To play, you need two. Hikaru joins the Honinbo League, Akira sees him change. Akira/Hikaru.
Shindo's entry into the league at the tender age of 19 had not surprised Akira, but his sudden silence had/. He was drawn to Shindo for many reasons, not the least of which were his wildly innovative go and his ability to keep up a good high-volume fight over a goban. Yet suddenly, with Shindo's advancement into the League, it had stopped. They still played almost every day, but Shindo refused to argue, and simply listened quietly to any criticism, which simply felt /wrong to Akira. There were no more impassioned defenses of ramen or joke moves (that often turned out to be anything but), only Hikaru's eyes searching the stones and the occassional gentle sound of his fan falling against the goban.
Three days before Shindo's first league game they were playing an intensely high level game in the back of the salon. Akira was trying his best to stay calm, but all he could see was the best go of Shindo's life laid out on the board before him. But despite its brilliance, it seemed off--no longer beautiful and poetic but skilled and precise and merciless.
Realizing that he was going insane, Akira turned his mind back toward a particularly complex situation on the left hand side of the board and placed his next stone.
With Shindo in the league this year, Akira found that there was nobody to inject energy into his life, and after his first loss at the hands of a particularly aggressive 9-dan (and Shindo's second win, against Kurata) he was still determined, but also tired and slightly frustrated. It didn't help that Shindo refused to discuss League games, refused to submit his games to Akira's approval. Even when they played in the back of the Salon, Shindo never spoke more than was necessary, instead opting to watch the board like a hawk and play like an entire pack of wolves.
A few days after their second league games, in Shindo's apartment, they played each other, like always, and yet not like always, with Shindo's new demeanor and Akira's confusion. Akira knew that he should find somebody else to play, considering their own league game looming in the distance, but with his father still in China and Ogata also fighting to challenge Kuwabara, it was too hard to pull himself away from Shindo.
Shindo was black, and he was also playing in less than top form. Far less than top form, in fact, especially considering his new intensity, so Akira had to call him on it.
"Shindo, what the hell is this?! How the hell do you expect to even stay in the league if you keep playing like this?" And now he wasn't doing anything but yelling, and feeling the frustration well up inside him, preparing for an Epic Go Battle.
That changed when Shindo looked at him.
It shocked Akira to see that sadness again. Everyone in their circle knew the story of Shindo crying over a goban, of Shindo finally returning to the world of go, but that was years and years and three dan levels ago.
"Sorry, Touya," Shindo muttered, extremely uncharacteristically. "I resign. We can play again on Friday, okay?"
Against his better judgment, Akira agreed and left without any further questions.
After losing to Shindo, Akira avoided him for a full week. It was easy enough: his father was back to Japan for the moment, and so he played against him instead. The first time they sat down at the goban together, Akira recreated his league game against Shindo for his father.
"And then he went here, and I resigned," Akira said dejectedly. "I haven't seen him play this well since-- well, anyway, it's still amazing to think he's so close to winning the league."
"Shindo is an interesting boy," his father mused. "Akira, you played very well, but what if you had gone here. . ."
And suddenly the two of them were lost in go once again, placing stones and studying the loss that had taken Akira by surprise.
"I have nothing," said the dark-eyed young man in his neat suit and tie.
"Thank you very much," said the teenager across the board, as he studied the game briefly, closed his eyes, and finally stood to leave.
"Shindo!" Akira had said, making the other boy turn. "Would you like to discuss it?" After all, even if Shindo refused to talk about any of his league games, at least he would talk about this one, wouldn't he? The one against his rival, his friend.
"No," said the boy with the intense eyes, as he walked through the door.
Akira continued playing with one of the greatest players on earth. And yet he still wanted to discuss it with Shindo, to criticize and compliment and watch Shindo run out in a fury. He wanted the old Shindo back.
/Ah, I'm an idiot/, he told himself, as he listened to his father dissect the game on the goban in front of him.
Even after the last game, even after winning the right to challenge, Hikaru refused to discuss any of his Honinbo League games with Akira, and it was vexing the son of the meijin terribly. After the last game, they had gone to Akira's father's go salon to sit and play, and (Akira had hoped) discuss the rather amazing outcome of all seven of the league games.
This time, he took a different approach, and simply placed a black stone in the same place that Ogata-san had moved earlier in the day.
Hikaru stared at the stone, and then he stared at Akira. "I am not going to talk about the game, Touya," he said in an uncharacteristically quiet manner, as he placed his white stone below a star, instead of on top of it as he had against Ogata.
They played on in silence, but Akira's mind kept thinking of Shindo, the challenger to the Honinbo title, who was no longer hyperactive Shindo, who was no longer argumentative Shindo. And as the game progressed, he mourned the loss of Shindo's bright, playful go, and realized that playing Shindo was like playing himself.
He was drawn to Shindo for many reasons, one of which was that Shindo was not Touya Akira or Touya Meijin but simply Shindo Hikaru, a normal boy with an eye for go.
To play, you need two. So what was the point?
When Shindo won the first game against Kuwabara, the entire go world was impressed. Shindo was, after all, only a 5-dan. If anybody had expected a teenager to challenge the great and crotchety Kuwabara-sensei, they had expected it to be Touya Akira. And yet here Akira was, waiting for Shindo to leave the Go Institute, waiting for him to refuse to discuss yet another game, waiting for him to look at the board with eyes that were more Touya than Shindo. And the moment that his rival walked through the door, he was talking.
"That was beautiful go, Shindo," Akira said softly, because it had been beautiful, and poetic, and wonderful, just like it had always been before.
"You think so?" replied Shindo, in the same serious voice that he had adopted since winning the preliminaries.
"Yes," was the simple reply, and then they stood there in the brilliant spring air, in silence, neither meeting the other's eyes.
"Um--are you hungry?" Akira finally said softly, hoping to get Shindo to talk to him about the game, about why he was different. And then, suddenly, there was Shindo, himself.
"I'm starving! Hey, Touya, want some ramen? My treat!"
"Uh?" began Akira, before he found himself being dragged by his arm into the subway.
Later that night, after eating and discussing the game from memory, and recreating battles on napkins, the two teenagers headed home by way of Akira's house.
"Would you like to come in and play a game?" asked Akira. "And maybe talk about your win?"
"Sure thing!" Shindo answered easily. "I need to take the edge off from Kuwabara trying to push me around. Well, he should know that I'm too young and solid for that." Shindo was flexing his arms and grinning from ear to ear, and the grin seemed to want to stay--it was still there after they had sat down at the goban in Akira's room. The change was so jarring that, against his better judgment, Akira brought it up.
"Yeah? What? Nigiri!" answered his rival, hyperactively.
Akira couldn't believe that the Shindo he knew had returned so suddenly, and so he said so. "I feel like you were gone. And now you're back."
"Hm. Well--" and with that Shindo paused, and his grin left his face.
"What? You have. You've been nothing like yourself ever since entering the league, you wouldn't talk to me, and now you're dragging me to eat ramen and playing your kind of go again."
"Touya. Well," Hikaru began and then paused. Akira could do nothing but look at him, at how this serious Hikaru was not the serious Hikaru of the League. "This title. It's important to me."
"It's important to Kuwabara, too, you know."
"No, I mean. . . It's important to me. And I wanted to face it like you do, with your eyes that are all intense." Hikaru paused, and Akira could think of nothing except for the mirror of Hikaru, the mirror that had forced him to look at his rival for the first time in a long time.
"Ah, I don't understand?"
"I was trying to be you. I dunno, absorb some of you by playing you and not being me. Sounds so silly, but, well it worked okay, and I needed your go to get through the League only now I need to be me. I need to play my go. And if that isn't enough to beat old man Kuwabara, then that is what I will accept. But I know that it is, and I know that I want this title, and I know that Kuwabara is old and decrepit and no match for me anymore."
What could Akira say to that, especially now that Shindo's grin had returned? And so he did nothing, but looked at his opponent's eyes, and saw not a reflection but a part of himself, swimming in a sea of Hikaru.
They were drunk. They were drunk, they were in Shindo's tiny apartment, and light was beginning to creep over the city, and they were playing Go and drinking beer and they were drunk, and had been for hours and hours.
"OK, OK, beating Kuwabara was good, but it did take you the full seven games to get the wins you needed," joked Akira, in the joyous haze of alcohol.
"Shut up! You know I did well, and besides Kuwabara is scary/," whined Shindo in response. He had been back to "normal" (or, at least, as normal as Shindo ever was) since that night after the first title match, and now he was Honinbo and goddammit he'd gotten a title before Akira and it was /not right
"Nigiri, Honinbo!" he called, wiping the pathetic remnants of their last drunken game from the board.
"Yes, yes, nigiri!" cried Akira, desperate to win a game against a title-holder (even though he'd done it plenty of times before, just not in the proper number of title-matches and had probably done it far more often than Shindo anyway).
So they started another game, but Akira found that he couldn't keep his eyes from floating away from the board, and up towards Shindo's. The sadness wasn't gone, but it was no longer at the front of his vision, and Shindo's hazel no longer mirrored the intensity of his own dark eyes. They were moving, they were alive, and they were full of the reflections of black and white stones.
And then Shindo raised his eyes to meet Akira's, and Akira felt like he was seeing them for the first time, and that, like Hikaru's go, they were beautiful.
And so it was that a very drunken son of a Meijin came to be kissing the new Honinbo, just as the sun dawned upon the fifth of May.