Brightly Burning

A Hikaru no Go Alternate Universe

Disclaimers: Hotta and Obata. Shonen Jump. Not Mine.

Notes: This section is in aramina's honor for correctly guessing my blindgo fic for Round Three. Sorry for the delay! And special thanks to uminohikari, who dragged this over the coals for me in a spectacular editing effort.

Chapter 11: The Halcyon Days

March was a month for endings, at least for school. The new year started in April, just like the professional Go season. In a couple of weeks, the new shodans would start to play ranking matches. But for today, Touya Akira wasn't going to be thinking of Go. At least not directly.

Akira had never considered what Shindou's school was like. Akira himself went to Kaiou, one of the most prestigious schools in Tokyo. He knew, intellectually, that public schools were different, but he'd never really thought what one would be like.

He didn't have much contact with people who didn't attend private schools. Most of the people who became Go professionals came from well-to-do backgrounds, and had the time to devote to a "leisure" pastime – and could afford the fees of professional tutelage. Akira would be the first to admit that the Go world was insular.

Haze Junior High was located in a thoroughly middle-class neighborhood. Some of the buildings looked old, but all the businesses appeared to be well-maintained. The campus, Touya could tell, wasn't as nice as Kaiou's, but it wasn't horrible.

The sakura were just starting to form flower buds on the trees, the faintly pink petals tucked up tightly. In another week, they would bloom, just in time for graduation. Akira was attending high school since his parents thought it was important, but Shindou had announced that he was quitting.

Akira wasn't sure if he was jealous or not. He'd only known the new pro for a couple of months, but he was starting to consider him a good friend. It was a novel sensation, but took a lot of adjustment. He wasn't sure what friendship really required, but he wanted to learn.

And then he wanted to kick Shindou around on the goban. It would probably end their friendship, but Akira was used to people walking away. He hoped that Shindou was made of sterner stuff, but he couldn't be sure.

Privately, he wondered if he could win. Ogata's extreme reaction to Shindou was the same as Zama Ouza's during Akira's New Shodan Game. And Akira remembered that day, back at the ramen shop after Shindou had crashed and burned against Ogata. He hadn't hesitated, meeting Akira's challenge without fear, without doubt, despite his spectacular loss.

They had only played once, back at the Young Lion's Tournament nearly a year gone. He hadn't expected Shindou's skill; for his entire life, his father had talked about the joys of having a rival, but he'd been disappointed so many times before that he'd quietly stuffed it in the corner of his mind, deciding that he would just overcome everyone.

Then Shindou had arrived. Inside, a part of Akira had bloomed, like finally getting rain after one hundred years of drought. Ah, this is what it feels like to find a rival, he had thought.

He reminded himself that only time would tell if Shindou was "the real thing," or just another mirage. There had been others, over the years, who had presumed to challenge the Meijin's son. It was telling that he couldn't remember their names.

He desperately wanted for Shindou to be that exception.

In a couple weeks, Shindou would officially start to play in the leagues and that might shift their dynamics more. Akira couldn't wait for that to happen, but he'd found a tentative friendship blooming between himself and Shindou. Waya and Isumi were also becoming more than mere acquaintances, but it was Shindou that drew Akira's attention in a way he couldn't define.

Touya Akira had never had any friends growing up. None of his schoolmates had understood his passion for Go, and the professionals and his father's students were much older than he was. He'd always been mature for his age, but it was sometimes difficult to relate to the older men, since most had forgotten what it was like to be young.

After joining Waya and Isumi on that day in January, he found his world starting to open up. Isumi invited him to a couple of study sessions with other young pros; Waya had offered to help him install a new Go program on his machine; there had been numerous invitations from Shindou to have ramen. It was strange and wonderful to finally find people his own age to do things with, and he found himself looking forward to seeing them. Once he'd even managed to suggest they go to the movies, and all four had spent a fun afternoon.

Shindou, trite though it might sound, was a genuine force of nature.

Haze Junior High was preparing a final festival. Akira thought it was strange, but Shindou had extended a rather casual invitation, "You know, Touya-san, you're more than welcome to come." Normally he would have declined it, knowing it was just Shindou making an offhand remark, but he found himself unable to resist the chance to probe into Shindou's life. His instincts said that Shindou was going to be one of his greatest rivals, and knowing the forces that shaped him could only help in the long run.

But right now, he had other matters on his mind – like locating Shindou in this school chaos. He wished that Waya had been able to come, but he'd been tied up with moving. He and Isumi had found a two-bedroom apartment to share, and Waya was eager to leave home. Now that he was preparing to enter the professional leagues, he would have enough income to support himself.

"Excuse me, I'm looking for Shindou Hikaru?" Akira asked a passerby.

"Haven't seen him," the boy said, eying Touya's elite school uniform with disdain. He rather rudely kept on walking, leaving Akira feeling foolish for even trying. It might have been wiser to come dressed in casual clothing, but Akira knew his style marked him as a geek of the worst order.

Glancing around, he decided his best course of action would be to seek directions from a make-shift cafe that had been set up in one of the classrooms. He brushed passed a cheerful curtain, stepping into the room and feeling his stomach drop into his shoes.

It was hard not to want to back out as soon as he caught sight of the servers. All the girls were wearing aprons and cat ears; a few had even had attached tails to the back of their skirts. Akira had never understood the attraction of "cute!" that pervaded the Japanese culture, and he really didn't like things that were, well, silly.

Feeling a flush of embarrassment, he decided to single out one of the boys, who were acting as busboys. "Excuse me," he said, but his inherent shyness kept his voice quiet, and the room was loud, filled with the happy voices of teenagers. The boy just went on, having not even noticed Akira's presence.

He shut his eyes, wishing he had just thought to ask Shindou where he'd be. Maybe he should just go home. Luckily one of the hostesses caught sight of him, and saved him from his own cowardice.

"Can I help you?" a girl asked. "Would you like to have a seat?" She gestured to a gingham-covered table. The smile on her face was welcoming, but not flirtatiously so.

"Um, n-no..." Drat. He always stuttered when he was too out of his depth. "I was actually looking for a friend of mine." The words come out more easily. "Shindou Hikaru? He's a third year here."

"Shindou-kun? He's not in this class. I don't know what his classroom number is," the girl said, and she was kinder than the boy he'd approached earlier. "But Fujisaki-san is right over there, and she would be able to help you. They're good friends."

He thanked her, then turned his head to look for Fujisaki. He'd heard about her from Waya, but he'd never met the girl. Waya had never taken her to meet them, keeping his friendships separate from his love life. Privately, Akira thought it was due to Shindou's almost fraternal relationship with the girl.

She was setting down a couple's order, offering them a warm smile as she gave them dango. She was pretty, he thought, as he studied her. She had brown hair that had red highlights when it caught the light, and she was slender without being too thin. What he liked most, though, was the smile on her face as she discussed something with a classmate.

He waited a second for her to finish, before approaching. He'd never been particularly bold, but he was stubborn. He overcame his unease and walked right to her as she started for the "kitchen," a man on a mission. "Excuse me, Fujisaki-san?" he asked, and she turned her head to look at him.

Her eyes ran over him quickly, curiously, lingering on his school uniform jacket. "Yes?" she asked as she held her tray in front of her body, polite but wary. She was probably used to getting hit on.

"I'm looking for Shindou Hikaru, and I was told you might know where he is," Akira replied. His face felt warm, and he realized he was blushing.

"Oh! Are you one of his friends?" Fujisaki asked, and the reserve melted away, replaced by a smile. "He said he was going to try get some of his Go friends here."

"I'm Touya Akira," he said, bowing slightly. He wondered if she knew who he was.

"It's nice to meet you," she replied, returning the bow hastily. "Yoshitaka's talked about you a bit. Just let me get this sorted out, and I'll take you to Hikaru."

She was one of those natural-born leaders, Akira recognized, as she announced she was going to take her break, then efficiently delegated the tasks she'd been managing. She kept the apron on, but removed the cat girl ears. "They weren't my idea," she said with a smile as she tucked them into the pocket of her apron.

He was glad for her guidance as they went through the hallway. The cacophony of sound was disorienting, and people kept pushing through, zigging in and out of the crowd with aplomb. He had never actually attended one of his own school's festivals – his job was a convenient excuse – and now was glad of that. He didn't think his brain could cope with the sight of his classmates acting so... he couldn't think of an appropriate adjective.

"Have you known Hikaru for long?" she asked, as they came to a relatively clear place, where less action was happening. Apparently Shindou was working in another wing of the building.

"We met about a year ago," Akira replied. "During the Young Lion's Tournament."

She blinked, like she recognized the name. "Oh! I was there! You were the one that beat him," Fujisaki exclaimed, before putting a hand over her mouth. "You must be very good."

He didn't remember seeing her, but he'd never had much of a memory for faces. He could remember every hand of the game he'd played against Shindou that day, and that was what mattered.

"I'm a professional," Akira demurred, used to the compliments, although not usually from such a pretty girl.

"So's Hikaru now," Akari said softly, almost too low to hear. Akira decided to pretend he hadn't heard. She shook her head, shaking off a melancholy expression. "Do you like it? I mean, is it interesting work? Yoshitaka tried to explain it to me, but I just don't understand how a game can be so interesting."

Akira smiled at her softly, taking no offense. "It's hard to understand unless you play."

"That makes sense," she replied. "Yoshitaka's tried to teach me, a little, but I get confused." She took another quick turn, and Akira had to step quickly to keep up. "I'm going to get better, though."

"Didn't Shindou-san ever offer to teach you?" he replied, feeling a bit confused. He'd thought Waya had said that Fujisaki was Shindou's best friend. Surely he would have wanted to be able to play her. Even Akira's mother occasionally played gentle shidougo games with his father.

"No," she said, shaking her head. She looked down at her hands briefly. "He never asked."

Akira blinked a bit. He didn't get it, but some sense of caution warned him not to say that. "Are we almost there?" he asked. "I'm feeling a bit lost – your school has a confusing design."

"I'm just taking a shortcut," Fujisaki said. "There's a lot of traffic in the main halls right now, and it's quicker to use the back hallways."

Had Fujisaki not been so firmly linked with Waya, Akira might have found it hard to believe that explanation. As he had grown older, girls had taken notice of him. A couple of very strange scenarios had resulted, and Akira had learned not to let them lure him off.

They took two more hallways, and then they were back into the crowd. She led him straight to a classroom labeled 3-6. "He should be here," she said.

That was a mistaken statement, though, because when Akira followed her in, he was confronted by a mini-carnival in process – and no sign of Shindou. He wondered if he was imagining it, or if Fujisaki's eyebrow was really twitching. Probably the latter.

"Kaneko-san, do you know where Hikaru is?" Fujisaki asked.

A solid-looking girl selling tickets looked up. "He went to get more prizes about half an hour ago," she replied. "You should check the A/V room. Assuming he didn't get lost."

Fujisaki thanked the other girl for her help, and then signaled Akira to follow her. From the tight control of her movement, Akira recognized that she was starting to get annoyed. "If you tell me where that is..."

She shook her head. "It's not your fault, Touya-san. It's Hikaru's."

"Oh," he said, since there wasn't anything else to say as they started to retrace their steps into the back hallways.

Apparently that was enough encouragement. "Hikaru's been different the last year or so. He's really grown up a lot, though sometimes I think it's in all the wrong ways. He's so irresponsible sometimes." She stopped, turning to look at him. "I don't understand him anymore, and that's okay because he seems to know what he wants. I just wonder if it's going to make him happy."

Akira was tempted to tell her that if Shindou had Go, he would find happiness, but Fujisaki wouldn't want to hear that. Besides, Shindou didn't really seem to enjoy the game – occasionally there were flashes of genuine enthusiasm, but most of the time his demeanor rivaled that of Akira's father. Not that it was a bad thing, but it was surprising in such a young player.

Thankfully she didn't seem to need any response. "You must think I'm being silly," she said, smoothing her skirt with a stray hand. "Maybe it's just graduation nerves."

"It's not silly to worry about a friend," Akira replied.

She glanced over at him, her expression carefully blank. "Will you..." She hesitated.

"Yes?" he encouraged, his curiosity getting the better of him. There were plenty of ways for her to finish that question, and few of them would be things Akira wanted to do.

"Will you be his friend?" Fujisaki nibbled on her lip, tilting her head as she waiting for his response.

He smiled at her. "He's already my friend, Fujisaki-san." And Shindou was, which was what was so thrilling and confusing to Akira. "I will do whatever I can to help him."

He wondered if it was the light, or if her eyes were full of unshed tears. Then the instant passed, and she was all business. "Let's go find our wayward friend," she told him.

It only took another two minutes to get to the AV Room, which was in the most secluded part of the school. It was likely a popular hangout for students avoiding classes or playing hooky. Akira noted the lack of internal illumination, and was about to point that out, but Fujisaki kept moving.

"Hikaru?" Fujisaki called, before pushing the door open. "Hikaru!" Now she sounded scandalized.

"Whaddya want, Akari?" Shindou responded in a slightly slurred voice, like he was just returning to full conscious.

Akira peeked over her shoulder – he was a good four inches taller than she – and caught sight of Shindou, sprawled across the top of three desks. He was wearing his black school uniform, and his hands were tucked under his head.

"Just what do you think you're doing, Shindou Hikaru?" Akari asked, her voice chillingly familiar. That was how Touya Akiko spoke when she was angry with her son. The use of the full name was a dead giveaway indicating an angry female.

"I fell asleep," Shindou said, brushing his eyes with his hands, resembling a sleepy child. "Not like my class is gonna miss me. Whaddya want?"

"Your friend came to visit you," she said, crossing her arms over her chest and letting one foot tap with impatient condemnation.

"Friend?" Shindou sounded puzzled as he sat up, before catching a glimpse of Akira. "Oh, Touya-san!" He waved a hand, as he smiled, his cheeks – still a bit too round for true adulthood – lifted in a grin.

Akira was unused to having people so honestly happy to see him. "Hello, Shindou-san. I... decided to accept your invitation."

"That's cool," Shindou said. "Not that I think you'll like this festival thing, since they're all pretty-" A cough from Akari indicated it wouldn't be a good idea to finish the statement. "Ah, let's go get some takoyaki. You wanna come, Akari?"

The girl rolled her eyes. "Unlike someone, I have work to do. And weren't you supposed to be bringing prizes back for your class carnival?"

"Haruka took the last two boxes. Why waste my time?"

"You could go back and help," Fujisaki said tartly.

"But Touya-san is here now." The sly smile on his lips was more playful than Akira could remember seeing before. "It would be rude."

Fujisaki threw her hands into the air, rolling her eyes. "You're never wrong, are you?"

"Rarely," Hikaru replied as he hopped off the desks and re-buttoned his uniform jacket. "C'mon, Akira... I think the baseball team is selling takoyaki in the quad."

Akira looked at Fujisaki, and wordlessly bowed to indicate his thanks and respect. She returned the bow, dipping her body lower, as she silently asked for him to look after Shindou for her.

Waya tried to hide his boredom as he sat across from the old man, who was busy puzzling out his next move.

Glancing at the clock on the Institute wall, he willed it to skip forward. He clearly didn't have any superpower, though, because the seconds continued to inch by with painstaking slowness. He saw Morishita offering him a glare, and muffled a sigh as he turned his attention back to the game.

The Friendly Go tournament had hired a couple of lower-dan professionals to tutor. It was a mid-size event, staffed mainly by pros who weren't competing in major matches. The demonstration would be between Morishita and Serizawa, which Waya was hoping to catch. Watching his mentor play in public was a treat. There was always something sharper about Morishita-sensei's game when it was in the spotlight.

But he had to survive the morning first. He knew as a new professional, he would have to work his way up. Working these tournaments was a good way to make money, which Waya needed if he was going to keep his new apartment. He'd moved out the week prior, and he'd need to pay his share of the bills. Isumi had gracefully agreed to "cover things" until Waya was working full time, but Waya was determined not to be a drag on his friend.

Waya understood the necessity of catering to clients, but that didn't mean he had to like these events. Mentally he reminded himself that he was getting paid for this, and it wasn't the old man's fault that he wasn't even mediocre at Go. The man was trying to learn; surely that deserved a bit of credit.

Waya shared a problem with many bright people. He was used to learning things quickly, and didn't understand how solutions that were obvious to him evaded others. He had little patience for stupidity, and found others slow and trying. It was one of the reasons that Shindou's erratic brilliance got under his skin.

"There!" The man finally exclaimed, setting down a hand that effectively cut his own options in half. The move sucked, and Waya again had to refrain from sighing as he placed a response.

Twenty minutes later, Waya bowed politely to his client and bid him farewell. The man had been polite enough, but they hadn't managed to form any kind of rapport. He finally let himself indulge in that long-pent up sigh, knowing he needed to get better with people if he wanted to have any long-term clients. Some of the most highly-paid professionals were only mid-rank, but that was because they were able to hook some lucrative regulars.

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, considering if he wanted to go get something to drink. Maybe he'd invite Shindou, he thought, turning his head to see his friend. Shindou was been assigned the table next to Waya's, and would likely be done by now. Shindou always played so fast.

To his surprise, Shindou's client was still there.

Shindou was discussing a game with the forty-something man who was squinting through thick lenses. "So you see, if you'd extended here, that would have made it more difficult for me to connect," he said. He pushed one of the Go stones over a bit to demonstrate, discarding the traditional "discuss, don't show" policy of most professionals. "See? I would have had to go here, and then..." he continued to elaborate, rearranging the board.

"Thank you, Shindou-pro," the man said, a smile of enlightenment on his face. "You're very good at explaining things so my old brain can keep up."

"It's Go. Go can be as complicated, or simple, as you choose to make it," Shindou said. "If someone's willing to learn, then the least I can do is take the time to make sure they get what I'm saying."

The old man laughed. "It's kind of you, though. I'll be watching your career!" he promised.

Wouldn't it just figure. Shindou was a gifted teacher. Waya hoped the sound of him gnashing his teeth didn't carry.

Shindou laughed. "That's nice of you," he said. "I'll try not to disappoint!"

"I don't think you could!" the man replied, smiling brightly. "And I'll be able to tell my friends I got to play the great Shindou Hikaru!"

Shindou squirmed a bit in discomfort, Waya was pleased to note. "Um, thanks," he said, and he glanced over at Waya, before starting to clear the board. "I'm going to have to excuse myself, Wakabayashi-san. Waya and I need to grab lunch before our next session starts."

After Shindou's client was gone, Waya decided it was prime time to yank his friend's chain just a bit.

"Does the great Shindou Hikaru want to join me for sushi?" Waya asked, clutching his hands in front of him like a fluttery tweenager. He even batted his eyelashes just to up the ante.

The look Shindou leveled in return could have wilted flowers. He stood up slowly, carefully straightening his clothing before looking over at Waya. "Were you born a jackass, or did your parents teach you to be one?" Shindou asked.

Ouch. Zing. Waya winced a bit, wondering why Shindou was being so offensive. Waya had only meant it as a playful poke, not a combative statement. He tried to think of something to say to defuse the situation as Shindou started to walk by him. He'd thought they'd been back to normal, but apparently he'd just screwed up and set Shindou off again.

Shindou spun around abruptly, and before Waya could think to respond, was on him. "Sucker!" Shindou yelled, messing up Waya's hair and hooting happily as Waya grimaced. He hated having his hair messed with – it was something of an ongoing prank of Shindou's.

Waya growled low in his throat, reaching out to catch Shindou to deliver a noogie retribution. Shindou, laughing merrily, dodged out of Waya's range. "You're buying lunch!" he declared, sticking out a tongue.

Waya scowled, but the sound of a clearing throat caused him to stiffen. Turning around, he saw Morishita, wearing a stern frown on his face. Dammit. He'd forgotten they were at a Go event, hardly the appropriate place for horsing around. While Shindou still didn't get the way the Go world worked, Waya certainly knew better.

"I'm sorry, sensei!" he said, dipping a low bow of apology to Morishita, hoping to appease the older man without bodily pain to himself. Morishita had wicked aim with that fan of his, and he had a very, very loud voice when annoyed.

To Waya's surprise, the nine dan didn't seem angry. He tapped his fan against his hand. Waya's master was looking at him thoughtfully, and Waya wondered what was coming. "If you two can put some of that energy into your games, you just might make the Hokuto Cup Team."

"What's the Hokuto Cup?" Waya asked, unable to suppress his always-present sense of curiosity. He'd never heard of a Hokuto Cup – and he thought he knew all of the competitions he was eligible for. Not that there were many, considering his inexperienced professional status.

"It's a new tournament for under-18 professionals from China, Korea and Japan," Morishita said. "The announcement just came to the Institute's news department, and Ishinami mentioned it to me since two members of my group are going to be eligible."

Me. Shindou. Waya looked over, and noticed that Shindou was paying attention, an intense look forming on his face. There wasn't excitement there, but likely Shindou didn't get what a big deal this was. Unless a younger professional had mad skills like Touya Akira, there were few tournament opportunities.

Or Shindou, the jealous part of his mind prodded, which Waya squished down firmly and placed in a tiny mental box marked "do not disturb."

"Touya Akira's already been offered a seat, based on his performance and membership in the Honinbou league," Morishita continued. He snapped his folded fan across the palm of his hand a couple times. "One of you needs to make it! For the honor of our study group!" Then he smiled, showing his teeth. "It would be even better if both of you qualified."

Morishita somehow managed to glare at both Shindou and Waya at the same time. Waya swallowed, feeling the pressure start to condense on his ill-prepared shoulders. He hadn't even had his first oteai, and he might end up playing against some of the best young professionals in the world? Waya followed the international Go web sites, and knew China and Korea both had several young prodigies that would be eligible for the tournament. Japan, on the other hand, had a smaller Go program, and fewer options.

He could feel the excitement racing through him. Shindou was likely to qualify for one of the two open positions; and it'd be perfect if he secured the third. The three of them would claim glory for Japan, and then move on to terrify the current title holders...

The fantasy harshly popped as reality set her cold fingers upon Waya's fancy. Waya was good, but there were other young professionals that he'd have to defeat – like Ochi. And if it was single elimination, then he might end up facing Shindou too soon.

If the Hokuto Cup tournament was comprised of youth of Shindou and Touya's skills, then Waya could well be getting in over his head even if he did win the right to play. Waya looked over at Shindou, knowing that a showdown – much more important than the Young Lion's Cup – was coming.

There were no friends across a goban - only rivals. Shindou had taught him that.