mirabella: (HnG Shindou wiped out)
mirabella ([personal profile] mirabella) wrote in [community profile] mirabellafic2013-04-16 08:53 pm
Entry tags:

Rashomon, Hikaru no Go, gen(ish), G.

Title: Rashomon
Fandom: Hikaru no Go, gen, G.
Summary: Ochi doesn't want many things, really. But what he wants, he intends to have.
A/N: I'm not sure I made this clear before, but all the dialogue in this fic is out of the manga scanlation. It was sort of an exercise in writing-around.



The night before Ochi Kosuke registers for the pro exams, he dreams that he is an emperor, ruling from a wide and open hall full of sakura blossoms and the singing of nightingale floors, dressed in silk robes and holding a great lacquered fan inlaid with mother of pearl. His goban is magnificent, rich kaya wood set into a table carved with dragons, the cool slate of the stones like fine jade in his fingers. The air smells of spring, courtiers kneel in silent seiza along the walls like terra cotta warriors weathered to featurelessness, and no one is allowed to look him in the eye.

In the dream, he has something that he doesn't have in reality, one of the few things in his life that he hasn't been able to get simply by saying I want: he has a rival. They play go in his dream, Ochi and his rival, the sound of the stones like running water in the quiet hall; the game is breathtaking, and when it reaches its inevitable end his opponent veils changeable blue-green eyes and gracefully resigns. After all, the purpose of a rival, when it comes down to it, is to lose brilliantly, a flawless setting for the jewel of someone else's go.

Ochi understands that, though he sometimes wonders if anyone else does, and wonders how he will ever find a proper rival if they don't.



"Hey! Waya! Isumi!"

Ochi winces and glowers sullenly at Shindou as he stampedes off the elevator like a herd of buffalo, hopping on one foot and then the other as he yanks off his shoes. Shindou is a too-loud, too-bright mess of a boy who plays tooth-grindingly inconsistent go and doesn't deserve to be an insei to begin with; still less does he deserve the spurt of luck that's propelled him into qualification for the pro exams.

It's a good thing he'll never be able to pass. If Ochi had to stare at that stupid head of two-toned hair over go boards for the rest of his life, he might be driven to murder. One of these days he's going to tell Shindou that, too. Maybe after Ochi has beaten him in the examinations; and when he's done getting that off his chest, Ochi is going to laugh in Shindou's face about that stupid lie he told when he first became an insei.

As if Touya Akira would ever view Second-Class Shindou as a rival. As if he'd choose him to be his rival over anyone else, when he could have someone smarter, better, higher-ranked, more deserving. Anyone who would make that disastrous an error in judgment doesn't deserve to be Ochi's rival, though they might deserve to be Shindou's.

Ochi sets his shoes in the alcove and goes in, thinking ahead to the pro exams. He's decided to go through them with no losses. He wonders, without really wondering, what Touya Akira will think of him then.



When his grandfather suggests hiring Touya to tutor him, though, Ochi hesitates. Somewhere in his chest is a faint echo of the feeling that he has when he's standing in a bathroom stall tapping moves against the door – the feeling of not wanting to be seen, of wanting to hide until he has found every last one of his mistakes and made the world make sense again. It isn't logical – Ochi already knows that Touya will be his rival after he's passed the pro exams. But the feeling is there, and he can't quite make it go away.

He tells himself, and tells his grandfather, that it will be a good opportunity for him. But somehow he can't shake the small, niggling wish that he could have waited to face Touya Akira until he could face him from his throne, with the smell of sakura blossoms in the air.



Ochi has paid a great deal of attention to Touya Akira in one way or another, but for some reason he's never really quite looked at him. Touya is compact, fine-boned, tall for his age; he moves like an adult, sparing and reserved, and for a moment as they begin to play Ochi remembers his dream and a light-eyed boy in dark silks. Shaking off the memory, he turns his attention to the board. It won't do to be distracted, not against this boy who will be his rival soon.

They play, but not for long. Touya demolishes him without even trying, then looks up at him calmly, as if Ochi should have expected nothing less. Ochi excuses himself and spends so long in the bathroom that his grandfather finally comes and demands to know if he's ill.

"Shall we discuss the game?" Touya asks when Ochi has returned and gotten rid of his grandfather. Ochi doesn't want to discuss the game. Of all things, he does not want to hear Touya's soft, flawlessly polite voice listing his mistakes and faults one after another.

"I know where I went wrong," he snaps, keeping his eyes on the stones. "You cut me off here. I should have gone here instead."

"Yes," Touya says, and Ochi feels a small stab of something like hate. "But you seemed to be paying too much attention to territory. It would have been better to attack here."

Too much attention to territory. Ochi is sure that makes sense in Touya-land.

Touya reaches out and sets a finger on the corner stone in a formation that Ochi had been sure would stop him from connecting on the right side. "I looked at the home page of the Go Institute," he says. "You and two others are undefeated – someone named Isumi, and Shindou."

Ochi looks at that stone and his stillborn formation and realizes two things at once. First, that Touya said Shindou and not Shindou-kun; and second, that if he, Ochi, never hears Shindou Hikaru's name again it will be too soon. His face heats unpleasantly.

"Shindou lost today," he says, and takes a dark, spiteful pleasure in saying it.

Touya's head jerks up and he looks at Ochi, really looks at him for the first time, eyes wide and alarmingly intense. "He lost? To who?"

"Why are you so concerned about Shindou?" Ochi asks sharply, then remembers. That rumor – that stupid rumor, that Touya thought of Shindou as his rival. Before now, Ochi would have bet his life, would have bet his hands, that it wasn't true.

But Touya is already somewhere else, biting his lip and looking away as if he were reading twenty moves ahead in some game Ochi can't see.

"Shindou's not strong enough to worry about," Ochi tells him out of that curiously satisfying well of spite. You're misjudging him, he wants to say. He's not worthy of you. You've just seen my strength and all you can think of is him? "Just so you know… I've never lost to him."

Touya's eyes turn back to Ochi, evaluating remorselessly. "When was the last time you played him?"

"Three months ago," Ochi says, less disdainfully than he would have liked. There's something unnerving about Touya when he talks about Shindou, as if he were coming three moku behind into an endgame he can't afford to lose.

"Three months," Touya says, one finger tapping on his knee. "That's a long time."

Shindou might have gotten stronger in three months. Stranger things have happened. It does not seem to have occurred to Touya that Ochi might have gotten stronger as well. There's something sour in Ochi's gut now, a growing suspicion, because Ochi can read ahead as well – whether Touya thinks he can or not.

Touya withdraws suddenly behind a polite smile, all the energy that animated him when he was talking about Shindou hidden as though with the snap of a fan. "You're playing him on the last day," he observes, and he knows that not because of Ochi but because of Shindou. "If you'd like, I can come as often as possible between now and then."

Touya Akira is offering to train him intensively, and it's because of Shindou. Touya wants to teach Ochi not because Ochi is brilliant at go but because he happens to be scheduled to play Shindou Hikaru, and Ochi knows it because not one move in their game brought the same intensity to Touya's eyes as one mention of Shindou did.

Anger crests in a black wave up Ochi's throat. Before he knows what he's doing he's on his feet and screaming at Touya to get out, because Touya doesn't think he can beat Shindou and he doesn't care, he doesn't care, as long as he can use Ochi to measure Shindou's strength. Half of him is waiting for Touya to deny it; but Touya doesn't even bother to, only bows and excuses himself without a flicker of emotion.

Touya would have offered just as readily to train Fuku if he were facing Shindou on the last day of the exams. Ochi will never forgive him.

Afterward, tap on the doors and walls and the glass of his bedroom window though he might, Ochi can't find where the tutoring session began to go so disastrously wrong, or how he could have played to defend his territory.



That night, he dreams of a throne in a hall lit only by candlelight and the sullen grey of the skies outside. Kudzu has covered the pillars, encroached on the ceiling, silenced the nightingale floor. Across the goban from Ochi, his rival sits in an elegant pool of black silk shimmering with delicate gold-threaded dragons, his eyes nearly hidden by his fan and the severe cut of his dark hair. He reaches out to place a stone, flicking his sleeve away from the narrow bones of his wrist with a small, practiced movement.

When Ochi looks at the board, he finds that he cannot understand anything on it. He thinks he can see why he has placed his own stones where he has; but his opponent's moves twist across the board and turn on themselves like striking snakes, following some logic that Ochi can sense but not see. And he can sense something else as well: that there is something in him that could understand if he would let it wake, if he would break the seal on the darkness it lives in and let it rise, powerful and malignant; if he would let it look through his eyes and direct his hands on the stones. His rival is waiting, patient for now, but he will not wait forever, and Ochi's need to understand is nearly as powerful as his fear.

In the morning, Ochi doesn't remember the dream.



He isn't sure why he talks to Isumi at lunch on the next exam day. It isn't as if he particularly likes him. Maybe he just wants to tell someone how terribly Touya Akira, of all people, has overestimated Shindou. Maybe he just wants to go on record as being the one dissenting voice in this sudden crowd of idiots who think that Shindou Hikaru has miraculously turned into a force to be reckoned with, as if someone had gotten too close to him with an evolution stone.

He wants to talk about Touya and, to his immense annoyance, finds himself talking about Shindou instead, as if there were no way to separate the two of them. It's ridiculous. Shindou will never be strong enough to rival Ochi, let alone Touya; and Touya, who whatever his other faults is no fool, will see that for himself soon enough.

And yet. Touya is no fool, and Ochi has not been accustomed to thinking of Isumi as one either, but they both seem to feel that Shindou is a formidable opponent.

He doesn't like the way his conversation with Isumi goes, the way Isumi refuses to concede that Shindou is no threat. When Isumi loses to Shindou and Ochi can't figure out why, he doesn't like that either.

He stamps his own win on the card, looks back at Isumi's board, and wonders resentfully what it is that Shindou's done to deserve any of this.



By the night before his match against Isumi, Ochi is starting to wonder if he's been sucked into some strange universe in which only two people exist and neither of them is Ochi. He can't get away from Shindou at the exams, and he can't get away from Touya at home, not with his grandfather reading aloud from Weekly Go about Touya's winning streak. Sourly, he reminds his grandfather than he doesn't need Touya, and stubbornly doesn't look at the magazine.

He's already seen it, lying open on a table at the Institute. There's a picture above the article of Touya during a match, back straight as a ramrod, his head tilted a little to the side as he studies the board. His left hand is raised to brush his hair back out of his face, his little finger extended oddly along his cheekbone. He's wearing what is quite possibly the ugliest tie Ochi has ever seen and a suit that looks like his mother bought it for him, and should probably defend in the lower left. Ochi finishes putting the stones back into the goke and puts on the lid, tuning out his grandfather's rapturous praises of Touya 2-dan.

"He's saying that he'll spend every free hour playing against you," his grandfather says with a sort of doting smugness that infuriates Ochi for reasons he can't put his finger on.

Or maybe he can, a little. It's because it isn't true. Touya never said that, not in the article and not in Ochi's living room. What Touya said was that he'd come over as often as he could; what he meant was that he'd train Ochi the way Sun Tzu trained the king's concubines, and to the same purpose. Ochi thinks he might actually hate Touya for that, and wonders if it matters. It isn't love that leads people to be rivals, after all. It isn't even friendship. And he and Touya will be rivals very soon, which will be the end of anything Shindou might have been hoping for from Touya.

Smirking a little, Ochi sets the goke down on top of the goban and goes upstairs to bed.



It's almost disappointing, in a way, how easy it's going to be for him to pass the exams undefeated. Isumi, cracking under pressure as always, is on such a losing streak that Ochi's almost ashamed to have ever thought of him as a potential rival. He'll have no trouble defeating Shindou no matter what Touya thinks – though maybe Touya would think differently if he'd actually paid attention to Ochi's go instead of trying to look through it to Shindou's.

He doesn't need Touya. He likes to think that, when he finds out, Touya is going to be vaguely insulted by that.

It's a good morning. He won't lose to Isumi. He won't lose to Shindou. He'll have the satisfaction of knowing that he snubbed Touya Akira's oh-so-generous offer to use him as a tool. Ochi closes his eyes and laughs a little, thinking of dark silk and a head bowed in graceful resignation, and the smell of sakura blossoms.

"I'm disappointed in you," he says when he opens his eyes. "You worried too much about Shindou. And I thought of you as a rival. What a waste."

"Ochi," Isumi says. "Shut up."



That night, after he's replayed his loss until his fingers ache and then cried himself to sleep, Ochi dreams of a nightingale floor covered in ice, brittle and sparkling. He picks up a sakura blossom from the go board and finds that it's made of knife-sharp ice, stained pink in its depths. For once there is no one across from him; his rival is far away, in a high tower where the summer is neverending, waiting alone at a go board.

He wants the spring to come back; but Ochi can be pragmatic if the world seems to call for it, and in the end, as the wind howls around him, he decides that it would be no bad thing to be the Winter King. Not as long as he keeps the key to that high tower himself.

He sets the ice blossom down in tengen.



"My grandfather made me call you," he says airily, and the lie tastes foul in his mouth. Ochi is well aware, bitterly aware, that there are many things about him that other people find objectionable, but he's never really been untruthful until now. "I doubt there's anything you can do in three weeks, but –"

Touya turns to him, slipping off his suit jacket and tossing it onto a chair in one austere movement. "For the next three weeks, you'll call me sensei," he says in a tone that leaves Ochi no room to argue. "After the exam you can call me Touya or 'hey you' or whatever you want –"

Ochi has a feeling that he's going to lie awake for a long time tonight thinking of things he'd like to call Touya Akira.

"– but you won't listen to someone you don't respect. You're right, you won't get better in three weeks just from playing a pro. But I can help you beat Shindou." Touya sits down at the goban, glancing impatiently up at Ochi.

Ochi reads the moves, looking for advantage, then sits slowly down across from him. "All right," he says. "I'll take advantage of your obsession with Shindou."

Touya doesn't even bat an eye at the accusation – whether because he doesn't care enough what Ochi thinks to argue with him, or because it's so utterly, self-evidently true that Touya gave up arguing it even to himself long ago. Ochi isn't sure which explanation he likes less.

"I'll try to come every night, but I may not be able to," Touya goes on. "On nights when I can't –"

"I'll get another pro to come over," Ochi says carelessly, watching to see what Touya thinks of the implication that he's expendable.

"No, don't do that. They'll be in the way," Touya says, and it's a strange thing to think of as an error but Ochi has taken games away from dozens of opponents on smaller changes of the tide. If he's careful, he can build an atari from this to surround Touya completely, shicho; if this victory is not crushing, it will be no victory at all. Touya might yet outmaneuver him in the endgame without even understanding that they're playing.

"When I can't be here, replay Shuusaku's games. There are over four hundred recorded, I believe."

That derails Ochi for a confused minute, because he's played Shindou and Shindou is no more similar to Shuusaku than he is to Ochi's grandfather. He opens his mouth to ask – but Touya has pulled the goken to him and begun laying out a game, and one warning flash from his strange blue-green eyes shuts Ochi ignominiously up.

But it's all right, in a sort of surreal way, because by the end of the game he's feeling too ill to speak anyway.

The game is Shindou's against a Korean kenkyuusei, and it is brilliant. Not so much in the opening, which is Shindou all over, too risky and too aggressive, and a move in the midgame makes Ochi's mouth quirk in a smug, tight smile. But then Touya's fingers click down a white stone and suddenly the game opens out before Ochi like a rag unfurling into a banner – the move he thought was a mistake has cut the Korean's entire lower right quadrant adrift and flayed his formations in the center of the board. This isn't a go game anymore, it's a very artistic homicide.

"Three weeks isn't enough," Ochi says dully.

"That's why I'm here," Touya says.



That night he dreams that he arrives at the last game of the exams to find that Shindou is playing Touya instead of him. They're playing what in the dream Ochi knows is one of Shuusaku's games, though it looks like no go Ochi has ever seen. Shindou glances up at him over Touya's shoulder, smirking, his face shadowed unnervingly by that ridiculous blond hair.

"You're my rival and I'm yours," he says to Touya, his eyes never leaving Ochi's.

"Always," Touya says, and places a stone in a brilliant defense of the lower right.

Ochi wakes with tears of rage smeared on his pillow.



By the time Touya comes again, though, Ochi has his equilibrium back. He can allow Shindou one inspired hand in a long career of uninspired ones. Attention paid to him is attention wasted, and Ochi has better things to worry about. Touya, on the other hand…

Insei and professional go players, Ochi has found, don't think about the game in the same way as people who are merely very good at it. They understand things that casual visitors to go salons don't. One thing they understand is that a kifu isn't merely a record of moves; it's a window opening into someone's mind. Studying moves is how he knows that Shindou's thoughts are as disorganized as his hair, that Isumi doesn't trust himself, that Waya's generosity sometimes overrides his common sense, that Fuku will probably never pass the pro exam because he wants to get along more than he wants to win. Ochi is not by nature a messy person, but he has downloaded and printed out every kifu of Touya Akira's matches that he can get his hands on and now they're spread all over his room, angling against each other, as subtly and inadvertently revealing as a silk kimono slipping off from a collarbone.

He's downloaded every picture of Touya at a go board that he can get hold of too, and printed those out, studying the way he holds himself, the way he sits in relation to the board. It's hard to connect the unmoving Touya in the pictures with the unsettlingly intense boy who insisted that Ochi was no match for Shindou; but then, it's also hard to connect that boy with the icy, flawlessly polite Touya 2-dan, until you've seen him shift from one to the other in a flash.

Ochi has been studying Touya's kifu for days, trying to find that boy. He hasn't found him quite yet. Touya's go is flawless but oddly constrained, as if he were waiting for something, some move on his opponent's part that will fit with his own like a key in a lock – as if he were waiting for the Hand of God in some strange way that even Touya himself only dimly understands. Even now, after Ochi's bedroom has been so filled to overflowing with Touya and his go that the sense of him pervades the room like an unquiet ghost, Ochi still doesn't know what is holding Touya back.

He intends to find out, and to give it to him.

But he knows Touya's go now, knows its strengths and weaknesses even if he isn't quite strong enough yet to exploit them; he knows when Touya's game starts to crack at the seams, so it doesn't take Touya shouting at him now to tell Ochi that he's losing his patience.

"I warned you about that move three days ago!" Touya snaps. "Are you taking this seriously?"

"Yes!" Ochi says sullenly. "I just don't understand why I need to train like this just to beat Shindou. He played a good hand against the Korean, but it's not like I haven't played some impressive games myself –"

"I know your ability already," Touya grits out.

"Why are you so obsessed with Shindou?" Ochi shouts, and right now he is prepared to keep shouting it until he gets an answer. He's watched, on television and in still pictures and in kifu, as Touya faced down five-dans with uncanny composure, but something about Shindou cracks Touya's control like shattering ice and Ochi will know what it is or know the reason why.

He doesn't find out, not tonight. Instead Touya replays a game for him in which Ochi sees a much younger Touya, something of Shuusaku, and nothing at all of Shindou, a game only a fool would believe that Shindou played two years ago. And yet Touya, who has not heretofore struck Ochi as delusional though off the goban he seems possessed of questionable judgment, expects Ochi to believe that Shindou played this game, and seems to believe it himself with such conviction that Ochi has a nasty moment of doubt.

The simple and obvious explanation, of course, which really is neither when it comes down to it, is that Touya is lying. The alternative – because Ochi has played Shindou a dozen times and knows his go and there is no conceivable way, victories over Koreans or no, that Shindou played that game – is that he really is nursing some delusion or other deep inside his mind. Possibly he thinks that Shindou is an alien, or Shuusaku back from the dead. Ochi would rather that weren't the case; while there is a certain romanticism to placing the stones for one's rival because he can't be let out of his padded cell, Ochi is not a romantic and would rather play against Touya in the usual way.

In the end, it's one more stupid, needless stone in Ochi's path, that Touya believes. He believes that Shindou Hikaru is some sort of genius of go with the same bedrock conviction with which Ochi's housekeeper believes that beds shouldn't point north, and the only way to shake that conviction will be to destroy Shindou in their final match.



"Tell me about today," Touya says, and Ochi scowls.

"If you mean me," he says with pointed snideness because he knows Touya doesn't, "I won."

Touya blinks for a moment, then continues with admirable aplomb. "Congratulations. You've already passed, then."

"Like you care," Ochi mutters resentfully.

"That's not true," Touya lies; and it is true now but it won't be someday, which Ochi knows even if Touya doesn't.

He supposes he should give Touya credit. They've gotten all the way across the room and sat down before he can't hold the question in anymore. That's nearly ten whole feet that Touya kept the lid on his stupid, temporary obsession. "And Shindou?"

Ochi smirks sourly and doesn't bother to hide it. "He protected his three losses."

"As expected," Touya says blandly. Ochi wants to hit him. To start with. Then he wants to tie Touya to that chair with just his right hand free and make him watch this time as they play, because it's Ochi who passed with the best record this year and Shindou who is holding on to his chances by the skin of his teeth, and it isn't fair.

Suddenly he realizes that his grandfather has materialized in the room while he was distracted and is now inviting Touya to the party he's throwing to celebrate Ochi's passing the pro exams, and Ochi thinks that he really will probably seriously damage something soon.

And it will probably be Touya, who has the unmitigated gall to look like he's too polite to tell Ochi's grandfather that he's putting the cart before the horse. "We wouldn't want him to lose the next game just because he's already passed," he says.

No, of course not. Because the fact that Ochi is now a pro like Touya is nothing compared to the fact that he's going to play Shindou. How foolish Ochi was to lose sight of what is really important.

"Kosuke, is your last opponent that strong?" his grandfather asks innocently, completely unaware of the minefield he's just stepped into.

"No!" Ochi almost shouts. "Shindou isn't –"

"If you underestimate him you will lose," Touya flares.

Enraged, Ochi shoves himself to his feet. He's about to play too deep, too fast, and he knows it but he isn't about to stop. "Fine! Then if I win, you have to acknowledge me as your rival!" he shouts.

Touya's eyes lift, and for a moment there's something primal in them, fierce and protective, a young dragon shielding its mate. "What?"

"If I win, let me join Touya Meijin's study group!" Where Shindou will never, ever be; where Ochi can play his rival at his leisure. Something tugs at him inside, and he thinks of a throne in springtime and light eyes over a fan.

The smooth veneer of politeness has already fallen over Touya's expression again. "If you win," he says, "I'll ask my father."

The omission does not escape Ochi's notice.



"I won't lose today," he tells Shindou, who gapes blankly back at him before spluttering irately. "I've been playing Touya every night."

Shindou's sputtering comes to a disquietingly abrupt halt. "Touya?" he asks slowly, almost sounding like a kicked puppy.

"I've played with him every day," Ochi says, and smirks, wanting to rub it in. "He was unusually passionate about training me."

He starts to walk past Shindou and stops when a hard hand to his shoulder nearly knocks him down. Shindou is glaring at him with an intensity that might almost be worthy of Touya at his most Shindou-obsessed, and he's never laid hands on Ochi before but right now he looks like he's seriously considering it. "Touya played you? Why?"

Sniffing disdainfully, Ochi pulls himself away. "Let go. I have pros come to my house to tutor me, that's all."

"You just said you played Touya to beat me," Shindou protests, and Ochi realizes that he's very nearly made a mistake. If Shindou ever finds out how obsessed Touya is with him, it certainly won't be from Ochi, who has reasons of his own for wanting to keep that information from Shindou. "What's going on with you and Touya?"

"Nothing," Ochi says airily, turning to leave Shindou and this conversation behind him. "Playing against him teaches me a lot."

"Ochi," Shindou says from behind him, and the tone of his voice is so odd that Ochi turns, curious in spite of himself. Shindou looks… lost, hurt, miserable. "Did he… did he say anything about me?"

It takes Ochi approximately fifteen full seconds to process the fact that Shindou has apparently been replaced by a twelve-year-old girl when Ochi wasn't looking, and also to quash his own irrational rage, because Shindou has no right. "He didn't say anything about you! Who do you think you are?" he snaps. "We talked about the pro exams, a lot, but you never came up. He doesn't care about you at all."

For a moment, Ochi really wonders if Shindou is going to cry. On some level, Ochi is marveling at the fact that apparently everyone in the world is insane but him. It's a very deep level, though, because most of him is caught up in the awareness that he might not lose at go to Shindou but if he doesn't play the right hands he could lose something much worse.

Shindou can't have Touya. It's Ochi who plays him, Ochi who will one day soon be able to match him, Ochi who has studied his kifu until his eyes blur, Ochi who has found every picture of him on the internet and studied them all. It's Ochi who deserves him.

"Do you even know what kind of person he is?" he asks. "He's a pro, and he's still undefeated! All victories since April. I hate to say it, but he's on a level above us."

But not above me, not for long.

"A guy like that…" Ochi wants to turn away, does, and turns back. "Like he'd care about you!"

"It's not like I don't respect him!" Shindou flares at him.

Ochi pretends he didn't hear. "He was impressed with me, though," he says, half smugness and half desperation, and watches Shindou blink as if he'd been slapped. "He said that if I beat you today he'd acknowledge me as his rival."

For a moment, he thinks Shindou is going to punch him dead in the face.

"If you beat me?" Shindou says between his teeth.

"Yeah," Ochi says, turning away. "Which I will."

"If," Shindou says, "you beat me."

Too late, Ochi realizes his mistake. "No!" he says frantically, turning back. "I just… if I can protect my one loss, that's what I meant! That's all!"

Shindou doesn't believe him. Ochi can see it in his face. He can't decide if he's more enraged at Shindou for not believing him or for himself for letting Shindou think for one minute that he was important to Touya.

"Anyway, if I beat you today he says he'll acknowledge me as his rival," he says desperately, because Touya didn't say that but he meant it. Or he will mean it, anyway.

"Then if I beat you, he'll acknowledge me as his rival! Right?" Shindou crows.

No, Ochi wants to say. No, because you don't deserve it. No, because you haven't earned it. No, because you're not good enough, you don't want it enough, you're not worthy of him and I am. But in the end he doesn't say anything, just escapes into the break room, leaving Shindou behind.

He spends a long time tapping on the window, taking back the conversation and doing it over, crushing Shindou so that he knows, once and for all, that he has no chance of ever being Touya's rival. So that he'll never again even think that he deserves to be, because Ochi is not accustomed to not getting what he wants, and he has never in his life wanted anything more than he wants this – Touya to test himself against, Touya to triumph over, Touya bowing his head in elegant defeat. Ochi wants this, and he will have it, and all he has to do is beat Shindou Hikaru at go.

Nothing more.



When he dreams that night, it's of an empty tower, sakura blossoms drifting unchecked onto a go board, and a hall where summer will be a long time coming.

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