Spoilers: Hear-yee, hear-yee, if thou hast not read-st beyond the 14th volume (Or chapters 116 onward) do not proceed forward. You have been warned. Spoilers be here!
However, of note, it is set slightly before chap. 123.
And here we go (no pun intended).
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear,
I learn by going where I have to go . . .
And the Stars Fell Down
As he watched Hikaru sleep and waited for him to wake, Fujiwara no Sai wondered what it was like to dream. He couldn't remember, exactly. He hadn't slept in a thousand years; ghosts had little need to rest bodies they didn't have. However, without bodies, ghosts had no gateway to dreams. It annoyed him, faintly, that he couldn't remember.
It probably was for the best, though. Dreaming came too close to the one border all ghosts dared not cross, the one that lead to eternal rest. No, ghosts needed more solid anchors than dreams; they needed a focus and a purpose. He glanced at the goban, its surface still cluttered from the game he had played earlier with Hikaru. Yes. A focus ... or a goal. He clenched his hands, and for a moment, they felt . . . real. Dreams just got in the way.
As he had when he sealed himself in the goban, he usually passed the time by replaying old Go games. His memories of Go, already sharp in his life, had only been honed razor keen with his death. In the end, what else was a ghost but a few stranded bits of memory bundled together? Each and every move he had made, even those a thousand years distant, he could still see as if his hand had just placed the stone. He could still feel the pleasing roundness of the go stones underneath his fingers and remember the hard, yet pliant caress of the goban wood ... but there was a limit to what he could keep within himself. Little things -- like the liquid contours of a dream or the sensation of a single breath held on a winter morning -- had simply slipped from him. The exact color of his mother's eyes (brown? gold? amber?), the timbre of his father's voice (rough? sibilant?) -- he had lost those as well.
Hikaru grunted in his sleep, and his hands gripped his blanket tightly. His brow wrinkled, and he drew his lips back, showing his teeth. Sai hid a grin behind a sleeve. Hikaru looked rather like a small lion cub showing his first fangs.
Then the ghost remembered. The smile vanished. Hikaru was a cub no longer. He had true fangs now and a lion's skill to match. He hunted across the Go board, pouncing, slicing - instincts keen and always stalking the opponent's next move. In his bed, the lion grunted softly again. This time one bleary eye opened, then the other. Hikaru smacked his lips absently. One leg slumped over the side of the bed, then the other, and a thump sounded as the rest of Hikaru's body reluctantly followed. Scratching his neck absently, the boy began to weave his way across the room.
"Half a moku, half a moku," he repeated in a mantra like chant. His eyes were more closed than open, and Sai knew they did not see the world quite properly at the moment. "Oh ramen? Yes, please. Half a moku ... joseki ... mmm, crunchy ..."
This time, the ghost felt no guilt at hiding his smirk with his sleeve. Hikaru shuffled forward, oblivious to the growing mirth of his audience.
"Don't trip on the goban in front of you," Sai half whispered as Hikaru swerved dangerously towards the object. He found that a low, calm voice worked the best in such situations. Yelling only insured that the boy would jump, bang himself against his desk, and give Sai an earful. The ghost had learned this the hard way.
Hikaru sidestepped the goban automatically, but couldn't quite miss the bowls of go stones, which clattered across the floor when he kicked them. Sai grimaced (he usually managed to steer Hikaru with a little more delicacy), but Hikaru took no notice. The boy lurched out the door and across the hallway, still mumbling about ramen, joseki and moku.
With a little help from Sai, Hikaru finally made it to his destination -- the bathroom. The ghost turned his back politely as Hikaru barely woke up enough to do what he must. He then moved out of the way as Hikaru stumbled back towards the general direction of his room.
"Hikaru, watch out for the door ..." Sai cautioned.
Obediently, Hikaru veered to the left, safely cleared the door frame, stepped over the spilled go stones, and flopped unceremoniously back into bed. Sai resumed sitting on the floor beside the bed. He let a full smile spread. It was not the first time Sai had taken charge of Hikaru's nocturnal journeys, and it would not be the last. One way or another, he was destined to guide the boy ... whether Hikaru was aware of it or not.
"What would you do without me?" he gently joked, but the jibe fell flat as soon as he spoke. His hands dropped into his lap, and his face became blank. What would Hikaru do without him?
"Saiiiii?" Hikaru murmured.
Sai snapped to attention. He had forgotten about the emotional link between him and his friend. "Go back to sleep, Hikaru," he soothed, and forced his thoughts towards a different direction. He would not disappear ... he could not! There was still so much to do .. he had yet to find the Hand of God. And who would help Hikaru play go? Though to be honest, Sai had to admit that Hikaru did not need much help in that department anymore. He had long ago shaken off the need to let the ghost direct his moves.
Unbidden, a memory surfaced, and Sai chuckled gently into his sleeve again. It had been a night rather like the present one, not long after Hikaru had received the goban from his grandfather and not long after Sai had discovered that Hikaru was highly susceptible to suggestions while in a half sleeping state. That night, Sai had managed to manipulate Hikaru into playing almost an entire game of Go. Sai winced. Ghost or no ghost, it would take many lifetimes before he forgot the angry tirade that had caused, once Hikaru woke up and found what Sai had been doing.
"How could you DO that?! This is MY BODY! I'm not some Go puppet! I'm ME!"
It hadn't helped matters when Sai commented that Hikaru played better when he was half asleep than when he was awake. Hikaru had pitched both bowls of Go stones at him. When that had failed to have any impact on the ghost, the boy had tried to clout Sai with the goban itself. Unfortunately, Hikaru then slipped on the spilled stones, banged his own head with the goban, (which in turn had caused even more yelling), -- all of which culminated with Hikaru's mother pounding up the stairs, demanding to know why her son felt the need to play Go at three o' clock in the morning. Enraged and embarrassed, Hikaru had refused to play with Sai for the rest of the day. The thought still brought phantom tears to the former Go sensei's eyes. To not play Go for an entire day -- !
Though deeply asleep, Hikaru's face clouded and he gave a small groan. A bit belatedly, Sai realized his sadness had once again seeped into his young friend.
"Gomen, Hikaru," Sai said softly, but like a sudden stone thrown into still water, the ripples did not immediately fade.
"Tou-ya," Hikaru gritted his teeth. "Touya ... I will play you ... will win. I must ...must ..."
"Hikaru, you will," Sai reassured him, anxious to return his friend to his much needed rest.
"He doesn't want to play ... me." Hikaru twisted in his bed, his covers gnarling around him like an ever tightening fist. "Sai ... let me win ..."
Sai gestured helplessly with his fan. "Hikaru, what do you mean? I can't stop you. I'm the one who needs to ask you to let me play. And you never let me anymore ..." his voice trailed off, and his head bent in shame. He had promised himself that he would not annoy Hikaru too much about letting him play. Having a ghost as a constant partner was already difficult enough for Hikaru, who had to balance life as a teenager on top of trying to maintain his professional Go ranking. What few moments he had to himself, he spent it with Sai. Sai tried to give the boy privacy, but where could the ghost go? It was not as if Hikaru could hide from his own mind.
Yet, they got along fairly well, despite having to put up with the odd quirk or two from the other. The subject of "who got to play" was the only real boiling point between them. At least Hikaru had finally stopped trying to throw stones at him in anger, Sai thought wryly.
Hikaru respected the game too much now to treat the stones in such a manner. To him, Go was an ...a ... what? Sai blinked, perplexed. What was the game, in Hikaru's eyes? Although he could read the boy's mind, he had no access to Hikaru's heart . . .
"Let me play," Hikaru mumbled. "Touya ... Sai ... I'm not ... Sai ..."
"Hikaru," Sai rubbed his forehead with a hand, "I ..."
He paused, startled by the sound of footsteps stopping just outside of Hikaru's room. Sai turned to find Hikaru's mother silently leaning against the door frame. She must have heard the boy's clumsy trip down the hallway and had come to check on her son.
"Shindo-san, everything's okay," he said, although he knew she could not hear him. "He's just dreaming."
She did not come every night, or even every week, but she did care enough to come at least. She usually would just take a quiet glance through the door. Tonight though, seeing that Hikaru's covers were all rumpled into a knot around him, she came in and straightened the blankets out. She also carefully moved the goban from the middle of the floor and swiftly cleaned up the stones that were scattered about.
"I wish I understood this obsession of yours," she said to her sleeping son as she gently pushed his hair back, "but I hope you're happy."
Hikaru merely dreamed onwards, oblivious to both of his nocturnal watchers. Sai watched as Hikaru's mother as she left. She did care, even if she did not understand. He wanted to tell her it was important that she cared. But she could not hear him, and he did not think Hikaru would understand. Of course, Hikaru, for his part, had no knowledge of his mother's nighttime visits. Like most boys his age, he was not yet used to comprehending the small, often unseen signs of being deeply loved.
Sai's hands clenched around his fan so tightly that, even as a ghost, the whiteness of his knuckles showed.
"Hikaru . . . are you happy?" he asked. It felt odd, however. Though Hikaru had often asked him this question, Sai rarely asked it in return.
The ghost fought down a pang of guilt. Perhaps Hikaru wasn't the one who was blind to small, unseen signs. Still ... who could not be happy if they were playing as much Go as Hikaru did? If he could play Go as much, if Hikaru had let him play Go as much . . . the familiar feeling of jealousy stirred.
Hikaru gave a small whimper, and Sai loosened his grip on his fan. Guilt again replaced jealousy ... could he not even let the boy have a little peace, to find some sanctuary in his dreams? It was the only place he was free of Sai, after all . . .
"He doesn't want to play ... me."
The ghost trembled. No, not even there.
But Hikaru had to be happy, even if he was saddled with a thousand year old ghost ... he had to be happy with Go -- he lived it, breathed it, even his dreams were about Go.
"And I'm not that bad of a burden, am I?" he asked the air plaintively. Without him, Hikaru would have never known the world of Go in the first place. He had brought the boy into this world . . .
Sai slumped backward abruptly. And because of him, Hikaru's dreams were not only of Go, but of beating Touya Akira and in establishing his own identity apart from Sai ... a process which often caused the young boy a lot of pain (and sparked the occasional panic-and-frantically-lie-like-crazy attacks as well).
"Hikaru ..." he said, disturbed for reasons he could not quite voice. "You're not trapped by me ... I'm ..." he stopped. "Maybe we're both trapped by the chase ... I for the Hand of God, and you to prove yourself to Touya Akira ..."
For a few long moments, only the sound of Hikaru's even breathing filled the room. Sai bent his head and leaned forward on his knees, his fan folded and loosely clasped in one hand.
"Gomen nasai, Hikaru ... you wouldn't have had to prove yourself, if I ..." he sighed. "I did not mean to trap you in that ... it is my fault ... if I could take back the first game with Touya Akira ..." he shook his head, "Yet ... you've come so far in this race after him ..."
He looked up in order to face his friend, but caught a faint glimpse of the stars outside Hikaru's window instead. The night was clear, and the moon hung low and luminous, as it had in the Heian Era, as it had in the Edo period, as it did now. There seemed to be less stars than he remembered, however. The full moon's brilliance and the millions of lights from Tokyo itself had faded them out. The fan fell from his fingers, disappearing before it hit the ground. Sai barely noticed, his gaze fixed on the night sky above.
"The stars in my time were very bright. They filled the sky to the point that it seemed to burst with light ... so much so that the older stars had to fall constantly to make room for more. I used to watched them and imagine that each falling star was God gaining even more territory in a celestial version of Go."
"But now, no one notices or cares when they fall, and the remaining ones aren't so bright. You told me once that man had reached the moon ... but it seems we've also lost so many stars along the way . . ."
Sai leaned backwards, trying to see the sky more fully. He only saw the ceiling of Hikaru's room. Yet ... even unseen ... the stars were still there, weren't they? Once the moon set, and the lights dimmed, they would still be there ...
They had to be . . .
"Do you remember, Hikaru, that game .... that first game when you played Kaiou Junior High? The first time you told me not to play ... that you wanted to win or lose on your own power? How you said the goban was the Universe, and the stones like the stars? Ne, do you remember? I do ... I remember the joy shining on your face then, as you placed stone after stone ... and no matter how badly you played, your joy seemed brighter than any game, brighter than any star ..." he trailed off.
"It was also the first time I taught you about the flow of the stones, and with that, we created an universe together."
Sai's fingers twitched, as if his hands yearned to place stones on a board. "I hope you never forget the joy in just simply playing Go for its own sake. It's not only about catching and defeating Touya Akira ... remember that you're creating stars too..." he broke off. "And remember, the universe you create does not solely revolve around the stones you place yourself ..."
Exhausted, Sai made a small gesture, and his fan reappeared. He tapped it against his lips. He had not felt this tired since he had a body. Perhaps ghosts did need to sleep, once in awhile.
"You should talk to your parents more, too," he added as an afterthought. If he was going to lecture, he might as well do it properly.
"Saaaiiiii ..." came the sleepy whine from the bed. "Shut up! Geez, I'll play you in the morning. Is that all you think about?!" Hikaru snorted into his pillow. "So selfish ..."
The rest of his words drained away as Hikaru pitched headfirst back into his dreams.
Sai froze, staring at his young protégé. He knew Hikaru had not truly heard what he had said -- and even if he had, the boy probably would not listen (or, even more probably, call Sai a rather long list of nasty names). Hikaru lived life pretty much in the same way he played Go; he was young, brash, headstrong, spirited ... and inclined to learn by making a mistake first then asking questions later. But that was the way with some; they only learned about thorns after they had picked a rose themselves.
Hikaru, Sai decided, was the type of person who was liable to uproot an entire rosebush before even going "ouch".
"I can guide your skills in Go, and I can even guide you to the bathroom when you're asleep ... but I can't guide you in this," Sai closed his eyes again, unable to continue looking at the night sky or at Hikaru.
"I'm not one to talk about giving up the chase, anyway. When I went into that river ... I gave up the chase too early ... or perhaps, I let it consume me to the point I couldn't see beyond. What do you do after the chase?"
His fan paused mid-tap, and disappeared back into his sleeves. "How lonely life seems sometimes . . . and death even more so. I have spent so long chasing, but sometimes, just a little, ... I wish I had just stayed still and be caught."
A moment in his mind's eye -- Hikaru's face as he touched the Go stones as if they were stars -- flashed before him. Yes. he had that ... if nothing, he had that one moment where he had helped bring so much joy to the face of another. Perhaps there was something in that -- an answer to this fruitless search of a thousand years. He was here now, he was with Hikaru now ...
And suddenly, realization dawned. Surprise sparkled through him.
"You ... you did that... didn't you? You caught me," Sai's mouth dropped open as he turned to look at his young friend. "You and Torajiro, when I had given up ...you caught me and shared your lives with me ... shared your joy and your pain, and showed me what could have been if I hadn't ..."
He blinked, staring at his hands again. "I cannot dream, but I wonder, sometimes ... I wonder what I have missed ..."
Perhaps the true question, he suddenly realized, is not what Hikaru will do if he looses me, but what I will do without Hikaru?
How much longer do I have? Panic wisped through him, threading upwards like water enveloping silk . . .
"AAAAAARRRRRRRRRGH! SAI!" Hikaru woke fully, and his voice filled with fury. "Sleep now! Go later!"
"Eeeeeh! Gomen ne, gomen ne, gomen ne....!" Sai waved his arms placatingly . Enough of this nonsense, he told himself, I am a ghost, and all ghosts must have a goal in order to exist. Mine is to gain the Hand of God and to help Hikaru play go. If I don't hold onto this focus, if I let it slip, I will truly disappear. All these other feelings ... they will pass.
As Hikaru's breathing resettled into the normal rhythms of sleep, Sai turned his full concentration back upon recalling past games, past kifus, and present strategies . In his hand, his fan dipped and swayed as he marked out the moves from his memory. The Hand of God ... that was what he existed for, and that was all he would think about.
Though a small, quiet part of him still tried to remember what it was like to dream . . .
or what was the exact color of his mother's eyes . . .
And above him, the stars twinkled in all their magnificence ... and
Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And lovely, learn by going where to go.
This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.
I had no idea I was going to write this, I never meant to write this, but I did, so there you are. Reviews are greatly appreciated, even if you just want to tell me I either need medication, a padded room, a nice jacket with all the fiddly straps or some combination of all three.
Actually, both volume 15 and last chapter of volume 17 serve as "bookends" to this story. I think the story makes better sense that way. Or ... maybe not.
Volume 17 ... what can I say about Volume 17? It's very good, and it far surpasses anything I'm trying to do. Go and read it. You won't be disappointed.
That's all I'm gonna say. *wink*
Oh ... and perhaps ghosts can dream. You'll see.
anyway, thanks for reading!
PS: I don't usually condone the rampant use of Japanese (I can't speak the language and I end up butchering it) in my fanfic. I mean ... I'm writing in English ... it's a bit jarring when I suddenly switch. So da ne.
However, Sai does use "Gomen," "Gomen ne" or to be strictly formal "Gomen
nasai". I also vaguely remember him throwing in a "Shindo-san" in
there. I don't know why I used those words, but in my head the difference
between "I'm sorry" (the English translation of "Gomen") and "Gomen nasai"
(which is a more polite form of "sorry") is enough so that I chose to go
with the Japanese form. I will change it, if it bugs me too much. As for
"Shindo-san" ... I don't know Hikaru's mother's name, and calling her "Mrs.
Shindo" sounded odd. Of course, Shindo-san means the same thing, so I'm
just barking crazy. ;)