Just to make sure everything's clear.
Italics are thoughts.
And no, I don't own Hikari no Go. I mean, if I did, I would make sure that Akari gets more appearance. This disclaimer applies for the whole story.
Okay, on with the story!
Chapter 1: The Push Forward
When or how had she began harbouring feelings for Hikaru, Akari did not quite know. It probably was not an exact moment, but she did remembered being dazzled by his blonde bangs, once, when he ran towards her against the sun and when his smile was bright enough to fit his name. They were probably six then.
No. It would be creepy if I fell in love with him at six.
It is scary enough to think that she might have liked him in a dazed, love-hate manner since grade four, when the urge to insult the opposite sex did not stop them from continuing their friendship but often left her livid after a nonsensical argument which he claimed to have won. She had only know vaguely then, but she hated how when they argued he always had to say something belittling, like she wasn't on par with him. She had wanted to match him even if it meant calling him names that her mother would not hesitate to wash out of her mouth with soap should she have heard.
Then, his exposure to Go in grade six accelerated the whole realisation process. She first rationalised that she was upset by their increasingly sparse contact because he was, after all, her best friend. But the pang in her heart when she thought about them in past tense did not felt like mere longing for a friend, because she had known more friends through her Go club and they could not suffice. No body can quite cheer her up or anger her like Hikaru does. (Or did, she thought.)
For almost a whole year after her acceptance of her feelings, she was madly in one-sided love with Hikaru. All that entailed, really, was random but agonizing hordes of memories, guesses and second-guesses about him. Sometimes she would be reminded of a silly joke he told her when they were young. Sometimes she would wonder what he was doing right this moment and had to fight down the urge to run over to his house, because she had work to do and his lights were out anyways.
Sometimes she would think that no matter how cliché the fallen-for-best-friend-but-doesn't-want-to-risk-friendship situation was, she would gladly ask to be stuck in it – even if she would have none of the luck of a heroine of a romance novel – because at least it would mean they still have a friendship to risk and she could still call Hikaru her best friend. She had handed that title over to, most likely, Touya Akira, and she doubts that she can ever get it back, unless she suddenly developed a knack at Go.
Then she would see the neat writing of the notes she was studying blur before her eyes. She had lost him to a bloody game. The game that she liked well enough, but never seem able to become good at.
Now a high school sophomore and sick of her own tears, Akari had made her way from denial, nervousness, acceptance, to the stage called "wanting to get rid of it".
She wanted her thoughts about him to go back to having that carefree nature like they did during their childhood friendship – then, she would only ever briefly wonder which part of town Hikaru might want to explore tomorrow, and not stupidly contemplate whether Hikaru would prefer the company of a Goban or her if the end of the world came somehow.
If only she could understand what she saw in Hikaru, perhaps she could reason herself out of liking him. Why exactly was it that when other girls dreamt of the perfect date with riches and handsome features, she, rather un-ambitiously, dreamt of Hikaru with his cheeky grins?
"I like the game," Akari replied hesitantly, before adding, "and I probably am used to being in the club."
"Fujisaki-san," her career advisor paused and seemed to arrange the words in his head, "Your extracurricular has been Go club since junior high school, and you have been taking increasingly important charges in the Club. If you can somehow incorporate this fact in your university applications, it might be a merit. I remember you are considering a major in foreign language…Go-related journalism or translation could be prospective job for you. You may want to choose a school that offers student-designed major or training for sports journalism."
I don't know if I want that much Go in my life. Hiding her shock at the proposal, Akari nodded and thanked the teacher. She had stubbornly stayed in the Go club in her junior and senior high schools because she felt obliged and because, if only a little, she felt connected to Hikaru. Never had she thought this choice might shape who she would be. She did not like to think that she had sacrificed a part of who she was just to continue staying in Go clubs, but maybe she did.
...at least I don't despise the game. It was good fun when she managed to guess her opponent's next move. But she was no good at it most of the time. She liked the friends she knew from the clubs, and she liked being part of a team. She had also been reading Go Weekly regularly, first just to catch news about Hikaru, but later also to read up on the names that Hikaru mentioned sometimes in their conversations.
Being a journalist for Go though was something Akari had never considered. It would not be dull, she supposed, and she knew for sure that she would like learning a foreign language… or even meeting Hikaru at work! Akari shook her head and stopped her train of thoughts. Making her job decision based on wether she could meet Hikaru was a bad idea. The job was too specific and there might not be a lot of job vacancies. She should try for something broader and safer.
Besides, getting to meet Hikaru doesn't mean anything would actually happen. Since their homes were close to each other, it was not uncommon for Akari and Hikaru to bump into each other sometime in the afternoon, but it was uncommon for them to talk to each other for longer than a minute. They were so painfully polite nowadays that sometimes she felt like they were strangers who happened to call each other by their first names.
She did not know who had slipped that note of distant politeness into their conversations. Maybe it was her, who sometimes had a tight schedule and did not have time to listen to his fantastic feat in Go. Or maybe it was him, who sometimes was silently replaying a game in his head and did not have the heart to listen to her news about the Go club. Maybe they both helped push that rift between them wider since stepping onto separate paths in grade six.
She had been analysing their non-existent relationship for too long. Akari closed her eyes in frustration. I have to end this.
"Can I talk to you for a sec?"
Akari stared at her flushed reflection in the mirror and groaned, hiding her face in her hands, "This is ridiculous! Why am I practicing in front of a mirror like some manga characters?"
The solution she came up with was simple. Confront Hikaru. Tell him about her feelings. Get rejected and possibly lose their friendship. Move on.
This was actually something she had wanted to do for a long time. To take charge of her life instead of drift along with the flow, unoffending to anyone but cowardly. She was tired of the what-ifs and what-could-have-beens, and she does not want herself to regret not having taken action.
She looked up again, and her mirror self looked back at her with determination. She lifted her eyes to the window and she could see the light of Hikaru's room; it was still on.
"I should go while I have the courage to." She said out loud to herself, stood up abruptly and ran out of her room.
The sharp knock at the door jolted Hikaru out of his study of records of Sai's games. Hikaru looked at the clock by his desk and noted it was already eleven o'clock, quite late for a visit.
He heard his mother's voice greeted the guest, sounding pleasantly surprised. He then heard his name uttered by a soft voice in a polite but quick tone and he suddenly knew who the visitor must be, because no one else could be here at this time of the hour and not make a bad impression on his mother.
"Coming," quickly buttoning up his wrinkled shirt, he shouted before his mother could call for him.
Skipping down the stairs he saw that it was indeed Akari who stood at the door frame, eyes ablaze. She was breathing shallowly, as if she had ran the whole way from her house to his. There was a brazen look etched in her features, the one that Hikaru last seen when they tried to tie tails of a stray cat and a dog together.
"Hey," he raised an eyebrow at her, wondering what she was up to this time. Akari rarely did something out of lines, but when she decided to do so, it was always something big.
"I want to talk to you," she said, rather forcefully.
Hikaru's eyebrows shoot up higher. "Sure," He nodded, thinking she was stating the obvious. Why else would she be here?
"But not here," Akari turned to his mother, apologetic, "Sorry, Mrs. Shindou, no offence. It's nothing bad though, I promise."
"I believe you," Hikaru's mother smiled understandingly. Hikaru never really understood why she trusted Akari so much, when she had done half of the crazy things he had done as a kid.
Akari beamed back warmly before her eyes sought out his. Hikaru thought he saw the twinkle wavered in her eyes, but it was gone after he blinked. "Come on," she said over her shoulders as she turned on her heels.
It was new experience for Hikaru to be walking behind Akari. Usually it was the other way around, or she would wait for him so that they could walk shoulder to shoulder. This time he was watching her back and he could not help but admit that she had a figure he didn't bother to notice before. Her shoulders were small and round compared to his and her thick hair hung midway on her back. The sleeveless top she was wearing hugged her waist and her shorts revealed several inches of creamy skin above her knees.
Akari suddenly stopped and whirled around. Hikaru avoided her gaze, nervous that she might be able to read what he was thinking just a moment before. He never dreamed that there would be a day when he would be nervous to meet her gaze. He looked at their surrounding and noticed nothing special other than that they were standing underneath the nearest street lamp to the junction between the two roads that lead to their respective homes.
Akari's question turned his attention back to her. "Remember when I told you that you have changed after our graduation ceremony?"
"Yeah..." Hikaru's voices trailed on, prompting her to carry on.
"Well, I don't like that change."
"Um, excuse me?" He blinked. Where on earth was she going with this conversation?
Akari swallowed, looking uneasy, but the fire in her eyes danced brighter, "I hate that you had to be distant in order to be mature."
She cut him off, her voice growing stronger, "I hate that indifferent smile you always wear when you ask me about my Go club. It's like you don't care. Why do you ask if you don't care?"
"I was trying to be nice!" Hikaru felt indignant at her accusation.
"Ah, so you really don't care!" she pointed out, but her triumphant tone was betrayed by the hurt in her voice.
"No! I mean, we're friends!" he lowered his voice, utterly confused. Why was she trying to prove something that would hurt her? "Where you get these ideas of me 'not caring' from?"
"But you always hang out with your Go friends now. When we meet we talk about the weather and then we part, it's like we were never best friends!"
"We spend less time together, yes, but that doesn't mean I will forget the time we did spend together."
Akari looked up in fear, trying to gauge the emotion behind these words. Was he in earnest or was he dismissive? Hard as she tried, however, his grey eyes were unreadable as he looked back at her. It was either that he was better at hiding his emotion, or she was losing the ability to read him. She hoped it was the former.
At length she replied dryly, "You mean, I'll just be in your past."
Hikaru made an annoyed grunt, hating the way she kept twisting his completely well-intended words in to such pessimistic ideas. "What are you talking about? Aren't you in my present as well?" he emphasised the word sarcastically.
Hikaru immediately regretted his words as Akari turned her face away and said in a strained voice, "Not if you don't want me there."
He felt his stomach tightened at the sight of her red-rimmed eyes, he wanted to apologize but he did not know where to start.
Akari continued, gingerly wiping away a tear that had escaped, "I want you to talk to me because you want to, not because you feel the need to honour our past friendship."
"I do want to talk to you," Hikaru appeased.
"I'm interesting in everything about you so you can tell me about whatever subject you like, even Go, though I might not understand most of it."
"Er, I'll do that."
Hikaru really is a loser in front of tearful girls. Akari smiled fondly. Then she remembered what she had came for in the first place. Biting her lips, she spoke slowly to stop herself from stammering, "And, I want to know, if you would still want to talk to me after you know that I like you."
At first Hikaru thought he might have heard wrong. He gaped at Akari who seemed embarrassed by the nakedness of her words. He was sure that he himself must not look any better as he felt his own face heating up.
She watched his mouth opened and closed and guessed that he was struggling to process this information. The fact that he just might be as at a lost of what to do as she was made her resolute as she finally re-locked gaze with him.
Hikaru was both alarmed and fascinated by the look of hope and despair in her chocolate-brown eyes, lit by an unknown passion. He knew he should respond to her somehow, but his head was a mess, swarming with sudden recollections of the Akari he knew since kindergarten. He could see the movements of Akari's lips forming the three syllables as she repeated, "I like you."
A/N: Wow, kind of a cliffie there. And I thought I can't do cliffies..
This fic is set after two years of uneventful-ness after the end of the manga because I think that Hikaru has grown more mature by their junior high graduation and would take care to not pick fights with Akari. Since they don't go to the same school anymore, it's hard for me to imagine how they would have much small talk material.
I don't know if I've made Akari too angsty... I tried to keep her IC as best as I can. To me, she is quiet, kind, and cares for Hikaru deeply. She is also sensible (something Hikaru hadn't been), since, even though she didn't want to offend Hikaru, she asked him to not come to the Club because Mitani might see him. But, later in the manga she could not bring herself to question him in the Sai disappearance crisis, and I had the impression that she was afraid to be in his bad book. The way I see it is that Akari had started out unafraid to offend Hikaru, but in the end because of her growing awareness of her feelings for him she was afraid to speak up.
Thus, after a period for her frustration at her own passive attitude to build up, I believe she would confront Hikaru about her feelings because she realised that she has to do something about it for it to either go away or to be fulfilled, particularly when she find that she seemed to be losing some of her independence to these feelings.
Constructive criticism, reviews, corrections, suggestions, your own interpretation on Akari's character etc etc, all would be welcome!
Go Weekly: I'm not sure what the name of the Go magasine is in English. I read the manga in another language so if anyone can tell me if I'm right or wrong, or just comfort me with the fact that they don't know as well, I'd be grateful :D