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Caught In A Ladder Chapter the Sixteenth

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:  Slightly shorter chapter again.

Prologue - Nigiri
Chapter 1 - Unlucky Encounter
Chapter 2 - Trapped In Your Own Design
Chapter 3 - A Game of Patience
Chapter 4 - Rules of the Game
Chapter 5 - Steps in the Path
Chapter 6 - Ko Threat
Chapter 7 - A Wrong Move
Chapter 8 - Conspiracy Theories
Chapter 9 - A Very Strange Game
Chapter 10 - Playing Blind
Chapter 11 - Visiting An Empty House
Chapter 12 - Resignation
Chapter 13 - Making Messes
Chapter 14 - Taunting Freedom
Chapter 15 - Go Pro Instincts

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Caught In A Ladder

Chapter 16 – Reaching Yose

By Sinnatious

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Hikaru blearily tried to focus on the game in front of him. Even if he wasn’t playing himself, he always improved from watching Sai’s games. All the same, he doubted that any of the games he had played that day – other rather, Sai had played, but as far as Ogata knew they were one and the same – had stuck at all. He didn’t think he’d felt quite so terrible in his life. He’d passed the point of feeling hungry – after all, the last time Ogata had given him food, he’d wound up throwing most of it back up almost immediately – but his stomach felt hollow and twisted all the same. His entire body felt weak and chilled to the bone, even though the room itself was quite warm. His many bruises ached and the air against his wrists felt unnatural – when Ogata had untied his hands to play the previous afternoon, he’d been surprised to see the bloody blisters forming where he’d strained against his bonds. He supposed he’d grown so used to his body aching from sitting in one position for so long – not to count his collection of injuries – that one more discomfort had completely bypassed his senses. 

“16-7.” 

The stone was carefully placed. The sho-dan spent a minute trying to figure out who was winning, and concluded that Sai was leading by a comfortable margin. It was irritating how long it took him to even reach that conclusion. Calculations that he normally made without even registering making them crawled along at a pedestrian place. 

The older pro placed his response. The blonde man’s face was a picture of dedicated concentration, though there were signs of growing bags under his eyes, indicating a lack of sleep. The teen would have felt it fair – see how the Jyudan likes it after a while – if it weren’t for that fact that it made the elder’s temper shorter and more unpredictable. 

“5-4,” Sai quipped after a pause. Hikaru fumbled for a stone, holding it awkwardly in his fingers. He frowned at them – they couldn’t seem to stop trembling, no matter how hard he concentrated on stilling them. 

Ogata made an impatient sound across the board as he tapped the ash from his cigarette into the ashtray and took another drag. Hurriedly, the teen plonked the stone down.

“Hikaru! No! That’s the wrong spot!”

“Shit! Sorry!” In his dizziness, he’d placed the stone one space to the right of where it was supposed to be, turning a brilliant play into a suicidal move that would kill a large group of their stones in three hands. 

Ogata’s face twisted into an expression of fury. In one swift move, the go pro stood, grabbed the teen by the shoulder, yanked up his left pants leg, and pressed the burning end of his cigarette against his knee.

“AAAAAHHHH!” Hikaru yelled reflexively, and was promptly rewarded with a slap across the mouth. That shut him up, but he nearly bit his tongue in his effort to remain quiet as the elder pro ground in it deeper, hands automatically trying to push Ogata away.

“Hikaru!” Sai exclaimed. 

“Tell me – how am I supposed to get stronger if you make stupid mistakes?!” the elder pro yelled, still pressing the burning cigarette into his leg. The youth squeezed his eyes shut, desperately trying to stop the tears from leaking out of them. The searing pain was almost blinding! “You better not be thinking of not playing seriously again! You’ve already given me enough trouble, brat!”

“I’m not, I swear, I’m just tired and hungry and can’t concentrate properly!” the teen begged, feeling as though his entire leg was on fire but his weak arms weren’t even close to being up to the task of pushing away the Jyudan’s hand. 

“You’ve managed fine up until now! And now you’ve just wasted the two hours already spent on his game!” Disgusted and angry, the elder pro withdrew the cigarette and swept his hand violently across the board, scattering stones all over the floor. Hikaru jerked back, mind whirling, trying to find some way to placate his captor.

“I can’t- I can’t-”

“Shut up. I’ve had enough of your theatrics for today.” He felt the Jyudan’s hand grasp his upper arm in a bruising grip and drag him to his feet. Hikaru stumbled, unable to make his limbs work the way he wanted them to, tripping over his own two feet and falling to the ground. Sighing in annoyance, the elder pro grabbed him by the back of his shirt and dragged him back to the room, the carpet prickling uncomfortably against his tender wrists and ankles until it was briefly replaced by air as he was thrown back onto the hard chair. He let out a hiss between his teeth as Ogata tied his hands back behind his back and secured his ankles a moment later with the power cords, squeezing his eyes shut and trembling when the Jyudan knocked the burned leg on his way out of the room, muttering curses under his breath. 

Only once the elder pro had left the room and locked the door did the teen let the tears escape from his eyes. 

Sai watched, fan held to pursed lips, as the youth sobbed quietly to himself, tears tracking down his face and dripping from his chin. The ghost dearly wished he could wipe them away, once again cursing his lack of corporeality.  

“Hikaru,” he whispered, after he’d heard the Jyudan leave the apartment some ten minutes later.

“It hurts, Sai,” came the feeble reply.

“I know, Hikaru,” the ghost soothed. “I’m sorry. If there was some way, any way, I could help….”

He could see the boy making a visible effort to stem his tears. “You can’t help it. You’re a ghost.” He paused, sniffling then shaking his head as though he were angry with himself. “I’m so pathetic. Like this, I can’t even wipe my own face clean. This must be how it feels for you, huh, Sai? Trapped with me, having no hands, not being able to touch anything…”

Sadly, the go-obsessed spirit shook his head.  “No. While it is true that I may not be able to touch Go stones or influence the world around me, I am here of my own will. Well, I suppose some of it is God’s will, but…. My one true grievance right now is that I am so powerless to help you.”

“You’re not powerless, Sai. Just sitting here, talking to me, is keeping me sane. That’s all the help I can ask of you. Though…. I don’t know how much that will matter anymore.”

“What do you mean, Hikaru?”

The teen didn’t reply, just sitting there in silence for some time, tears slowly drying. Sai desperately wanted to cheer his host up, but was at loss of what to do. 

Hikaru coughed weakly a few times, breaking the silence. The Heian-period ghost was at his side again in an instant, hovering about him in concern.

“Hikaru?”

“My throat was just a little dry, sorry.”

“Is it cold in this room?” Sai asked, growing concerned by the clammy look to the youth’s skin, and not for the first time wishing he could sense if his companion had a fever or not. 

“A little, but don’t worry about it.”

They fell into silence once more. It could have been only a few minutes, but it certainly felt like an hour later when Hikaru suddenly spoke again.

“Hey Sai…. I’m sorry if this brings up painful memories for you or anything, but I wanted to ask…”

“Yes, Hikaru?”

“What did it feel like? You know…when you died?”

Sai couldn’t answer. His fan was habitually half-hiding his face, but it did nothing to hide the tears that now spilled from his eyes. 

“Sai?” Hikaru tiredly raised his head to look at the ghost. “Oh…. I’m sorry. You don’t have to answer, I guess. Please don’t cry.”

Sai just shook his head wordlessly, tears still falling down his face. It wasn’t that the memory caused him that much pain – he’d had a thousand years to dwell on it, after all. It was the sadness that his friend needed to ask. 

“I’m so sorry, Hikaru. I’m so very sorry.”

“Hey, no, you know, forget it. I guess I just wanted to know. Selfish, of me, huh?” The youth forced a weak laugh. 

Sai just couldn’t stop crying.