Disclaimer: I don't own Hikaru no Go and this story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination, belong to Hotta Yumi and Obata Takeshi, or are used fictiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locals or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. I also hold no claim over One Step Closer which is a song by Linkin Park. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended of either of them.
One Step Closer
Step seven: That which you would fight for
Touya sat next to Waya, politely out of the range of the two players. Tiny part of him wanted to be closer to Hikaru, offering support and comfort, but the pro-player, the Touya Akira know in the Go word, the son of Touya Meijin, wanted to respect the spirit of the game. He also wanted a good vantage point of their actions.
Hikaru clumsily took out his first black stone, and wavered. Touya didn't know if he had seen enough games at some point to even venture a guess how to proceed, or if it was the pure instinct guiding the boy, but with slight hesitation, Hikaru placed the stone on the lower hoshi. Isumi was so intent on the game and the opening move, that he never noticed how his opponent was holding his stones.
The game progressed slowly. Hikaru took his time deciding where to place his moves, often glancing at Touya for some emotional support. Akira graced him an encouraging and understanding smile every time, doing his best with hiding the anxiousness building inside him. Isumi continued oblivious to his surroundings: this game was very important for him.
Then Hikaru closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose, troubled wrinkles creasing his forehead. Touya took the can of cola he had bought previously for his boyfriend, and handed it with a painkiller to Hikaru. The boy took them with great gratitude, gulping down the whole can in one go. He looked a bit more focused, but his complexion stayed pale and his skin had gained a faint sheen of sweat which made him look sickly.
Waya looked worriedly at Touya, but the Go-pro just shook his head in warning. This wasn't the time to intervene. He was equally worried about Shindou's condition, but they really needed him to play a game of Go!
Unfortunately, Isumi seemed to have caught on something, as he for the first time took a long look at Hikaru. Touya knew the game seemed a bit off, but Hikaru wasn't doing half bad. He couldn't tell if it was just Shindou's subconscious telling him where to play or if he was randomly placing his stones at lucky spots, but Touya dearly hoped it was the former.
"Shindou-kun? Are you alright?" Isumi asked quietly. Hikaru was startled by the sudden interruption of silence, and looked up quickly. He noticed with a nervous glance that everyone was watching him intently.
"Yeah. Just a headache," he said dismissively, and gave a little rub to his temple to emphasize his point. He looked uncomfortable being under the scrutiny and swiftly moved the attention back to the game. Isumi didn't look very convinced, but neither did he think to press the subject, so he decided to humour Hikaru and shift his focus back to the game.
Touya's stomach had dropped during the exchange. He felt excited, afraid, anxious and nervous, to name a few. Hikaru had a headache. It might be just a matter of time before he would have his Shindou back.
As more stones were added to the game, it naturally grew more complex. Hikaru was having real trouble now. He kept tugging his hair as if the small pain would somehow help the situation, and looked more and more lost.
But suddenly something in the air shifted.
Hikaru's hand went into the goke, grabbing a stone while his eyes scanned the board intently. The look on his face was suddenly concentrated and determined. And when he finally placed the piece on the wooden surface, Akira would've gasped in shock, jubilation and surprise, had not for three things happening right after it:
Waya half rose up from his seiza to get a better view of the board, Isumi dropping his own stone and looking at Hikaru in shock, and Hikaru himself making a silent gasp of realization.
Hikaru had taken the piece between his fingers and slammed in on the cross-sections like a true professional. Only now that he had done it correctly did Isumi seem to notice how clumsily he had held the stones before. Waya on the other hand was surprised at the move he had made, which was very peculiar, very unconventional, and very Shindou-like. And what should have been very impossible.
The moment of incredulity passed and Isumi slowly started regarding the game that had changed, planning for another way to victory. Waya fidgeted slightly, but Akira placed a stilling hand on his shoulder that ceased the motion immediately, never taking his eyes from his boyfriend.
There seemed to be something wrong with Hikaru. His face had slowly gone completely expressionless and his eyes lost their focus, until he seemed to be staring the board with unseeing eyes. It was almost like he was in a trance. Then his eyes gained their focus again and Hikaru's brow furrowed. He blinked a couple of times at the board then looked around himself. Touya noticed that he wasn't looking at any of them in the room, but he couldn't be sure if it was intentional or somehow connected with recovering memories. Touya tapped his knee with his forefinger in agitation, before forcing himself to stop least Waya noticed his nervousness.
Finally Isumi had decided on his move and carefully placed a stone on the board. Then all attention focused as one on Hikaru.
"Hikaru?" Touya asked quietly and touched his boyfriend's arm tentatively. "Are you alright?"
But Hikaru wouldn't even look at him, only staring at the board with his eyebrows drawn together in concentration. "Yea, I'm fine," he just answered distractedly. Touya couldn't tell if he was really okay or just saying so, like he had told to Isumi earlier. He did seem quite all right; at least he wasn't rubbing his temples anymore. But was it the drugs kicking in, the reminiscence reverting back behind lock and key, or something else, he didn't know.
Touya's hand curled into a tight fist as he sat back down with a respectful distance between them. He glanced at the board and assessed the situation quickly; the game wasn't one of the best ones, but it did have a few complicated fights going on here and there. He couldn't even fathom how Isumi could be satisfied with a game like this, but he had faith that the man wouldn't quit in the middle of it.
Then Hikaru took a black piece between his thumb and forefinger, flipped it with the help of his middle finger to get it in a proper hold and placed the stone on the board with a firm click. This move told Touya to look up at the boy playing such a fluid hand, and it was good that he did.
At that moment it looked as if Hikaru was seeing nothing again and a faint glow surrounded him for a while. Then the boy blinked and gasped a breath. Hikaru swiftly turned left to look behind him. He looked left and right, around the room, even above. "Sai?" Hikaru asked. Touya's eyes widened.
"Sai? Where are you? Com' on, don't play games, where—" Hikaru had already stood up on his feet, ready to search for his missing friend when he suddenly seemed to realize something and quieted down. Then he turned to look at the other occupants in the room. His eyes stopped on Touya and he simply said, "Where is he?"
Akira thought for only a moment before deciding to go with honesty. "I don't know." He had no idea why Hikaru was being so … open about Sai. Maybe if he played it cool, he would get to know more.
"But he was just here!" Hikaru insisted. "He's always here! He's never left me. We've been together for ages. He wouldn't just leave me… Right?" he asked, almost desperately.
"I… I really don't know, Hikaru. I don't know Sai that well," Touya said desperately, trying to be honest without being aggressive, like he usually got with Shindou.
Then Hikaru happened to glance down and saw the game in progress. He frowned. "That's a terrible game. Who played that? Hopefully not you, Waya," he said disapprovingly. The boy was surprised with being suddenly addressed to and couldn't think of an answer besides stuttering a, "N-No."
"But that's your game, Shindou," Isumi pointed out gently. Hikaru looked at him, frowned and sat down again.
"No, no. I'm not as good as Sai, but it's been a long time since I've played as poorly as this game. This isn't right. I'll show how it's done." Then he started clearing the stones away, promptly separating his black ones from the whites and placing them back to his Go-stone container. With some delay, Isumi hurried to scoop the white ones away. When the board was clear, Hikaru took a piece and with a professional air about him was placing it almost regally on its place when – he stopped.
The moment was frozen, and Touya could almost feel them holding their breath, waiting for anything to happen.
"I can't," Hikaru suddenly choked out. He had almost a frightened look upon him, and he just stared at his unmoving hand, grabbing the front of his shirt with the other. Then he looked wildly around.
"He's not here," he said with a panicky tinge in his voice. Then he looked at Touya, and a tear rolled down his cheek. "I searched for him. I really tried to find him. But he's not here. I couldn't find him. I couldn't find him anywhere. Not here, not at Torajiro's grave, no, no, nowhere. He… left me," Hikaru whispered with a broken soul. Then his fingers curled around the small stone and his hand retreated back over the Go-container where he softly inserted the piece.
Touya was frantically trying to come up with something. Dread was seeping into him: this was exactly how Hikaru had been when he had abandoned Go. If he got stuck in this state, he would probably be trapped within these sad, painful memories. Touya needed to do something. And fast. Okay, Sai couldn't play and wasn't watching over Hikaru anymore (or so it seemed), but was there any reason for Hikaru not to play?
"You're not alone, Hikaru. We're still here. You can play Go with us," Akira said reasonably.
"No, I can't," Hikaru said forcefully, almost angrily biting out the word. "If I play, Sai will never come back. I have to wait for him. I have to let him play all the games, so that he won't go away," he explained stubbornly, almost to himself. And suddenly it was all so clear for Touya.
"But Sai can't play all the games, Hikaru," he said softly. Immediately he got the boy's attention. "He isn't such a person that would take away all your games to be able to play himself, right? He would want you to play and improve and someday, play with him, against him, as equals."
Hikaru looked at him intently and thought about it. Then he turned back to the board to look for answers. Isumi looked very lost with all of this, but felt like he needed to say something. "I would like to play our game, Shindou. It bothered me very much, and I need to see the real ending for myself."
This seemed to bring Hikaru back from his broodings and snap his attention back to Isumi. He looked a little disturbed and slightly surprised, like he wasn't expecting anyone to be sitting there.
"For me, Shindou-kun, please. This once."
Time seemed to drag on as they waited Hikaru's response. Finally, he bowed his head in defeat and whispered sadly, "Onegai shimasu."
With almost a reluctant air about him Hikaru took a stone to his trembling fingers and placed it softly on the board. Isumi looked a little apprehensively at Hikaru's behaviour, but placed a white stone. Their averse and hesitant moves weighted the game heavily, their placements careful and timid. But then Isumi seemed to come to the decision that this wouldn't be a game wasted on dancing around each other, and he started to use more aggressive hands. Hikaru's attitude towards the game went under a drastic change a dozen moves later when he was near losing a large group of stones. It seemed that finally his competitive nature surfaced, and the look in his eyes changed.
Akira closed his eyes and took a deep breath to collect his emotions before he would do some unsavoury display of feelings, like cry. But he was immensely relieved and glad to see that hard glint back in Hikaru's eyes. His Shindou was still in there somewhere, and damn he had missed him.
Waya seemed to have noticed the change in attitude as well, seeing as he was now devoting all his attention to the game unfolding over the board. The redhead was now completely ignoring the players in favour of following their moves.
Touya kept his eyes on Hikaru, though. He knew that this game was important, but he also knew that his plan was now unravelling before his eyes, rapidly. He had the distinct feeling that 'Hikaru' was fading. He tried to quench the slight twinge of guilt.
But as he was so intent on watching it all come undone, it was that Akira could see, could almost feel, taste in the air, as the change occurred, and this weird mixture of Hikaru and Shindou merged, fought, coped, tried to fit in to the same space, before looking back over his/their right shoulder. (And that was the moment, Touya later thought.) It seemed like he didn't find what he was searching for, as he slowly turned back to the game, looking incredulous and sad, but hopeful, and yet, somehow, so incredibly guilty. He stared at his hand for a while, until the tears started to flow unchecked.
Touya was baffled by all this and was frozen to the spot. He had no idea what to do. Isumi happened to glance up and was startled to notice Hikaru's state. But they all stayed quiet and still.
"It's okay…?" Hikaru said with a small voice, almost pleading. "I can play…?" More tears rushed forth and he quickly hid his face behind his arm. "I can play…"
That was said with such relief, wonder and happiness, that Touya was sure he wasn't the only one who felt it. Waya was trying very hard not to cry tears of empathy, and Isumi was smiling in a disturbingly motherly way. Akira closed his eyes for a moment, took a deep breath and swallowed. Then he moved slightly closer to Hikaru and laid his hand gently on the boy's upper-arm.
"Hikaru? Are you all right?" he asked softly. The boy with bleached bangs seemed to wake up from a trance of sorts or just only realized that he wasn't alone.
"Touya? What are you doing here?" he asked puzzled, making the other stop in his tracks. Then Hikaru looked around. "Wait. What am I doing here? Isn't this the Japanese Go Association? And Isumi? When did you come back from China?"
Touya felt like he had been slapped. His hand felt like he was electrified and he flinched from the contact. It took every ounce of willpower Touya had to stop himself from hyperventilating and staying exactly where he was. He knew this had been a possibility. It didn't come as a surprise. He had mentally prepared himself for this.
He had prepared himself, yes. But he wasn't sure if he was emotionally ready.
Touya closed his eyes and took another deep breath. It would probably take a while to explain this all to his archrival.
So. In the end Shindou got his memory back and returned to the world of Go with little to no fanfare. He was welcomed with open arms and Shindou was happy to be back. He had lost any memories accumulated during the amnesia. All in all, quite the anticlimactic ending, wouldn't you think? But it wasn't all for naught.
Touya Akira was happy to have his rival back. His plan had worked almost better than he could've hoped for, and for that he was grateful. He had also gained mountains of little bits and pieces for his little puzzle called Shindou Hikaru. But there was this gnawing feeling eating away at his heart. At first he couldn't place it. It felt strange. He should've been on the top of his world; after all, everything was back just the way they were supposed to be. …right?
When Touya saw his rival properly the next time, he realized that he missed Shindou's touch. When they sat in front of a Goban to have a game, it suddenly came to him that Shindou would never look at him as tenderly as he had, being just Hikaru; would never hold his hand after their game ended, would never kiss him softly to distract him. It dawned to Touya that all they did was play Go. They almost never veered off that particular topic, and never attempted to do anything outside of the game their world revolved around. Touya understood that while he had desperately wanted to have his rival back, he now craved for more. He had had a taste of Shindou Hikaru, and he was sure he would starve without getting another bite.
After finally realizing this, he wasn't sure how to act on it.
His problem was now Shindou himself. Their rivalry feelings that the half-blond had mixed with like, desire, passion, love… were now recognized for what they were. Unfortunately, what Touya felt for Shindou was now so much more.
He needed to act on these emotions. Touya had a slight advantage in wooing Shindou as he had a clear recollection of their time spent together while they had done everything but Go. He knew things, things that would help him to get closer to the boy that now conquered every inch of his very being; his Go, his mind, his heart.
But that would be a long road to travel, and not a particularly easy one. You see, Touya realized that he really had made progress to being a friend for Shindou by leaps and bounds, but as for being something else, something significantly more, he was only a one step closer.
End of One Step Closer
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed reading this, and I might meet you again later. –rebecca
A/N: The experiment I had with this fic was to make each of the characters appear … undesirable to readers at some point in this fic. I think I need to work on that a bit more, but I think I'm on the right path.