Had Hikaru been younger, meeting Sai probably would've changed him for good. As it was, he hardly came out of that first meeting unscathed, but sadly he wasn't a impressionable kid ready to be reshaped into a passionate prodigy of Go.
Instead he was a disillusioned twenty-something, already set in his ways, and his ways weren't exactly impressive.
"Torajiro was young," Sai lamented to him late at night, while Hikaru stared dully at the television and did what he did every night after work – nothing. "He was eight when he came upon me and took to Go like he was born to it. I hardly had to explain the rules to him, and he already soared."
"You played most of his games for him, though," Hikaru said, not looking at him.
"In the end, our styles were almost identical," the spirit answered, nostalgic and wistful. "He let me play, yes, but that never took away from his own skill."
Hikaru said nothing to that, or the following spiel about the games they'd played, the things they'd seen, the skills they'd achieved. Sai was passionate about Go in a way that made Hikaru's teeth ache and his gut clench. He didn't even think people could get that excited over things. It rang fake, though he knew it wasn't.
Sai was as childishly honest as he was excited and sometimes it kind of hurt to watch him, listen to him. Watching him smile and shine, larger than life even in death – a painfully brilliant dead star, it's glow desperately bright, going completely unseen.
Hikaru never been passionate about anything and Sai made him ache.
The first thing Hikaru had studied had been computer programming. His father had ushered him to it, talking about all the IT specialists at his workplace, how much work they had and how there'd be assured employment. Hikaru hadn't cared, but had nothing better in mind and so went for it anyway.
That, he realised just half a month into his studies, was a huge mistake. He made it through the year, somehow, day by day and test by test. By then even the teachers knew he wasn't coming back for another.
Hikaru taught Sai about the internet and together they discovered NetGo. The site was clunky and the part of Hikaru that still recalled stuff like coding and optimisation and how to set up a command structure just so was almost reflexively critical of it.
Then he caught himself and just watched Sai play. The spirit, though confused at first, grew increasingly excited as the game went on and asked million things about the computer. Mostly about how did people get inside the glowing box, and how many there were and should they help them get out.
It was... kind of endearing.
"There's no one inside the box. Now play the damn game before I change my mind," Hikaru said instead and then watched Sai flutter around like anxious overgrown butterfly, sleeves flapping every which way.
Sai, Hikaru soon figured out, was probably good at Go. Or rather, very good at Go. He never lost and after the first day, people started challenging him, rather than the other way around. Then people started watching the games in increasingly high numbers, in actual crowds. And after the first week, there were several threads on number of forums about Sai's games too.
Sai was good. It probably only made sense, the guy had been around for a thousand years. Always looking to play more Go, judging by the sound of it.
"Oh, but it's so wonderful to play again!" Sai enthused. "Even if it so strange, it is still Go. Yes, it is Go, and it's so wonderful! Thank you Hikaru!"
He glowed happily and Hikaru stared at him, weirdly helpless at the face of it.
It only made his gut twist a bit more, to know that no one could see it. Sai, the sad dead star he was, only shone brighter, basking alone in a void, pitifully grateful for what scraps of life – and Go – Hikaru would give him. Seen by no one but Hikaru and the faceless anonymous masses of NetGo, who's never know Sai's face, or his story.
The second thing Hikaru had studied had been engineering. It had seemed like easy switch to make from programming, when his interest in computers waned to near nothing. And, he though then, there'd be more guys like him there. The IT crowd wasn't his crowd, he'd found out. They had nothing in common.
He'd had very little in common with the engineering students either, it turned out. He lasted less than six month, in that line.
Maybe this was why people had kids, Hikaru wondered. For moments like these.
Stopping to stare at a poster someone had tacked on a street post, or to stare at the metro as it went past them, or stopping to marvel something as simple as someone's discarded candy wrapping. Small every day things, painfully ordinary, were suddenly fascinating.
It was like the whole world was new, with Sai. Everything was suddenly shiny and exciting.
Cars were magical and TV were mysterious and endlessly entertaining. Hikaru almost got run over by a traffic thanks to a plane and Sai was baffled by a soda machine almost an hour before elevator struck him completely speechless.
It was kind of exhausting – but that didn't stop Hikaru from wandering aimlessly around the city for hours on end, taking Sai to any place that happened to catch the spirit's eye. That way they ended up in stores and clubs and once in love hotel too, but they also saw an aquarium and a museum and an art show and couple of theatre plays.
They saw a little girl playing with a remote control car, shrieking with laughter every time it bumped into something. Small, nondescript moment that had been irritating if anything before… and suddenly it seemed magical.
Sai was naively delighted over it all. And if Hikaru was living vicariously through a dead man and his childish, open joy over everything… thankfully Sai was too distracted by all neon lights to notice.
After third attempt at getting a degree – this time at catering for some godforsaken reason he doesn't even recall – Hikaru stopped trying.
He stopped trying at pretty much everything, really.
By that time his old high school friends were graduating and losing touch, moving on. Hikaru, stuck somewhere between high school and college, found he had less and less to talk about with them, their inside jokes flying over his head. So, after one last soccer game that failed to reach the level of excitement they remembered from before, he stopped calling them to hang out. Eventually, so did they.
Lifelong friendships were just that easy to break, it turned out.
Sai was infinitely more into Hikaru's job than Hikaru was. He liked watching people pass through, wanted to know all about them and what they wore and the things they carried, what they bought, and why. And he was forever embarrassed about Hikaru being so rude.
Hikaru worked at a convenience store, the closest thing he could think to actual living hell – and Sai thought he should be more polite with the customers, should be more friendly.
"You realise, most of those people are drunkards, druggies and worse, right?" Hikaru asked flatly. He did not work in the best neighbourhood ever.
"Is that a reason to be so rude?" Sai huffed. "You could at least wish them a good day, like the ladies at the store you shop at."
Hikaru stared at him flatly. "I work evening shift, you realise."
"Wish them good evening then," Sai said simply. "Ask them how their day was. It can't be that hard to be a little nicer."
"You'd be surprised," Hikaru muttered.
The next time he was at work, he asked a customer how their day had been. The heavily pierced punk stared at him like he was a lunatic.
Sai tried to teach him Go. Hikaru even tried to learn it, he really did. But though he quickly internalised the basic rules, all the more complicated stuff flew right over his head. Influence and stuff. He just could not grasp it.
Hikaru knew what the problem was too. It wasn't that Sai was a bad teacher. Hikaru was a shitty student – and he had pretty much no interest in Go. As much as he tried to borrow Sai's eagerness and catch onto his enthusiasm... Hikaru didn't feel it.
Go was boring to him. A boring old game with it's complicated strategies and monotonous game play. What action Sai found in the click of stones, Hikaru couldn't even imagine it, let alone take part in it. It just wasn't there. He really tried, but…
"Well... I guess some people just aren't Go kind of people," Sai mused, disheartened.
"Yeah," Hikaru shrugged, careless, and then reached out to poke Sai on the cheek. "Come on, you nuisance. Let's find an actual Go playing opponent for you to play."
Thankfully Sai was easy to keep happy, even through disappointments – Hikaru took him to a Go salon and watched him flutter about happily, and realised quietly that he could be content with just that. He might not be able to share Sai's world, might not be able to join it – but he could still enjoy it, in his own way, from the side.
Watching Sai be happy and excited was happiness and excitement enough.
They played a couple of other customers at the Go salon and got a lot of amused glances. Hikaru had never played on actual goban before – they played only online – and the fancy way everyone was holding the stones was completely beyond him. He held them with thumb and forefinger instead. It seemed like safest way to go about it – the other way he'd just make a mess of the goban.
"You haven't been playing for long, have you?" Sai's first opponent asked.
"Only about thousand years or so," Hikaru answered and put the stone where Sai told him to. Their opponent laughed good-naturedly and they played.
It wasn't long before their opponent started giving Hikaru wild eyed looks, rather than amused ones.
"Are you a pro?" they asked. "No wait, what am I saying – of course you're a pro – is this a joke or –?"
"I'm not," Hikaru said while Sai hovered about him curiously. "What's a pro?"
"You… don't know what a pro is?" the balding man asked.
Hikaru shrugged, glancing at Sai and back again. "Professional something I guess. Go professional?"
"Huh," their opponent said, leaning back. He looked bewildered "So you're not a pro? You're this strong and you don't have any idea…?"
That caught the interest of not only the customers who'd been listening in, but of a blond man in white suit who was hanging back, smoking. He stood and walked over to eye the game Sai had played against the balding man.
"Hmm," the man said, looked at Hikaru, and sucked in smoke.
"Ogata-sensei?" Sai's opponent asked.
"You," the man asked, nodding at Hikaru. "Want a game?"
Hikaru shrugged. "Sure, why not."
Ogata Seiji, Hikaru found out after the man had almost choked on his cigarette filter, was a professional Go player. A ninth-dan professional, whatever that meant.
"He is very good," Sai assured Hikaru. He sounded almost sated after the game – which had been by far the longest Sai had played yet. "The strongest I have played here. His strategies are swift and precise and his experience shines in every move. He must have played thousands of games, and against very strong opponents. Oh, it was a wonderful game."
Hikaru said nothing to that. To him the whole thing had seemed mostly random and overall not that interesting – just bunch of stones, slapped down here and there aimlessly. But then, all of Go games were like that to him.
Ogata glared at Hikaru over freshly it cigarette. "You hold stones like a beginner and play like you're hundred years old. What the hell are you, some sort of history buff?"
Hikaru shrugged carelessly. "Not really," he said.
"Tch," the blond man answered, taking in Hikaru's casual clothes, the dyed hair. "Where did you learn – who taught you? And why haven't they had you take the exam yet?"
"No one taught me. What exam?"
That made the man's eyes narrow in a way Hikaru would've called dangerous if it wasn't over a board game.
Ogata Seiji had the same passion for Go as Sai did, it seemed. Only where Sai was all childish happiness and innocent excitement, Ogata was… something else. Something bit darker and lot more demanding.
And suddenly, it was all aimed on Hikaru.
The first time Ogata turned up at his workplace, Hikaru made the mistake of asking him how his day had been.
"Oh it's much better now, I assure you," Ogata said, smiling at him slow and treacherous. "But since you want to know, let me tell you what a normal day at the Go Association is like."
And he did tell – he stayed at the store for better part of an hour, telling Hikaru – and unseen Sai – the ins and outs of a day as Go professional. Sai drank it all up, his eyes shining and his sighs increasingly wistful as if Ogata was serenading him about the paradise. Hikaru just glared, silent.
Judging by the sound of it, day at Go Association consisted of playing Go, talking about playing Go, talking about talking about playing Go – and occasionally events and playing in them and staying at hotels, rubbing elbows and playing some more Go. And then there were something called ranking games and tournaments and prices and even more Go playing on the side. It sounded like a lot of Go, all in all.
Hikaru had no idea why Ogata thought he'd be interested in any of it – it sounded pretty boring. Except, judging by the way Sai looked, it wasn't. And Ogata spoke of it like it was… less a sales pitch and more a lure, really. Or attempt at flirting.
"I get challenged all the time, officially and unofficially both," Ogata said, not modest in the least, almost leering at him. "I'm never lacking… opponents."
Hikaru arched his eyebrows at that. "Oh really."
"Mm-hmm," Ogata agreed, smiling that dangerous smile again.
The few customers that came by during the whole spiel were very quick – and very wide eyed – as they paid for their purchases. Ogata ignored them all, only pausing long enough to allow Hikaru to do his job – making it seem like he was being gracious about it – and then continuing as if there had never been a pause at all.
If it wasn't for Sai hanging onto ever word, Hikaru would've thrown the cash register at the man already.
"And that's how my day was," Ogata finished and smiled smugly at Hikaru as if he'd scored some point in a game they were playing and then left without buying anything, the bastard.
"Oh, Hikaru, can't we?" Sai asked wistfully. "It sounds so wonderful!"
"And work with that guy?" Hikaru asked with disbelief.
"Yes!" Sai said excitedly. "It would be exciting!"
Hikaru stared at him and then after Ogata. Then he shook his head and went back to work, trying to ignore Sai's numerous sighs of forlorn longing.
Thing was, he kind of agreed. It would be exciting. Probably nerve wrecking too, and so annoying… but definitely exciting.
His gut clenching, Hikaru tried to concentrate onto his work. His boring, monotonous, mind numbingly slow work.
Which he hated.
The thought lingered. Not of just becoming a pro player, as Ogata seemed to think they should... but the thought of Ogata himself.
The man was a creep but he was a vibrant creep – passionate and determined. Were all Go professionals like that or had they just happened to stumble on Sai's very unlikely and very creepy soulmate? Ogata wasn't as flamboyant about it as Sai, Hikaru doubted very much anyone could ever be like Sai... but he was something like him.
In a world of greys, Sai and Ogata were both drawn in vivid colour.
"We don't have to think about it at all if you don't like the idea," Sai commented quietly. "I'm happy just playing online."
"Hmm," Hikaru answered. Happy, sure. Sai was happy when someone just mentioned Go. But he hadn't glowed like he had when Ogata had spoken of the Go Association, not since the meeting at the store.
"Its not that I don't like it, but…" Hikaru said and then he couldn't continue.
No, it wasn't that he didn't like the idea. It was that he liked it a bit too much.
Sai would be happy there. Ogata would be there too, in all his dramatic glory. There's be others like them too, probably, these glowing pinpoints of passion. And Hikaru could pretend he was one of them, could take part in that, like he actually belonged there. Basking in on that atmosphere like he had the right.
Was that selfish? It was what Sai wanted and it wasn't like Sai wouldn't get anything out of it... but it still felt like Hikaru would be using him, if they went that route.
"Do you want to become a pro, Sai?" Hikaru asked.
"Yes! Yes I do!" Sai breathed and then quickly backtracked. "But not if you don't want to. Its your life, Hikaru. Not mine."
Funny how it didn't really feel that way.
"I'll think about it," Hikaru promised, idly tugging at his bleached bangs and wondering when they'd stopped being yellow, and turned white instead.
"Do I have to call security on you?" Hikaru asked wryly from behind the register as Ogata lounged about by the tobacco products.
"You don't have security," Ogata said calmly.
"The fact that you know that is fucking alarming," Hikaru muttered. "And I can still call the cops on you."
"And then get charged for making false emergency calls?" Ogata asked amusedly, picking a packet of smokes. He handed them over to Hikaru to ring up. "I've registered you for the pro exam. The preliminary exam is in two weeks."
"You what?" Hikaru asked while Sai gasped behind him.
"I'll drag you there kicking and screaming if I have to," Ogata said and smiled. "My purchase?"
Hikaru stared at him wordlessly.
Then he rang the man's purchase.
Ogata didn't drag them to the exam kicking and screaming, but he did show up in gleaming red sports car and drove them over to the Go Association – and then he walked them to the examination room door.
"Are you going to kiss me good luck too?" Hikaru asked in embarrassment as everyone in the exam room stared at them.
He really should've known better than to tempt it.
Smiling widely, Ogata leaned over and pressed a kiss on his cheek. "Good luck," he said, his voice low and teasing and right in Hikaru's ear. And then he walked away, leaving Hikaru staring after him with a flailing Sai and everyone in the exam room staring at him.
"T-that was Ogata-sensei, wasn't it?" a shocked looking kid with a bowl cut asked.
"He's a pain in the ass, is what he is," Hikaru muttered in irritation. The kid went bright red and he wasn't the only one – and in the back of the room, someone smothered giggles.
… damn it.
"Um," Sai said, he too blushed bright red. "We – we should go inside, maybe? Yes?"
Hikaru sighed and marched in, trying not to look as embarrassed as he felt. He probably failed, and the whispers going on around him didn't help him much.
"...by Ogata-ninth-dan, so he must be good, right?"
"Dunno. Doesn't Ogata fool around a lot? Might be just humouring the guy something..."
"... could be making a fool of him too – I mean come on, does he look like a Go player to you?"
"... disgusting, isn't it? I really thought better of Ogata-ninth-dan…"
Hikaru's eyes narrowed. There had been a moment where he'd felt a bit sorry for these people, for setting them against Sai all of sudden, no warning or anything. That moment had definitely passed.
Beside him, Sai let out an affronted huff. "How rude," he said, his eyes bright with righteous fury. "Don't worry, Hikaru. I'll show them. They'll be swallowing their words and their losses by the time I'm through with them."
Hikaru glanced at him with surprise and then looked away, feeling warm. Even more embarrassed, he sat in the corner and together they waited for the match ups to be announced. Thankfully it didn't take long.
The first opponent they had laughed at Hikaru holding the stones like a beginner.
"Oh my god, I can't believe I was actually worried about you," the younger player said, chuckling, and played his hand with nonchalance that seemed offensive even to Hikaru. He then kept on chuckling through the first moves few, shaking his head derisively at every hand Sai played.
Sai made him cry by the end of the game.
Ogata, apparently, heard about the whole thing from someone, because he was still laughing about it the next time he turned up to drive Hikaru to the Association.
"You made him cry? How cruel of you," Ogata chuckled. "I never knew you had it in you."
"He had it coming," Hikaru said together with still huffy Sai. "And you don't know anything about me. Like for example – I got a car. I don't need you to chauffeur me around."
"Oh, but it's a pleasure," Ogata said, all smarmy and smug. Asshole. "And I know a lot of things about you. For example – you still haven't learned how to hold the stones properly."
Hikaru shrugged, irritated, while Sai sighed in the back seat.
"You don't have a Goban at home, then?" Ogata asked.
"Haven't needed one," Hikaru muttered.
"Hmm," Ogata answered, and stopped the car in front of the association.
"Not gonna walk me to the door this time?" Hikaru asked.
"I'm sure you can find your way inside," Ogata answered and leaned in before Hikaru could duck out if the car. "Good luck," he murmured against Hikaru's cheek.
"You're creepy and you suck," Hikaru informed him flatly and fled the car under both Ogata's and Sai's laughter.
Sai was still giggling when he caught up with Hikaru. "I think you like him, " the spirit said conspiratorially.
"Oh shut up," Hikaru scoffed at that loud enough to make a nearby woman jump in alarm. Truly, a great start for the second day of preliminaries. "Tch," Hikaru muttered and marched inside, Sai trailing after him happily.
At least this time no one laughed at the way Hikaru held the stones.
Hikaru went to the last preliminary game on his own car, heading there early and making sure Ogata had no way of cutting in between.
Ogata retaliated by showing up at his door carrying a brand new goban, a ridiculously huge ribbon tied around it.
"Congratulations for making it through the preliminaries," the man said with a smug smile.
"I'm going to take that board and beat you to death with it," Hikaru said, while Sai flailed about in wordless delight. "And no one will blame me. You're obviously a stalker. It would be self defence."
Ogata's smile just widened. "Want a game?"
"Yes!" Sai cried and threw his arms around Hikaru. "Oh, Hikaru, he bought us a goban, let's play him!"
Hikaru managed to resist him for about two seconds before sighing and opening the door wider.
"Creep," Hikaru said resentfully as he stepped aside to let Ogata inside.
Ogata radiated self satisfied smugness and stepped in.
Sai and Ogata played and Hikaru wondered about being the third wheel on his own life, just before Ogata leaned over the finished game and kissed him.
The sound Sai made in the background was kind of hilarious and mostly the reason why Hikaru let it go for as long as it did.
"Something wrong?" Ogata asked, tense but still leaning in slightly, even as Hikaru pushed him back. His chest was warm weight against Hikaru's palm, heavy and real and for the life of him Hikaru couldn't pull away.
"No, just…" Hikaru struggled to say and looked away, at Sai. The spirit was hiding behind his sleeves, but not well enough that Hikaru couldn't see him blushing, couldn't see him staring. "Just –"
"I can leave!" Sai cried out and bounced up, weightless, floating. "I can leave Hikaru – I'll – I'll go to the roof, I –"
"No," Hikaru said, to him and to Ogata both, and sighed. "I don't think I'm doing right by him."
"Him?" Ogata asked sharply and Hikaru shrugged, embarrassed, looking away.
How the fuck could you explain to someone that the stuff they were attracted to, that wasn't even part of you? It was the Go Ogata was after. Sai's Go. Hikaru himself had very little to do with it. And if it wasn't for the Go… they'd have nothing to do with each other.
Hikaru's shoulders slumped and his head bowed. "His name is Sai and he's dead and I…," he trailed away, mostly to the Goban. "I… I'm not doing right by him." Shit. It sounded too much like a confession.
Probably because it was.
"Oh," Ogata said, sounding surprised.
"Oh," Sai breathed and fell back down to sit on the floor next to them. "…oh."
"Yeah," Hikaru agreed. His fingers were tangled in Ogata's dress shirt, he realised, and went to untangle himself from the fabric. But he couldn't.
It took him a moment to realise it was because Ogata's hand was covering his.
"Would he want you to stay alone?" the man asked
Hikaru stopped at that, staring at their hands. "I… I don't…"
Ogata waited, but Hikaru couldn't answer – because Sai wasn't saying anything, just staring at him. Finally the blond man sighed and released Hikaru's hand. "It's fine," Ogata said and stood up. "I understand."
"I don't," Hikaru muttered and ran his hand through his hair. "Fuck goddamnit. I want –" he started to say and stopped because he wasn't even sure what he wanted. Sai and Ogata and Go...
Fuck, more than this, more than anything Ogata or even Sai was offering him, Hikaru wanted what they had. He wanted their lives, their vibrancy – their passion. He wanted to be them. He wanted to be Sai.
Or maybe he wanted Sai to be him – to be alive and him and living the life Hikaru was already living for him, but honestly.
More than anything, Hikaru wanted to stop feeling like a shadow of himself.
Ogata left at some point, Hikaru wasn't even sure when, wasn't sure if he'd ever come back, if he'd ever come after Hikaru the way he had before. The sort-of-a-breakdown Hikaru had had in front of him probably scared the guy away.
"I hardly think you could scare him away," Sai commented and Hikaru froze, because his voice was right at Hikaru's ear. "Our Ogata is much more resilient than that."
Hikaru sighed and held still as Sai's arms came around him, his sleeves smothering Hikaru under them. "I can't be you," the spirit said sadly. "You can't be me. These are the lives we have, or lack there of. These are the hands we've played. We can't start again, Hikaru. Trust me – I tried."
"I'm sorry," Hikaru muttered.
"Hm," Sai answered and rested his chin on Hikaru's shoulder. "You're always sorry, and I never knew why. You've given me so much and you're sorry? What do you have to be sorry for? I'm sorry. I take so much and –"
"I didn't exactly have anything to give before you," Hikaru said. "And I've taken more from you."
Sai sighed. "Can't we just…" he trailed away and Hikaru could feel his hands through the fabric of his sleeves, gripping at him and releasing, clutching and relaxing. "Can't we just share? All we have and all we are, can't we just share it all? I know the Go is difficult, I know you can't understand it, but… there are things I can't do, either. Things you can. Don't you think we could be happy, with what we can have? Without guilt and without sorrow, just happy to share it all?"
Hikaru swallowed dryly around the ache on his throat and he kind of wanted to crawl into Sai's robes and hide there, just become part of Sai and fade away. But he couldn't. Sai was right.
"And Ogata?" Hikaru asked, coughing embarrassedly. "He wants your Go."
"Yes and he wants you," Sai said. "And he's right. I don't want you to be alone. And who knows…" he hummed wistfully. "Maybe one day… we can tell him. Maybe one day he could understand."
Hikaru laughed at that, disbelieving and choked. "Yeah, right."
"That man is… very dramatic, and I think a bit superstitious. I wouldn't put it past him," Sai hummed and nudged at his cheek. "Hey, Hikaru?"
"I love you."
Hikaru shattered a little at that, but it was fine.
Sai held him together.
Hikaru leaned back against the wall next to the elevator, arms folded, tapping his foot impatiently. It seemed forever, before the elevator doors opened. Group of people stepped out – mostly men in fancy suits, the kind of suits Hikaru had never owned and damn, did he have to get one now?
Well, maybe he'd have help with that.
Hikaru craned his head until he caught the flash of white in the sea of black and Ogata saw him too, saw him and stopped to stare while the other pros continued along the corridor.
"… the exam doesn't start for another three weeks," the man said to him.
Hikaru shrugged. "I heard you got some important game today."
"Yes," Ogata answered slowly, glancing after the group, some of whom had turned to glance backwards at them curiously. "Yes, and it's about to start so…"
Hikaru darted in before he could finish – and then had the delight of hearing Ogata sputter to a halt.
"Good luck, you creep," Hikaru said with a laugh at the man's surprise before turning around and walking away. Behind him, Ogata was completely silent.
"He's staring after you," Sai informed him a bit gleefully. "I'd say he looks starstruck."
Perfect, Hikaru thought, and reached out to take Sai's hand in his.