Chapter 3: Tokyo
One weekend, as the year was nearing its end, Hikaru's father came again to visit them. Hikaru was happily playing go on his mother's computer while his parents had a long talk. He had been able to play two games completely unbothered when his father's voice called for him. He was just about to start a new game, but the tone of the voice told him that he'd better put it off for a moment.
"Hikaru," his father said as he entered the room. "We have been talking about you two moving to Tokyo."
Hikaru stopped at the doorway, hovering there, hesitant. His mother looked at him and her eyes were dry, but he could smell tears in the air, and he was quite certain it wasn't his father who had cried.
"We haven't quite reached an agreement yet, though," his father went on, sounding displeased. "And so we thought that perhaps you could come to spend some time in Tokyo during the winter break. We could spend the New Year there. How would you like that?"
That caught Hikaru's attention. "New Year at Tokyo?"
"It's true that everything's been going quite well for a long while," Mitsuko said quietly. "This would be a good test. Maybe we really could move to Tokyo when you start middle school."
Hikaru stood still, thinking. Move to Tokyo, to stay? He thought about what he knew about the city (which wasn't much, and mainly based on movies and manga): towering buildings, bright lights, hordes of people and cars. Then he thought about their little house, the town, the forest in which he and Akari at times played – and he thought of Akari, and all the people he knew, and all the people in Tokyo he didn't know, and who didn't know him, and who would find his hands freaky.
"Yeah," he said finally. "I guess it'd be a good test."
"So, it's decided!" Masao said, standing up as if they were going to leave right away. He smiled at his son. "I'm sure you'll love Tokyo. You can't even imagine how different it is from this place. And," he went on, turning to Mitsuko, "if you were to move there, I could supervise his studies myself. If his grades stay like this in middle school, he won't ever make it into high school! You must have been too lax with him."
Mitsuko was shaking her head. "I doubt he would have done any better in Tokyo. He just isn't interested in anything but go these days."
"Umm," Hikaru said. He didn't want to listen to this conversation. "I'm gonna go back to play."
As he left the room, he heard his mother's voice behind his back. "See? It's all but impossible to keep him away from the game." He didn't listen to his father's reply. Sitting down by the computer he stared at its screen where the screensaver was making wavy patterns, at the same time excited and oddly anxious.
Your mother seemed somehow distressed, Sai pointed out. As Hikaru said nothing, he went on, I just wonder why? My mother would have been overjoyed if my father had invited her to live in his mansion… and your father doesn't even have other wives, does he? Your mother is truly in a happy position!
Hikaru sighed. "I've no clue what you're talking about, Sai," he muttered and started a new game.
A couple of weeks later they arrived to Tokyo. They were going to stay at his father's small apartment, nowadays, luckily, a little bigger than a simple studio, for that would have become quite crowded. Even so, Hikaru could sense that Sai was not overly impressed.
"Not exactly a mansion," Hikaru whispered to him, amused. "What did you expect?"
The times, of course, are different, Sai stated diplomatically. This is a very… nice… apartment.
Hikaru shot a look around the room. His father really hadn't seen the need to get any more furnishings that absolutely necessary. "Is not," he stated dryly. But that didn't matter. It wasn't for the apartment that they were there. A week in Tokyo! That was something.
No movie or manga would ever do justice to Tokyo, Hikaru concluded quite soon. One had to experience the skyscrapers, the masses, the jungle of lights to really understand it. The first time his father took him sightseeing, he was a little overwhelmed, but the feeling disappeared soon, giving way to excitement. So much to see and explore! And so he started exploring, and within the first two days managed to lose his parents three times. His mother was beginning to despair, trying to make him understand that a big city like this could be dangerous, and his father strictly told him that if he got lost one more time, he'd spend the rest of the trip in the little apartment – with no access to net go.
"It's not my fault, really," Hikaru muttered to Sai, annoyed. "The waters flow all wrong here!"
I know, Sai agreed. It is often like that in big cities, these days. But that means your parents are right. We need to be more careful when we can't count on the water to guide us.
"Annoying," Hikaru stated. This was a side of Tokyo he didn't like – there was nothing natural about the movement of the water in the ground. There was water, quite a lot of water, flowing around everywhere in the city, but its directions made no sense. Back at home he was able to feel from the ground where he was, but here the water misled him, and that was quite disturbing.
With time, we might learn, Sai said. But for now, let's be careful.
"Alright then," Hikaru sighed. And the very next day they got lost again.
"It's all your fault," Hikaru muttered as they vainly tried to spot his father in the crowd on the busy street.
My fault? How can it be my fault that you lost him again?
"I just stopped cause you were so excited about those stupid fake fishes!" Hikaru exclaimed aloud and got weird looks from the passers-by. He waved toward a shop window where a bunch of mechanical fishes were swimming around in an aquarium.
But… but even so, you could have…
"Well, whatever." Hikaru stood on his toes in a vain attempt to see farther. "It's his fault, really. He should have kept an eye on me and not the other way round."
It's probably because of that phone call he got. Why are they calling him from work if he has vacation?
"How should I know?" Hikaru sighed. "Let's wait here, I'm sure he comes back when he notices I'm missing."
Time passed. Hikaru watched the passing people, beginning to grow bored, when Sai suddenly exclaimed, Look, Hikaru!
"What?" Hikaru shot a glance around. "Is it dad?"
Up there! Look up there! See that sign?
It took Hikaru a moment to realize what Sai was talking about.
"Go, huh," he said then.
There's a go salon! Sai's excitement was enough to make his palms itch. Let's go to take a look!
"I'm not sure if it's a good idea. Dad might come back soon…"
Yes… Sai paused. But… just a quick peek?
Hikaru rolled his eyes and said nothing. Even so, his eyes kept on wandering to the sign.
"What's taking him so long," he finally muttered. "This is ridiculous."
He stared at the sign. "Oh well. He's probably mad at us what ever we do. And if we're gonna spend the rest of the week grounded anyway, better to take this chance, right?"
Sai was practically bubbling with joy in his mind as he started walking toward the sign.
The go salon was in the eighth floor. Hikaru paused at the door – it was his first time in such place, and his eyes wandered across the room. Mainly old geezers, he noted a little disappointedly. The only woman in the room was the one standing behind a desk. She was giving him a wide smile.
"Welcome! First time here?"
"First time in a place like this," Hikaru answered. "Can anyone play here?"
"Sure! I just need your…"
"Hey look, there's a kid there!" Hikaru exclaimed, not listening to her. He started walking past her, and she was waving frantically, trying to get his attention.
"It's 500Y for children," she called. That did catch Hikaru's attention.
"What?" he stopped to give her a stunned look. "I have to pay?" He patted his pockets. If he counted all his coins, he thought, he might have – barely – three hundred. "Umm…"
The other boy had walked to them. "It's his first time here, so why don't you let him come free?" he said with a smile at the woman, who practically swooned at him.
"Whatever you say, Akira-kun," she said in voice so sweet Hikaru gave her a weird look.
Akira-kun, he heard Sai echoing the woman and turned back to the boy.
A coincidence, Hikaru thought back at him, but gave the boy a long, estimating look, nevertheless.
"I'm Shindou Hikaru," he introduced himself with a bright smile. "And you…"
"Touya Akira. Nice to meet you." The boy was smiling politely to him now, but somehow, Hikaru thought, the smile didn't quite reach his eyes. "So, you play go?" Akira went on, and kept on smiling as Hikaru nodded. "That's great. We don't really see children here too often."
"I guess. So, can we play?"
"Sure." Akira led him to a free board. "How many stones do you want?"
Hikaru raised his eyebrows at him. Then he grinned. "To be honest, I think that's my question."
Akira looked a little taken aback, but only momentarily. "Let's play an even game, then?" he suggested.
They chose for color, and Hikaru got black. When he picked his first stone to play, he noticed the slightest frown on Akira's face, but it disappeared soon.
You should learn how to hold the stones properly, Sai told him.
Yeah, sure. Some day.
It was clear that Akira didn't quite take him seriously from the beginning. Or… that was wrong, Hikaru realized as he watched his opponent – he got a feeling that this boy was unable not to take anything go related seriously. But he had started the game most likely thinking he would be playing a teaching game. Hikaru grinned inwardly.
Well, if a teaching game was what he wanted, he'd get one.
Don't be nasty now, Sai chided him, but he didn't dignify that with a reply.
It was almost amusing to watch Akira's face during the game. It didn't take the boy long to realize that his opponent indeed was skilled. Hikaru could easily spot the moment he understood he was the one being taught.
Hikaru… take it easy, Sai said again. Don't play too good a game.
You're getting boring, Sai. Why not? He's just a kid, like me – why would it be weird if I won?
You know he's not 'just a kid, Sai said sharply, and Hikaru paused.
It was true that this boy's game really was good. Of course, Hikaru couldn't quite know on what level children of his age usually played – and many of his online opponents had been clearly stronger than Akira… but even so.
Too late for that, he just thought. He knows already I'm playing shidougo with him.
The game went on in silence. Akira's eyes never left the board, but Hikaru found himself observing his opponent more closely than the game.
Akira, he thought. His play is familiar. Do you think… should we ask him if he plays net go?
What if he asks you if you play? Sai replied quietly.
Hikaru bit his lip. He looked at the board, and the game that was getting close to its end. I… don't know. What should we do?
What should he do if this was the 'akira' from net go, and if he realized he was playing against 'sai'?
Two pretty big ifs, Hikaru thought to himself, and tried to push the thought away. Even so he found himself playing moves that were not typical to him, just to mislead his opponent. But what would it matter if both of those ifs are correct, he asked himself, and had no reply. Somehow he still was nervous, suddenly feeling the surroundings quite clearly. The water. In the tea the players were drinking. In the pipes in the walls.
Sai, he thought sharply. Is that you? Stop it, you're making me nervous.
I'm sorry, Hikaru, Sai whispered back to him. I can't help it. You mustn't let anyone find out about us.
Because… because it could be dangerous. Sai sounded genuinely worried, and that confused Hikaru. What was there in a young kid to scare a spirit?
You're being silly, Sai, he informed his companion, but even so he shuddered a little, feeling the tension in the air.
And the water. The water. The water in the air, in the people around him, in the bonsai tree on a nearby table. He all but shivered, feeling it course through his own veins, the pull of it in Akira's veins…
He took a deep breath. "Dad," he muttered, a sudden thought coming to his mind. He stood up so suddenly his chair almost fell. "I need to go. Dad's waiting."
And he ran away, leaving Akira stare after him, stunned.
He was lucky. The elevator was in the right floor. He rushed in, pushed the ground floor button. As the doors were closing he heard running steps, a voice calling him. "Shindou! Shindou-kun! Are you…"
The door closed, cutting off the rest of the sentence.
He kept on running as they came down. After a while, as his side was beginning to hurt nastily, he slowed down, and as he glanced over his shoulder and saw no one following them finally stopped.
"Sai," he muttered under his breath, "what was that about? It's not like you to panic like that!"
I'm sorry, was all his companion had to say.
After that he went into a store, asked to borrow a phone to call his father, who was not pleased when he arrived. Still, he admitted that this time he was just as much at fault as Hikaru, and said nothing about the threat of being grounded.
I think he has something else on his mind, Sai pointed out, as Hikaru whispered to him how lucky they were. As it was, his father had barely reprimanded him. They met his mother at a café – she had been doing some shopping of her own – and Sai's observation turned out to be true.
"I got a call from my boss," Masao said as he and Hikaru sat down with their coffee and hot chocolate, respectively. "I know this is a short notice, but we've been invited to a New Year's party. He'd somehow heard you're here, and he said he wanted to take this chance to 'meet my family'."
"Oh dear." Mitsuko was grasping her tea with both hands, looking a little stunned. "I'm not sure if I have anything suitable to wear…"
"That dress you took with in the case we go to a restaurant should be fine enough," Masao said dismissively. "I'm more worried about…" he glanced at his son who met his gaze with a clueless look and a chocolate moustache.
"What?" Hikaru blinked. Then he caught on. "It sounds boring anyway. Do I have to come?"
"We were all invited. It would be rude if you didn't come."
Hikaru grimaced, and Masao turned to look at his wife. "See? Do you think he can behave himself?"
"Of course I can!" Hikaru exclaimed.
"He can," Mitsuko said evenly. "But… do they know about his…" She left the sentence hanging.
"They know he has a medical condition. I haven't really told anyone the details. But it shouldn't be a big deal."
"If you say so." Mitsuko sipped her tea, looking doubtful.
So, a couple of days later, Hikaru found himself dressed up more fancily than ever before. His mother had even bought him a tie. It was tight around his neck, and every time she looked away he tried to pull it a little looser.
Sai was sympathetic. The clothes of your era, he stated, really look uncomfortable. So… tight.
Tell me about it, Hikaru thought at him darkly. This wasn't how he had dreamed about spending the New Year in Tokyo. Well, he wasn't exactly sure what he had thought they'd do – there would be fireworks, that he knew – but a boring cocktail party hadn't been an option in his mind. At least the food in the buffet was good and no one stared too openly at his hands. And his father's boss's house might have been a bit closer to what Sai meant with a 'mansion', what came to that. Not a bad place. He hoped he'd be able to do some exploring at some point.
Perhaps, Sai told him. But remember, we're quests here. You can't just do whatever you want to.
Yeah, yeah, I know. Hikaru was clearly paying more attention to his food than in what was being said to him.
Hikaru wasn't the only youngster in the room. His father's boss had apparently decided that this was a good time to get to know not just Masao's family, but quite many others as well. Though, as Sai noted to Hikaru who wasn't listening, he didn't seem to be spending much time 'getting to know' that many people.
"This is an important chance for me," Masao had impressed on them before the party. "I've never before been invited to my boss's home before. This is a sophisticated party, and you need to be on your best behavior." Technically he was talking to both Hikaru and Mitsuko, but his eyes had been dwelling on his son.
"Sure, dad," Hikaru had said lightly, his mind wandering somewhere far away, and Sai had sighed, deciding that he would do his best to chaperone the boy. So far, so good. People certainly did give the boy some odd glances at times, both at his hands and at his hair, and every now and then Mitsuko had to tell him in sharp whisper not to stuff himself at such rate, but at least the boy hadn't done or said anything rude. So far. It probably did help that most of the time his mouth was full of food.
Hikaru, Sai chided him as he headed toward the buffet one more time. Haven't you had enough yet?
This is good. What'd you know? You don't need to eat.
Even so. Look, there are some other boys talking in that corner. Why don't you go to talk with them?
Hikaru shot a look to the direction Sai indicated. I don't know. I'm not sure if I have much to say to them.
Don't be such a hermit, Hikaru! Come now, you can always try!
"Whatever." Hikaru approached the boys slowly, but stopped soon, hesitating. The boys, three of them, were all older than him. They were talking about computer games, or PlayStation, maybe, he wasn't quite sure. He stood there and listened, and thought it did actually sound kind of fun. Maybe he should ask for PlayStation for his next birthday.
Sai felt doubtful. Do you think one can play go on it? he asked
Hikaru shrugged. No clue. But it could be fun to play something else, too.
Now one of the boys had noticed him hovering behind them, and turned to look at him.
"Hey," he said. "I don't remember seeing you before. I'm Morioka."
"Narita," said another. The third one, youngest, stared at him a moment.
"Isobe," he said then. A short while Hikaru wondered why the name sounded familiar; then he realized it was his father's boss's name.
"Shindou Hikaru," he said, bowing his head a little.
"So, I take it your father works for my father," Isobe said, and Hikaru disliked him immediately. Not for the words themselves, but the way he said it, literally looking at him down his nose. "What does he do?"
"He…" Hikaru paused. What did his father do? He didn't have a clue. "Oh, he's got an important position. He's been awfully busy lately – I don't wanna brag, but his work is vital for the company."
Hikaru… Sai said in a slightly reproachful tone.
The boy was still staring at him with this slightly haughty look on his face, when his eyes fell on Hikaru's hands and he frowned
"What's the matter with your hands?"
All three were staring at them, and Hikaru too glanced at his hands self-consciously. "It's… it's just some kind of syndactyly, that's all." From the looks of the boys he figured they didn't know the word, but he wasn't about to start explaining. Their problem.
"We were just talking of our favorite games," Morioka said after a while. "You like gaming?"
Hikaru shrugged. "Dunno. I don't really play other games than go."
"Go?" For the fist time there was something akin to interest in Isobe's eyes. "You play go?"
The way he said it, skepticism clear in his voice, made Hikaru find him even more annoying.
"Yeah," he said with a tilt of his head. "Why not?"
"You just… didn't seem the type. Have you played long?"
"A few years. So, you play too?"
"Yes." Isobe was still watching him with a long, evaluating look, as if trying to figure out whether or not this conversation was worth carrying on. "I do," he said then, apparently deciding on the former.
Hikaru grinned. The guy couldn't be a total idiot, he figured, if he played go. "That's great! I don't know many kids of our age that play. Actually, just one."
"Oh?" Isobe raised his eyebrows at him. "Your school doesn't have a go club then?"
"Well… no." Hikaru didn't quite feel like starting to explain where he was from and what his school was like. He didn't know for sure, but he had a feeling that a single class in a school around here would have almost as many students as his school had altogether. "But I just met someone the other day," he went on, wishing to change the subject. "A guy called Touya Akira. It was fun playing with him." Until someone freaked out, he added in his mind, and felt mild embarrassment from Sai.
A sneer flashed on Isobe's face. "Touya Akira? You played against him? Must have been sheer slaughter."
"What?" Hikaru gave him a surprised look. "Why? He played pretty well!"
"Pretty well?" Isobe laughed out loud, a short, bitter bark. "Are you just stupid or are you trying to brag? I've played that guy and I…" He paused.
"Wow," Narita exclaimed. "I didn't know you've played with Touya Akira! Did you win?"
Isobe's face was very blank. "Not… quite. But anyway, the point is that I know the level of his go, and if you think you're impressing me when you say he played 'pretty well', as if you had won against him or something, you…"
"But I did win," Hikaru put in. Well, technically the game remained unfinished, but he most definitely could not have lost.
Isobe paused, stared at him. "You expect me to believe that?"
"I don't really expect anything," Hikaru said, frowning and beginning to grow annoyed again. "But I won."
"That," Isobe said with emphasis, "is just about as likely as your dad being of any importance. I'd know his name if he were. And I'd sure as hell know your name if you were good enough to beat Touya Akira!" he all but yelled.
I told you Akira is not 'just a kid', Sai stated. Hikaru wasn't listening.
"Just cause you lost to him doesn't mean no one else would be able to beat him either! Who do you think you are, some kinda go champion?"
"He is the child meijin," Narita pointed out, giving him a contemptuous look.
"So? That's supposed to impress me or something?"
"Hey, hey, calm down!" Morioka stepped between them as Narita took a step forward. "No need to start fighting here!"
"True," Isobe said, face calm again. "I don't want to cause a scene at father's party. But if you'll come with me, we can play a game. Someone needs to show this brat his place."
"Who's the brat here?" Hikaru retorted, but followed him.
They left behind the noise of the party and, passing through a hall and a stairway, reached a small study. Isobe took out a go board and sat down. Without waiting for invitation Hikaru took a chair and sat too.
"Shall we choose for color, or will you just take black?" Isobe asked. Hikaru rolled his eyes.
"Believe me, it makes no difference."
Isobe shrugged and gave black to him. No use to tell me play nice now, Hikaru thought to Sai as he took the first stone.
Sai sighed. I can see that, he just said.
Hikaru played his first move, and Isobe snorted at the way he held the stone. "Someone who claims to have beaten Touya Akira doesn't know how to hold the stones properly?"
Hikaru glared daggers at him. "You'd better pay more attention to my moves than to how I play them."
A tiny smile tugged Isobe's lips at that as he played his first move.
As the game proceeded, Hikaru gradually calmed down. He didn't lose his anger, but it turned, changed, from frothing like a sea in storm to an ice-cold determination. This would not be a long game.
After a few moves Hikaru was inwardly shaking his head. What was this guy doing, talking so big? He's nowhere near to Touya's level!
But still he is very good for his age, Sai said. Hikaru frowned, disbelieving. As I keep on telling you, Sai went on, sounding a little exasperated, Touya Akira is not just any kid.
Hikaru glanced at his opponent. Isobe was good enough to realize the game was not going well for him. He kept on trying, strained with each move to gain more territory, but no matter what he did, a wall of black stones rose in front of him.
So this was the level kids play at their best, Hikaru thought wonderingly. Now he understood better why Sai claimed people would find his skills so impossible.
This guy, he mused thoughtfully, wasn't half as good as Touya, but acted as if he were the best player in the world. Touya, on the other hand, had started playing a gentle teaching game with him, without a word of his own skills. Not to mention that his go was simply much more… inspirational. Isobe simply pursued territory with single-minded determination, seemingly unable to be imaginative with new moves when he faced new situations. A couple of times Hikaru made some tests, playing a stone just to see how he'd respond, and each time he guessed right where his opponent would play.
While Hikaru grew calmer, Isobe was growing clearly more and more shaken. His hands shook a little, and his eyes kept on darting frantically between Hikaru and the board. "Is this why you've done nothing about those hands?" he suddenly shrieked. Hikaru could just blink at him, failing to understand where that came from.
Isobe sat back, glowering at him. "They're freaky," he muttered. "Just freaky. You want to unsettle your opponents, don't you? And maybe you can use that extra skin to hide what you're really doing!"
Hikaru kept on staring at him, wide eyed. "What?"
"Like here!" Isobe pointed at a white stone on the board. "I'm sure I didn't play there! You've moved that, haven't you?"
"What?" Hikaru repeated, eyes flaring. "Don't blame your stupid moves on me! I don't cheat!"
Hikaru does not cheat! Sai echoed him, for the first time sounding genuinely angry.
"Did you notice anything?" Isobe asked his friends. Morioka was shaking his head, looking troubled, but Narita nodded eagerly.
"I'm sure the stone was somewhere here, closer to these stones," he said, pointing.
"That'd be even stupider move!" Hikaru snapped. "Look, I don't have to cheat to win against someone like you! You're just a sore loser, aren't you?"
"Cheater." Isobe spat the word out. "A freaky cheater, that's all you are. I can't believe father's let someone like you into our home. Say, is your dad too…"
"You shut up!" Hikaru stood up, slamming his palms against the table so that the go stones jumped. The anger was back, the frothing sea, and like Sai's fear during the game with Touya, it brought heightened sensations with it. He glared at the boy on the other side of the table, and almost could see the water in him. A moment he thought of just drawing it all out, and hopefully all go with it – for water, like go, was something too pure for this brat. He opened his mouth, but right then something slammed into him, within him, and he gasped a breath, stumbling.
"But I…" he breathed, straightening his back to look at the boy who was watching him with a glare.
No, listen to me. Ignore that boy, do you hear me! Hikaru! Something shook him again, but not so strongly. Get out. Just get out!
"Is something wrong with you?" Morioka, who was watching him worriedly. Hikaru turned and ran.
"I can't believe I've ran away from two go games now because of you," he said aloud to Sai. After some aimless wandering he had managed to find a door that led into a garden. He was now hunching down by a small fountain, listening to its rippling.
That game was over long before you left.
"Even so! What was that about? I wanted to… wanted to…"
Hikaru said nothing.
You don't understand, Sai went on. The power you have within you, it is strong enough to kill. You must not use it in anger.
Hikaru frowned. "Kill? But I was just… just…" He paused. What had he been planning to do? He wasn't sure. He shuddered a little. "He just made me so mad," he muttered.
That's understandable. But…
A voice cut him off. "So here you are!"
Hikaru glanced over his shoulder and saw Isobe together with his two friends.
"You're not supposed to be here. Get back in. I'm going to tell father I want you to leave."
Hikaru laughed out. "And your daddy let's you decide who can stay in his party and who not?"
"When I tell him you cheated in go he'll throw you out himself."
Hikaru stood up slowly and turned to look at them. "You're pathetic," he spat out. "Just pathetic. I'm happy to leave this place and I don't ever want to come back." He felt the anger again, but this time he concentrated on the water behind his back, determined to keep his emotions in check.
Isobe, turning to go, gave him a sidelong, expressionless look. "That's good. I doubt your father's coming back again, either. Actually, I'm going to make sure that my father will…"
Hikaru didn't listen to the end. He was in the water of the fountain, in the cold, clear water, as cold and clear as his anger. He felt the water surge up and he struck, hard and with good aim, the retreating boy's words a meaningless mumble in his ears. Morioka had time to glance back and he opened his mouth to shout a warning, but too late. A pillar of water rose from the fountain, high into the air, and suddenly it flew forward over Hikaru's head, hitting Isobe's back with strength. The boy flew forward of the impact and fell down, and a moment just lay there while everyone stared in silence. Then he wailed, long and high, and Narita rushed to him.
"Isobe! Are you okay?"
The boy kept on crying and calling for his parents, and anxious voices carried from the inside. Morioka stared at Hikaru, who gave him an expressionless look and started walking away, leaving the scene in silence.
Later that night when the three of them had returned to their little apartment, Hikaru was lying on the bed that had been made for him on the couch, listening to his parents' voices. They were sitting in the kitchen, talking quietly, and he couldn't separate the words, just the tone. Sai could have, possibly, told him what they were talking about, but he didn't want to ask.
The rest of the day had been, to say the least, interesting. Isobe's parents had rushed to the place together with most of the guests, and some wild accusations had been flying around – but honestly, wasn't it just ridiculous to claim that anyone could have caused the accident intentionally, made the water surge up like that?
No one had paid much attention to that claim, for it truly was much too crazy, and also the alleged cheating at go was at the moment ignored. Hikaru had followed the bustle from farther away. His parents came to him, said nothing, but he met his mother's eyes and saw the question in them. Grumpily he looked away, not volunteering any information, and he remained quiet all the way home.
He did feel a little guilty about it, though, once he found out that the surge of water had in fact been hard enough to crack two of Isobe's ribs. Sai said nothing, but he could feel a certain 'I did try to warn' sensation from him.
So what? Hikaru rolled over, drew the blanket to his ears. The boy was a jerk. He deserved it.
The kitchen door opened and someone entered the living room. He heard the footsteps approach and knew it was his father, both from the steps and the smell of his cologne.
"Hikaru?" Masao said quietly. "Are you asleep?"
A moment he considered just laying there, unmoving, hoping he'd go away. You need to speak with them, sooner or later, Sai whispered to him.
He sighed. "No I'm not," he muttered, and rolled to his back. His father sat down next to him and stayed quiet for a moment.
"Hikaru," he said finally. "I'm sure that whatever happened there, it wasn't your fault."
Hikaru looked up at him, long and hard. "And what if it was?" he asked quietly.
Masao frowned. "It couldn't have been," he said, but his voice didn't sound completely certain. "That's impossible. But even if it... somehow… were…" He paused, stared somewhere into emptiness. "You were fighting with Isobe's son, weren't you?" he suddenly asked.
"Kind of," Hikaru admitted. "But it's not…"
"Not your fault, either? Perhaps. And I should have warned you – everyone knows he's a spoiled brat."
"He said I cheated at go," Hikaru said sullenly.
"I heard. Did you?"
"Of course not!" Hikaru bolted up. "I'd never cheat!"
If Masao was taken aback by the fire in his son's eyes, he didn't show it. "That makes me happy," he just said. "But if it's true – that you were able to beat my boss's son, that is… you must be pretty good at go. We've all heard more than we care about the boy's skills – though who knows, maybe he's not that great, after all. But I hear he did win some big competition…"
He frowned, looking at his son. Hikaru lay back down. "This is partly why I'd want you two to move to Tokyo," he said. "It's not just that I miss you and Mitsuko, but I feel like I barely know you at all."
Hikaru said nothing for a moment. "I don't think I want to move to Tokyo," he said then in a small voice. "I'm sorry. I don't… like it here." He would have given much if he could have lain then in his own bed in their little house, where waters flowed as they should and the air wasn't full of something he couldn't name but that got stuck in his throat and stung his eyes.
"Well, let's talk about that tomorrow," Masao said after a moment's silence. "Good night." He stood up.
"Dad?" Hikaru said quietly as he started to leave. "Is this going to cause trouble for you?"
He shot a glance at his son and shook his head with a tiny smile. "Don't worry about that. It's going to be alright."
A couple of days later Hikaru and Mitsuko were back at home. His father had asked him to consider the move with time, not to make any hasty decisions, and Hikaru had nodded, not telling him that he would not change his mind.
Next time he logged into to Net Go, 'akira' was there. A message flashed on his screen.
Do you live in Tokyo?
Hikaru just stared at it, doing nothing. After a while another message appeared. Or were you just visiting? I think we met… Why did you run away like that?
Hikaru reached toward the keyboard, but hesitated.
I'd like to play with you again. A real game, not just net go. Could you come to the go salon again?
Or, if you for some reason really don't want to come, could we at least play online?
Hikaru clicked the browser close.
One night when school had again started and Hikaru was half-sprawling over his desk, supposedly doing his homework, his mind returned to the constant messages Akira was still sending. "You behaved so strangely in Tokyo, Sai," he stated. "With Touya, I mean. What made you so worried?"
…I've told you before you should be careful not to let people know your true skill. Either with go or water.
"Yeah, so you have. But that's just silly! Why not? You think they'd be jealous or something?"
Maybe it is partly jealousy, Sai said, sounding thoughtful. But above all… it's just dangerous.
"That's what you keep on saying! But why? You know Sai," Hikaru straightened his back and lowered the pen he had been twirling on the desk, "I think I'm going to send Touya a message and tell him that yeah, it was me."
"Unless you can give some sensible reason not to!"
Sai was quiet a long while, so quiet and still Hikaru barely sensed him.
When people found out about my skills, he finally said, slowly, hesitantly, it ended up with them thinking I'm some kind of a demon. I and my mother had to leave the capital – and she died – she was killed – soon after that.
"I… I'm sorry," Hikaru said, a little stunned. He could still, after a thousand years, feel the pain in Sai. "I didn't know. You've never told me anything!"
Because you were so young, Sai whispered. But maybe you're now old enough…
"Of course I am!" Hikaru exclaimed, and felt Sai's laughter. "So, you'll tell me now?"
After you've finished your homework.
"Sai! That's not fair!" Hikaru wailed, but Sai was adamant. Hikaru had no choice but to set intowork, and he was done with his math problems faster than ever before.
I think you made a mistake in…
"Who cares! I'm done." Hikaru snapped the book shut. "Start telling!"
And Sai did, of his life, of his mother and father, and the way he had spent most of his childhood shut into his mother's house. He told of the games he played when he left to explore the capital, and of the short, ill-fated visit at the palace. Hikaru grimaced as he told about his game with Sugawara no Akitada and its result.
"That guy's a jerk too," the boy said. "Just like Isobe."
A bit, Sai agreed. But, you see, Hikaru, after that game we had no choice but to escape from the capital, go into a voluntarily exile. And very soon after we ran into bandits, and they killed my mother. And I, he added in a whisper, killed them.
Hikaru digested that for a moment. He found it a strange idea to think of Sai killing anyone. But then again, if Sai hadn't been there to stop him, who knew what he would have done to Isobe? And Sai, at least, had a genuine reason to hate those men.
Feeling quite uneasy, he decided he didn't want to think about that any longer. "Is that when you… joined the water?"
Yes. I had nothing else left.
Hikaru thought about it. That story truly did explain many things about Sai. "But even so," he said aloud, "times have changed. People don't believe in demons anymore. That's just silly! No one would try to drive us away from our home because of something like that!"
Are you so sure about that? Times might change, the clothes people wear look different, but inside… are they that different inside?
"It's been a thousand years," Hikaru said firmly. "Trust me. People aren't silly superstitious fools anymore."
No, they just are fools in general. Sai sounded strangely sarcastic, perhaps even bitter. A thousand years isn't as long a time as you might think. Besides, I've not finished the story yet.
Hikaru looked up, surprised. "You've not?"
No. I haven't yet told you about Torajiro.
A/N: Isobe hideki, in the case you don't remember him, is that rather annoying kid from vol.18/ep.66 who goes out challenge Touya. Didn't turn out too well for him.
I told you I had met someone like us once before. That wasn't such a long time ago, either, just about hundred and fifty years or so…
That's not long?
…well, I guess everything's relative. Anyway, I found him totally by accident. Unlike you, I didn't know him from his birth and before – he was five years old when I met him. I hadn't been in that area, in Innoshima, for a long time, and I was examining the rivers and ponds there, finding some areas strangely changed. He was alone by the river bend, playing with water, making it swirl and foam. That's what drew me to him, and then I saw his hands, the same as mine and yours, and I can't tell you how thrilled I was. I was just about to greet him, when I heard voices approaching…
"There! There he is, I can see him!"
"Torajiro! What are you doing there! Come here right now!"
The boy glanced behind. "Look, mother! Look what I can do!" He waved his hand above the water, and a whirl appeared in there, twirling faster and faster, reaching all the way to the bottom.
A hand grasped his shoulder and pulled him back. "Torajiro! When I tell you to come, you come! Do you understand?"
"But, mother…" The boy tried to pull himself free. "It's fun!"
The woman shot a troubled look toward the river. "I've told you you may not come here alone. Did you already forget?"
"No, mother, I…" The boy froze, staring into the water. Then he smiled. "Hi!"
"What?" The woman glanced around, obviously at a loss. "Torajiro, let's…"
"There's someone in the water! Can't you see, mother?"
"That's enough!" She started walking away, dragging the child after her. "Have I not told you stop telling such stories? What would your father say if he heard you!"
"But, mother, really…!"
Shh, came a whisper from somewhere. She won't believe you anyway. But don't worry about it; it can be our secret.
The boy looked up but saw no one. Who are you? he asked quietly.
My name is Sai, the voice replied. And you are Torajiro, right?
The boy nodded, smiling, and didn't seem to mind at all when his mother informed him he would have to stay the rest of the day in his room. After all, now he had company – company to play with. It was hard to say who was more delighted to find the other played go, the boy or the water spirit, and the kept on playing long into the night.
Later, as the boy lay still awake on his futon, wondering about his new friend, he whispered into the dark, "So what are you? A mizuchi?"
Hardly, and that is good for you, the other answered laughing. You wouldn't want to meet a water dragon.
"I would," the boy insisted. "Are you a kappa, then?"
There was a moment's indignant pause. Kappa? Now, that is just… For one thing, my head is not filled with water. For another, I don't care for cucumbers.
"Then what are you?"
I am the same as you. A child born of water.
Torajiro smiled into the dark.
So you taught him too go?
We certainly played go. But I didn't have to teach him – much; he already knew the game. Just one year after I met him Lord Asano, the daimyo of the region, heard of him, played a game with him, and was impressed enough to allow Torajiro to study under his own personal trainer. And two years later, when he was eight years old, he was sent to Edo to join the Honinbo school. Edo… what they nowadays call Tokyo… was a much more pleasant place back then. And Torajiro received there the best teaching ordinary mortals could give him. Honinbo Shuwa-sama was an excellent player. I enjoyed my games with him very much.
Did you ever tell him it wasn't just this, this Torajiro he was playing against?
When Torajiro was twelve years old, he was one day called to meet the head of the Honinbo house, Honinbo Josaku.
What do you think it's about? he thought to his invisible companion.
Who knows, Sai replied. Perhaps the games you played when you were visiting your home…
You think? He didn't sound convinced.
I don't think you realize just what an exceptional player you are¸ Sai told him, but right then they reached the room where the Honinbo was waiting, and the boy didn't have a chance to reply.
Sai's guess had been correct. "Your games against Nakagawa Shunsetsu 5-dan were really quite remarkable. To think you won all four by resignation!"
"I had two stones in all the games," the boy stated, bowing his head.
"Even so. You are still a shodan – even with a two-stone handicap winning should have been hard enough for you. And Nakagawa-san himself said that he believed you would have won even if you just played black without handicap."
Of course he would have won, Sai put in. He would have won even if Nakagawa-san had the two stones!
Hush, Sai. "Nakagawa-sensei is very kind," the boy said, bowing again.
"We have been talking about it," Josaku went on, "and we have decided that it is a high time for you to be promoted to 2-dan. In addition, you will change your name as befits your promotion and skill."
"I'm honored," was all the boy said, but he grimaced inwardly to his companion. Why do I have to change my name again? I like my current one.
I still prefer Torajiro, though, Sai said, smile in the voice, and the boy tossed his head.
That little child's name? When will you stop using it? His tone, though, was amused, and Sai just laughed.
"Shusaku," Honinbo Josaku said, and the boy who at the moment was still called Yasuda Eisai by the world bowed.
"I am honored to take such a name," he repeated. He would have wanted to add, do I have to, but he knew better than that.
It's a good name, Sai whispered to him. Very profound. 'Skilful strategy.' Though, of course, totally unimaginative. Just combining the first part of Shuwa's name to the end of his own! Why can't people come up with new names? I think I'll stick to Torajiro.
The boy bit back a laughter, carefully keeping his face impassive as the Honinbo went on talking about the ceremonies. Hey, by the way, what was your childhood name? If you call me by mine, I think I have the right to use yours.
What? Mine? I… For a moment Sai's essence that flowed around the boy grew murky, like a pond the bottom of which was stirred by a stick, but it went soon over. Kagemaru.
Kagemaru, huh? Alright, as long as you call me Torajiro, I'll be calling you Kagemaru.
Fine for me, Sai replied, a little sad smile in his voice.
The name Shusaku became quickly known across the country, and the boy was steadily promoted. At the age of fourteen he had reached the fourth dan. He could have progressed even faster but, not to attract too much attention on himself, he…
Wait. Wait, wait, wait! Shusaku? At the Honinbo school? Sai, do you mean he's actually Honinbo Shusaku? You could have told me you knew him! Why didn't you ever say anything? You know I love his games!
For one thing, I didn't want you to start asking questions. I figured there'd be time to tell it later.
So did you see his ear-reddening game?
…I think I hate you a little, Kagemaru.
Hush now, Hikaru. And please, don't use that name. Let me continue. I remember that game quite well. It took place when Torajiro was seventeen, and on his way back to Edo from his old home where he spent a year and a half…
On the way he met Gennan Inseki, one of the strongest players of that time, who wanted to play a game against him. It might have been that Gennan simply wanted to see if this famous pupil of the Honinbo school was as great as the rumors said, but perhaps he also harbored a wish to crush his opponent – after all, it had first been Honinbo Jowa and then his student Shuwa who had kept him from ever becoming the Meijin Godokoro, the go teacher for the shogun – and not always with clean methods. He soon found out, though, that the two-stone handicap he'd given for the boy was too much, and he suspended the game without finishing it. They started a new one, with Torajiro playing this time black without a handicap.
The boy started the game laxly, not wanting to win too blatantly, but as Gennan caught him with a new variation, he suddenly realized that he had given his opponent too big a lead. Long it seemed he would be unable to catch up, but then he played a move that turned Gennan's ears red, and Sai applauded, whirling about around them.
Wonderful, Torajiro! Wonderful! You can yet make it! That was the most beautiful move I have ever seen!
Take it easy, Torajiro told him, a little amused. You could have played it too.
Perhaps. Sai paused. Perhaps. Though who knows if I would have seen it…
If not, you would have seen something even better, Torajiro replied calmly. Now, please, I need to concentrate.
The game ended in Torajiro's victory. The word of it spread fast, even faster than he could travel, and preceded him to Edo. His teacher, Honinbo Shuwa, received him quite warmly.
"A brilliant move," he mused, as Torajiro recreated the game for him. "Brilliant. Closest to the divine move that I have seen."
Torajiro bowed. "You're too kind."
He's not, Sai put in. If that move is not divine, I don't know what is.
Hush. Torajiro blushed a little. "…too kind," he repeated, in a mumble.
"I think," Shuwa said, "that it is high time for you to join the clan of Honinbo. Don't you agree?"
Certainly! Sai exclaimed. Torajiro, on the other hand, was simply staring at his teacher with wide eyes.
"Josaku-sama gave me the permission to tell you the news," Shuwa went on. "We have been talking about this for long, and we all agree. Josaku-sama is not, as you know, in good health, and I am afraid the time when I will succeed him is not far. We all agree that it is best to secure the line of succession as early as possible. And truly, there can be no other candidate than you."
"What?" was all Torajiro could say, and for once even Sai was quiet.
"We wish you to take our name and become the heir. You will also have Jowa's daughter Hana for your wife."
Torajiro closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, there was a determined look in them. He bowed, deep.
"I am greatly honored by this offer," he said, "but I must decline."
Honinbo Shuwa stared at him, then touched his ear as if he wondered if there was something wrong with it. "Why?"
"I owe much to the Asano family, as you know. I still receive a stipend from Lord Asano, and… I can't in good conscience to ignore my debt to them, and to my other benefactors at my home. I cannot accept."
"A reasonable objection," Shuwa said thoughtfully. "I shall think about this. I am sure we can reach an understanding."
Honinbo Shusaku, Sai said, later that night when Torajiro was preparing for bed. It doesn't sound bad.
No, Torajiro agreed. Though I'm not sure if it sounds like me, either.
And what about Hana? Do you also object to marrying her? Sai asked with a smile in his voice.
Torajiro crawled into his bed and said nothing.
It took some time, most likely longer than the heads of the Honinbo school had thought, to arrange everything so that Torajiro could accept their proposal. They attempted to talk him over a few times, but he was adamant in his decision, showing considerable strength of character for a seventeen-year-old. It certainly did not make it easier for him that Hana was a part of the bargain. When did you start thinking of her like that? Sai wondered. How did I notice nothing? Torajiro just blushed, said nothing and remained resolute.
In the end, the hoped-for goal was reached. It took quite a complicated and long process, using different mediators, but finally the Asano clan relinquished its claim on Torajiro. Sai wasn't quite sure if the boy was happy or terrified when the news reached him.
He wandered off alone that night, all the way to the Great River, and sat down there, watching the dark water.
Are you worried? Sai asked him. There's no need! It's easy to see you're on the right path in your life. And Hana is such a gentle woman, she will be a good wife for you!
"Will I be a good husband to her?" Torajiro muttered aloud, eyes following restlessly the little waves of the river. "Sometimes… sometimes it feels like… I'm not sure if I'm meant to be living like this."
How else could you live, then? Sai sounded genuinely confused.
"I don't know. I just know that I have avoided water cause you told me to, that I have devoted every single day to go – and it does help, as you said – but… even so, I hear the call every moment, and it's stronger day by day and…"
You shouldn't follow it, Sai cut him off. Not yet. The water won't be going anywhere – don't you want to live your life first, to its fullest?
Torajiro sighed. "I guess. But there is another thing I've been thinking about…" He paused, and Sai waited, patiently, not wanting to rush him. "I have such control over water," the boy finally muttered. "Is it alright for me to ignore that gift? I've been thinking that maybe I should try to use it. I don't know yet how, but certainly there must be a way it could be off help for people."
You don't really have control over water, Sai put in. It's just that you are a part of water, yourself, and so you can, to some extent, use it – but don't imagine you control it. No one can truly control it.
"Even so!" Torajiro straightened his back and looked up. "As you say, I can use it. So, why shouldn't I?"
I've told you before how dangerous it can be if others find out about you.
"Yes… but I still hate hiding what I am like this." he raised his hands up, looking at them. "People can see my hands, and they are willing to ignore them – surely they would not mind other strange things, either."
Sai, floating in the river's water, heaved out a sigh that caused little ripples on the waves. Be careful. Think closely what you tell and to whom.
"I have already thought about it." Torajiro's voice was firm, and Sai knew there was no use to try talking him out of it. "I'll tell Hana when we get married."
It took still a while for the marriage to take place, though, and as it was, Honinbo Josaku died before it could happen. What was more surprising and so also more shocking was that just two months later Honinbo Jowa, Hana's father, died as well. This put the marriage off even further.
One day, just a few weeks after the death of her father, Torajiro was taking a walk with his betrothed. They were in fact accompanied by some other disciples of the school, but the others stayed as a group of their own, talking about the castle games that had just ended, and though Sai was around, at times listening into the discussion, at times disappearing somewhere on a whim, he too in general left the young couple alone to give them some privacy.
It was the end of November and not the loveliest day for a walk, but even so Hana had expressed a wish to get out even for a moment, and Torajiro was quick to fulfill that wish. They had headed first with carriages to the forest at the edges of the city, where they could be at peace, unbothered by people who might think such walks unsuitable for a young woman who was in mourning. The sky was gray and the wind chilly, but the trees were still blazing with color, red and golden, and as they walked, Hana every now and then bent to pick a leaf or two, soon having a big bunch of them in her hands.
Umm, Sai…? Is this gonna be a love story?
…Hikaru, please. Don't interrupt me.
They were close to the river, and Torajiro could smell it in the air. He breathed it in, deep, trying to suck in calm out of it. Hana walked by his side, quietly, the leaves in her hands and a tiny strange smile tugging her lips as she glanced at him. He wasn't quite sure what to make out of those looks, so he said nothing, just walked on as if he had noticed nothing. All the time, though, he was painfully aware of her presence, and couldn't help wondering why it bothered him so. He had known her since he was a child and first came to Edo, and though he had never been able to spend much time with her, he had always liked her (and she had liked him, he was sure.) It was strange how the prospect of marriage had so unsettled him.
Step after step he was growing more restless, and finally he stopped. Hana looked at him questioningly, that same little smile on her lips, but he noticed her eyes were shadowy. He glanced away, ill at ease.
There was a path that took off from the one they were walking on, and he could feel it heading toward the river.
"Would you like to walk by the river?"
She tilted her head, giving the path a look. "Why not, if you want to."
They went down the little path, and the smell of the river grew stronger in his nose. He could hear it now, too, and taking a deep breath finally felt calm spreading into himself. Slowly the river came into view among the trees, and he smiled as he saw it. He glanced at Hana – a young woman who in fact was a few years older than him, but so petite that seemed still like a girl – and saw her following him, still carrying the leaves, still smiling, but the same hollowness in her eyes, and he felt twinge of pain in his chest.
"I wish I could make you smile like you used to," he said suddenly. "And I will yet, one day."
Hana gave him a surprised look, for he wasn't prone to say such things.
"I realize it will take time, though," he went on. "And although it pains me to see you like this, it would be a great wrong to you father were you to forget him so soon."
He hadn't known Jowa that well, and during the eight years he had been studying at the Honinbo school, he had played only one game against the man – and that one hadn't been a serious game, played at a party celebrating the promotion of a Honinbo disciple. It had been left unfinished, and Jowa clearly hadn't exerted himself, perhaps feeling that his position was too elevated for him to engage in a competitive game against a disciple.
He was sorry about that, for he truly would have wanted to play a proper game against the former Meijin. He had thought he'd yet get his chance, perhaps once he officially would be the heir, but as it was... A moment he was angry, thinking about the games he would never get to play, and then, suddenly, embarrassed, for what did those unplayed games matter compared toHana having lost her father?
"I just wish you will remember, always, that you can count on me from now on," he finished his little speech, and the smile returned to her lips. Still, it didn't quite reach her eyes, but there was something warm in them as she looked at him.
"I know," she said. "You're a good man. I'm lucky to get you for my husband."
"I hope so," Torajiro muttered, looking away with a blush. Then he turned back to her, watching her seriously. "So you mean nothing about this… bothers you? About… me, I mean?"
He made a little move with his hand, as if to raise it but let it self-consciously drop by his side. She grasped it, though, and raised it up, examining the thin skin between his fingers. "You mean this?" she asked. "No. It is strange, but… why should it bother me? Say, is this something that runs in your family? Is it likely that our children will have hands like this?"
She looked up at him questioningly, and he felt himself blush again at the mention of children. "No. At least there are no records of anything like this. Of course, I can't know what my potential chi-children will be like."
Something amused flashed on her face at the way he stuttered over the word. "Well, that remains to be seen, then," she said and let go of him. She turned to watch the river.
The day was gray, and the river too, coursing through the forest, seemed lifeless and dreary, its water the color of lead. Some nearby trees with their bright foliage reflected from it, but it did little to change the dullness of the view.
"Why did you want to come here?" she asked quietly.
He stood by her side, watching the river, and gathered his courage.
"There are so many things you don't know about me…" he started, wondering how to best approach it. She gave him yet one of those hard-to-read glances.
"And there are so many things you don't know about me," she said, cutting off his chain of thought.
"Eh, yes… of course, but…" For a moment he hoped Sai were around, to help him find the right words. "But… the thing is…I really should tell you something…"
"Yes?" She looked at him expectantly as he just stood there.
"I have always," he started softly, "had this strangest… connection to water. It follows me, always, everywhere, an inseparable part of me… I think it is, partly, what makes me such a good go player."
"Water?" she asked, clearly not quite understanding what he was talking about.
"Yes." He looked down to the river, to the gray water, hearing its whisper, feeling its pull… so very familiar through all his life.
Look, mother! Look what I can do!
He smiled a little and bent down toward the river, looking hard into the water. A whirl appeared in it twirling round and round, and slowly he raised it higher, so that it rose from the river like a tiny whirlwind made of water.
"What…" A rustle of clothes as Hana moved closer. "Are you…"
He glanced up at her with a smile, but seeing her expression, wide eyes and partly open mouth, withdrew his will from the water and let it fall down.
"It's alright," he said standing up. "Don't be scared. I just…"
"I'm not scared," she cut him off, but the look of her eyes contradicted that statement. "How could I be scared of you? No, I'm simply…simply… I have no word for it, but it's not fear, I know that. Or maybe it is…" She reached for his hand and grasped it again, examining it much in the same way as a moment earlier, but the look in her eyes was quite different. "How did you do it?" she whispered. "Have you always been able to… does anyone know?"
He shook his head. "No. You're the first I've told. But I was thinking about telling people. I'm tired of hiding what I am."
"And what are you, then?" she muttered, still giving him a troubled look. "No. Don't. Please, don't… let people know." He shook his head, about to say something, but grasping his hand tighter she didn't give him a chance. "Don't! Please. It would… it would just cause trouble. I know it would. If I did not know you so well, even I… I would…" She swallowed. "I don't want to lose you too. So please, be careful. Don't give anyone reason to think there is something strange about you. Promise me! Promise me you will never let anyone know!"
"Alright, alright! Calm down, there's no need to get so upset about this." He took a hold of her shoulders and looked her evenly into the eyes. "Honestly, Hana-dono, don't take it so. But if it bothers you so much, I…" He paused, watching her face for a long while. "Alright," he said then with a sigh. "I promise."
She smiled, a little weakly. "Good. Let's go away from here." The look she gave the river was long and dwelling, and somehow distrustful.
They had barely taken two steps when voices approached them in the forest.
"There they are, I think I can see them!"
"Hey, Shusaku, next time you want some time alone, tell us first so we don't have to wonder where you disappeared!"
His friends appeared from the forest, laughing and chatting, and the two, both with slight blushes, left the river with them, ignoring their teasing remarks.
So much about it then, Sai stated that night when Torajiro was alone in his room.
The youth frowned. I thought you were going to stay away.
I was. But then I felt you playing with the water and came to take a look. It seems nothing's going to change, for now. Did she say anything about it later?
"No," Torajiro said aloud. Overall, she behaved as if nothing had happened, he went on quietly. He gave a sigh. I want to be with her… but I'd also want to, finally, be myself. Apparently I can't have both…
That, I have noticed, in general seems to be the trouble with life. People never get all they want, and it usually ends badly when they try to get everything. Just be happy with what you have.
Torajiro sighed again. "Easy to say," he muttered.
Time passed, and Hana never mentioned again what he had told her that day. Torajiro did notice how she, at times when she thought he wasn't looking, stared at his hands, but always when their eyes met she would smile, and she never hesitated taking his hand when he offered it.
Between Sai's warnings and his promise to her he decided to continue living as he had lived so far. That uncertain feeling of not quite being where he was meant to be didn't go away, though; on the contrary it grew stronger as time went by. He took long walks when the restlessness hit him, accompanied only by Sai. Usually they were engaged into fierce matches of blind go on those walks, but more and more often Torajiro declined the game and just walked, deep in his own thoughts he didn't share with Sai.
Sai couldn't really say anything about the problem. He didn't remember ever having such feelings, but then again, as he pointed out to Torajiro, he had always had his pendant to quell the water's effect – and he had been much younger when his life had ended.
But let me know if anything changes, he told Torajiro worriedly during one of those walks. For better or worse, you understand?
Of course, Torajiro replied, but he sounded absentminded, and Sai wondered if he really heard what he had said.
In the end the next year was almost over before everything was, officially, in order. In mid-December Torajiro, accompanied by his teacher Shuwa, went to the Edo Castle for an audience with the shogun. The marriage took place soon after this. A year later a daughter was born, small and delicate, and to the relief of both of her parents in all appearances completely normal human child. Torajiro named her Izumi, 'a spring', and if his wife would have preferred some less watery name, she said nothing.
From then on life seemed to proceed quite normally. Torajiro's fame as a go player grew, and he was steadily promoted everyyear. The restlessness still followed him, but with his new family and position as the Heir he didn't have much time to dwell on it. He devoted himself to the game during that time, gradually beginning to play his games to his true ability. His free time he spent with his daughter, teaching her go for which she seemed to have some natural ability and interest, and after a while stopped his long, lonely walks. Sai hoped quietly that perhaps the busy family life would in the end cure the restlessness altogether.
Izumi grew into a pretty little girl, the image of her mother. Though she clearly had not inherited her father's stranger qualities, she did have a strong fascination to water. As a little child she would have bathed every day (twice, if just possible), and she never missed a chance to go jumping in the puddles after a rain, no matter how many times she was chastised for such unladylike behavior. Sai assured Torajiro (who in his turn assured his wife) that there was no deeper connection to water and nothing to worry about.
For years they were allowed to live happy family life, but the end for that came abruptly, without a warning. During Izumi's eighth summer they traveled to Innoshima to spend some time in Torajiro's old home. His mother and wife had always got along fine, and with time they had developed into good friends. Kame absolutely adored her granddaughter, although, as Hana observed, she didn't seem to like the girl's love for water, and commanded her quite strictly to stay away from the river. Curious, Hana led the discussion on, and soon heard a plethora of stories from the childhood of her husband, all of them involving more or less watery accidents. She glanced thoughtfully toward Torajiro who at the moment was playing a game with the girl on the terrace, wondering just how much his mother truly knew.
During that visit, in the peace of his home town, Torajiro started taking the long walks again. Now, though, he seemed more relaxed than before on his aimless wanderings, and when Sai remarked on this, he smiled.
"I simply feel more at home here," he said. "I don't know, maybe it's something in the air. Or, in my case it most likely is something in the water. This little river," he stopped on a hill and looked down to it, "has always felt like home to me."
Perhaps it is where you were born, Sai said. I know I'm still often drawn to that lake that gave birth to me.
Torajiro frowned. "Isn't it our mothers who gave birth to us?"
Well, yes, but… you know what I mean. What gave birth to this certain side of us…
"So what is it, really, that gave birth to us?" Torajiro asked. "You've never told me. What are we really?"
…I haven't told you because I don't really know. The water itself, perhaps, or some part of its essence getting into an unborn child still developing in its mother's womb. But I don't know how or why. I've been wondering about it for long, and I'm not sure if I'll ever figure it out.
Torajiro stood still in silence for a moment. "How long are you going to live?" He asked then suddenly, startling Sai a little.
"How long are you going to live?"
I… have never thought about that. But over 800 years have already passed and nothing has changed for me… long, I'd say.
"So you don't ever think of death? Of what happens after? Do you think, if the likes of us will be reincarnated, will we be like this again, or…" He let the sentence trail off. Sai watched him, wondering and a little confused, but there was nothing on his face to tell what he was thinking.
I must admit I have never thought about such things, Sai finally said. Who knows. Perhaps.
"Perhaps." Torajiro sat down, still watching the river. Then he smiled. "So, Kagemaru, would you play a game with me?"
Of course! Sai exclaimed, and soon they were immersed into a world of their own.
One evening, when Torajiro was returning from a walk, running steps approached and Hana rushed to him.
"Have you seen Izumi?" she panted before he could ask what was wrong. "We can't find her anywhere!" she cried out as he shook his head. "What if she has fallen into the river…"
"I don't think so…" Torajiro looked away, feeling the water. Sai? he asked, just in case.
She's not at the river, Sai replied. Or at least not in it.
"She has not," Torajiro said firmly. "But we still must find her. Is everyone looking?"
She nodded. "We have been, for a while. I don't understand where she has gone, and it will get dark soon…" She was wringing her hands, looking desperate, and Torajiro placed his hand on her shoulder.
"Don't worry. I'll find him."
I'll look too, Sai said, and his presence vanished. And it wasn't, most likely, surprising that in the end it was he who was the first to find Izumi.
She is at the rocky bend in the river, watching the water foam, he whispered to Torajiro, who stopped and frowned.
"That far? How did she… well, who cares. I know where she is," he added to Hana, who was watching him confusedly.
"I just… do. It's a bit of a walk, but don't worry, she's okay." Will you see to it that she stays okay, too? he added to Sai quietly.
I'll do my best, Sai promised.
They started hurrying toward the river, followed also by other searchers. It took a while, but finally they reached the river, and as Sai had given him no reports in the meanwhile, Torajiro figured – hoped – that nothing had happened. And soon he saw the girl, crouching on the rocks and watching the foam, as Sai had said.
"Izumi!" Hana shouted. "What are you doing there! Come here right now!"
He had a short moment of déjà-vu there – how often had his mother called after him like that – and for a moment finally understood the constant worry she had had to feel through his entire childhood, but it wasn't quite the time for such guilty reflections. Besides, he knew this river very well, and here the flood was strong, coursing by the rocks with foam and froth, making this a dangerous place.
The girl stood up, waving. "Hi! Isn't it pretty here!"
"Izumi," Torajiro said in his no-nonsense-tolerated voice. "Come here, carefully. The wet stones can be…" He got no further when the girl slipped.
Hana screamed, the men who had followed them were shouting, and somewhere in the back of his mind he could feel Sai too reaching for the girl, but even the water spirit wasn't as fast as he. Torajiro was in the water, flew through it to his daughter when Hana's first scream just broke the air, and he stood up, holding onto the girl.
"Izumi!" Hana was shouting, apparently not even noticing anything strange had happened. The men fell silent, though, staring at him with wide eyes as he walked to the shore, surefooted on the slippery rocky bottom. He gave the startled, crying girl to her mother, who grasped her strongly to her chest. "Izumi! Did you hurt yourself?"
Torajiro stood in the water watching the scene, when he suddenly became aware of Sai shouting something at him, voice frantic.
"What?" he asked, or thought he did, but he had a strange feeling, as if he had water in his mouth.
Get out of the water while you still can! Now, Torajiro!
Only now he realized how the men on the shore were staring at him. And Hana, too… she raised her eyes from her still crying daughter and they widened with horror as they settled on him.
What? he asked again, confused.
Get out! Sai shouted again. He took a step, planning to rise on the shore, but found it difficult. The water flowing round his feet made them feel heavy, and as he glanced down he realized he didn't quite know where his feet ended and the water begun.
"What is it?" the men were shouting on the shore. "A water demon!"
"Shusaku," Hana whispered.
Hold on! Sai was shouting. You can still do it! I'll help you, don't let the river claim you!
He tried again, and this time he was able to raise one leg just a little out of the water. The men on the shore gave out frightened shouts, and he wondered what they were seeing.
"It is a demon! Look at it change!"
"No!" Hana sprung to her feet. "It's Shusaku, can't you see!" She tried to reach for him, but the men held her back.
"Hana-dono, don't! Don't let it trick you!"
"Dear gods," someone whispered. "Look at his hair! Has he always been like this…?"
Like what? Torajiro thought to himself, as he painfully slowly was finally able to drag a foot completely out of water and place it on the shore. He paused, staring at it – his foot, yes, but strangely transparent and shivering, as if it had trouble to keep its shape. Only now his eyes fell on a pile of clothes lying rumpled on the shore, and suddenly, to his embarrassment, he realized he had to be naked.
That's not important right now! Sai's voice, and while the water was sucking him back, someone was pushing him out of it. Get out while you still can! Concentrate!
Kagemaru, he whispered. Yes. He closed his eyes and tried to feel himself, feel the ground under one foot and separate himself from the water that lapped against the other, pull apart, even though it hurt. Something was happening, he could feel it, and hear it also in the frightened gasps of the men on the shore. Now he started to raise the other foot, and it was easier, much easier, and he opened his eyes, smiling with relief as he saw the foot look, if still a little pale, otherwise like a normal human foot.
And then he stood there, on the shore, dripping water and shivering, trying to find words to assure everyone that everything was alright, but his tongue didn't obey. Hana picked up his kimono and placed it on his shoulders, wrapping him into it and covering also his hair, which suddenly reached down his back. Most of the men had turned and ran as he came on the shore, but a couple remained, and they helped them back, one carrying the girl, the other – though a little wild-eyed – helping Hana to support him, for suddenly his feet felt like water, about to give away under him.
Izumi got through the ordeal with just a scratch on one hand from a sharp rock, and, of course, a bad fright that gave her nightmares for nights to come. For Torajiro, getting better was harder. If before he had said he felt the pull of the river, now he didn't anymore know how to describe the feeling. It was as if a part of himself was missing. For days he didn't speak – not aloud, that is, for every time he thought he said something, he really didn't, and the only one to hear him was Sai. And nights passed without sleep with him floating in the dark, not sure if he still was himself or about to soak into the ground like water.
The story of what had happened spread fast. Two disciples of the Honinbo school had been with them at the river, and they headed straight to Edo, still frightened. Most who heard their story didn't know what to make out of it, but it was clear that something had greatly terrified these normally level-headed men. Shuwa, the current head of the school, sent a message asking about the heir's condition. Hana sent a short reply, simply stating that Shusaku was sick. Shuwa's reply was just as short, telling them to return to Edo as soon as his condition allowed traveling.
As Hana too wished to return to the capital as soon as possible, to get away from the river and its effect, they started the journey quite soon, although Torajiro wasn't yet quite himself. Once they reached Edo Shuwa came right away to see them, asking what truly had happened. When both husband and wife remained quiet, he gave them a strict look.
"The city is buzzing with rumors. You don't have to tell me what happened if you don't want to, but at least you have to appear publicly, deny that there is anything strange going on." He gave Torajiro a long look, taking in his pale face, the dark circles under his eyes, and his look that didn't quite focus. "Can you do that?"
As Torajiro still said nothing Hana nodded in his stead. "Of course. He is still weary because of his illness, but…"
The word was quiet, almost inaudible. Hana paused and looked at her husband.
"No," Torajiro repeated. "I can't… I won't deny anything. I am what I am."
"Don't you understand?" Shuwa exclaimed. "The rumor has it you're some kind of a water demon! Our opponents are saying that the reason for our heir being such an unnaturally brilliant player is just because he is unnatural!"
A weak smile tugged Torajiro's lips. "But that is just the truth, isn't it?"
Shuwa sat back, watching him tightlipped. Torajiro had nothing more to say, and nothing they could say would turn his head. In the end Shuwa saw no other choice but to name a new heir. For the official reason he simply stated that Torajiro's current illness prevented him from taking care of the duties of the heir, but this of course did nothing to quell the rumors. There were those who said it wasn't enough, that the school should completely disown him, but Shuwa couldn't be so hard to someone he had come to think as a son.
Torajiro was in the end the one to ease the situation, saying he would give up the name of Honinbo and return to his childhood home. Hana was strongly opposed to this.
"I can't bring Izumi there, you know that!" was the main argument she used. "Not close to that river! She still has nightmares about it. Besides, it can't be good for you to go there, either. Please, you have to reconsider this."
But Torajiro was adamant in his decision, and in the end he left on his own. "Don't worry," he said to Hana on the day he was leaving. "I won't be alone."
And Sai had, just as adamantly, decided he wouldn't leave Torajiro alone for a single moment. He too had opposed the return to the river, for he knew its proximity wouldn't help Torajiro to regain his balance, but his objections were equally ignored.
Back in Innoshima days passed deceptively peacefully. Torajiro kept to himself, spending most of the days walking, but thankfully he seemed to be avoiding the river's direction. Here, too, people were clearly frightened of the rumors – Sai could see the fear even in Torajiro's parents' eyes when their son wasn't looking – but as long as he bothered no one they didn't seem to be inclined to bother them. And as Torajiro gradually started sleeping better, eating more and gaining some color on his cheeks again, Sai relaxed, beginning to believe everything would yet be alright.
…perhaps I relaxed too much, too soon. One night I returned to his room to check on him and found him gone. It didn't take me long to locate him – or his body, rather. I don't know how he managed to do it so quietly I never noticed anything, how I did not feel anything in the waters… I found him in the river, drowned. If I only had kept true to my decision never to leave him alone…
I don't know how he did it, either. Somehow he found a way to give away what was water in him – even his hands had lost their web, there were just shreds left of it. It must have been hard for him to hold himself together, stay human, as he entered his birth waters. But he did it, and died as a human. I hope he has been reborn as one, too.
A/N: I… don't think Honinbo Shusaku had any children? At least I've not been able to find any mentions of them. But then again, it was surprisingly hard to find out pretty much anything about his family – like, for example, his wife's name. Just for the record, it really was Hana, and his mother's name was Kame. And some more name trivia, now that I got started: Shusaku was born as Kuwabara/Kuwahara Torajiro (it's uncertain which reading of his family name was used) This was his mother's family name. His father, Yasuda Wazo, married into the family. I've no idea why Torajiro for a while used his father's family name (first being Yasuda Eisai, and then Yasuda Shusaku) before he took the Honinbo name. The name Eisai amuses me, though, just because in Finnish it's like No-sai. That's why I wanted to have it mentioned in the fic at least in passing. But people really changed names a lot those days!
Chapter 4: Akari
The last year of elementary school reached its end quite uneventfully. Hikaru's mother was shaking her head at his grades, but at least the school life had been void of any watery disasters after that event on the second grade, something that made her extremely thankful, not to mention – after what happened in Tokyo – somewhat astonished.
Hikaru didn't change his mind about moving to Tokyo, and his parents didn't stand against his decision, perhaps a little unnerved, not quite understanding exactly what had happened at that New Year's party. So they kept their arrangement, with Hikaru and Mitsuko living in their little house a few hours' drive from Tokyo. Hikaru's new middle school was in a neighboring town, a half-an-hour bus trip away, which was a bit of a pain. Akari went to the same school, so they often traveled together, with her chatting of this and that, and Hikaru nodding off or attempting to read the newest volume of the Go Weeklymagazine, which his parents had ordered for him for his birthday.
The school was clearly bigger than their old elementary school. Once again, the initial curiosity his hands aroused was great, but this time Hikaru took it much more calmly, answering the questions shortly and to the point, not wanting to dwell on the matter. He was aware he was fast beginning to gain the reputation of some kind of a lone freak, what with his hands, aloof behavior and interest in go. He didn't care, though; he was perfectly happy to spend his days as he had so far, with Sai as his company. There was one annoying thing in middle school though: mandatory club activity.
Hikaru stood by the info board, eyeing through the ads. Basketball, soccer, kendo, swimming club, art club, literature… none of it really appealed to him.
Is there no go club? Sai asked.
Apparently not. But that's fine, I don't think I'd be joining it even if there were one.
What? Sai sounded genuinely astounded. Why not?
Hikaru snorted. You actually think they would know how to play go in a school club?
Hikaru! Don't be nasty. You could teach them!
"What," Hikaru muttered aloud. "You want me to become a go club tutor? As if." Besides, if there isn't a go club, there isn't. Can't be helped. "So, what about the swim club?"
I really don't think that's a good idea.
"I guess." Hikaru sighed. "Well, there's no hurry with this yet, so. Let's think about it."
He most likely would not have thought much about it, but in the bus Akari came to sit next to him.
"Have you decided which club to join?" she asked after a cheerful greeting.
Hikaru took a more comfortable position and closed his eyes, planning to sleep if she'd only let him. "Not yet."
"So, how about… a go club?"
"What?" His eyes snapped open and he frowned at her. Akari was watching him with an excited look in her eyes. "There isn't a go club, you know!"
"I know!" she agreed cheerfully. "But you could start one!"
Hikaru's brain paused for a moment. "…what?"
He gave a snort and leaned back again. "So you haven't yet found a club either, huh? What makes you think I'd want you in my go club?"
"Hikaru! Why not? I heard from your mom that you still play. And she said you're possibly pretty good? So why shouldn't you start a go club? There could be others who want to join!"
She's right Hikaru! I think it's a great idea! Sai sounded excited.
You start the go club, then.
Hikaru~! Why not? Sai wailed at the same time as Akari asked, "Hikaru, why not?"
"Gah!" He grimaced and placed his hands on his ears. "Be quiet!" Both of you. "I want to nap."
Next day Hikaru went to see the principal.
"A go club?" The principal was watching the boy with a rather surprised look on his face. "Yes, it is true that our school hasn't had a go club for years. There was one but it died out. There hasn't been much interest for one."
"There is now," Hikaru stated shortly. He didn't like the principal. It was something about the smell of the man, some strange personal odor he couldn't quite name and barely felt, but it tickled his noise and made him annoyed.
"Well." The man sat behind his desk, giving him a heavy-lidded look. "Well. If you get enough members, we can consider it."
"A go club!" Akari exclaimed excitedly. "I'm pretty sure I can at least get Kumiko to join! And I can ask around! Surely we get enough members!"
"Yeah," Hikaru muttered. Sai too was bubbling with excitement, but somehow he couldn't quite feel it. "I guess we should make a poster too, or something."
Within the next week they had three more members – Akari's friend, and two boys. Hikaru was watching the little group thoughtfully in the classroom where they were meeting.
"So?" Akari asked, still brimming with enthusiasm. "What shall we do?"
"Do?" Hikaru glanced at her. "Play go, what else?"
"Do we even have boards?" one of the boys asked.
"Just one for now. But as we have enough members, I guess the school could give us money to buy one or two more."
"And who's the captain?" the other boy asked.
"Hikaru, of course!" Akari gave him a look. "He founded the club, after all!"
The boy didn't bother even looking at her. "You're a first year," he stated.
Hikaru returned his look with a blank expression on his face. "So?"
"And we are third years," the boy went on emphatically.
Hikaru sighed. "Let's play a game," he just said quietly. He sat down by their one and only go board. "Which one of you is the better player?" The boys shared a look, and one of them sat down to face him, the one who had asked who was the captain.
Hikaru smiled at him. "Place as many stones as you want," he said quietly. The boy's eyes narrowed.
"You've got some nerve," he muttered through clenched teeth.
They started the game evenly. It didn't last long.
Hikaru's opponent was sitting very quietly in his chair, staring at the board. The other boy standing next to him was just as quiet. Slowly he looked up, at Hikaru, and the boy gave him a small, lazy smile.
"Want to discuss the game?"
The third year stood up and left, his friend following him close by.
"Hikaru!" Akari breathed. "Why did you drive them away like that? If they don't come back we've lost half our members!"
"All the same to me," Hikaru snorted. "I don't want them here."
Hikaru stood up. "Do you know go at all?" he asked Kumiko. She shook timidly her head. "Okay, Akari – tell her the basics. You can play a game of capturing stones or something."
"Where are you going to?" Akari asked, as Hikaru headed to the door.
Hikaru, Sai said quietly as he left the classroom. What was that about? You didn't have to be so harsh with them.
Why not? Hikaru thought back to him. They were annoying. I don't want to spend my time playing against them.
So where are you going to?
It wasn't for the books. Hikaru reserved a computer for himself for an hour, and logged right in on net go. To his disappointment he saw Akira wasn't there.
The boy had finally stopped sending him messages. He was still usually around, and they played almost daily. Sometimes Hikaru wished he could have discussed the games with Akira (he had so many things he wanted to say… what did you think of that move, or, what were you thinking when you made that move.) Even so he maintained his silence, and Akira seemed to have given up on him ever responding.
He picked an opponent he knew to be strong, and started a game.
In Tokyo Akira had had long arguments with himself on how he should deal on this matter of 'sai' and Shindou. He wanted to respect his father's advice and stay away from sai, but if… if, somehow, it turned out that Shindou was sai, then… wouldn't that make it all different? Or possibly, he thought, remembering his old theory, perhaps Shindou was the student…?
He wished he knew where the other boy lived, but Shindou, although not the most common surname, was still common enough that it was nigh impossible to find one boy.
Almost daily he was replaying the game he had played against Shindou, comparing it to the games sai played, and the connection was clear to him. If Shindou wasn't sai, he at least was someone who had studied sai's game, he was sure of that.
And no matter who Shindou was, his game had been…
Akira let out small, breathless sigh. Once again he damned himself for letting the other slip away so easily. He had just been so startled when Shindou suddenly bounced up. Why did he leave like that? He had seemed somehow startled, even frightened… why?
Akira shook his head. He was the one who should have been frightened then, faced with such impossible strength.
He stared at the game on the board in front of him, and vowed he would yet find this strange opponent of his. No matter how long it would take, he would yet play another game against this boy, face to face.
After the little incident with the third years, the days proceeded quietly at the go club. They got one more member, also a girl, and a little grudgingly the principal agreed to make them a real club – on probation, though. Apart from that, not much happened with the club. Akari was clearly beginning to lose her patience with Hikaru, who showed up irregularly and very seldom did anything else but watched the girls playing, offering only some random comments about the game. One day she finally had had enough.
"Maybe we should just end the club!" She and Kumiko had again been playing, and Hikaru was nodding beside them, paying no attention to their game whatsoever.
He looked up with a start. "What?"
"You're obviously not interested in the club at all! So why bother with it? I thought it might be fun, but if it's just me and Kumiko playing, we don't really need a club for that!"
"That's not…" Hikaru started to say.
She's got a point, Sai put in, and he fell quiet. You're really not invested in the club at all. Why? I thought you'd find it fun.
"I don't know," Hikaru said with a sigh. He stood up. "Let's… talk tomorrow." He walked out, leaving Akari glaring after him.
Hikaru…? Sai sounded – and felt – worried. What's the matter? You're so gloomy these days – or maybe not gloomy, but somehow…apathetic. You don't feel like yourself.
"I don't?" Hikaru muttered aloud. "I don't know. I'm just… tired. I don't like this middle school." Don't worry about it, he added in his mind. He walked out of the school and stopped, watching up at the blue cloudless sky. Summer's coming… he added a little absentmindedly. And summer break. I'll relax then properly, that'll help.
He said no more about the matter, but from then on he tried focus more on the club, not skipping it anymore and playing teaching games with the girls. He brought his old go magazines to the club too, and sometimes they reviewed professional games. Akari seemed to be happier, probably thinking that she had made him more serious about the club, but Sai wasn't fooled. Hikaru knew that, and feeling Sai's worry made him feel vaguely guilty, but try as he might he couldn't truly make himself interested either in the club or in school – or pretty much anything that was going on around him these days. At times he wondered if it had been a mistake not to move to Tokyo. Perhaps exploring the city would have helped... though he somewhat doubted that.
Summer did come, and true to his word Hikaru did relax. He spent his days out, sometimes hanging around at town, but usually somewhere in the forest, lying at a spot where the ground water was closest to the surface. Sometimes he played blind go with Sai, sometimes not, but every evening he checked if Akira was online and played a game with him.
On one burninghot summer day Hikaru was strolling on the main street of the town, just hanging around as usual, watching the people and the few shop windows without really seeing them, when he suddenly noticed Akari and Kumiko waiting for the bus. In fact it was Sai who pointed them out for him, for his eyes passed right over them like everyone else.
"Hi." He walked to them, nodding. Akari turned to look at him, her face taking a carefully friendly expression.
He stopped by them, hands in his pockets, and a moment they stood in silence. "Where are you going to?" he asked then, to say something.
The girls glanced at each other. "To the beach," Akari said. "We're meeting with some of our classmates there, and…"
"Why didn't you ask me too?" Hikaru sounded annoyed, but his expression didn't really change.
"I…" Akari shifted from foot to foot. "We're going to the beach, you know? You never… you never come there, and your mother said… I didn't think you'd come this time either."
"You could have still asked!"
Hikaru? What's the matter?
Hikaru took a deep breath. "Well, whatever. Can you borrow me enough for the bus?"
Akari just stared at him. "…what?"
"For the bus! To the beach. I'm coming, too. I'm bored." Now the annoyance entered his face, too, and a frown appeared on his forehead.
"I… I guess I, I mean, if you're sure, you… shouldn't you tell your mother?"
"Why?" Hikaru shrugged. "She knows I'm out, it's not like she knew where I'm hanging around, anyway. Or don't you want me to come?" The frown deepened.
Akari looked a little uncomfortable. "Of course I do," she still said. "Just remember that I warned you, if she gets mad at you. And yeah, I can borrow you enough for there and back. But you don't have anything with you…"
"It's okay. I'm probably not swimming, anyway."
The bus trip to the beach took half an hour. The place, Hikaru thought as the water came into view, wasn't really much to talk about. A bay in the river, with a so-called beach that attempted to be sand, but mainly consisted of some rough gravel. Akari waved, having spotted her friends, and Hikaru frowned again, seeing some of the boys of their class among them.
Is that why she didn't want me to come?
What, are you jealous? Sai sounded amused.
Hikaru laughed out loud. As if. So. He turned to watch the river. So that is… He paused.
Hikaru? Sai asked, as the boy suddenly fell quiet. Are you sure it was a good idea to come here?
I can't be running away from water all my life, Hikaru thought quietly, as he started walking toward the river. Akari glanced after him but turned then away as she was chatting with her friends.
"It's beautiful," Hikaru said quietly aloud to Sai.
Yes, the spirit agreed, But… Hikaru. Have you already forgotten all I've told you? Hikaru?
The boy said nothing, just stood there staring at the water.
"Hikaru!" Akari ran to him. Blinking, he realized she had already changed into her swimming suit – when did she have time for that? "We're going for a swim!" She was laughing, light from the water reflecting in her eyes, and she dashed into the water, splashing as she went. A few drops flew on Hikaru's foot, and a shiver ran through him.
Kumiko followed her soon, shrieking something about the water being cold, and all the others joined them. They swam around, laughing and shouting, and the boys had a ball with them they started throwing to each other.
Hikaru sat down to watch them.
He didn't remember ever having been near to such a huge body of water – his mother had made sure of that, and yes, she would be mad if she ever found out where he was right now. Still, it felt somehow familiar. He heaved out a big sigh.
"It's not bad, Sai," he muttered aloud. "It's not bad to be here. Somehow it almost feels like… being at home."
That's what Torajiro said too, Sai pointed out gently. Please. Be careful.
Everyone truly seemed to be enjoying themselves. Hikaru watched them keenly, noting those who were the most comfortable in water, and those whose moves were awkward and who were careful not to go so deep their feet wouldn't reach the bottom. Even they, though, were laughing and having fun, every now and then falling into the water and then surfacing with laughter, floating around, trusting the water.
Someone threw the ball to Akari, but she didn't catch it and it floated close to the shore.
"Hikaru!" she shouted. "Throw it to me!"
The boy looked at the ball and shook his head. "You missed it, so come and get it!"
Akari mumbled something under her breath but came after the ball. "Can't you even get your feet wet," she snapped at Hikaru over her shoulder as she threw the ball to her friends. The others laughed, giving Hikaru looks he remembered from years ago.
A frog that can't swim!
He closed his eyes.
Hikaru? It took him a moment to realize it was Sai who was talking to him. Maybe we should leave.
He didn't reply. Instead he stood up and in one swift movement threw his shirt away. His pants dropped down, forming two holes on the ground.
I don't think you should… Hikaru! The boy was already in water.
Akari laughed, seeing him. "Someone's going to complain if you swim only in your boxers," she said.
Hikaru didn't listen to her. In that moment he was aware of the water in a way he had never been, not even when taking a bath. Every inch of his body felt it, and he drew in a shaky breath, attempting to come over the sensation.
Hikaru, Sai said somewhere in the back of his mind. Concentrate. He heard the words, but couldn't quite comprehend them. With a little shaky legs he stood up, standing in the water up to his thighs.
"I'll teach you to swim, Hikaru," Akari said, floating in the water and watching him with a smile. "It's not…"
Hikaru bent forward and dove.
He glided slowly through water, watching the legs of the people around him. A pull, and he went by them, another, and they were left behind. He smiled to himself there, in a world of his own, unseen by anyone else, his ears water-deaf to the shouts that echoed above the surface. Carefully, experimentally, he kicked with his feet and gained speed, just heading away without any clear purpose or goal.
The silence of the water was soothing to his ears. He closed his eyes and floated, letting the water carry and caress him, listening to the quiet, sucking it into himself as if quenching a great thirst.
There was a whisper in the water, going through him without so much as touching him, and he floated on, unbothered.
He flinched, his eyes opened. It took them a moment to focus; then he noticed something beside him, a shadowy figure, human-shaped, with something gossamery flowing around it.
He realized. Sai! Is that you? Although he was underwater, he couldn't help laughing aloud. I can see you!
Hikaru. You need to get back.
Why? He frowned. I like it here.
Akari is worried. Sai's voice was terse, anxious. She thinks you've drowned. Which, from their point of view, isn't far from the truth.
But I... Hikaru stared at him. He could see Sai more clearly now, and realized that the veil-like thing floating around him was hair, long and dark.
Do you really want to do this to her? To your parents? You'll be dead to them.
But I, Hikaru said again. He turned in the water. I... He paused, swallowed. It felt good to be in the water. It was home, Home, in a sense he had never felt like before. But even so... he remembered his mother, as if in a half-forgotten dream, and his father, and Akari.
Which way... which way is it? he finally whispered.
I'll help you, Sai promised and offered a hand, and started guiding him toward the shore.
It seemed to be a much longer way back, but finally he could see the swimmers ahead. There were more of them than he remembered, and most were diving, something frantic in their movements.
Now, you need to get up, Sai whispered.
Stand! Come, you can do it!
But I don't...Hikaru tried to say, but Sai was pushing him. He noticed Akari in the water, and the girl was diving too, though he knew she didn't like it because the water went into her ears. He pulled toward her and tramped the water, trying to gain his feet, and suddenly his foot touched the ground and his head hit the surface, and he gasped for breath.
"There he is!" someone shouted.
"Hikaru!" That was Akari. She was splashing toward him, fast. "What did you do! What happened?"
"Nothing," he panted. "I just... I just dove."
"Are you alright?" a man asked, and Hikaru nodded, confused. Why wouldn't he be?
"It's okay, just kids fooling," someone said, and the crowd began to break up, muttering something as they went.
"Be more careful in the future," the man said sternly. "You caused quite a chaos here. And do wear a swimsuit at a public beach."
"Umm, yeah, sure..." Hikaru was glancing around, still confused. Akari stood next to him, glaring at him, and the rest of their group were a little farther away, giving him strange looks.
"You could have told me you can swim!" Akari finally spat out. "Where did you go? Hiding somewhere while we were looking for you? Did you have fun?"
"I..." was all Hikaru managed before she turned and paddled away.
"Whatever! I'm not interested!"
"His hair," someone said. "Was it always that long?"
Hikaru ran his fingers through his hair and realized it suddenly almost reached to his shoulders. Damn. He'd better get it cut somewhere before his mother saw it. She'd freak out. Akari had stopped and stood in the water, staring at him. He looked back at her.
"Would you give me a haircut before I go home?" he asked, and Akari blinked.
In the bus Akari tried to ask him what truly had happened, but he remained stubbornly quiet all the way to their home town.
"Do you want the haircut or not?" Akari finally snapped. "I won't do it unless you tell me the truth!"
Hikaru considered a moment cutting his hair himself, but figured the result would be quite horrible. And he hardly had enough money to have it cut at a barber's.
"Fine," he muttered. "But later. Not now."
Akari gave him a long look. He was sitting a little lumped, hands in his lap, and his eyes were staring at them. Akari waited for him to blink, and when he didn't she in the end turned away, a little disturbed.
"Okay," she finally breathed. "But you'd better tell me some day soon."
Hikaru just nodded, not really listening to her. He still felt as if he were partly in the water, not really sitting on this bus bench. Sai was quiet, but he felt him quite strongly, as if the spirit were sitting right next to him, holding his hand. When they arrived to the town Akari took him to her home and smuggled him to the bathroom, where she cut his hair. The result was quite uneven, but at least it was much better than suddenly having shoulder length hair. Hikaru mumbled a quiet thank you to her, and shuffled home. His mother gave him a look when he came, as if realizing something had happened.
"Hikaru? Where were you? You were out quite long..."
He just muttered something incomprehensible and headed for her computer. He was lucky. Akira was online. He sent a game request, and then, to make sure the other wouldn't disappear anywhere, his first ever message: I need a game. S.
In Tokyo, Akira stared at his screen in confusion.
I need a game. S.
He blinked at the screen. As far as he knew, sai had never sent any messages to anyone, or replied to any he had got. Why did he now send this one? What was the point? He would hardly have declined the game even without a message. That strange signature was hardly needed either, he could see the message was from sai even without it. And it was just an S... that could stand both for Sai and Shindou, he realized.
He clicked his tongue in annoyance, half willing to ignore the request. A moment he considered replying, asking why before making any decisions. Had something happened? But, he reasoned, if sai sent him a message like that, he probably had reasons for it, and most likely truly meant it. He clicked to accept the game request, deciding he would ask later. But as soon as the game ended, sai was gone.
Akira let out an annoyed breath, watching the now empty screen. He was beginning to lose his patience with this sai. Perhaps, he thought again, his father was right. Perhaps he should ignore this person in the future – after all, with the pro test fast approaching he really shouldn't let himself be distracted like this.
He knew that, and he knew as well that the next time he sat by his computer he'd log in on net go, and the next time sai asked him for a game, with or without a message, he'd accept.
With a sigh he turned off the computer. There was homework to be done. Not to mention that he had, once again, spent too much time studying just sai's game. That part of his father's advice he had taken to heart – not to concentrate on just one player, no matter how astonishing he might be.
But even so, he mused to himself, sai was astonishing. He thought about something he had been thinking quite often before, and decided that when an opportune moment came, he would take the chance and ask.
It took him a while to gather his courage, though. "Father?" he finally said one day when he had finished an evening game with his father and they were done discussing it. "Have you ever thought about playing a game against sai?"
Touya Kouyou looked at him, his face impassive.
"Sai again? I thought you didn't anymore care about him."
"Well, I…" Akira didn't meet his gaze. He was sure his father had to know how he had again started following sai online. Certainly someone had to have mentioned the games he was constantly playing with sai to him... But his father had never said anything, and he had remained very quiet about it, taking care not to let anything slip. "I…" he started again, and fell quiet, embarrassed. It suddenly occurred to him that technically, he was lying to his father, and he wouldn't have thought he'd ever do something like that. "I've still been watching his games, every now and then," he confessed. "They are very… I mean, I think he's still growing… and I can't help thinking… that if you were to play with him… it would be, it would…"
"It would be a wonderful game," Akira said very quietly, eyes still on his hands. "One I would love to see."
"You know I don't play net go," the Meijin stated with such finality in this voice that Akira could but sigh and bow his head.
One day a little before school started Akari came to meet Hikaru at his home.
"So," she said, dropping to sit on the floor in his room. "When are you going to tell me?"
Hikaru froze, staring at the manga he'd had in his hands. "Tell you what?" He swallowed. How to wriggle out of this? "I don't..."
Akari raised a finger. "I gave you your haircut. I haven't said a word to your mother. What happened at the beach?"
Hikaru sighed and lowered the manga, giving her a look. The silence stretched longer, drawing out between them as Akari met his gaze evenly, obviously not planning to give up. Sai too was quiet, though Hikaru was sure he was close by, listening.
"You won't say a word to anyone else, then," he stressed, making up his mind. "Not to Kumiko or anyone."
"There isn't really much I can tell you. I dove, that's all. Very far."
Akari was shaking her head. "Don't lie to me! You can't stay underwater that long, it's... it's impossible!"
"Not to me." Hikaru watched thoughtfully his hands. "Actually," he whispered, "I almost didn't come back. I liked it there. I didn't… want to…"
He hadn't been planning to say that. Akari stared at him, eyes a little wide, mouth half-opened as if she were about to say something, just not knowing what.
"But," she breathed. "You…" She paused. "I don't understand," she finally said.
Hikaru laughed out. "You don't? Well, neither do I. Just that I'm drawn to water, I've always been… and water is drawn to me." He raised his hand, palm up, and concentrated. It had been a rainy, humid day, and it was quite easy to draw a tiny drop of water out of the very air. Akari stared at the little pearl glistening on his palm, breath stuck to her throat.
Hikaru gave her a lopsided smile. "So, what do you think of that? Freaky?"
She raised her eyes to Hikaru's. "I'm glad you did come back," was all she whispered.
"Yeah, well…" Hikaru looked awkwardly away, wiped his hand on his pants. "Of course I did. What'd I do in the water? So, that's all. If you've got no other questions, I'll continue reading." He picked up the manga again and opened it. Akari stood up quietly.
"See you," she said quietly as she left. Hikaru just mumbled something without even looking at her.
Next time they met Hikaru gave her a searching look, wondering how she felt now she had had time to think about it. Did it freak her out? Or did she even believe it? She behaved quite normally, though, talking of other, ordinary things, and he couldn't quite bring the matter up. Only when they were parting she stopped and grasped his hand, watching the thin skin between his fingers. Then she gave it a hard squeeze.
"Next time we go swimming I'm so not inviting you with us either." She was smiling and her tone was light, but there was something serious in her eyes.
Hikaru just snorted at her and pulled his hand back, and they went their way. They didn't talk about the beach anymore after that, but there were others who hadn't quite forgotten it yet. The school started again, and one day as Hikaru was leaning against the wall, waiting for the class to start, he noticed someone stopping by him.
"So what happened at the beach?"
Hikaru looked up. A few boys from his class were standing around him. "What do you mean?"
"We heard you disappeared, for a long while. And then just suddenly dove up. Matsuda said there was something freaky about it, that everyone thought you'd drown, that no one could stay under water so long, and that your hair had grown really long too…"
"He's an idiot," Hikaru snorted. "And I didn't dive for that long. They just panicked cause they thought I can't swim."
"How can you swim?" another boy asked. "I mean, you never take part into the swimming lessons. We thought you had some condition so you can't swim. And now you're suddenly diving around like nothing!"
"Has it something to do with… with water?" yet another asked, very quietly.
Hikaru barked out a laugh. "Yeah, I think swimming does have something to do with water, Einstein!"
"I just meant… that time in elementary school," the boy went on, an annoyed tone in his voice, and suddenly Hikaru realized that he was one of those who had once cornered him in the school toilet.
"What?" The others turned to him. "What time?" They'd come from a different school, so they didn't know about it.
"Nothing," Hikaru said, but the boy went on, watching him with a suspicious frown.
"There was one time in the elementary school we had big water damage at the toilet. He was there, and he got angry… and suddenly all places were sprouting water, just like that."
The boys stared at him with wide eyes. "Did you cause it somehow?" one of them said, turning to Hikaru.
Hikaru rolled his eyes. "Don't be stupid. How could I?"
"But that'd be so cool!" the boy went on, not listening to him. "Kind of like water bending, right? Can you really do stuff like that?"
Hikaru just stared at him a moment. "Don't be stupid," he then repeated, quite flatly, and turned to walk away.
"Water bending," the other boys' laughter carried from behind his back. "You believe in stuff like that?"
"Hey, who knows!" he heard the boy defend himself. "And you said yourself there was something strange about what happened at the beach!"
The boys kept on laughing, but from that day on they started to call Hikaru the Last Waterbender.
You know, Sai, Hikaru thought quietly one night, lying in his bed on his back, arms under his head, I think you're wrong. People have changed. They aren't such cowards anymore to get scared of weird things. Well, not all of them, anyway. They're worse! He paused. "They're curious," he said then aloud. "Imagine, if people found out about us! We'd never have a day of peace! There'd be journalists running after us and all kinds of freaks wanting to do experiments and scientists too, and who knows what. We'd better keep quiet about this."
You might have a point, Sai conceded quietly. This time of yours is really quite strange.
Hikaru might have found his new nickname annoying, or at least claimed so, but in truth there was something about it that appealed to him. Sai was mildly amused, once he explained the joke to him, though overall he found it quite silly. Like I once told Torajiro, no one controls water. Or bends it. But... are you sure it's alright that they joke like that? What if someone believes it?
Hikaru snorted. Only a fool would believe a tale like that. And we don't have to be afraid of fools, do we?
Even fools can be dangerous, Sai said thoughtfully. But in truth what worried him more than that was the constant aloofness that was following Hikaru day after day, and the way the boy had almost lost himself in the river. He remembered the effect this had had on Torajiro, and watched Hikaru for any signs of trouble. The boy seemed to be perfectly normal, though; or as normal as he had been in the recent days. Perhaps, he mused, it was just because Hikaru hadn't entered the water quite as wholly as Torajiro had, and also, this had been a strange river for Hikaru, while Torajiro had most likely been in his own birth waters. Even so, he couldn't quite believe that what had happened wouldn't have any effect on Hikaru, and this time, he vowed to himself, he would not lower his guard. Ever.
Whether or not the boy realized how closely he was being watched he couldn't tell. Hikaru went on as before – somehow lethargic, uninterested, not really concentrating on anything. His grades were falling, again, and though both his parents and Sai attempted to make him study more diligently, it seemed to be useless. Sai couldn't quite understand what had happened, and when. It had started before the events at the river, that he knew. And after Tokyo... but what could have caused such a change in the boy?
Hikaru, he said one day, quite seriously, when the boy was lying on his bed with a manga he didn't read, what's the matter?
"What do you mean?" Hikaru muttered aloud.
You... you're still not yourself. You're not happy. What happened?
"Nothing." Hikaru turned a page, his eyes skimming over the pictures.
That can't be true. Something... something is going on. Please, talk to me. Torajiro didn't let me help him. I don't want you to end up the same way.
Hikaru paused for a moment. Then he rolled on his back. You can't really think I'm going to drown myself or something? Sai?
I... I don't think so, but... you seem somehow, depressed. And that's not you.
"I'm not depressed," Hikaru muttered. But somehow the way he said it was wrong too. He should have snorted, laughed, called Sai an idiot. Now he just stated it as a dry fact.
Maybe it's true, Sai thought to himself. But... but you're not happy either, he finished aloud.
Hikaru sighed, and closed his eyes. I don't know. Happy? I was happy in the water. And when I play go with Touya. Other than that... it's just pointless.
What is pointless?
"Everything!" Hikaru sat up suddenly. "Everything," he repeated, muttering, his eyes wandering over his room. "I think I... somehow understand what Torajiro meant when he said he wasn't sure if he was meant to live like this."
But... I don't understand it. Hikaru, why? What is it in life that made you both so... so, restless?
"You died so young, Sai," Hikaru said softly. I didn't die, really, Sai tried to put in, but Hikaru didn't listen. "Yes you did. In a way. You were, what, thirteen?" Now he did snort. "You call a thirteen year old an adult? Idiotic. Anyway, do you really remember what life was like for you? Truly?"
Sai stayed quiet, trying to recall. He remembered his mother and their home, his father too, though much more dimly. He remembered his mother's go board, and playing on it, and the white walls of the city when he had ventured out. The colorful sleeves of ladies hanging from the windows of the carriages...
But all that came to him was pictures. How had he felt? He remembered a certain kind of restlessness, the one that had driven him out in the end, the will to see the world. (And now he had seen it, traveled across it with the water, to such strange lands he had never even imagined they could exist.) Other than that, there was nothing.
...maybe it's the fire pendant I had, he said a little lamely in the end, and Hikaru sighed, falling back down on the bed.
Sai went on thinking about it later, when he Hikaru slept. He attempted to return in his memories to his childhood, but he couldn't quite catch it, just some fleeting moments, and they were of no help. So instead he started to think of what had happened to Torajiro, going through all he remembered of their time together, to catch even the smallest clue of where the trouble lay. He wasn't quite sure when Torajiro had started feeling the restlessness... he had been seventeen when they first spoke of it, but he was quite sure it had been troubling the boy for a while. Torajiro had always been a much more closed personality, one who kept his worries to himself and didn't want to trouble his friends with them. Whereas Hikaru was an open book. Perhaps, he thought, their trouble had started approximately at the same age.
Did it have something to do with growing older? He remembered Hikaru's biology lesson, the one where they had been talking about the development during puberty. He had found it a very peculiar subject, but still a bit fascinating. Could this have something to do with those changes? He felt quite at a loss there.
What did happen to a child of water when he grew older? Torajiro... had coped well, or so he had thought. But what did he know, in the end? Perhaps he had just drowned his troubles in the constant go, and in the love he felt for his family.
At least Hikaru had go, too. He thought about the boy they had met at the Tokyo go salon. Touya Akira. Maybe... maybe he shouldn't have told Hikaru not to tell anything to that boy. Maybe it was a mistake to try to keep them apart... would go played only on a machine be enough?
He thought long about it that night, and next day when they were returning home from school, he told of his thoughts to Hikaru.
So... I was wondering if you should, in the end, contact that boy and... well, I don't know if you should tell him all, but at least... maybe you could play, face to face, again?
Hikaru was quiet for a long moment. "You're weird, Sai," he muttered then. "You kind of sounded like he'd be my family or something. What do you think he is, my wife? Well, he was girly enough..."
I'm serious, Hikaru! Sai exclaimed indignantly. Something must be done, you must realize that!
"Yeah. I guess." Hikaru stepped in and kicked his shoes off. "I'm home!" he yelled to his mother. I just don't know what, he added quietly to Sai.
He dropped to sit by the kitchen table to eat the snack his mother had prepared for him.
"How was your day?" she asked as he munched his toast, and he shrugged.
"You didn't yet get the math test back?"
"Tomorrow," he mumbled, grimacing inwardly. He didn't want it back.
"Hmm." She, most likely, wasn't too eager to see it either. "Oh, this came today." She gave him the newest number of Go Weekly, and his face brightened considerably. He started leafing it through as he ate.
"You know, Hikaru," his mother said. "We've been thinking that unless your grades start getting better we have to hire you a home tutor."
"Mmmh," he uttered, not listening.
"You must understand that this can't go on," Mitsuko went on. "I know you can do better than this. You will never get into a good college unless your grades improve a lot, and… Hikaru? Are you listening to me? Hikaru!"
Hikaru was staring at the magazine, eyes wide. The first to pass the pro exam, the headline read. And underneath it was the picture of a familiar face.
Sai, Hikaru whispered in his mind. Touya's a pro.
A/N: No chapter title here, as I didn't know what to call this chapter. (I considered "The Last Summer" but that sounds kind of final...) The story is closing to its end, though. The next chapter will be the last one, I think, unless something unforeseen happens.
ETA: Following 19x19's suggestion, I decided to cal this chapter Akari. It does fit, kind of.