"Now, just wait a second!" Hikaru interrupted. "That's not telling me anything. You're just trying to get me to feel sorry for him." Despite his protestations, Hikaru had to admit that it worked. Hearing about an impoverished Sai traveling from some tiny town all the way to Tokyo just for the chance to play some good Go really made Hikaru pity him.

"That told you nothing?" Ogata asked, exasperated. "He was removed from the registry in a year. A serious threat would not be removed in a mere year. Some stay on for life."

Ogata did make a point, Hikaru thought. "But why was he there in the first place?" he asked, because that was the crux of the matter.

"Shindo, what's the age of consent in Tokyo?"

Hikaru blushed. It was such an abrupt question about such an adult topic. "Um, it's thirteen, right?" What did that have to do with anything?

"Partially correct. Awfully low, don't you think?" Ogata was scanning him with his sharp eyes. Hikaru could tell he was searching for something.

"Sure..." Yeah, he was a teenage boy, but he had never seriously entertained the thought about well, that activity. After all, the only girl he really knew was Akari, and they were just friends. And she would never like him that way.

"There's another provision in Tokyo by which the age is basically raised to seventeen. Some prefectures, like one in Okayama, have an age of eighteen."

"So what?"

"The other person was seventeen, going on eighteen."


At Hikaru's silence, Ogata cleared his throat. "I do hope you'll apologize when he gets back," Ogata said, getting up. It seemed he'd had enough of this conversation.

Hikaru nodded miserably. The Sai he had seen in those news stories had been young. In his early twenties, maybe even younger. "Don't they have laws about that? If you're within a few years of each other, isn't that okay?"

"I'll let you work that out with Fujiwara. I'm done giving you his dirty laundry."

"How is he?" Sai asked, upon seeing Seiji again. The man looked far more haggard than usual. His hair was still impeccably combed, and his suit pressed as usual, but he was not standing with his usual uprightness. He looked tired.

Seiji sighed. "He feels guilty, probably. You know, he really didn't want to believe any of it. I think if the internet didn't exist and you had told him that those rumors were all lies, he would've readily believed you."

"The truth is a good thing," he responded without directly addressing anything of what Seiji said. Sai stretched himself and glanced up at the apartment building towering above them. There, on the second highest floor, would be Hikaru. How he wanted to go up there and reconcile with the boy. "Should I-"

"No. He'll take the first step. You should let him."

Sai looked down at his shoes. "I should not even be around him," he said sadly. He kicked the floor restlessly. "I should not have spoken to him, created such a relationship. It is destined to end badly."

"Hardly," Seiji scoffed.

Seiji was always such a source of wisdom. "Truly? How so?"

"He was in real danger, living in that house. Without you, I don't know where he would've gone."

Sai shrugged. His friend was thinking very short-term, a bad sign for a Go professional. "I have done nothing. Seiji, you saved him. I have only burdened him." Seiji looked at him with consternation. The man really did not understand what Sai was trying to say. Sai took a deep breath to bolster his resolve. "I must ask you to do one thing more."

"Fujiwara!" the man groaned, much like a five year old would.

"In all seriousness."

It was rare that Sai was so serious, and it benefited him now. It probably unnerved Seiji that he had been so serious as of late. Seiji stuck his hands in his pockets. "I'm housing the boy, I'm dealing with his insecurities and his paranoia. I told him your damned story. What more would you have me do?"

"Make sure he never goes back to his father. Draw up a lawsuit."

Seiji was silent for a long moment. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. Lighting one, he took a good long drag and eyed Sai once more. "That would be very difficult."

Sai nodded, knowing he was asking Seiji to do something that Sai himself should be doing. "We cannot protect him or keep him at your apartment forever. He must go back to school, where is at anyone's mercy. Moreover, it would appear highly suspicious if I accused the man of child abuse. Or if I did anything, really. The mere fact that I was the one who tutored him would be held against me."

"So I will go to court to make sure the man is punished. You know, Sai, the courts don't like separating families. Unless we have evidence, we have nothing."

Sai hesitated and rubbed his hands together. "You remember your concerns about my prodigy? That he had injured his right hand?"

Seiji stood up straighter and looked him in the eyes. "Yes. But an injured hand won't be enough."

"It was a burn," Sai said. "His story changes in a small way every time. He hides it very well. If you start paying attention to it, you wonder how you missed it at all." Sai's eyes were unfocused. He felt so small and powerless, unable to help Hikaru as he wanted. He gazed up at the building, wondering how the boy was.

"So what, I get him to admit it to a whole court? He'd never do it. Kids usually deny this sort of stuff."

Sai wondered how Seiji knew the workings of an abused child's mind. "You shall have to get him to admit it to himself first." He knew he was asking much of Seiji, a man who had very little attachment to Hikaru. However, he knew Seiji to be a good man. The public knew him as a serious man with great ambitions, but the public knew little of his grudging generosity and his sharp eyes. He was a little rough sometimes, but Sai knew there was a great good hidden within him. Perhaps Hikaru could help the man discover it himself.

"Where's Sai?" Oh, how Sai had missed that voice.

"Out. What's it to you?" Ogata was being too belligerent.

There was silence, during which Sai was tempted to give up and leave. Then, Hikaru's voice again: "I just wanted to get the rest of his side of the story. Maybe play a game."

Well, that was enough for him! He swung around the door and launched himself into the apartment. "Hikaru!"

The boy's face was the perfect picture of surprise, but in an instant he latched onto the man with a strong hug and sobbed, "I'm sorry I doubted you. I don't know why..."

"I guess you did let him take the first step," Seiji muttered to himself. Sai threw him a grateful smile which the man merely waved off as he closed himself in his room.

"It is all in the past," Sai said. He lifted up Hikaru's chin and looked him in the eye. "I have missed you. You said you would like a game?"

"It's been way too long, Sai," the boy said. Such excitement, such happiness. Sai thought he would greatly miss this if he ever had to leave it behind.

He set up Seiji's goban and stones on the glass table as he listened to Hikaru apologizing and rationalizing. "Do not worry, Hikaru. I have put it behind me, and I barely remember all that anyway."

There seemed to be something on the boy's mind, so Sai let him keep his silence until the boy gathered his courage to say, "Ogata implied there was something more, though. Sai, won't you tell me yourself?"

Sai put the bowl of black stones on Hikaru's side and kept the white for himself. "I suppose I should. How much did he say? Put down a handicap as well."

Hikaru placed nine stones, and Sai scoffed. He removed five of the stones, saying, "Now really, Hikaru. You must challenge yourself!" When Hikaru rolled his eyes, Sai was so thankful to have the boy's insolence back that he laughed aloud.

"As if playing you at all isn't a challenge itself. Even at a fifteen-stone handicap, you would beat anyone."

Sai's mind jumped to Toya; he knew he would not be able to defeat that man under such a handicap. Nothing but an even playing field could defeat him. "Hikaru, you were about to relate to me what Seiji told you."

"Oh yeah. Just that you were, y'know, with a girl a few years younger than you. And you got in trouble for it because she was underage."

Sai smiled. Of course Seiji would be uncomfortable with relating the one crucial point. "Actually, he was seventeen and we were living—separately, mind you!—in Tokyo. We visited his hometown, where the age of consent was eighteen. His parents were unhappy with his choice of...companion and pressed charges."

"What terrible parents!"

He expected a different reaction. He was most worried about this, that Hikaru would react with reproach to his orientation. He certainly did not expect this indignation. "You think so? They were trying to do what was best for their son."

"Well they obviously don't know what's best for their kid if they don't like you."

Sai laughed. A great weight lifted itself from his shoulders when he realized that Hikaru did not see him any differently. "You are one to speak of parents, Hikaru." Sai was not sure if he wanted to broach the subject, but he decided that he would make Seiji's quest a little easier.

"How d'ya mean?" Hikaru was focused entirely on the game, it seemed. They had made it into yose, the first time Hikaru had ever made it so far at such a low handicap.

"Your father will certainly not be winning any father of the year awards. And your mother has fled into China." There. Sai had laid everything out. Now if only Hikaru could see without his tinted lenses. If only Hikaru could see his own situation as so many others did.

"It's okay. Really, I mean I kind of screwed up their lives," the boy said, not making eye contact and not hesitating in placing his stone.

It seemed it was not too early to give Hikaru some proper perspective. "I do not think their lives are your responsibility. They are responsible for you and ought to care for you." He placed a stone.

"Naw, you don't get it, Sai. They love me. They just want what's best for me." The boy leaned back and surveyed the board. "Well, seems like I lost. I resign."

"Well, I must retire to my own home then. It is already quite late." Sai did not know how long he could listen to Hikaru's erroneous reasoning. To think, that what his parents did was for his benefit! It was ridiculous and he would not have it.

Hikaru looked up at him from where he was sitting. "Oh, you're going? I guess I couldn't stay at your place."

"Alas, no. You know I could not possibly. Why? Do you not like it here with Seiji?"

"Naw, he's nice. He's just kind of...intense, you know?"

Sai laughed. He knew very well.

"He's just kind of...intense, you know?"

Ogata would never apologize for being intense. It was a factor that often worked in his favor during matches. He and the brat bid Sai a good night and went back to his living area. "Up for another game, Shindo?"

"Uh, sure. Isn't it kind of late, though?"

"Never too late for a game, Mr. Shindo."

Ogata gave him the handicap he so often used to use with Akira. It was a great compliment to the boy's talents, but he doubted the boy noticed. The game proceeded quite evenly to Ogata's surprise. Then, he noticed it.

There it was. That's what was bothering him. Shindo had been wearing a glove on his right hand for a while now, and it was the first time in a long while that he could see the discolored skin on the hand as it sat in his bowl of stones. Seiji wondered how he had ever passed a day without wondering about it. The boy was an expert at hiding. Well, when was a better time to put his plan into action?

"Tell me, Shindo, what did you do to merit that wound on your hand?"

He dropped a stone back into the bowl, playing it off as a clumsiness of his and smoothly picking up another. "Oh, this?" he asked, the slightest tremor of nervousness the only other hint that the boy was uncomfortable. His shoulders were relaxed, as was his effortless smile, but Ogata could tell that the boy was cautious. "Oh, I was being stupid." So flippant. So blasé.

"Stupid, hm? Sounds like you." Oh, but Ogata wouldn't leave it there. He picked up a stone and threaded it through his fingers thoughtfully. He put it to his chin in thought and hummed a little to himself. After a long minute or two, he let his hand hover over the board. Then after another long minute, he placed the stone, all the while taking his time pretending to think so that he could analyze the boy's posture. Still so relaxed, but much more than when he had asked his first question. By the time Shindo placed his stone in response, the tremor had subsided. Time to strike again. "Was anyone around when you were doing this stupid thing?"

The boy stiffened the slightest bit. "No."

"Come now, Hikaru. I can tell you're lying." Ogata continued his inquiry with a curious lilt in his voice, the slightest bit of childish confusion, as if he just wanted the pieces to make sense.

"My parents were around," he conceded guardedly and placed a stone. It wasn't the best move, Ogata thought. It seemed rather careless of him. He wondered if the boy's Go talent went into hibernation when he was nervous.

"Ah, but surely it wouldn't still look like that if you had gotten medical treatment." Ogata quickly placed his stone. The boy posed less of a challenge when he was wound up like this.

"It was a punishment." Hikaru slammed a stone down.

Ogata's nostrils flared. Hikaru leaned into the back of his seat.

"So am I to suppose that his punishment was just?" he hissed. He slammed his stone down too. "That you deserved to have your hand burnt in such a way since, after all, you were just being stupid?" he spat. The game was abandoned.

"He might've taken it too far, but yeah, I was just being—"

Like a viper, he struck again. "I see, so it's your fault! We should just drop you off at your house then and see you on your merry way?"

The boy looked frightened even though he had been suggesting his return to his home for a while now. "It's…"

"It's your fault, Shindo!"

"No-" the boy groaned to himself, clenching and unclenching his fists. This is what he was aiming for, this denial. He needed to break it.

Ogata didn't let up. "You did this to yourself, and you deserved it all! "

"No, it's not FAIR!" the child shouted back, slamming his fist on the Go board, scattering many of the stones. The glass of the coffee table cracked, and beautiful web-like fissures spread out to the metal edges as the soft crackling sound slowly followed his incensed words. "He's my dad, he's supposed to care for me-like Toya Meijin and Akira!" Ogata thought the boy's expectations were pretty low if he considered the Meijin's relationship with his son the ideal one. "Fuck it!" Hikaru slammed his angry fist on the goban again, and finally after all the abuse, the glass finally gave in and shattered.

Ogata jumped back from the glass and immediately looked to see if the boy was harmed. He had pushed too hard. In the short time between the fissures and the explosion, with urgent intent he grabbed the boy's shoulder. If he had lent the slightest second to thought, he would have reasoned that grabbing the boy at this moment was a very bad idea.

Hikaru jerked his shoulder away from the offending touch, raising his hackles and covering his head with his arms.

"Hikaru," he said in a calm, quiet voice.

The boy blinked.

"Are you hurt?"

Ogata didn't expect the laughter or the sagging shoulders. He didn't expect Hikaru to slump backward against the foot of the couch with a repressed sob. So when these things happened, he was at a loss.

"Did any glass get on you?" This time, he took his time edging closer and closer to the boy. Once he was in easy reach of the boy, he lightly placed a hand on Hikaru's far shoulder. The boy flinched but didn't move away. Firmly, but not forcefully, he put his other arm on Hikaru's closer shoulder. And with the patience of a seasoned Go pro, he stood both of them up and gently coaxed the boy onto the couch.

Most of the glass was on the floor, and the shards weren't too far from the frame. The go board was scuffed and nicked, but altogether whole, and Ogata was smugly proud of its resilience. He placed it on the couch next to the boy and continued looking for anything else. The stones were scattered farther, probably having bounced around, whereas the glass just seemed to have fallen straight down. No harm done. Probably.

He allowed his gaze to subtly shift toward the boy to see how he was faring. He was calm, at least. Weary, spent, and maybe a tiny bit afraid. Ogata figured the fear would wear off once the boy realized that none of the glass had hit him. Seeing as it wasn't likely the boy would be moving from the couch, he assumed the annoying chore of cleaning up the glass. After all, he was the one who shattered it in the first place.

'He must be so mad…' was the one thought running through his head. He heard buzzing in his ears and he thought his eyesight was a little unfocused. When Ogata touched his shoulder, he felt electricity run through his body, shocking him into a defensive position. When it happened again, he controlled himself. Better to take his punishment now than wait for it.

It seemed it wouldn't be so. Ogata was cleaning everything, sweeping up the glass and noting the damage. Oh, Hikaru was in for it.

But after the glass was removed, the stones collected into a jumble of black and white, and the goban set safely on the couch, Ogata simply left. For a few minutes, Hikaru had the fear that he left only to come back with a belt or a demand to get out of his apartment. The minutes passed. Several minutes. It shouldn't have taken this long to retrieve something. He found himself relaxing despite his worries. Maybe Ogata had forgotten.

The stones were still mixed. With very little thought, he placed the stones back on the board. It had been an interesting game after all. Black here, white there, black there. Then white attacked and black defended. Then white attacked and black moved his attention elsewhere. Then white invaded. And black continued his attack at the elsewhere point. Then white moved there too. Then, this was when the game had stopped. Hikaru placed the black stone where he had intended it, and then looked happily upon the board. He could have been very close to winning this game. He supposed white would have gone there, and black then...

Then, there was a hand on the back of his neck.

His dad's meaty hand latched onto the nape of his neck, hurling him toward the ground. Hikaru barely maintained his balance enough to receive a punch to his jaw. He crumpled onto his hands and knees, but it still didn't stop. A foot to his stomach, a few more kicks, and then the leather shoe was pinning his face to the floor. He heard but didn't understand the few angry words shot toward him, and felt the pressure leave his face. He coughed to help himself breathe.

"Breathe, kid."

Dad never called him that.

He inhaled. Held it. Then exhaled.

"That's right," said a soothing voice. Hikaru continued breathing slowly, not even noticing when the door to the apartment opened and closed.

He had really intended to go out for a smoke. The confrontation with Hikaru took more out of him than he thought it would. And after all that...

After he had made sure the boy was uninjured, he had glanced around to make sure everything was in order and that he hadn't missed any glass. That was when he saw Hikaru placing stones on the goban. He thought the boy was just calming himself and playing a game against himself. Ogata remembered times in his youth when he just wanted to play a relaxed game against someone of equal caliber. Upon looking closer, however, he saw that the game was the one they were just playing.

Sai's stories immediately sprung to mind. It was common for Go professionals to recreate games. Apparently the boy had talent. Ogata was about to move on when he saw that the boy had stopped. Ah, this was where the game had halted. It was Hikaru's move. At that point, Ogata thought the boy had given up since he was already under such emotional duress. Now, when the boy was absorbed in the game, he placed a black stone. Ogata froze.

What a move!

The boy answered with white in the only place Ogata could have gone. It was a lost cause, though. There was no way for white to win once black had put that decisive move. The boy was about to put another black stone down-what was the point?-when Ogata placed a hand on the boy's back.

The boy's breathing suddenly halted, and the muscles under Ogata's hand were tensed like an animal preparing itself for death. This again?

"Breathe, kid," he had said. "That's right." The boy was calm now, but Ogata wasn't. Angrily, he left the apartment to go have his smoke.

Well, that had been the plan.

"Why are you still out here, Fujiwara?"

The man looked up at him with his puppy-dog eyes. "I was ever so worried! You are not one to let plans marinate. I knew you would enact it tonight."

Ogata sighed. He wouldn't let Fujiwara's presence get in the way of his much-needed smoke. "Well, he's accepted the facts. I think it won't be hard to convince him to testify. We'll need a lawyer. And a really good psychologist."

Fujiwara plopped down onto the hard cement. Ogata frowned at the man; how could he sit on the dirty pavement wearing white jeans?

"I must tell you, Seiji, I am most happy when I am teaching Hikaru."

Ogata thought Fujiwara should have been more worried about the fact that there was definitely some psychological harm done to Hikaru. He wondered what the man was trying to say. "Your point?"

Fujiwara let his head fall into his hands. "I am so selfish, Seiji. He improves so quickly. He learns so quickly. "

"Yes, yes, you've said much about how much of a genius he is. I'm even starting to agree with you."

He expected a bright grin from the man, not the sad smile that currently graced his face. "So may I leave this up to you? I will try my best, but my best is only so good."

Ogata wasn't sure what Fujiwara was talking about, but the man's eyes were so far away, so old, that he just wanted to bring his friend back. "Anything for you, Sai."

a/n: so anyway, sorry for the long wait. This semester was fantastic, so I had the enthusiasm to write this up. Great big hulking thank yous to you reviewers! I would have never gotten the energy to do this without you all. I also started an Avatar fanfic, but it hasn't gotten much love. If you like Zuko, consider checking it out? s/8687664/1/Trial-By-Fire