The Never-ending Road: Chapter 1 – Growing Pains

By Leitbur

Disclaimer: I do not own Hikaru no Go, or any of the characters in it. Yumi Hotta is the brain behind this story, I'm just borrowing them.

Rated T I guess, to me it's a PG13 story. Mainly due to suggestive language and maybe a little violence, but not really.

This story takes place directly after the series ends with Volume 23 with the Hokuto Cup. This is my warning to any of you that might not have read that far into the series and don't want it to be ruined. Continue at your own peril.

"White's cut here was a good move. It took advantage of Black's two spaced jump."

Kiyoharu Yashiro, and Akira Toya nodded at Atsushi Kurata's remark. It had been an electrifying game, one that Hikaru had almost pulled out. Going into the game, not many outside of the room's four occupants had believed that Hikaru would have given any type of game close to this. Yashiro chimed in, "Here though, blacks move was brilliant. Ko Yeong Ha didn't see it until it was too late."

Again more nods. Akira now replied, "Yes, white should have swapped the order of these two moves, then he could avoid the issue."

After the closing ceremonies, the four members of Team Japan had agreed to meet back at Akira's house to finish discussing today's games. Yashiro would be staying the night, then leaving to go home to Kyoto in the morning. It had seemed better to do that then to stay in the hotels another night. While they had intended to discuss all three games, the First Board game between Hikaru and Ko Yeong Ha had been all they'd discussed thus far, and it was already getting late.

"This move, it separated White brilliantly. He can't just counter without putting his own stones in atari here."

"Yes, but White responded well here. The moves here forced a pitched central battle that cost Shindo territory."

The only one not talking, not even paying all that much attention, was the one who had played the game earlier that day in the Hokuto Cup. Lost in his own thoughts, Hikaru Shindo was reviewing not the game, but his own mental strength. He hadn't been strong enough earlier today, despite all his boasting. He had been selfish, forcing his way into the First Chair, just to take on Ko Yeong Ha, to vindicate Japan for what he had said about Shusaku. No, it wasn't for Japan; it had been for Sai. No one else knew, no one else understood the Sai that was in his Go; that drove him to seek the Divine Move. Yet today, he hadn't been strong enough.

Glancing next to him, Hikaru studied the intense face of his eternal rival. Akira was studying the board with powers of concentration that Hikaru knew matched his own. Would he have lost today? Could Akira have done any better than Hikaru had? The two had played so many games lately, and Hikaru knew Akira's strength. Still, they had played only once so far in an official game, and in such battles were where true strength, of both mind and spirit, were decided.

Akira meanwhile continued to study the Go board with eyes too transfixed to blink. This game… it was on a level beyond what he knew Hikaru to possess previously. He had gotten stronger. This was to be expected, in fact Akira would have felt betrayed if Hikaru didn't improve and grow in his Go abilities. What this game was showing however was that Hikaru had once again, moved closer to Akira.

It was true that the two were already neck and neck, and in fact Akira knew too well that the major difference in their abilities laid not in skill, but in experience. Hikaru would eventually be playing the high level Dans like Akira was now, and the edge in experience would dwindle further still.

Glancing over at his rival, Akira noticed the look in Hikaru's eyes. The pain and disappointment in them, he had experienced this before himself. Akira knew all too well that when Hikaru recovered mentally from this, that he would be even more formidable. His second game against Hikaru three years before, the one where he had been dominated completely, had caused a similar reaction for Akira. He could of course exploit this, attack Hikaru's wavering mental fortitude and delay his return to form a little longer, but he wouldn't. Not only because any victory would be empty, like a default win, and no true Go player ever wanted a default win, but also because Hikaru was his friend. No, not just his friend, he was his best friend. Their relationship over the years was complex for certain, and he doubted if he could describe it to anyone else, but it was what it was nevertheless.

Over the last two and a half years, Hikaru had been chasing Akira, and Akira knew that it would not last, despite his own steps forward. Soon they would be side by side, chasing one another, too close for one to be definitively seen as stronger. Where they would go from there he didn't know, but he couldn't wait to find out. The idea of the Go they would create filled him with joyous anticipation.

An hour later Hikaru and Kurata left, leaving only Yashiro and Akira to continue analyzing the game. When Akira suggested they analyze Yashiro's game next, Yashiro merely frowned, then replied that he'd rather play a game at the moment then review his earlier loss. This was something Akira didn't mind at all. After all, Yashiro was quite a strong player, although not yet near his own or Hikaru's level. Still, Yashiro's aggressive openings made for very fun games.

He was no closer though to solving the mystery that was Hikaru Shindo then he was the day he'd theorized, however crazy as it had sounded, that there was another Hikaru inside Hikaru. It had been the only thing that had made sense, in its own crazy way. The fact that Hikaru hadn't just blown it off, but suggested ever so slightly that he was on the right track, only complicated the matter. Hikaru was however, exactly what Akira had stated that day; nothing but the Go he played.

The matter with the Hikaru- Sai connection though could wait until later. At the moment, he needed to focus on the game at hand.

"This certainly was an impressive game Hikaru. This move in the center, I wouldn't have even thought of that."

Once again Hikaru found himself staring down at a recreation of his game against Ko Yeong Ha. It had been two days since the tournament had ended, but it was obvious that everyone Morishita 9-Dan's had wanted to discuss the game with him. The game records had been published after all, and would soon be appearing in Weekly Go as well, making it only the second time his games had been recorded, the first of course being the Shinshodan match against Toya Meijin, the game Sai had played. So he had complied, and was now explaining his thinking on different moves with a less than enthusiastic tone. A fact that was not lost on the rest of the group, Morishita 9-Dan among them.

Rubbing his chin as he studied the boy, Morishita tried to look beyond to what was troubling him so much. It wasn't very difficult. This game seems to be something of a sore spot for him. It's hard to understand, it was a brilliant game, far better than any I've previously seen him play. Perhaps there's something more to it? He glanced down at the fan that Hikaru carried around with him all the time these days, or at least whenever Morishita saw him. He was gripping it so tightly, as if holding onto it for dear life. Yes, there's something more to this.

Promptly, Morishita sat back and said, "All right, enough of this, let's play a few games." Looking towards Hikaru, he continued, "Shindo, will you play with me?"

Looking over to Morishita, Hikaru gave a weak smile and nodded. "Yes Sensei, of course."

As they began to play, Morishita watched Shindo carefully, noting the boys trademark extreme concentration. There seemed nothing wrong with his moves from a technical standpoint, but what was lacking was obvious; the passion he usually put into each move.

"Is this the first game you've played since that game on Sunday?"

"No, I played Hon Suyon yesterday at his uncle's Go salon."

Morishita cocked an eyebrow. "Really? What made you do that?"

Shindo nonchalantly replied, "I promised him I would before the Hokuto Cup matches. He wanted to beat me and tell me his name was Hon Suyon."

Placing a stone down, Morishita asked, "How did it go?"

Responding with a stone of his own, Hikaru answered, "I won again. He seemed rather disappointed."

Klack. Another stone hit the board. "Disappointed in his loss, or disappointed in the way you played?"

Hikaru looked up from the board at Morishita with a somewhat surprised look across his face. "Sensei?"

"I have watched your game improve and evolve over these last two years, but what has remained the same was the passion you played with. That passion is what has made you what you currently are. I do not see that passion in the Go before me. I do not know why that loss to Ko Yeong Ha has been so difficult for you, but that loss will only make you stronger unless you don't allow it to. It's your turn."

Hikaru just sat there a moment, then quickly played a stone on the board. Why am I like this? It's because I couldn't defend Sai, prove to Ko Yeong Ha that Shusaku… that Sai, still could teach things… right? Playing another move, then another, Hikaru shook his head, then slammed his next stone down with his anger. No, it wasn't just about Sai. If it had been Sai, he would have moved on from that loss the second the first stone of the next game began. He had always said that even losing had purpose. I'm mad at myself, not for failing Sai, but for failing myself. That game, it was the first time I'd lost a game I couldn't lose no matter what costs. Tightening his grip on his fan, Hikaru's hand darted up to the upper corner of the board to cut off Morishita's attack.

It was difficult, realizing that even when heart and soul were completely placed into a game, when nothing mattered but victory no matter how it was achieved, holding complete confidence in that strength, that defeat could still come. As he placed another stone, a smile crossed Hikaru's lips. This must have been what Akira felt after Sai defeated him that second time. The doubt that my skills are enough, that I'll ever attain that height. If Akira saw me now, would he laugh?

As Hikaru played his next move and the move after that, a presence began to appear on the board, and an all too familiar fire began to burn in his eyes, in his heart. Well, let's just see him laugh at this! The same for Ko Yeong Ha too. Next year, the next team tournament, I'll qualify for it, and show Ko Yeong Ha and Akira my kind of Go, and next time I won't just be first chair, but I'll beat Ko Yeong Ha too!

As his next move went down, Morishita grinned inwardly. It appeared that the boy was getting over the loss, and would be back to playing his style of Go again shortly. Good, because he had his own style too, and he planned to be around to show Hikaru just what he could do the next time they met in battle.

As Hikaru placed his next move however, Morishita gasped slightly, and paused. Staring down at the stone, he blinked, then snapping out of it played the attachment. He then waited for Hikaru's next move, which came right after. No, he must have imagined it. For a moment, he could have sworn though that when Hikaru had played that stone, his fingers had been glowing.

Author's Notes:

Well, I hope you've enjoyed this chapter. I intend to take this much further of course. While I had no problem so to speak with the official ending of this series, I found myself sad that I wouldn't get to see Hikaru's pro career continue on and to at least see how great he truly would become. Thus I decided to continue on with the story. How far will I go, well I guess that's why we keep reading.

This story is one of two I recently started working on, both running into snags. The first one I was having trouble deciding what to do after about the 7th chapter, and this one I was having trouble figuring out how to get it to about the 7th or 8th chapter where I would then know how I wanted it to go. Hence I've been toying with both for about a month now, and finally began to figure this one out. While I could have waited until I had another chapter written, I'm posting this now in the hopes that reviews and thoughts will help me see the path more clearly.

Also note, because it's not the only fan fiction I'm currently working on (my Master of Lionel story is still incomplete, and I will have to fix that, so check it out if you want) the updates for this may or may not be that quick. I suppose it all depends on how much my Muse focuses on each fic. Thank you and R&R.