Jacob's Ladder
By Sutlers

Three days after Touya Akira turns nineteen years old, he plays a game against a lower dan that lasts an hour and fifteen minutes before his opponent widens his eyes, lowers his head, and whispers, “I have lost.”

“Thank you for the game,” Touya says, and tips over on his side, fast asleep.


Touya has never remembered his dreams, not unless he counted those strange half-dreams he’d sometimes had when he’d been smaller and allowed to lie in bed for an extra half-hour on Sundays, dozing. In those, he usually dreamed himself getting up and dressed, and so was always a little disconcerted when he actually woke and it took him a couple of seconds to figure out if he had actually done any of what he dreamed. Eventually, he stopped taking that thirty minutes and those dreams stopped as well.

Intellectually, he knows everyone dreams; he learned about R.E.M. and sleep cycles in some long-ago science course, but it’s not a fact he’s ever considered very important. He assumes his dreams are nothing special, just recreations of go games he’s played over and over, a subconscious approximation of his waking hours.

He had read through the end of the chapter and gathered that some people dreamt in color, some in sepia tones, others with splashes of important colors here and there. His dreams, he believes, would be in black and white—grainy and peaceful like those ancient films his mother likes to go see in the cinema. A room, a board, a sweet breeze coming in through the open shoji, wispy clouds and sakura. He’s always been an organized boy and doesn’t see why his subconscious should be any different.

This is not entirely correct.


The first thing Touya registers when he wakes up in the smell of antiseptic and the feel of scratchy cotton against his skin, irritating because he knows he just bought new sheets for his apartment and they were a much higher thread count than this. Then his mind makes the connection and supplies ‘hospital’ helpfully, making him want to groan and hide his face in his hands.

Voices reach his ears but they sound fuzzy and far-away. One he recognizes as his mother’s, tinged with worry, but the other, reassuring and deep, he does not. Phrases drift by and he snatches at them, things like anemia, narcolepsy, and perhaps your son is simply tired, Touya-san. He feels himself frowning at this and at the hand on his arm, heavy and sweaty, checking the IV. His eyes slide open when he feels his mother’s palm slip into his own, thin and soft like the handmade paper she practices her calligraphy on.

He leaves the hospital with a promise to adjust his sleep habits and the smell of illness clinging to his skin. The flowers and cards stay behind.


Shindou Hikaru does not hear about this incident until two days after it happens, and then only because Waya mentions it offhand during a long-distance phone call to Korea that is otherwise full of banal reports about everyday things, pride in Isumi’s latest accomplishments, and complaints about Ochi’s stupid face.

“Yeah, just flopped right over,” Waya laughs, “dead asleep. Everyone’s talking about it, saying how the great Touya-Ouza is so far above us mere mortals that he can’t even be bothered to stay awake at games anymore.”

“But he finished it, right?”

Waya snorts. “You’re obsessed, man.”

Shindou’s never been a particularly rational person, even on the goban (especially on the goban), so when he cuts short what was supposed to be a month-long training session at the Korean institute under the invitation of Hong Suyong to fly home before the first week is even done, he doesn’t examine his motives too closely. Ko Yongha leans against the doorways as Shindou is packing his shit together and flips his hair back in that condescending and yet somehow utterly gay way of his.

“So what’s the deal with you and this Touya kid?” he asks, in Japanese.

“None of your fucking business,” Shindou answers, in flawless Korean.


The second time it happens the game isn’t even officially over, even though Touya’s opponent lost two moves ago. He just hasn’t noticed yet, and all of a sudden Touya’s tired—tired of his opponent’s obtuseness, tired of sitting seiza for hours, tired of the stupid yellow wallpaper that somehow reminds him of those awful shirts Shindou still likes to wear. He can feel something unnamed settle inside him, dark and chaotic, but rather than do anything about it he lets his shoulders slump and his eyes slip closed for a second. This time he hits the goban and stones scatter in all directions, coming to rest at the feet of the stunned reporters and the frantic insei who is recording the kifu.


What Touya doesn’t know is that his dreams started changing somewhere around the age of twelve: little things at first, a tinge of pink to the trees and a deeper white to the clouds, one with greens and blues and yellows and oranges in the corners. Before, when he’d still been a toddler, his mother had gathered him up in her arms and showed him a book full of paintings from the Italian Renaissance, the one she had bought for herself and set next to her books on sumi-e. She pointed out the differences between Western art and Japanese, the mixing of colors that made the images so life-like, the reds and violets in the shadows, pigments made of carmine and snail shells. There was something to be said about the elegance of simplicity, she had told him, but there are very few things in life that are actually like that.

At that time, Touya hadn’t particularly cared, but had wriggled back into her lap anyway, clutching at the folds of her blouse and breathing in her warm mother-smell. He loved his mother with the fierce effortlessness that only children can really accomplish, loved her ink-stained hands just as much as he loved his father’s callused fingertips and stern face across the goban. It was as straightforward as the click of stones on kaya wood.


When he wakes up at the hospital again he doesn’t even need the moment to register where he is, just immediately lurches up and groans.

“Morning, princess,” from next to him, and Touya peeks through his fingers. Shindou is sitting sprawled out over one of the horrifically uncomfortable chairs the hospital provides visitors, an elbow up on the table next to the bed and a foot up on Touya’s mattress.

“You’re supposed to be in Korea,” Touya says stupidly.

Shindou shrugs. “I still can’t stand Ko Yongha.”


“You look like shit warmed over,” Shindou interrupts, and then glances over his shoulder in that way Touya has noticed he always does when he swears, as if he’s expecting someone to pop up behind him and reprimand him for his language. “I was talking to your mother earlier. She’s afraid to let you go home alone now because she thinks you’re gonna fall asleep and drown in your own bathtub or something.”

“I will not,” Touya retorts, and cringes internally at how petulant he sounds.

Shindou makes a distracted sort of humming noise and taps his fingers against the table. There’s none of the stillness he has at the goban in him now; his eyes shift from side to side and then up and down and finally focus somewhere in the vicinity of Touya’s knees. It’s something Touya has seen more and more of lately, this erratic restlessness that manifests in Shindou’s limbs and his play.

“Want to go to Hawaii?” he blurts.

“Hawaii?” Touya blinks.

“Since your mom’s gonna make you take a vacation anyway. And I still have two weeks that I’m not supposed to be here. That’s where all us old salarymen go to skip out, isn’t it?”

Touya feels like part of him should be taking exception to this proposal, or at least be dredging up a mild irritation, but there’s nothing. Nothing as Shindou looks awkwardly up at him, mouth twisted in a strange simulacrum on a smile, nothing except this persistent heaviness in Touya’s limbs and white noise in his mind. He thinks that perhaps this is significant somehow, Shindou’s too-bright eyes and the pale walls of the hospital, but cannot figure out why that would be. “Okay,” he says.

“Okay?” Shindou can’t hide his surprise.

Touya scoots back down on his mattress and pulls the covers up, closing his eyes. “Whatever.”

The silence stretches like string across the sky on festival days, heavy with glowing lanterns, while Shindou takes his foot down and scoots his chair marginally closer. Touya can feel his brain slipping backwards into sleep, a swirling darkness creeping across his eyelids. His breathing is loud in his own ears, but not as loud as Shindou’s, who makes soft whuffing noises from his chair. Someone has opened the window and there is a quiet breeze. Touya cracks an eye open.

“Did I win?”

“Huh? No, you forfeited.”

“That son of a bitch,” Touya murmurs, and goes back to sleep.


Shindou is the one who takes him home this time, stuffed securely in the passenger seat of Shindou’s car which—though orange—is actually not as painfully tasteless as it could be. Touya presses his forehead against the cool glass of the window and thinks about his mother, the wrinkles on her hands and the lines across her forehead. The rain falling outside makes strange, wobbly tracks in his line of vision, subdues the raging neon of the city. The radio croons at them in English, something with a piano and a saxophone and a vocalist who sounds like she’s spent a good part of her life sucking compulsively on cigarettes, but Shindou makes no move to change it and at this stage Touya is just grateful for anything that is not J-pop.

Shindou is still kicking off his shoes when Touya brushes past him, intent on the bathroom. The bath he takes is a short one, if only because Shindou takes to knocking obnoxiously on the door every thirty seconds to make sure Touya didn't actually drown in the tub. He’s unapologetic when Touya stalks out with only a towel wrapped loosely around his hips, steam billowing in what completely fails to be an intimidating manner. Touya’s never seen Shindou afraid of him, not really—has never been witness to hands shaking so hard they drop the lid of the go-ke. He thinks that this is the way Shindou must always go through life, brash and confident and loud.

There is a faint tinge of red across the bridge of Shindou’s nose, probably from the heat. He’s already rolled out an extra futon for himself and found the spare set of sheets. They do not play that night, both of them tired and Shindou perhaps remembering Touya’s mother’s stern expression when they left.


The airport is a mess even at the ass-early in the morning, which is the only time Shindou could manage to get a flight on such short notice. He finds himself herding Touya, who is bleary and still half-asleep, through the building and past the other passengers with one hand on the small of Touya’s back. It’s not so bad; Touya makes vaguely affirmative noises at the employees when he’s required to and they board without incident, with the exception of a security guard who gives them a raised eyebrow and pursed lips. Nothing is said, however, and the man is forgotten as soon as they step inside the plane and Shindou has to turn his attention to keeping Touya from stumbling too hard into the musty-smelling seats.

He wonders at it in an abstract way when they finally find their row, this strange new phenomenon: he’s always been behind Touya, but now all of a sudden he is pushing instead of chasing and he can’t put his finger on the moment of the shift.

The magnetic goban stays under his seat because when he mentions it Touya rouses himself just enough to mumble that it’s four in the goddamn morning, Shindou, you can’t be serious, and lets his head drop back against the headrest. Shindou watches him like this for a while, the way Touya’s head kind of droops down until one cheek is pressed against the window and his mouth falls open. The line of Touya’s neck is pale and smooth, curving up to the space between his ear and jaw that is visible now only because of the awkward way his hair has settled.

Shindou finally closes his own eyes and drifts off to sleep with a fuzzy feeling of uneasiness layered on top of a half-formed question about what it would feel like to rub his nose there, where Touya’s hair grows thin and soft.


The lobby of the hotel they’re staying is done in white and beige, with shiny marble floors and lush green plants in pots. The sun reflects off of everything, too bright, and Touya has to squint at the manager when he insists on introducing himself personally as second-generation Japanese and delighted to have two such famous go players staying at his humble hotel. He has a daughter who is available at their convenience if they should ever need a translation service, and who would probably be more than happy to show them both around the island if they were interested. Her name is Ayako and she has straight black hair and smells of coconut-scented tanning oil.

Touya watches her eyes flicker between his face and Shindou’s, up to Shindou’s ridiculous hair and back down to his careless smile. Shindou has already turned to Touya, oblivious, eager to go see their room and start exploring. He frog-marches Touya to the elevator, their luggage in the hands of a disaffected bellboy behind them, and only allows the smallest flash of disappointment to crease his features when Touya says he’d rather stay inside and sleep off the jet lag today.


Shindou doesn’t know any English (or at least, he claims not to) so Touya is the one stuck buying their food when they finally make it down to the beach, stumbling over verb forms and words he’s never seen before until finally the girl at the counter gives him a sympathetic look and the special of the day. It turns out to be something with rice and fish and macaroni. They carry their plates down to the waterfront and find a spot between three palm trees that have grown leaning in at each other, creating a flimsy canopy that blocks out the worst of the mid-afternoon sun. The food is palatable, if strange; the rice fluffy and spiced slightly. Touya doesn’t know quite what to make of the macaroni, so he lets Shindou have his portion and watches him scarf it down with the same gusto that he cleared his own plate with; the same gusto he brings to everything except maybe sushi.

When he’s done, Shindou sprawls out on the sand, patting his stomach. Touya quirks an eyebrow when he groans out loud, pulling the corners of his mouth down and looking up at Touya ruefully.

“Maybe you shouldn’t have eaten so much,” Touya points out, but there’s no bite to it. The ocean sparkles with reflected sunlight, a vivid shade of blue-green that Touya still can’t quite bring himself to believe exists. Touya is no stranger to beauty: has seen it every day in the quiet tap of the bamboo fountain on stone, the soaring blue-grey heights of Mount Fuji, the clean lines on the goban, but this—this is something completely different. Hawaii is a riot of color and sound, impossible weather and beautiful people with sun-dark skin and blindingly white smiles.

Shindou fits in perfectly here, Touya thinks with an unidentifiable twisting in his gut, perfectly even with the language barrier; he discarded his t-shirt hours ago and is already browning across his chest, having barreled gleefully into the ocean earlier with all the arrested adolescence of the hopeless sixth grader Touya remembers him being. Touya’s face and arms, on the other hand, are turning red despite his best efforts with the sun block.

So there is no reason Shindou should be shifting restlessly the way he is, clutching handfuls of sand. He’s not looking at Touya anymore, instead twitching his gaze from tree to tree and up to the sky. Touya opens his mouth to say something, he doesn’t know what exactly yet, but Shindou beats him to it.

“Hey. Get up.” He lurches to his feet as he says it, a layer of white sand sticking to his back. He sticks out a hand and Touya eyes it dubiously, but takes it and allows himself to be pulled to his feet.

“Shindou—” Touya starts, because they’ve been walking around all day and his legs are sore, but something in Shindou’s face shuts him up. He’s dragged to the edge of the water, the place where the sand is smooth and flat thanks to the tides, and Shindou suddenly drops to his knees and starts outlining a square.

It’s big; has to be, to be clear in the sand, and Shindou ends up crawling around to get it all finished, perfect despite everything. Touya thinks of a quote about madmen and flawlessly straight lines, or maybe it was perfect circles; either way Shindou draws the last corner and starts filling it in, slashes for black and circles for white and then sits back on his heels and looks at Touya expectantly.

“What—” Touya says, because it’s clearly shidougo, but there’s something strange about it, off, like an ancient, dusty goban on this clean, new sand.

“You should take white,” Shindou says, and smiles.

Touya kneels, out of force of habit, and studies the board. It isn’t a bad game; black had been doing well for himself up to this point - nothing spectacular, but no obvious mistakes either - and now it was white’s turn. He leans forward to make his mark and glances up, sees Shindou’s eyes focused steadily on his hand. They’ve gone deep and grey and the sand refracts something inside them, like sadness, or hope. Touya sucks in a breath and traces a shaky circle.

“Okay,” says Shindou happily. “I see.” He clambers over on his hands and knees to make a slash in the opposite corner, and sits back on his haunches. Touya watches the line of his calves, the muscles tensing and relaxing partially, a rolling motion under his skin. His fingers hang carelessly, elbows resting on his knees, dirty sand underneath his fingernails. His smile is crooked, brilliant, and Touya doesn’t think that the rushing noise in his ears is the ocean anymore.

Shindou, he thinks, just before he lets the darkness slide up across his eyelids, what are you making me into?


Touya’s dreams became something like the static on early morning television, the bright noises of outside coming in through the windows. He would watch Noh plays, their discordant chants slipping into his mind, scraping along its contours and winding their way through the rest of his body. Here is Shindou, his face covered by the mask of the shite, kneeling on the floor while the stage attendants move behind him like waves on the sand. The mask is oddly familiar, and so is the go he is playing, but both make Touya uneasy. What sort of play is this? Touya wants to ask, though he can’t help the feeling that he should somehow know already.

His instincts prove correct as he finds himself walking across the stage in the costume of the tsure, kneeling across from Shindou as the space between them stretches and liquefies, flowing like a river toward him. Shindou removes his mask and says something Touya doesn’t hear, placing it carefully on the floor. The water carries it to Touya, gleaming white go stone against the marshy flow, and when it reaches him he sees that it is a corpse, pale with death and rotting apart amidst imperial robes.

Eternity, Shindou whispers, abruptly at his shoulder, and Touya recoils. No, he wants to say, but the words can’t get past the stench of mortality in his throat. It is wrong; Shindou has it wrong, not this macabre mockery of sleep, but something, something...

And in the back of his head he hears his old English instructor, who was a foreigner, outsider, say in stilted Japanese to one of his colleagues: It is a bit unnerving, the students’ reluctance to ask any questions.


The sun has barely moved when Touya opens his eyes again, still high in the sky, a gleaming outline against the back of Shindou’s head. Shindou’s eyes are distant and his fingers tangle absently in Touya’s hair.

“Hey,” he says quietly when he notices Touya is awake. Touya takes a moment to reassess: sand in his shirt and sticking to his skin, an uncomfortable stiffness in his back, and his head pillowed on Shindou’s lap in a way he is almost certain he should be objecting to, especially considering the way the metal rings on Shindou’s swim trunks are digging into the back of his skull. He opens and closes his mouth a few times, making a face at the grit there.

Shindou’s fingers slide out of his hair and over his face, his forehead, palm flipping over so Shindou can check Touya’s temperature with the back of his hand. “I was worried for a second there that it might have been heat stroke or something, which would have really sucked,” he says. “But I didn’t think it was all that hot, and anyway, you should drink some of this water.” Awkwardly, he fishes a water bottle out of his bag and holds it out.

Touya sits up and takes it, breaking their contact. It’s warm against his tongue when he spits out the first sandy mouthful; warm going down his throat when he swallows the next clean one. Shindou’s gaze pauses at Touya's Adam’s apple before turning in the direction of the street. He stands up and takes a few steps forward. “We should probably head back to the hotel,” he says, shifting uncomfortably.

“What about the game?” Touya asks. Shindou makes a wry gesture at the shoreline. The water is coming up, and the waves have already eaten away at a good third of Shindou’s impromptu goban. Touya’s eyes are drawn to the furrow where Shindou must have dragged him out of the way.

“We can finish it later,” Shindou says in a tone of voice that sounds none too certain about the prospect. “It was a bad idea to do it there anyway.” He hesitates. “The tide.”


And so Touya sleeps. Not all the time, not initially, but eventually Shindou can’t manage to pull him outside anymore. The sun blinks invitingly at them through the blinds, reflecting off the asphalt and the sand. At first Shindou sits with him in their hotel room, in the chair by the window, eating after-dinner mints mechanically and watching the slow rise and fall of the blankets. Touya’s hair spreads out on the pillow in a glossy circle; some of it gets stuck in his mouth when he rolls over.

On the third day Shindou heads down to the lobby with the vague idea of hitting up the convenience store on the corner for some candy bars and he runs into the manager’s daughter on the elevator. He’s forgotten her name but she doesn’t seem to mind, teeth flashing white against her skin as she smiles and tells him again.

There is going to be a bonfire, she says when the doors open. Down on the beach at sunset. He should come; meet her in the lobby around that time. He’s more than welcome to bring his friend, too. It will be fun.

Shindou follows her gaze flickering toward the ceiling when she says Touya’s name, her eyes back on his in a split second. Her laugh is open and loud, nothing like the oppressive silence of the room he just left, and before Shindou even has the chance to examine his motivations he hears himself accepting her invitation.


The trouble with sleeping so much is that Touya finds himself jerking awake at the most unholy hours of the night, or morning as it may be, and being unable to fall back asleep despite his best efforts. It is the warm air slipping in through the open window that does it this time, whispering past the flimsy curtains and over his skin, like the gentle pressure of warm fingers. Touya keeps the window open and sits down next to it, bundled loosely in a sheet.

It’s relatively silent at this altitude, though he can still hear the faint honking of car horns and the chatter of people. The city lights up at night, garish neon, greens and red and yellow that blink on and off and make Touya’s head spin.

He closes his eyes and breathes in the night air—exhaust, the ocean, something sweet and tropical, and underneath it all the crisp smell of wood burning. Shindou’s bed is empty and he doesn’t know quite what to make of that.


Hawaii is different at sundown, vibrant colors muted into golds and oranges in the waning light. Ayako meets Shindou in the lobby just as she said. She looks thrilled to see him and it calls up an answering smile on his own face. Her arm tucks companionably through his own and she doesn’t ask after Touya, but whether this is due to tact or indifference Shindou doesn’t know.

She somehow manages to cram her entire life story into the time it takes them to walk down to the beach, sunlight fading until it is only a pale tint to the horizon. Her mother, she tells Shindou, is full-blooded Hawaiian, one of the last, and her father is Yakuza—delivering a sharp smack to Shindou’s arm when he snorts disbelievingly. It is easy enough to forget Touya’s silences in Ayako’s happy chatter, pretend to be a normal boy on a normal vacation, to read might-have-beens in the reflection of the firelight on Ayako’s hair.

Ayako flits from person to person but always back to Shindou, always smiling, a study in perpetual motion. Music vibrates into the ground, the noise absorbed by the sand. Someone brings him a plastic cup full of some kind of fruity alcohol. Sangria, Ayako whispers against his ear when she comes back. We can’t let the Spaniards have all the fun. Come dance with me?

Four cups later and Shindou is reeling with it, world off-kilter and blurred around the edges. Sand scrapes between his fingers and under his back. Ayako is somewhere on the other side of the fire, just one more shaky shape among many others. The optimism from the beginning of the night is gone.

Shindou watches the haphazard movement in front of him and can’t help comparing it to the spare steps taken on the goban, winding patterns a thousand times more complicated than those being traced into the sand right now. He thinks about his boundless energy and Touya’s calm, the way they used to be so perfectly in sync. Wonders who it is who had misstepped, and when. No one notices when he stands up and slips away.

The path back to the road is uneven with the footsteps of hundreds of people. Shindou walks it slowly, unsteady on his feet. The sound of waves gives way to the sound of cars, the sound of people pushing past. These streets carry friends, lovers, families in currents, burbling in their own incomprehensible languages. Here is the sandbar, still but shifting, slowly being worn away. The hotel lobby is silent.

After fumbling for his keycard three times, Shindou knocks on the door, hoping Touya is awake. The thought is irrationally hilarious. He snickers, leaning against the doorframe. A soft click and it opens, revealing Touya, in a clean white shirt and not a hair out of place.

“It’s two in the morning, Shindou,” Touya says quietly. Shindou listens for the accusation in his voice but can’t really hear any, so he draws himself up, noting that he’s about an inch or so shorter than Touya. But that’s all right, since Touya is kind of weedy anyway. He snickers again.

Touya’s eyes narrow. “Are you drunk?”

Shindou is close enough to Touya that he can smell him, cool and clean from the bath, that indefinable Touya-smell, nothing at all like smoke or the cloying scent of coconut oil. Touya’s neck is faintly red and Shindou is struck with a sudden sense of deja-vu, the heart-clenching nervousness of last chances. He draws a breath.

“Maybe,” he admits.

Touya’s noise of disapproval ends in a squawk when Shindou wraps his arms around Touya’s waist and buries his face in the juncture between Touya’s neck and shoulder. His hands come up automatically to rest on Shindou’s back. “Shindou, what—”

“Nothing,” Shindou mumbles, inhaling the scent of Touya’s skin, so much sharper up close. For Shindou, this moment is made of straight black hair, of clear spring rain, of the polish of wood on a goban. A minute shift and his lips are pressing against that spot behind Touya’s ear where his hair is just as thin and soft as Shindou imagined. Touya goes completely stiff against him.

Shindou sighs, tired, too tired, and somehow defeated.


Dragging Shindou’s unconscious body to bed and rolling him over so he wouldn’t puke on himself was a rather surreal experience, Touya thinks to himself, carefully not examining the moments that led up to Shindou passing out on him. Maybe he should be surprised that he hasn’t had to do it before. Shindou twitches and frowns in his sleep.

Later are streaks of sunlight through the windows and on the bed that make Shindou snort awake and squint, and Touya realizes belatedly that he probably should have drawn the blinds. Too late now, anyway, since Shindou is already sitting up and rubbing at his temples. “Fuck,” he mumbles, grimacing.

“Here,” Touya says, holding out a glass of water and two aspirin, which Shindou takes with a grateful noise.

“Sorry,” he says after he’s swallowed. The light makes mutable patterns on the wall behind him. “Just—sorry.”

Touya says nothing because he isn’t sure what to say, and Shindou sighs again, the same way he did before he’d slumped over in Touya’s arms. It sounds like he’s releasing something instead of just exhaling, as he sags back down and rolls over.

“I’m going back to sleep,” he says. “Thanks for the water.”


The second time Shindou wakes up Touya is picking at the room service, buttered toast churning uncomfortably in his stomach. The coffee, at least, is familiar—and the same dull milky tint as Shindou’s eyes on him.

“Hey,” Shindou croaks, and makes a face. “God, that’s gross. I’m going to use the shower.” This time he doesn’t wait for a reply.

Touya has the portable goban out by the time Shindou steps out in a fresh pair of shorts and a t-shirt. The game he’s replaying is one he only half-remembers, probably one of hundreds he and Shindou played at his father’s salon, or at his house, or at Shindou’s apartment. “Sorry about that,” Shindou says. His smile doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “Hey, at least I didn’t puke on you.”

“Small mercies,” Touya says, clearing the board. He looks up expectantly.

“Nigiri?” Shindou asks, and in answer Touya picks up a handful of stones. Two click on the goban on Shindou’s side. “I’m black.”

It’s quiet then, except for the sharp sound of stones on the board and the soft sound of breathing. The game progresses slowly, but Touya doesn’t think it is because either of them is taking much time to consider their moves. Stones drop randomly and the pattern sprawls across the board, unbalanced.

“I’m sorry about last night,” Shindou offers finally. He fumbles his stone lifting it out of the go-ke and smiles wryly. “For making you take care of my drunk ass.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Touya’s own stones feel none too steady between his fingers.

Another pause as Shindou considers his next move, eyes on the board a slow trawl rather than his usual rapid flicker, dozens of paths considered and disregarded in seconds. The stone hits the board with a accusing click. “It doesn’t matter,” Shindou repeats. He screws his eyes shut. “You know what? I resign. God, my head is fucking pounding. I’m out.”

He grabs his bag and shoes. The door slamming behind him startles Touya enough that he drops the stone he just picked up. It sticks fast to the board, magnetized, and he hesitates.

There is a pattern, a wild and strange one, impossible to see where it is going—he just hadn’t noticed it before. He studies the hard, ragged lines of the aji. Maybe it is better that the game ended where it did.


Touya dreams in color now, and always will: loud, chaotic color. Gobans glow like galaxies in his mind’s eye, rainbow nebulae and bits of stardust scattered far and wide, painted scenery in colors that make no sense to anyone expecting the normalcy of the waking world.

He’d met a boy once, ridiculous hair and bright clothing, who had stepped into his dreams with barely a ripple, there like he’d always belonged. Obnoxious and irritating and completely, completely incomprehensible, like friendship. Like coming home.

But Touya doesn’t remember his dreams.


The shrill sound of his father’s international cell phone ringing is what wakes Touya up, room still dark and sky just beginning to fade into blue again. He rolls to the side and picks it up, clearing his throat before he mumbles his “Hello?”

“Akira?” comes his mother’s voice, distorted over the line. “Were you sleeping? Oh—oh, damn, did I miscalculate the time difference?”

“Mama!” Touya squawks. Her laughter is tinny.

“Don’t be so serious, Akira-san,” she teases. “Did I wake you up? I’m sorry, I can call back later.”

“No, I’m awake.” And he is, despite the fuzzy tendrils of sleep still swimming at the edges of his vision. He blinks his eyes a few times and yawns, flipping on the nightstand light. “How are you?”

“Fine. Your father took me to the art museum the other day. That was fun.” She laughs again. “For me, at least. I think your father spent nearly the whole time at the ramen stand outside, poor man. The things I make him do for love. But how is your trip? I didn’t want to call too often and be a bother, but are you having fun? How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine,” Touya says, sort of wondering exactly how he is defining “fine” at the moment. Shindou hadn’t come back all day, and was still gone by the time Touya had finally fallen asleep, which was at about three in the morning. He rolls back over to look at Shindou’s bed. Still empty. The silence on his phone crackles.

“Oh, well. That’s good. If you’re having fun. How is Shindou?”

“He’s fine, too. Mama—" Touya suddenly regrets agreeing to talk to his mother. He twists away so he isn’t looking at Shindou’s empty bed anymore and instead studies the blinds, drawn and dark. His sigh comes out a little shaky.

“Honey, that—can I speak to him, too? Is he awake?”

Touya closes his eyes. “Shindou isn’t here right now.”

This pause is longer than the last, so much so that Touya starts feeling himself drift away again, muscles relaxing and anxieties seeping away. His mother’s voice at the end of it, as soft as it is, is like a slap across his face.

“Maybe you should try to find him, then,” she says.


Touya doesn’t really understand his mother, or how she understands so many things that are incomprehensible to him, but he loves her just the same. He thinks it must be similar for his father, whose life had consisted of nothing but go for as long as he could remember. There is go and there is life, and while go may be able to tell you everything about life, it is still a poor substitute for actually living. This revelation comes with the rising sun, the memory of his mother's voice, the way Touya's feet seem to know where to go even though the rest of him doesn't quite yet.

Shindou is sitting in the water near that same stretch of palm trees, small and washed-out against the gleam of the sun on the water. There’s no one else around, just an old couple walking slowly along the shore, stooping occasionally to pick up bits of ocean debris. When Shindou doesn’t respond to his name, doesn’t even turn around, Touya kicks his shoes off, rolls his pants up, and wades in. It’s absolutely freezing and he very nearly yelps and jumps out again.

Water tugs at his calves as he walks, pulling him forward. He reaches Shindou and kneels, a hand on Shindou’s shoulder. Shindou’s eyes stare out over the ocean, blank as a dead man’s. “I was thinking about it,” Shindou says. “And I don’t know if I understand. You know?”

Touya says nothing but thinks he might on some level, so he tucks in closer to Shindou’s bent form. One of his legs slings over both of Shindou’s and their hips press together.

“What the fuck are we doing?” Shindou whispers, cradling Touya’s face in his hands and pressing their foreheads together. His hands are clammy and wrinkled, but his face is hot, surprisingly hot, and Touya closes his eyes at the feeling. His own hands come up to clutch at Shindou’s shirt.

“I don’t know,” Touya whispers back. And he doesn’t really, is the thing. There is the sky above him and the ocean all around him and it all touches infinity, this tiny island in the Pacific, just like Shindou said that morning as he traced an impossible game into the sand. It doesn’t fit into any of the neat compartments he’s made for it, the same way Shindou has never really fit into those compartments either. And he can’t hide from it anymore, as huge and complicated and terrifying as it is; this thing that feels something like the Hand of God staring him in the face and it’s nothing like what he imagined. It’s him and it’s not him, it’s his order and Shindou’s mess, it’s the way they fit together and the way they will build a ladder to the stars.

Shindou’s fingers brush across Touya’s cheeks and Touya opens his eyes. “I think I’m in love with you,” Shindou says hopelessly. “Can I—”

But Touya is already kissing him then, wet and clumsy and warm. He’s kissing Shindou and he’s shivering with something that is probably three parts icy water and one part sheer terror and he’s never been more awake in his life. Shindou makes a low noise in the back of his throat and Touya presses in closer, opens his mouth and lets Shindou slide his tongue inside.

Eventually they break apart, breath coming fast and shallow. Shindou slides his cheek along Touya’s jaw. “Maybe we should get out of the water,” Touya suggests in a small voice. Shindou flushes.

“Um, yeah,” and there’s a brief struggle to untangle themselves and get up. Shindou stands and swears, wrapping his arms around himself. They wade back to the beach side by side.

Above the tide line, the sand has already begun to warm from the sunlight, and Touya buries his toes in it gratefully. Shindou turns to him, eyes wary.

“Well, this trip was kind of a fuckup,” he says. Touya brushes some hair out of his eyes and smiles, taking Shindou’s hand and weaving their fingers together.

“We still have a week left,” he replies. And later forever, to figure it all out.

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