|Crossing the Bridge of Dreams
Author: Tuulikki PM
Heian age fic about Sai's life. A son of a provincial governor, Sai has come to Heian-kyo to follow his dreams, but the life at the capital isn't in every respect what he would have imagined. At least he gains one unlikely friend and student, a common fisherman's son.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Fujiwara no Sai & Hikaru S. - Chapters: 18 - Words: 81,152 - Reviews: 35 - Favs: 17 - Follows: 23 - Updated: 05-19-13 - Published: 01-13-13 - id: 8904090
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Next day, Hikaru was grounded. Big surprise. He wasn't about to let it stop him, though.
He behaved the whole day in an exemplary manner. Once evening came, he went to his room – he did like this old house, he actually had a whole room of his own there! – for a nap, he said. Instead he jumped out through a window and set out.
He hoped he wasn't late. He hadn't wanted to leave too early, to lull his parents into believing he wasn't even thinking about going anywhere, but he didn't really know how long it would take him to reach Sai's home. He ran across the streets. Sai lived in the eastern part of the city, and he at its very western edge, so there was some distance to be covered.
How was the address again? Jo five, Bo nine, Cho thirteen, yeah. He still remembered it. He ran through the Suzaku Avenue, counting the streets that started from it. That should be the correct one, right? He dashed off down the street.
It wasn't the correct one. He had mixed up the jo and bo once again. In the end he had no choice but to ask the way again. He claimed he was delivering something – perhaps a blatant lie, as he wasn't carrying anything, but still he was guided on the right way. Finally he stood behind the gate of Sai's home, panting.
He drew a deep breath, eyeing the gate thoughtfully. He wondered which entrance he should use – he remembered that irritating guy's words from the day before, how he had worried about the weirdo's reputation. He snorted. But nevertheless, it might not be a bad idea to make sure he wouldn't start this relationship by annoying his new teacher. Maybe, he came to think, and it worried him a little, those two had been talking last night, and the annoying cousin had managed to turn Sai's head.
So he headed to a back gate. Some servant girl was just passing through it, and Hikaru ran after her.
"Sorry," he said as the girl turned to look at him questionably. "My name's Hikaru, I'm here to meet Fujiwara no Sai… sama."
The questioning look turned to a somewhat incredulous one.
"It's… it's about… you know, he plays go, and…" Hikaru wasn't sure if he was supposed to tell people Sai had decided to start teaching him or not, but as soon as he mentioned the word 'go', the girl's expression brightened. "Go, huh," she said, with a small knowing smile, as if that explained all peculiar things that might happen in this house. "Come in, I'll tell him you are here. Hikaru, was it?"
Hikaru nodded and followed her in, a little relieved but still quite nervous. As their new house was an abandoned home of aristocrats, he wasn't quite unfamiliar with places like this, but a house that had been abandoned for years couldn't quite be compared to one in use. And this place was much grander than their home. He got a feeling that this Sai must be from quite a prominent family – well, of course, he was a Fujiwara, but they were a large family with many branches, and not all of them had manors like this.
He didn't have to wait long before the girl returned and led him deeper into the house. They came to a large room where Sai was waiting for them. There was a beautifully painted screen by the wall that all the visitors conscientiously stopped to admire, but Hikaru didn't even notice it; the go board by which Sai had been sitting caught his attention immediately. As they entered the room Sai approached him with a wide smile on his face. It seemed he needn't have worried, Sai hadn't changed his mind overnight. His first words confirmed this.
"Hikaru! I have been waiting for you! Come, let's get started right away."
"I, umm…" Hikaru was a little taken aback by his eagerness. He felt the servant girl's gaze on himself, and could guess how fervently she was wondering who he could be – some noble in disguise or something – and he felt himself blush a little. Recalling his decision to be at his best manners not to jeopardize this new chance, he gave a low bow. "I'm honored to be here," he said.
"Yes, yes, come now." Sai took a hold of his arm and started pulling him toward the go board. "That's all, Ayaka, thank you," he said to the girl over his shoulder and she left them alone.
They sat down by the go board and Hikaru did his best not to fidget.
"The game we played yesterday," Sai was saying, "how about reviewing it? I find that one of the best ways to learn."
"Yeah. I guess. I mean, you're the teacher, so."
Hikaru watched marveling as Sai started to recreate their game on the board. He hadn't realized people could do things like that.
"Here," Sai said, not noticing his wondering gaze, "I think I know what you were planning to do here, but look, you leave your side wide open."
Hikaru turned his attention to what Sai was telling him. He had come here to learn, right? And so he would.
Once they finished reviewing the game, Sai wanted them to play another one. Hikaru started it much more carefully, trying to keep in mind everything Sai had said about his previous game. Not being so eager to capture the opponent's stones, keep track of the whole board, pay attention to all stones and all moves your opponent makes, even if they seem totally harmless… All this made him realize that he really wasn't at all certain what he was doing, and he said so. Sai just smiled that little enigmatic smile of his, and said it didn't matter – at this point he wouldn't, but he would learn. Hikaru frowned, finding that smile a little annoying.
"I know you could easily beat me up," he said, watching the game with a frown. "So why don't you?"
"I'm trying to teach you," Sai explained patiently, "not to 'beat you up', as you put it. This is a teaching game, and you might learn something out of it if you pay attention." He touched the board with his fan, calling Hikaru's attention back to it, and went on playing.
Hikaru lost this game, too, with a few moku, but now he knew enough to realize that it was deliberate, and somehow this annoyed him. As Sai wanted to start reviewing this game, too, Hikaru shook his head. "I should be going," he said. "I'm afraid my parents will find out soon that I… I mean, I'm… expected back home soon. Can't we review it tomorrow?"
Sai's face fell, but he nodded. "Certainly. Can you come around the same time?"
Hikaru nodded. "Yeah, I think so. I'll try anyway."
"Good." Sai gave him a smile. "It has been a pleasure to teach you, Hikaru. I hope we can study go together a long time."
"Well, yeah, thanks." Hikaru wasn't sure what to make of that – wasn't he the one doing studying here? "It's been fun. I, eh, come back tomorrow."
On his way home he pondered on this very peculiar turn his life had taken. Not that he had much (or any) experience of nobles, but somehow this Sai didn't really fit the image he had. It wasn't just that crazy hair that was off. (It had taken all Hikaru's self-control not to ask why on earth he had such hair, but he knew he had been staring and was afraid Sai had noticed.) He thought about that irritating kid he had met at the palace, and Sai's cousin, Nobu-whatever his name was. They fit his idea much better. Annoying, arrogant jerks. He wouldn't have thought he'd ever have anything to do with them, voluntarily, at least. And there he was, private student of someone from the Fujiwara clan. Crazy.
It was later than he had realized. As he approached his home, he wondered if his parents had noticed he was gone. Most likely. And given how mad they were at him to begin with, he'd better come up with a plan, something to conciliate them, or this time he'd be in serious trouble.
He didn't bother to sneak into his room. He entered through the front door, and true enough, had barely stepped inside when his father appeared in front of him, landing such a blow on his ear that he almost fell down.
"Where have you been?" his father hollered, while his mother's worried shape appeared behind him. "I thought you were supposed to stay in your room!"
"I'm sorry I left without…" Hikaru started to say, rubbing his ear, but before he could finish, his father grasped his hair and started to drag him to his room.
"You impossible brat! I swear, if you ever…"
"Wait, wait!" Hikaru yelled, stumbling after him. "I… I got a job!"
"You… what?" His father stopped on his heels and turned to look at him in astonishment. Then his eyes narrowed, and he shook Hikaru's head. "If you think lies will help you this time, you are wrong."
"I'm not lying! You see, I was feeling bad the way I blew up everything, and I thought I'd try to find something on my own."
"And what did you find?" his father asked. "Tell me!"
"I'm going to work for this noble, he's a Fujiwara, lives on the fifth street, and you see, I'll just do all kinda little things, run errands and so, and…"
The look his father gave him was beyond incredulous. "How in all hells did you manage that?"
"Well, I know someone, who, you know, knows someone, and I was kind of on probation today, but I'm going there tomorrow again, and…"
"Tomorrow? What time?"
"In the evening, around the same time as today."
"Fine." Finally his father let go of his hair, and he rubbed his aching scalp. "We'll go there together."
Hikaru froze. "Together?"
"Of course. You are my son, I need to see what you are up to."
"Yeah. Sure." Hikaru managed a weak smile. "Tomorrow, then."
Still with quite a dark look on his face, his father let him go.
"Hikaru?" his mother said, approaching him. "Is it really true?"
He felt his smile grow even weaker. "Yeah, sure."
She smiled at him. "That's wonderful, Hikaru. I'm so proud of you."
"Mmm. I… I think I'll go sleep now, ok?" he muttered and made his escape.
"Are you hungry?" his mother called after him.
"I'm fine," he yelled back, though in truth he felt a bit hungry. He just didn't want to stay any longer with his mother right then.
Next evening arrived. Hikaru had waited it with very mixed feelings. He would have wanted to ran to Sai's place earlier on the day and explain everything, and ask if he possibly could get some kind of a job, or if they could at least claim he had a one, but his father had taken him to fish early in the morning, and had kept careful eye on him the whole day.
When they were walking to the mansion where Sai lived, Hikaru wondered how he'd ever talk his way out of this. He didn't know what worried him more, how his father would react when he found out the truth, or what Sai would say. They reached the place, and Hikaru led his father to the back gate he had used. It was closed, and he knocked on it. He didn't know the woman who came to open, and obviously the woman had no idea who he was. He licked his lips. "Umm… is Ayaka here?" he asked, getting a sudden, desperate idea.
The woman nodded and went to get the girl. She did recognize Hikaru as soon as she saw him. "Oh, you are here already! Master will be happy you came so early."
Her cheerful greeting seemed to baffle his father. Hikaru grinned at the girl. "Great. Could you tell him that I'm here with my father. He was, um, curious about the job I've got here. You know. The job."
Ayaka stared at him a moment before catching on. She nodded, the corner of her mouth twitching a little. "Come in."
They entered the house, and Hikaru was amused to note how his father's demeanor was crumbling and how nervous he was beginning to look, though he tried to hide it.
Ayaka came soon to get them and led them to a different room than where Hikaru had been last time, much smaller, and it seemed to be some kind of a study, with a table with writing utensils and some papers on it. Sai was there, sitting behind the table, and he smiled as he saw Hikaru. Hikaru stopped and was about to bow, but then he realized his father was kneeling, and did so himself.
"It's good to see you again, Hikaru," Sai said. "I take it this is your father?"
"Ye…" Hikaru started, but his father cut him off.
"One is most awed to be in your presence, my lord. This humble person really is this boy's father, Masao by name," he declared.
"Did you have some questions concerning Hikaru's… job here?"
"I was merely wondering what kind of work he could possibly have found in an illustrious place like this," Hikaru's father said, bowing down so deep his forehead touched the floor. "I am afraid he might not be up to the tasks you've given him."
Hikaru tried to catch Sai's eye despite bowing down, but his teacher wasn't looking at him.
"You should have more confidence in your son," Sai stated. "His performance yesterday left nothing to be desired. He seems to be a bright lad, and I am happy to take him to my service. You should not worry, he won't have too demanding tasks."
"I… I see. One wonders…" he fell silent.
"Yes?" Sai prompted him on.
"One would not dare to presume, but…does he…"
"Oh, the payment? Yes, of course. It does depend on the work he does, and the quality of it, of course, but you should not worry. I am certain you won't be disappointed. And now, Hikaru…"
He looked at Hikaru, who bowed down. "Yes, umh, my lord?"
"It's time to get started."
This was the cue for Hikaru's father to leave, and he took it.
Once the two of them were left alone, Sai gave Hikaru an amused look. "So, what is this? Am I supposed to pay you for teaching you go?"
"I…" Hikaru shifted uncomfortably on the floor where he was still kneeling. "I'm sorry about that," he muttered. "It's just that my dad wouldn't want me to waste time learning go, and I should get some kind of a job, but I just can't keep them, and… well," he looked up at Sai. "Do you think I could get some work here? Anything at all?"
"I'm sure we can arrange something." Sai frowned. "Wouldn't want you to waste time learning go," he echoed Hikaru's words. "What a peculiar notion."
"But he's right, I guess." Hikaru sighed. "I really don't know why I'm learning it, anyway."
"How can you say so?" Sai exclaimed. "What could be more important than go?"
"Well, I don't know." Hikaru's voice got a sarcastic tone. "Having food to eat, maybe? A home to sleep in? Not everyone gets all they need carried to them on gold plates."
Sai was silent a long moment. "I guess I never asked where you come from," he said finally. "You are not from a wealthy family?"
Hikaru snorted. "That much should be obvious." He sighed again. "I really should be working for my living, and not playing games…"
"What does your father do?"
"He's a fisherman," Hikaru said with an even deeper sigh.
"Aren't you going to be one too, then?"
"Well, I… I don't know." Hikaru's hand moved to scratch his head in embarrassment, but he stopped it. "I don't care about fishing that much. Or about fishes either, what comes to that."
Sai nodded seriously. "I can understand you. I like to watch the colorful fishes in our ponds, but those that swim in the rivers? They're almost as disgusting as toads."
"Toads?" Hikaru blinked. "What do they have to do with…"
"Nothing, nothing." Sai waved his hand dismissively, and perhaps a little embarrassedly. "I just don't like toads. But I'll see to it that you'll get some work here. I mean, I am not going to pay you for learning go, even though it is a great thing to do."
"That's great." Hikaru grinned, but dropped then his gaze to the ground. "I mean, I'm very thankful, my lord." He bowed down again, hands on the floor.
"Psh, stop that. Weren't we going to play? Come, let's get started."
And so it was all settled. From that day on, Hikaru spent most of his time at Sai's home, helping here and there where help was needed, and playing go with Sai in the evenings. After the excitement began to fade, he started to grow a little impatient. Time passed, one week after another, but no matter how hard he tried, no matter how much he had learned, Sai seemed to be always as far ahead as before. If he was progressing, he didn't notice it. But he kept quiet. He did enjoy go, and his parents were more than happy with the wages he was bringing home, so he figured he'd better not lose this place.
"I think I know why you are doing this," he muttered darkly after one game. "You're just sadistic, and you like beating me." He was losing all the games (teaching games, but nevertheless) with three moku. It was beginning to grow tiresome, and he said as much.
"I thought that'd be approximately a suitable end score," Sai said a little defensively. "But if you don't like it, we can make it two moku the next game."
And so it was. As they finished counting the territory and Hikaru saw the result, something snapped and he swiped angrily the board empty of stones. "You think that's funny?" he yelled, as Sai watched in shock the go stones spreading across the floor.
"Hikaru, that's…" he started to say, but right then someone entered the room. Hikaru froze, hand in midair and mouth open, as he saw Sai's second cousin coming. Nobunori stopped to watch the scene, and shook then his head. "It is nothing short of incredible that you are still doing this," he said to Sai. "You are truly stubborn. How haven't you given up yet?"
Sai smiled a little. He gave Hikaru a look, hoping the boy would have the sense to bow, but Hikaru was still too angry to even think about it. He met Sai's gaze with a glare.
"Do you have some reason to end the games like that?" the boy asked, deliberately ignoring the irritating newcomer.
"No…" Sai looked a little baffled, and shot an uneasy glance at Nobunori. "Not really, I just… thought it would make the games more interesting if I tried to end them up in the same points. The first two were just a coincidence, but…"
"Interesting?" Hikaru's voice was raising. "Yeah, I guess it's not interesting to play against me!"
"I… I didn't mean that! Of course it is, it's just… the next game…"
Nobunori bent down to pick up a white stone from the floor. "Figures," he muttered. "But you can hardly expect any manners from a brat of the common trash…"
"I am not…"!" Hikaru started to shout, but Sai raised his hands in a mollifying movement.
"Quiet, quiet now. Come, Hikaru, let's collect the stones and play a game, so Nobunori can see for himself."
"What?" Nobunori gave him a look. "Do you mean I have to watch another game by you two?"
Sai gave him a bright smile. "I'd be happy if you did," he said, and disarmed by that smile Nobunori had no choice but to sit down and watch.
Once they again had all the stones in their bowls and started the game, Hikaru could feel his cheeks burning a little. Not just because he was still angry, but also embarrassed. Why had that annoying guy had to come right then, right when he was having a fit? Of course he couldn't come on the previous day when Sai had actually complimented a move he had made.
They started the game, and as it proceeded Hikaru's cheeks burned even hotter. He wasn't doing his best, and he knew it. He didn't know why Sai insisted on his cousin to watch their game, but this surely wasn't it. He knew he was in trouble both in the upper and lower parts of the board – hell, he knew he was in trouble over the whole board. He wasn't sure, but he had a feeling that Sai was playing much more seriously. He'd be lucky to lose this game with just a few moku.
He lost it by ten, in the end.
"Well?" Sai said, sounding strangely smug as he turned to his cousin. Hikaru didn't bother to look at their audience as he stared miserably at the board. "What do you think?"
Nobunori was toying with his fan as he examined the board. The expression on his face was thoughtful. Then he shook his head. "How long is it again that you've been teaching him?"
"Not even two months yet," Sai answered. He looked at Hikaru with a smile and reached out with his fan, over the board, tapping the boy's head with it. "Don't look so sad, Hikaru. You played well."
Nobunori cleared his throat. "Well? Alright, alright!" he went on when Sai shot him a glare. "I admit, he played well for someone who's been studying the game such a short while. Really well," he added reluctantly.
"There! Hear, Hikaru? If he admits you are playing well, then you'd better believe you are."
Hikaru gave him a slow smile. Then he nodded his head to Nobunori, changing the gesture half-way to a bow. "Than you very much, my lord," he said in his most respectful voice, and was rewarded with an annoyed glare.
"So, why don't you two play?" Sai exclaimed, and without waiting a reply moved away from the go board.
It took Nobunori a moment to realize he was really being addressed. "What? You want me to play with…Saaaii!" he wailed as Sai nodded happily. "Why do you have to draw me into your eccentricities?"
"I don't really think…" Hikaru too started to object, but Sai silenced them both with a wave of his fan.
"It will do you good, Hikaru! When one is learning go, one should play against as many different opponents as possible, and you are only playing me. And Nobunori, please, don't be so unreasonable. Besides, it's not bad for you either, to play against different people."
"While I agree with that in theory, I don't quite think this…"
"Nobunori." Sai silenced him with a glance, and with a sigh, he gave up
"Fine. One game. Just one. And you owe me. You really owe me. And if you ever let anyone know I've played a game against someone like this, you will regret it. "
"Of course." Sai's smile was the sunniest as he watched his cousin sit on the other side of the go board.
It was true, playing Nobunori was very much different than playing against Sai. Hikaru hadn't really realized before how different styles people could have for playing the same game. Even so, he lost, pretty crushingly, and it ticked him a bit though he had been expecting it. Sai seemed a little annoyed too, giving his cousin one of his pouty glares. Nobunori just shrugged it away, but when Sai wanted to discuss their game, he did not leave but stayed at the side and even added some comments of his own.
"I guess we should stop for today," Sai finally said, and Hikaru nodded, relieved. He had never played go for quite as long as today, and he was beginning to grow really tired. "So," Sai went on, "when you come tomorrow, Hikaru, we..."
"Tomorrow?" Nobunori cut him off. "Now there, Sai, this is getting a bit too much even from you. Don't you remember what day it is tomorrow?"
Sai gave him a blank look and he gave a deep sigh, closing his eyes as if in great exasperation.
"It's the Festival of the Snake," Hikaru said helpfully. He knew that only because of his mother - usually he didn't pay much attention to such things, but she had been talking about it the day before, remembering the feast her late employer had arranged.
Nobunori gave first him and then Sai a look. "This is really too much," he said. "Even that boy knows..."
"Alright, alright," Sai cut him off, a little annoyed. "It just slipped my mind. I'm sorry, Hikaru, I guess we can't meet tomorrow. I have to go to the Kakugan-ji temple for the feast."
"I see... you think I'll have to come here at all?"
Sai shook his head. "Have a day off. You've been here very close to every day since we started, after all."
"I guess that'd be nice. I'll hang around with my friends." He thought of Akari. He hadn't seen the girl for a while, maybe it was time to have another go session with her.
When Hikaru came home that night his mother was waiting for him.
"Finally you are here, Hikaru!" she exclaimed as he came. "We have already eaten. Do you want something?"
"Yeah." Hikaru yawned. "I'll have a little snack, thanks. Then I go to sleep." He yawned again. "I'm so dead," he muttered.
"You had a long day today, son," his father said as he settled down for his snack.
"Yeah," Hikaru mumbled, mouth full of food. "Sa… I mean the lord's cousin came by, and there was, umm, a lot for me to do, and they just kept on playing so much go, and…"
"Go?" his father frowned at him. "You weren't wasting your time watching them play, were you?"
"No, of course not! Hikaru denied it vehemently. "Don't be silly," he added. "I had better things to do."
His father nodded, content with the reply, and Hikaru grinned inwardly. Better things, yes. Like playing himself.
Although the way he had lost to Nobunori did irk him, it had been an interesting game, and as he lay awake in the night, Hikaru pondered on what Sai had said, about the necessity to play many different opponents. And so, early next morning, he sought out Akari and took her to the old go board which still was waiting in the abandoned house.
"So, what's it now?" Akari asked, a little peeved at the way she had been practically dumped for months. "Have you again learned a new way to play?"
Hikaru shook his head, staying perfectly calm, which really surprised her. "No. I have just started to really get into it." He was sitting by the go board, and when he looked up at Akari, the girl twitched nervously. There was something new in her friend, something she didn't quite understand. "Come, I'll teach you," Hikaru said, and she sat down too, and for the first time really concentrated on what Hikaru was saying
"I heard you got yourself a job," Akari said when they had finished playing. "What's it like?"
"Oh, nothing special." Hikaru shrugged. "I just do… this and that. All kinda chores. And run errands. And so."
"Where are you learning to play?"
"Oh, I just…" Hikaru fell silent. He should have realized Akari would sooner or later ask him that. Why hadn't he thought what to say beforehand? "I'm just… you know, spending a lot of time at a noble's place, I see and hear stuff, and he loves go, so… I just pick it up."
Akari gave him a look that told him she didn't quite buy it. Luckily she dropped the subject.
"It must be nice," she said. "Could you show me the place some day?"
Hikaru gave her a sidelong glance. "Why?"
"I'd just like to see it! I can't believe you got a job like that. Don't they need any maids?"
Hikaru snorted. "I wouldn't inflict you on them even if you paid me," he said, and got a whack. "Seriously, Akari, I can't just drag you there! What would they think of me?"
The corner of her mouth twitched. "Well, if they ever need anyone, remember me, ok?"
"Sure," Hikaru replied easily.
A/N: From now on I'll be able to update only once a week, most likely on the weekends. (There's a slight possibility of two updates next week, but it's unlikely.)
A big thank you for the reviewers! I was going to ask you if it's deliberate, the way this fic had one review for the first chapter, two for the second, three for the third and four for the fourth, but then right when I came to update I saw there was one more review from charapa, so... this equation doesn't quite work anymore. (I totally don't mind, charapa, thanks fort he review and welcome to the fic!) I hope you all continue to enjoy this - and feel free to leave a review, no matter how many or few there are! ^~