How Certain the Journey
by Jain

Written for 14 Valentines: Body Image.

Initially, Touya Akira was barely a blip on Ogata's consciousness. Touya-sensei mentioned one day that his wife was expecting; Touya Akiko looked increasingly plump for a while whenever Ogata saw her; and, six months later, Touya-sensei had to forfeit an important match because his wife had gone into labor. Ogata congratulated him the next time they saw each other, and that was that.

He didn't actually meet Akira until quite a bit later, when the baby was...enough months old that he could sit up on his own, anyway. Touya Akiko had a doctor's appointment, and her husband was assigned babysitting duty.

"Are you sure you should be giving that to him?" Ogata asked dubiously, watching Touya-sensei hand his infant son a go stone.

"What do you mean?"

"He could choke on it. Don't babies do that sort of thing?"

Touya-sensei shook his head. "Akira knows that go stones aren't food."

Ogata, unconvinced, kept half an eye on the baby throughout the duration of the game, but Touya-sensei appeared to be right. Akira waved the go stone around for a while, and then he played a game with himself that consisted of dropping the stone and picking it up again, and finally he slumped to one side and fell asleep with the stone clutched in his chubby little fist.

Ogata's grudging admiration for a baby that didn't scream, cry, or spit incessantly was soon superceded by his annoyance at losing the game to Touya-sensei--a loss that Ogata felt was at least partially due to his being distracted by his opponent's son.

There were several inches of snow on the ground, but the go salon was warm with the crowd of players. Ogata's comfort was further ensured by frequent cups of coffee, and he let himself enjoy the leisurely game he was playing with Touya-sensei.

He saw the opportunity to take territory in one corner with an unconventional move and did so, hiding a stab of satisfaction when he was granted an appreciative nod. And then Touya-sensei said, apropos of nothing, "I'd like you to play a game with Akira."

Ogata frowned at him. "How old is he, now?"

"Nearly five. It's past time for him to start playing opponents other than myself."

Of course Ogata accepted--what else could he do?--but it was with a feeling of imperfectly concealed annoyance that he showed up at the Touya residence that evening. He tutored insei on occasion, and that was quite bad enough. He couldn't begin to imagine what it would be like to play an opponent who was barely out of diapers.

Akira was waiting for him just inside the door, a quiet, too-serious boy who watched as Ogata took off his shoes and coat, and then led him to the study. Neither of his parents made an appearance.

"Your father's not home?" Ogata asked.

"No, Ogata-san," Akira said politely. "He has a tutoring session tonight."

"And your mother?"

"She's in the kitchen. Did you want to see her?"

Ogata shook his head. "That's all right. Are you ready to play a game with me?"

Akira smiled up at him. "Yes, please." He knelt in front of the goban, and Ogata sat on the other side.

"How many stones would you like?"

Akira considered carefully for a moment. "Five."

Ogata arched an eyebrow, wondering for a moment if the boy had chosen that number because it was his age. And then he did his best to dismiss the uncharitable thought; besides, hadn't Touya-sensei said that the boy was still only four? He gestured his acquiescence, and Akira placed his five stones with slightly awkward fingers.

"Please," Ogata said.

"Please," Akira echoed, his high voice a sharp contrast to Ogata's.

They played. As a result of Touya-sensei's quiet pride in his son, Ogata was at least partially prepared for Akira to be a prodigy. He was even more prepared for Akira to be an unremarkable player, distinguished only in his father's eyes.

As it turned out, the boy was neither. Akira didn't play any brilliant hands, but every move was well-considered and competent. Ogata guessed that he could beat at least half of that year's insei, were his father to allow him to compete. In the end, Ogata won the game, but it wasn't the easy win he'd thought it would be.

"I have nothing," Akira said, without even a hint of disappointment or, worse, childish petulance in his voice.

"Would you like to discuss the game?" Ogata said.

Akira nodded, his eyes fixed avidly on the board, and Ogata allowed himself to acknowledge that perhaps Touya-sensei's pride in his son was not misplaced.

The first time Akira beat Ogata, he was ten years old. He was playing very well that day, and Ogata was playing very badly, but it was still a legitimate win. Ogata didn't know if it made it more or less bearable that Akira didn't gloat over his victory like any normal ten year-old boy. Instead, he accepted the win graciously and began to discuss the game in the exact tone of voice he'd used to discuss hundreds of other games he'd played with Ogata, all of which Ogata had won handily.

Ogata could feel Touya-sensei's eyes on them from across the room; another bit of humiliation, to be defeated by Touya-sensei's brat while his mentor was watching. Still, it was better to know now than to be taken unawares at an official match: Touya Akira was no longer a player that Ogata could treat with complacency, if indeed he ever had been.

Akira was fifteen before Ogata stopped calling him "the brat" in his head. If his choices were to resent a player more than half his age or to respect a talented player whose skills Ogata had helped to shape, then he preferred the option that afforded him greater dignity. Besides, Shindou Hikaru was far more of a brat than Akira had ever been.

There was a knock on the door, and Ogata answered it to find a dripping wet Touya Akira on the other side. "I'm sorry to intrude," Akira said. "But I forgot my umbrella today, and it started to rain, and your house was the closest."

Ogata nodded and ushered him inside politely, even as he wondered Closest to what? He lived in a quiet, residential district. There weren't even any shops within an easy walking distance. "Let me get you a towel," he said, and Akira smiled and said:

"That would be wonderful. Thank you."

When Ogata had Akira settled at the table with one towel for his hair and another to sit on, and a cup of hot tea to help take away the chill, he indulged his curiosity and said, "You said my house was 'the closest.' What brought you all the way out here in the first place?"

"Oh," Akira said, "Shindou somehow managed to schedule two tutoring sessions at the same time, so I agreed to cover one of them for him. The player I was tutoring lives only a few streets down from you."

"Fujiwara-san?" Ogata asked.

"Yes. How did you know?"

"He used to come to your father's go salon quite a bit, until he hurt his hip. He doesn't leave his house much, nowadays. You must have been too young to remember him from back then."

Akira nodded. "You didn't like me when I was younger, did you?" he asked suddenly.

Ogata snorted. "I thought you were a little nuisance. You were constantly underfoot. You were also quieter than most children, though, so I don't think I disliked you too much."

"Do you like me now?"

It could have been a completely innocent question, except for Akira's tone of voice. Ogata paused for a long moment before he said, "Yes, I like you now."

Akira's face turned a little pink, and he dropped his gaze to the tabletop. "I checked the weather before leaving my apartment today. I knew there was a good chance that it would rain."

"I see." Ogata said. He stared at Akira's bowed head, the way his hair fell in a smooth curtain across his attractively flushed cheeks. "You realize that your father wouldn't be very pleased if he knew about what we...aren't exactly doing right now."

"My father respects my decisions," Akira said, and Ogata had to admit that that was true. Certainly his father hadn't been as sanguine about Ogata's decisions to move out at a young age and to not marry as Touya-sensei apparently was regarding his own son.

"Will you do the same?" Akira said, his voice a trifle unsteady, when Ogata feared that the uneasy silence might stretch on forever, though he himself was unwilling--or perhaps even unable--to break it.

"How do you mean?" he said, and Akira answered:

"Like this," and leaned across the table to press clumsy lips to his. Ogata froze, torn between pleasure and guilt, between desire and an uncomfortable sense of forsaken duty. And then he let out a shuddering breath, able to give Akira his uncertainty if nothing else.

Akira pressed his advantage, as Ogata had half-hoped that he would. He stroked into Ogata's mouth with his tongue, making a soft, greedy noise, and Ogata quickly gave up on the idea of altruism. Akira wanted this, and Ogata was the last person in the world to preach self-denial, particularly when denying Akira would also mean denying himself.

He let the kiss draw out for several long minutes, and then slowly pulled away. "I'm going to drive you home now," he said, and watched a nameless emotion flicker across Akira's face, too quickly to be read. "But you're welcome to come back later this week, if you like."

Akira nodded politely, though his whole face was glowing now. "Thank you, Ogata-san. I'll be sure to do that."

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