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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:  About another two chapters left methinks.

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
Chapter 21 - Unexpected Opponent


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Caught In A Ladder

Chapter 22 - Discussing the Game

By Sinnatious

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Shindou was clawing at Ogata's arms, vainly struggling to pry the hands clamped around his windpipe loose.  His legs jerked as he tried repeatedly to kick his assailant off, but kept missing.
 
The entire scene was too surreal.  There was a wild look in the Jyudan's eyes, his expression twisted somewhere between sadistic pleasure and animalistic rage.  "You BRAT!" he hissed.  His voice didn't even remotely match the normal cool and collected tones they'd come to expect from the pro.  "You vanish and I find you HERE?!  What do you think you're doing?!  Did you really think I'd just let you get away?!"

The sho-dan mouthed a response, then squeezed his eyes shut in obvious pain as Ogata increased the pressure on his neck, mouth open in a wordless plea. 

Having temporarily being stunned frozen by the unexpected turn of the events, Touyo Kouyo at last snapped back into motion, rushing to the teen's aid.  "Akira, go call the police!" he shouted.  "Ashiwara, get in here and help!"

"Ogata?" the young pro asked, momentarily confused by the scene but springing to the former Meijin's as soon as his reflexes kicked in.  "Ogata, stop it!  What are you doing?  Let him go!  You're choking him!"

The Jyudan didn't even seem to register they were there; so intent was he on his objective.  "You've caused me a lot of trouble, you little bastard, and all because you were so damn stubborn!  The very minute I turn my back-!"

Together, Kouyo and Ashiwara managed to pull the Jyudan away, forcing him to drop his hold on the sho-dan's neck.  Shindou slumped to the ground, coughing and wheezing as he tried to get his breath back, rushing as far away as possible, though his wide eyes never once left the blonde man.

The pro had finally noticed his predicament and had stopped struggling against them.  They released their hold on the Jyudan's arms, though Kouyo quite deliberately placed himself in between the volatile man and recovering teen just in case he made another attempt.

"Ogata, what are you doing?" Ashiwara berated.  "You could have killed him!  Get a hold of yourself!"

The peppy brunette clearly had no idea that was Ogata's true intention, obviously mistaking his actions for a loss of temper.  Ogata obviously realised this too, and the retired go player could practically see the wheels turning in his former colleague's head - no doubt concocting some sort of lie to escape the situation unscathed.
 
The wheels ground to a halt as soon as the blonde turned his bespectacled gaze on him, however, and was met with the most chilling stare the retiree could muster.  Ogata only had to take one look at his face to realise that his deeds had been exposed, and that it was time to resign.

The Jyudan sent one last baleful glare at the terrified teen on the floor before bolting, running like mad for the door and disappearing out into the street, shoving Ashiwara rudely aside in his escape.

"Hey, Ogata!" the brunette protested, righting his clothes with a peeved expression.  "Where's he going?  What's WITH him today?"  Seeming to remember himself, he crouched down next to a still-trembling Shindou, who was warily massaging his throat and regarding the now-smiling pro with a cautious eye.  "Hey, you're Shindou, right?  Akira's friend? I saw your photo with Touya-sensei in Go Weekly.  Are you okay?  I'm Ashiwara, by the way.  Pleased to meet you."

Light running footsteps echoed through the hall, and Akira skidded to a stop in the doorway, out of breath. "The police are on their way... Where's Ogata?"

"He left," Kouyo replied, stooping to kneel next to the spooked sho-dan.  He ran a concerned eye over the youth, then another over his son, gaze lingering on the red mark on his face.  "How did that happen?"

Akira blinked, hand flying to cradle his cheek.  "Oh, um, he got me with the back of his hand when I tried to keep him away... Is Shindou...?"

"He should be okay."  Though the timing couldn't have been worse.  Just when the teen had calmed down and opened up enough to relay his tale, Ogata had appeared as though summoned by his name.  Frayed nerves took longer to heal than physical wounds, after all.  "Ashiwara, could you please go help Akira get some ice for that bruise?  And then please let the other study group members know that the today's session has been cancelled.  I'll look after Shindou here."

Ashiwara, obviously having cottoned on that the situation was nowhere near as simple as he first perceived, nodded quietly and escorted his protesting son from the room with a falsely bright smile.  "You'll be sure to tell me what's going on later, right sensei?"

"As much as I can, yes.  Though that's not up to me to decide."

As the pair left the room, Kouyo turned his attention back to the traumatized youth in front of him.  "Shindou, are you okay?  Here, let me see."  He gently grasped the teen's hand that was massaging his neck, wincing at the sight of the angry red finger marks emblazoned across the pale skin.  They'd almost certainly bruise.  "That looks painful."

"Is he gone?" the sho-dan asked.  His voice was thin and raspy.

"He's gone, yes.  Are you injured anywhere else?"

Shindou shook his head slightly, fiddling nervously with his hands that were still badly shaking.  "He came to finish me off," he whispered.

"No, that was just coincidence," the former pro player replied firmly.  "I normally hold a study session here weekly at this time that Ogata attends.  He merely reacted badly to the surprise of finding you here.  He probably thought you'd escaped on your own and had returned home without alerting anyone.  You don't need to worry now, though.  I dare say he knows the game is up." Caution was wise, but promoting it in this state was more likely to result in permanent paranoia in the teen. Even so, he was mildly surprised that Ogata had even thought to come to the study session – surely the Jyudan hadn’t honestly thought he’d escape the consequences of his actions? Come to think of it, when the police hadn’t knocked on his door immediately, he might have grown bold. And you never could underestimate how far some pros would go to avoid missing their Go-related obligations.

The sho-dan was staring off to the side again, that distant look creeping back into his eyes.  It was more reassuring than troubling by now, since Kouyo had started to notice that the teen was nearly always calmer and more cooperative after adopting that blank expression.  It might have even been some sort of concentration technique the youth developed for Go. 

Ashiwara appeared at the door to the study room again with Akira in tow, holding an ice pack against his face.  "Police are here!" he announced in a chirpy voice. Sometimes it was hard to remember that Ashiwara was in his late twenties.  "And I headed the other study group members off outside and sent them on their way."

"Thank you.  Could I trouble you to stick around a while longer?  I expect the police will want a statement from you."

"Couldn't get rid of me even if you tried!"

Only Ashiwara would grin and joke in the face of such a shock - and for him, the biggest surprise had yet to come.  The retiree absently hoped that the betrayal the other go player was likely to feel wouldn't turn him bitter and jaded - he and Ogata were sort of friends, after all, even if the friendship did often look somewhat one-sided.
 
Kouyo spoke to the police in private first, outlining what had just occurred, and then delving into the history of the matter. They took notes dutifully, then one of them returned to the squad car, presumably to report back Ogata’s description. Afterwards, they took statements from Akira and Ashiwara, then took Shindou into the kitchen to talk in private. They’d wanted to bring him down the station, but given the state of the teen’s health and nerves, after a hushed conversation they had agreed to interview him there. 
 
That left the other three go players in the study room. Akira still looked a little rattled over the whole affair, and in all honesty the elder Touya was not faring a great deal better. Ashiwara was mostly just confused. “Sensei, what exactly is going on? What on earth was Shindou Hikaru even doing here? And why did Ogata…”
 
Sighing, the former pro rubbed his temples tiredly. “I am afraid Ogata was responsible for young Shindou’s recent lack of attendance at the Go Institute.”
 
“Oh?”
 
Kouyo outlined what Ogata had been doing rather sketchily, mostly just highlighting the fact that the Jyudan was irrationally obsessed with the sho-dan’s Go and had kidnapped him. He deliberately left out any mention of NetGo, and skimmed over some of the more unsettling details, but Ashiwara was still plenty horrified. 
 
“Who would have thought… Ogata…. We’ve been playing Go together for years!”
 
“Believe me, you’re not the only one who was shocked,” he assured the younger man. “Though I would ask discretion on your part. There’s not much that can – or should – be done to help Ogata, but I don’t think Shindou would appreciate Go Weekly hounding him over this.”
 
“Right. Of course.” Kouyo didn’t honestly believe that Ashiwara was capable of keeping even small secrets, but asking would be enough to stop him running and telling everyone he knew or spilling his guts to a reporter. It was predominantly why he’d left a lot of details out of his brief explanation. “Still… it’s just… you’re sure there’s no misunderstanding?”
 
“He was choking him!” Akira said in disbelief. 
 
“Right… right. I’m sorry, it’s just all so much to take in…”
 
“I understand,” the elder Touya comforted. “You know, this will probably take a while – you’ve given your statement, there’s no need to hang around.”
 
He’d partly expected his shaken student to protest and insist on staying, just to be involved, but to his surprise the normally spritely brunette just nodded weakly. “I think I might head off. You have my number if there’s anything else you need, right? Don’t be afraid to call.”
 
“You assistance is very much appreciated.”
 
“Right. Oh, boy, I’ve got a match tomorrow and I’m not going to be able to concentrate at all….”
 
Ashiwara shuffled out of the house, muttering to himself. 
 
“Are you sure he’s going to be alright?” his son asked.
 
“He’s a grown man – he can take care of himself.” Even though in Ashiwara’s case, it was sometimes easy to forget. There were times when he believed Akira more capable. “I’m more concerned about you.”
 
“Oh, I’m alright. It doesn’t even really hurt,” the teen assured him, poking his own cheek experimentally. There was a shadow of bruise forming, but it probably wouldn’t become dark enough to be to that obvious.
 
“But I expect it has been quite harrowing for you also, all this upheaval…”
 
Akira shrugged but didn’t meet his eyes. “It’s been worse for Shindou.”
 
There was something somewhat off about the way his son had said that, but he chose not to press the issue. “Would you like to play a game while we wait?”
 
“Sure.”
 
The police stayed there questioning Shindou for a long time – the sun had set by the time they finally left, with stern reminders that they remain contactable and to call them again immediately if Ogata showed his face again. 
 
The sho-dan at the centre of the entire fuss shuffled out of the kitchen tiredly as the two police officers left. They’d been very patient when he’d taken a while to answer, and had been nice enough, but the sheer number of questions they’d asked… it hadn’t been pleasant, having to dredge up so many details of the whole horrible experience. They hadn’t understood much about Go, so he’d at least been able to avoid of any mention of Sai’s name, instead just saying that the Jyudan had thought he was a mildly famous player on the internet and wouldn’t believe him when he’d told him it wasn’t true. 
 
“At least it’s over,” he thought to himself.
 
“You did very well, Hikaru,” Sai encouraged him. “Now the police will go catch Ogata, right, and you’ll never have to worry about him again?”
 
“That’s the idea, anyway.” The thought was pretty comforting, even though the spectre of paranoia lingered at the back of his consciousness. His nerves were still on edge, and his world had sharpened into focus, taking on an odd sort of hyper-reality that hadn’t faded yet.
 
“Shindou, are you alright?” the Meijin asked when he entered the study room. Touya turned to look at him, then pointedly looked away again almost immediately. 
 
He just nodded, then gestured awkwardly at the other teen’s face. “I’m sorry about… you know…”
 
“Don’t mention it,” Akira cut in abruptly.
 
“Indeed, it was nobody’s fault but Ogata’s,” the elder Touya stated firmly. “Now… Shindou, what would you like to do now?”
 
It was clear from the man’s tone that he was asking whether he wanted to sleep, or eat, or bathe, or do some other mundane activity to pass the time, but there was only one answer Hikaru had to that question.   "I want to go home," he whispered, unable to quite get his voice up to speaking properly yet.  It hadn't helped matters much with the police asking him to repeat himself and elaborate on all sorts of odd details for what felt like hours, and by now it had become quite hoarse.

"But Shindou, when I called your parents weren't yet back-" the former Meijin began.

"I don't care.  I want to go home," he repeated.

The two Touyas exchanged a glance.  "But if Ogata...," Akira began hesitantly.

"I'll lock all the doors and windows until my parents get back.  I won't answer if anyone knocks.  I'll get Waya or someone to come over or something.  I just want to...," his voice trailed off, and he found himself coughing.  His throat felt sort of tender and swollen, and it kept closing up when he tried to say too many words in a row.
 
“Hikaru, are you sure that’s really wise?”
 
“I don’t care if it’s wise. I just want to go home.”
 
How could he really explain it without offending them?  He just wanted to be home.  He was tired of staring at unfamiliar walls, unfamiliar people and dreaming that he was waking up at home, only to discover that it was all another illusion.  He wanted that dream to be reality already.  He wanted to wake up at home, safe and warm in his familiar bed in his room with familiar walls and get life back to normal again so that he could start pretending it had never happened.
 
Touya Kouyo was studying him. He shifted uncomfortably under the gaze – the elder had a way of looking at you that made it feel like he could read your deepest secrets just from your expression. And who knew, maybe he could. Still, the sho-dan found himself hiding his wrists behind his back anyway – the man always looked so angry whenever he caught sight of the marks there. Never mind that they were healing quite nicely.
 
The man would let him go, right? He wouldn’t keep him here? He couldn’t keep him here. Still, he could feel the worry and fear starting to creep back in, and it took a supreme act of will to not bolt then and there. If they were surprised, he could probably get a head start…
 
“Tomorrow,” the retired pro said finally, though he was clearly reluctant to agree to it. “If that’s what you want, we’ll take you back to your house tomorrow. Give the police some time to track down Ogata first.”
 
Hikaru wanted to leave tonight, or better yet, straight away, but it was good enough. He found himself relaxing again. “Okay. Tomorrow….. Thank you.”
 
Then everything could finally be normal again.
 
“You’re far from normal, Hikaru,” the ghost remarked, hiding his amused grin behind his fan. It was clearly meant to cheer him up, and his host obliged him with a very slight smile.
 
“Look who’s talking, Sai.”