Title: desynchronization. Part XVI of XVI (Complete)
Main Characters: Ogata, Sai, Hikaru, Akira
Disclaimer: These lovely characters are the creation of Yumi Hotta and Takeshi Obata. Not mine, I'm just playing in their sandbox.
Spoilers: For the entire series.
Warnings: Ages 16 and up. Occasional cursing and mild sensuality.
Notes: Much thanks to my betas.

Ogata blinked dully at his computer monitor, wondering exactly how he'd arrived at a Wikipedia entry about HVAC, of all things. He'd logged on with the full intention of researching records from the Honinbou tournaments, but had found himself unable to focus. A quick glance at the computer's clock revealed that he'd just wasted the last two hours clicking about aimlessly... and that it had been a week and a half.

Fujiwara hadn't contacted him even once.

Initially, Ogata had thought that Fujiwara would return, after Fujiwara had gotten some space and a little time to recover. Fujiwara was inclined to be the forgiving sort; he had forgiven Ogata about the s a i incident, after all. And Fujiwara had been comfortable living with Ogata: he liked the condominium, his Chinese tutor lived next door, he knew the neighborhood, he had a job at that go salon, he had the fish... and he had Ogata. At the very least, Fujiwara had liked playing go with him. Even outside of go, they'd had some enjoyable experiences together.

But a week and a half? Logically, Ogata knew that he had to accept that Fujiwara wasn't coming back. Perhaps Fujiwara just couldn't forgive him, he thought, recalling that soft look of resignation in Fujiwara's eyes when he'd said goodbye -- as if the hurt had set in too deep, and Fujiwara had known it.

Scowling in irritation, Ogata closed the browser and rolled his chair back. There was no point in even attempting research if he couldn't concentrate. It was probably time to feed the fish their evening meal anyway.

He walked over to the aquarium display, and took out the containers of fish flakes and pellets from the storage space underneath the aquarium. First, he crumbled a few flakes into the tank, and watched as the fish began to converge towards the surface excitedly, the angelfish boldly seizing the largest chunks of food, while the tetras darted between them, nervously snapping up smaller bits. The male guppies were incapable of moving as quickly as the other fish because their ornamental tails slowed them down, so as always, he sprinkled in a little extra for them on the side while the other fish were distracted with the feeding frenzy at the center of the tank.

Next, Ogata dropped a pellet into the tank for the clown loach, smirking when the pellet landed directly on top of the lazy fish, startling it. "Maybe you ought to pay better attention, Kuwabara dearest," he informed the fish dryly. He'd liked the fish's looks better before it had grown so fat, but Fujiwara seemed to favor it, crooning at it and calling it "cute."

Had seemed to favor, Ogata corrected mentally, unable to stop himself from wondering if Fujiwara missed the fish. Probably.

He replaced the containers, and returned to his chair. He glanced at his cell phone, again considering sending Fujiwara a text. Nothing long, just a "how are you?" or even a "where are you?" But Ogata had ended up trashing all the drafts he'd started, paralyzed by a niggling feeling that he had somehow been the one in the wrong. Yet no matter how many times he replayed that conversation in his head, he couldn't see what he ought to have done differently, or what he should or shouldn't have said. The advice he'd given Fujiwara was sound and made out of concern for Fujiwara's best interests.

"I should have just lied," Ogata muttered, suddenly not wanting to be anywhere near the fish. They reminded him too much of Fujiwara, like just about every other damn thing in the apartment. He grabbed a book off the shelf at random, and flicked the lights off as he left the study.

Book in hand, Ogata settled into his favorite chair in the living room, but he'd only gotten a paragraph or so into the foreword when he became uncomfortably aware that Fujiwara had been the last person to sit in that chair. The same chair where he'd cried because Ogata couldn't believe him.

Ogata let out a slow breath, unpleasantly reminded that he'd always had a very logical reason for not inviting girlfriends over to his apartment. He hadn't wanted to deal with distasteful memories cluttering up his living space after the inevitable breakup.

Well, at least he hadn't been thoughtless enough to let his physical attraction towards Fujiwara develop into anything serious. Nothing beyond some casual flirting here and there. Their separation – no, that wasn't the right phrase, he thought with a grimace -- the termination of their arrangement -- had been bad, but not nearly as bad as it could have been. They'd both known all along that the arrangement was just a temporary one; he just hadn't expected it to end so abruptly and on such poor terms. That had... unsettled him. He'd lost his equilibrium.

The cure for that was simply time, and other pursuits to distract himself with. He had led a perfectly fulfilling life before Fujiwara, and he merely needed to resume that life. Business as usual. He still had his go, and it was stronger than it had ever been. The arrangement with Fujiwara had ultimately achieved Ogata's aims: he'd brought his game to the next level. Allowing himself to fret over insignificant details was pointless: in the end, only go mattered.

Tomorrow was Thursday, which meant he had a match scheduled at the Go Institute. The winner of the match would advance to the next round of the Honinbou semi-finals. His opponent was Takeshima 9-dan, a player he had faced on several occasions. Ogata's record against Takeshima was four wins and two losses. The wins hadn't been as solid as Ogata preferred, but he knew that he had increased in strength significantly due to training with Fujiwara. He was expecting much better results for tomorrow's match.

He glanced at his watch. It was nearly eleven, so he decided to shower and turn in. He was accustomed to keeping late hours, but preferred to wake up earlier on match days. He abandoned the book on the chair's armrest with the resolve that he would continue reading it in that chair after his victory tomorrow. It was a very comfortable chair, and it would be ridiculous to allow himself to develop an aversion to it.

After all, Ogata prided himself on being reasonable.

After Ogata had answered enough questions from Kosemura to give the man enough material for a half-decent Go Weekly column, Ogata bowed again to his opponent, the officiator, and the recorder, and excused himself from the game room.

In the hallway, he rubbed at the crick in his neck, reveling in that unique mixture of fatigue and adrenaline that always accompanied a win. And of course, the urge for a good drag; his fingers always itched for a cigarette after a game. Depending on the outcome of the game, however, it was either a celebratory smoke, or a consolation smoke.

He eyed the stairs and the elevator, wondering which would result in him getting outside faster and thus getting his fix faster. He was up on the fifth floor: if the elevator stopped on every floor, then taking the stairs would be faster, especially if more than one person got on at each floor.

Ogata had started for the stairs when his attention was caught by the sight of a familiar figure emerging from one of the other game rooms. He was initially surprised to see Akira, but then he recalled that Akira had been promoted to 5-dan just three weeks prior. Akira's official matches were therefore held on Thursdays now, along with all the other upper dans -- like Ogata.

Akira was engrossed in examining the contents of the drink vending machine, his back turned to Ogata, so Ogata walked up to him noiselessly, waiting until he was almost directly behind Akira to speak: "Akira-kun."

Ogata was perversely gratified to see Akira stiffen in surprise. Nice to know he still had the touch.

"Ogata-san," Akira said, turning around, his face slightly pale, although composed.

"How was your match today? You played Tabuchi 7-dan, correct?"

"I won by three moku," Akira said matter-of-factly, as if winning by such a large margin against a 7-dan veteran player was to be expected. For Akira, it was. Akira had never learned to expect any less of himself. That confidence was one of the reasons some players resented Akira, but Ogata found it one of Akira's endearing traits.

"Nice. Do you know if you'll be playing Shirakawa or Saeki next?"

Akira shook his head. "They haven't had their match yet. And how was your game today?"

"I also won. Takeshima made a mistake during chuuban, and he wasn't able to recover from it by the time we entered yose." It was unnecessary for Ogata to mention that he'd spotted the mistake immediately, and exacerbated it ruthlessly. Akira already knew because he would have done exactly the same.

"I see. Congratulations."

Ogata's eyes sharpened. There was strain in Akira's voice, and Akira was shifting his weight ever so slightly on his legs, a habit he only displayed when he felt awkward. For Akira to feel uncomfortable around Ogata -- someone Akira had known all his life – meant that Akira was concealing something.

Ogata had to know what it was.

"What's bothering you?" Ogata said softly. If he came at Akira aggressively, Akira would become evasive. The gentle approach was better for slipping under Akira's defenses.

"Ah, nothing really. I was just thinking about an upcoming match." Akira's eyes slid to the side. "I really ought to get going; I'm meeting someone for lunch."

Ogata knew that Akira was lying; Akira had always been too polite to look someone directly in the eyes when he was being deceptive. Ogata schooled his features into concern, and he leaned in, just enough to throw Akira off balance (Akira needed a lot of personal space). "Is it something I did?" In truth, Ogata didn't think any such incident had happened, not recently anyway, but Ogata needed to keep Akira talking. "If so, I apologize."

Akira's face flushed, and he shook his head, flustered. "Not to me," he said quickly. Then he pinched his lips together abruptly, as if he'd let too much slip.

Ogata wanted to rub his temples. Of course it was about Fujiwara. And here he'd been doing such a good job not thinking about the man, so well that his logic had failed to connect the dots. Of course Akira was still in touch with Fujiwara; Fujiwara had no reason to cut ties with Akira. Akira believed every single word of Shindou's crazy story. So it was only natural that Akira would feel awkward around Ogata; Ogata had rejected the ghost story, and had hurt Fujiwara.

Well, there was no point in further questioning. If Akira wanted to nurse a grudge based on a wild fairy tale, then it was hardly Ogata's business. Fujiwara had chosen to end their arrangement of his own volition, and Ogata was adult enough to accept that. Fujiwara was no longer his concern.

"Is he okay?"

Apparently, Ogata's mouth was not in agreement with his brain.

Akira's eyes widened. He did not answer for a long moment. "He's doing alright," Akira finally said. "Better."

"Where is he staying?" Ogata asked, reasoning that he'd already blown his resolve to ignore Fujiwara, so another question wouldn't make much of a difference.

Akira raised his chin ever-so-slightly. "Isn't that something you should ask Fujiwara-san yourself?"

That was rich, coming from the boy who'd more or less spent his junior high years practically stalking Shindou. Not that Ogata had disagreed with Akira's methods or aims – hell, he'd encouraged it -- but Ogata found Akira's sudden air of righteousness irritating.

Akira's phone vibrated from inside his messenger bag. Akira did not take it out, but instead frowned. "I'm running late. Please excuse me."

Ogata ignored Akira, instead placing a light hand on Akira's shoulder. "Under normal circumstances, you'd be absolutely correct. I ought to ask Fujiwara myself. However, given that the last time I spoke to Fujiwara, I only made him upset – despite my best intentions -- I didn't want to risk upsetting him again. Surely you can understand that, considering the various instances you relied on others to inform you about Shindou. Don't tell me you've already forgotten."

Akira glared, his eyes flashing fire, and Ogata arched an eyebrow. Really, Akira did have such a fierce expression when he was riled. Ogata would have probably found it a little scary if he didn't have a distinct memory of a two-year-old Akira wearing a ridiculously pink bib and smearing most of his dinner on his face.

"Really, Akira-kun? Are the dragon-eyes called for?" Ogata drawled.

Akira stepped sideways so Ogata's hand slid off his shoulder. "I don't think the situations are comparable."

Ogata sighed. Akira wasn't interested in making it easy. "I'm not going to try to see Fujiwara. I have no interest in intruding where I'm not welcome. But I know he isn't ready to live on his own, so I would simply like know that he's... in a safe situation."

The anger dissipated from Akira's face, and he gave Ogata a measured glance. "Fujiwara-san is staying at my house for now. I asked him to, since it's large for me to maintain by myself while my parents are gone."

Relief flooded Ogata. So, Akira had managed to overcome Fujiwara's pride by phrasing the offer as a request for help. Smart boy. The Touya residence was an ideal place for Fujiwara, and Ogata knew that Fujiwara would be welcome to stay as long as he needed. Ogata did find it odd that Fujiwara hadn't opted to stay with Shindou, as close as Fujiwara was to Shindou. Regardless, it was definitely better that Fujiwara stay with Akira instead.

"Thank you," Ogata said, grateful for the peace of mind. Even though Akira had been duped by Shindou, Akira was still a good child at heart.

"OK Touya, now you'd better stop bugging me all the time about running late."

Shindou was standing at the head of the stairwell, leaning against the wall with a lazy smile, but Ogata could read anger in the taut lines of Shindou's shoulders and neck. Anger directed straight at him, of course. Shindou had probably heard Akira tell him about Fujiwara's location.

Akira started. "I'm sorry! I lost track of time," he said. He glanced at his watch. "If we hurry, we can still catch the next rapid."

Shindou snorted. "I can. Dunno about you, granny legs."

"Shindou!" Akira huffed, his face flushing red again, but in a way that suggested he rather enjoyed the teasing on some level. "Have a good afternoon, Ogata-san," he said cordially, then took off for the stairs.

Shindou let him pass. "I'll give you a head start, you know, senior citizens' handicap!" he called after Akira's retreating back. When the sounds of Akira's footfalls had faded, Shindou turned his gaze back towards Ogata. He smiled again, a hard and bright expression that had no warmth to it.

"Need something?" Ogata said nonchalantly.

"Actually, yeah," Shindou said in a low voice. "For you to stay away from Sai. Haven't you already been enough of a jerk to him, or have you got a quota to fill?"

Ogata eyed Shindou coolly, impressed that Shindou had mustered up enough nerve to stare him down – granted, from a distance, but still admirable considering the boy used to dash off at the mere sight of him. Idly, Ogata noted that Shindou had finally hit a major growth spurt; he'd probably added at least ten centimeters this year. "I told Fujiwara-san the truth, Shindou-kun. I hope you aren't expecting me to apologize for being honest."

Shindou clenched his jaw. "I know better than to expect an apology from you. You're never wrong, are you? Must be nice." Shindou turned to leave, then he stopped abruptly. "Sai never really did tell us what you said to him. He tried, but he couldn't stop crying. Cried so much he made himself sick. Thought you'd like to know."

Ogata had nothing to say.

"I hate you," Shindou said calmly. Then he was gone.

Ogata found he no longer wanted a victory cigarette. He just wasn't in the mood anymore.

After he left the Go Institute, Ogata ate an early dinner. There wasn't anywhere he felt like going, so he decided to simply return to his condominium.

The book was still sitting on the armrest, looking rather forlorn. Ogata picked it up, flipping to the table of contents, surprised to find it was a book about Beijing. He didn't remember buying it. Perhaps the book had been a gift – maybe from Akiko or Sensei? Ogata often got books as presents, although not books about go or fish; his friends knew that if an interesting go or fish book was published, Ogata probably already owned it. Ogata started reading. The book wasn't strictly a travel guide; granted, it had the usual glossy photographs of famous sites and scenic places, but there was also detailed information about the history of the city as well as the various social issues that had shaped it.

Idly, Ogata wondered if he ought take a vacation. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had a nice long vacation. There'd been that trip with his mother to London back when he was still in high school, but he hadn't been out of the country since. If he scheduled the vacation at the right time, he could avoid missing any critical matches. Hell, he could probably convince the Institute to work around his schedule with minimal persuasion. Ogata was a title-holder now, after all. The majority of the Institute's publicity and profits were generated by the handful of pros who made it to the top, so the Institute was inclined to treat those select few with some favoritism.

Ogata bookmarked a few pages before setting the book aside. He'd think about it. He needed something to amuse himself with.

On his way to the bathroom, he noticed that the door to Fujiwara's room was slightly ajar. Instead of closing the door, he went inside.

Unsurprisingly, the room was clean: the bed made, the books all neatly aligned on the shelves, and the surfaces dusted. There was little evidence that the room had been lived in, except for a single hanging scroll with a depiction of koi in a tea garden pond. Fujiwara hadn't spent much time in the bedroom, though, so it wasn't surprising that he hadn't put much effort into the décor. But perhaps Fujiwara had also felt reluctant to alter the room since he knew his stay was temporary. Honestly, Ogata wouldn't have cared if Fujiwara had redecorated; Ogata had never used the room before, other than as extra space for his bookcases.

Inside the closet was another story: Fujiwara had left what appeared to be the majority of his clothes. Ogata scowled, recalling the size of the suitcase that Fujiwara had taken when he'd left. Of course Fujiwara hadn't been able to fit all his wardrobe into that small suitcase. Ogata pinched at the bridge of his nose, exasperated. It wasn't a matter of Fujiwara not liking the outfits he'd left behind; he'd picked them all out himself, after all. Fujiwara had probably thought he shouldn't take too much since Ogata had paid for them, which was ridiculous. Ogata certainly wasn't going to wear Fujiwara's clothes. Even if they had the same tastes in fashion – and they didn't -- Fujiwara was about two sizes smaller.

Well, Ogata would just have to pack the clothes up, and drop it by the Touyas' at some point, preferably when Fujiwara was out. If Akira asked Ogata about it, he would say that he needed the closet space. Fujiwara could throw the clothes away or give them away if he really didn't want them; the point was, the clothes didn't belong in Ogata's apartment.

Ogata pulled all the clothes out and placed them on the bed, careful to keep them flat. When he'd finished folding them, he put them into a cardboard box. As an afterthought, he rolled up the wall scroll and placed it on top of the clothes. Ogata then set the box by the entranceway with a feeling of accomplishment. Good riddance.

Accomplishment, naturally, deserved a reward. Ogata still didn't feel like a cigarette, but a beer seemed tempting. He hadn't been able to enjoy the free alcohol at that sponsors' mixer, thanks to that editor with no concept of personal space. Instead Ogata had spent his time engaged in chemical warfare via secondhand smoke. But now that he was in the safety of his own apartment, Ogata had the urge to get absolutely hammered. He hadn't been good and drunk since that conference ages ago, when some fans had treated him for winning the Juudan title.

A brief search revealed four cans of Yesibu inside the refrigerator, and a completely untouched 6-pack inside a cabinet. Ogata wasn't surprised to find so much beer; he'd drunk very little the entire summer because he had always been playing Fujiwara, and hadn't wanted to dull his mental edge. Ogata took all the cold cans out, then shoved the pack inside the freezer so it would be ready to drink sooner.

Ogata settled down into his chair in the living room and popped a can open. He wondered if Fujiwara drank. He'd never seen Fujiwara drink during all the time they'd lived together, but maybe Fujiwara just didn't like beer, which was the only alcohol Ogata usually kept stocked. Considering Fujiwara's tastes, perhaps he preferred something more traditional, like sake or shochu.

Not that Fujiwara's preferences were of any further concern, Ogata reminded himself sternly. Really, it was rather embarrassing that his thoughts kept gravitating to Fujiwara. As a go professional, Ogata prided himself on exercising excellent control over his concentration, both on and off the board. (That little "move sealing" incident during the Honinbou finals had taught Ogata the hard way what happened if he let his control slip for even a moment, damn that old monkey Kuwabara.)

Fujiwara, though, was proving hard to push aside. Ogata considered the problem for a good moment. He had been rather fixated – obsessed, to be honest – with all things s a i for years. He had researched every Internet rumor, had tracked down kifu, and had even pumped people for information. Thinking about s a i had become a regular part of Ogata's life: a habit. A habit that had now lost its usefulness. If Ogata didn't check it, the habit might even become detrimental to that mental sharpness he had to maintain.

Well, habits could be broken, just as readily as they could be formed. All breaking a habit required was determination, a quality Ogata possessed in spades. He just needed to distract himself every time he was tempted to think about Fujiwara.

Setting his jaw in grim determination, Ogata turned the TV on. He flipped the channel to one of the more popular and particularly mindless variety shows. Sober, he couldn't stand the show. Tonight, Ogata decided, was an excellent night to figure out exactly how many beers it took before he actually found the show entertaining.

It took two beers before Ogata stopped wanting to rip the microphone away from the obnoxious host, and three for Ogata to crack a smile. Somewhere through the fourth, Ogata actually started laughing, although he wasn't sure if he was laughing at the host's idiotic puns, or himself for watching a show he loathed.

Ogata was on the fifth when he remembered that there was a box of clothes sitting in his entranceway, and it just suddenly, really, pissed him off. He didn't like clutter in his entranceway. Shoes and umbrellas were OK. Clothes, on the other hand, were definitely not.

Ogata pulled his cell phone out of his shirt pocket, and dialed Fujiwara's number with the air of a man on a mission.

Fujiwara picked up on the fourth ring. "Good evening, Ogata-san."

"Hey. What're you doing?" Ogata said without preamble.

"...Are you well? You sound a little... strange."

Ogata realized he was getting tipsy, but even so, the wariness in Fujiwara's tone irritated him. What did Fujiwara think he was going to do? Be rude to him over the phone? "I'm fine. Except for your clothes. Your clothes are in my entranceway. Anyway, what're you up to?"

"I'm very sorry; I couldn't fit them all in the suitcase. I apologize for the trouble. And... I'm just studying."

Ogata laughed at the TV, only belatedly remembering to move the phone away from his mouth. The guest star had been coaxed into eating some disgusting-looking concoction of squid and spaghetti, and the expression he was making was utterly priceless. Even a child would have known that was a spectacularly bad idea. Ogata moved the phone back to his face. "Studying? Well, your clothes are here. Where's Akira?"

"Akira's out with some friends." Fujiwara paused. "I could come get the clothes tomorrow, if it's convenient."

"Haha, I hope he's not eating squid pasta. No, tomorrow's no good," Ogata stated with absolute certainty. Nope, no good at all. Had to be tonight. "Look, I'll just put it in my car and bring it to you tonight. I know the way, no need to even bother with directions. It'll be easier for you, since you won't have to deal with a big box on the train."

"No, please don't." Fujiwara sounded distinctly anxious. "I don't want to trouble you."

Ogata wondered why Fujiwara was fretting. It wasn't like Ogata was going to get lost driving to a house he'd been visiting for like, forever. "Not out of my way. Won't even take long." It was true. Ogata had learned that the stretch to Sensei's house was wonderfully under-policed in the evenings. He bet he could get the box delivered even faster than Kuroneko.

"Ogata-sensei, please don't drive. I'm coming over right now."

Ogata took another swig of beer, then wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand. "You sure?"

"Yes, I'll be there very soon. Please... don't get into your car, okay?"

"Fine, whatever," Ogata said agreeably. "But if you don't hurry, there isn't going to be any beer left for you." He hung up the phone, smug in the knowledge that Fujiwara would certainly come quickly now. Yebisu was the best.

Ogata watched the show for a few more minutes before growing bored with the endless variations of "What is the most disgusting and/or hottest thing we can make an idol eat?" Even the magical properties of beer apparently had its limits.

He flicked the TV off, and dragged the chair over to the goban sitting on the coffee table. Since Fujiwara was visiting, Ogata decided he ought to take the opportunity to show Fujiwara the game he'd played earlier. Ogata was rather eager to hear Fujiwara's input, especially since Ogata's application of the ogeima at 14-15 had been inspired by games with Fujiwara. Ogata began laying stones on the board, pleased to find that his memory seemed only slightly impaired (he'd only almost misplaced stones twice). Well, he had always been damn good at holding his liquor, Ogata reflected with pride. Hip hip horray for his British metabolism.

A vague feeling of unease at talking go with Fujiwara surfaced, but Ogata pushed it aside with a few gulps of beer. Go was awesome. Nothing was more fun than go. Fujiwara knew that, better than anyone else. Yes, they'd had their disagreements, but go was go.

Ogata was still nursing his sixth beer when he heard a quiet rap on his door; he'd slowed down his drinking so he wouldn't be too sloshed for the discussion. "Come in," Ogata called. He knew Fujiwara still had a key. Really, it wasn't even necessary for Fujiwara to knock. Ogata waited, listening as Fujiwara removed his shoes, then made his way to the living room.

Fujiwara bowed when he entered the room. "Good evening. I'm sorry for intruding so late. Thank you for packing the box," Fujiwara said politely, but his clasped hands revealed his unease.

"It's not a problem. I don't have a match tomorrow," Ogata said, feeling a prick of annoyance. True, they had parted ways on a sour note, but that was no reason for Fujiwara to act as if they were strangers. They had lived together. "Anyway, wanna beer?"

Fujiwara regarded the proffered can with wide eyes and blushed, as if he'd never been offered a beer before. "Um, no thank you. I probably ought to be heading back to the Touyas' house soon."

Ogata smirked, amused at Fujiwara's overreaction. Fujiwara was cuter when he blushed. Maybe he ought to tell Fujiwara that, so Fujiwara would blush more often. Instead, he replied, "No beer? Then I'll get you some tea. Sit down." Ogata gestured to the couch on the other side of the goban, then headed to the kitchen, not waiting to hear a refusal from Fujiwara. If Ogata gave him something to drink, especially something he'd had to prepare, Fujiwara would be obliged to stay for at least a little while. He was too well-bred to simply leave.

Ogata dithered between some nice chai he'd acquired recently, and their old favorite, Earl Grey. Finally he chose the chai, and took his time preparing it. Good tea should not be rushed.

Fujiwara was indeed sitting on the couch when Ogata emerged from the kitchen, chai in hand. Fujiwara gave Ogata a look from underneath his lashes, an expression that somehow managed convey both gratitude and wariness. "Thank you," Fujiwara said, accepting the cup and saucer.

A compulsion to sit down next to Fujiwara seized Ogata. Hadn't they sat together recently? Ogata recalled liking it. However, Ogata wasn't quite drunk enough that he was just going to give into whatever whimsy struck him. Fujiwara was already tense, and Ogata didn't want to agitate him more than necessary, not when they had a game to discuss. Besides, the ice bucket with the rest of the delicious beer was next to the chair.

Ogata plopped down in the chair, and popped open a new can of beer. He knocked it straight back, enjoying Fujiwara's sidelong glances. "You've never seen me drunk before, have you?"

Fujiwara glanced down at his cup quickly, apparently embarrassed to have been caught looking. He didn't answer.

Ogata shrugged nonchalantly. "I don't get drunk often. Takes a lot to get me sloshed, so gotta do it on purpose."

"Why would you..." Fujiwara's voice trailed off.

Ogata arched an eyebrow. "What? Get drunk? I dunno. For kicks? Celebrating? I was bored?" Ogata never bothered to question the why once he'd achieved that pleasant buzz; his only major concern now was not crossing over the tipping point. He preferred not to wake up with the mother of all hangovers come next morning. "The real question is, why don't you want to try some of this delicious beer? Or are you a sake purist?" Ogata teased.

"I'll drink a little sake for a flower-viewing, or a moon-viewing," Fujiwara said quietly. "I've never tried beer, but I don't particularly care for the smell."

"How about a goban-viewing?" Ogata laughed loudly at his clever joke. "Tell you what, I'll go buy you some fancy sake – the kind that's so high grade that you can't even tell it's alcohol -- and then we can have a goban-viewing, and compose a poem to the greatness of go. Isn't that the old tradition? You sing a song, compose a poem, offer a toast?"

"Thank you for the offer, but you can't drive right now. And I'm going to head home soon."

Ogata frowned. Fujiwara was playing hard-to-get, but Ogata knew him better; Fujiwara was probably just dying to talk go. "I know you already peeked," Ogata said, gesturing at the game between them. "Probably memorized it all already."

Fujiwara pursed his lips together haughtily, but he did not deny it.

"Ha!" Ogata chortled. "So what do you think?"

"It's a fine game. Your move at 14-15 reminded me of a game we played. I've never considered using the ogeima in such a fashion, but it works well here."

Ogata nodded, but he felt vaguely dissatisfied at Fujiwara's subdued reaction. Fujiwara's body language didn't mesh with the praise. Rather than leaning in towards the goban, Fujiwara was pressing back into the couch, his legs and arms pulled in close, like a turtle. And he was staring at his cup again, as if the chai were far more interesting than the goban.

Maybe the chai was, for all Ogata knew. He'd probably deluded himself into thinking the game was better than it actually was, so Fujiwara was having to feign interest for politeness' sake. With a scowl, Ogata reached down, and swept the goban clean with one swipe of his arm. The stones clattered noisily against the glass surface of the coffee table, and Fujiwara jerked, startled.

"Sorry," Ogata said automatically. "Didn't realize it was going to be that noisy." He pushed his chair away from the table so he could search for the stones that had fallen to the floor.

Fujiwara joined him on the floor after a moment, helping Ogata sort the black and white stones into their proper goke. When they had finished, Fujiwara sat back on his heels. "Thank you for the chai. I really must get going---"

"Let's play," Ogata interrupted. "The goban's all ready now; it would be a waste not to use it," Ogata said, flashing Fujiwara his most charming smile. Ogata wanted to see Fujiwara across from him, his face lit up with passion and intensity and love for go – Fujiwara, not this reserved, detached person. "Besides, we're practically already in seiza." Ogata picked the goban off the table and set it between them. "Just a quick game."

"Ogata-sensei... you're drunk."

Ogata pushed Black's goke towards Fujiwara. "Yes, but I'm not 'drunk-drunk.' You know when you start seeing doubles? Well, maybe you don't. Anyway, my point is, there's still only one of you right now. I might be in trouble if there were two of you. I don't think I could beat two of you. But there aren't, so why not play a game for fun?" Ogata grabbed a handful of the white stones, then rested his fist on the board. "C'mon. Odd or even?"

Instead of answering, Fujiwara bit at his lip, his eyes sliding towards the door.

A memory of Shindou's cold eyes flashed across Ogata's mind, and Ogata felt his stomach tighten. Shindou had said he hated Ogata, and he had meant it. Of that, Ogata had no doubt. But Shindou was still a child in many ways, and prone to childish logic. Fujiwara, though... Ogata had hoped that Fujiwara realized that Ogata had only had the best of intentions. But Fujiwara didn't even want to play him, not even for a short game. Did Fujiwara secretly hate Ogata too, so much that he didn't even want to be in the same room?

"Please?" Ogata said, unable to suppress a hint of desperation from leaking into his tone. He just had to play Fujiwara again. Damned beer, making him emotional. Ogata was drinking Sapporo next time.

Fujiwara gave him a small smile, and laid two stones on the board. "Even."

Ogata opened his fist to count the stones, trying not to dwell on Fujiwara's expression. Fujiwara looked... sad. He ought to be happy. He liked go, didn't he? "Twelve. You're first, then."

Fujiwara claimed the upper right star. Ogata responded with a stone at the lower left star, taking comfort in the familiarity of the joseki as they continued to claim the star points.

Surely, this was what he had been missing.

Ogata was the first to deviate from the pattern by playing a diagonal at 14-3 to check Fujiwara's star stone. On his next move, he strengthened the play with a stone at 14-5, planning to inhibit Fujiwara's ability to gain territory in that quadrant -- a defensive strategy. Although Ogata enjoyed playing riskier go, he was quite good at playing defensively when the situation called for it. And the situation definitely did: Fujiwara always played aggressively, but when Fujiwara had Black he played even more aggressively to make up for komi. If Ogata didn't take care to protect his advantage from the very beginning, Fujiwara would snatch it away. Also, Ogata was fully aware that he wasn't up to the mental task of playing tactically high-stakes go. He'd have to focus on solid go if he wanted to play respectably, and not lose by too large a margin (Ogata was not sloshed enough to believe he actually had a chance of winning this game; not against Fujiwara, not when he wasn't in top form).

Fujiwara's brow furrowed, his suspicions apparently roused. After a moment's consideration, he placed a stone at 16-14, a move that mirrored Ogata's play.

Ogata pushed his glasses up his nose contemplatively. If he were Black, he'd cut off White's connections as soon as possible, before White managed to lock Black out. Swiftly, Ogata added another stone to White's chain. Now it would be impossible for Black to interfere without being captured.

Fujiwara showed no shift of emotion on his face, but Ogata knew White's move had been effective because Fujiwara did not make a move against White. Instead, Fujiwara focused his attention on strengthening Black's position around the upper right star, a gesture which meant Fujiwara had decided to write off White's connection as a lost cause.

If Ogata wanted to try to sneak around Fujiwara's star at a later stage, it might be challenging, but Ogata didn't mind that loss of influence in a corner too much. White had gained a strong position near the board's upper center, a far more influential area. Pleased, Ogata turned his energy towards his larger plan. A strong outline could be built around the upper and lower star points he'd claimed in the left quadrants. Naturally, Fujiwara would do his best to disrupt White's plans, but Fujiwara would also be preoccupied with establishing his own outlines.

After about twenty more hands, Ogata had crafted a pleasing shape around the upper left star, one that blocked Fujiwara from any significant gains in the upper board. The fight that had erupted in the lower right was becoming worrisome, though. Black was playing very densely, blocking all of White's attempts to advance from the corner.

Ogata scowled at the sticky situation, then took a gulp of beer to fortify himself. He decided to abandon in the fight in the lower right in favor of plunging into the center, conservative play be damned.

Fujiwara followed.

The new clash was hardly unexpected, but Ogata couldn't help feeling a burst of adrenaline as they exchanged rapid blows, leaving tightly knotted chains of black and white in their wake. Black was vicious, brilliantly vicious. Ogata admired the genius behind the moves, even while acknowledging that White's territory was being sorely compromised by Black's assault into the center. The play was vicious and elegant and sharp and Ogata loved it, even though he was drunk and his head was fuzzy. Ogata glanced up, eager to see the excitement and intensity of the game mirrored on Fujiwara's face.

But there was none. Fujiwara's expression was as withdrawn as it had been earlier, as if he were still engaged in painful polite talk with a host he'd rather not see, his eyes soft and resigned. Resigned, like he already knew the conclusion of the game, and it made him sad.

Ogata felt a moment of guilt before irritation took over: Ogata wouldn't have been drinking in the first place if Fujiwara weren't being so utterly impossible. And why was Fujiwara underestimating him, anyway? Ogata was hardly playing shoddy go; no, not up to his usual standards, probably, but it wasn't bad go. Not bad enough to go and get all weepy over, at any rate. Ogata set his jaw and placed his next stone, resolved to fight to the bitter end. He placed his stones quickly, aware that over-analyzing would not serve him well against Fujiwara. It was better for him to rely on his instincts.

Fujiwara matched Ogata's fast pace, carving into White's territory with a cool, aggressive efficiency that seemed jarringly incongruous with that sad expression, like the person wearing that face had nothing to do with the hands placing the stones. Two different Fujiwaras.

Ogata scowled at the strange thought, and mentally scolded himself for letting his attention stray again. He had a game to worry about. Ogata tapped his finger against his chin, suddenly impatient to finish the game off. There wasn't much left to do in any area, except for the very top right of the board. White had already claimed the left and center top of the board in the very beginning stages of the game. If Ogata got around Fujiwara's right star, he could secure the top right as well, and gain that entire territory. Ogata hadn't seriously entertained winning, but the points from such a gain might very well be enough for White to win, with komi factored in.

Of course, White couldn't launch a straight-forward attack on Black's star. If Fujiwara realized Ogata's intentions, he'd spare no cost in stopping him. Ogata naturally wanted to avoid that, so he picked a fight with Black about ten spaces below his real goal, reasoning that a nice little territory battle ought to provide a good distraction.

Slowly the battle worked its way up towards the right star, Black and White filling in gaps in their earlier defenses. Finally, Ogata was in position to place a stone at 18-13 – just a hair away from Fujiwara's sole defense of his right star, a stone at 16-14.

Ogata couldn't help holding his breath as he laid the stone. After his next hand, it would be too late for Black to stop him, even if Black realized White's intentions. Ogata waited for Fujiwara's response, keeping his face expressionless.

Fujiwara did not even pause, playing a stone at 17-14 as if by reflex.

Ogata blinked at the stone dumbly, the horrible truth dawning on him slowly. Out of all possible moves, Fujiwara had just played the one single move that rendered Ogata's plan entirely useless, the move Ogata hadn't realized existed until now.

What was more, Fujiwara had been able to play that move because of the stone he'd placed for his ninth hand – the very stone Ogata had interpreted as a mere strengthening of Fujiwara's star position, a move of little significance. But now it seemed as if Fujiwara had already foreseen Ogata's intentions, before Ogata had even come up with the plan.

Ogata had never had a chance at all.

Numb, Ogata placed a stone at the bottom of the left quadrant. There was no real point to the stone. It was just his turn.

Fujiwara laid a stone nearby, and waited.

Ogata knew there was no point in playing further. Fujiwara had won. There were no more moves for Ogata to make.

"Makemashita," Ogata said, bowing low, not looking at Fujiwara's face. He didn't want to see Fujiwara's disappointment at a game that had ended so embarrassingly prematurely. It was not a game worthy of a title-holder like Ogata. He'd been selfish and childish, demanding a game when he was drunk. That was the sort of silly stunt one could pull with a study group chum, or perhaps a junior. Not with a genius like Fujiwara.

"Thank you for your hospitality. Good night, Ogata-sensei," Fujiwara said in a quiet, strained voice.

Ogata couldn't bring himself to see Fujiwara to the door, so he remained still, staring at the board while Fujiwara left. The game was ugly, but that wasn't Fujiwara's fault. Ogata could see the beauty of Fujiwara's play, and how poorly he had played in comparison. They had played a tight game, stones packed densely, so the ugliness of his own moves contrasted even more starkly against the beauty of Fujiwara's. It brought back unpleasant reminders of his calligraphy classes in junior high. Ogata had never quite been able to get his strokes to mirror the flowing perfection of the printed example.

Despite his shame, Ogata couldn't tear himself away from the goban. There was something hauntingly familiar about the game, a niggling sense of déjà vu. Which was definitely odd; it wasn't like Ogata made a regular habit of playing while drunk, and Ogata couldn't believe that any game he'd played while sober would seem even remotely similar to this game.

Ogata drew his brows together, searching his memory. There had been that conference in some random boring country town, a long time ago – back when Shimano had still been an insei studying under Sensei, before he'd given up his hopes of going pro and had turned amateur. There had been what, four of them? Shimano, Ashiwara, Shirakawa, and himself – they'd been passing around a bottle and taking turns at pair go. That couldn't be the game, though. There had been nothing serious about it; they had played intentionally poorly in order to sabotage their "partners" for laughs.

God, his head was starting to hurt, even despite the numbing effects of the alcohol. With a scowl, Ogata pulled his glasses off, shoving them into his shirt pocket so he could massage his temples.

Let me play s a i.

Ogata blinked slowly at a memory of himself sitting across from Shindou at a goban, demanding a match with s a i after he'd beaten Shindou at rock-paper-scissors. When had that been? Shindou had been a lot shorter, his face rounder. Two, two-and-a-half years ago? They'd been at some tourist hotel, doing shidougo demonstrations for the guests. Ogata had definitely been wasted; some of his fans had taken him out drinking to celebrate his winning his first title – the Juudan.

Ogata had been drunk, but he had still wanted to play s a i. Had needed to play s a i, and Ogata had been drunk enough that he didn't care that the guests were watching as he challenged his junior for the right to a game with s a i. Shindou had humored him, cheerfully agreeing to play Ogata in s a i's stead.

Ogata squinted at the board, trying to dredge up the memories of that game. Shindou had won; he'd played brilliantly, a performance worthy of s a i's student. Slowly, Ogata began to rearrange the stones on the goban, misplacing the stones only a few times. Like the game tonight, that game with Shindou hadn't lasted long. Ogata hadn't been playing up to par, of course, but the skill displayed by Shindou was far beyond what anyone would expect from a newly-minted pro, even one with Shindou's erratic talent. Shindou hadn't been intimidated by Ogata in the least – granted, Ogata had been stone-cold drunk – but even so, Shindou had played with an admirable calmness, with a solidity that one wouldn't expect from a child.

Ogata finished replaying every move he could recall, but there were still several missing sections. Ogata had never been able to recall the game in its entirety because Shindou had cleaned off the board before Ogata could commit it to his diminished memory, and Shindou had steadfastly refused any requests to recreate it.

However, Ogata did remember the significant end-game. Shindou had known where Ogata's critical point was. He'd attacked Ogata's key stone, and sealed his victory. Just like Fujiwara tonight. Ogata's eyes widened as he stared at the board: Exactly like Fujiwara. A clean, game-ending move, surprisingly obvious in retrospect, but wholly unexpected at the time. Had Shindou really internalized Fujiwara's play to such a level that he could change his style to play as Fujiwara at will?

Ogata scanned the rest of the board quickly, mentally imposing the game he'd just played with Fujiwara over the recreated game against Shindou. The efficiency of the moves, the elegance of the style, the degree of strength: it was all identical. How, Ogata wondered in disbelief, was it even possible for Shindou to imitate Fujiwara that closely? Ogata had been studying under Touya Kouyou for far longer than Shindou under Fujiwara, but Ogata couldn't even hope to emulate Sensei half as convincingly.

Of course, the identical play was entirely understandable if Fujiwara had indeed been possessing Shindou.

A shiver ran down Ogata's spine. That was preposterous. Utterly absurd. Briefly, Ogata entertained the idea of more beer to flush the stupidity out of his system, but he resisted the urge. There was something important here, some crucial point evading his grasp. Ogata had demanded that Shindou let him play s a i, and Shindou had offered to play in Sai's stead, but Shindou had played just like s a i instead of Shindou, and that was impossible.

Then Shindou had disappeared for months, forfeiting games, skipping Morishita's study session, and even avoiding Akira. Ogata frowned in concentration, piecing dates together. It was right after that drunken match in the hotel that Shindou had quit playing go, wasn't it? Ogata recalled thinking that it was such a waste, considering the talent Shindou had just displayed. But if--if--that absurd ghost story was true, had Shindou been grieving Fujiwara's disappearance? That would explain Shindou's erratic behavior.

Fujiwara had claimed that he'd disappeared shortly after the game with Touya-sensei, which was collaborated by the second disappearance of s a i from NetGo. But that match in the hotel, with the Shindou-who-played-like-s a i, that had definitely happened after Sensei's Internet game.

Again, Ogata turned his focus to the board, his stomach tightening. Ogata had played Fujiwara far too many times not to recognize Fujiwara's particular combination of aesthetics, classical moves and pure genius. Fujiwara's fingerprints were all over Black's stones.

Ogata's heart slowed, and he could hear the sound of blood pounding in his ears. Ogata and Shindou had been alone in that hotel room, except for Ashiwara, who'd been sound asleep, and besides, Ashiwara couldn't fake s a i style's if his life depended on it. Shindou hadn't had his cell phone out or a laptop nearby or a Bluetooth headphone in his ear; there was simply no way that he could have been receiving instructions from an outside source. At least not one perceptible to Ogata.

Ogata drew a long, shaky breath, and replaced his glasses. It had been one matter to dismiss the ghost story when he'd thought all of s a i's games had taken place only on the Internet. Anyone could lie and conceal identities or gender or origins online; that was a large part of the Internet's appeal. But this game had taken place in his very presence; Ogata couldn't deny the results. Ogata trusted his instincts as a go player, and those instincts told him he'd played s a i both times.

Fujiwara had actually been a.... ghost. Ogata swallowed, his fists clenching involuntarily. My god. Fujiwara -- the ghost Fujiwara -- his last opponent hadn't been Sensei at all. He'd played Ogata via the medium of Shindou, because Ogata had been drunk and pushy and demanding.

Just like tonight. Ogata had refused to take "no" for an answer, so he'd cajoled Fujiwara into playing him, taking advantage of the other man's kindness. Ogata hadn't thought he was really doing anything wrong, other than perhaps being annoying, and lots of people were annoying drunks so it wasn't that big of a deal.

But now, now that Ogata knew the truth, Fujiwara's uncharacteristic behavior suddenly took on a new light. Fujiwara had been withdrawn and reluctant, but not because he was angry with Ogata. That expression on his face... Fujiwara had been in pain. In all likelihood, Ogata had forced him to relive a very unpleasant memory. Fujiwara's last damn game before he "died" or whatever it was that happened to ghosts when they disappeared, and it had been against a drunk.

Hardly a send-off worthy of a genius who loved go more than anything.

A distinctly queasy sensation settled in Ogata's stomach, and it had little to do with the eight or so beers he'd downed. Even the mind-blowing epiphany that there were actually spirits (well, at least there had been one for certain) wasn't enough to distract Ogata from the truth of what he'd just done. He'd hurt Fujiwara again, hurt him deeply. Not intentionally, no, but Ogata had been an asshole, ignoring Fujiwara's attempts to excuse himself. Nor had Fujiwara been able to articulate why he didn't want to play; Fujiwara had already known that Ogata wouldn't believe any explanation involving the supernatural, so he hadn't even tried.

Agitated, Ogata raked his hands through his hair. He had to find Fujiwara, and apologize, and explain that he finally understood, and that he'd been a spectacular idiot. Except Ogata was still pretty stinking drunk, and hardly at his most eloquent, and Fujiwara would probably rather see anyone other than Ogata right now. Maybe he'd just say something stupid and hurtful again. Yet the idea of not doing anything seemed equally distasteful.

Ogata's head was throbbing by this point, so he dragged himself to the kitchen. He rooted through the medicine cabinet and located the bottle of aspirin. After Ogata had swallowed two, he turned the faucet on full blast. He splashed his face roughly with cold water, grimacing at the shock, but grateful for the jolt of clarity that it delivered to his system.

Ogata rubbed his face dry with a hand towel and reflected. There was a very good chance that he would royally screw things up even more (if it were possible) by trying to see Fujiwara tonight. But at the very least, Ogata could let Fujiwara know that he believed Fujiwara's story. That Ogata hadn't believed him seemed to be what had hurt Fujiwara the most.

The box of clothes was gone from the entranceway. That box was heavy and cumbersome, Ogata thought with a twinge of guilt, wondering why he hadn't thought to wrap it up with a carrying string and handle. Perhaps Fujiwara hadn't gotten very far on foot.

Ogata took the elevator to the ground level, skipping the parking level, as he'd sobered up enough to realize that taking the car would not be a good idea. Ogata winced, remembering how very insistent Fujiwara had been that Ogata not drive. He'd probably terrified Fujiwara.

A blast of chilly fall air hit Ogata when he stepped outside. He shivered as he started walking down the sidewalk towards the station. Too bad he'd forgotten to grab his coat, but perhaps if he walked briskly he'd warm up, and he would have a better chance of overtaking Fujiwara – if not at this station, then at the Touyas' local station. The Touyas lived a good distance from their station, and Fujiwara would be slowed by the box.

Ogata was so intent on hurrying forward that he didn't register the familiar figure sitting at the bench until he was almost past the local park. Ogata turned on his heel slowly, and met Fujiwara's surprised gaze. Ogata started to ask why Fujiwara was sitting on a bench when it was so cold outside, but he bit back the question when he drew close enough to notice Fujiwara's miserable expression and raw eyes. Obviously, Fujiwara was trying to regain his composure before he took the train.

"You probably shouldn't be outside, Ogata-sensei. You might hurt yourself," Fujiwara said quietly.

"I haven't tripped or wandered into traffic yet," Ogata said dryly. When Ogata drank too much, his problem wasn't falling down stairs or bumping into walls or other such pratfalls; it was remembering details, and monitoring his damn brain-to-mouth filter. "I was wondering if you needed... help," Ogata finished lamely, discouraged by Fujiwara's obvious dismay at seeing him.

Fujiwara shook his head. "No thank you. Just, please leave me alone." He looked down at his folded hands, breaking eye contact.

The request wasn't wholly unexpected, considering Ogata's dismal track record lately, but it still stung. "Alright." Ogata stopped where he was, not coming any closer to the bench. "But I wanted to tell you that I believe you, what you said about being a ghost, everything. I was wrong to doubt you and Shindou-kun, and I apologize to both of you." Ogata swallowed hard, realizing that Fujiwara had every right to not want to see him, and that there was little he could do besides respect Fujiwara's wishes. "I'm leaving now."

Ogata was several paces down the sidewalk when Fujiwara said, "Do you really mean that?"


"Aren't you just saying that because you've drunk too much?" There was no cynicism in Fujiwara's voice, just weariness.

Ogata turned around and gave Fujiwara a long look. "For starters, I know that this isn't the first time I've played you drunk."

Fujiwara's eyebrows shot up, his eyes rounded with disbelief. But after a pause, he picked the box up from the bench and set it on the ground.

Understanding the gesture, Ogata walked back and sat down, careful to keep his legs from bumping into Fujiwara's. There wasn't much space on the small bench.

Fujiwara stared at his hands again, apparently absorbed with toying with the zipper on his jacket sleeve. "Why did you change your mind?"

Fair enough question, especially considering that Ogata had been so adamant about not believing in the supernatural. Ogata licked at his lips, wishing his mouth wasn't so dry. Damn alcohol. "At the conference – after I won the Juudan for the first time – I was drunk, and I asked Shindou-kun to let me play s a i. But he offered to play me in your place. He beat me. Well, perhaps it's more accurate to say he thrashed me," Ogata said dryly. "I knew something was off about that game. Black was too... polished. Shindou-kun didn't – doesn't -- have the experience to play like that, and he's too brash. But he always refused to discuss the game with me, so I was forced to believe I simply lost because I was too drunk to compensate for Shindou's talent."

Fujiwara said nothing, still fixated on his sleeves.

Ogata shifted his weight uneasily, wishing Fujiwara would give him some sign that he understood. Stupid bench wasn't comfortable, and the area behind his eyes was throbbing dully, despite the aspirin he'd downed earlier. "After tonight's game, I realized that Shindou-kun had actually let me play you – you as a spirit -- in the hotel. You played exactly the same both times: it's obvious now that you were holding back, just enough to win instead of cutting me off as soon as possible. You were compensating for my poor play." Ogata shook his head in self-deprecation. "Why did you ever agree to play me?"

Fujiwara bit at his lower lip nervously."You... were drunk. So I... Hikaru and I knew that you couldn't expose us." At Ogata's nod, Fujiwara continued hesitantly. "Of course I would have liked to have played you sober, but you had already gotten too close to our secret. You're very perceptive. And persistent."

It made perfect, cruel sense. Ogata had been thoroughly obsessed with s a i, and no one had been more acutely aware of that fact than Shindou. Shindou had correctly suspected he'd never get a moment's peace if Ogata had been allowed a regular match with s a i, even over the Internet. But Ogata could barely keep up with Fujiwara when sober; drunk, he stood no chance. Surely Fujiwara was aware of that. "But what did you possibly hope to gain from such a ridiculous game?"

Fujiwara finally looked up, his eyes bright with pain and some other emotion Ogata couldn't identify. "Not everything is about gain, Ogata-sensei. I just... I understood how you felt. About wanting to play someone so badly, but being denied the opportunity. I had been wanting to play you ever since I saw you watching Hikaru in the Young Lions' Tournament, when I realized that you loved go as much as I did." Fujiwara smiled sadly. "You might be as obsessed with go as I am, although perhaps that's not a compliment to either of us."

Ogata blinked hard at that revelation: Fujiwara had been longing to play him as well, and for about as long. Fujiwara had pitied – no, empathized with him. Ogata felt a knot of guilt harden in his chest. He hadn't been worthy of Fujiwara's empathy, or that game, especially considering that it had probably been Fujiwara's last. But Ogata had to know for certain. "Shindou-kun quit playing go after that game." Ogata's throat tightened, and he had to force the next sentence out. "Was that because our game was your last?"

"I knew there wasn't much time left, so I was desperate to play as much as I possibly could, no matter what kind of a game it was." Fujiwara smiled wistfully. "When Hikaru got back from that conference, I begged him to play me, even though he was exhausted and falling asleep. We were only a few hands into that game when I started fading. I tried to say goodbye, but he couldn't hear me." Fujiwara's head bowed. "Poor Hikaru. I made him carry a burden he wasn't ready for."

In a moment of horrible clarity, Ogata understood why Fujiwara was so afraid of disappearing, to the point of suffering nightmares about it even before he'd recovered his memories. No wonder Fujiwara had wanted to be touched; he'd needed to be reassured he was still real. "I'm sorry I made you relive that. I shouldn't have forced you to play me tonight. I was selfish," Ogata said, his voice hoarse to his own ears. He wanted to reach out and take Fujiwara's hand, but Ogata didn't feel he had the right to even ask permission. The buzz from the alcohol had left his system some time ago, and the self-loathing was starting to kick in, full force. Ogata knew he had been a possessive bastard – repeatedly -- and he'd ruined his relationship with Fujiwara.

"Ogata-san, why were you drinking?"

Ogata inhaled slowly. Fujiwara had asked that question earlier, but Ogata had brushed it aside with a flippant answer. "I wanted to stop thinking about you," Ogata admitted, closing his eyes, embarrassed at the admission. Had he been sober, he would have never been able to admit it.

Fujiwara said nothing, leaving Ogata painfully exposed. Fujiwara probably thought Ogata was pathetic, turning to drink to cope with the mess he'd gotten himself into. Ogata had about convinced himself to leave before he made a further fool of himself when Fujiwara took his hand, threading his long fingers through Ogata's.

Ogata froze at the unexpected contact, but then Fujiwara started gently rubbing circles into back of Ogata's hand with his thumb, and Ogata thought he might very well melt. There was something reassuring about the gesture, like Fujiwara didn't judge him at all.

They sat for a few long moments like that, hands entwined as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Then Ogata reluctantly noticed the clock glowing in the middle of the park. It was almost midnight, and the trains would stop running soon. "I should call you a cab. You might miss your connection, and that's too heavy for you to lug home anyway."

"Do you want me to leave?" Fujiwara said, his voice soft.

Ogata was unable to squelch a flutter of hope in his stomach. That question made it seem as if Fujiwara leaving weren't already a foregone conclusion. "No, but I can't ask you to stay when I'm like this. I've already put you through enough," Ogata said, not referring to only his inebriation. Ogata knew he was flawed, and that there was a reason he hadn't been able to make his relationships last. He didn't want to hurt Fujiwara again.

"You stayed with me when I needed you. You didn't resent me for being weak."

Ogata shook his head. "You were sick. I'm just drunk, and a bit of an as-- a jerk."

"That's true."

Surprised, Ogata stared at Fujiwara, and discovered that the other man was smiling, a warm smile with an undeniable hint of promise that sent a jolt of electricity through Ogata.

Fujiwara cupped Ogata under the jaw with his free hand, tilting Ogata's face towards him. "But no one's perfect." Then Fujiwara leaned forward, and kissed Ogata, and his lips were even softer than Ogata had imagined, but there was nothing hesitant or shy about the firm pressure behind them. Ogata's body caught up faster than his mind, and he found himself kissing back, matching Fujiwara's intensity with his own, eager to explore this new territory of lips and tongues and breath.

Finally, Fujiwara broke the kiss, slowly stroking Ogata's jaw as he withdrew his hand, and Ogata shivered at the sensation. Fujiwara was still smiling, beautiful eyes bright with passion, and Ogata was filled with the urge to pull Fujiwara close so they could start a second round.

Fujiwara, apparently reading his intentions, leaned away, his eyebrow arched teasingly. "Don't expect another one until you've sobered up. Your breath, frankly, leaves a lot to be desired." He stood up, and picked the box up from the ground. "We should probably get you back home before your hangover kicks in," Fujiwara said, sounding rather cheerful, considering that he was discussing Ogata's imminent and undoubtedly very miserable hangover from hell.


Ogata didn't particularly care if Fujiwara indulged in some well-deserved Schadenfreude. That simply didn't matter, and neither did the hangover. Even the overwhelming knowledge that Fujiwara was exactly who and what he'd claimed to be didn't seem unbearable.

Fujiwara was coming home – to their home, and that was enough for Ogata. They had issues to work out – and Ogata owed Shindou an uncomfortable apology and explanation, and hell, Akira too -- but Fujiwara accepted Ogata. Bad breath and all.

Ogata got up from the bench, and helped Fujiwara carry the box home.

--The End.

Author's Notes:

Well, it's been a long journey here, hasn't it? I posted the first chapter on July 25, 2007, and here we are two years after, and about 115K words later! Thanks for sticking around for the fun, and I hope you'll stay tuned for whatever is in store for the future. I truly appreciate the comments I've received from everyone. I spent a lot of time writing this story, juggling my time between it and work and studying and friends and my other hobbies. But I kept at it because I loved it, and I loved knowing that other people were enjoyed it too.

And never underestimate the influence of the audience! Although I've had the story outlined from the beginning, there was always some flexibility, and some of the reader feedback has shaped the story, like when you asked for more of a particular character, or mentioned that you were really excited about seeing Scenario X or Y.

Deep thanks and appreciation to my betas – Aiwritingfic and Dephanie. Mere words don't quite feel adequate for them, although words are the tools of our craft and mischief, aren't they? More than just editors, or "proof-checkers" or continuity editors, truly dedicated betas understand the plot and flow and characters of the story, and are committed to making sure that the story stays true to itself... and keeping the author from getting confused (especially given my tendency to overreach, hah.) I'm fortunate to have had betas who are also talented writers themselves, and fans of the show as well. Ai in particular has really helped whip my writing into shape, liberally applying electronic red marks and highlighting in a manner that would make any of my old professors or teachers proud. ^^;;

Future plans for this 'verse: probably an epilogue, a few omakes, perhaps a short story here and there (I'll entertain requests, although no promises!), maybe a few adult pieces for LJ, etc.

I don't have any other long HnG pieces planned. I think this resolved my burning bunny for the series. I do intend to resume my Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles story, Lost In Translation; it's my next big priority.

Chapter Notes:

Can you tell I like fish? When I settle down, I'm definitely setting up an aquarium.

I worried that Shindou seemed a little too mean, but looking at the last few volumes of the manga... I think that is definitely an aspect of Shindou's character, when his protective side is riled.

I have been to the Yebisu Beer Factory. It is a magical place with a holographic beer fairy. I am not kidding; this is Japan we're talking about.

Ogata spends a fair amount of this chapter drunk. He's an interesting drunk in canon, veering from aggressive, demanding behavior, to being silly and childish, and rather vulnerable (in that he says what he's thinking, rather than what he wants to say). He also seems to display some uncertainty and self-loathing. You can see this in Chapters 123 and 124 of the manga.

Basically I had to get him drunk if I wanted a happy ending, one where he reconciles with Sai. Otherwise, he's too proud and convinced he's right.

Japanese TV is notoriously bad. Let's just put it this way: during the 3 years I lived in Japan, I never bothered with getting cable, instead preferring to rely on downloads of anime and American TV for my fix.

I have personally eaten squid and spaghetti. I wasn't reading the katakana of the menu carefully and simply saw the "spaghetti" part. There was ink in my pasta.

Kuroneko = Kuroneko Yamato, the ubiquitous delivery service with a logo of a black mother cat carrying her kitten. Recommended for shipping within Japan, although probably not as fast as Ogata speeding.

Flower viewing = hanami. The most famous is sakura-viewing, although there are actually many types of flower-viewings. Moon viewing = tsukimi. (I've never participated in this, so I wonder if it's still widely practiced.)

I based the game off the 17th Japanese NEC Cup, Round 1 (that's the match Hotta and Obata reference used for the drunken!Ogata v. Hikaru scene). 1997-05-31: Takemiya Masaki 9p (Black) vs. O Meien 9p (White) B+R Sai/Hikaru played Black in canon, and Ogata played White. White resigned.

The calligraphy reference: Japanese shoudo is *a lot* harder than it looks. My junior high students were terribly amused by my attempts, although encouraging. Lil' devils.

Pretty much every neighborhood has little parks, spaced out every few blocks. I knew of at least four in my neighborhood.

The last Yamanote train in Tokyo is... 12:40ish? 12:45 A.M.? But usually people have to make local connections too, and those tend to stop earlier. This is why people tend not to stay out so late in Japan, unless they've got their own car, or don't mind paying lots of yen for a taxi.

Why did I have Sai be the one to "make the move" on Ogata? It's true that Ogata is certainly the more dominant personality. But in this particular situation, he's feeling pretty guilty, sick, and uncertain. I think Sai responds to his vulnerability and willingness to admit his feelings and wrongdoing. I also don't think Sai is a pushover! He was hesitant throughout the story because he didn't know who he was, or if he already had a lover or a family. But now Sai knows.

Anyway, lemme know if you have questions about unresolved threads, etc. I'll try to make up a good answer, haha.