Seance de Go
Hotta and Obata.
Spoilers: Through the anime.
Akira hated the rain, but it always seemed to follow him.
He had no clue why, but whenever something was about to happen to him, the rain started. He could almost count on the downpour, and he shuddered every time he felt the humidity rise. Traumatic memories had associations, and for him, it was rain.
It was raining now.
He cradled the cup in his hands, letting it linger for warmth. It was half-full of green tea, something that he found comforting, and something he always made when it began raining. Outside, the lightning illuminated the sky, and he curled up in the comfortable armchair, as though to hide from it.
Damn, he hated storms.
In seconds, he knew a tremendous thunder crash would follow, and he braced himself. He was nineteen, too old to be scared of childish things. Still, he held his breath, counting to measure how far away the thunder was.
"Four... five... six..."
"TOUYA! Let me in, damn you!"
Akira nearly jumped out of his skin when someone yelled his name at the same time the thunder finally broke. His hands juggled the cup, struggling not to spill the hot liquid on himself. "Coming!" he called, recognizing the voice with irritation. Setting the cup on the nearby table, he ran a hand through his hair, trying to think of reasons not to strangle his visitor. Still, he was relieved for the distraction, flinching a bit as another bolt of lightning flashed.
Only Shindou Hikaru would choose to show up in the middle of one of the worst thunderstorms of the year. He swung the door open, and his annoyance faded as he saw his waterlogged rival standing in front of him. "Shindou... are you okay?"
"I've been better," Hikaru admitted. "Can I come in?"
"Sure," Akira said, stepping aside so Shindou could pass. His eyes widened as he saw how thoroughly wet Shindou was. The blonde pro was soaked to the bone, his hair leaking drops of water across his white face. He had his arms wrapped around him, trying to conserve his body warmth, and his lips were nearly blue from the cold. "You're dripping on my carpet," he pointed out in a droll voice. "Can I get you a towel?" he offered.
Hikaru shook his head, tromping in without bothering to remove his shoes. "I'll dry off naturally," he assured his sometimes rival, sometimes friend."There's just something about a storm like this that makes you want to savor it," he said reflectively, in a soft voice that seemed to come from somewhere else. "I wish I hadn't lost my umbrella..."
"Where did you leave it?" Akira asked, watching as Hikaru settled on the floor, rubbing his hands briskly in an attempt to restore warmth. He knelt beside him, wondering if Hikaru had hypothermia or something.
"If I knew where I left it, it wouldn't be lost, now, would it?" Hikaru pointed out in annoyance. He sighed and stared up at the ceiling. "I'm so cold," he complained.
"Can I get you something warm to drink?" Akira asked. Just looking at Hikaru made him long for another layer of clothing for himself.
"Nah. I'd rather play a game, but my fingers are frozen stiff... I don't think I can even hold a stone, let alone place it." He stared down at his hands sadly.
Akira looked at the white knuckles, and found himself reaching out to take Hikaru's hand in his own, an echo of their second meeting. They had lost the softness of their childhood, and Akira smiled a bit in satisfaction as he noted the scraped fingernails. These were the hands of a dedicated Go player.
And they were cold enough that it took all of his will not to drop them immediately, but instead hold on, offering Hikaru a bit of warmth. "Remember when we first met, and how you couldn't place a Go stone?" he asked. "I made you give me your hand, just so I could see if you played often..."
Hikaru studied his hand with concentration before he realized what Akira had been looking for, that day when they were twelve. "Such a telling thing, isn't it?" he said thoughtfully. "Now that I know how to play properly, I still can't place a stone because I can't even lift one," he griped. "Damn storm."
Akira dropped Hikaru's hand and rose to his feet, knowing the feeling of frustration well. His rival was right in front of him - all they had to do was start a game."I'll place the stones if you call the moves," he offered.
Hikaru looked a bit taken aback, then his eyes narrowed. "You'd better not claim that placing both our stones is the reason you lose," he said.
Akira laughed at the idea. Hikaru still hadn't beaten him since those first two games. "If you beat me, I'll accept my defeat fair and square. But you won't."
"Akira, I will beat you someday. I will walk this path until I do," Hikaru vowed as Akira set out the goban. "Nigiri, and I'll say one or two."
Akira sighed a bit in irritation, but obeyed. "I can just take white," he offered.
"Baka. We'll play fair. One."
He counted the stones and sighed. "It's even. You're white."
Hikaru nodded as Akira placed his first stone on the 4-4 star. "16-4, houshi..." he announced, taking another the star.
Akira smiled, and played another move.
They were quiet except for Hikaru's voice in the darkness, calling out moves as they played out the opening moves. "This is so weird, not placing my own stones," Hikaru said when the game had advanced into its middle stages.
Outside, another bolt of lightning flashed, and Akira had to keep from shuddering. "Are you warmer? You can place them yourself if you are," he said a bit crankily. Playing for two was something he wasn't comfortable with doing, though he had recreated countless kifu. It was just odd waiting to hear what Hikaru was going to say, and for some reason, it drew him closer to the other pro's game than ever before, making him a part of it.
"No, let's play like this for a while longer. 4-3, boushi..."
Akira let himself fall back into the game, trying to read into what Hikaru's goal was about. Hikaru always played a deep game, and if Akira wasn't able to keep ahead of him, someday Hikaru would sail right by him.
"I wonder if Sai felt like this?" Hikaru whispered.
The slate stone Akira had been about to place next to the ten gen fell to the floor. "Sai?"
"I played Go with Sai like this, only I was the one placing the stones. It's odd. You feel a bit distant from the game, as though it's not really yours, but as it evolves, I feel closer to you, because you're helping me create this," Hikaru said in a dreamy voice.
Akira stared at his rival, wondering if that someday he had been promised had come. "Sai... Shindou, why couldn't Sai place his own stones?"
Hikaru didn't answer for a minute, before raising his eyes to meet Akira's. "Because he was a ghost," he said softly.
"What?" Akira just stared, unable to think on what Shindou had just said.
"He was dead. He died a thousand years ago, in the Heian period," Hikaru said. "Are you going to play?"
Akira wondered if the rain had given Shindou a fever, or if he had hit his head during the earlier part of the storm and was dreaming all this. "Shindou, stop lying."
"I'm not lying!" Hikaru insisted, growing agitated. "Sai was a ghost!"
Akira took a deep breath to calm himself. "Why don't you start from the beginning?" he asked. "I'm going to assume you're not insane for five minutes and hear you out."
Hikaru exhaled heavily, sounding like he was hissing as his breath passed between his teeth. "When I was twelve, I was rummaging through my grandfather's attic and a ghost appeared from a goban. His name was Sai..."
Akira clenched his hands, wanting to deny the impossible story as Shindou continued, telling how Sai was the one who defeated Akira those first two games, how Sai was the one who played him during the first games, directing the moves.
"He would tell me where to place the stones, and I'd do it. He didn't have a body, so he needed someone else so he could play. I was the only one who could see him, and I feel kind of sorry for him. I didn't respect Go much then. I didn't know what the game was." Hikaru his scrapped nails. "That's changed."
Akira opened his mouth to accuse Hikaru of lying or insanity - he wasn't sure which - but instead found different words falling from his tongue. "Why did you take over at the junior high match?"
Intense gray eyes met his, and it was then he knew that Hikaru wasn't crazy. Truth reflected in them as the room was illuminated from outside, and the steady beat of rain created an uneven cadence against the window pane. "Because I wanted to play you," Hikaru said, leaning forward. "I was selfish, and I wanted you to look at me, and stop chasing Sai. I didn't want to be the middleman my entire life."
Akira felt some tension in his chest, and he narrowed his eyes. "Is... is Sai here right now?" he wanted to know.
"No. He left when I was fifteen," Hikaru said softly.
"When you stopped playing..." Akira realized. "What happened?"
"I thought on that a lot, after he left me," Hikaru said. "Did I do something wrong? But then I remembered what he had told me. He had come back to finish what he had never done... to find the hand of God..." Hikaru trailed off.
Akira stared at Hikaru. "So he found it," he said softly, trying to contain a surge of envy. How many of them were searching for it? And Sai had actually FOUND it, only to disappear before sharing...
"Maybe." Hikaru was quiet as he waited for Akira to play before speaking. "Or maybe he found something else. I don't think Sai understood exactly what he was here for, until the very end. Towards the end, right before he left, he was afraid of disappearing. But if he was on a divine quest, he should have known no fear. I think he was still human, despite being a ghost."
Akira stared into Hikaru's gray eyes, seeing quiet wisdom in them. 'When did you become so much wiser than me?' he wondered. "So ghosts don't know why they are here?"
"Maybe. But maybe they are here to complete unfinished business, and when they do, they leave us... and we carry on their legacy." Hikaru stared down in the game. "If I want to find Sai, I just play a game, and he's there, in my Go."
"And mine," Akira whispered. "We all change each other by playing."
Hikaru's eyes went wide in realization. "Does that mean I'm in your Go?"
"Just as I am in yours," Akira said gently.
"Then if we need to find each other, all we need to do is play," Hikaru said. He seemed reassured by the thought.
"I'm playing now," Akira told him, laying his next move finally.
The game continued for hours as the afternoon faded into the night, neither of them shifting off the pillows. Hikaru's clothing and hair dried, but Akira continued to place the stones, for neither wanted to change the way things were. Finally yose concluded, and they stared at the board, and Hikaru had to concede his defeat. "I've lost," he said, bowing.
"Thank you for the game," Akira responded, bowing back.
"Half a moku," Hikaru said softly. "When they change international komi, I'll win... but that's not the same. I want to win at the game the way we play it."
Akira considered the final board. "Changing komi... yes, that would change the game, wouldn't it?" he asked softly. He had been ignoring the upcoming change in rules, not wanting to think about the repercussions. How many games would have been changed, if komi was different? What would their games be like in the future, when the new komi rule went into effect?
"I don't like it," Hikaru said. "Changing the rules... it's changing us. We're forced to change in this life, but some things should remain consistent. If a player isn't strong enough to win as things are, they should work to get stronger. Go has been around for over a thousand of years. Why should they change it now?"
Akira didn't have an answer. He shrugged. "Are we playing tomorrow at the Go salon?" he asked to change the topic.
"I can't make it," Hikaru told him. "But some other day. And I'll win then. I'm playing you until I win!" he pronounced fiercely, the way he always did. "And we won't be changing komi..."
"Our rules remain the same," Akira agreed. "And you'll never beat me, because I'll remain two steps ahead of you." He looked at the storm outside and noticed how the rain was beginning to taper off. "The storm's moving away," he announced, feeling the tension in his body fade.
"And that means I should go," Hikaru said, standing up and stretching. He gave an impish grin as Akira led him to the door. He shivered a bit as Akira unlocked the door for him, muffling a sneeze under his palm. "Thanks for listening and not thinking I'm crazy."
"I do think you're crazy," Akira returned, a slight smile playing over his lips, "but I also think you're telling the truth."
"Stupid," Hikaru teased. "I'll see you later," he said, then vanished through the doorway.
Akira watched him go before returning to stare at the board which he hadn't cleared. It was a brilliant game, one of their best... and they hadn't discussed it. That was odd; usually he and Hikaru would be at each other's throats over perceived mistakes, but as he studied the board and lost himself in the patterns of stones, he realized that they had brought themselves to a new level.
He had gotten stronger, with this game. Hikaru always did that to him, forcing Akira to rise to another level to stay ahead. He had promised at thirteen that he would never let Hikaru catch him, and so far, he had kept his word, but...
If Hikaru had played a daidaigeima there, instead of a keima... Akira considered the possibility, touching the white stone.
His cell phone interrupted his thoughts, chiming the first few measures of "Catch You, Catch Me," and he scowled at it. Two weeks ago, Hikaru had messed with it, and Akira, never technically proficient, hadn't been able to return the ring to something normal. Besides, the looks of the faces around him when people heard TOUYA AKIRA'S phone play Card Captor Sakura's opening theme had been priceless, and he was tempted to keep it permanently.
Absentmindedly, he answered. "It's Touya," he said.
"Touya-san?" said an unfamiliar female voice.
"Yes?" he asked cautiously, hoping that a telemarketer hadn't managed to get his number.
The person started to say something he couldn't make out, then the girl began to speak again. "Thi- This is Fujisaki Akari," she said, speaking in a thick voice.
What would Hikaru's former classmate be doing calling him? he wondered, then realized that Hikaru had probably turned off his cell. Akira opened his mouth to tell her he had just left, but she began speaking before he could.
"There... there was an accident," she said.
He felt himself go cold, and a feeling if lead settle in the pit of his stomach. "What?" he whispered.
"Hikaru was on his way back from playing a game of shidou-go this morning, but... it was raining so hard... a car hit some water and it hydroplaned into where he was waiting to cross the street..." she continued, her voice wooden, with the deadness of someone who hadn't completely accepted the truth. "Touya san, he died instantly. They said he didn't feel a thing."
"But... but..." Touya said, glancing out the window. The night was heavy now, and if Hikaru...
He wanted to tell her Hikaru couldn't be dead, that Hikaru had just been there, playing a game, but he suddenly realized that Hikaru had never touched a thing. Akira had opened the door to let him in. He had refused a blanket or food, and his touch had been like ice and he hadn't placed his own stones...
"I wanted to tell you, I thought you had the right to know," she was saying, but the phone slipped from his fingers as he stared at the game, the impossible game that he couldn't have played.
'Maybe they are here to complete unfinished business...'
He remembered what Hikaru had said, suddenly realizing the significance of his words.
'Some other day. And I'll win then. I'm playing you until I win!'
With shaking hands Akira began to clear the goban, mentally picturing new moves, new counters. His fingers began to lay out a new joseki, imagining how Hikaru would respond.
Yes, they would play again.
Shindou Hikaru would keep his promise, and Touya Akira had to stay ahead of him. He needed to get better. He needed to make sure that Hikaru would never defeat him... for if he lost, Hikaru would have no reason left to stay.
One of my favorite ghost stories is the one where a dead relative/friend shows up to someone who doesn't know they're dead and says all sorts of cryptic things - sometimes a warning, sometimes a message left unsaid. And the tale usually ends with the person finding out that the relative/friend died just before they showed up on the doorstep...
Figured HnG would be great for it, and who better to become a ghost than Hikaru?
I figured Akira COULD touch Hikaru, since it seems like Sai shakes the heck out of Hikaru... if you can see a ghost in the HnG world, it looks like you can feel them.
Komi is the handicap black plays with, since it has the advantage. In Winter 2002, Japan changed their komi to 6.5 rather than the 5.5 we've seen throughout the series. I know HnG begins in 1998, but I'm pushing it earlier just for creative purposes.
Thanks to Sonya for the title! Seance is a French word that can mean different things. It can mean, just like in English, a session where you try to get in contact with a spirit, a ghost. It also means match when talking about games, like chess. It also mean when you have a group of people who get together to learn a skill.
Thanks to Sailor Mac for editing, and Sonya for the beta.