Treading on Safe Grounds
A Hikaru no Go fan fiction by Hitokiri-san
A/N: I've noticed that in the HnG fandom, the imagined "Sai confession" scene has already taken a certain formula: Hikaru would say that Sai is a ghost. Akira would counter that ghosts do not exist. Hikaru would then say, "well, then how can you explain the first two matches I have with you?" Akira would have no reply, and accepts Hikaru's words as the truth.
This story comes from a little idea: What if, for once, Akira does NOT believe that Sai is a ghost? In round one, at least. The muse has spun out of my control thereafter, and I have no choice but to follow it.
You wish you could accuse him of lying through his teeth.
The tale he has just told you are mismatched pieces in your puzzle – they seemed to fit at first sight, but are so garishly at odds with the already constructed part of the riddle that it simply cannot be the truth. You know that there's a rational logic in the belief that ghosts do not exist. Spirits do not randomly possess sixth-graders and turn them into formidable go professionals. You had come to the same conclusion once, sitting across the mysterious boy in an Oteai match a year ago, but had immediately vetoed that idea because it was impossible.
What Shindou has told you cannot be the truth.
You also wish that you could believe in the contrary; that your rival, for some unfathomable reason, has woven an elaborate lie and used it on you. This theory is almost as flawed as the alternative; but is, at least, more plausible than the story you've just heard. Without thinking thoroughly – the whole absurd situation has completely clouded your judgment - you plant your hands against either side of the goban, green eyes aflame with anger as you move to confront Shindou.
The rest of your words are lost as you glare down at the 2-dan, who sits there unmoving, bracing himself against your intended accusation. His expression is so anguished, so clearly desperate, you cannot bring yourself to continue. It pains you to see your strong-willed friend like this, haunted and brittle, as if he would break apart under the slightest pressure you put on him. He looks up, breathing heavily. You can tell that he is suppressing the urge to bolt from your presence and run, off to a place where you can't hurt him with your distrust. You think of the last time he had run away from you; you do not want a replay of that incident.
"I'm not lying, Touya. I am not." He says softly, eyes pleading. His voice does not carry the power of conviction, but still you're inclined to believe him. No one understands his personality as well as you do. Your fellow player always has a roundabout way of evading your questions about Sai, it's true, but lying has never been his forte. Given his abnormal reverence to Shuusaku, it does not make sense for him to defile the Go saint in this way. More importantly, he will not deliberately lie to you. You believe this as much as you believe in the existence of Sai.
Shindou cannot be lying.
Your puzzle is suddenly falling apart now, unsalvageable, one piece clashing hopelessly with another. You do not know what to believe in anymore. You slump wearily into your seat, silken strands falling over your features as you fight to make sense of the situation. Shindou leans back, uncharacteristically quiet as he awaits your judgment. You are used to him being cheery and boisterous; seeing him like this is just…wrong.
"You don't believe me, do you?" he says after a moment of silence, the disappointment in his voice making you cringe.
Deep in your heart, you wish that he could take back the confession. You nearly sighed at the irony of the situation – what would you have given, in the past, to unveil the secret behind Sai? Now that it is laid bare before you, you refuse to be convinced.
Quite simply, you have not realized it would come to this.
You could feel the equilibrium between you and him shaking precariously, ready to slip. The damage is done. Disoriented, you ponder the respective consequences of choosing to believe him and vice versa. Saying that you believe his story completely would be a lie; you cannot accept the dishonour of lying to your eternal rival. Saying that you do not believe him would be equivalent to accusing him of lying, which is not what you are trying to convey.
You cannot say that you believe him. You cannot say that you don't, either.
You look into his eyes, contemplating your words carefully. He flinches under your gaze, like a cornered deer before its hunter. This display of dread does not bide well to you at all. Quite abruptly, you feel a faint sense of fear rising from your own heart. How would it be like, to lose the only friend you've known to an irresolvable mystery? How would it be like to face a vacant seat everyday, replaying old games, waiting for a rival who is never going to return?
You do not want to know.
You face him with an air of forced placidity, your voice placating and gentle. It is not a tone you would normally use on Shindou - a practiced tone you've applied in press interviews, or matters similar to those. It occurs to you, in the face of his barely restrained hysteria, that you should at least reassure him with your words.
"I do not think you're lying to me, Shindou. You won't. Not about this, not to me." You softly asserted, and are encouraged when his head snaps up, gray-green eyes lighting up hopefully. You pause, measuring your words again. It is rather like considering the best spot to place your next stone, except that you wouldn't be set back by fear in any Go game.
"I know that there has been quite a lot on your shoulders lately. The match for the Kisei League, the crammed Oteai, teaching games on weekends…" he is starting to look slightly bewildered, so you steeled yourself and drive the point home. "Have you considered, with all that stress, that what you have been telling me may not be…accurate? It would be better to leave the discussion for another time, a time when you're ready." You reach across the table, laying a hand against his shoulder consolingly.
You thought you are treading on safe grounds. You haven't accused your friend of lying, haven't done anything to further hazard the balance. Nothing should go wrong from here. This situation is only a more complicated piece of tsumego; you can solve it, given enough time to yourself.
You are wrong.
"You don't think I'm lying." Shindou finally whispers, and you are puzzled at how bleak his voice sounds. "…You just think that I'm insane, that I have gone crazy under all that stress."
It is then you realize the extent of your mistake. You have just put yourself in atari without knowing it.
"No! Shindou, I was just saying… " you shoot up instantly. Your knees connected with the brim of the table, causing the stones on the goban to scatter freely. The intricate patterns, which have weaved beautifully across the board, are now a jumble of black and white stones.
"You are right, Touya." Interrupting abruptly, he rises, emotions shuttered completely from your view. You can see the sudden, palpable change in his demeanor, the distance that has suddenly grown between you and him. "I think I'll leave the discussion for another time. See you, then."
You are frozen as he turns away slowly, requesting his backpack from Ichikawa-san with stiff, lifeless courtesy. He has not raged against you. He has not stormed out of your salon dramatically, vowing never to return. He is the figure of composure as he picks his way across the salon.
This, perhaps, is what keeps you immobile as he steps through the door, backpack hefted squarely on his shoulders; your worst fear has just been realized. For a moment, you consider chasing after him. You could apologize to him, claiming that you trust him wholeheartedly. You could explain how you have regretted doubting him.
But what good would it do, after all?
You cannot say that you believe him. You cannot say that you don't, either. It is the heart of things as you understand it. You need time to think, if thinking is the way to approach the solution of this particular problem.
Or is there a solution at all?
Drained, you slump back onto the chair, burying your head in your arms. When Ichikawa comes over to ask you what is wrong, you do not reply.
You dash down the stairs three at a time, nearly slipping on the edge of a particularly glossy step in your hurry. With the intent of confronting him, you have played a game akin to speed Go against your opponent/ victim, successfully ending the game within an hour. Much to your surprise, Shindou has still managed to finish his game before you. Cursing both your rival's unpredictability and his opponent's utter incompetence, you have promptly forced the plump man across you to resign before going after the other boy. Actually, you doubt if you could catch up with him at all – you are already a couple of minutes behind despite your hurry.
You breathe a sigh of relief when you see the boy in the Institute lobby, cornered by Amano-san from Weekly Go. You know what this is about, you'd heard it from Ashiwara-san.
You hadn't taken it well, then.
It is the main reason why you have decided to confront him today. He hasn't been avoiding you, not really, but he hasn't initiated conversion with you either. The few times you'd passed him in the Institute's corridor he had seemed shut off, unreadable; approaching him seemed like a bad move. He has also stopped going to the salon, which strangles any chance of communication you might have with him.
You didn't want to confront him earlier then. You had yet to decide your final answer to his confession – facing him head-on could wait.
"I, um, just want to broaden my vision and all that…" you can hear fragments of his next sentence. Amano-san raises a dissatisfied brow; he is obviously opting for something less generic and more personal. Shindou finishes his speech lamely, and you make use of the moment of pause to approach the duo. You don't want to give the impression of barging into a conversation, after all.
Amano-san notes your presence with interest. The rivalry between you and him has become a regular topic in the Weekly Go since the first Hokuto Cup. The man may even want to interview you about Shindou's recent decision, which you do not welcome at all.
Noticing you, your rival reflexively takes a step towards the front door. You calmly mirror his move, effectively barring the way to the exit. He is not going to run out on you anytime soon.
"So, Shindou-kun, have you been waiting for Touya-kun to end his game? Both of you finished awfully fast today." Amano-san asks, and you sense an expertly put undertone. Are you two close friends on top of rivals, that you wait for each other to finish his game?
That would be interesting article material. You cut in before your fellow player could respond with a negative.
"I believe so." You say, pleasantly. "It's nice to see you, Amano-san. Excuse us." Us, not me. Shindou takes the hint and follows you out reluctantly. Whatever the situtaion is, It would not do to make a scene in front of the Go Weekly director.
"So." Stopping at the sidewalk, he studies you with that same blank, subdued expression he seems to have adopted recently. You find it eerily disturbing. "What is it, Touya?"
"You're going to Kansai for that three-month exchange program." Starting without preamble, you fight to keep the accusatory note from your voice. You aren't here to interrogate him.
"Why? Why do you sign up so suddenly? The Institute has to rearrange all your matches for the next few months. Is it because of…" You trail off. You doubt that Shindou wants to be reminded of the incident.
"Because it seems like a fun idea, I'll get to meet some strong Kansai players. I'll be seeing Yashiro there, too."
His answer is too prompt, too bright, a rationalization of sorts. You see through it immediately. Shindou is never much of a good liar to begin with, as you had considered earlier. You find your hand closing over his wrist; it has become a subconscious tendency of yours when dealing with Shindou. It spins off a rather childish mindset: keep your audience there, don't let him leave until you have his full attention. If necessary, drag him off to whatever place you intend to go despite his protests. You'll get your way by then. It seems that the attitude of your twelve-year-old self has stubbornly remained where he is concerned.
"You're just running from me again."
He takes an involuntary step back, fear sparking behind dull green eyes. You can see his pretense crumbling before you, the old anguish returning with a vengeance. Your distrust of his confession has hurt him deeply, you can see now. At the start, he had not counted on the possibility that you wouldn't believe him – he must have felt lost, betrayed. He attempts to yank his arm from your grasp, but fails.
"What do you want, Touya? What do you want from me? You've already said that you don't believe me. That's perfectly fine. I made Sai up; he's a fragment of my imagination, or something. I've been diagnosed with schizophrenia and various other mental failures since I was four." He is breathing hard now, the bleached bangs swinging into his eyes gives him a rather crazed look. "There. Are you happy? Can you let me go now?"
You are unmoved. Your eyes are slits of steel as you regard your opponent – you have never backed down before him in front of a goban. You do not intend to back down in real life.
You have to take one step beyond.
"No, that's not true. You haven't made Sai up, and you are not insane." You smile, a little wryly. "After you left that day, I'd thought about it. Everything looked so impossible back then…it still does. The notion that Sai is a ghost from the Heian era…I just couldn't accept it. Choosing among the thoughts of you lying to me, you being mentally unstable and the existence of spirits, the options bewildered me. I didn't want to choose then, so I tried to remain on safe grounds. I didn't want things to change between us because of what you'd told me. That didn't turn out well, did it."
You take a deep breath. Knowing yourself as a socially inept person, you are surprised at how smooth the revelation sounded. He stares at you, stunned.
"I believe you, Shindou. I'm honoured to be given the truth."
He dips his head, blonde bangs cascading over his eyes as he struggles for words. You let him, the grip on his wrist intending to be more a reassurance than a means of confinement. In his silence, wet spots appear on the granite floor; you realize with dread that your rival is crying.
"…I thought before…that maybe I really should've led Sai's secret to the grave. I wanted to hate you…damn it, you're supposed to believe me or something! But I couldn't…I mean, I knew you most probably wouldn't believe it, I understood that from the beginning – it'd sound too weird to you. I didn't know why I'd decided to spill it out. It just occurred to me that it was time for that "someday" to come. And things went downhill from that. I thought if I could just…get out of here for a bit, maybe I'd forget I've ever said that to you and things would return to normal. I didn't expect to hear…this."
He grins under his curtain of bangs despite his ramblings, eliciting a little smile from you.
"But that would have been running as well." You reply, seriously.
"I know." He looks up now, wiping hurriedly at the tear tracks with his sleeves. A glint of challenge steals momentarily into his eyes. "Which is why I intend to wipe the floor with you when I return from that exchange program, Touya. You'd better prepare for the worst."
Ungrateful punk! You splutter disbelievingly. "I won't lose to you! Not ever!"
"So sure?" He has that impish look on his face again, one that makes you want to throttle him here and now, reputation and consequence be damned. Your voice raises a notch as you heatedly shout into his face.
"Yes! You won't get to go ahead of me. I won't let you!"
He faces your childish glare, chuckling softly. He has done that deliberately to get a rise out of you. You realize this is not going to evolve into one of your regular shouting matches, after all. "Touya?"
You raise an inquiring brow at him.
"I just want to thank you for believing. And…for chasing after me when I need it."
You let the statement wash over you. It has a reassuring warmth in it, something that speaks of trust and friendship. "Let's go to the Go salon. We can get a few more games in before you leave for Kansai." Still smiling slightly, you start in the direction of the train station, your rival falling in step beside you.
If Amano-san had bothered to follow you out of the Institute, he would find the answer to his implied question in the scene before him. The sight of the two young geniuses walking together with familiar ease is enough to prove what words alone cannot.