Summary: In an alternate universe, a different person walked the path of Shindo Hikaru. How will Nara Shikamaru deal with a go-playing spirit, tournaments, opponents and Toya Akira? This lazy genius didn't realise how playing Go could be so troublesome…
Disclaimer: I only know the rigmarole and plots of my brain. And I think it's fairly obvious by now.
Shikamaru no Go
"Akira, you seem to be in a good mood."
The boy started. "Father?"
Unsurprisingly, Toya Koyo found his son sitting before the goban. "Your mother wanted to tell you that dinner's ready." Koyo's eyes rested briefly on the game that was currently set out.
Akira noticed his father's interest, and his own eyes were drawn back to what he had been contemplating. "…I suppose I'm pleased because I managed to follow up on a game, that's all," Akira said calmly, a small smile on his face.
"And a rather beautiful game it is," Koyo said slowly. "Who was black?"
"A boy my age," Akira said softly. "He's quite the opponent."
Koyo could not help feeling a muted sense of joy. It had been quite some time since Akira had taken someone his age seriously, beyond the customary civility. "You have been preoccupied with a specific game for the past few days. May I?" he asked.
"Of course." Akira deftly repositioned the stones on the board. "This was the first game."
Koyo could already see his son's personal touch in the path of the white stones, but the entity that was black was another matter entirely. He assessed the game critically, deconstructing moves and allowing the stones to play out before him. "You underestimated him the first time. That must have been an interesting experience," he pointed out. Akira ducked his head in embarrassment, making Koyo smile dryly. "It happens," the man said wisely. "But you appear to have learned from the encounter. You weren't holding back the second time, and the game was all the better for it."
Toya Koyo did not dispense praise easily. Akira's eyes brightened.
Then Akiko called out a reminder that dinner was growing cold. Akira made a move to clear away the board out of habit, but Koyo stopped him. "You can see to it afterwards." Akira frowned, but nodded and went off to wash his hands. Koyo lingered at the door, eyes fixed to the game until the stones were etched into his mind.
There is something very new in the game…and yet, something very old. This is the ability of the boy that defeated my son. Twice. He finally wrenched his attention from the board in order to join his wife and son.
Dinner at the Toya household was a peaceful affair, with the small family sitting down and eating together, talking quietly about their day. The conversations would vary – Go usually had some mention (of course) but topics ranged from clothes, to school, current affairs and even poetry (which was something that all members of their family enjoyed).
Most of the time Koyo would eat his meal as he watched his wife and Akira talk about anything and everything. Sometimes he would put in a word or give his own opinion, but Akiko was the one whose social expertise and repertoire of polite, witty comments he'd acquiesce to, just as she acknowledged his skill of Go and endured the usual discussion groups he hosted in their home without complaint.
As Akiko placed more vegetables on Akira's plate, she makes eye contact with Koyo and smiled minutely, before turning back to her son. "You need to eat more, Akira-kun. Go may satisfy your brain, it won't sustain your body." It was something she'd taken to quoting after Akira skipped a meal or two while flipping through kifu records.
"Of course, Mother." Akira sighed softly. It had only happened twice, and he'd been six at the time, yet he was never allowed to forget it.
Koyo watched on fondly. It was strange how only a few days ago Akira had been withdrawn, often lost in thought, and needed to be coaxed into conversation. Akiko had been worried, but chalked it off to her son growing up. Koyo had believed something else was amiss.
Even now when Akira had returned to his usual self, there was something that had changed. Compared to the previous diffidence, Akira was almost – animated – as he answered his mother's questions while resigning himself to finishing off the extra food added to his plate to 'give him energy and make him grow taller'.
"Have you finished all your homework?" Akiko asked.
"I have an assignment due in a week's time, but I've completed most of it. If it's alright, I'll be spending time at the salon like I usually do," was Akira's reply.
"So long as you don't stay too late."
As Akira nodded and returned to his food with an unusual gusto, the Meijin decided then and there that it might be beneficial to pay another visit to his salon in the near future.
The Peg Incident of 1999 started with a bag of two hundred plain wooden pegs, a couple of markers and the entire school body of Kage. Naruto's brainchild was simple enough. The objects went into circulation, and suddenly students found innocent wooden pegs attached to clothing or hair.
You have been pegged. BELIEVE IT!
The other side of the peg would vary in message:
How long was it before you noticed me? ;)
Hello gorgeous. What's hanging? Oh right, me!
I'm watching you :D
…And you call yourself a ninja? EPIC FAIL.
No one could link it to Naruto because it was soon fully embraced as it became a passing Kage craze, one which nobody was exempt from. Even the older classes got into it. Students regaled their friends with tales of exceptional daring, such as the successful pegging of sempai, Hunternin, and most dangerous of all, the ANBU. Teachers tried to ignore it for the most part, but were quick to crack down with detentions.
Still, pretty much everyone was sniggering when the Principal gave a speech for half and hour without realising a peg was perched jauntily on the top of his hat (at least, until Mitarashi-sensei pointed it out while cackling madly from the sidelines). Naruto and his younger protégé Konohamaru took joint-credit for that particular venture.
Shikamaru found the entire thing entertaining, but troublesome (he was forever checking himself to ensure there were no pegs on his person). Luckily he was one of the students who managed to escape their collective wrath, as Sai noticed most of the attackers before they could carry out a successful hit.
However, Shikamaru kept to himself the satisfying feeling of being the only person to peg the most fearsome teacher of all: Morino Ibiki. Three people had tried before him, failed miserably, and spent after school hours on errands for Morino-sensei, the poor souls. Not only was he arguably the most intimidating teacher in all of Kage, he was Head of Student Welfare, which meant he held a lot of clout in the school system. (The sight of Morino-sensei waving uniform infringement forms was enough to empty corridors in record time).
Even so, it had taken Ibiki a few minutes to register the peg suspended innocently off his black bandanna. Shikamaru's friends had silently snickered over the incident. The psychology teacher himself expressed grim amusement at the anonymous student's audacious behaviour, before launching his own private investigation.
As expected, no one took credit for the successful pegging of Morino-sensei. They weren't stupid or suicidal enough, and Shikamaru knew stepping forward would mean glory from his peers (no thanks) and imminent death (definitely not).
Of course, the students weren't privy to staffroom talk, such as the one that took place one afternoon. Genma Shiranui cursed as he plucked a peg from the back of his vest. "Damn it, not another one!"
Iruka chuckled at the plight of the biology teacher. "You know what they say. Constant vigilance!" While good-natured, Iruka was still a prankster at heart, and though many thought him to be a reformed troublemaker, a part of him was crowing at Naruto's handiwork in approval.
"You know," Asuma mock-whispered from where he was sprawled on the couch, cigarette dangling from one hand, "I've heard that Ibiki still has that peg."
Gekko Hayate, who taught chemistry, coughed. "What, has he been doing fingerprint tests and chemical analysis to determine the culprit?"
"Probably. But it seems he's gotten nothing distinctive." Mitarashi Anko took a gulp of her black coffee. 'He's actually impressed with the kid that managed to get one over him. He keeps the thing in a box on the mantelpiece in his flat." No one asked how Anko knew.
The spandex-clad Maito Gai roared with laughter. "Kage is teeming with YOUTHFUL students who possess such INGENIOUS MINDS AND BRAVE SPIRITS! Isn't that right, Kakashi?" he said, turning to his masked colleague.
The man with the silver hair that defied all laws of physics looked up from his orange book. "I'm sorry, did you say something?"
Gai face-faulted onto the staffroom floor. "M-my ETERNAL RIVAL is so HIP!" the PE teacher declared.
This was only a portion of the ANBU faction. Kage was a sizeable school, with a colourful variety of teachers to rival the student body. While Iruka only taught elementary classes, and Gai covered physical education for all ages, educators like Kakashi, Asuma, and their fellows taught middle and high school classes, and all had their specialties.
Iruka cradled the near-empty cup of coffee in his hands as he peered out of the window. Stragglers were still milling through the Kage gates, and he could see the track and field team setting up their training course. On the other far side of the field was the archery club, training for an upcoming tournament. He smiled, watching the kids putting effort into their additional activities and hobbies outside of the lessons he covered in class.
"-How's your class of hellions going?"
Iruka came back to earth at Kakashi's question. "Not too bad. But I won't envy you lot when they graduate. You're going to have your hands full with them."
Kakashi rolled his eyes good-naturedly. "I can see it now," the teacher said as his voice took on a high falsetto. "Kakashi-sensei, why do you always carry that orange book around? Kakashi-sensei, if I drop this bowling ball from the school roof, will I get extra marks for my physics assignment? Kakashi-sensei, we can't do research on our own, help us!"
"Okay, just for that," Iruka said, eyes narrowing, "I'm going to go put you forward to take charge for both Naruto AND Sasuke in the middle school mentorship program. It might bring more toleration to your teaching methods."
Kakashi's eyes widened comically. "Maa, so cruel Iruka-sensei! On their own they're bad enough, but together they're insufferable!"
All the teachers burst out laughing. The mentorship program was the idea that the students of the graduating class would all be assigned a teacher as a mentor to help with the transition from elementary to middle school. Generally there was a group of three to each designated teacher. Deciding who would be in charge of who was a convoluted but organised affair, with all the teachers, the Year Adviser, and the Principal coming together. Some put forward specific educators to handle specific students, other teachers volunteered their own opinions.
Kurenai turned to Asuma. "And I suppose you've put yourself forward to mentor Ino, Shikamaru and Chouji?"
Asuma grinned. "Sure, the whole mentorship program isn't supposed to be about favourites, but they all know me and it won't be anything different that they've worked with. Besides," he smirked, "I'm not sure how many teachers are willing to deal with the three of them, not with their teamwork. Naruto and Sasuke may be a handful, but the Ino-Shika-Cho combo can be a destructive force."
Gai's boisterous laughter once again made a comeback. "Your belief in your students is impressive, Asuma! I was able to take three youthful students under my wing in last year's mentoring program, and am proud to say that NEJI, TENTEN AND LEE HAVE ALL BENEFITED BY MY EXTREME TEACHING STYLE TO BECOME SHINING EXAMPLES OF THE PROMISING NEXT GENERATION!"
(All present teachers winced at the over usage of Gai's outside voice.)
"By the way, what's Shikamaru doing after school?" Iruka asked while he massaged his ears. "He left earlier than he usually does."
"Oh." Asuma took a puff of his cigarette. "Something about a discussion with an opponent of his."
"Wait, that lazy student's been getting into fights or something?" Anko asked in an inappropriately cheerful manner. "He'd better uphold the pride of the school!"
"Not that kind of opponent!" Kurenai said exasperatedly. "He's not getting into fistfights; Shikamaru's just been taking more of an active interest in Go nowadays."
"I knew all of my hard work would pay off," Asuma nodded sagely.
Anko huffed. "Well that's kinda boring."
Iruka was unamused. "So, you're to blame for his disengagement Asuma. When Shikamaru's not sleeping in class, I usually find him playing Go games on kifu paper – against himself."
Kakashi raised an eyebrow. "That's weird," he commented.
"Oh, like you're one to talk!" they all shouted at him in unison.
"…And by placing the stone here I blocked off your assault."
"But you fell for my trap and lost a stone here."
"But I saw that and countered it."
"Thus failing to see my back up plan in the form of this hand."
The two Go players heckled one another as they dissected their game, move by move. True to his word, Shikamaru had hightailed out of Kage as soon as the school bell signalled dismissal to make his way to the Meijin's Go salon.
Sai was practically skipping next to him on the trip there, which amused Shikamaru greatly. Sai, even with your serious Go persona, I'm obviously the older and more mature person in this partnership.
"That's because you act like an old man." Well, considering Shikamaru's general personality, Sai did kind of have a point.
Shikamaru frowned. Hypocrite. You're an ancient spirit, I'm still in school.
"Then you should treat your elders with more respect," Sai countered him. "I've been around before your great-grandfather you know."
The two continued bickering pleasantly as they turned the corner and arrived at the Go salon. The very same receptionist was at her usual desk. She blinked, before smiling kindly. "Nara-kun, hello. Here, let me take your school bag."
"Oh. Thanks Ichikawa-san." Shikamaru noticed distractedly that she seemed friendlier than last time as he paid her the standard fee and looked around for Toya, who was seated at one of the gobans at the window.
Akira's pensive frown as he stared at the goban disappeared when he noticed Shikamaru approaching him. "Nara. I'm glad you could come," he said, standing up. "I've already taken the liberty of setting up our game." Akira gestured to the black and white stones. "The patrons yesterday were quite adamant that I show them how it played out. Some of them may still be discussing today."
"What did they think?" Shikamaru said as he plunked down into the empty chair.
Akira also sat, albeit more gracefully. "They couldn't say anything for a while. Then the arguments started. Some of our moves confused them."
"I suppose we should get down into the discussion then. Hopefully we'll be able to dispel that," Shikamaru remarked.
Akira couldn't help smiling at that. He then took in Shikamaru's school uniform and blinked. It comprised of a white shirt and black trousers, which was standard enough, but it was the dark blue jacket with the symbol Kage stitched on it that caught his attention. Kage Elementary? So that's the school he attends? Akira wondered, before he set the piece of information aside as the two started talking and discussing like they'd planned.
Which brought things back to the rather heated discussion, by Akira and Shikamaru's standards anyway.
"See here." Akira traced a finger to the hectic battle that took place in the middle of the goban. "I forced you to play a stone here when I threatened your cluster, and drew you away from attacking my own fledgling cluster."
Shikamaru looked at where Toya was pointing. "Yes, but that doesn't change the end result."
Toya frowned slightly. "But in the end, you did exactly what I wanted you to do."
Shikamaru shrugged. "Well, of course. That lulled you into a false sense of security, and I managed to gain the central area in the end." He leaned back in his chair. "I had to shape and adapt my own strategy to circumvent your plans, and if that includes seemingly going along with it, that's what I'd do."
"I can understand that," Akira retorted politely, "but your approach here could have been handled better in light of your actions on the rest of the board."
Both sized up one another over the goban, neither one willing to give in to the other's version of events just yet.
Shikamaru sighed. He had half a mind to just call a truce. The energy expended in this discussion alone felt like more than he used in the entire day. Plus, Toya was proving to be quite stubborn. "I have a feeling that these post-game discussions could become quite troublesome."
Toya almost looked like he agreed with the statement.
While Toya Koyo may have been expecting it, he still couldn't help feeling a little surprised when he walked into his salon, only to witness Akira and another boy hunched over a Go board to one side and talking quietly to one another as they traced out patterns amongst the stones.
His eyes sharpened. The newcomer looked very familiar. His mind brought up the vague impression of a passing stranger at Kiin Hall. What a coincidence. Unwilling to interrupt the discussion, he greeted Harumi and checked quietly on some of the other salon regulars. Both Akira and his friend didn't appear to notice him at all. And despite all appearances of holding a controlled and polite debate, they seemed to have plenty to say in regards to strategy and tactical thinking.
Perhaps he would have left them to their own devices, were it not for the arrival of Ogata Seiji. Looking impeccable in his white suit, Ogata greeted the Meijin before automatically scanning the salon and pinpointing Akira's location. Curiously, the man's eyes widened as they fell upon Akira's companion. "That's…!"
"Is he familiar to you?" Koyo asked.
Ogata's response of shock gave way to resolve, as he quickly walked up to the two younger Go players. "Akira, I'll just borrow your friend," he said shortly before pulling away his victim from the table and dragging him towards Koyo, leaving a flabbergasted Akira behind him.
"Toya Meijin," Ogata said with no small form of relish, "this is the boy from the tournament. I'd recognise the hair anywhere." Ogata then looked down at the boy curiously. "A part of me anticipated you trying to make a run for it after your disappearance at Kiin Hall."
The boy, who had been looking at them weirdly up to this point, merely shrugged. "It's a pain, but why would I bother? Besides, your grip's even stronger than Toya's." The teenager transferred his attention from Ogata to the Meijin, and Koyo was confronted with dark eyes.
"Do you know who I am?" Koyo asked, testing the waters.
The boy nodded. "Your Akira's father."
Ogata's eyebrows went up. Evidently he'd been expecting the boy to refer to Toya Koyo as the Meijin. Koyo himself was also interested by the boy's term of choice. It wasn't often that he was recognised as such, simply because Akira was usually the one that had to deal with being 'Toya Meijin's son'.
"Father. Ogata-san." Akira probably wanted to know what was going on, and had materialised next to them. "I'm sorry I didn't see or introduce you sooner. This is Nara Shikamaru. We've played together a few times."
Nara Shikamaru, despite his treatment at the abrupt move instigated by Ogata, had the peace of mind to observe social niceties, and gave the two adults a polite bow.
Koyo returned it in kind. "I would like to test your ability," he said bluntly, gauging the boy's reaction. Both Ogata and Akira watched on, being undeniably inquisitive.
Nara Shikamaru blinked carefully. "I'm afraid I'll have to decline."
"What?" Ogata said. Akira too looked confused as to why Nara would give up such an opportunity.
But Koyo wasn't, not really. "I thought as much," he murmured thoughtfully. "Perhaps another time then."
The boy gave him a brief half-smile. "Sure."
Koyo nodded once before turning to Akira. "I'll be observing a few teaching games before I leave. You'll have roughly an hour to conclude your discussion, which should be sufficient." He then walked off calmly. Ogata shot Nara another frown, before following the Meijin's footsteps, leaving Akira and Shikamaru where they were.
"Why did you just leave it at that?" Ogata almost demanded from his teacher.
Koyo only motioned towards the two boys now returning to their previously abandoned goban. "You've only been here a few minutes, so you didn't see how those two were acting. They were quite involved in their discussion, and I can hardly demand a match and deprive Akira of their talk." His eyes softened slightly. "But when you brought him here, I wanted to see how he'd act in response to my questions. From what this Nara Shikamaru seemed to imply, he simply felt that the game between him and Akira took precedence."
"It almost sounded like you subjected him to a secret test of character," Ogata pointed out.
In a way, Koyo mused, he supposed he had. It was always fascinating to get a sense of the members of the next generation of Go players.
"…The other man is one of my father's students, Ogata Seiji," Akira was explaining to Nara. "He's already a professional – I didn't realise that you were familiar with him."
"I'm not. I only saw him once in that Children's Go Tournament." Nara rubbed his shoulder slightly. "Who knew Go players could be so strong? You all seem to have grips of steel."
Akira flushed. "I'm sorry; Ogata-san can be very determined when he makes up his mind." He paused. "So why did you turn my father's offer down? I wouldn't think you'd be nervous facing him or anything…"
Akira was guessing that Nara Shikamaru had declined because of time constraints and difference in ability, if anything. But the other's reply surprised him.
"You mean, why I didn't bail on our discussion to play Go with your dad?" Nara shrugged. "That would just be rude. Besides," Nara's words took on a wistful tone," I can think of others who'd benefit from that opportunity more than I ever could."
Akira didn't respond to this, because Nara then swiftly diverted his attention back to the intricacies between the struggling forces of black and white. But his mind would come back to this answer sometimes after their discussion had ended and he had gone home.
Even with his visits to the Go salons, Shikamaru still popped by occasionally at Climbing Silver, enough to earn him the honour of being recognised as a regular. Sai himself was occasionally bored with the lack of Go there, but held enough interest in strategic reasoning and the building up mental skills. He'd even taken to seeing if he could beat Shikamaru in shougi.
Sai may have been an undisputed Go master, but shougi was a different matter, for which Shikamaru was grateful for. If it weren't for the fact that he played against other people, he'd have no confidence in his skills whatsoever between his own father's shougi and Sai's Go skills.
The visits to the shougi salon also meant seeing Kaga. They were in the middle of a casual game the day after the discussion at Toya Meijin's salon when the older boy cleared his throat. "I never told you I went to Haze, did I?" he mentioned offhandedly.
"That's your school?"
"Yep," Kaga stubbed his dying cigarette in a conveniently placed ashtray. "I'm only mentioning it now 'cause I've got an extra ticket for the Haze middle school festival." A slip of paper materialised before Shikamaru's face. "I'm captain of the shougi club. You should come and check it out."
Shikamaru made no move to take the ticket, but shifted his rook. "Why ask me?"
Kaga shrugged at this. "Why not? Besides, you never told me which school you went to, and we always welcome good shougi players…"
Shikamaru smirked. "Sorry. I'm already set to enter Kage Middle School. Thanks for the thought, though."
Thump! Kaga place his pawn a little harder than he had planned. "Wait a second. You go to Kage?"
"Yep," Shikamaru said. "What about it?"
The thought stumped Kaga, who waved his hand frantically. "Is the story of the fire-"
"And the incident of the two girls and the-"
"Happened last year."
"And the teacher in spandex-"
"We must not speak of that one."
"Okay…" Kaga's faced widened into a roguish grin. "But Kage. Man, that's awesome."
Shikamaru shook his head in exasperation. "It helps if you're mad in some way. Everyone there is."
"Heh," Kaga chuckled. "Still, this extra ticket would be an awful waste, and I'd like to show you around. When's your school festival on?"
"Sometime soon. You're welcome to pop by and have a look," Shikamaru offered. "I can get you in or whatever, if you'd like."
"Fair enough. Then I'll see you at Haze, sometime in the late afternoon? My shift should finish around then. I'll be able to scout out Kage when it's time."
Kaga's words left no room for negotiation, and Shikamaru scratched his head. "Sure, I'll be there."
Sai had perked up at the news. "Ooh, Shikamaru, do you think they have a Go club?" he asked excitedly. "We have to see! Your school mostly has all those sports clubs, and a club for chess and shougi and board games like that one with reptiles and ladders…"
Another cheerful voice also joined Sai's own. "Hello, my lovelies!" Hajime said, looking quite chipper as he walked through the salon door while taking off his hat. "And how is your tactical thinking today?" He stared down at the shougi board and shook his head. "Really Tetsuo-kun, what were you thinking, that's a terrible move!"
"Shut up!" Kaga snarled.
"Ha, you're a hundred years too early to speak like that back to me."
"Um, Kaga? Hajime-san?" Shikamaru watched as the two started arguing (again). "Yeah…I'm going home now." C'mon Sai. I want to take a nap.
"I'd still like three online games before that nap," Sai requested.
Um, hi, it's me? I hadn't updated this in almost a year and a half (Shock! Horror!) I'm very sorry about that. But it was great to see that people were still interested and left comments, thus piling up the amount of guilt I felt over the entire issue.
Since the last update, I've started writing a new fic, and have been working on fleshing out many other story ideas I really shouldn't have. I'm also in uni trying to deal with the course load, so my apologies on the erratic schedule.
Post-game discussions, Toya Meijin and Ogata (bless their souls), and the walking plot device that Kaga seems to be masquerading as.
…By the way, The Peg Incident of 1999 is actually based on a true event that took place at my school when I was a junior, started by three senior girls before developing into a schoolyard craze. It was not uncommon to be riding innocently on the train, until someone pointed out the peg dangling from your shirt sleeve. God knows how long it's been there.
Thanks again to everyone who stuck by this and kept the faith – no abandonment of stories anytime soon (just unwanted hiatuses). And to those readers of both my works – I'll be trying to bash out another chapter for TMWY! (time willing). Thanks again to all those readers and reviewers and alerters!