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Title: Caught In A Ladder
Author: [info]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:  Beware the art of the cliffhanger!

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
Chapter 19 - Death of a Rivalry
Chapter 20 - Paranoia

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Caught In A Ladder






Chapter 21 – Unexpected Opponent

By Sinnatious

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“… If you’re looking for my folks, they’re overseas at the moment, and they won’t be back for a month, so you’ll have to call back then.”
 
Touya Kouyo quietly placed the receiver back onto its cradle and headed into the study room. It was the third day already since he’d retrieved Shindou from Ogata’s apartment, and the boy’s parents were still not answering the phone. The previous evening, the teen in question had stated that his parents were supposed to be back by now, but then again, it was obvious that the youth’s sense of time was still rather muddied. 
 
The previous day, he hadn’t been able to get that much more out of the boy. He’d been frustrated and very nearly just went to the police himself, but his wife had then insisted that they let the boy rest a little longer and that they could take him in to make a report then. He’d contemplated the possibility that Shindou might be more willing to talk with someone his own age, but after witnessing his son’s stiffness around the other youth when he had returned home the previous evening, that idea had been abandoned. Today, though, he was going to have to force the issue either way. 
 
It was past midday, and his wife was seeing to it that their guest ate properly – they’d managed to include eggs and small servings of rice with his meals – and a proper bath. The teen would probably still only take two meals a day for a while and sleep more than the normal amount while he regained his strength, but at least he didn’t look like he was at death’s door anymore. It helped that his bruises were starting to fade, too, and the marks on his wrists and ankles didn’t look quite so inflamed anymore. 
 
A shuffle of sounds at the entrance heralded his son’s return home. He opened the door to the study room to greet the teen as he walked past. “Welcome home. You’re back earlier than I expected.”
 
“Hello father. Yes, my match went rather quickly today. And I heard that Amano was nearby, so…” His son looked faintly embarrassed, obviously not wanting to admit that he’d done his best to sneak out as quickly as possible to avoid another interview. No surprise – Kouyo was forever reminding his son the importance of being polite and dutiful to his fans and the press. All the same, he could understand Akira wanting to avoid them. He was only regretful that his own retirement had caused undue turbulence in his son’s day-to-day activities. It was surely already hard enough for the teen, forever being compared to his father and accused of riding on the coattails of another’s success. It was a shame that he had to work twice as hard to prove his credibility.
 
“I see. Your mother is in the kitchen if you haven’t had lunch yet.”
 
“I grabbed a bite on the way home. Is Shindou…?”
 
“He’s still here, yes.”
 
“Did you find out anything more?” his son pressed.
 
The retired pro shook his head.  “He’s still not in the best of health. I am hoping that once he has finished eating lunch, he will be willing to speak.”
 
As though summoned, the sho-dan shuffled down the hallway towards them at that moment, pausing briefly when he caught sight of his rival. “Oh, um, hello.”
 
“Hello,” Akira replied, though his voice sounded somewhat distant. 
 
“Ah, Shindou, finished eating already? I was hoping I could try speaking with you again. Please, come in and take a seat,” the former Meijin urged, moving back into the study room. The teen followed him a little reluctantly, and Akira hovered by the door. 
 
“I… I’m sorry about yesterday,” Shindou muttered, averting his eyes as he sank to his knees on one of the cushions. The former pro still couldn’t quite reconcile the image of this skittish child with the rowdy teen he’d encountered before. “I’m still not entirely… I still keep thinking this isn’t real, you see… that I might just be imagining it. I… I had a lot of dreams like that. It got a bit confusing towards the end. But I’m pretty sure now.”
 
“Glad to hear it. I am sorry to press what is obviously a difficult matter for you to speak about, but you really do need to explain things to someone.”
 
The sho-dan hung his head, twiddling his fingers, eyes continually darting off to the side. “It’s just, well… it really is very complicated and I don’t want people leaping to conclusions and I was worried that if I said the same thing… I don’t want it to happen all over again…”
 
Shindou kept glancing at his son for some reason. Of course – the sho-dan wouldn’t want his rival to witness his weakness. Even as an adult, the former Meijin could understand the sentiment. "Akira, please leave the room," Touya Kouyo instructed firmly.
 
"But, father!" The protest died, though, as Akira saw the sho-dan's growing discomfort. Lips pressed into a thin line, the youth silently stalked out of the room, shutting the shoji quietly behind him.
 
"So you are ready to talk, then?" The ex-Meijin asked, doing his best to keep his voice soft, as though he were talking to his son rather than another go-pro. There was that far-off distant look in the boy's eyes again, almost as though he were having a conversation with himself. It was always slightly unsettling when the child did that, but there were plenty of brilliant go-players with even stranger habits, so Kouyo remained patient until Shindou finally bowed his head.
 
"I suppose I have to, don't I?"
 
Sighing, the elder Touya replied, "You do not HAVE to... but this matter should not be ignored. Do you really wish the chance for Ogata Jyudan to try something else?" The youth shuddered at that, though he tried to repress the shiver by bunching his hands into the fabric of his pants.
 
"I cannot help you if I do not know the full story..." the ex-Meijin gently pressed.
 
Looking off to the side to avoid any chance of direct eye contact, Shindou remained silent for an uncomfortably long period of time. Again, the greying elder had that same eerie feeling that Hikaru was holding a private conversation, or perhaps planning his next move on a Go board. With that thought in mind, he was able to wait patiently until the teen finally found his voice.
 
"I.... I don't really know where to start."
 
"How about at the beginning? How did you even wind up there in the first place?" he suggested.
 
Biting his lip for a moment, the sho-dan began hesitantly, "I ran into him in the street by accident, and he spilled coffee all over me. It was my fault, but he insisted I clean up at his apartment nearby anyway." He paused, then said, "You know how I, uh, know Sai, right? And how Ogata overheard part of what we were talking about at the hospital?"
 
The former Meijin had a sinking feeling that he knew where this was going. "Yes."
 
"Yeah, well, I said something that Ogata took the wrong way, and he got this crazy idea in his head that I was Sai. Once I'd cleaned up at the apartment, he confronted me on it. I told him he was mistaken, of course..." Kouyo felt as though the youth was suddenly talking too fast in an effort to cover something up, but he didn't call him on it. "But no matter what I said, he wouldn't believe me. He said he wouldn't let me leave until I admitted it."
 
The boy's voice dropped even lower. "That really wasn't so bad. I thought he'd eventually just get bored and let me leave, but then he tried to make me call my parents, to make up an excuse as to why I wasn't coming home. When he heard the pre-recorded message on the phone, saying that they were overseas, he locked me in the spare room, saying he'd let me out once I admitted I was Sai."
 
Kouyo resisted the urge to ask more questions or comment, knowing that this had to only be the beginning, and he didn't want to interrupt Shindou when the boy was finally talking about it.
 
"I kept trying to convince him that I wasn't Sai. After a couple of days, I managed to escape the room when he wasn't home... but my luck was so bad that I escaped just as he arrived back." The youth winced in memory. The elder surmised that that must have been the first time Ogata had actually raised his hand against the teen. "He made me play Go against him – he wanted to play Sai. He got angry when I couldn't play like Sai." The boy's words were becoming careful again, he noticed. "Then he stopped giving me food, saying that he wouldn't give me any more until I played like Sai."
 
He was beginning to regret even more his decision to not insist on a hospital visit. His initial impression had been that Ogata hadn’t fed the boy properly, not deliberately starved him. "I see. So what did you do?"
 
"What could I do? I played a lot of Go. Then Ogata disappeared for a couple of days, leaving me tied to that damn chair.... after my first escape attempt, he started tying me up whenever he went out," the sho-dan added as an afterthought.
 
That must have been the Go convention that was held out of town that Ogata, Ashiwara and Shindou, along with a couple of other pros, had been scheduled to attend. In a way, it was almost fortunate that the sho-dan had already missed several matches, causing the Institute to make some changes at the last minute. He supposed that in addition to delaying the boy’s current matches, it might be prudent of him to talk to some people at the Institute to ensure that circumstances beyond the youth's control didn't alter future allocation of assignments. He resolved to make a personal trip to the Institute as soon as Shindou had recovered – you always received better results in person than on the phone. That was approaching the end of the second week, Kouyo gauged.
 
"I hadn't eaten for days, and after being stuck in that chair for so long, I was getting desperate. When Ogata came back and we started playing again... I, well, I uh..."
 
"You did what?" the elder Touya prompted.
 
"I threw a bowl of go stones at him."
 
The former Meijin raised an eyebrow at that. Well, it was true that proper go stones were quite heavy, so it would have been an ample distraction, and it also explained the Jyudan’s broken glasses and bruises when he’d turned up to the study session that time. The boy's expression only darkened, though, voice growing so quiet that it was almost a whisper.
 
"I nearly made it... but he was really mad. Really, really mad. He just didn't stop.... hitting and kicking.... he really lost it. Everything went downhill from there."
 
Shindou took a deep breath. "He started always tying me up after that, except to let me go to the bathroom, or when we were playing Go.   Now I couldn't sleep properly OR eat... then Touya... that is, your son... turned up." He swallowed. "Ogata made up some story about finding me all messed up on the street. Touya didn't notice anything odd, and I was so scared of Ogata by then.... I couldn't say anything, I didn't dare! But then I had the idea to challenge Touya to a match... I don't know, why Ogata agreed to allow it, maybe he thought it would distract Touya from asking too many questions."
 
He shivered again. "I was terrified the whole time, that Ogata would see what I was doing. I tried to keep it as random as possible, so that he'd be stuck on the strange sequence of moves more than the overall shape... and I had to make the territory hard to count so that the game would be forced into yose... and... well, you saw the game."
 
"Indeed. That was quite impressive. I would enjoy discussing it sometime."
 
Kouyo was surprised to see Shindou smile genuinely at that, even going as far as to briefly raise his head and meet his eyes before ducking it back down again. The gesture startled him, and he wondered if he'd ever really seen the youth smile properly at him before then. Not even during the sho-dan series – the young teen had seemed tortured during that match, whereas most young pros were still bubbling with excitement at that point. Shaking his head briefly in an attempt to focus on more immediate issues, he prompted the youth to continue his tale, even if a part of him was reluctant to hear the remainder. To think that Ogata had been coming to his study sessions for so many years - it was difficult to view the other title holder in such a terrible light after so long, even though it had been his own suspicions that had led him to that apartment in search of Shindou in the first place.
 
"If I recall, though, that was only a little over two weeks in. I didn't see that match until some time after Akira was there. What happened in that remaining time?"
 
The youth still wouldn't look him in the eyes, but that didn't hide his sudden reversion to a poker face. "It would have been a couple of days after my match with Touya.... I still hadn't been given any food, just juice and water. I was getting desperate, and in my desperation, I played a really good game. And I did it. I beat Ogata."
 
The retired pro watched Shindou carefully, noting the despair that crossed his face at the very memory. "By then, I wasn't even surprised when he wouldn't let me go. I just wanted some food. He did give me some that time, but then he was CONVINCED that I was Sai, and that I'd play as him only when I was desperate enough."
 
The young sho-dan wrapped his arms around his torso, huddling in to himself. "At that point, I was thinking that I only had to wait it out until my parents got home, and then someone would finally come and find me. But it got worse and worse. Ogata would only give me food every now and again, and even then I started throwing it up. I think that maybe he was hoping I'd starve to death... I don't know."
 
That confirmed that suspicion, at least. The retiree had wondered if Ogata had consciously considered killing Shindou to avoid having his crimes exposed. The
Jyudan was an intelligent man - he had to know that it was impossible to keep the boy trapped there forever, but after he’d gone so far, he might not have seen any other way.
 
"I think maybe he knew that time was running out," Shindou continued, as though confirming his inner suspicions. "He started losing his temper a lot more frequently, over little things. He'd lash out when I asked to go to the toilet, or if he made a mistake in a match earlier that day.... the cigarette burn was because I made a really bad move. I.... I.... really thought.... that I wouldn't make it. That I wouldn't be able to last." Voice cracking, the teen had closed his eyes at that point, but the go-master had seen the tears welling in them all the same.
 
The former Meijin was quiet at that. He recalled his own brush with death all too clearly - for just a few terrifying minutes after his heart attack, he had been so sure he was going to die. He'd had his family there with him afterwards, and the doctors had quickly reassured him that the attack was minor and that he would be fine. For someone as young as Shindou, though, to entertain that thought for hours... maybe even DAYS at a time, by himself.... it was amazing the child was as coherent as he was.
 
They sat there in silence for several minutes, until it became apparent to Kouyo that the sho-dan had nothing more to say. “There is nothing else, then?”
 
Shindou shook his head. “No. It was just more of the same. You turned up at the door, and now I’m here.”
 
“I see. Thank you for sharing this with me. It must have been difficult for you. All of it must have been difficult for you.”
 
The teen ducked his head again, glancing off to the side. “I… I know you’re right, about the police I mean. But if you could please not mention Sai’s name in there anywhere… people might start thinking I’m actually him and… well…”
 
The Meijin nodded as he stood. “I understand.” Shindou’s odd panic attacks and lack of desire to speak on the issue made more sense now – of course he would be worried about a repeat incident if people were to start making connections between him and that mysterious NetGo player. Still, he was fairly confident he could relay the story to the necessary parties without having to go into that particular detail. “You look like you could use something to drink. Would you like some tea?”
 
“Tea would be nice, thank you,” the sho-dan murmured. 
 
“I’ll be just a moment,” he promised, leaving the room and heading down the hallway to the kitchen. Akira passed him going the other way. He nodded his assent to allow his son to know that it was fine to enter the study room again. 
 
He set the kettle to boil in the kitchen, and read his wife’s note left on the fridge – she’d obviously left to go grocery shopping while he’d been talking with Shindou, and hadn’t wanted to disturb them. No matter – he was quite capable of making his own tea. A quick glance at the clock revealed that it was four in the afternoon already. What with everything going on, time had certainly flown by. Something was nagging at the back of his mind, some detail he’d overlooked, but just then the kettle whistled, grabbing his attention away. 
 
There were several dull thuds and the sound of muffled voices at the entrance. Brow creasing, Kouyo set the kettle aside, cocking an ear to listen. Akira and Shindou weren’t fighting, were they?
 
There was yelling now. It sounded like his son’s voice. Growing concerned, he padded out into the hallway. To his surprise, the front door was wide open, but more troubling was the sight of Ashiwara heading down the front path towards it.
 
Ashiwara. For their weekly study group. 
 
Which meant…
 
The former Meijin practically flew to the study room – the shoji was left ajar. He could hear his son’s voice clearly now.
 
“Get away from him! Let him go!”
 
“Eh, what’s going on?” Ashiwara asked as he removed his shoes. 
 
Kouyo had no time to answer. He ran into the room, quickly taking in the scene before him. His son on the left, scrambling to his feet with a red mark on his face. Scattered cushions and go stones. And Shindou Hikaru, feet scrabbling for purchase on the tatami mats, pinned against the wall by Ogata Jyudan’s hands around his throat.