Title: Thawing of the Heart
Rating: T
Pairing: slight Ogata/Hikaru

Summary: Hikaru has recovered professionally from the loss of Sai's Go - but the personal loss of his friend has yet to be mourned. Sometimes comfort can be gained from the most unlikely places.

Authors notes: This will be the first piece I have worked on in quite a while. I am sure it will have numerous mistakes. I do not have an entire encyclopedia of the Hikaru no Go timeline memorized, so I have tried to keep details about locations, events, dates and what-not somewhat vague. For my purposes I'm assuming that Shindou is somewhere around 16-17, and Ogata around 27-28. I have no idea if this is accurate. Some may consider some, if not all, of the characters to be behaving ooc. I have no response to this. I can see it in my head, therefore I write it. Comments warm the soul. Flames warm my fireplace.

Disclaimer: If I owned any of this, it wouldn't be published here, ne?


Ogata sighed as he exited the Go institute. He loved Go, it was true, but by god some of the formalities were tiring. This year he would definitely seize a title, but things were never that simple. All of the preliminaries had to be won, plus all the interviews and game analysis... it could be enough to drive one to distraction. Well, it was over with for today.

The 9-dan had intended to head directly to his car, when his attention was caught by movement across the street. A shorter figure was reclining on one of the benches bordering the nearby park - a very familiar figure. Ogata frowned. Shindou?

The young 1-dan was a source of troubling thoughts. The teenager had progressed incredibly rapidly, turning pro after a single year as an insei. His talent had been undeniable, his promise incredible. Ogata had been planning on watching him closely.

Then, without warning, he had virtually disappeared. He seemed to drop off the face of the earth, losing several matched by default, all but destroying his chances of advancing at all. No one knew what had caused the withdrawal, as Shindou refused to discuss it with anyone. Lately, it seemed that he had recovered from whatever had caused his retreat. He had returned to the institute, and his records again began showing wins. Unfortunately, records were the only thing Ogata had seen. The younger player had managed to avoid any contact with him, and the 9-dan was aware of the reason.

Ogata winced as he thought about the various interactions he had had with Shindou. His pursuit of the mysterious Sai had been all-consuming, but in his desperation he had ignored all common sense. The memory of grabbing Shindou and slamming him against the wall of the hospital rose uncomfortably. Really, it was a wonder no one had interfered. And it was no surprise that Shindou was now wary of being around him. He supposed he was lucky that Shindou hadn't made any efforts to retaliate. Being underage at the time, he could have made things difficult for Ogata if he had wished to.

Now Ogata watched as the younger player slumped over, looking incredibly worn. He wished there was a way to ease Shindou's mind about him. He had no desire for there to be uncomfortable feelings between them. After all, he genuinely did admire Shindou's skills, and he looked forward to seeing how far Hikaru could rise. For reasons he couldn't explain, it pained him to think of Shindou feeling uncertain around him, always wondering what he might do, as if Shindou wasn't safe when he was near. He had to find a way past this.

Deciding that he couldn't have been presented with a better opportunity, Ogata began to cross the street. Shindou's head was down, and he didn't seem to be paying much attention to his surroundings. Ogata approached softly, trying not to startle Shindou. Perhaps if he began slowly, Shindou would feel less inclined to bolt. He held on to that hope as Shindou raised his head, having sensed that someone was standing nearby. His face betrayed a slight nervousness, but he didn't seem inclined to take off running just yet. Ogata tried to take that as an encouraging sign.

"Ogata-sensei."

"Shindou-kun. May I sit here?" Receiving a faint nod, Ogata seated himself, careful not to crowd Shindou. "I've been watching your game records. You have been doing well. Will you be able to continue this trend, do you think?"

Shindou offered a small shrug. "I will do my best, of course. But one can never really tell."

"I've been going through the preliminary matches. It's finally time for someone to replace Kuwabara as Honinbo. But I haven't seen much of you at the institute..."

"I imagine that our oteai games aren't as involved. I don't usually stay afterward."

This isn't working. Ogata thought in frustration. It was clear that Shindou wasn't quite sure what to make of Ogata's efforts, and was simply offering short, meaningless responses to his questions. Ogata wasn't prepared to simply walk away. The situation had been unresolved long enough. Perhaps it was best to just deal with the matter directly. He could only hope that Shindou would listen, rather than walking away entirely.

"Shindou-kun, I didn't mean... I never intended to make you run from me."

"Ogata-sensei..."

"I know I have made you uncomfortable. I know that you avoid me. Most would see it as a younger player respecting the more experienced, but we know better, don't we? Your skill is great - greater than your current rank, by far. And you have never had a fear of speaking your mind, or challenging those older than you. No, you avoid *me*, you run from my approach."

Shindou cast his eyes on the ground, avoiding Ogata's eyes. But Ogata's next words caused his head to whip up in surprise.

"I... am sorry. I did not mean to push you so. I am sorry that things are uncomfortable between us." Ogata looked away as he sighed. "But you reminded me so much of...him. I saw his echo in your games, in the Go that you played." Unnoticed by Ogata, Hikaru's stance was growing more and more stiff. "I was just so eager... so desperate to catch a hint of..."

"...Sai."

If Ogata's ears had not been so sharp, they would have missed softly spoken word - hardly even uttered, a mere breath on the wind. But hear it he did, and more. The tone cut through his thoughts like a blade, resounding with a sense of agony, a sense of desperation. Quickly he returned his gaze to the young pro, frowning at what he saw. Shindou's frame was tense, his head bent forward to conceal his face behind his bangs. His shoulders were shaking, a barely-perceptible tremor. Even as Ogata watched, two crystal droplets fell, sparkling, only to be absorbed by the fabric of Shindou's clothes.

"Shindou-kun?" Carefully the 9-dan reached out to lay a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Hikaru? Are you all right?" It was enough to bring down Hikaru's carefully maintained facade. Ogata's eyes widened as Hikaru collapsed, his entire body shaking with pent-up sobs. "Sai... Sai..." It seemed to be the only thing he could manage to say.

Nothing had prepared Ogata for this reaction, and he found his heart clenching painfully at the sight of Shindou's misery. Although he was not known as the warmest of men, he couldn't just sit by while someone he knew and...admired (cared about?) went through something like this. Slowly he drew Hikaru to his side, gently easing Hikaru's head onto his shoulder. "Shh...easy now. Things will be all right. You're not alone. I'm here. I'm with you." A steady stream of reassurances flowed from the 9-dan, until finally Hikaru began to calm. Before Ogata could even open his mouth, Hikaru's voice drifted up once more.

"Sai is...gone. He's gone. Sai is gone!"

Gently Ogata began rubbing Hikaru's back, trying to keep him from unraveling again. His mind was whirling, but strangely his thoughts were not centered on his mysterious obsession. Rather, they were focused on the young pro currently falling apart in his arms, and how he would feel later if this breakdown was observed. Ogata knew that Hikaru would hate to have this episode become public. And it was apparent that he badly needed a chance to have someone listen, to share this burden.

"Hikaru, are your matches done for the day? Are you required back?"

Slowly Hikaru shook his head. If the oddity of Ogata's using his first name registered, it didn't show. Softly Ogata eased Hikaru away and stood up, before drawing Hikaru to his feet as well. He tried to think of something reassuring to say, before settling for a simple "Come." Quietly he led the younger man to his car, knowing that his apartment was close, and would at least be private.