A/N: So I'm trying to get over my bout of writer's block, and this, combined with looking thorough old story ideas, is the result. I dedicate this to all the readers and reviewers of my story "A Second Chance". Consider this a –insert winter holiday of choice here- present. :D Oh, and this one-shot is a stand alone story, and is in no way related to my story "A Second Chance".
Important Note: The "Yugen no ma" mentioned in the story is "the room of profound darkness", or "the room of mystery" mentioned in the series (depending on where you got your translation, the English translation for Yugen no ma may have been different). "The room of profound darkness" has always sounded a bit silly to me, so I opted to use the Japanese word for it.
Meeting the Legend
Shindo Hikaru had never in his life felt as excited and as nervous as he did at that moment. All the hardships he had ever endured, and the years of practice had all been leading to that very moment. Everyone always dreams of meeting their idol, their inspiration, but how many get the chance to realize that dream? Truly, how many people had ever been in Hikaru's shoes, standing, heart pounding while waiting for their idol to walk through the door, in the flesh, to greet them? After years and years of study, play, and practice, Hikaru had risen in the world of Go, defeating player after player with dreams of someday becoming a pro like the man he idolized, and who had inspired him to enter the world of Go: Fujiwara Sai.
Standing, fidgeting in a suit newly purchased for the occasion, Hikaru could scarcely believe that he was no longer an Insei, but a pro. A new pro, sure, but a pro nonetheless, and about to meet the man who—In Hikaru's eyes—was the god of the game he loved.
"…And today we have with us 5-dan Fujiwara Sai!"
Hikaru remembered vividly the first time he'd seen Sai on TV in his grandfather's living room, smiling excitedly at the camera while talking to the reporters about his upcoming match. Hikaru, only about five at the time, had heard his grandfather speak of Go before, but had never really cared much in the past. His eyes were drawn to the TV because of the Go player's energy, and not because of the game about to be played. The man's liveliness had been inspiring to the young Hikaru, and as the interview ceased, and the game between Fujiwara Sai and another pro commenced, Hikaru was not turned off by the silent game as he usually would have been. Normally, Hikaru would have grown bored watching a pair of adults stare at a board silently, and usually he would wander off to find a new amusement. But for some reason, the young boy's eyes stayed on the screen. Even as a child, and thorough the television screen, Hikaru could feel Sai's power. He could feel the passion, and the sheer intensity of the game even though he couldn't quite comprehend what was going on. Even though the stones and their patterns were foreign to Hikaru and even though he didn't understand the rules of the game, he knew instinctively that the man on the screen with the intense eyes was very strong. Later, when Hikaru asked his grandfather about the man on the television, a smile had graced the old man's wrinkled features, and he whispered into his grandson's ear: "That's Fujiwara Sai, Hikaru: he's the greatest prodigy the world of Go has ever seen."
And thus had been the beginning of a passion that would eventually envelop the entirety of young Shindo Hikaru's life. It had stared out small: watching the great Fujiwara Sai's matches on TV while curled up on the couch, and lessons on Go once a week with his grandfather… it wasn't much at first, but later Hikaru's grandfather—delighted by his grandson' interest in Go—enrolled a seven year old Hikaru in Go lessons at a local Go salon. A Go salon that eventually Hikaru would come to be as familiar with as his own home.
That Go Salon grew to know Hikaru very well too. He had his lessons twice a week, but nearly ever day after school Hikaru found himself watching grown up play at various gobans, or on one of the salon's TV's. One of the older women fussed over his newly blonde bangs, telling him he looked like a hooligan. Hikaru just smiled at her impishly however, claiming his bangs would be his "signature look". The men just chuckled at the boy and let him peer at their games. It wasn't long before the regulars got to know the determined and energetic child, and began challenging the boy to matches for fun. Hikaru always accepted; the more games he played—he reasoned—the quicker he would get better, and rise to the level of the man he idolized. At first, the games were only for fun, and were no doubt games played between an adult verses a child; between one who was experienced, and a beginner.
By the time Hikaru's eighth birthday rolled around however, this was no longer the case. Hikaru's potential for greatness was evident in everyone's eyes as they watched him improve day after day while he sat glancing skyward with starry eyes, his goal to rise to the level of Fujiwara Sai forever in mind. He still had a life outside of Go, but Hikaru found himself feeling more and more of an outcast in the world of his peers whose focus was on sports, childish games, and other such frivolities. They did not understand the dream of a child, still so very young, and they did not look towards the future with the same anticipation as Hikaru did. A line had been drawn, and Hikaru was teetering on it, trapped between his peer's reality and the world of Go.
But somehow in the end he made it through. Sure, there were days that were harder then others, and sometimes school was rough. Children, after all, cannot understand those who are different from themselves, and Hikaru was most certainly different in their eyes.
"Hikaru, Hikaru, I have something to cheer you up!" one of the regulars had said one day, "Theirs a children's Go tournament coming up at a salon not too far from here. Would you like to do it? They say that Touya-sensei is going to be there! Won't that be exciting?"
Hikaru considered for a moment, and shrugged. "Sure." It was that word that had changed everything forever for Hikaru. For the tournament marked the true beginning of Hikaru's career as a Go player.
He'd gone to the tournament that weekend with his grandfather and two of the regulars from the Go salon—Ito-sensei who had told him about the tournament in the first place, and Koga-sensei who while strict, was a good and supportive teacher. They were a small cheering section compared to the entire crowds of people some young players had brought along, but for Hikaru, it had been perfect. Hikaru also soon discovered that a players strength was no based on how many friends had tagged along, and was disappointed to find most of his opponents to be of only mediocre strength. There was no one near his strength, and thus no challenge.
"You are doing a fine job Hikaru-kun," Koga-san had whispered, giving him one of her rare smiles, "and you will find a rival worthy of you some day—just be patient child, and your time will come."
Hikaru had nodded mournfully, and proceeded to thrash the rest his rather disappointing competition. In the end, the polite clapping of the crowd had been hollow and the little "champion" metal had felt like nothing in his hands. He wondered quietly to himself if there were any other children his age in the world that could possibly understand his passion, or if he were the only one…
All the while a pair of dark eyes watched Hikaru silently. The Mejin titleholder had been at the child's tournament for promotional reasons to try and inspire the love for Go in young children… but he hadn't been expecting to find anyone with promising skills. Recognizing the woman standing by the boy's side, Touya Mejin approached quietly, ignoring the silent whispers that followed him as he made his way through the crowd.
"Koga-san. It's a pleasure to see you."
"Oh! Touya-sensei, it's lovely to see you again as well. How is Akira-kun?"
"Quite well, thank you for asking. I only wish there was someone his own age that could play him at an even level."
Taking the hint, the woman Go player smiled and motioned towards Hikaru. "Well Touya-sensei, this is our little champion, Shindo Hikaru. He's quite fond of Go, and I dare say rather good at it too. Hikaru this is Touya Mejin"
Hikaru had smiled fondly at the praise, and eyed the elder Touya speculatively. "He's… a pro right? Like Fujiwara-sensei?"
Koga chuckled. "Yes, just like Fujiwara-sensei."
After that, a meeting between the two young prodigies had been arranged—albeit reluctantly by Touya, wary of the possibility that Hikaru would be just another let down for Akira. Upon hearing about the arrangement, young Akira was delighted at the prospect of finding another child his age that could play him at Go. Hikaru however, saw the opportunity as another rung on the ladder on the way to being a pro—and reaching the level of Fujiwara Sai.
The meeting had been a simple affair. Hikaru had been hiding behind his mother, and Touya had been standing by his father's side when he offered the other boy a small smile. Encouraged, Hikaru came out of his mother's shadow, and held out his hand. "I'm Shindo Hikaru, and someday I'm going to be a pro as great as Fujiwara Sai!"
Akira had blinked at this greeting before taking the other boy's hand and shaking it lightly. "Well hello Shindo-san, I'm Touya Akira." The two had taken their seats at the two ends of the goban, and without another word, had begun to play. Neither Hikaru's mother nor Akira's father said a word the entire time, and the two boys didn't so much as meet the other's eyes throughout the entire duration of the game. Their focus was on the board, and only the board. For the first time in a while Hikaru found himself concentrating on the game at hand, and not on the future, and on his ultimate goal. Akira won their first game together, but Hikaru won the second and the third, while Akira took his second win during their fourth game. Theirs was a tentative friendship, held together by the acquaintance between Hikaru's friend from the Go Salon and Akira's father. It was held together by a silent mutual understanding, and by a love for Go. For the pair, meeting the other meant meeting someone their own age who understood their passion for Go for the very first time. For Akira, it meant that he had found an equal, and for Hikaru, it meant not feeling alone anymore.
Theirs was a strange friendship too. They didn't do the things normal friends did, like sports or sleepovers and the sort. They did not attend the same schools, and so they weren't the type of friends that passed notes in class, or saved each other a swing at recess. They weren't the type of friends that met at each other's houses on the weekends, nor the type that studied together late at night fretting over the next day's exams. They were merely two boys, two Go players that got together at various salons on occasion to play the game they loved. They didn't have much in common save the game they both loved, but for some reason, that was enough to hold them together.
And upon being asked to tell the class who his best friend was for a project, Hikaru hadn't even needed to think about it. He already knew the answer. "Akira of course!" Well, Akari had been a little miffed at that, but Hikaru had shook his head at her.
"Your still my friend Akari because you're good to me and you don't make fun of me for liking Go, but… Akira's the one who understands, and that's what makes him my best friend." Akari had sighed, but smiled softly and told him that she wasn't offended, and that she supposed it made sense. Hikaru had smiled back and told her that if she understood that, then "perhaps girls aren't so bad after all!" which had earned him a rather painful kick to the shin.
But being best friends aside however, it wasn't until nearly a year after they had met that Hikaru invited Akira to come to his house. It was for Hikaru's eleventh birthday, and he'd invited Akari to his house too, but he'd invited Akira to stay the night. They'd talked that night more then they'd ever talked to each other almost the entire year of knowing each other. They'd talked about dreams and fears, and hopes, and most importantly, about Go. Hikaru had won one game that night, and Akira two, and in was in the middle of their fourth game that the subject of becoming Insei had been breached.
"Insei?" Hikaru questioned, "But why? Aren't we… a bit young?"
Akira had laughed while placing his white stone on the board with a soft smile. "No, of course not. You're never too young. We could apply tomorrow if we wanted to. All we'd need to do is make up some kifu, and my father would be willing to help…" Akira had trailed off there, and eyed the stone Hikaru had just placed on the board with a sigh. "I resign." He finally admitted after several tense moments of silence. "I want to become a pro. I just wonder…if I'm ready. I can't even play an even game with father, and everyone keeps telling me I'm a prodigy, and that I should become an Insei, but… I'm not so sure…"
"Well, what do you want to do?" Hikaru had asked, and then laughed at the incredulous look on Akira's face. "Don't tell me you didn't think about what you wanted? Well gosh Akira, don't let other people tell you what to do! Go and become an Insei when you ready. And if you don't want to, you don't ever even have to become an Insei!" Hikaru had declared, pumping his fists enthusiastically, causing Akira to smile faintly.
"And how about you Hikaru-kun?" Akira had asked quietly, "What do you want?"
Hikaru barely paused a beat before answering. "I want to become a pro as strong as Fujiwara-sensei. I want to become as powerful as he is, and then I want to be able to stand before him someday and play an equal game with him."
"Well," Akira had drawled, "I suppose becoming Insei is a good first step then, right? We'll make kifu in the morning, and I'll ask my dad to get us some applications."
With that decided, the two boys had cleared the goban and gone to sleep.
It wasn't until after both boys had been accepted as Insei that Akira invited Hikaru to his own home for the first time. It had been a simple affair: lunch and a game of Go, but it had been an important step in their friendship nonetheless.
To their fellow Insei, they were "the rivals". And it was then, that Hikaru finally threw himself over the line between a "normal" life, and the world of Go. He immersed himself in Go; he ate it, drank it, and dreamt of it as he slept. The only thing that kept his grades from flopping completely were Akira's instances that he not neglect his studies.
Those were whirlwind years. Everything happened so very fast, and Hikaru, even years later, wasn't sure how he'd made it through sane. Being an Insei, more then anything, met making contacts. He'd met some pros through Akira, but as an Insei, he was finding himself more and more intermingled in the world of professional go then ever before. And all of a sudden, he didn't have one friend who understood his obsession, but friends—as in plural. Waya and Isumi, and all the rest of the Insei were wonderful and inspiring, and were always encouraging him in their own way to do well. And all the while in the back of his mind, he saw Fujiwara Sai.
"Don't worry," Hikaru would sometimes whisper when he was sure no one was around, "I'm coming. I'm going to rise to your level, just you wait; I'll be a Go pro yet."
And he had done just that. He had kept on rising and rising, and Hikaru had become more and more powerful every day. And he and Akira had made a name for themselves along the way too. When he was first introduce to the pro Kurata Atsushi, the man had simply smiled and said. "Oh, so your that kid! Well, it's a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance Shindo-kun!" By the time Hikaru and Akira were 14 they were standing together as pros at last. They'd gone into the professional examination with everyone expecting them to come out pros, and they didn't let anyone down. Hikaru's mother had cried and hugged Hikaru and wailed about how her little boy was "growing up so fast".
Hikaru had been overwhelmed at first, at the idea of having finally achieved his goal of becoming a Go pro. He was further floored however, upon hearing that the opponent for his beginner Dan match was none other than the great Fujiwara Sai.
A sudden pressure on Hikaru's shoulder brought him out of her musings with a jolt, earning a soft chuckle from the boy at his side. "Breath Hikaru! You'll do fine." Akira whispered, patting Hikaru on his shoulder in a comforting way, "This is what you've been waiting for after all, isn't it?"
"Yeah Hikaru!" Akari agreed, "I've been putting up with you talking about this day for ages. So now that it's come, go and face it like a man!"
"You're right of course." Hikaru conceded with a sigh, "but I can't help but feel nervous about it. I mean, what if—?"
"Stop fretting Hikaru…Oh, look who's finally shown up!" Hikaru was sure he had whiplash from how quickly he turned to look at the man who had just entered the room. All he could think was how Sai looked so very much taller in person then on the TV. Sai's smile however, was just as bright as he thought it should be, and his eyes were kind and seeing them calmed his frazzled nerves.
This Fujiwara Sai was not the one he'd seen on the television all those years ago however. He'd watched the man age through the screen, but it was still humbling in a way to see the streaks of grey in the man's hair. A part of him hadn't really registered the aging he'd seen Sai go through on the TV, so it was odd to see his idol show signs of growing old, when the man had always seemed immortal in the eyes of a star struck five year old. Fujiwara Sai was not old in the way Kuwabara Honinbo was old, but he wasn't young anymore either. Either way, Hikaru found himself at a loss for words.
"Hello, I'm Fujiwara Sai." Hikaru's idol greeted with a smile. Hikaru had seen Sai smile a thousand times, but that smile… that smile was for him, and Hikaru found himself smiling in return.
"I-I'm Hikaru! Er… Shindo Hikaru that is."
And to his astonishment, Sai merely smiled widely and chuckled. "I know that. Well then, shall we go to the Yugen no ma and play a game?"
Hikaru blinked and nodded dumbly, unable to do more then that, and took a seat across the goban from Sai—the Fujiwara Sai—and waited for the man to do the same. It felt so surreal, sitting there across from the man he'd idolized since he'd been a child. It was like a dream, and he wondered absently if it all had been a dream. If he'd wake up soon to discover himself a five-year-old boy who'd fallen asleep by the television while watching one of his grandfather's Go programs. His hands trembled slightly in anticipation as he recognized Sai's signature fan as the professional—but he was a pro too now wasn't he?—pulled it out of his sleeve and unfurled it, suddenly looking much more serious then before.
"Shall we begin?" Sai asked calmly, and Hikaru found that all the words he could say were lodged in his throat. And then Akira's words floated back to him: This is what you've been waiting for after all, isn't it? His friend was right; this was it. This was his chance to prove himself! This was what he had been waiting for.
"Yeah." Hikaru replied, barely trusting himself to speak louder then a whisper, "I…I'm ready."
The soft clack of Sai's first stone on the board resounded in Hikaru's ears. Hikaru stared at the stone, unseeing and unable to register that this was Sai'sstone laid out before him. It was Sai's hand and Sai's skill pitted against him and only him. To say that Hikaru felt overwhelmed was an understatement.
Shakily however, Hikaru picked up a stone, and made his own first move. He glanced at Sai's face and mused that the older man looked very different while focused on a game of Go. Gone were the laughs and the smil8ing eyes, and now there was only focus and determination.
After a few hands, Hikaru realized that he recognized Sai's pattern. The older Go pro was testing the waters. He was prodding at Hikaru in a way, trying to figure out what the young pro was made of. Sai or not howver, Hikaru decided that that wouldn't do—he'd have to prod right back.
The seasoned Go pro blinked at the board curiously, before giving Hikaru a thoughtful look and making his move. Perhaps he'd confused him, or even stumped Sai for even a moment? Such thoughts made Hikaru want to holler with glee. He recognized that he wouldn't win—no Hikaru knew he wasn't that good yet—but he'd give Sai a run for his money. And then maybe someday…Hikaru shook his head. Someday would come, but for now…he'd show Sai what he was made of.
With each move Hikaru played he felt as if he could feel a hand beside his, supporting and helping him along. He captured one of Sai's stones, and he could feel Waya cheering him on by his side. He lost a nice chunk of territory thanks to a brilliant move on Sai's part and he could hear Isumi's soft reassurances in his ear. He made a stupid mistake, and he could hear Akari's questioning voice, asking him to explain what was going on. He took the top left territory for his own, and he found himself remember one of Akira's rare smiles that meant the he'd done something spectacular.
He was not only playing for himself, Hikaru realized—he was playing for all of them. For everyone who'd ever touched his life, and his Go, and…almost as suddenly as the game began, it was over. Hikaru knew it was over. The rush of thoughts and sensations in his mind froze to a halt as he stared at the board.
"…I resign…" he whispered, feeling somewhat numb but not disappointed. After all, he'd gotten what he wanted right? All he'd wanted was a game, and to meet the legend that was Sai and nothing more. Hikaru smiled and got to his feet feeling at peace, and for once, not thinking frantically of the future and how he would manage to get there. The future would come when it came, and he'd roll with the punches it threw, and…somehow Hikaru felt that it'd all be okay in the end.
"A fine game Shindo-kun." Sai told him. But there was something about the man's tone of voice though made Hikaru pause and look at the older Go player curiously. Sai's expression was strange, and contemplative as well as oddly pleased.
"You're everything I'd heard you were, and hoped for." Sai continued, "So much potential…Someday you and Touya-kun will surpass those who have come before. I can only hope I shall live long enough to see it."
Hikaru stared at Sai blankly. "…What?" What Sai was saying made no sense, what was he—?
"It's a great honor Shindo-kun to finally meet you." Sai said, standing at last and leaning down so that he was at Hikaru's level, "I've been hearing about you for years. It's great to finally put a face to the legend." And with a soft smile, Sai took his fan and placed it in Hikaru's hand. "Welcome to the world of Go Shindo-kun."
And as Sai walked way, all Hikaru could do was stare after him in utter shock.
A/N:…This is probably the longest one-shot I've ever written. Ever. I hope you guys liked it. :D And if you did like it (or didn't. Whatever. I'm not picky. ;)) please review. I love getting feedback on my stories. :)