A small sizzle filled the air as yet another candle burned out. There were only two left now to light up the quiet room with it's single occupant. They were almost gone themselves as they stood to each side of the go board that the man sat in front of, an unfinished game upon it. A tear trickled down a wrinkled face, tracing out the curves of wrinkles that showed the man as a smiler though there was also a defined line that showed stern determination, however, it was neither of these things that he showed today as the tear fell onto the go board to join it's comrades.
No, this man was not showing his usual faces today. Instead it was full of sadness, regret, and grief. For today was the was the 63rd anniversary of Sai's departure from this world. Every year, for the entire day, Shindou Hikaru would come to this room in his new home. The room dedicated to all he remembered of Sai, the one that he let no one but himself enter. And every year he would replay the last game he had with Sai, the incomplete game that showed exactly how he had felt about the experience of losing Sai. There was so much that he wished he had done while Sai was still there that he could make a mile long list about them.
However, he had already settled his condolences with it. He had moved on and played go, rising higher and higher to make Sai proud. He had worked hard. He rose to the top along with his rival Toya Akira and no one could deny that they weren't one of the best go players to live. Right up there with Honinbo Shusaku himself. Hikaru never did get above Akira, they stayed even the whole time. Hikaru would win a game and then Akira would win a game and it would continue on like that. They would often end up switching titles like that as well. But...
Another candle sizzled out of life.
But there was one thing he regretted. Through the years he had risen quickly so he could get to the top and make Sai proud of him and it was only now in his old age that he found that along the way he had lost something that had always been there. It was the joy. The joy in the game, the joy in a strong opponent, the joy in seeing others enjoying go. It was still there but he was no longer playing go for it. When he had first became interested in go he had relished in the joy of a game and a new opponent, and while he did the same now it was more like an after effect. He played to get strong and to get to the top. That was it.
Oh, how he wished that time could go back. Back to his youth, so that he could start over and play for the love of go and not for the need to get to the top and show his ability as Sai's student. He would be lying to himself if that wish didn't exclude the fact that he would also want to be with Sai again. He knew it wasn't possible, but Sai's situation shouldn't have been possible either.
For the first time that day Hikaru's face turned up towards the heavens as tears streaked down his old cheeks. The regret of an old man welled up in him as he thought about his life. It was not wasted but at the same time it was. He did not regret a thing but at the same time he regretted it all. He was alone in this world with no wife, no children, no grandchildren. His parents had died long ago and his grandparents even longer before that. Now it was just him and his memories. And his go.
"Oh Sai, what a life I have lived. So many games I have played and won as I rose to the top." He gave a breathy chuckle. "And what am I left with? I have no children or grandchildren to brighten my day now that my bones ache and it is hard to see the board. No one to pass my skill onto as I have never taken an apprentice." His head fell back down to stare at the game that he had memorized more then any other game in his life. "I doubt that this is what you had meant for me to do Sai. Yes, you had a true love for go and tried to pass it onto me but in my youth I had dismissed it. Only now do I get it and even then I can't pass it on to others." The puddle on the board caused by tears seemed to grow. "How I wish I could at least have passed on that one lesson that you had lived your life by." It began to spill over the side of the board. "I guess it could be said that it was your ultimate lesson even though you never spoke it out loud. You only showed with your every action."
The room began to fill and the sound of the ocean could be heard as wave after wave of water came from the board and crashed over Hikaru's body and yet he sat there as if nothing were happening. Like a solitary monk meditating atop a mountain as the wind whipped around him trying to throw him off. There was no moving him as wave after wave crested over his body and began to swallow him whole. Unheeded by the roiling water around him Hikaru croaked out one last thing before he was enveloped totally.
"If only, if only, I could pass it on."
And then he was gone.
He opened eyes that saw too well to be his and stared up at a white ceiling. He sat up and looked around the room that was obviously a hospital room and the first thing that he thought was that he had finally had a heart attack like Akira's dad and had been put in a hospital. He paused in making his way to the edge of the bed as he noticed that many of the aches and pains that he had been so used to having lately were gone. In fact, he felt the best that he had in a long time. He stepped out of bed on unwrinkled feet and walked to the front of the bed where he would find the information of his term in the hospital. He took the clipboard off the bed and was shocked by what it said. From what was written on the paper he had been in this hospital for the last two and a half years due to amnesia. He had no contacts listed on it and it didn't even have his name. However, the most surprising bit of news was that he was listed as female.
Hikaru fought the rising panic as he walked to the bathroom connected to the room and looked into the mirror. It was the face of a girl, around 14, that stared back at him. She had his characteristic green eyes and long black hair that was missing the customary blond bangs of his youth. With wide eyes he looked down at his smooth hands and found none of the calluses he usually had from playing go. He staggered backwards until he hit the wall behind him and sunk to the ground.
His prayers had been answered. God had granted his wish, even if it wasn't exactly what he had expected. He was back to his youth. He had the time to pass on his love of go. But he didn't have Sai. Hikaru shook his head. He shouldn't take this for granted. After all, when God grants your wish you shouldn't be picky about the details. Hikaru perked up as he heard a noise coming from the main room and turned his head just in time to see a woman's head peek through the door.
"Nami-chan! What are you doing in here? Did you have to go to the bathroom and then get lost again?" She asked with a smile. Hikaru looked up at the woman and took his chance to take a look at her features. She wore her brown hair up in a loose bun with her bangs hanging just above her eyes. She seemed to be in her mid forties but still lively and there was a definite joyful spark in her brown eyes. "Is there something wrong Nami-chan?" Hikaru shook her head.
"I- wh-who are you?" He finally asked. The woman paused and the smile on her face faltered and turned into a frown of confusion.
"N-Nami-chan? You're talking..." Something seemed to dawn on her and her smile returned full force. "Oh, thank God. Have you finally started remembering who you were? Come, child. Let's get you sat down and you have to tell me all you can remember." She grabbed hold of Hikaru and pulled him back to the bed where she sat him down and brought out another clipboard. "Okay, now what is your name?"
"I-it's Hikaru." The woman nodded and wrote it down before looking up at her expectantly. He looked at the woman in confusion before realizing that he hadn't told her his surname. "..." nothing had come out. When she went to say her surname Shindou she hadn't been able to. It was like her mind had blanked right as she was about to say it. The woman looked down at her in sympathy.
"Don't worry. Knowing your first name is good enough. Now then, how old are you? And do you know who you're parents are?" She asked.
"I-I'm not sure how old I am but the name of my parents are '….'" Again she wasn't able to say something about her old life. Is this the way that God is using so he can't say anything he shouldn't?
"Well, this is getting us nowhere." She said as she tucked the clipboard under her arm. "How about you tell me what you do know about yourself?" She asked as she sat down next to Hikaru on the bed.
He tried telling her many things but each and every time he was stopped by the same thing that happened to him before. He couldn't tell her that he lived in Tokyo, that he had gone to Haze junior high, and then, when he had given up trying to tell her about his life, he tried telling her about Sai and how he had followed Hikaru around for two years as a ghost. So he tried something different.
"I like go." She said finally and the nurse seemed to brighten up at that. And at a nod of encouragement she continued. "And soccer and um...um, I like to draw." He blushed at the last bit. He had never told anyone about him trying to learn how to paint/draw and he didn't even know how good he was. He had tried to do it so he could remember more clearly what Sai's face looked like and it worked, kinda.
"That's it?" She asked and Hikaru gave a nod. "Well, it's certainly better then nothing and the way you're reacting with me now is a million times better then how you were. But now for your name. Since you were found on a beach near Fukui how about Kiyomizu, it means pure water. Cute, neh? Kiyomizu Hikaru. Yeah, thats sounds right." Hikaru gave a little nod. It wasn't a bad surname to have though it would take a little getting used to. "We've also estimated your age to be about 14 or 15, though we're leaning towards 14 at the moment."
"U-um, what's your name?" He asked the nurse. She seemed surprised by the question before giving him a big smile.
"My name is Wakahisa Aki. My surname means forever young and my name means bright. Like yours." She said brightly. Hikaru couldn't help but smile back. "Now come on. You said you like go, right? Well, this hospital has a recreation room for the long term patients, one of which you are, and I'm pretty sure you'll find someone to play you in there. Maybe I'll even be able to get something for you to draw on." Hikaru smile in anticipation for the first game that she would be able to play in this new world.
Aki lead Hikaru to the bathroom where she instructed him to get ready(luckily he didn't have to change clothes just yet) and then pulled him out of the room with a smile on her face. After stopping by the cafeteria to grab Hikaru an apple for breakfast the came to the recreation room. Hikaru looked around in interest as he noted that most of the occupants were quite old, though there were some younger ones, just not as young as himself, and they were all doing a variety of different activities.
"Oh, look." She said as she pointed over to a rather elderly man sitting by himself in front of a goban. "That's Yamada-san. He's got a bit of a lung problem so we had to take him out of his old nursing home. He says he prefers the nursing home even if they can't properly take care of him because they apparently have a lot more people who play go." She said with a cheeky grin. "He'll love to know that he has a new go partner, especially one as cute as you."
Hikaru couldn't help but let out a small chuckle as he listened to the older woman ramble on. She was very bright and cheerful, an attitude that was sorely missing from his life before.
"That sounds fun, Wakahisa-san." He said, trying to figure out how to balance his speech patterns so that they coincide more with how a 14 year old girl would talk instead of an old man. Going from the ore* that he was used to using and changing it to atashi* would probably be the hardest part. Though she could just use boku*, it would probably be easier.
"Oh, I want none of that Hikaru-chan." Aki admonished him. "I've been taking care of you for the past six months and, even if you can't remember, I believe that we're close enough that you can call me by my given name. Got it?" She said with a wink before ushering her over to the goban that Yamada was sitting at.
Hikaru waited silently as Aki introduced them and then took his chair gratefully. This was going to be his first game in his new body and he was excited. Even if it was just with some no name old guy that probably wasn't even close to a matching his strength. After all, he had decided to love go just for being go. It shouldn't matter if it's a challenging game not not as long as he can play.
"Now, Hikaru-chan, I'm going off for a bit to see if I can get you some drawing supplies. I'm afraid we're not allowed to give you paint because of the fumes. You know, health measures and all that. But I can at least get you a pad of drawing paper and some good sketch pencils." Aki said brightly before giving a small bow to them and heading off.
"So, you played go before, have you, little lady?" He asked Hikaru amiably, and he couldn't help but feel weird when he called him a lady. That would be something else that he would have to get used to. Unless this was a really fucked up dream that he would wake up from soon. Oh well, she would have plenty of time to ponder this later so she gave him a little nod. "I've been playing this game my whole life and I'm glad that cute kids like you still have an interest in this old man's game." Hikaru game him one of his trade mark grins that he hadn't lost even in his old age.
"Of course! There's no way that this game will ever die out!" He said happily. The old man gave a grin of his own,
"Glad to hear that. Now, enough dilly-dally, let's begin." He said as he opened his goseke. After a quick nigiri Hikaru got white and Yamada got black. "How unlucky to get white on our first game. I ain't gonna go easy on ya, girly." The man place down his first stone and Hikaru followed up immediately with his own stone.
"Wouldn't have wanted you to." Hikaru replied back, but got only a grunt in return. The game had started and it wasn't time for small talk.
"Hikaru-chan! I got the drawing supplies for you." Aki said happily as she walked back to the goban that she left him at. She paused in confusion as she stared at the two people staring down at an obviously finished game, which wasn't all that weird in itself, but the expressions seemed a bit out of place. Yamada seemed awed as he stared down at the goban and Hikaru had an oddly content look about him.
However, she couldn't help the smile that slipped onto her face when she saw that Hikaru was brightly beaming. When he had first arrived here at the hospital he was much like a lifeless doll, never speaking, never doing anything by himself, except the bathroom, and just doing whatever he was instructed to do. A life size marionette.
"Did you guys have a fun game?" She asked them as she finally approached.
"It was wonderful!" Hikaru said happily as he began cleaning up the game. "It feels like I haven't played forever. I don't even have any go calluses on my fingers."
"It's good to know that you had fun." Aki said happily back. "What about you Yamada-san? Did you have fun trouncing her in Go?" She asked good naturedly and Hikaru couldn't help but let out an unmanly giggle as Yamada shook his head.
"I didn't win Aki-san. Hikaru-chan did." He muttered, almost as if I twas an after thought. He looked back over at Hikaru with an assessing gaze. "In fact, I would say she's good enough to be a pro." Aki looked like she didn't know what to think of that, though there was a certain air of disbelief.
"You must be kidding Yamada-san." Aki said hesitantly. "I mean, Hikaru-chan is probably only about 14 and with her condition and all I just don't think there's any way. Are you sure you're not just exaggerating?" Yamada shook his head again, but this time it was more resolute.
"I'm quite sure Aki-san." He said with his elderly wisdom voice on. "I've played many a pro when I was younger, through teaching games and such, and had a friend who went pro that I played quite a bit. She's definitely good enough, no doubt about that."
"I don't...but surely... so young..." She seemed to have no idea what she should say or do. Should she be happy that Hikaru is so talented at something? Something that she loves? 'Well,' she thought sternly, ' of course I should. But..' It just seemed so preposterous to her. An anemia patient, good enough to be a pro!
"Age has nothing to do with it." Yamada said wisely as he sized Hikaru up with his eyes. "In fact, Touya Akira, the Meijin's son, took his pro test when he was 13. He's 16 now and doing very well for himself." Aki looked thoughtful at this before shaking her head, but Hikaru took no notice of this as her thoughts were stuck on the name Touya Akira.
It was somewhat of a relief to hear the familiar name, knowing that he existed in this time zone, universe, whatever. It didn't really matter at this point. It was either a dream or a dream come true. He got his wish granted, even if it wasn't as ideal as he had hoped. There was still no Sai. But then something struck Hikaru just then. Yamada said Touya was 16.
It seemed so weird to him. Not only was he back to his youth but Touya was as well. It couldn't help but make him wonder about the others. About Waya, Isumi, Ochi, Ko Yong Ha, Tsutsui, Mitani, Akari. Hikaru's hands clenched open and closed nervously as he thought about what they were doing without him. He was a no name now. Not even an insei. Not even the same age as Touya anymore.
A pang went through Hikaru at that thought. His rival, his best friend, the closest thing that he had of family left back in his old life had no idea who he was and had already been a pro for three years. What had happened in that time, when he wasn't going after Hikaru, himself, or trying to get stronger. Stronger to show Hikaru just how strong he could be. Who gave him his drive in this world, or was he like how he was before Hikaru met him? No friends his own age, hanging out at his father's Go salon with nothing but old geezers around him, playing to find the Hand of God but not really sure where to start.
Guilt ripped through him before he smoothed it over as best as he could. Touya was probably just fine without him. There is tons of other pros that he could make his rival, his friend, and he didn't need Shindou Hikaru explicitly to fill that spot. He never would anyways since he was no longer Shindou. He was Kiyomizu. Just then, Hikaru was snapped out of his guilt ridden thoughts and brought back to reality to hear the last bits of the argument that Aki and Yamada were having about her Go ability.
"Well, it doesn't really matter that she's as good as a pro. She can't take the test till she gets out of the hospital anyways." Aki says finally and almost huffily, she was obviously getting frustrated by Yamada at this point. And that's why he couldn't blame her for the scathingly blunt mark that sent another jolt of sadness through Hikaru.
Reality hit him hard as he thought about how he would not only have to get out of the hospital but would also have to save up money for the exam. It was pretty expensive, after all. So, she would have to get a job and save up money for not only that but the hospital fees as well. He had been free-loading off them for two and a half years and would have to pay up sooner or later. Some fees would probably be waved off considering her situation but he was sure that the end bill wouldn't be petty cash, but some hard bills that would take a while to pay off.
And then something else dawned on her. She would have to be put in an orphanage. She couldn't just go off and live by herself as she had no money and still had to finish her last year of middle school, if 14 really was the age that they would decide for her. That also brought up what school she would be going to. Seeing the sudden sullen mood that Hikaru had fallen into Aki pulled out the art supplies that she had gotten for him and placed them gently in Hikaru's lap.
"Here, how about we head back to your rooms. This was probably a bit much for your first day of remembering and I think I got a little too excited." She said softly as she tugged Hikaru from his chair. "It'll be quiet and relaxing and maybe you could show me your drawing skills. I could pose for you if you want." The suggestion made Hikaru give her a small squeeze on the hand that held her own.
"Alright, but I don't know how good I am." he said after a quick nod goodbye at Yamada. "I've only ever drawn as a hobby. And, besides that, are you sure you should be wasting so much time on me? Isn't there other patients that you need to attend to?" Aki gave her a bright smile, as she was prone to more often then not, and a small bubble of laughter left her throat.
"Nope!" She said cheerily. "I'm your personal nurse and it's my job to get you all the things you need. Besides, since it's your first day finally breaking out of your amnesia it's best to keep an eye on you." And then she seemed to realize what she had said and brought her hand to her mouth before looking guiltily back at Hikaru. "I'm sorry Hikaru-chan. I can be so insensitive." Hikaru only shook her head with a lopsided smile on her face.
"It's fine Aki-san." Hikaru said as she opened up the door to her room as Aki indicated it to be. "In fact, I prefer that you tell me the truth instead of hiding it behind rose tinted glasses. It keeps me grounded to reality when I feel like I'm slipping off into a dream."
Again Aki seemed to be at a loss of words, but gave a nod anyways as she walked into the room and plopped down on the chair next to the window and Hikaru followed after her by plunking down onto his own chair and placing his drawing supplies down on the small table between them.
"Now then, find something to distract you, preferably something stationary. Maybe out the window or something." Hikaru said as he brought the pad up in a more accessible position and began drawing.