The Go Within

By: Esa MaRie

Chapter 12 - Persistence and Impertinence

Save for the usual chatters and game discussions, it was rather unusual to hear loud noises inside a go salon, but after two weeks of regularly seeing the partially blond boy, the patrons had gotten used to the loud and carefree atmosphere that seemed to follow him whenever he was around. Yes, it wasn't unusual at all, the bickering and mild exchange of insults and challenges were heard as they saw Ishida Kawai tackled the young boy into another one of his famous headlocks and furiously ruffling the poor boy's hair into a wild mess.

"Stop that, you stupid Kawai! You know it's true, you totally suck!" the boy yelled as he tried to pull the elder's arm from his neck.

"Just because you're a bit stronger than me doesn't give you the right to act almighty, you brat!" the hot-blooded lawyer countered.

"A bit? Hah! You still lose at a seven-stone handicap. Admit it, loser!"

"You brat…!"

The other customers just shook their heads as Shindo Hikaru let out another string of curses directed at the older man. The boy amused and fascinated them. They accepted him with mild curiosity the first time Kawai introduced him two weeks ago, thinking that he was just some ordinary kid that Kawai had picked up to be his student. There was no question as to Kawai reigning as the top player in that salon, and he would usually brag about having been an insei before. So it came as a surprise when Kawai suddenly asked for four simultaneous games to be played against the boy, himself included as one of the opponents. They thought it was some sort of a joke or that it was some kind of an exhibition, like a tsumego or something. But it turned out to be real games, where unexpectedly, all four opponents lost.

It was so sudden that their faces had been plastered with surprise and disbelief, and to their amusement which they had noted much later, so did the boy. His green eyes were wide as he looked at the results of his games, a nostalgic feeling filled him that he had to use his sleeves to wipe the moisture from his eyes. When he finally raised his eyes to them, they were bright with happiness, and his lips were lifted into a wide grin. And the next words that were heard from him were…

"See, I told you. You suck."

It was blunt and awfully disrespectful, but they didn't expect Kawai to retaliate by grabbing his neck into a headlock, calling the boy a brat and lecturing him about respect. It was a rather entertaining scene that laughter had erupted inside the salon. But after two weeks of repeatedly seeing the same scene, the patrons had learned to ignore the two whenever they were in their usual bonding time.

But what they couldn't ignore was the boy's strength. Though it wasn't a popular sport, it wasn't unusual to see children and teens with overwhelming talent in go. In fact, many of the go professionals entered the pro world in their teens. But most of them had either undergone training, had been a student of another go professional, had entered into different amateur tournaments, or had been an insei. But it seemed Shindo Hikaru was neither of these and it was difficult to believe that he managed to reach into such a level without even a bit of knowledge of the go world. They could still remember Kawai getting annoyed when they were discussing about the Gosei finals, and Hikaru suddenly interrupted asking what Gosei was. When one of the new customers lost to him asked if he was an insei, he blinked in confusion, then said his name was Shindo Hikaru, not Insei. Except for the game itself, his knowledge of the go world was close to none. None of the first-timers had believed that he was that good especially hearing some of his conversations with the other customers. It was like he was asking for information about the go world, and the owner or Kawai would have to explain some terms which would seem too difficult for him to handle. One had to play against him or even just see his match to actually believe that his strength was terrifyingly real.

.: go go go :.

After entertaining yet another set of simultaneous games, Hikaru stretched out and excused himself from the group of old geezers who were trying to set the next games with him. He was tired both physically and mentally as he had just come from soccer practice before he stopped by the salon. It had been his routine for the past two weeks - soccer practice, then play go. Though it was tiring trying to joggle two sports at the same time, he still find it fulfilling as he learned more about the world Sai had been obsessed about.

As days went by, he was beginning to understand more and more about the professional world of go. Though it was quite hard to keep that fascination at bay as he could always feel a set of eyes watching him, trying to figure him out. Touya had tried to confront him a couple more times but he just ignored his classmate's demands. He could feel Touya's silent anger but he had made his decision. He would make him wait. He would make the pro world wait until he was ready to face them. Although if he had to be honest with himself, he was still a bit doubtful that playing in the internet and the simultaneous games in the salon were enough for his training. The more he played, the more he craved for stronger opponents. Unfortunately, due to school, his time in playing in the internet was limited.

It had been almost two months since he started playing internet go during the evenings and during his spare time. His first games were quite awkward since he was still getting used to playing on a computer rather than on the goban, and oftentimes he would make some mistakes in placing the stones. Luckily, he managed to survive in those games and except for his initial loss to Ichiryu, he had remained undefeated ever since. Nowadays, he was beginning to get more challenges that he didn't have time to scan for available players as a challenge would pop up the minute he logged into the server.

He sighed and rubbed his neck and walked towards the counter where Nonoko was preparing drinks for some of the customers.

"Tired Shindo-kun?" Nonoko smiled at him as she saw him approach.

"Yeah, a bit," Hikaru sighed as he propped himself on one of the high stools, thanking Nonoko as she handed him his favorite soda. He was still in deep thought about his current situation. It seemed that Touya and his group managed to keep his involvement with Sai a secret. He had done some search in the internet and the speculations about Fujiwara Sai's disciple still continued to circulate in the forums, though nothing had been printed on paper. Even inside the salon, the topic would come about once in a while. And he was glad that none of the patrons seemed to have any hostile feelings against the late Honinbo. Rather, most of them idolized him and followed his success. Although he had heard some wry comments from those who often bet on matches that Fujiwara Honinbo was not a good betting ground, since the odds of him winning was almost a definite thing. His last game, the Kisei match, had caused uproar and the few people who had placed bets against him had accumulated fortunes.

He wondered what he could possibly prove with everything that he was doing right now. Sai may have taught him how to play go, and he had played hundreds of games with him, but he knew he could never be his substitute. Yes, he had won a game once but it proved nothing. Only that he managed to outwit Sai for the first time after hundreds of attempts. He looked at his hand, wondering if he could ever achieve the same level of understanding as Sai when it comes to go. Sai was the most dedicated person he knew. He would see Sai seated in front of the goban for hours, recreating and studying games, even up to the point of missing meals. A bemused smile crossed his face as he remembered what a brat he used to be, oftentimes rudely interrupting Sai's game by slamming his palm on the surface of the goban, thereby breaking the stones' positions. Sai would whine, and he would give a sarcastic retort that Sai could recreate it anyway.

That time, he thought the ability of recreating games was just common for someone who knew how to play. He was only learning the basics back then, yet he could already recreate a game played by Sai and his grandfather. Well, his grandfather had a little bit of difficulty but the proud elder man would always blame it on his old age. It was only when he started hanging out with the old geezers in the salon that he learned that it wasn't the case. Recreating games was a skill produced by those who have a great understanding of go, thereby allowing them to commit into memory the positions of the stones and the theory as how the moves had been played. How he managed to do so even before he had really understood the game had remained a mystery even to Sai.

The chimes rang as the door of the salon slide open, bringing Hikaru's thoughts back to reality. It seemed like a new group had entered as he didn't hear greetings from the other patrons, only the welcoming voice of the owner.

"Oji-chan, we want to play your three strongest players."

Hikaru almost choked on his drink. He could feel eyes darting on his back, and he was getting an uneasy feeling that the voice was very, very familiar.

"Waya, can you ask more politely?" he heard an exasperated voice coming from one of visitors.

Slightly turning his head to get a glimpse of the newcomers' faces, Hikaru's green eyes widened as their identities finally dawned on him.

'Oh crap!' he thought as he snapped his head away, hiding his face from them. He may have wanted to play strong opponents, but he wasn't ready to face the pros yet!

"Heh, so you want to have a game against our best players?"

A groan escaped Hikaru as he recognized the cocky voice. Why can't that damn Kawai simply shut his mouth? Placing his hand on the counter, he pushed himself to stand. He had a pretty good idea how all this would end up if he continued to stay here and do nothing to stop the loud mouthed lawyer.

"I'll play one of you, of course," Kawai proudly pointed at himself. "I used to be an insei during my younger days, you know."

Resting his forehead against his palm, Hikaru couldn't help but curse silently. No surprise there. It was so like Kawai to boast about his meager accomplishment before.

"If Ishida-san's playing, then I'll play too," one of the old men volunteered.

"Hah, you lost to me a while ago, so it's best if I play," another patron countered.

There were some disagreements as to who would play, but everyone knew they were only fighting for the last spot as the two other players had already been decided.

"Well of course, our best player would be... yeeaaouuuuccch!" Kawai screamed holding his injured foot as another face popped out.

"Him. He is the best player here," Hikaru interrupted pointing at the older man, slightly panting as he had dashed from his seat to stop Kawai from whatever he was about to say.

"What the heck Shindo?" Kawai yelled at him.

"You idiot, these guys are pros!" Hikaru shouted back, before Kawai or anyone else could slip.

Kawai blinked. "Pro?" He turned to look at the group more closely. The two taller guys looked quite familiar and he thought he might have probably seen them in some issues of the Go weekly but the three shorter ones were not. One of the kids with squinty eyes raised up his hand and said, "Uhm... the three of us are still insei."

"You..." the tallest one started to say as he recognized Hikaru, but the brown-haired one was faster.

"Ah, you're Touya's classmate!"

Every head turned towards Hikaru, their expressions covered with disbelief.

"You know Touya Akira?"

Hikaru didn't know who specifically asked that first as they seemed to be throwing random questions at him all at the same time, but he definitely heard Kawai as he grabbed his shoulder and yelled loudly at his ear. "You know Touya 4dan and you never told me!"

"You never asked!" Hikaru retorted, pushing his face away from him. "Now shut the hell up and just continue your match."

But the older man was not ready to drop the issue. "What? But you... ugh!" His complaints only earned him a mild blow to the stomach from Hikaru's elbow while the boy plastered a cheerful grin as he greeted the three, diverting their attention from the troublesome lawyer.

"You're Shindo-kun, aren't you?" Isumi asked with mild curiosity.

Waya, on the other hand, grinned and raised his hand in greeting. "Yo. What are you doing here? Learning more tricks to annoy Touya?" That earned him a warning look from Isumi, but seeing the half-blonde boy again made Waya remember how satisfyingly funny it was to see the ever stoic Touya Akira lose his composure.

"Seeing my face is enough to annoy that guy," Hikaru retorted with a laugh. "And the reason I'm here is because I work here part time," he lied smoothly, earning looks of disbelief from customers. But he ignored them and looked straight at the owner. "Right, owner-san?"

A brief look of surprise and confusion crossed the owner's face, which had gone unnoticed by the newcomers. He didn't know what Shindo was thinking but he must have his own reasons, so he played along. "Uh... yes, he helps out during his free time." It was practically the truth. The boy's presence had attracted more customers into his salon. The other patrons shared confused looks, then shrugged, not really understanding what the boy was up to, but were willing to play along with his pretense.

"What the heck are - ouch!"

"I'm not going to play against them!" Hikaru leaned and hissed silently into his ear as he prolonged stepping on the older man's foot. "Yeah, and this gangster looking guy here is teaching me how to play go, right Kawai-san?"

Kawai grunted as he finally understood the boy's intentions knowing that Hikaru didn't want to attract attention from other pros this early. Besides, this would be a good way to get back at the arrogant and impertinent kid. He grabbed the boy's neck despite his protests and messed up his hair again. "Yeah, this brat here is useless at go that he begged me to teach him."

"That hurt, you bastard!" Hikaru yelled as he pulled away from him.

"Is that how you treat your sensei, brat?"

"Oh," Isumi managed to say as he looked at the two people glaring at each other. "Although, wouldn't it be better for you to have Touya Akira teach you? You're friends, aren't you?"

Hikaru shrugged in response. At least, prior to that incident, Touya would never consider playing against him. He practically had to drag him to the goban to force him to play. "By the way," Hikaru turned at Isumi and Waya with a confused look. "If you two are pros, then this guy wouldn't be much of a challenge," he said, pointing his thumb at Kawai.

"Why you...!"

"Actually, we're just here to accompany Fuku and his friends," Isumi explained, effectively stopping Kawai from grappling the bleach haired boy. "The pro exams are near and we thought that Oka and Shuji here would gain more experience in dealing with older opponents."

Things had gotten smoothly after the explanation and the patrons were more than willing to accept the challenge. Hikaru silently observed as they started to discuss the rules of the games. It was a team match composed of the three players per team. It actually quite surprised him that go can be played as a team. While he was relieved that he managed to get out of that sticky situation, he was also quite interested on how this team match would proceed. He watched as the customers began to gather around the players, curious as to how their fellow patrons would fare against the inseis. Kawai-san was playing against the one called Fuku who seemed to have a habit of playing really fast, like he wasn't thinking at all. The games started with just one stone handicap which later increased to two after all three patrons lost their games.

Hikaru was pulling the strap of his duffel bag when he felt a presence from behind him. He knew that the second round of that team match had just concluded and they were discussing the games, so didn't expect to see the taller guy named Isumi approaching him.

"You came from soccer practice?" Isumi asked, eyeing the duffel bag which was partially open and he could see a glimpse of a black and white ball.

"Yeah," Hikaru replied and grinned, "We have practice even during the weekends. There is tournament coming, so the captain is really trying to work us to death." He then glanced back at the table where Waya was playing a customer. "I never thought pros like you would still go around challenging players in go salons."

The pro just chuckled at his comment. "We used to go around and challenge one go salon to another during our insei days. It's one way for us to train for the pro exams. Nowadays, we don't usually visit go salons that much. We have study groups where we can play games with other pros. But from time to time, it's still a good experience playing in go salons. We just have to give handicaps to our opponents. But our purpose in coming here is to help Fuku and his friends."

Hikaru's eyes lingered on the kids. "So they're taking the pro exams?"

Isumi nodded solemnly, his gaze on the taller of the three inseis. "Though Fuku may seem like a carefree guy, this will be his fourth attempt to take the exams. Most of our friends had already passed the exams and we feel that we need to boost him up. As for Shouji-kun and Oka-chan, this will be their first time to take part in the exams."

When Isumi turned to face his companion, he couldn't help but notice the serious and thoughtful look on the boy's face as he stared at the inseis who seemed to be having fun as they discussed the games with their opponents. "Is being a pro fun?" the bleached haired boy finally broke his silence.

"Fun?" Isumi smiled bemusedly. "Well, it actually depends on how you view go in the first place. For us, go itself is fun just like maybe how soccer is to you. But being a pro is more than just playing go against another pro. It involves dedication and hard work."

He glanced again at his friends and noted that they seemed to be ending their games. "It seems like their games are ending. Why don't you come with us?" Isumi invited. "My treat. Do you know a good restaurant near here?"

A look of surprise crossed the Hikaru's face, not expecting the invitation. But the thought of food was a temptation he couldn't refuse. He grinned and replied back. "There's a really good ramen store just a few blocks from here."

"Hey," Waya interrupted from behind, obviously he had heard the conversation. "I saw a sushi shop just around the corner."

"What?" Hikaru exclaimed loudly. "Ramen is better!"

"Shut up, you freeloader."

"You're a freeloader yourself!"

.: go go go :.

"I thought you don't like sushi?" Waya glared, seeing that the blonde-banged boy seemed to be eating more sushi than him.

Since the rotating sushi bar was nearer, the four of them, including Fuku, had decided to go there instead. Shouji and Oka went ahead since they had to go home early.

"Who said I don't like it?" Hikaru grumbled as he snatched the toro from Waya's grasp. "I prefer ramen though."

"Stop stealing my food!" Waya yelled as he fought to snatch the approaching unagi.

"Waya, you're so loud," Fuku complained.

"Shut up, shorty!"

"By the way Waya, did you buy something from the stand?" Isumi asked.

"Ah, I just saw a copy of the Weekly Go so I just grabbed a copy," Waya held up rolled paper for them to see. "Saeki-san told me this morning that there's another article about that game. They're comparing the style with some of the previous games of Fujiwara Honinbo."

Hikaru felt himself froze at the mention of his friend's name. All his senses seemed to have alerted and he unconsciously drew himself closer to them to hear what they were discussing.

"Uhm..." he mumbled, causing the three to look at his direction. He cleared his throat and asked. "This Fujiwara Honinbo... what do you think of him?" He just couldn't help but ask. He wanted to know other people's opinion about Sai.

"You know about Fujiwara Honinbo?" Fuku asked.

"N-not really. I just heard about him in passing from Touya," he lied.

"He's the greatest go player ever," Waya exclaimed while popping another sushi into his mouth.

Hikaru looked at him in surprise. He was expecting things but a praise was not one of them.

Isumi laughed. "Waya is a great fan of his. But he was indeed the best go player of his time. Actually, there was a debate on whether he or Shusaku Honinbo should be considered as the greatest go player in history. Not to mention the fact that their style of playing was almost the same."

"I thought he was hated by the pros," Hikaru mumbled.

"The more popular you are, the more criticisms you get," Isumi answered with a shrug. "I guess that was what happened to Fujiwara Honinbo. Regardless of any sport, those who held the top spot are always being envied and it's not unusual for issues to occur. It's just a shame that he chose to give up and shut himself from the world."

Hikaru remained silent, slowly digesting what Isumi was saying. He didn't want to admit it but Isumi was right. Sai was not to blame for the misfortunes that had happened to him, but he could have chosen to continue playing if he wanted. Despite the tragedies, there were things that he could still do. Even if they stopped him from playing in the title matches, he could still play with other people if he wanted to. Even if it was only for a short time, his own experience in the go salon taught him that people play because they love the game. The patrons took beatings from him but they continue to challenge him.

"Hah," Waya laughed as he waved his hand out. "The geezers during his time just couldn't accept their defeat against him."

Hikaru listened silently as the three friends continued their discussion about Fujiwara Sai. Somehow, it was a bit enlightening and a relief to know that his impression about the professional world had been biased and unfair. He couldn't help but wince, remembering that spectacle he made at Touya's house. He had to admit he had gotten overly emotional because everything had been so sudden and he was caught off guard. Although, that short flashback reminded him with irritation on how that glasses wearing blonde freak had trampled upon his privacy and had dug on his past.

After they got out of the store, Hikaru, Waya, and Fuku were happily rubbing their full stomachs while Isumi looked like his energy got drained out. Obviously, he had not expected the three to have such big appetites and that they would take full advantage of his generosity.

"Isumi-san, thanks for the food," Hikaru grinned at the older pro as they were about to part. He also turned to face the other two. Unlike most of the go professionals he had already met, particularly Touya, these guys were fun to be with. Even for a short while, he had quite enjoyed his time with them. "I guess I have to go now. I had learned quite a bit from you three."

Waya's brows rose at the boy's words. He rubbed his head with a confused look on his face. "I honestly don't know what you learned from us." After all, as far as he knew, all they talked about was all about the current happenings in the go world. For someone like Shindo Hikaru, who wasn't seriously involved in go, he doubted that their discussion would even be of interest to him.

But the half blonde just let out a mysterious smile, and then to their surprise, he bowed his head at them. "Thank you for everything. You just don't know how grateful I am." Before they could say anything regarding his confusing words, the boy had sprinted away and disappeared among the crowd.

Isumi, Waya, and Fuku were left staring at each other in bewilderment.

"Was he that hungry?" Waya wondered out loud.

.: go go go :.

"Part-time job, yeah right. That's the lamest excuse you could give, Hikaru."

Hikaru groaned with resignation. He already knew it would be harder to convince Hoshino compared to Taki. He had been pretty busy the past weeks that he was not able to spend more time with his friends. He sighed and turned to look at his friend. "Is it really unbelievable?"

Hoshino just gave him an amused smirk. "No, it's actually believable. Maybe I'm just more observant compared to Taki and Akari-chan. But these past four months we've been friends; it's easy to note that you're not exactly the type who would find work for a living."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"In short, you're a lazy ass."


"You only strive for something you enjoy," Hoshino interrupted before Hikaru could give a retort. "The only times I see you really focusing yourself is when you're playing soccer or if it is anything related to go," Hoshino told him. "We're on the same soccer club so I'm aware of your activities, so I can safely assume that this other thing you've been busy with for the past weeks was related to go. Am I right?"

His question was initially met by silence and Hoshino could see different expressions playing on his friend's face, from feigned innocence to denial. It didn't take long before he heard a resigned sigh escape from his half-blonde friend

"Damn. Why do you have to be so damned smart?" Hikaru grumbled, scratching his nape. Hoshino could be quite a busybody when he wanted to be. And he should have known that he couldn't fool his friend that easily. Hoshino wasn't one of the top students in their class for nothing.

The said friend just laughed and they continued to talk about some random things as they walked when Hoshino's voice turned be bit serious. "Won't you tell me what the deal is between you and Touya?"

When Hikaru didn't respond, Hoshino sighed and gave his friend a slight punch on the shoulder. "I'm just intrigued that he's taking interest in you."

That seemed to have brought Hikaru back to his normal self and he replied with a snort. "A lot of people take interest in me."

"Yeah, but I doubt Touya takes interest in just anyone." Hoshino turned and looked at his friend in the eye. "Are you really that good in go?"

Before he could answer, they heard a voice calling after them and turned to see Taki running after them.

"Hey, why didn't you tell me that you don't have practice today?" he whined.

"It was announced, idiot. You were not listening when sensei said that there's going to be a meeting among the teachers today," Hikaru told him.

"So, you two are free," Taki grinned. "Why don't we go to the arcade? It's been a while since we got together like this. You two are always busy these days, especially you Shindo. You should just quit that part time job of yours."

That earned a meaningful glance from Hoshino but Hikaru chose to ignore it.

Indeed, it had been quite some time since the three of them had gone out together for fun. His time had been occupied by the project, the netgo, soccer practice, and the games in the Heart of Stone. It wouldn't take too much to spend some time for relaxation and just enjoy the day with his friends.

They continued to joke around each other as they walked out of the school gates. Taki was telling about some embarrassing moment of one of their classmates during the last time they went to karaoke without Hikaru when he spotted a gleaming red sports car parked near the sidewalk as if waiting for someone.

"Wow, wow!" Taki exclaimed, pulling Hikaru's sleeves in his enthusiasm. "That's exactly the car I want to have. Damn, when I have money someday, I'm going to buy one."

"Yeah, I guess you could afford it by then," Hoshino rolled his eyes. "After around five years, there will be a lot of used cars of the same model."

Taki ignored him, his eyes still on the car. "Do you think it's owned by one of the seniors?"

"Stop drooling," Hikaru laughed at his friend, playfully shoving him away in mock disgust. "Maybe some lucky chick just got herself a rich boyfriend with a nice car."

They were a few meters from the sports car when the door at the driver's seat opened and a man in crisp white suit stepped out.

"Shindo Hikaru."

Hikaru literally stiffened at the sound of that familiar voice. It was only a few days ago when he was reminded of the geezer and now that same irritating man was walking towards him.

Taki and Hoshino also stopped in surprise and glanced from their friend to the stranger nearing them.

"I guess you're the lucky chick, Hikaru," Taki tried to joke, but he was getting worried at the hateful glare his friend seemed to be giving the stranger.

"What do you want?" Hikaru asked coldly, not bothering the fact that he was being extremely rude. He may have changed his bad impression on go professionals, but this one guy still irritated the hell out of him. He would have preferred to ignore the pro but the damned man was blocking their way.

"I need to talk to you Shindo-kun."

The blonde-banged boy looked absolutely pissed. "Look, what the hell do you want more? You have gotten all the details you wanted." Hikaru snapped in exasperation. "My friends and I have somewhere to go so fuck off."

Ogata Seiji raised his brow at the teen's crude language. Having been a pro for several years now and with his reputation as a formidable player, he was used to being respected and even feared by those younger than him. He wasn't one to back down on an insult but he knew he had to keep his patience in dealing with the boy. When the boy tried to get past him, he caught his arm to stop him.

"What I want to discuss with you wouldn't take much of your time," Seiji said calmly. "If you are in a hurry, we can talk it right here, right now. I wouldn't mind at all."

The boy glared at him furiously but Seiji held his stance. Touya Meijin and his son might be willing to wait for the boy's fate to course through but he didn't have that much patience. After all, the boy was stubborn as a bull and that stubbornness might lead to him to walk away from his own fate.

"H-hikaru..." Hoshino looked confused as well as worried for his friend.

"Fine, I'll go with you," Hikaru finally decided as he pulled his arm back. "But if I'm going to get myself interrogated, I'd rather have it on my own terms." He was able to handle the same situation with Touya, maybe it wouldn't be impossible to convince this guy that he had no intention of playing go after what he learned about Sai. He then turned to his friends. "Hey, sorry about this but how about we get together tomorrow instead?"

"Hikaru," Hoshino tried to stop him. "I don't know what's going on but are you sure you want to go with him?"

"Yeah, he looks suspicious, you know," Taki added, glancing nervously at the intimidating older man.

Hikaru just gave them a reassuring smile and added jokingly. "Then, you better memorize his face. In case I'll turn up missing tomorrow."


Seiji just raised his brows at the obvious taunting. Instead of losing his composure over the brat's stubbornness, he took a card from his pocket and gave it to one of the worried friends. "Memorizing my face wouldn't help that much."

Hoshino and Taki were left staring in awe at the card. They could still hear Hikaru arguing that he wouldn't ride in the man's car and that he will be the one to choose the place where they could talk. When they looked up, the two had already crossed the street, the man following Hikaru calmly as he lead them to their destination. They looked down again at the card.

Ogata Seiji

Go Professional

The two friends looked at each other in wonder. What would a go professional need from their friend?

.: go go go :.

Seiji didn't bother to argue when the boy insisted that he choose the place they could talk. The important thing was that he was given a chance to get Shindo to listen to him. He couldn't help but wonder where Shindo was taking him but he kept his silence and continued to follow him until they reached an establishment.

Shindo paused and turned to him expectantly. "You're going to pay, right?"

That was when Seiji noticed that the boy had brought him to a ramen store. 'Like I have any choice,' he thought in resignation. He nodded to give his consent and the boy grinned in satisfaction and dashed inside. "Ossan, two ramen please!" he heard the kid shout his order. He shook his head in bemusement. He didn't have to tell the brat that he was actually planning to bring him to a more expensive restaurant if he didn't stubbornly refuse to get into his car.

"So, you just wanted to eat for free?" Seiji said as he settled on his seat. "After all the stress you gave Akira-kun, I didn't know that the condition for you to talk to us is this cheap."

"Shut up," Hikaru grumbled as he placed his bag at his side. "You're just more troublesome than Touya. Besides, I'm hungry and my allowance is running low so I'll have to take advantage of your gracious offer," he answered back sarcastically.

"So now that we're here…"

"Wait!" Hikaru stretched out his palm to stop him from talking. "Let me eat first. Arguing with you a while ago had drained my energy." He ignored the giant tick on the pro's forehead and was silently enjoying the older man's annoyance. He was going to enjoy his ramen first before facing what the pro had to say.

.: go go go :.

"Bwah! That was great!" Hikaru exclaimed as he rubbed his full stomach.

"Glad you enjoyed it," Seiji commented with sarcasm. Ramen practically wasn't one of his favorite foods. And he had to wait until the brat managed to finish two large bowls while he wasn't even able to finish half of his own.

"So what are you planning now, Shindo-kun?" Seeing that the boy was finished, there was no reason to delay their conversation anymore.

"What do you mean by that?" Hikaru asked, although he already had an idea on what this was all about. He couldn't help but wonder if all go players were all this unreasonably persistent.

"You obviously have the skills if you managed to beat Akira-kun. So what do you plan to do with it? Your mentor is known to be one of the greatest go players of all time and I bet he managed to drill some of his skills to you."

He didn't have to be surprised by what the pro was saying. "Look," Hikaru said with an impatient voice. "I already told Touya this and I'm going to repeat this to you. I played go for Sai, nothing else. Now that Sai is gone, there's no reason for me to play go."

"Do you honestly think that I will believe that?" the pro challenged with strange calmness.

"Believe what you must but that's what I had decided."

Seiji laughed, then pulled out some papers from his coat and placed it in front on him. The boy had a confused look on his face as he stared at the papers on the table.

"Do you think I wouldn't know that for the past weeks, you have been visiting a go salon and beating all its customers?" Seiji asked and seeing the frozen expression on the boy's face, he knew he had hit his mark. "And do you think I wouldn't know that you have been playing internet go every night under the name of 'Kira'?"

"Who the heck is Kira?" Hikaru tried to ask with a blank face.

Seiji raised his brow at his pathetic attempt to lie. "There's no use denying it Shindo. Kira's game showed a distinct resemblance to Fujiwara Sai, so much like your own style when you played against Akira."

Hikaru's expression darkened at this and seeing as he couldn't seem to get out from this, he seethed. "Are you a damned stalker?"

"No," Seiji simply said as he leaned back, a slow smirk playing on his lips. "Just merely curious. I already had your background investigated before, it should have given you an idea I could still have people follow your back. If you were planning to discreetly train yourself in order to face the go world, then you're not doing a good job of it."

"And what made you think I'm training myself?" Hikaru retorted.

"Stop your delusions Shindo." Seiji's voice hardened as his looks turned serious. "If you want to face the go world, then you need our help."

Deep inside, he knew that the pro was right but the stubborn part of him just refused to listen. "I don't need your help," Hikaru countered stubbornly.

"Yes, you do. You're desperate enough to play with mediocre players. Do you think you will grow stronger by that?"

Of course Hikaru knew that he needed to play against stronger opponents. But he just couldn't give this damn stalker satisfaction by agreeing. "So are you trying to tell me that you're actually a good guy? And why are you doing this? Why would you help me?"

"I'm not helping you. I'm doing this for myself."

Hikaru looked at him in bewilderment. "Huh?"

The pro looked like he was already at the end of the rope of his patience that he took a cigarette from his breast pocket and lit it up. He puffed a smoke to calm himself and gave the boy a serious look. "I don't want to pass up the opportunity of playing against a strong opponent. And I want to see how Fujiwara Honinbo's only disciple would fare against the go world."

"Geez!" Hikaru sighed with feigned exasperation and lifted his hand to rub his nape. He was annoyed with the guy but with those last words, he felt like he was given a huge compliment. After years of experiencing losses with Sai, it was a bit flattering to be acknowledged and be seen as a strong opponent, especially coming from a pro and a title-holder himself.

'We haven't played yet so it's just an empty compliment,' Hikaru thought wryly. As he turned his attention back to the pro, he knew that the previous irritation he felt was beginning to dissipitate, but still couldn't help a sarcastic retort. "Really, you don't have to worry about me. I'm beginning to earn some reputation in netgo so it won't take long before strong challengers will start noticing me."

"Then play with me!"

Hikaru was surprised at his sudden challenge, his eyes wide as his mind started to process the man's words. Then, he noticed some of customers looking at them curiously that he wrinkled his nose. "Coming from a geezer like you, that sounded pretty disgusting, you know. You aren't a pedophile, are you?"

"Stop twisting my words," Seiji shot back, a bit embarrassed that his outburst had gained them some audience. Well, he couldn't help but feel irritated when the boy was talking about strong challengers when he was there just right in front of him.

"Okay, you already know I play in the internet as Kira. So why didn't you challenge me?" Hikaru couldn't help but ask.

"I did. But you ignored my request. Thrice."

Hikaru looked at him in surprise. "I did?"

"You chose to play some random players instead. None of them managed to give you any challenge at, you completely trashed them." Seiji threw him an accusing look. "That's why I'm telling you it's not enough. If you just want to become a pro, you could already pass the pro exams with your current skill. But if you want to show yourself up to the go world as Fujiwara Honinbo's disciple, you need more strength and experience. There are still several older pros who would find it pleasurable to trample down whatever legacy Fujiwara Honinbo had left."

The boy was silent for quite a while, his eyes trailing on the papers on the table, some of them were copies of his games in the netgo. Now that he was no longer thinking in anger, the idea of playing against the blond pro was beginning to gain weight on him. It also made him want to rethink his plans and wondered if everything he was doing was all for the best. "Do you think Sai would have wanted me to play go?" he asked softly, more to his own self rather than the person in front of him.

But nevertheless, Seiji answered him. "I don't know Fujiwara Sai personally so that's for you to know and to decide."

Hikaru snorted but a small smile escaped his lips. "I'll think about it." It was the best response he could think for now. He thanked Ogata for the meal and the pro didn't stop him as he stood up and gathered his things. He had taken a few steps when he heard the blond pro speak again.

"It's Seiji."

"What?" Hikaru turned back in confusion.

"My nick in netgo," Seiji answered. "Remember it well. And the next time I send you a challenge, I would greatly appreciate it if you don't ignore it."

"Hah," Hikaru snorted with a smug look. "Now that you told me that, then you can expect that your challenge will never be accepted." He turned towards the door, raising his arm in farewell.

"Liar," Seiji smirked with satisfaction as he let out another smoke, his thoughts trailed back to the impertinent kid. "You're desperate for strong opponents. And you're already too curious on how you'll fare against me."

.: to be continued :.

Honestly, after going into hiatus for years, I find it so hard to update my Hikaru no Go fics. I need to refresh my memory on several go jargons as well as the different events in the canon. I know that I have disappointed a lot of readers but I don't want to make any more promises regarding the updates, though I'll try my best to make some time to write. I guess I'm really getting old. lol. My writing now is a bit rusty and I haven't had this chapter betaed so I apologize for any mistakes and awkward sentences.

Thank you to all the old and new readers who had continued to be patient in waiting for my updates. Nothing much really happened here, just a lot of dialogues but I've been stuck on this chapter for ages, so I need to get it out. Anyway, hope it's still an enjoyable read.