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Caught In A Ladder Chapter the Nineteenth

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:  I have a confession to make.  I can't stand Touya Akira.  I spent most of the series wanting to punch the screen whenever his face turned up on it.  Is it obvious?

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
Chapter 16 - Reaching Yose
Chapter 17 - Finding Life In Dead Stones
Chapter 18 - Playing the Game After Its Finished


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Caught In A Ladder

Chapter 19 – Death of a Rivalry

 

By Sinnatious

 

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Akira wasn’t able to shake the surrealism of the situation, even as he lay out a place for Shindou at the kitchen table. His father had shooed him out of the room after placing an order for a delivery at a nearby restaurant, and emerged several minutes later to announce that their guest had fallen asleep, and that they’d let him be until dinner. The rising go star thought that his chance for answers had finally come, but his father had then disappeared into his bedroom to make a phone call to the Go Institute. 

The delivery arrived, and he knocked on his father’s door tentatively to let him know. “The food’s here.”

His father appeared almost immediately. “Very well. I’ll go wake Shindou. If you could prepare the table?”

“Already prepared.”

The retired Meijin simply nodded and headed to the guest room. Akira dogged his footsteps, partly out of lack of anything else to do and partly in hopes he could satisfy more of his curiosity. 

The sho-dan was curled on his side atop the guest futon, sleeping deeply. It was with obvious reluctance that his father cleared his throat and announced, “Shindou, dinner is prepared. Please wake up. You must eat.”

When the other teen didn’t even stir, his father repeated himself more loudly. “Shindou, wake up. It is time for dinner.” When that still didn’t work, he reached out and shook the boy’s shoulder.  

Even that was barely enough to rouse the teen, though as soon as those eyes had opened a crack, he sat straight up and scrambled backwards, eyes darting around wildly in disorientation. Akira quashed his urge to say something, choosing instead of mimic his father’s patient silence. It seemed to work – after a moment, Shindou had sorted himself out somewhat and calmed down, scowling as he rubbed at his left wrist that he’d jarred in his hasty retreat. Akira found himself wincing sympathetically. The angry red wounds on his wrists and ankles stood out starkly against the go player’s pale skin, and looked incredibly painful. Why hadn’t they been bandaged? Another question to ask his father later, then.

 

"Right... dinner.  Okay," Shindou murmured, still looking somewhat dazed, though at least more alert of his surroundings now.  They waited as he stood up and shuffled over to them painfully slowly, then headed towards the kitchen.  Touya took up the rear while his father led the way, offering Shindou a polite smile, not really knowing what to say without asking too many intrusive questions.  It seemed to reassure the other pro, at least, who relaxed his hunched shoulders slightly as they made their way down the hallway.  It didn't escape Akira's notice that his rival kept a hand on the wall to keep his balance, though.  

"Beef stir fry is fine with you, Shindou?" his father asked as he served out their rice.  The sho-dan nodded mutely in response as he took a seat.  

They started eating in tense silence.  Akira was bursting to ask questions, but a stern glance from his father made him hold his tongue.  Eventually, the former Meijin asked, "So, Akira, how was school today?"

It was such a terribly ordinary question in those circumstances that the rising go star was temporarily taken aback.  "Um... oh, fine."  Honestly, with everything that had happened since arriving home, school felt like a distant memory already.  

"No trouble keeping up?  Your schedule at the Institute has been quite hectic lately."

"The teachers are very understanding.  Still, I have been missing a lot of school.  I'm worried about my science grades in particular, since I don't get to do as much lab practice as the other students."

"Nevertheless, I should say I'm quite pleased at how well you've managed to balance those two aspects of your life. Perhaps I do not tell you often enough."

Akira felt briefly warm at the words - his father had high standards, and any sort of encouragement or compliment from him was rare.  Especially in regards to his studies - it was more often his mother that asked after that, with his father instead enquiring about his Go.  "Thank you, father.  I'll do my best not to let you down."

"What about you, Shindou?"

"Hm?" the sho-dan looked up from his plate.  He'd been eating extremely slowly - Akira himself was almost finished, but the other boy wasn't even a quarter of the way through his meal.  "Oh, no, my grades have always been terrible. The teachers can't tell the difference."

That was mildly surprising.  True, Shindou didn't seem the studious type, but Go pros and Insei as a rule almost always had above average intelligence and excelled at schoolwork.  Indeed, many of the talents required to play Go at the highest level were also applicable to school work - logical thinking, time management, good memory and concentration were par for the course.  Even calculating territory.  On the other hand, Akira had heard plenty of tales of various pros who had done poorly in school mostly due to boredom - the work was too easy, so they didn't concentrate or bother learning the rote or formulas that were tested.  Was Shindou one of those types?

"What about high school?  Akira's still deciding whether to continue or not."

The sho-dan's face had taken on a slightly pained expression, and even as he replied, he seemed distracted. "Well, I wasn't really planning on it to begin with... but it can't help that I've just missed a whole month, either... Probably couldn't go even if I wanted to now.... Akari's going to be really mad..."

"Oh, Akari - that's the red-headed girl who goes to school with you?" Akira interrupted.

Shindou didn't respond.  He was staring intensely at the table all of a sudden, and had set his chopsticks down next to his still mostly-full plate.

"Shindou?" he prodded.

"Where is your bathroom?" he asked in a small voice.  "I think I'm about to be sick."

The former Meijin was quick to leap into action.  "Come with me!"

Shindou half-ran, half-stumbled after his father; Akira hurrying after them. They barely made it to the bathroom, where the sho-dan promptly started emptying the contents of his stomach into the toilet bowl. It was a nauseating sound, so much so that Akira found himself having to retreat lest his own stomach get upset. After a good ten minutes, his father and the ashen-faced teen emerged from the bathroom.

The former Meijin was shaking his head ruefully. “You really should go to hospital. Or at least allow me to call a doctor.”

“I’ll be okay,” Shindou protested weakly. Akira wanted to shake him at the words – CLEARLY the youth was anything but okay. “I just ate too much.” That tiny serving was too much?

“That was too…. When did you last eat?” His father’s voice was suspicious.

Shindou just closed his eyes and turned his head away. Akira was shocked to hear his normally composed father swear under his breath a moment later.

 “I didn’t think… I’ll go make you some miso soup instead. We’ll ease you back onto solid food. Though if you throw that up as well I will be calling a doctor whether you agree to it or not.”

“Father,” Touya began as the elder helped their guest back to the bedroom, “Might I talk to you later?”

The former Meijin turned, and the young go pro was startled by just how weary his father appeared – much like how he looked around the time of any of his title matches. It was a stark contrast to how relaxed and youthful the man had been since his retirement. “I know you have a lot of question Akira, but might it be able to wait until tomorrow?”

Who could place a burden on someone who already looked so troubled? There was obviously more to his father’s worry than mere concern for Shindou, which only sharpened his curiosity, but there was nothing more that could be done. “I… of course, father. Please don’t overwork yourself. If there’s anything I can do to help…”

“Thank you, Akira. I will let you know if there is.”

With that soft dismissal, the rising go star left and retreated to his room. Only a few minutes were spent valiantly attempting to concentrate on his homework, before eventually he gave up and decided it a lost cause. 

Casting his eyes about the room, his attention eventually landed on the Go board. Unbidden, his mind sprung to Shindou’s cryptic comment earlier that day – thanking him for delivering his message. At the prompt, the baffling game suddenly reappeared in his mind – not in the strange order of moves or the complex formations, but as a simple pattern – the finished kifu. 

 “Help,” he breathed. How had he missed that? He’d spent so much time looking for the tiny mistakes, the hidden messages on the Go board that he’d completely ignored the overall picture.

Possessed by a sudden drive, he cleared the board, sat down in front of it and replayed the game one more time, now that its purpose had finally revealed itself to him. Just as his gut feeling had predicted, he’d been completely outsmarted, led around by the nose for the entire game so that the other pro could spell out his desperate message. It had seemed odd that it felt as though Shindou had been controlling the game, yet didn’t seem to be gaining territory, and this explained it. Against an amateur, even a good one, this wasn’t that hard to do… but against a pro? Even against a weak pro, this would be incredibly difficult, if not nigh impossible.

Wait…. Shindou had been in Ogata’s apartment in that match. Did that mean…. Had it been OGATA who had done all that to him? Was Ogata Jyudan, the respected go pro who’d been attending his father’s study sessions for almost as long as he could remember, the cause of their guest’s poor state?

It seemed ludicrous. He couldn’t picture it. But the story about Ogata running into the sho-dan in the street had seemed slightly odd, given that no one else had come across the missing teen.   And Shindou had seemed very nervous and tense the entire time. Then there was the message to consider… as unfathomable as the idea was, Akira could think of no other explanation. And he’d missed it! He’d completely missed that message hidden amongst the Go stones!

No… that wasn’t right. Shindou had always intended him to miss it. Eyes darting across the board, he attempted to dissect the game from memory once more. On top of the difficult task of spelling out that word while maintaining a decent balance of territory to keep the game going long enough to complete the message, his opponent had deliberately avoided spending too much time on any one part of the shape, flitting about the board as randomly as possible to distract him from noticing the pattern he was making. But why? ……Ogata was watching. Of course. He hadn’t wanted the Jyudan to notice, and had arranged things so as to distract anyone watching the game into being stuck on the smaller shapes so as not to notice the whole. It wouldn’t work on a weak player, but a go pro would be constantly trying to disassemble to game into familiar formations and linking those together to make sense of it instead, as was habit. And Shindou’s crazy play had made that almost impossible. The meaning had been designed to not be seen by anyone who had seen the game get played. That was perhaps even more amazing than the feat of protecting both his message and his territory at the same time.

More importantly, his rival had done this under such strenuous conditions. If his few deductions were true, Shindou had played that game in poor health and under extreme duress, with Ogata looming over him the entire time.

The realisation passed over Akira like a river of cold water. Just like that, without any fanfare whatsoever, Shindou Hikaru had surpassed him.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
kanaga
Jun. 21st, 2007 12:01 pm (UTC)
Uhhh...I think you've accidentally posted this in a wrong place in TezukaxRyoma...
sinnatious
Jun. 22nd, 2007 09:37 am (UTC)
Seriously? Everything seems to be in order... I am friended to the TezRyo community, so any posts I make to my journal will turn up in the friends page, is that what you're talking about? It's not on the main page there... surely I didn't make THAT big of a stuff up (I hope...)

I'm a big of an LJ n00b, though, so I guess it's possible. Well, either way, the moderators seem to have taken care of it if that is what happened.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )