Just a Game
Chapter 20 – Final Chapter
"It's been four years, right… Shouji Riku?"
Hikaru stood still after he heard that name come out of Touya Akira. He had expected Touya to find out that he was Fuji of the Internet Go based on his style of playing. But how could he have recognized him as Shouji Riku? How could he have known that he was also the black-haired boy who had defeated him more than four years ago? Well, not actually him… but Sai who had played through him.
Finally recovered from his initial shock, he shrugged and gave a fake laugh as he returned the boy's stare. "Shouji Riku? Who's that?" he asked nonchalantly.
"You're still trying to deny it?!" Akira bit out, trying to contain his anger.
"Hey Shindo, what's going on here?" Waya interjected, coming from behind Hikaru. He glanced from his friend to the furious go prodigy. "You know Touya Akira?"
Hikaru quirked a brow at him. "Everyone knows him."
Unable to control himself, Akira stepped forward and grabbed Hikaru by his collar. "Stop this crap Shouji! You know exactly what I'm talking about!" His voice was loud enough to ignite curiosity from other people. It was not everyday people from the professional world got to see the normally composed and poker faced go prodigy show such emotions.
Hikaru flinched at being called directly using that name. He didn't like it. "My name is not Shouji," he calmly said, averting his eyes from Touya's furious glare and met with another pair of eyes so similar to his 'so-called' rival. "Touya-sensei…" the name got out of his mouth in a whisper before he realized it.
Startled, Akira released Hikaru's collar and also glanced back and saw his father behind him. Blood came rushing to his face as he realized that he had caused quite a scene. It was so unlike him to act in such a brash manner, but Shouji's denial was such a disappointment that he couldn't help but feel angry and frustrated. Even Ogata and Ashiwara were quite dumbfounded at his display of emotions.
"So, that's the way it happened, huh…?" Hikaru whispered, finally realizing how Touya learned about Shouji Riku. Akira turned a confused look at him then back to his father.
"Shindo-kun…" Touya Meijin stepped forward as if trying to start an apology but Hikaru raised his hand to stop him.
"It's okay sensei. No need to apologize," Hikaru said, shaking his head. "I think it's a secret that's bound to be discovered anyway, especially since I'm already here in the professional world." Then he turned a slight smile to the younger Touya. "So now you know, huh?"
Touya Akira just stood there staring at him, seemed at lost at what to do next. The next thing happened was that they saw the go prodigy reaching for Shindo Hikaru's arm and pulled him from their notice. The poor bleached banged boy was too surprised to refuse and allowed himself to be dragged. He just yelled an apology to his friends saying that he'll meet them outside the Go Institute in a while.
"Now, what the hell was that all about?" Waya asked to no one.
The crowd already dispersed after the two younger pros had gone from their sight leaving only Hikaru's friends, along with Touya Meijin, Ogata Jyudan, and Amano still lost at what had happened.
"Ano… are Shindo and Touya friends?" Honda asked innocently.
"You call that friends?" Ochi snorted in disgust. "You have a weird definition of the term."
"Friends?" Ogata repeated. "If Shindo was indeed Shouji Riku, Akira-kun considers him more like a rival than a friend."
Isumi leaned forward and whispered to Waya. "Who's Shouji Riku?"
"The hell I know! I've heard them mentioning that name several times but I didn't understand a thing," Waya muttered. "He's Touya's rival?"
"But it seems they do know each other," Honda commented.
"Yeah, they keep mentioning about something that happened four years ago. Maybe they really know each other," Isumi remarked. "But Touya seemed angry when he recognized Shindo."
"That Touya Akira… He seemed different from what the rumours say," Kadowaki commented, turning to his companions. "I thought he was more… the proper type?"
Waya paled and stepped on Kadowaki's foot. "Idiot! Touya Meijin is near!" he whispered. They all glanced anxiously at the former Meijin whose eyes were fixed to where his son and Shindo went.
Touya Kouyo turned his head towards the white suit clad pro standing beside him.
"How did you know that Shindo is Shouji Riku?" Ogata asked.
"It's not my place to tell you that, Ogata-san," the former Meijin said quietly. "I already caused the discovery of his secret. I'm not going to reveal more."
"I'm sorry, Touya-sensei," Amano spoke. "I didn't know…"
"You heard him, Amano-san. It doesn't matter anymore," Touya Kouyo said. "I think he was more relieved to be finally freed from his secret."
"But Touya-kun was..."
"He was shocked of course, but he'll get over that eventually. Then, he'll be glad that he finally found his 'long-lost' rival," he responded.
Ogata chuckled at that, remembering Akira's earlier lost of composure. "Well, he seemed happy enough." He took a cigarette from his pocket and lit it. "The go world is definitely getting more interesting. Now, I really have to push that old geezer Kuwabara from his Honinbo throne."
Akira halted when he noticed that they were out of sight and pushed the boy with blond bangs against the wall to face him.
"Damn! What the hell was that all about Touya?!" Hikaru yelled at him, massaging his arm which Akira had clutched tightly.
"What the hell was that all about?" Akira repeated with a clipped tone. "Aren't you the one who should explain what the hell was going on here?"
Hikaru rolled his eyes. "What's there to explain? So it took me four years to decide to take the pro exams. What else do you want to know?"
"What's with the false name Shouji?" Akira countered. "Why did you hide yourself all these years? I've waited four years for you to show yourself. I've trained myself hard so that I could show you that I'm a lot better from the boy you trashed more than four years ago."
"So it was all about that game, huh? Geez, it's been 4 years and you still haven't gotten past a measly game? Grow up Touya!" Hikaru told him loudly.
"Measly game?! Have you taken me so lightly Shouji?!" Akira yelled at him, taking what Hikaru said as an insult.
"Shut the hell up Touya," Hikaru bit out. "Don't think that everything is just about your go. If I had hidden myself all these years, it was my choice. Stop acting like some immature kid having a grudge against me because I defeated you once."
"You already know my real name, and it's not Shouji Riku. My name is Shindo Hikaru. You better remember it well," Hikaru said as he walked past him. "Stop chasing after my shadow, Touya. I'm no longer the Shouji Riku that you met years ago. If you continue this, the real me will eventually surpass you."
"Huh?" Touya stared after him with a confused expression on his face.
After a few steps, Hikaru stopped but did not turn to look at him. "Whether I held myself back because of cowardice or not should no longer matter. The fact that I finally walked into this path should be clear to you that I'm now more than ready to battle with you." Then, he continued walking forward.
When he saw Hikaru turn slightly towards him, Akira didn't hesitate to ask him one of the other things that had bothered him. "Please tell me… are you also Sai?"
A hint of sadness crossed Hikaru's green eyes as he heard the familiar name. "No. I use the handle Fuji in the internet go as you already know."
"Then was he your teacher?" Akira persisted.
"He was my friend and mentor. But he's already gone," Hikaru replied with a wistful tone in his voice. He no longer felt the need to deny Sai's existence in his go. He learned go because of Sai and Sai deserved that credit. He turned his back on Akira and said in a low voice. "Touya… Sai was a ghost of the past."
He then walked away leaving the go prodigy with a bewildered look on his face. Let him decipher what that meant. Nostalgia filled him as he reminisced his days with Sai. The sudden disappearance of his dear friend and mentor had been like a ghost that had haunted him, leaving him at loss at what he should do with the knowledge of go that was left to him. Go was more of Sai's dream, but fate had pulled him into its world. He lost Sai, but Sai continued to remain in his go. He knew that it was his destiny to fulfill Sai's long-dreamed wish… to reach the Hand of God. But considering his young age, being thrown to carry such a responsibility was more than he could handle. He chose cowardice and hid in the depths of the internet and in an unknown salon to satisfy Sai rather than to improve himself. It took Sai's disappearance to make him realize that he really wanted to play go, not just to make the moves for Sai.
He continued walking forward and gave a slight nod at Touya Meijin as he passed by him and proceed towards the exit of the Go Institute. Stepping out of the building, he smiled as he saw his friends waiting for him. He was thankful that he met Waya, Isumi, and Touya. Because of them, he was finally able walk the path that Sai had been pushing him to. Yes, Sai belonged to the past. He should focus more on the future so that he could realize Sai's dream. But still, amusement filled him when he realized that when he said to Touya that 'Sai was a ghost of the past,' he meant it literally.
That confrontation had caused a scene and brought whispers whenever Touya was around. No one really understood what happened except that Touya Akira 3-dan and the newly turned pro Shindo Hikaru seemed to have a shared history of rivalry. It wasn't sure how that rivalry started, even among the friends and acquaintances of both parties. Touya Kouyo remained silent, so was Ogata Jyudan, though his curiosity still awaited to be satisfied. Waya and Isumi were able to get half of the story from Hikaru and seemed satisfied with it. Knowing Hikaru's skills, it was possible how he was able to catch Touya's interest. But for those who had no idea or background of the real situation, they regarded the rumour as baseless and unbelievable. Touya Akira had already caught the attention of the higher dan players, not because he was the son of the former Meijin, but because each game result proved it. But the younger Touya was already exposed to go since he was born. Given he was under the supervision of his father and other higher dan pros, he was expected to receive advance lessons in go. But to acknowledge the strength of an unknown shodan, without a single amateur tournament record, was something else.
April came, and the new pros were finally awarded their certificates. As the new pros were ushered inside a room where their orientation was to be held, Hikaru caught sight of Touya Akira staring at him. It had been three months since that confrontation, but Hikaru felt like it was just yesterday. That was because Akira was still glaring at him, and even with a fiercer and more determined look. He later realized the reason after the orientation, when he saw the pairings for the Oteai games. He was matched up against Touya Akira on the first game.
"I heard you won your fifth straight match," Kumitsu Sano 3-dan commented to the person beside him as they looked at the match ups.
Tsujioka Tadao 2-dan responded with a nod and also looked at the posted pairings. "Yeah, I was lucky at the last match." Then he turned to glance at the shoulder length-haired youth who passed by them and kneeled in front of the goban, obviously waiting for his opponent. "But I'm no Touya Akira. We passed the same year, but he is obviously at a level much higher than mine."
Kumitsu nodded his head in agreement. "But I was wondering about the rumour that he considers a certain shodan as his rival."
"A shodan?" Tsujioka asked.
"Yeah, I'm not sure of the name… It sounds like…"
"Shindo," Tsujioka suddenly murmured while still staring at the pairings.
"Yeah, that's it. I think it's Shindo," Kumitsu said suddenly remembering what he heard from a friend of his.
"Huh?" Tsujioka turned a confused look at him and pointed at the match ups. "I mean Touya Akira is paired up against a guy named Shindo Hikaru for this game."
"Eh?" Kumitsu glanced back at paper.
Then the arrival of a teen with blond bangs caught their attention when he paused beside them to scan the room, then walked towards Touya Akira and sat in front of him.
"That's Touya's rival?" Tsujioka asked slightly pointing at bleached haired boy.
Kumitsu scratched his head, trying to figure out if he heard the information correctly. "I'm not sure… he doesn't look tough. I guess I might have mixed up his name with someone else's."
"So this time has finally come, eh?" Hikaru remarked as they sat across each other, waiting for the game to start.
"We almost had one," Akira reminded him.
Hikaru chuckled. "The internet game? Yeah, it could have been our rematch game if you suddenly didn't get cut off."
Akira gave him a solemn look. "I still couldn't get it why you need to use aliases."
"When a person doesn't want to be found, he'll find ways to hide," Hikaru replied with a shrug. "But I'm done hiding. So you better show me what you got, Touya."
'You're on, Shindo.' Akira tried to hide a smile as they heard the official announce the start of the game. They performed nigiri and Akira got white. They both bowed their heads and exchanged greetings to start the game.
After the confrontation, some of his acquaintances had tried to confirm with him his rivalry with Shindo Hikaru. But he never gave a clear reply. Because he wanted to see for himself how strong Shindo was. The strength that he had feared… the strength that he had been chasing for all these years… the strength that he wished he could rival on. He could feel his heart beating rapidly as he made his move, then saw Shindo countered with an equally impressive one. Yes, he had longed for this game. Shindo had strong insight and analysis of the plans and strategies of the game. He could look several moves ahead, a strength that rivals that of a higher dan. But although he could assess his level of strength, something told him that his play was quite different from that of the first time they played more than four years ago. His style was quite similar but… not really the same. Their first game was more like… Sai's.
Each of them continued to attack each other's territories while trying to defend their own. When the bell rang for lunch, some players approached their area to check on the game.
"Wow, it's even," Waya whispered to Saeki.
"Yeah, it seems Shindo can really match well with Touya," Waya remarked. He caught Hikaru's glance and gave him a signal that they would wait for him outside.
After they had left, Hikaru turned to Akira. "It's already lunch. Why don't we grab something?"
"I don't eat before the game is finished," Akira responded.
Hikaru shrugged and stood up. "That's a weird habit. Don't blame me if you'll lose because of hunger." He was by the door when he heard Akira spoke.
Hikaru turned around to look at him.
"Sai must be proud of you," Akira said in low voice. "You learned well from him. Although, I'm still confused with you as Fuji. I read that Fuji was a crappy player before… it's quite contradicting…" Then he sighed as he touched his forehead, failing to notice that Hikaru paled at what he said. "Never mind what I said. It doesn't matter anymore. I've seen you play… I guess I could assess that your skill is real."
A smile formed on Hikaru's face. "Thanks," he said as he turned to leave. "Maybe someday I could tell you all about it."
Akira's head jerked up in surprise and stared at his retreating back. He quickly got up and dashed out to follow his rival. Their loud bickering continued until they got into the elevator.
"What do you mean by that? I knew it, there's still some mystery behind this!"
"Well, you said it doesn't matter anymore."
"But I that was because… you said you'll tell me!"
"I said someday, baka!"
The game continued after lunch and the furious battle between territories continued. The position of the stones became more complex, and neither players would give an opportunity to the other to secure the win. Even the official who had stopped to take a look at the progress of the game wasn't able to take his eyes off the board and just settled himself to watch it until the end. Before they knew it, a small crowd was formed surrounding both players as they continue to battle out until yose.
Their hands graced on the board's surface as they skilfully moved the go stones to perform seichi. Dead silence surrounded the place as onlookers crowded over them as they anxiously awaited the results. When the last stone was moved, the crowd began to whisper enthusiastically after the winner was clearly determined.
Both players however remained silent, just seated there staring at the final pattern of the game. Suddenly, one of the players bowed his head.
Akira stared at the blond bangs of the boy bowing in defeat in front of him. How he had dreamed of this event… of finally having Shouji Riku, or Shindo Hikaru finally acknowledging him… his strength. He didn't know if Shindo's 'unbelievable' strength four years ago was just due to his own perspective as an amateur. Honestly, he wanted to say that Shindo was stronger back then. But maybe, it was because his own go had grown immensely during the years especially when he finally joined the pros. But nevertheless, he was happy (though he'd never admit) that Shindo had finally shown up. After all, his loss against Shindo became his drive when he turned pro. When the boy lifted his head to look at him, Akira couldn't help but notice that there was no disappointment or frustration on his face due to his loss. Strange, but he had a contented look on his face.
Akira started to clear the board, but he couldn't stop himself from commenting. "That was a great game," he whispered. He lifted his head and met Hikaru's green eyes. "I was finally able to catch up with you."
An amused smile crossed Hikaru's expression as he helped in clearing the board. "Catch up with me? You're sorely mistaken, Touya," Hikaru remarked. "It was I who was able to catch up with you."
Akira's brows furrowed in bewilderment. "W-what?"
Hikaru just gave a mysterious smile and reached for his backpack and stood up.
Akira also stood up. "Shindo! What do you mean?"
Hikaru just glanced at him and raised a brow. "You seem intelligent Touya. You figure it out."
Hikaru grinned, knowing fully that Akira was getting irritated. "Ja!" he said, then gave a small wave. But Akira followed him outside the room.
"You still owe me…"
"Geez. You're so stubborn."
"About Sai and Fuji…"
"Get a life."
Months had passed since their rematch and people finally got to see why Touya Akira had considered Shindo Hikaru as his rival. Aside from his first loss against Akira, Hikaru had swept easily through the lower dans. Also since then, Akira and Hikaru would be found playing each other in the Go Salon owned by Akira's family, the same salon where they first met. Hikaru refused to bring Akira to the go salon he frequented since the one-time he brought the go prodigy, it caused a lot of commotion.
The patrons had first thought that they were lucky to have two of the rising professionals in their midst to provide lessons and advise on their games. But having them playing against each other was a different thing. They had to suffer from the immaturity of both young players as they continue to disagree on even the slightest matter.
"You call that move brilliant?! No wonder you lost against Kurata-san!"
"Speak for yourself Shindo! You just won because your opponent wasn't that good!"
"Stop making excuses. Just admit that my move here was a better alternative!"
"You can't play in that position!"
"I'll show you. If I move here, you won't be able to save this cluster!"
"I can move here. Then your plan won't work!"
"So you won't yield?!"
"There they go again," an old man grumbled at Ichikawa, who just sighed at the young pros' behavior.
"I think that's how their friendship works," she said, already quite used to their bickering which became more of a routine. She would be more surprised if they got to play without yelling at each other.
Just then, two boys entered in the salon.
"Oi, Shindo! You're coming or what?" Waya called.
"Ah Waya!" Hikaru stood up and quickly cleared the board. "Touya, I have to go now."
Akira nodded and finished clearing the table. When he saw Ichikawa handing him his bag, he called him. "Shindo!"
Hikaru glanced back at him.
"It's 1 win and 1 loss for both of us now, Shindo. The next time we meet in an official match, I will definitely take the win," Akira announced to him
Hikaru snorted at that. "Yeah right," he answered back in a sarcastic voice. "You think I'll just give up the win that easily? Think again, Touya."
He gave a wave as farewell and went out of the salon.
"You know, we heard your voices even here," Waya commented. "You both sure like to shout at each other."
"It's his fault. He just won't concede," Hikaru muttered.
Isumi chuckled. "Neither would you."
Hikaru snorted and raised his eyes up the sky. A soft smile crossed his features as he felt the cold wind against his skin. 'Sai, I'm going to chase after your dream. I promise you that.'
He didn't know that just behind him, a silhouette of a young man with long white robes appeared. He opened his fan and covered the smile that appeared on his beautiful face. 'I know Hikaru… I know… and I'm always watching out for you…' Then he disappeared against the gust of wind.
Even from the outside, Akira could still hear Hikaru's boisterous laugh. Akira just shook his head at the immaturity of his rival but he couldn't stop himself from grinning too.
A whole new wave was coming, that was to be sure. With Shindo there taunting him, there was no way he would allow himself to fall back. He glanced down at the go board, its polished surface glistening against the light. Reaching down, Akira picked one of the black stones and stared at it. A slight commotion from one of the tables suddenly erupted.
"Damn! I lost again!"
"It's only one loss. What's there to be so upset about?"
"I just couldn't believe it! It was a stupid move!"
"Bah! It's just a game. Try to make up on the next game."
'Just a game, eh?' Akira thought. He flipped the stone up, then as his hand reached up to catch the stone, his thoughts continued.
For people like him, Shindo, and other go professionals who had dedicated their lives to go, it was not just a game.
It was their life.
Yay, finally finished it! I don't know if the ending seemed forced. Actually I initially planned to have two more chapters but then I thought I could just compress it into one. It has been almost a year since I started this and I'm happy, at the same time, relieved that I was able to complete it. Now I could go back to my other fics that I had forsaken. Hehehe!
Many thanks to all readers who had kept track of this fic and had vigorously reviewed. I'm really thankful for all your reviews and comments especially constructive ones that had helped in improving my writing. Going back to my first fics, I guess I could say there's a lot of difference.
I'm so moved that many liked this fic despite all the mistakes, grammatical errors, and update delays that I've made. I really love HnG fics. Actually, I do have an idea for a new story and I have already drafted the first chapter but I guess I have to delay posting it since I still got a lot of stuffs to do. :-(
To all who read & reviewed… Thank you very much!!!!!!
Darak: "Jeeze Akira it's been 4 years and you still haven't gotten past a measly game? Grow up" Hahaha! Hope you don't mind that I borrowed your line… XD.
CultKagome and Sesshomaru: yup Shindo/Sai played Shidougo with him. Yeah, Akira did thought that Hikaru seemed less skilled compared to when they last played 4 years ago. But then, that was four years ago, right? I think it's quite difficult to make an accurate assessment of a person's skill after that length of time. Akira had improved tremendously by the years, and it could be possible that his opinion of strength is different. Well, I'm not sure if this makes a plausible excuse though… XD
Zen: As usual, you always give the longest review. Thanks a lot. I really appreciate it.
Ryoma23: In this fic, Hikaru dyed his hair after his game with Akira. That's why Akira didn't recognize him at first.
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