[<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


There was an unnatural quiet in the observation room for the Room of Profound Darkness when Waya entered it. Normally, there was a hum of conversation as the game being viewed on the TV monitor was progressing, as observers tried to predict the next move, criticized or praised the players, or uttered the inevitable "Now if it were *me* in there . . ."

But today, there was nothing but the *pachi* sounds of the Go stones being placed on the board as the game was recreated by the observers. And there were certainly a lot of people observing. Waya couldn't remember the last time the room had been this crowded.

Of course, it had been a long time since a match had been this talked about, or anticipated.

He took a quick look around the room. All the heavy hitters had come out for this one, all right. Ogata was sitting across from old man Kuwabara, both studying the screen intently. Kurata was a few people back from them.

*What the hell is it about Shindou*, he thought, *that always attracts so much interest*?

He began moving slowly through the room, past all of the old-school Go players . . . the men perpetually dressed in suits and ties, many with cigarettes seemingly permanently fastened to their fingers . . . when those fingers weren't holding Go stones, that was.

Waya couldn't have been more of a contrast to them. He was wearing a fatigue-print jacket, a green T-shirt and blue jeans, and his brown hair stuck out all over the place. The old-timers always seemed charmed by that style of dress . . . it marked him as part of "the new wave" of players, the ones who were supposedly going to rescue Japanese Go from its current lowly status compared to other Asian countries.

*Who am I fooling?* Waya thought. *It's not me they talk about. It's always Shindou. Shindou and Touya.*

He spotted Isumi at the far side of the room, at one of the Gobans. The young man's dark head was bent over the board as he duplicated what was on the screen, and there was a slight frown on his face. This could either mean intense concentration . . . or a reaction to Shindou screwing up.

"Hey," Waya said, sliding into the seat opposite him. "How's he doing?"

"Take a look," Isumi said, scooping up the stones and beginning to lay them out one by one, recreating the game from the beginning. "Shindou's black."

Waya groaned inwardly as the patterns began unfolding in front of him. Shindou was cracking under the pressure, all right.

"That idiot!" he said aloud. "Look at this! He attacked too soon over here, and forgot to block there . . . and what the hell kind of a move is *this*?" He sat back, arms crossed over his chest, and gave a deep sigh of disgust. "Forget it. He's done for."

But Isumi said, calmly, "That's exactly what he wants his opponent to think."

"What do you mean by that? How could anybody play like that on purpose? Especially someone with a track record like Shindou's?" But he had to admit that Hikaru's track record was . . . unusual. Hell, it was fair to say it was bizarre. Who had ever come back from a string of forfeits upon first turning pro to be where Shindou was now?

"You should know by now that the only thing predictable about him is that he's unpredictable," Isumi said, looking back at the screen.

"Do you really think that he can . . ."

At that moment, there was a collective gasp throughout the room, and Waya turned his eyes back to the screen.

*Damn!* he thought, blinking in amazement, *he did it again! How the hell does he do that*?

Hikaru's supposedly sloppy play had just revealed itself to be a brilliant move. Suddenly, he was in control of the situation, gaining territory that Waya was sure he had lost . . . and his opponent was caught completely off-guard.

The game was entering the final stage, and Waya knew from personal experience that when Hikaru went into yose with the upper hand, he almost never lost. *Gods, he's going to do it,* he thought. *How the hell could anyone . . .*

He remembered all too well sitting in that very room with Ochi while Shindou was playing his Beginner Dan match against Touya Koyou -- an even more bizarre game than this one -- and the two of them wondering, over and over, "Who *is* Shindou?"

It was a question Waya had been asking himself ever since the day his friend first entered the Insei class, proclaiming himself Touya Akira's rival when he could barely play the game. And he wondered if he'd ever really know the answer.

He looked back at the screen. Nothing was happening, nothing had happened for several minutes. Hikaru had his opponent well-trapped.

Then, they saw the older man's head come into the picture over the board as he bowed. Nobody needed to hear what was being said -- it was obvious he was resinging.

There was a sudden heavy sigh of relief, as if everyone in the room had been holding their breath throughout the entire match. And then, everybody started talking at once, rapidly, as if they couldn't wait to get out the words they'd been holding in.

The door opened, and the pros began to pour out into the hall, chattering like theatergoers who had just witnessed the opening night of a stunning new play.

"Think we'll be able to get in there to hear him discuss the game?" Isumi said.

Waya shook his head. "Between the press and the old guys, there isn't going to be a centimeter of space in that room. Let's wait in the hall -- we might be able to grab him on the way to the elevator."

They knew they'd be able to get an explanation of the game later, in an informal setting, when it was just a small group of them. Waya personally couldn't wait to hear it -- though he wondered if he'd really understand his friend's playing style any better afterward.

The two stayed quietly in the hall for a seeming eternity, occasionally remaking on the people they saw going in and out of the tournament room, until, at last, the door opened and their friend emerged, looking more relieved than anything else.

Hikaru had actually put on a suit for the occasion, a far contrast from his usual uniform of T-shirts or sports jerseys and jeans, and his hair -- blond in front, black in back -- was combed neatly.

*I don't think it's hit him yet,* Waya thought. He waved his hand to get his friend's attention. "Shindou!"

"Waya! Isumi-san!" Hikaru rushed over to them. "Were you watching?"

"We saw!" Isumi said, patting his friend on the back. "The end . . . you were amazing!"

"But what the hell were you thinking in the middle of the game?" Waya said. "I thought you'd blown it!"

But he didn't get his answer, because the door to the tournament room opened again, and a flood of people with notebooks and cameras poured out, heading for Hikaru like a swarm of bees heading for a flower bed.

*Damn*, Waya thought, *this must be big . . . they must have sent every Go reporter in the country!* "We want to take you out to celebrate after you're done with these people," he told Hikaru quickly.

"Sure," Hikaru said, looking over at the press corps with a bit of trepidation. And in a flash, they surrounded him, blocking him from the view of his friends.

"We'll wait downstairs," Isumi said. They turned to walk toward the elevators, but it was easier said than done. The halls were thronging with pros, all talking with excitement about what they had just seen, as if they wanted to savor every bit of the game.

"I'm telling you, Shindou is it," he heard someone say. "He and Touya . . . Japanese Go finally has a future."

The elevator arrived, and the two boys got into it. "Damn," Waya said. "I'm glad we're getting away from that."

"We're not going to get away from that," Isumi said, quietly. "People are going to be talking about this for a long time."

Waya had to admit he was right. After all, this was far from an everyday occurrence in the Go world.

One year after entering the pros with a string of forfeits, Shindou Hikaru, age 16, had just made it into the Honinbou League.

* * *

Touya Akira was fighting the urge to look at his watch.

He was sitting at a U-shaped table in the middle of a community center hall, upon which six gobans were resting. Behind each board was a middle-aged man in a suit, showing varying degrees of interest in what was going on.

The gaunt one with the steel-gray hair was bent over with his nose practically touching the board, squinting at it; the short, squat one with the bad comb-over looked like he was going to fall asleep, the muscular one with the white crewcut was peeking at the other boards and then looking back at his own, like a child trying to cheat on a test.

Akira was seated in a swiveling chair in the middle, looking very much the young pro -- he was dressed in a blue suit and striped tie, his chin-length, dark-green hair perfectly neat. He turned from one board to the next, looked at the game, made a quick mental calculation, then placed his stone.

Shidou-go times six was something the young pro was used to by now. After all, he was very much in demand for lessons, more so since the retirement of his father a year and a half ago.

But today, he found it hard to maintain the deep focus he usually maintained for something like this. Because he knew he wanted to be somewhere else.

*He's probably winding up the game, if he hasn't finished it already*, Akira thought. *And if he won, he's caught up to me at long last.*

He couldn't have that. He had to stay ahead of Shindou. He just had to. Because if he let Shindou surpass him, there was no hope of either of them reaching the Hand of God.

*You've chased me for so long,* he thought, *and I've never let you catch me. And I'm not about to now. If you won that game . . . if you're even with me now . . . I will just go higher and higher, until you will never catch me no matter how long and hard you work.*

The memory of his own entry into the Honinbou League kept replaying in his mind, like a tape stuck in an endless loop. Shindou storming into the room, telling him he was back and ready to take him on . . . and he, himself, had replied, "Come after me!"

At that moment, he'd been flooded with a profound sense of relief. He thought he'd lost his one true rival.

His father had told him, when he was small, that the best thing a Go player could have was a rival to push him further. Akira had asked when he knew he'd found his.

"Finding your true rival is like finding your true love," Touya Kouyo had told him. "When it happens, you'll *know*."

And then, a couple of years later, Shindou Hikaru had walked into his father's Go salon . . .

Akira dipped his hand into the go ke again, pulled out a smooth, white stone and put it on the board before him with a resounding *pachi*. The player opposite him definitely had no feel for the game. He was just placing stones randomly, not even trying to connect them, not trying to build forts.

Normally, Akira was patient with people like this, and would take time to explain exactly what they were doing wrong. Today, he just wanted to get this over with. He'd been unable to get out of this commitment; the man who'd organized the group shidou-go was an old friend of his father's.

*I should be there,* he thought, *like I was there for Shindou's beginner dan game*. Of course, he's been expected to be there . . . his father was the boy's opponent, after all.

But he knew he'd really attended the game because he was interested in Shindou, in seeing his strength, how he played against his father. And the bizarre game that had resulted had been a letdown -- but hadn't all the games against Shindou been odd and frustrating?

*Shindou's been a mystery to me ever since we met,* he thought.

He looked around at the boards. All of the games were progressing slowly. It would be another half-hour or so before they would be over.

He couldn't wait any longer. He had to know *now* what had happened.

"Why don't we take a break," he said to the assembled players, "and we'll start again in about ten minutes?"

"Aaahhh, good," said the nose-to-the-board man, getting up and stretching his back, which let out a series of crackles and pops that sounded like a string of muffled firecrackers. "Been sitting way too long anyway."

"Still like shougi better," mumbled the would-be cheater, sprinting off toward the men's room.

Akira ducked into the corner and pulled out his cell phone. Shindou's number was the fourth one down in his phone list. He pushed the "send" button and listened to the ringing, realizing that his heart was speeding up . . .

And when it picked up, all he heard was a recording saying, "The cellular customer you are trying to reach is unavailable right now . . ."

Akira's heart sank. Did this mean that the match was still going on? Or that Shindou lost, and had gone home?

He searched through his speed dial directory again, looking for Shindou's home number, and tried that. Another recording. "Shindou residence, we can't come to the phone right now . . ."

Akira stabbed at the "end" button in frustration. *Typical of Shindou*, he thought. *He probably forgot to turn it on. He knew I was going to call him . . .*

He felt annoyance rising in him, and he didn't know why.

*There's a lot I can't figure out when it comes to Shindou*, he thought. *There always has been.*

And he knew that figuring out that mystery was as important to him as Go itself, and always had been.

* * *

"Hikaru!" Fuku, a chubby boy with perpetually squinting eyes, stood up at the table by the front window of the Igo Trip Caf? and waved. "We're over here!"

Hikaru walked toward him, flanked by Waya and Isumi. Ochi and Honda were already there, menus in hand, and all three stood up as their friend approached the table. Fuku grabbed his hand and shook it so hard Hikaru thought he was going to rip it out of the socket. Ochi . . . seemed to be scowling a little less intensely than usual. Which was something.

"Hi, guys!" Hikaru said.

"He almost didn't make it here," Waya said. "We just about had to drag him away from the press."

"They were driving you nuts?" said Fuku as the three sat down.

"They were following him down the elevator!" Waya said, picking up another of the menus.

"And the other players all wanted to talk to him," Isumi said.

"They were all trying to get his attention away from each other," Waya said. "It was hilarious! It was like watching a bunch of girls going crazy over a rock star!"

But even as Waya was saying that, he felt a strong pang of jealousy. *Why him?* he thought. *I came into the pros the same time he did. I went to all my games, and he blew him off. But he was the one playing in the Hokuto Cup, and now he's in the Honinbou League. How the hell did this happen? It just doesn't measure up . . . but since when has anything about him measured up?*

In the end, though, he had to admit he *was* happy for him. And he knew Hikaru's victory was just going to make him push himself harder, until he made it into the League as well.

Meanwhile, Hikaru just sat quietly as his friends talked around him, looking down at the menu . . . it gave him somewhere to put his hands, his eyes . . .

He wasn't sure he really wanted to be here right now. He wanted time to digest what had just happened. But his friends had insisted, and all but dragged him out.

Right now, everything just seemed surreal. *I'll probably wake up in a few minutes,* he thought, *and find out this was all a dream.*

"Even Kuwabara showed up," Waya was saying.

"Kuwabara? I didn't see him," Honda said.

"Right up front, next to Ogata," Waya replied, looking around. "Hey, has anyone seen our waitress?"

"I didn't see Touya Akira there," Ochi said, quietly, peering steadily at Hikaru with tiny eyes through huge, round glasses.

Those words drove a knife of ice into Hikaru's belly. He knew Touya wasn't going to be there . . . but still . . .

*I'd been hoping he'd get out of his commitment,* he thought. *I wanted him to be there . . . to see me catch up to him at last . . .*

"Feh," Waya said, crossing his arms and slumping down a bit. "He was probably too stuck up to come."

"Waya!" Isumi said, frowning at his friend.

"Well, it's the truth!"

"It isn't like Touya to miss something like that," Ochi said, quietly. "He's always been far too interested in Shindou."

Hikaru's fingers slid into his pocket and wrapped around his cell phone. *I said I'd call him,* he thought. *I shouldn't have let them drag me here. Maybe I can slip out and . . .*

But his train of thought was interrupted by the long-delayed arrival of the waitress. "We'll get a big bowl of ramen for *him*," Waya was saying, pointing to Hikaru, "and we're paying for it!"

Hikaru sighed inwardly. *I'll try to get away in a few minutes,* he thought.

* * *

Akira waved goodbye to the last client and left the community center building, walking toward the subway entrance on the corner.

He'd tried Shindou's cell phone again at the conclusion of the games. Still no answer.

*I should just call someone else,* he thought as he went down the steps to the station. *Ogata could tell me if he won. Or any of the people from my study group. . . I'll just call Ogata when I get home.*

But for some reason he couldn't fathom, he wanted to hear it from Shindou's own lips. And he found that just about as puzzling as anything else about Hikaru.

* * *

Isumi came back into the caf?, placing his cell phone in his pocket. He'd gone outside to take the call from Nase . . . it was far too noisy in there to carry on the conversation.

He looked at their table and frowned. Someone was missing.

"Where's Ochi?" he said.

Hikaru and Waya's eyes met, and they started to laugh. Fuku broke out in a string of high giggles, and Honda just had a big grin on his face.

"Oh, man, you missed it," Waya said. "The waitress brought him the wrong kind of tea, and he got in a screaming match with her. She asked him if *all* of him was as small as his beady little eyes. He turned *purple*. Funniest thing I saw since Kurata got drunk . . ."

Hikaru shuddered at the memory of that one. He'd found it not so much funny as . . . disturbing. The incident had happened at a post-tournament party attended by both upper and lower dans. The portly 7-dan had downed enough sake to get an entire fraternity blitzed, then bounced around the room shaking his considerable rear and bellowing Michael Jackson's "Bad" at the top of his lungs.

"And then he stormed off to the bathroom, like he does when he loses," Waya said. "Hasn't come back yet."

"Nase said to tell you congratulations, Hikaru," Isumi said, sitting back down next to Waya. "She'll see you when she gets back on Thursday. She didn't want to go, but her family planned this trip months ago."

Hikaru reached into his pocket and fingered his own cell phone. Again, he wondered if he should go outside and call Touya.

*But it's so late,* he thought. *He's probably in bed by now. I don't want to wake him up . . . that'll mean a screaming match.*

He heaved a deep sigh, knowing he had no choice but to tell him in person the next day.

* * *

Akira emerged from the subway and turned left. He hadn't gotten off at the stop nearest his home. Instead, he had gotten off at the one near the Go Institute.

He told himself it was so he could see if anyone from Weekly Go was hanging around the building -- there was almost always a few staffers at any time of the day or night -- so he could question them about the results of the match.

But there was still that nagging, mysterious desire to hear it only from Shindou himself.

The street he was walking on was at the same time familiar, and not so familiar. The windows of most of the businesses were dark, there were no other pedestrians. Even cars seemed to be avoiding the area at this time of night.

*Why do I still do this?* he thought. *Why do I chase after Shindou, and urge him on to chase me? Why is it more important than life itself that I stay one step ahead of him? He's my main hope of reaching the Hand of God, yes . . . but why do I feel there's *more* to it than that?*

Ahead of him was the window of the Igo Trip Cafe, glowing almost unnaturally against the darkness that surrounded it. The restaurant was open nearly round the clock, grabbing all the Go players who hung around the Institute after the McDonald's and the ramen shop had closed. It was never a place favored by the younger players.

But as Akira passed the window, there was indeed a group of teenagers just inside. And at the center of them was a smiling, laughing Shindou Hikaru.

Akira stood rooted to the spot, his eyes glued to the scene in front of him. *He must have won*, he thought. *He wouldn't be so happy if he hadn't. But why share it with them and not me? He said he'd tell me what happened.*

A burning anger began to churn away inside him. He considered barging into the caf? and confronting Hikaru.

But the anger was suddenly mixed with confusion.*Why do I feel this way?* he thought. *I really shouldn't care. What is he to me but a rival, and sometimes a friend?*

He turned abruptly on his heel, so fast that his long hair fanned out around his head, and stormed back toward the subway.

* * *

Hikaru opened the door to his bedroom and clicked on the light. The rest of the house was quiet; his parents had long since gone to bed.

It didn't surprise or bother him at all that they hadn't gone to the match, or even sat up to hear how he did. His parents were still clueless to his career. He'd tried to explain what the Honinbou League was to his mother, but didn't get very far. "I thought you did the league thing already," she said.

"No, that was the Hokuto Cup. That was a special international tournament."

"So . . . does this mean you'll have to travel around the country all the time, like Major League baseball players?"

At that point, he'd just given up.

And as for his father -- well, he'd just kind of said, "Good. Glad your career is going well" and headed off for the bath, then bed, so he could get up early the next morning and go back to work.

Hikaru glanced at the clock -- it was well past midnight. He knew he really should be going to bed as well . . . but he was too wound-up with excitement over what had happened.

The game itself almost felt like a dream now. He knew it had been one of his very best. His opponent had been a tough one, all right -- he had tripped Hikaru up badly in the early stages of the game. But once he gained his footing, he settled into a groove which just got better and better.

By the midpoint of the game, he'd been in *the zone*, he was thinking more than ten moves ahead, he didn't even have to think deeply about where to put each stone -- he just *knew*.

He tore off his jacket and tie, flung them carelessly over a chair, sat down at his goban and began to lay out stones, recreating the game move for move. *If only Sai could have seen this,* he thought.

Aloud, he said, "I did it, Sai. I'm in the Honinbou League . . . I'm right up where Touya is."

Touya . . .

Hikaru felt a stabbing pain of guilt at not calling him. He stopped laying out stones and pulled his cell phone out of his pocket. *I'll call him now,* he thought. *I'll apologize for not talking to him before, and . . .*

He put the phone back down on the board, slowly. What was he thinking? It was the middle of the night, and Akira, unlike Hikaru, had decided to go on to high school, so he had classes in the morning.

*Well, it's more meaningful if I tell him in person, right?* he thought. *I'm supposed to meet up with him at his father's Go salon tomorrow anyway. He has to go straight to school tomorrow, so he won't have time to talk to any Go people, or read the Go column in the paper. . .*

He went back to recreating the game, imagining himself doing this in front of Touya, and his rival's reactions. *He'll yell at me for this move for sure*, he thought, *and tell me it was just pure luck that kept me from being cut off right there . . . he'll admit this move was good, but very reluctantly . . . and *here* is where he'll ask me what the hell I was thinking . . .*

It was almost frightening how well he could predict this. He knew Touya all too well at this point.

It struck him as somewhat ironic, though, that he was beginning to see Touya as a good friend. Maybe his best. And that puzzled him. He certainly spent more time with Waya and Isumi, and Akari had known him the longest.

The last few stones were placed in position. He sat back, leaning against his hands, looking at the board. Anyone who had played him, who had any familiarity with his style, would know this was a Shindou Hikaru game, all right. Moves that looked like mistakes, but were actually leading the opponent on, a fierce attack in the end . . .

It was a game he knew he could be proud of.

He began to clear the board, sorting the stones into black and white, putting them in their respective go kes. He'd write up his kifu of this in the morning, and run it down to the Institute. He had no other games or lessons scheduled . . . nothing except the game with Touya.

Again, he imagined the series of reactions he'd get tomorrow, and he smiled.

* * *'

Akira was tossing on his futon.

Sleep was eluding him. He'd fall into a light doze, and then his eyes would snap open again. This usually didn't happen. Especially on school nights.

Except it had happened, a long time ago, when Shindou had first beaten him. And then beat him again.

Shindou. Always Shindou. Only he could disrupt Akira's world, usually as carefully organized and orchestrated as one of his games.

He pulled the covers up almost over his head, as if to close himself off from his thoughts. No chance of that. He still had a mental picture of Shindou sitting amongst his friends, smiling and laughing . . .

*Did he not tell me as some kind of payback for not talking to him the day he became a pro?* Akira thought. *Is it for the same reason . . . because he's giving me a challenge? I'll answer his challenge. I will never let him catch up to me, if my life depends on it. If he contends for the Honinbou title, I will make sure that he doesn't get anywhere near it.*

*I will . . . I will . . .*

But Akira's thoughts were becoming clouded. Sleep was claiming him at long last, dragging him down, down . . .

And reality fell away, and he entered another world. Clouds of mist billowed past him, but there was no chill . . . he felt rather warm, in fact.

There was no sense of anything around him, no feeling of earth under his feet, nothing solid visible anywhere. He had a feeling if he spoke, his voice would just echo on endlessly, because there was nothing for it to hit, nobody to hear it.

He was drifting down, slowly and aimlessly, like a leaf falling from a tree, until his feet collided with something. He blinked, looking around. The mist was clearing away just enough for him to see that he was in some sort of open field.

And then, a shape appeared in the far distance. It looked human, vaguely. It began moving toward him, bit by bit, as if it were bound and determined to reach Akira . . . but was in no kind of hurry.

As it got closer, it began to look like a very tall human wearing some kind of robes.

"Hello?" Akira called out. "Who are you?"

But there was no reply. The figure just continued its slow approach. Now it was taking on the appearance of a man, wearing some kind of ancient costume. Long robes, a tall, bullet-shaped hat . . .

Pictures from Akira's history books flashed into his mind, and he knew this person was wearing clothing from the Heian era. Some kind of nobility . . .

He drew nearer. Akira could make out a bit more . . . the person had long, long hair under his high hat . . .

And there was an *air* about him. An air that was very, very familiar. *I know this person,* Akira thought. *But . . . how can I? If he's from an ancient era . . .*

Again, he called out, "Who are you? I'm Touya Akira . . . "

No reply. And the person just stopped, drawing no closer, deliberately not letting himself be fully revealed. Akira tried to run toward him, but he couldn't move. His arms and legs were frozen in place. He willed himself to walk, but to no avail .

He sat up on his futon, suddenly, gasping.

The first rays of dawn were peeking under his window. He clutched at his blankets, feeling shaky and unsettled -- and he had no idea why.

* * *

Things were no better several hours later in class.

Akira usually had supreme concentration, a skill honed over a lifetime of playing a mentally demanding game. This was useful not only for Go itself, but for allowing him to retain most of what a teacher was saying during class, thus minimizing the need for academic study -- and maximizing the time for the study of Go.

But today, he just couldn't seem to stay in focus.

The teacher was talking about the influx of Western cultural influences into Japan in the first half of the 20th century. But Akira kept seeing a figure in his mind from another era altogether.

*Who was he?* Akira thought. *Why did I feel like I should know him? He had the feel of someone . . . someone I know . . .*

He pushed the thought out of his mind. He had to concentrate -- he didn't want to fall behind in his schoolwork, he didn't have time to play catch-up.

Akira picked up his pen and began to furiously take notes, as if the very act of writing would inscribe the teacher's words in his own mind as well as on the paper. But he was seeing the form of the man in ancient dress again, floating somewhere among his own hirigana and katakana.

*Could I have been experiencing a memory of a past life?* he thought. *That's never happened to me, but I've heard of it happening to other people. But why now. . . what could have possibly happened to trigger such a thing . . .*

He shook his head, trying to clear it, and looked back up at the board. The teacher was writing down some dates, and Akira began to copy them.

*This isn't like me,* he thought. *Even all those times when I couldn't stop thinking about Shindou, I could stay focused on my schoolwork . . .*

And then, he remembered the night before, and his stomach clenched. Shindou making the Honinbou League, standing toe-to-toe with him in the Go world at long last . . . Shindou going out to celebrate with his friends, and not telling him . . .

*Is that why I had that dream?* he thought. *But what does that person from the Heian era have to do with Shindou? You'd think I would have dreamed of playing Shindou . . . or having him chase me . . . or . . .*

Or what? He knew there was another answer to that question, something lurking just below the surface of his mind . . . and he was suddenly seized with an uncomfortable feeling, something akin to fear. And that confused him even more than the dream had.

He grabbed his pen and started rapidly scratching down notes again.

* * *

Hikaru nearly ran into the familiar lobby of the building where the Touya Go salon was. He'd waited all day for this. He pushed the elevator button, thinking that the car couldn't get there fast enough.

*I can't wait to see the look on his face when I tell him,* he thought.

He'd spent most of the day fielding phone calls. He'd gotten in touch with Akari before she went to school, and she'd informed all of his old Go Club friends. Tsutsui had then called him at lunchtime, and then, surprisingly, Kaga had as well. He hadn't heard from Mitani . . . but, he hadn't really expected to.

Then, there'd been the calls from Nase, who promised to take him out when she got home . . . and the people from his study group . . . and from the Go salon where he'd played the summer he took the pro exam.

But as glad as he was to talk to all of them, there was just one person he *really* wanted to share his news with.

The elevator pinged as it reached its floor. Ichikawa, the young woman who ran the salon for the Touya family, looked up from the pot of tea she was pouring and smiled at him. "Hello, Shindou. Congratulations!"

Hikaru frowned. Even she knew? Did that mean she'd told . . .

"You didn't say anything about it to Touya, did you?"

"No, he's not here yet. Why . . . didn't you tell him?"

Hikaru shook his head.

"Well, if he doesn't know, he's the only person who doesn't!"

At a nearby table, one of the regulars, a suit-and-tie wearing salaryman, turned around and said, "Hey, I heard about the big win, Shindou! Congratulations!"

Hikaru laughed, rubbing the back of his head. "Thanks!"

"So, are we going to see you in a title match one of these days?" said the salaryman's opponent, an older man wearing a headwaiter's uniform from a nearby restaurant.

"Not that he'd ever beat Touya," the salaryman mumbled under his breath.

"Well, I . . ."


Hikaru turned around slowly at the familiar voice. There stood Akira, still in his school uniform, clutching his bookbag so hard his knuckles were white, and giving Hikaru his full glare . . . the kind designed to bore holes in the recipient's skull.

"Touya!" Hikaru said, tentatively. That glare . . . did it mean he knew already?

"Why didn't you tell me?" Akira said, not moving a centimeter, his glare remaining focused on the other boy like twin laser beams.

Hikaru swallowed hard. "You . . . found out?"

"I saw you and your friends celebrating. Why didn't you call me? I thought you were going to let me know afterward!"

Hikaru cringed for a moment. What was he going to tell him? The way he looked now, he wasn't going to take "Waya and Isumi dragged me out with them before I got a chance to" as an answer.

But he decided to take a direct route. Folding his arms over his chest, he said, coolly, "Excuse me for trying to make this personal."

"WHAT?" said Akira, the bag falling to the floor with a thud. Hikaru thought he could literally see flames dancing in his rival's eyes.

Around them, there was the sound of murmurs, the scrape of chairs as players turned to face the pair at the doorway. They knew what it meant when there were raised voices between Shindou and Touya. It was like holding a lit match over a barrel of TNT . . . an explosion was inevitable.

"I wanted to tell you in person!" Hikaru snapped.

"So why didn't you call after the match to see if I was back yet? You could have told me then." Akira took a step toward Hikaru, as if to throttle him.

"In the middle of the night?" Hikaru shouted, taking a step back.

"It wasn't too late for you to be out with your friends!" Akira shouted, leaning in toward him.

"What was I supposed to do, just run out on them?" Hikaru retorted, clenching his fists.

"Don't be ridiculous!" Akira shouted, clenching his fists as well. "You always do this!"

"Do what?" Hikaru's voice could be heard clear across the salon by now, and probably on the next couple of floors.

"Not take anything seriously! I don't know how you got as far as you did!"

Now it was Hikaru who took a step toward Akira. "I take plenty seriously! You don't think I took the Hokuto Cup seriously? You have NO IDEA how much that match meant to me!"

Ichikawa had heard enough. She knew she should have been used to the two of them fighting and disrupting the salon by now, but this was getting even louder than one of their usual fights. She stepped out from behind the counter and tried to get between them like a referee, shouting, "All right, if you're going to do this, take it somewhere else!"

The two boys glared at each other from around her, like pro wrestlers ready to go to the mat.

Then, Hikaru said, "Well, then, I guess we're not playing today."

"Fine with me!" Akira said, storming away across the room.

Hikaru violently stabbed at the elevator button. Once again, the car couldn't get there fast enough . . . but for a very different reason than when he was going up.

* * *

Akira finished up the last of his homework and closed his word processor. He rubbed at his temples . . . he was beginning to have one of the headaches that came upon him from time to time.

There was no need to ask why. Between the dream the previous night and the fight with Shindou, it was a miracle his head didn't feel ready to explode off his neck.

He had a private tutoring session in a few minutes. He was grateful for the distraction. He just wanted to think about anything else.

*It was really no different from any of the other fights we've had,* he thought, shutting down his computer and heading to his closet for a coat. *It's normal now, really . . . we scream at each other, go home and cool down for a couple of hours, then things are back to normal.*

But he didn't feel any cooler. The anger and annoyance was bubbling away inside of him steadily, like a pot left consistently on the flame.

He went into the living room, quietly. His mother was in the kitchen, making a cake. His father was in the Go room, as he so often was, studying kifu.

He didn't feel like talking to either of them at the moment. He just called out "I'm leaving for awhile," closed the door behind him and headed out into the early evening, the darkness just beginning to truly settle as a thin line of sunset was still visible at the edge of the horizon.

As he started to walk, an image began to fill his head, one that had been in his mind's eye so much throughout the day . . . the figure in Heian dress.

*Is this why the fight is bothering me more than usual?* he thought. *Because I'm still wound up about that dream?*

* * *

Hikaru folded his arms on the table and rested his head on it, his cup of hot chocolate sitting neglected at his elbow. The dim light of the coffeehouse wasn't helping his mood any.

Across from him, Waya was spooning up the froth on top of a huge cup of chai, dropping it back into the cup and spooning it up again, chattering away about the 3-dan he had played that afternoon.

". . . and it was really starting to annoy me. I mean, I'm used to guys playing with fans during games, or twiddling their thumbs when they're thinking, or making noises . . . but the guy was pulling on his own hair *constantly*."

Next to him, Isumi was adding a little cinnamon to a latte. "Are you sure he wasn't doing it on purpose?"

"Nah, I've seen people do stuff just to mess me up." Waya raised the huge cup and took a long swallow, then wiped away the foam mustache. "They do it, and then they stop, and then they do it again. This guy . . . he didn't stop at all. Hey, didn't you play him too, Shindou?"

There was silence from the other end of the table.

"Hey!" Waya said, banging his cup down. "What's wrong with you? You've been quiet all night!"

Hikaru sighed, drawing himself back up to full height. "Touya," he said.

Waya and Isumi exchanged knowing looks. That was a name they'd heard far too much of during their friendship with Hikaru. He was always saying he was Touya's rival . . . he had to catch Touya . . . and then, later, he'd had another fight with Touya . . .

"Shindou," Waya said, "why do you hang around with that jerk?"

Hikaru let out another sigh. He knew Waya didn't like Akira . . . but for some reason, hearing him describe their fellow pro as a "jerk" was annoying. Which confused the hell out of Hikaru, because wasn't he just brooding about their fight?

"You fight more often than not," Isumi added. "And it's not as if there's a shortage of people for you to play with."

"Yes, but . . ." How could he put this into words? That he felt he *had* to play Touya? That he and Touya were *meant* to play together? That they simultaneously attracted and repelled each other like magnets? He very often didn't quite understand these feelings himself.

"I don't know," Hikaru said, and it wasn't entirely a lie.

"Look, why don't you come out with us next time you have an afternoon free, instead of going there?" Waya said, spooning up the remaining froth in his cup again. "We haven't played as a team in salons in a long time."

"That's because when we used to do that, it always ended up with you two going somewhere expensive to eat, and me paying!" Isumi said.

"That happened once!" Waya retorted, before taking another gulp from his cup. "The conveyer belt sushi place."

"And the ramen place. And the okinomiyaki place."

"Hey, *I* paid when we went there!"

Hikaru pulled his cup toward him and stirred the surface with a spoon, looking down at it as if he hoped to see the answers he sought among the ripples of the liquid.

*Why can't I stop being upset over what happened?* he thought. *We've yelled at each other like this before, and then the next day we just go back to the Go salon and things are back to normal . . . why doesn't anything feel normal now?*

* * *

Akira fell asleep almost as soon as he lay on the futon.

His last thought was, *Maybe I can get a nice, restful sleep tonight, and I'll feel better about everything in the morning.*

But then, there was that feeling of falling away again, and everyday reality vanished, replaced by swirling mist, which was surrounding him , twirling around him like a small tornado.

He wanted it to go away . . and at the same time, he wanted it to stay, so he could find out the answers to the previous dream. But no answer was coming, just a whistle of wind as the vapors moved faster and faster.

Then, there was a bump as his feet hit something, and all at once the mists were gone.

He blinked and looked around. He was in a hallway of some sort, in some kind of large building, it felt like.

Slowly, he began to walk. Around him, statues of gods and previous emperors seemed to follow him with their eyes. Servants rushed past, silently, their long robes swishing around their knees as they carried jugs of water or conveyed messages to and from their lord.

Something was guiding his footsteps, telling him without words just where to go. Yes, it was right out there, all he'd have to do was turn left and he'd be in the courtyard, just outside the doors of the palace.

In front of him, two men knelt before a Goban. One, who looked only a few years older than Akira himself, was dressed in the robes of royalty. The other was dressed in white, with a tall black hat, his long, long hair flowing down his back . . .

Akira gave a start. It was *him*. The figure from the other dream. It just had to be . . . he had the same familiar air about him . . .

"Who are you?" he called out to the man. "Why am I here?"

But neither figure acknowledged him at all. They bent over their game, intent on their stones.

Akira frowned. He leaned over and put a hand on the side of the goban . . . yes, he could touch it, it had substance, his hand didn't pass through.

But he was casting no shadow across the goban, and he knew he was in the path of direct sunlight.

*Am I a ghost here?* he thought. *Or perhaps they're just ignoring me on purpose, so they can concentrate on the game? No, that's not it . . . if someone got in the way of a game I was playing, I'd chase them away.*

His eyes followed the patterns of the stones . . . both were very strong players, there was no doubt about it. And the playing style was definitely an old one. It reminded him of . . .

Suddenly, his heart dropped to his feet. His eyes skimmed over the stones again and again, not believing what he was seeing.

This game was identical to the very first game he'd played with Shindou.

The man in white, the one he'd seen before, was playing black, just like Shindou had. Same moves, same order . . .

"Why are you showing me this?" Akira shouted aloud. But it was to no avail, his words echoing away into an endless void.

He reached out toward the man in white, hoping to be able to touch him, to grab his attention, to force him to answer his questions.

There was a loud buzzing noise, and Akira wanted to fight against it, to resist it, to make it go away . . . he *had* to have his answers . . .

He sat bolt upright on his futon, gasping, his alarm clock still bleating away. He reached out with one trembling hand to turn it off.

Akira leaned forward, his head in his hands. *Why?* he thought. *Why that game? Why that person again . . . why do I feel like I should *know* him . . .*

He saw the robed figure in his mind's eye again, placing the stones . . . overlaid with an image of Shindou Hikaru, age 12, hesitantly placing the stones in the same patterns. Over and over, the image repeated itself.

*Oh, gods,* he thought. *The person in the dream . . . he felt so familiar because . . . because he had a distinct air of *Shindou* about him. But why?*

Again, he began to wonder if he was reliving a past life, if he and Shindou had some unfinished business centuries ago. Was that why they were so drawn to each other, why they had such an intense rivalry?

*I can't do this,* he thought. *I have a game today. I have to focus.*

He got up, still shaking, and rolled up his futon as fast as he could, shoving it in the closet fiercely, as if he could shove the dreams away with it.

* * *

As Akira headed into the door of the Go Institute, he saw a familiar person pass him -- a man in his early 30s, with slightly wavy dark hair and a soft, friendly face. It was Ashiwara, the youngest of the pros in his father's study group.

"Oh, Akira-kun!" the older pro said. "I didn't realize you were playing today."

"Good morning," Akira said, bowing politely. "Yes . . . I'm playing Fujisaka three-dan."

"You won't have any problems there. He's one of those players who's barely a pro. Passed the pro exam by the skin of his teeth, just wins enough games to keep moving up the rankings, slowly . . ."

"Yes, and most of his games were only won by a couple of moku," Akira said. "I read up on him."

"Take it easy in this game, and save your strength for the Honinbou League games. It ought to get interesting, with Shindou involved now."

Akira looked away. Shindou . . . Again, he saw the pattern of stones from the dream, overlaid on how it had looked in real life.

"I know it will," he said, quietly.

The older pro leaned against the railing, regarding Akira thoughtfully. "You've always been afraid of him, haven't you?"

Akira's head snapped toward him as if it were on a spring that had been twisted and released. *Fear,* Akira thought. *Fear of being caught . . . is that what brought the dreams on? But I'm not going to let him catch me! And even if I was fearful . . . why would the dreams present themselves as they did?*

Aloud, he said, "He is my rival . . . but I won't let him get ahead of me."

"And I know you," the other man replied. "You won't. You have that determination . .. more than anyone else I've ever seen. Well, I'm going on a donut run . . . and then I'll be back to give lessons. I'll see you later!"

Akira got in the elevator, pushing the button for the tournament floor. He took a deep breath, focusing, getting ready for what lay ahead.

As he changed his shoes, he overheard a conversation between other players at the schedule board.

"Touya? He'll crush him for sure."

"I don't expect the game to last an hour."

"Why's that kid still playing lower dans anyway? You'd think he'd be playing Ogata by now . . ."

He tossed his head back, the long hair softly waving away from his face. He didn't play upper dans because he was still only a four-dan himself, despite being in the Honinbou League. He respected the system of advancement, which had been in place for centuries . . .

Again, the image flashed in his mind of the figure in ancient dress, laying the stones out in the exact same patterns Shindou had.

*No,* Akira thought. *I can't think of this now. I can't let anything interfere with my game . . . because if I do that, Shindou *will* catch me.*

He headed for the game room, his head held high.

* * *

Ashiwara sat in the players' lounge, drinking his coffee slowly. He looked at his watch . . . he still had forty-five minutes before he had to teach. Like many players, he found himself drawn to the Go Institute even when he didn't have a game or a class right away -- it was their workplace, their clubhouse, their home away from home.

For some of them, it *was* their true home, and their houses and apartments were merely where they slept. At this level, Go was no mere game. It was life itself.

Nobody understood this better than Touya Akira, who'd grown up knowing nothing but the game. Ashiwara had been one of the players privileged to watch the boy grow from a little thing sitting on his father's lap before the board to the teenage genius whom everyone was already predicting would be one of the youngest major title holders in history.

A crowd of young insei walked past the room, chattering loudly and laughing. One of the boys had an open package of Pocky, and another boy kept trying to grab the chocolate-covered sticks out of it.

*Akira was never like that,* the older pro thought. *He was never really a *child*. From the time he could walk, he was either in school, playing Go or hanging around with older Go players.*

Not for the first time, he wondered if the boy had paid too big a price for his gifts. He never seemed to be with people his own age. His chances of finding companionship, or love, were very slim.

Ashiwara had discussed this with Ogata -- who'd observed Akira throughout his life more closely than anyone but his father -- more than once. He hadn't seemed concerned.

"Akira lives for his game," Ogata had said. "He doesn't need anything else."

"Does he?" Ashiwara said.

"Do you see him unhappy?"

Ashiwara thought for a moment. "Not unhappy, but . . . he seems to be looking for something he can't find sometimes."

"We all are," Ogata replied. "We're looking for the Hand of God."

He thought over Ogata's words. The Hand of God . . . the perfect move . . . it was indeed something they were chasing, something all Go players had chased since the invention of the game centuries ago.

Akira seemed to be closer to attaining that ideal game than anyone else. His mind sometimes seemed to be a satellite dish that could pick up his opponent's thoughts and access the records of countless games played over countless years all at once. Every move was made with absolute confidence, no hesitation.

No, what he was seeking was not Go-related. It seemed to be something more earthly.

Ashiwara's train of thought was interrupted when a woman with a heavily sprayed blonde pageboy, with the sturdy build of a female athlete and a steel-grey suit that didn't quite look like it belonged on her entered the room. She was a familiar face around here -- Shirakuro Ryoko, female pro and one of the favorites for the women's Honinbou title this year.

"Well, that didn't take long," she said, sitting opposite Ashiwara and pulling a pack of cigarettes from her purse. "The guy was hung over -- you could tell. He might as well have just tossed the stones on the board like tiddlywinks." She lit up and took a deep drag.

"Let me guess -- Ukiya?" He swallowed the last of his coffee.

Shrikuro puffed a long, grey stream of smoke toward the ceiling. "You played him too, huh? The only person who was as easy to beat as him was Fujisaka. But . . . I guess he suddenly got better."

Fujisaka? But he was playing . . . Ashiwara frowned. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that Touya Akira, of all people, is just barely staying ahead of him right now. I peeked over at the game as I was leaving. It looked like it was anyone's game."

Ashiwara suddenly stood up, tossing his cup toward the garbage. "Excuse me . . . " He rushed toward the playing room. She couldn't possibly be right . . . could she? Akira, getting beaten by someone like Fujisaka?

He crept into the room, quietly. Row upon row of heads were bent over boards. The air was filled with the sounds of stones hitting wood, and little else except the occasional cough or sniffle.

He knew which board was the right one immediately. It was the one with the small group of people clustered around it, looking like they couldn't believe what they were seeing.

Ashiwara approached the board and looked down. The game was in yose. Akira was black. And it was impossible to tell who had the upper hand.

The older pro's eyes traveled over the board. This was *not* the Touya Akira he knew. The patterns were haphazard, sloppy, as if something were constantly distracting him. There was no sign of the carefully calculated attacks that were usually Akira's forte.

The play stopped. The rearranging and counting of stones began. Ashiwara looked at Akira's face, to try to read any possible sign of trouble, but it was a blank mask.

He heard someone next to him say, "Touya won . . . by a moku and a half."

A moku and a half! Against an opponent he should have destroyed . . .

Suddenly, Ashiwara's thoughts of earlier came back to him. Could it be that Akira's lack of a childhood was finally catching up to him? Was he burning out?

Akira bowed to his opponent, said "Thank you for the game," and got up to mark his win. Ashiwara followed, wondering if he should confront his young friend.

He didn't have time to. Akira quickly turned and fled the room. Ashiwara started to follow . . . and then realized Akira wouldn't talk to him even if he did catch him.

* * *

In the elevator, Akira pounded the wall in frustration, then leaned his forehead on his arm.

The game was a disaster. An absolute disaster. Every time he tried to focus, his mind would call up those same images, over and over . . . the man in ancient dress . . . the patterns of his first game against Hikaru . . .

He knew that the people who had been watching were probably asking each other "What's the matter with Touya?" right now. And he didn't even know the answer to that himself.

The elevator arrived at street level. He walked out rapidly, not wanting to meet up with anyone he knew.

*I have to talk to Shindou,* he thought. *I have to . . .*

He reached the subway stop and flew down the stairs. At the bottom, he brushed past a young couple, not even realizing he was pushing them out of the way. They glared at him. He was oblivious.

As the train arrived and he climbed on, he realized that talking to Shindou would be ridiculous. How could Hikaru possibly know about his dreams? It wasn't as if he had transmitted them!

But Akira still couldn't shake the feeling that there was some kind of *connection* between Shindou and the dream figure. Shindou's past incarnation? But even if it was, he wouldn't be consciously aware of it. And why would *he* be dreaming about *Shindou's* past life?

He leaned over, his head in his hands. He hadn't felt so knocked off-balance, so thrown into a tailspin since those first games against Shindou, a seeming eon ago.

*Why always him?* he thought. *Why does everything that does this to me have to do with Shindou?*

But he was no closer to the answer than he'd been at any time since he was 12.

* * *

Hikaru was at his goban, a print of an ancient kifu laid out on the floor next to him. He studied it for a moment, then began pulling stones out of the two go kes before him, laying a few out, then stopping to examine and contemplate the patterns.

It was a Shuusaku game. He hadn't recreated one of these in awhile . . . but he needed to tonight. When he was unsettled, it always helped to have a tangible reminder of Sai.

He'd felt unsettled ever since the fight with Touya. And he couldn't quite figure out why. It wasn't as if fights between them were anything out of the ordinary.

His eyes wandered from the goban to his cell phone, lying just to the right of it. Something in him wanted to pick that phone up and push a familiar speed dial combination.

*No,* he thought. *If Touya wants to talk to me . . . then let him come to me.*

He began to lay out stones again. He usually didn't recreate games right after playing, and he'd just come from a match against Isumi at Waya's place.

But that game had felt so . . . unsatisfying.

*Waya and Isumi are great players,* Hikaru thought, *but they just don't challenge me like Touya. Nothing else is like playing him.*

Only with Touya was there a sense that his opponent was trying to probe his brain, to figure out his thought patterns before Hikaru knew them himself. And Touya was the only opponent whose brain Hikaru would try to probe.

"Sai," he said aloud, "I felt so empty when you left me . . . like I'd never be whole again. But when Touya and I started playing together, I thought I was all right again . . ."

He finished that thought silently. And now that he and Touya had their falling out, he was once again feeling empty.

They were supposed to have their usual game at the Go salon the next day. Hikaru wondered if he should still show up. *Let him call me if he wants me to come,* he thought.

He looked at the cell phone again, as if willing it to ring. It didn't.

He took a deep breath, and went back to recreating the game.

* * *

Akira had been afraid to fall asleep.

He went through the motions of getting ready for bed as usual, and lay down on his futon . . . but he didn't want his eyes to close.

He didn't want to get drawn into that mist again, be ripped away from the reality he knew, be deposited in another time, another place that would haunt him and disrupt his life.

But fatigue won out. His limbs felt like lead, his eyelids even heavier. He tried to force them open, but to little avail.

And then, he was drifting through clouds of vapor again. He waved an arm as if he could banish them, but they swirled faster and faster about him, as if to taunt him, to tell him he couldn't fight what was happening.

His feet hit the ground, and then he was walking down the same palace corridor again.

He knew where to go, as if someone was whispering in his ear. A turn to the left, and he was in the same courtyard where he'd been before.

There was the same goban, with the same two players bent over it. Akira felt his heart sink. It was the same dream all over again.

Then, he realized that the actual game was different.

He approached the board and leaned over it, once again not casting a shadow. The two players didn't notice him, didn't break their concentration.

His eyes followed the pattern of stones, and he drew away with a gasp.

This was the *second* game he'd played against Shindou. The one that had ended swiftly, and ruthlessly.

"Why?" he cried aloud. "Why do you keep showing me . . ."

He suddenly felt the ground lurch, and the clouds of mist began gathering around him again. The scene before him dissolved into a whirl of colors, great streaks of pink and blue and white and black swirling all around him like a tornado.

The whirling stopped, the clouds went away. He was looking at the courtyard again, but at a further distance. The goban was still there, and the person he'd seen over and over was still sitting at it . . . but there was a different person sitting opposite him, a harsh-looking man with shifty eyes above his drooping mustache. They were surrounded by a group of other men, all in the tall hats and robes of the period, all looking intently at the board, including one in the robes of the emperor kneeling front and center of the group.

There was no sound but the *pachi* of the stones. Akira crept closer, intent on seeing the board, wondering if this time, he'd see his third game against Shindou, the one where his rival had played so incredibly badly.

Instead, he saw something much more disturbing.

The shifty-eyed man slipped his hand into the go ke while his opponent was intend on the board, took out two stones and slipped them up the sleeve of his robe.

Akira looked around, frantically . . . surely somebody had to have seen this man do that? But nobody batted an eye.

"Hey!" he shouted aloud. "This man's a cheater! Didn't any of you see that? Hey!"

Silence. And it continued to be silent as the men began to count up their stones at the end of the game. It looked like even with the cheating, the one who'd been haunting Akira was going to win.

And then, his opponent stood up, pointed at him, and shouted, "He cheated!"

The other looked flustered. "No . . . no, I didn't! It was him that . . ."

"Liar! He's just covering up for himself!"

The man looked at the emperor, his eyes pleading. "Your majesty, you know that I would never. . ."

The emperor stood up. "Otaka-sama has been at this court for many years. I consider his word to be most trustworthy."

"But sire, you know that I . . ."

"I only know that you are a Go player, and a good one at that . . . although it seems you rely on untrustworthy methods to win. I cannot have that at this court."

The man from Akira's other dreams got up, walked over to the kind and flung himself on his knees. "My lord, I beg of you . . ."

"There will be no begging! I will not have a dishonest Go teacher at my court! Fujiwara no Sai, you are banished!"

The name hit Akira in the gut like a cannonball. *Sai*. The Sai on the Internet , who'd defeated his father right before he retired . . . the Sai he'd suspected was Shindou, who he thought he'd seen in Shindou's Go.

The one called Sai was running away from the courtyard now, sobbing. Akira rushed after him, shouting, "SAI! I need to talk to you! Who are you? Why do I keep seeing you? SAI!!!"

And then the clouds of mist were coming upon him again. Akira frantically tried to wave them away -- how was he going to find Sai? -- but they were coming thicker and faster, until they obscured his vision and seemed to be physically pressing in on him.

When they cleared, Akira was on a different part of the palace grounds, surrounded by greenery. *It must be the back gardens,* he thought.

A glance at the position of the sun in the sky revealed it was morning. It had been late afternoon before. Clearly, Akira had been taken to a different day.

*But where is Sai?* he thought. He began to feel more annoyed at not being able to catch Sai than anything else that had happened in those dreams -- if he were to catch up to Sai, if he were to talk to him, he'd have the answer to mysteries that had plagued him for years.

*Maybe,* he thought, *if Sai is in control, he brought me out here to talk to me. He may be in another part of the garden.*

He began to walk, then run through carefully arranged greenery, past arrangements of sand and stone, until he came upon a river . . .

Fujiwara no Sai was floating in it, lifeless.

Akira just stood at the banks, his heart pounding, his breath coming in gasps. He'd killed himself . . . he couldn't stand the idea of not playing Go at the court anymore, and he'd killed himself . . .

"NO!" he shouted "You still have to tell me . . ."

There was a loud buzzing sound, and Akira's eyes snapped open.

He reached over and slammed the off button of the alarm clock, then sat up, trembling.

Sai. The figure in his dreams was *Sai* . . . but how could it be the same Sai from the Internet, if he lived and died hundreds of years ago? And why was he playing all the games he'd played against Hikaru?

Again, he remembered the first time he and Hikaru had played each other as pros, how he'd suddenly felt he saw *another person* in Hikaru's Go, how he'd recognized the moves as being typical of *Sai* . . .

Could it be that the meaning of the dreams was that Hikaru had really been Sai all along? But then, why all the ancient imagery?

Was Hikaru a reincarnation of this Sai? Did his past self sometimes materialize in his consciousness while he was playing?

He rubbed his temples. His head was starting to hurt again.

It was going to be another awful day.

* * *

Hikaru stepped onto the familiar elevator at the Touya Go salon, wondering why he was there at all. *He may not even bother to show up*, he thought.

The doors opened, and he stepped out. Ichikawa seemed a bit nervous as she glanced over to him. "Oh, hello . . . Akira-kun is in the back . . . he didn't say a word when he came in today."

"Nothing?" said Hikaru, taking a look around the room to locate his rival.

She picked up a cloth and began methodically wiping the counter in front of her. "He's been quiet these last few days, ever since the last time you were here." Her eyes seemed shadowed with worry.

*He has?* Hikaru thought. *Did our fight have that big of an effect on him?* But he knew that he, himself, hadn't exactly been his energetic self since then, either.

"Has he been coming around here every . . ."


Hikaru looked up. Akira was standing in front of him, eyes burning like coals, hands clenched at his sides. He looked like he was about to play a major tournament, not a routine game.

"Touya?" Hikaru suddenly felt uneasy. He'd been at the receiving end of Akira's meanest game-face glares more times than he could count, but there was something different about it this time . . . like those eyes were trying to bore into his skull and read his mind.

"Let's play. Now."

Akira whirled about on his heel, his hair fanning out around his head, and stalked toward the back of the room like a leopard on the track of prey. Hikaru followed, a bit sheepishly.

He could feel the eyes of the other players boring into his back, hear their whispers. Clearly, they were all aware this was not just another Shindou/Touya game.

He sat down at the board, picking up a go ke and taking off the lid. "Touya, Ichikawa just said that you've . . ."

His rival slammed the other basket to the goban with a thud, yanked off the lid and said, "Nigiri. Now."

Hikaru swallowed hard as he reached into the go ke. He and Akira had always exchanged words before playing, no matter what the circumstances. This was just not . . . normal. He could hear another buzz of murmuring behind him . . . the attention of everyone in the salon now seemed to be focused on the two of them.

He pulled out two black stones and dropped them to the board. Akira put down a handful of white ones, then began to count them. Was it Hikaru's imagination, or were the other boy's hands shaking, just a bit?

"I'm black," Hikaru said, quietly.

They bowed and said "Please," and the game began. Hikaru laid his first stone down and watched as Akira reached into the go ke to answer it . . . it wasn't his imagination, his hands *were* shaking. In fact, he was trembling all over.

Hikaru thought of the day of the junior high tournament, the game that Sai had started and he had insisted taking over, when Akira had been so filled with nervous excitement at the prospect of playing Sai again that he'd dropped the go ke lid and had barely managed to pick it up.

*He's just like that now*, he thought. *But why? We play together all the time . . . and he knows how *I* play, different than Sai did . . .*

They moved swiftly through the fuseki stage of the game, as always, but . . . something still felt not quite right. *Focus on the game itself*, he thought, *don't think too much about Akira, or what is going on with him . . .*

But it was hard. Ichikawa had looked genuinely worried, and they were still drawing an uncomfortable amount of attention from the other patrons -- they'd gone back to their own games, but they kept glancing over. And Hikaru was beginning to understand why.

And he was only half-paying attention to what he was doing, letting his instinct take over the game. Akira was playing as fast as ever, and his decision process didn't seem to be muddled, but . . there was that air that something was *wrong* . . .

Hikaru reached for his next stone, put it down on the board . . . and suddenly realized what he had just done. The pattern he had just formed . . .

Kosumi. Old-style Go. And all he could think of was Sai . . .

Akira blinked at the pattern. He seemed to just stare at it, his face so pale his skin seemed translucent, his breath caught in his throat.

"Touya?" Hikaru said, leaning over the board. "Touya? Are you all right?"

Akira stayed stock-still, his eyes fastened on the stones, and the trembling grew faster.

Then, suddenly, he slammed both hands to the goban with a force that made all the stones hop, and shouted, "What do you know about a Fujiwara no Sai?"

Every head in the room turned. Conversation and the clink of stones stopped.

Hikaru felt like he was suspended out of time and space, somewhere in a nightmare zone.

Did he hear that right . . . not just Sai, but *Fujiwara no Sai*? How could Touya know that? He'd promised the other boy some time ago that he'd tell him his secret, but it was a promise he hadn't kept.

*Oh, gods,* he thought, panic rising rapidly in his throat, *what do I do now? I can't deny knowing about Sai, he'll never believe me when I tell him the truth if I do.*

Taking a deep breath, he said, "Why would you ask something like that?"

Akira sunk back down in his seat, seeming to collapse like a blow-up toy with a rapid air leak. "I heard it in a dream," he said in a quiet, dull voice.

A buzz of whispers filled the air as the other players fastened their full attention on the two again. Hikaru's heart started to pound. He heard Sai's full name in a dream? Did this mean . . . Sai had been in his dream? Was Sai active in this world again? Was he coming back?

A flush of excitement filled Hikaru at the prospect of coming home, opening his door and seeing Sai sitting there at the goban in his bedroom, the sight he'd so longed to see in those awful days and weeks right after he disappeared.

*But,* he thought, *why is Sai appearing in Touya's dream, and not mine? I haven't dreamed of him since the night after my first game with Touya.*

Akira remained slumped over in his seat, staring down at the floor.

"I've been having these dreams," he said, quietly. "Every night. Ever since you made the League. A man . . . tall, with very long hair, in robes and a tall hat . . . he was playing Go. The same games I played with you."

Now Hikaru was clutching the sides of the Goban in excitement. This *was* Sai! He knew for sure now! He wondered if Akira could see the pure joy that was rising in his heart reflected in his face.

"He reminded me of someone," Akira continued, not moving. "There was an air about him . . . I couldn't put my finger on it at first, but when I saw those games, I knew what it was. That man felt like *you*." He looked up, slowly. "But . . . all along, I don't think I've ever known who *you* are."

Hikaru sat back in his own chair. Now *he* was trembling with emotion. *I have to get hold of myself*, he thought. *I have to talk to him about this, find out more about how Sai contacted him.*

"Touya," he said, "let's go somewhere. I can explain . . ."

But Akira just kept talking. "Everything about you, from the day we met, has been a mystery that I can't figure out. When we first met . . . why did you play like a genius when you couldn't even hold the stones right? At that tournament . . . why did you start brilliantly, and then make terrible, sloppy moves?"

Hikaru just sat, rooted to the seat, dumfounded.

Akira looked up at him, slowly, beginning to rise to his full seated height, his voice rising in volume and pitch along with him. "Why does it always feel like there's *another person* inside you? What was this *secret* you said you were going to tell me, but never did?" He leapt to his feet, thumping the goban again. "Who ARE you, anyway?"

Now the room, which had fallen into total silence, burst out into frenzied conversation, a jumble of voices like people who were witnessing an disaster and unable to believe what they were seeing. One man said, "Has Akira-kun lost it?"

The man in the waiter's uniform approached Akira, trying to lay a comforting hand on his shoulder. Akira threw out an arm to wave him off, shooting him a glare that made the man back away rapidly.

Hikaru didn't know whether to cry, to shout back, to start throwing stones. His vocal cords felt paralyzed, there was no way he could answer.

Akira just stood, fists clenched, breathing heavy, eyes burning. Hikaru actually felt a flash of fear, wondering if the other boy was going to do something strange, something violent, something unlike him.

Then, he whirled around. "I can't continue this game," he said, rushing toward the exit. Ichikawa called out to him as he passed her, but he ignored her.
* * *

Hikaru was in his room before his goban, having a strong sense of deja-vu.

*Just like the night I made the Honinbou League,* he thought. *I'm sitting here, looking at my phone, wondering if I should call Touya.*

He opened the baskets of stones in front of him, but he didn't start laying them out. Instead, he dipped his hand into the white one, picking up a handful of the cool, smooth pieces and letting them slide off his fingers back into the go ke.

He hadn't found Sai when he got home. He'd actually considered going out on a hunt for him, like he had the day after he'd disappeared, but realized it would probably be fruitless.

Sai had never been in Hikaru's dreams when he was manifest in this world. Only that one time, only after he'd gone away . . .

But why was he in *Touya's* dreams, and not his? It made no sense. Sai had never appeared before Touya before -- except when he was hiding behind Hikaru.

"What are you doing, Sai?" Hikaru said aloud.

This time, he reached into the go ke with the black stones, withdrew one and placed it on the board with a sharp *pachi*. He imagined his teacher sitting at the other end of the board, tapping with his fan to show him where the white stone should go. Stone after stone followed, recreating one of his old games with Sai.

*The look on Touya's face,* he thought. *The way he was trembling . . . those dreams were doing *something* to him. Something pretty bad.*

He sat back and studied the board again, his eyes wandering over the patterns of black and white. *If only you could speak to me through this game,* Hikaru thought. *If only you could tell me what to do, what's going to happen next . . .*

And suddenly, he *knew*, just as surely as if Sai were standing before him, speaking to him.

"I'd promised to tell Akira about you someday," he said aloud. "I think someday is now."

* * *

*Maybe*, Akira thought as he lay down on his futon, *now that I've told Shindou, I won't have any more of those dreams. Maybe Fujiwara no Sai will leave me alone.*

And when he first went to sleep, it seemed that way. No clouds of mist were there, no feeling of being ripped away from reality.

Instead, he was walking down his own street, his bookbag slung over his shoulder, looking for something, someone . . . who? Was he looking for Shindou?

He saw a house in the distance . . . a traditional looking Japanese dwelling, pure white. A feeling of confidence was swelling inside him . . . yes, this is what he was looking for.

He went up the walk and reached for the door . . .

And there was a voice in his head . . . no, not a voice, it was just *words* forming without sound.

*You can't go there. There is more you need to see.*

Akira whirled around. "Stop this! Why is it so important that you do this to me?"

But there was no reply. Instead, the clouds of mist were starting to form around him again. Akira began to run down the walk, away from the house, trying to get away from it.

But it followed, and swirled around him rapidly, becoming a cyclone, pinning his arms to his sides, lifting him off the ground. He tried to shout in protest, but his mouth felt sealed shut as well.

His feet hit the ground, and this time, he felt something push him from behind, forcing him to walk forward.

He staggered on, wobbling a bit, and found out that he was walking down the corridor of the royal palace again. But it seemed different this time. Many of the statues from before were gone. Others were in their place. There were more standing plants, and a painting of a distant mountain that wasn't there before.

He wandered out to the courtyard where he had been before, and wasn't surprised to see people playing Go. But their costumes were different. Gone were the tall hats, the flowing robes. Most were in formal kimonos.

*Why am I seeing this?* he thought. *What has this got to do with what I saw before . . . with Fujiwara no Sai, and Shindou?*

And then, his eyes were slowly drawn to a game taking place in another part of the courtyard. One participant was a man in his late 20s, with a bulky build and a pushed-in face not unlike a pug. The other several years younger than him, much slimmer, with a serene look on his face.

But there was someone standing behind the younger man -- a shadowy figure, unsubstantial, like a wisp of smoke barely hanging on before being blown away. He was wearing Heian dress, and his face . . .

Akira felt his heart speed up. There was no doubt who the ghost was. "Fujiwara no Sai," he whispered.

The ghost was pointing to the board with his fan. The younger man took a black stone from the go ke and placed it where he was pointing.

Something was struggling to come to the surface of Akira's mind, something he thought he should *know* from watching this scene, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it.

The opponent studied the board for a long time before placing his stone. The ghost was much quicker in making his reply. And the older man stared at the board again.

Finally, he bowed his head and said, "I resign."

The younger man bowed in return, and said, "Thank you for the game." He began to pick up the stones and return them to their go kes.

The other let out a small, deep laugh. "You know, I didn't believe what I'd heard about you. I had to find out for myself."

"What did you hear?" said the other.

"That absolutely nobody could beat Honinbou Shuusaku in the palace games."

And behind the younger man, the ghost seemed to be chuckling to himself, as if he had a secret, and was very amused by it.

Akira felt his heart drop to his feet. "Shu -- Shuusaku?" he said aloud. This was Shuusaku? But . . . why the ghost? Why Fujiwara no Sai?

There was a loud buzzing, repeated, insistent, and he sat bolt upright. He leaned his elbow on the floor beside him, and his head on his hand, fumbling for the alarm clock with the other hand.

This was the most baffling dream yet. Why dream of Shuusaku? He certainly knew of the 19th century Honinbou . . . his father had made him study his kifu from the time he was a small child. Touya Koyou considered him the greatest player of all time.

But why was Sai standing behind him?

Could the meaning of the dream be that Shusaku was actually a *reincarnation* of Sai? He knew that the style of the Sai on the Internet had been so much like Shuusaku . . . at least one person had described him as "like Shuusaku trying to learn modern Go."

But why would Shuusaku be in the modern world, playing Go over the Internet? And dammit, why did he *still* think of Shindou every time he saw Fujiwara no Sai?

Unless Shindou was yet another reincarnation of them both.

He remembered rushing to an Internet caf? after playing Sai over the Web and seeing Shindou sitting there. He had claimed to have nothing to do with Sai, that he had been just reading Web comics.

*If Shindou is the reincarnation of Shuusaku . . . of Sai . . . then he was the Sai on the Internet,* Akira thought. *But his playing at that tournament, just a few weeks before then . . . it had been nothing at all like Shuusaku.*

He sighed, deeply. Just when he thought he had the solution to the mystery, it just seemed to get deeper and deeper.

He jumped out of bed and started to dress. It was Saturday, he had an abbreviated school day. He knew it was going to feel like it was two days long.

And as soon as it was over, he was going to see Shindou.

* * *

Hikaru was not at all surprised to see Akira, in his school uniform, on the other side of his door. He figured he'd be there within an hour of class ending.

"Hello, Shindou," Akira said, quietly. "May I come in?"

"Sure," Hikaru said, watching in silence as the other boy stepped out of his shoes and into the guest slippers the family kept by the door. He followed Hikaru up the stairs and to his bedroom in silence.

*The house is quiet,* Akira thought. *His mother must be out. Just as well, I don't think I'd want her barging into the room in the middle of this discussion.*

They walked into the room and automatically headed for the goban, as if that were the most natural place for them. But they didn't touch the stones. Each was waiting for the other to make a different kind of first move.

There was silence for a long moment. Akira tugged absently at his right cuff. Hikaru rubbed the back of his head and looked down at the board.

Finally, Hikaru took a deep breath and said, "Yesterday . . . you asked me who I was. I think its time I told you."

There was another pause. Akira just fixed him with a steady gaze, his hand tugging at his cuff again.

Hikaru ran a finger along the edge of the board. "Um . . . I'm not sure how to say this, but . . . well . . ."

*Oh, just come out and say it, Hikaru!* he told himself. *What's the worst that can happen? He'll call you a liar? He can't, now that he's seen Sai himself.*

He swallowed hard, looked down at the board again, and said, "Until a year or so ago, I was the channel for a ghost named Fujiwara no Sai."

Akira snapped to attention. A *channel*? Not a reincarnation? He'd heard about people who had the gift of communicating with spirits before, but . . . Shindou was the last person in the world he'd expect would have a talent like that!

"How did it happen?" he heard himself saying.

Hikaru exhaled a long breath. *He believes me,* he thought. "Well, when I was twelve years old, I went into my grandfather's attic . . . I was looking for something I could steal and sell." The words sounded like they were describing another person. He couldn't believe there was actually a time in his life that Go wasn't a part of. "And there was this old goban . . ."

He began to talk about how Sai came out of the old board, and how from that moment on, he shared consciousness with Hikaru. "He came back because he wanted to play Go again . . . he wanted to find the Hand of God. He'd been a Go player at the royal court in the Heian era, it was his whole life, but . . ."

"He was accused of cheating," Akira said, quietly, "and was banished from the court . . ."

Hikaru's jaw nearly hit the board. "How did you know that?"

"I saw it," Akira said, fiddling with his cuff again. "It was in one of my dreams." He looked back up at Hikaru. "He drowned himself after that, didn't he?"

"Yes," Hikaru said. "And then, he decided to come back . . ."

"As Shuusaku?"

Now Hikaru nearly fell over. Just how much had Sai shown Touya in these dreams? Did he already know the secret behind the games they'd played together?

"N-no, Torajiro -- Shuusaku was like me. Sai lived in his mind, and when Torajiro would play Go . . . Sai would tell him where to place the stones."

He paused, looking for any reaction from Akira, any flicker of recognition. But his expression was unreadable.

Taking another deep breath, Hikaru said, "He did the same thing with me . . . at first."

And then, images rushed into Akira's mind like water bursting from a dam. That very first game . . . Hikaru not knowing how to place the stones, pausing at odd points during play, yet making moves like a genius . . .

Oh, no, he thought. No . . . it can't be . . .

"That wasn't you?" he said, in a voice barely above a whisper. "I wasn't playing *you*?" He began to tremble slightly, his face reddening, his voice choked with barely-held-back tears. "The Shindou I've been chasing all these years was a *ghost*?"

Another memory hit him, his confrontation with Hikaru after the Internet game with Sai -- and dammit, that meant it *was* Shindou behind that computer all along, at least him and that ghost of his . . .

Shindou had said, "If you keep chasing my shadow, someday the real me will catch up with you."

This was the shadow he was referring to. *Sai* . . . the other person in Hikaru's Go . . .

The tears began to pour from his eyes, forced out by feelings of hurt and betrayal.

Hikaru waved his arms in front of his face, backing off as if he expected Akira to hit him. "At first, at first! But I wanted to play myself, and I started to learn, and . . ."

Akira rubbed furiously at his eyes, as if doing so would stop up his tear ducts. "Is that what happened at the Junior High tournament?"

"Sai started the game," Hikaru said, quietly, running his finger along the edge of the board again. "But I wanted to play you, myself . . . and I took the game away from him."

"That day," Akira said, playing with his cuffs more rapidly than before, "I was devastated. I thought you were . . . were . . ."

"You said you thought you'd seen the Hand of God in me," Hikaru replied.

"And when you turned out to be just a regular player . . . it broke my heart. And I went off to take the pro exam . . . I just wanted to get away from you, and anything that reminded me of you."

"That's when I decided I wanted to be an insei," Hikaru replied. "I worked at getting stronger. And then kept working." He looked up at Akira. "When I was an insei, and a pro . . . that wasn't Sai. That was all me. Except . . ."

Akira frowned. "Except?"

"That beginner dan game against your father. That wasn't me. It was Sai. He wanted to play your father so badly, he saw him as his main hope of reaching the Hand of God . . ."

"He played him on the Internet, didn't he?"

Hikaru dipped his hand in the black go ke and let a stream of stones fall back in the basket. "Yes. The Sai on the Internet was Sai. I worked the computer and he called the moves." He grinned sheepishly and rubbed the back of his head. "I'm not good at the Internet. I had to get my friend's sister to help me."

There was another pause, as Akira sat with a hand under his chin, looking as if his mind was trying to digest everything he'd just heard.

"When you quit playing . . . did that have something to do with Sai, too?"

Now it was Hikaru's turn to be silent. He didn't want to talk about this . . . it was still painful . . . but he knew he had to.

"That's when he left me. He just vanished one day, about a month after I became a pro." He buried his hand deep in the go ke and pulled out another handful of stones, dropping them in one by one this time. "He kept telling me he was afraid that he was going to vanish, and I . . . I didn't take him seriously. Then, one night, there was a Go marathon, and I helped out with it . . . and when I went home, we started to play a game and I fell asleep. When I woke up, he was gone."

Akira could see the very real pain in Hikaru's voice talking about it . . . it was like watching someone describe the death of a parent, or a spouse. He had a sudden urge to reach out to the other boy and hug him . . . and then was immediately startled and baffled by his own feelings.

Instead, he said, softly, "Did you think you couldn't play without him?"

"I thought he'd left because of me," Hikaru said, letting the rest of the stones in his hand fall into the basket in a rapid stream. "Because I wouldn't let him play. I quit because of that."

"But you came back."

Hikaru looked up from the stones. "I realized that Sai never really left me. He'll always be here, in my Go. You sensed that yourself."

Akira remembered very well how he studied the board after that first pro game with Hikaru, sensing that there was *another person* in his Go.

"And so," said Hikaru, "when I want to find Sai again, I play."

Akira sat quietly again, thinking. It was the kind of thing he'd normally question, if not find outright ridiculous. But he had the evidence. He'd seen Sai. The ghost had invaded his dreams every night.

He looked up at Hikaru. "Why didn't you tell me all of this before?"

"Would you have believed me?"

Akira paused, then shook his head. "No. Not without some kind of proof . . . something I could perceive myself."

Hikaru frowned. Touya's expression was . . . strange. He couldn't tell if he were angry, hurt, or just confused.

"Are you mad at me for this, Touya?" he said. He wondered why he was so worried about the answer.

"I . . . I don't know quite what I'm feeling right now," Akira said, quietly. This wasn't a lie. There was an odd mix of anger, confusion and relief bobbing around inside him, something unlike anything he'd experienced before.

He stood up. "I think I need to go for a walk and clear my head."

Akira turned and fled down the stairs and out the door, grateful for the feel of the warm sun on his face. He'd gotten almost to the street when he realized he'd forgotten to change shoes, and had to go back to the house to do so.

He set off down the street. Shindou lived in such a *normal* suburban neighborhood. Here, a homemaker was hanging out her laundry. There, two children were playing baseball with a whiffle ball and plastic bat. Coming toward him was a teenage blonde girl walking a small dog that was almost completely buried in long, silky hair.

It was not exactly a place where you'd expect to find supernatural doings.

He turned the corner and headed down another street, very much like the one he'd just left. He realized that going for walks wasn't something he normally did. Under normal circumstances, he only walked to get somewhere, and that was to and from school, or his father's Go parlor, or the subway line leading to the Go institute.

He hadn't been faced with something like this before, though.

Images of Shindou passed through his mind. Age 12, that first game . . . age 13, looking startled when he was confronted in the Go parlor . . . age 14, playing that baffling game against his father (if Sai was playing, why did it turn out so bad? Unless Sai put himself behind a severe handicap . . .)

Another person inside him. A ghost. Shindou was the front for a ghost. Those early games were all a lie! Akria walked faster, as if to get away from the truth.

*Why didn't he tell me?* he thought. *Why didn't he give me some kind of clue? Why did he let me suffer after the junior high tournament, when I was wondering if there were even a reason to play Go anymore!*

But Hikaru's words of a few minutes ago came back to him -- "Would you have believed me?"

And if Hikaru had told him about Sai back then, Akira would have called him a liar, accused him of making up the story to cover up his own sporadic talent, maybe even thought he was crazy.

But now, that he'd seen Sai himself . . . the revelation somehow made him feel a lot better about everything.

*Maybe,* he thought, *it's because everything *makes sense* now. It's like a veil of mystery has been lifted . . . like I'm seeing him for the first time. Well, I am, because this is the first time he's been a *person* to me, not an enigma.*

He turned onto yet another street, past two little girls in school uniforms riding by on bicycles.

*And just what is it that I do see?* Akira thought. *What kind of person is Shindou?*

He found a bench at the side of the road and sat down. A woman pushed a stroller occupied by babbling, wriggling twins past him. A stray cat wandered toward the bench, sniffed at Akira's pants, and walked away.

He noticed none of this. He was deep in thought.

Shindou . . . without the mystery, without the baffling randomness of his talents . . .

*Well,* Akira thought, *he can be downright annoying at times, that's for sure.* How many times had he insisted on going for ramen, when there were so many other types of restaurants near the Go Institute? Or forgot to turn his cell phone on when Akira said he was going to call?

*And you went to the restaurant with him anyway, didn't you?* he thought. *And you yelled at him for not turning on the phone . . . but you still kept calling him.*

It suddenly struck him that his relationship with Shindou was not that of typical rivals. He'd known plenty of men in his father's study group who were involved in rivalries with other players. They'd never seen them away from the goban.

*My relationship with Shindou has never been typical,* he thought, his fingers absently tugging at his collar. *He came into my life like an hurricane, and nothing was the same afterward.*

The cat ran up to his bench again, circling it as if looking for food. Akira's eyes followed it for a moment, but then closed, as he concentrated on his own thoughts.

*My whole life has revolved around him from that first game, hasn't it?* he thought. *All I could think about was playing him again . . . and then making sure I stayed ahead of him.*

But if their relationship was *just* about Go . . . then why did they have those phone conversations? Sure, they were mostly about Go, but they'd talk about their families as well, and Akira would talk about school, and Shindou would launch into some ridiculous story about how he once got chased out of the Go club room at Haze by another club who thought *they* were entitled to use the chemistry lab . . .

And why did they go to lunch together even if they were playing other people, and sometimes linger at his father's salon long after their game was over, talking over Akira's green tea and Hikaru's Mountain Dew Code Red?

*Because I genuinely like being with him,* Akira thought. *He's rough-hewn . . . not always a hundred percent thoughtful or tactful, but . . . he's sincere, and spontaneous, and warm.

He stood up, smiling quietly to himself. Oh, yes, Shindou was a huge part of his life. And it was a relief, really, to be rid of Shindou-the-mystery, because now he could explore his relationship with Shindou-the-person more.

Akira began to walk back in the direction of the Shindou house. *Where do I want that relationship to go?* he thought.

A possibility was rising in the back of his mind. He wanted to push it away . . . but it rose up again, undaunted.

The possibility of a *romantic* relationship between them.

Somehow, the idea didn't strike him as strange, even though they were both boys. It felt . . . natural, really. Akira had never had any interest in girls. Of course, he'd been so focused on his Go that he hadn't really been interested in *either* gender.

Shindou didn't seem interested in girls, either. He had that friend of his from when he was a child, Akari . . . but she didn't seem to be anything more than a friend to him. He certainly didn't seem to drop everything to seek her company.

Akira shook his head and increased his step, wrapping his arms around his body as if to hold in his thoughts. Ridiculous, really . . . he shouldn't be having such thoughts. He wondered if he needed to get away from the game some more, spend some time with other people his age.

But he knew he couldn't do that any more than bees could stop taking nectar from flowers. Go defined him, it was what he was.

*Shindou is the other side of my Go,* he thought. *Maybe Shindou is the other side of *me*, as well.*

When he rounded the corner to the Shindou house, he was surprised to see Hikaru sitting on the steps, obviously waiting for him.

"Shindou . . . why are you . . ."

Hikaru looked up at him. "Are you okay now?"

Akira nodded, slowly. "I just needed some time to think, that's all. I feel like everything is different now."

Hikaru looked down . . . was that a look of severe disappointment on his face? "I see."

"What's happened . . . I think our relationship is changed for good."

Hikaru suddenly leapt to his feet. "I don't want it to be different!" he cried.

Akira just stared at him, dumbfounded. The last thing he expected was for Shindou to act that extremely.

Hikaru suddenly look flustered, as if he'd just surprised the heck out of himself. He blushed slightly, and his face wore a look of panic as he struggled for the right words. "That is . . . um . . . I want us to keep playing together, and, um . . ."

And suddenly, without realizing what he was doing, and why he was doing it, Akira walked up to Hikaru with a smile on his face. "We can make it better," he said.

His arms wrapped around Hikaru, and he pulled the other boy against him, his lips touching Hikaru's softly.

Hikaru froze for a moment, his eyes snapping wide open, a look of momentary panic in them . . . and then they softened, and his body molded itself to Akira's as he began to kiss back, eagerly. Their lips parted for a second, then joined again.

Time stood still for both. Their minds were flooded with a curious mixture of ecstasy and confusion, one part saying "What the HELL are we doing?" and another saying "Why didn't we do this before?"

Akira suddenly pulled back, the full realization of what was happening hitting him like a ton of bricks. He was kissing Shindou Hikaru. He hadn't asked to, hadn't been invited to, he had just *done it*.

*What the hell must he think,* he thought. *He just said he wanted to play, and I did this . . .*

"I'm sorry," he said, quickly. He turned around and fled, practically running down the street.

"TOUYA!" He heard Shindou calling to him, heard footsteps as the other boy started to follow . . . then, they died out.

* * *

Akira's eyes slowly opened. He rolled over and looked at the clock, which said 8 a.m. It was Sunday -- no need to set the alarm.

*This is the first night in almost a week that I haven't had any dreams,* he thought. It didn't really surprise him, now that Shindou had told him about Sai.

He felt relieved, but . . . he also felt a strange sort of emptiness. Like something was missing from his life.

He began to run over the events of the last couple of days . . . the interrupted game, the confession, the kiss . . .

*Oh, gods, the kiss!* he thought, lying back down and crossing his arms over his eyes as if to shield himself from what had happened.

He wondered what Shindou thought of him now. He hadn't pulled away, hadn't resisted, hadn't tried to slap Akira across the face afterward . . . in fact, he'd kissed him back. But Akira had to wonder if he'd *liked* it, or had just let instinct take over in the heat of the moment.

And Akira knew that *he* had liked it, a lot. He had never actively thought about kissing Shindou before, but that didn't mean the thought hadn't been in the back of his mind.

*It felt inevitable,* he thought. *Like it was something that was going to happen, sooner or later.*

He got up from his futon and reached for his robe. He considered calling Shindou. *Maybe later,* he thought. *For now . . . I just want to be alone, and think.*

* * *

Hikaru lay on his back, holding his cell phone above his head, scrolling through the calls that had come in the night before. One from Waya, one from his grandfather, one from Akari . . .

He didn't feel like returning any of them right now. He tossed the phone on his nighttable.

After Akira had run off the night before, he'd closeted himself in his room, phone turned off. His mother thought nothing of this, as he usually spent hours on end studying Go.

He'd started to lay out stones, and then just sat there, brooding, the way he had after Sai left.

It wasn't Akira's reaction to the existence of Sai that kept running through his head. It wasn't the fact that he had finally let his rival in on his secret, that they were on a more even footing now.

It was that kiss, and the fact that Akira had run off so suddenly afterwards. And Hikaru realized that the latter bothered him a lot more than the former.

When it was happening, he'd been startled at first . . . but then had realized it felt *good*, and he *wanted* it. And it took him aback that it didn't surprise him.

He always knew he'd never share the interest in girls that other guys did. He knew he'd never like Akari as more than a best buddy. He'd blamed the former on his obsession with Go, and the latter on the brother-sister nature of their relationship -- anything sexual would feel like incest.

And, really, distinctions between gay and straight had never mattered much to him. He had a cousin who was gay, and he'd always accepted him as just another person.

*I think I was probably attracted to Touya all along,* he thought. *I didn't realize it because I was so focused on caching up to him. Could that be part of the *reason* I wanted to catch him so much? Was it that I wanted him to look at me and notice me?*

"And why aren't I panicking about this?" he said out loud. "Aren't guys supposed to freak out when they think they're gay?"

*Maybe,* he thought, *it's because of what my relationship with Touya is like. We're so . . . connected anyway. We're trying to reach the Hand of God together . . . and isn't that a relationship more intimate than sex?*

And then, a parade of *sex*-related images were suddenly flooding his mind. What would it be like to kiss Touya's bare skin, to caress him intimately, to make him moan and pant . . .

"AAAUUGGHHH!" Hikaru cried, leaping from the bed. He couldn't be thinking this way! Not when he had no idea if Touya felt the same way, or if the kiss was something that just . . . happened, and would never happen again.

"I've got to find out," he said aloud, rummaging through the closet for his clothes. "I'm going to go over there."

* * *
Akira was in the room where he played Go with his father. In the background, he could hear his parents getting ready to leave. This was just an overnighter -- an invitational tournament for retired players in Okinawa -- as opposed to the prolonged trips to China he'd been making as of late.

He was laying out a game he'd recreated over and over throughout the last four years. It was the very first game against Shindou Hikaru. No, against Sai, channeled through Shindou Hikaru's body.

*Now that I know what was going on,* he thought, *it all seems logical. The archaic patterns, the way Shindou hesitated at strange places in the game -- and the fact that sometimes, I can see *this* playing style creep into his Go, as if there were two people playing at once.*

His father began to enter the room, and paused in the doorway, noting Akira's intense look of concentration as he studied the stones.

"What is that?" he asked his son.

Akira looked up. "Just an old game of mine I wanted to analyze."

"It must be an important one," Touya Kouyou replied, coming closer to the board. "I've seen you recreate this one many, many times."

*It was the most important game of my life,* Akira thought. *Without this . . . without Shindou, and Sai . . . would I have propelled myself into the pros so fast and so hard?*

"Never mind," his father said. "I'll leave you to your study. We're ready to leave, we'll be back tomorrow evening."

Akira nodded, and went back to the board.

*If only I'd known then, Shindou,* he thought as he continued to lay out stones. *If only there were some way you could have told me . . . but how different would things have been?*

He was concentrating so hard on what he was doing that he didn't notice the knock on the door at first. When it came a second time, harder and more insistent, he looked up and headed into the living room.

There was Shindou Hikaru on the other side of the door. Akira suddenly felt a strange panic and embarrassment flood him. He coughed, looked at the floor, and said, "Oh, hi."

Shindou seemed equally nervous . . . he was rubbing the back of his head and looking at a spot some five inches to the left of Akira's right ear. "Um, can I come in?"

"Sure . . ." Akira led the other boy into the family room . . . why was his heart pounding like this? He sat down on one of the Western-style lounge chairs that his family had only acquired a year and a half ago, and didn't look up at Hikaru when he sat down in the other.

Hikaru looked down at his own hands, which were clasping and unclasping. "Um, I came to talk."

Akira fiddled with his right cuff, even faster than he normally did. "I'm listening."

Hikaru took a deep breath. How the hell could he say everything that he wanted to say . . . that he wanted their relationship to stay the same, undisturbed by the revelations about Sai -- or the kiss. That he wanted to know why Akira had kissed him, what the other boy thought of him . . .

*Maybe I should just ask him if he wants to play Go*, he thought. *No, maybe that's a bad idea, it'll bring up too many memories of Sai -- for both of us.*

And suddenly, he blurted out, "Wanna help me learn the right way to use a computer?"

Akira sat poker-straight and blinked. That was the *last* thing he'd expected to hear! "WHAT?"

"Well, you have a computer in your room, and you know how to use it, and . . ."

Akira rose out of his seat, his face a mixture of fury and bewilderment. "This is what you came over here for? To have me give you COMPUTER LESSONS?"

Hikaru leapt out of his own seat, yelling, "Fine! If you don't wanna do it, I'll go somewhere else!"

"FINE!" Akira clenched his fist, eyes ablaze. "What made you think I'd spend my time teaching *you* to use a computer, anyway?"

There was a long pause, during which they glared at each other like gladiators about to go into combat.

Then, Akira's expression softened, his stance relaxed. "I thought you said you worked a computer when you were playing for Sai?"

"I just did the mouse part . . . clicking on the places where the stones went. The rest . . . a friend's sister was working in the cybercafe, and she helped me."

"All right," Akira said. "Come this way."

Hikaru realized he had never been in Akira's bedroom before. The previous times he'd played Go with Akira in this house, it had always been on the main goban in the room off the living room. The room was a mix of the very modern and the very traditional, with the tatami floor -- no bed, Hikaru noticed, he must sleep on a futon -- and the computer desk.

And the very idea of being in here was filling him with a thrilling excitement. The erotic images from that morning were crowding into his head again, and he forced them down and out. The last thing in the world he wanted was for his body to betray his fantasies with Akira right there!

"Pull up a chair," Akira said as he switched the computer on. When Hikaru settled next to him, he suddenly found himself very aware of the other boy's nearness, his warmth. He found himself coughing and clearing his throat, as if to keep the emotions flooding him at bay.

"Well, then," he said, "we'll start with looking things up on the Web."

He opened his browser and watched as his home page -- the Go Institute's site -- began to load. He could hear Shindou shifting around in his seat a little, and resisted the urge to let his eyes wander over toward the other boy.

"The first place you want to go if you want to look up anything is a search engine," he said. "You black out the address bar at the top of the screen -- here -- and just type where you want to go."

Hikaru watched as Akira brought the page up. *I never noticed how his hands move, even when they're not playing,* he thought. *So fast, and like they always know exactly where to go.*

Which only brought back the thoughts he was having before. *What's going on?* he thought. *I've hardly ever thought about sex, and today . . . it's all I can think of!*

"All right," Akira said, "We'll say you were doing a school science project and wanted to look up information on snakes." He began to type in the search field. "Now, you want to click on that link here . . ."

Hikaru reached for the mouse, thinking Akira wanted him to do it. Akira reached for the mouse himself, and their hands collided.

The world seemed to stand still, with both of them frozen in place, barely daring to breathe. Akira had an urge to turn his hand so he could grasp Hikaru's, lacing their fingers together, brushing his thumb over and over on the back.

Hikaru pulled his hand back, slowly, stammering "Sorry . . ."

"No, you do it," Akira said, leaning back in his seat.

He watched Hikaru lean over toward the machine, unruly blond bangs falling in his eyes. He looked wild and disorganized, the kind of person who didn't have any regard for rules, who lived life on his own terms -- everything Akira wasn't.

Why did he suddenly find that so very fascinating . . . even more fascinating that the mystery of who Shindou was?

"Okay," Hikaru said. "Now what?"

"You've got a page of links here. Figure out which ones are most relevant to what you want, and then click on the highlighted part at the top."

Hikaru did so, and the screen became flooded with popups. "Whoa! What did I just do?"

"You didn't do anything. They're just popups. See, you just click to get rid of them . . ."

He reached for the mouse at the same time Shindou did again. This time, they ended up grasping it at the same time. Neither moved his hand.

"Just . . . move it up here," Akira said, pushing the mouse, feeling Hikaru's hand against his as the pointer moved. He clicked the boxes that made the offending ads go away, slowly.

"Now what?" Hikaru said, still grasping the mouse himself.

"You . . . start looking for the site's table of contents . . . it should be in a frame over here . . ."

Together, they moved the mouse again. *I don't want to let go,* Akira thought, *but if I keep holding on like this . . . am I too obvious?*

"So . . . all these links are different pages of the site, right?" Hikaru kept his eyes fastened to the screen . . . he didn't want to look over at Akira. If he did, he'd stare, not be able to take his eyes off him . . .

"Yes. Just click on the links," Akira replied.

*I have to let go now,* he thought, easing his hand away. Hikaru's warmth lingered on his skin, which made a small flutter of excitement in his stomach.

He watched Hikaru click his way around the site, trying to keep a calm expression. *All the time we were chasing each other,* he thought, *all the time I wanted to stay ahead of him . . . was it really about Go all the time? Was there something else? Was the reason I avoided him for so long because I was afraid of what would happen if we were together?*

As if to run away from those thoughts, Akira quickly reached over and grabbed the mouse once Hikaru's hand was away from it. "I need to show you how to use E-mail links now."

For the next hour, he walked the other boy through using several types of Web sites. At a couple of points, he could almost feel Hikaru's eyes burning him, as if the other boy were looking him up and down. Of course, he was struggling not to do the same thing.

Finally, Hikaru sat back from the screen with a broad smile. "Well, now that I know how to do this, I know what I'm going to do now."

"Oh?" Akira said, turning his chair toward his friend, suddenly feeling a bit playful. "And what is that?"

"I'm going to look up every one of your kifu and figure out how to defeat you."

"Well, that's funny," Akira said, "because I've been doing the same thing with yours for a long time."

They both laughed, feeling relaxed and calm . . . something they rarely had felt in each other's presence before.

Hikaru suddenly leaned over, closing the distance between them rapidly, put a hand on Akira's shoulder and brought their lips together in a gentle, tender kiss.

Akira's moment of surprise was brief. He kissed back, softly, and let out a little sigh of disappointment when Hikaru eased away.

"I wanted to make sure yesterday wasn't a fluke," Hikaru said, in a voice barely above a whisper.

Akira felt pure joy flooding through him, as if he'd just realized he was one step closer to the Hand of God. He reached over and wrapped his arms around Hikaru, pulling him closer.

"This is what you really came here for, isn't it?" he said.

Hikaru just nodded in the affirmative, wrapping his arms around Akira as well.

"Well, then, I don't want to disappoint you."

He leaned over and brought his lips to Hikaru's . . . soft, gentle, a feathery little brush. Hikaru let out a small sound of pleasure and leaned into the kiss, pushing harder against Akira, his arms holding him tighter.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, both boys' lips began to open, and there was a breathless moment as if both were wondering who was going to take the next step. It was Hikaru who pushed his tongue into Akira's mouth, tentatively, bit by bit, like a swimmer testing the waters before diving in.

Once the two tongues made contact, however, it was like something had caught fire in both of them. They kissed hungrily, beginning to explore each others' mouths with swirls and flicks and strokes. Their hearts pounded, their heads spinning . . . both of them were feeling fear, and confusion, and wondering what the hell they were doing, whether they should put the brakes on before it was too late.

But other emotions overwhelmed them. And before either of them quite knew what was happening, Hikaru's mouth was leaving Akira's and starting to kiss down his neck, as his right hand yanked at the bottom of Akira's shirt, pulling it out of his pants so he could slip his hand up inside.

Akira let out a gasp at the feel of his rival's fingers trailing over bare skin, up his stomach, to his chest. *This is Shindou,* he thought. *I'm actually doing this with Shindou!* But the idea was more thrilling than disturbing, and as Hikaru began to suck on his neck, all fears were blotted out of Akira's mind.

"Shindou!" he gasped.

Hikaru raised his head, kissed Akira's earlobe and whispered huskily, "Hikaru. If we're going to do this . . . you're going to call me Hikaru."

Akira let out another moan. Every inch of his body seemed to be screaming for Hikaru to touch it. He'd call the other boy anything he wanted, if only he'd do *more*! And that wasn't going to happen with them sitting at Akira's computer.

"Well, if we're going to do this . . ." He eased away from Hikaru, stood up, and crossed the room.

Hikaru pulled back, baffled and a bit hurt. *Did I do something wrong?* he thought. *Damn, why didn't I pay closer attention when the guys at school were talking about what they do with girls? But . . . Touya's a guy . . . I have no idea what I'm doing!*

His eyes followed the other boy as he moved to the closet, opened it up, and pulled out a large roll of thick fabric. He brought it to the center of the room and unfurled it.

*His futon,* Hikaru thought, and suddenly, his head was swimming again. This brought it home . . . there was no turning back now, they were going to *do it*.

Once Akira had the bedding unrolled and hastily made up, he sat in the center of it, opening his arms to Hikaru. The blond got the message. He hurled himself at Akira like a freight train and slammed into him in a tackle that sent both of them sprawling in a tangle of arms and legs.

Hikaru pulled back, blushing and sweating. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I didn't mean to . . ."

But Akira just looped an arm around Hikaru's neck and pulled his head down. Their lips met again, and this time, they opened instantly. Hikaru probed Akira's mouth hungrily, reaching down to his chest again . . . dammit, where was the place where he'd stuck his hand up his shirt before? He groped around at his stomach in confusion, encountering nothing but endless fabric that seemed attached permanently to his pants.

Hikaru was determined to get under that damn shirt if it killed him. He wanted Akira laid bare to his hands, his lips and tongue. When their mouths eased apart, he pulled back and began to fumble at the buttons . . . which didn't seem to want to go through the holes, no matter how he twisted and pushed them.

"This would be easier if you wore pullovers like I do," Hikaru grumbled.

Akira whispered, "Here . . . let me help you." He began to reach for his shirt buttons . . . just as Hikaru bent over to try to work on them again, and he ended up whacking Hikaru in the head. Now it was Akira's turn to stammer "I'm sorry . . ."

"Look . . . let's just do this . . ." Hikaru rolled away from Akira, pulled off his own shirt and flung it away. Akira took that as his cue to do the same. They wrapped their arms around each other and began to kiss again, and the sensation of bare skin on bare skin made both of them feel like they were on fire. They writhed against each other, delighting in the friction, the warmth, the soft smoothness.

Akira found himself rolling them both over so he was lying on top of Hikaru, and he started kissing down his neck, as the other boy had been doing to him. Hikaru's skin felt and tasted so good . . . he slowed down the kissing so he could savor it, enjoy it, and when Hikaru let out a small moan of pleasure, he knew he had to be doing something right.

He kept going past the hollow of his throat, down to his chest, as he began to brush his fingers up and down his sides. His eyes traveled over his body . . . oh, gods, what he do next? This was totally uncharted territory to him. . . . he didn't even have the benefit of guys' locker room talk to draw on. Kaio was an intellectually oriented school, not an athletic one -- and very few people there talked to him anyway.

For the first time in his life, Touya Akira was unsure of what his next move was.

Hikaru felt Akira stop moving, and he began to panic. Was he going to stop? Was this it? Was Akira going to leave him high, dry, and feeling like a rampaging whirlpool of hormones?

"Touy-" he started to say, then remembered what he himself had said to Akira before. If they were going to do this, they were on first name terms. "Akira?"

Now it was Akira's turn to panic. *He knows something's wrong,* he thought. *I have to do something, anything . . .*

His eyes fell on Hikaru's nipples. His sexual knowledge may have been basic, but he did know it felt good for a woman to have her breasts caressed, kissed and sucked. Did the same hold true for a man?

He leaned over one small bud and gave it a tentative kiss. Hikaru jumped and gasped, and that encouraged him. He kissed it again, and again, and then drew it in his lips and began to suck.

A huge jolt surged through Hikaru's body. He couldn't believe it! He would have never thought something like that would feel like *this* . . . He pressed his knuckles to his mouth, letting out a low, long sound of pleasure as Akira's lips continued to tug at the nipple.

Akira raised his head and began to flick at the now-hardened nub with his tongue. The more Hikaru moaned, the more his body writhed beneath Akira, the more his hands clutched at his back, the hotter the fire in Akira's own blood burned.

He moved his mouth to the other nipple and began to suck again, more enthusiastically this time, wrapping his lips around it tightly. He started to experiment with changes in speed, in pressure . . . long and slow first, then sharp, rapid little draws.

Hikaru gasped "Akira . . . Akira!" as his legs wrapped around his lover's hips, pressing their erections together through the layers of cloth both still wore.

He began to thrust, and felt Akira start to thrust in return, which just made him moan all the louder, arching upward against his rival as he squeezed his eyes shut tight, his mouth open in a gasp, his breath coming in short pants.

Akira raised his head. "Oh, gods, Hikaru . . . get these pants off . . ."

They pulled apart, hands reaching for each other's zippers and colliding, making both boys laugh. They finally managed to get the offending garments open and off, followed by their underwear.

They turned to each other and paused. They'd seen each other many times since they first met . . . but now . . . it was like looking at another person.

This wasn't the fierce rival to be faced over a goban. This was someone naked and beautiful and aroused, wanting only to give and receive pleasure.

Akira reached out with a trembling hand and stroked the side of the other boy's face. "Hikaru . . ." he whispered.

Hikaru covered Akira's hand with his own. Their eyes continued to trail over each other's bodies, both feeling suspended out of time and out of place.

Then, Hikaru lay back down on he futon, opening his arms. "Hey . . . aren't you going to go back to what we were doing?"

Akira's answer to that was to bring his lips to Hikaru's in a fierce kiss again, claiming the boy as his own, pushing his tongue in and out rapidly as his fingers reached for both nipples. He brushed over them lightly, then in rapid circles as Hikaru's legs wrapped around him again, their hips moving rapidly, erection brushing against erection, each contact sending a small, tingling shiver through both bodies.

Hikaru began running his hands up and down Akira's back with a rapid stroke, moving down a little further each time. *I want to make him feel good*, he thought, *like he did with me.*

Tentatively, he grasped Akira's bottom, squeezing the cheeks lightly. Akira's mouth broke from Hikaru's and he let out a sharp little cry of pleasure.

*Hmm,* thought Hikaru, *I must be doing something right.* He did it again, a bit harder this time, and was rewarded with another little cry. He grew bolder, starting to massage them, rubbing in little circles.

He looked up . . Akira's eyes were closed, his head tipping back, his hair falling softly over his shoulders. His lips were parted and moist, his voice soft and husky as he moaned "Hikaru . . that feels so good . . ."

Hikaru, encouraged, began to slip a finger into the cleft , feeling around, brushing a little here, a little there. Akira cried out again, lost in bliss . . .

And then, there was a sharp, searing pain as the finger pushed inside him. Akira jumped and gave a loud yelp.

Hikaru turned bright red, a look of horror crossing his face. "I'm sorry!" he cried. *Oh, no,* he thought. *I've ruined it. I have to do something. If he gets off me, it'll be all over, and it might not happen again*

Quickly, he grabbed Akira's head and pulled it down, kissing his lover hard. He panicked when he didn't respond at first. *I really have ruined it,* he thought.

Akira was still a jumble of confused thoughts. The pain had caught him off-guard, he was trying to get his bearings . . . and now, Hikaru was kissing him again . . .

Then, Akira's lips softened, and he began to kiss back. Hikaru rolled them both over so that he was on top.

*Pleasure,* he thought. *I have to give him a lot of pleasure, to make up for that pain.*

He started to kiss down Akira's neck again, pausing to suck like he'd done before. He heard his lover give a little moan, felt his body start to relax.

He kissed lower, moving down his chest. He looked over at his nipples . . yes, he'd do what Akira was doing to him .. .

When Akira felt Hikaru's tongue start to slide over his nipple, he groaned, tangling his fingers in the other boy's hair. *This is how it feels?* he thought. *No wonder Hikaru liked it so much!* And when Hikaru drew him into his lips and started to suck, all conscious thought ebbed away as he surrendered to sweet waves of pleasure starting to envelop him, blotting out the pain he'd felt before.

Hikaru moved his mouth to the other nipple . . . he was starting to like giving this almost as much as receiving it. The hard nub felt so good under his lips and tongue . . . he brushed a feathery kiss over it, then followed that with rapid little fluttery licks.

Akira was moaning, and arching against him, making Hikaru want to give him more, and more, and more.

There had to be something else he could do. As his tongue swirled over one bud, and his fingers stroked the other, he wracked his brain, trying to come up with something else the guys had talked about when it came to sex.

And then, he remembered something that girls did, which guys loved . . . but could *he* do it? It didn't sound easy . . . or, frankly, all that pleasant.

But to give Akira pleasure, he'd do it.

He moved down his lover's body until his mouth was even with his manhood. It looked . . . strange. He'd seen his own in the mirror many times, but when you were looking at someone else's, at close range -- it was as if he'd never seen one before, like it was some kind of alien creature.

He swallowed hard with nerves, opened his lips and began to slide Akira's erection in.

It felt big, and hot, and odd . . . not unpleasant, though. Neither was the taste, although that was a bit odd, too . . . salty, and something else he couldn't identify. But it was something he could definitely keep doing.

Akira's eyes flew open, and he gasped. What was this? Hot, and wet, and sending rapid pulses of luscious sensation through him . . . unlike anything he'd felt before. He looked down and gasped. Hikaru had him . . . in his *mouth*?

Hikaru began to suck, and to move his head back and forth. He was getting used to this now. He was starting to like the way Akira filled his mouth, the sensation of the flesh sliding over lips and tongue . . . and the loud moans and writhing that resulted.

Akira could do nothing but lay back, the sweet warmth overwhelming him as he gasped and panted and moaned . . . oh, he couldn't believe Hikaru was doing this, that anyone would do this, but he didn't care, it felt so, so good.

His body twisted this way and that, as if it could hardly contain the pleasure, and then he was arching upward . . . something was building in him, rapidly, a heat and pressure that made him feel like he was going to explode.

Hikaru moved his head quicker. Akira's breathing was getting heavier, his moans louder, more urgent. He wanted to bring his lover to fulfillment, and he knew he was almost there .. .

Suddenly, Akira felt like the whole world had frozen in place around him . . . and then it shattered, violently, in waves of ecstasy that felt like they were going to tear his whole body apart. He nearly screamed as he shuddered, and shuddered again, and then fell back to the bed, dazed, panting, his hand across his eyes.

Hikaru felt his mouth flood with sticky fluid, which he swallowed without thinking. He kissed his way back up Akira's stomach . . . his lover was laying limp as a rag doll, letting out small whimpers.

He kissed Akira's lips and whispered, playfully, "Hi!"

Akira dragged his hand slowly away from his eyes. The room was spinning around him. Gradually, it came back into focus . . . and there was Hikaru. He kissed him back, gently. "Oh . . . hi."

Somewhere in the back of his still-fuzzy mind, he realized Hikaru had taken him all the way to climax . . . and he hadn't done the same for him yet.

The last thing in the world he wanted was always for Hikaru to get ahead of him.

He kissed the other boy hard, flipping them both over so he was on top. He swept a hand down his body, then back up again, teasing the nipples, squeezing his stomach. He reached down to Hikaru's leg, running his hand up and down his thigh . . . and stopping when he hit a sensitive spot near where it met the pelvis.

"There," Hikaru gasped. "Touch there again . . ."

"Here?" Akira said, caressing the spot with rapid flicks of his fingers.

"Aaaaahhh!" Hikaru gasped. "Yes! Yes . . ."

Akira began to massage the thigh rapidly, kissing Hikaru's lips, neck, ears. "This feels good?"

"Yes! Soo good . . ."

"Wouldn't it feel better if I touched you . . . here?" And Akira moved his hand over to Hikaru's erection, brushing his fingers rapidly over the shaft, making him give a loud cry. He wrapped his fingers around it . . . gently, he didn't want to hurt Hikaru . . . and started to pump with an up-and-down motion.

"Ohhh!" Hikaru cried, arching his hips upward. "Don't stop!"

"This does feel better, doesn't it?" Akira lowered his head, kissing Hikaru's nipple, making the other boy give a little shriek. He stroked slower, moving his fingers up to the head and caressing it gently, making Hikaru give a deep moan.

*What would it be like,* Akira thought, *to do the same thing he was just doing to me?*

He slid down Hikaru's body until he could reach his erection with his mouth. He kissed the head, gently, softly, and felt Hikaru tremble and cry out. He reached out with his tongue and gave a tentative lick, and when that brought a louder cry, he began to lap at it faster, harder, sliding it back and forth over the heated flesh.

Hikaru whimpered with pleasure at the feel of the soft wetness sliding over his most sensitive flesh. He was going to burst into flames, he just knew it, but he didn't care, he just wanted this to go on and on . . .

"Suck," he moaned out loud. "Suck, please!"

Akira did what he was told. He opened his mouth and took Hikaru in rapidly -- too rapidly. He choked and pulled back, gasping.

Hikaru sat up. "Are you okay?"

"Yes, yes." Akira took a deep breath. *All right, that didn't work,* he thought. *Maybe I have to do it slower.*

And he began to slide Hikaru in again, bit by bit, pausing to suck a little, then putting a bit more in, then a little more sucking. He began a steady in-and-out movement, thinking he had finally got the hang of it.

Hikaru groaned . . . *So good,* he thought, *no wonder Akira liked it . . .* It was filling him with electric heat, faster and faster and . . .

He suddenly cried out, feeling a rush of ecstasy shoot through his veins like a cannonball, arching into Akira's mouth as he was wracked by luscious spasms.

Akira choked again as Hikaru's seed rushed into his mouth. He pulled away, grabbing for the tissues he kept at the foot of his desk, spitting the fluid into it and rapidly throwing it away before Hikaru could notice.

He moved back up to kiss his lover's lips, tenderly. He lay his head on Hikaru's chest, and they wrapped their arms around each other, Hikaru making a little purring sound of pleasure.

"Wow," Akira whispered, as Hikaru kissed his neck gently. He reached over and stroked Hikaru's tousled blond bangs over dreamy, sleepy eyes, thinking that he had never seen anything more beautiful in his life.

"Hikaru," he said, "what happens now?"

Hikaru looked up into Akira's eyes with a smile. "More of the same, I guess," he said jokingly. Lowering his head to Akira's chest again, he said, "We'll just be . . . together. When we can."

"And what about Go?"

Hikaru raised his head. "Nothing different. You're still my rival. I don't want that to change. Do you?"

"No," Akira said, stroking Hikaru's hair again. "Definitely not." *I need that rivalry,* he thought. *I need it to keep moving forward . . . and so does he.*

Hikaru moved up so he was lying on the pillow next to Akira. "Mostly," he said with a yawn, "I think we're just going to take it one step at a time."

One step at a time . . . that certainly sounded good to Akira. He pulled the other boy in his arms.

*Yes,* Akira thought as he started to drift off to sleep, *one step at a time is very, very good.*

* * *

Somewhere in a realm beyond time and space, where souls rest in between incarnations, a spirit observed what was going on between these two boys.

He was thrilled to death with this development. Oh, the romantic and sexual relationship came as a bit of a surprise -- he'd aimed at drawing the boys closer together, but not quite *that* close -- but it served the purpose he'd wanted to accomplish.

He wished there was another way he could have told Akira the truth about himself, about Hikaru and about those games he'd played against him, rather than invading his dreams.

But he could no longer manifest on the physical plane, not until he'd taken another body. And contacting Hikaru to relay the message would not have worked -- he knew Touya would not believe the story without some concrete evidence to back it up.

He could now be sure that Touya Akira would fulfil all the roles that he used to play in Hikaru's life . . . looking out for him, spurring him on to greater heights.

After all, he knew Akira was destined to be more than a mere passing rival to Hikaru. During his time on earth, he'd been able to see something no living being could -- a red thread of destiny connecting their souls.

*And now,* Fujiwara no Sai thought, *it is time for that destiny to come into fruition. At last. And I can't wait to see what happens.*

A huge, huge debt of gratitude for this series goes to Aishuu. She was the one who helped me organize my disjointed fic ideas into a coherent whole, gave the series and its individual chapters their titles, co-beta read it and provided encouragement throughout. I could not have done it without her.

Many, many thanks also go to Lady Cosmos, who got me hooked on this series; Steve Savage, who, as usual, proved to be The Best Editor A Writer Ever Had Bar None; and the members of Go Go Neko, who have always been there for me.

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.