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詰碁 Tsumego -- Exercises in Life and Death

Chapter Text

"What do you think, Sai?" boasted Hikaru as he emerged from the Go Institute, pumped with excitement from his victorious match. "For a moment there I thought the guy had me, but then I sprung that trap and made a comeback so incredible that he resigned!"

"It was a beautiful game," said Sai, "You have become quite a strong player, Hikaru. I'm sure you'll be promoted to 2dan in no time."

"Only thanks to you, Sai! You are the best teacher anyone could ever have." Then he added, "No offense to Morishita ojiisan of course."

"Hikaru, you really shouldn't call him that…" Sai politely pointed out, but Hikaru wasn't paying attention.

"More importantly, look what Waya gave me!" said Hikaru as he flashed the couple pieces of paper that the fellow shodan had unceremoniously discarded in Hikaru's hands last study session. "Coupons to this really nice ramen shop in town. We should go and celebrate!"

Sai leaned in to read the coupons. "'Buy two bowls of any size, get one free?' 'Buy three medium bowls for the price of one large?' Hikaru, if you eat this much ramen, you're going to get fat!"

"Sai, you worry too much. That Waya has no idea how much of a great deal he just missed out on."

"I'm serious, if you keep eating like that you'll look like Kurata-san. Do you want to be as fat as Kurata-san, Hikaru?"

Hikaru cringed at the image. "That will never happen! Honestly, Sai, you're starting to sound like my mother."

"6 bowls of ramen total for the price of three, eh?" said the chef. "Are you expecting company?"

"Nope, it's just me!" said Hikaru, kicking his legs at the bar and grinning.

"… Okay, you're the boss," the chef said with one eyebrow raised in worry, as he recorded Hikaru's complex order of many condiments. "What's the occasion?"

"I beat my first 3dan today!"

"That sounds great! Karate?"

"Nope! Go! I'm Shindou Hikaru, a 1dan go pro."

"I didn't know there were professional go players this young," the chef mused as he tossed an enormous tangle of noodles in a strainer. "You must be some kind of a child prodigy."

"Haha, not really," said Hikaru. Him, a child prodigy? He'd never touched a go stone until a couple years ago. Touya was the prodigy, not him. "I'm not really a prodigy, but there's one guy, the Meijin's son, who definitely is. He's a 2dan and rising fast, and I hope to catch up to him as fast as I can." Could he be promoted to 2dan within the year? With that victory under his belt, it felt like a real possibility. To finally meet Touya face to face and play an even game as fellow 2dans or 3dans… he couldn't wait!

"Hehe, you're blushing a little, Shindou-kun. That Meijin's son must be really important to you. I wish you good luck!"

Blushing!? Hikaru covered his face in embarrassment. He realized he was kicking his legs vigorously and stopped that as well. "Don't take it that way!" he insisted, "Touya's just a really strong player and I aspire to be that good, that's all."

The first of Hikaru's bowls was finally ready, and for the next half hour or so, Sai watched with a mixture of escalating horror and disgust as the small middle-schooler proceeded to gorge himself on three large bowls and three medium ones in a row.

"Phew, I'm stuffed!" said Hikaru as he finished drinking the broth out of his last bowl, and collapsed with exhaustion onto the bar.

"Will that be all, Shindou-kun?" asked the chef cautiously, his brow heavily furrowed with concern for the boy's health.

"Yes, that'll be all!" said Hikaru, as he counted out his bill and handed it to the chef. "Thanks for the food!"

"You're welcome anytime, and good luck catching up with your Touya-kun!"

Hikaru blushed with embarrassment again. Why did he have to phrase it in that way!? The two had spoken, what, five times in the past couple of years? They were absolutely, definitely, in no way close.

"I'm so glad I got to eat there, it was so good!" Hikaru said to Sai as they headed out the door, "Spending those coupons today was a great idea!"

"There is no stretch of the imagination by which eating by yourself in one sitting enough ramen to feed a family for a day is a good idea," Sai preached, "I'm surprised that didn't outright kill you."

"Sai, you're exaggerating! It's not like I get to eat like that every day!"

"It's a good thing that you don't get to eat like that every day," said Sai, "Or you really would look like Kurata-san."

"For the last time, I will never look like Kurata-san!" Hikaru shouted at Sai, turning the heads of concerned passersby. "It's rude to stare," said a mother as she tugged on the hand of her curious son to get away from the screaming teen as quickly as possible.

"Anyway, Hikaru, watching you eat all that ramen by yourself was boring and kind of gross, so I just happened to notice a building over there." Sai pointed in the direction of what appeared to be a net café. "It looks like there are people sitting at those boxes at which you can play go. Nee, Hikaru, can we go play?"

Hikaru gave the idea careful consideration. After that scare with Ogata in the hospital, he really didn't want to draw attention to Sai and himself again.

But on the other hand, Sai never got to play anyone other than Hikaru since the match against Touya-sensei, and he still had some time to kill. Would one evening be so bad?

"Sure, why not," he finally decided, "Let's go check it out."

"Yay, Hikaru!" Sai exclaimed, dancing with delight, "You're the best!"

Without the help of Mitani's sister, the struggle to access the go server and log in took longer than he would have liked, but after several minutes of crude swearing and confusion he managed to get settled in on his own.

After Sai played his first couple of games, the requests came flooding in, and Hikaru accepted mostly the ones from the highest ranked players. Sai sure was popular! Hikaru allowed himself to be absorbed in the flow of Sai's go, and the hours passed by in bliss.

Several games later, Hikaru looked up and saw that the sky outside was dim! "Wow, I lost track of the time! It's starting to get dark! Come on Sai, let's finish up this last game and go home."

There was no need to finish up, as the other player shortly resigned and went offline without a word. According to the rank by his name he was a 2dan from Germany, but Hikaru seriously doubted it because so many of his moves were counterproductive and he clearly had no idea what he was doing. Sai tried to steer him in the right direction by playing it like a teaching game but the false 2dan didn't seem to get it. He really could only be 20kyu at best.

"Man, I feel bad for that poor German guy," said Hikaru as the two exited the net café, "He was so out of his league! I wonder if he chose the wrong rank just to have a chance of playing you?"

"Don't forget that you were as helpless as he was not so long ago," Sai pointed out, "So that player still has great potential to become strong. A shame he didn't understand my shidougo, though."

"Yeah, let's just get home as fast as we can before my mom freaks out. I think the station was this way."

"And not so long ago, you yourself said you had no intention of playing go!" Sai continued, "Do you remember that? All you cared about back then were sports, the box with the moving person game and your picture-books!"

"They're called manga, and the 'moving person games' are videogames," Hikaru corrected him, but Sai didn't pay attention.

"And look at you now! All you do is play go. That's great, but maybe you should bring a little sports back into your life."

"What do you mean?" Hikaru asked idly. He realized he was on the wrong side of this wide street to reach the station and began to cross immediately.

"Well, look at you! It has to be sitting in front of a goban all day combined with the way you eat. You've gotten a little chubby since I first met you, especially here," he said, grinning, jabbing Hikaru in the stomach with the end of his fan.

"Goddamnit, Sai, I have NOT gained weight!" Hikaru turned around and yelled at him on the spot.

Sai hid his face behind his fan. "But it's true! I was just saying you need a little exercise, that's all."

"I swear to god, Sai, if you keep picking on me, I will go straight to a shrine and have them perform an exorcism on—"

"HIKARU! WATCH OUT!"

"Huh?" Hikaru turned to see what Sai was shouting about and froze up.

A car! Bright headlights blazing, horn shrieking, flying right at him with an ugly lurch, and almost no sign of slowing down!

There was no escape.

Hikaru's body crumpled over the hood of the car, his legs were shoved out from under him, and his head smashed into the windshield.

The car screeched to a halt and he found himself flying far through the air, tumbling like a ragdoll over the rough asphalt, before finally coming to rest.

Bruised, scratched, and hyperventilating, Hikaru slowly opened his eyes. His vision was blurred and he had trouble making out anything especially in the low light. Several meters away shone the headlights.

"Hikaru, hang in there…" said Sai, who knelt by his side. Pained, Hikaru slowly turned his head to look at him, gritting his teeth and squinting. He could only just make out Sai's face. "Sai.. why, what.." he breathed.

He tried to move, and gasped in agony as sharp pain seared through his legs. They were broken. "Ahh! It hurts!" he cried.

"Don't try to move," said Sai.

A car door slammed and the tap of dress shoes on asphalt approached. Hikaru squinted but could not make out the identity of the person approaching. He felt faint as the pain pounded through his body. His eyelids grew heavy.

"Sai… will I wake up?" Saying this brought tears to his eyes. He had to wake up, he had to.

"I.. I don't know," said Sai in a wavering voice.

He saw the shape of a tall figure kneel over him on one knee. He was not Sai, but he was familiar. It was becoming hard to think and he could not place him.

Hikaru closed his eyes and images swam through his tired mind, punctuated by the patterns of the flow of go that dominated his subconscious. He thought of his family, and of Sai.

And his face came into his thoughts. "Touya…" Hikaru breathed his name in a tired near-whisper. He had to stay. His muscles began to relax, and tranquility enveloped him.

"Be at peace, Hikaru."

Chapter Text

"Thank you very much for the ride, Ichikawa-san," said Akari with a slight but forced smile on her face, as the go salon clerk pulled to a stop before the Touya residence.

"Any time for a friend of Akira-kun's," Ichikawa-san replied, as the young girl exited the car, cradling the heavy gift in her arms. "Have a nice day, and feel welcome to stop by the go salon some time!" Akari wanted to point out that she wasn't exactly Touya-kun's friend and didn't actually know him that well, but felt it would be kind of rude. And besides, how could Ichikawa-san be so cheerful? But then again, she wasn't close with Hikaru.

As Ichikawa-san sped off down the road, Akari adjusted her hold on the cloth-wrapped bundle, and had a good look at Touya's house. They had a really beautiful place, she thought, large, peaceful, out of the way and very traditional. It was so quiet that she could hear the running of a pond and the wooden clonk of a bamboo fountain in the garden. Very fitting for the esteemed family of the retired Meijin.

There didn't seem to be any cars around. Possibly no one was home? But it was still worth a try to deliver it in person. She ascended the front steps, pushed the doorbell, and waited.

For a time, there was no sound, and she thought that maybe no one was home after all. The package strained her arm muscles, and the clonk of the fountain came again. She was starting to turn around and leave when the door opened, revealing no one other than Touya Akira.

For a moment, Touya-kun stared at the girl with blank, confused eyes. Then he failed to stifle a gasp. "Shindou's… What brings you here?"

"Ah! Um," Akari searched for a way to word this. "I'm Fujisaki Akari. I am—was Hikaru's childhood friend. We helped make the Go club at our school… together…" Her voice trailed off into emptiness at the mention of his name and she gazed down at the parcel.

Touya-kun didn't say anything. He turned his face back to stone, but she could tell it wasn't working. His eyes were tired, sunken in. He looked almost dead inside.

"A-anyway," said Akari, voice wavering, "I think he would have wanted you to have this!" She blurted this out and thrust the parcel at Touya-kun's chest so vigorously that the sound of rattling stones came from within, and the boy delicately wrapped his hands around it.

As Akari started to turn hastily away toward the road without so much as a goodbye, Touya-kun called out, "Wait! Fujisaki-san!"

She stopped and looked back at him again. The death in his eyes had momentarily been swept back, and they shone almost with the same light she used to see in Hikaru when he had heard any mention of Touya-kun. Then once again he regained composure, and returned his face to stone.

"Fujisaki-san, I was getting ready to have tea. Would you please join with me?"

Tea with Touya-kun? Wouldn't that be a waste of the go prodigy's time? Akari was only a dabbling amateur, and not even a very good one at that. No, there had always been something strange between Touya-kun and Hikaru, and she was Hikaru's old friend. It probably had to do with that.

"If it isn't too much trouble," Touya-kun added with a gentle smile, which seemed forced, like her own. She knew the feeling.

"Of course," she said, "I don't have any other plans," and she followed the young Touya into the house, making sure to remove her shoes. After all, the same curtain of emptiness hang around them both. How could she leave him alone in that? How could she refuse?

"Please, Fujisaki-san, make yourself at home," said Akira, as he brought the wrapped go board to his own room. He was absolutely certain it was a goban with two bowls of stones—the weight and rattle of the parcel was familiar. He would not unwrap Shindou's board now in front of Fujisaki-san, as he was afraid he might lose control of himself.

Fujisaki-san at first assumed seiza on the cushion, then allowed herself to slip into a more relaxed sitting position. She looked down at both the tea table and the goban before her. "Um, Touya-kun, If you're thinking about playing a game with me, I must warn you that I'm no good at all and it would be a waste of your time. It really is no trouble for me to be here, right?"

In the kitchen, Akira set a teapot filled with hot green tea and two cups on a tray, and brought it into the room with Fujisaki-san. "No, no trouble at all," he said calmly, "Okaa-san is out on errands and Otou-san is visiting with old friends. At this rate, he will probably be out late—he likes to play long games and then discuss them at length afterwards."

"I thought Touya-sensei quit go?" said Fujisaki-san.

Akira lowered the tea tray to the table, trying to keep it steady, but could not help the porcelain pieces rattling a little. He wasn't quite as calm as he thought. He sat opposite Fujisaki-san in seiza. "Otou-san retired as a professional player, but that doesn't mean he will stop playing go. It's all friendly games from now on, and he will continue to teach."

"And what about you? Don't you have school about now? Or Go?"

Akira felt a pang strike in his heart and wash over his body. The hand holding the teapot jolted and he spilled some hot tea on the table. Fujisaki-san reached a hand out to help him clean it up. "No, it's alright," he said, mopping it up with the cloth napkin. What was wrong with him? Why couldn't he keep it together?

"Anyway, as for me, I'm not ready to go to school. I had a match scheduled for today, but I didn't go. This is my second time, since otou-san…"

"He must really have meant a lot to you…" said Fujisaki-san.

His hands clenched on the cup he'd almost brought to his lips, as he struggled to keep back the beginnings of tears. Those words… Why did she say those words?

Her brow furrowed with concern. "Touya-kun?"

"It's n-nothing," choked Akira, the tears starting to flow. The cup fell out of his fingers and spilled all over the delicate tatami, and he started sobbing uncontrollably. "It's all nothing!" he cried, "All meaningless!"

Fujisaki-san reached out a hand, but Akira shrank away. Why? Why did it have to happen like this? He took a deep breath, wiped away some tears with his fingers and sniffed, but then broke down into another series of sobs.

Then he said, "One day, he's chasing you, the next day, he's gone." He wiped at his raw face, his eyes and throat sore. "Now he'll never catch up to me, and I will never understand. It just doesn't make any sense." He hang his head and let the tears flow quietly.

Fujisaki-san observed without saying a word, and let her gaze fall to the cup she held in her lap, some tears falling herself.

They sat like this for quite some time, saying nothing. Only the sound of the bamboo fountain outside punctuated the silence.

After a while, Akira said, in a soft voice, "You were a very special friend to Shindou, Fujisaki-san."

The girl looked up from her contemplation. "Ah?"

Akira looked up into her face. "You were friends with him before he started go. You were friends with Shindou only for Shindou, and not for his go. That puts you in a very unique position." He gave a small smile, a genuine one this time.

"Really?" said Fujisaki-san, blushing a little.

Akira realized now how calm he was in body and mind, and that he didn't have to force himself to stay this way. Though he sensed this was far from over, he felt as if he had already taken a step forward.

"I wish I knew more about him," said Akira, after a moment of contemplation. "Not just about his go, but about Shindou. Like why did he first decide to play go? What was he doing before? Why did he color his hair? What kind of jokes did he tell? Little things like that. Fujisaki-san, may I please ask you these kinds of questions?"

Fujisaki-san smiled, and Akira could sense that this, too, was a natural smile. "Ok, but only if you start calling me Akari!" she said.

Akira giggled a little bit at his own expense. "Alright, Akari-san," he cautiously said, and she laughed.

"Well, I don't know everything, but I can tell you some things, like about why he bleached his hair. Prepare yourself for this one—it's pretty dumb."

And in this way, the two told each other stories about the life of Shindou all through the next couple of hours. Akari-san lost track of the time so that she didn't realize she was late for dinner until his mother arrived home, who offered her a ride. Akira finally thanked her for the time and for Shindou's gift and saw her out, and spent the rest of the evening in good spirits.

Chapter Text

The following day, Akira elected to go to school, feeling much better thanks to the chat with Akari-san. And then the day after, he reluctantly visited the Go Institute for the first time in the few days since Shindou had died. The stories from Akari-san floated at the forefront of his mind, and out of any part of Shindou, he tried to focus on these the most to keep away the feeling of loneliness.

On the way out, a group of young shodan his age loitered by the door of the Institute, engaged in enthusiastic discussion.

"Eh!? Ogata's car hit him!?" shouted one of the shodan, and Akira could not help but overhear. He recognized the boy as Waya-kun, that rather loud friend of Shindou's who always seemed to have a bone to pick with him.

Ogata-san struck Shindou? Akira repeated in his mind, trying to process the thought. When his father had first personally delivered him the news, he left out any mention of who was behind the wheel, but in retrospect, he must have known, because the next study group meeting was filled with silence and tension, especially between his father and Ogata-san, he now realized. Whatever discussion there was at the time, Akira's mind drifted too much into emptiness for him to focus on any it. His father must have noticed, because at last he stood up and called the meeting to a close early, and asked everyone to leave. On the way out, Ogata Juudan's shoulders seemed very tense, and he gave what was unmistakably a scowl at his father, for a split moment before it disappeared behind his usual face of stone.

Though Akira did not miss it, he did not understand it. Ogata-san had always been intense and impenetrable, even for a go pro, and he could never decipher what he was thinking, but why would he glare in such a way?

"I always knew there was something fishy about that lurking, slinking, straw-headed creep and his gaudy car!" Waya ranted at the top of his lungs, and one of the other go players tried to quiet him down.

Akira could not help but interject on behalf of his father's student. "How can you speak in such a disrespectful way about Ogata-san? My father has taught him for years, and he would never do such a thing on purpose. If it was really him, it had to have been an accident!"

"Touya! You again!" Waya scowled, bearing his fists with rage, "Defending Ogata? Do you even know who it was who died!? Do you even care about anyone outside of the little world of titleholders you live in? Or was he just another new shodan to you?"

What? What!? Akira's breath wavered and his fingers shook. How could he!? Akira tried to think of something to say, but nothing formed a coherent thought. Tears welling in his eyes, he bolted out of the Institute without a single word.

"Tadaima," he muttered half-heartedly as he returned to his house after a miserable commute, and sequestered himself in his room. He'd tried to think about the things Akari-san told him, but now they just filled him with sadness. He tossed his futon out onto the floor, buried himself in it and closed himself off from the world.

It wasn't like when his father had collapsed and recovered and everything was fine again. Shindou was gone for good and he was never coming back. Never! He felt as if a huge part of him had been ripped away and in that place only emptiness remained.

His mother quietly slid open the door. "Akira, are you feeling okay?" she asked softly. Akira did not move or speak. "Well, I will prepare some dinner and keep it hot for you, and any time you feel ready you can come out and have it."

Akira still didn't say anything.

After a pause, she said, "It must be very hard for you."

Okaa-san didn't play professional go. She couldn't understand how deeply this cut into him, or what it felt like.

"But I know you won't feel this way forever. In time, you will heal. Hang in there, my dear Akira."

What part of the permanency of death didn't she understand? Go away, Akira thought, but he didn't say it.

"I'll be around if you ever need me," she said, and quietly closed the door.

Somehow, Akira felt even worse. Why did people think they had to say things when there's nothing to say? He almost would rather Waya yell at him some more, since at least he was honest with his words. In their shared grief, only Akari-san made him feel any better, but he foolishly forgot to ask her for her address or her phone number, so there was no way of talking to her now.

Then he remembered the board.

Akira emerged from the futon and eyed the wrapped board he had placed in the corner of his room when he first received it and hadn't touched since. He didn't want to depress himself any further than he already was, so he'd left it alone.

But now he wondered if maybe playing out a game on Shindou's board would give him some sense of closure. He pulled the cloth off the board and exposed the surface, and the bowls of stones. Nothing special, he thought. The goban was carved of spruce, not true kaya, and the stones were made of glass. A fine enough board for an insei or a new pro, though it was covered with dark stains. He tried rubbing at it with the cloth, but it wouldn't come off. Was it blood? How? The idea worried him. Whose blood? Shindou's?

As he turned away from the board to get a wet cloth, he felt a change in the air.

And then from within his head, he heard a familiar voice.

"Touya…!"

Could it—

Akira faced the goban, and—Shindou!?

It was like a dream—Shindou stood before him, shrouded in white, with a tall, graceful figure at his side. Shindou appeared as surprised as Akira was.

Sense had left him. Akira reached out his hand to him, eyes wide. "Shindou…" he said.

The world fell, and Akira felt the ground.

"Akira, are you alright?" asked the soft voice of his father.

Akira awoke, his head pounding. He was in his own bed, with otou-san kneeling by his side, carrying a small light dinner on a tray. By his side there also sat an elegant noble figure straight out of history, the same one he thought he saw before—and Shindou!

"Shindou!" said Akira starting to sit up, but Otou-san gently pushed him back down on the pillow.

"Please relax, you have been having a very hard week. Your mother said you fainted. Here, I brought you dinner."

Akira stared at Shindou, terribly confused. How could he possibly be here? He started to say something but Shindou pressed a finger against his lips and said 'ssh'.

His father turned to look in the direction of Shindou, where Akira was staring, but seemed to only stare through the boy, and turned back to Akira. Could he not see him?

"I'm glad you're alright. It seems you were out for nearly an hour. This must be taking a greater toll on you than I thought."

Akira didn't understand anything. Was he hallucinating? What was happening?

He didn't want to go to the hospital, so he decided not to say anything about it. "I'm fine, otou-san," he said, rubbing his temple, "I just have a bit of a headache is all."

"I talked to the Go Institute and asked them to reschedule your matches for the next week. You didn't go to your match the other day, so perhaps you need some time to recover."

Cancelled his matches!? No! he started up but his father gently put his hand on his shoulder to calm him and pressed him back into the bed. "I'm fine, otou-san," he insisted, "Really! I'm not sick! I was going to go to those matches."

"I can tell this is hurting you a lot," said his father. "Eat up and rest for me, Akira. I want you to be well. You are my only son." He gave a soft pat on the shoulder, got up and left the room, passing straight through Shindou and his companion as if they were fog, clearly not able to see them at all.

Shindou laughed nervously and scratched the back of his neck. "Haha, hi, Touya."

Akira simply stared, jaw lax, eyes wide, completely confused. He had so many questions. "Shindou, how are you… and who is…" He pointed at the elegant nobleman beside him.

Shindou looked up at his courtly companion, and then wildly about the room, appearing almost as confused as Akira was. "Um, how do I explain this…"

The cheery nobleman interrupted him! "Hello, I'm Fujiwara no Sai, and I was a go tutor for the emperor in the Heian Period in my life. I returned to the world as a spirit in the mind of Kuwabara Torajirou, and after he died, I came to Hikaru, and now I come to you! Though it appears Hikaru has suffered the same fate as me."

"Sai!" exclaimed Akira, recognizing the name. The NetGO player? "You're that Sai? And you possessed Honinbo Shuusaku?" The implications all fit together in his mind. Was that first game with Shindou really under the influence of this Fujiwara no Sai? It explained the old-fashioned style, the resemblance to Shuusaku, how the moves Shindou made in that first game could be that of a master when he held the stone like a beginner and seemed to know nothing about Go, how Shindou seemed to play like two completely different people—because, in a way, he was! If true, it all finally made sense!

"Were you the Sai who played on the internet two years ago? And won against my father?" asked Akira. Sai nodded enthusiastically to all these questions.

"Then, when I first played against Shindou in the go salon, you were the one guiding all his moves?" Sai and Shindou both nodded happily.

"Then I have been chasing you, Fujiwara no Sai, all this time! It all makes sense now!"

"Yes, Akira, that's right! You and Hikaru are both very talented and insightful players. I feel fortunate to have met you both."

Akira smiled, eyes bright. It was like a weight from the past few years had finally slid from his shoulders. 

He took up the dish in hand and tried to eat the rice and curry his father left. "And I have another question. How did you come to me?"

Sai opened his mouth to explain, but Shindou interrupted him. "Wait, Sai I know this! It's because you saw the stains on the board. I guess I possessed my board, and Sai came with me into the same board, and when you touched it, it called both Sai and me. But only some people can see the stains! Akari couldn't see the stains on Sai's board either."

"Yes, she told me the story of how you fainted when you found an old goban, and mentioned something like that." said Akira, idly pushing around rice in the curry. With his headache he didn't really feel like eating.

"Wait, Akari told you!?" said Shindou, quite surprised.

"Yes, she visited the other day and told me stories about you. She was the one who brought me your go board."

"What's Akari doing giving all my stuff away without my permission!?"

"She said you would have liked for me to have it," said Akira a little nervously.

Shindou just blinked for a moment, blushing. He grasped the fabric of his jeans in a childish rage and grumbled, "Damn that Akari! She doesn't know me at all! What makes her think I would want that!?"

"Your concern for Akira is obvious to everyone, Hikaru," Sai pointed out.

"You too, Sai!?" Hikaru spat, blushing even harder, "I am not concerned! Stop getting ideas!"

Akira smiled and hid a small laugh behind his hand. It was good to have Shindou back. He set the tray down, rose and crossed the room to where both goban stood side by side, Shindou's and his own.

Sai hopped with delight. "Akira! Akira! Are we going to play a game?"

"I wish," said Akira, his head still hurting, "With this headache I'm in no condition to play a game right now. I feel kind of lethargic to be honest."

"I remember that feeling," said Shindou with a groan, "That's how I felt the day after I met Sai, and then I had a test! Just don't make him throw up like you did last time to me, okay?"

"Hikaru, you should understand already I didn't do it on purpose!" Sai responded. The two seemed to have a good rapport.

"But there is one thing we can do," said Akira, as he laid down and opened the two bowls of stones for Shindou's goban. "It's not necessary, but it's still something I would like to see for myself. Would you like to replay that second game in the go salon, when you overwhelmed me?"

"Of course!" said Sai, beaming, "I don't remember that entire game off the top of my head, but with your help I can certainly reconstruct it."

"Thank you very much," said Akira, then remembering that he was a nobleman, added, "Fujiwara-sama."

The nobleman blushed at the honorific and hid his face behind his fan. "Fujiwara-sama!? Please, I insist, just call me Sai, no honorifics. My rank hardly matters anymore now anyway."

"Okay, Sai," said Akira as he took up the first stone for Sai, "You had black. What was your first move?"

"The 3-4 point at 4-17," said Sai, pointing to the point on the board with his fan, and Akira placed the stone accordingly, then placed his own 4-4 point in response.

As they went through the fuseki and into the main phase of the game, Sai recalled his moves at a brisk pace, and Akira understood that the flow of the game had resurfaced in the nobleman's memory. The fateful game, the same game that he had only shown to Ochi, unfolded from Sai's commands exactly as it had played out those few years before in the go salon. Shindou watched in amazement.

This, to Akira, was the definite proof. He did not doubt him before but here there surely was no mistake about it—the "Shindou" that crushed him in the go salon, that defeated his own father, was and could only be this Fujiwara no Sai.

"Thank you," said Akira as he cleared the stones after the replay, "I believed you in the first place, but seeing the proof for myself really helped me feel better."

"Ok, Touya, but what about me?" asked Shindou, pointing a finger vigorously at himself, apparently feeling left out, "I've worked hard for my chance to play you, you know!"

"I'm sorry, Shindou, but not today!" said Akira, "I'm still feeling under the weather, remember? Besides, if I actually do some real resting maybe otou-san will get off of my back about it." He shoved himself back into the futon and pulled the blanket over his shoulders. "Good night!"

Akira wasn't sure at first how he was going to sleep with people in his room, although they were spirits, but so much peace filled him that this turned out to not be a problem after all. Shindou was alive! Sort of. But he was back, and he was here!

He finally settled into the first restful sleep he'd had in days.

Chapter Text

Hikaru could not sleep. This was not unusual, given that it was impossible for him to be tired now. Waiting for Touya to wake up was boring, so he tried to play some games with Sai. As neither of them could move stones, they had to play it almost like blind go, but pointing at the empty points of the board as a memory aid, especially for Hikaru. This was even more difficult than regular go against Sai and Hikaru found himself losing the games even more quickly.

He also felt kind of weird hanging around in Touya's room, but reminded himself that this was what Sai did every night, without sleeping. Which didn't make him feel any better about it because that was also kind of weird.

Finally Touya awoke, and stared at him with bleary eyes for a moment. "Shindo—" said Touya with confusion at first, and then remembered what was going on. "Oh, yeah."

"Touya, you're finally awake! Can we play our game now?"

"It's too early, I need to get dressed and wake up first. Maybe later today?" Touya said.

"But I waited for hours for you to sleep! You should be all rested now, what gives?"

"Hikaru, you should remember how much rest a living person needs, even waking rest," said Sai patiently, "It can be easy to forget."

"I do know!" Hikaru insisted. How could he forget? He was never a morning person himself, after all.

"Ok, it's time to get dressed," said Touya.

"Oh! Ok then." Hikaru turned to face away from Touya, blushing. Touya undressing in his presence was going to be a daily occurrence from now on, wasn't it? He felt the warmth of embarrassment wash through his mind at the thought.

Hikaru chased away any further thoughts about Touya undressing by forcing himself to examine his own clothes. He wore jeans, sneakers, and a white button-up open over a yellow t-shirt, though he didn't really feel the fabric on his skin. He couldn't feel his body or any part of it at all, in fact, only a light airiness, and when he moved he felt no weight, as if he were in a dream. It was so weird. Was this how Sai felt like every day, for hundreds of years?

"Ok, I'm done," said Touya, and Hikaru turned around. He'd donned a tie, waistcoat and slacks, and of course chosen the worst colors possible, as he usually did. Only Touya would honestly believe that a pink shirt went well with a robin's egg blue waistcoat and a bright yellow striped tie. Or maybe he was just colorblind. Hikaru was never sure.

"You heading somewhere?" asked Hikaru, deciding that any constructive critique of Touya's fashion sense would not end well.

"I have a match today in a couple of hours," said Akira as he put away his futon, packed some books in a bag and headed to the bathroom to wash up. "If I go to the institute later when it's time, my father or mother would probably try to stop me, so I think I'll just go now when no one expects me to be awake."

After shoving some leftovers from dinner in his mouth and brushing his teeth, Touya donned his shoes and headed out the door. Sai and Hikaru trailed closely behind.

The commute to the institute was a new level of surreal, as they got on the train and passed by places Hikaru had seen plenty of times before. Since Hikaru had never been in Touya's house before now, the feeling hadn't hit him until now, that feeling of a glass wall between him and the rest of the world.

When they reached the Go Institute, the walled-off feeling made itself fully apparent. There were the clerks behind the desk at the institute, the same clerks he'd always seen working away as if nothing had changed. For most of the Go world nothing in fact had changed, a sad thought.

"Ah, good morning, Touya-sensei," greeted the clerk at the desk, and Hikaru raised a hand to wave and say "Hi", before realizing that was useless. Of course she never heard or saw him.

Touya found a quiet study room deep within the institute, sat at a table with a goban, pulled a book of advanced tsumego from his bag and began to study.

"Touya," said Hikaru, "While we're waiting for your match, we could play a game…"

Touya shook his head slightly and directed his gaze towards the man at the other side of the room, quietly reading a book.

"Yeah, so there's a guy here, no big deal. You can just think at me without speaking out loud, you know. That's how I always talk with Sai when there's people around."

A sigh escaped Touya's lips, and finally he directed a thought at Hikaru. "The person I'm going up against today is 5-dan and I'm unfamiliar with their play style, so I want to be sure that I am thoroughly prepared for this match. I might get a chance to play you later today, so don't worry."

Hikaru rolled his eyes. Just like a model student. It was a game, not high school entrance exams! "I never have to do that level of studying just for a match! A little tsumego, sure, but not like a cram school's worth of it!"

"Hikaru," Sai pointed out, "You prepared for your matches by playing against me regularly, and you usually went through your tsumego with me. Akira doesn't have that. Even his father has other things to do besides play him."

Touya nodded to Sai's explanation idly as he turned a page in the book and set up the next tsumego.

Hikaru paced around in front of Touya, really antsy, crossing his arms and frowning. Finally he had his chance to play Touya, even if the circumstances were incredible, but the guy won't let him! How much had he caught up to Touya now? He needed to know!

"Hikaru," said Sai, "It's really important for you now to learn patience. Time is all you have now for the time being."

"That's easy for you to say, Thousand-Years-Dead-san!" Hikaru returned, "Besides, weren't you always going all 'Hikaru! Hikaru! I want to play a game! Can we play a game today?' constantly even when I had other plans? So aren't you being a bit hypocritical?"

Touya snapped his book shut and glared at them. "Honestly, I really am trying to concentrate here and that's impossible with you two shouting at each other in my head. There's another board right there, could you maybe play a game of memory go or something and stay quiet?"

"Akira is right," said Sai, as he directed his attention to the unoccupied board. "You take black, Hikaru."

Hikaru grumbled and crossed his arms. He was tired of memory go with Sai and just wanted to play Touya already. "Fine. 3-4 point towards the top edge in the upper right corner." he said.

"4-4 point in your lower right corner!" said Sai in response, and the game unfolded. Hikaru played a few games against Sai like this while Touya diligently reviewed tsumego and some kifu he had clipped out of Go Weekly. As it wasn't truly blind go, Sai was very helpful in answering questions about any stones Hikaru had forgot, though he wished he could just place stones himself and save the both of them the trouble.

"Bathroom," Touya thought as he got up from his seat for the first time in over an hour, and Hikaru found himself following. Wait, no way! Hikaru thought to himself, blushing, he didn't want to follow Touya into the bathroom! But he was anyway and couldn't seem to stop. He felt 'tied' to Touya and could not leave.

He remembered Sai had always been at his side at every moment, even when he bathed or used the bathroom. This wasn't really something Sai and Hikaru ever discussed, and the latter just assumed at the back of his mind that Sai could not leave his side for a moment even if he wanted to. It felt quite weird at first and Sai looked away modestly during these times, though over the years both Sai and Hikaru stopped caring about this sort of thing.

Was he going to eventually become so nonchalant about modesty with Touya too? An image of Touya casually prancing around naked before Hikaru flashed in his mind and he tensed up with extreme embarrassment and a little shame at the thought, making some kind of a snorting noise. He clasped his hands to his face to stop it, not that it did anything.

"Shindou, are you alright?" asked Touya out loud, then remembering to speak in his mind, continued, "You can just look away, it's really not a big deal. I understand if you can't leave."

Hikaru sighed with relief. Thank god Touya had figured that he was just tethered to him and that he didn't actually want to peep on him or anything. Of course not! The image of naked Touya resurfaced and he promptly banished it by trying to meditate on his awful wardrobe.

"Can you turn the water on?" asked Hikaru as they passed by the sinks. Touya promptly did so, and Hikaru faced the opposite wall away from him. Did Sai have to deal with this level of embarrassment? He definitely did look away for modesty's sake, but never seemed very tense about it, and in retrospect it really seemed more for Hikaru's sake than his own. Maybe Sai had already gotten over it with Torajirou many years ago.

But he remembered that Torajirou was maybe six years old when Sai first encountered him, and he couldn't possibly imagine him or any reasonable person getting that flustered about a small child.

Come to think of it, he never felt this way in the locker room at school either! Sure, it was a little awkward constantly undressing in the same room with every other boy in his class, but he never really paid much attention to that either… so why specifically Touya?

"Shindou, I'm done," said Touya suddenly, and Hikaru jolted. In all his frantic thinking, he hadn't noticed that Touya had already finished washing his hands.

"Haha, right! Back to tsumego!" said Hikaru, scratching the back of his head as he followed him out of the bathroom. He definitely wasn't overwhelmed with insecurities about seeing Touya in any state of undress. Nope!

As Touya quietly reviewed some more go, none the wiser to Hikaru's filthy imagination, Hikaru challenged Sai to another game in an attempt to distract himself from this embarrassing train of thought, glaring at Touya's striped yellow tie and how clownish it looked against that pale blue vest and pink shirt. And tan slacks! He wondered if it wouldn't be impossible to convince him to go clothes shopping later. Hikaru wasn't very fashion conscious himself, but at least he tried to pick colors that went together in a way that wasn't morally offensive to every fashion designer on the planet.

"It's nearly time for the match," said Touya as he checked his watch. He cleared the board and put away his books, leaving the table as it was before, and headed for the playing hall.

As they entered that familiar playing hall that Hikaru had seen many times before, full of people waiting to begin their matches, the walled-off feeling returned. Some folks looked up, but he knew they only saw Touya. And was that—that was Waya! Waya sat a few boards away, apparently waiting for his opponent to arrive. "Hey, Waya!" Hikaru impulsively called out, waving. Waya of course could not see him and did not react; he only stared at Touya with a wary, somewhat hostile look.

"There's that friend of yours," said Touya, "He yelled at me the other day. I don't understand his problem with me at all."

Hikaru sighed. Waya was still Waya. "He's under the impression that you're full of yourself. I wish I could convince him that you're really not so bad, but, well…"

Touya took a seat at his designated board. His opponent had not arrived yet. Hikaru searched about the room for any other familiar faces, but there was only Waya.

The last of the players entered the hall and took their places, but even when the matches began the seat in front of Touya remained empty. Was he running late or what?

"Geez, what's keeping him so long!?" Hikaru wondered aloud.

One of the staff took notice of Touya, got his attention and called him over. Touya sighed, got up and followed the staff member out of the room.

"Chichi really did cancel the match, didn't he?" said Touya once they were out of the door.

"Yes, your father called saying you were sick, so he cancelled your matches for a week, and your opponents were informed in advance."

"Wow, your oyaji really meant it!" Hikaru said. The man was stubborn even about making his kid rest!

"Don't call him oyaji!" said Touya out loud.

"I'm sorry, Touya-sensei, I didn't call anyone that," said the institute staff, raising an eyebrow. "Anyway, your family must be really concerned for your health, so you should probably get back home now."

"I will, thank you for letting me know," said Touya, as he gave a little bow and headed off. But before he could get far—

"Akira-kun! There you are!" A running man came calling from down the hall. He was probably a high rank-pro that Hikaru had seen before, but he couldn't quite place him.

"Ah, Ashiwara-san!" said Touya.

"Your parents are really worried! They called me an hour ago to look for you here and take you back. What were you thinking?"

"I'm sorry, Ashiwara-san—"

"Aren't you sick? You should be in bed!"

"I'm not si—"

Ashiwara grabbed Touya by his hand and led him straight to the building's exit. "Of course you are! Come on, let's take you home so you can rest."

As Ashiwara took Touya into his car, Sai and Hikaru piled into the back seat. "Wow, sending pros to go fetch you!" Hikaru said, honestly amused by the whole ordeal, "No one makes that kind of a fuss when I'm sick."

"For the last time, I'm not sick!"

Chapter Text

After getting an earful from Ashiwara on the drive home, Touya was accosted by his frantic mother upon entering, and for several minutes it seemed like he wouldn't hear the end of it as she made him eat a sizeable lunch (since she believed he missed breakfast) and gave him a talking to at the same time. Finally, after he'd eaten, Touya agreed to go rest and seemed he would be free when he was ambushed by his own father, who took him into his study and gave him a calm, but stern lecture that also seemed to last forever, maybe at least half an hour.

When at last Touya was finally dismissed, he went straight to his room and slid the door shut behind him, tossed his futon out on the floor and collapsed on it from exhaustion. "Whyyyy?" he moaned into the pillow.

Hikaru could not help but smile at the scene. He had never seen Touya act so much like a normal kid their own age. Minus the neat and tidy somewhat traditional room with what seemed to be only a neat shelf of books (no manga of course), it could almost be a scene out of his own life.

Of course, his parents! In fact, he was already starting to miss them. He wondered what they were doing now, but realized given these circumstances it was probably best not to go look, or even think about it at all. His eyes watered at the thought.

"Wow," said Hikaru, hoping to distract himself from thinking of his own family, "That Ashiwara is like a third parent to you."

"Between Ashiwara-san and Ogata-san especially, I have at least four. And Ichikawa-san is like an older sister, too. And then there's the fact that every adult in the Go world seems to believe I'm their precious nephew or grandson. It can be overwhelming sometimes, as you can see. "

"It might help if you tried to talk to me with your mind more," said Hikaru ("Us! Us!" Sai insisted), "It would avoid drawing attention to yourself."

"Yes," said Touya, "I keep forgetting I can do that."

Touya sighed and stared at the ceiling. "No matches for a whole week! What will I do?"

"Here's a suggestion, you can play that game against me?"

Touya buried his face in his pillow and groaned continuously for several seconds as his answer.

"No no no, I didn't mean today!" That was a lie—he did mean today, at least at first but that groan made him change his mind. "Maybe tomorrow? Assuming your day doesn't get messed up somehow?"

"You know, Hikaru," said Sai, "You always got mad at me for badgering you for games, and here you are doing the same thing to Akira!"

Hikaru grimaced. He couldn't even argue with that. He hadn't realized it until now, but it was exactly what he was doing.

"Sai?" he said in a soft voice, smiling at his companion.

"Yes, Hikaru?"

"Shut up."

"Ohayou, Touya/Akira!" Akira's moment of waking was hailed by Shindou and Sai in unison. That's right, he remembered, spirits don't get tired, and they were probably waiting the entire time for him to finish sleeping. He was going to have to get used to this new loud presence in his normally quiet home.

"Ohayou," he replied, although given the dim sky outside it wasn't quite ohayou. Or maybe it was early morning after all? Given his weird sleep habits these past few days, he wasn't sure anymore.

He checked his watch to find it was early morning, which was still attached to his wrist because in his exhaustion he'd never bothered to take off his clothes, which he really needed to stop doing before it became a habit. As he unbuttoned and shrugged off his waistcoat, he contemplated how in the world he was going to get his matches back. It sure would be a huge problem if rumours started going about the Go pro community that he had fallen ill and cancelled several matches due to mourning for Shindou. In comparison to his actual friend Waya being present for matches, it would seem rather—

"TOUUUUYAAAA!" Shindou yelled at the top of his lungs, scaring Akira out of his wits.

"Shindou, you don't have to yell! What even is the matter?"

"Can you at least warn before you start stripping before my very eyes?" Shindou snarled, shielding himself from the sight.

Oh no, Akira sighed, not this again. He'd only just started unbuttoning his shirt. "I'm just changing clothes, for the love of god. You're acting really childish about this, you know. Haven't you even been in a boy's locker room before?"

"Of course I have, but this is like, up close and personal! I can't help but freak out."

"Look, Shindou," said Akira as he buttoned his shirt back up, blushing somewhat, "It's clear that you cannot leave my side for the foreseeable future, but I still need to dress and bathe even if I cannot leave your presence. It might be better for the both of us in the long run if we just tried to get used to that fact now."

"I guess that makes sense," said Shindou, still looking away. He sat crosslegged on the ground with his fists in his lap, looking quite tense. Then he looked up at Akira again. "But Touya, doesn't it bother you? Don't you need privacy?"

Akira laughed. "My family is stalked by paparazzi and everyone who cares about go has a need to know what's going on in my personal life. I didn't get much privacy to begin with. And I guess now that you and Sai are here I don't get to have it at all, not that it's your fault of course. So I guess I'm just used to not having a whole lot of privacy? So it's really not a big deal to me."

If anything, Akira thought to himself, what really bothered him at all was Shindou reacting with fear and revulsion to something as benign as the idea of him taking off his clothes. He honestly felt a little bit hurt.

He sat down at Shindou's goban and grabbed a fistful of white stones. "Let's nigiri," he said.

"Huh?"

"I'm changing the subject, since it makes you uncomfortable, so we're having the game you wanted. Just say odd or even."

"Oh!" said Shindou, brightening up and crawling toward the other side of the goban, "Even, then."

Akira counted out the stones. "Odd," he said, "I take black." He placed his first stone, a 3-4 point.

"The 3-4 point right there," said Shindou, pointing to said point with his finger, and Akira placed the white stone. "Wow, it feels weird to be on the other side of this. I wish I had Sai's fan for this, that would make me feel a lot cooler. Sai, can I have your fan? Is it even possible?"

"Absolutely not!" said Sai at Shindou's side, clutching the fan, "Knowing you, you'd accidentally make a tear in it." Shindou stuck out his tongue at him childishly.

"Can we please focus on the game here?" Akira softly interjected, having already placed his corner claim.

"Oh, sorry! Keima here."

"An approach already? I sense confidence in you, Shindou." He sent off a sequence of joseki that gave Shindou the corner and left himself with more influence on the center.

Once basic territory claims were made, the game began in earnest. Though Akira led the game, Shindou's moves were also quite solid, and Akira felt under pressure to keep up his lead. Occasionally, Shindou made a brilliant hand, emanating straight from a divine insight just out of his reach—the style of Sai. Sai had been teaching him, and it showed beautifully. This Shindou was not the helpless novice he crushed at the middle school tournament, nor was he the secret Sai who crushed him before—this was truly, uniquely Shindou's go, coming into its own.

Happiness bloomed within Akira. This was it—the game that he had been waiting for, the game he needed. Thanks to god this game could take place, that the chance to play Shindou's go hadn't been lost forever.

He realized his tears were falling, and wiped them from his face. Had Shindou seen that? He looked up at him. He was so deep in concentration that he saw nothing.

Ah! Shindou had sente, and he was leading him around the board! Akira had allowed his attention to lapse, and now Shindou was already starting to eat through his lead in points. He had to find some way to push him back, and quick—

The door slid open, so suddenly that Akira and Shindou jolted. Ah, it was only his father.

"Akira," otou-san said, "I was checking in to make sure you were alright." He invited himself in and had a look at the game. "This is the goban which Fujisaki-san brought, isn't it? What kind of game are you replaying?"

Akira tried to invent a plausible answer to that question but could come up with nothing. "Shindou," he directed a thought to him, "Any ideas?"

Shindou shrugged.

Otou-san knelt beside the board and pondered. Sai, who happened to be sitting in the same place, got very uncomfortable, huffed and crossed to the opposite side.

"Hmm," said his father, raising his eyebrows. "The style of white has an unmistakeable influence from Sai. The player is certainly not Sai, and certainly not as strong as Sai either; there are many years of experience behind Sai's moves which this player does not have. All of this gives rise to the strong impression that white is a young pro who is a student of Sai. And, of course, the strength of black can only be yours."

"Wow!" Hikaru exclaimed, "He got all that just from looking at the board?"

"His deductions are so close to the truth," said Sai, holding the end of his fan to the base of his lip.

His father noticed the remnants of tears on his son's face and gently wiped them away. He held his large hand on his shoulder for a moment, giving a slight, but heavy smile. Then he nodded, said, "If you feel up to it, you can join us for breakfast," got up and quietly left.

"What was that all about?" asked Shindou. "And wow, were you really crying during our game?"

Akira blushed and wiped at his cheeks. "Uh, never mind about that. Anyway, Otou-san appears to be under the impression that I am mourning by replaying a game with you. Since he doesn't know you're back, it's a reasonable assumption to make."

"So, shall we continue? It was your move."

Instead of playing his move, Akira simply gathered the stones and started to put them away. "I'm sorry, Shindou, but if someone walked in here again things might get even more complicated. Already, it's obvious to otou-san that white was you, and it's also improbable that I would even be able to replay a game against you seeing as we had no official matches against each other and we honestly didn't really interact."

Shindou grunted. "Yeah, you're right. It's best to keep a low profile about this, especially when your dad thinks you're sick and any babble about seeing ghosts would probably send you straight to a hospital."

"Ok, so let's head down to breakfast!"

Breakfast with his parents was silent and awkward. Normally, they would have asked him about goings-on at school or the institute, but since he wasn't going to either for the time being there was nothing to ask about. Meanwhile, Shindou gazed lustfully at the omelets, miso and natto of the household's traditional breakfast, that sadly he could never take part in eating. And Sai stared off out a window, his mind preoccupied by something. Sai had been rather quiet actually, Akira had realized. It made him a little worried.

He thought of something to say that broke the silence. "Otou-san, okaa-san, I was thinking. Do you remember when you played go online in the hospital?"

"Yes, I remember it," said otou-san, "What about it?"

"I was thinking I would play a little casual online go for the time being when I can't go to matches; I think it would make me feel a little better."

"Playing go online is only a mere shadow of playing go in person, in which you can actually know that person's identity and feel the stones. I will allow it, but warn that you should not allow yourself to become wrapped up in it, as what happens to some young insei and pros."

"Yes, otou-san," said Akira, groaning mentally. His father had to turn everything into some kind of teaching moment, especially when he did not need the lesson. "Anyway, it's not really for me, but for them," he added in his mind, directing his thoughts to Shindou and Sai.

"Really?" Shindou and Sai grinned with delight. Aside from Akira and each other, they hadn't been able to play anyone at all since their return to him. Akira was glad to see that it made Sai happy.

"Akira, thank you so much!" Sai squealed, hugging him, "You are so much nicer to me than mean Hikaru." Being hugged by a ghost did not feel like anything, nor had any momentum that pushed him around, as if the ghost was hugging a statue.

"Hey, don't be rude! The only reason why I stopped was because people all over the world became too curious about you, you know! I didn't want any complications." Shindou grumbled.

Unaware of the ghostly banter, his father asked, "Akira, do you feel ready to play against me in the mornings again? If you do not, please do not feel as if you should."

Akira nodded. Normally the two played a quiet game every morning when they got a chance, but the day after his father delivered the news, Akira found himself making a major self-atari and even being led into a ladder, losing the advantage of his handicap, and when he noticed, instead of playing his next stone he simply held it in the air, trembling until it slipped out of his fingers, and broke down into a quiet sob. His father cleared away the game and comforted him, and decided it would be best not to make him play morning games until he had time to heal.

It was his performance in this game that convinced Akira not to go to his match the day he met Akari-san, which was probably for the best, as performing badly in a game would probably draw more unwelcome attention from the go world than simply not showing up at all.

"Yes, otou-san," said Akira, "I feel ready." His father gave a warm smile, and after breakfast they departed to the study to play a game.

Akira found that he was playing as he usually did, with that time of emptiness behind him now that Shindou was back. After the game, Akira retreated to the household desktop computer to play online go.

Logging in alternately as 'sai' and 'hikaru', Akira allowed his companions to play game after game online, the two frequently fighting over who would get to play next. He recalled his own match against 'sai' online, and smiled at how far he had come since then, to finally understand who 'sai' was. During this time he even logged in as 'akira' and played a few games for himself.

After several hours of playing, Akira returned to his room and settled into a peaceful nap.

Chapter Text

Akira woke to the sound of muffled chatter through the walls. He looked out the window—it was evening. His father must have started the study session without him.

Akira headed out his room with intent to join the study session, but snatches of words made him change his mind.

“He was crying while replaying a game against Shindou earlier today,” said his father in the room over.

“The poor child,” came the emotional voice of Ashiwara-san, “Shindou-kun was very important to Akira-kun. It must be harder on him more than anyone else.”

“We played our first morning game in days,” said his father, “His strength in go has already returned. But I don’t want the pressure of professional go to have an adverse affect on him, so the matches will remain cancelled for the next week.”

“Sensei, I do not mean to argue,” said Ogata-san, “But I question if such a measure is truly necessary? You indicate yourself that he is starting to move forward, and he went out of his way to attend one of the cancelled matches.”

“I cancelled the matches out of concern for Akira’s health because he fainted the day before yesterday. My decision will not change.”

“But, as you said yourself, the boy says he is not sick. Why don’t you believe him?”

“Akira has a will forged of such tempered steel that when his mind is set, he will not allow himself to rest no matter how much he needs it. Now, Ogata-kun, you should be worried less about Akira and more about yourself, for if you’re not careful, even Ashiwara-kun will overtake you. He has been making great leaps in progress lately!” 

“H-hey, ‘even Ashiwara-kun’?” said the flustered younger pro, “Just what do you mean by that, sensei?”

“He means that out of a stroke of dumb luck, even a mediocre 4-dan such as yourself is encroaching on the skill of a titleholder.” drawled the Juudan.

“Ogata-kuuuun!” Ashiwara-san whined, “You didn’t have to be mean!”

“One more affectionately drawn out ‘Ogata-kun’ coming from you and I will single-handedly end your career in professional go.”

Akira decided to ignore the go pro domestics and slip into the kitchen for some snacks.

“I just realized, that Ashiwara acts like our age, while you act like his age!” said Shindou, smirking.

“Don’t rub it in. Also, he’s still a -sensei to you, get in the habit of using honorifics.”

“Does it really matter at this point? No one is going to hear how I talk but you and Sai.”

“So? It’s still rude.” Akira tossed an omelet and bowl of miso soup from that morning into the microwave, and found a can of soda he’d stashed way in the back of the fridge a while ago away from the prying eyes of his mother.

“Why is your microwave behind the fridge?” asked Shindou.

“Otou-san thinks it’s ugly. ‘unbecoming of a traditional household’, he says.” He rolled his eyes and cocked both index and middle fingers when repeating this phrase. “He gives us weird looks whenever okaa-san or I use it.”

“Really, why? Microwaves are so convenient.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, he wears only kimono every day of his life.”

“Good point.”

Akira retrieved his soda, and his heated snacks from the microwave and turned to leave the kitchen.

“So a microwave is not ‘traditional’ enough, but a fridge is ok?”

“Don’t try to make sense of my father’s home decoration logic,” said Akira, “He’s probably just biased because he grew up with a fridge but not a microwave.”

“I call today’s session to an end. Thank you all for coming, and I hope to see you all next time.” came the sound of his father’s voice as Akira returned in the direction of his room, followed by the shuffles and clatters of several people getting up and getting their things together to leave. Akira slipped behind his door to avoid being seen, mostly because he just didn’t want to get caught in a conversation.

“Except you, Ogata-kun.”

When the last of his father’s students had departed, Ogata-san remained.

“I will be straightforward, Ogata-kun: I don’t believe you when you act concerned about my son.”

The Juudan did not reply.

“Your utter lack of responsibility is the reason why my son is mourning, so when you act concerned, it’s hypocritical. Your actions don’t match your words.”

“I accept responsibility for the incident. I paid the hospital bills, funeral expenses and fines in full. I donated 300 thousand additional yen to the family after those expenses as an apology.”

“None of that changes the fact that what you did was completely preventable. You drove drunk, Ogata-kun. You drove drunk and killed a child.” Otou-san’s voice wavered with those last words. Akira had never heard anything like it before.

Akira looked at Shindou, who simply stared into space, mouth agape. “Shindou, are you alright?”

“So he was the one who…”

“You didn’t know?”

“I couldn’t get a good look at him.”

“And furthermore,” continued his father, “You call it an ‘incident’. As if it were just something that happened. When you could have prevented it so easily. Seriously? Driving drunk, Ogata-kun? You are a smart man, you clearly know better than that.”

“I don’t know what you expect me to do about it now, sensei. He’s already dead and can’t be brought back. I’ve already done what I can for his family, unless you want me to give a hundred thousand yen to Akira-kun as well.”

“Akira doesn’t need your money. In fact, that’s another thing I wanted to address. I cannot believe the phenomenal amount of money you paid people just to keep the go institute and press quiet about your negligence and keep yourself out of jail. You claim to accept responsibility for killing Shindou-kun, but you aren’t honest about it. Your heart isn’t in it. It is clear to me from your actions that you care more about your reputation than about the boy you killed.”

“So, what would you have done in my place?”

“I would have not gone out driving after drinking in the first place, but even if we left that aside, I still would not have bribed everyone to stay quiet. And if I could never continue with my career, then so be it.

There was a pause as Ogata-san said nothing. 

“I have a hard time believing that you are my student, with the way that you regard this poor boy’s death as a mere inconvenience, and analyze Akira’s mourning as a set of isolated symptoms with no context. It’s as if the part of a person that makes one care for others is missing in you, so that the only person you care about is you, and that’s why I don’t believe you when you act concerned about my son. For all of this, if I quit as your teacher, I would be completely justified.”

There was another brief pause.

“That’s all I have to say,” his father said, “Go home now. I don’t know why I’m even keeping you as a student.”

Ogata-san approached the front door, and just as he had donned his shoes and began to cross the threshold, otou-san called out one last thing after him:

“Maybe the reason why I have not quit as your teacher is because I still cling to the hope that there is a shred of humanity in you.”

After a final pause, the Juudan shut the door behind him and left.

Akira slid his door shut and collapsed into the chair at his desk, in a light sweat, his fingers to his temple, overwhelmed by what he had heard. If everything his father said was true, then Akira would never be able to look at Ogata-san the same way again.

He looked over at Shindou to see how he was holding out. Shindou was leaning against the wall, eyes wide, still staring off into space. Sai watched him solemnly.

“He… that guy was the one who sponsored me for the insei program…” stuttered Shindou, his voice wavering. Sai embraced and comforted him.

“Shindou…” said Akira, tears welling in his eyes, “I’m so sorry.”

“Alright, Shindou, it’s time for you to face your fears,” said Touya as he folded and put away the futon the following morning.

Hikaru raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean, Touya?”

“I hate sleeping in my clothes, and I need to take a shower eventually. That time is now. Come on, let’s go.”

“Right! Okay! This isn’t a big deal at all!” said Hikaru, trembling with anticipation, banishing the mental images from his head. Just what was this Touya that he could flaunt around the idea of him being naked so nonchalantly?

“You are really casual about this,” said Hikaru trailing behind Touya to the bathroom, “What are you, some kind of exhibitionist?”

Touya aggressively slapped both of his palms to his face and groaned into them. “Shindou, have you never been to a public bath before? Or a hot springs?”

“Yes. Once. With my parents and grandpa, when I was very little.”

Touya sighed as they entered the bathroom. “This is going to be very difficult,” he said as he started to unbutton his shirt.

“TOUYA!! WARN FIRST!” shouted Hikaru, throwing out his hands and turning himself away to shield himself from the inevitable. At this rate the guy was going to murder him!

To distract himself once again from intrusive thoughts of an exposed Touya, Hikaru glared furiously at the wood-paneled walls of Touya’s spacious, ridiculously traditional bathroom. It was one of those larger ones with an entrance area for undressing in, with the actual shower and bath area just ahead. And of course Touya’s household did not have a shower cabinet, like he had at home—the actual shower was one of those ones where you sat down on a stool next to the bath, without a curtain, completely exposed to whatever unfortunate ghost boy had to watch.

The sound of Touya’s footsteps toward the shower. Yep, he was probably unclothed at this point. And now the sound of the shower running. Yep, he was definitely, absolutely unclothed at this point! Touya was nonchalantly taking a shower only a couple of meters away from him! And a shower, as everyone knows, is only the beginning of other things! Ahahahaha! His mind depicted everything! Why did it have to do that? Hahahahaha! He was going completely insane!

“What are you laughing about?”

What? Hikaru looked up in confusion. Had he been laughing out lou—

And that was how he got a whole eyeful of stark naked Touya.

For a moment Hikaru just stared, transfixed, frozen. Touya stared back, flushed in the cheeks. 

Then Touya regained his serious expression, though still a bit pink in the face. “So, this is what me naked looks like,” he said, annoyed, finishing his shower and getting up. “Are you happy now, Shindou?”

Hikaru stared after him as Touya went to get a towel to dry up and wrap around his waist.

Sai, completely unaffected whatsoever by the sight and more amused by Hikaru’s antics than anything else, tapped him on the shoulder. “Hikaru? You alright? Are you broken?”

From the confused mess of emotions that rendered him inert, Hikaru came out with one thing. “What’s the big deal!?” he said, throwing up his hands, “There’s not much to even see!”

At this, Touya frowned, huffed and turned to leave, picking up his clothes for the laundry.

“What’s he upset about now?” Hikaru muttered to Sai as they followed him out, “I stopped making a big deal about it.”

Sai shook his head with his fingers to his temple. “Oh, Hikaru,” he simply said.

 

Chapter Text

With a long, determined drag on his cigarette, Ogata Seiji paged once again through the online game history, and leaned back in his seat. He'd already analyzed each sgf file carefully and confirmed them to be the handiwork of that same elusive Sai, and not an impersonator.

But it didn't make sense.

Seiji had already tried putting the pieces together several times before, and could only come to one conclusion that could potentially explain everything:

  • how Akira could be so overwhelmed and intimidated by Shindou after playing him twice in the salon, especially when the boy himself had said he had never played go before
  • why Akira did not hesitate to skip a pro exam match just to play Sai
  • Shindou's remarkable performance against Touya-sensei with the self-imposed handicap, that turned out upon closer inspection to be the spitting image of Sai's go when the handicap was factored in
  • and of course, that incident in the hospital with Shindou, when he had found him talking to Touya-sensei about setting up the match with Sai, and Shindou's denial of everything and fleeing when he confronted him.

When he took all of the factors into consideration, Shindou could not simply be an ordinary boy who happened to know Sai. How could Sai play for him in the go salon, or on camera in the Yuugen no Ma, with everyone present believing it was Shindou who was the one playing? Seiji had carefully watched and rewatched the video recordings of the match in the Yuugen no Ma for signs of any hidden device Shindou might have used to discretely contact Sai, but there was nothing.

Thus the only explanation Seiji had ever been able to come up with was that Shindou was himself Sai. This of course begged the question as to where Shindou got his ability from, and why Shindou would hide his ability and pretend to be mediocre, and very convincingly at that, although his lies were terrible.

But he did not hide his ability well enough—an analysis of every kifu he could find of Shindou's games, aside from the match against Touya-sensei, revealed that although the part he played in those games was that of a young insei or a new pro, Sai was still hidden in his moves. If he didn't know any better he would have thought that Shindou was Sai's student.

In this way, the theory that Shindou and Sai were somehow different people who were close returned. He had shown the kifu before, without any names, to strong friends of his who did not play NetGo and knew nothing of Sai or Shindou. They had all told him essentially the same thing: Sai was a master with many years of experience and an extensive familiarity with archaic styles of go, especially that of Shuusaku, while Shindou was a young player who knew only modern go, but learned from Sai. No one ever suspected that the two players could be the same person.

From looking at the kifu and nothing else, Shindou and Sai as different people who were close was a perfectly logical conclusion to make. But that still did not explain how this boy could play Sai's moves with his own hand with no apparent assistance—especially during those first games in which he crushed Akira when Shindou apparently knew nothing about go, and he was back to square one again.

That was before the incident.

Seiji had worried that the secret of Sai had gone to the grave with Shindou, but he also had the opportunity to hear his last words, if they were good for anything at all.

"'Sai, why, what. It hurts. Sai, will I wake up? Touya.'" Seiji repeated to himself, like a riddle.

To most people, it might have just sounded like the confused babble of a boy dying of a traumatic brain injury, and maybe it was, but what if he really were, at least in his dying mind, speaking to Sai?

Either way if Shindou honestly believed he were Sai, he would never use his name as if he were addressing him like that, Seiji figured. Shindou had always insisted that he and Sai were different people, and in the moment of death, he appeared to believe it.

That of course raised the question—who, or what, was Sai, then? There was no way Shindou was literally speaking to Sai, was he? Shindou and Seiji were the only people present. So maybe Shindou was speaking more metaphorically, as if to god or to a memory, or maybe he was just hallucinating. In any case, he clearly addressed Sai as if he were a separate entity from himself in his moment of greatest distress, and that made the mystery all the more confusing.

And then, only this week, Sai returned. With the death of Shindou, Seiji didn't think it possible, but here he was on the go server, so maybe they were different people after all.

But of course, the question: how did Sai communicate his moves to Shindou discretely in the middle of a game in person? Telepathy? He smirked at the outrageous suggestion, but in the back of his mind he had honestly always wondered if maybe something supernatural really was going on. Was it impossible?

At that moment, he heard a cellphone buzz. Not his usual cellphone, but the one on its charger stashed with the rest of the electronics on his desk. A lead?

A couple years ago when Sai was still a new presence on the net, Seiji had put up a small webpage about the mystery, asking for anyone with any clues to contact a secondary phone number or email. The site got some traffic mostly from NetGo players before Sai disappeared and interest died down, and occasionally he even received a call or email, but they were all dead ends.

Seiji picked it up. Some guy ranting about how he met a young Shuusaku. Of course, he'd gotten calls before from people claiming to have met someone who played like Sai, but they turned out to have simply met a skilled player who didn't necessarily play like Shuusaku and not known what they were talking about.

Now the man was asking him if he were in the Tokyo area so that they could meet up. Why not? If he was so close by, it shouldn't hurt to check it out. He accepted, and the man gave him an address.

Seiji grumbled as he left his apartment and walked to a bus stop. His license had been suspended indefinitely for the foreseeable future. Hitting Shindou was one of the most expensive mistakes he had ever made, and his car was but one of the many amenities he had to sell to pay for it.

Why did the kid have to suddenly turn around in the middle of the road without warning? Seiji gritted his teeth and glared at the image of Shindou in his mind. If only the stupid brat had simply continued crossing at his pace, he might have missed him, and none of this would have happened.

Why did he turn around in the road so suddenly, anyway? Seiji struggled to recall the scene with any clarity, without success. Maybe if he were a little more sober. Frankly, the only reason why he could remember Shindou's last words in the first place were because he heard him say Sai's name, catching his attention.

He'd probably just forgotten something in whatever building he came from and immediately decided, in the middle of the road, to return. Shindou was an impulsive idiot like that.

After the bus ride, Seiji carefully navigated the streets in search of the address given to him. A couple of abandoned buildings, a ramen house, a seedy-looking bar. Not exactly the most prestigious place in town, he thought.

He found the exact address. A bar? The man specifically indicated to go downstairs. What could possibly be down there? He headed below and entered. A rather sketchy-looking go salon, mostly empty save for a couple of middle aged men playing, a quiet old mustache'd fellow reading a newspaper behind the counter and one other crude-looking stocky guy in the corner, puffing on a cigarette. The man with the cigarette took notice of him and waved. Must be the guy who called. Seiji paid his fee and joined the fellow at the table.

"There you are! You must be the fellow from the webpage." said the the man. "You look a lot classier than I expected, for some reason. You can call me Dake." He crushed the butt of his cigarette in an ash tray and pulled a pack from his pocket. He presented the pack to Seiji. "Want one?"

Seiji cringed at the Casters. "Thank you, but I have my own." He retrieved his own pack of Larks and pulled out a cigarette of his own.

"Suit yourself," said Dake, as he flicked his lighter to light his own cigarette. Then his eyes grew wide. "Wait, I know you! You're the new Juudan! It is an honor to meet you. Ogata-juudan, was it? Congratulations on your title." He reached forward to light Seiji's cigarette.

"Thank you, Dake-san," said Seiji.

Dake-san casually blew a cloud of smoke into the air, pondering. "I didn't know that professionals of your stature even played online go. With your strength, wouldn't it be a waste of your time?"

"I used to occasionally, when I had more time. These days, I just watch whenever Sai comes on. What about you?"

"I don't play online Go either, but my niece does. If I knew anything about computers, though, I might. It was my niece who found your website. It reminded her of that Shuusaku boy I'd told her about, so she showed it to me. Since we're here, by the way, would it trouble you to play a game with me? I would feel greatly honored. A six stone handicap should be enough." He took the black goke and began laying out the stones with his left hand.

"How did you meet the Shuusaku boy?" asked Seiji, playing the first white move, wanting to skip the idle talk and get right to the point.

"Well, there was this little brat who liked to come here and cheat for money, so I was hired by Shuu-san to teach him a lesson. That was a couple years ago."

A cheater? Interesting. "What was the exact timeframe, and what did the kid look like?" asked Seiji.

"It might have been late April or May. He had suspenders and reddish hair, if I recall correctly."

So after the school year began, but before the middle school tournament, and the cheater was not Shindou. Maybe one of his friends? "Was he wearing a Haze school uniform?"

"Hell if I know? I don't keep track of what uniform each middle school has. Do you?"

Seiji furrowed his brow in annoyance at the question. "I happen to have a little off-hand familiarity. That's besides the point, so please continue with your story."

"Right, ok then. Anyway, this wasn't the Shuusaku boy I was going to tell you about, although he was honestly pretty good for a kid so I don't get why he felt the need to cheat."

"I figured. Go on with your story."

"So the cheater arrived and I challenged him to a game for ten thousand yen, and I beat him fair and square. Of course, I mean his definition of fair, as I only used the same tricks he did on other people. So while we were playing this game, this other kid had come to watch, and when I won and the cheater was a few yen short, he borrowed the money from him, paid me, and ran out."

"This other boy, was he the Shuusaku?"

"Yes he was. The boy challenged me to a game for ten thousand yen to return to his friend, and when I asked him how good he was, he said 'I don't know, probably as good as Honinbou Shuusaku.'"

"I can imagine you laughed when he said it."

"Of course I did! So I played him with my left hand and no handicap."

"Do you not usually play with your left hand?"

"I do, but for this one time, when the cheater came in, I played clumsily with my right and acted really drunk. Then when we were well into the game and he was ahead, I turned it around and beat him easily."

Seiji raised an eyebrow. That reminded him of Kuwabara Honinbou's dirty mind tricks. In fact, now that he thought about it, he, like Kuwabara, also looked kind of like a monkey. Maybe they were related. "So you lured the boy into playing with you for ten thousand yen by pretending to be an easy target? Isn't that really tricky even for him?"

"Maybe, but it's not against the rules of go so I'm not worried about it."

Seiji doubted that Dake was being entirely honest about his part in the story, but it didn't really matter. "Whatever, it's besides the point. Tell me more about the Shuusaku kid. How was his game?"

"His playing was incredible! The boy had me cornered at every turn and I was forced to resign early in the game and pay him the ten thousand. None of the go friends I've told believe me, but I study ancient kifu and that game was the style of Shuusaku. Even people who study and emulate the old-fashioned techniques cannot help but incorporate some modern go into their play, but this was exactly Shuusaku. I can't remember the entire game but I can show you bits and pieces if you'd like."

"It's not necessary, I believe you. What was the boy's name?"

"I don't know. I didn't get his name."

Seiji slapped his hand on the table and raised his voice. "You met a kid who played exactly like Honinbou Shuusaku and you didn't GET HIS NAME?"

"Sheesh, with all due respect, quiet down! The boy ran out of there really fast, and I was so shocked that it didn't occur to me to ask. I asked Shuu-san and he never got his name either."

"Fine. What did the boy look like, then?"

"He had bleached hair."

"Can you be a little more specific? There are lots of kids who bleach their hair." It was probably Shindou, but he wanted to be absolutely sure this man knew what he was talking about.

"His hair was long and bleached in the front and short in the back, and he wore a generic button up black school uniform. I'm sorry, he didn't have any other distinctive features. Anyways, don't you bleach your hair?"

"My hair is natural," Seiji grumbled as he swiftly killed the last of Dake's groups. One of his least favorite questions he got often.

"Ah, I see. Foreign, then?"

"I am naturally blond and Japanese," Seiji snarled through gritted teeth. Another frequent question he hated even more than the last. He was seriously getting fed up with this Dake-san. "You should have resigned a long time ago. All of your groups are dead and there is no hope for your victory at this point."

"I suppose you're right. I resign then," said Dake-san, as he cleared up the pieces. "You sure don't go easy on a poor old amateur like me!"

"I've never been good at shidougo. Not much of a teacher I guess. Just be glad you had a chance to play me at all." Seiji put out his cigarette in the ash tray.

"Of course I am! It has been an honor, though clearly I have a lot to learn before I have any chance against a titleholder." He put out his cigarette as well. "Anyway, do you have any other questions?"

"Did you spot any device on him that allowed him to receive moves broadcast from another person?"

"No, and believe me, I was watching him closely for any sign of cheating. His playing was honest, and as far as I could tell, the moves came from his own mind."

Just the same as in the Yuugen no Ma. He lit another cigarette. "Well, it would interest you to learn that I happened to meet a child exactly of your description. His name was Shindou Hikaru and I sponsored him for the the insei program, and he became a pro within a year."

"Oh? Well good for him, though I'm surprised he didn't create a stir in Go Weekly."

"That's because he hid his skill of Shuusaku as insei and shodan, and did not use it until his game against Touya-sensei in the shodan series." Seiji reached into his pocket and fished out a heavily creased page from Go Weekly and showed it to Dake. "At first, his playing here looks exceptionally poor, but if you re-examine the kifu and factor in that he was secretly imposing a 15-20 point handicap on himself, you'll see that his performance was actually quite remarkable, and smacks of a Shuusaku who learned modern joseki. Not many people noticed this."

Dake-san squinted at the kifu for a moment as he analyzed it. "You're right! Amazing that he could do so well against such a huge handicap. I sure would like to play him again."

"Then it would sadden you to learn that he is dead."

Dake stared at him, mouth agape, for a moment. "Dead, you say?"

"He was hit by a car over a week ago and didn't survive," said Seiji flatly. He dragged on his cigarette.

Dake gazed pensively at the empty goban before him. "That's really quite sad," he said. "I wonder who did it."

"It was never reported in media, so nobody knows. Quite a shame, really. I would have liked to have played him myself." He got up and pushed in his seat. "Well, unless you happen to know anything else about Shindou, it's time for me to get going."

"It was an honor meeting you and playing you, Ogata-Juudan!" said Dake, waving him goodbye, "I look forward to the next time!"

There wasn't going to be a next time, Seiji thought to himself as he departed, as he'd found out all he probably could from Dake-san, and none of it was absolutely groundbreaking information either.

Aside from the fact that he referred to himself as having the skill of Shuusaku, Seiji realized on the bus. All other times, Shindou consistently denied being Sai and denied having the skill of Sai. Even in his moment of death, he addressed Sai as if he were a separate entity. So what gives? If he really wasn't Sai, why openly pretend he was Sai once and then never do it again? And if he really was Sai, why admit it at first and then go to great lengths to hide it?

The man said this was in mid-late spring, so it was after Shindou had passed as a middle schooler at the winter tournament and then attended the middle school, but before the summer tournament. Seiji wished that kifu existed of the middle school tournaments, but they were never recorded.

Maybe Shindou had gotten wiser about making claim to his skill over time as he realized it led to trouble? That seemed like a reasonable enough explanation.

Seiji returned to his apartment deep in thought, and by force of habit, sat at his desk, which was currently cluttered mostly with printouts of Sai's games and selections of Shindou's kifu he'd managed to nab from Go Weekly or the institute. A couple books of classic games by Shuusaku lay at the side.

Dake had emphasized that the Shindou he saw played a perfect Shuusaku with no hint of modern go. Seiji had thought he'd already exhausted whatever he could find from analyzing early games by Sai, but maybe it was worth another look. He turned on the computer and reexamined the sgf's from that summer.

Indeed, the chronology showed that Sai used few modern joseki, and few conventional responses to modern moves, and relied more on classical techniques early on in that summer. Over time he began using the modern techniques more often and adopted more conventional responses, all without abandoning his classical ideas, instead adding the modern ideas to his repertoire. It was almost like he was learning modern go during that time.

Dake-san had said that even people who study ancient kifu and utilize the old techniques usually cannot help but have their modern training show through in a match against a modern opponent. But the Shuusaku he encountered used no modern techniques at all!

That was late spring before that same summer, consistent with the idea that Sai was learning modern go and did not know it originally. What kind of a go player only learned classical techniques first, and only started learning modern techniques after mastering the game to the point of being able to consistently beat not only Akira, but the best players on NetGO?

He went to the fridge for a bottle of beer as he pondered this question. Just what was this Sai? An echo from the past? And what did this thing have to do with Shindou?

Returning to his desk, he logged on to NetGO to check if Sai had been online, and indeed, he had played 3 matches today. The last one had ended while he was on the commute home. As was routine, he downloaded the sgf's for later analysis.

As Seiji moved to close out of NetGO, a familiar name in the online list caught his eye: 'hikaru' was online. He smirked to himself. Now he was seeing Shindou everywhere. Hikaru was a common name and so the fact that another person with the same name was online was not surprising.

He had a look at the game this Hikaru was actively playing anyway, just for kicks. This Hikaru, an unconfirmed 8dan in Japan, was battling it out as white against LL, a top amateur from China. The game so far was even, with komi, and both players played solidly. Either one could pass for a professional shodan or even a nidan.

Wait, that insight, a masterful hand from seemingly out of nowhere—it couldn't be. Was that a Sai's style move? He played back the game step by step. It was impossible. How could it…

He looked at the user's game history and found only three games including the current one, all from this past week (in contrast to seventeen this past week by Sai), and went through every game. It was impossible to deny. Each game had Sai in its moves. Each game was the spitting image of Shindou's kifu.

There was no way Shindou could still be alive. He had personally witnessed the unconscious boy flatline on his hospital bed, and both paid for and attended the funeral, and Akira had been invited to participate in the passing of the bones.

Seiji slouched back in his seat, mouth agape, glasses sliding halfway down his nose in a mixture of shock and a little horror. Another white stone appeared in the live game. How was it possible!? It could not be anyone other than Shindou, playing NetGO, right this very moment, from beyond the grave!

Chapter Text

The matchless week passed peacefully in the Touya household. Since he was being kept out of school also, Akira took the time to focus on missed schoolwork (“What’s the point?” complained Hikaru, “You don’t even need to go to high school!”) and especially to practice go.

They played against each other frequently (with Akira usually winning, but Hikaru was catching up handsomely) and had taken to arguing passionately about go strategy, which frequently devolved into arguing passionately about each other’s semantics, and then into arguing passionately about their arguing passionately about semantics.

Sai found these shouting matches worrying at first, that their relationship might have become stained with bad blood, but in reality when the two young pros were tired of yelling they got over whatever they were arguing about as quickly as they had started, and were back to being thick as thieves. One time, Akira was so exhausted that he even dozed off into a peaceful nap in the middle of Hikaru yelling at him. Was it to relieve tension? Was it for fun? Was it just their strange way of expressing affection for each other? Sai didn’t know, but it was cute to watch, albeit loud and annoying at times.

Akira also played against Sai to sharpen his skills, and Hikaru, too, occasionally made Akira place stones so Sai and Hikaru could play each other and see the stones on the board. Who would get the privilege of playing Sai became yet another topic of argument, so that Sai himself had to interject with the suggestion that they simply rock-paper-scissors for it. When Hikaru and Akira figured out how to exploit each other's’ non-randomness at rock-paper-scissors, they opted to decide through nigiri. Really, these two were a handful.

In an attempt to get Akira interested in things that were not go, Hikaru badgered him to go out and buy some manga and anime. Akira was willing to give manga a try, but said that anime was out of the question since he had no idea how he would explain it if his father saw him watching Dragonball Z on the tv.

When it came to manga, Akira immediately threw down Dragonball in distaste. Both Hikaru and Akira were not comfortable revisiting the beginning of Yu Yu Hakusho due to recent events. Akira found One Piece dull, the blood and mischief in Naruto to be crude (though Akira could not resist telling Hikaru that the obnoxiousness of the titular character in this work reminded him of Hikaru, much to the latter’s annoyance). He found the monsters of Inuyasha too creepy, and Yugioh too childlike for his taste. Finally, after Hikaru begged and pleaded him to look past the blood, he agreed to give Rurouni Kenshin a chance.

All of this was well and good and Sai was happy for them, but he could not escape the feeling that Hikaru was drifting away from him, paying more attention to Akira than to Sai, even though the two were always together at every moment. Often, Hikaru chatted with Akira as if Sai weren’t even there, and Akira, easily drawn in by Hikaru’s enthusiasm, developed the habit of doing the same.

Sai began to feel, almost as much as during those many dark, silent centuries in the goban, invisible and alone.

In the end he decided that Akira’s life was Akira’s, and Hikaru’s afterlife was Hikaru’s, and elected to not burden them with his tired feelings.

The week of cancelled matches finally passed, and Akira attended his first match in a while. Sai and Hikaru watched by Akira’s side enthusiastically with clenched fists, and Hikaru blurted out some advice, to which Akira hissed at him to be quiet. Clearly in excellent spirits, the young pro departed from the hall with a clean victory under his belt.

On the way out, Hikaru’s friend Waya spotted Akira and gave him a strange look. What was that child thinking now?

“Aughhhh, that Waya is really starting to piss me off!” Hikaru snarled, balling up his fists. “That’s it! I’m going to make you two talk and stop hating each other because this is getting out of hand.”

“But Shindou, I don’t even have anything against Waya-kun,” Akira pointed out—

“No buts! Tomorrow, you are talking to Waya!”

That following evening, after Akira went to sleep, Sai tried to engage Hikaru in conversation over blind go, but the boy simply glared at the empty board in deep concentration and did not register Sai talking to him.

“I’ll show that Waya who’s full of himself,” Hikaru grumbled as he thought about his next move. “There,” he said, pointing at 14-15.

“Um, Hikaru, there is already a stone there,” said Sai. As Hikaru had already played lots of blind go every night, this mistake happened much less often now, but tonight the boy was so wound up that he wasn’t retaining his image of the board as well as usual.

“Really?” said Hikaru, snapping out of his train of thought. He scrounged up his face in concentration as he tried to recall the flow of moves. “3-12, then.”

That move helped to make his stones live. Good, he wasn’t having difficulty with remembering the board, his mind was just so preoccupied that he couldn’t concentrate.

“Hikaru, do you want to stop playing? You seem distracted.”

“Nope, we’ll keep going until Touya wakes up,” said Hikaru, not looking up from the board. “Your move, Sai.”

Sai stated his move, and Hikaru pondered again.

Lately, when Akira slept, he would do nothing but play blind go, even when he was clearly tired of it. He would ignore conversation with Sai unless it was about go or Akira, and every time they ended a game, he would demand another, ad nauseam, until the sun rose. It was as if there was something on Hikaru’s mind that he wanted to keep himself from thinking about. Clearly it was something Hikaru had no intention of talking about with Sai, so he decided to not pry into it and allow him to deal with it himself.

The sun rose, and Akira began to stir from his sleep. “Wake up, Touya!” Hikaru called, and Akira whined unintelligibly in response before dragging himself out of his futon.

Sai cringed with embarrassment as he recalled how he himself used to badger Hikaru to wake up in the mornings. Now that he was watching Hikaru do it to someone else, he could really see now how annoying it must be for the living person. Hikaru didn’t seem to make the connection, though. He really was quite simple after all.

“No no no no, Touya!” Hikaru said after Akira had gotten ready, and the latter stopped in his tracks.

“What now, Shindou?”

“Those clothes. Take them off.”

Akira tensed up with embarrassment, red in the face. “Shindou!! Isn’t that a little forward?”

“Don’t be ecchi! I’m just saying you are not going to meet Waya wearing a yellow tie with a purple shirt.”

“But I like yellow and purple…” said Akira.

“Not together! Go! Back to the wardrobe!”

Akira begrudgingly returned to his closet, and after a few minutes of each of the alternative outfits he tried picking out being vetoed by Hikaru, he threw his own clothes off himself in frustration, shouting out loud, “Fine, Shindou! You dress me, then, because clearly I don’t know how to dress myself!”

“Oi, you exhibitionist, put your clothes back on!” Hikaru said, looking away.

“I am not an exhibitionist! You’re just immature!”

Sai sighed and put his fingers to his temple. They were at it again. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted something nice neatly folded in one of the many open drawers. “What about that hakama?” he suggested.

“No, Sai!” Hikaru responded before Akira could say anything, “His dad might be born in the wrong era, but he’s exactly in the time he belongs!”

“Hmph,” said Sai, resigning himself to the corner of the room, “Fine, continue bickering amongst yourselves.” What was the big deal anyway? So far as he was concerned, the strange fashion of this time looked all the same!

At last, Hikaru picked out for Akira a plain pale blue shirt and allowed him to get away with a deep blue tie, though in spite of the latter’s protests, he forbade a sweater vest.

On the commute into the city, Hikaru commented, “You know, Touya, your wardrobe would be fine, if only you would just learn how to coordinate colors.”

Akira frowned, but didn’t say anything.

“And lost all the sweater vests,” Hikaru continued, “Seriously! Why do you have so many of them?”

“They’re comfortable! And people keep getting them for me as gifts.”

Sai swatted the both of them on the head with his fan. “Honestly, you two, If you keep bickering about clothes, I will find a way to kill you both.”

Hikaru deftly dodged the fan and Akira, of course, felt nothing. “Fine, whatever,” Hikaru said. “At least I was here to save you from looking like an eyesore. We’re almost there to Waya’s place now.”

At last, they ascended the steps to Waya’s apartment, and Akira pressed in the buzzer. After a moment, Waya himself opened the door and his mouth fell open at the sight. “Touya! What are you doing here?”

Akira looked about his surroundings as he searched for words. “Um, uh..” “Shindou!” he addressed him in his mind, “What do I say?”

“Just tell him you want to be friends or something. Don’t worry about what he says, his bark is worse than his bite.”

“Ah, Waya-kun! I thought we’d go out and become friends!” Akira repeated.

Waya rased an eyebrow, clearly not convinced. “You? Make friends?”

Akira cringed with shame. “Shindou, what do I say now?”

“Honestly, Touya, learn how to lie! I can’t keep coming up with everything you say!” Akira rolled his eyes.

Waya’s eyes drifted down to the corner of the brightly colored volume poking out of Akira’s bag. “Manga?” he said.

“Uh, yeah,” said Akira, taking out the first tankoubon of Kenshin and showing it to him. He was about halfway through it.

“Huh, I didn’t think you were the type to read manga.”

“I don’t. I thought… well, Shindou liked it, so I thought I’d check it out.”

“Shindou…?” said Waya, an almost distant look on his face. He looked away for a moment, pondering. Then he crossed his arms and nodded. “Alright, Touya. I’ll go wherever you’re taking me.”

Hikaru directed Akira’s commute into Shinjuku, and Waya followed without a word. The air was tense between Waya and Akira, though they stood still beside each other on the train, and Sai watched with bated breath.

When the group finally approached their destination, Waya recognized the shop into which Akira was leading him. “Hey, this is my favorite sushi place! How did you know…?”

Akira tensed up. “Oh! Uh, Shindou told me,” he said.

“Ugh, this is bad. He really can’t lie, can he?” Hikaru said to Sai.

Sai nodded, as he had to agree. “Akira was raised by an honest man deeply concerned with honor. In all his life, Akira might not have ever had a good reason to lie, until now.”

“Shindou told you!?” said Waya, his eyes wide. “You mean, you two talked about me? When?” They took their seats at the bar, and Waya gazed at Akira, eyes wide.

“Touya! Try to change the subject!” Hikaru advised from the sidelines.

“Well,” Akira said, “Waya-kun, I hope you enjoy yourself, it’s all on me.”

“You’re really okay with that? This bar isn’t exactly cheap.”

“It’s fine!” said Akira, smiling, “Please, order as much as you want, to your heart’s content!”

Waya went ahead and ordered to his heart’s content, getting a plate here, a platter there, and a roll or two of each of his favorites, clearly exploiting his generosity. Akira slipped a nervous grin at Sai and Hikaru.

“Hm,” Waya grunted as he stuffed himself with eel, “I guess you’re really not so bad. Maybe I was wrong about you.”

“Yes, I want to say sorry for whatever I might have done to give you a bad impression of me.”

“Nah, that’s all in the past now. Try the eel nigiri. They make the best here.”

Akira gently bit on the end of eel.

“I saw you didn’t go to any matches this whole week,” said Waya, stopping for a moment. “It made me start to realize some things, and then I heard about you participating in the passing of the bones… I had no idea about you and Shindou. I’m sorry I yelled at you.”

“I saw you went to yours,” Akira said, “You must be very strong to be able to do that, after what has happened. After all, he was your friend.”

Waya looked away from Akira, and picked up the sculpted mound of wasabi from his plate. “No, Touya. I’ve been losing all my matches. Making stupid mistakes I wouldn’t have made before. I wish I could be that strong, but I’m not.”

Akira gazed away at Hikaru, who looked down at his hands. It must be very difficult for them both, Sai thought.

Waya continued, examining the wasabi in his fingers. It was shaped like a leaf, the veins traced in with a toothpick. “You don’t realize it until he’s gone, just how important he was. He was like the glue that held everything together. He took some of the tension out of go and made it fun.”

Waya paused in contemplation, and Akira watched him in silence. “You know, during the pro exam, he was really intimidated by this big beardy guy, so we took him out to go salons all over the city to play old dudes. He got so into it, and made friends with this taxi driver, and it turned out the bearded guy wasn’t so bad after all, and they became friends! It really was a lot of fun.”

Sai could see that tears were starting to well at Waya’s eyes.

“He really didn’t know anything at all about professional go, but now that I reflect on it, I prefer it that way. He was rude, ignorant and naïve, but that made go fun for me.” Darkness in his eyes, he looked Akira in the face. “Honestly? If I hadn’t met Shindou, I don’t know if I would have passed the exam. And If I hadn’t, I would have quit.”

Sai looked down at Hikaru, who still didn’t move, just gazing down at his lap.

Waya crushed the wasabi in his fist, tears running down his cheeks. “I’m such an idiot, aren’t I!? My strength isn’t even my own, it came from one guy. Then he dies, and I can’t even hold myself up in a match. It was Shindou’s strength that won me the exam, and I’m disappointing him.”

Sai saw that Hikaru was shaking, clenching his fists in his lap. He too, was crying.

Waya opened his fist and stared at the crushed green paste in his palm. Breaking into sobs, he closed his fist again, and Akira put an arm around his shoulder. Waya pulled him into an embrace and sobbed into his shirt.

“I’m so stupid, so weak! What if he can see me like this? I’m supposed to hate you and I can’t even hold myself together! What would Shindou say, to see angry, rude Waya such a mess?”

“You’re not stupid, Waya,” Hikaru said, and he got up from beside Sai to approach them. Akira watched him over Waya’s shoulder. Waya, of course, could not hear him.

“Shindou’s watching over us right now, and he doesn’t think you’re stupid, Waya-kun,” said Akira.

“But I made a self atari that lost me a whole third of the board! Just who does that!? I shouldn’t even be a pro!”

“Me, Waya,” said Akira, “I didn’t go to my match because I did just the same as you.”

“Waya, listen!” Hikaru cried at his ear, “If you can hear me at all, if you can feel even a little bit of my presence, I need you to know that you are not weak!”

“Why did it have to happen?” Waya continued, sniffing, and leaving streaks in Akira’s shirt, “Why that way? Why now?”

“Waya, you have to stop!” Hikaru said, “Please, stop! Stop worrying about me!”

“How do you do it, Touya?” said Waya, “How do you pick yourself up again, knowing that he is gone, and that will never change?”

“WAYA! I’M RIGHT HERE!” Hikaru yelled, through tears, “I’M RIGHT HERE, PLEASE HEAR ME!” Hikaru tried to grab Waya’s shoulder, but passed through it, touching nothing.

Hikaru spoke now to his shaking hands. “I’m so close to you! I’m right here and I want to say anything to help you, but I can’t.” He dropped to his knees, face in his hands, nothing more to say.

Akira simply held Waya tight for a moment, letting him cry it out.

Finally, Waya pulled away, wiping his face. He saw the stains on Akira’s shirt. “Sorry about messing up your shirt,” he said.

“It’s perfectly ok, I don’t mind.”

Waya chuckled at himself a little bit. “It’s funny, isn’t it? Supposedly, I think you’re some stuck-up rich snob, but here I am, crying into your shoulder. I wonder what Shindou would say.” He rubbed at his eyes. “Ow, wasabi in my eye. Shouldn’t have smushed it. That was dumb.”

“You’re not alone, Waya-kun,” said Akira, “You see, it was Shindou who motivated me to take the exam. Before I met him, I was putting off taking the exam, even though I had the skill. I had no direction, no motivation, and then he appeared. He said he wanted to catch up to me in go, so I decided to lead the way.”

Akira looked past Waya straight at Hikaru, who lifted his face from his hands and met his gaze. “You’re not weak, Waya,” he said, “Shindou was very special to all of us. He had a way of bringing out the strength in everyone. He brought it out in me, and he brought out the strength in you. I feel that he is watching over us right now, and what he wants for you is to cherish that strength, and be happy. If not for yourself, then for him.”

Waya and Hikaru both gazed into Akira’s face, touched by these words.

Waya took a deep breath and stood up. “Hm. Yeah, I guess you’re right.” He motioned to the remaining sushi on the bar before him. “Wanna take any of this home?”

“It’s alright, you can have it,” said Akira as he counted out the bill, and Waya had the rest of his sushi packed up.

“Hey, you know,” said Waya on their way home, a bag of plastic boxes in hand, “I guess I should say thanks. I mean, not just for the sushi.”

“It’s alright, I understand. You really needed someone to talk to,” Akira said.

“Yeah, I guess I did,” Waya took a deep breath, and gave a little smile. “I never thought I’d say this, but you’re actually really awesome, Touya.”

“Really?” Akira looked back towards Waya, a little pink in the cheeks.

“Yeah! You must be hurting more than any of us, and still you’re holding yourself together so much better than me. You are incredibly strong to be able to do that.”

Akira gave a weak smile. “I’m really not, but thanks.”

“I really mean it! It’s like Shindou’s strength is within you. Even now, he’s still guiding you.”

Both Hikaru and Akira stopped in their tracks when they heard these words, and Sai shared their astonishment. This insightful child was so close to the truth!

“Yeah,” said Waya, as he started to turn toward his own way home, “I guess I gotta find that guidance for myself, too. So if you ever feel down, Touya, remember I told you that. Anyway, I have to go this way home. Later!”

On the train back to Akira’s home, Hikaru was silent again. He looked away from Akira and Sai at the passing scenery, but when Sai leaned to have a good look, he saw that his face beared only a sullen frown and tired eyes that conveyed emptiness.

Even when they returned home, Hikaru did not respond to any attempts to communicate, until finally, a concerned Akira suggested that they play go before he went to bed, and he agreed. Face still empty, he pointed at his moves, showing none of the enthusiasm that he really did.

“Here, really? That does nothing but allow me to strengthen my shape,” said Akira, and Sai agreed. Akira had a clear upper hand, but Hikaru did not flinch at it. What was making him slip this time?

“Fine,” said Hikaru, “Screw the ko.” He pointed to his next move, making tenuki and abandoning his group to death. Sai noticed a solid threat he could have made for the ko, but Hikaru never saw it.

Akira placed the stone, and raised his face to him. “Shindou, is something wrong? You seem rather upset.”

“I’m fine,” said Hikaru, “Just worry about taking the ko.”

Akira connected the ko. “If there is something on your mind that’s bothering you, you can talk to me about it.”

“I don’t want you to worry about me, Touya,” Hikaru said, clenching his fists in his lap.

“Well, Shindou,” said Touya, glaring and getting impatient, “when you won’t tell me what’s going on, what do you expect me to do?”

“There is nothing you can do!” Hikaru yelled, “It’s not something you can do anything about, and it’s not something you’d be able to understand anyway, so stop worrying!”

Akira stared, eyes wide at Hikaru, taken aback by his outburst. Hikaru leaned back away from the goban, looking off to the side.

“I resign.”

“Huh?”

“The game is over. You win. Clear the stones.”

Akira dutifully cleared the stones, eyes cast downward. Hikaru’s performance in this game was so poor that normally he would have resigned several moves ago, Sai noticed, but he had drawn this one out for some reason. He would just start a new one if he wanted to continue playing, so why?

Hikaru sighed. “Sorry I yelled at you, Touya. It’s really not your fault.”

“It’s okay. Want to go again?”

“No, that’s it. Go to bed.”

Akira nodded and crawled into the futon, and Hikaru remained by Sai next to the goban, as was routine. He turned back towards Akira and added another thing.

“You know what I want you to do?”

Akira raised his head.

“I just want you to live. Play games, have fun, be happy. So don’t worry about me, okay? Have a good night’s sleep.”

Akira pondered for a moment, before at last saying, “Good night, Shindou,” turning out the light and going to sleep.

When they were both sure Akira was asleep, Sai softly said, “Alright, Hikaru, ready for more blind go?”  wanting to be sensitive to his troubled feelings.

Hikaru shook his head. “Nah, I’m tired of blind go,” he said, which, given his growing mental fatigue with the practice these past days, Sai had expected. He had gone out of his way to wear himself out on blind go, but why?

“I can tell, Hikaru,” said Sai, “You have been forcing yourself to play for a while now. Is there something you’re trying to get away from?”

Hikaru’s downcast gaze travelled away from Sai across the floor. He took a deep breath. “Seeing Waya was a mistake.”

Indeed, during the meeting with Waya Hikaru had clearly become quite destraught, and his spirits hadn’t lifted since. Sai suspected that there was more to it than the one meeting. “How so, Hikaru?”

“It’s been bugging me for a while, but after I saw Waya, it really hit me. They’re in a different world from me now. They will never hear me, or see me, or touch me, and there is nothing I can do for them. I can never see Waya, or Akari, or my parents or anyone else again.”

Sai never had Hikaru’s experience of standing before his loved ones, yet being separated from them; nor did any attachments to the people of his life a thousand years ago yet remain, especially after his exile from both the Fujiwara house and the court, leaving him alone at his moment of death.

All he could do now was place a hand on Hikaru’s shoulder, to comfort him with his presence, if not his warmth. How strange it was that even after all these centuries, the habits of the living still lingered in him.

“How do you do it, Sai?” Hikaru continued.

Sai raised his eyebrows. “What do you mean?” he asked.

“This existence. This lingering. How do you tolerate it, Sai?”

Sai touched his fan to his heart and cast his eyes downward. Of course, he’d overlooked it! Being torn from life and forced into this new existence was taking its toll on him. Sai felt guilty for not paying closer attention to how Hikaru was holding out.

How did he tolerate it? That was a good question, and honestly, he didn’t know the answer. It felt to him as if he didn’t have to tolerate his ethereal existence. How did a living person tolerate being alive? They didn’t, they just simply were alive.

“I just simply am, Hikaru,” Sai said.

“What does that mean?”

Sai pondered deeply as he tried to search for the words to explain what he meant. “I’ve existed for a thousand years, so my memories of the past are very faint. I can only recall recollections of them, so that I am not sure what I felt in the past anymore. I’ve been a ghost so long that I hardly remember how it feels to be anything else.”

Hikaru stared down at his hands, and tapped the tips of his fingers together. He said, “I think I’m starting to forget how it feels, myself. How it’s like to sleep, to eat, to be warm, to touch the stones. It’s all slipping away.”

Sai cast his gaze towards the goban and goke. He had forever ago passed longing to hold the stones, and now longed to remember how it felt to hold them.

“I don’t think I’m cut out for this, Sai. I know you and Touya can see me, but I still feel like I’m not really here. Like, what happens when Touya gets older? How can we be close when he’s old and I just stay a kid?”

“And what happens when time is up for him?” Hikaru continued, voice wavering, “Do I just go back to the goban and wait, ten years, a hundred, ten hundred? How can I continue to exist when everything I care about is gone?”

Sai pulled Hikaru into his empty embrace and allowed him a moment of silence. “I can’t do this, Sai!” Hikaru said, “I’m not like you! I can’t exist without the people I know. Without Touya, without Akari, without Waya, without any of them, there is no point in playing go. I don’t love go the way you do, so why? Why am I here?”

Sai sometimes wondered why for himself. Over long, lonely centuries of darkness and silence he dreamed in the limbo of the goban, waiting for something, anything, to exist. And then, finally, the voice of a small child. Torajirou from then on became his life, and then Hikaru after. He’d long believed that he lingered in the world to play the divine move, but sensed that this was no longer possible for him, and may have never been part of the plan for him in the first place. Did he really exist, then, for Torajirou and Hikaru?

“I don’t want to go back there,” Hikaru said, almost as if he’d read his mind, “To that nothingness in the goban. I know it was only a week, but each day felt like a century.

“You know what I felt in there, Sai? I felt Akari, and then I felt Touya. I couldn’t see them or hear them, but I could feel how full of sorrow they were, how torn apart. I had never known them that way before.

“Touya was dead inside, Sai. It was the most horrible feeling I ever had. I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t leave him like that.”

Sai pulled him tight. “Maybe that’s why you’re here, Hikaru. Maybe you’re here for him.”

Hikaru looked up at Sai, his face red and raw.

Sai put both his hands on Hikaru’s shoulders, and looked him in the eyes. “Hikaru, in order to find happiness, you must forget the past, and forget the future. You have to exist, each moment on, in the present, and enjoy it while it lasts. If not for yourself, than for Akira. Can you do that? Can you exist for Akira?”

Hikaru gave a small smile towards the sleeping figure in the futon, and wiped a tear from his eye.

“I… I think I can try. Thank you, Sai.”

Chapter Text

Hikaru took Sai’s words to heart, and tried to exist in every moment for Touya. In the day, he entertained Touya in conversation and enjoyed go with him, though of course when discussing the game Touya always found a way to get under his skin with his nitpicking, without fail. Hikaru was honestly beginning to wonder if Touya just liked to argue with him for the sake of arguing, but he humored him anyway, throwing snappy comebacks until his companion was too tired to continue.

It did feel to him, honestly, as if Touya had such a small amount of energy. He could only talk or play games for so long before he needed to sleep, which he seemed to do constantly. Though in reality Touya slept no more than the average person, next to Hikaru’s restless existence, he still seemed to tire so easily, facing Hikaru with the vulnerability, the needy nature of being alive, something which until now he hadn’t thought about before.

And in his sleep, with a corner of the blanket bunched in his fingers, his eyes with their long lashes peacefully closed, his chest calmly rising and falling with his breath, Touya was as precious as life was fragile. Maybe there was no need for Hikaru to escape the present, to lose himself in blind go. If he could sit and delight in this moment of Touya’s peace, then maybe existence was just a little bit more bearable.

Touya avoided Hikaru’s friends in life, and apart from a pleasant wave did not interact with them. Hikaru suspected maybe if he was getting in the way of Touya’s social life? But his companion had nothing to say on the matter, and seemed to happily resign himself to Hikaru’s needs.

On such an afternoon, Touya submitted himself to hours of online go for Sai, who had specifically requested it. Sai restlessly played game after game, and Touya diligently followed his every instruction.

Then Hikaru noticed that Sai was directing Touya to accept every invite for a game, not just the ones from the highest ranked players. He looked up into Sai’s face, which was drawn in absolute seriousness and concentration. Sai clenched his hand on the fan, and did not divert his attention from the game. This wasn’t at all like Hikaru had seen Sai before. He was honestly scaring him a little.

“Listen, Sai,” Hikaru suggested, “Touya has a life, you know, he can’t keep spending every hour doing this.”

“Shindou, it’s fine,” said Touya, “I’m doing this for Sai.”

At that moment, Touya’s father slid open the door. “Akira, I do not mean to intrude, but Satou-san has arrived for the teaching game with you.”

Touya leapt to his feet. “Right, of course!” he said, and headed for the door. On the way out, Hikaru had a look at the screen, on which a game was in progress. Though people did not usually try to talk to Sai given his reputation for absolute silence, this player had left a message:

> Strong, aren’t you?
> Hey, I wonder if you…
> Nah, I’m sorry. I’m just crazy.

The username was Zelda.

“I apologize, for the wait, Satou-san,” said the retired Meijin as he brought Touya out into the study, where his students were already gathered. “Lately, he has been absorbed in online go.” Touya bowed in apology, and sat down for the teaching game with the guest.

“Online go?” said Ogata from the corner as Satou-san started to lay out the handicap stones, his arms crossed, watching Ashiwara busy himself at replaying a game. Eyes sunken in, hair disheveled, Ogata appeared as if he hadn’t gotten any sleep in days. “Akira-kun never plays online go. Why the sudden interest?”

Touya flinched at the question. “Shindou used to play sometimes!” he said, a little too quick, “So I thought I would try.”

“Damn it, Touya, stop being so damn honest!” Hikaru said. He never even played online go in life! Not as himself, anyway.

“Ogata-kun,” said Touya’s father, “I still think you ought to worry about yourself, more than about Akira. When was the last time you slept?”

“I’d rather you didn’t concern yourself with my health,” said Ogata, getting up from his place, “Now, if you excuse me, I will be in the toilet.” He turned and left the room.

“Mou! What is with that Ogata-kun?” Ashiwara whined, “He’s been acting rather odd lately!”

“I cannot entirely say,” said Touya-sensei, “But perhaps you are not in the position to call the Juudan ‘Ogata-kun’, at least not to his face,” he added with a slight smile.

“Maybe you’re right, sensei, ‘Ogata-kun’ might be improper of me. Then from now on, to me he is Seiji-chan!”

Touya-sensei sighed, and most of the students in the room laughed and smirked, and Touya, too, giggled sweetly, and Hikaru could not help but smile at this sight.

Touya led Satou-san through shidougo, and as he discussed the game, the older man added, as a side thought:

“I was thinking, Akira-kun, some friends of mine are going to the Kanko Hotel tomorrow for Children’s Day, and they will be having a go seminar there, where pros will be giving lectures and teaching games. You should come along! It would make people really happy.”

“Hmm, I’ll have to think about it,” said Touya, “I wonder what are my father’s thoughts on that?”

“I think it’s a good idea for him to go,” said Ogata, who had just re-entered the room. “It should be healthy for him to get out and meet some new people.”

“Hm,” said Touya-sensei, thinking for a moment, before finally saying,  “I can’t disagree, as he has been rather reclusive lately. There will be lots of people there, other professionals, and he needs company.”

Touya groaned quietly to himself, so only Hikaru heard. He could easily guess what he was thinking, and had to agree. Would it hurt the old man to be only a little less doting?

He noticed that Ogata wouldn’t stop taking his eyes off Touya. Those fatigued eyes now shone with a glint that Hikaru hadn’t seen in weeks, but recognized immediately. It was that ambitious, knowing look Ogata constantly had for Hikaru in life, the look he had just before he chased him and pushed him against the wall that time in the hospital. Did he now suspect Touya?

After the study meeting and everyone had left, Touya immediately returned to his computer to continue Sai’s session. Hikaru then brought up his concern:

“Sai! You can’t keep making him play online go.”

Touya had already accepted an invite for a game. “Why not, Hikaru?” asked Sai, not taking his eyes from the game.

“It’s Ogata! Did either of you see the look in his eyes? He suspects Touya of being Sai! And Touya, you should stop enabling him!”

“Why would he suspect me of being Sai? I have never done anything out of the ordinary.”

“I dont know! Maybe when he went to the bathroom, he really went to have a look at your computer. It was showing you logged in as Sai when we walked out.”

“Would he really do that? Ogata-san has been a trusted friend of my family for years and has never tried to invade my privacy.”

“I wouldn’t put it past him. He shoved me against a wall in the hospital, grabbed me by the collar and yelled at me because he thought I was Sai!”

Touya stared at him with wide eyes. “Did Ogata-san really do that? Sai, is this true?”

Sai nodded solemnly.

“Yes,” said Hikaru, “That’s exactly what he did, you just showed up a little too late to see it. Anyway, Touya, this means we can’t play go online for a while until Ogata is no longer suspicious.”

“But Hikaru!” Sai blurted out suddenly, “There won’t be any time!”

“What the hell does that mean!? There will be plenty of time!”

“Hikaru, you don’t understand! I--”

“What don’t I understand?” Hikaru found himself yelling, “What I understand is that you’re putting Touya at risk, and you’re being entirely unreasonable about it, all for the sake of playing go!”

Then the screen went black. Confused for a moment, Hikaru realized that Touya had shut off the computer, not even giving it time to properly shut down.

Sai gasped when he realised what Touya had done. “Akira!” he protested, “You got rid of the game! Bring it back!”

“I’m really sorry, Sai,” said Touya, “But Shindou might have a point. If Ogata-san suspects me, then we have to stop before he finds out.”

“It’s only for a while, Sai,” said Hikaru, “just to get Ogata off our backs. Then we can play again.”

“But Hikaru, you don’t understand! I don’t have--”

“God, Sai! Why do you have to be--”

“SHINDOU! SAI! Both of you, stop!” Touya cried out, and both Hikaru and Sai fell quiet. “Please,” he said, “I don’t want you to argue, least of all now.”

Touya lowered his head, and Hikaru followed his gaze to realize that his fists were shaking in his lap. “I’m sorry, Touya,” said Hikaru, not having the foggiest idea what was going on.

Throughout the hours that followed, Hikaru avoided Sai, and Sai didn’t say anything to him either, resigning himself to quietly conversing with Touya or sitting by himself, looking forlorn. Just what was with him lately? Couldn’t he see that he made Touya upset?

Sai’s mood improved somewhat the following day at the Children’s Day seminar at Kanko Hotel, the various go lectures and opportunities to play or watch games uplifting his spirits. Touya signed a few autographs, and played teaching games with the hotel guests, quickly finding himself swamped with requests due to his popularity. With nothing to do, Hikaru awkwardly loitered by his side, bored.

Then he noticed that Sai was directing the moves in some of Touya’s teaching games against the weaker players, playing them for him. “Hey!” he said, “How come you’re letting Sai play games and not me?”

“Oh, Shindou!” said Touya, “If you wanted to play teaching games, why didn’t you say so?”

“I didn’t say I wanted to play--oh, well, alright.” Touya allowed him to play the next teaching game, which, it turned out, Hikaru was happy to do. The guy wasn’t too strong, but it was refreshing to finally play against someone new; it seemed like forever since he had done so last. Almost like old times.

The day continued in this way, playing and discussing games. Touya and even Sai seemed to be enjoying themselves, and Hikaru felt that it might be a good day after all when--

“Akira-kun.”

Hikaru looked up, and jolted at the sight. Ogata! And what’s more, he seemed rather drunk; Ogata wobbled awkwardly as he clumsily took a seat at the table across from Touya.

“Ogata-san,” Touya addressed him politely, with a face of stone.

“You’re still playing go? It’s rather late.”

Touya relaxed, releasing the tension in his body somewhat. “The guests are enjoying themselves, and so am I.”

Ogata leaned forward aggressively across the table. Touya tensed up and pulled back, but maintained a straight face. How could Touya keep so well-composed in the face of this guy?

“I want to play Sai,” Ogata said.

Shit! Hikaru thought, eyes wide with panic. He was right, Ogata suspected Touya! What were they going to do?

Touya flinched and gasped at Ogata’s demand, but quickly regained his composure. “I think you’ve had a little too much to drink, Ogata-san,” he said, “You seem to have me confused for someone else.” The old men around them had a hearty laugh at the man’s expense, and Hikaru let out a nervous laugh also.

Ogata twitched with what Hikaru could swear was a violent fury-- clearly he was not amused. Fear immediately washed away the smile on Hikaru’s face.

Ogata stumbled out of his chair to his feet, wobbling slightly. “Nee, Akira-kun. Come with me to my room. We have something important we need to discuss.”

“Ah?” Touya said, “What could we have to talk about?”

Ogata gave an annoyed snort. “Go, what else?”

Don’t go! Hikaru mouthed to Touya, vigorously shaking his hands.

Ogata had already started to walk to his room, and turned back. “Well? What are you sitting around for?”

Nervously, Touya jumped up from his seat and followed Ogata. “Yes, I’m coming.” “Sorry, Shindou,” he added to his companion.

In Ogata’s room, they carefully stepped over the prone torso of a sleeping Ashiwara, to the goban by the window.

“Have a seat,” Ogata said, gesturing to the other side of the goban before him. Touya complied silently. Ogata retrieved a can of beer from the mini fridge, sat down at the goban, and cracked the can open.

“Are you really going to keep drinking?” asked Touya.

Ogata snorted with annoyance. “Why not? I’m already too drunk for it to make a difference.” He sucked the froth from the top of the can.

“As you probably know,” Ogata continued, “Sai is back on the net. I want to play him, Akira-kun.”

“Me too,” said Touya in a meek voice, “He was amazingly strong, to be able to beat my father. I wish I could play him.”

“Don’t beat around the bush,” said Ogata, “I want to play Sai now .” He pushed a goke towards Touya and opened his own. “Let’s nigiri.”

“I keep telling you, you have me confused for someone else,” said Touya as he grabbed a handful of white stones, “I can’t give you Sai, but perhaps you can settle for me.”

Ogata awkwardly plopped three black stones on the board. “Pretend that’s two,” he said. Touya sighed and counted out the white stones.

Ogata had black, and played his first move. The stone bounced off the board; he retrieved it and played 3-4. Or was it 4-4? His placement wasn’t very precise. Ogata seemed really out of it, Hikaru thought, will he even be able to play?

“Let me play him, Akira,” said Sai.

“But Sai! You can’t!” said Hikaru, “He’ll figure it out!”

“If he’s this drunk, he won’t be able to tell the difference.”

“You can’t be sure of that! That is still putting Touya at risk!”

“Hikaru, you must understand, this is the last chance! Ogata will never have this chance against me again.”

Ogata tapped on the table impatiently, as Touya hovered over the board, distressed by the argument. He was shaking and losing his composure.

“Well, Akira-kun? I don’t have all night,” Ogata mumbled. He took a swig from his beer and smacked the can down on the table with force, spilling some of the drink onto the goban.

“Never have this chance again!? Sai, what are you on about? How can you put Touya at risk, just for a chance to play Ogata? How can you be so selfish?”

“Selfish!” Even Sai found himself raising his voice now. I’m selfish? What about you, Hikaru? You’re obnoxious, and rude, and you never give some thought to me! Why did it have to be you? Why, gods, why did it have to be you !?”

“STOP!” Touya cried, his fingers at his temples in distress, “Stop it, both of you!”

Hikaru and Sai froze. Ogata froze as well, his eyes wide with surprise.

Touya let out a sharp gasp when he realized what he had done. “Oh god! I said it out loud!” He began to panic. “Oh god!”

Ogata relaxed, reclining in his seat and crossing his arms. He exhaled, and gave a little smile. “Akira-kun, who were you talking to?”

“Ah, nobody. I’m sorry, Ogata-san. I’m not feeling well and I’m fairly tired now.” Touya got up from his seat. “I’m going home now to rest.”

Touya turned to exit the room, and Ogata got up from his seat and grabbed at him. “Wait! Don’t you think about leaving, we’ve only just begun.” Thanks to his poor coordination, he missed hold of Touya’s arm and tripped over the chair.

“Come back here!” Ogata cried as Touya ran out at breakneck speed, out the room, down the hall, past a crowd of staring guests, and out of the hotel.

It was very late after Touya got off the train from the Kanko hotel and returned home, truly exhausted. “I hate him when he’s drunk!” he said as he changed into pajamas got ready for bed, “I never want to be near him again.”

Sai turned to Hikaru, who was crouched beside Touya’s futon and still avoiding him, angry at Sai for the events of the past couple of days. “Hikaru, let’s put this struggle behind us. I want to play you. Not blind go, but you at your full strength, over your goban.”

Hikaru looked up at Sai, still quite hurt and upset at him for what he said earlier with Ogata. “Really? After all that you said? Even so, neither of us can place stones.”

“I will place stones for both of you,” said Touya struggling to keep back a yawn. He was just settling into his futon, but got out again and crawled to Hikaru’s goban. “Shindou, you will be black, right?”

“Sai, you really have got to stop using Touya. He’s too tired to place stones for us and needs rest.”

“I really don’t mind at all,” said Touya, “I just want you to stop fighting and get along.”

“Fine, if you’re really ok with it, do what you want,” said Hikaru, taking his seat at the goban opposite Sai. “Let’s start.”

***

Sai closed his eyes, happy in this moment, sharing the game with Hikaru. Already his jealousy of Hikaru’s continued existence began to feel like a distant memory. Had he been unfair to him?

“Hikaru, I want to say sorry for the harsh things I said to you earlier,” said Sai, “You’re growing and changing, and you do not mean to be selfish.”

“Nn, yeah,” said Hikaru, “Forget what I said, too.”

Sai nodded and smiled; he was truly a good child, even if he struggled to show it. To have the chance to watch him grow and mature through these few years, Sai was blessed.

Just as Torajirou existed for Sai those one hundred forty years ago, Sai existed for Hikaru. Hikaru, then, would exist for someone else, and so on, down the path to the divine move, however long it may be.

“Hikaru,” Sai said, “I’ve realized… I finally understand Kami no Itte. It is not a single move, nor a tesuji, nor a perfect game, but a selfless experience, a world shared between you and another… Hikaru?”

Hikaru did not respond, he simply gazed at the goban, pondering his next move.

“Hikaru, are you listening? Akira?” Akira stifled a huge yawn and nodded off, not appearing to notice.

The world before him began to fade, and Sai finally understood.

Chapter Text

“Sai, your next move,” Shindou said, but there was no response from Sai.

“Sai?” said Shindou again, but when he looked up, there was no Sai on the other side of the goban.

Shindou started to his feet. “Sai! Where did you go?” he said, “Sai!”

Akira, half-asleep at this point, realized what was going on. “Oh god, he’s gone…” he said, putting his hand to his mouth.

“Gone? What do you mean, ‘gone’? He can’t really be gone!”

Akira sighed. He had no idea how he was going to tell him. No matter how he phrased it, Shindou definitely wouldn’t take it well.

“Sai told me…” Akira voice wavered as he said this, “ He told me he had no time left. I didn’t fully understand at first, but it seems to me this is what he meant. Shindou, I’m so sorry.”

“But that’s impossible!” Shindou had crossed to the door, ready to leave, “He’s got to be somewhere! We have to go find him now!”

“Shindou, it’s no use,” said Akira, “He wouldn’t just quietly run off in the middle of a game, you understand this. He said that his time in this world was up.”

“If he told you this then why didn’t he tell me ? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“We would have, but you weren’t being receptive. Shindou, I’m really sorry, I truly am.”

Shindou sat down on the floor in front of the door, in shock. “I can’t believe this, I really can’t.”

Akira walked over to sit at Shindou’s side. “We can talk about it if you’d like,” he said.

“I can’t believe that Sai would just disappear,” said Shindou, choking up, “He’s been around for a thousand years! Why would he just up and leave now? I just don’t get it. Touya, after you sleep, we have to go out and find him. I don’t believe he would just vanish, after all this time.”

“I’m not going to sleep,” said Akira, “I don’t want to leave you alone.”

“But you’re exhausted! You have to! Just go to sleep and don’t worry about me.”

“No, I’m happy here,” said Akira, leaning against the door beside Shindou, though he struggled to keep his eyes open.

“Why do you have to be so selfless, Touya?” said Shindou, the tears streaming down his cheeks, “I don’t deserve this at all, I--”

“Ssh,” Akira said, softly but firmly, putting his finger to Hikaru’s lip. “Don’t say things like that about yourself.”

Shindou opened his mouth to say something, but sighed and fell quiet.

Akira’s hand travelled along the tatami to find Shindou’s, and grasped it gently. Though it only felt as if holding thin air, he hoped that his presence comforted him.

The cool May breeze flowed through the room, softly kissing Akira’s hair. Through the window, the violet of the early dawn crowned the horizon. Akira took a deep breath and closed his eyes, wiping a tear. He let this moment become an eternity.

He looked over at Shindou, his head hung low, his face hidden under his hair that remained still, unknown to the wind.

How did it feel to be alone in existence, invisible, a stranger even to nature itself? Would be more painful to disappear, or to linger? After Akira was gone, where would he go, into the next world, or would he remain? A century becomes a milennium, a milennium becomes two, and the meaning of existence is lost in distant and faded memories.

Shindou realized Akira’s hand was on his, and pulled it back.

“Sorry,” said Akira, “I just…”

“It’s okay. I can’t even feel it anyway,” Shindou said.

“I’ll be here as long as you need, for as long as it takes.”

“But you can’t be here forever,” said Shindou, and Akira could think of nothing to say to that. There was no way around it, he was right.

The bright light of the day streamed in through the window, stirring Akira from sleep.

Oh no, how many hours had it been? He looked over at Shindou, who sat in the same position, face hidden, entirely still. He didn’t seem to have moved at all the entire time Akira had nodded off.

“Shindou?”

Shindou did not move or respond.

“Do you want to play a game?”

Shindou said nothing.

Akira let out a patient sigh. “Listen, Shindou, I’m going to get dressed and we’ll go out.”

“Are we going to go looking for Sai?” asked Shindou, without lifting up his head or moving.

Akira said nothing. You know the answer as well as I do, he thought.

Akira got ready, and as he went into town, Shindou quietly trailed behind.

He got a bite to eat at a small shop, stifling a yawn from sleep deprivation. “Nee, Shindou?” He said, hoping to engage him in conversation and take his mind off the matter.

Shindou did not respond. Akira didn’t force it.

Another ride on a train, into a neighborhood, towards a school.

“Wait, this is my neighborhood,” said Shindou, “Why are you taking me here?”

“I thought you might like to see it again,” said Akira, “Should I not have?”

Shindou sighed. He still hang his head, face hidden. “It doesn’t matter. You can look around if you like.”

They passed through a small playground, quiet and empty with a set of hanging swings. Akira noticed Shindou was looking away at an unremarkable small spot by some bushes, finally responsive in some way. Shindou started to walk over there and Akira followed.

He stopped and stood there, gazing down at this spot.

“Shindou?” asked Akira.

After a moment of contemplation, Shindou said, “I’d played my own move, holding the stone correctly, for the first time. I refused to believe it, and thought he possessed me. He tried to convince me by having me play a pebble like it was a stone, and it went flying into that bush.” Shindou gave a small smile. “It was back in 6th grade, when we first met.”

Akira crouched down and picked up a pebble. It was round and flat in his fingers, like a go stone.

“Yes, it was something like that,” Shindou said.

Akira looked up from his hand to see someone passing by at the perimeter of the park, walking a dog. “Ah, there’s Akari-san,” he said.

Akari-san took notice of Akira, and came running towards him. “Ah, Akira-kun!” she said. “What are you doing here?” Shindou immediately turned away, pretending like he didn’t see her.

Akira didn’t answer, and just studied the stone in his hand. Akari-san looked down at the stone over his shoulder. “Ah, I understand,” she said, sitting down beside him.

Akira said nothing. She couldn’t understand, not without knowing what was really happening, and there was no way she would believe him.

“Listen, I was just heading back to my house, and there’s nobody home right now. Do you want to come over and have tea?”

Akira would have liked to, but the idea of Shindou having to tag along and be invisible, especially at this time, made him feel horrible.

He was about to decline when Shindou said, “Go if you want, Touya.”

“Is it really okay? I thought it hurt you to be near your friends.”

“It won’t make a difference either way. Hell, go hang out with my parents if you want! It doesn’t matter anymore.”

Akira didn’t know how he felt about it, but still he said to Akari-san, “Alright, I’ll go with you.” He went with Akari-san, and Shindou trailed behind, his sorrow looming over Akira like a cloud.

“How are you holding out?” asked Akari-san as they got to her house, “It said in the magazine you didn’t go to matches for a week, and then you started playing again. Are you doing better now?”

“Yes,” said Akira, “I’m doing alright.” He looked over at Shindou, who was gazing away at his own house next door, looking empty.

Akari-san followed his gaze solemnly. “You can’t stop thinking of him, right?”

“I guess so,” he said.

“His parents aren’t home right now, but maybe later when they are we can go and visit.” She entered the house and released the dog from his leash, and kicked off her shoes. Akira followed suit.

Shindou stayed where he was, and did not turn his face away from his house.

“Shindou,” he asked him, “Do you want to visit later?”

Shindou did not respond or move. Akira felt himself tear up; it was too painful to watch and he regretted bringing him here.

“I don’t think I’ll go,” he said, his voice wavering more than he intended.

“I understand,” said Akari-san as she ventured further into the house, “I try to come over often and do favors or give them something nice. They’re getting a little better with each passing day, I think, but it’s still really hard.”

She noticed Akira was not moving from the threshold, and turned to face him. “Akira-kun?”

“Shindou, come on,” said Akira.

After a moment, Shindou at last tore his eyes away from his house and followed Akira, head down, avoiding looking at anyone.

Akari-san put the kettle to boil. “My tea isn’t as nice as yours, but I hope it’ll do,” she said, and had a seat at the living room table, and Akira sat opposite her in seiza.

“Ah!” she said, jumping up again, “I have an idea! Give me just one second.” She rushed out of the room and right upstairs.

“Shindou, how are you doing?” asked Akira.

Shindou made no response. He sat by himself a small distance away from the table, gazing down at his hands. Akira wished there was something he could do to make him feel better.

Akari returned with a folded goban and bowls of stones, and set them out on the table. “I know my go isn’t much to sneeze at, but you don’t have to play a teaching game or anything, just have fun,” she said, “Do you want to play?”

“Thank you, Akari-san, I’ll play,” said Akira, and she started laying out the handicap stones. Then he said to Shindou, “Shindou, do you want to play against Akari-san? It might take your mind off things for a little while.”

He braced himself for the usual lack of response, but after a moment, Shindou sighed, dragged himself over to the tea table next to Akira, and pointed to his first move.

As Akari-san and Shindou played over warm tea, she and Akira talked a little.

“The go club’s been doing well,” she said, “We got new members this year, Tsutsui-san came to visit, Mitani-kun’s been an active and regular member even though he said he would leave after Hikaru left, and Kaneko, Kumiko and I won our first match in the Winter Tournament!”

Akira smiled as he listened. If he recalled correctly, Shindou helped started this club, and he was glad that it was doing well even in his absence. He looked over at Shindou,  who simply played without showing emotion, and hoped that it made him feel better as well, on some level.

“We got new boards and equipment, and Hikaru’s parents donated to the club as well, since a rich pro gave them a lot of money. The school said that next year we’ll be getting our own room, and it’ll be named the Shindou Hikaru room, after him. The club might never be as nice as Kaiou, but we hope that it’ll at least live up to his name.”

“I think it’ll be very easy for you to make the club much nicer than Kaiou,” said Akira with a little smirk. His time in the pressure cooker that was the Kaiou go club certainly wasn’t one of his fondest memories.

“Oh yeah, you were bullied in that club, right? Hikaru told me that.”

“Sort of,” said Akira. The incident in retrospect was simply embarrassing more than anything else. “I just hate how everybody in the club blamed all its tension on me, when it was already tense before I got there. Yun-sensei was nice, but I guess his supervision wasn’t enough to alleviate its atmosphere.”

“Yeah, it’s much nicer in the Haze club for sure,” said Akari, “Everyone is kind to each other. We’re all such good friends.”

She let out a small sigh, as she moved to defend a group. “We’re all going to miss Hikaru,” she said.

Akira nodded.

“I was in his room the other day. His parents keep it more or less the way it was when he left it on that day. They vaccuum and dust in there and keep it clean. It makes me really sad to think about.”

She took something out that she had placed under the table, a book. “I found something while I was there, and it seemed like something you might want to have.” She held it out to him.

Akira took it into his own hands. It was a heavily worn copy of the collection of his father’s games which he’d published a few years ago.

“I know your father wrote it so you’re probably already familiar with it, but take a look inside.”

He flipped through the pages, and found, next to almost every kifu, a collection of annotations, and lazily scrawled notes in Shindou’s hand, as well as folded cuttings  from Go Weekly tucked in between the pages, that mostly contained heavily annotated kifu of Akira’s own games. Some were notes for Sai on countering his father’s moves, while other notes were more on Shindou’s level. Other scribbles had no go value at all, mostly mildly rude remarks directed at Sai, and there were even doodles, mostly of Sai, and a few sketches of Akira, scribbled out, erased, retried, and scribbled out again in frustration. Shindou was certainly no artist, but his sketches had charm.

“Thank you, Akari-san,” said Akira, smiling through tears, “I will treasure it.”

She nodded. “There is nothing more I can do, so I resign,” she said, starting to clear the stones. “I don’t know if it’s just me, but your playing reminds me of Hikaru’s.”

“I may have been influenced by him,” said Akira.

“He’s had an overwhelming positive influence on all of us, I think. Anyway, it was a good game, thank you for bearing with me, and I hope we can play again some time.”

“No, Akari-san, I must thank you. It was nice to talk to you again.”

“Of course! Any time,” said Akari-san, and she saw Akira out in good spirits.

As they left the neighborhood, it was starting to get dark. Akira checked on Shindou again. He still wasn’t very talkative, but seemed to respond somewhat to the book, so Akira let him look through the pages on the train.

“I think your sketches are very cute,” said Akira in a feeble attempt to uplift his spirits, but Shindou only shrugged and grunted in response.

When they got off the train, though it was dusk and foggy, Shindou still recognized their surroundings. “Wait, why are you taking me to the kiin?”

“You wanted to go looking for Sai, right? I want to show you something.”

Shindou lit up for the first time in hours. “Sai is at the kiin?”

“He is not literally present at the kiin, but--you’ll see what I mean when we get there.”

By the time they reached the kiin, it was night time, and a light rain had started to fall. “It’s too late in the night,” said Shindou, “There’s not going to be a lot of people here. What does this have to do with Sai?”

“Look at it this way, Shindou,” said Akira as he led the way through the dark halls, “Ashiwara-san once said that if there were any ghosts at the kiin, there is one room where they would be.” They entered the older part of the building, and at last reached the room Akira was looking for, behind a rather dated wooden door. “Here we are,” he said.

He grasped the handle to find that the door opened easily. “That’s interesting,” he said, “Normally it’s supposed to be locked.”

Some of Shindou’s childish energy returned when he saw the interior of the room. Stacks and shelves of sheets, records, and very old books--some looked as if they came from before the Edo period! He gaped at them all.

Akira smiled fondly at the easily impressed Shindou--the kifu archive was cramped, dusty and not very decorative, and the books themselves plain and utilitarian, although decently preserved.

“So we’ll find Sai in here?” asked Shindou, still clinging to wishful thinking, “This does seem like a place Sai might like.”

Akira started scanning the shelves. “I’m not trying to say that Sai would literally be present in this room, but… you’ll see what I mean when I find it.”

And then, as he turned the corner… a familiar white-suited figure sitting with his legs crossed on the table, smoking a cigarette while thumbing through a yellowed stab-bound book. Ogata-san! What was he doing here?

Ogata-san heard Akira approaching and snapped the book shut. Akira made out that it was a collection of Shuusaku’s castle games. “Akira-kun,” Ogata-san acknowledged in a dark tone, “What are you doing here at this hour?” He took a drag on his cigarette.

“You shouldn’t smoke in here,” said Akira, “The smoke might damage the books.”

Shindou glared at the older man, his soul so filled with a dead fury that it was as if Ogata-san had been responsible for Sai’s disappearance.

Ogata-san smirked and laughed as he put out the cigarette butt in a pocket ashtray. “You’ve always been such a goody two-shoes. Let me guess--you’re in here to find games by Shuusaku?”

“No,” said Akira, a little too quick.

“You’re a bad liar, Akira-kun, of course you are. And it just so happens that by coincidence, I’m here for Shuusaku as well. Let’s look together, shall we? Come, sit by me and we’ll look through this book.”

Akira hesitated at the spot.

“What are you waiting for, a sign from god?”

“I was going to look for my own copies, on my own, and look at them on my own,” said Akira as he started to turn away.

“I don’t think so, why waste your time when I have the books you’re looking for right here?” Ogata-san pushed out and tapped on a chair. “Have a seat.”

Reluctantly, Akira complied, and Ogata-san paged through the kifu for Akira to see. Shindou lingered over their shoulders, reading the moves.

“I cannot cease to admire the genius of Honinbou Shuusaku. For example, the beauty of this move, as famous as it is, cannot be overstated. How many times can you play a move that strengthens your position on all fronts in such a way? Look at how he puts pressure on white’s moyo here, white’s stones here, and strengthens his own stones on opposite sides of the board! How many times will you even see the chance to play such a move? If I were in Shuusaku’s place, playing this game, would I have seen it? Shuusaku was truly a genius ahead of his time.”

Akira nodded. Of course, the ear-reddening move. What was Ogata-san’s point? He hadn’t said anything he didn’t know already, and he was ruining his chance to share the genius of Sai as Shuusaku with Shindou.

“There is only person today who could have seen the ear-reddening move on their own,” said Ogata-san, “You know who I’m talking about.”

Akira swallowed and said nothing. Shindou was once again unresponsive, staring down at the book, his head hanging.

“I want to play him, Akira-kun,” said Ogata-san, narrowing his eyes.

“I’m sorry, Ogata-san, I can’t help you play Sai,” said Akira, his body tremoring and his heart pounding.

“Oh, but I think you can, Akira,” said Ogata-san in a soft voice, and the absence of the honorific sent a chill down Akira’s spine. “I think you know more about Sai than you are willing to share.”

As soon as he heard this, Shindou snapped out of it. “Touya, get away,” he said.

“I don’t. I played Sai a couple times just before I became pro. That was it,” said Akira. He got up from his seat and started to turn away when Ogata-san seized him by the wrist.

“I didn’t say you could leave,” Ogata said, and Akira got a glimpse of the piercing glare in Ogata’s eyes, an all-consuming fire.

Akira pulled his wrist out of his grasp and tried to make a run for it, but Ogata was stronger and faster. He shoved Akira against a shelf in the aisle, rattling the records. Grasping Akira by the collar, he demanded, “Where is Sai?”

“I don’t know! I honestly don’t know!” said Akira, hyperventilating, struggling to pry off Ogata’s huge hands with his fingers.

“What’s wrong with you, Ogata? Leave him alone!” said Shindou, but it was no use.

“Don’t you know that it’s disrespectful to lie to your elders? Tell me, where is Sai? How can I play him? Where can I talk to him? Answer me, Akira.”

“I really don’t know, honest… please let me go,” said Akira, feeling like he was about to cry. He had never felt so terrified and helpless in his life.

“I’ll let you go when you give a straight answer about Sai,” said Ogata.

“Then we’ll be here forever,” Akira said, struggling to maintain a glare in spite of his terror, “Or at least until someone comes in here and sees what you’re doing to me.”

Ogata gritted his teeth and tightened his grip on Akira’s collar, pressing him so hard against the shelf that his clavicle hurt as if it were going to break. Then the man loosened up a little bit and gave a little snort, the corner of his mouth twitching. “You’re turning into a cheeky little brat, you know that? But you have a point.” Ogata loosened his grip, and Akira tried to slip away, but he slammed him against the shelf again, knocking his head on the glass. “However, you’re still not going anywhere until you tell me what I want to know.”

“Fuck you, Ogata! Take your hands off him. Let him go,” said Shindou, clenching his fists and shaking with fury.

Ogata dragged Akira back to the table and picked up the books with his other hand, then without loosening his grip on him, he returned them to their proper shelves. Akira struggled against his grasp in vain. “You’re hurting me, you know that, right?”

“You’re forcing me to take more drastic measures than I would prefer,” said Ogata.

“And you’re full of shit!” Shindou retorted, pointing an accusing finger.

Ogata looked away in Shindou’s direction, and Shindou froze up and fell quiet. “What do you keep looking at? Is there something interesting over there? I don’t see anything.”

Akira steeled his face and forced himself to glare straight at Ogata.

Ogata looked back in Shindou’s direction again, and turned back to Akira with a sinister smile of realization. “I think you and I have a lot to talk about,” he said, “Come on.” He pulled Akira along toward the door, hit the lights, and locked up the kifu archive behind him. Taking him by the wrist, he led him briskly down the hall, and once outside in the pouring rain, pulled out a cell phone and made a phone call mostly in Chinese.

“What are you doing?” asked Akira.

“Calling a taxi, of course,” he said, “Do you really want to walk in all this rain?”

“Where are you taking me?”

“Home, obviously.”

“My home?”

Ogata just laughed. “What do you think?”

Akira tried to pull away again, in vain.

“You really are quite indignant. No wonder why most people can’t stand you.”

The taxi arrived. “Get in,” Ogata said, “And no funny business. In fact, let me have that.” He confiscated Akira’s bag before nudging him into the cab. Shindou took the vacant seat in front.

“Tasuke--” said Akira to the cab driver, but before he could finish, Ogata pinched him on the forearm. “He doesn’t speak Japanese; good luck explaining anything to him. ” He spoke Chinese to the man; Akira tried to make out a few words, but could only snatch names of Tokyo streets.

Akira tried to search for words like ‘help’ or ‘kidnapping’ in his limited knowledge of Chinese, but nothing came to mind. “Shindou, do you know any Chinese?”

“Nope, nothing. I’m really sorry, Touya.”

Akira sighed and weighed the risks of crying out so loud that the driver would have to realize he was in distress, but Ogata gave him an intimidating look that said that he’d already thought of that first, and practically dared him to scream and see what the consequences are. Thus, he stayed quiet.

The cab reached their destination and Ogata paid the fare, and unceremoniously pushed Akira out. He led him into a tower of particularly luxurious mansion apartments and ushered him into an elevator. Akira had only been to Ogata’s apartment a few times in his life, but he immediately recognised the surroundings though the rain and darkness.

“You do realize this is a kidnapping, right?” said Akira, “What you’re doing is against the law.”

“It doesn’t have to go that far if you don’t want it to,” said Ogata, “All you have to do is tell me everything you know about Sai.”

“But I keep telling you, I don’t know anything about Sai, you’re making a mistake.” Akira realized he was looking at Shindou again, and tore his gaze away.

“What do you keep looking at that is so interesting?” asked Ogata, “It’s just thin air.”

They reached Ogata’s floor, and he nudged him along past long, spacious apartments, all the way to his own. With one hand clasped on Akira’s wrist, he fumbled with the keys and opened his way in with the other. “Get in,” he said, pushing Akira into the apartment and latching the door shut as he entered.

Akira sneered at Ogata’s sparse, “modern” interior decor as the man steered him past an enormous glowing tank home to various species of tropical fish, and past his desk, which was cluttered with beer cans, loaded ashtrays and kifu in the form of books, official documents and Go Weekly clippings. The mess was certainly not how Akira remembered it the last time he was here; he’d been under the impression that the man was very particular about the neatness of his surroundings. What changed?

Ogata motioned to the couch and armchair before the tv in the far room, and Akira reluctantly took a seat. Before both of them stood a solid carved kaya goban.

Ogata sat down, lit a cigarette, and reclined against the couch. “This can be as quick and painless as you want it to be. All you have to do is tell me some things I want to know, and then you can go home and we can all pretend this never happened.”

“I don’t know how many times I can repeat this, I don’t know whatever it is that you want me to tell you.”

“With an attitude like that you really will be stuck here forever. Anyway, I disagree, I think you know some very interesting things you are unwilling to share with me. I have known you ever since you were born, Touya Akira; you are incredibly, almost laughably easy to read for a go professional and there is nothing on your mind that you cannot hide from me.”

“Well, you’re reading me wrong, because I really don’t know anything about Sai. You’re digging yourself into a hole.” Akira hoped that maybe if he was stubborn and consistent enough about it Ogata would eventually just give up.

“Hmph,” said Ogata as he puffed on his cigarette. “Since you seem to have a selectively bad memory, I wonder what we can do to jog it up?” He took the bag he’d confiscated from Akira into his lap and rifled through the contents. “Let’s see what we have in here.”

“Those are my things! Give them back!”

“You’ll get them back when you tell me everything I want to know. Your wallet, kiin ID...” He pulled out the Rurouni Kenshin volume. “Manga? Really? Your parents gave you a far more sophisticated upbringing than this. You know this trash is a distraction from go and will do nothing to stimulate your intellect.” He discarded the volume on the floor, and Akira glared furiously.

“Ah, and what’s this, Matches of Touya Meijin ? You’re his child, why would you need this?”

“Give that back!” said Akira, reaching to snatch the book, but Ogata lifted it out of his reach.

“I wonder what could possibly be in here that you are so defensive about,” he said, thumbing through the pages, and his eyes widened with surprise at the contents. “Oh, I see! Now this is interesting, very interesting. That looks like Shindou’s hand, but Sai’s moves. And then these look more like Shindou’s level. Oh and what’s this? That Shindou was certainly a terrible artist, is this supposed to be you?”

“Fuck you,” said Shindou, practically speaking Akira’s mind.

“And what is this a picture of? Is he supposed to be wearing a kariginu? Is that a particularly tall eboshi or a phallic object--wait, this is supposed to be SAI!? ” Ogata’s mouth twisted into a victorious smile at this realization. He looked up at Akira and said, “If you really don’t know anything about Sai, then why do you have this? Where did you get it from?”

Akira said nothing. He narrowed his eyes in anger and tried not to cry.

Ogata waved the book in his face. “Answer me!” he yelled, “Where did you get this book?”

Akira hang his head and closed his eyes, trying to avoid Ogata’s piercing gaze.

The man seized him by a handful of hair and forced Akira’s face up to his own, so close that the stench of tobacco and alcohol overwhelmed his senses. “You can’t hide from this one, Akira,” he said in a soft, cool voice, “Tell me where you found this book. It’s impossible for you to not know.”

Akira took a deep breath and broke into a sob. His scalp hurt in Ogata’s grasp and he shook with utter panic. “Shindou’s room,” he said, “I was in Shindou’s room. I picked it up.” Under no circumstance would he bring Akari-san or any friend into this.

Ogata seemed to be satisfied with the lie, because he released his grasp on his hair and loosened up a bit, and Akira sobbed into his hands, wiping away tears. “You see, was that so hard?” said Ogata, “All you have to do is answer a few more questions like this in a straightforward manner, and then you can leave.”

Akira shook his head as he wiped at his eyes. “No,” he said.

“No? Then you can forget about going home tonight.”

“What?” said Shindou on hearing this. Akira, too, paused in shock.

“I wasn’t kidding when I said that you’re not leaving until you tell me everything you know about Sai. If you don’t have anything more you want to share, I’ll show you to your new quarters.”

“You can’t do that! You can’t keep me here.”

“Oh, really? Who’s going to stop me?” Ogata seized Akira by the upper arm and tugged him along deeper into the apartment.

“People will notice if I go missing, and when they do they’ll find me.”

“How are they going to find you if they don’t know you’re here?”

Akira didn’t know what to say to that.

Ogata led him through a mostly bare spare room stacked against the walls with old books and computer equipment, and to a plain, sliding-door closet on the other side.

“You have got to be kidding me!” said Akira upon the realization.

“The spare room does not latch but the closet does,” said Ogata as he slid open the door, and Akira struggled to break free of his grip in vain. “Maybe when you’re more respectful you’ll get to stay in the spare room itself, but for now I just want to sleep in peace knowing you won’t get out and cause trouble.” He threw Akira into the closet and slammed the doors shut.

“You won’t get away with this, Ogata!” Akira shouted, slapping on the inside of the door, “This is an abduction!”

“You can kick and scream as loud as you like, the walls are thick slabs of reinforced ferro-cement and totally soundproof. No one will ever hear you. Also, this is a very useful book! Thank you for giving this to me. You have already proven to be more cooperative than I expected.”

“Fuck you, Ogata!”

“‘Fuck you’? Since when did you use such language? You are seriously losing touch with manners. We’ll talk again in the morning. Good night!”

Ogata tramped out of the spare room, and the sliver of light between the closet doors disappeared, leaving Akira in total darkness.

Chapter Text

The night trapped in that small dark closet was long and miserable. Touya had given up on trying to kick in the doors; he simply did not have enough strength to defeat their solid construction. He resigned himself to sitting on the folded futon that was being stored in that closet, cupping his face in his hands.

“I can’t believe this is happening,” said Touya in despair, “He thought of everything! He even called a foreign driver so I couldn’t tell him anything!”

Hikaru sighed, staring away into emptiness and feeling truly horrible. He couldn’t believe it himself.

“The last person we saw was Akari-san, right?” said Touya, “Maybe she’ll help find us.”

“But you didn’t tell her we were going to the kiin,” said Hikaru, “and you didn’t tell anyone where you were going when we left, either.”

“God, you’re right!” said Touya, slapping his hands to his forehead, “Why didn’t I tell anybody? How could have I been so stupid?”

“It’s not your fault,” said Hikaru. Really, all the fault was his, and Touya had to suffer for it.

“All I wanted to do was show you that Sai lived in Shuusaku’s kifu!” Touya cried, “What were the chances that he would be in that room at the same time as us? Was he waiting for us in there?”

Shuusaku’s kifu! That’s right, so much had happened in the past few hours that he didn’t have a chance for it to really hit him. How had he not seen it before? Sai was a genius! Truly a genius! And he had just spent the last few years of his life shoving that talent away into some corner of his mind, all for the sake of his own mediocre go!

What if he hadn’t done that? What if he had just been good like Torajirou, let Sai play all the games? Then Ogata might not be so enthralled by the mystery of his double identity, since there would be no double identity to begin with, and Touya would not be in this position.

“God… I thought I knew that man! He was otou-san’s student for as long as I can remember, a friend of the family. He trusted him. I trusted him! Never would have I guessed that he would do something like this to me, but here we are. How could have I been so blind? ” He banged a fist on the futon on which he sat. “I’m such an idiot! I should have never gotten near him in the archive, and just left when I still had the chance.”

Hearing Touya berate himself only made Hikaru feel even more guilty. “No, Touya, I’m the idiot,” he said, without looking up, “I should have just let him play all the games.”

Touya turned a tear-stricken face towards Hikaru. “Shindou, what on earth are you talking about?”

“He was right, I was being selfish and only thought of myself. I didn’t pay any attention to him at all, so it’s no wonder he just left!”

“Shindou, no, that’s not true--”

Hikaru didn’t pay attention to him, overwhelmed by his own guilt. “If I’d never gotten in the way, if I never acted so damn cagey, maybe Ogata wouldn’t have done this and you wouldn’t be in this mess, and maybe...” Hikaru lost composure and broke into a sob. “God, Touya, I’m so sorry for everything! It should have been me who disappeared, instead of him!”

“Don’t talk like that, Shindou!” Touya said firmly, reaching out to grasp his shoulders. Though he did not feel his hands, Hikaru froze under Touya’s firm glare. “Sai never wanted to leave you! He cared about you very much. He wanted to tell you, but you weren’t taking whatever he did tell you very well and…” His mouth drawn, Touya tried and failed to keep back tears.

“Touya, please don’t cry,” said Hikaru, feeling an immense pang of guilt that Touya should be this badly worried for him when he was the one in trouble. “You should try to get some rest. It’ll be harder to find a way out of here if you’re tired.”

Touya sniffed and rubbed the tears off his face. “Yeah,” he said, “You’re right.”

The closet provided enough room to unfold the futon to only two thirds of its full length, and Touya could not stretch out his legs. But still, it should be better than sleeping on a bare floor.

After maybe an hour of shifting around trying to get comfortable in the half-folded bed, Touya finally managed to find sleep.

In spite of all that was going on, Touya was serene in sleep, his eyes with their long lashes closed and relaxed, his hair sprawled about his gentle face. Just watching him, Hikaru felt a little bit calmer. He allowed himself to be lost in his thoughts of Touya, and peace flowed through him for the first time in a while.

 

Hours later, Hikaru heard the sound of the door sliding open, and feet stamping on the tatami toward the closet. “Touya, wake up! He’s coming!” he said but his companion did not stir.

Ogata rapped aggressively on the wood of the closet, startling Touya from sleep with a sharp gasp.

He fumbled with the lock and threw the door open. Touya retreated defensively into the far corner of the closet as Ogata stuck his head in, ominously shrouded in shadow against the light of the room behind him.

“Akira,” he said.

“Seiji,” Touya responded, glaring.

Ogata twitched with fury, and for a moment it seemed like he was going to strike him, but instead he exhaled, grabbed Touya by the arm and pulled him out of the closet.

He dragged Touya into the living room and shoved him down onto the couch. He sat down opposite him, and immediately lit a cigarette.

“My parents are probably really worried about me right now, surely you realize this.”

Ogata smirked and dragged on his cigarette in response.

“There’s still time, you know, to just let me go now and pretend this wasn’t a kidnapping. I could just say I was staying over at a friend’s and forgot to tell anyone.”

Ogata simply laughed. “You can’t threaten me.”

“I’m serious,” said Touya, “If I go missing for days, they’ll go looking for me, and even if they don’t find me here, you won’t be able to let me go. If somehow I manage to tell you what you wanted to hear and you let me go as promised, I can’t simply turn up after days of disappearance without giving anyone a proper explanation. A person like me simply doesn’t wander off and get lost for days, so the only explanation is kidnapping, even if I refuse to talk. And how long can you hold on to me before it slips out that I am here?”

“Listen, you little brat, I didn’t ask you to get smart with me. I asked you to tell me everything you know about Sai. And if you don’t want to worry your family, you’d better do it right now or, as you say yourself, you won’t ever see them again.”

“That’s the thing, I don’t know anything about Sai. He was just someone I played on the internet once about two years ago. That’s all.”

Ogata sighed with annoyance. He put out his cigarette in the loaded ashtray on the coffee table. “Let me explain to you why a simple denial of the facts won’t ever work on me. I’m not a fan of manipulative mind games, so I will be straightforward and lay out everything I know.”

Touya kept his hands folded in his lap and glared.

Ogata lit another cigarette, leaned back in his armchair and crossed his legs. “The first sign that an unusual person had appeared in the go world was about three years ago, in November or December, when Shindou Hikaru first visited your father’s go salon, and played you for the first time. You never shared that game with anyone, but your reaction was very transparent. According to rumors at the salon, Shindou beat you in that game, even though he had never played go before. Clearly, that is impossible, and you reacted accordingly.”

Touya tensed up with anger. “Shindou has nothing to do with it,” he said.

“He has everything to do with it, now shut up and let me tell my story. A week after that, I was present at a children’s go tournament at the kiin. Shindou was also there, but not participating. I didn’t know at the time that he was the kid who beat you at the go salon. He made an unsolicited comment on a game in progress, forcing the players to restart their game. What was surprising was that he, an 11 year old child, made a correct comment on a difficult life-or-death scenario that would have taken even a pro a moment to notice. What is more, an onlooker told me that he simply glanced at the board before making this comment. After hearing that, this child immediately captured my attention, and the situation got the interest of even your father.

“That same day, you found Shindou near the kiin and challenged him to a game. You didn’t tell anyone about it, but from the way you were depressed afterwards, it was easy to guess that you were outmatched.

“Not long after, I happened to see Shindou standing in front of the go salon, just staring, and recognized him as the boy who commented at the tournament, so I took him inside to see your father. I told you about this before, remember? All it took was a little comparing of notes to learn that the kid who commented at the tournament was the same one who beat you. Your father started to play a game against him to see his strength, but he screamed and ran out only a few moves in so we had nothing to go off of. Maybe he deliberately caused a scene in order to avoid revealing his strength, that’s my guess.”

Hikaru clenched his fists with fury. How the hell did this guy know so much about him? And besides, Ogata still had it wrong, he really did freak out that time because he thought Sai had controlled his body. He immediately felt guilty that he accused gentle Sai of such a thing.

Ogata shrugged and continued. “Then, that winter, there was a rumor that the Haze Middle School team won 3-0 against Kaiou in the tournament, but were disqualified when one of the players turned out to be a sixth grader.” He leaned forward towards Touya, giving him a knowing look. “If I recall correctly, you happened to be applying to Kaiou that same day. No doubt the headmaster took you to see the tournament, am I right? Was Shindou there?”

Touya simply narrowed his eyes and said nothing.

“Your indignation suggests he was. You can keep as quiet as you like, Akira, but your every subconscious action still betrays you.”

Every time the man used Touya’s name without honorific, Hikaru wanted more and more to sock him in the face. How dare he? And what the hell was up with it anyway? It was creepy.

Ogata leaned back in his seat. “Shindou appears again in the spring. This time, a man who catches cheaters for a living was utterly crushed by a middle school boy who claimed to be as strong as Shuusaku. What’s more, the boy wore a dark gakuran and had a blonde fringe… sounds a lot like someone we both know, right?” He gave a smug little smile.

Hikaru gasped in shock. How could he know about that? There wasn’t even anybody there besides the old guy at the counter, so how? Just how far had this guy been digging into his personal life?

“Shindou is dead!” cried Touya, “He’s no longer here to protest against you invading his privacy, so why don’t you just leave him alone?”

“Dead people don’t have privacy, and Shindou’s secret is too profound to ignore. Besides, you too were ensnared by the mystery, so you’re in no position to criticize. So, summer arrives, and you play against Shindou in the go tournament, after joining the Kaiou go club with the single-minded purpose of pursuing him. You come away from that match seeming very upset, and determined to forget about him. He must have played weakly then, for you to have been so disappointed. This is the first evidence I have of Shindou playing as two people.

“Then, later that summer, the mysterious entity known as Sai appears online, grabbing the attention of everyone everywhere. He was at least as strong as a high rank pro, and yet spent all his time online, and thus couldn’t have been a pro. All his kifu are online, and they remind of a Shuusaku who learned modern joseki the more time he spent online. One boy I met at the amateur tournament that year even had a theory that Sai could have been a child, based on one childish comment he made and the fact that he was on all day during summer vacation. Doesn’t that sound familiar to you?”

Touya clenched his own hands in his lap, shaking with fury. He didn’t want to hear any more, and neither did Hikaru.

Ogata kept going. “The Sai mystery caused such a commotion at that tournament, as you probably remember. It was where I first heard about it. When you yourself showed up, you denied that Sai could be Shindou, but your behavior still suggested otherwise when we asked you to play him. And if I remember correctly, Sai requested to play you ! Clearly Sai must have known you, otherwise he wouldn’t have requested to play you based on name alone.”

“That was a coincidence. My name is pretty common. Sai probably just knew someone else by the name of Akira.”

“This whole mystery has taught me not to believe in coincidences. You scheduled to continue your game on the day of your pro exam match without hesitation. Only for Shindou would you make such a rash decision. You’re like a book, Akira. Incredibly easy to read.”

“Please, stop…” Touya protested.

“And another thing-- go salon rumors had it that when a visitor mentioned he saw Shindou at a net cafe, the first thing you did was run straight out to go see him, so clearly, you suspected Shindou was Sai. Am I right?”

Touya shook his head, “He wasn’t Sai. Shindou said he didn’t play Net Go. He was doing something else.”

“Shindou was a liar, and so are you. Right after that, Sai stopped going online. We don’t hear of Shindou again until December, when I happened to run into him applying for the insei exam. He was too late, but I sponsored him for the program, and that’s how he got in. I did it so that the mystery of who he was would become clearer once he became a pro.”

“You’re a manipulative bastard,” said Hikaru.

“As you may recall, Shindou was fairly average as an insei--talented, but unpolished and naïve, certainly not the years of wisdom we saw in Sai. Again, we see evidence of Shindou acting as two people.”

“He’s not two people! That’s just a ridiculous theory you made up, because you’re too arrogant to admit to being wrong.”

Ogata ignored him and continued. “Shindou goes pro, fast forward to his shinshodan game against your father this past January. Your father specifically requested to play him, as you probably know. Isn’t that interesting? The game he played was even more interesting. He took 20 minutes on the first move, and then played a very strange game that at first appeared weak, but in reality he had imposed a huge handicap on himself, of 15 or 20 points. Knowing that, his playing then reminded of Sai. And I wasn’t the only one who noticed this, either, Kuwabara saw it before me. In fact, now that I recall, Kuwabara told me that he had a feeling about Shindou just walking past him through his ‘sixth sense’, and bet on him winning the game based on that alone. I thought he was just being a crazy old man, but perhaps there really was something truly out of the ordinary about Shindou that he somehow was able to feel.”

“Look, if Shindou were two people, why would he bother with a handicap when he could just play as his ordinary self?” Said Touya.

“A fair question. My guess is that Shindou really wanted to play the Meijin properly as Sai, but knew that would draw too much attention, so he was so torn that he resorted to a compromise, and this internal struggle was why he wasted 20 minutes.”

God! This guy was so close to the truth that it seemed impossible to weasel out of this. He’d really done his homework!

“Fast forward to Shindou’s first pro game in April, which was supposed to be against you, but your father collapsed so it never happened. Shindou then visits your father in the hospital, and I happened to be there at the time. We explained to your father that he could play go online, and Shindou seemed to perk up at the mention of this. That’s when Ichikawa told me about Shindou being spotted in a net cafe the year prior, and you running off to find him.

“Soon after, your father played Sai and was defeated. He had also requested to not allow any visitors on that day, so the match must have been prearranged by someone who visited him in the hospital, a small group that includes Shindou. The day after the match, I visited your father and happened to overhear Shindou talking to him about Sai, proving that he arranged the match. I ask him if he had a connection to Sai, and he straight up lies to my face and tries to run away.”

“You pinned him against a wall and threatened him! Like you did me!” Touya interrupted, glaring with fury.

Ogata’s pupils shrank with surprise. “How do you know that?” He asked.

“I was there, remember?”

“Nice try, but I specifically remember that you showed up after I let Shindou go, and then as soon as he saw you he ran out. So how do you know that?”

Touya glared and kept silent.

“He can’t have simply told you, because he was avoiding you, and then, on the day of his match against a third dan only days later, he died. You were in Nagoya at the time.”

“He died because you killed him!”

“You weren’t supposed to know that, either. And technically I didn’t kill him, he ran in front of my car and killed himself.”

“I just overheard my father talking to you about it! Not everything has to have a grandiose explanation.”

“You see? You can give a straightforward answer when you put your mind to it. Let’s do this more often.”

“You seem to be already convinced that Shindou is Sai. Why bother kidnapping me then?”

“Because the story of Sai did not end with Shindou. Somehow, it continues with you.”

Touya glared and said nothing.

“By all logic, Sai should have disappeared when Shindou died, but in reality he continued playing online. How is that possible?”

“I don’t know, maybe because Shindou isn’t Sai? Dead people can’t play Net Go.”

“And that’s not all. Somehow, Shindou himself was also playing online… how is that possible? Dead people can’t play Net Go, as you say.”

Hikaru felt an immense pang of guilt for asking Touya to let him play online. And using his own name, no less! He assumed that no one would be so obsessed as to continue looking for him beyond the grave… clearly he was an idiot for counting on that, and his oversight put Touya in danger.

“If you’re talking about the user named ‘hikaru’, that wasn’t Shindou. It was somebody else.”

“You’re a liar. That was Shindou’s style of play, and you obsess over him enough to be able to recognize it.”

“But Shindou is dead! How can he play online?”

“A good question. Only you hold the key to the answer. You see, at that same time, you started playing go online, and I don’t think that was a coincidence. And what is more…” Ogata leaned in, towards Touya’s face. “On the day before the Kanko Hotel convention, I take a look at your computer, and what do I see? You were logged in as Sai! Explain that.”

“You’re wrong! I’m not Sai!”

“I didn’t say you were Sai, I said you were logged in as Sai. You keep denying that you know anything about Sai, and yet you were playing his games. I want an explanation.”

“You misunderstood what you saw. It wasn’t Sai!”

Ogata got off his chair and slapped his hands against the back of the couch, at either side of Touya’s head, terrifying him. He leaned right down into Touya’s face, eyes gleaming with fury. “I know what I saw. Don’t mess around with me, Akira.”

Touya turned his eyes away, sweat beading on his face.

Ogata brought his face even closer, practically nose to nose with him, eyes shining. “Tell me,” he asked softly, “How did you come to play Sai’s games?”

“I wasn’t,” said Touya, shaking, “You saw me logged in as ‘hikaru’, not ‘sai’.”

Ogata slapped him across the face, taking both Hikaru and Touya by surprise. “What the hell!” Hikaru let out, wanting to do something, but was utterly helpless.

“I was pretending to be Shindou!” Touya blurted out, cradling his red cheek, “I missed him, that’s why I did it!”

Ogata raised his hand, and was ready to strike him again when his cellphone went off. Tentatively, he pulled out the phone and flipped it open.

“OGATA-KUUUUUUUUUUUN!” Screamed Ashiwara excitedly from the other end of the line, so loudly that Hikaru and Touya could hear him easily.

Ogata sighed with annoyance. “I told you, don’t call me Ogata-kun.”

“Okay, Seiji-chan!”

“Don’t call me that either. Anyway, what’s up?”

“Akiko-san called me to say that Akira-kun hasn’t been home at all since yesterday. They can’t seem to find him anywhere and the parents are worried sick!”

Clearly tense, Ogata took a deep breath. “Did you try the kiin? Last time he ran off you found him there.”

“I’m at the kiin right now. They’ve got half the staff searching every nook and cranny.”

“And? Nothing?”

“Nope. They’re doing another run of the building though, just to make sure.”

“When was the last time anyone saw him?”

“He made it home the night before, when he took the train home from the Kanko Hotel. It seems like he left home the following morning without telling anyone.”

“Hmm. Did they try contacting his friends? Maybe he stayed over a friend’s place and forgot to tell anyone.”

“They’re trying that too. So far they haven’t had any luck.”

“I see. Well hopefully he turns up soon.”

“ASHIWA--” Touya cried out, but Ogata slapped a hand down on his mouth and cut him off.

“What was that sound?” Asked Ashiwara.

Touya squirmed under Ogata’s grip, but the man simply pushed him against the seat of the couch and held him down. Touya struggled to pry off his hand, in vain. He whimpered in panic. It was hard for Hikaru to watch, and he boiled over with hatred for Ogata.

“Nothing, just something stupid on tv,” said Ogata nonchalantly.

“Oh, if you’re free today, you should come help us find Akira-kun!”

“If you have half the kiin searching for Akira-kun and still haven’t had any luck, then I don’t see how me joining in will change things.”

“Please, Ogata-kun! I’m worried about him, and I’m sure you are too.”

“Well, alright, I’ll come over and see what I can do. See you later.” Ogata snapped the phone closed, and turned his eyes onto Touya.

“YOU!” He snarled, hand still clasped over Touya’s mouth, bringing his face up to his own. “YOU NASTY LITTLE BRAT!” He threw Touya onto the floor with force. Hyperventilating, Touya scrambled to get away, but Ogata pressed his sock-clad foot down onto his neck, cutting off his breath.

Hikaru covered his face and averted his gaze. It was too much to watch. He wanted to cry.

“You almost caused me a lot of trouble!” He put pressure on Touya’s throat with his heel. “You’re lucky I’m not wearing shoes, or you would be really sorry!”

Touya twitched and failed helplessly under Ogata’s foot, struggling for breath.

“Stop! Stop it!” Hikaru cried, pressing his fingertips into his forehead in distress.

Please… Touya formed words with his mouth. Please…

Wild with rage, Ogata glared down at Touya, gritting his teeth and twitching, before at last throwing his foot off.

Gasping, Touya rolled over onto his hands and knees, coughing, his hand over his sore throat, trying to regain control over his breath. “Why…” he breathed. He gazed up at Ogata. “You are my father’s best student! How could you do this to him?”

Ogata simply narrowed his cold eyes in response.

Touya glared. “You’re not human,” he said.

Ogata shrugged. “What does it mean to be human, anyway? It’s an arbitrary concept, a belief shared by the self-righteous.” He seized Touya by the fabric of his shirt before he could get away. “Anyway you have wasted enough of my time. Back into the closet you go.”

“Wait!” Touya cried, grabbing the corner of the couch as Ogata started to drag him away. Ogata in response seized Touya’s wrist and pinned him against himself, so that Touya’s back was against his own front. “What do you mean, wait?” He sneered into Touya’s ear.

“I need food…” he said, and added in a very small voice, “and the toilet…”

Ogata sighed aggressively, steered Touya towards the toilet, and shoved him in. “You have 30 seconds,” he snapped.

Touya turned on the faucet for the sound of running water, as had become routine to make things less uncomfortable for Hikaru. Even now, Touya was still thinking of his needs.

Suddenly Ogata burst through the door long before the 30 seconds were even up, shouting, “What the hell are you up to, wasting my water!?”

Touya shrieked and covered himself up and went to turn the water off. “I’m sorry! I just--”

“What are you all shy for? I’ve known you since you were a baby and so there is no part of you that I have not seen.” Ogata closed the faucet. “So you were running the water while you were going? What, you’re embarrassed by the sound of your own piss? If I were your father, I’d be ashamed of what I raised--you’ve got no balls on you at all.” He grabbed Touya by the upper arm and dragged him out of the toilet and down the hall to the spare room, where he threw him back into the closet.

“Food!” Touya said.

Ogata stomped off, and in a moment he returned, pulled the door open a crack, threw in a packet and slammed it shut again, being sure to latch the door. “I’ll be back in the evening,” Ogata called as he left the room to get ready and go out.

“Rice crackers? Really? He thinks that’s food?” Said Hikaru upon seeing what Ogata had offered.

Touya didn’t say anything. He simply curled up under the blanket of the futon in silence, and Hikaru realized he was shaking, with his hand at his throat, and trying not to cry.

“Touya…” Hikaru said, crawling over to sit directly beside him, “Are you okay?” Dumb question, he thought to himself.

For a moment Touya still said nothing. “He had his foot on my throat, Shindou. I couldn’t breathe. It felt like I was going to die!” Touya found himself crying again.

“Touya, I’m so sorry.” said Hikaru, “I wish there was something I could do.”

Touya took his hand away from his throat and closed his eyes. After a moment’s thought, he said, “Stay with me, Shindou. Just staying here with me is enough.”

Hikaru looked down to see that Touya’s hand was on his. Hikaru cupped his other hand over it, gently.

“Please, Shindou,” Touya said, “Don’t go anywhere and leave me alone.”

Hikaru thought of Sai. Would it still be selfish of him to continue in this world where Sai could not, if only for Touya? He couldn’t stand the thought of him having to suffer alone as Ogata’s prisoner.

What would Sai say?

Exist in this moment for Touya, he remembered him saying. Did Sai know he was going to disappear when he said that?

Hikaru understood now, more than ever, he had to do exactly that.

Chapter Text

To the surprise of no one, the small bland rice cracker packet which Ogata gave him turned out to be entirely unfilling. Save for this packet, he’d hardly eaten since his one small lunch yesterday, and his stomach caved in with a dull, constant soreness that was impossible to ignore.

Shindou tried playing a little blind go with Akira to pass the time, but it failed to distract him from his predicament--the lack of food had left him faint-headed enough that he couldn’t retain his memory of the board, and the developing headache helped no matters. Akira couldn’t help feeling terrible about his losses so they decided to stop.

Instead, with nothing better to focus on, Akira tried to assess his situation. As Ogata had revealed earlier today, the man knew entirely too much about the connection between Shindou and Sai already, and even something of their connection to him, so there was no way he was going to be able to protect Shindou’s secret simply by denying everything.

Appealing to Ogata’s conscience hadn’t worked. It was hard to accept, but the man who had been his father’s student, a friend of the family his entire life, simply didn’t care that he was holding prisoner, threatening and interrogating a teen, his sensei’s son at that, and left him with no food. Akira still couldn’t understand just what within him possessed him to do such a horrible thing.

All his life, Ogata had been there for as long as he could remember. He’d even taken care of him as a small child when his parents were busy, and for his whole childhood took interest in his development as a go player. Akira had lived his entire life under Ogata’s watchful eye, a thought which now filled him with terror. This man who had held him, fed him and washed him as an infant was the very same one who could lock him in a closet and strangle him at a whim. Did he really not care for him as a person, as a living being? What was he, then, to him? Just an item to be used and discarded?

“Touya,” said Shindou, distracting him from his dark train of thought. Akira looked up at his face, which, unknown to neither light nor shadow, seemed to shine in the darkness.

“Try not to think about him,” said Shindou, as if reading his mind.

“I know, Shindou, but how do I get away from him?” Akira pressed his fingers against his aching temple. “Even in my mind, I can’t escape him.”

“We’ll find a way out,” Shindou reassured him with a gentle smile, “That asshole can’t keep his guard up forever, right?”

Indeed, the only way out of this situation had to be escape, but how? Every time Ogata was done with him, he locked him in this little closet, which latched on the outside with no way to touch the latch from within. The spare room in which this closet was located was on the opposite side of the apartment from the exit. It had a window, but that was useless when the apartment itself was thirty or so storeys high.

When he was with Ogata, he stood no chance of outrunning him to the door, which still had the chain, deadbolt, and lock to deal with. He wondered how fast he could get out of here if Ogata was distracted, but didn’t like the look of his chances.

Was there really nothing to do, then, but wait?

The clack of the locks, and the subsequent rattle of keys and stamping of dress shoes unceremoniously signaled Ogata’s return later that evening.

With dread pounding through his body like a pulse, entangled with the pounding headache in his skull, Akira anticipated Ogata accosting him again, his sock-clad feet stomping down the hall to the room, throwing the door open, crossing the room, fumbling with the latch and shoving open the closet.

The incandescent light of the room beyond blinded him, stabbing him through the aching head, so that he saw Ogata as a towering sihouette through a bleary squint, carrying a bag in his fist.

“Konban wa,” said Ogata tersely.

Akira shrank into the far corner of the closet, shielding himself from the unnatural brightness with his hands.

“Relax, I’m not taking you out again, I just came back from the search so I’m too tired for another round right now. God, you’re so jumpy.”

“Did you have any luck finding me?” muttered Akira, with biting sarcasm. He lowered his hands as his eyes adjusted to the brightness, but the faint ill feeling did not improve. It was almost as if seeing the light made him more sick.

Ogata smirked as he set the bag aside. “No, but something interesting did come up.” Ogata leaned in and gave a little knowing smile. “Who is Akari?”

Akira’s heart skipped a beat. He’d hoped he’d be able to keep Akari-san and any other bystanders out of this situation, but apparently that was too much to hope for. He glared, frowned and said nothing.

“She was Shindou Hikaru’s friend, right? She goes to the same school. Akiko didn’t remember her as a contact until I arrived, but she said Akari had been over your house once to give you a present—Shindou’s goban if I am not mistaken. A very sentimental gift to give someone who supposedly wasn’t emotionally close to Shindou.”

“Don’t use okaa-san’s name like that,” Akira said, trying to dodge the topic. The familiar way he dropped the honorific off his mother’s name did bother him as much as Ogata’s jab at the relationship between him and Shindou, but he couldn’t under any circumstances let Ogata realize that the goban was a key to the mystery.

“Touya, this isn’t good!” said Shindou, “Akari was there with me when I first touched Sai’s goban! She knows that I saw stains that she couldn’t see, and that I heard a voice she couldn’t hear, before I fainted. She also knows how weird I acted when I’d just met Sai, and I got into go really suddenly too. If Ogata finds out about all that from Akari, we’re finished.”

Shindou was right! Akira hadn’t considered that angle before. Under no circumstances should Ogata realize Akari had key information!

Ogata ignored Akira and continued. “Akiko contacted Akari, and the girl was nice enough to come over and meet us in person. It turns out she was the last person to have seen you, in Shindou’s neighborhood yesterday morning. She said you two talked in her house, and before you left, she gave you another gift, the very same interesting book which you claimed you found in Shindou’s room yourself and had in your bag. And fortunately for me, apparently you didn’t tell her where you were going after that, so no one knows that you went to the kiin.”

Akira’s heart pounded in his chest. Sweat beaded on his face. He felt sick to his stomach.

“Now, if I recall correctly, you told me that you snuck into Shindou’s room and took his book yourself, leaving out any mention of Akari. It seemed like a reasonable explanation to me at the time, if a little bit out of character, so I didn’t press you on the matter. But now I realize I have been fooled. Why come up with such a clever lie just to cover up Akari? The two of you have talked only twice, why hide her from me? What is it about her that you don’t want me to know?”

“Maybe I just wanted to protect a friend, because it’s the right thing to do!” said Akira, tremoring pretty badly and gritting his teeth. “You’ve already done too much to me, who’s to say you wouldn’t do something to Akari-san too, just because she might have some connection? Not everything has a grandiose explanation, I told you!”

It was, after all, the truth. He really hadn’t been thinking that far ahead when he covered up for Akari-san, and now he wished he hadn’t. By covering up and being found out anyway, Ogata now knew there was more to Akari-san’s involvement than met the eye.

“Sorry, Akira, but I don’t believe you. All you’ve done so far is lie and lie, and stubbornly dodge questions. You’ve hardly said a single truthful thing to me this entire time. So why should I believe you?”

Akira didn’t say anything. He cast his eyes downward to the floor. He couldn’t stop shaking.

“I have something that may convince you to change your tune.”

Akira looked up again when he heard the rustle of a plastic bag. Ogata opened the bag, releasing the powerful warm scent of fresh homemade curry. He became extremely, painfully hyperaware of his caved-in stomach, and the inside of his dry mouth watered. Before he realized it, he was already reaching out a hand for the curry when Ogata lifted the bag further out of reach and slapped his hand away.

“Who said it was for you? All that happened was that Ashiwara, Akari and I joined your parents for dinner, and they gave each of us extra curry to take home, as a small token of gratitude for helping them. At first, I was just going to have it by myself, but I see you’re really hungry, right? And you must miss your mother’s homemade curry. They said it’s your favorite, too. They must have made it in the hopes that you would turn up soon. They’re really worried about you, after all.”

Akira clenched his shaking hands into fists and failed to fight back tears.

“Tell you what. Tomorrow, if you’re more cooperative, you can have it. It’s all yours. And if you keep fucking around, well, you’re a smart kid, I’m sure you can imagine what will happen.” Ogata exhaled and slammed the closet door shut.

“Good night, Touya Akira,” Ogata called, “I hope I have given you something to think about.” He shut off the spare room’s light, and once again Akira’s world was dark and quiet.

Akira collapsed onto the half-folded futon in an exhausted sob. “What did I do to deserve this, Shindou!?” he cried, bunching up the blanket in his fists.

Shindou lay down beside him and put his arm around him. “Don’t worry, Touya, we’ll find a way out of this soon.”

Akira wished he could be sure of that.

 

The bright light blazed onto his face when Ogata threw open the closet again, wrenching an exhausted Akira from his sleep.

“Rise and shine, Akira,” Ogata proclaimed.

Akira groaned and rubbed his temple. He was still faint from lack of food, and couldn’t think straight. Something was important, but he couldn’t quite remember what.

“What day is it…?” Akira asked idly, not expecting an answer.

“It’s the seventh.”

The seventh… Something was important about today, but through the dizziness he couldn’t remember.

“Touya, you had a game today, right?” Shindou reminded gently.

Of course! The game! How could he have forgotten?

“Juding from the look on your face, you seem to have remembered. You have a game today, right, Akira?”

“You’re not going to let me go to it, are you?”

Ogata simply laughed.

Akira summoned all his courage and narrowed his eyes into a glare. “You do realize that now is your last chance to let me go before this becomes a problem for you, right? If I don’t go to my game, they will understand for a fact that something is wrong. That I may have been kidnapped.”

“No, Akira, this is your last chance. If you tell me the truth about Sai now, I will let you leave and go to your game, and we can both pretend this never happened.”

Akira frowned and exhaled, not breaking his glare.

“You wouldn’t want to worry your poor old parents, would you? They’ve already decided to wait until your game today, and if you don’t show up, they will take the search to the police. I will then have no choice but to never let you see your parents again. They will think you died. The pain of losing their son will be too much for them. Is that really what you want?”

Akira swallowed and maintained his steel glare. “Why do you want to know about Sai so badly?”

Ogata pondered this question for a moment, rubbing a finger against his chin. “I’ve never been able to resist a challenge, I guess you could say. Anyway we’re wasting time here.” He seized Akira by the upper arm, which was starting to feel sore and bruised from being roughly grabbed so many times, and yanked him up to his feet and out of the closet.

This time, Ogata had set up his goban on the floor in the middle of the lounge, with a match clock set at one side, and a tray carrying a glass of water at the other. “Sit,” he said, motioning to one side of the goban.

Akira immediately seized the glass and chugged the water as fast as he could swallow. God, on top of the hunger and everything else he had no idea he was this thirsty! The water could not make up for food, but it at least made him feel a little better.

“Sit, you savage,” Ogata snarled.

Wiping his face with his sleeve, Akira regained his composure and cautiously entered seiza. Was Ogata actually going to make him play a game? He almost rathered that he’d simply interrogated him some more.

Then he saw a covered bento box on the coffee table at the side, with a spoon neatly laid at the side. The curry! His gnarled stomach twisted and he licked his lips. He could smell it. God, he was so hungry…

“That’s yours if you cooperate with me today, remember? Now eyes over here.”

Akira forced his gaze to the goban. The water was helping his headache a little bit, but his vision was still disoriented and a little out of focus from feeling so faint.

“Now here are the rules. We each receive ten minutes, and six 6-second byo-yomi periods. That leaves about 6 seconds per move.”

“Speed go?? Why?”

“Do you want to eat, or not?”

Akira swallowed. The smell of warm curry taunted him.

Ogata continued. “Now, this won’t be like in the study group, I won’t be taking it easy on you. I will treat this game as seriously as I would a title match, and I expect the same from you. If you play a respectable game against me, you get to have the curry. But if you fuck around with me, I’ll leave it to you to imagine what will happen.”

“That’s ridiculous!” said Shindou, “Does he honestly expect you to win under these conditions?”

Akira stared sorely down at the goban through disoriented vision, and tried to formulate a plan. Maybe if he didn’t worry about territory and went all the way for influence… but no. Ogata was a cold and brutal fighter, and he never made a mistake. Even if Akira went at him with the best of his ability, there were tricks Ogata knew that he didn’t. He could barely string a thought together… he was seriously in no condition to play a game.

“I can take over, Touya,” Shindou offered.

“No! He’ll recognize your style of play!” said Akira, clenching his fists.

“If you understand, let’s nigiri,” said Ogata. They did nigiri, and Akira had white.

“Onegaishimasu,” said Ogata tersely.

Akira glared and said nothing.

“I said Onegaishimasu, you ungrateful little shit. If you keep trying to rebel every step of the way we’ll never get anything done.”

“O-Onegaishimasu,” said Akira with hesitation. Ogata was too vile  to deserve such a small courtesy, but what was he going to do?

And then Ogata played his first move, a 4-4 point. He was going to go straight for fighting, probably.

Akira took up a white stone, but it slipped out of his tremoring fingers. He tried again, and again it slipped.

With a firm resolve, he picked the stone up with his thumb and forefinger, and took a 4-4 point. He’d already wasted about 10 seconds of precious time fumbling with that stone.

“What are you, a monkey? You should know how to hold the stones properly.”

There was no time to think. Before he knew it, the game went straight to fighting, and Ogata was as cold and merciless as he expected. The man never did know how to take it easy on him back in the study group, and so he was a good opponent for Akira to learn against, but now he was just brutalizing him. Akira did the best he could, but Ogata was always a step ahead, slashing his stones apart.

Maybe if he made an exploitable move here to throw him off, and—

“WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING!?” Ogata had seized Akira’s wrist and slammed his hand down on the floor just before he could hit the match clock, twisting it at a painful angle. “What kind of an idiotic move was that? Are you fucking around with me, Akira?”

“I’m not… honest…” Akira gasped, “Stop, it hurts…”

Ogata put more pressure on the wrist, so hard that it felt as if it were going to break. Then he looked at the board again, raised his eyebrows at the move, and smiled as if he’d realized something. “Alright, but you better be taking this seriously.” He released Akira’s wrist.

Akira hit the clock and nursed his aching wrist. He’d lost maybe 30 seconds of time thanks to Ogata’s lashing out.

“Touya!!” said Shindou, “That move was something I would do!”

Akira panicked as he realized he was right. Playing a deceptively weak move that would be more meaningful later on… that was Shindou’s style! And it was too late to take it back. No wonder Ogata let him get away with it!

Akira tried now to avoid playing Shindou style moves, but the game was moving too fast to allow him to rethink his strategy, and he needed so badly to eat.

There! If he invaded there and forced life, he might be able to at least gain back a bit of the komi advantage. He played the move, and Ogata’s eyes widened in surprise, as if it was something he had not foreseen. Wait, what did he do?

“Touya,” said Shindou, “That was the kind of insight Sai would have had.”

Damn! He’d done it again! And now it was too late to take it back.

In the end, he couldn’t follow up on Sai’s move, and that last opening was lost to him. It was hopeless now. There was no way he could win. Akira let the stone fall from his grasp into the goke and fought back tears.

“Well, Akira?” said Ogata, “Don’t you have something to say?”

“I resign,” Akira muttered under his breath, hanging his head.

“Speak up.”

“I resign!” Akira cried, twisting the fabric of his trousers in his fists.

Ogata motioned to the bento on the coffee table. “It’s yours.”

Akira hesitated before nudging his way over to the coffee table. He opened the box to reveal the soft white rice, and the shrimp, carrots and onions in thick curry broth--just the way his mother made it for him. Akira rubbed at his eyes with the end of his sleeve. God, he missed home so much. Had it really only been two days? It felt so much longer than that.

Akira took up the spoon to mix the rice and curry, and was just about to start eating when he hesitated and looked up at Ogata again, who was scribbling in a book of blank kifu. Was this somehow another trick?

“Hurry up and eat,” Ogata said, “I’ve got a meeting to go to in an hour, and commuting without a car is hell.”

“But I resigned...?”

“The point wasn’t to win, but to play an honest game. You may be a stubborn liar, but the game you played was honest. That’s why you get to eat.”

Akira started eating, and savored every bite, still warm from being reheated only a moment ago. It tasted so much like home, and already he was beginning to feel a little better.

“Your game clearly showed influence from Shindou, and even a little bit from Sai. In time, you will reveal to me exactly why that is.”

“Was the point of making me play speed go to force me to show it?”

“That is exactly correct. Every day, you show a little bit more of the picture, no matter how hard you try to hide it. Now finish that curry.”

As Akira ate, he couldn’t shake the feeling that Ogata, gradually, was winning. As soon as he was finished, Ogata seized him by the arm, once again, and dragged him back to the familar closet once again, and Akira felt as if this was going to continue to happen for a very long time.

As Ogata slammed the closet door and shut the latch, he felt truly like the weaker player in this game of wits, always rushing to fix his mistakes before they are punished, always lagging behind in gote, with Ogata always one step ahead.

Chapter Text

“Black wins by ten points,” said Akari as she counted up the last of territory in seichi for Hikaru’s mother. “With a six stone handicap against me this fast, that’s pretty good. It won’t be long before we reduce it to five.”

Shindou-san nodded and smiled slightly, then helped Akari clear the stones.

“Do you want to discuss the game?” Akari asked.

“No, it’s alright,” said Shindou-san in a small voice, wiping at her eyes with her hand.

Akari nodded as she finished returning the stones to the goke. “Would you like me to get you anything?” she asked patiently.

The woman tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “I think I’m begining to understand now, what he saw in the game.”

She idly traced a finger down a line on the board. “It’s deeper than I ever imagined. Playing with you and otousan, I feel as if I’m beginning to scratch the surface of a new world.”

Akari nodded in agreement. She knew the feeling, and was glad that Hikaru’s mother was beginning to appreciate it too.

“I guess my biggest regret now is that I hadn’t thought of doing this before, sharing the game with him, then we might have been closer as a family.”

A shiver of sorrow washed over Akari’s body and she gazed down at the empty board.

“Funny how life has a way of blinding us to each other, until it suddenly leaves us, and we are left with the pieces.” She sniffed and dabbed at her eyes with a tissue.

Akari reached out a hand in sympathy, but she politely waved it away. “I’m alright,” said the woman, “It’s just been a very long month, and I’m not sure what is going to happen now, or how I should be feeling anymore.”

“Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“You’ve done enough for me, Akari-chan,” said Shindou-san, resting a hand on Akari’s arm, and giving a gentle smile. “I think it’s about time you did something nice for yourself. You deserve it so much after all you’ve done. Your life is too short to waste, so don’t worry about me, and live your life for yourself.”

“I will,” Akari said as she packed up the stones and board and headed for the door. “I’ll stop by sometime this week, okay? See you later.” She waved and left.

It had been a very long month, thought Akari as she passed through the quiet air of May, silent save for the soft rustling of trees and the song of a distant windchime. She saw not a single person on the street, and hadn’t since the day before, when she’d encountered Akira-kun in the neighborhood.

In spite of maintaining good spirits, he still seemed very troubled, and, knowing the feeling, Akari couldn’t blame him. How do you go on after such a huge hole was ripped through your life? Akari hoped that Akira-kun was doing alright, in spite of everything.

“I’m back,” Akari called as she kicked off her shoes and entered her house.

“Welcome back, Akari,” her onee-san called, hidden from view in another room, “Someone was calling for you on the phone. They say they’re the Touya family.”

“The Touya family!?” Akira-kun? Did he need something from her? “When did they call?”

“Only a half hour ago. They’re the famous go player family, right? You should probably call them back.”

Akari immediately ran to the phone, dialed them up and returned the call, wondering what this could possibly be about.

Not Akira-kun, but an unfamiliar man’s voice answered the phone.

“Moshi-moshi? This is Ashiwara speaking, for the Touya residence. I’m a friend of the family. May I ask who is calling?”

“This is Fujisaki Akari,” she said, not really sure who Ashiwara was, “I’m returning your call.”

“Fujisaki-san! I’m glad we got hold of you! You are a friend of Akira-kun, right?”

“We’re not close, but we’ve spoken twice. Is something wrong?”

“Akira-kun hasn’t been home since last night. He seems to have suddenly left yesterday morning without telling anyone, and nobody has seen him since. We’re trying every contact we can to look for him.”

Akari clutched the phone tightly in her palm with worry. “Last night? But Akira-kun and I were talking in my house only yesterday!”

“Wait! You saw Akira-kun yesterday?”

“Yes, he was in my neighborhood. Why would he go missing?”

“I don’t know, but you’re the first person we’ve contacted who saw him yesterday at all. You have the address, right? If you have time, you must get here as soon as you can.”

“I understand! I’ll be right over as soon as possible.”

Akari put down the phone, and immediately got ready to leave again.

“Leaving again already?” asked her sister, in the middle of retrieving a snack back to her room.

“Yeah, I have to get to the Touyas’ house,” she said, kicking in the heel of her shoe, “It’s really important.”

“You’re going to the famous go player’s house? Are you really that good at go? So you’re going to be famous now, too?”

Akari ignored her and ran straight out the door, with no time to waste. As she waited on the commute, she struggled to contain her worry. Akira-kun couldn’t really be gone too! And come to think of it, he did seem very troubled… what if he hadn’t been doing as well as Akari originally thought? She hoped that the worst didn’t happen, and that he was going to be okay.

Akari made it to Touya residence, and saw again the familiar idyllic garden where she’d been once before a month ago. The familiar deerscarer called through the song of a running stream.

An unfamiliar man at the door, who introduced himself as Ashiwara 5dan, friend of the family, having already seen Akari arriving on the street, welcomed her into the house and led her to the room where she had last had tea with Akira-kun.

Akira-kun’s mother, an old man in wafuku whom she recognized as his father, and an unfamiliar bespectacled blonde man in a white suit sat around the tea table, which along with cups of tea, was strewn with addresses and phone numbers belonging to all sorts of contacts.

“I understand you have met Akiko-san before, but have not been properly introduced to the others. This is of course Touya-sensei, Akira-kun’s father, as you probably know, and Ogata Juudan, my colleague.”

Despite their keeping good composure, all three of them seemed quite worn out, their hair a mess, grey circles under their eyes, as if they hadn’t had a good night’s sleep.

Ashiwara-san took the tea tray to go and brew more tea. With a gentle smile, he seemed in the best spirits among them, but still quite exhausted, as if from running around tending to everyone’s needs. It felt familiar.

“Is Akira-kun really missing?” asked Akari hesitantly after Ashiwara left the room, not wanting to upset them. All of them nodded in turn.

“I’m sorry that we must meet again in a circumstance like this, Akari-chan,” said Akira-kun’s mother. “We’ve tried everyone, but you’re the first to know anything.” She sighed and dabbed at at her sore eyes. Akari’s day was full of distraught parents today.

Ogata Juudan pushed his glasses up his nose and spoke. “What you need to know is that the last time anyone saw Akira-kun was the night before yesterday, when he came home from a Golden Week go convention. He seems to have taken his bag and left home the following morning without telling anyone where he was going. That was yesterday morning, and he hasn’t returned home or been seen by anyone since, except for you. You said you spoke with him?”

“Yes,” said Akari, raising her eyes to meet the cold stare of the Juudan, then turning away, intimidated. She looked up at Akira-kun’s parents, who were gazing quietly into their laps. So he left home without telling anyone? What would cause him to act strangely? Maybe he was doing worse than she’d thought.

“When and where did you meet him?” asked Ogata-sensei softly.

“It was in the middle of the day,” said Akari, “I was walking my dog and happened to run into him in the neighborhood. He was kneeling in the playground and looking at a pebble that was round and flat, like a go stone.” Sadness washed over her as she remembered how it felt to see him like that.

Ogata nodded in understanding.

“I took him to my house to play a game and cheer him up, and we talked about the go club. He seemed like he was doing ok, but something was off, now that I think about it.”

“Off?”

“Yeah, he was staring at his house and wouldn’t move for a while. I asked him if he wanted to visit his parents and he said no.”

“So he didn’t go to Shindou-kun’s house?” asked Ogata.

“No, we just played a game and talked, then I gave him a gift and saw him off.”

“Did he say anything about where he was going next? Did he give any indication of where he might have gone? Any at all?” Akiko-san asked desperately, before Ogata could respond.

Akari shook her head. Ashiwara-san returned and poured everyone a cup of tea.

“What kind of gift did you give Akira-kun?” Ogata asked.

“It was a go book that he used to have, that I found in his room. The book was about Touya-sensei’s matches, but he filled it with his own notes. I thought Akira-kun might have liked to have it.” Akari said, gazing down at the cup of tea in her hands.

“What’s the matter, Ogata-san? You look surprised.” asked Ashiwara as he took a seat by Akari.

Ogata indeed seemed a little taken by surprise. He shook his head a little bit and regained composure. “It’s nothing, I just remember seeing a book like that before forgotten at the kiin. Shindou-kun left it. I returned it to him, but not before taking a peek.”

“Was it really interesting?” asked Ashiwara-san.

“I suppose. That Shindou-kun really cared a lot about Akira-kun, it seemed. His name was all over it. There was even a sketch of his face.”

Akari could have sworn that for a moment Ogata-san seemed angry? He was staring straight at her with a tense look on his face. She shifted a little with discomfort.

What was he angry about? Was it something she did? Akari then wondered if maybe giving Akira-kun a book that showed how much Hikaru cared about him may not have had the intended effect of cheering him up, and felt a sudden pang of guilt.

“From what I have heard, you have only met Akira-kun twice, but I have known him ever since he was born, so that I feel almost like a third parent to him. Thus, I feel confident in saying that Akira-kun’s confidence and sense of self revolves entirely around Shindou-kun, neither of which he had before meeting him. Everything Akira-kun does, he does for Shindou, everything that Akira-kun is, he is for Shindou, and I am sure that if he could give his life for him, he would. That’s how much he means to him.” He raised his cup of tea to his lips, as if punctuating his statement.

Akari’s eyes fell to her cup as she absorbed these words. So it really did run that deep between them?

“Now that Shindou-kun is no longer with us, what happens to Akira-kun’s sense of self now? For the past month he’s been very reclusive and doesn’t talk to anybody. It must feel like a part of himself has been ripped away. On a day when he feels mournful and visits Shindou’s neighborhood, where does he decide to go? That’s what we have to try to figure out.”

“I wish there was something more I could do to help,” said Akari. “I really hope he’s going to be okay.”

Akari ended up staying for dinner at the Touyas’ house, and she and the other guests were eventually sent home with extra bowls of curry, as, Akira-kun’s mother had made too much. They’d implied that it was Akira-kun’s favorite, and it seemed that they had made it in the hopes that he would return for dinner, but of course he had not.

Guilt gnawed at Akari throughout the whole night and morning, and she didn’t talk to anybody. Without Hikaru in this world anymore, where would Akira-kun go?

By the time she left school the following day, it had started to rain, and feelings of responsibility continued to eat at her. Where did he go? What did she fail to see?

Then just at the end of the street from her school, the blonde-haired man from yesterday stood at the corner with an umbrella, almost as if he was guilt itself waiting for her.

“Fujisaki-san,” said the man.

Akari nervously stopped in her tracks. “Ogata-sensei,” she acknowledged.

“I’m glad I found you. There are some important questions that I have which I didn’t have the chance to ask you yesterday. Do you have time?”

“Certainly,” said Akari, not looking forward to the future implications but feeling it would be rude to refuse the juudan.

“We will go to a more suitable place first, if that is alright with you,” said Ogata.

Ogata led Akari into downtown, and anxiety pounded in her heart along the way. He’d probably figured out exactly what happened to Akira-kun, didn’t he?

Whatever the man had on his mind, he indicated nothing about it on their walk, maintaining only his stone cold stern face. The rain simply pattered around them behind their silence.

At last they came to a familiar location, the Touya go salon. Akari had been here once before only a month ago, in order to get a ride from Ichikawa-san to the Touya residence. She followed Ogata in.

“Welcome back, Ogata sensei,” said Ichikawa-san at the counter, bowing. And I see you brought Fujisaki-san with you? Welcome back, it’s been a while!”

Akari waved as Ogata nonchalantly deposited a few coins on the counter. “We’ll be in the back,” he said.

The salongoers looked up from their games and hailed the Juudan’s arrival. “Welcome back, Ogata-sensei!” “How was your game?” “Any news of Akira-kun’s whereabouts?” “Who is the girl?”

Ogata paid them no mind and led Akari to the farthest table at the back, isolated from the others, and offered her a seat.

“Akira-kun spent most of his time at this table, in the very seat you’re sitting now,” said Ogata as he took the seat across the board from Akari. “This was where he played Shindou Hikaru for the first time, about three years ago.”

“I see,” said Akari. Sadness and guilt washed over her body.

“You play a little bit of go, right? You can take a nine stone handicap.”

Akari nodded and halfheartedly laid out the stones. She was in no mood today for a game, particularly not against someone as powerful as the juudan, but it would be rude to refuse him.

“There’s still been no news of Akira-kun, as you may have guessed,” said Ogata-san as they began to play, “He was supposed to have had a game earlier today, but never arrived. His family are now going to take the search to the police.”

“Why didn’t they do so before?”

“The whole family is unnaturally stubborn and hates to give in, so they held out hope that maybe Akira-kun was just having a moment and would at least come back for his game. But since he did not, there is no choice but to take drastic measures.”

This early in the game and already it was starting to look hopeless. Akari only managed to develop less than half of her handicap stones, the rest quickly eaten away and forsaken. Ogata-san played so efficiently that it was almost as if he was playing 3 moves in one. No wonder he was the juudan.

“Where do you think he might have gone?”

“My guess is as good as yours, but I have my worst fears. Maybe you know what I’m talking about.”

Akari gazed down at the backs of her hands, curled idly over the table. “I did it, didn’t I?” she said after a moment. “I made him disappear.”

“That’s why we’re here, to ascertain the truth of that statement. You are the only lead we have.”

Akari was falling behind fast in this game. Ogata seemed to read so deep into the game that she could not know what he was thinking. The man was unfathomable and unpredictable, and she didn’t even feel like she was learning from anything. She felt completely useless. It was Akira-kun or Hikaru who belonged here in this seat, not her.

“I was told by his mother that the last time you had visited him, you gave him Shindou-kun’s goban as a gift. That’s two sentimental possessions that you have given Akira-kun in memory of Shindou.”

Akari nodded slightly as guilt washed over her. “Yes, you’re right.”

“A day after you gave him the goban, he apparently had some sort of attack, and was found fainted beside it. After that he seemed to have suddenly stopped mourning, but had become more reclusive than before.”

Fainted beside the goban? Akari’s memory flashed immediately to that time when they were children, when Hikaru fainted beside the old goban, and nobody understood why. After that, he acted strangely and suddenly developed a never wavering interest in go. Had something like that happened to Akira-kun as well?

“You seem shocked. Is something wrong?”

“Nothing, it’s just…” Akari muttered, and forced her attention to the game.

“Feel free to tell me whatever is on your mind,” said Ogata softly, “Anything can be of help in figuring out what happened to Akira-kun.”

Akari hesitated. Was she a horrible friend to Hikaru’s memory if she told Ogata-sensei something very private that happened to him, a secret which he had never wanted to talk about or share with anyone? Or was she a horrible friend to Akira-kun if she failed to tell Ogata-sensei that she had seen something very similar happen to Hikaru, that could help them figure out what happened to Akira-kun?

The juudan gave her a stern look. An angry look? A knowing look? A judging look? His face was as hard to read as ever, and she couldn’t tell just what was on his mind. She gazed downward, ashamed, and tried to focus on her game.

Akari was at her limit, her groups cut off from each other and on the verge of dying. No, wait, that group was dead. Actually, that whole side of her territory was dead. All she had left was one little base, which was useless now.

Ogata trained his eyes on her expectantly, as if awaiting her admission.

Akari swallowed as she glared down at the mess of stones before her. The question popped into her head: what would Hikaru do here? She cupped her hand over the edge of the bowl and tried to think of what he would do in her position.

What the hell are you doing!? She could almost hear him yelling, Touya could be dead now, and you’re sitting here playing a useless game?

Of course. Akari narrowed her eyes and reached into the bowl with determination. Of course he wouldn’t be happy, she thought, and dropped two black stones clattering onto the board.

Ogata raised his eyebrows, stopping his hand in its tracks. So Akari had surprised even the juudan.

“I quit,” said Akari, “I’m not wasting any more time with this game. Akira-kun is missing, and we need to figure out what happened to him.”

She began to clear the stones. “To be honest, yes, I thought of something. Years ago when we were kids, I saw Hikaru-kun have an attack just like you described. He touched an old goban in his grandfather’s shed, started hearing voices, and fainted. Nobody knows why.”

Ogata held his finger pensively over his mouth and leaned by his elbow on the table, interest piqued. “Come to think of it,” he said, “Someone at the kiin did complain that Akira-kun seemed to be hearing voices.”

“Hikaru-kun never wanted anybody to know this secret, but he always put Akira-kun before himself, so if it’s to help find him, I think he would be ok with me telling.”

“Hmm,” said Ogata, “Tell me more about Shindou-kun after he had his attack.”

“Well after then, he started acting weird. He immediately started taking go classes, which was weird because he didn’t care about go before then.”

“So before this attack, Shindou-kun never played go?”

“No, he didn’t even like it. I guess he was inspired by the goban? But when he found it, he just wanted to sell it.”

“I see. What was Shindou-kun like before the attack? He wasn’t mourning anybody at the time he found it, was he?”

“No, he wasn’t. Hikaru-kun was a bit of a prankster and he liked sports and manga and videogames, but he never really had a passion for anything until go and Akira-kun.”

“That reminds me,” said Ogata-sensei, “Before he received the goban from you, he skipped a game, and after the attack, he had a sudden drive to go to his games again. We had to cancel his games for him in order to force him to stay home for his health.”

“That’s pretty strange.”

“Yes. It’s even more strange that it has apparently happened twice. So, that goban you gave to Akira-kun, where did it come from?”

“His grandfather bought it for him online.”

“That’s it?”

“Yeah, there’s nothing unusual about it.”

“What about the old one you said he found in his grandfather’s shed?”

“I have no idea where that one came from, but it looked very old. His grandfather insisted that it was haunted. That’s all I know.”

“Haunted?” This last piece of information seemed to give the man pause like no other, and he rested his chin on his finger in thought.

“Yes, haunted. I don’t know anything about it, but that’s what he said. He seemed very serious about it.”

“Interesting, very interesting,” said Ogata. He pondered for a moment, then at last stood up and pushed his chair in, and Akari followed suit. “Well, Fujisaki-san, I believe you have told me everything that I need to know. If I have any other questions, I will contact you. You live in Shindou-kun’s neighborhood, correct? Would you like me to show you your way home?”

Akari bowed politely. “Thank you, but I know my way home from here. Thank you for the game, Ogata-sensei.” And they parted their ways as they left the salon.

If she had to be perfectly honest with herself, a small part of her felt glad that she knew the way home already, and didn’t have to walk home with Ogata. Something about the man, though she didn’t know what, seemed… off, but she wasn’t sure if it was just anxiety over Akira-kun’s absence playing tricks on her mind or not.

As Akari found her way home, she was absorbed in thought. She’d always assumed the old man was just being superstitious and never thought anything of it, but was that go board really haunted?

What did Hikaru see that day, years ago? Was it really a ghost?