Disclaimer: Hikaru no Go belongs to Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata, not me. I'm merely borrowing the characters for a while. You'll notice that parts of this chapter follow either the manga or anime extremely closely. I've attempted to vary much of the dialogue and add or subtract certain parts of it, but the general structure is the same. I'll stress that this probably won't continue as the story goes on.
A/N: Yep, I'm now writing a HikaGo AU, something I've always wanted to do. In the summary I merely describe the AU point as Akira's age, but you'll see as you read that there are many other AU elements to this story. Many people decide to simply write things as they were from the start and change very little at that point, only choosing one divergence point. If that works for them, great, and I enjoy such stories, but personally I'd like to try and make mine different from that. Hence, the other AU aspects to this story. Most of them have a point - the others are just for fun.
An extremely important note: I'm in desperate need of someone to explain just when HikaGo begins. What time is Hikaru in school at the start of the manga, and how much time is there left until he goes to Haze? I really need to know if the second chapter (or the third, I can't quite remember when I planned to use this) is going to be written at all. I'd also like to know if there are any significant dates I may need to have for future chapters. Timelines confuse me a lot, and the research I tried for this already just gave me a headache. So help is very much appreciated!
EDIT: Thanks to Alecto for providing me with Go info! I've modified this chapter as I see fit based on this info and after consideration about how any changes could possibly influence the story in a way I don't want them to.
A sharp sound penetrated the air and Shindo Hikaru jolted upwards from the dream about ninjas he'd been enjoying. A familiar wave of hatred washing over him, he jerked his arm upwards in a desperate attempt to stop the incessant ringing that had woken him. If anything, the only thing this accomplished was making the noise louder and more insistent, if that was even possible.
From previous experiences, he knew it was. Inwardly congratulating himself on once again not managing to find some way of getting a lie-in on a school day, he stretched and pulled himself up, groaning groggily as his mother's shrill voice called from downstairs. 'Hikaru!' she barked. He winced at the tone. 'Why aren't you down here yet? You're going to be late! Is your alarm clock not working again?'
'It's working fine, Mum,' he called down in the most coherent voice he could manage. 'Unfortunately,' he added mutinously under his breath. He glared at the offending object where it sat smugly on his window ledge - almost as if to taunt him, it had now stopped ringing.
Considering destroying it with his numerous manga merchandise as he wished to every day (today he was favouring Kurosaki Ichigo's sword as the weapon that would bring about his nemesis' doom), he shook his head and made his way hurriedly into the hallway. If it broke, he would most likely have to pay for a new one himself out of his allowance, or, worse still, have his allowance cut altogether for a few weeks as punishment - when his parents finally started giving it to him again, that was. Having failed a recent social studies test at his lowest score yet of eight points, his mother had decided that he was not deserving of any money from her or her husband.
Restraint was obviously needed in this situation. Copies of Shonen Jump did not buy themselves, after all, he mused as he stepped in and out of the shower in quick succession, drying himself roughly and pulling on his uniform.
'Hikaru, you need to hurry,' his mother nagged from downstairs.
'I'm coming, Mum,' he replied, his words slurring as he did not even pause from brushing his teeth to answer. Hoping that the toothpaste had not strayed from his mouth to stain his uniform, he dropped the toothbrush onto the side of the sink and ran downstairs, hesitating only to grab his bag and pull on his shoes, thus only narrowly avoiding the kiss his mother was clearly threatening to plant on his cheek.
'I'm leaving,' he informed her and ran full pelt down the road leading to his school. He slowed down as he neared it, not wanting anyone to think he was eager to get to school because he really wasn't, though by the time he had reached his classroom, the adrenaline from the exercise had not quite faded from his system, prompting an easy smile to slide over his face.
'Hey, Shindo,' greeted a few of his classmates amiably.
Greeting people as he wandered idly toward his seat, he did not see the approaching danger until he felt it.
'Hikarruuuu,' whined a familiar voice, as its owner wrapped her arms around him. 'Play Go with me after school?' came the usual question.
'No,' Hikaru replied stubbornly, struggling out of his friend's vice-like grip. 'I told you already, I don't wanna play that stupid game of yours!'
A few of their classmates watched on with mild interest. The conversation between Shindo Hikaru and Fujisaki Akari that occurred every morning when Shindo didn't come in late was always the same up to this point, but Fujisaki's reaction to Shindo's insults about the game she was obsessed with differed greatly from day-to-day.
As the brown-haired girl's arms began to move toward her hips, her face forming into a hard line, the people watching withdrew a little. That was the first sign of anger when it came to Shindo's friend, or "The Annoyance" as he called her. They didn't particularly wish to experience the second sign of anger, nor the third.
'Good luck Shindo,' one boy murmured, backing away and starting up an overly-animated conversation with the boy next to him. The boy in question was someone who completely despised him and the feeling was mutual, but both seemed able to put aside their differences in this particular circumstance. Survival instinct, one could call it.
As Akari took a deep breath as she always did before delivering a particularly long lecture on the marvels of Go, Hikaru gulped and took a few steps back. Before the angry girl could start her tirade, however, the bell rang suddenly, and Hikaru found himself feeling rather thankful for it, or about as thankful as it was possible to feel for the beginning of class.
Their teacher, Inoue-sensei, marched in, prompt as ever. Her eyes sparkled briefly at the familiar sight of Shindo and Fujisaki's morning conversation, but despite this spark of warmth the children of her class knew better than to try and act up while she was around.
'Time to take your seats, class,' she said, choosing to ignore the small groans of dissent sounding around the classroom. 'It's time for maths.' The groans were more pronounced this time, but there were fewer of them. She had been lucky enough to be graced with several students that excelled at the subject.
'Come on, Hikaru,' Akari snapped at her friend. 'You better not ask me for the answers again, because I won't give them to you!'
Hikaru stuck his tongue out at her. 'Wasn't going to,' he said. 'You'll get them all wrong anyway. Girls aren't as good as boys at maths!' With that, he strutted back to his seat, inwardly moaning about The Annoyance's attitude. Geeze, he thought, frowning slightly. Why do girls have to be so bossy? It's nag, nag, nag. Always nagging.
'Turn to page 54 in your textbooks,' came Inoue-sensei's voice, interrupting the boy's thoughts.
As one, the class rifled through their textbooks to the correct page. The start of what would be a normal, tedious school day.
'Hey! Hikaru! Hikaru, wait!' Akari cried, jostling her way rudely through the crowd of students heading out of school in order to catch the attentions of her stubborn friend, who appeared to be experiencing a temporary deafness. He was also walking extremely fast. Unusually fast. But Akari had managed to keep up with Hikaru for the many years they had known each other, and she wouldn't be left behind now.
Putting on an extra burst of speed and taking advantage of the space she had gained now that they were outside the school building, she made one final lunge toward Hikaru and managed to grab him by the shoulders, but her momentum was now so great that he toppled forward onto the ground.
'Akari!' he protested and scuttled away from her quickly before standing up and brushing away the dirt on his clothes. 'What was that for?'
'You were ignoring me!' Akari defended, getting up slower and far more carefully than Hikaru had.
'I was not," he denied, pouting.
'Yes, you were. What are you doing leaving? Don't you remember what you promised me?'
Hikaru scratched his head and took on a rare thoughtful expression. 'Nope,' he said after a moment's contemplation. He grinned infuriatingly at her. 'I'm sure it wasn't important or anything, right?'
'Wrong,' Akari said in a dead-pan voice. 'You promised that if I gave you the answers to the maths problems you'd let me teach you some Go tonight!' she said, her voice rising in volume and pitch towards the end. 'You can't have forgotten that!'
'But I'm busy,' he said, unaffected by Akari's enthusiasm for the game.
'That's not what you said when you wanted my help,' Akari said, though seeing the defiant look on Hikaru's face she realised that the time for words was over: she would have to act if she wanted to get through to his thick-headed brain.
Grabbing his arm and ignoring the protests this elicited, she dragged him back towards the school building, intending to take him to the room in which the school's Go club was held.
'Akari, stop it! I'm busy,' Hikaru said again.
'Doing what exactly?'
'I'm, uh, going over to Grandpa's house.'
Akari's eyes narrowed, unconvinced. 'Isn't Heihachi-san on a trip to Okinawa?' she asked, remembering what Hikaru's mother had told her on her last visit to the Shindo household.
Hikaru blanched, apparently unaware that the Go-loving girl had possessed that little snippet of knowledge. 'Uh, well, I have to... um... check up on the house sometimes?' he tried. 'Grandpa gave me permission to go there sometimes while he and Grandma are away.'
'Hmmm...' Akari said, a small smile spreading across her face. It was an obvious lie, but one she could take advantage of, with a little luck. 'Alright, then. You wouldn't mind if I came with you, would you?' she asked sweetly.
Hikaru was cornered and he knew it. Still, he wasn't one to give up that easily, and Akari braced herself for the inevitable argument. She would get Hikaru interested in Go whether he liked it or not, but it was bound to be difficult.
'Why'd you want to do that? It's not as if we'll be playing Go or anything, and you know I've been grounded after that social studies test so I have to go home straight after.'
'Actually, I was thinking we could play Go there,' she smirked slyly. 'Heihachi-san has been in all those amateur tournaments, and he's always trying to get you to start playing, right?'
Akari's reluctant but true friend scowled at her, knowing he couldn't win. 'He wouldn't want us to use his board. He never lets me touch it, not even when he's there with me. He always tries to explain stuff on some crappy foldable board or whatever.'
'Doesn't he have that extra board in the attic?'
Hikaru gaped at her. 'Uh...' he managed, inwardly cursing the Fujisaki family's close relationship with his own. His mind went into overdrive, attempting to find a way out of this predicament, but nothing came to mind. Still, if he would be forced to sit through some boring Go lessons, he could always find something else to do. Thinking for a moment, an idea started to form in his mind. His allowance had been cut, but if he could find something to sell, he'd have some money... It wasn't as if his grandpa would miss anything from the attic - he never went up there and it wasn't like he needed any of that stuff.
'Okay,' he muttered finally, and Akari's smile grew wider. 'But only if you let me look around a bit in there. Maybe I can find something I can get a lot of money for.'
'Hikaru!' his friend protested, but Hikaru had already started walking at a very brisk pace, and once again she had to struggle to keep up with him.
The journey to Hikaru's grandfather's house hadn't exactly been pleasant. It had started raining very quickly after they had set out, and they'd had to run most of the way there. On top of that, Akari had been bothering her companion about his decision to try and find something of his grandfather's to sell. Luckily, Hikaru had learned to drown her out long ago and that was the only reason he survived it; it also felt vaguely nice to realise he'd got under her skin - a poor revenge, but an effective one. Still, it wasn't particularly enjoyable, and he was very glad when they finally got there.
'Are you sure this is okay?' Akari asked quietly as they climbed the ladder leading to the location of the goban. She hadn't liked the attic since they'd played up there when they were younger and Hikaru had done his best to scare her senseless - it had worked very well, too. Even knowing her fears, however, he was without sympathy for her, since this had been her idea in the first place.
'Yeah, yeah!' the young boy waved her trepidations aside. 'It's fine! You suggested it anyway, so stop complaining.'
'I wasn't complaining!' Akari denied heatedly. 'It's just creepy here, that's all.'
'Go if you like,' he offered hopefully.
'I'll play Go, but I'm not gonna leave,' she replied, trying out the same stubbornness Hikaru exhibited on a daily basis.
'Whatever. I'm gonna have a quick look around before we do any of that Go rubbish.'
'It's not rubbish...' Akari bristled, knowing it fell on deaf ears as her friend rifled through the items in his grandfather's attic.
'This stuff is, though,' Hikaru said after a moment. 'Man, this place is full of junk! It stinks, too.'
'I think that's just you,' Akari replied, feeling uncharacteristically mean.
'Ah!' The sound came as Hikaru lifted a heavy object in his arms away from its original place of storage. 'A Gomoku Narabe board, huh? This could be worth something.'
Akari felt like smacking him. 'That's not a Gomoku Narabe board, stupid! That's a goban, you know, what we use to play Go? How could you have forgotten that?'
'Uhm... I just forgot for a second, now I know what it is,' Hikaru said, vaguely recalling something like the object sitting before him. 'Hey!' he cried, suddenly remembering something. 'Gomoku Narabe is played on a goban, too! Or haven't you seen that before?'
Akari blushed in embarrassment at her blunder, or perhaps out of anger at her companion. 'It's not the same...' she mumbled. 'Go is far more complex and fun than Gomoku Narabe.'
'Well, let's get this over with, then. Teach me, Sensei.'
The Go-obsessed girl glared at him. He still wasn't taking Go seriously! She moved the goban into a position where they could sit on either side of it and motioned for Hikaru to sit opposite from her. She took the goke containing white stones and gave Hikaru the one filled with the black stones, and he looked at them curiously. So dense, she frowned, realising that this would be harder than she'd expected.
'Okay, so we're going to try placing some stones - that's what the counters are called, by the way,' she added, seeing his puzzled expression. 'So could you put one down please?
'I'm not stupid, Akari,' Hikaru protested. 'Can't we do something more interesting?'
'Just try, will you? Or do you think you can't do it?'
'Of course I can do something that easy!' Grumbling, Hikaru slapped down a stone in one of the squares and sat back, folding his arms. 'Happy now?'
Just as I thought... No natural grace. 'No, actually. You did it wrong,' she said simply. Seeing Hikaru's annoyed expression, she quickly assured him that no one got it right first time. 'First of all, you have to place it down on an intersection of the lines on the board, not in the squares. There is also a special way of putting down the stones,' she explained patiently. Picking up one of her white stones and rolling it expertly between her fingers, she promptly demonstrated the "special way".
'What's the point of that?' her reluctant pupil frowned. 'In a normal game, you'd put it down in a square and it wouldn't matter how you held the counter.'
'Go is not a normal game!'
'Are you saying people who play Go are abnormal?' he replied cheekily.
There was a sudden chill in the air, and Akari shuddered, abruptly remembering where they were. 'L-let's just get on with it, shall we?'
'Nah, I think I've had enough. This is boring.' Another chill rippled through the attic, making it much too cold for the season, even with the rain pelting down outside.
Hikaru looked down at the board and ran his fingers along one of its corners. 'This could be worth a lot...' he smiled, but the smile quickly disappeared. 'It's a shame about-'
'Your stupidity, yes,' Akari interrupted him, attempting to get his thoughts far away from selling his grandfather's goban.
Her new student glared at her. 'Actually, I was going to say-'
'Something incredibly stupid, right?' she cut him off again.
'Fine, I won't tell you...' he grumbled, even though he was curious about where the red stains on the goban had come from and whether they would come out or not.
Akari sighed. 'Shall we start again? I want you to look at how I put the stones down and try to copy that.'
'Do I have to?' he groaned.
'Yep.' She picked up another stone and instructed him to look closely at how she held it between her fingers, telling him to pick up a stone himself and emulate her movements as she moved a stone onto the goban.
After what felt like hours of practice, sometimes peaceful whilst her pupil attempted to grasp this new skill, other times rather loud as Akari became frustrated with his lack of progress, Hikaru finally managed to place a stone correctly - only to fail on his next try. With a bit more practice, however, he was soon speedily placing countless stones down in a row, and Akari found herself grinning at his antics. Shindo Hikaru, always ready to show off.
'Hey, Hikaru, now that you've learned how to do that, would you like to do some more? We could start playing simple capture games and stuff,' she said eagerly.
Her friend looked down at the board for a second. 'Um, actually, I think I should get home... Maybe some other time? I don't think I could really play on this board anyway. Those stains are really distracting,' he explained sheepishly, for the first time that day truly hoping Akari wasn't offended. It hadn't been the most fun experience of his life, but he hadn't felt as bored as he'd pretended to be, either. Still, his mother was going to kill him when he returned home.
'Stains?' said Akari, confused. 'What stains?'
Hikaru pointed to the corner splattered with red stains. 'There.'
'There!' Hikaru insisted, pointing to the stains again.
'Where?' Akari repeated. He looked up at her face to see if she was joking. She wasn't. And yet, the stains were so clear to him, making a pattern of their own across the board.
'There's nothing there, Hikaru.'
'I'm telling you, they're right there!'
'You... you can see them, can't you? You can see the stains?'
'That's what I've been telling you!'
'Can you hear my voice?'
'Of course I can hear it, I-' Hikaru began in reply, before registering that it was not Akari who had spoken.
'You can hear my voice, can't you?'
Hikaru looked around frantically and, just as Akari said, 'No, there really aren't any stains...' his body stood up of its own accord.
'Who is it?' he asked, acting braver than he felt.
'Hikaru, stop this!' Akari said, attempting a laugh to ease her nervousness. 'This really isn't funny. Quit joking around!'
'I found someone,' the mysterious speaker said. 'I finally found someone.'
'Who... who are you? Grandpa, did you come back?' he asked tentatively, knowing that was impossible. It certainly wasn't the voice of his grandpa, and they hadn't heard anyone climb up the ladder. 'Come on out...'
'I-I'm going home!' Akari stuttered. 'If you get attacked by ghosts or something, then it'll be your fault for trying to scare me like this!' The frightened girl stumbled down the ladder and Hikaru looked around in fear, knowing he wasn't playing a trick but not able to find a way to make her realise that.
'The gods before me, I thank you. Once again, I...' the voice began, but Hikaru was too busy staring at the goban as it began to glow to comprehend these words. There was a green light, encompassing everything, and then... a flash of white material passing before his eyes, swirling away to reveal the man speaking. 'I... may once again return to the living world,' he continued.
Indigo eyes slit open to stare into Hikaru's wide green ones and the two beings were kept in this one moment for what seemed like an eternity but was in reality only a few seconds.
Then blackness, and a familiar voice on the edge of his hearing. 'Hikaru! What's wrong? Hikaru... Hikaru!' What was her name, the girl calling his name? Akira...? No, Akari... 'Hikaru, stop pretending to be unconscious! I know you can hear me! This isn't funny! Please... wake up...'
Her voice faded into the background, then vanished altogether.
Hikaru looked so pale, lying there in the ambulance without any knowledge of where he was. Perhaps he wasn't even thinking of anything, Akari thought worriedly, hoping that wasn't the case, hoping that he would wake up and smile his familiar smile. 'What happened?' she whispered. Already she felt sorry for doubting him, hoped that her words of apology would be enough when he eventually woke up. If he did. No, I shouldn't think like that.
'Everything will be fine,' the medic reassured her. 'We'll get him to the hospital as soon as we can, and he'll most likely wake up soon. You did the right thing, calling us immediately.'
Akari nodded numbly and clutched Hikaru's hand, hoping that would be the case.
Meanwhile, Hikaru was preoccupied with problems of his own. Who are you? he thought, unable to speak past the weight that seemed to be stuck in his throat, hoping that his words would somehow reach the mysterious, strangely dressed man who had suddenly descended into his life.
'Fujiwara no Sai,' the man replied, as if that would explain it.
...Sai? He would have liked to say the name aloud, liked to know how it would feel coming from his mouth, but the weight in his throat got heavier every time he attempted to find his voice. What are you? he asked with his thoughts instead.
'A spirit,' Sai answered. 'I lived during the Heian period in the capital. There, I taught the emperor the game I loved above all else, Go.'
Why did you love it so much? Hikaru wondered. He now knew the feel of a Go stone in his fingers, knew the sound the stones made as they connected with the board, yet he had not reached an understanding of why Go was special, why people were so dedicated to it.
'Because a game of Go is like the sky. In the beginning, there are endless possibilities of where the stars will live, where they will shine brightest, what pattern they shall make across the night. But as the game progresses, the stars start to take shape, and a finished game can be the most beautiful landscape of light in the world. A game of Go is the connection of two souls.'
Hikaru breathed in awe at the passionate description. Can be? he inquired.
'Day after day, I played Go in the palace and I was very happy,' the spirit continued his tale, his voice taking on a slightly sadder note. 'However, the emperor had another Go tutor. One day he declared to the emperor,' here the ghost paused, overcome with emotion, '"only one tutor is necessary." He proposed that we should play a match, and that the winner should continue on as tutor.'
And you guys played, right? Who won?
'The match proceeded evenly,' Sai began.
Evenly? Didn't you know who was winning then?
'We were equals in Go, and in the past we had created a beautiful universe on the goban together. It was such a match, this time. There was no telling who would win, who would rise above the other to succeed.'
What happened then?
'It really was unbelievable, that under the gaze of so many men, only I noticed it... A white stone was present among the black stones in his goke. This is rare, but never an issue, and the stone is usually returned to its owner after the game. I intended to ignore it, when a second later my opponent saw a moment of chance and dropped the white stone into his agehama, among the stones he had captured during the game.'
So he cheated?
'Yes. When I was about to bring this up, he stood up suddenly, his face contorted as if in anger, and he accused me of doing exactly what he had just done. When I said as such, he said, "What a pathetic excuse!" and the game's observers appeared to agree. Before the situation could escalate, the emperor himself intervened, stating that he did not believe such a despicable act could occur in his presence. He ordered the game to continue. And... I lost, unable to recover from the difference in the score and also my own shock.
'Branded a cheater, my name dragged through the mud, I was cast out of the capital in disgrace. Two days later... I drowned myself.'
Hikaru frowned. Wasn't there something else you could have done?
'No. Without my livelihood, there was nothing to live for. But I still wanted to play Go, I wanted to play so much more. Unable to seek solace in the afterlife, my spirit possessed a Go board, and waited, waited until I could return to the world and play more Go. After centuries of waiting, I heard the voice of a boy on an island within the sea of Seto. He alone could see the tears of sorrow I had shed on the goban.'
Who was he? Hikaru asked, wincing at the pain that rushed to his head when he tried to think too much. Maybe the pain meant he was closer to waking up, but that didn't mean he enjoyed it.
'His name was Torajiro, but he later changed it to Shusaku.'
'It was not uncommon to have more than one name during his time. Why... is that no longer the case?'
No, Hikaru replied, feeling slightly thankful for that. He liked his name, and just because he was now possessed by a one thousand year-old ghost - or so he assumed - that did not mean he wanted to change it.
'At age fourteen, six years after we met, he took the name of Honinbo Shusaku, and at age twenty he took the place of his master.
'However, the house was struck by a terrible plague, and one by one Torajiro's students succumbed to the illness. He lingered there by their side, risking illness himself, and took care of them until they died. But at the youthful age of thirty four, he became a victim of the plague himself, and one night he...'
The blood on the goban must have been his. And you possessed me, because you wish to play more Go?
'Yes. Because I have yet to obtain the Hand of God!'
The Hand of God? What is that? Some kind of prize?
Sai opened his mouth to speak, but Hikaru could only see his mouth move. He could no longer hear the spirit... and after a moment, even his vision started to deteriorate.
Maybe he was waking up...?
Despite the fact that he had walked these halls countless times and faced the prospect of more lessons about things he really didn't have much interest in, Hikaru felt somehow that this day was different, and that all the subsequent days would be different. Maybe his collapse yesterday had caused some sort of change in him, but it was most probably because he was now possessed by a one thousand year old ghost who happened to be more obsessed with Go than his friend Akari.
And it was really getting annoying.
Having exchanged the usual pleasantries with his peers upon arriving in his classroom, Hikaru slumped casually into his seat, his resolve to ignore Sai's rants about Go slowly failing the longer he had to do it. Finally, he was forced to snap, 'Don't talk to me anymore! I'm not interested in Go, okay?'
Realising that he'd spoken aloud, he hoped that no one had heard. If Sai wasn't able to transfer to another person, he'd obviously have to get used to the talking-with-his-thoughts thing, or people would start to think he was mad.
Unbeknownst to Hikaru, who was now reflecting on his current situation, one student had heard his words. Fujisaki Akari looked down sadly and turned away. Of course, she thought, after the way she had treated him, Hikaru wouldn't want to continue being her friend.
Tokyo. One of the largest cities in the world. Heavily populated, it still manages to cater for its occupants' needs, including any ghosts lurking in its busy streets. One such ghost was now inexpertly weaving his way through one such street behind a small, rather irritated boy.
'So, Hikaru, what is this... Go salon, exactly?' the ghost of Fujiwara no Sai ventured interestedly, breaking the strained silence between the pair.
You've been asking that constantly for the past ten minutes, the boy answered in his thoughts. I have my own plans for my life and I don't have to do this for you. So stop yelling in my ear already!
The ghost looked as if he wished to retort, but reigned his feelings in, only putting on a small pout to convey his displeasure. Knowing that the boy held all the cards - or rather, stones - he merely contented himself with following him silently, glancing at his surroundings in wonderment instead of speaking.
After five minutes of behaving himself, Sai had had enough. 'Hikarruuuu,' he whined.
'What?' his companion snapped aloud, gaining him a few looks from those walking near him.
'There are so many people!' he said, eyes shining. 'Are we going to challenge any of them to a game? I can play against multiple opponents at the same time you know!' The spirit drew himself up proudly.
Hikaru snorted. 'Don't be stupid,' he grumbled, amazed at Sai's inability to see the obvious. How would we know if they play Go or not? he added silently, directing the thought to Sai so that he would hear it.
'Then, where are we going?' A question asked softly, very softly. 'You're not... trying to get rid of me, are you?' Softer still.
'Of course not!' The boy frowned in thought, searching for a way to placate the excitable spirit. 'I cannot tell you where we are going because... it is a surprise.'
Sai mulled this over for a moment. 'I love surprises!' he said finally. A happy expression appeared on his face, and it barely wavered at his companion's next words.
'That's great! Now would you shut up, at least until we get there?'
The spirit nodded sagely, though he wasn't quite sure he'd be able to stop cheering for joy at random moments if the journey took much longer. I'm going to play Go again, he thought with a smile. Even though this age is rather strange... Metal birds, flying high in the sky, and no one seemed surprised at all!
The journey did not, thankfully, drag on for much longer. Even when Hikaru stopped in front of a clean-looking establishment claiming to be the home of a travel agents, a tour guide office, a hairdressers and Go salon, Sai merely said, 'Are we here, Hikaru?'
'You'll see,' the boy replied mysteriously as they entered the building.
'Welcome!' was the first word they heard as Hikaru strolled indolently inside. The woman standing at the check-in desk smiled encouragingly at him. 'Is this your first time here?' she asked curiously, not recognising his face.
Spread out before them was a room filled with men (not a woman in sight!) sitting at tables with gobans atop them. The sound of Go stone hitting katsura wood resounded through the space, but no one appeared to notice it, their attention entirely focused on the game they were either playing or watching.
'My grandpa took me here a couple of times when I was younger, but that was before the ownership of the place changed.' Hikaru answered the woman's question with his typical ease and, smiling a goodbye to her, made to move further into the salon to find a free opponent.
'Ah! Wait! The fee is five hundred yen for children,' she informed him, her manner suddenly business-like.
'Hikaru, you say you are familiar with this place, yet you forgot about it costing money?' Sai chided the boy lightly, but most of his mind was occupied by fantasies of Go and his eagerness to once again face an opponent across the board, so it was only a half-hearted attempt at teasing.
'It is his first time in here in a long while, Ichikawa-san, can't you cut him some slack?' asked a gentle voice from behind Hikaru, who had turned to glare at Sai and had thus not noticed the newest participant in their conversation approach.
'Well, if you say so, Akira-kun!' the light-haired woman said, her tone much more informal than before.
'Ah! A kid!' Hikaru exclaimed, catching sight of "Akira-kun".
'Um... I wouldn't say I am a child exactly,' Akira said, sounding embarrassed. He gave the strange boy who had suddenly appeared at the salon a polite smile.
On closer inspection, it was obvious that there was several years between them, yet the older boy was still the youngest patron of the establishment.
'Sorry, sorry,' Hikaru said, feeling equally embarrassed at his outburst. 'It's just, you're kinda young compared to everyone here.'
'Oh, well, yes.' The polite smile returned.
'Even if you are to be exempt from paying, I'll still have to ask you to write your name down,' the cashier said, handing him a clipboard holding a pad of paper filled with slots for customers to sign.
Swallowing nervously, the young boy considered his options. If Sai really had taught the emperor and played as many games as he claimed, he had to be a pretty good Go player, and Hikaru would hate to gain recognition for the ghost's skills, especially in Go, which he had no interest in. So there would be great risk in using his own name... a false one, then?
Grabbing a nearby pen, he scribbled down the only name that made sense to write down - Fujiwara Sai.
'What do I write in this box?' he said, indicating the slot next to where he had written his alias.
'That's where you state your strength. Do you know it?'
'I'd say I'm pretty strong,' he boasted, hoping Sai had the skills to back his words up. That better be the case, he thought, broadcasting this to Sai also, who simply nodded.
'You can leave that area blank, then, if you don't have an exact idea of what your strength is. Go on in and feel free to ask anyone here for a game; they'll be happy to play a new opponent.' She paused for a moment, thinking. 'How about you play a game with him Akira-kun, just to get him settled in?'
'Well, I was just on my way out, but I suppose I can stay for a little while longer,' the older boy said with a small smile. 'Let's go to the back, shall we? If you don't mind.'
'Sure!' Hikaru grinned and followed him to a table away from the bulk of other customers, Sai following them soberly, much more composed now with the prospect of a game so close.
As they seated themselves, the boy said, 'I'm Toya Akira, what's your name?'
'Fujiwara Sai,' said Shindo Hikaru. 'I'm in 6th grade. What about you?'
'It's boring playing old folks after all!'
That polite smile again. 'How strong are you?' The inquiry came with a façade of interest, but underneath Hikaru could sense Toya wasn't too interested in his answer. Polite, yet arrogant?
'Ummm... I'm not sure. I think I'm pretty strong though.'
Toya chuckled lightly. 'You're not sure, but you think you're strong? Then why don't you place seven or eight stones for a handicap?' he said, opening the goke on his side of the goban and setting its lid aside with great care.
'A handicap?' Distantly recalling something his grandfather had said about him not being able to beat him at Go even with a nine stone handicap, he felt slightly puzzled. 'I don't need anything like that! I'm almost your age, after all!'
'No handicap against Toya Akira?' a startled voice asked from behind Akira, laughing slightly at what he perceived to be Hikaru's stupidity in requesting such a thing. 'That's crazy!'
Toya regarded him for a moment, a strange glint in his eyes. 'Okay. You can go first,' he said, ignoring the grumbles this evoked from the men playing near them.
'I may be a little slow in playing, excuse me,' Hikaru said apologetically. His lack of experience in Go would really show itself in this match, he knew, but it didn't matter, as long as it ended quickly.
Hikaru took a black stone from his goke and regarded it silently. Remembering how he had practiced holding Go stones in the attic with Akari - so long ago in his mind, only yesterday in reality! - he tried out the special way of holding it she had taught him, and was surprised when he did it perfectly. With everything that had happened, he'd half expected it not to work.
A small drip of water across his face startled him out of his thoughts and he looked up, wondering if the ceiling was leaking.
There was no leak. Sai was crying from behind his fan. It was beautiful.
Sai... are you that happy?
It's been more than a hundred years... Tears continued to pour down the spirit's face.
Without warning, a shadow fell across the man's tearful eyes, and as it lifted he looked up from under his fan. Tears no longer filled his eyes, for they had regained their usual sharpness and fiery determination.
'Hikaru. I'm going to start.'
The game progressed intermittently, as Hikaru, taking instructions from Sai, slowed down in some strange places and sometimes had trouble placing the stones in the right area. Due to Hikaru's grandfather and friend trying desperately to get him to play Go, he now had some knowledge of how to position the stones and, in most cases, could tell where to put them down almost as soon as Sai gave him the number of the intersection on the line he needed. However, this knowledge was not something he really thought about; it was more that his subconscious remembered it than he himself did. Playing like this was unexpectedly tiring.
The battle that had recently begun in the upper left corner was slightly troubling, but Akira found himself feeling more puzzled than anything by Fujiwara's play. It was... outdated. He had used Shusaku's signature kosumi a while earlier, but with komi, which they were certainly including, it had actually weakened his position substantially, and several of his joseki had also fallen out of favour.
It was a shame that his opponent was making such amateurish mistakes. Akira could tell that he was strong and could read into the board deeply, but he was confident that it would not be enough to win this match, not now. He also suspected that his opponent had not taken him seriously at first (some of his moves were even reminiscent of Shido-Go - not that that was possible... not for a child of that age, especially against him, a professional player), and because of that great mistake, black was having a hard time catching up.
He does not cower to my attacks... no. In fact, he's dodging them easily. But he will not be able to dodge this blow, Akira thought, inwardly satisfied at the final pachi of his clamshell stone connecting with the goban.
There was a long pause, and Hikaru looked up at Sai expectantly. Why was the ghost not saying anything? Sai, it's your turn! Make your move already!
But the spirit's eyes were fixed firmly on the board, and he did not appear to hear the impatient boy's questions. A few moments later, he placed his stone, and was met with an almost instantaneous reply from Akira. This continued for a few minutes, before Sai paused again. After an indefinite period of time, he bowed his head and said, 'I have nothing.'
Hikaru stared at him, mouth open in an expression that would be comical in any other situation. Sai, what are you talking about? You have nothing? What does that mean? He glanced back at the board, but the patterns across it made less sense to him than his social studies tests, and he could no less see the epic battle of stars across the goban vying for the best positions, striving to shine the brightest, than other people could see Sai.
'No, Hikaru,' he said quietly. 'The game is over. I... lost.' He said it with the softest voice he had used yet, but below the surface Hikaru was sure that he could see a sharp interest in the ghost's eyes.
The young boy's mouth gaped open further, and he looked between Toya, Sai and the goban. Hadn't Sai said he was strong? How could he have been defeated so easily, and by a sixteen year-old with girly (not to mention green) hair, no less? Then again, Sai's hair was even longer... But that wasn't the point! He'd lost, and after boasting so much, too. Remembering the spirit claiming to be able to play against more than one person at once, he grimaced - what a liar he was! Sai couldn't even defeat one opponent.
'Is there something wrong?' Toya prompted gently.
'Uh... I have nothing,' Hikaru replied, copying the ghost's words and hoping that was proper protocol - Go seemed to have a lot of tedious formalities the players had to honour, one of the reasons he hadn't caved in and tried to learn it already.
'Thank you for the game,' he remembered to say before standing up and moving toward the exit, tired of Go and not wanting to show himself up more by suffering through another loss. He had to make his way home soon anyway, else his mother would annoy him to no end if he got back any later. Scratch that, she'd do it anyway, even though he'd told Akari to tell her where he was. Of course, she didn't know he was at a Go salon, as he knew she'd never let it go. Instead, he'd told her he was going to the arcade, a plausible tale as he spent much of his free time there.
Toya Akira watched him leave, sitting back in contemplative silence. The boy had a lot of potential, and an ability to read the board that was scarily high for one his age; there was something about him... something which interested him greatly. With the proper tutelage and more practice, Fujiwara could become a great Go player.
Though when he said practice, he meant a lot of it. Fujiwara could certainly use some education regarding the Go world, too - he clearly hadn't heard of him: there had been no reaction to his name, Toya Akira, despite the fact that Akira was one of the most famous Japanese Go players, professional or otherwise.
'Oh, your game's over,' he heard Ichikawa-san say to Fujiwara as he moved toward the door.
'Yeah,' the young boy replied, scratching the back of his head and shifting his feet. 'I s'pose I'm not ready for a match yet,' he admitted. 'It took a long time to play and I'm knackered.'
'Oh really?' Ichikawa said with her usual smile. 'Oh, yeah!' She bent down to rummage under the check-in desk. 'There's a children's Go tournament soon. Here,' she continued, standing up fully and handing him the flyer she had retrieved. 'You could go watch it,' she suggested.
'Mm, I'll think about it! Thanks for today!'
With that, he left the salon. Still sitting at the same goban he'd played against Hikaru on, Akira cleared the board and started to recreate the game. Maybe it would help clear his head of the wild thoughts about what his opponent could achieve after studying some more modern strategies. If he could get him to focus more deeply on the game itself... No. He could think about it later. Now, he, too, had to focus on the game itself. That move there, what had his adversary been thinking?
Dimly aware of Ichikawa saying something about it being far too early for such a young child, obviously new to Go, to be challenging the great Toya Akira, he stared at the board, not even noticing the curious patrons crowding round his table to observe him replaying the stones. It was him and a goban, nothing more.
Outside, Hikaru ambled along the pavement, complaining about Sai's loss and how it had "shown him up". The ghost expected an angry expression and felt slightly ashamed, but when his companion turned to look back at him, there was a kindness in his features. 'Are you satisfied now, Sai?' he asked playfully.
'Yes,' the spirit nodded, beaming. Despite his loss, he felt that he had learned much from that match. And Go was Go. 'You're not... angry, are you?'
'Nah, that guy, Toya, is a Pro. One of the strongest, too! He was expecting us to lose. I remember my grandpa saying he wished I could be more like him. Though now I've met him I dunno why Gramps would want that.'
'Uh... A pro is someone who plays Go for a living.'
'Ooh, can we do that? I want to do that!'
'No! Didn't I tell you I have my own plans?'
A sigh. The ghost would just have to settle for the next best thing. 'Are we going to that children's tournament the woman at the table mentioned?' he asked hopefully.
'Maybe...' Hikaru took out the scrunched up flyer from his pocket, but before he could read it, a large gust of wind blew it from his hands and into the distance. '... Not,' he added.
Oh, well. He hadn't wanted to go anyway.
'Come on, Sai,' he said, trying to distract the spirit from the problem of the lost flyer. 'We're running home.'
And they did just that.
A/N: I find Hikaru immensely difficult to write even whilst using the anime and manga as such a close guide, and I think that's shown through. I'm sorry for that and any other flaws in this chapter. Hopefully there were some good points in this chapter too, and hopefully I'll improve as I go along.
Sorry for the long A/Ns! They'll get shorter. Probably. As for the chapter length, not all of them will be this length, so don't worry about that. Updates might be slow at this stage though. I've just had this lying around for so effin' long that I couldn't leave it alone another second!
Thank you for reading. I look forward to any questions or comments you may have! Once again, I'd really, really appreciate help on the timeline thing.
On honourifics - You'll notice I only used them three times. I'll say this only once and it applies to all of my fics, but the only time I use honourifics is when I feel it is either absolutely necessary or if I wish to emphasise the relationships between characters. These cases were more in the latter category. I tried writing them without, but somehow it just wasn't working for me.
Gomoku Narabe - Japanese version of Connect Five. In the manga, it was Akari who said it was a Gomoku Narabe board. I just thought it was a nice little detail I'd use.
On Akari's Go lesson - This is probably a rather unconventional Go lesson, but I have my reasons for making Akari teach Hikaru this stuff first. I wanted Hikaru to look as if he knew what he was doing far more than he had in canon - Akira would automatically take him more seriously if he could put the stones down properly, and since he was playing Sai I needed him to take Hikaru as seriously as possible from the beginning. Also, it meant I didn't have to get at all technical and such because I know very little about Go and knowing me I'd mess up even the simplest of rules. That's not to say it won't get a bit more technical later on though. Also, Hikaru's grandfather has already tried to teach him stuff, but he was less than unresponsive, so Akari's decision to take a different approach was perhaps a wise one.
If Hikaru seems to know too little considering how much he's been exposed to Go, then in some cases he's genuinely forgotten things, but in most he was just being difficult.
On multiple opponents - Sai's claim about being able to play multiple opponents at the same time is not ridiculous (as long as they are not too high level I'd assume). However, I'd like to ask those out there who know more about this subject whether that should have been a higher figure. I suppose I'd like to get as many details as correct as I can possibly get them. EDIT: The original of this chapter had him say 6 players, but after thinking about the info Alecto gave me, I decided to make his claim more vague.
"Before the ownership of the place changed" - A little AU detail I decided to add. Toya Koyo bought the salon from the previous owners when Akira was around 12, meaning Hikaru was about 8 years old.
On handicaps - When Akira was twelve in canon, he asked Hikaru to take a 4 or 5 stone handicap against him. This was during the time he took a 3 stone handicap against his father, the Meijin. It's four years since then in this AU, so Akira is an awful lot stronger now, and I thought I should up the handicap to 6 or 7 even though Hikaru said he was strong. That good or should it be higher, lower? EDIT: Changed to 7 or 8. I'll be covering handicaps more later anyway, so I'll have a little more time to get my head around them properly.
Komi, in case you do not know, is the 5.5 handicap given to White at the start of the game to make up for the disadvantage from moving after Black. In Japan at the time of this fic, it was 5.5, though it is now 6.5 (?). I believe it is actually higher in other nations however.
Shido-Go - teaching Go. Even in the anime you may recall that Akira couldn't grasp the concept of who he thought was Hikaru playing Shido-Go with him, and they were the same age.