Grudges have a way of lingering.
He notices Akira's sempai and stops, confused by their positioning. Akira breathes through a suddenly dry throat, trying to summon a scathing retort on the subject of Shindou's constant tardiness, but Ito has him trapped against the wall with one arm and he can't, can't speak like this. It doesn't matter, anyway, as Kojima turns (slowly, like a snake) and asks of the emptying corridor, "What's this? The little Go prodigy was actually meeting someone?"
Ito sniggers, leaning closer to add "Bet it's out of pity - who'd want to hang out with an anti-social jerk like this?"
Shindou's eyes are narrowing, his stance firming into something just a little more - aggressive, Akira might say, if he'd ever seen Shindou like this before. "Hey." It's loud, too loud against the bare tiles, "Hey! I don't think I like the way you're talking, now." He's brash and unnerving with that ridiculous hair and baggy clothing, but all Akira can think is that even Shindou Hikaru, master of ad-hoc victories on the goban, can't possibly pull this off.
Ito pushes off the wall, turning just enough to acknowledge Shindou. His body still blocks Akira against the dank tiles, where he leans, eyes wide. "Oh?" Ito's voice is dangerous, predatory. "But we were just reminiscing with an old classmate. Fond memories of Kaiou Go Club, you know." And Akira does - that devastated storeroom was the first time the sound of stones on a goban had ever felt malicious. "It's terribly rude of you to interrupt, really."
Kojima smirks up at Shindou against the reflecting light, "Yes. Why don't you run along, now? This isn't exactly any of your business." If he was lucky, Shindou would take their advice - bad enough he'd seen this, Akira can't imagine the shame if his rival ends up rescuing him from these thugs like some Western fairy-tale prince. His cheeks burn behind a curtain of hair, humiliation weighing thickly on his tongue.
Shindou's eyes are hard and Akira shivers as a hint of menace sinks into his rival's frame. "I don't know who the hell you think you are," he hisses, and the tension is growing until Akira flashes back to their second match, the crushing sense of defeat emanating from that ridiculously young face, "but if you think I'm going to walk off and leave Touya here with you bastards..."
The threat is just open-ended enough to make them shift, uneasy, and Akira is shaky with disbelief as Kojima backs up, just a little, shoulders curling slightly. It's enough, though - this posturing reminds Akira of feral cats circling in the alleys behind the Go salon, where one flicker of body language can be fatal.
"Take him," Ito bites, stepping back with eyes that flash cruelty, "what would I want with a pathetic piece of trash like that?" His hand is sharp and derisive as he gestures; Akira does not flinch. "Go on then. Take your useless boytoy. You'll see what he's like - everyone does, in the end." Turning smoothly, he walks away with the grace of the truly angry. Kojima is next to his ear, sudden and almost silent but Akira doesn't blink, not even as Shindou grabs his wrist and pulls him away up the stairs, leaving the pervasive whisper of 'weakling' behind him.
Open air, and Akira yanks his arm free, compulsively straightening his crumpled shirt with hands that are perfectly steady - the hands of a professional. He folds them into fists.
"What was that?" Shindou is furious, face red and gesturing wildly. "You - you were just - "
"I know exactly what I was just." Akira is cold. Cold, and if he weren't he'd laugh at Shindou's gaping jaw, he thinks he is but his nails are biting into his palms to keep still, deep red crescents he knows will take days to fade - "I know exactly what I was. Doing. What - what I don't know is why, why you felt you had to - " He's breathing fast and shallow, fumbling against the knot of humiliation lodged beneath a collarbone that's tying down his words, making them stumble, tripping his tongue.
"Because you're my rival!" Shindou's declaration is loud enough to draw stares and he quiets a little, voice and emotion compacted, not dimmed. "You're my rival, nobody has the right to talk like that when you could crush them blindfold, not until they can beat you like a novice. And nobody is going to beat you but me, you hear?" He has hold of Akira's shoulder as if to shake him, knuckles white against pale fabric.
Akira smiles, eyes still, and thinks about the foolishness of chasing shadows in the midday sun.
"You really can't shout at me for being late."