Touya will never be so rude as to say so, but the subtle changes in his mood and his focus on the game in the months before the Hokuto rematch let Hikaru know that he's hoping this time he will be the one facing Ko Yeong-Ha across first board. The sting of the previous year's match is bad enough, even if Ko Yeong-ha has been gracious about Shuusaku ever since, but somehow knowing Touya is hungering for the challenge of a rival he hasn't played yet makes Hikaru all too aware of his own weaknesses. Touya still beats him more often than not, and Hikaru knows he's grown a tremendous amount in the last year - more than Hikaru has without Sai.
Hikaru doesn't say a word of protest when Kurata makes Touya first board against Ko Yeong-ha, and he doesn't bother responding to Touya's uncertain glance at him, as if he is asking for permission. He thinks he knows what the stakes are in this match. He thinks he understands, watching Touya Akira 4-dan defeat Ko Yeong-ha soundly in the North Star Tournament, that Touya has taken over his rivalry, finished what Shindou started and answered Ko Yeong-ha's challenge when he could not. He thinks he lost his one opportunity to answer it on his own.
Later, however, outside the players' lounge, Ko Yeong-ha touches Touya briefly, his fingers brushing over Touya's arm and lingering there. He does it deliberately, in front of Hikaru, and if Touya is too busy flushing to notice, Hikaru can see everything clearly.
The game is different, but Ko Yeong-ha is still playing with him.
"He's actually not a bad guy," Touya says to him later, guardedly. "And he's dropped the Shuusaku stuff."
"He hasn't," Hikaru says, low in his throat, "dropped anything."
Touya only gives him that skeptical, 'I-never-know-what's-going-on-with-you' look. Hikaru refuses to cater to it. If Touya doesn't already know he's just a part of Ko Yeong-ha's weird joseki, Hikaru's not going to tell him.
Besides, he thinks, looking at the space between their hands as they sit next to each other, some things aren't about Go.
One day - soon - Hikaru will fill those spaces, and Touya will let him.
He relaxes, and thinks: this was never Ko Yeong-ha's game to win.