A/N is at the bottom.
"Hello? Can you see me?"
"I know one of you two gentlemen can at least hear me, otherwise I wouldn't be here; I'd still be in the goban. Hello?"
"Gah! You two should know you are being quite rude! Just ignoring me like this! Oh Kami, why can't either of you two see me? You should be able to see me!"
Hikaru raised his head from his book and turned in the direction where the childish-sounding man was likely hovering over his dad and grandpa as they played one of their usual games of go. He had no idea if the person was a guest of his grandpa's or something considering it was Heihachi's house, but he sounded oddly desperate, and Hikaru found it strange that neither his dad nor grandpa had commented on the visitor's somewhat grating interruption of their game and the afternoon peace of the house.
They always scolded him when he got too noisy, at least, but this guy was getting seriously loud. Weren't all adults strict enforcers of the 'inside voice' rule?
Annoyed that he wouldn't be able to get any further in his book with the distraction, Hikaru voiced his displeasure. "Hey mister, I can't see you but will you shut up? Dad and Grandpa are concentrating, and so am I." With that being said, the boy turned his attention back to running his finger over the Braille covered pages of his story.
There was a pregnant pause in the room as he heard his dad and grandpa pause in their game to shift around to look at him (given away by the lack of stones being placed and the rustle of their clothes), and the man he had addressed gave some kind of shocked sound.
"Hmm? Did you say something, Hikaru?" His grandpa asked, and Hikaru once again dragged his attention away from the book.
He cocked his head, sightless eyes trained to where he guessed his grandpa was sitting. "Yeah ji-chan -I told the guy to stop talking 'cause I'm trying to read and you and Dad are playing."
Even without his eyesight, the six year old knew the two adults had just exchanged glances- the kind that held silent conversations he'd never be able to partake in. He could always tell when someone did that, even if he had never seen the action.
The third man, however, gave an exuberant whoop before Hikaru heard the distinct movement of silk rustling and the air in the room shift in a why he usually associated with a person running, except there were no footsteps on the tatami mat floors.
"He can hear me! He can hear me! Glorious day, he can hear me! I thought I was going to live out the rest of my incorporeal existence without someone to talk to! Thank Kami!" The childish man exclaimed, and Hikaru jumped because the sound had come from right next to his sensitive ear and he hadn't sensed the man's presence next to him. Hikaru could always tell when someone was next to him.
"I told you to shut up! Your yelling hurts my ears!" The boy hissed at the now pleasantly humming man, who for all intents and purposes had been nearly in hysterics five minutes ago. The fact that he was wholly unrepentant about ruining Hikaru's focus on reading served to annoy the six year old boy.
"But I just found who I'm attached to! I want to know if you can play go. And your name, too. Names are important."
Okay, now Hikaru was just plain weirded out by the guy on top of his chagrin. If he wasn't sure by how deep the voice was, the boy would have been certain he was talking to another child, despite the complicated words he used. For some reason, that frustrated him more than it should have.
"I don't care! And if names are important then who are you supposed to be?" Hikaru stomped his foot and blew at his bangs like the child he was.
There was another rustle of silk and a small shift in the air where Hikaru assumed the man was. "Of course; I am Fujiwara no Sai, go tutor to the emperor during what I believe you call the Heian period. But that was nearly a thousand years ago, during which I have been confined to that goban, released thereof only once previously." There was another rustle of silk and Hikaru guessed this Sai person was pointing to the board his Dad and Grandpa were seated at. It was the only one in the room, and the only one his grandpa currently owned, despite the cursed rumors around it.
(Heihachi, when the subject of the supposedly haunted board was brought up, would always boldly proclaim that there was no such thing as ghosts, and certainly none that wore ridiculously tall hats.)
"Liar. You can't be a thousand years old. Nobody could live that long." The blind boy stated matter of factly and got a huff in return from Sai.
"I can because I'm a ghost and I have been dead since the Heian period, so bleh." Sai responded superiorly, and Hikaru just knew the so-called ghost was sticking his tongue out at him. Somehow, the childishness that Sai used on an actual child made the fact he'd just said he was dead irrelevant as the two dissolved into an argument (somehow getting Sai's life story out of him in the meantime), Hikaru's book completely forgotten on the floor.
The little boy was so absorbed in his bickering with the spirit that his father had to clear his throat twice to get the Hikaru's attention. He sounded a mix of concerned and amused.
"Hikaru, would you like to introduce us to your imaginary friend?" His dad said, and the blind boy scrunched up his face in confusion. What did his dad mean by imaginary friend? He could hear Sai as clear as a bell even if he was supposedly a dead guy trapped in his old goban. He was pretty sure that an apparition like Sai would be visible, if only because of how clearly he could be heard.
Hikaru pointed to where he had been shouting at, assuming that Sai was sitting there. "Dad, you and ji-chan can't see Sai?"
"Hikaru, can you see your friend?" His dad asked with what sounded almost like restrained excitement.
The boy scowled. "I'm blind, of course not- but I can hear him. Can't you? He's really annoying."
"Hey!" Sai protested by his side.
There was a slight pause before his dad answered. "I'm listening, but he's your imaginary friend, not mine; I can't hear him."
Hikaru felt like pulling his hair out in frustration. He was the blind one, so why was he the only one who knew there a godforsaken spirit in the house right next to him? It wasn't like being blind gave Hikaru a sixth sense, beyond sensing where people were in his immediate vicinity.
He could hear his father and grandpa return to their game with a chuckle at Hikaru's expense, the pachi of stones picking up where they left off.
"They cannot perceive me, Hikaru. Only you can." Sai stated, and that was the first time Hikaru had heard the the spirit sound anything close to serious, even after he had discussed his own death via suicide while they were arguing.
"Why?" There, the question of the hour. So far, the past few minutes had been very confusing for the six year old, to say the least.
"I don't know...do you have any interest in go?"
"No, I don't, and you're too obsessed, even for a former go tutor."
"Of course I am; I made it my life's work to achieve the Hand of God, and I was close to making it before my death. After Torajiro allowed me to share his mind and play the game through him over a century ago, I got closer yet again before he passed away and I returned to the goban."
"You possessed a guy to play go? You need mental help, Sai." Hikaru stated, edging away from the spirit just in case he stuck himself in the boy's head without consent. But his interest was peaked about this 'hand of god.' It sounded awesome, like some finishing move in the Jump manga he'd heard about. "Why is this hand of God thing so important to you that you'd go as far as to be a spirit?"
"The Hand of God is said to be the perfect hand in the perfect game against the perfect opponent in go." Sai replied immediately, and Hikaru felt his young heart ache at the absolute passion in his voice. He'd never be able to say the same about a game, ever; but he was used to this kind of jealousy and put it down before it could reach his face. The adults made a big deal of trying to comfort him if he didn't. "I am not the only one who has dedicated my life to mastering it, however."
"No, just the first to keep going in the afterlife," Hikaru said. "Is it really that hard? I mean, I get that go is a difficult game, but still. No one in over a thousand years?"
"That is correct, but you misunderstand something about go, Hikaru. It is not just a 'game' as you like to put it and most people seem to think - it is the greatest meeting of minds you will find off the battlefield, and even then I knew it to be played by some of the greatest military strategists of my time." The spirit said. "And you are only thinking of go in terms of when it arrived to Japan - the Chinese had already been playing for fifteen centuries before I discovered the game. The fact remains, that no one has reached the hand of God in all that time. It is hard. Almost impossible. But that is why the quest persists."
Hikaru raised an eyebrow at how much history there was behind a board game he'd never sparred more than a cursory thought of. He had to once again squash down the flickers of envy that came with knowing there was no possible way for him to (if he'd ever wanted to) participate in the world of go without being able to see the stones, and that Sai's quest would be something entirely out of reach. Just like a million other things he'd love to do and to try.
"That sounds...nice, but I don't think I'd be able to keep up with everyone playing. If it's that old, it's probably made players that are monsters by now." Hikaru said diplomatically, really wishing the topic of conversation would change.
"Well, would you like to learn? I could teach you quite easily, and there are new people learning everyday just like you would be, since everyone has to start somewhere. With practice, you may even become one of those 'monsters' yourself." He could hear the spirit smirking, completely amused.
"No thanks; besides, in case you didn't notice, I'm blind- I wouldn't be able to learn go - I can't see the board or where to put the stones, so I wouldn't be able to play." Hikaru scoffed, unable to completely keep the bitterness out of his voice.
There was a decisive snap that Hikaru recognized as a paper fan folding, and he realized it must belong to Sai. "Your visual impairment will have little affect on your play. If you must know, there is even such a thing as blind go wherein at least one player foregoes the use of a board altogether, and then there is also single-color go, where both sides use only one color- not being able to see would actually make it less complicated."
"...what?" Was all Hikaru could manage to get out past his gaping jaw. This was the first time he'd heard about a game where - apparently - it didn't matter if you could see or not for the most part as long as you knew what you were doing.
Having been born without sight, Hikaru had resigned himself to never being able to take part in activities other kids did, or play any sight-based games that people did for recreation. Hence why he was inside on a summer day with a book from his special-needs class (he absolutely hated those words- it made him sound like an invalid, as though sugar coating it would make anything better) so that he could at least read (almost) like everyone else. Well, as close to anyone else as he could get in such a sight-oriented task and world.
And now here came someone who nobody but him could hear or see (note the irony of him being blind, because he assumed that if he had sight, he would be able to see Sai as well), claiming that he didn't have to be so... (isolated? Left out? Left behind?) because of his disability? Where, due to how competitive Sai had already made the world of go sound, nobody would care about his eyes so long as he could play?
Hikaru was flabbergasted. This had never even occurred to him, and none of his teachers at the special needs (again, he despised those words) classes had ever mentioned anything along the lines of overcoming what he was dealing with; they mainly dealt with telling kids how to cope with society and how they didn't quite fit.
He'd had to 'cope' with not being able to see for all of his (relatively short) life. Granted that he was only six, but he was tired of everyone thinking of him as struggling when he was getting by just the same as them. In fact, since all he did on most days was read, he was extremely articulate for his age, and very free thinking with a plethora of different ideas crammed into his young head from different authors, some of whom should have been above his reading level.
This, this simple board game could so much for his life if he was listening to it right, it was mind blowing. So if Sai was telling the truth, if he wouldn't have to be as previously limited by his circumstances, Hikaru had every reason to agree...even if the spirit was less mature than he was.
The blind boy grinned. "When do we start?"
His father and grandfather were, of course, very much alarmed when the six year old boy suddenly slumped over in a dead faint for no obvious reason, book still on the floor next to him and their game completely forgotten.
"This is pointless, Sai." Hikaru grumbled as he ran his hands along the narrow lines on the nineteen-by-nineteen grid. This was not how he'd imagined learning go from the ghost. It'd been a month since the two had met, and Sai insisted every time Hikaru visited his grandfather's house that he spend his time feeling and memorizing the goban. When they inevitably had to leave for the night, the spirit had him palm one of the stones for Hikaru to roll in his hands and get a feel of instead.
He'd spent so much time at the board already that he'd overheard his parents and grandpa discus letting him have it, despite the sentimental value his grandfather placed on it, and something about the curse being 'officially' debunked. Apparently new go boards were too expensive to buy at retail price, and Grandpa didn't use this one very much since he'd recently been gifted another one; his parents were convinced it was a good thing Hikaru was interested in playing, and Heihachi wasn't going to be the one to stand in the way of progress, although Hikaru didn't see much of this 'progress', or even a reason for what he was doing.
If he wanted to learn go, why wasn't Sai letting him play? They'd gone over the rules and terms at least a dozen times by now, even if Hikaru couldn't picture most of the moves discussed because he'd never seen them in action, metaphorically speaking. He'd even brought up that point to the spirit of go, only to have it gently put down with a firm insistence on him getting a feel for the equipment still. That didn't mean he would stop complaining, though.
"Hikaru, I've explained this to you multiple times," Sai said calmly, with the patience of the go teacher he was in the Haien era. Hikaru very much doubted the man could have gotten away with acting as immature as he usually did in front of royalty, so after thinking about it, the shift in personality didn't really surprise him. "While your play will not be affected because of your blindness, you are at a disadvantage while learning compared to others. Being as young as you are, you still have not developed the capacity to mentally maintain a goban in your head, let alone keep track of stone placement on top of that. There's no need to rush, Hikaru; you have years to get this."
That last statement annoyed the blind boy. He didn't want to wait years to play go - he wanted to jump in head first and learn by doing - like he was better at - and not with a dozen baby steps along the way that made learning things take three times as long as they should have and make it twice as hard to understand.
All the memorization he'd already done was going to waste away just sitting in his brain like this.
"Sai, I get that and all, but wouldn't I learn faster if I started putting down stones and learning that way? I mean, it would teach me how to handle the stones properly too, and make my mental board more solid, right?"
Sai seemed to ponder it in the following silence, and Hikaru gave him his best pleading face (or what he guess was a pleading face, if the descriptions in books he'd read were anything to go by). The spirit of go sighed. "Fine, I do see merit in learning like that. But make no mistake, I'm letting you do this because I realize you need to keep your hands busy. Usually, I wouldn't let a student of mine decide their own training, but yours is a special case and I've never taught a blind person nor someone so young before. This will be the only exception."
"Yeah, yeah, thanks Sai!" Hikaru replied with a grin, too wrapped up in trying to hold a stone properly to care that he was being indulged because of his disability, something he usually couldn't stand but constantly had to deal with. Although for some reason, when Sai did something like that Hikaru didn't get annoyed or feel hurt, probably because he knew the spirit was actually trying and that he didn't mean anything derogatory by it.
Plus, it was hard to stay mad at a guy who was as excitable as a new puppy, constantly seeing new things from the modern era and describing them so Hikaru could explain what they were. And that wasn't even counting the fact that Sai was also -in a way- disabled, unable to interact with the world around him without Hikaru to mediate. If anyone Hikaru had met could best understand him (with the exception of other blind people, and even then), it would be Sai.
After a few minutes in meditative silence, Hikaru's sharp ears heard footsteps approaching behind him- his grandpa by the sound of it. He didn't look up from placing down a second stone.
"Oh? What are you doing, Hikaru?" Heihachi asked, and the young boy could feel the old man's presence hovering over his shoulder.
"Practice." Hikaru replied, fishing out another stone from the goke and placing it. He did this several more times, carefully making sure he placed each on an intersection going up the nineteenth line.
"That's amazing, Hikaru! How do you know where to place the stones if you can't see?" Heihachi exclaimed in amazement, his voice carrying notes of astonishment and confusion that his grandson could easily pick out.
"Sai had me try and memorize the board, Ji-chan. He also made me take home a stone every time we visited, so I could get a feel of the dimensions. He told me that I'm too young to keep up a mental board as well as where I put my stones, so he's letting me do this to learn it faster! I told him doing it physically would help out my memorization, and he agreed!" The six year old confided, almost giddy at the thoughts of what his life would be like when he actually started playing people.
"Oh did he?" Hikaru's grandpa said indulgently, ruffling the boy's hair with clear affection. The blind boy had long ago gotten used to the adults thinking he had an imaginary friend, since if he had actually tried to explain what was really going on no one would believe him. He didn't need to be called crazy as well as blind. "Well tell him I said he's doing a great job teaching you. Maybe when you get the hang of this, I'll play you."
"Really Ji-chan? You'll play me?"
"I don't see why not," Heihachi laughed at his grandson's obvious excitement. "Who knows, you might even make a half-decent opponent!"
"Hey!" The blind boy protested, ducking as his grandpa tried to ruffle his hair again, this time more playfully. "I'll show you! I'll have this down before you know it, and then we'll see who's the half-decent player!"
"Hikaru!" Sai admonished his young student. "That was rude to your grandfather!"
Hikaru mentally stuck his tongue out at him, and Heihachi, of course, didn't hear the spirit and continued along with the conversation. "Ha! You're one hundred years too young to think of beating me, brat!"
"You'll see!" Hikaru called after the elder as he was left to his own devices once again, and a spirit of go intent on making him learn his manners. He reached for another stone, and the resounding pachi it made just made him all the more eager for a first match against his grandfather.
It took two months, give or take a few days, before Hikaru's parents decided that he was old enough to play with kids his own age and not sit in his room all day. By this point, he was seven, and was by society's standards getting too old for an imaginary friend even though he spent most of his time alone. And much to Hikaru's horror, Sai agreed that he needed to interact with someone his own age, despite that fact that it would take away time from studying go.
"You need a break from studying all the time, Hikaru." Was the spirit's argument. "Even I took breaks sometimes, usually to study a different subject or catch up on the latest court gossip. And having someone your own age to talk with would be most beneficial for development."
Hikaru didn't know what Sai meant by 'development', but all he could think at that time was how shocked he was that a guy who had drowned himself for go had enjoyed other things too, and it had done wonders in quelling any of his remaining protests about being forced to socialize. He just had nothing that could hold against that.
So, exactly two weeks after his birthday, Hikaru sat at the diner table with his parents and the closest neighbors who had a kid his age, the Fujisakis. They seemed like nice enough people, and his parent's certainly enjoyed the company, but it was glaringly obvious that their daughter Akari had just as little idea how to deal with Hikaru as he had to deal with her.
One of the few times Hikaru's parents had previously attempted to get their son out and among his peers, they had thought that it would be a good idea to let him use a walking stick and explore the nearby park. Needless to say, when the other kids' curiosity turned to scorn for him being blind and 'useless', five-year-old Hikaru - already irritable at being dragged out of his comfort zone and into an area with so many different and new sounds and smells and voices - had degraded to smacking them with his walking stick until they started crying, then stoically dumping sand on them.
It had convinced his parents that it maybe wasn't such a good idea to force Hikaru to be around others his age, even if he had proven he could take care of himself against a group of five year olds. It had shown that not his disability but his lack of patience with others regarding it would prevent him from making any friends at that age.
But it looked like seven was the lucky number, if Hikaru's current dinner predicament meant anything. And Sai had the absolute gall to coo at how 'cute' Akari was and how 'good her manners were' compared to his. Traitorous spirit.
"Erm, Shindo-kun," a small voice stated hesitantly over the gentle din of chopsticks and plates and cups being picked up and set down in the sink as the adults cleaned up the table. He and Akari were awkwardly sitting next to each other on the living room sofa, having been told to get to know each other. "W-why are only your bangs blonde?"
The question caught him off guard. He'd expected something along the lines of 'are you really blind?' or 'what's it like not seeing?', but from the blatantly curious tone in her voice, it was clear that his hair, of all things, was the only thing she was curious about. It was almost refreshing, having his expectation fall short like that.
Grinning, Hikaru tugged at the loose hair that nearly covered his eyes despite his mother's efforts to keep his bangs out of his face. He didn't see why that was a problem at all, since it wasn't like he needed his eyes for anything. "You see, my mom wanted me to be recognizable in case I ever got lost, and I didn't want to wear one of those stupid contact-cards like other kids. The bangs are a compromise."
"Oh, it's a really bright lanyard with a card attached that has information I can give to someone in the case that I need help because of the blindness and all. Like if I get lost or separated from mom or dad in town. I still carry one, but I won't wear it around my neck." In fact, it had been because of Sai's commentary that he even knew the lanyard was an obnoxious shade of red (whatever that looked like).
"Oooh," Akari said in understanding, and Hikaru could almost see her nodding her head. "Hey, Shindo-kun what kind of games do you play? Do you go to school nearby? 'Cause I haven't seen you around my elementary school..."
"Nah, I'm pretty much homeschooled, but Mom and Dad make me go to class for kids like me a couple of times a week. It's boring, but helpful."
"That makes sense...but what about games? I can't imagine you being cooped up all day with nothing to do. It'd drive me nuts."
"Oh, well..." Hikaru hesitated telling her his recent obsession with go, knowing full well that it was considered an 'old person's game' by pretty much everyone of his generation.
But it seemed like Akari was honestly interested in how he amused himself and wasn't judging him for being disabled, so he guessed it wouldn't be so bad to tell her. He scratched at his cheek absently, a sure sign he was nervous. "I like go, even if I'm not good enough to play Ji-chan yet."
"Igo*? Isn't that a board game?" Maybe she hadn't said it out loud, but Hikaru could hear it nonetheless. She wanted to know how he could play if he couldn't see the goban.
"Yeah, and just so you know, I've memorized the surface of the board by feeling it, and my ears are sharp enough to tell the location a stone is placed. That's how I can play." He stated, a touch of defensiveness coating his voice as Sai hummed a warning behind him. The spirit had surprisingly left him alone, save for the few times he tried to encourage the boy by acting like an overly-excited soccer mom cheering on her kid. It was amazing that nobody had noticed the flush on Hikaru's cheeks appear several times throughout the meal.
"Oh, well, that's cool." Akari laughed almost nervously, embarrassed at be called out for her skepticism. He didn't blame her for it though - he wouldn't have thought it was possible either three months ago. "So...is it any fun?"
"Yeah I guess even though I haven't really played yet. Grandpa promised he'd play me once I'd gotten better at memorizing the board, but I haven't been to his house in ages, and dad can't because he's usually busy at work." Hikaru explained, neglecting to mention the fact that Sai had also refused to play against him until he had a living person to practice with as well.
Akari was quiet for a few seconds, and Hikaru worried he'd bored his potential friend with all his talk of not playing go. Really though, what did he expect? He already knew go wasn't very popular among his peers, so why had he bothered bringing it up in the first place? Akari had been nothing but nice to him so far, and hadn't treated him any different because of his disability to see. He was stupi-
"Then, do you think you could teach me so I could play you?" Akari asked, cutting him off mid-thought and for the second time in an hour threw Hikaru for a loop. Wasn't she quiet because she wasn't interested in go?
Well then; apparently he was wrong.
"Oh, isn't that great Hikaru? She wants to play go with you!" Sai cheered from behind him, no doubt ecstatic that another young person besides Hikaru was about to learn the game he gave his life for. "That means you have another friend now!"
- Uh, y-yeah, I guess so, - Hikaru replied mentally, having long since learned that the two of them shared an almost psychic connection and could speak to the other by thinking. It made him seem less like some lonely kid talking to his imaginary friend and more like a kid that was alone period, but Hikaru knew that if he wanted to be treated like less of a freak by kids his age, he'd have to stop talking to Sai out loud. Especially if his parents invited the Fujisakis over again.
"Um, sure, I guess I could teach you go..." Hikaru trailed off before raising to his feet, motioning for both Sai and Akari to stay put. "I'll just go get the goban and the goke. Be right back."
"Wait, the what, Shindo-kun?" Akari called after him as he ran up the stairs. Sai chuckled.
"The board and the bowls the stones are in!" Hikaru hollered back, wondering if he would really be able to teach an absolute beginner.
- You will do fine, Hikaru. - Sai soothed through their mental connection. - You have me here to help you, and don't forget that your parents worked hard to find that beginners go book in Braille for your birthday. You can consult that if you want, but there is nothing in there that I cannot already tell you. -
Hikaru snorted, gathering up the book and goke on the goban to carry down. - One word: Komi. -
The spirit gave a huff of annoyance that Hikaru easily picked up through their bond. - That is the only thing that has changed about go in the one thousand years I have played, and probably since it was founded. You cannot hold it against me, Hikaru! The last time I played was over one hundred years ago, and they didn't have Komi then, either! -
- Yes, yes. I already know that, but you whine about it every time it comes up. -
- I do not! I simply muse aloud how such a rule will affect my playing ability! - Sai protested, and Hikaru could tell by the warble in the spirit's voice that he was one taunt away from tearfully hitting the blind boy over the head with his fan, which he could feel despite the fact that Sai was intangible.
The logics of that alone gave the boy more of a headache then the actual blow would, and he'd already gotten the rise he'd wanted out of the spirit, so he let it drop. - Whatever. You're probably really strong, so you'll figure something out eventually when I figure out how to let you play. -
- You're right! Thank you, Hikaru! Figure out that letting me play thing soon, okay? -
Hikaru sighed in complete exasperation, idly wondering if Sai was bipolar. - Even if you say that... -
- Oh, it doesn't have to be now. - The spirit reassured his student. - You do have a guest down here that I believe you promised to teach go to. It's rude to leave a young girl alone on her own like this, you know. -
The blind boy groaned. - Good God Sai, don't rush me! Do you want me to drop the goban down the stairs and have the stones scatter everywhere!? -
- Heavens, no! We'll never find them all and the board will be ruined! Don't threaten such a thing, Hikaru! But Akari-chan is fidgeting while we are talking, so I encourage you to walk a little bit faster perhaps. -
Hikaru grumbled as his foot cleared the final step of the stair, the stones silently shifting in the goke with his weight but not flying off the board, even if he was tempted to drop it anyway. Stupid demanding spirit and stupid heavy goban. But his mother and Sai would raise hell if he didn't at least show basic manners to a girl (and if he made a mess), so after setting down his precious go board he turned to the girl seated on his couch. "You okay? Sorry it took me so long to get the goban, but it's kinda heavy."
He could hear her stand up from the couch, flustered waves rolling off her like water. "Ah, no it's fine. You could have asked me to help if you were having trouble."
Hikaru scoffed, pointing one thumb at his puffed up chest. "Humph. I don't need help from a girl; I carried it down on my own already, didn't I?"
Akari giggled at him, and Sai tapped his fan against his other hand while sighing at the boy's antics. As if that was the most disrespectful thing he'd ever said, or would ever say. But, if this was how things were going to be after today, Hikaru decided he wouldn't mind it all too much and that he could play along with it.
But that was only if Akari proved that she was a quick study in go, so he could have his first opponent also be his first (living) friend.
Hikaru grinned. "Pick our colors - we're starting with the basics."
"I told you to go easy on me Hikaru- you know I'm not as good at go as you are!" Akari scolded, frustration and annoyance painting her voice in a way the bleach-banged boy had become very familiar with in the six months he'd known her.
Hikaru scowled at her but the effect was, as always, reduced because he kept his eyes closed. Maybe that was why he never won an argument with her or Sai, he pondered briefly before countering her accusation.
"And I told you that you needed to put down a second stone! But nooo - 'we both started playing at the same time so I don't need more than one handicap, Hikaru.' and 'don't baby me Hikaru; I've beaten your grandpa already.'" He replied, pitching his voice to imitate how Akari sounded. He thought it was pretty funny, but she didn't seem to think so as she gasped at him, insulted.
"W-well still! It's not like you've beaten Heihachi-san yet!"
"That's because I play him more than you; he's seen more of my tricks and can read my play better than yours." Hikaru retorted, a twinge of annoyance flaring in his chest at how he still couldn't bring his grandpa into yose and yet Akari had managed to get one over the old geezer (even if it had been by only a handful of moku, and only that one time). It grated on his nerves (and his pride, as Sai always pointed out) every time it was brought up. He was getting close though, so, so close.
Deciding he didn't want to talk about that anymore, Hikaru changed topics. "You still take that weekend go class, right?"
"Yeah, I have it in a few hours. Why?" She replied cautiously, obviously annoyed about his switch in subjects. "Don't tell me you're suddenly reconsidering joining; you've shot it down each time Aunty considered taking you with me."
"Hmpf." Hikaru puffed his cheeks out petulantly, ignoring the questions Sai also flung his way about his sudden interest in the class. The way he saw it, the spirit was already enough of a teacher for him, and he wasn't one Hikaru needed his mother to baby him to learn from. He might have gone if it was just Akari and him, but until recently Mitsuko insisted on going with him whenever he wanted to leave the house, which while not totally unreasonable, was starting to feel somewhat suffocating.
- Ah, so that's why you refused your mother's offers of assistance. - Sai commented idly, reading the tail end of Hikaru's thoughts. - But it would seem your search for more varieties and quantity of play has nearly over ridden your desire for independence. -
Hikaru scowled, a blush undoubtedly forming on his cheeks. - Stop reading my mind! I thought we agreed to not go in the other person's head! -
- But your thoughts were so loud, Hikaru! I don't fully understand why you so adamantly refuse your mother's help, but I guarantee you she will not be the last person to offer aid of any kind. -
- I know, but she gets clingy and hovers over everything I do. - The boy grumped at the spirit, ignoring Akari's sigh as she set about cleaning the goban. The scraping sound of stones being shifted filled the otherwise physically quiet room. - It makes it harder to focus, which I need to do to get around without looking like an idiot. -
- Which is why she does that. It's perfectly normal for parents to hover and hold your hand when you're young, but you just might be hyper aware of it because of your blindness. -
- But it's not like I need all the help. - The dual haired boy protested weakly, grudgingly realizing that the spirit of go was right. Didn't mean he had to like admitting that to himself, though.
- Then tell them, and they will either back off or give you a scolding along with their reasons for why you need their help still. -
"Fine," Hikaru said aloud, to both Akari and Sai. "I want to go, if only to play more people. Only playing you and gramps and sometimes dad is boring." He tactfully left out the mention of Sai, since there was no way Akari would believe him, and the spirit was more of a tutor than equal opponent.
He could tell his friend was rolling her eyes. "Let's go ask Aunty." Akari suggested as both children and one ghost rose to their feet. "I think she and my mom were planning on heading to the Korean market today for some shopping."
Shindou Mitsuko, as it turned out, did have plans to shop with Mrs. Fujisaki later on, but she was so happy that her son had finally agreed to attend the lecture that she called up his friend's mother to reschedule for after the hour lesson. Hikaru tried to convince his mother that just Akari accompanying him would be enough, like he'd told Sai earlier. And the spirit of go had given him the right advice. Sort of.
They compromised, much to the blind boy's surprise and Sai's gloating. Instead of his mother staying with the two children the whole class, she'd make sure they (and by that she meant Hikaru) got there alright. Unfortunately, she wasn't going to let the two make the return trip home alone either, so the seven year olds were going to be accompanying their mothers to the Korean market, whether they liked it or not.
Hikaru knew that if he agreed to this, then he was signing up to be thoroughly questioned about how it went and what he learned, but he'd wanted to go to the lesson for a while, so he'd agreed anyway.
And as it turned out, the class hadn't been what Hikaru had thought it would be. The teacher, while nice enough and seemingly quite knowledgeable about the game, had hovered more than his mother ever would have, and had refused to let the dual haired boy play anyone, despite Akari and his protests that he was the better player of the two. The only silver lining to this little expedition was that the old lady Hikaru had been seated next to had taken pity on him and told the boy that if he simply wanted to play a game or two and didn't need the lessons, then he should visit a go salon.
"Is it really that unbelievable that I know how to play go?" Hikaru groused, still sour over the whole lesson as he trailed behind his mother on the sidewalk, the round of twenty questions he'd predicted already over. He could tell they had left the area where cars were allowed, and so he was fully able to hear the chatter of vendors and pedestrians as they passed. There was notably an increase in the amount of Korean he heard as they continued on.
"Maybe, but I have to admit that I was surprised when the first thing you wanted to do was play a board game without vision." Akari admitted. "But I guess I'm just used to you being able to play at this point."
- Listen to her, Hikaru. - Sai's voice entered his mind. - Faith in one's abilities are not harvested before they are sown. You will need to show others you are capable before they stop underestimating and start believing you. -
- But how, when even a pro won't try and humor me...? - Hikaru sighed as Sai tittered off several suggestions about honorably challenging people in go salons to get his name known, and while he kind of liked that idea, the problem was that he didn't know where any go salons were located.
They walked in silence for another few paces, before Akari tried to bring some light into the conversation. "You know, I sometimes forget that you're blind - you make so many faces, you know where everything is, and you can get around the house without anyone helping you. If you didn't keep your eyes closed, it'd probably be really hard to tell."
Hikaru could swear he had a literal lightbulb lighting over his head. "Akari, that's it! You're a genius!"
"That's how I'll get them to take me seriously - I won't tell the other person about my sight until they already acknowledge my ability! You can come with me and help if I can't tell where they put the stone, and you know mom won't let me out of the house alone. You said it yourself, you wouldn't know if you hadn't been told. It's the perfect plan!"
"Except that we don't know where any go salons are, and we're here now because she already doesn't want the two of us to wonder around alone. Besides, they'd think I was weird if I said every placement of the stones." The girl pointed out, deflating Hikaru's hopes.
Hikaru wanted to retort something snappy to his only living friend when his keen senses were hijacked, making the comment die in his throat. About ten feet ahead of where they were walking, someone had just opened a shop door, letting both the thick smell of cigarette smoke waft out of the building (nearly making him sneeze), as well as the unmistakable pachi sound of glass stones being placed on wooden boards. The smells and sound faded as quickly as they'd come as the door swung shut once more.
Grabbing his mother's shirt to get her attention, he pointed to what he assumed was the newly discovered go salon. He really couldn't believe his luck today. "Hey mom, can me and Akari wait in there while you do your shopping? I heard people playing - it's a go salon!"
He could sense the two mothers exchanging glances, but luckily they hadn't caught a whiff of the smoke, otherwise he doubted they would even consider it. That being said, he still used his best pleading face help the cause.
Akari immediately saw what he was doing and joined him, tugging on her own mom's sleeve. "Pleeeease mom? Sensei didn't let us play at all during the lesson."
"Yeah, he just made me go over the rules again! I want to play a game with Akari! So please?"
The two children could feel their mothers' resistance crumble before Mitsuko sighed, made sure her son had his contact card and some money, and left the two grinning children to play their game with the promise of coming back in two hours, max.
Hikaru and Akari highfived, much to Sai's amusement. And although he didn't really approve of them manipulating their parents like that, he couldn't very well argue with the result. After a quick rehash and fine tuning of Hikaru's original plan, the two seven year olds were ready with the agreement that Akari would act talkative and eager, speaking for the both of them and do things one step ahead of her friend so that he wouldn't give up the act because he sat on a goban instead of a chair.
- This is your first time playing strangers, Hikaru. Are you nervous? - Sai asked, his clothes' rustling only audible to Hikaru as the ghost walked alongside them. The blind youth could imagine him in what he knew of traditional clothes from the distinctive sound of silk alone.
- Not really...well, maybe, but I have you and Akari so I'll be fine. God I hope this works. -
- Don't worry so much. So long as you remember to blink and move your eyes in the right directions, all will be well. And we'll be one step closer to letting me play too! -
- It's too late to turn back, anyway. - Hikaru sighed mentally, sneezing as he stepped over the threshold of the source of all the smoke.
Hikaru is smarter than in canon even at six, due to how much he reads. This is because he has a limited number of things he can actually do as a blind boy, until, of course, he meets Sai and gets older, as I'm sure tv isn't half as interesting to him without the graphics. Remember, when the manga was published in '98, Hikaru was already 12, and a lot of things like electronic devices (including portable CD players) and disability treatment were different than they are now. Not saying I'm an expert, but I can hazard a guess, and Japan does offer some surprising amenities to their blind citizens.
Besides, I like the sharper version of Hikaru I've come up with, even if he doesn't differ really that much in his later canon personality. Since this is my first time writing for this fandom though, I'll warn you that it the writing/characterization gets better as it goes on. (I hope.)
This story is also one of the ones I'm publishing just for the sake of getting some of my files cleaned out. And just like Fox on the Wind, I can't really say when the next update will be, but hey, this is over 8,000 words, and there are several other stories like this floating around, so...