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.

Author's notes: So. Another chapter done. I will be ending this particular story here, but I hope to return to this over-all story in time. Again, some may find Ogata to be acting out of character. I hope this chapter lives up to expectations. Many thanks for the kind reviews and encouragement, which were quite welcome indeed. Comments will be eagerly read. Flames will be used to toast marshmallows.

Disclaimer: If I owned any of this, the series would be a lot longer than it is. Since there's still no sign of any new episodes, it's safe to say that I don't own it.

After pulling into his parking spot, Ogata shut off the engine, before pocketing his keys. Turning to regard his companion, he frowned in concern. Shindou had not said one word during the drive over. In fact, he appeared to have retreated entirely. Ogata exited the car, taking a moment to run a hand through his hair. How was he to fix this? And why did it bother him so much? He couldn't deny that watching Hikaru, (Shindou, I must remember that. his mind whispered) watching Shindou break down had caused a great deal of concern. Now the younger man was so withdrawn it was almost frightening. Ogata made his way to the passenger side, fighting down a curious sense of fear.

Hikaru showed practically no reaction when Ogata opened his door. "Shindou-kun?" Swallowing at the lack of response, Ogata reached down to grasp Hikaru's arm. "Come, Shindou-kun, we're here." Slowly Hikaru allowed himself to be led away from the car. Ogata's concern did not abate during the short walk. Hikaru was following his lead, but the young pro was still frighteningly silent. It seemed terribly wrong, when he was usually so quick and energetic.

As soon as he got Hikaru into the apartment, he wasted no time in sitting Hikaru down on the couch. The new and unfamiliar surroundings appeared to spark a bit of interest, and Ogata watched as Hikaru's eyes were drawn to his aquarium. Ogata frowned slightly as a stray thought raced through his mind. When was the last time I brought someone into my apartment? He actually couldn't recall ever allowing anyone to enter. Even the few women he had dated (why am I thinking of this now?) had never been here. His attention was forced back to Hikaru when the younger player groaned, burying his face in his hands.


"Gomen, Ogata-sensei. I didn't mean to cause you any trouble."

Ogata clenched his fists unconsciously. Hikaru sounded far too broken for his liking. "It is alright, Shindou-kun."

Hesitantly Hikaru lowered his arms and met Ogata's gaze. "Why did you bring me to your apartment?"

"Because I was hoping that you would tell me, Shindou-kun."

"Tell you what?"

"Whatever you wish to. Whatever you feel needs to be said. Whatever is tearing you apart so badly." Ogata felt a tiny flicker of rage at the startled look that flashed over Hikaru's face. Had no one bothered to stop and pay attention to him? How could such deep misery be overlooked so completely? Ogata could see it, swimming in Hikaru's green eyes. Even as he watched, Hikaru hunched over, as if to protect himself.


Ogata again reached out, prompted by the fresh tears he could see gathering. "You said earlier that he was gone. He...passed away?" Hikaru nodded hesitantly and Ogata's hand tightened in sympathy. "I'm sorry, Shindou-kun." For a moment he hesitated, before softly continuing, " Tell me about him." When Hikaru began to shake his head, in almost unconscious denial, Ogata gently forced him to meet his eyes. "Shindou-kun, you have been holding this inside. But sometimes, that can cause more harm than any loss. I promise I will not demand anything you are not ready to share." Unaware of the wealth of emotions he was unwittingly displaying, Ogata offered an encouraging smile. "Tell me about him, Hikaru. Share this loss with me."

Swallowing hard, Hikaru braced himself to speak. "Sai was... he was almost like a child. He had so much enthusiasm for everything. And he loved Go. Whenever he talked about it... he would light up, as if his universe was that much brighter for it. We used to play so often... He was..."

"He was your teacher."

"Yes." Slowly a few tears escaped to trickle down Hikaru's face. "He taught me so much... About honor. And respect. He showed me the beauty in the game, helped me to understand it." The tears were beginning to flow faster now. "He was so patient with me, even when I didn't bother to listen..."

"He must have cared a great deal about you."

"He did. Even when I didn't deserve it." For a moment Hikaru's eyes closed in pain, before reopening to stare at nothing. "Even when I was selfish, or rude, he always tried to help. He never stoped teaching me."

Something was nagging at the back of Ogata's mind. It was as if a puzzle piece had suddenly clicked into place. "This is what happened to you. When you disappeared from Go. This is why..."

Hikaru nodded miserably. "When he left... it was all too much! His Go was the only thing I had left of him, but it hurt! It hurt so much, to look at the goban, and know that he would never play again, never sit there and tease me about how I lost to Waya, or encourage me to face my next opponent... I couldn't face it! He was gone, and..." Hikaru's shoulders were heaving now, the words pouring from him in a rush. Without thinking, Ogata moved closer, reaching out to Hikaru. Hikaru stared at Ogata for only a moment, before collapsing against him, clutching his shoulders as if his world would fly apart. "It hurts! It hurts so much!"

Once again Ogata found himself holding on to a sobbing Hikaru, whispering reassurances. It was only now, as he felt Hikaru's tears soak into his shirt, that it finally struck him for the first time how out of character he was behaving. What am I doing? he thought to himself. This isn't like me at all. It was true, the blond Go player usually had no patience for emotional displays, either his own or others'. Had this situation occured with anyone else, Ogata would have excused himself, quickly and quietly. He would not have stuck around to watch them cry or listen to them talk, and he certainly wouldn't have brought them back to his home. Yet with Hikaru...

Ogata realized that he had, for the past several minutes and without any conscious thought, been running his hand through Hikaru's hair in an effort to soothe the young pro. With Hikaru there wasn't even the question of whether he should get involved. Seeing the younger player breaking down was actually painful, and Ogata found that he desired nothing more than to provide comfort. Watching Hikaru, seeing his struggles and feeling his heartbreak, caused a deep ache in his own heart. Slowly he leaned back, stretching his full length out on the couch and allowing Hikaru to burrow even closer to his chest. Somehow, this overwhelming feeling didn't seem wrong, despite the fact that it was causing him to act in a way totally contrary to his usual nature. It felt...good, it felt right, even though a tiny voice in the back of his mind tried to point out that nothing about this situation should have seemed 'right'.

Slowly Ogata registered the fact that Hikaru's tears were tapering off, that his fists, clenched in the material of Ogata's shirt, were beginning to loosen - that he was actually falling asleep, still cradled against Ogata's chest by his careful arms. Softly he leaned his head back to rest against the couch's arm, even while he continued to card his fingers through Hikaru's hair. It somehow felt like this tenderness that he had discovered within himself was threatening to break apart, like a tiny seed inside himself that was cracking, opening itself to develop into - what? Again he looked down at Hikaru's face, resting so peacefully against his chest. He could feel it rising up inside him, fed by the gentle weight of Hikaru's head, flowing in waves with each quiet breath Hikaru exhaled - and again he leaned his head back and closed his eyes, some last small part of him trying to deny it, while the rest simply basked in the feeling. Love. There was no other name that could be put to it. There was no telling how it had developed. Was it born of his early facination with Hikaru, back when he was a new player with such promise? Or had it grown later, when Hikaru's successes had turned Ogata's scrutiny into a sense of respect, even admiration? Either way, there was no point in even trying to deny it. This was the reason for his guilt over Hikaru's avoidance of him, why he felt compelled to speak to the younger player, why the sight of Hikaru's breakdown caused such an ache in his own heart.

I am in love with him. Perhaps the strangest thing about that thought was it's complete failure to awaken any panic or fear, as it should have. After all, Hikaru had only just come of age, was several years his junior, was unlikely in the extreme to return his feelings... the negative list was endless. Yet somehow Ogata could not find it within himself to care about that right now. He trusted me enough to confide in me. He trusted me with his pain. He was able to provide comfort, to be a safe haven. It was enough for now, Ogata thought sleepily to himself. What may or may not happen is in the future, but for now... this is enough.

note: Some may be wondering about the ease with which Hikaru speaks of Sai, whereas before he tried so hard to keep Sai a secret. My general opinion is that, now that Sai is gone, he feels that he can allow people to draw their own conclusions safely. For instance, when Ogata asked if Sai had passed away, he was assuming that Sai had died, perhaps thinking that he had been confined to a hospital or too ill to travel, which would explain why he was never seen. Obviously that's not the case, but it covers the basic facts enough to let Hikaru speak about his loss without being afraid of revealing too much.