The Setting Sun
Hikaru is the rising sun.
And Sai is the setting sun.
Or, in the afterlife, Hikaru and Sai finally say goodbye.
He has never been here before, but these endless fields of golden wheat and the sun-drenched sky overhead feel familiar. Like seeing a picture of a place you've been before.
There are mountains ahead of him. And he can feel a gentle breeze stir the languid, lazy air. Hikaru has never lived anywhere but the city in his life, but he somehow knows that this is the smell of autumn after a long summer, right before the harvest.
And then—as if he had always been there and Hikaru had just not noticed—Sai is there.
"What the heck, Sai!"
There are so many things he had imagined saying to Sai when he saw him again, so many times he had pictured this exact moment. But rather than any of that, Hikaru just shouts,
"Why are you just standing around out here?"
The all-important moment is over. And of course, Hikaru hadn't said any of the deep, meaningful, poignant things he's held onto for years and years. Like an idiot.
Then again, Sai had known him when he was an idiot. So, Hikaru decides that it's not as if Sai would know any different.
Sai looks just as Hikaru remembers him, from his tall Heian hat down to each fold of his voluminous Heian robes. When Hikaru had spotted him across this rolling golden field, Sai had been looking far away, towards the shadowy mountains. But after all the noise Hikaru had made, Sai has turned around to face him, enough for Hikaru to see the almost-smile that had always been present in the corners of Sai's mouth.
"Sai!" Hikaru just shouts at him again in lieu of a proper greeting, crossing his arms over his chest. He even taps his foot impatiently, waiting.
"Hikaru." And that is all Sai says, just his name.
Hikaru fumes. It's beyond infuriating that Sai in their reunion in the afterlife is so soft and happy and simply content just to see Hikaru.
"You better have a good explanation, Sai," Hikaru warns him, keeping his arms crossed and his foot tapping. "I'm expecting an apology. A big one. In fact, if you grovel at my feet right now, maybe I'll consider forgiving you for ditching me like that when I was a teenager."
Rather than get upset, Sai only smiles more at Hikaru. As if he's happy to have Hikaru yelling at him again.
Hikaru rolls his eyes. Typical.
"I'm happy to see you too, Hikaru."
Hikaru huffs, throwing up his arms in exasperation. And the worst part is, he can't even say anything. Not when it's so obvious that Sai had missed him. Not when Hikaru had missed Sai too.
So, rather than deal with that, Hikaru makes a flimsy attempt at changing the subject, grumbling,
"Where are we anyway?"
There are mountains in the distance. Endless fields of wheat. And behind them, a far-away city of some sort. But though it's fairly large, it's also not actually large enough to be a whole city.
A mini-city which Hikaru recognizes immediately. After all, the Imperial Palace has always been a city unto itself. (Though, Hikaru privately thinks it looks weird since he has never imagined it without the city of Kyoto surrounding it.) (But apparently, Sai hadn't felt the need to add that part in his weird wheat-world.)
Actually, Hikaru hadn't thought that much about what Sai's afterlife would be like. Most of the time, he had been content with the knowledge that Sai must have reincarnated and gone on to live another life. Sometimes, in his lonelier moments, he had thought of Sai seated in front of an eternal goban.
A random wheat field outside of the Imperial City had never crossed his mind.
"What…" Hikaru narrows his eyes at Sai, suspicions circling in his mind. He takes in Sai just standing out here in the middle of nowhere, and then turns backward towards the place where Hikaru (and maybe also Sai) had left behind. And then, fleetingly, he looks ahead towards the shadows of the mountains in the distance.
But rather than any of his swirling suspicions, Hikaru just blurts out,
"Have you just been waiting out here this whole time?" He doesn't know why he's so fixated on this. And Sai, the infuriating ghost, just smiles cheerfully back at Hikaru.
"I've been waiting," answers Sai, bright and happy. "I am most gratified that our paths would cross once more upon the unending journey, Hikaru."
"But this whole time?" exclaims Hikaru, still stuck on the first part and completely ignoring the second.
And Sai (the earnest idiot) just nods. Happily.
"You've lived a long and happy life, Hikaru. I'm very glad."
Hikaru's jaw drops. Of all the— Had Sai really been watching him this entire time?
Completely oblivious to Hikaru's incredulous disbelief, Sai just continues smiling and being happy. And even Hikaru isn't terrible enough to stop that.
"So, this is your place?" asks Hikaru, now just blatantly changing the subject.
There's no doubt that this is a place Sai has conjured up. The weirdly-incomplete ancient city is proof enough. Also, Hikaru would have definitely thought of someplace more comfortable. Somewhere with cushions. And air conditioning. And the internet.
The happiness fades from Sai's expression just a little, growing more serious as Sai peers ahead of them towards the mountains again. And Hikaru frowns and squints over at those mountains. The sun is setting behind them, shadowing any distinctive features Hikaru would have been able to see.
"That was where I was born."
Hikaru jerks away from the looming mountains to look back at Sai. And for a second, he's confused that Sai had been born in the middle of a wheat field for some reason. But Sai isn't facing the mountains. Instead, Sai's turned in another direction.
Hikaru takes a step to the side and sees an ancient estate of some kind in the distance that Sai had been blocking full view of until just now. The estate is equal distance from the ancient city, leaving Hikaru and Sai standing right in the middle. And all Hikaru can really make out are the curved peaks of the tiled roofs and the tall walls which surround the compound. But though Hikaru has never seen this place before, he somehow knows that it's the same as the Imperial City—missing the actual city around it.
"It's nice," Hikaru compliments slowly, not sure what else to say.
Sai hides his laugh behind his fan, his eyes glinting with mirth.
"Yes, Hikaru," Sai says graciously, formally. "The Fujiwara Clan thanks you for your compliment."
Hikaru just rolls his eyes again. Sai was always so weird.
And then, unexpectedly, Sai drops the fan and folds it in his hand, looking just a little bit regretful as he peers back at the rooftops of his childhood home.
"These are all the places I ever lived during my mortal lifetime." And Hikaru whirls around in alarm, thinking that he must have missed more stuff just popping up out of the wheat field like…wheat, he supposes.
But there's only the two places he's already seen. And Sai is still talking, "I went from my ancestral home to the Imperial Palace, and ventured no further. I never even saw the cities that surrounded these places."
Hikaru has to stop himself from gasping or gaping or responding in some other equally-moronic manner. But even if these two places were nice places, he couldn't imagine being stuck in them, behind walls that kept him in just as much as they kept others out. Hikaru had practically had permission to run wild across the entire city since he had been a kid. And throughout his adult life, he had frequently travelled across the entire country, had even gone overseas a handful of times, and went around the world more than once.
"Uh, wow, that's…" Hikaru winces, immediately wishing he hadn't gone in this direction. In the end, he finishes with an unconvincing and completely useless, "Wow, Sai."
Sai stands completely still but is somehow able to convey that he agrees with Hikaru and holds no ill-will against Hikaru for thinking the way he had. (And let's be honest, it had been plenty clear on his face what he had been thinking. The only time Hikaru had ever been good at hiding his emotions was during a go game.)
Sai then turns back to Hikaru, smiling again, soft and meaningful and important in the kind of way that makes Hikaru take notice and pay attention.
"I've always wanted to see the mountains."
It is then that Hikaru realizes abruptly that since his arrival, Sai has always been looking off in the same direction. He doesn't seem to take notice of his childhood home or the palace, except to point them out to Hikaru. And even then, it's been only briefly, only long enough to answer Hikaru's question.
In fact, the only thing which seems to hold Sai's attention besides the far-off distance is Hikaru himself.
His expression wistful, mouth curving gently upwards, Sai then says,
"I want to see where the sun sets."
Hikaru shifts uncomfortably on his feet. First of all, he didn't think he was qualified to explain physics to Sai, and how the sun didn't 'set' but the earth just spun around instead.
And second and most importantly of all, this was the end. He just knows this. Their true end.
So Hikaru forces a little grin, and says only just a little stiffly,
Sai is smiling as fondly as he had always smiled at Hikaru. And Hikaru's smile feels wooden and hollow on his face, but he forces himself to smile back even more at Sai nonetheless.
If he were younger, if he were still the age he had been when he had first lost Sai, Hikaru would have howled with fury at the unfairness of it all. He would have demanded more time. He would have been enraged by the idea that the higher powers would do this to them again. And he most definitely wouldn't be smiling now, forced as it was.
But he had lived his life. And he had grown old enough to know that time was precious, and even more precious when it was limited.
"Hey!" Hikaru exclaims and points his finger at him. "I could have showed you the mountains, you know!"
Sai only looks back at Hikaru with an expression of pure indulgence. But they're both indulging each other as best they can, so Hikaru lets it go.
"Yes, I know," Sai says, voice soft and gentle. "And I'm sorry, Hikaru."
Hikaru lets his hand fall, like all of the unsaid things between them never to be said. He doesn't need to ask what Sai is sorry for.
Sometimes, just after Sai had left, Hikaru had dreamed of this meeting with Sai. And in those dreams, he would be bleeding from an open wound. He would demand to know why Sai left him. He would shout and scream at Sai for having done it. Why couldn't Sai have just told him? Didn't Sai know how hard it would be for Hikaru, who couldn't even tell anyone why he was grieving! He had wanted to be as angry, as hurting, as hurtful as he wanted.
But then there would be the other, better dreams. He wanted to sit down with Sai and finish playing their game. He had memorized the board just in case Sai wouldn't remember it (which was just impossible). He had been almost giddy by the thought that maybe they would meet again in front of a goban, Sai finally able to pick up and place the stones himself for the first time since Hikaru had known him.
It was only later, years after Sai had gone, after the mourning and the grief, that Hikaru had realized that Sai had been saying goodbye then. Each desperate demand for another game, each time Hikaru had caught Sai watching him with that sad look in his eyes, those had been Sai's goodbyes.
He had been such a brat back then. And Sai had been so annoying. And really, they had both been selfish. They had always been two selfish people who had inflicted continuous small hurts upon one another without ever noticing how it would matter.
"Yeah, well," Hikaru's voice is watery, ignoring that he was on the verge of tears. Why was he able to cry in the afterlife anyway? That was so stupid. "Better late than never, I guess."
It was weak and lame, but this was what Hikaru could offer Sai. And because they both needed it, Sai chuckles quietly like it had been funny instead of sad.
And then they were just quiet for a moment, the two of them standing there amongst the wheat under the bright-lit sky. But it was a good, comfortable kind of quiet. The quiet of two people who didn't need to have things said for all these things to be known.
"Have you lived a good life, Hikaru?"
Hikaru looks up, baffled by the question. Sai had been watching Hikaru's entire life, hadn't he? He would already know. But Sai just looks back at him and patiently waits for his answer, because he genuinely wants to know what Hikaru's answer would be.
And Hikaru answers softly but truthfully,
"Yeah, Sai. I did."
"I'm glad." As if it really were as simple as Hikaru confirming it to have it be true.
And Hikaru blinks, his return question to Sai confusing even to himself. He hadn't known he had even wanted to ask it. But rather than get upset over Hikaru asking that of a ghost who had taken his own life in despair, Sai only smiles.
"I did. Perhaps I had not during my mortal life, but in my life after…" Sai trails off briefly before coming to a decision. "I had a good life."
"Of course. You had…" Hikaru swallows and forces a cheerful grin to his face, trying to look as Sai had known him best: bright and happy. "You had me then!"
Sai smiles at Hikaru's familiar boastfulness, before adding matter-of-factly, "And Torajiro."
Hikaru made a face, having never liked being compared to Torajiro. After Sai had left, he had been insanely jealous of the other boy who had had Sai for an entire lifetime. (But it wasn't as if Torajiro were here right now anyway.) (So, take that, Torajiro!)
"Thank you for seeing me, Hikaru," Sai's soft manner cuts through Hikaru's less-than-gracious thoughts. "I am glad that we were able to meet again."
Then Sai turns towards the mountains, and looks up at the sky, and announces, "The sun is setting now."
Hikaru swallows the mess of emotions swelling within his chest. As if his lungs can't expand far enough. As if there is a great weight that keeps him from breathing.
"Where will you go?"
Can I follow you there?
Hikaru hadn't said it aloud but Sai must have heard it anyway, because he looks sad.
"I am going to see where the sun sets, Hikaru," says Sai, gentler and more patient than he had ever been with Hikaru before.
But when Sai looks at him then, it was with that expression of soft fondness and gentle affection. And Hikaru is struck by the image, because he has seen this before. It was the same expression Sai had had when he had disappeared, forever wishing Hikaru only the best things ahead.
"This was my place, Hikaru. Now, it is time for you to go to yours."
The realization hits Hikaru hard enough to knock the air from lungs he doesn't actually have anymore.
That this place really had been just for Sai. In all of the many, many times Hikaru had imagined this moment, there hadn't been a wheat field and lonely, aristocratic homes. Hikaru had wanted either a confrontation/apology or to finish their last game together.
And this hadn't had any of that. Because this final meeting wasn't for Hikaru.
All those years ago, Sai had said his goodbyes in all of the things he hadn't said. But those had still been Sai's goodbyes. And the long holding period after has been Sai waiting to meet again after Hikaru had lived a good, long life.
All so that now, finally, Hikaru would finish saying their goodbye.
It was time for Hikaru to let Sai go.
"Will you be okay?" Hikaru can't help but ask, can't help but worry.
"I will be fine," Sai assures him kindly. "Just as you will be."
Hikaru only nods, strangely numb and far removed from his own feelings. He had been saying goodbye to Sai more than Sai had even been in his life. But that made him an expert on it, didn't it? After so many times, so many years, he already knew what was left to say.
"Bye, Sai." Hikaru has a little grin on his face, sincere in his wishes for Sai to be well. He had learned to smile this smile from Sai, because he only wished for all the best things for Sai ahead.
And then, just because, Hikaru adds brightly,
"Maybe we'll meet in our next lives too!"
Sai smiles at him, bright in his happiness, as the sun finally sinks into the horizon in one last moment of blazing light.
And he had shone with the very same hope as Hikaru.
I feel like I started in the Hikaru no Go fandom as Hikaru, and ended up as Sai. (It has been twenty years though lol!)
Thanks for reading! I hope you've enjoyed the story.