Go Ahead is a short manga series about ice hockey. It's by Higuchi Daisuke (the author of Whistle!) and I really recommend it. The humour's great, the storyline's interesting, the characters are easy to love and the artwork is super duper.
Take a look at Go Ahead's protagonist, Izaki Yuuki. He and Ryoma have quite the resemblance, eh?
I started writing this fic a number of years ago, but as you can see, I was tremendously slow when it came to finishing the piece. It feels awesome to finally get round to uploading the story, bahaha.
Thank you for reading!
~ kittykittyhunter ~
Before entering the stadium, Sanada Genichirou glanced at the September sky. The morning weather forecast had predicted rain, though the vast horizon was blue, with hardly an obscuring cloud. He shrugged. Things could change without warning.
He kept his sigh wholly internal and turned in greeting. "Atobe."
"What brings you here?"
Sanada answered, "The same event that brings you here."
"Is that so? Is it really acceptable for Rikkaidai to take such an interest in Seigaku's exhibition matches?"
"Hmph. Considering the level of your team, I find it commendable that you still have an interest in tennis."
Atobe scowled, and with that, the two rivals entered the sports ground, a domed construction that hosted a multitude of facilities. Although Seigaku would only be playing another middle school – one from Kanagawa which Atobe suspected Rikkaidai had defeated several times – the stands were filling. Of course, the place didn't command the same atmosphere as the Forest of Arenas. But the grass court was well-maintained, and the umpires had excellent records.
"Since Itoguruma requested the match, why is it being played in Tokyo?" Atobe lounged back and propped his feet on the bench in front. Sanada frowned.
"I don't sit here to answer for their team – but they have a particular history of being more successful in away games. Perhaps it raises their competitive spirit."
"You just contradicted yourself."
They sat in silence for a while, neither venturing to enquire as to why the other had come to the match alone. After a further ten minutes, Sanada shifted his cap. Atobe noted the restless crowd. There was a delay.
Echizen Ryoma was thirsty. This was hardly a crime. He told Momoshiro Takeshi that he was going to seek a drink before the match began. For some reason, Ryoma declined Fuji's offer of taking a sip from the genius' bottle. Kaidoh shuddered.
The first vending machine the young boy came to swallowed up his money without spitting out a can of Ponta. Scowling, Ryoma journeyed on, certain his thirst had increased by the lack of success. There was a café selling hot drinks – completely unsuitable for someone about to play tennis. He glanced at a clock overhead. Fine. There were still fifteen minutes. He had time.
Echizen Ryoma walked past a short boy with green hair and green eyes.
Izaki Yuuki walked past a short boy with green hair and hazel eyes.
Two weeks had passed since Nanko's practice match against Meishin – two weeks during which the newly-formed ice hockey team had been inundated with game requests from other schools. Though Nanko usually made use of a stadium at Fukuoka, they had journeyed to central Tokyo for two days. They were due to play against the formidable third-place team; Yuuki was determined to secure more than just one point.
Unfortunately, he was hopelessly lost.
Tokyo was… huge. And loud. Incredibly loud. It was miles away from Nanko's tranquillity, literally and figuratively.
Yuuki wondered if he'd be abducted.
"What! What are you doing here?" A boy half a foot taller than Yuuki grabbed the front of his shirt and scowled down. He was dressed in shorts and a jersey. ITOGURUMA was printed across his chest. "I can't believe this – not taking us seriously! You're not even dressed yet!"
Thank goodness! Yuuki breathed a sigh of relief. "I'm sorry. I lost my way. Could you lead me back, please?"
The boy's scowl disappeared. He blinked. "Well, all right, I suppose… I won't try to sabotage you or anything."
"I hope not..."
Yuuki followed the stranger.
Hayashi adjusted his glasses and glanced around the locker room. He swallowed. "Not to make anyone panic but… Yuuki stepped out ten minutes ago. And he's not back."
Hase glared. "Still going off by himself! Honestly, that guy –"
"What, you'd stalk him to the bathroom?" Narimiya gave the freshman what he hoped was a quelling look – then hurriedly glanced at Takagi Hinako for her approval. Unfortunately, she was checking her watch. He sighed.
Aiba Gouhei grinned. "Hey, don't worry guys! Yuuki will definitely turn up!" He beamed at the players and they all smiled back, tickled by their coach's contagious cheeriness. "Anyway, he's the fastest at getting his kit on, right? We can always substitute Yuuki in. It'll be a good diversion tactic."
"I guess they'll probably take us less seriously if they see the number sixteen is missing," mused Ooguchi.
"That's the spirit Fatty!" cried Aiba. "C'mon, let's head out there!"
"Right!" chorused Nanko's ice hockey players. A pause – then Hayashi nodded.
As the rest of the team filed out, Aiba placed a hand on Hayashi's shoulder. The freshman looked up. "I'm sure he's just fine," said the coach gently. "Yuuki can definitely take care of himself. Don't forget, he's just as eager to play this match as everyone else."
Hayashi smiled. "Right, Aiba-sensei."
"This is so stupid."
Shibata gave a wry smile. "Don't complain so much, Jin. They may be our opponents in the future."
Jin sat up and glowered at his teammate. "What, Nanko – or those guys? Because we've defeated them BOTH!"
"Maybe it was a bad idea inviting you."
Jin's mouth tightened. After a pause, he said, "Sorry. I guess, since we're here to visit your relative anyway…"
Shibata said nothing. He watched as Nanko's team began to skate onto the pitch. He frowned.
Something was wrong. And Jin had noticed too.
"Wait – where's Izaki? What made Nanko so confident that they think they can do well without him playing right from the start?"
Shibata shook his head slightly. "That's not it. Look. Izaki's not here at all."
It was, Shibata was sure, going to be a strange day.
"Ponta Ponta Ponta," sang Ryoma, draining his grape-flavoured soft drink. He'd wandered far away to get it, but it was worthwhile. It had hit the spot.
Now he needed to get back to base.
Someone started at he passed, a boy with a wild haircut. "Eh? What are you doing here? The match has already begun!"
Ryoma's face drained. They were playing against Itoguruma according to the Nationals' format, and he was Singles 3. That meant Seigaku risked forfeiting his match…
"Are you lost?"
"Never mind! I'll lead the way. Don't you worry Izaki!"
Seigaku's super rookie exhaled. At least it wasn't Koshimae.
"I can't believe this," sighed the boy in the jersey. "I feel like a traitor to my own team. I'm sitting here preparing you for our match! This could have been our victory."
Yuuki disagreed. "Don't think like that. We're all here to have fun, aren't we?"
"I guess. Well, aren't you gonna get your bag?"
Yuuki studied the room. They had entered the stadium by a different door, which was why, he supposed, it looked different. And the rest of the team were probably warming up, which was probably why they weren't there.
Even so, there was a heavy feeling in his chest.
"I shouldn't be saying this," said his saviour, "but – good luck Echizen." He forced a racquet into Yuuki's hand.
Yuuki's eyes stretched. Before he could protest, he was shoved outside, and greeted by rapturous applause.
Outside… onto a tennis court.
Ryoma secured the helmet into place, rolling his eyes at what was undoubtedly another one of Inui's bizarre practices. It seemed like football gear – except he was lacing up ice skates. Tennis on ice? Too bad they weren't playing Hyoutei.
He hadn't been ice skating that many times before, but he made his way to the rink regardless. A tall man turned and exclaimed, "Hey! About time!"
Was he the coach of Itoguruma? Ryoma called, "Hey." Then he looked out onto the rink, where people were… playing ice hockey. "Where's –"
But the tall man was whistling and the team gathered together. A removed his helmet and scowled. "Finally! Come on then!"
"It's not over yet," Ryoma mumbled, bewildered. He was hustled onto the cold rink. In his mind's eye Tezuka crossed his arms, and instructed Seigaku's pillar to do his best. Ryoma nodded at his mental apparition.
"What," Sanada leaned forward, "was that serve supposed to be?"
Atobe's feet were planted on the floor. He raised an eyebrow. "Maybe he's feinting."
"Echizen? I suppose that's a possibility – but his record is too developed for him to attempt such gestures now."
A minute later, Atobe looked as confused as Sanada felt. "That arrogant brat… has he turned into a data player? It seems like he just threw the first game to read his opponent. His form's off."
"I won't deny that."
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING, DAMN KID?" Aiba Gouhei pounded his fists on the glass barrier. "STOP GOING AFTER THE PUCK!"
Even if Ryoma could have heard him, he wouldn't have listened. Skating was fun, and a sport was a sport. That puck was his.
Nanko's team watched their captain skating wildly, distressed. Once or twice he had lost control and stumbled like Bambi. But though he was fast, his elegance was lacking.
"He's gone crazy." Jin twitched.
Shibata frowned. "Izaki isn't usually this selfish."
Jin glowered at the figure sauntering across the ice. "Maybe this is the real him!"
"Well, it's spirited. But in terms of effectiveness, that's –"
Just then, Echizen Ryoma scored.
Horio gasped. "Ah… Echizen's being really weird today. He's dropped so many points already! Is he trying to test out a new move?"
Kikumaru Eiji shook his head. "No no, there's something wrong with our boy!"
"It's not Echizen," said Fuji quietly.
Seigaku swivelled towards the genius. "But – Horio's right here…" Oishi trailed. The freshman recognised the sliver of a compliment and beamed. He was quickly chastened by Katsuo and Kachiroh.
"Then who is that?" yelped Momoshiro.
Kaidoh growled, "Keep your voice down, idiot! If the umpire discovers that's not the player we registered, we could be disqualified!"
"But it's just an exhibition…"
Inui scratched something into his notebook. "Consider Seigaku's reputation. We can't give the impression that we don't know our own players."
"Even if that is the case."
"One of us should at least find Echizen," said Kawamura. "Where could he have gone? But I suppose as usual, his phone will be…"
Momoshiro hung his head. "He gave it to me for safe-keeping."
Tezuka said, "He's doing his best."
Izaki Yuuki punched the air as the ball finally landed within the court.
"Out!" called the umpire.
The boy looked up, stunned. "What? But it was in the box!"
The umpire stared before replying, "Those lines only apply during a doubles match. Change court."
Mystified, Yuuki followed the order. His opponent hardly dared to believe his luck.
"This is hilarious," Atobe smirked.
"Who is he?"
"Hah! That's hardly important. Echizen's perfect record is about to be destroyed."
Sanada gave Atobe a sidelong glance. "But not by you."
Atobe scowled. "Intervention?"
"I don't see why you guys are complaining," Ryoma grumbled. "I scored."
Even with the helmet, the blow dealt to the top of his head hurt. A lot. "What are you talking about?" The tall man who had been so happy earlier was now roaring like a furnace. "Have you lost your mind? You scored with your skates! You never score with skates! It's illegal!"
Ryoma's face fell. It had been a beautiful move. He had spun, skirting past one opponent, then another. Luckily, he'd found the puck, and with a lithe stretch of his left foot, had sent it soaring towards the net. At the time, he had rejoiced: he could play ice hockey, no problem.
Now, he wasn't so sure.
He removed his helmet. "Look, everyone," he began, "I'm sorry, but –"
Ryoma was interrupted by a chorus of voices asking, "Wait, who are you?"
Slowly, the team removed their helmets, and one by one, blinked.
The man swallowed. "Damn… kid?"
"Itoguruma forfeit this match!"
Oishi nearly lost his balance. "What? But why would they do that?"
"That's not right… it just isn't…"
Confused, Izaki Yuuki walked forward, shaking hands with his auburn-haired opponent. The other was tall, a third year. But his hand wasn't the only part of him that was shaking. "I don't get it," Yuuki said, "you were doing so well. Why did you stop?"
Yuuki didn't know what was going on, but he felt it was important to find out.
"I d-d-don't know what sort of game you're playing," stammered the tall boy, "but I don't want your retribution afterwards! So, I'll quit while ahead. I took three games from Echizen Ryoma – that's more than enough for me!"
"Right…" Yuuki didn't know what to say.
Well, with that confidence, he was sure to get far!
Yuuki returned to the benches where everyone was waiting. "Hi," he said. It sounded stupid. He looked at the group of strangers in their regalia of white and blue, waiting for someone to break the silence. Finally, a boy with brown hair smiled.
"Are you alright? You fought hard out there."
The freshman nodded, massaging his neck. "Yeah… I'm okay. I didn't expect him to forfeit though. I'm sorry, but – is it okay if I get back to the match now? There should still be some time for the team to make some progress, if we work hard enough!"
A man wearing glasses stepped forward. "Tezuka Kunimitsu. Captain of Seigaku."
Yuuki offered his hand. "Izaki Yuuki, Captain of Miyazaki Nanko."
Up in the stands, Atobe's eyebrow twitched. "What a moronic team!"
Sanada sighed. "For a moment there, I thought we were going to do something productive."
"But there was no need after all."
"I still want to find out who this short guy is, you know."
"Seems like Tezuka's getting that part sorted."
Smirking, Sanada asked, "Interruption?"
"Now you're talking."
This time, they rose.
"So let me get this straight. Your name is Echizen Ryoma. You were looking for a drink and you ended up here, when you were forced out by… our opponents?"
Echizen Ryoma nodded at the bespectacled freshman.
"This is terrible! Poor Yuuki-kun!"
The coach shook his head. "Okay. Let's call this a day."
Ryoma looked up quickly. "No way! I can still win!"
"Are you out of your mind?" the coach scowled. "Yuuki's wandering the streets out there – who knows where he's ended up? As his coach, it would be irresponsible to just play while Yuuki could be in danger! So we move! Now!"
Disgruntled, Ryoma agreed – but only because the coach had a point. He couldn't help asking one more question. "Still… why don't you call him?"
"Oh." Aiba Gouhei laughed, rubbing the back of his head. "I dropped my phone in the ocean!"
For a grand total of one minute, he had seemed like a responsible adult.
Shibata stood up. "Things are about to get very interesting. Let's go, Jin!"
"Izaki's so stupid," Jin complained. "Honestly, what was that? Still, it seems a bit rash to throw in the towel –"
"That wasn't Izaki."
Turning, Shibata smiled at his peer. "I told you. Things are about to get interesting. Now, are you coming or not?"
It was strange that an individual's sport had been turned into a team one.
The next two matches were played hastily. Initially, Izaki had wanted to get to the ice rink immediately – there had been a bizarre mix-up, apparently, Echizen Ryoma looked a lot like him, though in Yuuki's opinion, he didn't sound like that nice a guy – but he couldn't get back without a chaperone and he had no wish to prevent the team cheering each other on. So, insides wringing, he stayed put.
"Now we can get you back to Nanko!" exclaimed Kikumaru Eiji. He had been played as part of the doubles set with his partner, Oishi Shuuichirou. They'd finished the match in seventeen minutes. "I bet they're so worried!"
Yuuki was more worried he'd be prodded to death. He didn't voice this concern aloud.
They left the tennis arena and were stopped by two people. Third years, judging by their build. One was wearing a hat and a severe expression. The other was smug. He was the one who spoke. "Lost something Tezuka?"
He made it sound like a challenge. Oishi looked hopeful. "Have you seen him, Atobe?"
The man called Atobe made a derisive sound. "No."
"Let's just go to the ice rink."
As they resumed their walk, Kikumaru queried, "Why are you here?"
"Nanko," came a pleasant voice. Ryoma frowned at the boy: it was another bespectacled freshman. Standing slightly behind him was another first year, this one with spiky hair and a sneer. The newcomer continued, "Where's Izaki?"
Aiba frowned. "Kai sent you guys out here? What were your names again?"
"I'm Shibata," he indicated his glowering friend, "and this is Jin. We thought we'd help you find Izaki."
The group increased.
Kikumaru waved his arms. "I SEE HIM!"
"OII! ECHIZEEEN!" Momoshiro cupped his hands around his mouth. "GET OVER HERE!"
Yuuki began to wave at Nanko. At once, both groups rushed towards each other, screeching to a halt before they caused injuries. Yuuki blinked when he noticed the Meishin regulars – but he had little time to dwell on his surprise. He was being suffocated by his team.
On the other hand, Ryoma had a much more sombre approach. He nodded at Seigaku, and said, "Hey."
Tezuka turned towards Aiba. "I hope Echizen was not any trouble."
"Oh, none at all." Aiba smiled. "Thanks for looking after our guy."
"Hah!" Towards the back of the crowd, Igarashi Jin crossed his arms. "Yeah right, he didn't cause trouble! Nanko had to forfeit their match because of this kid!"
Ryoma twitched and scowled at Jin.
"Ah, really?" Momoshiro ground his knuckles into Ryoma's temple. "You should apologise, apologise!"
"On the other hand," said Inui, "in Izaki's case, the opponent decided to forfeit."
"Whoa! Yuuki – are you good at tennis?"
At once, the boy shook his head. "Not at all. He was scared that I'd get him back later, or something." Breaking from the grasp of his friends, Yuuki faced Ryoma.
Seigaku's prodigy scowled.
"I guess," said Ryoma, "this is just a case of the prince being mixed up with the pauper."
Apart from the sound of Atobe laughing, there was silence.
"That depends," said Yuuki, clenching his teeth, "who's the pauper?"
Yuuki said, "Let's see what you've got."
They couldn't have a tennis match because it would be to Ryoma's advantage. They couldn't play ice hockey because Yuuki would have the upper hand. Tezuka, conscious of wasting Nanko's time, turned to Aiba and said, "My apologies."
"Don't worry," shrugged the coach. "It's good for these kids to express themselves, right?"
Sanada coughed into his hand. "Once again, you've been mistaken for an old man."
"Look who's talking."
Eventually, they settled on a game of foosball. Ryoma and Yuuki stood at either end of the wide table, still looking coolly at one another.
Shibata stepped forward. "I'll referee this game. The first to three goals will be the victor."
The match began.
From the outset, it was clear that both freshmen were talented. Ooguchi cried, "Go Yuuki!" Narimiya commented that anyone could play foosball – his gaze flicked towards Hinako, but once again, she was focusing on the game. The junior sighed.
The ball was bouncing around the midfield. The boys moved their players left and right, until suddenly –
Atobe ran a hand through his hair.
Yuuki was determined to score the next goal. He wrestled the ball from Ryoma's side of the table – and they were at 1-1.
"You know," said Yuuki, moving the defence line to stop Ryoma clinching another goal, "I was shocked when I faced the Itoguruma player. Are you really that harsh to your opponents? How will you get satisfaction if they're – afraid – of you?"
"I'm the best," growled Ryoma, "that's why they're scared."
"Modest, too," muttered Aiba.
"Even if you hate the sport," said Yuuki, securing another goal, "you shouldn't go out of your way to make other people feel the same!"
Ryoma retaliated, equalising the count once more. "Who said anything about hating it? Tennis is fun!"
"So is ice hockey!" snapped Yuuki. "I'm going to be a pro!"
"Well – me too!"
Both boys spun the lines – and the foosball flew into the air. It skittered across the floor.
Shibata picked up the ball. He said, "Looks like this one's a draw."
The boys shook hands. "That was a good game," said Yuuki. "Good luck out there."
"Same to you."