"Hikaru, it was fun! It was fun..." Sai's voice drifted off. He found himself floating outside of Hikaru's window. The curtains of the window fluttered with the chilly wind, letting him catch Hikaru's figure only now and then. He was outside of Hikaru's world now, left looking in at a world that he could no longer participate in, had barely been able to even with Hikaru's help. Was this the end for him? His pained smile dropped from his face as he watched Hikaru nod off, so close yet so far. The window between them was open, but Sai couldn't breach that gap anymore.
Would Hikaru even notice that he was gone?
"Lovely day isn't it?" asked a bubbly voice next to his ear.
Sai shot straight up into the air. He lifted one sleeve away from his face to peek down at where he had been before. There, a girl in a pink kimono sat side-straddle on a wooden oar. She had bright blue hair that even made his own hair seem ordinary. She beamed at him, the smile reaching her eyes.
"Hi!" she said with a wave, as if she hadn't just scared him so.
Sai gulped, half his face still covered by one of his long sleeves. "Are you a ghost?" he asked, his voice tinted with both curiosity and slight anxiety. Sai was scared of ghosts, had been since as long as he could remember. She didn't look scary, but ghosts were ghosts.
Stupid Sai. You're a ghost yourself! Why are you scared? came Hikaru's voice inside Sai's mind. Hikaru wouldn't hesitate to berate him like that.
Sai straightened, letting his arms drop to his side. He looked right at the girl, his eyes sharp.
That's right! He was a ghost! There was nothing to be afraid of.
Seemingly unfazed by his intense gaze, the girl tilted her head and held her finger to the bottom of her lips in thought. "Well, sort of I guess."
"Sort...of?" questioned Sai, already starting to deflate.
She pulled out a small book from the sleeves of her kimono. "Let's see...Fujiwara no Sai, Go advocate to the emperor...oh wow, one thousand years ago? Dang, you're even older than Koenma! You're probably the same age as Kurama..." She flipped the page. "Hm...we lost track of you until the entire Torajirou fiasco, and then you were gone again."
Sai's eyes grew wide. How did she know his name and his entire history?
The girl radiated cheerfulness. "I haven't introduced myself to you yet, have I?" She slipped the small book back into her kimono and waved both of her hands around, her long sleeves almost covering all of her hands. "I'm Botan, ferry girl of the underworld, here to guide your soul to rest!"
"A-A shinigami then?" murmured Sai, his eyes downcast, immediately catching on to what the girl's job was.
Botan nodded, her ponytail bouncing as she did so. "You could say that! But really, there's no need to be scared!"
Just as she said this, Hikaru pounded past the window, a yellow and black blur.
Sai turned around, his ears perking up at Hikaru's voice. "Hikaru!" His Hikaru had come looking for him!
"Sai! Where are you?"
Sai waved his arms. "I'm right here Hikaru!" He floated down, trying to get closer, for surely Hikaru had only missed seeing him because he wasn't in his direct line of sight?
But Sai's hopes were dashed when Hikaru passed by the window again, his footsteps growing faint.
The ghost slumped, his dark hair falling in front of him. "Can't you see me anymore, Hikaru?" he whispered.
"Fujiwara-san...Sai...it's time to go," came Botan's soft voice.
He shook his head, his heart hurting. Funny thing how his heart could hurt when it wasn't even beating! "No, I can't leave like this. Let me talk to Hikaru once more! I need to at least say goodbye. I didn't even get the chance..."
The front door opened, and Sai could hear Hikaru's mother asking Hikaru about where he was going. Sai started following Hikaru, drifting right behind him.
"Sai, where are you going?" asked Botan.
"I'm following Hikaru." Like always.
"But! Oh, all right, grab on!" At Sai's look, Botan gestured at her oar. "I know you can float and all, but I'm pretty sure my oar is faster! Come on!"
Sai nodded, grateful for how kind this shinigami was. He had never imagined that Death would be this friendly!
Hikaru's first stop was the Go Institute. Sai trailed behind, glancing around at the nearly empty Institute. Soon, he would have to bid this place full of memories goodbye. He wished the place were full, like how it always was on match days. The empty room did nothing to improve his already horrible mood. Hikaru was frantically running through the entire Institute, poking his head into all the different rooms.
Hikaru, I'm going to vanish soon!
If only Hikaru had listened to him back then.
"Hikaru, please," he started.
"Yeah, he might be at Grandpa's!" declared Hikaru, unaware of Sai's plead. Sai looked on forlornly as Hikaru walked right past him.
Hikaru's second stop was his grandfather's attic. The stain on the Go board had entirely vanished. Hikaru stood staring at the board. Sai stood right beside him.
"It's gone," murmured Sai. He crouched down next to the board and ran his fingers across the unblemished surface even though he could not touch it.
Botan peered intently at the board. "Was there something on it before?"
Sai nodded. "I used to possess this board. The board was stained with a combination of Torajirou's blood and my tears. And now, the stain's gone. Any proof of my existence has disappeared." Although Hikaru had been the only one able to see the stain even then, it had been there. It was proof.
The ferry girl had her little book out again, her eyes eagerly scanning over whatever was in it. She kept nodding her head and murmuring "I see!" Sai turned to her, about to ask her what she was so excited about.
"Grandpa! When does a ghost disappear?" shouted Hikaru down the attic stairs.
Sai paused. "Yes, when?" He asked the ferry girl instead.
Botan glanced up from her little book. "When all of your earthly concerns have been put to rest, you'll be ready to move on."
"But what if I'm never ready?" asked Sai carefully. Surely he wasn't ready yet? How could he ever be ready? His eyes darted towards Hikaru's disappearing figure. He had thought that he had eternal time. How wrong he had been! And now, faced with Death, all Sai could think about were the game...and Hikaru. He started to follow Hikaru back into the living room, but Botan's voice stopped him.
"You might turn into a earthbound ghoul." Her usual cheerfulness was muted. "Let me warn you, that's not pretty."
Sai didn't turn back at her declaration. Wasn't he one already? What difference would it make? He was going to follow Hikaru and that was that.
He descended the stairs.
"Well, it looks like Hikaru is stopping for the day," observed Botan as the lights in Hikaru's room went out. "Shall we head off then?"
"Head off to where?" Sai inched closer towards Hikaru's window. He didn't like the sound of that.
"To see a certain someone, of course!" Botan put her hands together in front of her face. "Please, just come with me! It'll make it easier for both of us!"
"But I'm not ready!" exclaimed Sai.
"I know, but-"
"I'm sorry!" Sai hurriedly flew through the open window. Hikaru usually never left it open. Maybe...maybe Hikaru had left it open in hopes that Sai would come back to him?
He knelt down next to Hikaru, who was curled uncomfortably on his side. Sai placed a hand on Hikaru's forehead, on top of those bright, blond bangs. He watched Hikaru's chest rise and fall. So peaceful...so alive. So full of potential. He had time that Sai no longer had.
"Hikaru, can you hear me?" whispered Sai. "Can you feel my touch? Hikaru..."
The boy shifted, and for one moment Sai thought that maybe he had gotten through to him, but Hikaru only turned to the other side.
"Sai..." mumbled Hikaru in his sleep. "...where..."
Sai rested his head on Hikaru's bed. When had he ever observed Hikaru in his sleep? It used to be that when Hikaru was asleep, Sai was too. They had a connection after all. Where had that connection gone? Sai closed his eyes. Tonight, he would let no one pull him away from Hikaru's side.
Botan watched quietly before she left.
The next day, Hikaru led him to Hiroshima, to Torajirou's grave. Sai's heart clenched once more. He wasn't ready. He wasn't ready to leave yet. He was selfish and already had one thousand years in this world. He had second chances and third chances, much more than anyone else ever had. But it was still not enough. Especially not when Hikaru was hurting just as much as he was. Didn't he exist for Hikaru's sake? Hikaru...wasn't ready to let go yet, and it was showing in Hikaru's desperate search. Hikaru kept calling out to him. Sai replied but his words never reached Hikaru's ears.
Hikaru can just worry when I suddenly vanish.
Now that Hikaru truly was worrying, Sai didn't like the feeling at all. He had to make Hikaru understand. He didn't want Hikaru's last memory of him to be a sad one.
"Sai, how was it?" came Hikaru's voice. With those words, Hikaru turned around from the game that had just finished.
Sai leaned forward eagerly. "Hikaru, you can see me?" Sai's eyes lit up at that thought. He had never felt happier to have those bright green eyes twinkling at him from behind those blond bangs. They were focused on him, captivating him with their brightness.
"He won!" That was fast!"
But something was wrong.
A small frown came over Hikaru's face as he turned back to the board.
"...Hikaru?" asked Sai tentatively. What was wrong? Why had Hikaru turned away?
"Where is Shuusaku's grave in Tokyo?" asked Hikaru. After the people around him told him, he hurriedly cleaned up the board and got up to leave without ever a second glance back at Sai.
Left behind, Sai stared at the game. Hikaru hadn't been able to see him. That had just been a force of habit. Hikaru had won while Sai had been spacing out. Hikaru had played so quickly and had such utter confidence in his own skill. When had Hikaru grown so strong? The patrons in the Go Salon continued marveling after Hikaru even after his abrupt departure. Sai smiled sadly. What was he doing, trailing after Hikaru? Hikaru could be out there playing instead of wasting his time on someone who belonged to the past. Without him around, Hikaru's Go would grow naturally, never to be overshadowed by Sai's again. His disappearance was the first step for Hikaru towards letting go.
Botan was outside waiting for him. She had her oar propped up next to her.
"I'm ready to go," Sai said. He had thought he wasn't ready to go because of Hikaru, but perhaps it was just selfishness on his part.
Botan giggled. "Well, I'm actually here to tell you that it's not time for you to go yet. Isn't that great news?"
"What?" exclaimed Sai. He had finally made up his mind. Sai didn't know if he could ever make that decision again.
"I noticed yesterday actually, when you mentioned the stained Go board," continued Botan, who apparently hadn't noticed Sai's less-than-happy reaction. "Technically, since the stain's gone, that means you have no lingering business left here. But there is still something you need to do that can only be done from the shadows."
"And what is that?" asked Sai slowly.
"You must see that Hikaru overcomes his next obstacle."
"But he doesn't need my advice anymore..." murmured Sai. Hikaru would benefit much more without Sai's looming presence.
"There's more to this than Go, though, aren't I right?" asked Botan.
"I," started Sai. "You're right," he admitted. How could he not grow fond of Hikaru? He wasn't just someone who helped him play. They had been together for the past two years, and not once had Sai left Hikaru's presence. He had watched over Hikaru as he grew from an obnoxious elementary school kid to an equally obnoxious but determined teenager. Sai knew that he had left a great impact on Hikaru's life. It it weren't for him, would Hikaru had ever discovered Go? Would he feel empty from that missing part of his life?
"Is there any way to talk to Hikaru then?" asked Sai finally.
Botan frowned. "Normally, I'd say that a simple thing like talking to living beings should be easy for a thousand-year-old ghost, since a thousand-year old ghost should be very strong in spiritual power. But um," Botan glanced up through her bangs, her lavender eyes apologetic. "You sort of fail at being a ghost. Sorry!"
Sai blanched. He was a failure of a ghost! But, but, he couldn't give up just because of that!
"Isn't there any other way?" asked Sai.
"Well, there is a way," hedged Botan. "You just need to build up enough spiritual energy."