Going Under

 

Part Two

 

The ghost was writing something on the wall again.

Hikaru stared resolutely at the covers he had pulled over his head, and tried to ignore it. He knew what was being carved out, because he'd seen it printed on the bathroom wall, the front door, the window at the Go Institute, and various other places.

It was always the same.

He was exhausted to the point where it was making him feel sick, and that made it hard to eat, too. But who could sleep with a ghost carving a word that was incidentally also his name out on the wall?

Touya's response to his kind of desperate attempt to get someone on his side hadn't helped, either.

He didn't believe me. Logic had warned him that would be the case; in fact, he'd figured it might happen some day when he finally decided the time was right to tell Touya about Sai… But for some crazy reason, he'd still believed that somehow Touya would understand. He'd seen the evidence with his own eyes, after all; he'd come so close to guessing the truth…

And then when he was told the truth, he didn't believe it!

In a completely irrational way, Hikaru felt betrayed.

He could at least give it a chance! Listening to me wouldn't hurt him. Besides, why would I lie about something like this?

Thinking about it was making his head hurt.

At the other end of the room, the carving stopped. Hikaru felt a sudden chill, and pulled the covers tighter around him. It didn't help, of course - he hadn't found an effective way to keep warm yet.

With his eyes shut and shivering, he wondered if he was just going to end up going insane after all.

((()))

Shindou had apparently taken Akira's 'I need to think' seriously. The dark-haired pro considered the consequences of this, as he finished clearing the game he'd been replaying and picked up his tea. Seriously enough to avoid me completely, in any case.

Not that he could really blame him. Akira took a sip and made a face - the drink was almost cold. It wasn't really a surprise that Shindou wasn't coming by any more, considering how Akira had reacted to his confession. But who in their right mind would believe a wild story like that? Was Shindou crazy?

That was something to seriously consider. He set the cup down again and leaned back in his seat, frowning. Shindou might have a serious mental condition. Maybe he thought he saw ghosts. Maybe he had a split personality, one of who had always been a great Go player.

But if that were the case, why would 'Sai' have disappeared? How could Shindou's other personality have learned to play? Why wouldn't it come out consistently when he played? And besides that, Shindou shouldn't be able to see his other personality, or communicate with it, or give it a history like he had.

It was too complicated to think of an insane Shindou who was a great player but forgot it at times and had a delusion created to cover it up for the rest of his brain. Was that even possible? And did it make sense?

"Akira-kun?" Ichikawa interrupted his thoughts, taking his cup and replacing it with a fresh one. "You look distracted. Is something wrong?"

"Ah… no." He shook his head, picking up the new drink with a grateful smile. "Not really. I'm just thinking."

"Well, don't let it bother you so much, whatever it is." She tilted her head and smiled back. "Honestly, I haven't seen you this bad since the first time you played Shindou-kun. Where's he been lately, anyway?"

"He's… kind of busy." Akira held his cup in both hands to warm his fingers. "He'll be back eventually, don't worry."

I wish I could be sure of that… Not surprisingly, now that there was no guarantee of Shindou coming back to play him, he seriously did miss his company. Not just because he had feelings for his rival, but because he was his rival, and not knowing when he might be able to play him next - or if he could play him informally at all any more - was disquieting.

"I'm not the one who should try to keep from worrying, I think." Ichikawa chuckled a bit, and looked back over her shoulder as she turned to leave. "No need to think so much, Akira-kun - it's not necessary all the time, you know."

"I suppose." He wasn't sure if she caught that; he'd said it slowly and softly, and she was already returning to her post at the front entrance.

It probably didn't matter.

Delusions didn't make sense, Akira realized, taking a tentative sip of the steaming liquid. The way Shindou played and the way Sai played were very similar - but it had seemed so much like two different people, which was why the early games he'd had with Shindou had never quite fit in with the way he played now. What Shindou had said, about Sai being his teacher - that made sense. The similarities and differences in style fit neatly if he considered the teacher-student aspect - at least if they'd spent as much time together during that three-year period as Shindou claimed. And the way he'd improved so rapidly, from when Akira had played him in the third-board match to the game between them after he'd started playing again…

If he had someone as good as Sai, who tutored him constantly, who played through him, putting Shindou in a position to see everything he did as he did it…

The teacup in Akira's hands was starting to wobble dangerously as his fingers trembled, and he had to put it down before he spilled it. He took the time to blink down at the board several times, concentrating on keeping his breathing even.

It can't be… It shouldn't be…but -

But it made sense. It made perfect sense.

And he couldn't think of anything else that would explain everything so neatly and leave no unanswered questions.

Shindou was telling the truth!

Akira had to brace both elbows on the table and rest his forehead on his knuckles for a minute, trying not to look too much like he was having a breakdown of some sort. It was as overwhelming as it was relieving, to finally understand the mystery behind his rival. It's unbelievable… It really is -

But then, Shindou had always seemed unbelievable.

And if he's telling the truth about that…

Perhaps Shindou's reasoning wasn't as random as he tended to make it seem. Akira stared at the table, trying to wrap his mind around the sudden flash of insight he'd been granted into the shorter boy's thought process. Now that he believed the story about Sai, it wasn't hard to imagine that the rest of it was true, too. Which was what Shindou had been thinking all along.

It was one of those desperate plays, to try and turn around a losing game. The look in Shindou's eyes…

He really is desperate for help. Akira leaned back in his seat again, letting his hands slide back down to his lap. His only chance to get it was from me.

And the way he'd been acting - the nervous glances over his shoulder, the dark circles, the way he didn't seem to want to be alone any more…

Akira shut his eyes, then opened them again almost right away, eyebrows coming down.

And it's my turn to respond.

((()))

There were a couple of kids playing on the jungle gym, but the slide was deserted, so Hikaru took it over. He was getting some funny looks from the kids' mothers, but that was no big deal.

It was late afternoon, and he was in a safe place. At least, as safe a place as he could really get to.

The playground was Hikaru's place of retreat - because of how much time he'd spent there when he was younger, it was familiar, and there were some good thinking spots for when he needed one.

The slide was a personal favorite.

There was something calming about being there, with the kids laughing in the background, and their parents talking off to the other side. The atmosphere seemed to defend him against the ghost and its constant presence weighing on his mind. With his arms tucked over his chest and his head tilted back against the slide, he felt more relaxed than he had for a long time.

I'm tired…

Hikaru's eyes slid shut, and the noise around settled into a far-off humming as his mind took the opportunity to settle slowly down into dozing mode.

So, he was only marginally awake when a set of steady footsteps marched in his direction and came to a halt right beside his slide.

"Shindou."

"Mm…?" That was his brain acting on auto-pilot. There seemed to be a warning signal of some sort going off at the back of his head… Hikaru opened one eye and looked up at the somewhat fuzzy image of his rival standing over the slide. Because when I last saw Touya, I was -

"WAH! T-Touya!" Scrambling to jolt into a sitting position, Hikaru almost fell off the slide. He did manage to lose his footing and slide down to fall on his backside gracelessly. "Why are you always showing up out of nowhere!?" he managed to gasp out with a half-hearted glare, pushing himself wearily back up onto the slide. "What are you doing here?"

"I came to - well." Touya's expression was a bit uncertain; he glanced over in the direction of the two mothers. "Can we go somewhere we can talk?"

Hikaru leaned back on the slide, letting out a long-suffering sigh. He really didn't feel like moving any time soon. "We can talk here, can't we?"

"I meant somewhere a little more private."

Some other time, Hikaru might've been willing to concede in the face of Touya's discomfort - but right then, he wasn't feeling all that cooperative. He was tired and cranky, and he still felt irrationally angry with Touya for not believing him about Sai and the ghost.

Why should I have to move anyway, just because he wants to talk?

"It's private! No one can hear us. Go ahead."

Touya was quiet for a moment. "All right," he agreed, in a more conciliatory tone. "I suppose I can't blame you for being upset with me."

Hikaru hadn't been expecting that. He turned to look up at Touya again. "Huh?"

"I've been thinking about what you said two days ago." The taller boy offered a small, almost wry smile that did not look at all like an expression he would normally wear. "I can't think of another explanation that makes sense, and I - " He paused for a moment, and Hikaru pushed himself almost into something that resembled a sitting position, recognizing the intensity in Touya's eyes as something he normally only saw during a game. "I can't help but think I should believe you."

For a moment, Hikaru was speechless.

He believes me? After that negative response? He believes me now?

It was almost too good to be true.

"Then… about Sai? You know the truth." He swallowed, watching for a sign that this was an insincere apology. "Don't mess with me about this; it's important, you know."

Touya didn't flinch. "I know."

Relief rushed through Hikaru, like a wave wiping off all the horrible thoughts he'd been having for the past few days. Touya believed him. He wasn't alone any more. "Does this mean you'll help me?"

"I wouldn't have come all the way here to tell you this if I didn’t plan on helping you," Touya said, with some of his usual condescending tone creeping back into his voice. He half-turned away from the slide, and looked back. "You can stay at my place for the night, and we'll get started on figuring out what to do."

"When did I say you could start giving me orders?" Hikaru scowled up at his rival - but pushed himself up off the slide all the same. He kept a suspicious gaze aimed at the taller boy even as they walked. "Just what are you planning on, anyway?"

Touya met that gaze for just a brief moment. "Something you wouldn't have thought of."

((()))

"Research."

Hikaru looked from the computer screen Touya had just sat himself down in front of to his rival's face, and back again. "'Research'?" he repeated, baffled.

"I'm a little surprised you never thought to try this." The taller boy turned the computer on and leaned back to look at Hikaru, who was still standing. "It would be the first thing I'd think of. Bring a chair over, Shindou - unless you want to stand there and watch me."

"Oh - yeah." Hikaru was too interested in what Touya might be about to come up with to protest being ordered around. He found a folded chair beside the shelf where his rival kept the futons and blankets that he apparently used for sleeping and plunked himself down at Touya's left side to watch him log on.

The room was different from Hikaru's - Touya's whole house was different, actually. It was a different style, and definitely on a different level as far as expense was concerned. But Touya's room was different because he had different belongings from Hikaru, and not for much of any other reason. He had his own computer where Hikaru had a TV, VCR, and DVD player; he slept on a futon rather than a bed; and he had books instead of manga. Most of those books, the shorter boy couldn't help but notice, had something to do with Go. Only a few of them were fictional.

Coincidentally, though, his window faced roughly the same direction Hikaru's did.

"What kind of research can you do on a computer, anyway?" It was interesting to watch Touya move with confidence to operate this machine that Hikaru had never had the patience to learn about.

"Haven't you ever used the Internet to look something up?" Touya didn't bother to turn as he said that; with a few clicks of the mouse, he'd manipulated the computer into serving him obediently. "I'll show you right now, but if you're going to spend more time here, I'll be able to do all of this for you anyway."

"I know some of it." Hikaru followed the pointer's progress on the screen with his eyes. "I played Go at the Internet café - well, I wasn't the one who played, but I had to use the computer." It still felt weird to talk about Sai around Touya - he couldn't get used to the fact that it wasn't a secret any more.

Touya did turn at that, fixing him with an unreadable stare. The light in his room was a bit dull, and his face seemed outlined - clearer, somehow. His eyes were dark and strongly defined, almost luminescent. "I forgot about that," he said, after a minute.

For whatever reason, it was hard to meet his gaze; Hikaru looked away, feeling awkward without knowing why. His stomach was in knots. "Are you sure it's okay for me to just stay over? Your parents got back from China, didn't they?"

"Yes, but they didn't stay long - they're in Beijing now." Touya seemed okay with turning back to the computer as if nothing had happened. Maybe nothing had - it had just been a look, after all. "There's plenty of room here."

Hikaru swallowed, trying to focus on the screen. He didn't like the idea of being put into another room and left alone again - he was sick of being alone at all, with that shadow always behind him, playing tricks. "But it's okay if I stay in this room, right?"

Touya's fingers seemed to twitch a bit against the mouse, but there wasn't anything out of place in his expression. "I didn't say I'd ask you to sleep somewhere else," he answered, clicking on a search box and moving his fingers to the keyboard. "That's the reason you're spending the night - so you won't sleep alone. Isn't it?"

What answer is he expecting? For some reason, Hikaru felt that it wasn't the one that he ended up giving. "Uh… yeah."

"Of course." Touya clicked on the search button and leaned back in his seat a bit, but didn't take his eyes from the screen.

What was that about?

There wasn't time to think about that, though. "These seem to be mostly homepages for supernatural investigations," Touya began, surveying the list that had come up on the screen. "But there's bound to be something here that we can use."

"Supernatural investigations?" Hikaru frowned at the screen. Sure enough, that was what the little descriptions seemed to say. "I don't believe it! People actually make money off looking for ghosts? I thought that was just a movie thing!"

"It's probably not quite the same as you're thinking it is." Touya moved the screen down, briefly scanning the links. "Here's something." He moved the mouse over and clicked.

A new page filled up the screen. "'Common Variations on Spiritual Manifestations'," he read off the top. "What's this?"

"Different types of ghosts," Touya explained, glancing over at him briefly. "I thought if we could discover what type of spirit you have haunting you, it might help us find a way to get rid of it."

An abrupt, very cold shiver went down Hikaru's spine - like his insides had been doused with icy water. He shivered, and automatically tucked his arms across his chest, even knowing it wouldn't do any good.

I guess it didn't like that

Touya was staring at him, looking concerned. "Do you need a blanket?"

"Won't help." Hikaru tried to shrug it off, scooting his chair closer to the screen in an attempt to keep his mind occupied. "So click on the links, and find out what's haunting me."

It was slow going. The list had the name of at least two dozen types of manifestations, and only two or three words to describe each one. It was hard to determine just from that whether or not the type matched Hikaru's personal ghost, so they were obliged to click on almost every link and read the description.

"This is way more than I ever wanted to know about ghosts." Hikaru leaned his forehead on his hand, more than a little annoyed with how slow their progress had been. "I think my head's about to explode."

"You could try to be more patient." Touya clicked on another link - one marked 'Silky'. "This is for your benefit, after all."

"Can't we just get to the part about exorcism or whatever?" Hikaru looked up, and blinked at the screen. "What the hell? 'A ghost that does housework'? Who comes up with this stuff?"

Touya turned to give him a slightly exasperated look. "Shindou, you've been haunted by two ghosts, and you're accusing others of making these things up? You of all people should know that it could very well be true."

"Well, yeah, but come on! A ghost doing housework!" He couldn't help but snicker into his hand. "I need one of those at my house to do my chores."

The taller boy said nothing to that, but his lips were twitching. "Let's look at some more," he suggested, backing up to the screen from before.

Hikaru groaned, slouching back down again with his face on his hand.

They were on the third entry from the bottom when they finally found something that at least sounded similar to whatever was bothering him.

"Apparitions," Touya read, "can move through walls, cast shadows, and their reflection can be seen in a mirror." He looked over at Hikaru. "Didn't you say that you only see this thing in mirrors?"

"Yeah…" Hikaru perked up, peering hopefully at the screen. "It doesn't cast shadows or anything, but I'll bet it can move through walls. Look at this - sometimes they give sensations of chills! This is it!" There was something relieving about being able to classify the problem he was facing. "Apparition. I've got an apparition. Okay!"

Touya was still studying the screen. "It says that most seem to have a purpose, such as communicating a message." He quickly scanned through the rest of the information. "It's called a 'Collective Apparition' when the agent and recipient can see each other. This seems to be the closest thing we've found."

Hikaru looked back toward the computer again. A thought had just occurred to him… "You know," he said, with more seriousness than he'd felt seconds ago, "this could probably describe Sai too, in a way."

Touya turned to look at him, and there was something sympathetic in his expression. "I don't think it'd be so easy to place Sai," he pointed out, keeping his voice cool and practical. "From everything you've told me, he seems unique."

It wasn't so easy to look away from him then, and Hikaru somehow didn't think he'd want to if he could. One side of his mouth started tugging upward without his conscious control. "Thanks," he said, and meant it.

For a completely awkward moment, they just sat there and stared at each other.

I never noticed before, but Touya's eyes have a lot of green in them.

And Touya's skin was pale… smooth…

Wait… What am I thinking? Am I going crazy? Hikaru coughed and turned away, feeling oddly embarrassed and hoping the way his cheeks burned wasn't making his face red enough so it would be noticeable. What was that, anyway? Just staring at him like that… Why was I - ?

"Er - well." Touya's voice was slow and awkward, as if he were as unsure as Hikaru what to say next. For him, that wasn't so unusual, but his clumsy conversation skills seemed more obvious right at that moment. "We should try and find a way to solve your problem, then," he said, just a bit too quickly, and moved the screen down to find more links.

"Uh… yeah." Hikaru leaned forward again so that he could focus on the screen without having to look at Touya. The moment seemed to have gone by and taken its discomfort with it, but he was going to have to wait until his heartbeat slowed. All I did was look at him… "Is there anything on here?"

"Hm…" Touya had already made his way to another page. "They have 'séance' and 'rappings' listed for communication with spirits. Or Ouija boards," he added, after a moment.

"'Séance'?" Hikaru repeated, forgetting his previous embarrassment in favor of incredulity. "You think I want to sit around with a bunch of crazies holding hands and chanting? And there's no way I'm playing around with Ouija boards! That's for kids!" He frowned at the screen, a little disgruntled by the lack of anything that sounded useful. "What's 'rappings'?"

Touya clicked on the link. "Thumping or tapping caused by spirits," he said, before Hikaru had a chance to read it himself. "It was supposed to be a method of communication for them. Easy to fake, though," he added, thoughtfully.

"Huh! That's no good." Hikaru slid to the edge of his seat, impatient. "Go back and find something different."

"If you want to communicate, there isn't anything else." Touya turned to frown at him, clearly getting annoyed himself. "You shouldn't be so quick to mock something you don't understand. For people like this, it's important."

"Then people like that can go ahead and use it - I'm not going to some dumb séance." Hikaru scowled back. "Anyway, I don't want to communicate with it at all! I want to get rid of it!"

That was the wrong thing to say; he realized it immediately, as a kind of roaring like water drowned out Touya's retort and his body felt as if it'd been dunked in ice. It was painful, like being stabbed all over - he tried to struggle, but all it did was make him sink further. He couldn't breathe; he was suffocating - and the wild thrashing of his limbs did nothing to get him closer to the surface…

"Shindou!"

Hikaru's eyes shot open almost without his consciously willing it; for a second he expected them to sting from the water. But there wasn't any water; he was in Touya's room, and he was dry.

He was also on Touya's floor, with Touya holding his wrists to keep him from flopping all over the place, and he was shivering and out of breath, as if he'd been swimming underwater in the cold.

"T-T-To - To… " His teeth were chattering too hard to get his rival's name out.

The taller boy seemed to realize then that he wasn't going to struggle and let go of him, but remained in his kneeling position on the floor, his face displaying more than little concern. "Are you all right? It looked like you had some sort of fit…"

Hikaru took in several long, shaking breaths, and managed to calm himself enough to push up into a sitting position. To one side, his chair was overturned, and Touya's was halfway across the room - as if he'd jumped up and pushed it back in a hurry.

He was worried about me.

Well, who wouldn't be, with someone suddenly falling over their chair and thrashing around on the floor? "W-Wat-t-ter," he managed to stutter out, rubbing furiously at his hands and arms. It seemed to help a bit, but he was still freezing!

That ghost… did it just take over my mind?

That thought was nearly as frightening as the cold water had been. Hikaru was finding it hard to figure out what was making him shiver any more.

A hesitant hand settled on his shoulder; Touya hovered beside him as if he wasn't sure whether or not his touch or presence was welcome. "Are you sure you don't want something, like a blanket or a heating pad? It might help."

His teeth weren't chattering quite so hard; strangely, Touya's gesturing was calming. "Probably not," he got out, and let out a shaky sigh, running a hand through his hair. "But maybe I'd like a blanket." At least it would give him something to hold on to.

Touya was up immediately, pulling down the requested item from his shelf. Hikaru took the opportunity to pick up his chair, although his fingers were still trembling badly. It was better to have something to think about, though - by the time Touya turned around with the blanket, he was back in his original seat.

"What happened?" It didn't make him feel any warmer to have the blanket draped over his shoulders, but the weight of it was comforting. Touya pulled the computer chair back over and sat down, not taking his eyes away as he waited for an answer.

"I was underwater." Hikaru pulled the blanket around his numb hands, and started again, trying to make himself clear. "I mean, it suddenly felt like I was. Underwater, that is. I couldn't breathe, and it was freezing cold… it felt like being stabbed by knives." A last, cold shudder went through him, and he felt his body go lax, starting to warm up normally. He couldn't feel the ghost hovering around him, and the respite was a huge relief.

I must've been pretty tense, just now.

Touya was quiet for a while, but even without looking up, Hikaru could feel his eyes on him. "I wonder… If this is someone's spirit, I wonder if that might be how they died."

"Drowning?" After what he'd just experienced, that was a frightening thought. Hikaru shuddered again, shutting his eyes. Imagine having to die like that, in freezing cold water, struggling to breathe…

"That was how Sai died, too," he realized out loud, feeling an odd lump in his stomach. "He drowned himself in a river."

There was another pause - not as long this time - and then Touya spoke again. "Do you think about him often?"

"All the time," Hikaru admitted, opening his eyes and leaning his face on his knuckles again to look sideways at the taller boy. "No one else knows he existed, right? But he was my friend. Even if I wasn't always the best friend…" He had to pause, swallow, and start speaking again to keep up a normal-sounding voice. "Anyway, he deserves to have someone remember him."

Thankfully, Touya didn't bother with anything useless like 'it wasn’t your fault' or 'you shouldn’t feel guilty'. "It's not just 'someone'," he said, instead. "Even though I didn't know him personally, I'll remember him. And I'm sure the others he played on the Internet will remember, too - his name and the way he played, at least. The legendary 'Sai', who defeated Touya Kouyou in an even match."

Despite himself, Hikaru smiled. "That's true, isn't it? But your dad could've won."

"He didn't, though. That's what people will remember." For a moment, he got a rare smile from Touya in return, and then the taller boy's gaze slid away, averting another awkward silence. "Let's keep looking."

Touya… thank you.

It wouldn't say everything, but it was enough for right then.

Once again, Touya navigated through a series of pages, clicking on links and choosing paths that led to different places. "Here's something," he said, after a moment. "'Spiritual Protection' - that should be useful, shouldn't it?"

"I guess for now. I still need to find out how to - " Hikaru deliberately avoided the words 'get rid of it' or anything that sounded like them. "You know. Anyway, what does it say here?"

"It has a few suggestions." Touya leaned back in his seat again, still holding the mouse and with his eyes scanning over the text. "It's a good idea to keep something silver on you, it says. And there are different types of charms you can buy, but it's hard to tell which are truly authentic."

"'Charms'?" Hikaru repeated, and squinted at the screen. "Does it say where you can get them? Or have pictures or something?" He didn't see anything but white words on a black, starry background.

"I think it might." Touya moved the page down some more. "Here, they have a few - what?"

The computer screen had gone suddenly blank.

"Huh?" Hikaru frowned, staring at it. "It stopped working."

"That's strange…" Touya reached down to try and press something on the main part of his computer.

And the lights went out.

"A power outage?" Hikaru leaned back in his seat and turned to look up at the light in Touya's room. The sun had set already, but there was just enough moonlight so that, once his eyes adjusted, he was able to see reasonably well. Particularly on the far wall…

"We might have blown a fuse - of course, I can't tell if the neighbors have power, from here." Touya stood up and pushed his chair back. "I suppose I should check before I go try to figure it - Shindou?"

His voice almost drowned out the sound of wood carving; Hikaru shut his eyes, determined not to look. Even around Touya… it…

What does it want from me?

"Shindou…" He could hear Touya sitting back down. "Are you - ?"

"It's doing it again," he interrupted, feeling his hands curling into fists in his lap. "Carving things into the wall - it's in your room now. I can see it - I can hear it! It won't leave me alone! It won't - "

"Shindou." That was Touya interrupting - and the tone wasn't sympathetic or gentle. "If it's doing something over on the wall, then look at me."

Hikaru's head shot up, eyes going wide as he turned his gaze toward his rival. "Touya…"

"Don't look away." And that was definitely an order; immediately, Hikaru bristled. "Just look at me, and don't look away - you've been doing that all the time you were chasing me, weren't you?" Touya talked right over whatever he might use as an objection, eyes fierce. "If not, you haven't repaid my determination well. Are you my rival or not?"

"Of course I am!" How could he keep quiet about something like that? "You said you wouldn't look back at me, and I made you do it! I won't let you look away again!"

"In that case…" Touya matched him in intensity, effectively locking that gaze. "You can't take your eyes away from me for a second. So don't look away."

"That's what I'm saying, I won't - " Hikaru's thoughts came to a halt and he stopped talking in mid-retort, blinking. "Huh? It stopped."

"That's good." Abruptly, Touya's manner changed; he leaned back in his seat with a small smile, eyes softening. There was a different sort of look to it in the dim light, as if his lighter skin and eyes were outlined and his hair was covered up in shadows. "I'll get some candles, and we can play Go. All right?"

That… Should he be grateful for being distracted, or indignant that he'd just been tricked? Hikaru leaned back with a sigh, then shook his head. I guess there's no point in worrying about it, is there? "All right. Let's go get them together."

But still, I'm glad I'm with Touya right now.

((()))

Akira wasn't sure what it was that woke him up. He was sleeping, as usual, on a futon, and Shindou was a few feet away on the spare. It could've been the fact that he had company and that somehow made it more difficult to sleep. It also could've been the fact that, when he opened his eyes, he found his rival lying there staring at him fixedly.

What is he…?

"Shindou," he mumbled, blinking a bit and trying to wake himself up more completely. "You're still awake?"

The shorter boy didn't bother to answer that - of course, it was a fairly obvious question. "You said to look at you," he reminded Akira, voice oddly hushed. "If it bugs you, I won't."

"No… it's fine." He was starting to become more conscious - the tenseness of Shindou's shoulders and the tightening around his eyes and mouth were more apparent, even with the lack of light. He still can't sleep, even with me here. "I just couldn't sleep for some reason."

Shindou propped himself up on an elbow and let out a long breath, like a sigh. "Make that two of us," he admitted, running his free hand through his hair. "What time is it, anyway?"

Akira copied his pose, putting himself at a better angle to read the numbers on his clock. "Just past one."

"Only one?" Shindou sighed again, and flopped back down onto his back, staring up at the ceiling. "Seems like it's been longer than that."

He seemed more relaxed, with the conversation. Akira settled in a bit more, trying to find a position that wouldn't let him fall back asleep easily. "Is it like this for you every night?"

"Yeah." The shorter boy turned his head to look at him again. "I thought it'd be easier here, but you fell asleep so quickly, and I couldn't manage it."

That made him feel a bit guilty. "I'm sorry."

"Huh? Oh - don't worry about it." Shindou smiled a bit. "It's not as freaky since I'm not alone. It's just hard to sleep, with so much on my mind." His face turned serious again, and he started toying with one corner of his blanket, almost absently. "I can't help but wonder what it wants from me. I worry about it, that's all."

Just from what you've said… "I would worry, too."

"Mm, I guess anyone would." Shindou's fingers halted; he let his hands rest on his chest, but kept his face turned sideways, studying Akira with partly-lidded eyes. "What do you think it wants?"

He's tired. Akira hesitated for a minute, recognizing the symptoms of fatigue in his rival's speech and posture. If I keep him distracted, he might manage to get some rest. "Is it possible that it just wants company?"

"My company?" A tired laugh was the response to that. "Why would it want that?"

"Why wouldn't it?"

The counter-question seemed to catch Shindou off-guard. "Um…" He looked a bit confused for a moment, then seemed to give up on it. "Maybe, I guess." He made an attempt to say something else, and was interrupted by a wide yawn. "Oh, sorry."

"It's okay." Akira could feel the corners of his mouth tugging up. It was interesting, to see Shindou like this - it certainly appealed to him. There was something irresistibly charming about a person this close to nodding off, and Shindou had been charming enough already - at least, in his eyes. "You must be tired."

"Mm… uh-huh…" Shindou's eyelids fluttered a few times, before giving in to the compulsion and shutting. He let out a long, slow breath, as if releasing something he'd been unintentionally holding onto.

"What were you trying to say just now?"

"Mm…"

"Shindou?"

Loud, steady breathing was his answer.

He's asleep, then. Allowing himself a slight smile, Akira resettled himself under his own covers to get back to what he'd been doing before Shindou had woken him.

There would be enough time to talk once they'd both gotten some well-needed rest.

((()))

Akira's usual hours were 'early to bed, early to rise', and he normally managed a decent amount of sleep in that period. Most times, he was in bed before ten, and up before seven. Because of school, it had come to be a habit, and now with matches sometimes being scheduled for early in the morning, he felt it was a good habit to keep up. That was not to say that he didn't occasionally stay up late playing or studying - or even spending time out - but normally, he was up in time to catch the end of the sunrise.

So, when he woke up to find the sun already shining brightly into his room and the glowing numbers on his clock proudly displaying '9:12 AM', he was feeling more than a little groggy.

I've slept too late… It wasn't a matter of having anything to do - it was Sunday, and he hadn't made plans - but it upset his timetable, and that wasn't a good idea. Akira rubbed at his eyes, and blinked a few times, staring at the figure lying in a heap of blankets at his right blankly.

Shindou…

Of course - he'd stayed over. Akira propped himself up on his elbows and shook his head, turning back to look at his houseguest again with a smile. It looks like he managed to get some sleep, anyway - that's good.

It meant he was able to help, at least somewhat.

Some time during the night, Shindou must have flopped over onto his side; he was lying that way then, with his face turned toward Akira and arms loosely slumped in front of him. Because they hadn't bothered to take a side trip to his house to get his things, Shindou was wearing a set of Akira's pajamas, which fit him well enough despite a slight difference in their heights. The ones that Akira had given him were dark green, with short sleeves, and they buttoned down the front. While he was sleeping, the top two buttons had managed to come undone, and the neckline dipped over his chest. Shindou's skin held the faint memory of a tan, and if he looked hard, he could see the edges of it, where the outline of the shirts he normally wore was still imprinted.

Unconsciously, Akira licked his lips.

Shindou was undeniably attractive - that was the thing that had first drawn Akira's thoughts about him past the point where they could be credited to the rivalry or even friendship between them. Physically, his feelings were overwhelming - a source of even more confusion in a time when his hormones were already troublesome. The more he played Shindou, though - the more he saw of his mind - the more he found himself mingling his admiration with his more basic desire. He fantasized about getting physical with him at the same time as he strived towards understanding him. At the point when he found himself unable to think of anything but knowing more about Shindou - even the smallest detail - he had to come to the realization.

Whether or not it would - or could - work out, Shindou Hikaru had become his first love.

And if they kept playing each other - which they would; there was no doubt about that - Akira could see with a morbid sort of certainly that this would also end up being his only love.

Unrequited. Hopeless. Forbidden. He knew the romantic terms, and they weren't nearly harsh enough. It was something he wanted to bury in the back of his mind until even he forgot about it. Shameful. Wrong. Unwanted.

But, there it was, and he couldn't get rid of it.

I shouldn't think about things like this. Akira shut his eyes. He had invited Shindou into this house to help him with a problem, and to have thoughts like those about someone who trusted him wasn't right. But…

He opened his eyes.

But even when he's not right here in front of me, I can't keep this under control. And now…

Temptation could be avoided when others were around - Akira didn't have delusions that he'd be able to touch or kiss Shindou in his father's Go Salon and have it be gracefully accepted by everyone around them. When they were playing, or when he was on the computer, he could distract himself from whatever siren's song drew him to the other boy with just a bit of effort. He'd never found himself in a situation where he couldn’t use something as a deterrent.

Until just then.

Shindou's eyes were closed, his lips parted to allow for the rhythmic breathing that came with deep sleep. There was something so appealing about a pose that Akira could imagine - with a bit of stretching - was in preparation for something more intimate. If he closed the distance and took that invitation…

He would push me away. Wipe off his mouth, and demand an explanation. Possibly gag a few times, to prove that it wasn't anything he wanted. The possibility wasn't an appealing one. Akira shut his eyes again, forcing himself to concentrate on his breathing for a moment.

But still…

This was the first time he'd had Shindou in his room - the first time they'd been completely alone together. The first time he'd been fully conscious while his rival was not. The first time he had the advantage, completely.

The first and possibly the last.

How often… Akira found himself rolling onto his side, staring at Shindou's face again from a closer visage. How often will I have such an opportunity?

Wasn't it better? Shindou's chest rose and fell, his face relaxed, completely separate from the turmoil plaguing his host's mind. Wouldn't it serve him better, to have this resolved? To let go of the hope that this emotion could ever be returned? He was the only one who knew Shindou's secret - there would be little chance of losing his company forever. If he knew for certain that he had no chance, perhaps he could let go of this foolishness. And out of this, he would get, right now…

It would be acceptable to kiss him now, if that is all true.

The possibility had him holding his breath, heart racing. Akira licked his lips again, tracing the outline of Shindou's mouth with his eyes. It had been a long time since he'd wanted something so badly… He could do it!

Always before, I told myself that as long as I put everything I have into achieving something, I can be satisfied with my efforts. If I don't try… If he finds someone else, and I never even tried…

Akira pushed himself up, gathering his determination, and crossed what distance was left between them.

I won't give up on you without first trying!

"…uh?" Shindou woke up as Akira took hold of his shoulder and pushed him onto his back; his eyes opened just enough to reveal a fraction of sleepy green eyes. "Tou - "

He was given no chance to finish saying the name.

There were a number of things about that first kiss that Touya Akira would remember forever. The slackness of Shindou's shoulders under his hands as he held his unresisting bedmate down. The sharp intake of breath taken through the shorter boy's nose. The way he could see, through his lashes, the edges of Shindou's cheeks and the white space that showed all around the green of his eyes - though it didn't seem like he was seeing much of anything at that moment, no matter how wide they were. The closeness, the smell, the stiffness of his partner… But more than anything else, the warm, wet, yielding softness of Shindou's lips. The kiss was not returned, but it would stay branded into Akira's memory, like a particularly vivid piece of a dream that almost seemed real.

Shindou…

It was inevitably Akira who had to pull back first, as the other boy didn't seem able to push him off - or move at all, really. And when he backed away, ridding them both of that tenuous shared warmth, Shindou sucked in a long breath and stared at him with a hazy, almost confused kind of shock that could only come from being awoken by his rival with an unexpected and not-so-innocent session of mouth-to-mouth.

There was the unavoidable awkward silence.

Then Shindou spoke - slowly, warily, as if he weren't sure of the truth of what he was saying. "That… wasn't a dream, just now. Was it?"

Somehow, in between the racing of his own heart and the way his skin prickled in anticipation of an attack, Akira found more nerve than he'd given himself credit for. "How often do you dream that I kiss you?"

"Um…" Shindou blinked several times, still staring at him as if he expected Akira to lean back and say 'Surprise - it was all a big joke.' "I guess… Never."

That answer hurt more than it should have. "I'm sorry," Akira said, after another poignant pause. He sat up, out of the semi-hovering position he'd been in over Shindou up until then. It suddenly felt embarrassing to be close to his rival, and he wanted to get to a place where there was no chance of accidentally touching him.

It was frustrating to have an unrequited desire for someone he shouldn't, and to have to keep it hidden. But it was utterly humiliating when they knew, and Akira realized - now that he'd experienced both - that the second was easily the worse emotion.

I could have lived with frustration…

"Wait a minute!" Shindou abruptly sat up after him as Akira started to rise from his futon, grabbing the sleeve of his pajama shirt to prevent the movement. "Where are you going? You're not leaving me here alone, are you? I thought you said you'd help me!"

A kind of self-righteous anger took over for his embarrassment. "I have to shower, if you must know," he retorted, shaking free of Shindou's hold and turning to glare at him. "And I'm sorry if I find it uncomfortable to be around someone who just rejected me. Give me some time, please."

"So you’re just going to leave me alone with a ghost?" Typically enough, Shindou immediately got angry in return; it was a reaction that left Akira thinking he wanted to either laugh or cry – he couldn’t really be sure of which. "What if it wants to kill me or something? And anyway, when did I say rejection? Did you hear me say ‘I reject you’? Because I didn’t hear it, and I think I would know if I said it!"

The retort he’d been planning to come back with caught in his throat, so harshly that Akira almost choked on it. In less than a minute, he’d just gone from humiliation to anger to a sick hurt, and the emotions made his head swim, reminding him sharply that it hadn’t been so long since he’d woken. The image of Shindou, sitting in his room wrapped in one of his blankets, with blond bangs ruffled, clothing disheveled, and green eyes fierce, was close to being physically painful to him.

All he wanted to do right then was get away.

"I'm going."

"Wait - Touya!" Unfortunately, Shindou didn't seem willing to cooperate, immediately trying to leap up and lunge after him. Even more unfortunately, the blanket was just as uncooperative as the person it was wrapped around, and caught at the shorter boy's legs as he tried to rise and move forward at the same time. "You - AH!"

Instinctively, Akira turned, and the whole farce ended with Shindou crashing into him with enough force to send them both back down to the floor.

For a very long moment, they stayed right where they were.

Shindou's face was half on top of the taller boy's ribcage and half on his stomach. They were both breathing hard; Akira could feel his heart racing, and just below it, Shindou's halting exhalations against the lower part of his chest. The closeness, the excitement, and still-fresh memories of the kiss forced a reaction out of him that he wasn't fully prepared to deal with, and there was no hiding it from the boy on top of him, not with their positions. Akira turned his head from side to side, feeling completely helpless and not liking it in the slightest.

"Get off me." That didn't come out with nearly as much authority as he'd hoped; his voice wobbled embarrassingly, too. He swallowed, and tried again when there was no immediate response. "Shindou… get off."

"No."

'No' was not the answer Akira had been expecting to get. "What?"

Shindou braced himself on the floor with one hand on either side of Akira; he made a frustrated noise, as if he was talking to a particularly dense child. "What do you think?" he asked crossly, gaining enough leverage to pull himself up to eye level.

And then plant his lips firmly onto Akira's without further hesitation.

At that moment, Akira got a sudden, sharp insight into what Shindou must have been thinking when he'd given in to that mad impulse and kissed him awake. Being kissed out of nowhere was not quite the same as being the one kissing someone out of nowhere. This time, Shindou's lips were as soft and eager as he could've hoped for, and all he could manage as a reaction was to go stiff with shock.

Shindou… Shindou is…

In almost exactly the same instant that thought made its attempt to run through his head, Shindou suddenly eased back, slowly enough so that Akira could stare up into his eyes as he did and experience a dizzying rush when he realized that he was being stared right back at.

This is really happening. He is - Shindou is…

"Uh… first time I've done that." There was some lingering confusion in Shindou's eyes, and he looked at Akira imploringly, as if he weren't really sure how to proceed from there. "I - uh - I mean, I'm not sure - that is…" A slow flush was spreading over his cheeks. "If you want to do something like that again, I'd be - "

Akira's halted thought process began running properly again somewhere halfway through that; he pushed himself up with one elbow quickly, used his free hand to cup the back of Shindou's head, and gave in to the same urge that had overcome him moments earlier.

His rival's reaction time was much faster than before.

For all the awkwardness and uncertainty, Akira found that learning to kiss someone was definitely a pleasant experience. Shindou's mouth was soft, hot, and eager; he allowed Akira to pull him back down and make the first tentative attempts to get his tongue involved. The kisses sent firy shivers down his spine and over the rest of his body. It wasn't only that, though - he was allowed the privilege now of sliding his arms around Shindou's waist. He was holding Shindou. As tightly as he wanted, with as much desire as he could muster; Shindou was in his arms, and they were kissing, on the floor, in Akira's bedroom, with the blankets they'd slept in still strewn about.

And it is really happening.

The shorter boy broke the kiss after some time, took a moment to stare down at Akira with dazed, half-lidded eyes, and then blurted out, "So, you've probably kissed a lot of people. Right?"

It was a little hard to think, but with Shindou's face less than a breath from his, he could live with this sort of mental block. "You're the first." His voice was quiet; there was a tiny irrational corner of his mind that seemed to think loud noises might scare the other boy off.

It's real. It's not going to stop. Still, it was hard for that to completely sink in; he'd spent far too long already under the impression that this sort of contact would be impossible.

And now…

"Really? No way…" Shindou shifted to stare at him incredulously. He didn't seem to realize that his fingers were still clenched around the sleeves of Akira's pajamas. "But it seems like you know what you're doing - or maybe I'm just really lost…"

"It seems like I know what I'm doing?" Akira couldn't help but repeat that, slowly. With his gaze still locked with Shindou's, he couldn't help but notice his own insecurity being mirrored back at him. "Well… I have thought about it… Other than that, I'm not really sure. Do I really seem so confident?"

"Ah, sort of." One corner of Shindou's mouth tugged upward; with some hesitance, he leaned down again and planted another slightly clumsy but lingering kiss on Akira's lips. "This feels good," he said, very softly, barely moving away to form the words before returning to the kiss.

"Mm." Akira didn't think he had an answer, even if he were given the chance to reply. There had been none of this awkwardness in his fantasies - no hesitance or issues of inexperience holding them back. But none of the scenes in his imagination had ever come close to making him this deliriously happy.

He's real. It's really Shindou. No amount of imagined ecstasy could compare to that one simple fact. There was a warm confidence that came with having the person he wanted to be with return his desire with the same sort of strength.

Then… I can…

Shindou beat him to it, straddling one of Akira's legs and grinding their hips together. It was easy enough to tell that he wasn't the only one bothered by overactive hormones; his rival's body was as traitorous as his. Akira made another 'mm' sound into Shindou's mouth and slid his hands over the shorter boy's back, pulling him closer and growing increasingly bold with his tongue. The kiss was hot and damp, and Shindou's fingers were clenching and unclenching around his upper arms, and every movement made him clearly, wonderfully aware of the friction that was sending electric-seeming sparks from the hard point between his legs.

No fantasy could compare to this.

"Ah…" That was almost just a strong exhalation from Shindou as he broke their kiss, breathing heavily. "U-Um… Touya…"

"Shindou…" Was that really my voice? It hadn't sounded like something that would come out of his mouth. And apparently Shindou thought so, too - he let out a low breath and stared down with heavy-lidded eyes.

The sight - especially from inches away - was beautiful.

"Uh… ah… I mean… Touya…" Shindou sucked in a sharp breath, and blundered on. "Weren't you going to go have a shower? I could use one too, you know…"

Akira halted in the act of leaning up for another kiss - not that it looked like Shindou really wanted to resist, but he couldn't help it. "You're thinking about that at a time like this?"

"Well…" Shindou's face colored, and he pulled back, sliding off of Akira slowly and onto his side next to him. "It's not that I wanted to stop - it's just…" He cast a quick, self-conscious glance over his shoulder, and shivered a bit. "It's… well…"

A sudden, unpleasant understanding dawned in Akira's mind. "I see." With some effort, he pushed himself up, running a shaky hand through his hair. His body was still screaming demands at him, but he was going to have to ignore that for now. "Let's stop, then."

"Yeah." Shindou looked no less displeased; there was discomfort written all over his face. He sat up, with a sigh, and copied his rival's example, burying a hand in his hair. "Man…"

Akira was inclined to agree with that.

"So…" Shindou caught his eyes, and flashed a weak smile. "Now what?"

"Now?" It was clear to him what should be done, and as soon as possible. "I'm going back on the computer." He pushed himself to his feet.

"Eh? The computer?" Shindou scrambled up after him. "Before you have a shower?"

"Yes." Akira turned the computer on and spun to look at the shorter boy, forcing himself not to be distracted by the appealingly rumpled image he made. This was important, after all.

"We are finding a way to get that ghost away from you as soon as possible!"

((()))

Looking for ghost information was possibly one of the most boring things Hikaru could remember doing outside of school. He wasn't sure if that was mostly because it had been uncomfortable to sit there while he was still cooling off from making out with Touya, or because he wanted to still be making out with Touya - and more than that.

The idea of getting physical with Touya lost a lot of its appeal when you added the fact that whatever was haunting him would get a free show out of it.

I guess I'll never be an exhibitionist…

Still, thinking about the morning was enough to make him happy. Hikaru traced his finger over the desk in front of him and smiled a bit. Not that he'd been expecting to wake up just in time for his life-long rival to pin him down and kiss him, but aside from almost giving him a heart attack, it hadn't exactly been unpleasant.

Touya's always been the most important person… Somehow, it wasn't a shock to go from 'I want to play against Touya forever', to 'Touya's skin is really smooth', and then to 'Touya just kissed me… and I liked it.'

'A lot.'

Maybe I should've been more shocked than I was.

Of course, if he was somehow more 'normal' than Touya, he should have pushed him away and told him not to touch him again.

It was okay, though. Hikaru tried to keep his eyes on the screen, at least enough so that he looked like he was paying attention. He understood Touya well enough to know that this had to be important to him, and honestly, though he hadn't thought much about any kind of romance, he couldn't imagine being with someone who wasn't Touya.

So, it's important to me, too.

Hikaru rested his face on his hand, letting out a long, frustrated sigh. "Do we have to do this for much longer?"

Touya didn't take his eyes off the screen. The amount of determination he'd thrown into the whole thing was both flattering and kind of scary. "You want to solve your problem, don't you? We'll keep working until we do."

Is he serious? The prospect of spending the rest of the day in front of that computer was - at that point - even less appealing than the thought of sleeping with Touya while a ghost watched them go at it. Hikaru sighed again, slouching forward until he was almost inside Touya's personal space. "You know, we don't have to have sex."

At that, Touya did turn. The meaning in the look on his face was plain.

"I didn't mean ever! Geez!"

"Do you have some idea that will make this ghost leave?" Touya turned back to the computer again, adapting the same condescending tone he liked to use when he knew he was right about something. "If so, I'd like to hear it. Otherwise, if you don't bother to do the research, you might just be looking at spending the rest of your life with it."

"I know that!" Hikaru slumped back in his seat, scowling. He didn't like being reminded of that little fact: the prospect of spending the rest of his life looking over his shoulder, avoiding mirrors, and - worst of all - never being able to have sex was definitely not a good one. "But we don't have to spend so much time at this, do we? We could just do maybe an hour or something every day…"

"An hour?" Touya spun in his chair to glare at him. "You must be kidding! How long are you planning to deal with this ghost, anyway? If you don't get serious about it now, you'll end up - !"

"I can handle it! I've dealt with it until now, haven't I?" Hikaru glared right back. This was getting stupid; after all, why would Touya care about this, except for - "You can't wait even a couple of weeks?"

"This isn't about me waiting for anything, Shindou!"

"Yeah, right!" Hikaru crossed his arms, feeling discontented by the whole conversation. "You just want to help me so you can get some. Don't try and deny it, Touya - why else would you be so determined right now?"

"Don't be ridiculous!" Touya's eyes flashed indignantly. "If that were the case, why would I have helped you even when I thought I didn't have a chance of being with you?"

"I - " Hikaru sat up ready to reply to that, and realized he didn't have anything to reply with. "I don't like doing research, that's all," he mumbled, slumping back again.

Touya frowned at him for another few seconds, then sighed as well, pushing away from the computer and turning his chair to face Hikaru completely. "Don't you think it's better to do a few hours of research now than spend the next several weeks with that ghost?"

"It's not so bad when I have someone to talk to about it." Hikaru straightened up again, then grinned. "Besides, now that we're together and everything, couldn't we be putting that research time to better use?"

"You're the one who didn't want to do anything while it was still around," Touya reminded him coolly, turning back to the computer again. "If you've changed your mind, I'd like to hear about it. But that doesn't mean we shouldn’t be continuing with - "

"I didn't say I didn't want to do anything!" Hikaru protested, interrupting. He leaned forward again. "I just don't want it watching us if we're going to do it. You know, I've never done it before, so I'm going to be nervous enough already - haven't you ever heard of 'performance anxiety'?" He leaned his elbows on the desk and turned his face toward the other boy. "I'm kind of hoping for a good first time."

Touya turned again. This time, his face was thoughtful. "I suppose we could take a break," he said, slowly - as if he were considering some idea as he did.

A break! Those words were beautiful. "Great!" Hikaru sat up straight again, more than relieved that there would be no more research for a while. "So, now what do you want to - mmph?" His mouth was suddenly busy interacting with his rival's.

I wouldn't think Touya would be so forward about this…

There were several things about Touya that had pleasantly surprised him that morning. He kissed slow, building from a simple brush of lips to something more heated with open mouths and tongues. It was never a perfect kiss - Hikaru was still trying to find a balance between too eager and not aggressive enough - but it felt good, and made him crave more contact. Touya's hands were somewhat hesitantly exploring his thighs, and that felt nice too. He ran his fingers over Touya's waist and hips through the pajamas, and it made them tingle pleasantly. Touya's midsection was narrow and the muscles felt tense under his hands as the taller boy leaned over his chair to make the most of an awkward position. It couldn't be wrong, now, to want to touch him all over. Hikaru let his fingers roam a little more daringly, releasing a surprised, muffled moan against his rival's mouth as the hands on his legs moved up dangerously.

Touya pulled back, breathing erratic. "Should we move back to the futon?" he suggested, thumbs still running lightly over the point where Hikaru's legs attached to his hips. The motion made him shiver, just a bit.

It was also becoming increasingly difficult for Hikaru's mind to catch up to what was going on. "Yeah," he said, slowly, trying to focus, "but… uh…"

"Listen, Shindou." Touya tried a smile, looking just the slightest bit unsure. "You don't want the ghost to see anything, right? That's all?"

What's he thinking of? "Yeah, that's all." Hikaru squirmed a bit, more interested in Touya's fingers than in his words just then. He was starting to get hard again, too…

"Then…" There was a slight change in the way Touya looked at him; he wasn't sure if it was in the intensity or if it might be some new emotion he couldn't place. "There is something…"

"Uh?" Hikaru shut his eyes as those teasing fingers slid a little further toward the inner part of his thighs. "Touya," he breathed out, without consciously willing himself to say it. It felt as if every muscle in his body was tensed up.

If anything, Touya's breathing was less steady than before. "Can we… Shindou… ?"

Why the hell is he asking me? "Touya… let me up."

"Oh - yes, of course." Touya moved back to sit on the futon. They hadn't bothered to clean up the blankets yet - or anything, really - so the floor looked too messy for the moment to belong in Touya's room.

Hikaru pushed himself off the chair, kneeling down a bit awkwardly beside him. "Okay," he said, summoning up a little more determination - and leaned forward to pick up where they'd left off.

"Mm…" Touya allowed him a few hungry, sloppy kisses, and then pulled back a ways and murmured, "Lie down."

The thing that generally annoyed Hikaru about Touya was that he gave orders like he expected you to do whatever he said without question. It wasn't that he was bossy or anything, but he acted as if it was his right to decide on everything. Like telling Hikaru to lie down so he could probably do unspeakably sexy things to him, expecting the shorter boy to just do what he said and enjoy himself.

Somehow, Hikaru wasn't really interested in arguing this time, though.

Touya immediately stretched out beside him, grabbing one of the blankets that were still messily sprawled across the floor. "This… is what I was thinking of," he said softly, and pulled the blanket over Hikaru's upper torso, ducking under it himself to make his way down, lightly brushing over the pajama-covered skin until his face was about level with -

"Touya!"

((()))

"I still don't see why he has to come with us."

"Waya!" As Hikaru watched, Isumi nudged his friend, glancing apologetically back to where he was walking with Touya. "Don't say things like that so loudly."

"Why not? It's not like he's all that subtle." Waya frowned over his shoulder. He wasn't being particularly hostile, but the set-up clearly bothered him. Probably more because Hikaru hadn't asked before inviting Touya - someone he knew Waya didn't like - along on an afternoon they'd planned ahead of time.

Touya, being Touya, returned the gaze apathetically.

Oh, great…

They were hardly even three blocks from Waya's house - where he, Hikaru, and Isumi had agreed to meet before heading out for lunch and then to walk Isumi to a seminar he was signed on for. It was typically nice out and that, plus the fact that he was surrounded by people whose company he liked, made the presence of the ghost almost seem non-existent.

Without Touya, though… It wouldn't be nearly as easy without Touya.

Of course, he couldn't tell the others that, so there was no good reason for him to have brought his rival along. And although Isumi was polite enough to accept the fact without question, Waya was not.

"Have you got a cold or something, Shindou?" Isumi asked, forestalling any more unseen friction between Waya and Touya. He was glancing back over his shoulder again from where he and Waya were walking ahead of them, looking mildly curious. "It's warm to be dressed like that, isn't it?"

"Ah, this?" Hikaru jumped on the subject change - despite the fact that he had to make up a lie to avoid 'well, a ghost is haunting me and it makes the air too cold'. "I've just been cold lately, that's all. Maybe I am coming down with something…"

"Maybe you should get some rest," Touya agreed, backing up his story. He hadn't said much - but that wasn't unusual, since he didn't know Waya and Isumi. And because Waya obviously didn't care for him.

"Yeah, maybe." Hikaru had a feeling the words were sincere, too - last night had been the first time he'd managed to get so much undisturbed rest in a while, and he was grateful to Touya for being the cause of it.

And for… other things.

"Was that why you were so distracted at the study session last night?" Waya seemed to finally have come up with a good way to deal with the Touya situation - ignoring him completely. "Morishita-sensei almost blew up in your face, and you said something like 'that's nice'." He snickered. "I thought you'd totally lost it."

"I had stuff on my mind." Hikaru shrugged, relieved that most of the tension seemed to be wearing off. "Don't worry about it."

"Whatever you say." Waya shrugged. The street slanted somewhat sharply upward just in front of them, just before it came to the train station. The neighborhood was fairly quiet - only a few people were out on the sidewalks, and a couple of cars were parked up near the top of the slope. "Let's cross - the station's on the other side."

Near the top of the hill - beside where the two cars were parked - someone drove up and came to a halt, almost in the middle of the lane.

"We won't have to until we get to the top, will we?" Isumi turned as Waya started crossing, but didn't move to follow.

The single passenger - a middle-aged man - got out of his car, leaving the engine running, and ran up the front path to the house nearest to him.

"Yeah, but it doesn't matter when we do - come on." Waya stopped before he'd gotten completely to the other side, and turned to wait for them.

The brakes on the waiting car gave out at that point, and it came barreling down the hill, picking up speed as it did.

"Waya! Look out!"

It was like watching a movie in slow motion. Waya turned at Isumi's shout - first to look back at them, and then to fix a set of wide eyes on the approaching vehicle. He froze for an instant - an instant that lasted way too long for Hikaru - and then turned to make a run for the other side of the street.

By that time, it was too late.

It was the front corner of the car that caught him - almost just a clip - and his body hit the hood with a speed and force that were sharply horrifying, bouncing off sideways onto the street with a sick thud. The car itself kept going until it reached where the street curved and then ran across someone's lawn to crash into the mailbox.

Waya lay where he'd fallen. There was an alarming puddle of blood forming around him.

"Waya!" Isumi was the first one of them to move, dashing across the street to his fallen friend, reaching out tentatively as if to try and move him. "Waya! Oh my god!"

"I'll call an ambulance." Spurred into action by the older boy's reaction, Touya reached into his pocket with obviously shaking hands and pulled out a cell phone - which he immediately started to dial into.

The owner of the car was running down the hill; there were bystanders gathering around where Isumi hovered over Waya. Hikaru was dimly aware of this; he heard, as if in a movie or on the radio, someone telling Isumi, "Turn him over - he'll suffocate!" Over to his side, Touya was telling someone over the phone, "My - My… friend has been hit by a car! We need someone to get here quickly!"

My friend has been hit by a car.

My friend has been…

My friend…

Waya…

The only thing Hikaru could see clearly was the puddle of oil formed from the drippings of the car - the puddle that something unseen was using to spell out the symbol that could represent his name.

 

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