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Caught In A Ladder Chapter the Eighteenth

Title: Caught In A Ladder
Author: sinnatious
: 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:  Is this thing on?

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



Caught In A Ladder

Chapter 18 – Playing The Game After Its Finished

By Sinnatious


Touya Akira lingered only briefly at the Go Salon that afternoon, intent on heading home to do his homework, and perhaps also take another look at that damn perplexing game he’d had with Shindou. It was cloudy out, he noted, though the sky had been completely clear at noon. Even though it looked unlikely to rain, he walked briskly, not wanting to get caught in a sudden downpour without an umbrella. 

“I’m home!” he called automatically on entering. There was no response – the house was almost unnaturally quiet. Akira frowned. If he stretched his memory, he could recall his mother saying that she was going to be visiting a friend until late, but his father ought to be around. If anything, it was mildly surprising that he couldn’t hear the murmured voices of some other go pros from the study room, as barely as day went by now without his father having some guest come over for a leisurely game. His mother always clucked disapprovingly, wondering out loud why her husband had bothered retiring if he was still going to play so frequently, but all of them knew that the former Meijin would be restless otherwise. Recovering from a minor heart attack or not, it would be hard to go from the sort of schedule he’d been handling previously to a completely idle lifestyle. 

A quick glance around the foyer showed his father’s sandals present, so that confirmed the man was home at least. After a moment, his eyes alighted upon a ragged pair of sneakers, momentarily confusing him. They were about his size, but Akira was almost certain that he didn’t own a pair of shoes like that. He only had one pair of sneakers, and they still looked new thanks to how rarely he wore them. Had his father perhaps taken a new Insei in under his wing now that he had the time?

Curiosity now piqued, he stopped by the kitchen, absently noting his mother’s message pinned to the fridge, informing him that dinner was already prepared within and to just heat it up when he and his father wanted to eat. Grabbing a quick drink of water and dropping his bag off into his room, he set out searching for his father. The room where they usually held the study sessions was empty, as was the garden. Venturing deeper into his house, a cursory glance into his parent’s bedroom revealed that was vacant too, leaving only the guest bedroom to check. 

He slid open the door, and found his hand frozen on the frame. 

Akira stared, somewhat dumbfounded, at the scene in front of him. His soon to be rival was sitting there in the corner of the guest bedroom, knees hugged against his chest, wearing what looked suspiciously like a set of his old clothes.


"Ah, Akira, you're home." His father entered the room from behind him, and calmly padded his way over to the other boy.

Unconsciously following, he began, "Father, what-"

He trailed off when he realised that no one was paying him any real attention, and settled for watching the strange encounter instead, trying to deduce what exactly was going on. He hadn’t seen hide or hair of the other pro since that bizarre match in Ogata’s apartment, then all of a sudden he turned up at his house out of the blue?

His father gently took Shindou's wrist, causing Akira to flinch at the sight of the red grazes and bruising there. What on earth had happened?

Calmly, the former Meijin started softly rubbing a pungent liquid over the abused wrists. "This will help prevent infection. Are you injured anywhere else?"

The sho-dan bit his lip, which as far as Akira was concerned, was an admission of guilt. "Go on, it's fine," his father coaxed the other boy patiently.

Averting his eyes, Shindou pulled his left pants leg up above his knee. A small but ugly and painful looking circular red burn sat just above his kneecap. Akira was barely able to suppress the gasp this time. His father had better self-control, a slight tightening of the edges of his mouth the only indication of any anger. Expression remaining neutral, Touya Kouyo inquired, "How did that one happen?"

It was first time Akira had heard the other boy speak since he'd arrived. He was shocked at how small and shaky Hikaru's normally boisterous voice sounded.

"He put his cigarette out on my leg."

“What?! A cigarette?!” Akira couldn’t make any sense of the situation, and it frustrated him.

Ignoring him yet again, the former Meijin folded his arms pensively. “Are you sure that’s the only other one? I still think you should go to a hospital.”

Shaking his head furiously, Shindou replied, “The rest are just bruises, I swear!” His eyes slid around the room in a jerky and unsettling manner, as though he was having trouble focusing on anything for more than five seconds. 

Akira could tell that his father was growing angry, and that alone unsettled him. His father was often stern, true, but he was always calm and in control of his emotions.

“Bruises, you say?”

Moving swiftly, before either of the two boys had a chance to react, the elder Touya grasped the hem of Shindou’s shirt and pulled it upwards.

“No!” Hikaru was fast to pull the shirt back down, but both of them had chance enough to see the collection of large, dark bruises marring his torso, in addition to the showing ribs. Touya had never realised that his chosen rival was so very thin. But more the point – who on earth had DONE that to him? From what little glimpse he’d been able to catch, the bruises were all various shades of colour, indicating a time span of at least a number of days over the course of their infliction. Was it his parents? When Akira thought back, he’d never actually seen the other boy’s parents, not at any of the tournaments, not at the Institute, anywhere, really. But wait… that girl, Akari, had said Shindou’s parents were away on holiday or something. Bullies, maybe? What kind of bullies could leave someone is such a paranoid state, though? The other teen looked like he was about ready to bolt at the slightest opportunity, and there was a haze of confusion over his expression.

Touya Kouyo settled again, giving the battered youth some of his personal space back. “He really did a number on you. Even if you don’t want to go to hospital, you should at least go to a doctor, to make sure that you don’t have any broken ribs.”

“Father, what’s going on?! What happened to Shindou?” Akira demanded, growing tired of being ignored. 

"Oh, Touya!" The sho-dan seemed to notice Akira for the very first time, even though he’d been standing there for at least ten minutes. He managed a weak smile, though it came off more as slightly crazed. "I should thank you for delivering my message.”


“Yeah – the one I hid in that game of Go we played. Your father saw it, and came and rescued me. Unless I’m just dreaming,” he continued in a low tone, brow furrowed, and turned to the elder Touya with that lost and confused look stealing over his face again. “I’m not dreaming am I?” He pinched the skin of his right arm a few times, as though fascinated with the movement of his hands and fingers. 

The former Meijin sighed, and replied, “I assure you this is all very real.”

“Father, what’s-”

“I’m afraid now isn’t the best time, Akira,” his father interrupted gently but firmly. “But if you could please bring me the phone book and the cordless, I would very much appreciate it.”

“Um, right.” Akira hurried from the room, fetching the cordless phone from its cradle in his parent’s bedroom and stopping by the phone in the hallway to extract the phone book from underneath it. Practically tripping over his own feet, he hurried back to his father, presenting the items to him awkwardly. Shindou was still huddled in the corner, biting the edge of his lip and eying the cordless phone anxiously. 

“Thank you, Akira,” his father replied. “Do you mind telling me your home number, Shindou? I would like to call to see if your parents are home.”

Sai watched his host’s eyes dart back and forth, and immediately understood the concern. Hikaru was no doubt recalling Ogata’s fateful phone call to his house, and was likely fretting over what might happen if his parents still weren’t home. 

"It's okay Hikaru. You can trust this man. I know it," the ghost soothed his friend with a sad smile.

“But – even if they ARE home, what I am supposed to do then? How am I supposed to explain all of this to them without them thinking that I’m you? That I’m Sai?” 

“You’ll figure out something. You always do.”

Out loud, the teen asked, “Then what is the phone book for?”

It was fortunate the Meijin was the patient type. He carefully replied, “To call for take-out if your parents aren’t home. My wife has left dinner prepared for us, but I don’t expect it will be enough for three, and I imagine you are quite hungry.”

“See, it’s fine. Just tell him your phone number, Hikaru,” Sai encouraged.

“I don’t know, Sai.”

“Look, he couldn’t keep you here even if he tried. Half the doors here are traditional shojis. There is absolutely nothing to stop you from making a run for it.”

“Doesn’t matter if I’m tied to a chair.”

“There are no chairs, see? Besides, he already knows that your parents were away anyway. If they’re not there, it won’t change anything.” 

Hikaru contemplated that for a moment. Sai was expecting his friend to come back with another argument, but after a beat the teen was stuttering out his phone number, which the Meijin carefully dialled into the phone. 

It hurt the ghost worse than anything else to see the teen so broken. He was like a spooked rabbit, constantly on edge. The youth had held up remarkably well throughout the ordeal, but the last week had taken a heavy toll on him. The guilt gnawed at the spirit's consciousness - technically, this was entirely his fault; a direct result of his selfish desires to play Go. Because of him, Hikaru had suffered terribly. 

He would never again complain when his host refused to let him play. The youth was naturally generous - whenever he felt it was safe to do so, he'd go to quite a bit of effort to let his disembodied companion play, even going so far as to sacrifice a good portion of his summer holidays to play on the internet when he could have just as easily been playing himself, or doing any other number of activities. He knew now, with a cold certainty, that Hikaru knew exactly what he was doing when he didn't let Sai play. The youth was more shrewd than what anyone, even himself, had given him credit for.

After a moment, the former Meijin pressed a button on the phone. “It went to the answering machine. It appears that they’re either not back yet, or they’re out. We’ll try again later. In the meantime, Akira, what would you like for dinner?”

Sai tuned out the rest of the conversation, keeping half an eye on the other young Go player in the room who looked almost as confused as Hikaru himself. “See? It’s fine. Just relax, Hikaru. It’s okay now. You’re free. Your Go got us out. Not my Go, yours.”

“Yeah… yeah.” It seemed as though the teen was trying to convince himself more than anyone else. “We’re out. We’re outside.” Hikaru laughed a little out that, a burbling giggle that didn’t quite escape his throat. The other two occupants in the room glanced at him worriedly, but didn’t say anything of it. 

Sai shook his head. In Go, Hikaru had a tendency to maintain perfect composure during a game and then lose it afterwards. It appeared that trait extended somewhat to real life as well. “Just rest,” he counselled. “I’ll keep watch for you.”

“Thanks Sai. Sorry for all the trouble.”

“No, Hikaru. It is I who should apologise.”


“Never mind. Just… rest. We’ll talk later.”