Playing the Game
by Jain

Written for Ai for Tenifriends.

When Hikaru called Touya to ask if he was free for a game or two that afternoon, Touya wheezed his greeting in a fairly alarming manner, and Hikaru nearly dropped the phone. "Touya, are you having an asthma attack?" he demanded.

"No," Touya said, less indignantly than he probably felt due to the fact that he still couldn't catch his breath. "I'm running."

Hikaru waited for Touya to finish his sentence with " catch the train," or " catch a rival go player," or "...because I'm being chased by a man with a knife." After a minute, he realized that Touya had finished his sentence. "What, like, just for fun?" he asked blankly.

Touya huffed a sigh at him (though only years of rivalry/friendship enabled Hikaru to recognize the sound, since Touya was doing quite a bit of huffing already from his run). "Running is good exercise, Shindou."

"Yes... Still, you never seemed to care about that before."

"I'm allowed to try new things, aren't I?"

Hikaru was tempted to ask if Touya could try a new haircut, or possibly a new fashion sense, but he restrained himself. "Trying new things is good," he said instead.

"Okay, then," Touya said. "I'll see you at my father's go salon later today, maybe?" The second half of his question was more of a punctuated gasp than it was actual words. Hikaru hoped that Touya was getting enough oxygen.

"Sure," he said hastily. "See you later," and hung up. That...had been incredibly weird.

"Look," Eiji said, "Doesn't that shape look just like a rabbit?"

"A rabbit about to be eaten by a snake," Fuji agreed. "See?"

"You're only saying that because you're the 'snake.'" He tilted his head to look at it more closely and then laughed. "It's a mamushi!"

Fuji shook his head. "Those are brown. This snake is obviously an Iwakuni White Snake."

"Ohh. You're right, Fuji!"

"I know." He dipped his hand into the goke and placed another stone on the board. "And that's that. Poor, dead little rabbit."

Eiji looked at the goban and chewed his lip for several seconds. Then his eyes lit up and he placed a stone triumphantly in the top right corner.

Fuji's own eyes opened wide. "You're good at this game."

"I am, aren't I?" Eiji agreed. "It's kind of funny, don't you think?"

Fuji was too good a friend to agree with him, but Eiji could tell that he was thinking the same thing, even as Fuji conceded defeat.

"So, why were you running again?" Hikaru asked when Touya arrived at the go salon with his hair still damp from a recent shower.

"I felt like it," Touya said shortly.

Hikaru rolled his eyes. "Yeah, okay, but why did you feel like it?"

Touya placed a stone that made Hikaru nod in appreciation, and then he said, "I started tutoring a boy a little while ago: Inui, a middle-schooler." Touya smiled unexpectedly. "He kept writing in his notebook as we played, so naturally I thought that he wanted the kifu and wasn't yet able to construct it after the game."

"But that's not what he was doing?" Hikaru said.

Touya shook his head. "He was trying to predict my moves based on data from earlier games."

"He what?"

"Apparently, it's a technique he's perfected in tennis matches. It took nearly a month before he believed me that go was too complex a game for that strategy to work."

"But he kept up with the lessons?" Hikaru asked, truly interested by this point.

"Yes. In fact, six weeks ago he asked if I had enough time in my schedule to instruct some of the other members of his tennis team."

"Okay. Still, what does this have to do with you taking up running?"

Touya's cheeks turned a little pink. "Inui invited me to one of their tournaments last month, and they were...Shindou, they were all really good. You have to come watch sometime. So I asked Inui if he could teach me how to play, and he said that I had to follow his exercise program first until I was in shape for it, and then we could trade go lessons for tennis lessons."

"So you're running to get in shape for tennis?" Hikaru asked, and Touya nodded. Hikaru shrugged. "Well, if that's what you want to do. Just promise me you won't start caring more about tennis than you do about go."

"Of course not," Touya said, looking properly horrified at the thought, then took the territory in the bottom right corner of the goban as punctuation.

Inui's eyeglasses glinted as he gazed down at the goban, his face impassive. He placed a stone.

His opponent did the same, without even a pause to consider his move.

Inui's fingers twitched in the way that those who knew him recognized as a desire to consult one of his notebooks, and then he shook his head. "I have nothing," he said.

Tezuka nodded in acknowledgment and began to clear the goban.

"It seems odd that you should be so good at go, yet I never knew you played until recently," Inui said, and Tezuka felt a tinge of amusement at Inui's unconscious belief in the infallibility of his data.

"I didn't think that it would be of interest to you," he offered neutrally. "My grandfather taught me to play so that he could have a regular opponent, since my father's at work all day."

"A regular opponent?" Inui asked. His fingers twitched again. "About how many days a week do you play on average, Tezuka?"

"Seven," Tezuka said.

Inui raised his eyebrows at that response, and then he nodded to himself. "Good data," he muttered.

"Oi, why'd you move there?" Momo demanded, ignoring Kaidoh's enraged hiss at his question. "If you'd only gone--"

Touya's head snapped up to glare at him, and he faltered.

"I mean... um... Never mind. Good luck with your game." He walked away quickly, muttering "whoo" under his breath.

"Please continue," Touya said.

Kaidoh took a deep breath, trying to make the inside of his head as calm as Touya's voice, and then placed his next stone.

"Tezuka," Atobe said when Tezuka answered his phone. "I hear that Seigaku has begun learning to play go in order to improve their strategy for tennis."

Tezuka opened his mouth to explain that really it had more to do with the fact that Seigaku's tennis team barely managed to go to the bathroom alone, let aside take up solitary hobbies--though not in those words, of course--when Atobe continued:

"So I just wanted to let you know that I've hired two top shogi instructors for Hyotei. We will not be defeated!"

The phone went silent, and Tezuka shrugged and returned it to his pocket.

"Inui?" Oishi asked.

Tezuka shook his head. "Atobe."

"What did he want?" Oishi asked, frowning slightly.

"To tell me that our recent attempts to win Nationals through the strength of our go would not go unchallenged."

Oishi laughed at the joke--Tezuka wondered occasionally why he and Fuji were the only people to recognize his humor for what it was--and said, "Maybe we can get the Hyotei tennis team to come over sometime to play go with us."

"No, Atobe said that they'd be learning shogi rather than go." He removed the top from his goke and said, "Shall we nigiri?" Oishi nodded, and Tezuka drew out a handful of go stones, clearing his mind for the challenge before him.

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