their erections touch through the layers of cloth.

Akira raised his head and gasped at the sensation, pushing his hips down harder, rotating them, feeling a slow, hot wave of feeling start to spread through his body. “Hikaru . . .” he cried, hoarsely.

“I want you to get off me right now,” Hikaru said, “and take every stitch of clothes off. I want your skin on mine.”

Akira rolled off the other boy and stood up, ridding himself of tie, shirt, belt, pants . . . His eyes were fastened to Hikaru as his lover tossed the shirt on the floor, then the rest of his clothes after it.

Hikaru walked over to Akira rapidly, grasped him by the shoulders and spun him around. Akira let out a cry, and then another as the other boy pushed his back, bidding him to bend over with his hands on the bed, his bottom up in the air.

To Hikaru, that bottom was the hottest thing he’d ever seen. He bent over and nipped at the right cheek, drawing some of the flesh into his lips and sucking hard, almost hard enough to cause pain. His hand grasped the other mound, squeezing it firmly, then releasing, then squeezing again.

Akira cried out loudly, pushing his hips back against Hikaru, and cried out again as he began laying a trail of kisses all over the curves, stopping to nibble again, then suck, his teeth scraping at the skin just enough for Akira to *feel* it.

One hand reached around his body and wrapped around his erection, beginning to stoke it with a rapid motion, making Akira give another sharp cry. The fingers paused at the head, moving around and around in a rapid swirling motion, then wrapped around his maleness, pumping hard and fast. On one downstroke, his thumb flicked out to brush for just a second on the sac beneath, making Akira give a small, sharp cry.

Hikaru’s tongue stroked a straight line up the right cheek as his index finger traced a straight line from root to tip, then down again. His teeth nipped at the flesh as he wrapped his fingers around the shaft again and began stroking hard and fast.

Akira’s head leaned downward, his hair softly falling over his face as he panted and moaned, his eyes shut tight, his lips moist and parted. His hands clutched tightly at the bedding beneath him as he struggled to hold on . . . couldn’t come, not yet . ..

Then the stroking, nibbling and sucking stopped. Hikaru began moving up, pressing his chest to his lover’s bottom and sliding it upward, over his back, until he was bent over the other boy, his lips at his ear, his erection tantalizingly pressing against the cleft.

“Your turn,” he whispered, hotly. “Now make me moan.”

Akira turned his head so he could kiss Hikaru’s lips. “How would you like me to do that?” he whispered.

“Any way you like.” Hikaru moved away from Akira and lay on his back on the bed, legs bent at the knee and open invitingly.

Akira reached for the “sex kit.” He knew what he wanted to do, all right. Something he came across in his research.

He took the tube of lubricant and squeezed some on his finger, leaning over to kiss Hikaru’s lips. He reached for the boy’s opening and began to softly massage it, coaxing it to let him in.

Hikaru raised his head -- why was Akira doing this *now*? He wasn’t sure if they’d fooled around enough for him to have a comfortable entry. “Akira . . .”

“Ssshhhh,” Akira said, sliding his finger in slowly. “Relax . . . you’ll see.”

Hikaru lay back, puzzled. He winced as the now-familiar burning pain came, and took a deep breath, willing himself to relax. Akira’s finger probed deeper, and the pain subsided and began to mix with pleasure.

But there was something different about this time and all the other times they’d done this. He wasn’t starting to thrust in and out. Instead, he was curving his finger a bit and making an odd motion, as if he were beckoning someone, the pad of his finger brushing against the wall of his sheath. And he was moving it in small circles, up and down, back and forth.

The sensation was . . . odd.

Hikaru was about to ask him what he was doing when a sharp electric jolt shot through his whole body, making him arch off the bed and give a small yell.

Akira stopped what he was doing. Hikaru collapsed to the bed, gasping.

“What . . . what was that?”

Akira just smiled a little. “I’ve found what I was looking for.”

And he began the beckon-stroking motion again, right over the spot he’d just touched, and Hikaru felt the electric sensation again, consuming his whole body, more sharp and intense than any pleasure he’d ever felt except at the very peak of orgasm. Except he wasn’t coming. He was just suspended in a state of bliss that was on the verge of being torturous agony.

Hikaru pulled his legs up further, he writhed, he clutched at the sheets. His eyes were tightly shut, his mouth open in an O of pleasure, his breath coming in rapid gasps punctuated with deep groans. His skin was broken out in a sheen of sweat, his nipples standing out in bas relief on his flushed skin, his erection feeling ready to burst.

When Akira stopped stroking for a moment, and leaned over to quickly sweep his tongue up and down Hikaru’s erection, Hikaru nearly lost it.

The tongue left him, the stroking started again, but then Akira’s other hand was reaching up to his chest, finding the right nipple, brushing lightly in circles over it, squeezing it gently. Hikaru arched upward, letting out a hoarse cry, one hand clutching the sheet, the other slamming down on the mattress over and over.

Akira slid his finger out, and Hikaru cried out in protest. He quickly wiped it off and relubed it, along with a second finger, and pushed them back in. Hikaru’s whole body was limp and trembling from the pleasure before. A small shudder ran through him as Akira began to thrust.

“I’m going to take you,” Akira said in a husky voice, pulling the fingers out and wiping them off, then grabbing a condom. He couldn’t take his eyes off his lover as he rolled the rubber on and applied lubricant as fast as he could.

Hikaru let out another moan as Akira positioned himself above him, the tip of his manhood starting to press against his opening. He lifted his hips, thrusting upward, trying to impale himself.

The pain came, but it did not last nearly as long as it did in the past, and when the pleasure began to flood him, it was so sweet and intense he had to bite his lip to keep from coming right then.

Akira paused, feeling Hikaru grip him tightly, taking a deep breath as silky pleasure began to steal through him in long tendrils. He had to hold on, couldn’t let it end right away . . .

He began to thrust slowly, resisting the urge to just grab the boy’s hips with both hands and just plow into him as hard and fast as he could. He heard Hikaru’s groan of pleasure, and it was answered with a groan of his own . . . so hot, so tight, so delicious . . .

His hips moved faster, and he felt Hikaru move upward to meet each one, the boy’s hands gripping his back, his legs coming up to wrap around his hips.

“More,” Hikaru gasped, as Akira buried his face in the juncture of his head and shoulder with a deep groan. The boys moved as one, faster and faster, both of them thinking they were just so close, any second, any . . .

Akira suddenly stiffened, then let out a yell, feeling waves of liquid heat flood through every bit of him, again and again. Just as he was starting to feel the final spasms of heat, Hikaru cried out as one pulse of fire after another shot through his body, until he collapsed back to the bed, limp, Akira sprawled on top of him.

There was a long moment where both just panted, clinging to each other as if for dear life. Then, Akira raised his head and brought his lips to Hikaru’s for a tender kiss.

“Okay, that was worth waiting for,” Hikaru said. They both laughed.

Akira slid off the bed and went into the bathroom, returning with a wet rag. He began to gently clean Hikaru off.

“Hey, what was that thing you were doing with your finger?” Hikaru said.

Akira smiled. “You liked that?”

“Liked it? It was . . . gods, I never felt anything like that before!”

“Prostate massage,” Akira said, finishing Hikaru and beginning to clean himself off. “One of the Web sites I went to told me how to do it.”

“Well, you’re going to have to show me,” Hikaru said. “I want to do it to you.”

A small shiver passed through Akira at that idea. He saw how intense the pleasure Hikaru had experienced was. He could only imagine experiencing it himself.

Akira got back in the bed and kissed him again. “I can’t give you all my secrets, Shindou,” he said, teasingly.

“Okay, I’ll find out myself. I won’t let you get ahead of me.”

Akira pulled the other boy into his embrace. “We’ll see about that.”

They snuggled up and started to fall asleep -- the first truly restful sleep either had experienced in days.

* * *

Ishii was glad he was sitting at the end of the aisle today. For one thing, it put some distance between himself and that Okasoto creature. He didn’t have any desire to converse with him ever again. Why, the bastard was holding court with other reporters earlier this morning, with them all congratulating him on taking such a great picture. He’d hoped the other members of the press had more class than to give someone like that any credibility.

Unfortunately, his hopes were for nothing.

He also liked to be able to come and go as he pleased. Now that his publicity campaign for the Go Institute was officially “in limbo” (which was better than what the officials had told him before, amounting to “dead as a doornail”), he didn’t have as much interest in watching boys slap stones down on a board.

*I don’t know why I’m even still here,* he thought. *Maybe it’s because I’m still holding out hope that they’ll decide to go ahead with it. Because, gay or not, Touya and Shindou are *star material*. And, dammit, I wanted to be the one to *make* them stars.*

He walked out into the lobby of the building where, to his surprise, he saw Amano standing by the windows, smoking and looking out at the overcast day.

“I’m surprised you’re not in there watching it,” Ishii said.

“There’s no point,” Amano replied, tapping his cigarette into a gray granite column with a bowl of sand stuck in its top. “I could tell just by watching the first twenty or so hands. Touya and Shindou have it wrapped up. The final will be between them. They both have such a *fire* today . . .”

“Maybe it’s from anger,” Ishii said. “All these idiots from the non-Go press gawking at them.”

“They’ll go away soon,” Amano said. “They came looking for a freak show, a public display. When they find there is none, they’ll go back to chasing idol singers and baseball players.”

“Yes . . . people *expected* them to put on a public display,” Ishii murmured, fumbling with his tie. “Let me ask you something. I remember you saying back at the Go Institute that you’d noticed something unusual between them all along. If it was that obvious, why didn’t anyone else pick up on it?”

Amano shrugged. “Too dazzled by their talent to see anything else, maybe. Or perhaps it’s because they just didn’t want to see it.”

The doors of the playing room opened and people started spilling out, chatting loudly, some of them pulling out cell phones, others taking out cigarettes. Ishii could hear the man nearest him saying into his phone, “Yep, Touya and Shindou. The final is after lunch. . . Oh, their opponents didn’t have a chance. They creamed ‘em. Both of ‘em. Resigned within minutes of each other.”

Ishii turned back to Amano. “You were right,” he said. “Okay, I’m going to check in with my office and maybe get some lunch. I’ll see you back in there.”

“All right,” Amano said. He turned back to observe the throngs of press, all the people talking in groups, or into their phones, chatting with excitement about the drama of the two illicit lovers playing each other for the championship.

He knew from past experience watching Shindou and Touya that they were going to deliver a show much more exciting and interesting than the kiss these people had come there to photograph.

“Now,” the reporter murmured to himself, “maybe all these people who came here for the freak show will wind up sitting up and taking notice of *how they play Go.*”

* * *

Hikaru was sitting on the steps just outside the back door of the building. He’d managed to slip out when nobody was looking.

He needed a few minutes to focus before the match, and he wasn’t going to get that with other players around. Or *especially* reporters.

Slowly, he took a deep breath, holding it for a few seconds, then letting it out. He needed to empty his mind, to relax. Because he knew he could very well be playing the most important game of his life.

*Touya’s going to be thinking that way, too,* Hikaru thought. *This is going to be the first game between us since *it* happened, and it would have to be in the finals of a tournament.*

But this had gone far beyond being just another tournament. Hikaru knew he wasn’t in it for the prize money or the bragging rights. He was in it to show the world he was a *Go player* first and foremost.

His right hand gripped the fan that was his tangible symbol of Sai. When he’d carried that fan into the Hokuto Cup tournament, he hadn’t walked away with the victory, but he *had* walked away with the respect of the press and the international Go community.

Today, he was going to settle for nothing less than getting that respect back.

“I’m going to beat you today, Touya,” Hikaru said out loud, tapping the fan against the palm of his left hand. “I’ll beat you and make everyone take notice. Then nobody will care what we do away from the goban.”

He stood up, yanked the door open, took another deep breath and headed back in.

* * *

Okasoto wished he knew what the hell was going on at that goban.

He’d watched the two boys sit down, bow, do that counting thing where they figured out who was going first, exchange formal pleasantries -- that same old Go stuff that was starting to look really, really repetitious by now.

A black stone was laid down, then a white, then another black . . . and then, several hands later, a gasp went up from the crowd. A few more stones, then another gasp.

Someone in front of him murmured, “That was a mistake. A horrible mistake. It’s not like Shindou to do something like that this early in the game.”

*Great*, Okasoto thought. *I wouldn’t know a mistake if you waved it in front of my face.*

He looked around him, at the faces of his fellow audience members. The Go players and the press who regularly covered the game sat at rapt attention, eyes glued to the board.

*What the hell is it about this game that fascinates people so?* Okasoto thought. *It’s not as if there’s *action,* like soccer or baseball. It’s just . . . stones. I don’t get it. I don’t think I’ll ever get it.*

Another move, another gasp. The two people in front of him leaned over so they could see better. A couple of others a few seats away were pointing and whispering.

The reporter raised his camera and began to take shots of the expressions of the two young men. Their eyes were glowing with a fierce intensity, their jaws firmly set in an attitude of deep concentration as they studied the board, as if this game were the only thing that mattered in the world.

*I always thought the kids who played Go at my high school were no-life loser geeks,* Okasoto thought. *Maybe these guys are to some extent. Hell, maybe they turned to each other for sex because they have no life outside Go. But *why* Go in the first place? Why does it *obsess* people like this?*

More clinking of stones, a few more gasps, and then suddenly, a great cry throughout the room. Now Okasoto craned his neck along with everyone else.

“What just happened?” he whispered.

“That screwup Shindou made early on turned out to be brilliant,” whispered the nearly bald man in front of him.

“He *always* does that,* whispered his companion. “You think he’s dead in the water, and he always comes back.”

Okasoto sat back in his seat. It was no use, there was no way he could find out what the blazes was happening.

*Just keep telling yourself that in a couple of weeks, you’ll be covering entertainment -- *real* stories -- instead of this stuff,* Okasoto thought.

In front of him, the two men were whispering again. “That’s it,” the first man said. “Shindou’s got the game locked up now. Unless Touya does something amazing, Shindou’s the winner.”

* * *

“One-half moku,” Hikaru mumbled. “One HALF a damn moku!”

“You’ve been saying that nonstop for the past five minutes,” Akira said coolly, adding sugar to his tea. Fortunately, the cafe where they’d come after the match was quiet and devoid of reporters.

“But I thought I *had* it! And in the end . . .”

Akira heaved a deep sigh. “Shindou, we’ve reviewed the game already. You didn’t shore up those stones on the upper right fast enough. That’s what ended up costing you the game in the end.”

“Well, you cut me off too soon in the upper left!” Hikaru clutched his soda glass with both hands.

“That was right after you caught me off guard,” Akira said, raising the cup. “It was a brilliant strategy. It just didn’t . . .”

Hikaru put up a hand. “I *know* it didn’t work out! You keep telling me that!”

“Well, YOU keep talking about the half a moku!” Akira said, clanking the cup down a tad too hard. “And I’m trying to help you figure out what happened!”

Hikaru slumped down in his seat, folding his arms across his chest. “You’re just pointing out the same mistakes over and over.”

“That’s because you won’t get it through your head that is the *reason* why you lost!” Akira said, his voice rising.

At that moment, the waitress approach their table gingerly, as if afraid she was going to get caught in the crossfire. In a small voice, she said, “Excuse me, gentlemen, do you need anything else right now?”

“No thank you,” Akira said. Hikaru shook his head.

With the momentum of their argument broken up, the boys just sat in silence for a moment. Then, Hikaru said, “So now we have to go home. I’m not looking forward to it.”

Akira picked up his cup again. “I don’t think either of us is going to have an easy time at home for awhile.”

“Why do we still have to live at home, anyway?” Hikaru said, curling his hands around his glass. “Waya has his own apartment. We’re pros!”

Akira looked up. What Hikaru had just said . . . it made a lot of sense.

“Shindou,” he said, “would you consider it?”

Hikaru took a long drink of his soda, then said, “Consider what?”

“The two of us getting an apartment together.”

Hikaru thought this over for a moment. “You sure we could do it?”

“Well, like you said, we’re pros. We can pay for it. We can use the tournament money for our down payment. I got 1,400,000 yen as a prize, plus a match fee of 220,000 yen. How about you?”

“Two hundred eighty thousand yen for the second place prize. And 170,000 yen match fee.”

“That’s more than enough.” Akira said. “I’ll start doing research on the Internet as soon as we get back.”

Hikaru leaned over and took his straw between his lips. “Do you research *everything* on the Internet?” he mumbled around it before taking a drink.

“If I didn’t do that, we wouldn’t have information about anything,” Akira said cooly.

“Hey, I can do research!” Hikaru said, loudly. “You remember that I went to the library and researched . . .” He suddenly realized what he had been about to yell across the cafe, and he slumped down in his seat, hands clamped over his mouth, a slight flush spreading over his cheeks.

“Leave this research to me,” Akira said. “Your kind of research isn’t what we’re looking for in this situation.”

“Can’t we just look in the newspaper for apartments?” Hikaru said, poking at his soda with the straw again.

“We don’t know what we’re looking for!” Akira said. “That’s why I have to do research!”

*I always thought that if I was going to move out,* he thought, *that my father would help me find the apartment. But now, I can’t depend on him. I’m on my own.*

The thought of the rift between himself and his father caused a painful clutching in his heart.

*Maybe when there’s some distance between us, Father,* he thought, *it will give you time to think it over, and you will see where I am coming from. You’ll see that I know what I’m doing with this relationship, and it’s not going to affect who I am, as a person or as a player.*

“I wanna get a big-screen television for our apartment,” Hikaru said, picking up his glass.

“We’re *not* going to have time to watch a lot of television!”

“I know, but -- for when I want to play video games . . .”

Akira put his cup down and looked sharply at Hikaru. “We’re not going to have time for that, either!”

Hikaru leaned over toward his lover. “That’s why you need to relax, Touya. I’m going to see you do once we’re living together.”

“I’m plenty relaxed!” Akira said, sitting up stiffly.

“Sure. Just look at you right now.”

“What do you mean?” said Akira, his posture getting even stiffer.

“Don’t worry,” said Hikaru with a sly smile on his face. “I have plans for you. You’ll see.”

“What do you mean by that?”

But Hikaru just smiled. Actually, he had no plans. He’d figure out something when they got to their apartment. But Akira didn’t need to know that.

“What do you mean? Tell me! SHINDOU!”

* * *

Amano looked at the kifu spread out on the table in front of him. They were records of the recent Young Stars tournament. Everyone involved had played great games, seemingly unruffled by the controversy surrounding Shindou and Touya.

But Shindou and Touya themselves had been exceptional.

He picked up the record of the final game and studied it closely. This was the kind of game you’d expect from two older pros who were going for a major championship.

*I have no doubt,* he thought, *that we’ll be seeing those two challenging the title holders much sooner than most people think.*

He looked up when he saw a figure enter his office wearing a navy blue suit. “Good day, Amano-san,” he said.

“I didn’t think I’d see you around here again, Ishii-san,” Amano said, putting the kifu down.

“Oh, I will be around, all right,” Ishii said, sitting down. “The board of directors saw all the press coverage from the Young Stars Tournament. The Go writers all raved about Shindou and Touya’s last game. Hell, even that creep from the Daily Mirror restrained himself and printed pictures of them *playing* this time. And so, they want to restart the campaign.”

Amano shuffled the pile of kifu. “So you’re going ahead with the Go Idol thing?”

“Not quite,” Ishii said. “It’s going to be more low-key. Articles in publications with a youth audience, but -- more about the game itself, not pushing the players as personalities. We’ll set up interviews with Shindou and Touya, of course, but also some other boys who have good playing records and are well-spoken.”

Amano nodded, setting his pile of papers off to the side. “I think everyone will be a lot more comfortable with that.”

“I can’t say I’m not disappointed the other one didn’t work out,” Ishii said. “Those boys, Shindou and Touya -- they really *do* have star quality.”

“And you wanted to do something with that quality, didn’t you?” Amano said.

Ishii began to fiddle with his tie. “I’m a publicist, Amano-san, and I like what I do. I look at boys like Shindou and Touya the way a sculptor would look at a block of marble.”

“Go players aren’t exactly made of marble,” Amano said, pulling out a cigarette.

“I know that now,” Ishii said. “The game -- it’s not just another game, is it? It’s not like soccer. Those boys -- they seemed to be playing from their very *souls*.”

Ishii nodded as he lit up. “You’ve hit pretty close to what it really is.”

“So, maybe packaging something like that and selling it like soap wasn’t a good idea in the first place.” He stood up. “Well, I have to meet up with a couple of people and set up the first round of interviews.” He bowed. “I will see you later.”

“Yes,” Amano said. “Until later, then.”

Ishii left the Weekly Go office and headed for the elevator. As he waited, he happened to catch a glimpse into one of the playing rooms.

Two boys were sitting at different Go boards, one blonde, a closed fan lying by his side, the other dark. Both were fixing their opponents with deadly gazes, playing as if their lives depended on it. Both were giving off an air of charisma, of mastery of the game.

Ishii smiled to himself. *I may have to lay low now,* he thought, *but I *will* make the two of you stars someday.*

And with that, he boarded the elevator and headed downstairs.


I’d wanted to do a story about a couple being forcibly outed for a long time -- in fact, this story grew out of a germ of an idea I'd had for a Kaikan Phrase story years ago. Aishuu helped me develop the version you see here.

Many, many thanks to Steve Savage and Aishuu for their invaluable input. Thanks also to my Go Go Neko friends and to everyone who commented on Balance Parts 1 and 2. Parts 4 and 5 of the series have already been written, and will be posted after this fic!

Hikaru no Go is property of Yumi Hotta, Takeshi Obata and Shueisha. These characters ain't mine, I'm just borrowing them for a little while.