Title: My Stranger, My Son
Author: Betula
Summary: Hikaru's father, on the subject of his son. Gen.
Disclaimer: Hikago belongs to Hotta and Obata. I'm just borrowing.

My Stranger, My Son

Hikaru was holding up much better than I had thought he would. He looked bored, and his half-dyed hair looked incongruous with his suit, but he remained tidy, and he hadn't yet said anything completely tactless. Still, Hikaru was unpredictable, to say the least. A sophisticated party was no place for him to make a spectacle of himself, especially one hosted by my boss, in his home, for the benefit of an important new client.

Hikaru was not the only teenager present. Watanabe, my boss, decided to make this a wholesome family affair, and invited all the children of his employees that were old enough to deport themselves properly. After a few attempts at conversation with the other youngsters, Hikaru had declared to Mitsuko andI that he had little in common with them. They talked about school and strict teachers and university entrance exams. He now stood against a wall, sipping lemonade and looking distant.

My son has always been something of a nonconformist. The fault for that was mine and my wife's, I suppose. We were never very strict with him. I had figured that society would force him into its mould sooner or later, so there was no need to over-control him. I underestimated how headstrong Hikaru could be. He found a way to cram society into his mould. He did it with such spectacular style, too.

Before he discovered go, we despaired over his schoolwork. Hikaru had plenty of brains, but was frustratingly reluctant to apply them. He wasn't precisely lazy – rather, his attention wandered away from any subject he wasn't interested in, and he made no effort to prevent it from straying. After he took up go, we thought that the intellectual game would stimulate an improvement in his marks. Only his history marks improved, however. And his go.

I have no idea what attracted him to an old man's game. Go had none of the loud noises and flashing lights that attracted children nowadays. I had learned to play at the same age as my son had, and it failed to hold my attention.

My father taught me the game in an attempt at father-son bonding. I was all right at it, and it was fun to play once in a while, but I know my father was disappointed that I didn't love it as much as he did.

Father has his revenge now, because my son loves go even more than his grandfather does. Hikaru even managed to convince his grandfather to buy him a goban – not a top of the line one, but not a cheap folding one either. I was angry with him for that, as I thought it too much for a boy whose interest would probably wane once he found a new video game he liked, or a sport he wanted to play, or girls he wanted to chase, or anything more normal for a teenager than go. When I confronted my father about indulging Hikaru's whims – which he did semi-regularly when Hikaru's allowance was cut – he was completely unrepentant.

"It's different this time, Masao. Hikaru has a great deal of potential. I couldn't, in good conscience, not give it to him." Was all he would say on the subject.

Then Hikaru wanted to become an insei. We let him try because Hikaru volunteering to study anything was a trend worth encouraging. Mitsuko thought that the test must not have been very hard, since some of the insei were much younger than Hikaru. I didn't disillusion her.

I have to admit, even with his conscientious study, Hikaru's full ambitions didn't dawn on me until he told us airily that he had passed the preliminaries for the pro exam. It was too late to discourage him. Hikaru was going to have to take the exam and deal with the harsh lesson failure would bring, we decided. But Hikaru didn't fail.

Mitsuko was torn between pride in Hikaru and hopeless worry over his future. I knew he didn't understand the concept of an adult career half as well as he pretended he did. It happened too fast, too young, and he would crash sooner or later.

And he did crash. At the time I put it down to typical teenage angst combined with the realisation that he had made a life commitment before he was ready, especially since he swore off go. I admit I felt some relief at first. Perhaps Hikaru would now direct his life along a more normal path, I thought. Go to high school, get a salaryman job, and get married to a nice girl. That changed as I watched him drift through the motions of normality like a ghost. Looking back now, I believe his behaviour was indicative of real grief rather than adolescent woe, and I was so estranged from him that even now, two years later, I have no idea what he was grieving for. Ironically, I was relieved when he returned to go with more enthusiasm than ever. He may have chosen an unusual life, but at least he was Hikaru again.

I was brought out of my reverie by Watanabe ushering Nakamura, the VIP, towards us. Nakamura was an imposing figure: a portly but tall man in his fifties. Watanabe looked weedy beside him.

"Shindo-san, you haven't had a chance to introduce your family to Nakamura-san yet, have you."

It was true, but I wondered why Watanabe seemed so intent on orchestrating the introduction. I introduced Mitsuko and she exchanged pleasantries with Nakamura while I waved Hikaru over. He pushed himself off the wall and wandered to my side.

"This is my son Hikaru."

Nakamura bowed, stared at Hikaru for a moment with disconcerting intensity, and said, "Shindo-sensei. Watanabe-san mentioned that you might be here tonight. It's an honour."


Hikaru blinked in momentary surprise, then flashed a grin. "You're a go player, Nakamura-san?"

"Yes, of course. No greater game for an intelligent man, in my opinion. I saw your game with Hoshino-7-dan in Go Weekly. It was close for a while there, but you outplayed him in the end. That hand of yours in the upper left was brilliant. It completely devastated his territory."

"It was a good game. He concentrated too much on attacking me, and left some holes in his defence, though."

The two chatted amicably about recent games, leaving the rest of us floundering. Mitsuko spotted someone she knew (the wife of one of my co-workers) and gratefully excused herself. I made some desultory conversation with Watanabe to which neither of us paid attention.

Eventually, Nakamura said, "I would love to play you sometime, Shindo-sensei."

Watanabe jumped in. "Why don't you play now? I have a board in my study, and I'm sure no one will miss us here for a while."

Nakamura raised an eyebrow at him. "You play, Watanabe-san?"

"I've recently taken it up. I'm just a beginner, though, nothing like you, Nakamura-san, or Shindo-kun here."

Nakamura frowned. "I've no objection, but Shindo-sensei..."

"I don't mind." Hikaru interrupted. "I'd much rather play than stand around out here doing nothing."

I closed my eyes. Hikaru was being far too familiar with a man more than old enough to be his father, who was accustomed to receiving the utmost respect. Usually Nakamura would have coldly put Hikaru in his place and not gone near my family for the rest of the evening. Now, Nakamura just smiled genially and accepted Watanabe's offer of the use of his goban.

The study was relatively quiet once the door was closed. The goban sat on a small table with a chair waiting on either side. The glossy surface of the board was devoid of scratches.

Once Hikaru and Nakamura slid into their seats, Hikaru said, "How many stones would you like?"

"Four stones please, Sensei."

The stones were laid in the four corners of the board, the two murmured the ritual phrase to each other and bowed, and the game began.

They were finished the fuseki before it occurred to me that I had never watched Hikaru play before. His callused fingers manipulated the stones easily, even gracefully. While Nakamura sweated and spent several minutes on each hand, Hikaru placed his stones calmly and with little deliberation. His face, usually so animated, was a mask with narrowed eyes and a straight, serious mouth. As the game progressed, I had the feeling that Hikaru was barely exerting himself. Black and white patterns formed to the hypnotic sound of stones hitting wood.

Nakamura bowed. "I resign."

"Thank you for the game." Hikaru bowed back.

"Thank you for the game." Nakamura replied warmly. "I haven't had a game that challenging in years."

"You're an excellent player, Nakamura-san."

"But nowhere near your level. That's the difference between a pro and an amateur."

"Shall we discuss the game?"


Hikaru launched into a detailed analysis of Nakamura's good and bad moves. Even I was able to follow his explanations. His tone was clear and his manner professional.

"The kogeima here was a good move, but an ogeima would have been better in this case."

Hikaru had changed. He was as tall as me now, and had lost his childhood plumpness about the face, leaving him a lean, handsome young man.

"If you had played here, you would have saved these stones from being killed."

Hikaru's greatest changes have been in his heart and mind, not his body. He was now confident in himself and his abilities and was focused on the great goal he had set himself in life.

"You could have cut my stones here, it would have forced me to respond."

The last vestiges of childhood had long been left behind. My son was all grown up, and I had missed it.

Watanabe still hovered solicitously over Nakamura, smiling in the way of someone wanting to appear knowledgeable when they were not. While Nakamura frowned thoughtfully over the board, Hikaru said, "Would you like a game too, Watanabe-san?" His tone was innocuous, but the look Hikaru directed upward was predatory, and Watanabe squeaked like a mouse confronted with a tiger.

"No thank you, Shindo-sensei. I must return to my guests, I've been neglecting them shamefully." He bowed to the seated pair. "Feel free to remain here as long as you like. Shindo-san and I will leave you to it."

I could only exchange brief bows with Nakamura and follow my boss in his retreat.

It was late when we arrived home. Mitsuko went to the kitchen for tea and Hikaru started up the stairs, stretching his arms above his head.

"Hikaru." He stopped and turned to look at me, but did not come down again. "I apologise for tonight. You shouldn't have had to do that."

Hikaru shrugged. "Doesn't matter. It's what I do."

"It may be your job, but you weren't getting paid for it tonight."

Hikaru shook his head impatiently. "The party was boring, I didn't mind playing shidogo instead. Go is my life." As he turned to continue up to his room, I realized he was trying to tell me something important. It was a simple thing, but I had nearly missed it.

"Hikaru, why don't we play a game sometime." I heard myself say.

Hikaru stopped and looked at me again. He smiled, and it was like the sun had risen. "Sure. I'd like that."

"I'm rusty. I haven't played in years."

"Don't worry about it. You can have as many stones as you need."


A.N. I wrote this ages ago, but forgot to put it up here until now.