A/N: I really don't have much of an excuse for taking so long… except that I got all sorts of distracting things at Christmas that have managed to occupy my time (-coughphoenixwrightcough-). –blush- Then I had exams, so… -shrugs- at least it's out now, right?
Oh, and if anyone is re-reading old chapters looking for changes… I haven't posted changes quite yet, so just as a FYI: you won't find them. I'll definitely post at least some grammar corrections before the next chapter is out, but for now I decided to just get on with the next chapter before I finish fussing over past ones. And I'm still fussing over the summary. I'm terrible at writing summaries, and I simply can't find one that seems to fit this story.
Well, let's get on to the story now, shall we?
Chapter 15: "Tomorrow" and a Turning Point
"It isn't the burdens of today that drive men mad. It is the regrets over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow. Regret and fear are twin thieves who rob us of today." -Robert J. Hastings
Shindo Hikaru was, for the most part a very confident, determined person. That was to say, a good 80 or 90 of the time. Sai had had a hand in building Hikaru's confidence to that level, and to the point where very few things frightened Hikaru… at least in the realm of Go. Sure, there was still the rare occasion in which Hikaru felt something inside of himself freeze up at seeing the sheer amount of power Sai had in his arsenal of plays at work, but Hikaru was overcoming that. It wasn't so scary to see such power, so why…?
…why had that boy's piercing eyes stayed with him? Why did they unhinge him even hours later when those eyes and that boy were so far away…?
"…Your mind is not on the game Hikaru-kun."
Hikaru looked up, startled at his mentor, and immediately averted his eyes from his teacher. "…No…er, well, what I mean to say is…"
"What is on your mind Hikaru-kun? If you want to talk about it…" the older man eyed his pupil and sighed. "Theirs no point in hiding it. You've never come in with your mother for her night shift before, so the moment you walked in here I knew something was wrong. But even though I know something is wrong, I'm rather baffled as to what it is that's bothering you."
Hikaru stared at the goban in front of him intently, as if Sai would simply continue the game if he wished for it hard enough. But Sai did not say anything more, and merely stared at Hikaru silent and waiting. The boy shivered under his mentor's intense look, but for a long time he stubbornly refused to say a word till at last he could not take the silence anymore.
"…Touya Akira…" He whispered, hesitantly, still refusing to meet Sai's eyes. "…Do you know the name Touya Akira?"
Sai quirked an eyebrow at Hikaru, "Of course I know the name Touya." He whispered, "How could I not know the name Touya? He is everything I've ever wished to be."
Hikaru's head shot up upon hearing a strange twinge of bitterness in his teacher's words. Sai was hardly ever bitter about his predicament, and took everything in stride, but the name Touya…what was so special about that name to Sai? Why did it invoke such sour feelings in his sensei?
"Touya Akira is the son of Touya Koyo, holder of the Meijin title." Sai whispered, his voice strangely monotone, "He's… one of the finest Go players around. I've always wanted to…to…" Sai's words trailed off, and somehow Hikaru felt as if they weren't talking about Touya Akira anymore, "…But that isn't important." Sai continued after a moment of pause, "It's Touya Akira you're wondering about after all."
Suddenly, Sai's smile was back on his face as if had never left, and the older man peered down at his student, confusion evident once more. "Touya Akira is said to be a very promising player. He'll be a pro someday soon. Touya-kun… is on a different level then most players your age. I have never seen him play, but he's been mentioned in passing when his father's name comes up on Go shows or in magazines." And all of a sudden all confusion disappeared from Sai's face, and was replaced by a look of startled clarity. "You've met him."
It was not a question, but Hikaru felt it would be appropriate to respond as if it were. "Yes," There was no point in denying it; especially if Sai had already figured it out, "Twice actually."
"I didn't know his name the first time." Hikaru confessed, "Or else I forgot it. I don't really remember but…he did. He does, and… we met at the tournament today. And he wanted…"
"…A game; a rematch." Sai guessed, "You…beat him the first time?"
"Yes, but like I said, I don't remember…"
Sai smiled softly. "Oh Hikaru, that careless tendency of obliviousness will be the death of you." He eyed Hikaru critically, and then asked, "Tomorrow?"
"…" Sai eyed his student, an unreadable emotion glimmering in his eyes. "This is one of your first greatest obstacles Hikaru." Sai whispered softly. "You're afraid all over again, Hikaru-kun. You cannot give into fear again, or you'll risk loosing the hard work you've done thus far to overcome that fear. You are young, and your Go is yet delicate and new. You may not win Hikaru, but you cannot let that discourage you. If you are to lose, lose with your head held high, and give all you have to offer. Better to lose honorably then to win without having had any confidence in yourself. Hikaru…go home."
Hikaru stared at his sensei, wide eyed and startled. "…Sensei…?"
"Playing me isn't doing you any good. Get some rest, wake refreshed, and in the morning, show Touya-kun all you're made of. Don't hold back, and face him without fear."
"Go!" Sai exclaimed, causing Hikaru to jump and flee from the room like a startled cat, despite the fact that Sai couldn't actually cause Hikaru any harm.
Sai eyed the unfinished game before him glumly, and with a sigh, he looked out his window into the night. "…This game could make or break you Hikaru." He whispered, "This game is either the mark of a new beginning…or the end."
Hikaru's hands were shaking all the next day. Both Kimihiro and Tetsuo noted their friend's frazzled nerves, but Hikaru insisted that he was fine, so the two dropped it. All Hikaru could think about during the matches that day were intense dark eyes framed by dark hair—an ironic flip-flop of how things had been the day before—and Touya Akira sat silently in his school's Go club room, calmly waiting for the tournament to finish up.
Kimihiro eyed Hikaru worriedly as he watched his friend lose yet another game. Luckily, Tetsuo and he had been able to pull them to the finals, but against Kaio, they all needed to be in their top form. "Hikaru, what's wrong…?" the bespectacled boy asked his friend, "Is it the match against—"
"It's nothing!" Hikaru replied jerkily, "I—we'll do o.k. Don't worry about it. We're going to crush Kaio. We all will." He told him confidently, even though his voice shook. Kimihiro tried to reason with the other boy further, but was shot down, and ended up slinking off in exasperation.
"We're gonna' loose." Mitani told Tetsuo with a smirk, "Unless Shindo suddenly gets his game back… it's already over."
"Shut it rookie!" Tetsuo growled, elbowing the other boy roughly, "Hikaru will…he'll be o.k."
Mitani's words however, turned out to be prophetic, and Kaio took the cup; Again, and for the fifth year in a row.
"It's alright," Kimihiro insisted, "There are always other tournaments. It'll be o.k. We'll just… do better next time guys, o.k.?"
"You mean we need Hikaru to do better next time and not screw us over, right?" Mitani sneered, "After all, he's the reason we lost…" The moment the words left Mitani's mouth, Tetsuo jerked around violently, his face pinched and furious.
"Listen hear you snot…" he hissed, hovering over Mitani ominously, "you don't have the right to—"
"—to what, state the truth?" Mitani shot back, "Because that is the truth. Shindo wasn't at the top of his game today, and because of it, we lost. You can't deny the truth!"
"Why you—" Tetsuo looked ready to strike, but Kimihiro quickly wedged himself between the two.
"Fighting isn't going to help anything." He told them his voice soft but firm, "Violence isn't the answer."
"No! The rookie here has gone to far! He has no respect! If we don't show him what's what now, he'll never—"
Mitani and Hikaru (who had been hanging his head moodily until this point) looked startled, but no one looked more shocked then Tetsuo, who brought a hand up to touch his cheek where an angry red mark in the shape of Kimihiro's hand lie. He stared down at his friend in disbelief, seemingly not really comprehending what had just happened. After Mitani recovered from his shock, he let out a whoop and burst into chuckles until he too found himself nursing a red cheek.
Kimihiro regarded Mitani and Tetsuo with heated eyes and let out a huff of annoyance before addressing them at last. "This childishness ends here." He hissed in an uncharacteristically angry tone, "I've had enough of the both of you! All you two do is yell and argue at each other! Well, I won't put up with it anymore!" and with that, Kimihiro turned tail and stormed out of the room.
Tetsuo only paused a beat before screaming out, "Hey, wait!" and running after him, leaving Hikaru with Mitani, who was still nursing his cheek woefully. Hikaru stared at Mitani blatantly (and highly amused) for a long time before Mitani (who was not so amused) growled "Don't you have somewhere to be?" at him.
With a yelp, Hikaru realize he was right, and ran off to find the Kaio Middle School Go room.
Whatever anxieties had been forgotten in watching the strange exchange between his two friends and the new "rookie", came back with full force the moment he entered Kaio's Go room. Sitting calmly in the very center of the room was Touya Akira, perched silently over an empty goban. He did not look up when Hikaru entered the room, nor make any indication that he'd noticed Hikaru at all. Hikaru found himself holding his breath, as if any sound—even the soft sounds of breathing—would cause everything to fall apart. As if he had stepped into a fragile parallel reality that would break if he were to make any sound at all.
With light steps Hikaru made his way to the goban at the heart of the room, and took a seat across from Touya Akira. Akira was silent as he pushed a bowl of stones before Hikaru with a stony expression. Hikaru's hands shook ever so slightly and he bit his lip as he accepted the stones.
The click of Akira's first stone was loud, almost deafening in the silent room—or at least it was to Hikaru's ears. It was like all Hikaru's first matches with Sai all over again. He found himself feeling helpless in face of such power. It was a feeling he had thought he would never feel again, and yet there he was feeling pathetic and hopeless. It was over before it truly began, and Hikaru knew it. Hikaru looked up tentatively at Akira, and found the other boy's face to be expressionless. He fidgeted nervously and scanned the board, looking for a miracle that he simply couldn't find.
"…I resign." Hikaru whispered hanging his head and feeling more then a little disgusted at himself, "I…lose."
The scratch of Akira's chair against the linoleum floor brought Hikaru's head up, and the two boy's eyes met. Ashamed, Hikaru looked away, unable to meet Akira's intense gaze.
Hikaru looked up again, eyes wide. "…What?"
"Pathetic." Akira repeated firmly. "I waited so long for a rematch, thinking you were… well, I was wrong, so it doesn't matter. This was a mistake, and waste of both our time. Goodbye." But as Akira turned away, something in Hikaru screamed out and before he even realized what he was doing, he reached out across the table to grab Akira's arm.
Everything seemed to freeze as Akira turned his head slowly and deliberately, his eyes burning holes into Hikaru's. "What?" his voice was cold, icy even, "I've wasted both our time; it would not due to waste even more…"
"No!" Hikaru exclaimed, the words escaping his mouth before he could even think about what he was saying, "It's…this isn't me… it's…I'll show you!" Something in Hikaru burst then, and he felt as if he had no control over what he was saying. It was as if his heart had exploded into words, and he felt himself confessing to exactly what he felt, instead of uttering half thought out lies.
"Look, I'm still fresh, new, a rookie." He admitted, flustered and blushing, "I still have a lot to learn, and I still have doubts, and… I'm still afraid when I face something I can't really understand; when I see so much power before me, I freeze. You're strong, but… I can be your equal. I'll be able to face you someday with my head held high, and I can beat you again, I can! I just I know it! Right now… we may not be on the same level, but someday…I'll rise to your level, just you wait and see!"
Hikaru panted slightly after his exclamation, feeling exhausted all of a sudden. Forcing himself to look at Akira, he found the other boy wearing an unreadable expression. Silently, Akira pulled away from Hikaru's hand, which had been grasping his wrist lightly, and started towards the door. It wasn't until his hand was on the doorknob that he spoke.
"Very well." He said, looking back at Hikaru solemnly, "…catch me if you can." And with a single small genuine smile, the door opened, and he was gone.
Hikaru stayed in the room for a time longer, but finally, Hikaru rose, and left as well to find his fellow classmates.
"Stay away from me! I'm not talking to you; ever."
"Kimihiro, wait! Slow down!"
When Hikaru finally heard two shrill and tired voices, he knew he had found Tetsuo and Kimihiro at last. The boys were in front of Kaio middle school, where Tetsuo was apparently chasing after Kimihiro who seemed to want nothing to do with the other. Mitani was watching everything silently at a picnic bench at a safe distance away, and wisely chose to be silent for once.
"Can we talk about this?"
"There's nothing to talk about!"
"Yes there IS! Now stop running away!"
Tetsuo rubbed his cheek with a pout, but was seemingly unperturbed. "Now, now Kimihiro, what have I said about violence not being—"
Hikaru winced, and shook his head. While Tetsuo's dry sense of humor usually lightened the mood, in the current situation, the joke had been highly inappropriate.
"No, I've had it with you two! You two are always bickering! It's exhausting, and I don't want to deal with it anymore!" Kimihiro screeched, "I don't want you two to do this anymore!"
"All you have to do it ask!" Tetsuo screamed back in a moment of fervor, "All you have to do is ask me, and I'll do it! I'd be willing to try and not be a jerk if you would just ask damn it!"
Kimihiro blinked. "…just…ask?"
"…That's…all it takes….?"
"Oh." Kimihiro eyed Tetsuo, "Then… please? Er…could you try and be civil towards Mitani-kun?"
Tetsuo blinked, and suddenly realized what he had gotten himself into. With a shrug, he seemed to resign himself to the fact that there was no going back if he wanted to fix things between himself and Kimihiro. "…Fine. I promise. But if that snot—"
"Tetsuo." Kimihiro warned.
"—er, I mean, I promise; no strings attached."
"Very well. And you Mitani-kun?"
"Hey!" Mitani exclaimed, looking surprised by his sudden inclusion, " I never said anything about being civil towards—"
"Mitani." The look in Kimihiro's eyes would have been enough to even make a hungry tiger shy away in fear.
"…I promise." Mitani yelped, "I promise I'll try and be civil to that jerk!"
The angry look on Kimihiro's face melted away, and his face was lit up by his usual grin. "Excellent! Well, now that that's settled..." Kimihiro then took off down the street in a strangely energetic fashion, looking as if a great burden had been lifted from his shoulders. "Are you guys coming?" He called back, his tone more playful and teasing then it had been for awhile.
Hikaru approached Tetsuo and Mitani who were watching Kimihiro—with no small degree of surprise on their faces—quietly, and watched their friend skip down the street, before he at last halted, seemingly waiting for them to follow.
"…I think you've been a bad influence on Kimihiro, Tetuso." Hikaru murmured.
"I'm inclined to agree; that was your tempter... even though he expressed it in a slightly different way then you would have." Mitani agreed with a nod.
"Damn it; when did he get so dang manipulative?" Tetsuo wondered aloud. The entire group shrugged, and then set off, trying to catch up with Kimihiro. As they ran down the street following Kimihiro's footsteps, Hikaru made a silent promise to himself.
"Just you wait Akira-kun, I'll catch you before you know it! You'll see! Someday soon I be able to call myself your equal. I can do it! I'll prove it!"
It would not be the end, and Hikaru would not let one little loss drag him down. "From now on," Hikaru promised himself, "I can only grow stronger!"
It was, as Sai had hoped, to be a new beginning after all.
A/N: This isn't one of my favorite chapters…. –shrugs- I almost cut it off where Akira left the room, but then I decided to continue on, and write some more with Tetsuo and Kimihiro. :D Hopefully the next chapter won't take as long as this one to come out. –sweat drop- but I'll make no promises. Again.
As always, reviewers shall be eternally adored. ;)