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It Takes Two (Pairs) to Rengo

“Are you going to be a major nuisance this time, too? You know, you don’t really have to do it.”

Ko felt her lips twist in a smile even before she turned to look at the person leaning against her hotel room door. And sure enough, there was the owner of the voice, frowning down at her from her considerable height, arms crossed, the trademark haircut and various buckles on her clothes unmistakably identifying Japan’s most recognizable female Go player.

“Why, hello to you, too, ” Ko flashed Yashiro her the best smile. “I’m delighted you’ve missed me enough to show up without any ceremonies on my doorstep.”

“See, you’re doing it already,” Yashiro said, completely unfazed. “You don’t really have to act like the world’s biggest jerk when you’re not actually one.”

The fact that Yashiro said it unironically was both sweet and troublesome. Yashiro’s brand of uncomplicated straightforwardness was cute, but Ko happened to enjoy being a jerk, thank you very much, and didn’t plan on stopping that any time soon.

“I’m probably not doing a good job if I’m not even fooling you with my act,” Ko said with fake thoughtfulness. “Next thing I know, Shindou will come knocking on my door singing kumbaya.”

“About that,” said Yashiro with an alarming expression of a person who thought things were going their way. “Why don’t you try to get along with him?”

“Why would I?” Ko asked sincerely. “Shindou’s fun enough to rile up, but he’s hard to put up with in his normal state, unless you’re Touya Akira. In which case, my condolences.”

Yashiro let out a sigh of someone who currently had to put up with a broad range of quirks exhibited by professional Go players.

“I get along with both of them just fine, and I can’t see why you don’t,” she said with a frown. “And I really don’t understand why both of you insist on making a ruckus on every international event – seriously, do you take some of pleasure in that?”

It took Ko a massive display of willpower not to nod at that.

“Go publications probably benefit from the attention,” she said flippantly, but Yashiro was having none of it. She unglued herself from the door and walked to where Ko was sitting.

“Please, can you just try? I would be really happy if my friends could get along,” she said earnestly, putting on hand on Ko’s shoulder. “And preferably not by making the headlines together,” she added, only half-joking.

Ko thought that for someone who looked like a mean punk rocker, Yashiro could be awfully cute. Awful puppy-like cuteness was Ko’s one and only weakness – even she was allowed one, after all – and right there and then she saw no reason why she shouldn’t indulge it.

“Fine,” she said generously. “Bring your loser friends here. If all else fails, we can at least play a game or two, even if they turn out to be abysmal at small talk.”

* * *

Shindou considered himself to be pretty brave, all things considered. Fate threw Heian ghosts, drastic life changes, early career choices and bearded men left and right in his path, and he calmly and bravely faced all of that – even the bearded men.

However, Shindou could admit his bravery wasn’t limitless, and that it probably stopped short somewhere close to the mysterious land marked as ‘girls’.

It was not as if Shindou had anything against girls, not at all. Besides their general benefits like the ability to remember stuff he couldn’t be bothered to, or to mysteriously procure food around their person, they could be pretty cool friends. He knew Akari since forever – since that day she offered him her sand bucket and he put it on her head (ah, good times), and Yashiro was pretty great, too. She dressed better than all of the Nihon Ki-in combined (excluding himself, because in no way was Shindou like those stuffy old men), played mean hands that made the said stuffy men clutch at their pearls, and could even beat Shindou at video games (sometimes, very rarely, really, maybe half of the time, but definitely not more).

But Shindou was aware of the universal truth that deep down inside, all girls were scary, because it was impossible to tell when they would have one of their ideas. The kind of terrible ideas that they believed were for your own good. You never knew when they would flip the switch that would turn your old friend into an unstoppable force of nature.

“Whaaat? To Ko’s room?! No way!” Shindou shook his head violently.

Yashiro wasn’t impressed.

“Shindou, stop freaking out. We’ll just hang out for a bit together, that’s all. What are you afraid of?”

“I’m not afraid!” A tiny unimportant understatement. “I’m against it! Ko is a terrible person who says mean things, and I don’t know why I need to see more of her than I have to. And somehow she always makes it look I’m at fault! And for some reason, it always ends up in the newspapers – Touya even has the cutouts to prove it.”

Yashiro shot Touya a dubious look. He was sitting on Shindou’s bed laying down a game on a foldable goban and refusing to acknowledge that any part of the conversation had any relation to him. Touya had amazing skills at handling women, Shindou had to give him that.

“She is fun,” Yashiro said, turning back to Shindou. “You’ll like that.”

“Correction: she likes making fun of people, and I don’t like that at all.”

Yashiro crossed her arms and gave Shindou an ill-boding look.

“Shindou, if you don’t come to hang out with Ko, I’m not going to any more concerts with you, tours or no tours. You can try to persuade Touya to go with you to the next gig for all I care.”

Touya’s back immediately straightened.

“We accept Ko Yeong-ha’s invitation,” he said quickly.

“Traitor!” Shindou wailed. He knew it! Girls were terrible, terrible creatures who used every underhanded means at their disposal.

“I am not listening to your whining anymore, Shindou. We’re coming with Yashiro, and I think between us we’ll be able to keep you and Ko from any publicity stunts.” He gave Yashiro a mildly concerned look and added, “Probably.”

Terrible. Shindou was right to be afraid, it was self-preservation instincts talking, really. Those girls even lured Touya to the dark side, and he was now giving Shindou a look that promised violence at the prospect of the future where Shindou would attempt to sweet-talk Touya into going to a rock concert with him. (The first and – so far – the last time Touya went to one didn’t go too bad, in Shindou’s opinion. It was just that Touya was too fussy about things like stomping on shoes and blaring basses. He was probably secretly sixty-year-old or something.)

“Fine, I’ll go,” Shindou admitted grudgingly. “But you owe me for that.”

“Great! Thank you!” Yashiro looked disproportionally happy and leaned in to give him a rough hug. Shindou wasn’t very good with hugs and tried to telepathically convey that to Touya over Yashiro’s shoulder. Touya had the decency to look sympathetic but didn’t seem to be in any rush to intervene, but before Shindou had to detach Yashiro from himself, she remembered she was actually a cool person and moved away with a slight slap on his shoulder.

“Ko said there might be Korean snacks, too!” she said with a grin.

Well, at least they come with food, Shindou thought grudgingly.

* * *

Judging by the growing pile of empty Choco Pie wrappers, Shindou got over his reservations pretty fast, Ko thought. The evening wasn’t actually going too bad, even if she had to agree to the temporary ban of her all-time favourite Shindou activity of determining just how short his fuse was. Touya Akira turned out to be surprisingly capable of making small talk, even on subjects other than Go, Shindou was bearable when he kept his mouth otherwise occupied, and Yashiro- Yashiro’s grinning, animated face was well worth doing this, Ko thought.

When Ko’s sweets stash was completely depleted and Shindou started fidgeting around and invading Touya Akira’s private space in many inventive ways, she decided a change of pace was in order.

“Who’s up for a game?” she asked, setting down her custom-made foldable goban on the table. Judging by how Shindou’s fidgeting changed from alarming to almost human, the suggestion came at the right time.

“Hayago, hayago!” said Shindou enthusiastically, but before he could have everyone agree with him, Ko took the reins into her hands.

“There is an even number of players in the room,” she said. “Why don’t we play rengo?”

Judging by Yashiro and Shindou’s equally wide-eyed looks, they weren’t very familiar with pair Go. Or maybe they had never played it before? The thought was strange to anyone who studied under Korean Institute, which believed in using all the existing game forms and exercises for training its students, but Ko guessed things could be different for Japan.

However, she was obviously not the only person in the room who knew of pair Go, because it was Touya who spoke up next.

“I believe we even have the right number of women and men for a traditional game of rengo,” he said with a small cough. ”In a typical game, the players are paired up into teams of one man and one woman, and they each play a hand in turn.”

“Wait, am I reading this right? Four players, two teams, one board?” Shindou’s eyes lit up. Yashiro seemed very intrigued by the idea as well, and judging by the way she was chewing on her lower lip, already thinking through possible moves.

“Yes, exactly that,” Touya nodded and continued with a contemplative look. “But I think it would be more fair to pair up differently for this game, so that there is at least one person on each team with rengo experience.”

“I concur,” said Ko and immediately arranged the goke around the board so that it was clear who she was teaming up with. Yashiro rolled her eyes good-naturedly but didn’t object, and if Shindou’s slightly demented look was anything to judge by, he didn’t mind either.

“I like rengo because it test different strengths, builds different muscles, so to say,” Ko said, silently gesturing Touya to nigiri. “In any other game, you’re the chief-in-command, and your goal is clear. You set your stones as you would send your troop to battle. But in rengo, there are two of you who have the right to place stones, two generals that have to coordinate their movements without any messengers running between then, and unless you can read each other better than your opponent, you’re doomed to lose.”

Ko smiled with aniticipation. She was rather looking forward to this game herself.

The opening hands of the game established that Yashiro heard her message and was willing to hold back with her notoriously reckless plays in favour of extending and strengthening the hands Ko played. It was the objectively the best bet Yashiro could have made and at the same time a gesture of good will, which warmed Ko’s heart – after all, Yashiro was known for plays that were the opposite of conventional. With this stance, they had a pretty good chance of winning, especially if their opponents got bogged down in the struggle for leading the game.

If she was honest with herself, Ko would have to admit she was intrigued. She had played both Shindou and Touya in a number of international tournaments, and she had read enough of their kifu to know that while equally devoted to the game, they could not have been more different as players. Where Shindou was all tricks and sleights of hand, a player who read so far into the game that he ended up losing some of his matches only because he got distracted by winning some alternate version of them in his head (a habit which Ko personally found tremendously annoying), Touya wielded the knowledge of what seemed to be all existing Go forms like war machinery perfectly attuned to his needs (which got a reluctant pass in Ko’s books, mostly because it was hard to deny Touya’s efficiency).

And even without Yashiro’s anecdotes about her friends Ko was informed that the rivalry between the two of them was something of a national pride in Nihon Ki-in. It was either sink or swim.

* * *

It was fun, fun, fun. It was so much fun that Shindou wanted to shout at Touya why they had never played rengo before. He would have, too, if he hadn’t been too busy thinking through a move that was very likely to get Touya shouting at him in a hand or two.

Yashiro and Ko made a very good team, he saw that. It was pretty clear by early chuuban that their strategy had secured them two corners and a good chunk of the center, which would have been very hard to beat even in a regular game.

But this wasn’t any regular game. Touya, as was expected of him, had unmistakably identified the weakest point in their opponents’ defense, and set up at attack that could have lessened their position in the center of the board by half.

Could have, but would not.

Shindou grinned and slammed his stone down in what looked a lot like move that would send Touya yelling pretty soon. Let him think about that.

* * *

Ko would have understood if Touya had screamed at what had to be the world’s most dickish move ever played in rengo, but it not being her place to worry, Ko just played a hand that sealed the white’s dominance on half of the board.

Touya, to his credit, had not screamed, even if his hand tightened around the edge of the goke.

Yashiro was openly frowning at the offensive stone and at Shindou himself, who was visibly struggling but failing to suppress a smile. Ko was running through possible scenarios where Shindou’s last hand meant anything other than undermining Touya’s offense, but was coming up short.

After a long silence, Touya smiled a thin-lipped smile and put down a stone that almost made Ko scream in frustration. It was a terrible move, it made no sense, it added neither to their offense or defense, but Shindou looked like it was Christmas come early. Touya huffed and quirked an eyebrow in response.

Ko peered into the board once again. It made no sense if their aim was to advance their position in the game, but at the same time, it definitely wasn’t miscommunication on their part. Then what was it?

In the next several hands, the game steadied and the black stones had strengthened their position by effectively eating into one of the white’s corners. The battle for the corner was an unexpectedly tenacious one, and Ko was getting more and more glad by the minute that Yashiro was reliably backing her up, because the attack was surprisingly vicious for a territory so small. Just as she was thinking of putting an end this the battle and moving on a different part of the board on her next turn, Touya played a completely nonsensical move that had Shindou glaring at him angrily, and in two more moves, had Ko frantically counting the cost of abandoning their second corner without a fight and concentrating on expanding from the center instead.

And then, with the opponents’ next incomprehensible move, it occurred to her. And judging by Yashiro’s exasperated sigh, she had the same idea.

Their opponents were laying out traps for each other. Avoiding the trap was earning the other one’s agreement to continue with the chosen line of strategy.

It was ridiculous. It was unnecessarily complicated. And most annoyingly, it worked.

Almost worked, amended Ko, watching with satisfaction as Yashiro slammed down a stone for her next move.

* * *

“I thought the evening went well,” said Shindou, stretching his arms as they walked back to their hotel rooms.

“We lost, Shindou,” said Touya.

“If you hadn’t taken two stones to clear out the last trap, we could have made it!”

“If you didn’t drag that one into early endgame, we could have made it with better odds.”

“It wouldn’t have been fun.”

“It was an interesting challenge,” admitted Touya.

“I guess Ko’s not too bad, either,” Shindou added as an afterthought. “I guess we can hang out with her sometimes. Especially if she brings more of those snacks.”

* * *

Back in Ko’s room, Yashiro profusely apologized on behalf of her ‘mostly well-meaning but sometimes a bit tactless’ friends.

Ko generously accepted all apologies and said that she didn’t mind, and made a mental note to send a copy of the game’s kifu to her reporter friend. After all, some traditions were worth keeping up.

Date: 2014-09-21 12:50 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This is really cute. Hikaru is SOOOOO in-character, and Yashiro's design is very cool.


Date: 2014-10-11 09:10 pm (UTC)
meguri_aite: (Default)
From: [personal profile] meguri_aite
Thank you so much! I adore Yashiro's design a lot, too <3

Date: 2014-09-23 12:25 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
This is beautiful!! Both Yashiro and Ko are great as women and yes, that is how Shindou and Touya would play pair go. Because they are idiots. And I absolutely adore the character design for female Yashiro. It is fantastic!

Date: 2014-10-11 09:11 pm (UTC)
meguri_aite: (Default)
From: [personal profile] meguri_aite
Shindou and Touya would be DISASTROUS at pair go, DISASTROUS. That one time when their trademark telepathy turns against them :P
Thank you!

Date: 2014-10-02 11:36 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Rengo is a great idea. I'd love to read more fics about it =D
Hikaru/Akira dynamics are awesome.
I love Ko's character design.
Thank you for the story and art!

Date: 2014-10-11 09:12 pm (UTC)
meguri_aite: (Default)
From: [personal profile] meguri_aite
Thank you for the kind comment! And yes agreed, rengo is an awesome trope and needs more love:)

Date: 2014-10-03 11:19 pm (UTC)
coffee_flowers: (Default)
From: [personal profile] coffee_flowers
Ahahaha I'm sure fem!Ko and Yashiro are more than badass together! They also look so cool in the pic! I LOVE THIS SO MUCH!

And wow Shindou and Touya... they will never stop being stupid and obsessed, will they..

Why aren't there more Rengo fics btw, this is such a good trope COME OOOONNN

Date: 2014-10-11 09:15 pm (UTC)
meguri_aite: (Default)
From: [personal profile] meguri_aite
They would totally kick epic ass! And totally traumatize Shindou :P (and all hikago gen comes with akihika implied with me, sorry not sorry XD)

Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed:)


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