Fandom: Hikaru no Go (manga)
Characters: Touya Akira, Shindou Hikaru
Category: character study, post-series
Summary: They stalked out of the electronics store together, and they'd no sooner cleared the thresheld when Shindou huffed, "Man, your attitude just never improves, does it?" "My--?!" Akira clamped his mouth shut, half a dozen suitable replies vying in his head.
"Yo, Touya. You have a computer, right?"
Akira dropped the last handful of white stones into his container and closed it up. He set it carefully in the center of his half of the board. Today had been productive, he felt. They'd spent the last half hour discussing the unofficial match between Ochi, now a fifth-level pro, and a Professor Hu visiting from China that they'd had the chance to watch together the day before.
Everyone had moved away from their table as soon as Shindou arrived. It was really no wonder that happened every time they met together here. Shindou's temper was as childish and volatile as ever.
He'd kept moving Akira's tea cup too close to the edge of the table, even though Akira told him it would not interfere with their board. He'd sighed out loud three times after Akira told him to stop. Worst of all, he'd insisted that Ochi's flanking move in the first fifteen minutes of the game would have been brilliant if Professor Hu hadn't been able to counter it eight moves later, instead of acknowledging that it had been a clear mistake in strategy for exactly that reason.
If there was one thing to be said for Shindou being here, it was that he certainly made Akira's life more exciting.
"Yes," he answered Shindou's question. "Why?"
"Do you still play go on it?"
"Sometimes. And I use email to keep in contact with other players." And with his father, of course, when he was travelling again on one of his training and study trips. "I learn a lot from players outside Kantou and from overseas, amateurs and professionals alike."
"Uh-huh. That's why I want to buy one of my own."
Akira felt his heart leap and his breath quicken suddenly. A moment later, however, he was admonishing himself. Lots of younger go players bought computers. It didn't mean anything special.
"Maybe I'll tell you someday."
Impatiently, Akira waved those thoughts away. 'Someday' had yet to come -- if it ever would. He had accepted Shindou Hikaru as his equal and rival as Shindou was now. He was content.
Somehow, Akira found himself agreeing to help Shindou to purchase and set up his new computer. He didn't know why he bothered, since, as expected, Shindou was cantankerous from the start and stubbornly ignored all his advice and comments. By the time Shindou had finally paid for his choice and had received his new laptop computer in its carrying case along with its receipt and warranty materials, they were both on edge.
They stalked out of the electronics store together, and they'd no sooner cleared the threshold when Shindou huffed, "Man, your attitude just never improves, does it?"
"My--?!" Akira clamped his mouth shut, half a dozen suitable replies vying in his head.
Two small boys ran by, shouting and waving hand-held kites in their hands, in the shape of Children's Day carps. Interrupted from their ensuing argument, Shindou watched them and snorted a laugh.
"I almost can't believe I used to do stuff like that."
Akira smiled but didn't comment. He remembered making his own carp kite in grade school. His mother had hung it up next to the larger one on the corner eave of their backyard porch. They'd left the sliding door open, so all the time Akira had practiced laying the stones of his father's most recent match, he had smelled the warm breeze and heard the flap-flap of the colorful kites, letting him know that summer was coming.
"I guess there's some good things about still being a kid," he mused. For most of his childhood, he'd been waiting to be finally 'grown-up enough' to become a professional go player.
Shindou shrugged. "I can't wait until I'm twenty. My mom says I can move out then. Have my own place like Waya does. No distractions."
Akira hmmed politely. Despite the fact the two of them met at least twice a week, their separate circles of friends didn't mix outside of official events.
Still watching the direction the kids had gone, Shindou said, "I saw your dad playing online again last Saturday. He's really gotten into it, huh?"
"It lets him play people he might otherwise never meet in person. His opponent from Saturday lives in Brazil. A few months ago, he played against the retired Honinbou holder, Shizumi, whose health is so fragile he won't take visitors."
Neither of them mentioned perhaps the most infamous opponent Touya Kouyou had played online -- the mysterious 'Sai'.
"Do you think he'd play me?"
"I don't see why he would. It'd be wasting his time," Akira scoffed. "You can ask to play him in person when he comes home -- if he accepts your challenge." That would depend on his father's mood. Akira didn't think it was bragging to acknowledge that his father's primary interest in Shindou arose out of his connection to Akira. He just might decide to play Shindou as a barometer to test his son. Akira didn't think it was only his pride that asserted that his father was still far and away the best go player he knew.
"Maybe someday... I could be somebody whose challenge he would want to accept."
The sentiment was no different from what Akira heard all the time from other players who respected his father's skill, but Shindou had never been known to show that kind of self-deprecation to his elders. Quite the opposite. Akira frowned at him in suspicion -- and then he understood.
Without even thinking, he found himself seizing hold of Shindou's arm. "You're talking about Sai, aren't you? Is he coming back? After all this time? Why?"
Violently, Shindou shook him off. "What are you talking about? Why would I be talking about Sai? You're really obsessed, you know that?"
But no, this was too strange. Shindou purchasing a computer and then mentioning playing his father... it couldn't be just a coincidence. That's what Shindou and Sai had always been-- coincidence upon coincidence until credulity threatened to collapse. "Is he coming back?" he demanded again.
Shindou scowled. "How would I know that?" he demanded. He made an impatient sound. "Forget this. I'm going home. You can go to the Salon on your own."
Watching his stiff back as he left, Akira finally voiced the thought that had occurred to him months ago:
"He's dead, isn't he? Sai."
Shindou whipped around fast and stared at him with shock and anger in his expression. His reaction said it all. Akira knew without a doubt.
Crushing grief and regret struck Akira speechless. To lose such a great presence in the field, and without the go world ever having learned his true face and name. His poor father, who looked on Sai as his acknowledged equal and rival -- without ever playing across the board from him with the smooth stones in his hand and the clack of stones on the board.
And it meant that a piece of Shindou had died as well, that part of him that Akira had met a handful of times in the past. Akira's first rival -- and he would never meet him again.
Akira had signed up for several correspondence college courses, so that he could continue to further his education while allowing for the rigors of his schedule as a professional go player. Math and history were his main focus, but a stray lingering sense of... something had caused him to choose a course on psychology as well. He'd told himself it was an easy course that would satisfy his humanities requirement.
He'd read the chapters on multiple personalities several times and even found a few more references to study. Everything indicated that his theory was... possible.
Shindou was another person, and yet he was himself. He was intimately connected to Sai, and yet despite all of Akira's efforts, he had never been able to find physical evidence of Sai's existence around Shindou. Anyone who had ever played Sai had to admit that he was real-- and yet he was not. Akira could only think that Sai had been a genius go player that had for some reason been locked away into a part of Shindou's mind. Once Shindou had stepped into the go world himself, and especially once he began to catch up to Sai in skill, he didn't need him anymore. And so now...
Sai was dead.
And with Shindou's go improving day by day, Sai was unlikely ever to return.
"When did he die?" he asked, thinking about the milestones in Shindou's astonishing career, all the times that he might have finally cast off his secret crutch (and secret weapon) for good.
He thought Shindou would put him off again, act ignorant or change the subject. But instead, he stuck his hands in his jeans pockets and looked about as sorrowful as Akira had ever seen him. "A long time ago," he answered. "A long, long time ago."
"I'm sorry." That didn't seem enough, so even if it sounded slightly selfish, Akira added, "I'll miss him."
"I miss him, too. All the time."
Akira watched Shindou's lonely expression. He wondered what it felt like to share your life with someone else for years, someone who belonged only to yourself, whom no one else could even see except through a go board -- and then to have that person leave you one day never to return...
When all was said and done, though, Shindou's go was his own. Whatever 'Sai' had accomplished was Shindou's own as well. Akira accepted that.
"We can still get that set up today, if you like," he offered, indicating the laptop computer. "If there aren't too many system updates required, you can be playing go online in less than an hour."
Shindou glanced down at the box. A corner of his mouth lifted in half a smile. "With all the people in the box..." he murmured.
"Nothing. All right. Let's go to the Salon. Then we can play a real game afterwards."
They continued toward the subway station in silence. Akira knew better than to push.
He felt, though, that someday had come just that little bit closer.
"Maybe-- yeah. Maybe I'll tell you someday."
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