Paradigm Shift (n): 1. afundamental change in approach or assumptions. 2. Acceptance by the majority of a changed belief, attitude, or way of doing things.
(Webster's New Millenium Dictionary of English, v 0.9.7, 2008)
Disclaimer: Although many of the ideas in this story are mine, Sai and Hikaru, unfortunately, are not: they belong to Yumi Hotta, Takeshi Obata, and Studio Pierrot.
Some (insignificant) parts of this story may seem vaguely familiar: these are ideas I read in other stories and adored so much that I just had to borrow them. If I remember where I first encountered them I will give credit where credit is due; if you recognize them as yours, please tell me and I will of course credit you. Please don't be offended! Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Prologue: In Which Sai Returns
"Oh no," Hikaru moaned, frantically scrubbing at the tears spots on the kifu. Sai and Torajirou's kifu would be ruined, and it would be all his fault. He ruined everything. Sai had been happy with Torajirou-- he'd stayed with him until Torajirou died. But Hikaru was selfish; he'd gotten so excited about Go that he'd forgotten about Sai. When was the last time he'd let Sai play a game without arguing?
"I should have let Sai play from the beginning," Hikaru muttered. Things would have been so different. So much better. "Anyone would agree--it would have been better to let Sai play all the games. All of them! I don't need to play! I won't ask to play again!"
"God!" He tilted his head back and screamed his pain at the heavens. "Please! Turn back time! Turn time back to when I first met him!"
The kifu room echoed with silence. Hikaru couldn't breathe. For a minute there he had almost hoped--
"Hikaru?" A voice asked, and there he was: Sai, in his white kariginu and tall black eboshi, hovering a centimeter off the ground. Sai. Looking at him with concern, eyes soft, mouth pursed.
Hikaru flung himself out of the chair and onto the floor, kneeling in front of Sai, shoulders shaking. "Sai..." he choked out. "Sai, you're back."
Sai knelt down, too, and put a ghostly arm around Hikaru's shoulders. His arm was cold, and now Hikaru was shivering as well as crying, but he didn't care. That cold meant Sai was back. Sai was there.
If only he could touch Sai. Just this once.
They stayed like that for a long time, until Hikaru stopped sobbing and was only sniffing now and then. It could have been minutes. It could have been days.
"Are you all right, Hikaru?" Sai finally asked gently. Hikaru nodded-- yes, of course he was all right. Now that Sai was back.
"What happened, Sai?" Hikaru asked. "Why'd you leave?"
Sai looked away, sadness etched in the lines of his face and the slump of his shoulders. "It was my time to go. I tried to tell you, but you wouldn't listen. You couldn't even hear my goodbye."
"I'm sorry," Hikaru said rapidly. He'd been wanting to say it for days now, since that horrible night when he looked up and Sai was gone. It felt like a lifetime had passed since then. "I'm so, so sorry. Really, really, really sorry. I should have listened to you. I should have--" he broke off, unable to force any more words out.
Sai smiled, and it was like the sun coming out from behind the clouds. "It's okay, Hikaru. I forgive you. But..." he paused.
"But?" Hikaru asked.
"Why am I back?" Sai finished.
Hikaru gaped at him. "You don't know?"
"The last thing I remember is saying goodbye to you in your room. What happened? Why have I been allowed to return to this world?"
"Um," Hikaru said. "I don't know."
They stared at each other. In the back of his mind Hikaru could hear footsteps on the stairs--the guy with the keys, probably, ready to lock up for the night. Hikaru was dimly aware that the room was a mess, that there were kifu scattered all over the table and floor, that his chair was knocked over and that he himself was sitting on the floor, looking like an idiot.
Not like that was anything new. The looking like an idiot part, that is.
Hikaru looked at Sai. Sai looked at Hikaru. They were both thinking the same thing, of course, but saying it aloud was too dangerous.
What they were thinking was: Why was Sai back?
And: would he be allowed to stay?
Later, after being thoroughly scolded by the kifu-man and apologizing and cleaning up and walking home and apologizing again-- to his mom this time-- Hikaru and Sai were alone.
Hikaru slumped down next to his bed and sighed. Then he sighed again, with feeling, because the first time was so satisfying. And then he grinned, because Sai had knelt down all properly like usual, but he had done so close enough that, if he hadn't been a ghost, their shoulders would be touching.
"So," Sai said, as seriously as if he were in front of a Go board, "tell me everything you remember."
Hikaru did: about finding Sai gone and going to Hiroshima with Kawaii, about going to all of those graveyards and Go museums-- "we've got to go back there together, Sai, you'll love it"-- and coming back to Tokyo and his one last hope, that Sai would be in the Go Institute.
About Sai returning.
"What did you say, Hikaru?" Sai pressed. "Tell me exactly."
"Aw, Sai," Hikaru whined. "You know my memory's not that good."
Sai hit him over the head with a ghostly fan. "Your memory is good enough for Go! Now try. What did you say?"
Hikaru scowled defensively. "I was really upset. Um... I was looking at some of Torajirou's old kifu-- some of your old kifu-- and they were so amazing. Torajirou let you play from the beginning. I was thinking that I should have let you play, too. I was such an idiot, Sai! And then... and then... I said, 'I don't need to play. I won't ask to play again.' Then something about turning back time." Hikaru paused, thinking hard. "That's it, I think. Then you showed up."
Sai flipped his fan open in front of his face and thought silently for a while. Hikaru just watched him, content for once to be silent as well, happy to be here in his room with Sai. To be anywhere with Sai, really.
Sai was still thinking, but privately Hikaru knew what the key was. He had said, "I won't play again," and Sai had come back. All he had to do was not play Go, and Sai would stay.
It seemed like the easiest thing in the world.
"I'm going to bed," Hikaru announced. Sai looked up with an ready smile and a "good night" in return, but didn't move from his place on the floor, so Hikaru walked around him to go to the bathroom, and then again to get into bed. "Let's play NetGo tomorrow," Hikaru said on the edge of sleep, and drifted off to the warm feeling of Sai's happiness.
The problem with saying you were going to play NetGo, Hikaru decided, was that it was easier to accomplish if you actually owned a computer.
And if you didn't have an ooteai match with Touya Akira that you were late for.
"I'm weawy sowy, Shai," Hikaru tried to say around his toothbrush. "I fowgow--" he spat, rinsed, and tried again, this time through his shirt. "I forgot about the game with Touya today. We can play NetGo after, if you want."
Sai appeared to have forgotten all about NetGo, if the way he was dancing around the room was any indication. "We get to play Akira-kun! We get to play Akira-kun!" he chanted happily, then said, "I think that's a sleeve, Hikaru. The neck is the other one."
"Thanks," Hikaru said, then tore down the stairs. "I'm late, Mom! Got any toast?"
"Hikaru, dear, don't you have time to sit and eat? I haven't seen you at all lately--" his mom tried to say, but Hikaru cut her off with a quick "No time!" Sorry!", grabbed a few pieces of bread, considered and discarded the toaster, and dashed out the door.
"Hikaruuuu! Slooooow dooooown!" Sai called from behind him.
"You're a ghost, silly," Hikaru snapped, then immediately felt guilty. What if Sai had actually disappeared because Hikaru was so mean to him? Hikaru slowed down enough to let Sai get a firm, if ghostly, grip on his arm, then started running again.
Waya and Touya were both waiting for him in the lobby of the Go Institute. Waya was slouched against the wall, a scowl on his face as he pointedly ignored Touya, while Touya was standing bold upright, hands clenched into fists at his sides, an identical scowl on his face as he in turn ignored Waya.
Hikaru slammed to a halt in dismay. On their own, Waya and Touya in a mood were bad enough; combined, they were terrifying.
"They're so cute!" Sai gushed, hearts in his eyes. "Look, look! They match!"
"You're late!" Touya and Waya exclaimed in unison.
Hikaru gulped and took a step back. Save me, he thought at Sai. "Um, you guys didn't have to wait for me."
Waya's scowl deepened. "I wasn't waiting with him. We just happened to be waiting in the same place. Anyway, could you cut it any closer? Some day you really will be too late." With a final glare at Touya-- what was Waya's problem with him, anyway?-- Waya turned and went inside.
"I still have five minutes," Hikaru said to the space where Waya had been. Then he gave Touya what felt like a fairly weak grin. "Hey, Touya."
"Shindou," Touya replied, eyes intense. "I've been looking forward to watching your game. I'm going to finish mine quickly so that I can watch."
Hikaru gulped. A few days ago he could have matched that intensity--had matched that intensity. Now, though...
"I'm looking forward to this game as well," he compromised on, because that at least was true. Touya's eyes narrowed, but he didn't say anything else, just waited while Hikaru took off his shoes, then followed him into the match room.
"It seems like Akira-kun has grown," Sai said thoughtfully, closed fan tapping his lips.
Yeah, Hikaru thought.
Hikaru watched as Touya sat down; he looked so composed, sitting seiza in front of the Go board. Hikaru tried to copy him, then gave up and sat cross-legged instead. He wondered momentarily what the name of his opponent was, then decided it didn't matter. Sai would win. He looked at the clock. It was two minutes until ten.
You play, Sai, Hikaru thought firmly.
"What? But Hikaru, don't you want to play? What if someone notices?" Sai asked, startled.
It's okay. I want you to play. Hikaru patted the floor at his right unobtrusively, trying to get Sai to stop hovering and sit down. Well, probably not so unobtrusively, but by now most people thought he was crazy anyway.
Sit! Why was Sai making this so hard? He always wanted to play. I really do want you to play, Sai, Hikaru thought. Trust me, okay? Please?
"Nigiri," their opponent said, and won black. They switched bowls.
Sai finally sat down. He was sitting where he always did: to the right of Hikaru and a little behind. Having him there was so right, so perfect: a piece of him that had been missing finally sliding into place. Hikaru had thought he'd lost that forever. Just thinking about it, about that horrible moment when he'd won against that guy in Hiroshima and turned around and Sai wasn't there...
Hikaru waited until black played--upper right star--before looking at Sai out of the corner of his eye. Sai was sitting neatly, legs folded and robes tucked in, fan cradled in two hands. A thrill went through Hikaru at the familiar sight.
He wouldn't lose this again.
Are you ready, Sai? It's your move.
Still Sai hesitated. "What kind of game would you like me to play?" He asked quietly, and Hikaru grinned in relief.
Any kind you want. It's your game. From now on--it's your game.
"Lower left star," Sai said.
Author's Note: I've always felt it terribly unfair that Sai had to "die," and this story is my attempt to right that grievous wrong. I've read some good "Hikaru gets sent into the past" fics, and some "Sai gets a body" fics, but never any "Sai returns as a ghost" fics. I hope this is only the first of many! Some of you great authors out there should write more Sai stories. He doesn't have to disappear in fanfiction, after all. This is wish-fulfillment of the best sort.
Some of you may notice that this starts with the same scene as Esama's story "Watch and Learn." I loved her idea of starting with that scene, but rest assured that the two stories are very difference from there on out. Thanks for the great idea, Esama!
I sort of know where I'm going with this, in general terms, but I'd love comments and suggestions. I'm also looking for a beta, so if you happen to be a grammer-nazi as well as a Hikago fan, I'd love to hear from you.
OK then! We're only just getting warmed up! Next time, look forward to a fight (or three) between Akira and Hikaru, a pinch of angst, and maybe some revelations (if we're lucky), in Chapter Two: You What?!