Disclaimer: Hikaru no Go does not belong to me, and I am in no way profiting from this piece of fiction.
Author's Note: Wow, it's been a while since I've written anything substantial other than a romantic comedy. It's probably going to take a few chapters to get back into the groove of writing… well, anything else. Either way, this fic is basically a combination of plot bunny exorcism and dissatisfaction with HnG's ending. There are a couple of techniques I'm using that I normally avoid but…like I said, there are plot bunnies that need to be freed so I can move on to other things.
Updates will occur approximately weekly – quicker or slower depending largely on the length of the chapter. Here's the prologue. Hope you enjoy. And don't forget to review! Reviews are what keep fanfic authors dedicated and on their toes.
Caught In A Ladder
Prologue – Nigiri
Shindou Hikaru sat in his bedroom, eyes transfixed on the headline of Go Weekly. 'TOUYA MEIJIN RETIRES'. He'd been staring at the front page for at least twenty minutes after picking up the magazine on his way home.
The entire Go world had been shocked. It was a disaster. And he was responsible. Was this sort of debacle worth allowing Sai and the Meijin to play that game on the internet? On one hand, being able to be there, being the proxy hand that made those amazing moves was an experience he'd never forget, but on the other guilt and anxiety gnawed at him every time he gave the issue any thought. It didn't seem right that he get away with it so cleanly – any moment, he was sure that game was going to come back and haunt him in some way. If it hadn't sealed his fate already – both Akira and Ogata had seen him at the hospital, and had obviously surmised that even if he wasn't Sai himself, he at least had a connection to him. He'd escaped, but he was dreading the next encounter with either of them. Especially Ogata. The man had been so insistent – the teen really didn't know what might have happened if Akira hadn't happened along when he did.
"Hikaru!" his mother's voice called through the door.
"What is it?" he replied absently, still staring at the magazine.
"Come down to dinner already! I've called you five times already!"
"Oh! Right, sorry. I didn't hear," he answered, shuffling the magazine to the side with the rest of his books. "Come on, Sai."
"Coming, Hikaru," the ghost replied, though his gaze lingered longingly on the magazine. To his surprise, his constant companion hadn't once demanded that he turn the page so that he could read more of the magazine as he normally did, seeming to respect his host's turmoil over the issue.
For that matter, the sho-dan mused as he headed down the stairs, the ghost had been in a strange mood ever since that game. He'd finally been able to play Touya Meijin, so maybe it was to be expected, but instead of his friend being on cloud nine for weeks like he thought he'd be, the thousand-year old ghost had seemingly sunk into something of an uncertain depression after the online match, being unusually moody and sulky. It was irritating, but the spirit obviously had something large on his mind, so he let him be and didn't ask prying questions. Considering they were together 24/7, such courtesies were the only privacies left to them.
His mother already had dinner completely set out on the table when Hikaru entered the kitchen. Just two places again, but since it appeared that his mother had cooked most of his favourites, Shindou obliged her with his presence instead of taking the food to his room as he normally did when it was just the two of them. She tended to cook his favourite foods when she wanted him to stick around for the meal.
The chatter was idle and one-sided for a few minutes as his mother nervously inquired about his work, and then awkwardly asked him about school. After they'd spent a few minutes on the familiar and ultimately meaningless ritual, she'd placed her chopsticks carefully to the side and pinned him with her best 'we're going to have a talk' expression. The bleached-banged teen gulped, mentally running through all of the possible misdemeanours he'd committed that his mother could have come to know about.
His fears of being lectured were swiftly allayed, fortunately.
"You know that your father had a promotion at his company recently, right?"
"Yeah, so?" Hikaru asked, still not entirely certain what it had to do with him.
"Your father's been asked to attend an important business conference overseas. And since you're working now," her mouth puckered a little at that, but she continued regardless, "We thought it might be a nice opportunity to take a bit of a holiday while we were at it. For about a month – he has quite a lot of holiday time saved up, and your father and I really haven't done anything like that since we were first married."
"That's really nice, Mom," Hikaru assured her, relieved that he hadn't done anything wrong after all. "It sounds like fun."
"I was going to suggest that you stay with your Grandfather, or that he comes here, but it turns out he's planning to go visit an old friend of his in hospital in Kyoto. Do you have a friend you could stay with? That boy, Waya, was it? Or Isumi?"
The sho-dan rolled his eyes skyward briefly as he contemplated that. "Isumi's in China, so that's definitely out. I could probably crash at Waya's, but I'd rather just stay here."
"I'm not so sure if I like the idea of any fifteen-year-old boy having the house to himself for that long," his mother clucked disapprovingly.
"Ah, you worry too much. I'll be fine! Besides, between school and the Institute, I'm never home all that much anyway."
"Well, if you're sure…."
"I'm sure, I'm sure! When are you leaving?" he asked, shovelling down the last few bites of his dinner.
Hikaru choked. "What? In only three days! That's awfully short-notice isn't it?" The teen was wide-eyed.
His mother's brow creased again. He seemed to be getting that look from her a lot recently. "We finalised the plans over a week ago, but you've been in and out so fast lately I haven't had the chance to tell you. Honestly, we hardly ever see you for meals anymore! Eating out all the time isn't healthy, you know."
Hikaru didn't bother pointing out that his father was home even less than he, merely waving it off, anxious to finish his meal and return to his room. "I said don't worry! I eat fine! You guys just enjoy your holiday and don't worry about me! Anyhow, thanks for the meal! I'm heading back up to my room to study." He gathered his empty dishes by habit and placed them by the sink.
"Don't stay up too late! You have a match tomorrow morning!" his mother called after him.
The young go pro grinned as he closed his bedroom door behind himself. Folding his arms behind his head, he looked back to the go-obsessed ghost shadowing him.
"An entire month, Sai! We have to house completely to ourselves for an entire month!" Hikaru cheered. "Though cooking and cleaning will be a pain, I guess," he mused out loud.
"Ne, Hikaru, we can stay up late and play Go all we want, right?" Sai bubbled, temporarily coming out of his slump.
"Idiot, we do that anyway." Continuing out loud, "Though at least I'll be able to talk out loud to you properly around the house without looking crazy." Sai could hear his thoughts when he projected them like speech, but the youth still felt more comfortable talking with his voice, and was prone to forgetting himself if he got into the conversation enough. More than once his mother had inquired about the racket he made in his room, and recently she'd started asking if he was having secret visitors that she didn't know about. The woman was probably wondering if he'd been sneaking a girl in, which if true would've made him a master magician, to make her disappear the instant his curious mother opened the door. The sho-dan chuckled to himself at that, imagining Sai's reaction. The ghost would be so affronted if he knew what his mother was always suggesting in her thinly veiled queries. A whole month of not having to worry about it was going to be relaxing. He liked his family well enough, but he was going to enjoy his privacy more. And with Sai around, it wasn't like he'd even get the chance to be lonely.
Shindou Hikaru went to bed that night feeling content, the anticipation of a month without his mother lecturing him about attending high school chasing away his earlier concerns about his secrets being exposed. He even managed to hold onto the content feeling right through his match the next morning. He'd played a 3-dan, and had won relatively easily, though reminded himself not to get too cocky. It was necessary to keep up that sort of winning streak if he wanted to catch up to Touya. The teen was sort of bothered that Sai hadn't commented on the game, though, irritated by his companion's increasingly swift and dramatic mood swings. Normally the ghost would be forthcoming with congratulations followed by a strict critique of all of his moves, but he'd remained silent and morose.
Since Sai was proving to be poor company, Hikaru found himself trailing after Waya as soon as the other boy finished his match. The redhead regularly dragged him along on outings now that Isumi was in China.
"I heard that Ogata-sensei and Morishita-sensei are scheduled to play a match in a couple of weeks," Waya whispered conspiratorially as they fetched their shoes from the lockers near the entrance. "Morishita-sensei is going to be absolutely unbearable if he loses."
"Ugh, Ogata, yeah," Hikaru replied distractedly, shuddering as the good feeling he'd been enjoying all morning vanished at the reminder that he still hadn't figured out what he was going to do when he saw the Jyudan titleholder, and a large part of him was dreading their next meeting. He sincerely hoped that the blonde man had just forgotten about the incident at the Meijin's hospital, but doubted it. It didn't seem like the usual 'deny everything' tactic would work this time. Thinking up some sort of plausible story was the next step. It helped that Ogata just thought he merely knew Sai. Maybe he could spin a story that he only knew Sai online, and that he'd set up the match there?
"Shindou? Shindou, are you listening?" the other sho-dan asked, annoyed.
"Um, sorry, I missed that. You were saying?"
Waya rolled his eyes, but continued regardlessly. "Touya-Meijin, dummy! Morishita-sensei's been pissed ever since he retired, because now he thinks they'll never get to resolve their rivalry! It's like he thinks beating Ogata will at least get the Meijin's attention."
"He's not Meijin anymore, Waya," a third voice chimed in from behind.
"Gah, Ochi, when did you get here?! Don't scare me like that!"
Hikaru tuned them out, turning those words over in his head. He still felt responsible for the Meijin's retirement – why did the old man have to go make some crazy bet like that?! He'd never asked for it, dammit! He just wanted him to play Sai seriously!
He shook his head as though to clear it. That wasn't something that could be changed. Better just to concern himself on improving his game and figuring out a good alibi for whenever he next saw Touya or Ogata.
"Shindou. Oi, Shindou!" Waya yelled.
The other sho-dan jerked his head at him, eyebrow twitching in irritation. "Stop spacing out, already. Let's get going."
"I'm coming, I'm coming," he replied nonchalantly, dragging his feet after his friend and giving a polite nod to Ochi. He didn't particularly like the other pro – though that was more due to the fact that the other teen didn't like him - but they had been Insei together and he was a pretty good player, so deserved at least basic courtesy.
Hikaru and Waya spent the afternoon wandering around town, eating burgers and discussing Go. They ran into Nase and one of the new Insei that had joined after they'd left – some girl a couple of years older than them who had stars in her eyes when they'd been introduced as newly minted pros. Hikaru excused himself when talk moved to his sho-dan series match with Touya Meijin, and spent the rest of the afternoon doing his homework, seeing as he actually had to go to school the next day. Sai sat quietly in the corner, which while helpful in allowing him to concentrate on his non-history based homework, was supremely unsettling once said homework was finished.
Getting ready for bed, he turned to his ghostly companion. "Sai…. Is something bothering you? Just come out and say it if there is already!"
The Heian-period ghost looked startled at his words, before turning away and replying, "It's nothing, Hikaru. I don't know for sure, anyway."
"Don't know what?"
Sai didn't respond, so he shrugged and flicked off the light, annoyed. "Fine, be that way." After all the trouble he went through because of spirit, too.
Sleep didn't come easy that night, however, and Hikaru wasn't certain whether it was from guilt for snapping at his friend, or anxiety over what might happen if his secret were ever revealed.