<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


Akira did not take kindly to being woken up by the sound of singing in the shower.

He turned over, groaned, and pulled the covers up over his head as if to block out the sound. It wasn’t doing any good. He could still hear Hikaru yelping over the running water.

*He said his cousin’s a professional musician,* Akira thought, pulling a pillow over his head. *Well, his cousin got all the musical talent in the family. Every single scrap of it.*

But he knew mornings like this were something he was going to have to face every day now -- part of the price of their living together.

Peeking out from his cocoon of bedding, he checked the alarm clock. It was set to go off in five minutes, anyway -- he might as well get up. It was a school day, and he’d taken an extra day off the week before to move in.

Akira swung around and put his feet on the floor, reaching for the yukata draped over a nearby chair -- the one Hikaru had playfully pulled off him last night. He blinked against the morning light, resisting it.

He’d never been very much of a morning person.

The shower was still going on as Akira padded into the hall, in search of tea. The apartment seemed to have gotten larger overnight -- well, it wasn’t exactly small to begin with. It had two bedrooms (one of which had been converted into a Go room), the separate toilet room and bathing room that were standard in Japanese housing, a spacious living room and a kitchen -- and crossing all of it felt like climbing Mount Everest right now.

Reaching the cabinets, he fumbled around for the can of tea. Well, they’d only been settled in a few days, he couldn’t be expected to find everything at first.

He was settling the strainer into the teapot when he felt a pair of arms grab him about the waist from behind and a kiss on his cheek -- not to mention wet hair on his face. “Good morning,” Hikaru said. “It’s your turn for the shower now.”

Akira leaned back against him and breathed in the clean scent of soap and shampoo. He’d always suspected his lover used very basic, “guy stuff” when it came to toiletries. He had his confirmation now, since he now shared closets and cabinets with him.

“Good morning,” Akira said. “I won’t be that long. We can let the tea steep in the meantime.”

Hikaru pulled away from Akira and opened the biggest cabinet, beginning to take out plates and cups. “Won’t be that long? With all that stuff you have in there?”

Akira folded his arms and frowned a bit. “What do you mean?”

“I mean you’ve got a whole shelf of hair care stuff in there!” Hikaru said, carrying the dishware to the table. “I didn’t think you were high-maintenance, Touya!”

Akira bristled, narrowing his eyes at his lover. “What’s wrong with wanting to look your best?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” Hikaru said, heading for the fridge. “It’s just that you spend as much time on your hair as you do on Go!”

“Maybe if you spent some time on *your* hair, you wouldn’t always look like you were caught in a windstorm!” Akira snapped, starting to head for the bathroom.

“Hey, I like looking casual,” Hikaru replied, carrying a carton of milk to the table and resisting the urge to drink directly from it. It had been one thing to do that in his parents’ house. In this place he now shared with Akira, it just seemed wrong. “Hey, do you want cereal or toast for breakfast?”

Akira shuddered a bit. He should have known that Hikaru had grown up in a household that had Western-style breakfasts -- meaning, whatever kind of sugary garbage one could cram down one’s throat before running out the door. He’d grown up on proper Japanese breakfasts, fish and miso soup.

So far, they’d avoided the issue by eating from-a-mix pancakes. But he knew they couldn’t do that every day.

“How about eggs?” he said. *That would at least be something substantial,* he thought.

Hikaru frowned. “I’ve never cooked eggs.”

“Neither have I,” Akira said, “but how hard can it be? You scramble them, you pour them in a pan, you stir them . . .”

“Okay, okay,” Hikaru said, going back to the cabinet for a mixing bowl. “Go take your shower, I’ll see what I can do.”

Hikaru sighed when he heard the shower room door shut. He looked at the mixing bowl in front of him the way a homeowner embarking on spring cleaning would look at a garage that had been neglected for years.

He had never done anything domestic. Well, except for one attempt at cooking dinner that had ended in catastrophe. Most Japanese boys didn’t make it a point to learn the housekeeping arts. They all figured they’d have a mother, then a wife to take care of them.

The story was substantially different when one had committed himself to another man.

Going back into the fridge, Hikaru found the carton of eggs they’d bought the day before and removed four of them -- two for each person sounded correct to him. He cracked them into the bowl, trying to remember the times he’d seen his mother doing this. He had to add a little milk, right? And salt and pepper? Or was that soy sauce? No, not soy sauce, that would make it *too* salty.

As he grabbed a fork and began beating the hell out of the mixture in the bowl -- sloshing a fair amount of it on the table in the process -- he thought about how he was going to have to get used to stuff like this. After all, the majority of the household duties were probably going to fall to him. Akira went to high school, he didn’t, which meant he was more likely to have free periods between games and lessons.

Plus, Akira had said he was going to handle their finances. And if he had half the wife’s job, it meant Hikaru was pretty much obligated to fulfill the other half.

*It’s worth it, though,* Hikaru thought, finding the big skillet on the pot rack, putting it on the stove and turning the power on high -- that was right, wasn’t it? Now, wasn’t he supposed to put something in the pan? Oil? Butter? He fumbled in the cabinets until he came up with a bottle of cooking oil, which he poured in the pan -- and promptly jumped back, yelping, when some of it splattered right out, burning him.

This wasn’t as easy as it looked. He removed the pan from the heat and snatched at a paper towel, running it under cold water and pressing it to his burns. He scowled at the pot as if it was a group of stones that was having great difficulty staying alive.

*Okay, maybe lower heat,* he thought. *And maybe pour off a little of the oil.*

He knew he was bound and determined to learn to do this -- more determined than he’d been since he was taking the pro exam. He wanted Akira and himself to have a *good* life together. It had been fabulous so far -- knowing he’d be coming home to his lover rather than a family that didn’t understand him (and made no effort to) made all the difference in the world.

And the sex wasn’t exactly bad, either. Having Akira there whenever he wanted him, rather than having to suppress his desires and wait until they got an evening when one or the other of them would have an empty house was bliss. They’d more than broken in their new bed.

He started pouring the eggs in the pan, listening to them sizzle and thinking of the night before -- of Akira’s moans as he ran his tongue slowly along his erection, then began to take him in and suck slowly as his hands slid up his body, caressing, feeling for . . .

An acrid smell assaulted his nostrils, bringing him back to reality with a loud “AACK!” That wasn’t *smoke* coming out of his pan, was it? He began to frantically stir the contents with a spatula.

Some time later, Akira came out of the bathroom to see Hikaru putting a dish of . . . something on the table.

“Um, I don’t know if they’re supposed to be this brown,” Hikaru said.

Akira looked at the bowl. If he didn’t know better, he’d say it was a bowl of shelled walnuts, rather than scrambled eggs.

But he was too hungry, and it was too late, to argue.

With a sigh, he sat down at the table. “Let’s eat.”

* * *

“That boy just left for school,” Suzuhara Kyoko said as she reentered her apartment, newspaper in hand.

Her husband, Hiromi, looked up from his huge bowl of miso soup. “What boy?” he said, quickly wiping a spill off his face before it could splatter on his neatly pressed gray business suit.

“One of the boys that moved in next door. The one with the long hair,” she said, putting the paper down and pushing her wavy, dark red hair back off her face.

Hiromi gave out a noise that was almost, but not quite a snort and went back to his bowl. “They said a *couple* was moving in. I wasn’t expecting two *boys*.”

“They’re so young,” his wife said, pouring herself a cup of tea. “They don’t look any more than seventeen. I can’t see how they can afford to live in a place like this.”

“I don’t think I *want* to know,” Hiromi said, finishing the last of his soup and pushing the bowl aside. “I gotta go -- I’m running late.” He stood up, brushed off his jacket and checked himself one last time in the mirror, running a hand over his close-cropped blue-black hair and wiping away another spot of soup. Grabbing a briefcase, he leaned over and kissed his wife. “Don’t worry, I don’t have to stay late tonight.”

“Good,” she said. “I’ll rent a DVD while I’m out today.”

“Something light, if you can find it,” he said as he opened the door. “I’ve got a whole day of heavy drama ahead of me. I don’t need any more from a DVD.” He blew her another kiss and headed out to work.

Kyoko cupped her hands around her teacup and drank from it slowly. *How *can* two boys of that age afford a place like this?* she thought. *Hiromi got that big promotion last year, and we’re just barely able to live here.*

She got up and began to clear away the breakfast dishes. She wondered, not for the first time, whether she should go and introduce herself to the boys. After all, when they had moved into the building, Okawa-san down the hall had introduced herself to them.

*Are they a gay couple, I wonder,* she thought, starting to stock the dishwasher. *I’ve never known anyone who was that way before. Or at least not anyone who talked about it openly.*

She wondered if she would be awkward around them. She certainly didn’t want to treat them any differently, but . . .

She closed the dishwasher and turned it on. *Maybe later,* she thought.

* * *

Hikaru was also clearing away the breakfast dishes. He glanced over at the clock -- he still had plenty of time before he had to be somewhere. His schedule consisted of a private lesson at 1 p.m. -- a college student with hopes of taking the pro exam getting Go tutoring between classes -- followed by a group class with a high school’s Go club. Tomorrow, he had a game.

*Why does Touya do all this *and* go to school when he doesn’t *have* to?* Hikaru thought. To him, one of the best things about being a pro was not having to face the grind of tests, tests and more tests anymore.

He was about to start the dishwasher when the phone rang. *I hope that’s not my student canceling out,* he thought, grabbing at the receiver. “Hello, Shindou and Touya residence,” he said.

“Hikaru?” said an all-too-familiar voice on the other end. Hikaru groaned inwardly.

“Hello, Mom,” he said, pulling out one of the chairs and plopping down. This could take awhile.

“I just want to see how you’re doing.”

Hikaru rolled his eyes as he leaned back in the seat. “I’m doing fine, Mom. We’re settled in.”

“And are you happy?”

He smacked his forehead with the heel of his hand. *Not *this* again,* he thought. “Yes, Mom. This is the *right* thing for me.”

“I just want to know if you’re *sure* about this. About . . . about Touya Akira.”

Hikaru took a deep breath, fighting the urge to yell. “Mom, we’ve been through this over and over . . .”

“It’s just . . . I wonder sometimes if it was a good idea to let you get so involved in Go. This is why this happened, isn’t it? You never had a chance to meet any girls.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” Hikaru snapped.

“You were just with boys all day, in your Go club and that class you went to and . . .”

“Mom, I don’t know where you got the idea that all Go players are guys, because they *aren’t*. Plenty of girls and women play. Half my Go club was girls. I even played a woman pro yesterday!”

“Then why couldn’t you have found one of *them* to be with? Why did it have to be . . . him?”

Hikaru gripped the phone so tightly he thought it was going to break. “There’s no reason. It just *happened*. We fell in love with each other and we’re *happy.*”

There was a long pause.

Then, his mother said, “If you ever change your mind, we’ve kept your room as it was. You can come home anytime.”

“I’ m not *going* to come home!” Hikaru said, his voice raising in volume again.

“Yes, you say that now, but later on . . .”

“I have to be at the Go Institute in a few minutes,” Hikaru lied. “Goodbye, Mom.” He pushed the disconnect button and slammed it back into its base so hard that the plastic nearly splintered. He threw himself back into the seat, his head in his hands.

It wasn’t the first conversation of that type since they had moved in. She’d called at least once a day. It was always the same -- concern about his well-being followed by veiled predictions of doom for his relationship with Akira.

*Dammit, straight couples’ parents just let them be!* he thought. *Why can’t she? Why doesn’t she realize I’m with him because I *want* to be with him? Well, she never understood me when I was living at home, why should she start now?*

He got up and kicked at the leg of their kitchen table in frustration. He imagined Akira would yell at him if he could see him do that -- they’d spent a long time in Ikea picking out just the right one. He didn’t care.

Finally, he took a deep breath and fought to calm himself . *Housework,* he thought. *I have to start doing the housework -- that should get my mind off it.

The first thing that had to be done was vacuuming the living room rug. And, of course, they’d forgotten to buy a vacuum.

*Well, I can borrow one from that old lady down the hall,* he thought, grabbing his keys off the small table near the door and shoving them in his pocket.

He went out into the hall and made a right. There was one apartment to the left of them and two to the right, and the old lady was two doors down. He knocked on the door.

It was opened by a gnarled little woman, barely five feet high, wearing a shocking pink sweatsuit, her head covered with a bushy clump of snow-white curls, tiny, oval-shaped glasses sliding down her nose. “Oh, hello, Touya-kun!”

“Um, I’m Shindou, Okawa-san.”

“Oh, yes, Shindou-kun. Come in, come in.”

Hikaru stepped into a living room so crammed with knickknacks -- temple trinkets, ceramic figures of children and animals, a big wooden boat containing carvings of the Seven Gods of Luck, all of whom looked like they needed to go on a serious diet -- that he wondered how the woman moved around at all.

“Okawa-san, I was wondering if . . .”

She walked into her kitchen and emerged with a platter in her hands. “Care for some cookies? I baked them yesterday.”

“No thanks. I just want . . .”

“I have mochi cakes in the fridge, too,” she said. “Green tea and strawberry. My granddaughter really loves the strawberry ones. When she came up for the Sakura Festival, she ate half a dozen of them, and then she got very energetic and started running everywhere. My son said that she does this whenever she eats sugar. Can you believe that? I think she was just being a little girl.”

Hikaru waved his hands in front of his face. “No, no, Okawa-san, that’s all right, I don’t want any sweets. I’d just like to borrow your vacuum.”

“Oh, any time,” she said, opening her hall closet and pulling out the appliance. Hikaru was relieved that it seemed like a fairly recent model -- he was half-expecting one of those old-fashioned ones with a long hose attached to a big tank.

“It’s a pleasure to have two sweet young men like you living on our floor,” the elderly woman said. “Not like the last people who had that apartment. They stayed up playing loud music all night long. Why, I had to call the police out on them once or twice. But that’s nothing compared to the people who used to live on the *sixth* floor. Why, I was talking to Kaweda-san yesterday and *she* said . . .”

“Um, I’d love to stay,” Hikaru said, “but I need to use this and get it back to you, I have to teach a lesson.”

“Oh, yes, that’s right,” the elderly woman said. “You’re a tennis player, aren’t you?”

“No . . . Go.”

“Ah, I knew it was a game of some sort.” She shoved the vacuum toward him. “You sure you don’t want any cookies or mochi to take with you? I have some red bean buns, too, if you want any of those, they’re from the Yamanashi bakery, they’re really fresh . . .”

“No, no, that’s okay,” Hikaru said, grabbing the vacuum and pushing it hastily toward the door. He turned around and said “Thank you very much,” dipping the top half of his body a bit in an approximation of a bow.

“Oh, you’re very welcome,” Okawa-san said, rushing over to the door. “Here, let me open that for you.”

She watched Hikaru push the vacuum to his own apartment, reach in his pocket for his keys and let himself in.

“Such a lovely set of brothers,” she said aloud. “No, they don’t have the same last name -- well, that means they must be cousins. They must come from such a wonderful family.”

* * *

Akira walked toward his homeroom, not making direct eye contact with any of the other students.

He knew there would always be tabloid-crazed girls whispering behind his back about “the gay Go player.” He’d overheard enough of their conversations in the past. Some of them seemed horrified and scandalized by it. Others liked it -- a little too much.

He’d had a brief moment of regret about continuing to go to school when a girl behind him had whispered to her seat mate, “I’d love to be able to peek into their bedroom!”

But there seemed to be none of that today. All of the small knots of students he passed were whispering about one thing only -- the big soccer game that evening. It was one of the few times he was glad to be going to a sports-obsessed school.

As he approached the classroom, a petite girl with shoulder-length dark-blonde hair waved at him from one of the knots. “Good morning, Touya-kun!” she said. “How is the new apartment?”

“Good morning, Kuwata-san,” he said, bowing politely to the girl. “We’re settling in okay.”

“You are *so* lucky,” said the black-haired, muscular boy next to her. “I’d kill to move out on my own.”

“Yeah, well maybe if you did something *productive* with your life like Touya-kun here, you’d be able to do that,” the girl retorted.

“I do something productive!” the boy said. “Hey, I’m the local DDR champion, aren’t I?”

“That’s not going to get you any money,” Kuwata replied.

“I can *so* get money! Hey, they give away some *big prizes* in those contests!”

The bell to start class rang, and Akira headed into the classroom with the other students. He rather liked Kuwata Akimi and her boyfriend, Fukunishi Moto -- he certainly found them more accepting of him and easier to talk to than any other students in this school. They didn’t make a big deal of him being a Go player or the subject of a lot of screaming headlines.

But when they started talking about things like DDR, or teen dance clubs, or whoever was hot on MTV Japan that week, he realized how big a gap there still was between himself and them.

Not that it bothered him. For Touya Akira, being *different* was just a part of who he was. All through his elementary and junior high years, he’d spent most of his free periods in the corner of the classroom, studying Go books while everyone around him chatted about things that had no relevance to his everyday existence.

He knew very well if Shindou Hikaru hadn’t come into his life, he probably would have spent it alone. He definitely wouldn’t have gotten together with anyone else.

Reaching into his book bag, he pulled out notebook and textbooks and stacked them neatly on the desk. First period was history -- half the reason he was in this school. He wanted to know more about the eras that Fujiwara no Sai had lived in, both his own time and his second existence as Honinbou Shuusaku.

Second period was the *other* half of the reason he was here -- finance class. The school prided itself on being “progressive” and allowing students their choice between certain courses -- art or music, cooking or computers.

And, in the case of second period, household finance or business finance. Akira was the only boy in his homeroom who had gone for the second option.

The teacher, Yoshida-sensei, entered the class and looked at Akira oddly. Not that this was any different from the way he’d looked at him every other day since the class had begun.

But today, he was looking at him more frequently, and more oddly, than he usually did. He’d write something on the board, talk about it a bit, turn around and scan the class -- and then his eyes would fall on Akira.

Akira frowned a bit at that. He figured that the teacher hadn’t gotten very many boys in his class before, but he didn’t think he’d react that strongly. *Surely, I can’t be the only boy who’s taken this class in order to live in a bachelor apartment,* he thought.

He doubted that Yoshida-sensei looked like the type to read tabloids, or listen to student gossip.

He found himself frowning again when the teacher approached him at the end of the class and said, “Touya-kun, may I speak to you for a few minutes?”

“Yes, sensei,” Akira said, standing up and following Yoshida-sensei out of the room and down the hall to one of the teacher’s lounges, a long room with a low table, several chairs and a few couches, and a row of vending machines that was deserted at the moment. Yoshida sat down on an easy chair, and motioned for Akira to sit on the adjacent couch.

“Touya-kun,” the teacher said, “I have to ask why you are taking my class.”

Akira said, calmly, “Why do you ask?”

“Because I have *never* had a boy in this class before,” the teacher said.

“I don’t see why that is,” Akira said. “It’s an important subject matter.”

“How can I say this, Touya-kun -- I’m concerned about the fact that you seem to be taking on so much responsibility. You don’t *have* to, you know.”

“Sensei, I have my own income as a Go player,” Akira said. “I have utilized my money to get my own bachelor apartment. Therefore, I have to manage my own finances.”

“And why does a boy your age need a bachelor apartment?” the teacher said, leaning over and folding his hands. “You’re only a boy, Touya. You need to enjoy your adolescence. There will be plenty of time to be responsible for yourself later.”

“Sensei,” he said, “if you had had your own income when you were 17 . . . wouldn’t *you* have had your own apartment?”

“I didn’t think about such things,” the teacher replied. “I was too busy playing soccer. I know you don’t play soccer, but surely there must be other things you’re interested in at school?”

Akira shook his head. “My life is Go. And I’m afraid my level of play is much greater than the Go club here.”

The teacher looked away for a moment, as if composing his thoughts, and said, “Touya, did you leave home because of problems with your family?”

This caught Akira a bit off-guard. He knew that the teacher was concerned, and only wanted to help -- but it was help he didn’t need. He wanted to be able to work his problems with his father out by himself.

He looked the teacher straight in the eye and said, “No. It was nothing like that.”

“If you do need someone to talk to . . .”

“I know, Sensei,” Akira said, rising and bowing. “Thank you.”

“You may go back to class now,” the teacher said.

Akira bowed again and left the room, but he felt a small clutching in his chest. What the teacher said had definitely struck close to home. Would he have moved out if his father had been accepting of his relationship with Hikaru? He wasn’t sure what the answer to that was.

* * *

Hikaru shut off the vacuum cleaner with a sigh of relief. One chore down. A seemingly infinite number to go.

He headed toward the kitchen. Breakfast dishes next. This was a piece of cake -- just rinse them off and stick them in the dishwasher. It was his first time running this particular machine -- they’d been eating out of disposable bowls with disposable chopsticks throughout the moving process -- but how different could it be from the one at home?

Once he had the plates and cups stacked, he examined the dials. *Guess I’ll just put it on high,* he thought, turning the knob and pushing the button.

There was a gurgle and a sloshing noise as the machine began to fill. Satisfied, Hikaru turned away and headed back for the living room. *I guess I should see if there’s enough clothes in the hamper to have to do laundry,* he thought.

And that’s when he heard a *gush* and a *splash*.

“What the HELL?” he yelled, running back toward the kitchen to see the dishwasher overflowing.

* * *

Kyoko was headed toward the elevator when she heard the cry from the apartment next door, followed by the splash of water.

*Oh, no,* she thought. *The new tenant just encountered the building’s one real flaw. Well, it happens to everyone sooner or later.*

She started to continue on her way , but heard more splashing, followed by several obscenities. She let out a deep sigh. She couldn’t just let the person who lived there struggle.

* * *

Hikaru had managed to get the thing shut off and was standing there panting, the legs of his jeans soaked around the cuffs, when he heard the knock on the door. His first impulse was to just yell “Go away!”, but he decided to answer it anyway -- and *then* tell them to go away.

He yanked open the door to see a woman in her late 20s, willowy with wavy red hair just past her shoulders, wearing gray dress pants and a light purple boat-necked blouse.

“Hello,” she said, bowing. “I couldn’t help but hear you having difficulty. I live next door -- I’m Suzuhara Kyoko.”

“No, that’s okay,” Hikaru said, waving his hands. “My dishwasher just flooded.”

“That’s because you don’t know the secret to running it.”

Hikaru frowned. This woman thought there was a *secret* to operating a dishwasher? He wondered if she needed to get out more often.

“I’ll show you, if you don’t mind,” she said. “May I come in?”

Hikaru shrugged and stepped aside. The woman walked into the living room, looking around at the couch covered in wine-colored upholstery, the low glass table below it, the big-screen TV next to the shelves of DVDs and books. Above the couch was a modern art print showing multiple “5”s -- Akira’s gift to Hikaru, a reference to his seemingly infinite number of shirts bearing the number.

“This place is lovely,” she said. “Did you choose all the furniture yourself?”

“Well, me and my, um, roommate both picked the stuff out,” Hikaru said. “Except the couch. I inherited that from my cousin -- he and his roommate got a new one.”

“And is your roommate at work right now?” Kyoko said, continuing toward the kitchen.

“No, he’s at school,” Hikaru said. “He decided to go to high school, I didn’t. Neither of us *has* to -- we’re professional Go players.”

“Really?” Kyoko said, finding the dishwasher. “That’s fascinating. I’ve never known anyone who did that before.”

“I’ve been a pro for about three years,” Hikaru said, leaning on the counter. “Touya -- the guy I live with -- he’s been one for four.”

“But you look so young -- can I ask how old you are?”

“Seventeen,” Hikaru said. “Most pros start when they’re in junior high.”

Kyoko pushed a couple of buttons on the dishwasher. “Now, here’s the secret. These dishwashers are this building’s one flaw. You can’t put them on high right away. You have to start with extra-low . .. like this . . . and then gradually bring the level up.” She demonstrated. “And you end up with high, and the water *stays* in the dishwasher, where it’s supposed to be.”

“Thanks,” Hikaru said. “I’ve never had to be domestic before.”

“You get used to it,” Kyoko said. “I have to go now, I’m meeting my mother downtown -- but I would love to have you and your friend over for dinner sometime.”

“Um, sure,” Hikaru said, walking the woman to the door. He wondered if Akira would be willing to do something like that. He seemed to feel a bit uncomfortable around people who weren’t part of the Go world.

The woman bowed, he bowed back, and he closed the door as she headed for the elevator.

Hikaru turned back to the kitchen, groaning. Now he had to mop up the floor on top of all the other chores he had to do before his lessons.

He was beginning to wonder if being domestic required a combination of endurance and masochism.

* * *

Akira pushed the door open, dropped his book bag by the door and pulled off the blazer of his school uniform, folding it over and draping it neatly over the back of the couch. He’d put it back in the bedroom later.

Pushing the button on their answering machine, he headed for the kitchen. There was a message from the Go Institute asking if he could do a group tutoring session on Tuesday. He nodded silently as he took a pot from the rack, filled it part way with water and put it on the stove. He was relieved to see the number of assignments starting to pick up again.

Tonight was his night to cook dinner. That was one of the agreements they had made -- whoever got home first, cooked.

He’d spent an hour in the library on his way home doing homework. He always found that atmosphere easier to work in than this apartment. It somehow seemed not quite right to be doing *homework* in an adult setting.

The rice was easy enough. He measured it out and put it in the pot. Now came the harder part . . .

Reaching up to the shelf, he pulled down a book entitled “Homemaker’s Helper,” flipping through the pages until he found what he was looking for.

He hated having to rely on a cookbook, but he had no choice. He never thought he’d have to be domestic.

Pulling out a package of meat they’d bought on their shopping trip, he began to cut it up, looking back at the recipe every now and then. Cooking was definitely a tricky art. You had to keep one eye on the recipe and one on your pots and pans at all times.

*It’s so ironic*, Akira thought, *that I can think more than 10 moves ahead in Go, but when it comes to something like this -- I’m lost, I’m clueless.*

But he was determined to do this successfully. Almost as determined as he was to reach the Hand of God.

As he washed carrots and celery, he wondered how long he’d be able to keep up this three-way juggling act -- school, Go, home life. Most people would consider any one of those a full-time job.

*I’ll drop school after this year if it gets to be too much,* he thought, beginning to chop the vegetables. *That’s the lowest priority right now.*

But he knew he *had* to finish that household finance course. *That* was vital to their life together. Thinking of that brought up the teacher’s question again -- “Did you move out because you were having problems at home?”

He quickly pushed those thoughts away. He didn’t need to feel depressed over the situation with his father right now.

Akira consulted the cookbook again, dropping his meat and vegetables into another pot.

*I can do this,* he thought.

And then, he noticed that the water for the rice was boiling. To the point where it was starting to overflow the pot and spill over to the stove. With a cry, he reached for the mitts, grabbing it and yanking it off the stove.

He could do it -- but sometimes, it was a lot harder than it looked.

* * *

When Hikaru walked in the door, the first thing he noticed was the smell of something burning.

At first, he was alarmed -- was there something he didn’t turn off that he shouldn’t have? Did they leave something unplugged? He began to rush toward the kitchen.

There was Akira, scraping burned rice off the bottom of a pot.

“Uh-oh,” Hikaru said.

Akira looked up at him, a cool glance that was just short of being a glare. “No hello? Just ‘uh-oh’?”

“Well, I thought the apartment was burning down!” Hikaru said, reaching into the fridge for a bottle of Code Red.

“At least I just burned the *rice*,” Akira said. “As I recall, the last time you tried to cook a dinner, you not only made the rice boil over all over the stove, you ruined your mother’s pan.”

“She was really mad about that, too,” Hikaru grumbled, opening the other pot Akira had cooking and peeking in. He frowned a bit to see it wasn’t ramen, although he really wasn’t surprised.

“Well, you *did* say she’d had that pot since her wedding day,” Akira said, picking up a bowl filled with the rice he’d managed to salvage and dishing its contents into two serving bowls.

“Yeah, well, it’s not like that was the *only* pan she got that day,” Hikaru said, spooning the concoction from the other pot onto the rice and putting the bowls on the table.

Akira ran some water into the pot -- perhaps it would soften up some if it soaked while they were eating -- and sat at the table. “Not the *only* pan? Shindou, if I were her, I’d be upset at losing *any* pan I got on my wedding day.”

*Not that we could ever get married,* Hikaru thought, picking up his chopsticks and digging into the food. It was some kind of concoction of pork and vegetables in a miso-based sauce. It was . . . okay. Not horribly bad, but not really good, either.

“Well?” Akira said. “How is it?”

Hikaru shrugged. “You’re getting there.”

“Getting there? I should let *you* cook the dinner by yourself tomorrow!”

“Oh, I will!” Hikaru said. “I’m gonna cook all the time!”

“And ramen doesn’t count,” Akira said, picking up his own chopsticks. “*Especially* instant. Or from a mix.”

*Damn,* Hikaru thought. *There goes that idea.*

There was a long moment of silence, punctuated only by the sounds of eating. Finally, Akira said, “Well, how was your day?”

“I met the lady next door this morning,” Hikaru said. “She helped me when I flooded the dishwasher.”

* * *

“He was a very nice young man,” Kyoko told her husband as she poured tea for both of them. “He said that he and the boy he lives with are both professional Go players.”

Hiromi reached for his cup. “Go? You mean people who are less than a hundred and twenty years old play that?”

“Oh, yes, they do,” she said. “They’re making quite a good living from it. Shindou-san was going off to teach private lessons this afternoon.”

“Only people I ever knew who played Go were my grandfather and some of his friends,” Hiromi said, picking up his chopsticks and digging into his wife’s kastu don.

“I think it’s fascinating,” Kyoko said, picking up her teacup and bringing it to her mouth. “I’d like to invite the two of them over for dinner some night.”

Hiromi looked up from his bowl. “You’re going to *invite them?*”

“Well, why not? They’re new in the building, nobody’s given them a decent welcome yet.”

“You haven’t even met the other boy yet,” he said, digging into his food again.

“I’m sure he’s just as nice as Hikaru. Come on, honey . . . can’t you agree to meet them just once?”

Hiromi sighed. He could never say no to his wife. Especially when she really set her mind to something. Like now.

“Okay,” he said. “Have them over Tuesday or Thursday, those are probably my best nights next week.”

As he dug back into his food, he thought, *A couple of gay 17-year-olds who play an old man’s game? They sound about as interesting as a polka musicians’ convention.*

* * *

Hikaru studied the board in front of him, frowning at the arrangement of stones.

Akira had cut off most of his escape routes. The group of stones he was looking at was barely fighting for life. The other group at the other side of the board wasn’t doing much better.

*There’s a chance,* he thought. *One hope of getting out of it . . .*

He laid his stone and looked up at his rival, his eyes filled with challenge.

Akira glanced over the board, holding his chin, deep in thought. Then, he picked up a stone and put it down decisively, cutting off Hikaru’s planned escape route.

Hikaru groaned inwardly. *Well, that didn’t work,* he thought.

He ran though some calculations in his head, trying to figure out the cause and effect of move after move. He came up empty every time. Even if he gave his all, it wouldn’t be good enough.

*Dammit,* he thought. *He’s beaten me every night since we moved in. Every single night.*

Hikaru bowed and said, “I resign.”

Akira bowed back. “Thank you for the game.”

Hikaru rubbed the side of his head, pointing to a grouping of stones. “This is where I screwed up, I know it. I didn’t close it up fast enough here.”

“Actually, that wasn’t a bad move,” Akira said. “There were more effective things you could have done, but that’s not what cost you the game. Now, what happened over here . . .”

As he proceeded with the game discussion, Hikaru couldn’t help but remember his old nightly games with Sai. It was the same thing. They’d play, he’d be defeated, they’d discuss the result . . .

And, in both cases, the discussions would end up with a fight.

“Wait a minute,” Hikaru said. “Are you trying to tell me that *this*” -- he pointed to a group of stones in the lower left hand corner -- “was a *sloppy* mistake?”

“You didn’t think it out very well,” Akira said.

“I did SO think it out!” Hikaru said. “I had this move planned ten moves back!”

“It certainly doesn’t look like it!” Akira said, his voice rising a bit, his finger jabbing toward the stones in question. “It looks like you just slapped a stone down anywhere!”

“Oh, yeah?” Hikaru said, jumping to his feet. “Then how come it blocked you from taking THAT stone THERE?”

“If you had put it down just two points over, it would have kept me from taking *three* stones later!” Akira said, leaping up as well. “You’re not thinking of the whole board!”

“What, are you going to accuse me of having no strategy next?” Hikaru said, taking a step toward Akira, his fists clenched at his sides.

“Well, it certainly didn’t look like it there!” Akira retorted, folding his arms across his chest.

“If I have no strategy, how come I was able to come back later on?” Hikaru said, pointing toward the board again.

“And you didn’t come all the way back, did you?” Akira said. “You resigned.”

Hikaru was going to reply to that, but the words weren’t coming. Akira was right on that one.

Instead, he stormed out of the room and toward the kitchen. Akira could hear the refrigerator door being wrenched open and banging on the wall.

Sighing, Akira sat back down and began to gather up the stones. They both accepted that these fights were going to happen. They’d made all kinds of ground rules to assure that they didn’t end up brawling in other areas of their lives -- who cooked when, who cleaned when, and the biggest rule, that they wouldn’t go to bed angry at each other -- but when it came to Go, there was no way around it.

He continued to put the stones into the bowls, listening to Hikaru moving around the living room. He wouldn’t be back for several minutes, he knew that. The only way they could get back to normal was to have a cooling-off period after the blowup.

When his job was complete, Akira reached for the latest issue of Weekly Go, which was folded up on one of the bookshelves. He busied himself studying kifu. The other room grew quiet -- Akira figured Hikaru was probably reading a manga magazine.

Finally, Hikaru appeared in the doorway, looking much calmer. Akira folded up his paper and replaced it on the shelf.

“Do you want another game?” Akira said.

Hikaru shook his head. “Why don’t we watch TV tonight?”

This caught Akira by surprise. He couldn’t imagine Hikaru wanting do to anything but play more. “You want to . . . watch television?”

Hikaru smiled slyly. “What, you didn’t have a TV in your house?”

“We did,” Akira said, standing up. “We just didn’t use it very often.”

“Oh, so *that’s* what that black box across from your couch was,” Hikaru said. “I figured it was just a fancy stand for your plants.”

“Don’t get funny, Shindou,” Akira said, folding his arms across his chest as they walked into the living room and sitting on the couch.

Hikaru picked up the remote in one hand and the TV guide in the other. “Now, we have a game show on one channel, some medical dorama on another . . .”

Akira waved his hand. “Whatever you want to watch.” He inwardly hoped, however, that Hikaru wouldn’t settle on one of those shows that had a gang of color-coded teenagers beating up on goofy rubber monsters. He’d seen one of them while he was tutoring at a children’s center, and had no desire to see one ever again.

Hikaru turned on the set and flipped through the channels, stopping at an anime showing a conversation between two young people in military-style uniforms. “Cool, this is the ‘Blue Wings’ movie!”

Akira frowned. “’Blue Wings?’”

“It’s a mecha show. Blue Wings are giant robots. The lead character -- Yukihiro, he’s over there -- he was tricked into becoming a pilot. But he stayed with it because the Surt -- that’s the villains of the series, they’re a race of aliens -- they killed his family, and now he wants revenge.”

Akira was only half-listening to Hikaru’s chatter at this point. He didn’t have much interest in giant robots or murderous aliens. But he had to admit this felt good, if a bit strange -- sitting there, not *doing* anything, not using his mind.

Not using his mind was *not* something Touya Akira was very used to. If he wasn’t playing Go, he was reviewing games, studying Go books, doing schoolwork -- until he started thinking about sex so much, that is.

He was quite aware of Hikaru’s nearness now. Not in a sexual way, but in a way where the idea of cuddling with him was . . . warm. Comforting.

Akira snuggled against Hikaru, putting his head on his shoulder. Hikaru responded by wrapping an arm around him and resting his cheek on Akira’s hair.

*I could get used to this,* Akira thought. *And that’s a dangerous thing. I don’t want to like this *too* much, I don’t want it to interfere with Go.*

But Shindou seemed to occasionally indulge in this kind of thing without it affecting his playing. *Other than that sloppy play tonight,* Akira thought. *And it *was* sloppy, no matter what he said.*

He wasn’t going to think about that now, though. He was going to relax and enjoy this. Images passed before his eyes in flickers of bright color, giant robots and equally giant aliens battling each other with weapons that threw lightning and fire. He wasn’t following the story too closely -- it was just part of the parade of sensations. The warmth of Hikaru’s body, his woodsy scent, the softness of the couch cushions . . .

And then, the movie was over, and there was some kind of commercial for orange juice on the screen, animated oranges bouncing up and down all around a cutesy dancing elephant in a pink tutu.

“Hey,” Hikaru said. “Did you fall asleep?”

“No,” Akira said, softly, not moving from his position.

“There’s a talk show next on this channel,” Hikaru said. “Or we can watch ‘Blood Beat,’ it’s a dorama about a crime reporter, or . . .”

Suddenly, not quite knowing why he was doing it, Akira threw his arms around Hikaru’s neck and brought his lips to the other boy’s, kissing him hard.

Hikaru was thrown off-guard at first, but kissed back, eagerly, flicking the “off” button of the remote before taking his lover in his arms. He knew what the rest of the evening’s activities would be, and they did *not* involve television.

Hikaru wrapped his arms tighter around Akira, opening his lips, inviting his lover to probe, to explore, Akira accepted the invitation eagerly, plunging his tongue into Hikaru’s mouth, one hand sliding up under his shirt, caressing his stomach, moving upward to his chest.

When his fingers connected with a nipple, Hikaru leaned his head back, a low groan escaping his lips as his hips ground against his lover, his growing erection pressing into Akira’s body.

Akira couldn’t resist having Hikaru’s neck exposed to him. He quickly lowered his head, sweeping his tongue up and down, then pausing to nibble at one spot just next to his throat that he knew would get a response.

Hikaru groaned louder, tangling his fingers in Akira’s hair and holding him there, his breath starting to come in pants. One hand felt for the buttons of Akira’s shirt, starting to unfasten them rapidly . . . gods, he couldn’t get it open fast enough . . .

Akira pulled away from Hikaru long enough to finish what his lover had started and toss the unwanted garment on the floor, then pulled upward on Hikaru’s shirt. Together, they got it off and flung it away.

They wrapped their arms around each other again, their mouths clashing hungrily, tongues reaching for each other as Akira ran his hands up and down Hikaru’s back, thinking that his skin was so smooth and hot and delicious.

Just touching any part of the blond made Akira want to explode.

Hikaru pushed Akira so he was sitting back on the couch, still kissing him, then rapidly dropped to his knees, leaning over to take a nipple in his mouth, sucking eagerly, then taking it out and licking slowly around the pink surrounding the hardened bud.

Akira panted, his hips raising off the couch. “More,” he moaned.

“Hmm . . . like this?” Hikaru took the second nipple in his mouth and began to suck again, fluttering his tongue, then sucking again. When he heard Akira’s deep groans of pleasure, it send a hot thrill through Hikaru’s body.

Oh, yes, he liked Akira’s pleasure sounds. He liked them very much. And he wanted to hear more.

He reached down and unbuttoned Akira’s pants, sliding the zipper down as his tongue continued to caress first one nipple, then the other. Akira raised his hips, mutely begging Hikaru to strip off his remaining clothing.

He was only too glad to oblige. Akira let out a small whimper of anticipation, opening his legs, exposing his full erection to Hikaru’s gaze.

Hikaru knew Akira was expecting him to just take the head in and start sucking. He was going to give him a bit of a surprise.

He lowered his head, and began to lick, very slowly, at the sac beneath.

Akira leaned back, crying out loudly, his eyes tightly closed and his lips parted. Oh, gods, what Hikaru was doing felt so good and so frustrating at the same time! He was darting his tongue here and there, back and forth, and yet coming nowhere near his manhood, which ached for his tongue, his fingers, his *anything!*

Hikaru moved over to Akira’s thigh, nibbling at the flesh there. Now Akira had his fist pressed against his mouth, biting at the fingers, gasping, feeling like something hot was filling his whole body to the bursting point.

“Please!” he panted. “Hikaru!”

Hikaru raised his head. “Please, what?”

“Dammit, Shindou, you know what I want!”

Hikaru smiled a bit at the use of the name Akira called him over the goban in an intimate situation. He stood up and pulled off his own pants and underwear, tossing them away.

“Why don’t you show me?” he said.

Akira fell to his knees, his hands gripping his lover’s bottom as his mouth slid down over his erection, taking in as much as he was comfortable with. He began to suck, hard, moving his head up and down as his fingers caressed the firm rounds, massaging and rubbing.

“Ohhh, yes,” Hikaru moaned. “Like that . . . like that . . .”

Akira began to move his head faster, pausing for a moment to suck hard just on the tip, then sliding down on it again, groaning deeply in his throat as Hikaru’s hands began to tangle in his hair.

Hikaru couldn’t get enough of the hot wetness of Akira’s mouth, enveloping him, pulling away, then enveloping him again. Oh, gods, he wanted to stay there, to come hard right where he was. And then he wanted to bend Akira over and take him. And then he wanted to put his legs on Akira’s shoulders and feel his lover push inside him.

He wanted to stay hard all night and still have orgasm after orgasm. He wanted to make love for hours until they both literally gave out and collapsed.

Akira’s mouth pulled away, and Hikaru groaned in disappointment. He saw his lover sit back down on the couch, legs open, a sly smile on his face.

“You said if I showed you what I wanted, you’d give it to me,” Akira said.

Hikaru wasted no time. He fell back to his knees, taking Akira in his mouth, sucking fast and hard, moving it in and out as he reached up for his nipples, rubbing his fingers over them, then gently squeezing, then rubbing again.

Akira let out a loud cry, writhing on the couch, one hand gripping the cushions, the other tangling in Hikaru’s hair. He raised his hips, pushing himself deeper into the other boy’s mouth.

“Gods, Hikaru!” he gasped. “Stop . . . you have to stop, or I’ll . . .”

Hikaru raised his head. “You want me to stop?”

“Yes. Because I want . . .”

Akira turned, kneeling on the seat of the couch, leaning over so he was holding onto the back, his bottom up in the air. He looked back over his shoulder at Hikaru.

A hot shudder ran through Hikaru’s body. No way was he turning down an offer of *that*!

He rushed for their bedroom, yanking open the bedside table drawer and grabbing a packet of condoms and their tube of lubricant. He ripped open the package as he ran back, pulling out its contents and starting to roll it on.

Akira was still in the same position when he returned. Hikaru normally didn’t like the uke-on-all-fours position, because it reminded him more of animals rutting than two humans making love, but this wasn’t *quite* that. He’d be able to feel all of Akira’s body against all of his.

He quickly lubed a finger and knelt behind Akira, gently probing at his opening as he leaned over, kissing his bottom. Akira let out a long, low moan. He began to nibble at the flesh as his finger slid in, bit by bit.

Akira set his jaw and clenched his fingers when the pain came, but he rode it out, and when the pleasure followed it, the sensations were sweet and intense, compounded by the feel of Hikaru’s lips kissing around his bottom, with occasional nips and little teeth-scrapes. When the finger started to move, Akira thrust back against it.

“Is that good?” Hikaru asked in a husky voice between kisses, his breath scorching hot against Akira’s sensitive flesh.

“Yes,” Akira gasped. “Oh, yes! Hikaru!”

Hikaru slid the finger out -- and then realized he’d forgotten to bring out the box of baby wipes they kept on their night stand. He couldn’t very well run back to the room again and get it -- that would break the mood for both of them. Looking frantically around, he spotted a box of tissues at the corner of the table, grabbed one and wiped off the finger before relubing it, along with a second.

Akira moaned loudly as he felt the two fingers enter him. He didn’t even mind the pain this time -- he knew what was coming after it. When the pleasure hit this time, he let his head fall forward onto his arms, his hair falling softly into his face, letting out one long, low sound after another as Hikaru slid in and out, in and out.

He felt empty when the fingers finally left, and his whole body felt like a smoldering ember as he heard the *squish* of the tube. He was about ready to throw the boy down, straddle him and impale himself.

After a seeming eternity, he felt Hikaru grasp his hips, and then a gentle, persistent pressure at his opening. Akira spread his legs further, pushing his hips back, willing himself to relax totally.

The pain came, sharp and heavy, and Akira groaned. It had to go away, it had to . . .

And then the pleasure replaced it, so hot and sweet, like boiling honey, and Akira leaned his head back, allowing Hikaru to turn his head and kiss him.

Hikaru caressed Akira’s lips with his, buried in his lover’s tight heat . . . Akira was enclosing him, squeezing him, holding onto him as if never to let him go.

He began to thrust, little by little at first, pulling back his hips inch by inch, then pushing forward just as slowly. He fought the urge to drive as fast and hard as he possibly could.

When Akira arched back against him, thrusting his own hips, Hikaru picked up the pace, pushing forward harder, feeling his thighs pressing against Akira’s, his chest rubbing on his back, their faces right next to each other, melded together perfectly as if they were meant to fit.

Akira pushed against Hikaru again and again, moaning louder, then louder still, the hot honey now a raging flood rushing through his body, feeling like it would smother him, overpower him totally. He needed more, he needed release . . .

He grabbed for Hikaru’s hand and found it, guiding it around his body. Hikaru got the message and grasped Akira’s manhood, starting to stroke it in time to his thrusting as he nibbled on Akira’s neck, sucking a bit at the flesh.

They moved together, over and over, both of them gasping, letting out sweet, low sounds, both feeling like they were going to burst into fire any second, they needed just a little more, just a . . .

Akira suddenly stiffened, the whole world seeming to freeze in place. Then he cried out loudly, his whole body wracked with white heat, making him shudder, and shudder again.

Hikaru felt Akira squeeze tightly around him, and that hurled him over the edge as well, crying out his lover’s name as he trembled, feeling electric heat shoot through every single pore of his being until he was completely limp.

The boys collapsed in a heap, Hikaru rolling off Akira and sinking to the couch, Akira sliding down beside him. They rolled to face each other and leaned over, kissing tenderly.

“Damn,” Hikaru said, resting his head on Akira’s shoulder.

“Mmm,” Akira said, wrapping his arms around his lover. “That was great.”

A pause, and then . . .

“Um, Akira?”

“Hmmm?” Akira was still lost in the luscious warmth of the afterglow, somewhere between sleeping and waking.

“Should you be *sitting* on the couch right now?”

Akira leapt up, grabbing at the tissues, frantically scrubbing at the place where his bottom had been resting. To his relief, there was only a small amount of gel on the fabric. He was never so glad that they used condoms.

He rushed into the kitchen and brought back one wet, soapy paper towel for the couch, and two more for himself and Hikaru. Hikaru had already gone into the bathroom to dispose of the condom.

“Maybe we should keep condoms and lube out here, too,” Hikaru said as he walked back into the living room. “You know -- if the mood strikes us again.”

“And have someone find them?” Akira said, leaning over so Hikaru could clean him up. “No, I don’t think it’s a good idea.”

“Hey, why should we just do it here, anyway?” Hikaru said, leaning over and kissing Akira again. “I’m gonna have you in every room of this apartment.”

“Not the kitchen,” Akira said, as he started to gather up the scattered clothing.

“Especially the kitchen!” Hikaru replied. “Hey, think of all the stuff that’s in there for us to use! All the food!”


“Don’t tell me you’ve never thought about covering me in whipped cream and licking it off.”

Akira blinked. “Whipped cream?”

“And chocolate syrup.”

“I don’t fantasize about that,” Akira said, flushing a bit.

“You blushed!”

“I didn’t!”

“Okay, that’s it. Next time, whipped cream.” Hikaru headed toward the bedroom.

“I didn’t say that!” Akira said, following him. “SHINDOU!”

Kyoko was coming off the elevator when she felt someone barrel into her. She gasped, whirling around.

There was a very flushed, gasping Shindou Hikaru. “I’m sorry!” he said, frantically waving his hands in front of his face.

“No harm done,” she said. “You just scared me a little. Are you off to play today?”

“Yes,” Hikaru said. “I’ve got a game.” He looked at his watch, frowning. *And at this rate, I’ll barely make it,* he thought as he stepped into the elevator.

“Oh, before you go -- do you and your friend want to come for dinner tomorrow?”

“Sure,” Hikaru said.

“All right! I’ll see you two around seven, then!” she said, waving.

The doors closed and Hikaru leaned against the back wall, taking a deep breath and closing his eyes.

He’d left the apartment a wreck. He’d managed to get the dishes in the dishwasher, but there was still furniture to dust, sheets to change, laundry to do . . .

*Maybe Touya will do some of it after school,* he thought. *No, wait, he said he has to teach today. Damn. Well, we can do it tonight, I guess, after we play -- but that’s going to be after 9, 10 o’clock! Who wants to do housework at that hour?*

The elevator pinged open, and Hikaru rushed out -- almost bumping into a burly, nearly-bald man who had grown a bushy black mustache to make up for the lack of hair on his head. His plain T-shirt and blue jeans both looked more than a bit well-worn.

“Watch where you’re going, faggot!” the man barked.

Hikaru whirled around. “Hey! What did you just call me?”

“I call ‘em as I see ‘em,” the man growled, walking into the elevator.

“You come back here,” Hikaru said, rushing after him, “and I’ll teach you . . .”

But the doors shut, and the man was gone.

Hikaru went back outside, banging the door behind him this time. On top of everything else, they still had to face people like *that*.

As he rushed off toward the subway (*thank the gods it’s only a block away,* he thought), he realized he’d accepted Kyoko’s invitation without talking to Akira about it first. And Akira had a game the next day.

*Oh, it’ll be over by then,* Hikaru thought. *It’s not like he’s playing someone like Ogata-san.*

His own opponent today was a six-dan. He knew he was going to have to collect his thoughts and get rid of this *frazzled* feeling before he settled down at the goban.

*Maybe it’ll be a fast game,* Hikaru thought. *Maybe I’ll have time to finish it, and come home, and do my chores, and . . .*

As he rushed down the subway stairs, he caught sight of a digital clock on the wall. He was even later than he thought.

“Crap!” Hikaru shouted, running toward the trains as fast as his legs could carry him.

* * *

“Where is Shindou?” Ochi asked Waya as they sat in the break room, watching other players start to make their way toward the playing room for the day.

“Like this is the first time he’s ever been late?” Waya said, finishing his can of coffee and tossing it in the trash can.

“I figured he might be more responsible now that he’s moved out of home,” Ochi replied, pushing his glasses back up on his nose.

Waya just shrugged and said, “Don’t think that would make a difference.”

But inwardly, he was wincing. It had been all over the Go world’s grapevine that Shindou Hikaru and Touya Akira were moving in together. The scandal was still fresh in people’s minds. Some just shrugged and went on with their lives. Others still whispered behind the couple’s back when they weren’t looking.

*I really hoped he would realize his mistake before it got that far,* Waya thought. It still burned him that Shindou had chosen *Touya Akira*, of all people, to have an affair with.

Isumi walked over to where the other two were sitting. “We’d better go in the other room,” he said. “It’s just about game time.”

As they headed for the anteroom, leaving their shoes in the cubbyholes, Ochi said, “You two don’t go places with him anymore, do you?”

“With who?” Isumi said.

“Shindou,” Waya said, quietly. “He knows how we feel about Touya.”

At that moment, the elevator opened and Hikaru rushed out, running like an Olympic sprinter toward the anteroom. He stopped suddenly when he saw who was there.

The last people he’d wanted to see. He had awkwardly avoided Waya and Isumi ever since the outing.

“Oh . . . hi, Waya-kun . . . Isumi-san . . . Ochi-kun,” he said, while quickly pulling off his shoes and stuffing them in a cubbyhole.

Isumi and Ochi said their hellos. Waya was silent.

“Um, how’s the new apartment?” Isumi said.

“Doing okay,” Hikaru said, just as the buzzer rang.

All four of them breathed a sigh of relief. It was like being saved by the bell.

*I needed that on top of everything else,* Hikaru thought as he walked into the game room. It pained him that his friendship with Waya and Isumi had fallen apart. *Why should I have to choose between them and Akira?* he thought.

He positioned himself at the goban, legs tucked under him, taking a deep breath and trying to empty his mind.

He was going to need all the help he could get today.

* * *

“You know, maybe we could ask him to have lunch with us sometime,” Isumi said as he unwrapped his Quarter Pounder.

“Maybe,” Waya said without enthusiasm, pouring ketchup on his fries.

“It really does bother you that he’s with Touya, doesn’t it?” Isumi said.

“Doesn’t it bother *you*?” Waya said, pointing a French fry at his friend like a dagger. “I don’t like seeing him throw his life away on that guy!”

“Maybe if we got him to talk about something other than Touya . . .”

Isumi didn’t want to say it out loud, but he knew that having Hikaru talk about something other than Touya was the one way they’d be able to have lunch. The relationship bothered him as well, but for a different reason than it bothered Waya.

Isumi had been raised in a rather conventional, traditional household. Things like homosexuality were never spoken of. They weren’t put down -- it was just as if they didn’t exist.

He was afraid he’d act too awkward around Shindou and betray that he wasn’t comfortable with his choice -- was it a choice? Could someone control whether they were straight or gay?

“He never talked about anything but Touya even *before* they -- well, you know!” Waya said, picking up his burger.

“I do miss him sometimes,” Isumi said quietly, picking up his soda.

Waya chewed his burger. He had to admit to himself that he missed Shindou, too. Missed him terribly, in fact.

But he couldn’t be with him as a friend until Hikaru got his head back on straight, got his life back together and realized that a *rival* wasn’t the same as -- a boyfriend? A lover? What the hell did one call what Shindou and Touya were to each other?

*Okay, so I’m not a hundred percent okay with the gay part,* Waya thought. *But I wouldn’t mind it so much if he found a *decent* guy.*

“Do you think things will ever be the same again?” Isumi said.

Waya considered this question. Could they pick up where they left off if Hikaru dumped Akira tomorrow? It had been so long since they hung out . . .

He answered, truthfully, “I don’t know.”

* * *

Akira left the community center where he’d been giving a lesson. He figured he had a half hour to spend in the library before he had to be home.

Yoshida-sensei hadn’t said anything to him today about the previous day’s conversation. *I hope it stays that way,* Akira thought, as one hand slipped down into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. He didn’t want to have the teacher asking him day after day if he was all right, if there were problems with his family.

He flipped the phone open and accessed his speed dial directory. Most of the numbers there were Go-related -- the Institute, various students. The first number on the list, of course, was Hikaru’s cell.

But that wasn’t the number he dialed now.

“Hello, Touya residence,” said the female voice on the other end.

“Mother,” Akira said, “it’s Akira.

“Akira!” she said. “How are you doing?”

“I’m doing fine. We’re settled in.”

“Oh, that’s nice. Ogata-san was just asking about you this morning, he said he hasn’t seen you in a few days. How is school?”

“School is fine. Mother, can I speak to Father for a moment?”

“Your father isn’t here,” she said. “He’s out giving a lecture. I’ll tell him you called, though.”

“Thank you,” Akira said. *He won’t call back,* he thought. *He hasn’t returned any of my calls since I moved out.*

“You did give us your new number, right?”

“Yes, I did,” Akira said. “I have to go now, I have some things to do for school -- I’ll talk to you later.”

He closed the cell phone slowly, a small ache in his heart.

*He’s never there,* he thought. *Is he avoiding talking to me? He was away from home a lot before I left, but -- I don’t remember him being away this much.*

As he walked up the path to the library, he remembered walking up this very street with his father, holding his hand, being taken to the community center to enroll in his very first Go class, the one where he’d encountered Shindou’s ex-classmate, Kaga.

*Why can’t you see how much this relationship means to me, Father?* he thought. *Why should it matter to you whether I ended up with a man or a woman, as long as I’m happy and my game is the same as it always was?*

He clutched the phone tightly, as if he could hold onto something he felt slipping away from him.

Then, he set his jaw and stood up straighter, his eyes taking on their steely, game-face look. His father was going to *have* to accept his relationship with Shindou. They’d been too close over the years, bonded by their game. They couldn’t throw it away. They just couldn’t.

*I’ll just have to be patient until he’s willing to listen to me,* Akira thought.

And he continued up the path to the library.

* * *

Hikaru was moving much slower as he came up the subway steps than he had going down.

*Gods, I still don’t believe I managed to squeak by in that game,* he thought. *I was just lucky I spotted that mistake he made toward the end, or I wouldn’t have won at all.*

He knew he’d had a hard time concentrating. The damn undone housework had been at the back of his mind the whole time.

*Why the heck am I letting something like that bother me?* he thought. *I managed to play Go through a lot worse than that!*

He fished in his pocket for his keys. He hoped that Akira had gotten home before him, that he had started dinner already, and *maybe* got some of the housework done.

And then, he saw a familiar figure waiting by the door of the apartment house, and it *wasn’t* Akira.

“Mom?” Hikaru said. “What are you doing here?”

“I just wanted to see your new apartment,” she said, following him through the front door. “You haven’t shown it to me yet.”

“That’s because we just moved in,” Hikaru said a bit testily as he went to the elevator and jabbed at the button. *Great,* he thought. *She’s the last thing I want to see today.* “And we have things to do tonight, anyway.”

“I’ll just be here a little while,” she said, stepping on the elevator after him.

“Why do you want to see the place to begin with?” Hikaru said.

“Because it’s *your* apartment, and I want to see where my own son is living!”

As they stepped off the elevator, Hikaru was hoping to see Kyoko, Okawa-san, anybody he could foist his mother off on for a few minutes. He saw nobody.

“Fine,” he said, unlocking the door. “But I don’t want to hear anything about how it looks!”

As they walked through the doorway, his mother looked around, taking in the size of the living room, then walked over and peered in the kitchen. “Oh, my,” she said. “I had no idea it was this big!”

“Yeah, well, most of the apartments in this building are this size,” Hikaru said, going to the sink to get himself a drink of water. When he walked back into the living room, he groaned inwardly -- his mother was starting to pick up the notebooks and magazines scattered on the floor.

“Mom, you don’t have to do that.”

“I want to,” she said. “Hikaru, are you *sure* you can do this? It looks like you don’t have time to clean up.”

“I’m gonna make time!” he said. “I just haven’t had time *now* because we just moved in!”

“I really don’t see how two boys who have such busy schedules would have time for . . .”

She picked something up from the table and suddenly paused. Hikaru saw what it was, and his blood turned to ice. She was holding their tube of lubricant, left there from the night before.

His hand shot out like a lion tamer’s whip and snatched it away from her. “I *told* you that you didn’t have to do that!” he said.

His mother just stood there, looking uncomfortable, blushing slightly. The object in Hikaru’s hand had just confirmed the one fact of her son’s new life that she didn’t want to think about, that she wanted to pretend didn’t exist.

She dealt with this by rushing over to the bookshelves and beginning to tidy a stack of papers on the top. “How *can* you afford this place, anyway?” she said. “What are you earning from Go? Two million yen tops?”

“Mom,” Hikaru said, “together, Akira and I will earn about a hundred million yen this year.”

She nearly dropped Akira’s old junior high Go tournament award on the floor. “What are they paying you the extra for?” she said. “Cleaning the tournament rooms afterward?”

Hikaru was going to answer when Akira walked in the door -- and stopped short, eyes widening with surprise. “Oh, hello, Shindou-san,” he said, bowing politely.

“Hello, Touya-kun,” she said, putting the award back on the shelf and bowing back. “I was just telling Hikaru how lovely your place is.”

“We like it, also,” Akira said. “Excuse me, I’ll be right back.” He headed for the kitchen, and Hikaru followed.

As soon as they were through the door, Akira whispered, loudly, “You didn’t tell me your mother was coming over tonight!”

“I didn’t *know* she was coming!” Hikaru whispered back. “I came home and she was right there on the doorstep!”

“Is she staying for dinner?”

“How should I know?” Hikaru replied. “For all I know, she’s planning on moving in with us!”

Just then, his mother appeared in the doorway. “Hikaru? Are you boys starting dinner?”

“Not yet,” Hikaru said, thinking, *Please don’t say you’re staying, please don’t say you’re staying, please don’t say you’re staying . . .*

“Well, in that case, why don’t I cook a dinner for you boys?” she said.

“No, no, that’s all right, Shindou-san,” Akira said, waving his hands dismissively. “Hikaru and I can do it on our own.”

“I insist,” she said. “I’m here anyway.” And she breezed past them, taking a pot down from the pot rack.

“Mom, he *said* you don’t have to,” Hikaru said.

“It won’t take long,” his mother replied. “I’m going to do the ramen that you like.”

“Fine,” Hikaru said, leaving the kitchen and going back into the living room, where he flung himself onto the couch, lying flat on his back with his arms folded behind his head.

*I moved out to get away from this kind of thing, and to be with Akira,* he thought. *Why is she insisting on barging in here and trying to run my life?*

Akira walked quietly into the living room, glanced over at Hikaru and then sat in the chair, reaching into his book bag and pulling out a sheaf of kifu -- the last five games played by the opponent he would be facing the next day. He started to study them, but paused when he heard Hikaru’s mother banging around in the kitchen.

*Shindou can’t get rid of his mother,* he thought. *And my father has vanished from sight.*

Akira looked at the stack of kifu in his hands again. *I need to win this game, and all the games after,* he thought. *Not by small margins, by big ones. I have to make my father see that being with Shindou hasn’t changed me at all, as a person or as a player.*

He began studying again, trying to recreate the game in front of him in his mind, get a feel for the other player -- his style of play, his typical attacks and counterattacks, which part of the game he was strongest in.

Akira needed a battle plan, not just a strategy.

*I hope she leaves after dinner,* he thought. *I *need* to play against Shindou tonight. I need the warmup.*

The room remained in silence until Shindou Mitsuko stuck her head out of the kitchen, saying, “All right, boys, it’s ready!”

The two of them walked into the room, sitting down at the table. Hikaru’s mother was dishing out three bowls of the soup. “You’re eating with us?” Hikaru said.

“Of course,” his mother replied, setting bowls in front of the boys. “Your father isn’t going to be home until late tonight. I’ll just take some home to him.”

*Great,* Hikaru thought. *That means she’s going to hang around *after* dinner as well.* He looked over at Akira, who had his jaw set, eyes expressionless.

“You know, I was talking to Akari yesterday,” Hikaru’s mother said, picking up some noodles. “She was asking about you, Hikaru.”

Hikaru looked up from his own food. “She was?” He felt a small pang of guilt -- he hadn’t spoken to Akari in quite some time, definitely not since they were outed.

“She’s doing very well in school,” Shindou Mitsuko said.

“Did she say anything about the Go club?” Hikaru said.

“No, she didn’t.” Hikaru’s mother picked up a piece of pork and nibbled at it delicately.

“Aww, you should have asked,” Hikaru grumbled, digging back into his ramen. *I have to call her,* he thought. *I want to know how all of them are doing -- whether Kaga is still trying to become a Shougi pro, if they’ve been in any tournaments, whether she ever got together with Mitani . . .*

“Well, I didn’t know she was in Go club,” his mother said.

“Yes, you did!” Hikaru said. “She came over to play Go with me! More than once!”

“Such a nice girl,” Shindou Mitsuko sighed, gazing dreamily off into space. “She’ll make someone a wonderful wife someday . . .”

Hikaru nearly choked on his noodles. He looked over at Akira, who was eating quietly, his expression as unreadable as ever.

With his mother, it was hard to tell whether she really meant that as a dig at Akira or not.

If it bothered Akira, he wasn’t showing it. He said, calmly, “Have you seen our entire apartment yet, Shindou-san?”

“Just the front room and this kitchen. I . . . I don’t really need to see the rest of it.”

*Meaning she doesn’t want to look at our bedroom,* Hikaru thought, slurping up a large quantity of noodles.

“Your son picked out a lot of the furniture,” Akira said, spooning up some of the broth.

“Oh, and he *always* hated to go shopping,* said Hikaru’s mother. “I took him and Akari to the store one time -- Akari was his oldest friend, you know, they’ve known each other since they were small kids, everyone always thought they’d get married someday . . .”

Hikaru picked up a crab leg with his chopsticks and broke it with a loud *crack*. At that moment, he was wishing that sound was something whalloping his mother over the head.

Akira just picked up his tea and sipped at it -- but Hikaru noticed Akira was avoiding looking at his mother’s face.

*That must have hurt him,* he thought.

“Well, they both ended up hiding from me because neither one wanted to go shopping. They always got up to no good, those two . . .”

“I’m sure they did,” Akira said, a bit too smoothly.

Hikaru just buried his face in his ramen, eating furiously. He knew if he said anything right now, it would result in a fight. He didn’t want to fight with his mother. He just wanted her to *go home*.

“Do you have enough groceries?” his mother was saying. “I could make a quick run down to Mitsuwa before they close . . .”

“We’re fine, Mom,” Hikaru said, his face still buried in his bowl.

“I certainly hope you’re eating something other than instant stuff.”

“We are,” Akira said, gently picking up a bunch of noodles. “I’m making sure of that.”

“Did I mention Akari said she was taking a cooking class?”

Hikaru buried his face deeper in his bowl. It was going to be a long meal.

* * *

The boys were sitting on the couch as Hikaru’s mother brought out a platter with three teacups on it.

“I could run down and get some cakes if you want dessert,” she said.

“Mom, we don’t *need* dessert,” Hikaru sighed.

“Well, if you change your mind a bit later . . .” she said, sitting down and picking up her own cup.

Hikaru groaned and sank down in his chair. *A bit later?* he thought. *She’s going to stay all night! We’re not going to get a chance to play!*

“Actually, Shindou-san, we’re going to be playing a game a bit later,” Akira said. Hikaru nearly kissed him for that on the spot -- except he knew if he did, his mother would probably have a coronary.

Shindou Mitsuko set her cup down, blinking in surprise. “I didn’t know the Go Institute had night games.”

“They don’t,” Akira said. “We play each other every night. It’s how we keep our skills up.”

Hikaru’s mother frowned. “Why do you have to play Go? Isn’t that what you’ve been doing all day?”

“This is different,” Hikaru said. “It’s, well . . .”

How could he possibly explain to her that playing Akira was different than playing anyone else? That they had a dynamic that was all their own, that they pushed each other, challenged each other, like no other person could?

“It’s a kind of teaching Go,” Akira said. “Only we’re teaching each other.”

“Teaching Go?” Shindou Mitsuko said, her cup paused halfway to her mouth, a quizzical look on her face.

“It’s a kind of game,” Hikaru said. “You’re not going all-out on the person, you’re just . . .”

“And you do this *every night?*” she said.

“Yes, we do,” Hikaru said, before taking a slurp from his cup. “No matter what.”

“Go really does mean more to you than anything, doesn’t it?” Shindou Mitsuko said, quietly.

There was a long pause. Hikaru and Akira just looked at each other, not knowing what to say.

“Never mind,” his mother said. “I’ll just finish my tea, pack up the soup for your father -- you *do* have a container of some sort, right? -- and then I’ll be going.”

“I’ll get a container,” Akira said, getting up off the couch.

When he left, Hikaru suddenly felt a bit guilty -- he’d wanted her to leave, but they’d just driven her out. “Mom . . .” he said.

She waved a hand dismissively. “It’s all right, Hikaru. Your father’s going to be home soon, anyway.”

Akira brought the Tupperware container in a plastic shopping bag. “Here you are, Shindou-san,” he said.

“Thank you, Akira,” she said, finishing her tea and standing up. “Well, I was glad to see your place.” She bowed. “Good night.”

“Good night,” Akira said, bowing in return. Hikaru just said, “’Night” from his place on the couch.

Shindou Mitsuko left the apartment and headed for the elevator. She was deep in thought.

She’d come there to see if he was doing all right, if he was managing, if he was having second thoughts about his relationship with Touya Akira -- and, she admitted, looking for signs that he was ready to give it up and come home.

She found none. In fact, she was now convinced that her boy was gone from her home for good.

*Now I understand,* she thought. *Now I know why Hikaru insisted on this relationship, unnatural as it may be. Hikaru doesn’t want a *person*. He could never be married. Because he’s married to his game.*

And as another player -- as the player he’d chased for years -- being with Touya was as close to marrying his game as he could get.

She knew that Hikaru was lost to her, to their family, the day he first put a stone down on a piece of wood. She didn’t understand Go, despite the fact that her father-in-law was fascinated with it. She didn’t think she ever would. But it was Hikaru’s life now. Not just part of it -- his *whole* life.

*There’s nothing to do now,* she thought, *but accept this, and move on.*

But she still had tears on her cheeks as she walked home.

* * *

Hikaru closed the door and leaned against it, his hands clenched into fists, his jaw set.

“I can’t believe she just invited herself over like that,” he said. “Just invited herself over! She took over the house!”

“You *did* invite her in,” Akira said, calmly.

“I didn’t think she was gonna start tearing up the living room and inviting herself to dinner!” Hikaru flopped back down on the couch.

Akira looked down into his teacup, thinking again about the differences in their situations -- one boy with a parent who was avoiding him, the other with a parent who wouldn’t leave him alone.

“Let’s just go play,” Hikaru said.

Akira nodded and finished his tea. They headed for the Go room, settling into their customary places on either side of the board.

*My mother never saw this room,* Hikaru thought. *I didn’t want her to see this any more than I wanted her to see the bedroom.* He knew that what went on between them in one room was, in a way, just as intimate as what went on between them in the other.

Akira dropped a handful of white stones onto the board, and Hikaru put up two black ones. Akira counted through the stones. “You’re black,” he said.

They took their proper go kes, bowed and gave the customary greeting, and Hikaru placed his first stone toward the bottom left. Akira considered the move for a moment, then put his own near the top right corner.

*Gods, what a day,* Hikaru thought. *The game was almost a disaster, Waya and Isumi are still uncomfortable around me, and then I come home to find my *mother* . . .*

He grabbed the next stone out of the bowl rapidly and slammed it to the board with a noise more like a *crack* than the traditional *pachi*. Akira looked up in surprise.

“Are you all right?” he said.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.”

“If you’d rather not play right now . . .”

“I *said* I was fine!” Hikaru snapped.

Akira picked up his next stone and placed it at the opposite side of the board from his first. He regarded his rival’s stance, the way he was scowling at the board.

Hikaru was tense. And not in a good, up-for-the-game way. The kind of tension that made you not be able to get to sleep at night.

As the game took shape, Akira was sure of it. Hikaru was playing an *angry* game, fiercely attacking Akira’s stones everywhere and every way he could, without a thought to shoring up his own.

*He’s not going to last long at this rate,* he thought.

But Hikaru kept playing, long after the point where Akira thought he should have resigned. It was like he wanted to be sure he got in every last blow to Akira’s fortresses that he could.

Finally, he took a deep breath and said, “I resign.”

Akira bowed. “Thank you for the game.”

Hikaru sat back, looking at the board. “Okay, I know why I lost. You don’t have to tell me. I was careless in the corners, I left everything unguarded . . .”

*And if we discuss the game, we’ll fight,* Akira thought. *It’s the last thing he needs right now.*

“Why don’t we talk about it later?” Akira said.

Hikaru blinked, looking back up at Akira with a startled expression. This was the only time he could remember that Akira didn’t want to discuss the game in meticulous detail!

“Touya?” he said.

Akira reached over and took Hikaru’s hand. “I think what you need right now is a massage. You’re really tense. It showed in your game.”

“I am not!” Hikaru said -- but he knew Akira was right. His whole body felt like a bowstring drawn to maximum tightness, and he still felt that if he had his mother in front of him, he’d deck her.

“Come in the other room,” Akira said, “and get undressed.”

Hikaru followed him, yanking off his shirt as he went, then unfastening his jeans. He shed what remained before flopping onto the bed face-down.

Akira opened the drawer in their bedside table, feeling around for the bottle of aromatherapy massage oil he knew was there. He’d bought the oil at a bath products specialty store just before moving in while getting the special deep conditioner he used on his hair once a week. He’d figured it was something they might want to have on hand.

He just didn’t think he’d be using it so soon.

Akira poured oil onto his hands and rubbed them together, then pressed on Hikaru’s shoulders, sliding down toward his hips, then up again. He started rubbing in small circles. “How’s that?” he said.

Hikaru let out a small purring sound -- his lover’s fingers were beginning to smooth out the tired, tense muscles. As he began pressing a little harder, Hikaru found himself stretching like a cat, luxuriating under the attention.

“Good,” he murmured.

Akira smiled quietly as he reached for the bottle of oil, pouring a little bit into his hand, then going back to rubbing, moving his hands lower, working down toward his hips.

Then, just when Hikaru thought he was going to feel Akira’s hands on his bottom, he moved down further, so he was grasping the boy’s calves. Hikaru let out a small groan of disappointment.

Akira squeezed Hikaru’s legs, sliding upward bit by bit. Oh, he felt good -- all that running up and down subway stairs and hiking to and from the Go Institute and Go salons had toned his muscles nicely.

As he reached his thighs, he let his thumbs slide down so they were brushing the sensitive flesh on the insides, hearing Hikaru’s moan in response. He saw the boy’s bottom arch up toward him slightly, mutely begging for his touch.

He took the bottle again and poured oil directly onto Hikaru’s bottom, leaning over so he could rub with both hands in wide circles, moving up and down, then grasping both cheeks and squeezing.

Hikaru pressed his fist against his mouth, breathing heavily, feeling a warm sensation shoot through his whole body. “Akira,” he murmured.

Akira let his fingers trail along the cleft, pushing one just slightly between them, teasing and tantalizing the other boy . . . then went back to rubbing the firm curves in circles. He bit his lip, feeling hot desire starting to build in his own body -- but he had to keep control.

He had plans for Hikaru.

Quickly, Akira stripped off his own clothing, folding each piece and draping it on the arm of the chair. Picking up the bottle, he drizzled oil on his lover’s bottom, moving up over his back, to his shoulders. Then, he moved down so his chest was level with Hikaru’s bottom.

The next thing Hikaru felt was Akira sliding up, bit by bit, his chest passing over his buttocks, then up his back, until his erection was pressing maddeningly against his cleft -- pushing between the cheeks just enough for Hikaru to feel it.

Hikaru started to move against him, but Akira was sliding down again, his skin slipping easily over the other boy’s thanks to the oil. He moved in circles, his torso massaging Hikaru’s back as he worked up, then down, his manhood just barely touching Hikaru’s sensitive flesh from time to time.

“Aaaahhh,” Hikaru gasped, starting to move along with Akira, grinding their bodies together in something of an inverted lap dance. When Akira slid up again, Hikaru thrust his bottom upward, hard, moving it in circles as Akira leaned over to nibble on his earlobe.

“Good?” Akira whispered.

“Yes . . . ohh, gods, yes . . .” Hikaru moaned.

Akira slid back -- and off, this time, sitting back with his legs folded under him as if he were about to play a game. Both boys were panting heavily, their skin flushed.

He knew he was going to have to wait a moment and let them both cool down. He didn’t want them to get *too* close to coming yet. There was still more he wanted to do.

After what felt like eons to Hikaru, Akira patted Hikaru’s bottom, indicating that he was to turn over. Hikaru obeyed, giving Akira a lovely view of a full erection. He grasped the oil bottle again and drizzled some of its contents on Hikaru’s stomach.

Akira looked at his lover’s face -- eyes closed, slightly flushed, lips parted -- and had an urge to lean over and kiss him. No, he didn’t want to do that just yet.

Placing his palms flat on the other boy’s belly, he slid upward, stopping when the tips of his fingers were just south of his nipples, then moved back down, until the heels of his hands were just north of his groin area. He moved up again, to the same point he’d been before . . . paused a moment . . . then let his fingers creep up a tiny bit, a mere centimeter, and Hikaru tensed up, waiting for the touch on his sensitive flesh.

But the hands moved down again, and Hikaru let out a small whimper, raising his hips in a thrusting motion. Akira paused at the bottom of the trail again, too, massaging in small circles, moving downward a tiny amount.

Then, he took his hands away entirely. Hikaru was going to yell “What the hell are you doing?” when he saw Akira lower his head. Now *this* was more like it! He lay back, preparing to feel the warm wetness of Akira’s mouth.

What he felt instead was something silky and soft trailing along his shaft, sending a fast jolt of pleasure through him, making him jump and cry out. Whatever it was, it was brushing upward along his erection, then rubbing back and forth on the head, then back down again, giving just the lightest brush to the sac beneath, then moving upward again.

Hikaru groaned loudly, starting to writhe on the bed, wondering what the hell Akira was using on him that felt so good, no, so *incredible*. He raised his head, opened his eyes -- and saw that the other boy was leaning his head over him, moving it slowly back and forth, but not making flesh-to-flesh contact.

The incredible feeling was Akira’s *hair*.

“Oh, GODS!” Hikaru cried, leaning back, arching upward as Akira began to move faster, brushing back and forth against him in waves of silky sensation. He raised his head, gathered one clump of hair in his hand and began to use it like a paintbrush, stroking around and around the tip of Hikaru’s erection, then moving down, then back up again.

Hikaru clutched at the sheets, feeling his body start to tense . . . gods, where did this come from? Akira wasn’t usually this adventurous . . . but where he got it from didn’t matter. What did matter was this was going on, and on, the satiny hair sliding along his length again, then moving down to the sac, brushing around and around on it this time.

Then, the hair was gone, and Akira’s lips were kissing his right nipple, then his left, then pushing against Hikaru’s with a fierce urgency. Hikaru rose to meet them, and the boys shifted so they were both sitting up, arms wrapped tightly around each other as their lips opened, Hikaru’s tongue thrusting into Akira’s mouth as their bodies pressed together, chest rubbing on chest, hands running along each other’s backs.

Hikaru tumbled Akira backwards, moving down to his right nipple, taking it in his lips and sucking hard, letting up the pressure so his tongue could lap at the hardening bud, then starting to suck again. He moved to the other one, which he licked with long, slow strokes.

“Aaaahhh,” Akira gasped, tangling his fingers in Hikaru’s hair, pushing downward. When he felt the other boy start to lick a trail down his stomach, he gasped in anticipation.

Hikaru moved rapidly down to Akira’s erection and took it in his mouth, pushing it in deeply -- too deep. He fell back, choking.

Akira raised his head. “Are you okay?”

Hikaru swallowed hard. Okay, so the moment was ruined. Temporarily. Well, he could make up for it, couldn’t he?

And instead of answering, he leaned over and took it in again, going slower this time, sucking hard and letting his fingers trail up Akira’s body, feeling for his nipples. Akira grasped Hikaru’s hands and guided them to their intended destination, moaning as he felt the caressing and stroking, coupled with Hikaru’s head moving faster, the hot wetness drawing him in, pulsing around him in short, rapid sucks, then long, hard ones.

“Yes,” Akira moaned. “Yes, Hikaru, ohhh, you’re so good at that . . .”

The more Hikaru sucked, the more the heat grew in his own aching manhood. He wanted to come, he wanted Akira to come with him, but he didn’t want to have to wait for the lubing-and-opening process . . .

Then, he remembered the bottle. He pulled away from Akira, grabbed the oil and poured a generous amount on Akira’s erection, then his own.

Akira raised his head. “Hikaru! What are you . . .”

“Same thing you did before,” Hikaru said. “Just a little different.”

Hikaru lay full-length on Akira, silencing him with a kiss and positioning himself so their erections were pressing against each other. Akira felt a jolt at the slightest touch, the slightest brush.

Then, Hikaru started to thrust his hips, shaft rubbing against shaft, sending electric heat racing through both boys, making them both let out long, low moans. Akira rolled them both so he was on top, and he felt Hikaru’s legs wrap around his hips as he moved faster, wanting more friction, more contact, more heat.

Akira tossed his head back, his hair falling softly around his shoulders as he moaned, knowing he was getting close, so very close, he just needed a little more. He slid a hand between their bodies, along Hikaru’s chest, finding a nipple and taking it between his thumb and forefinger.

Hikaru felt the sudden jolt of pleasure, and it touched off an eruption deep in his soul, making him cry out loudly as he was shook by long, hot shudders, a hard, intense one followed by a small, shivery one, and then another, and then another.

As he fell limp on the bed, somewhere, dimly, he felt and heard Akira tense up, then shout his name as his body trembled, stiffened, then trembled again. Finally, the other boy’s weight crushed down on him, and they held onto each other tightly as the final aftershocks subsided.

Their lips came together in a sweet, long kiss, after which they snuggled into each other’s arms.

“Now, are you going to make fun of my hair care stuff from now on?” Akira said.

It took a moment for this to sink into Hikaru’s pleasure-fogged mind. And then, he knew what his lover was talking about.

He closed his eyes and said, “Not anymore.”

* * *

Akira and Hikaru were leaving the apartment together the next day, heading toward the elevator, when they ran into Kyoko in the hall.

“Oh, hi,” she said. “Are we still on for tonight?”

Akira looked puzzled. “Tonight?”

“Um, I forgot to tell you,” Hikaru said, rubbing the back of his head and squeezing his eyes shut. “Suzuhara-san and her husband invited us for dinner tonight.”

Akira whirled toward Hikaru. “And you *forgot* to tell me this?”

Kyoko looked uncomfortable. “Um, if it’s not a good night . . .”

“No, it’s fine,” Akira said, bowing. “Thank you very much for inviting us.”

“So, shall we say seven o’clock?” she said.

“Can we make it seven thirty?” Akira said. “I have a game today, and I want to make sure I’m there on time.

“All right,” she said. “Seven thirty it is.” She waved at them as she headed for their own apartment and said, “See ya!”

The elevator arrived, and the boys stepped into it. “Shindou, how long did you know about this invitation and you didn’t tell me?”

“Hey, she just invited me yesterday morning! I wasn’t exactly expecting to find my mother on the doorstep when we got home!”

“You could have told me after she left!” Akira said, reaching up and beginning to fiddle with his collar.

“And you don’t seem to remember what happened after she left, either, do you?” Hikaru said, folding his arms.

Unfortunately, he said this just as the doors opened up. There were two young women waiting to go upstairs. Of course, there was no way they could have known exactly what Hikaru meant -- but Akira turned crimson anyway, and hustled out of the elevator as fast as he could.

As they were on their way down the front steps, the hulking man who had been nasty to Hikaru before was on his way up. He accidentally brushed shoulders with Akira. The boy quickly turned, bowed and said, “I’m sorry.”

The man sneered. “Look where you’re going, why don’t you, faggot?”

Akira was stunned. He’d had to endure a lot of whispering behind his back ever since he and Hikaru were outed, but it was the first time someone had said *that* to his face.

And it hurt. More than he thought something like that would. The pain quickly flared into anger.

“You can call me anything else,” he said, “but I will *not* tolerate being called that!”

“Yeah, whatever,” the man said, making a dismissive gesture and disappearing into the building.

Akira just stood rooted to the spot for a moment, hands clenched, giving the door his iciest stare, as if it were a tough opponent. Then he whirled around so quickly his hair bannered out around him and stalked off toward the subway, right past Hikaru.

* * *

He was still shaking slightly when he got to the Go Institute. He knew he couldn’t afford to -- any interruption to his concentration at all could be fatal to his game.

*I’ll be fine once I’m actually in the playing room and get my hands on the stones,* he thought as he stepped into the elevator and pressed the button.

The doors opened, and he headed straight for the anteroom, not bothering to stop in the players’ lounge. He noticed Ashiwara storing his own shoes in preparation for a game.

“Hello, Akira-kun,” he said. “How are things?”

“Oh, we’re settling into the new apartment fine,” Akira said, sitting down to pull off his shoes. “And I’m still going to school.”

“That’s a lot to handle all at once,” the older pro said. “When I got my own first apartment, I don’t think I would have been able to handle school *and* playing. I spent more time trying to figure out how the radiator worked than anything else!”

“So far, I can handle it,” Akira said. “Although there was one teacher who was concerned about me.”

“Well, if it ever gets to be too much,” Ashiwara said as they headed into the playing room, “you *can* drop school, you know. There’s no need for you to go.”

“I’m going because I *want* to,” Akira replied, as he studied the board assignments.

“Your father tried the same thing, you know,” the other player said as the two walked toward their boards.

Akira stopped in his tracks. “I never knew that,” he said.

“He never told you? He told most of us in the study group about it. He lasted two years in high school and then pulled out. When he did that, his Go career *really* took off.”

Akira swallowed hard. He didn’t want to think about his father on top of what had happened at the apartment. “Ashiwara-san, I’d like to get ready for my game now, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course not,” the older player said. “I have to do the same thing.” He gave a small wave. “Have a good game!”

“You too,” Akira said.

He walked over to his assigned place and knelt on the cusion. Opening one of the Go kes, he stuck his hand inside, withdrawing a stone and slapping it down to the board.

The feel of the smooth, cold playing piece between his fingers and the sound of stone hitting wood were like medicine to him. He pulled out a second stone and lay it near the first.

Now he was begining to settle in, to focus, to get into his element. Behind a goban was where he *belonged*. It was a home to him, maybe more so than either the house he’d grown up in or his apartment.

He breathed deeply and concentrated. He imagined the empty board filling up with stones, forming patterns of black and white that represented a series of battles over territory.

The kifu he had studied the day before leapt into his mind, and he began envisioning his opponent’s previous games, wondering which of the moves he had used before would be duplicated in this one. He mentally ran through a series of moves, envisioning how he would counter each one, what kind of strategies he could develop.

His problems were way behind him. He was *in the zone* and ready to play.

The sound of footsteps signaled the arrival of his opponent for the day. He stood up, bowed politely, and fixed the other man with the iciest, most intense stare in his arsenal. The other man looked uncomfortable, shifting from one foot to the other, fiddling with his wristwatch.

Akira was satisfied. He had already taken his first step toward winning.

Kyoko pulled her “good” teapot out of the closet, the one her aunt and uncle had given her on her wedding day. It had been used only twice since then, both times when said aunt and uncle had come to visit. It was a beautiful thing, white ceramic with a subtle floral pattern on the front.

Tonight was definitely an occasion to use it. She was very much looking forward to the dinner.

*I just hope my husband warms up to them,* she thought. When she’d reminded Hiromi of the upcoming visit, he’d just kind of groaned.

“Well, it’s about time we got to know more people in this building!” she said out loud as she went to the refrigerator, making sure she had the ingredients for the beef and potato stew she’d planned to make.

A knock came on her door, and she closed the fridge, confident that she was ready to start cooking. *I hope the boys like that kind of thing,* she thought. *I forgot to ask Shindou-san what kind of food they eat.*

Opening the door, she saw Okawa-san, today wearing a screaming yellow sweatsuit that made her look like the sun itself. Kyoko had an urge to shield her eyes.

“Hello, sweetie,” the old woman said. “Might I trouble you for a stick of butter? I was making cookies and found out I was a stick short.”

“Oh, of course,” Kyoko said. “Come right in.” She headed into the kitchen. “Are your grandchildren coming up again?”

“This coming weekend,” Okawa-san said, walking toward the kitchen door. “I already placed an order at the bakery for the strawberry mochi cakes. My granddaughter loves them so. And I need to go out and get the canned tea with honey my daughter drinks. She will *not* drink anything else. She hasn’t since high school. Of course, my son-in-law prefers that CC Grape soda. Dreadful stuff. It doesn’t even taste like grapes! Why, when I was a young girl -- and this is going back quite a few years, mind you -- there was a little teahouse around the corner from us that served an absolutely lovely grape juice. . .”

“Here’s your butter,” Kyoko said, coming back out into the living room and wondering how the other woman had said that entire monologue without an audible breath.

“Oh, thank you so much, sweetie,” Okawa-san said. “I do hope I wasn’t interrupting anything.”

“Not really,” Kyoko said. “I was just getting ready to start cooking -- we’re having company for dinner tonight.”

“Oh?” the elderly woman said, raising an eyebrow. “May I ask who?”

“Shindou Hikaru and Touya Akira,” Kyoko replied, brushing back her wavy hair.

“Oh, yes, those two lovely brothers from down the hall!” Okawa-san said. “Oh, no, wait, they don’t have the same family name, do they? Yes, they’re cousins!”

Kyoko frowned a bit. “Okawa-san, they’re not brothers *or* cousins.”

The elderly lady looked genuinely surprised. “They’re *not*?”

“No, they’re not.” Kyoko looked down, feeling a bit uncomfortable for a moment, then decided to just blurt it out. “They’re gay.”

Okawa-san seemed to consider this for a moment, her mouth screwed up in contemplation. Then she said, slowly, “Oh, yes. That’s different. That’s very different.”

Kyoko tensed, wondering if the other woman was about to go off on a rant.

“Well, every man has to go through his gay bachelorhood before settling on one lady, right?” she said. “If they want to live away from their parents and share an apartment while they sow their wild oats, that’s fine with me!” She waved at Kyoko as she headed for the door. “Thanks for the butter, sweetie! See you later!”

As she left, Kyoko just smacked the heel of her hand against her head.

* * *

Akira sat on the couch as he waited for Hikaru to finish up in the bathroom. It seemed he’d been in there for an eternity.

*How long does it take to use the W.C., then go in the bathroom and fix your hair?* he thought. *And he thinks *I* spend hours on my hair?*

His hand slipped into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. He flipped it open and checked for messages.

*There’s one,* he thought. *Maybe it’s Father. Maybe he *finally* returned my calls.*

But when he dialed his password, the only message was from Ichikawa-san. She hadn’t seen him in awhile, she was wondering when he’d stop by the salon again, she’d heard about his win today from one of the patrons and wanted to congratulate him on his excellent record . . .

He closed the phone, sighing. He hadn’t gone to the Go salon since moving out. He hadn’t seen any of the people in his father’s old study group except at the Go Institute -- like Ashiwara today.

*It’s like I walked away from my old life completely,* he thought.

He felt strangely caught between two worlds. He was no longer fully a part of his own world, and he wasn’t really part of Hikaru’s, either. His lover’s friends had certainly never thought much of him.

*But Shindou hasn’t seen much of his old friends, either,* he thought. *He’s hung up in the middle just like I am.*

He wondered if either of them were going to be able to get back to any semblance of their old lives. He wouldn’t give up his relationship with Hikaru for anything, but if he could have the relationship with Hikaru *and* the relationship with his father . . .

Hikaru finally emerged from the bathroom. “Okay, I’m ready,” he said. He looked at the phone still in his lover’s hand. “Any interesting calls?”

Akira shook his head and put the phone back in his pocket as he stood up.

But he knew he was going to be checking that phone again before they retired for the evening, just in case.

* * *

Kyoko answered the door. “Hello, there!” she said. “Come in, have a seat.”

“Thank you very much for having us,” Akira said, bowing as they entered the apartment.

“Oh, it’s my pleasure,” she said. “Shindou-san, Touya-san, this is my husband,” she said, pointing to the easy chair where Hiromi was sitting, still wearing his shirt and tie from work.

“Hello, Suzuhara-san,” Akira said as they sat on the couch.

“Hello,” he said. Hikaru couldn’t help but notice that the older man looked a bit uncomfortable -- he was avoiding making direct eye contact with them.

“Touya-san, how did your game go today?” Kyoko said.

“Very well,” Akira said. “I won.”

“Do you have games every day?” Kyoko said.

“Um, about two days a week, usually,” Hikaru said, his eyes shifting toward Hiromi, who was uncrossing and recrossing his legs, still not looking directly at them.

“And what do you do the rest of the week?”

“We give lessons a lot,” Hikaru said. “And we supervise amateur tournaments.”

“You have to tell me more at dinner,” she said. “The stew will be ready in a few minutes . . .”

Hiromi abruptly got up. “Excuse me, honey -- I have to make a phone call before we eat. It’s for work, I’m sorry.” He rushed off toward the bedroom.

Kyoko frowned as she watched him go. He hadn’t been home that long before the boys arrived, true, but it probably had been time to make his phone call then!

“Sorry about that,” she told the boys. “I just have to put dinner on the table -- can I get you something to drink in the meantime?”

“No, thank you,” Akira said. Hikaru declined as well.

“All right, then,” Kyoko said, heading off for the kitchen.

Once she was gone, Hikaru let out a groan. “I should have known,” he said.

“Known what?” Akira replied.

“Her husband. He doesn’t want to even look at us, let alone be in the same room with us!”

“What are you talking about?” Akira's eyebrows shot up.

“You know.” Hikaru folded his arms.

“Did you tell Kyoko-san we were a couple?” Akira folded his arms as well.

“No . . .”

“Well, why do you think he can tell just by looking at us?” Akira scowled at Hikaru, his eyes burning like he was in the middle of a game.

“Why else would he be so uncomfortable?” Hikaru said, his voice raising a bit.

“He may just be shy about meeting new people,” Akira said. “Lots of people are like that. You’re just paranoid.”

“I am *not* paranoid!” Hikaru said, hands clenching into fists.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Kyoko was fighting the urge to slam and bang her pots and pans as she took the food up.

*I could kill him,* she thought. *I could just KILL him.*

Hiromi was usually not this shy with guests -- hell, he was downright *rude* tonight. They’d had plenty of people over from work before, and he’d been a perfect gentleman.

*It’s because of their relationship,* she thought. *Once they’re gone, I am going to sit him down and let him have it. He’ll be lucky if he doesn’t end up sleeping on the couch tonight.*

She carried her food to the table, and took a deep breath, composing herself.

*I have to salvage some of this evening,* she thought. *I* still want to be friends with them, even though *he* may not.*

She smoothed her hair back into place, gave one last stir to her stew and walked into the living room.

“We’re just about ready! You can come into the kitchen now.”

The boys followed her, sitting down at the places she indicated. Kyoko had already put a bowl of rice at each place, and now she began to ladle the stew out on top of it.

“My mother taught me to make this,” she said. “I’ve known how to cook it since I was a little girl.”

Hiromi came back into the room, now wearing a polo shirt. He sat quietly at the table, still not looking at either of the guests.

Kyoko sat down, and the four picked up their chopsticks.

“Well,” she said, “let’s eat!”

The others repeated her words and began to dig in. For a moment, there was no sound but chopsticks clinking on bowls.

Then, Kyoko said, “How did you two get started playing Go, anyway?”

Hiromi just looked into his bowl as the one with long hair -- Touya, was it? -- started going into an explanation of how he had learned Go from his father from the time he was a toddler.

It was like listening to someone from another planet speak. Everything about these two was foreign to him. The Go. Their relationship. The fact that they were living on their own and having full-blown careers at an age when he had been agonizing endlessly about getting into college.

*They’re never going to know what it’s like to have to go to work on a crowded train every morning,* he thought. *They won’t have to put up with working themselves until they feel half-dead six days out of seven. They just play some board game that my grandfather used to play and get paid for it.*

He wished his *own* life could be so easy. Hell, these two didn’t have to worry about parents pushing them to get into the right high school, then the right college, then the right company. Go was Touya’s *family business*, for crying out loud!

“And Shindou-san?” Kyoko said. “What about you? Do you come from a Go-playing family, too?”

“Um, no,” Hikaru said. “I mean, my grandfather plays, but he’s the only one who does. My father works in an office. So does my uncle. My cousin’s a musician . . .”

*I thought I heard the name *Shindou* before,* Hiromi thought. *So his cousin’s that nutty musician who was on “Iron Chef.”* The idea of a rock-star cousin just made the boy seem even more alien and unapproachable.

He couldn’t wait for this dinner to be over.

Shindou was saying, “I just started playing on my own, I guess, and then I joined the Go Club in junior high.”

“What school did you go to?” Kyoko said.

“Haze,” Hikaru replied.

This made Hiromi’s head snap up. “Haze?” he said.

Hikaru looked over at him, a bit of surprise in his eyes. “Um, yeah?”

“I went to Haze!” Hiromi said. “I graduated about 10 years ago.”

“Really?” Hikaru said.

“Tell me -- is Kawazuka-san still there?”

“That old fart?” Hikaru said.

“He was old when *I* was there!” Hiromi said. “We all thought he was going to keel over in class one of these days.”

“Nah, he never did,” Hikaru said. “But he sure coughed a lot!”

Akira looked over at Hiromi. His whole stance seemed to be changing. His tense shoulders were relaxing

“. . . and she was *always* chasing people off the field during soccer practice!” Hikaru was saying. “Always!”

“At least you *had* a soccer team!” Hiromi said. “When I was in Haze, we couldn’t get *anybody* to play! All we had were tennis players, nobody wanted to go out for soccer!”

“You played tennis?” Hikaru said, scooping up more meat and rice with his chopsticks.

“For *one* year,” Hiromi replied, picking up the teapot and refilling his cup. “I quit because I couldn’t stand the coach. We went on this one overnight away-game trip to Kyoto. They put us up at this really nice place, the Hamilton Hotel . . .”

“I’ve stayed there,” Akira said, quietly. “I’ve played in Kyoto quite a bit.”

“Ever been to the Naniwa restaurant there?” Hiromi said. “It was right by the hotel.”

“Oh, it’s one of my favorites there,” Akira said. “They have another branch in Osaka that I’ve also been to.”

“Oh, the one in Osaka is ever better!” Hiromi said. He was now completely relaxed, waving his chopsticks around to illustrate his points. “I have to tell you about the last time I got sent there -- oh, wait, I was talking about the tennis trip, right? So we got to Kyoto, and right off, Coach Itsuko said --”

“ITSUKO?” Hikaru said, and broke into laughter. “They had *him* coaching tennis? He can’t even walk across a room without falling over!”

Across the table, Kyoko breathed a heavy sigh of relief. What had looked like it was going to be a disastrous evening had been salvaged.

*Okay, so maybe I won’t banish him to the couch tonight,* she thought with a smile.

* * *

After the meal, they settled down in the living room with cups of tea. Hiromi looked genuinely relaxed and content as he sipped his -- a sharp contrast to his tense demeanor of before.

“Hey, Akira,” he said, “could you guys show me how your game works?”

Hikaru and Akira looked at each other, startled. Kyoko nearly dropped her teacup.

“Are you serious?” she said.

“Of course, I’m serious,” Hiromi said. “The only time I ever saw Go was when my grandfather and his friends played it.”

*Gods,* she thought, *his opinion *did* change! What the hell happened to “Go is a game for old men?”*

“Um, well, we *do* have a portable board in our apartment,” Hikaru said. “I’ll go get it.”

He headed next door, fumbling for his keys. The portable goban was in the Go room, on the top bookshelf. He’d run in, grab it and . . .

As soon as he walked into the apartment, he heard the telephone ringing. Without thinking, he went over and grabbed it.

“Hello, Shindou and Touya residence.”

“Hikaru, it’s your mother.”

*Oh, no,* he thought. *Gods, why now? I swear, she’s paying more attention to me than she did when I lived in that house -- and now, I don’t *want* her attention!*

“Look, Mom,” he snapped. “I just stopped by the apartment for a second. I’m having dinner with friends. I don’t have time for . . .”

“All I wanted to tell you,” she said, quietly, “is that it might be a good idea if you got a maid.”

This caught Hikaru off-guard. He was expecting more pleas for him to reconsider his lifestyle, more questions about whether he was really happy with Akira, more offers to come home if he wanted to . . .

“What did you say?” he said.

“Neither of you is very domestic. I noticed that. And you don’t seem to have enough time.”

“Um, no . . .” he said. *Okay, she’s setting it up,* he thought. *The begging for me to come home is going to start any moment now.*

“With your combined income, there’s no reason why you *shouldn’t* have a maid,” she said. “I know someone who used to work for a friend of mine who would be perfect. She also used to work for another couple like you, so she’s comfortable with that.”

He was stunned. *It almost sounds like she’s accepted me living with Akira,* he thought.

“I have the number here . . . wait a second . . . okay, have you got a pen?”

Hikaru looked around. There was a pen on the counter, but the only nearby paper was paper towels. He tore one off -- it would have to do. She reeled off seven digits and he wrote them down.

“Thanks,” he said. More words weren’t coming -- his mind was too crowded with pure bewilderment.

“And I’m going to let you go now,” she said. “You want to get back to Akira and your friends. Maybe someday when you’re settled down a bit, and you have a break in your Go schedule, you and Akira could come here for dinner.”

*Okay, now I’m in the Twilight Zone,* Hikaru thought. *She’s accepted us being together . . . she’s going to butt out of my life . . . she’s not keeping me on the phone all night . . .*

“Sure,” he said. “Um, I really have to go, okay?”

“All right. Call me when you can. Good night.”

Hikaru broke the connection and replaced the phone, slowly.

*What the hell happened?* he thought. *Did coming here and seeing us change her attitude *that* much?*

He looked at the seven numbers on the towel. She was right -- they *did*need some help around here. It would be so nice to not have to feel guilty about not doing the housework, to be able to think of Go first.

*I’ll tell Touya about this later,* he thought, going off to get the goban.

* * *

It was several hours later when Kyoko and Hiromi finally said their goodnights to the boys, waving at them as they headed down the hall.

She closed the door behind them and turned to her husband. “So, what happened to you not wanting anything to do with Go?”

“Hey, I changed my mind after I met them,” he said, heading toward the kitchen along with her to clean up. “I didn’t think they were going to be so, well, interesting.”

“What did you *think* they were going to be like?” she said. “Little old men?”

“Well, yes,” he said as he picked up dishes and started to run them under water.

“And limp-wristed?”

He didn’t answer that. He just shoved the dishes he had rinsed toward her. “These are ready for the dishwasher.”

“I asked you a question,” she said, taking the plates and starting to stack them.

“Okay, I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I’ve never known anyone who was openly gay before. All I knew of that was those mangas my sister used to read . . .”

“Real life isn’t a manga, you know,” she said, taking more dishes from him.

“I know that,” he said, rinsing off the last of the bowls. “But when I started talking to them -- they’re . . . oh, hell, they’re more *normal* than most of the guys I know at the office.”

“Really?” she said, closing the dishwasher and starting it on low. “How so?”

“Well,” Hiromi said, leaning against the counter, “I get the sense that they genuinely *enjoy life*. They’re making their living playing a game. They’re with who they want to be with whether other people like it or not. But some of the guys in the office . . . they’re salarymen because it was expected of them. And they married who their parents wanted them to marry.”

“And does that apply to you, too?” Kyoko said, softly, as she wiped the table.

“You know I married you because I *love* you!” Hiromi replied.

“No, the other part.” She stopped wiping and looked him in the eye. “Are you jealous of those boys because they’re doing something they *want* to do, and you’re not?”

*Dammit,* he thought. *How does she always know what I’m thinking like that? I swear sometimes, the woman has ESP.*

“Maybe,” he said, crossing his arms.

“You know,” she said, wringing out the rag and draping it over the faucet, “that inheritance we got from my grandmother could go a long way toward financing that store.”

He knew precisely what she was talking about. When they were dating, he’d frequently mentioned it was his dream to open a record store that specialized in classical and jazz, the forms of music that always got lost in the shuffle at the big chain stores.

*Do I really have the courage to do it?* he thought. *Am I like those boys? Am I willing to go out on a limb and live my life the way *I* want?*

He knew all too well what the answer to that was.

“Maybe in a few years, after we’ve put away some more money,” he said. “We *do* need some for our family, you know. But, anyway . . . we really should have those boys over again.”

*Perhaps if we have them over,* he thought, *some of them will rub off on me.*

* * *

Back in their apartment, Akira put the portable goban back in the Go room. “Well, we had our game for tonight already,” he said. “Although playing Go for an audience was the last thing I thought we’d be doing tonight.”

“Hey, at least they got into it,” Hikaru said, yawning. He walked into the kitchen to get a soda -- and saw the paper towel with the phone number.

The conversation with his mother leapt into his mind. Again, he wondered what had made her have such a thorough change of heart.

“Touya,” he said, heading back into the living room, “the reason I took so long getting back is that my mother called.”

“Oh?” Akira said, coming out of the room. “Again?”

“She . . . sounded different,” Hikaru said, sitting on the couch. “She didn’t want to bug me, she just gave me advice about getting a maid.”

“Really?” Akira said, sitting beside him.

“I think she understands now,” Hikaru said. “Maybe she understands me more than she has in my whole life.”

This brought a small pang to Akira’s heart. *If only my father could understand the same way,* he thought.

Hikaru added, softly, “If only other people could understand, as well.”

Akira looked at him. It was almost as if Hikaru could read his thoughts.

“My friends,” he said. “They’re still . . . they act different. They have ever since they found out.”

“Still?” Akira said.

Hikaru nodded, running a finger along the arm of the sofa. “You know, I once wondered how everyone would react if I tried to tell them about Sai. And I think it would have been . . . pretty much the same way they’re acting now.”

Akira put an arm around Hikaru and pulled him closer. “Maybe they just need more time.”

“Wonder how much time that’s going to be,” Hikaru grumbled. “It already feels like forever.”

Akira sighed. Yes, that’s exactly how long it felt since things had been right with his father. Simply forever. *And I think Shindou’s friends will come around before he does,* he thought.

He knew he needed to lighten the mood a bit -- after their pleasant evening with the Suzuharas, he didn’t want things to get bogged down and gloomy. “Why don’t I go make some tea?” he said, getting up. “We can go over the game we played tonight.”

Akira got off the couch and headed for the kitchen. Hikaru watched him go, still in thought.

He wanted Akira to come back to that couch, all right. But he wasn’t in the mood to discuss their game right now. He wanted to just be *close*.

*I think I know how I can get him to do that,* he thought.

He snuck into the kitchen, where Akira had gotten out the teapot and was now opening a can of tea. As quietly as he could, he came up behind him and grabbed his waist.

Akira gave a loud cry, dropping the filled scoop in his hand back into the can. He whirled around abruptly, started down Hikaru with burning, full-game-face eyes, and said, “What did you do *that* for?”

Hikaru laughed. “You should have seen yourself! You jumped about a foot in the air!”

“How would you like it if I . . .”

“Did that?” Hikaru said. “You’ll have to catch me!” And he ran from the room, Akira taking off in hot pursuit.

Hikaru rushed into the living room and ducked behind the couch. He heard Akira’s approaching footsteps, waited until his lover was just about even with him . . .

Then he took off again, laughing, heading for the bathroom. “Get back here, Shindou!” Akira said, running after him.

Hikaru hid inside the shower, grabbing hold of their detachable shower head. He turned on the water, waiting for his lover’s inevitable entrance. Sure enough, Akira arrived in the doorway, looking like he was in the final rounds of a game against a tough opponent he was *just this close* to pulling ahead of.

Laughing, Hikaru raised the shower head, letting Akira see the stream of water. The other boy suddenly paled a bit. “You wouldn’t!”

Hikaru started to turn the water toward Akira, who flinched and pulled back, expecting a drenching -- except at the last second, Hikaru shut off the water, then dashed out of the room, yelling, “You’re right, I wouldn’t!”

“Arrrgghh!” Akira said, running after Hikaru. The other boy was running into the bedroom, laughing all the way. Akira put on a burst of speed, then literally launched himself at Hikaru. “Gotcha!” he shouted, as they both tumbled to the bed.

“Aaack!” said Hikaru as Akira grabbed both wrists and held them over his head, pinning him to the bed. There was a long moment when they just stared at each other, panting, their faces flushed.

Then, Hikaru said, “It’s funny. . . I chased you for so many years, and you just chased me!”

“I chased you just as much,” Akira said.

“That was Sai, not me,” Hikaru said, his wrists still pinned over his head.

Akira released him. “No, not just Sai. I watched you develop. I knew what you were becoming.”

Hikaru propped himself up on his elbows. “Really?”

“Really.” Akira lay down next to Hikaru, rolling on his side.

Hikaru rolled to face him, a sly smile on his face. “So what did you chase me for just now?” he said.

“You *scared the hell* out of me!”

“Oh?” said Hikaru, a teasing tone creeping into his voice. “It was *just* that?”

“No,” Akira whispered, moving closer.

Akira kissed Hikaru hard, rolling them both so he was lying atop the other boy, pushing his tongue firmly into his lover’s mouth, feeling a thrill run through his whole body when Hikaru responded. He pushed his T-shirt up, fingers feeling for a nipple.

Hikaru moaned deep in his throat at the sensation of stroking on the hardening bud, then gentle squeezing. His tongue caressed Akira’s as his whole body arched upward, pressing them together.

Gods, he couldn’t get enough of his lover. Having him this close, all the time -- it was heaven. Hikaru didn’t know how he kept from exploding into a messy ball of hormones before he and Akira moved in together.

He reached for the zipper of Akira’s pants, undoing the button and yanking down the fly, plunging a hand in to stroke him through his underwear. Akira’s lips broke from Hikaru’s, and he leaned his head back, letting out a long, deep groan.

“You feel so good,” Hikaru murmured, stroking faster. “Get these things off.”

Akira pulled away, grabbing the hem of Hikaru’s shirt and pulling it upward. Hikaru helped him yank it off and fling it away, then began to work on Akira’s buttons. Their clothes were soon tossed away, and they lay side-by-side, kissing fiercely.

Hikaru lifted a leg and wrapped it around Akira’s hip as they began to rub together, erection pressing against erection as their bodies trembled slightly, one of Akira’s hands coming around to grab Hikaru’s bottom, gently squeezing and caressing.

“Gods, I want you,” Akira gasped, moving his head down to Hikaru’s neck, licking and nibbling at the flesh before locking his lips on one spot at the side of his throat and sucking. Hikaru leaned his head back, moaning.

“Akira,” he panted. “I want to do something . . . we haven’t done before . . .”

“Hmm?” Akira said, as he moved down and kissed a nipple.

“I . . . want us to do each other with our mouths.”

Akira raised his head. “But we’ve done that.”

“Not at the same time.”

Akira sat back. “How are we going to do that?”

“Well, if you lay on your back, and I get on top of you facing the other direction . . .”

Akira obeyed, and Hikaru straddled Akira’s head, then leaned over so he could reach Akira’s erection. He began to lick along the side -- and felt nothing in return.

He turned around. “Akira?”

“I can’t reach you. You’re way up high.” Sure enough, Akira was craning his neck, trying to reach a manhood that was just out of his reach.

“Oh,” Hikaru said, and lowered his hips -- only to feel contact with Akira. *Too much* contact.

“Not THAT low!” Akira said as he pushed upward. “Look, maybe I should put a couple more pillows behind my head.”

Hikaru got off, and Akira scrambled around for all the pillows, making a stack of them before lying back down. “Okay, let’s try it now,” he said.

But once he was back in position, Hikaru decided, *Why not have some *more* fun?* In his research into sex at the library, he’d come across a book that said many men and women got turned on by foot worship.

*Maybe Akira’s one of them,* he thought. *Only one way to find out.*

He moved down so his mouth was even with Akira’s feet. He began to lay soft kisses over the right instep.

Akira started to laugh. Hikaru raised his head. “What?”

“I’m ticklish there,” Akira said. “I always have been.”

“Well, how was I supposed to know?” Hikaru grumbled. He moved back to the position he was in before, swung his leg so he was straddling Akira again, and moved his hips down slowly. “Okay, say when!”

Akira shifted around a little -- even with the extra pillows, finding a good angle for this was going to be tricky. He finally managed to take Hikaru in partway, resulting in a loud moan from his lover -- and then the feel of Hikaru’s mouth sliding around Akira’s manhood.

Hikaru began to suck hungrily, sliding down until he was taking as much of Akira in as he could, remembering the choking incident the last time they’d made love. He stayed there for a moment, moaning in his throat at the feel of Akira doing the same thing to him -- Akira wasn’t going as deep, but he was sucking faster, moving Hikaru in and out.

Bit by bit, Hikaru drew his head back, then moved down rapidly, sucking in long, hard draws. He began to speed up, letting his fingers trail along Akira’s thighs, then moving in to tease the sac beneath his manhood.

Akira took Hikaru out in order to run his tongue along his length in one long, slow stroke, from the root to the tip, where he swirled it around a little before licking back down again. He fluttered his tongue as he moved back up, and when he reached the head again, he felt Hikaru licking along the tip of his own erection, making him cry out.

Hikaru lapped in little circles along the crown, and felt Akira doing the same thing, mirroring his movements. Both boys slid their tongues down each other’s shafts, then up again, before taking each other back in their mouths and starting to suck.

The air was filled with the sounds of sucking and moaning as they moved their heads back and forth, Akira’s hands coming up to squeeze Hikaru’s bottom. Akira knew he wasn’t going to last much longer -- he was starting to feel a tension over his whole body, a burning heat in his belly, a slight trembling in his limbs.

And then, he gave a loud cry as it all exploded, and he was wracked by one hot, sweet shudder after another, his mouth still wrapped around Hikaru as small pulses of electricity shot through him, then faded.

Hikaru felt Akira’s essence flood his mouth suddenly. He wasn’t prepared for it, and he started to choke -- but he held on, and managed to swallow it. He pulled himself out of Akira’s mouth and sat back on the bed.

Akira sat up, confused -- then saw Hikaru and knew what he was expected to do. He moved so he could take his lover back in his mouth, from an easier position this time, and sucked slowly, gently, then built up in speed and intensity, his fingers teasing his inner thighs, then his sac.

Hikaru felt his entire body stiffen, then he gave a loud cry as every bit of him was flooded with liquid fire, pulsing through him over and over, until he collapsed, limp and panting.

Quickly, Akira moved to the side of the bed and grabbed a tissue, spitting the contents of his mouth into it -- he just could not seem to swallow. He discreetly tossed it in the trash, then moved back to Hikaru.

The two kissed, warmly, tasting themselves on each other’s mouths. They wriggled under the covers and settled into each other’s arms, Hikaru’s head on Akira’s chest.

“That was great,” Hikaru yawned. “We have to try it again.”

“Hmm,” Akira said. He just felt warm and content right now -- if a bit sore in the neck from the position he had to take in order to pleasure Hikaru.

“You’re really good at that,” Hikaru said. “Anyone ever tell you?”

“You’re the only person I’ve ever done that to,” Akira replied.

“Good. That means I’m lucky, then.”

The two snuggled closer as Akira reached over to turn on the alarm and turn off the light, then fell asleep.

* * *

They were on their way to the elevator the next day when they came across Okawa-san. For once, she wasn’t wearing a sweatsuit -- instead, she had on a blouse that had a pattern of vegetables all over it and a black skirt that reached almost to her ankles.

“Hello, there!” she said. “I need to go see the doctor this morning. My big toe is getting swollen and sore again. My sister-in-law had the same thing, and she said her doctor told her it was some kind of fungus, but I don’t think that’s what I have -- I think I may have arthritis in it.”

The elevator arrived. All three got on. She continued talking.

“You see, the lady who used to live directly downstairs from me had arthritis, and it started in one toe, and then spread to her whole foot. I tried to tell her to go to the doctor, but she’d have nothing of it! She said she’d just keep putting Tiger Balm on it, and I told her she was crazy! And sure enough, she couldn’t walk without a limp pretty soon, and then . . .”

Akira and Hikaru exchanged a look. Both boys wondered if the elderly woman had just set some kind of record for most words spoken with a single breath.

They reached the ground floor and started heading for the street, Okawa-san still talking away, when Hikaru saw the burly man who’d insulted them before coming into the building. He froze in his tracks, and tapped Akira’s arm. Akira looked at him, and winced.

Both boys braced themselves, waiting for the inevitable insults aimed at them.

Instead, he narrowly brushed past Okawa-san, and snapped, “Why don’t you watch where you’re going, you old biddy?”

She bowed politely and said, “Excuse me,” then continued out of the building while the man continued to the elevator, not even noticing Hikaru and Akira.

After he was gone, Okawa-san sighed. “That’s Takamura-san. What a terrible fellow. He’s insulted everyone in this building at one time or another. Well, have a good day, boys, I have to go!” And she walked off in the opposite direction from the subway.

The two boys watched her go. “So that nasty guy hates the whole world,” Hikaru said.

“I suppose you thought he was just a homophobe,” Akira said, cooly, as they started off.

“You didn’t?” Hikaru said, jamming his hands into his pockets.

“No,” Akira said, calmly, although he was not entirely telling the truth.

“Oh, come on,” Hikaru said, as they approached the subway. “You’re lying!”

“I am *NOT* lying!” Akira said, whirling around to face him. “You’re paranoid!”

“I’m NOT PARANOID!” Hikaru shouted. “And even if I *was,* that means you’re paranoid, too!”

“You just admitted it!” Akira said, stabbing an accusing figure toward Hikaru.

“I DID NOT!” Hikaru shouted, leaning toward Akira. “Maybe *you’re* the paranoid one!” He turned and dashed down the stairs.

“I am NOT!” Akira said, dashing down after him. “Come back here! SHINDOU!”

* * *

Upstairs, Hiromi grabbed his briefcase. “I may be home a little late,” he told his wife.

“Oh?” Kyoko said, beginning to clean up the breakfast dishes. “Are you going out with your coworkers?”

“No,” he said. “Just making a stop at the bookstore.” He kissed her and headed out the door, heading down the hall.

As he got into the elevator, he reached into his pocket for the all-important piece of paper that contained the names of the two books he had researched early that morning, which he was planning on looking for later -- “Go for Beginners” and “Getting Started With Your Own Business.”


Okawa-san was based on a couple of ladies who lived on my block when I was a kid. I think *everyone* has had an Okawa-san living near them at one time or another.

Thanks tons to Aishuu, who had a big hand in forming this story in its early stages, and Steve Savage, who helped shape the final version. Thanks also to Sonya, the other members of the Nekos and everyone who’s commented on the series so far!

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.