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Caught In a Ladder Chapter the Third

Is this thing on?

Title: Caught In A Ladder
Author: sinnatious
Rating: PG-13
Summary: A chance encounter with Ogata and a slip of the tongue turns Hikaru into a victim of Sai's success.  What is he supposed to do when even the truth won't save him?  Predominantly angst.
Author’s Notes:  Another chapter.  I am a MACHINE.

A really broken, lazy machine.

Prologue - Nigiri
Chapter 1 - Unlucky Encounter
Chapter 2 - Trapped In Your Own Design

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Caught In A Ladder
 
Chapter 3 – A Game of Patience
 
By Sinnatious
 
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When Hikaru awoke the next morning, it took him a long moment to figure out where exactly he was.  The futon was lumpy and musty and nowhere near as comfortable as his regular bed, and the room was dim and unfamiliar.  He groaned as the events of the previous day started rushing back to him: Ogata deciding that he was Sai, and that he wasn’t going anywhere until he admitted it. Then he’d thrown him in his spare room, locked him in, and he and Sai had played Go until midnight at which point he’d given up hope of the Jyudan having a change of heart and letting him out and tried to get to sleep.
 
Rolling his head to the side, he spied a plate covered in cling wrap hosting some store-bought rice balls. Hikaru felt uncomfortable when he realised that Ogata had been in the room while he was asleep, but on the other hand, at least he'd been nice to enough to leave him breakfast.  A quick glance at his watch revealed that it was already mid-morning - the Jyudan had probably gone ahead to the Institute.  Irritation surged in him.  He had a match that afternoon!  The elder pro had better get back and let him out before he had to forfeit.

"Sai?" he asked blearily.  The ghost popped up in front of his vision almost immediately.

"Hikaru!  Good morning!"

It was almost annoying how oblivious the go-obsessed ghost could be to his situation at times.  "Why didn't you wake me up when Ogata came in?"

"I tried!  But you were completely out of it, Hikaru!"

Sighing, the youth ran a hand tiredly through his hair.  Admittedly he hadn't slept until the early hours of the morning, with his anxiety over the situation and the unfamiliar futon creating a mix that was not conducive to peaceful rest.  He briefly contemplated going back to sleep, but he had no idea when the Jyudan would be back, and didn't want to miss him when he did arrive.  Not that he knew what he was going to say to convince the other man to let him go.  Ogata was certain he was Sai, and it didn't seem like he'd be able to do anything to make him think otherwise.  He couldn't believe he'd made such a stupid blunder! 

Hikaru voiced these thoughts to his companion as he grudgingly ate the cold rice balls. 

"You could tell him the truth," Sai suggested diplomatically. 

A scowl showed the ghost exactly what the sho-dan thought of that idea.  "As if he'd believe it.  Why do you think I've never told anyone about your existence?  They'd lock me up in a loony bin, or start sending me to a psychiatrist or something.  Heck, sometimes I'M not entirely sure you exist, Sai.  How do I know you're not just a figment of my imagination?"
 
"Hikaru!" the ghost objected, looking offended.

He grinned.  "Just kidding.  Of course I know you're real, Sai.  All the proof I'll ever need is in your Go."

That seemed to placate his companion somewhat.  "Then maybe you could just say you ARE me?  It's almost true."

Polishing off the last rice ball, the sho-dan lay back against the bed, brow furrowed in thought.  "But that would create a whole mess of its own.  I don't really know what Ogata would do if I said I really was Sai."  He mulled over the possibility for a moment before announcing, "I'll just keep denying it.  He'll eventually give up, I'm sure.  I haven't covered our tracks for this long to mess things up now."

"Does this mean I don't get to play Ogata?" Sai asked with a pout.

Hikaru sat up, pointing an accusing finger at his companion.  "You!  You just want me to give the secret away so that you get to play all the time!"  He laughed, shaking his head.  "Ah, don't worry about it. I should have known.  As usual, all you can think about is Go."
 
“Do you want to play a game?”
 
“May as well. Maybe it’ll help me focus for this afternoon’s match.” The teen sunk back down in front of the goban, with Sai eagerly running and sitting on the other side of the board. Given their situation, the ghost was in remarkably good spirits, but then again that could have just been a holdover from being allowed to play online the day before. Or maybe he was still holding out for a game with Ogata. Either way, it was much better having a cheerful Sai for company than a morose one.
 
They played two games before Hikaru found himself paying more attention to his watch than his strategy. “Hikaru, focus!” Sai berated when he took an unreasonable amount of time for an obvious move.
 
The youth sighed, sitting back. “Sorry Sai. But I’m supposed to be at my match in less than an hour. Where the hell is Ogata?”
 
“Do you want to finish this game later?” the ghost enquired.
 
Hikaru cast a baleful eye at his last few poor hands, and then replied, “No point. I was going to resign in a couple of moves anyway. I might’ve been able to stage a comeback against someone else, but I don’t have a hope when playing you.”
 
“You really should still play with a handicap,” Sai informed him rather condescendingly. “Or at least play black.”
 
The sho-dan glared. “But how am I suppose to be get better if I’m always playing with a handicap? Besides, our games have been getting closer for a while, and I need more practice playing white.”
 
“It’s not as challenging for me, though.”
 
“Be patient! If I keep playing you like this, soon I’ll be able to catch up so that I AM a good enough opponent for you, and you won’t have to go chasing after Ogata Jyudan and Touya Meijin all the time!”
 
That silenced the ghost, who held his fan to his lips. Hikaru wasn’t sure if his friend’s expression was one of pleasant surprise or horror. 
 
The faint sound of jingling keys outside tore the teen from those thoughts. “Ogata! He’s back! Just in time, too. I’m going to be late!” He scrambled to his feet, making his way to the door, stopping just in time to avoid running into it as the Jyudan swung it open. 
 
“Oi, brat, you ready to confess yet?” he drawled.
 
The teen glared. “I’m sick of this. Let me out of here. I’ve got a match this afternoon, and I’m already late.”
 
“You’ve got a string of wins. You can afford a forfeit.”
 
“It doesn’t matter if I can or can’t! I want to go play!”
 
Ogata tilted his head, his glasses momentarily catching the light so as to force the sho-dan to squint. “In that case, we’ll play a game.”
 
That momentarily dumbfounded the youth enough so that he didn’t protest when the Jyudan steered him from the bedroom to the table set up in the living room. A goban was now resting atop it – it was likely where Ogata replayed most of his games. When the teen had caught his wits again, he asked, “What?"
 
“We’ll play a game. You can play me instead of going to the Institute. Surely I’m a worthier opponent than some other sho-dan or 2-dan? There. You can play black.”
 
Hikaru crossed his arms stubbornly. “This is crazy. Just let me go play my match!”
 
Ogata simply smirked from the other side of the Go board. "You're not going anywhere until you play me."
 
“I don’t want to play you! I’m not taking this anymore! I’m leaving!” he announced, moving to stand up.
 
“I SAID TO PLAY!”
 
The harsh snap of the Jyudan’s voice coupled with his fist banging on the table were enough to cow the startled sho-dan back into his seat. They stared at each other for a long moment, eyes challenging, before the younger crumbled under the elder’s gaze. The teen was not in a position of authority, and he knew it. Grumbling, Hikaru plonked down his first stone. "Fine."
 
"Perhaps I should clarify before we continue. I want to play you as Sai, not as the Shindou-pro we've become familiar with. I want to see your REAL strength."
 
"What are we going to do, Hikaru?" Sai asked, raising his fan to cover his face.
 
Clenching his teeth, the teen mentally replied.  "Nothing."
 
"But your match..."
 
"I know. It's irritating, but it can't be helped."
 
“So… I get to play?”
 
“No, I’m playing,” came the curt reply.
 
The ghost was silent after that, respectfully settling back to watch the game. 
 
There was the rhythmic ‘pa-chink’ of stones being laid down one after the other, with an occasional pause as one of them – usually Hikaru – paused to think about the next move. There was no clock, but the pace was about the same as the standard matches held at the Institute, and despite the tense atmosphere the young pro felt himself slipping into a good state of concentration. For a few minutes there, he even almost forgot that he was playing a title-holder. 
 
It was a particularly aggressive move that shocked him back into paying attention to his surroundings. He risked a glance at his opponent as he lay down each stone after that, hoping to extract some sort of information from that poker face, and very nearly winced at the sight of the stormy frown. 
 
Furthermore, Ogata seemed to grow increasingly angry as the game progressed and Shindou kept playing normally. The sho-dan felt that he played quite a good game, but there was no doubt that the Jyudan was much, much stronger. Normally, he gauged, he might be able to manage a lucky win with a reverse-komi, but in an even game he had no chance. If he calculated it out to end game, it was no less than a nine-and-a-half moku loss, and while that could possibly be reduced to seven-and-a-half moku, winning was an impossibility. "I resign," he said with a sigh.
 
Ogata regarded him with a glower across the table. The youth resisted the urge to flinch at the sight of the cold brown eyes pinning him down. Suddenly, though, the older pro broke into a cruel smirk. "Fine, if that's how you're going to play it, I'm willing to be patient. I'll wait as long as it takes. Let's play again."
 
"Huh? Aren't we going to discuss the game?"
 
"Why would I need to discuss the game with Sai? You are already well aware of your own 'mistakes'."
 
Hikaru clenched his fists. Sai tried to console him, "I'll discuss it with you later, Hikaru. For now, are you going to play him again?"
 
"Does it look like I have a choice?"
 
"I can play," Sai offered.
 
Hikaru didn't respond. He merely sighed. This time, they performed nigiri. He was black again.
 
He placed his first stone, saying as he did so, "You're wasting your time Ogata-sensei. I'm not Sai. I wish I could play like him, but I really can't."
 
"So you keep saying. But you can't hide your Go completely. Sai’s game is hidden in your moves."
 
Hikaru was quiet at that. It was a huge compliment, really, but in this situation it was one of the last things he wanted to hear. That was something he couldn't really help. Sai had been his teacher - there were inevitably going to be a couple of similarities in how they played.
 
In the background, Sai was addressing Ogata pompously, ignoring the fact that the man couldn't see or hear him. "That's because I taught him, you know."
 
There was no reply other than the soft ‘pa-chink’ of stones on wood.