Summary: Shindou dropped his chopsticks with a clatter. "Waya," he said, his eyes huge, "don't look now, but there's another of you."
Disclaimer: The world and characters belong to Hotta and Obata. No money is being made from this fic.
Dedication: This is for tangledtale, without whom I would not have even remembered who Zhao Shi was.
Acknowledgements: Thanks go to bookshop, whose second Five Things Meme of Hikaru no Go Love was directly responsible for this fic.
Waya's memories of the Chinese pro Yang Hai weren't especially warm. Yang Hai had spent too much time last year with his arm around Isumi's shoulder, talking in fourteen languages about complex computer programming and advanced astrophysics. That had been when he wasn't grinning and checking out the line of Waya's jeans while making unnervingly lecherous comparisons to his own pint-sized Waya back home.
Still, Waya wouldn't have wished on him whatever was causing the white, harrowed cast to his face.
Isumi, walking beside Waya, exclaimed and started forward. "Yang Hai-san! What's happened! Is everybody on your team all right?"
Yang Hai was standing with two of the members of the Chinese Hokuto Cup team in the foyer of the hotel. He tottered a bit as Isumi came up.
"Le Ping," he said, his voice blank. "He stowed away this year. He actually succeeded in stealing away in my luggage." Yang Hai raised his eyes to Isumi's face. "He could have died. I want to kill him."
"Oh," Isumi said. He bit his lip. "I guess he didn't know how dangerous it was."
Yang Hai's expression hardened. He seemed to have at least twice as much jaw as usual, Waya thought vaguely. "He knew how dangerous I was," Yang Hai said.
Waya had once more failed to make the Hokuto Cup team this year; although this time he'd at least beaten Ochi, and only lost to Shindou. Still, Isumi had wanted to see the Chinese players, and Waya was happy to spend the three days of the tournament watching the games and wandering around the hotel. Also, he was a little bit unwilling to leave Isumi alone with Yang Hai, although he wasn't examining that very closely.
Le Ping was apparently avoiding Yang Hai – which Waya didn't blame him for in the least. Waya and Isumi didn't get a glimpse of him until Yang Hai had gone to sleep off his tension headache in his room. Le Ping must have been lurking around the doorway, because he skidded into the room they were in the instant Yang Hai was gone.
Waya didn't need any introduction. Looking at this skinny boy with the wild hair and the huge grin was like looking through a photograph album of his childhood.
"Isumi-kun! Isumi-kun!" Le Ping shouted, dragging another boy forward by the hand.
A really, really hyperactive photograph album. Waya narrowed his eyes.
"Oh!" Isumi rubbed his hand over the back of his neck, giving the photograph album a smile. "Hello, Le Ping-kun."
Le Ping stared at him for a moment, then dropped his friend's hand and hugged Isumi around the middle. Isumi lost his air in a gasp.
"Hello, Isumi-kun! I learned Japanese!"
Isumi's face fell into a wide smile and he dropped his hands onto the younger boy's shoulders, pushing him back a bit. "Really?"
Le Ping nodded, his eyes huge, and unleashed a string of rapid Mandarin. Then he stopped, took a deep breath, and said carefully, "I'm very good. Much better than Zhao."
Waya glanced at the other boy, recognising him for the first time. Zhao Shi, who'd been on China's team last year, and was on it again this year.
Zhao Shi could almost have been dressed up specifically to contrast with Le Ping. Le Ping's shirt was untucked and there was a stain of some kind on his cheek – it might have been ink. He was vibrating with excitement, and his voice was far too loud. Zhao Shi was clean and neatly dressed, the rosette crisp and straight where it was pinned onto his shirt. He stood still behind Le Ping, not saying a word. He looked a little bit lost; his eyes were nervously moving between Isumi and Le Ping. Waya knew from the tournament information that he was thirteen, but with his wide eyes and sweet face, he looked more like ten.
"Oh!" Isumi said. "Hello, Zhao Shi-kun! I didn't see you at first. Are you well?"
Zhao Shi opened his mouth to speak, but Le Ping beat him to it. "Don't mind!" he said crossly. "It's not important!"
Isumi frowned at him. "That's not polite, Le Ping-kun." He smiled at Zhao Shi, who gave him a wan smile back.
"You didn't come!" Le Ping said, staring up at Isumi with accusing eyes. "Yang Hai said you would come with him. With Waya. But you didn't. I learned Japanese because you would come!"
Isumi looked stricken. "I'm sorry," he said. "Our schedules were very busy. We still hope to come this year."
It was doubtful how much of that Le Ping heard or understood. He'd looked over at Waya for the first time. His eyes narrowed, consideringly, and he said something in Mandarin that shocked Zhao Shi, from his expression.
"That's him?" Le Ping said.
"This is my friend Waya-san," Isumi agreed. He looked from one to the other of them, then took a discrete step back so that he could look at both of them at once. His eyes danced, his mouth twitching a bit. Waya sort of hated him.
"Hello, Le Ping-kun," Waya said. He could hear the coolness in his voice.
Le Ping's eyes took on a gleam, and he dashed forward. Waya stepped back, flailing and letting out a shout as the younger boy barrelled into him, knocking him to the floor.
"You little twerp, what are you doing?" Waya cried. Lee Ping grabbed Waya's shirt and leaned back, lifting it up. Waya pushed him away. "What the hell!"
Waya scrambled back, pushing his shirt back down. Le Ping was looking triumphant and saying something in Mandarin. Waya, his eyes stretched wide in shock, looked at Isumi.
Both Isumi and Zhao Shi were laughing. Zhao Shi had apparently got over part of his shyness, because he was actually doubled over and hiccoughing with giggles.
"I think he was checking whether you have an outy bellybutton," Isumi said, gasping. He glanced at Le Ping, who was standing with his hands on his hips and a broad smile on his face. "I assume that you don't."
Waya jumped to his feet and grabbed Le Ping's shirt, bending over him. "Don't you ever do that again, you cheap little imitation!"
"Isumi-kun! Isumi-kun!" Le Ping cried, squirming.
Isumi was laughing too much to respond.
Waya let go of Le Ping, dusting his hands. "I think Yang Hai-san's coming back in a moment," he said.
Le Ping froze, his eyes darting around. "Zhao Shi!" he cried. "Let's play on the stairs!"
Zhao Shi gave him an uncomprehending look, and Le Ping repeated what he'd said in Mandarin. Zhao Shi nodded, his face happy and bright, and let himself be tugged away by the hand again.
"That was a lie, Waya-kun," Isumi said gravely.
Waya looked at him. Isumi started laughing again, his fringe tickling his forehead as he shook. Waya dropped into one of the hotel armchairs and rubbed his forehead.
Waya overheard some hotel staff complaining about having to chase two boys off the main staircase a bit later; they'd been getting in the way of guests by sliding on the bannister. Apparently one of them had stayed behind to apologise over and over; the housemaid recounting this seemed to have decided he was the cutest thing ever as a result.
Waya thought at first that maybe he wouldn't be confronted by the annoying mini-Waya again as long as the boy thought Yang Hai might appear beside them at any moment. Le Ping showed up again at lunchtime, though. Isumi and Waya had just sat down to eat with Shindou and Yashiro, who'd made second and third chair again this year. Waya was lifting his chopsticks to his mouth when he heard Le Ping's voice in his ear, shouting for Isumi's attention.
Waya jumped in his chair and turned around to find Le Ping tugging on Isumi's arm, squeezed into the space between them. Zhao Shi was hanging back behind him. His rosette was a bit less perfectly straight and his shirt a bit less neatly tucked in than it had been before.
"Isumi-kun! Isumi-kun! Why are you eating lunch with them? You should eat lunch with me!"
Zhao Shi looked distressed. He touched his friend's arm. "Le Ping," he said quietly, when Le Ping looked around.
Le Ping bit his lip, held by Zhao Shi's earnest gaze.
Shindou had dropped his chopsticks with a clatter. "Waya," he said, his eyes huge, "don't look now, but there's another of you."
"Oh my god," Waya said, leaning back and shutting his eyes.
"Are you brothers or something?" Yashiro asked, only faintly curious.
Waya snapped his eyes open. "He's Chinese," he said.
"Oh, right," Yashiro said. He frowned, and chewed on his food. "That's weird."
"He's exactly like you," Shindou said, leaning forward. "He's another you. It's like the opposite of having two different people in one body."
Waya glared at him. "He's nothing like me. He's a brat." He shook his head. "Also, that is really random, Shindou."
Le Ping didn't appear to have been following very well, but apparently he got that he'd been insulted, because he head butted Waya's shoulder.
"You little –!" Waya shouted, turning on him. Isumi reached past Le Ping and touched Waya's shoulder, restraining him.
"Waya-kun," he said quietly. Waya hesitated, his gaze caught by Isumi's for a moment. Isumi's eyes were very black, the feathery-soft ends of his fringe just touching his lashes. His face was still, his eyes searching Waya's. Waya took a breath, his chest suddenly tight, and leaned back. And didn't strangle Le Ping.
"I'm sorry, Le Ping-kun," Isumi said, turning back to him. "I can't eat lunch with you now. Maybe tomorrow."
Le Ping scowled, then brightened. "Tomorrow we can play a game!" he said. "I'll beat you, Isumi-kun. A lot."
Waya twisted out of his chair to shout after the brat not to be so impertinent to Isumi-san. Shindou snickered.
Zhao Shi stopped at the door to bow to them several times, before running after Le Ping.
Waya convinced Isumi to slip out of the opening ceremony partway through, that evening. He remembered the ceremony from last time, and honestly, it felt even longer this time round. Possibly it was more interesting if you were actually in it, but Waya doubted it.
The hotel had been booked out by the tournament organisers, and everybody associated with the tournament was in the event hall, so there were only a few members of staff about in the corridors.
Waya checked that Isumi had followed him out, and fell back to walk beside him. "Did you get the date for your last Honinbou second preliminary match?" he asked, shoving his hands in his pockets.
"Not yet," Isumi said. "It probably won't be for another couple of weeks, though. I wouldn't have come to this if I thought I needed to be at home studying."
Waya shot him a look. "We could study now," he said. "We're not doing anything, and there are gobans laid out in the foyer. Do you want to recreate some games?"
Isumi gave him a warm smile. "Sure."
Waya tried not to bask in the smile, because how lame, seriously. He curled his hands in his pockets instead, feeling the denim scrape the calluses on his fingers, and grinned back.
The ceremony went on for another hour. Waya and Isumi stayed curled up on one of the couches behind a leafy palm in the foyer, analysing the recreated games on the goban between them.
The first sign that the ceremony must have finished was Le Ping creeping into the foyer from another entrance, checking behind him to make sure that Zhao Shi had followed. Waya was absolutely sure that Zhao Shi wouldn't have skipped out on a ceremony he was a part of.
Le Ping took Zhao Shi's elbow, looking around again. He spotted Isumi and Waya and pulled Zhao Shi over to them.
"You're playing Go," Le Ping said, his face scrunched up.
Isumi laughed. "It's something we do a lot."
Le Ping looked between the two of them, curled up comfortably on the hotel couch, and his face twisted with jealousy.
He gabbled something to Zhao Shi, taking hold of him and pushing him towards Waya. Then he grabbed Isumi's arm and pulled him out of his seat.
"Switch!" Le Ping said.
"W-what?" Isumi protested.
"Switch! Zhao wants to stay with Waya!"
Waya, catching sight of Zhao Shi's alarmed face, found this unlikely. "Hey!" he said. He couldn't get out of his seat because Zhao Shi had been shoved in front of him.
Isumi gave him a shrug and let himself be towed away, laughing a bit as he told Le Ping to slow down.
Waya had no idea where Isumi got this idea that Le Ping was funny or cute. "Hey!" he said. Le Ping threw a cheeky grin over his shoulder, then pushed Isumi out of the door in front of him.
"Um." Waya looked at Zhao Shi. "Hi."
"Hello," Zhao Shi said. He stepped back, twisting his hands together, and gave the door Le Ping and Isumi had just disappeared through a longing look.
Waya had no idea how to talk to him.
"You're ... a Chinese pro, then," he said.
Zhao Shi gave him a doubtful look. "Chinese," he agreed.
"Right," Waya said. He looked at the other door, where a few other people were drifting in from the ceremony. He couldn't see anybody else from the Chinese contingent who might save him. "I'm a Japanese pro," he said.
God, he was so glad nobody was recording this conversation.
Zhao Shi gave him a polite, somewhat mournful smile.
Waya looked at him helplessly. He was so ... polite, and well-scrubbed, and sweet-faced and polite. His best friend had just abandoned him here, and he looked as though his world might crumple at any moment, but he smiled at Waya. His mouth trembled.
Waya didn't know whether it was just the Le Ping thing that was making him think this, but right now Zhao Shi reminded Waya of a picture Isumi's mother had shown him once, of Isumi when he was about nine or ten, overwhelmed and trying not to bolt at his own birthday party. He'd been wearing a suit and tie, and a party hat. Maybe it was Zhao Shi's crooked rosette that was making Waya think of it.
"Do you ... want to play Go?" Waya asked eventually. He gave the goban a nudge with his elbow to show what he meant.
Zhao Shi nodded, slowly. "Please," he said. Then, carefully, "Waya-san."
Waya grinned, budging up on the couch, and swept the stones off the board. Zhao Shi sat down and helped him sort them. "Nigiri, then," Waya said.
Waya didn't really expect to win, and he didn't, but it was an unexpectedly good game. Zhao Shi in front of a goban was a very different creature to the Zhao Shi who let himself be dragged around the hotel by his bratty friend. He settled, his face going still and calm, his focus absolute; except for the times when he still lifted his head to look at the door Le Ping had gone through.
Waya didn't think Zhao Shi would take the game very seriously, given that he had an official game the next morning that he would need to give his whole attention to. But Zhao Shi didn't seem to know how to give a game less than his whole attention. Waya felt himself rising to the occasion too, focusing inward, on the pa-chi of the stones, the patterns on the board.
"You really are quite a lot like Isumi-san," he said at one point, quietly. Zhao Shi looked at him, hesitating with his stone, then laid it down; a defensive hand. "He has the same calm focus these days," Waya said, attaching in the top right corner.
"Isumi-san?" Zhao Shi asked.
Waya nodded. "He's the one I've always chased, you know." He grinned, ducking his head. "It was kind of awkward the year I was a pro and he wasn't. But then he didn't stand still during that year, so it was okay."
Zhao Shi looked at him earnestly. "I don't speak very good Japanese," he said.
Waya grinned again. "I know," he said. "You're pretty good at Go, though."
Zhao Shi smiled, cautiously, and played a hand that threatened to obliterate Waya's largest group. Waya settled down to save it, with a sharp thrill of enjoyment at the challenge.
He lost by three and a half moku. Zhao Shi immediately started talking about the game, pointing to the place where he'd misread something. Then he looked up and seemed to realise what he was doing, and laughed; a bright, hiccoughing laugh like the one he'd given when Le Ping tackled Waya earlier.
"Here, your rosette's crooked," Waya said, grinning and leaning forward. "Le Ping's making you look as scruffy as he is; you shouldn't let him do that." Zhao Shi looked a bit startled, but he smiled at Waya while Waya frowned over straightening the rosette.
Then he laughed again, a delighted sound. "Le Ping!"
Waya looked around. Le Ping had come back into the foyer with Isumi. He'd apparently been talking, since his mouth was still open, but he'd stopped to stare at Waya and Zhao Shi. Isumi looked startled too. There was an open, arrested expression on his face; one that Waya wasn't sure how to read. Isumi turned away and coughed.
Zhao Shi had jumped to his feet. He bowed to Waya, quickly. "Thank you for the game, Waya-san!"
Le Ping marched across the room, coming to a stop in front of Waya. "Switch," he said dangerously, taking hold of Zhao Shi's arm.
Zhao Shi started talking rapidly in Mandarin, gesturing at Waya every now and then and smiling brightly. Le Ping listened, his face grim and his eyes fixed on Waya. Then he nodded, sharply, and answered something in Mandarin, before turning and pulling Zhao Shi towards the door. Zhao Shi turned around and waved at Waya, and at Isumi. He looked a bit as though he'd been given back Christmas.
"There!" Waya turned around to see Shindou tugging Touya through the door. "Did you see? A little Waya!"
Touya frowned. "I didn't see anybody. Shindou, this is stupid; what am I supposed to be looking at?"
Waya turned away, determinedly ignoring them.
"Do you want to share a taxi?" Isumi asked, sitting on the arm of the couch. "It's getting quite late."
Waya twisted to look up at him. "Yeah, I guess."
Outside, they stood in the cold, blowing on their hands and waiting for a taxi to pull up at the rank; Waya knew they came pretty regularly. Isumi pushed his hands inside the pockets of his jacket, his breath making a mist in the air. Waya bumped him with his shoulder. "He's a lot like me, isn't he?" he said quietly.
"Le Ping?" Isumi asked. "I told you he was!"
"No, I mean ..." Waya shrugged, and shivered. "I think I might not be moving very much," he said, his voice low. "I just ... he's so much like me. And he's this kid. This really, really annoying kid."
"You're –" Isumi said, and then stopped. Waya glanced up, and Isumi cleared his throat, staring ahead. "You're not – that much like him," he said. His voice sounded strange. "Not in that way."
Waya rolled his eyes. "Well, yeah, I'm seventeen – but can anyone even tell?"
Isumi looked at him. The light from inside the hotel was catching his eyes, but most of his face was in shadow. "Waya-kun," he said. His voice was soft and strange. "You don't – seem like that."
Waya felt as he though he was caught, staring at Isumi helplessly. "Oh," he said.
Isumi was flushing; it took Waya a moment to see that, in the dim light. "So don't worry about it," Isumi finished, a bit randomly. Waya thought that he might not be sure what he was saying.
"Um." Waya shoved his hands in his pockets. There was a warm, happy feeling bubbling in his chest. "Yeah. Okay."
"Anyway," Isumi said eventually, looking ahead again. "Your Go would definitely beat him. If we go to China this year, you can play him and see for yourself."
"Good," Waya said. He tilted his head, yawning and happy. "Let's do it, then."
Isumi laughed. "If Le Ping's still alive," he said. "After Yang Hai catches up with him again."
"Nah," Waya said, grinning, "Yang Hai won't kill him. He's waiting for him to grow up and look like me."
"What?" Waya gave him an innocent look. "You don't get all the conquests, you know."
"That is deeply disturbing, Waya-kun," Isumi said after a moment. He was flushing again.
Waya snickered and bumped his shoulder again. This time Isumi swayed back with him a bit, keeping their shoulders in contact through the wool of their coats.