"Shindou… you don't have to do this."
Shindou Hikaru was standing by a frozen lake at the edge of a jetty, shivering a little as a few lonely snowflakes floated down from the sky on his bare skin. He was wearing nothing but swimming trunks.
"I mean it," Waya said, his voice worried. "This whole idea is idiotic. I bet it's some kinda joke played on stupid foreigners. I wouldn't have said anything if I'd thought you'll take it seriously!"
"I said I'd do it, so I will," Shindou muttered, curling his toes as he stared at the lake. A hole had been cut into the ice, big enough for swimming around a little, and in front of him a ladder went down into the water.
"Shindou… please. You'll catch a cold, or worse. Let's go back inside."
Waya was beginning to sound a little desperate. Probably, Shindou mused to himself, because he was worried about what Touya would do to him if he returned back to Japan with a human-shaped icicle.
But it was cold. He'd better make a move soon, before his feet froze into the jetty. He moved his weight a little from foot to foot. Good. They weren't yet frozen, it just felt like that.
"Are you going?" someone asked with a strong accent, and Shindou glanced over his shoulder, seeing two men behind him.
"It's alright!" A big fat man smiled at him and went by him. Shindou and Waya watched numbly as he stepped on the ladder and lowered himself into the water, followed by the other man. They swam around a little and rose then up, seemingly enjoying themselves. The man gave Shindou another smile. "It's alright!" he repeated. "Take it easy!"
And they went back into the warmth of the sauna.
Waya stared after them. "These people are crazy," he muttered. "Shindou, you…"
Right then Shindou bent forward and dove into the water.
It had all started one hot summer day, when they had been trying to play some go at a go salon that had awful air conditioning. Shindou had been dreaming of winter and snow, and Waya mentioned something about an article he had seen online about winter swimming.
"I swear, they had cut a hole in the ice and were swimming there! There was lots of snow and people who were in winter coats, and those weirdoes just floated happily in the lake!"
"Sounds great, doesn't it." Shindou's eyes were half-closed and he had a dreamy look on his face. "Mmm, ice cold water…"
Waya laughed. "Maybe it sounds good to you now, but I bet you'd think differently when it's cold outside. You'd be freezing!"
"I don't know, it can't be that bad. Actually, it sounds a lot better than this awful heat!" He was fanning himself with quick, angry motions – for once using his fan for something else than intimidating his opponents. "Should we go out? It's stifling here!"
"It's worse outside," Waya pointed out, and Shindou gave an exasperated groan.
"I hate this! I swear, give me a frozen lake and I swim in it any time! It's nothing to this hell!"
Waya snorted. "Sure. Let me remind you of that on some cold winter day. I doubt you're so happy about it then."
"Oh? Well, mark my words: if I ever just get the chance, I'll be sure to give it a try!"
They went on playing, and Shindou went on muttering about the heat, but soon enough they had all but forgotten frozen lakes and winter swimming. Until the winter came, and they had a skiing vacation in Lapland. (Shindou on skis was another catastrophe in the making, but he had insisted on the destination. "The northern lights, Waya! Think of the northern lights!" And so they had gone.) And one day Waya had pointed out to Shindou that there was a place for winter swimming nearby…
"So why don't you try it?" he'd asked with a grin. "You sounded so eager last summer."
Now, Waya was kneeling by the edge of the jetty, staring into the water with horror, certain he was partially guilty in the murder of one of his best friends. Or if not murder, at least involuntary manslaughter.
"Shindou!" he yelled. "Damn!" He glanced at the sauna. Should he go to get help?
"AAAAAAH!" Startling him so he almost fell into the water himself, Shindou's head broke the surface. Waya gave a deep breath of relief as his friend started splashing around in the water. "Burns! Ih… it… burns!" Shindou paddled to the ladder and started climbing up, limbs shaking, panting hard.
"You okay?" Waya asked, panic beginning to give room for annoyance.
"Ye-yeah," Shindou stuttered. "Can't… breathe," he panted on, collapsing on the jetty.
"I think you'd best go in the sauna now," Waya said after a while, as Shindou just stayed crouching there, panting and shivering.
"Sauna! Yes. Good." He got up and started hurrying toward the building. Waya stayed outside, shaking his head.
Well, at least the idiot lived. And no one would murder him for returning back home with an icicle.
It took a while, but finally Shindou came back out. His skin was quite red, but otherwise he didn't seem to have suffered any great harm. He was still wearing the swim trunks, though, and he stopped to chat happily with a couple of women with his broken English, his hot skin steaming in the cold air.
"Shindou?" Waya said, going to him. "Aren't we going now?"
"What?" Shindou paused. "Already?" He grinned. "I'm going to do it again!" And he headed back toward the lake, a happy smile on his lips and eagerness in his steps, with Waya staring incredulously at his back, and the first pale green lights appearing on the dark sky above his head.
A warning from the author: If you ever go winter swimming, don't do it the Shindou way. No diving!