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Inhale a Little Deeper

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It was after a particularly lengthy match that lasted 2 and a half hours that Ogata finally could have the chance to sit down after lunch and whip out a stick of cigarette. He hadn’t been able to smoke last night and that morning since Hikaru had spent the whole evening and night demanding match after match against Sai, who is now Ogata’s resident ghost, for reasons that were still unknown to him.

That morning, he had to drop Hikaru off at the Go Association since it was the day of Young Lions tournament and he had been dying to play against some of his Insei friends. As for Ogata, well, it was the first round of the Oza Tournament and it had been difficult for him without his fill of nicotine beforehand. It had been a promise to himself that he wouldn’t smoke anywhere near Hikaru that caused such predicament. Why did he bring that upon himself?

Thankfully, he didn’t let himself get distracted too much as he won the match. Finally, having some peace after a few months of Sai trailing after him everywhere he went and peeking over his shoulder during matches, he was alone. The spirit had followed Hikaru to observe his match against one of his friends, Fuku, he had mentioned earlier.

Just as he flipped a lighter open and lit the cigarette between his fingers, it was suddenly snatched from his hand. Opening his eyes to see who the perpetrator was, he bit his lower lip in frustration.

“What’s your problem?” He glared at the boy with bleached bang standing in front of him. Ogata grunted when he threw the nicotine stick onto the ground and stepped on it.

“You’re gonna die before your time, old man.” Hikaru stared back at him without any hint of fear. Behind him, Sai nodded in agreement with that signature childlike expression of his.

Exhaling loudly, Ogata stood up and loomed over Hikaru before giving his hair a hard ruffle in frustration. “Let me die with my cancer stick in peace.”

“That’s no way to tackle life, Ogata-sensei!” Sai waved his hands about. “You’ll miss out on so many matches if you die!”

“Since when did you become my parents? You signed the adoption form without my signature?” The 10-dan scoffed, more than slightly annoyed at the way the two started to patronise him. Yeah sure, others would say that they were just worried about his health and it was flattering and all, but quitting wasn’t as easy as it seemed. It wasn’t like he was short on cash and had to reduce expenses, after all. If anything, he was loaded. Especially after the 23 million yet he received from winning both Judan and Gosei titles. How else would he be able to afford the maintenance cost of his car?

“How did your match go? You sure took your sweet ass time.” Hikaru followed Ogata as he walked towards the parking lot.

“It wasn’t my fault that Ashiwara was far too cautious.” He replied, hands fidgeting inside his pocket due to the restlessness caused by lack of nicotine. “How was yours?”

“Hikaru did well!” Sai chimed in as Hikaru grinned and said that it all went fine and he won. “Listen, listen, Ogata-sensei. Hikaru played an amazing kosumi earlier. I could hardly believe he thought of that within seconds.”

“Amazing kosumi, huh?” Ogata mused. “You have to show me that later.”

“What, Sai, you were impressed?” The younger boy laughed, intertwining his fingers and rested the back of his head on them.

“Mm! Mm!” Sai almost skipped at the excitement and Ogata couldn’t help a small smile.

They got in the car and Ogata started the engine, the car humming in process. Hikaru settled on the shotgun and put on the seat belt. “I heard you’re going to tutor some Insei.” The bespectacled man stated as his foot put pressure on the gas and reversed the car out of the parking space.

“Yeah, the Pro preliminaries is coming soon, after all. I heard Isumi-san’s going to join as well. That’d be exciting.” Hikaru grabbed an onigiri from his backpack and opened the wrapper. Taking a bite, he opened his mouth once more. “Though it’s weird that anyone would want to get a fresh pro to tutor them.”

“Well, your performance since you returned had been impressive. Not to mention that it’s a lot cheaper to get a lesson from 1-dan than anything higher than that.” Ogata retorted, eyeing Hikaru to ensure that he wasn’t being too messy and dropping rice everywhere. He really disliked people eating inside the car, but the boy was an exception. Ogata wasn’t sure why himself.

“I guess.” Hikaru mumbled through the chewing he was doing. He was happy enough that he finally would start earning some money. He grinned at the thought of buying a car just like Ogata’s, maybe a yellow one. One day. One day.

.

The first three days he went without any cigarette was absolutely disastrous. Massive headache struck him during his game with Sai, causing him to stop halfway and having the spirit flailing around, unsure of how to help. Ogata had told him that it was the nicotine withdrawal and had to stop himself from lashing at the poor spirit, telling him that it was his fault and Hikaru’s. Somehow, he managed to not lose his temper.

He wanted nothing more than to smoke, but Sai was there with him every step he took, giving him a look of disapproval when he opened the pack. He hated seeing that, mostly because he didn’t want Sai to ever be disappointed in him. Yeah sure, it wasn’t like they were playing go or anything, but that look still made Ogata uncomfortable enough to change his mind.

As a result, Ogata spent the rest of the night drinking his addiction away, something that wasn’t any better. He had his hand clutching his head and his breathing was heavy as he coughed for the thousandth time. The go board was left in the middle of the bedroom with his unfinished game with Sai still there.

“Ogata-sensei…” The spirit sat next to him on the couch in the living room, his eyes were soft as he placed his hand on the man’s shoulder. “Hikaru said drinking alcohol will only make you want to smoke even more.”

The 10-dan said nothing but continued sipping on the can of beer on his right hand.

“You’re doing well, really! Just… stop drinking?”

“Just shut up.” Ogata muttered exhaustedly, taking the spirit by surprise. He let go of Ogata’s shoulder but remained seated next to him. In those months of him rambling on about his life, love of go, Hikaru and Torajiro, Ogata never once told him to stop talking. “Leave me alone.”

“So that’s the extent of harm that cigarette could do.” Sai thought. It looked a lot harder to quite than it looked like. He could see that Ogata was restless, his fingers shaking and he keeps biting his lower lip as he coughed and continued drinking. However, if it really was as dangerous as Hikaru had explained, he needed to stop him.

It really seemed like Ogata needed something to distract his mouth with. Sai was getting worried that Ogata was going to eat his entire lower lip at this rate. Suddenly, he remembered something that people could chew without it ever going away. Hikaru had shown it to him once, it could make bubble too! It was really impressive. “Ogata-sensei, Ogata-sensei! You should try bubble gum. Maybe that will help.”

“I hate bubble gum.” The addressed man replied sharply. “Nicotine patches don’t work either. I’ve tried it.” Ogata was well aware that his addiction to cigarette was beyond the level of the average smokers. He picked up that harmful habit ever since he was 15 or so and the amount he would consume everyday had been increasing day by day to the point where he could finish 15-20 sticks in one day. He tried to quit a few years ago, but it was way too challenging for him. After seven days, he picked up cigarette again and never attempted to quit anymore. Not until now anyway.

It really reminded him of why exactly he had continued smoking. The headache caused by the withdrawal symptom affect his matches dramatically to the point where he thought he would start vomiting on the go board. It made him extremely irritable and every single good move that his opponent made would result in him wanting to flip the board and end the game.

He had been avoiding Hikaru too. The boy is far too cheeky for him at that moment. He just knew that if he did try to converse with him, shit can and will hit the fan. It was a mighty good thing that he didn’t have any matches coming for another week. He hoped that the symptom would ease by then.

Hikaru, however, wasn’t taking it too well. He felt like he was being kept apart from Sai and he wasn’t having any of that. Frankly speaking, it wasn’t only the reason why he had been on the edge. He was also worried about Ogata. He heard that quitting smoking was extremely hard on one’s well-being and he could only imagine how the 10-dan was handling it.

Hikaru had really taken a liking to him. Unlike his old perception of the man, Ogata proved to be kind and understanding. He was always willing to play a game with Hikaru and their post-game reviews had always been helpful.

On the fifth day without seeing or talking to Ogata, he put it on himself to visit him on the apartment at 11 PM when he was sure that he would be home.

The boy took a deep breath as he knocked the door. “Ogata!” He yelled out when no one responded after a few seconds. Still yielding no result, he knocked the door harder than before. Hikaru waited there for a few minutes, knocks becoming increasingly louder by the second. For sure, he was bothering the neighbours, but he didn’t care.

Slowly, the door creaked open and Hikaru grabbed the end of the leaf and pulled it firmly. “Hey, stupid Ogata!” Suddenly finding it impossible to follow up with a question, Hikaru felt his jaw drop. The one who opened the door was a woman in her 20s with shoulder length brown hair. “Wha—“

“Excuse me.” She bowed down before going past the boy and leaving.

A thousand questions flooded Hikaru’s mind. Who was she? Where’s Ogata? Why was she here? He bit the nail on his thumb as he made his way inside. “Oi, old man!” He raised his voice. “Who was that?!”

Sai who was sitting on the couch now stood up when he saw Hikaru walking in. He desperately tried to block the boy from entering the bedroom to no avail. After all, Hikaru was unable to see or touch him anymore. He simply walked through him.

“Hikaru!” Sai exclaimed as the boy opened the door.

A can of empty beer clattered and rolled. Alongside it, Hikaru could count about ten more that led to Ogata. He was standing in front of the bed, upper half of his body bare and he was just zipping up his pants. When he turned to look at the boy, Hikaru froze.

“What are you doing here, brat?” Ogata sharply started, the word ‘brat’ no longer a term of endearment.

“Was that a prostitute?” Eyeing the older man with disappointment, he questioned firmly only to be answered with a chuckle. “Answer the question, stupid Ogata!”

“Yeah, that was a prostitute. Any problem?” The 10-dan walked towards Hikaru with the intention of leaving the bedroom. However, the boy stretched his arm to stop him from leaving.

“’Any problem’ you said?” He glared a hole at the man standing in front of him. “I didn’t think you were that low.” Hikaru wasn’t sure why he was getting so riled up at Ogata’s life choices. It wasn’t like he was the only person who turned to prostitute sometimes, but perhaps after spending so much time with the man lately, he had grasped his attitude enough to understand that he wasn’t the kind of man who would be interested in such thing.

Ogata nodded after hearing that. His face crinkled to form a mix of half exasperation, half amusement. “You were the one who wanted me to quit smoking, weren’t you? Now you think you have the right to further dictate what I can and can’t do?” The man shook his head. “How arrogant can you be?”

Hikaru found himself at loss of what to say. It really wasn’t his place to get upset, but it bothered him, somehow. Before he could get another second of thinking, Ogata grabbed him by the shoulder and slammed him against the wall, his other hand sprawled only inches away from the boy’s ear. “I need to distract myself. Unless you want to replace her?”

“What—”

“Didn’t think so.” Ogata sneered while pulling away.

“Ogata-sensei, please don’t get angry at Hikaru. He is only worried about you.” Sai cut in in concern.

“You’re such a jerk!” The boy exclaimed in frustration, but also because he couldn’t find a reason as to why he felt like it was necessary to meddle in Ogata’s life. “Fine, do whatever you want! I don’t care whether you die or not! I feel sorry for Sai, having to deal with you like this. I’m leaving!” Hikaru charged through the bedroom door into the living room and out of Ogata’s apartment.

Closing his eyes and slowly massaging his temple, Ogata let out a long sigh before looking at Sai. “You’re not going with him?”

The spirit shook his head weakly as he approached Ogata slowly but surely. “I’m staying.”

“You better go before I do anything stupid.” Muttered the 10-dan before throwing himself onto the bed.

“That’s the more reason for me to stay, then.” Sai joined him, sitting on the edge of the bed. “There’s something more to your outburst, isn’t there, Ogata-sensei? Is there anything I can do to ease your mind?” At the silence, Sai scooted closer to the drunken man until their shoulders were almost touching. “This may be presumptuous of me, but...” He paused to take a good look at Ogata, who glanced at him on the corner of his eyes. “...do you harbour feelings for Hikaru?”

The 10-dan rested both of his hands on the bed and leaned back, head facing the ceiling. “You’re too sharp for your own good, you know that?” He confessed, knowing full well that he couldn’t hide that fact. Ogata silently wondered if Sai also realised that he was in the middle of a dilemma. He liked Hikaru, that was undeniable. However, he also found Sai and his childlike innocence to be extremely irresistible. In some ways, both of them are similar.

Huh. Maybe he had a taste in partners, after all.

“Shindou is 15 years old. It’s not right.” Ogata exhaled loudly. “It’s nice knowing that he cares enough about my life that he wants to make me stop smoking. It somehow makes me want to give a damn about my life too. That’s part of the reason why I’m trying my best even though it means I’d struggle with my go practice.”

Ogata didn’t notice it, but Sai’s expression darkened momentarily before he brightened up again and placed on hand on the other male, making him tense a little before relaxing. “I’m no expert at this, but I know that Hikaru is really fond of you, even more than he seems to let on.”

“I don’t know whether I should be happy or not.” Ogata chuckled but it was devoid of humour. He was arguably one of the worst men in the world to make as a partner and he was more than willing to admit it.

“You said Hikaru is part of the reason why you’re trying to quit.” There it was, the question that Ogata feared Sai would ask. “What’s the other?”

It could’ve been the alcohol or even Sai’s hand covering his, but he found himself unable to lie. Instead, the 10-dan looked at the spirit right in the eyes and whispered, “It’s because I can’t bear the thought of you being disappointed in me for half-assing something.”

“Oh.” Sai’s lips formed a small O upon hearing what Ogata had to say. The man didn’t strike him as someone who would care about someone else’s opinion of him. It was truly flattering to hear such thing.

“Heh. Look at me being difficult.” He rested one cheek on his palm. “It must be the kind of love and childlike enthusiasm for go that you two have that charmed me. It feels different than the others. It’s warm and refreshing. Like teacher like student, it seems.”

“But I’m—“

“A ghost. Sure.” Ogata finished Sai’s sentence with indifference. “I really admire you, Sai. My obsession for you was unhealthy, just like my nicotine addiction. My picture of you resembles that of the Meijin. Stern, strict, mature and almost unapproachable. Being a spirit aside, I was pleasantly surprised to learn what kind of person you truly are.”

Sai wasn’t sure how to reply to Ogata’s sudden confession. All he could do was stare at him until the man leaned closer to him, face inches away from his own. If Sai could smell, he was sure that Ogata’s breath would smell like alcohol, judging from the redness of his cheeks.

“Is it lonely? Being a ghost for a thousand years?”

“I suppose it does get a little bit…”

“I can help, you know.” The corner of his lips tugged to form a small teasing smirk.

“Ogata-sensei, you are intoxicated.” The spirit looked away before he could fall into the man’s drunken seduction even further. It really had been a while since his last romantic encounter and he hadn’t realised how alone he was until then. However, it seemed like Ogata’s heart belonged not to him, but to Hikaru. Although he wasn’t a hundred percent certain that it was reciprocated, he could not bring himself to get in between the two. They were real; they were alive and he wasn’t. Not to mention the fear that he would be taken away from Ogata like how he did from Hikaru.

The 10-dan tilted his head to the side, gauging his next response. “Shame.” He merely said after a few seconds of silence before pulling back into a normal seating position. “Well, let’s just forget we ever had this conversation.”

“Will you apologise to Hikaru tomorrow?”

“Probably. I was too harsh on him.” The blond stood up, bending over to collect the beer cans from all over the floor and pushed them on one side. “I probably should stop drinking so much too.”

Sai smiled gently in agreement but said nothing. He watched Ogata walking around the room to clean up before throwing himself onto the bed while exhaling. Moments later, he fell asleep. The purple-haired man got to his feet and walked over to the go board, analysing the unfinished game. Hopefully they’d be able to finish it tomorrow.

.

Hikaru had his arms crossed and he was tapping his fingers impatiently on his arm, face expressing nothing but utter irritation. “Are you gonna say something or stand there wasting my time? This whole slam-Hikaru-against-the-wall thing is getting pretty old.”

Ogata chuckled in agreement. True. It was becoming a bad habit to pin the poor boy. “Look, I want to apologise for yesterday, alright? That wasn’t fair on you.”

“That all?” He scoffed, looking away. “Well, move out of the way. I need to go to Morishita-sensei’s study session.”

“You were just worried about me and I wasn’t in the right mind yesterday. Reducing the amount of cigarette from 18 a day to none bound to have some negative impact.”

“I don’t know why you’re trying to justify your action to me.” Said Hikaru defensively, not impressed by the apology.

Ogata looked at the sulking boy for a moment before he smirked, entertained by the attitude. He raised one of his hands to ruffle Hikaru’s hair roughly until he screamed for him to stop. “You’re such a kid. I’m just saying I’m sorry, alright?” The blond ignored the boy’s cries. “And I want to thank you.”

“What?” Hikaru looked up at the 10-dan, evidently surprised.

“Thank you for your concern. I forgot when someone cared that much about me last.”

“I—“ The boy with bleached bang stammered, face turning red. “I don’t!” Hikaru denied, only to be answered by a chuckle.

Ogata had to try his best to resist the urge to kiss Hikaru on the cheek. Although it would be hilarious, he had a feeling that he wouldn’t be able to come home in one piece. “Alright, have fun at the study session, brat.”

“Whatever, old man.” The fresh pro ducked beneath Ogata’s extended arm and walked away.

The 10-dan looked back as he smiled, one hand still on the wall, the other moved to push his glasses up the bridge of his nose. Before he could get very far, Hikaru turned back with a slight blush on his face.

“I’ll talk to Sai tonight, okay?” He muttered.

“See you tonight, Hikaru!” Sai exclaimed excitedly as he waved his hands in the air, looking forward to a game against his friend.

Hearing that coming from his resident ghost, Ogata nodded at Hikaru’s direction and said, “Sai is looking forward to your visit.” Although it wasn’t just Sai who was looking forward to it.

“Something wrong, Ogata-sensei?” Sai gazed at the man, eyes full of concern when he saw the blond shaking his head and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“God, I need a painkiller.” He breathed out in resignation. The road to recovery, he realised, is still long.