Sai’s light eyes lifted from his feet to meet the back of the head of the person before him and sighed. At least the gates to Heaven were now visible, if still far away. He wondered why no one had seen fit to tell him that there was a line to get into Heaven, meet with God and decide whether you were fit to stay or not, etcetera. It didn’t even feel like he’d been in line for such a long time physically, but mentally — in the real world — Sai knew it had been a long while. However, there was no way to measure time passage when in line to see God. Everything looked the same.
The outskirts of the gates to Heaven were beautiful and gleamed with inner light. The road was paved with gold. Quite a few souls had bent their heads to study the street and figure out a way to get it up. They looked like the TV evangelists Sai had once seen when Hikaru had been flipping through the channels. The atmosphere was both tense and peaceful. Some souls cried, whether they were happy tears or tears of regret, Sai did not know and did not ask. They all had to answer to God for themselves. Talking about it now was too late even though the line was long.
Hikaru must have been worried when he’d just disappeared. Sai knew that Hikaru had been tired, and cranky, and disoriented after so many days of staying up late and working at the seminars. Hikaru probably hadn’t realized that Sai was gone right away. Since his disappearance Sai had only seen Hikaru once and then it had been to pass on his fan. Hikaru had been saying something about going up against Touya Akira and losing, but to have gotten a match against Touya after being a year behind would have taken months.
Months . . .
The soul chewed his lip, looked back down at his shoes. It had been a long while . . . Sai frowned as he realized that he’d thought that before. As a matter of fact, he’d thought that same sentence many times before because it had been such a long time.
A long time in line.
The Pearly Gates were visible now at least.
Sai’s frown deepened.
Death was a little redundant.
Thoughts of Hikaru helped though. The long line between Sai and God had put his thoughts and priorities into bright blinding clarity when they weren’t looping around themselves. He’d led an extremely selfish life in a way. He’d lived for the game, Go, and he had died for it also. In one thousand years God had only sent him two people and one (though Sai had loved him dearly) had been more a puppet than a friend. And Hikaru had been everything Sai hadn’t had when he was alive. When he was alive he’d been too self absorbed, Sai conceded.
He . . .
Sai had quit his life and he’d been so jealous of Hikaru because he had chosen to live instead of quietly handing over his life to a dead man as Torajirou had done. Hikaru hadn't just breathed. He hadn't just had flesh. He hadn’t just had time. Shindou Hikaru had lived. He was more than just Go, he was video games and friendships and fun. At times Sai had considered him the selfish one; but now after having time to think about it . . . Rather, after officially being dead and not having anything else to think about, Sai had come to the conclusion that Hikaru hadn’t been selfish. Hikaru had wanted to live his life to the best of his ability using his own strength. He had wanted to do the things that Sai had given up the right to do.
Hikaru had been his only true friend in his long, long existence. Sai hadn’t wanted to leave. Hikaru must have been so worried.
His shoes were very comfortable. The person in line ahead of him had an extremely large cranium. The TV evangelists were clawing at the golden road. The Pearly Gates were suddenly close and shining on him with a soft pure light. Sai didn’t remember moving. He could only return to looking down at his feet, but instead of shoes Hikaru’s gray-green eyes looked up at him full of hope and life.
Sai had been in line for a long time.
Shindou Hikaru’s guts churned as he sat in a chair across from Waya and Isumi. A bowl of ramen rested untouched before him, its heat steadily leaking away into the air. Hikaru could relate to that bowl of ramen well. He felt leeched. He felt as though each breath he released expelled a little bit of his soul away to be lost forevermore wandering the atmosphere.
He’d lost to Ko Yeong-Ha. He’d been unable to defend Sai’s honor. It ate at him. It mangled his craw. It was a virus in his system that white blood cells couldn’t fend off. It was anger. It was disappointment that after all this time, after all the preparation with Touya and Yashiro, he still wasn’t good enough. If Sai was in his Go, if he played in remembrance of Sai, then Hikaru was afraid that he had forgotten a little bit of Sai in losing that game. A week ago — the day of the Hokuto Cup tournament — had been the anniversary of the day Sai had disappeared. So when Hikaru had lost that match it had been as though Sai had vanished all over again. And that was unacceptable.
Sai had been his best friend. The ghost had known everything there was to know about him and had still liked him just the same. That was what made Sai special; he didn’t claim so lightly. Hikaru didn’t want to forget Sai. He didn’t want to remember how right when everything was falling into place and Sai would be able to play more games with higher skilled people like Touya Kouyo and Ogata, and he was an aspiring beginner dan that would be Touya Akira’s rival, that God had put Sai on recall. Hikaru wanted to keep what he could of Sai. He wanted Sai back most of all.
A foot nudged his under the table and Hikaru looked up to meet Waya’s worried green eyes studying him. “You’re brooding again,” the auburn-haired boy stated. Waya had been studying Hikaru the entire day and had long since realized that something was off. At this moment they should have been picking on Isumi and swapping exaggerated stories, Go related or otherwise. Instead they sat in tense silence, he and Isumi wanting to just ask Hikaru what his malfunction was but afraid that they might offend him.
Hikaru shrugged, picked up his chopsticks and poked at his ramen. After a debate between his head and stomach, in which the head knew that he should eat and the stomach’s squeamishness became more pronounced with every mental nudge, Hikaru dropped the sticks. He looked up to see Isumi’s concerned gaze and didn’t know whether to be annoyed or thankful that he had such caring friends.
“Still thinking about that game?” Isumi questioned softly and Hikaru nodded. Somehow Isumi always knew what to say to Shindou to get him to open up. It had been a week since the Hokuto Cup Tournament. Hikaru hadn’t been the same since. He often looked forlorn and confused; as though he had lost something vital and couldn’t find it. Isumi had only seen Hikaru this way once before, and he didn’t like it.
“You aren’t going to start skipping matches again are you?” Waya wondered and then took a long drag from his soda can.
“No,” Hikaru answered. With the way he’d played against Ko Yeong-Ha on his record he couldn’t afford to miss games again. He had to be better for next year. He wasn’t Sai but he didn’t want to think of himself as such a poor substitute that he couldn’t defend him. He’d only lost by half a moku but a loss was still a loss.
The day after the tournament Hikaru had gone to Su-Yeong’s uncle’s Go salon and played the promised game against him. Once again Hikaru had won after a complicated battle. Ko Yeong-Ha had been present though, having delayed his return to Korea as well. Shindou had been mildly annoyed, first by his presence and secondly because he had won against Su-Yeong. It was a belated win. A slap in the face almost because he hadn’t won when he’d needed to. Yeong-Ha had even smirked and said something Su-Yeong refused to translate. His craw was in really bad shape due to that guy; Hikaru had been swallowing a lot of the blistering words he wanted to say to Ko. Perhaps he should learn to speak Korean before the next tournament since that arrogant bastard probably wouldn’t deign to learn Japanese. That way he could translate for himself anything Ko said about Shuusaku . . . Rather, anything he said about Sai.
Hikaru blinked. Had he failed Sai in that way too; relying on other people to be his ears and mouth piece? Shindou looked down upon his now tepid ramen and closed his eyes.
Can you hear?
Hikaru’s eyes shot open and his head whipped around to scan as much of the ramen shop as possible. Had he just heard what he thought? Sai’s voice?
Can you hear . . ?
“Shindou?” Waya and Isumi questioned at once.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Hikaru shook his head vehemently. He hadn’t seen a ghost but he had heard one. Sai . . .
Can you hear my voice?
“I have to go,” Hikaru stated succinctly as he stood and pulled money from his pocket to cover the bill. He tossed it to Isumi. “Pay for that please. I have to go now.”
“Shindou!” Waya stood and yelled after Hikaru’s retreating form, but he didn’t look back. The door swished closed after him. Waya looked down at the still seated Isumi and shrugged. “What was that about?”
“I don’t know,” Isumi answered. “We’ll stop by his house later to see if he’s alright.”
“Okay,” Waya agreed. His eyes were still on the door. Hikaru was behaving oddly again and he was concerned.
Hikaru dashed to the subway as fast as his legs could carry him dishing out apologies left and right to the many people he bumped into. Inside the train car he jogged in place impatiently and then rushed out as soon as the doors opened. He’d developed a cramp in his side a little ways from his house which slowed his all-out sprint to a defeated jog. His breath came out harshly and he felt dizzy and lightheaded. But he didn’t want to stop. His house was in view. Hikaru swallowed, his mouth was suddenly dry. He put the stitch in his side to the back of his mind and picked up his pace.
The door was unlocked and Hikaru flew threw it calling out, “Sai!”
He stood in the house foyer, looked around. The only other shoes present were his mother’s. The foyer was empty. Hikaru could vaguely hear his mother’s voice asking him if he were alright. The room was suddenly dull and leeched of color. Sounds faded to the back of his mind; there was a loud ringing in his ears. The cramp in his side throbbed with his heartbeat, his legs crumpled under the weight of his body and exhaustion. He could feel it again, that horrible pain in his chest that came when he acknowledged it.
Sai was not here.
Sai was not anywhere.
Sai was gone.