A/N: This story was inspired by the Hikaru-wakes-up-to-find-everything-to-be-a-dream plot. XD I love those, so I figured I'd twist it to suit me. Thus, Sai gets to be the one that wakes up~!

Disclaimer: I do not own Hikaru no Go.

Pairings: AkiHika, but extremely slow-building. And almost positive on OgataSai as well.

Warnings: This fic will be DARK.

If you're at all uncomfortable reading about anything involving the following, please desist and leave.

Expected to contain, implied or explicitly-shown: BL (Boys Love), child prostitution, child abuse, child neglect, statutory rape, drug and alcohol use. There will also be OCs, but they are background characters used to advance the plot.

Chapter One

Fate's Draw

Fujiwara Sai woke up.

Panting, he tried to overcome his disorientation as his eyes adjusted to the light. He couldn't move his body; his limbs felt heavy and exhaustion weighed him down. Oxygen shuddered down his throat with the help of a mask hooked up to a gas tank, clean and fresh and sterile.

Sai woke up in a hospital - which was strange, because he had about two and a half years worth of memories saying he went under as a ghost.

"Fujiwara-san? Can you hear me?"

A man's face swam into view. Aged and wrinkled, but the eyes were alert and concerned as they peered back at Sai. Sai did not recognize him, however; a stranger was bent over him, one hand delicately holding his thin wrist and speaking to him gently.

"Fujiwara-san, blink twice if you can understand me."

Dutifully, Sai blinked twice. Doctor, Sai recognized. He was in a hospital, this man was a doctor - but the question was why. Why was he in a hospital and why did he have these- memories? Dreams? of being a Heian-aged ghost that haunted a young boy?


Sai's eyes widened as he tried to lurch up, but he wasn't able to do much more then shakily flop forward. The doctor caught him and settled him back down in alarm. "Fujiwara-san, calm yourself! You're in no shape to be moving quite yet!"

Sai tried to explain himself to the doctor - where was Hikaru? - but no sound came from his throat. Instead, it felt raw and dry, croaking with disuse so that it brought tears to Sai's eyes. His expression was noticed by the older man but interpreted differently, "You've been in a coma for the past two weeks, Fujiwara-san. Please calm yourself!"

Sai stopped flailing to let that statement sink in. He had been in a coma...for two weeks? So him being a ghost, teaching the Honinbou Shuusaku, Shindou Hikaru himself - all of it was a dream?

Hikaru wasn't real?

Some part of Sai knew this. He was not the ghostly hand of Honinbou Shuusaku - he was a devout fan of the Go legend, having studied the man's plays obsessively. He was Fujiwara Sai, a 26-year-old Go professional that had already claimed the title of Meijin and fought to keep it from his rival, Touya Kouyo. He was the only child of a rich businessman who regularly sent him money in place of love, the son of a woman that had taken her own life when Sai had graduated junior high school. A cheerful, somewhat childish man that smiled as bright as the sun and dominated the goban with such an intensity that left his opponents shaking.

And Shindou Hikaru was a figment of his imagination.

"You were involved in a car accident."

Physical therapy had been exhausting. Sai had to down supplement after supplement to replenish the muscles that had atrophied. Luckily, two weeks wasn't long enough to cause any severe damage, but long bouts of walking still exhausted him. His father had offered to call him a driving service, but Sai declined and opted to call a friend of his.

"The driver fell asleep at the wheel and ran a red light. The collision threw you several meters, and you cracked your skull when you landed on the pavement."

Ogata Seiji looked as relieved as much as the professional could, not even making one complaint or snide comment at Sai's disheveled appearance. The car ride back to Sai's upscale apartment was quiet, but it was a comforting one. Sai felt like he had many things to think over.

"We sealed the fracture back up, but you didn't wake up even after we'd lifted the drugs. Just a few days ago, however, you started showing signs of consciousness."

Ogata helped him through the door. With the man's close proximity, the difference between their builds was more apparent. While Sai had always been slender, at this time he just looked emaciated; his bones were easily defined under his skin. Just looking at his thin arms made Sai sick.

Ogata glanced over at him, shutting the front door and pulling off his shoes. "Are you going to be okay? I'm sure we can find some decent help for you. Akira's been practically salivating at the chance to see you since we heard you woke up."

Sai chuckled, "I'm sure he's much too occupied to babysit me. It's his first year in junior high, isn't it?"

"He spends more time studying kifu than his schoolwork," Ogata said, moving into the kitchen. The apartment was bland, devoid of decoration and looking as if it had been abandoned. Unsurprising, given Sai's two-week absence - but the feeling of loneliness was new. The apartment lacked a life Sai hadn't realized it needed before.

"While in that coma," Sai began softly, sinking down onto the couch as Ogata made himself at home. "I had a strange dream."

"Yeah?" Ogata muttered distractedly, opening cabinet doors in search of tea.

"I was a ghost, and I came to...follow this boy," Sai continued. "He wasn't interested in Go at the beginning - but that changed. And he was so gifted, Seiji; he learned quickly, his memory was astounding, and he made the most surprising moves. I was honored to be the one to teach him."

Ogata poked his head out of the kitchenette after setting the teal to boil, raising his eyebrow at the other man. "Perhaps it was your subconscious telling you to finally pick up a student? You only have the entire Go Association pawing after you, you know."

Sai gave the man a weak smile, "Those who do not cringe before me are few and far between."

Ogata grunted in acknowledgement. Sai was the youngest Meijin to date, his natural talent and ability to evolve his skills unprecedented. Those who rose before him fell before his might, those who came after him could only watch in awe from afar. Sai was a force of nature that the Go world had been unprepared for, and now at the apex, Sai found himself trapped in a difficult spot. The only person that had ever been able to put up a decent fight had been the previous Meijin, Touya Kouyo - but even now Sai had begun to pass him. His strength on the goban frightened those who played him, and Sai could not teach a student too scared to even try and fight back.

Hikaru would not cower.

The thought came unbidden and was so startling that Sai flinched back. The certainty, the longing that had flashed through his mind; it left his body paralyzed. The image of that boy - young man, when Sai had left him - was so vivid in his mind that Sai could practically see him. Ridiculous bangs dyed a gaudy shade of blonde, green eyes wide and mischievous, his lips stretched into a grin that seemed to dominate his entire face.

"Hey, what's wrong?"

Ogata's voice broke Sai out of his trance. Blinking the image out of his mind's eye, Sai stared back at the proffered cup of tea. Amused, he took it from his friend with a small thanks. Ogata didn't comment further, though he did eye Sai oddly even as he took a seat next to him on the couch.

Sai had entered the professional Go world a few years after Ogata, but they only really ever talked when Sai became the "rival" of Ogata's teacher, Touya Kouyo. Unlike many others at the Institute, though, Ogata was not frightened by strength - but drawn to it. He hounded Sai at the Institute whenever he was there, and Sai was not averse to company; they struck up an odd sort of friendship that had both nothing and everything to do with their profession.

"So was this imaginary student of your's as solemn as Akira?" Ogata asked, interrupting the amiable silence.

The very idea of a solemn Hikaru made Sai giggle. "Not at all. He was very...vibrant. So much energy sometimes that half the time I was teaching him just to sit still for longer than 30 minutes," Sai mused warmly. "He had to be doing something, provoking someone - the boy didn't have one ounce of respect, I swear! - and we spent as much time screaming at each other as we did playing Go."

"Your 'ideal student' sounds like a pain," Ogata pointed out.

Sai smiled sadly to himself, "He was perfect."

Sai's return to the Go Institute was met with a mix of cheer and trepidation. For the short time he had been absent, those who fell to his might or felt they could never catch up believed they were given a respite. While he always had those opponents and acquaintances who were glad to see him back, there would always be those who were less than happy with his presence.

Sai hadn't let it bother him. He had contented himself with playing the game he loved, studying the game he loved, socializing with the few who could look at him as a person and not as a stepping stone. Now, however, the loneliness crushed down on him like an insurmountable weight.

He had not gone straight back to playing in matches; his health had not recovered far enough to allow his body to endure an hours-long match. He'd been granted a two-week leave to get back in shape, but after only a week in physical therapy, Sai began to feel out of place. He wasn't like the others in the center; his limbs were weak but they were there and unbroken, and he was not burdened with age or terrible diet.

Eventually, he opted out of physical therapy, instead preferring to take long walks and doing some light arm exercises. He could hold and place a stone without shaking now, but that still gave him two more free days to work with. Ogata came around almost every day - for a professional with a girlfriend, he sure had plenty of free time - but on this particular day he had a function to attend. This left Sai with no one but himself for company; even as an internationally-famous Go player, he hardly had any friends to speak of.

The apartment was going to drive him crazy. Sai was sure of it; the walls were devoid of any decoration, the entire flat void of sound, and the air felt stale. He fancied buying at least a houseplant, but didn't think he could invest in it emotionally enough to keep it alive.

He'd turned on every light to see if it could chase out the blandness, somehow, but it only seemed to illuminate everything he lacked. He didn't even have a TV - simply because he never watched it. There were some magazines on the table, all about Go, but for the most part the apartment looked as if nobody lived in it. Sai wondered if that was a bad sign.

Even Seiji has fish, Sai mused. Maybe I should get a pet?

It'd probably die from Sai's inattentiveness within a week.

Sai dug through his closet, resigning himself to taking another aimless walk. He pulled his hair up into a ponytail; while he'd always kept it shoulder-length, now it was past his shoulder-blades. Before the accident, he had thought about getting it cut. Now, though, he wanted to grow it out - perhaps so he'd resemble the coma-version of himself? Sai couldn't quite place the reason why, just that he wanted that...connection.

Pulling on a pair of sweatpants and an otherwise bland shirt, he slipped on his jogging shoes and left his apartment. The air outside was crisp and fresh; even though the leaves were only just beginning to turn gold, the weather had a tendency to dip.

Sai enjoyed it, if only because autumn brought about the beautiful colors of warm gold and hazel. During his time with Hikaru, autumn almost seemed to bring out the boy's very spirit; a warm life that endured through the winter and would thrive in the spring. Autumn was like a promise, and Hikaru crunching through the dry leaves on the ground was proof of that promise.

Sai shook himself.

I really need more to do, Sai mused self-deprecatingly. Than obsessing over imaginary people.

And really, it was a sort of obsession Sai could not understand. In his dream, he'd been the teacher of Honinbou Shuusaku - his idol. (To Sai's later horror; he couldn't believe his subconscious could be so egotistical!) But instead of thinking about a true Go genius, he found himself enthralled in the memory of a young boy who hadn't even liked Go at the beginning.

Of course, that had all changed eventually - and Hikaru had proven himself to be gifted. Sai remembered Hikaru's games well; the way Hikaru played was something that Sai couldn't even fathom. The boy's mind worked in exciting ways, and when he thought about some of Hikaru's better games, Sai couldn't help but feel pleased. He could see some of his own moves in the boy's style but he could see Hikaru's own natural talent mixed in: that surprising play that left Hikaru's opponents baffled, the way Hikaru could read far enough ahead to spring traps that left even his betters stunned.

Really, his imagination was so unfair. Now that he'd imagined such a student for himself, Hikaru was really the only student Sai wanted. Reality was cruel.

"I hate kids," Ogata muttered for the umpteenth time.

Sai smiled awkwardly, giving the offended mother who just swept by them an apologetic look as she shot them a glare. Ogata didn't even notice, as irritated as he was; he looked seconds away from lighting up a cig, public smoking ban be damned. It was hard to blame the man, though, as he seemed to attract all of the complaining parents who had an issue with their child losing this-or-that game.

Both pros had been assigned to help at a small function - a Go tournament for young players. Sai always found the sight of serious, young Go players to be wonderful, but it was a sentiment he really couldn't share with Ogata. His friend's mood was not easily improved, especially since his latest girlfriend had dumped him unceremoniously only two days before. To be honest, Sai was actually impressed Ogata had yet to wring anyone's neck.

"These are the well-behaved kids, you know," Sai reminded him cheerfully.

Ogata sneered, "I'm never having a kid."

Sai chuckled. Ogata perked up when he noticed a familiar figure moving towards them, his expression falling into amused tolerance as the youth came to a stop before them with a polite smile and bow.

"Ah, Akira-kun!" Sai greeted, smiling brightly. He really had quite a soft spot for the boy; his rival was raising a fine young man that Sai knew would be one of the best Go players in modern times. The coma-version of the boy really did hold true to Touya Akira's character.

"Ogata-san, Fujiwara-sensei," Akira greeted politely. "Father told me you would be supervising this event..."

"We were forced to," Ogata cut in boredly.

Sai leaned in close to the younger male, smile playful, his long hair sliding over one shoulder. "Don't mind him, Akira-kun; he hasn't been able to smoke for the last three hours and the withdrawal symptoms are starting to kick in."

Ogata scowled at him. Akira blinked, unsure on how to respond politely; his indecisiveness made Sai smile. The boy really was too poised for his own good, and while that was a gift while playing Go, it left him awkward and stilted in situations outside of the game. In the dream-verse, Hikaru had been quite the blessing; he'd ignited a passion in Akira that Sai had yet to see in real life.

Sai would never doubt Akira's love for the game. It was obvious the boy loved it with all his heart and soul - but Go was a two-player game, and if Akira continued on as he was, that love would become stagnant and only pull the youth apart at the seams. Sai could predict this easily, since it was happening to him for a different reason.

"Are you doing well, Fujiwara-sensei?" Akira asked.

Sai nodded good-naturedly, "The doctors cleared me and I've already resumed matches. I was actually going to visit your father this Sunday; we haven't played in quite a while."

Akira visibly brightened, "Were you going to join Father's study group?"

Sai shook his head, smile dimming somewhat. "No - I just promised him a game as soon as I recovered."

The idea of joining a study group made Sai cringe inwardly. After being declined admission into the insei program on the basis of being too good, Sai had suffered quite the emotional blow when it came to dealing with people. By the time he'd gained momentum in the Go world, his fellow players felt no need to invite such a strong player to their study groups. Of course, Touya Kouyo had been the exception - but at that point, their rivalry was well-known and most members of the former Meijin's study group regarded him more as an unstoppable opponent rather than a fellow player. (Of course, the Meijin, Ogata, and Ashiwara were the exceptions; Kouyo saw Sai as his equal, Ogata saw him as the closest thing to a friend he had, and Ashiwara was just Ashiwara.) Sai had declined Kouyo's invitations, which only seemed to make the barrier between him and other people that much bigger.

"What are you even doing here?" Ogata asked the boy.

"Father dropped by to see how things were going," Akira answered. "The manager accosted him as soon as he set foot in the building, though."

"He's probably complaining about you, Seiji," Sai giggled.

Ogata huffed, "Then maybe he should stop requesting me, the little shit."

"Language, Seiji! There are children present!" Sai squeaked, slapping his hands over Akira's ears. Akira looked ready to argue that - he was thirteen now! - but thought better of it and just frowned instead.

Ogata rolled his eyes. The man caught sight of another disgruntled parent approaching them, and smoothly veered away from the two males to intercept the mother. He knew very well why he'd been tapped to attend the event; while Sai was himself enough of a draw, being the top player in the Go world, he was terrible at dealing with people outside of the goban. Event organizers came to realize if they wanted high attendance courtesy of Sai, they'd have to take him in a package deal with Ogata Seiji - the one capable of keeping the crowds organized and civil.

"Are you enjoying your first year of junior high, Akira-kun?" Sai asked.

A brief expression of strain crossed the boy's features, but he nodded nonetheless. It occurred to Sai that in the dream-verse, the boy had been bullied. Was it also true of the reality?

Or perhaps I am relying too much on my dream, Sai thought privately. This really isn't healthy.

An idea occurred to Sai then. He was reluctant to ask, at first - this obsession was demented. But he was curious...

"Kaio is well-known for their Go club. Did you happen to see them at any of the tournaments?" Sai asked as casually as he could.

Akira nodded again, "When I was being shown around, they were hosting the school tournament. They were quite skilled."

He didn't sound very impressed, though. Sai felt a pang of pity for the boy; just like himself, Sai knew Akira would never get to join the insei program or anything similar. Much like Sai, Akira would probably grow up with an intense love for the game and nothing outside of it.

"Who did they face in the final round?" Was it Haze? Sai stopped himself from asking that particular question, but the eagerness was practically audible. Akira cast him a questioning look, looking befuddled. Sai couldn't blame him - why would the current Meijin be interested in a junior high tournament? Sai certainly wasn't going to explain that his coma-induced dream had brought about a host of new fixations.

"Midoriyama, if I remember correctly," Akira answered. "Although Kaio won all three boards."

Sai tried not to look too disappointed. Judging by Akira's bemused expression, he'd probably failed.

"I wish Akira-kun had a rival," Sai stated quietly.

Touya Kouyo glanced over at the younger man, face studiously blank but to those that knew the man well, he seemed taken aback. Considering Sai had said this while they had been sharing a quiet cup of tea, Kouyo could not be faulted his surprise.

They'd finished their match two hours previous, finished discussing the game only thirty minutes prior, and just when Akiko had given the current Meijin a steaming cup of green tea, Sai broke the amiable silence with his statement.

Kouyo nodded, though he really didn't see where Sai was going with this conversation. "Akira would thrive if he had someone to compete with."

Compete with. Kouyo often worried about his son for this reason; all of Akira's peers were so below the boy's skill that Akira had given up looking. Everyone older was viewed as a stepping stone, someone to learn from - but not someone to compete with. Kouyo knew that listlessness well; he'd been trudging through the days until Sai had appeared.

Sai took a sip from his tea, eyes calculating. "I...I am thinking about taking a student."

A student. Kouyo didn't let his interest become too obvious, but he was definitely intrigued. Sai had never taken anyone under his wing and hadn't look inclined to doing so anytime soon. Then again, after the accident, Sai had changed. It was subtle, but it was there; as if the man was waiting for something.

If Sai could groom a rival for Akira, Kouyo didn't think he'd ever be able to thank the man enough.

Sai wanted a student.

He'd gone through the possibilities. He needed someone who wasn't a pro yet - a pro, no matter how low the dan-level, was still too set in their style. Sai needed someone who could still be molded, whose style was still fluid, who would take advice without becoming indignant. That, of course, eliminated a good portion of people.

He'd raked over the name of the insei. He'd been startled to find quite a few familiar names - Isumi, Waya, Fukui, Nase. The sight had nearly caused his heart to stutter, and more often now, he began to question the truth of his dreams. While the pros who had been in his dreams he had all met beforehand, the insei were people he had never met. How could they exist outside of the dream-verse?

Why wasn't Hikaru real?

Sai kept thinking about the boy. He'd had to convince himself, many times, not go scouting around Haze or hover around what had been the Shindou home in his dream. The hope that Hikaru was real, however, continued to tease at his mind - especially at the sight of the insei names he both knew and didn't.

He'd gone to the insei institution - and wow, that had caused quite a spectacle. It was like the insei didn't know whether they should flock to him or be awed at a distance. The teacher had decided for them by chasing them all back to their boards and ordering them to play games. Sai had wandered around just watching them play for awhile; some were talented, some were not, some fell somewhere in between.

He'd paused over Waya's game and tried not to look at the boy; he really was just as his dream had depicted. He seemed as star-struck as Sai imagined he'd be, however - which wouldn't be very good in a prospective student.

Fukui and Nase seemed to stumble whenever he passed them by, so Sai did not linger near them. The other students would get distracted by his presence, so much so that Sai began to feel guilty for even coming.

Isumi had more promise, and Sai could see himself helping the youth with his confidence - but knew that in the end, he'd inevitably end up comparing the youth to an imaginary boy with two-toned hair.

Sai left after apologizing to the teacher, feeling much less hopeful than he had been when he'd first started. Even if his prospective student wouldn't be Hikaru - why couldn't he let him go?!- that didn't mean there wasn't any talent left in the Go world that Sai could harvest.

Perhaps I am setting the bar too high? Sai mused, tugging his scarf into a tighter hold. It was cold enough now that he could see his own breath in the air, and though the weather reports had said nothing about rain or snow, the sky looked overcast enough that Sai wondered if he should have brought an umbrella.

Sai couldn't see how he his criteria for a student was so hard to fill, though. He wasn't asking for Shuusaku, or even Akira-level skill; he just wanted a student that could keep up with his teachings, who could grow defiantly from defeat, who could challenge his equals and his betters with the same spirit that Sai felt most players lacked nowadays.

Sai knew what he was really looking for, though, and he hated himself all the more for it.

I'm letting go, Sai vowed to himself. It had gotten ridiculous now; it's been almost three months since he'd awoken from that coma. He was letting a dream dominate his life now, and he was coming off the worse for wear because of it.

Tomorrow, he'd check out Kaio's Go club. Go club members were obviously interested enough in the game to pursue it, but malleable enough that Sai shouldn't have to worry about their resistance to his teachings. He'd just have to grit his teeth and bear it if his prospective student feared his strength, and eventually train it out of them. He'd done it for the boy in his dream, so surely he could do it in real life.

"Dammit, Masaki - he was totally going to bite. You ruin fucking everything."

Sai stopped abruptly. Eyes wide, something as simple as breathing suddenly became difficult. He didn't take a single step, didn't even move - too scared that he wouldn't be able to hear. The voice was too familiar yet completely foreign. The tone - irritated and exasperated, edging close to anger but not quite there - was something Sai had heard before.

"Stop bitching, Itsuka. He looked like the type who would stop halfway and not pay. You still haven't learned how to pick them?"

"Are you kidding me? He had a fucking Rolex on. I was going to take that chance."

The other voice was unfamiliar, but the first one - he knew it. He knew it as well as he knew himself, from a place where he'd drowned in the embrace of the reeds.

Slowly, Sai turned - too scared to hope but hoping nonetheless.

"Itsuka," one boy muttered - his hair was dyed completely blond and cut into a fashionable style. He looked a bit older than Isumi, but the way he held himself was completely different from the insei. The boy smiled at Sai after he'd noticed the man's gaze, and everything from the posture to the little grin looked utterly sultry. He tipped his head in Sai's direction at the younger boy's confused look.

Blond bangs, defiant of the rest of the naturally black hair, hung in front of stormy green eyes. Lips twisted into a small scowl, the owner glaring over at his companion. Tight jeans, a clean white jacket that fell to just above his knees, tanned skin - all of it was familiar.

All of it was wrong.

Shindou Hikaru met Sai's eyes.

Sai didn't know whether he should scream in horror or cry in happiness. The boy he'd dreamed about was real - very real, very alive, and very much authentic. His body seemed to remember he needed oxygen to live and breath was drawn, but the shock had settled over him so completely that Sai didn't notice.

Hikaru was real.

The boy was alive, and out of the millions that lived in Japan, Sai had run across him. In his dreams, it had been fate that drew them together - so surely it had to be fate now. Just as Sai had vowed to give him up, Hikaru had appeared - in the flesh and with eyes on Sai. Just as they should be.

The young boy looked him up and down. His eyes lingered on Sai's tailored suit; Sai figured he probably looked ridiculous. No matter how personally tailored the suits were, they always looked odd on him. His nails were cleanly-cut - the better to hold Go stones - and green eyes blinked in mild surprise at Sai's earrings. They were a new addition - which had Ogata nearly coughing up a lung in surprise when he saw them. Sai had gotten them after he'd awoken; a pair of sapphire studs that matched his hair and eyes.

Whatever Hikaru had been looking for, he apparently was satisfied by what he saw. The other youth seemed to melt into the background as Hikaru headed in Sai's direction, fading completely into the crowd as Hikaru drew closer and closer to the man who hadn't stopped gaping at him.

"Hey, mister," Hikaru greeted - the way he said it was completely wrong. Soft and sweet, like the fake smile that curled those lips. He ambled over to Sai, smooth with a grace that dream-Hikaru did not have, especially at thirteen. "Did you want some company?"

It didn't occur to Sai that he was being propositioned until Hikaru laid a hand on his arm.

Shindou Hikaru was surviving life without actually living it.

Up until he was nine, his life had been just like any other kid his age; he went to school, he studied, he hung out with some friends that he'd easily forget as he progressed in life, and he stayed out of his parents' way. When his parents filed for divorce and his father had given full custody of Hikaru to his mother before fading out of his son's life completely, Hikaru had been hurt but he was forced to accept it as the natural course of life.

When his mother brought home her first boyfriend, Hikaru had not cared enough to get to know the man. When that man gambled away a good chunk of the settlement money from his mom's divorce, they'd been forced to leave the house Hikaru had grown up in and move into a small apartment with thin walls.

When his mother brought home her second boyfriend, Hikaru had been in his last year of elementary school. The apartment always smelled like booze and smokes, so Hikaru had learned to kill time outside. He used the money his mom gave him for lunch to fund his entertainment, then would sneak back home late at night to avoid seeing anyone.

When his mom's second boyfriend drank too much one night, he fell down the apartment stairs as he tried to storm out in an alcohol-fuelled rage and snapped his neck. Hikaru had to be the one to call the police that night, because his mother had been too busy drunkenly laughing. The cops never bothered to ask him if he felt safe with his mom - just as well, though, as Hikaru would lie to them anyway.

When Hikaru had graduated and gotten into Haze Junior High, his mother found a third boyfriend. She stopped giving Hikaru any money, even for food, so Hikaru began to pawn off things he found either at home or anything he discovered on the streets. One night, as he carried back to the apartment a purse he'd lifted from some girl who had been distracted making out with her boyfriend in the park, he ran into the high school girl who lived two doors down from him.

Arikawa Satomi wouldn't have noticed him, except that he'd been carrying around a Gucci handbag. She bought it for the half the price he could have sold it for, and then out of guilt for swindling a child more pitiful than her, she offered him a contact that could get him a job.

At twelve years old, Hikaru met Ohno Masaki. The other boy was five years older than him, with a dark look to his eyes and cruelty to his smile that Hikaru registered as dangerous. They'd met late at night in Shinjuku, under the sweltering heat of summer on the fourth day of June. Masaki had looked him up and down with a crooked smile, then asked him if he knew what kind of job he'd asked for.

Hikaru paused, thought about it briefly, then nodded. "How much is the pay?" was the only question Hikaru asked.

"This time, 60 thousand yen," Masaki answered. He turned and began to head off down the sidewalk, Hikaru trailing behind him. "After that it will be lower, but finding some more clientele shouldn't be a problem. How many were you planning on taking up?"

"It depends on the numbers," Hikaru answered. He should be able to afford food with this payment and not have to go to the extra effort of scavenging for things to pawn off. But he also wanted enough for some new clothes, as he'd hit another growth spurt and most of his outfits were too small now. There was this new handheld game system he wanted that one of the boys in his class had been boasting about, and he was thinking of dying his hair. "Probably at least five."

Masaki whistled. Somehow, he managed to make it sound condescending. "That might be a bit much for you, kid. I guess we'll see after the first."

Once they'd turned down another set of unfamiliar streets and the crowds had mostly thinned out, Masaki glanced back at him. "Aren't you curious about the first pick?"

Hikaru met his gaze evenly, managing not to look as terrified as he really felt. "Are you going to tell me?"

Masaki threw back his head and laughed raucously. "You're a weird kid. You got a name, brat?"


"Not your real name, idiot," Masaki cut in. "You need a...nickname. Any ideas?"

Hikaru thought about it. "What time is it?"

Masaki blinked, taken aback. At Hikaru's serious look, he checked his wristwatch, "Almost 11:40."

"Might as well commemorate my first job," Hikaru mused. "I'm Itsuka(1)."

Masaki very nearly stumbled. Then, the teen let out one loud peal of laughter. Stifling his chuckles, the teen turned down another street. The crowds had all but disappeared and on both sides of this unfamiliar road stood one small motel after another.

"Alright then, Itsuka," Masaki managed out between snickers. "The guy's name is Saotome. He's your common salaryman, but he paid good money to be the first. Mimi had you put down under 'Vanilla' so it should run pretty standard."

Hikaru tried not to snort at the mention of 'Mimi'. Is that what Satomi was going by?

"As the middleman, I get 20 percent of the cut. After that, if you meet someone outside my contacts, the money is all your's. Inside, it's the same rate," the teen continued.

Masaki stepped through the entrance of one of the motels. Hikaru hadn't caught the name, but the tacky decor and miserable appearance was pretty much identical to every other motel in the area. The teen waved at the pudgy man sitting at the front desk but didn't bother stopping; the man didn't seem to care, eyes flicking over the two boys before dismissing them.

"It's a three hour max. I'll be outside the door timing it," Masaki droned on. The tone was disaffected, as if he'd given this same speech before. He probably had, Hikaru mused. "There's no time-outs or stopping. Once you're in that room, you remain there for the next three hours. If you try to come out early, I'll toss your ass back in."

Masaki stopped in front of the room marked '106'. He turned away and faced Hikaru fully, giving the child a smile full of teeth. "Feel free to scream as much as you want, though. No one will mind."

Hikaru considered his surroundings. Too late to back out now, he thought. By the way Masaki was smiling at him, backing out didn't even seem to be an option. Taking his silence as acquiescence, Masaki knocked twice on the door before opening it, pushing Hikaru inside and following behind him.

"Ah, Masaki-kun," an older man greeted. He was unremarkable in all aspects; average height, average weight, with thin black hair and a bald spot in the back. His eyes were narrow and he had that sort of beleaguered, nervous air to him that reminded Hikaru of the businessmen he found sleeping on park benches.

"Saotome-san," Masaki greeted cordially. The air about the teen was casual, no matter how falsely-polite he spoke. It was obvious the younger male was in control of this entire meeting; Saotome looked like he'd start simpering any minute now. "This is Itsuka. Say hello, Itsuka-kun."

"Hello," Hikaru greeted softly. He wondered if he was supposed to act differently, but Masaki hadn't given him any Looks and Saotome was obviously entranced by the child. Hikaru tried not to feel sick - and was failing.

"Hello, Itsuka-kun," Saotome echoed with a wide smile.

"The payment, Saotome-san," Masaki reminded briskly, stepping in front of Hikaru. This helped to hide the brief flash of disgust that crossed the child's face. Saotome nodded with a nervous laugh, opening up his briefcase and pulling out a bulky yellow envelope. Masaki opened it and pulled out the cash, counting it with a professional's air. Once every note had been accounted for, he gave Saotome a smile and nodded.

"Three hours," Masaki chimed as he left. "I'll knock when the time's up."

The door closed behind the boy. Saotome looked at Hikaru with a sick parody of a smile, taking the child's hand and leading him further into the room.

Hikaru thought fleetingly of his mother's second boyfriend, laying in a tangle of limbs at the base of the stairs, head twisted at an unnatural angle, his eyes wide and unseeing, mouth open in a silent scream.

Masaki was right - he did scream, and no one cared.

Three months later and still partly under Masaki's tutelage, Hikaru had a decent set of customers. He'd dropped Saotome after the first time, and waited for other contacts of Masaki's to bite at fresh meat.

His first regular was a piano teacher named Amekura. He often wore a sad smile on his lips and tried to be gentle, to Masaki's never-ending amusement. The teen pegged the man as suicidal and told Hikaru to sweeten up to him and he might even get a cut of the man's belongings after he kicked the bucket, since he'd never married or had children.

His second regular was Yamaguchi, who insisted that Hikaru call him "Kappichi." He was emotional and prone to bursting into tears at the slightest provocation. It made Hikaru nervous, but the man paid him and bought him whatever he wanted.

Hikaru found his third regular without Masaki's help. He was a salaryman that had been stumbling around drunk one night. The man lost whatever inhibition had been keeping him in check and propositioned Hikaru himself when the boy had stared at him too long in consideration. The morning after, he told Hikaru his name was Kousaka and given the boy the money and his phone number.

Hikaru himself was getting better at picking up who would be interested and who wouldn't. The idea of propositioning an undercover cop still made him nervous, but all of Masaki's contacts were thoroughly checked-out and Hikaru figured as long as he declined invitations from sober men over a certain age, his chances of getting caught were lowered significantly.

Testing positive for STDs was an ever-present thought, and Masaki forced all those under his wing to take a monthly test at a discrete clinic. So far, Hikaru remained clean, and he'd even studied STD symptoms as an extra security. Even though many STDs - especially the deadly ones - didn't have obvious signs, it was still better than just going in blind.

When scouting for new customers independently, Hikaru would situate himself in the Shinjuku area, closer to Kabuki-cho so that people knew he was there for business. Here, Hikaru people-watched; if someone's eyes lingered on him too long, that meant interest. To guarantee that interest would actually mean something, Hikaru would catch their gaze. If they didn't look away, that meant that he had a pretty good chance.

He'd picked up a few men here and there with that technique, but those always dwindled back to one or two-nights stands (that he was paid for, of course). It was good way to make money whenever one of his regulars weren't around to be used, but sometimes it could be exhausting.

Sometimes, Masaki would follow him and idle around. Hikaru couldn't tell if the teen was pleased with his progress or irritated by it. Sometimes the teen would chase off prospective customers, other times he would clue the boy in to someone he had missed. In his own way, Masaki probably favored him - but that didn't stop him from being an utter bastard.

Just as Masaki chased away his second prospective customer of the night - "He had a fucking Rolex!" - and thoroughly irritated Hikaru, the teen motioned to someone Hikaru had only caught out of the corner of his eye.

The man was tall and lithe, skin pale as a porcelain doll's and framed by a mane of silky hair so dark it shined purple in the streetlights. He had on a gray overcoat left open over a finely-tailed suit of cream-color, with a plain silver scarf wrapped about his neck. A sapphire stud earring was pierced in each ear, somehow complimenting the man's tidy, beautiful appearance.

And he was staring right at Hikaru.

The man was openly ogling him. No one else seemed to notice, though, even as Hikaru moved forward and Masaki made himself scarce. His greetings seemed to fall on deaf ears, so Hikaru was surprised when the man jumped after Hikaru lightly touched the his arm.

"Are you alright, mister?" Hikaru asked, trying for sweet. He didn't really think he was any good at it, but usually the customers never noticed. Or maybe they just didn't care - Hikaru was never sure. "Are you cold?"

The man blinked, mouth opening and closing but no sound coming out. When the man's face began to redden in a vibrant blush, Hikaru started to worry; that wasn't the usual reaction. Had he - and Masaki - judged wrong?

Please don't cause a scene, Hikaru begged mentally. He withdrew his hand, taking a hasty step back with a nervous smile. "Sorry - just worried, you know? You looked like you'd seen a ghost!"

The man seemed to choke on air.

"Anyway, I'll be going-"


The man latched onto Hikaru's arm just as the boy turned around to leave. Hikaru didn't try to wrestle it free, stopping and turning back to the man with what he hoped was a normal smile. It kind of just felt like he was pulling his cheeks into an awkward position.

The man didn't seem to notice, staring intently at his face. After one full minute of this one-sided staring contest, Hikaru wondered if he should start worrying. "Um, mister...?"

The man continued staring at him for a moment, before seeming to come to some kind of decision. "I'm sorry, you just - you just surprised me, is all."

Hikaru nodded dumbly.

The man struggled with something internally, but forged on. "A-Are you free now? I would like some company."

Ah - so they had been right. This was the first looker Hikaru had scored, too. He supposed pedophiles really came in all shapes and sizes. "Yeah, sure! I think we should find somewhere warm to go, though; you're looking a bit chilled."

The man nodded jerkily. Hikaru wondered if this would be the man's first time with someone like him. That made things both easier and harder; the first timers were easy to manipulate but harder to ditch. They had a tendency to latch onto their first experience that had caused Hikaru some grief once or twice before.

"I know this place near here," Hikaru offered. "They have good rates."

The man shook his head. "I'd prefer to go back to my apartment, if you don't mind."

How polite - that was new. And weird. Hikaru shrugged in acceptance. It wouldn't be the first time he'd go to a customer's place, and while that came with its own risks, he often came off with a better reward.

"What's your name?" Hikaru asked, trying to sound cheerful. "I'm Itsuka."

The man gave him a confused look, but Hikaru couldn't fathom why. "...I'm Sai. You don't have a last name, I-Itsuka-kun?"

Hikaru stared at him evenly, "I don't."

Sai seemed to shrink in on himself. For just a moment, Hikaru irrationally began to feel bad.

"Oh, I see," Sai murmured. He was sitting stiffly next to the boy on the subway, giving him the occasional glance as if trying to puzzle him out. Hikaru didn't think he was complicated enough to warrant that kind of look. He was a kid that sold himself for money, and all of the adults in his life had failed him - that pretty much summed him up. It was a story that matched almost all of his 'coworkers'.

"Your parents don't mind you staying out this late, I-Itsuka-kun?" Sai asked.

Hikaru didn't even blink as he answered, "They don't care."

He couldn't help but smirk at the man's disconcerted expression.

The apartment was unsurprisingly upscale. At this hour, there was no one around to see Hikaru shuffle into Sai's apartment. The boy glanced around, frowning at the empty space; for someone who could afford such fine clothes and a nice apartment, there was barely anything in the flat.

Hikaru sincerely hoped he hadn't gotten snatched by a faker. He'd heard stories about those people that pretended to be wealthy, wearing all of the hot brands and strutting around as if they owned the place, only to really spend every last bit of their paycheck to keep up appearances while they starved.

"Nice place," Hikaru commented off-handedly. "You a minimalist?"

Sai gave him a strained smile, "I pretty much live at work. I suppose I never really considered this place my home."

Workaholic, huh? Hikaru could work with that. Giving the man a cute smile - he'd practiced it in the mirror and it worked like magic on most of the men he used it on - Hikaru cocked his head.

"So where's your bedroom, Sai-san?" Hikaru asked.

Within the 45-minute journey to this place, Hikaru had a loose idea of the kind of man who had picked him up. Definitely someone unused to people like Hikaru. He was almost naive, in a sense, and socially-awkward to top it off. He used far too much polite language compared to the average guy. This kind of innocent-like man would be more ensnared by a sweet but bold type; seductive but not outright slutty. Hikaru had to tread carefully, making sure not to push the man too far - but not going so easy so that Sai wasn't impressed.

Sai gave him an inscrutable look. With a sigh, the man pulled off his scarf and jacket, hanging them up in the closet and holding out his hand in Hikaru's direction. When the boy just stared back at him in incomprehension, Sai smiled - it was small but surprisingly genuine. Hikaru found himself shocked to the core.

"Your jacket," Sai stated, light amusement in his tone.

Hikaru slid his off. He considered stripping off the rest of his clothes but Sai had already turned around to hang up his jacket, then walked off in the direction of the kitchenette. "I'm afraid I only have tea. Will that be okay?"

"Sure," Hikaru agreed easily enough.

Sai wasn't the first man to offer him refreshments. For most, it tended to be alcohol - tea was different, but not altogether strange. Hikaru took a seat on the sofa, giving the apartment another wide, more thorough look. It was practically bare - there wasn't even a TV - just a couch and matching coffee table, and in the corner there was a goban with two closed goke on top, accompanied by plush red seat cushions.

"You play Go, Sai-san?" Hikaru called out. Something crashed in response and Hikaru could hear the frantic, hurried movement of quick cleaning.

"Y-Yes. Do you play, I-Itsuka-kun?"

Why did the man always stutter over his name? "No, I never really learned."

Before his parents divorced, Hikaru often used to go over to his grandparents' house. His grandfather had tried to teach him Go, but wasn't able to teach him anything more than the lines of the board and some of the basic rules before getting fed up with him. Hikaru supposed giving up on him was an inherited trait in the Shindou line.

Sai came out of the kitchen with two steaming mugs. In the unpolluted light of the apartment, Sai's beauty was that much more apparent; he had the type of delicate beauty all of the current male models would scramble after.

Pity to waste those looks on a pedophile, Hikaru mused absently, taking his cup with a soft thanks.

Sai smiled at him but didn't sit down. The man took only a small sip from his own mug before setting it on the coffee table, then moving over to the goban. There was a small sidetable nearby where Sai pulled out a clean rag, then began to calmly - and with a sort of elegance Hikaru had never seen before - wipe the top of the goban clean.

Hikaru took a few cautious sips of tea before setting his mug down. If they waited any longer, Hikaru would start to feel anxious. This was a business transaction, not a date.

"A night is 20 thousand," Hikaru said. Sai stopped cleaning immediately, his back to Hikaru stiff and utterly still. "No kinks, no toys. I only do vanilla."

Sai's silence was unnerving.

Hikaru continued in a no-nonsense tone, trying not to be affected, "Payment first and no checks."

"I see," Sai finally said, so softly that it actually felt dangerous. The man got up and walked down the hall and through a doorway. Just as Hikaru began to wonder if he should follow the man or just leave, Sai came back.

"I hadn't known I'd meet you tonight, so this is all the cash I have on me," Sai explained, handing the boy a small stack of bills. It was only about five thousand, so Sai handed the boy a Rolex watch as well - Hikaru could recognize the authenticity, thanks to lengthy lessons from Masaki. The Rolex alone was more than double what Hikaru had asked for.

He'd had a few men try to offer him more money in exchange for more variation in his servies, but Hikaru had declined every time. He'd seen the aftermath of some of those variations and he never wanted to ended up like those people. It'd be expected of him someday, Hikaru knew - once Masaki was sick of him sticking in Vanilla. Hikaru just hoped he could leave the lifestyle before Masaki forced him into it.

"Vanilla only," Hikaru reminded Sai.

Sai stared back at him, and suddenly Hikaru understood the stiff movements and strange looks the man had been expressing all night. Pain, pity, and pure anguish practically radiated from those dark eyes. It was such a startling epiphany that Hikaru actually froze in shock.

"I do not want to have sex with you," Sai stated. It was low, but it was sure as steel. Hikaru couldn't manage to say anything in response; it was as if his throat had closed up.

Sai moved over to the goban, taking a seat on one of the cushions with practiced ease. He was sitting in the formal seiza style, looking tidy and comfortable in front of the board and eyes piercing straight into Hikaru.

"Please come over here," Sai ordered. It was not a request, no matter how the man worded it. "I will teach you how to play Go."

The idea was so ludicrous, Hikaru started laughing. Once he started, he found it hard to stop; he practically collapsed sideways, holding his sides with tears trying to stream down his face. Somewhere along the way, it had turned from hysterical to near-breakdown; Hikaru managed to restrain himself from from breaking into sobs in time.

This man paid him just under 80 thousand yen to teach him how to play an old man's game.

Sai was not laughing. He looked calm and expectant, sitting serenely and waiting for the boy to join him. Hikaru wiped the tears from his eyes, catching his breath as he lay sprawled over the couch. After a few minutes, the boy chuckled - it was a dark, jaded sound that didn't sound very cute at all. Sai didn't seem bothered by it, though.

"Alright then," Hikaru conceded. "It's your call. Whatever you want, Sai-san."

Hikaru took a seat on the other side of the goban, and set his destiny into motion.


Note 1) "Itsuka" : how the fifth day of a month is called in Japanese. Hikaru's first "job" begins on the fifth day, so he chose that as his stage name.

On Hikaru: Let me flesh out Hikaru's character for a few more chapters. He's actually a lot more spunky like his canon self than shown here. I actually wanted him to make him more enjo kousai-like, but I needed him to be underage, so he became a child prostitute instead. That part was heartbreaking to write. Repercussions of this particular brand of abuse will be dealt with in-storyline.

Questions, comments, concrit? Then please...

Kindly drop a review.