Disclaimer: I don't own Hikaru no Go.

This one's for you, Aishuu-san! ^_^ A happy ficcie!!

Angst and humor do *not* go together. ^_^ Oh well… So yeah, this is a relatively light fic, compared to what I've been writing lately. Heh. Heh. Heh. ^_^ (It's not my fault J.K. Rowling had to be so cruel in the fifth book!! Tho it probably is my fault for letting myself become "inspired" by certain events…)

Notes: I used the translations at Toriyama World. (Which are now gone forever… *sniff* On the bright side, they're finally gonna publish HnG in the U.S.! Yay!) This is based on scenes in Volume 17 (Chapter um, 45-47 I think?), during the big game between Hikaru and Akira, from the POV of one of the minor characters.

Stuff in italics is generally for emphasis, or else it's the person "talking" to himself. I think there are one or two instances where the italics indicate a flashback. Stuff in parenthesis is his subconscious speaking… lol…

                                                                        ~Rivalry~

            I sigh. Clench my fist. Then open it. Clench it again. Open it.

            I am so damn nervous. Really, though, I shouldn't be. I should be used to this by now!

            Stay calm, I tell myself. You've gotta settle down if you wanna win this game.

            But it's no use. I'm already sweating, and it's barely 53 degrees Fahrenheit* outside, and terribly windy, too.

            Taking a deep breath, I open the door to the Institute and walk in, trying to act as confident as possible.

            I glance at the clock. I'm early. Really early. Plenty of time to kill. No, let me rephrase that. A LOT of time to kill.

            I lean on the counter, space out, and start chewing on my nails.

            "Ohayou!" An overly cheerful voice breaks through my thoughts. From the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of unruly wild brown hair and garish red stripes heading over in my direction. Great. That can mean only one thing. (Only one person I know has such crazy hair AND such crappy fashion sense…)

            With a plop, he settles down next to me. And then straightens up again, noticing something. He points at the game listings for the day.

            "Today's the big game, eh, Saeki-san?"

            Way. WAY. WAAAAY too cheerful. Seriously. As if I needed someone to remind me…

            "Yeah," I reply morosely, "I'm playing Ashiwara from Touya's group."

            He turns slightly more serious, apparently noticing for the first time how freaking nervous I am.

            "Morishita-sensei's thunder will be incredible if you lose this one," he says, innocently concerned.

            Ugh…

            I groan silently, wincing.

            …

            …

            "Don't put pressure on me, Waya," I manage at last.

            Right on cue, an extremely annoying voice calls out at that moment. "Ohayou, Saeki-kun! Let's play well today!"

            …

            The last thing I could possibly want to hear now. That guy is just WAY too happy. He's even worse than Waya; at least Waya can be serious. Sometimes. I can't believe he's actually my –

            I stare at him as he walks away, happily humming some stupid American pop song, horribly off tune, too. Wait a sec… Isn't that a Buritani** song?!? You know, that horrible blonde American pop star who can NOT sing at all?? (Americans have such bad taste, jeez!)

            A bead of sweat runs down my neck. Waya, beside me, stares at him too as if he has gone insane. Then again, Ashiwara Hiroyuki*** is insane. (Anyone who likes Buritani Supirusu has to be insane…)

            Dude, even I can sing better than that. Hell, I bet even Morishita-sensei can sing better than that. On second thought…

            I turn back around to continue brooding, but Waya interrupts with a question.

            "Hey, Saeki-san, I've been wondering about this for a while… but, is this rivalry between the Morishita and the Touya groups just one-sided on our part?"

            …

            …

            I did NOT need to hear that.

            "… Don't say that, Waya." He sighs. I continue to mope.

            To tell the truth, though, I've already suspected that for a long time.

            Damn.

            "Waya! Saeki-san!"

            What the hell is it with the overly cheery people this morning?

            Waya doesn't seem to mind. Not a big surprise.

            "Shindo," he says, turning around to greet the kid. He then apparently remembers something rather important. "Shindo! I got a call from Isumi-san last night, and…"

            Shindo Hikaru. Damn, that kid scares me. Him and Touya Akira and that Ochi boy Waya is always complaining about. They terrify me. I swear. Especially Shindo. And to think that I once thought Morishita-sensei and Kuwabara-sensei were the scariest people ever in the world of go…  Was it just two years ago that Waya first dragged him into one of our study sessions? The first time I met him – I remember, I liked him at first sight, to tell the truth. He was a good kid (translation: extremely easy and fun to tease), really, and it was always amusing to watch sensei blow up at him, frustrated; it's always fun to get sensei pissed off. And of course, Shindo's big mouth never failed to get him into even MORE trouble… Then again, he did have his moments, now that I think of it. Like that time he came up with that brilliant move that none of us saw; though still, those were relatively rare. Back then, Waya and I would always take turns slaughtering him. Big ego-booster, I can tell you that. But now – now, Waya stands no chance against that kid, and I…

            "Your opponent today is Mashiba-san?" I hear Shindo asking.

            "Yeah," Waya replies. "And you're playing Touya?"

            "Yup." There is a strange tone to his voice. Is he afraid? No, it's something else…

            The door opens. And guess who walks in.

            Touya Akira and the Ochi kid – I can never remember his name.

            Touya and Shindo glance up. Their eyes meet only for a second, but the flicker of challenge that flashes between them is painfully obvious to me. It piques my curiosity. Don't think Waya noticed though. Poor kid, he can be even denser than Shindo sometimes… Ah, but that's what I like about them.

            As Shindo gazes after Touya's retreating figure, Waya speaks up. "… Ochi, what were you talking about with Touya?"

            I listen to the kid's response while observing Shindo pull off his shoes hurriedly.

            "Touya said to me, 'I heard you're undefeated.'"

            "That's it?"

            "I answered with, 'It doesn't compare with your heroics in joining the league.'"

            Shindo stalks off to the playing room, almost – eagerly? Waya and Ochi seem to have finally noticed, too, as they pause for a moment, watching.

            They then continue. "Then after that, I asked him, 'An easy win today against Shindo?'"

            Waya snorts. "He probably said something like 'Of course,' right? Right now he's only concerned with the top players."

            But Ochi says nothing, still staring at the door to the playing room. I glance over, suddenly feeling an urgent need to know exactly how Touya responded.

            "What did Touya say?" asks Waya, sounding almost fearful.

            "… 'I won't know until we play.'"

            Shindo…? Sweat begins rolling down my neck again.

            Ochi continues. "Remember when Shindo became an insei? There were rumors that he was Touya's rival."

            I think I'm about to have a major headache. Touya Akira, the unbeatable child prodigy – rivals with Shindo Hikaru, the complete blockhead, who knew absolutely nothing about go until about two or three years ago? It is a ridiculously hilarious, yet terrifying thought.

            "Nobody believed that back then," says Waya thoughtfully. "So in the end, it was true."

            I…

            "We have to step up too."

            "Yeah! I'm just getting started."

            Waya… Does he realize…? Will any of us ever be able to catch up?

            "Oh, yeah, I play you next week… That will be fun," comments Ochi in a perfectly calm voice. I smirk, bracing myself for Waya's response.

            "Punk!" he yells. "It'll be fun for me too!"

            I can no longer help it and start to laugh out loud. Now THIS is why I put up with his idiocy all the time. Waya glares at me, and I glance at the clock, trying to smother my laughter – it's about time. "Now," I say, "I'd better get into it too."

            Waya stops trying to beat up Ochi. "Yeah, let's do our best, Saeki-san!"

            Yeah.

            Right.

            I kneel down before the goban, still feeling somewhat tense. At least Waya's little mood swings have loosened me up enough. I think. Enough to settle down and play, at least.

            Man, sensei is SO gonna kill me if I lose.

            Behind me to my left, I hear Waya taking a deep breath. He should be fine, if his opponent is Mashiba; that kid passed the test through sheer dumb luck. It would serve him right, too, if Waya beats him. Mashiba can be irritatingly arrogant at times, er, most of the time – no, ALL of the time.

            Behind Waya is Shindo. And Touya.

            Ashiwara settles down before me. Thank GOD he finally quit humming that stupid song. And he actually seems somewhat serious now. It's funny, but that's what playing go does to you. You can be the most clueless moron in the world, but sit down in front of a goban, pick up some stones, and something about the game just transforms you into the very epitome of seriousness and concentration. Of course, there are exceptions. Touya, for instance. He's always serious.

            Damn, it's getting hot already. I glance up at my rival.

            How can he wear a suit on a day like this?? It's not even a formal game, and no one wears a suit for prelims and oteai!! Hell, even Mr. Stuffy-son-of-a-former-Meijin Touya's not wearing one. Like most of us, he's just wearing a semi-formal sweater, with a white dress shirt underneath. Seriously, it's not like we're upper dans and pretty much required to act all formal and stuff. We're still in the lower dans, he-llo! No one cares if you show up dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, I mean, just look at Shindo and Waya! (Slobs, the two of them!)

            The buzzer sounds, announcing the start of our games.

            We quickly nigiri.

            I get white. Shit. I HATE playing white.

            I sigh. I'll live. I hope.

            "Onegaishimasu!" Oh, Kami-sama****. I thought only bubbly teenage girls could sound that cheerful.

            "…Onegaishimasu…"

            I don't even know when I started thinking of Ashiwara as my rival. Maybe it was when we first met (I don't even remember when we first met), maybe it was when we were insei, fighting for a place among the pros, or maybe it was when Touya Kouyo, of all people, invited him to his study group and I got stuck with Morishita-sensei… Ah, heh, no offense intended, sensei…

            SHIT. Sanrensei… I hate that opening. It's my favorite one to play as black, but as white… Man, this sucks.

            Was it even me? Or was it sensei who first created this feeling of rivalry in our minds?

            Can it even be called a rivalry if only one party actually considers the other as an adversary?

            Sometimes, I wonder, is it really me who wants to win so badly, or –?

            Of course I do, I chide myself. Of course I want to win.

            Because if I didn't, then what was the point of playing anyway? I might as well just forfeit the damn game before it even started. Hell, if I didn't sit down in front of the goban wanting to win this game, every game I ever played, then I never should have become a pro in the first place. I wouldn't have – I couldn't have.

            Only the most dedicated and the most passionate go players can ever make it to the top. Yes, even if you've got all the talent in the world, it takes a dogged sort of dedication, and an extremely deep love for the game to truly excel at go.

            Ugh, he's started humming AGAIN. Isn't there some rule against distracting your opponent while you're playing?? AAAARRRGHH…

            I am totally gonna get slaughtered.

            The buzzer sounds again. Lunch.

            Escape at last.

            I leap to my feet as quickly as if someone had been holding a torch to my ass and look around for Waya, who I'm counting on to keep me entertained for the whole hour or so we get for lunch… and spot him standing over someone's game with a whole crowd of other people, watching.

            Who – Oh.

            I should have known.

            I saunter over, having nothing better to do, and, I admit, because I am just as curious as everyone else is.

            What I see stuns me.

            Laid out before me clearly in black and white is one of the most complicated battles I have EVER seen in a game. The type that you see only in a game between two masters…

            But within this tough fight against Touya he isn't losing… nags a voice inside my head.

            And to think that the game has only just begun –

            Shindo…

            The dreaded Voice interrupts my thoughts once more. "Saeki-kuu—n—" he yawns.

            I freeze, terrified. Oh, no.

            "Wanna go to lunch?"

            NANDE KUSO???!?!?!?!?!

            I turn around, staring at him disbelievingly. Blink several times. Nope, he's still there.

            Apparently I am not the only one shocked out of my wits. Beside me, I swear Waya's mouth is hanging wide open. And I hear someone whispering about rude, disruptive young people…

            Ashiwara giggles, somewhat nervously, and tries to explain. "Ahh, hehe, well, food just isn't as good when you're alone, you know? And Touya-kun never eats during lunch and all…"

            My wits have yet to return as he begins dragging me out the door.

            "Come on! I know this really good place…"

            Waya tags along with a concerned look on his face. Ochi follows him, apparently enjoying the free show. One by one, all the others file out as well…

            Please let me be dreaming.

            Oh lord. Please.

            We ended up coming to McDonald's.

            Actually, I think I was hoping to disgust him – like maybe somehow it would turn out he couldn't stand McDonald's and he would just leave us alone.

            No such luck.

            So here I am, munching on some greasy fries, while trying to ignore Ashiwara's endless blabbering. Waya, who was somehow convinced by Ochi to leave me alone to deal with this deranged idiot (mental note: MUST KILL OCHI.), glances over occasionally, obviously worried. Wow, I feel so loved.

            Blah blah blah. Blah. Blah blah blah blah.

            If Ashiwara doesn't kill me with his nonsensical chatter, sensei definitely will when he hears I've been "fraternizing with the 'enemy.'"

            Huh. Some enemy.

            " – so you know, of course I said yes, so then we sat down and started playing… You know, it really sucks. I mean, we've been playing like forever and then a kid like him who's way younger than us just comes and totally slaughters us… Seriously, he's already in the Honinbo League and I'm still stuck at three dan… Yeah, I really should have known that I'd lose playing against Touya-kun, but I just thought… 'cuz he's still at three dan too… And I took black, ya know? But then again, he is sensei's son…" He trails off, giggling again.

            I nearly choke on my fries. "Touya – Touya Akira?"

            "Yep."

            "You mean… you lost to him?"

            "Uh huh. Totally got slaughtered. Maybe next time he should give me two stones handicap…"

            I can only stare. Seriously, I knew Touya was good, but –

            I guess I've just been lying to myself. Trying to convince myself that…

            "I – I know what you mean," I say suddenly.

            "Huh?" He's probably already gone off talking about something else.

            "Just two weeks ago, I was playing Shindo – you know, Shindo Hikaru?"

            He blinks a few times before the name registers in his brain. "Oh, Shindo-kun! Yeah, Touya-kun's always talking about him…"

            I take a deep breath. "… I lost."

            "Come on, Saeki! At this rate, you won't even be able to beat Ashiwara from Touya's group!"

            Sensei…

            What's the point if I can't even beat a kid who only started playing go two years ago?

            Ashiwara stops babbling, stares at me wide-eyed. What a miracle.

            "It's not fair… We've been playing all our lives… and Shindo, this random punk who knows nothing about go, just comes right out of nowhere… You know, he's only played for a little more than two years, now! And already… already he rushes to the top…" I pause for an instant, finding it hard to believe that I'm actually gushing out all my troubles NOW, of all times, to ASHIWARA, of all people, and at MCDONALD's, of all places. Hell, I can't believe I'm even talking to him at all. "Is this what we're doomed to? Obscure go players forever lurking in the shadows of those few, truly brilliant ones? That's not what I want! Just because we do not have the talent does not mean we don't have any potential to become great! I-I don't want to be forgotten – I too want to be acknowledged! I want to make a difference; I want to be part of the new wave of talent too!"

            "Why?" says Ashiwara suddenly, quietly.

            "W-what?"

            "Why did you become a pro in the first place?"

            Nani? What kind of a question is that?

            Yet when I stop and think about it, I realize that I don't really know the answer.

            What the hell?

            "I –"

            "Saeki-kun! Did you become a pro because you loved go, or because you wanted to be great, to be famous? Do you truly have passion for the game, or is this just your profession, something you do because it earns you money?"

            (Hold on, something's not right here. Ashiwara? Angry? Giving me a pep talk?)

            It is a long time before I can answer him.

            "I became a pro because – because it is my profession." He looks mildly disappointed, but I ignore him and continue. "And I chose to follow this profession because I love it – I love go, Ashiwara-kun. I love it."

            His face breaks out into yet another one of his inanely cheerful smiles.

            "Good," he says happily. "Because then it doesn't matter if we always remain in the shadows, cuz nothing matters, just as long as we're happy with what we're doing. And besides, just because we don't have talent doesn't mean anything. You're right. We still have potential! All we gotta do is work harder than everybody and…"

            I smile back at him.

            "Yeah –" (What in the world am I saying?)

            "I guess you're right."

            I notice Waya and Ochi staring at us like we've gone nuts. I should feel annoyed, yet strangely enough I feel calm, at peace…

            Maybe I have gone nuts. I don't care. If this is what it means to be insane…

            I think I like it better this way.

            I ended up losing the game.

            Shindo lost too.

            In fact, of the three of us, Waya was the only one who won. (Good thing at least one of us won, or else Morishita-sensei might blow a vessel or something at our study group tomorrow.) He's been teasing us about it all evening.

            But it doesn't matter. I know I played a good game. I know I still have room for improvement. I won't be stuck here with the lower dans forever – I have the ability to get even better, and someday, someday Ashiwara and I will meet again, only then, we'll both be at the upper dan level, and I'll truly be worthy of being his opponent.

            Because in the end, it doesn't matter if we win or lose. Though rivalries often drive us to improve, compel us to become stronger, sometimes, they may end up causing us more harm than good. Sometimes, it is the friendships resulting from our rivalries that become what is truly meaningful in our lives.

            Someday, I'd like to get to know my rival better. Ashiwara Hiroyuki – I never really realized that I don't even know who he is, what kind of a person hides behind that façade of moronic cluelessness. To tell the truth, he fascinates me… Is he really all that different from me? I want to know; I want to find out.

            And maybe, someday, I'll even learn to like Buritani Supirusu.

                                                                        OWARI

* I have no idea whether they use the Fahrenheit or Celsius scale. Also this took place in the summer, so I don't think it should be that cold… It's early in the morning, though, so there. :-P

** teehee ^_^ I'm evil. No, I don't know if that's what they actually call her. ^_^ ^_^ But technically, that's how they would pronounce her name. I think. *smirks* I apologize to any of her fans… I don't hate her, really, but…

*** not sure, but I think that's his first name.

**** yeah, probably very improper usage of the term "kami" but I couldn't help it. sorry.

Sorry for all the ellipses. ('…'s), and my extremely lame attempt at humor… and for the extremely cheesy ending… To tell the truth, though, this actually turned out better than I thought it would…

About Ashiwara humming during the game: yeah, I've actually had to play someone like that during a tournament once. -_- NOT fun. I think it was a Spice Girls song, too, not that I have anything against them, but… Then again, it was an amateur tournament, so there might actually be a rule against singing during a game for professional players. ^_~

I'm too lazy to put up a dictionary of ALL the terms this time. ^_^ They should be pretty easy anyway. Here is a term that people actually might *not* know:

sanrensei – In Chinese, it's san lien shin (sorry, my pin yin sux). Literally, it means "three stars in a row." Basically, it's a very popular opening that involves black playing on three star points in a row. It emphasizes quick development and influence rather than the more solid style of just directly staking out territory. (Both are equally viable strategies. Hard to explain if you don't play, though.)

Some things to think about: ^_^ *grins innocently*

To any Gundam Wing fans out there – Do you think Wufei plays go? After all, he's Chinese, a "scholar," and extremely proud of his own culture… And go, or weiqi, as it's called, is one of the "four arts" of ancient China (the other three are calligraphy, brush painting, and music). Hm…

To Rurouni Kenshin fans – Do you think Kenshin plays go? Or maybe Saitou? They are contemporaries of Honinbo Shusaku (well, born slightly before Shusaku died), ya know, and samurai were often taught how to play go as well as how to fight, because it was thought that it would help with their strategizing… In fact, go was even sponsored by the Japanese government for a while… (I know, I know, it's stretchin it, seeing as how neither of them are *real* samurai)

To Harry Potter fans – If there's Wizard's Chess, is there Wizard's Go? (Doubt it, somehow, but still…)

To Lord of the Rings fans – Do you think the elves play go? ^_^ Seems more subtle and elegant than chess, which I think would be the Men's game, but the Eldar are all about subtlety and elegance… No offense to chess players, of course. Hehehe… eh… *runs away from giant rook-wielding chess players… er, giant rooks, I mean, not necessarily the players…*

And of course, to the Star Wars fans – Do you think Yoda plays go?? ^_^ I think he does! Go is a very Yoda-like game! ^_^ ^_^ (Imagine Yoda sitting in front of a goban, playing against some random Jedi master, spouting words of wisdom… LOL) BTW, there is actually a professional Japanese 9d named Yoda Norimoto… NO KIDDING! lol…

Whoo, yeah, I'm definitely a go-crazed idiot. ^_~

Review, please? ^_^ I don't mind flames, they work way better than matches; except it's really hot in the summer here in California, so would you please try to keep them to a minimum? Arigato gozaimasu!