"I told you, you can't do yose!" Akira Touya yelled across the completed game of Go.
"You're a moron," Hikaru Shindou yelled back, "If I don't then there will be an atari on the right corner!"
"Not if you had defended earlier!" Touya glared.
Isumi gazed warily at Shindou rushing out the door to Akira fuming silently in his chair. He had been in the middle waiting for the fight that was bound to break out anytime soon. The North Star preliminarys for the third member of the Japan representatives had been three weeks ago. Isumi had passed without major glitches except for the last representative Yashiro who had played him last, it had been a furious game with the end of a single moku. Hikaru and Touya being four dan had had enough credits on them to get accepted automatically.
Now, the tournament a week away, Kurata had decided it was best for them to practice together. Touya and Shindou had invited him a week ago to their Go salon once he had been the official preliminary winner. He had been amazed at Touya and Hikaru's Go talents, they were geniuses. That was actually an understatement; they were mind-boggling and getting better by the day. Of course he wasn't left behind, a year and a half as a pro he already could play ruthless even games with high-dan players like those two. And yet…'those two' seemed to be the only ones to match each other's skill.
"He's such an idiot," Akira mumbled to himself more than anyone while collecting the Go stones from the board, a sure sign that it was okay to talk to him again.
"But he reached you," Isumi said bluntly taking a seat across from him. "It took him a few years but he did it, idiot or not he will surpass you one of these days, nigiri."
Akira scowled heavily but did as told, "He won't surpass me," he spat, eyes blazing.
"We'll be at each other's throats until we reach our death beds."
Isumi looked up taken aback, "He can't be your rival forever Touya-kun, there will come the time when you'll reach a crossroad of some sort. He'll find someone new to chase and so will you."
Akira opened his mouth but no sound came out, he felt unsure for the first time. New rivals…no, that's not for me… not for Shindou.
The game began in a steady pace but once established Isumi began to sweat. Akira was coming down on him mercilessly, this wasn't a practice game; this was for real. Risking a glance he saw Akira's burning eyes and then Isumi realized he had struck a nerve.
Seventeen year old Hikaru stomped out of the cool Go salon into the blazing sun. How was it that Akira could always get on his nerves? They'd known each other for years now and they still managed to fight like a cat and mouse. The fights had decreased a bit that's true, but still…
A grin tugged at the corners of his mouth, of course without fights he would be forced to have a normal conversation with Touya, how awkward.
The North Star cup was approaching in another week but Hikaru wasn't really looking forward to it. Ko Yeong-Ha wouldn't be there this year apparently he had family issues of some sort, Hikaru had sulked for days after hearing the news.
'I would've showed him this time,' he thought sourly, "Showed him how much better than him I am now."
Their last encounter burned in his insides. It was a searing mixture of humiliation, guilt and anger.
Humiliation at being defeated by half a moku, guilt at being unable to protect Sai's game, and anger at his own game for not being enough.
Hikaru strolled easily down the slightly crowded downtown streets, a fan swinging lightly in his left hand. Two years, two whole years without that silly ghost by his side, without that wise teacher that always gave him the tiny bit of hope in times of need.
"Hikaruuuu! You're so mean, I want to play!"
The small smile that had played on his face a few seconds before disappeared slowly. Sai sometimes appeared in his dreams but these were just stupid dreams that involved elementary school and Sai begging to play. It wasn't the real Sai, just the Sai of his memories. No matter how sweet the dreams though, it was never enough. It wasn't the same as having the purple-haired ghost play endless games of Go in his room at night, or being woken up early in the morning by that piping voice ordering to play more. It just wasn't the same!
'I'm lonely,' he realized suddenly coming to a halt in the middle of the moving crowd. People jostled and collided with him but he ignored it, his insides beginning to feel like lead.
'Sai is in the Go I play, Go is my life, and I have Akira to keep me in check of the goals I have…but why do I feel so…empty…so lonesome?'
The image of Sai behind him pointing out moves and giving comments flashed through his mind, a lump formed in his throat, there was no one back there anymore.
It had been there, in the pit of his stomach, the corner of his mind, the depths of his heart, that feeling he had failed to recognized that night after entering his room after Innoshima in search of Sai and realized he was truly gone: Abandon.
People's complaints reached his ears breaking his thoughts. Clutching the fan like a life-line, Hikaru hurried through the crowd. This wasn't the time to get depressed, it would affect his game. Akira would notice and start complaining, there was enough complaining already to deal with.
His stomach rumbled but his pocket was empty, no ramen for him, damn. He would have to settle with whatever his mother had prepared tonight.
He fumbled hopefully in his pocket for the fifth time with no luck; shooting a wistful look at a ramen restaurant he rushed to turn the corner block on a noisy arcade.
The person seemed to have materialized out of thin air before him. It took him by surprise that he was unable to ready himself for the imminent collision. The stranger took it better, he remained standing after they bumped while Hikaru had been sent flying to the ground only to land painfully on his rear, the fan went skating off to the side.
"Watch it will you," the stranger remarked yet handing him a helping hand.
"Yeah—sorry," Hikaru mumbled taking the offered hand. He stood awkwardly dusting his behind that was sure to be black and blue tomorrow. Smiling broadly at his stupidity he looked at the poor stranger who had grabbed the fan of the ground and was now handing it to him. "Thank y—."
Violet eyes stared back at him, a soft smile, the hand holding the fan. It was all there. The face, the long hair, the presence…
His breath caught painfully in his throat and he had become aware of how difficult it had become to breath. His heart pounded and the world seemed to stand still. Maybe God had heard him after all…