The Tower

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Chapter 12

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Author's note:

I added a part to the previous chapter, so read that one first!

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A cheerful Hikaru said goodbye to her mother, grabbed her bag and left for the go event scheduled for that weekend. She made her way to the train station, all the while wearing the bright Hikaru-smile that had been absent from her face far too often lately.

The entire train ride was spent congratulating herself on assuaging her guilty feelings towards Waya, and on her brilliant idea of checking the website of the Japanese Go Institute to see which go professionals would be attending this go event. 'Although I haven't been invited to play shidou-go myself, I know a lot of lower dan players were asked. This go event is a rather large one, after all. It makes sense that they would have a demonstration match also.' The smile on her face widened even further. 'I'm still not sure how exactly I should handle Ashiwara-san, but I'll figure something out. After all, the whole thing with Waya turned out ok, so this will probably be fine also!' The girl happily told herself.

By the time she had made it to the hotel were the event was held, the giddy feeling of relief and optimism that had filled her since yesterday night, had just about worn off. Her determination to save Sai's go remained however, and she walked over to the reception desk without hesitation, receiving directions to where the demonstration match would be held.

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'I'm early' was Hikaru's shocked realisation that soon changed into a wry sort of amusement wholly uncharacteristic for the happy-go-lucky girl. An amusement that disappeared entirely when she was made aware of the presence of the other person who would take part in the demonstration match.

"Shindou."

She automatically turned to the person who had said her name, immediately regretting it when she found herself staring into a pair of cold, blue eyes. "O. Ogata-sensei! Ah. Good morning."

"Good morning, Shindou." He returned calmly. "I was not aware that you were asked to attend this go event."

She answered him honestly, aware that he could and would find out if she lied to him about this. "I wasn't, Ogata-sensei."

"You weren't." He repeated with a casual tone of voice, all the while scrutinizing her as if he could read her motives and secrets from her stance, making the young professional even more uncomfortable. 'Waah! Why did it have to be him of all people that Ashiwara-san will play against?' She inwardly whined to whichever god willing to listen to her grievances.

"So what did bring you here then, on this fine Saturday morning, if not your duties towards the Go Institute?" He queried, his tone deliberately curious.

Hikaru at the clock on the wall and cursed the fact that the demonstration match would not start for another hour and promised herself never to be early again. 'Whoever said that being late all the time is a bad habit, lied!'

"Shindou?" the 9-dan pressed, after a full minute of silence.

"Ah! Forgive me, Ogata-sensei. I was distracted." She answered, annoyed with herself for once again getting lost in thought and for not having the slightest clue how to answer his earlier question. 'Oh, you know. Just trying to get to know Ashiwara-san. Particularly whether or not he has a girlfriend.' She nearly snorted. 'Yeah, that will go over really well.'

She looked the older go professional straight in the eyes and suddenly felt really fed-up. Fed-up with the secrets, lies and most especially, this man's eternal suspicion. And, without really thinking about it she answered him, her voice surprisingly calm, and her words surprisingly truthful: "I have other duties than just those towards the Go Institute, Ogata-sensei." the 2-dan told him, "I am here to fulfil duties far more important to me." And with those words she turned to do just that: to fulfil the debt she owed to her best friend for her support and friendship; to fulfil the debt she owed to her mentor for dragging her into the world of go and making her see the beauty of it; to fulfil the debt she owed to the go world for accepting her, unconventional as she was. She walked away from Ogata-sensei in search of said 9-dan's opponent; to fulfil her duty to life, by refusing to let something as beautiful as Sai's go die.

'Sai's go will live on. And my friend will find happiness.' And for once those words didn't seem like the desperate lie that she has been telling herself over and over again. At that moment they seemed the honest truth. After all, Sai is destined to play go, so her plan cannot fail, can it? Surely the gods would not allow that. Surely they would not allow Sai's go to disappear.' Her mind was filled with these confident thoughts as she searched for the person who would help her save her friend. He just didn't know it yet.

Her determined eyes found Ashiwara-san deep in conversation with some people she didn't know. Normally she would have hesitated in approaching an acquaintance while he was obviously otherwise engaged. Hikaru may not be the politest person, but even she is aware that disturbing someone both older and higher ranked than herself with no apparent reason is a rude thing to do.

And, although she had not turned back since answering Ogata's question, she was aware that his piercing gaze was still directed at her.

But at that moment rudeness towards Ashiwara and fuelling Ogata's suspicion hardly seemed relevant: all that really mattered was making sure that Sai could continue to play lots and lots of go.

So Hikaru made her way to the 4-dan, not quite sure of what exactly she could or should do to fulfil that goal, but determined to so nonetheless. Through any means necessary.

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Ashiwara looked up from his conversational partners when he noticed the 2-dan he had recently lost a game against approach him.

"Good morning, Shindou-chan" He told her cheerfully, not one to hold grudges.

She answered him politely, lacking her own customary smile; "Good morning Ashiwara-san." before continuing on; "You have a demonstration game today, right?"

His reply was a cheerful conformation. She wished him luck, and he returned his attention to another person. He had expected her to leave at that; they weren't friends, after all. Moreover, she had this look on her face that he recognized immediately from the many games and interactions he had had with Ogata, Touya-sensei and on occasion Akira: one that usually meant that they had a plan; that they were determined to do something and would not be swayed from it or delayed. He wondered why she was still here; sometimes mingling in the conversation, sometimes just listening, but always watching him.

'Ogata-san's suspiciousness must be rubbing off on me.' He thought to himself with amusement, before shaking off his uncomfortable-ness. 'Shindou-chan is probably just tired or something.' he told himself. 'It's a lot earlier than she is used to, after all.' Ashiwara smiled slightly at that thought; Shindou's tardiness was a well known fact in the go world.

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Hikaru entered her bedroom and dumped both herself and her bag on the bed, feeling stupid, helpless and absolutely exhausted. The day had started out well enough. 'Ok, maybe not that well: dealing with Ogata-sensei's suspicions early in the morning isn't my idea of having a good time, but still, I went over to Ashiwara-san and inserted myself in the conversation without to much trouble or embarrassment. At least at first.'

The young go pro groaned and hid her head in her pillow. She had tried to be subtle about her questions; asking him how long he had been playing go, how old he was when he started etc. Still some of her questions had caused some strange glances to be thrown her way, like when she asked him if he knew about Saeki's girlfriend trouble, since he seemed to get along with him very well. It was her subtle way of figuring out if he himself had a girlfriend. Or at least her attempt at subtle. And at figuring that out. An awkward silence had ensued that she had tried to ease by explaining that she was just concerned about her sempai. 'Though whether any of those people actually bought that is anyone's guess.' The girl sighed and admitted to herself; 'I guess it is a bit weird to discuss such intimate things with people you hardly know. But still, how else am I going to figure things out? How else am I going to help Sai?'

Things hadn't gotten much better as the day went on. She had watched the demonstration match; her eyes glued to Ashiwara-san but not really watching him at all, just staring, trying to hold on to the determination and bracing herself for the embarrassment to follow. Because even though her earlier conversation with him was excruciatingly awkward, Hikaru wouldn't let herself give up. 'And embarrassment did follow.' she shook her head to dispel the image of her second attempt, that was pretty much just as bad as the first. The memories wouldn't leave her head however, and she couldn't repress the feelings of utter failure and helplessness. So in the end she just let the humiliation and embarrassment that she had kept at bay all day finally overtake her and cried herself to sleep.

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Author's note:

It's been ages since I last updated! I re-read my whole story so that I could get back in the swing of things and I was infinitely grateful to myself that I already had a chunk of this chapter written down. (I always make a start on a new chapter before submitting the finished one because continuing a story is so much easier than staring at a blank paper. lol.)

I'm not really satisfied with it but really didn't know how to improve it. Oh well...

Thanks for reading (and reviewing)