title: between Black and White is Red
fandom: Hikaru no Go
characters/pairings: one-sided Akari/Hikaru, Akari/Mitani, vague Hikaru/Touya, Sai, Waya, Isumi, Ogata, Touya Kouyo, others
rating: Teen/Mature
warnings: bloodplay, vampirism, attempt at noir, journalism, violence
summary: She won't give up the search, she won't abandon him, no matter what…
notes: for blind_go, round 4, AUs...

Once again, I found myself being grateful for the preponderance of perverts in the world. That, and Madame Li's Self Defense for Girls class I picked up in college. Useful. Much more useful than most of the other journalism classes I took.

Of course, I probably should have paid more attention in my English class if I was going to use my short skirt to get me into the office of Eddie the Fin, knock him out as he was working on getting in said short skirt, and then go through his paperwork, but at eighteen, who can say they knew where their life will lead?

Yeah.

So, I'm keeping my eye on "the Fin" - named so because he Finnish, not mafia affiliated - and looking for anything that will spark. Anything at all. That stupid eye inside a triangle the 'Illuminati' use, or a Go stone... a hand, even. Yeah, I'm reduced to searching for pictograms. Eddie's not with the Illuminati, which just means he might actually know something, but he's holed up in the armpit of Detroit, which probably means he doesn't...

So why am I here? I'm asking myself that. I know I'm crazy. Spending so much of my life searching for something that can't be found... and yeah, I'm supposed to be finishing up an article on aliens impersonating CIA officers. I can type that shit up on the plane, though. This is important.

This is a waste of my time, but it's an important waste of my time.

The phone rings, and I jump, and turn to watch Eddie. He stirs a bit, but the bruise on his head is still growing, so he's probably got a good fifteen minutes before he can be vertical again. I keep searching. I got this name from a man who claimed he was leaving the Illuminati after seeing some terrible things, and 'the Fin' knew what he'd mean. He gave me this name, and a silver Go stone. The Go stone, I know what to do with. It's a key of sorts. But I gotta find the door it will unlock.

That's where Eddie and his fast hands and drooling came in, but talking wasn't really an efficient way to get information. I'm thinking about just lifting his laptop when the answering machine picks up.

"Eddie, it's Waya, I sent out the shipment last night. About the invoice..."

I pause. The voice isn't familiar, but the guy is definitely Japanese. Pretty easy to tell, even though his English is better than mine.

"By the way, I got a few new customers for you. Please don't send 'em back to me, no matter what. You know how much I hate that shit. Just send 'em on a nice chase and keep 'em out of my hair. Thanks."

I grab my purse, and pull out my notepad. Caller ID is a great thing, don't you think? I take down 'Waya's' phone number, and book it.

Eddie doesn't know anything, sure, but Waya must know enough to give Eddie instructions.

Once I'm back in my shit in the wall motel room, I look up the area code on 'Waya's' number. Seattle. I book the flight, search the phone number online, email my editor, and oh yeah, make up some excellent shit about aliens in the CIA. I'm just that good, and I can always sleep on the plane.

I've never been to Seattle before. Should be fun.

I love the rain. Normally. The rainy season doesn't bother me at all. I still love jumping in puddles. In some ways... ok, maybe a lot, I haven't grown up at all. Yeah, I love the rain...

Unless I've just gotten off a plane, have not slept a wink in over thirty hours, couldn't sleep on the plane because the pervert next to me kept trying to stick his hand up my skirt, my luggage got lost, my editor sent me a scathing email that I had the pleasure of reading while the airline explained to me why I was lucky they didn't lose me, I got lost twice because the airport was insane, and, of course, I had no umbrella and it started to pour just after the last cab pulled away just as I stepped out from under cover...

Really great way to start the day. Really. So, soaking wet and pissed off, I get the next cab, which took fifteen minutes to get here, because I was waiting for it, and I give him the address for Waya that I found. The cabbie makes a big deal out of not being able to understand me, even though he hardly looks like apple pie and white bread, either.

Pissed off... maybe that would serve me just fine, all things considered.

This guy is trying to take me for a ride in more than one way, though, because I can't believe that it's taking the better part of an hour to get there, so I say something snide, but he just keeps pretending that I don't speak English. Finally, we get there.

It's a nice building, a storefront place. There's just a sign on the side of the building, wooden, with a grid cut into it, and Waya's name in Japanese at the bottom, and the words 'Go Antiques' on the top. The sign is over a short flight of stairs that leads down to a door that's been painted black. That part... doesn't excite me too much.

Sure, in this line of work, well, it's not like I'm sitting behind a desk taking messages, after all. This could be damned risky, but it's worth it. If I can learn something, even a tiny scrap of information...

So, I don't hesitate going down the stairs, and I lay on the buzzer until I finally hear signs of life inside. Nothing's going to stop me from getting in, even if I have to break in, but given that's it's now just before one, and even if it is pouring buckets, most people have umbrellas or raincoats...

The door opens abruptly, and a messy-haired guy with a sour expression opens the door. "By appointment only!"

I throw my whole body weight against the door, though, keeping him from closing it. "I met Eddie in Detroit. I need to see you, sorry..."

He gives me a look, and then his eyes... they go dead. "No one needs to see me, lady," and his voice, at least, sounds grateful to be speaking Japanese. "Don't know what you think you want here..."

"I have a silver Go stone. It's got two punctures on one side. I need to know where to play it."

He regards me coolly, but I'm not giving an inch. Slowly, I'm trying to push my way inside, but suddenly, he lets go of the door, and I nearly fall on my face.

Surprised I didn't really, the way the day was shaping up...

"Might as well come in. I've got tea brewing. You're soaked. But..." He turned, and started to shuffle inside, shaking his head. "I don't have what you're looking for."

I straighten up and smooth out my skirt, chasing after him. "You sell antique gobans, correct?"

"Sure," he yawned, shrugging. "Doesn't mean I know anything about silver stones. Go stones are white and black, you know."

"And sometimes, gobans have bloodstains."

He stops dead, which proves to me that he actually knows something. I press on, needing a lead. Since I got that damned stone, I've run into nothing but interference and dead ends. This is a live one, I can taste it, and I'm not letting go.

"What does the name Sai mean to you?"

Slowly, he turns, and the look on his face is dangerous. "What does it mean to you, I wonder?"

I ball my hands up into fists. "Members of the Illuminati will pay top dollar for your goods, right, because they think it will lead them to the Hand of God? To Sai? To... immortality?"

He barked out a harsh laugh. "And is that what you want? To be forever young and sexy?"

"I want my friend back. I want Shindou Hikaru back. You know that name?" I snarl. I shouldn't be letting this get too personal, that's no way to run an interview, but I feel like if I don't attack, I won't get a chance to later.

And his expression does change. I know that change. That's the look I get when someone who knows something realizes I'm not a total dipshit, after all. He rubs his chin, looking me over...

And then he turns.

"Come on. I can give you tea. If you're looking for Shindou... that'll be all I can give you."

His voice sounds haunted, his shoulders slump... I have this bad feeling that I'd recognize his expression now, too, and it's one I've seen in the damned mirror too much.

I follow him into the kitchen, and I sit down where he vaguely indicates. The tea he gives me is too strong and has leaves floating in it, but I gulp down a bit, anyway, because I'm cold and wet. He sits down opposite me, and turns his cup on the saucer, alternatively looking at the Formica and me with equal suspicion. "Who do you think Sai is?"

I blink. Well. Never been asked that in quite that way before... "He's a legend in the Go world. Made a splash online and disappeared. They say... they say that he defeated the top Go pro in the world and then evaporated.

"He's connected to Hikaru, though."

Waya nods slowly, and lifts his cup, just sipping at it. "No one knows the truth. Whatever you think you know about it, you don't. No one knows except people who know, and no one like that is telling. Near as I can figure, though, he's Shindou's teacher. I mean, with Go, of course. And, I know... he's the Hand of God."

I shake my head involuntarily. "So, the Illuminati has it right and he's the key to immortality?"

Waya looks really amused for a second, and when he does, he looks fifteen or twenty years younger, which probably puts him as his real age, close to mine. Damn. "You're not a Go player, huh?"

"Is that... important?" I ask stiffly. I still do consider myself a Go player, but I know to people like Hikaru and this Waya, I'm not.

"Nah, not really. Except... you probably don't understand. What the Hand of God means. Which means you probably can't understand what Sai means. To the Go world... he's... he's a fucking Messiah. Get close to him, and you get close to perfection. Best game of your life, I mean. The closer you are to him, the better your chances of being someone are. Which is... that's..." His expression goes sour, ugly, and he looks away.

There are wounds here, wounds like mine, which is maybe why I'm fine with prodding them. "Did you try to get close?"

He snorts. "Yeah, see... again... we're talking about someone that only the God of Go can call a rival. Or maybe Touya-sensei. You don't get close to him by just wanting it. See... why are you even trying? I mean... for Shindou of all people?"

My back stiffens, and I know my upper lip curls up. "Hikaru has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. His poor mother is a wreck, you know! He's someone important to me. I'm not giving up until I find him."

But Waya isn't impressed with my resolve. He pulls a goban over between us. It's a dingy thing, not the sort that he can pass off to the fools of the Illuminati as a passageway to immortality. "No. See. This is about Go. It's not about the stones you put down. It's about the stones you lose. The territory you lose. Go can only be played with two people, right? It's not about how strong you are. It's about how strong you are compared to who you're playing." He puts down a few stones, displaying the dexterity of a pro. "If you keep down this path... if you keep looking for that Shindou. You'll find him, eventually. But what will you give up? What will you sacrifice to gain the territory you want?" I see now that he's playing a real game, taking stones away, building a shape... "What are you willing to lose? Because you will lose something."

"I just want my friend back," I say, upset to find my voice shaking. I'm better than some stupid Go reference! But seeing the stones flowing on the board...

"Back... back when we were friends. Back when I played. A friend of mine went seeking. He made pro late, in his opinion, and he wanted to hit the ground running. Isumi-san was a respectable player. He was a model, really, for what a Go pro should be. What he wanted... it was something he should have found in himself." Waya clears his throat, and gulps down the rest of his tea. "What he got instead... sure, he was stronger. For a while. But then... it was like he was an addict. Things changed... He made a choice. He could have followed the path to the Hand of God on his own. The path to a perfect game, whatever... whatever you want to call it. But he couldn't take being weak anymore.

"I lost him. Lost him to that. So." He picked off all the white stones, and tossed them aside messily.

I watch the discarded stones, digesting. Sure... what he's saying, I've heard it before. Whatever language people use, whether they call it a secret cabal or a cult or a society... it all amounts to the same. People go seeking power and immortality and all that and are never heard from again. That was why I needed to find Hikaru...

"You think you can just go in and save Shindou... but Shindou's in deeper than anyone. So you'd better figure out just how much you're willing to lose to do this. Saving him... you probably can't do that. Not that you'll listen, but..." He shakes his head, and gets up to rinse out his cup.

"I can figure that out... once I have a clue as to how to get close to him," I say, glad my voice sounds flinty this time. See... Waya lost his Isumi. So he won't believe anyone can save anyone else from them, but...

"All right, I'll help you," he says loftily. "If you can give me some information." He turns and leans with his hands clutching the side of the sink. "When did Shindou meet Sai? Have you seen this so-called blood stained goban?"

It's like a fucking trigger has been pulled, and my brain is ready to implode. I need to rub my eyes for a second. Something tugs at me from all angles. I know I can answer those questions, but my tongue is tied and I don't know the words. Still, I'm used to this. I just need to go through it step by step. I know this all by heart. "Hikaru... never played Go. Woulda... rather thrown a stone into the river than place it on a board, you know? He knew nothing of the game. Didn't care. And then one day..." I put my hands on the table, steadying myself. My stomach lurches and vertigo hits me like crazy.

One day... what comes after one day...

"He never mentioned Sai... never once. But. That was it. That was... was the time. After that day... Hikaru... Hikaru, it didn't all happen at once. It wasn't like he became pro right away. He just. Bit by bit. He gave his life to Go."

Waya leans forward, eyes narrowed, searching me, like he could see it inside of me. I wish he could. I really fucking do. Then he could tell me. Because there's something... I know it's...

"That day? One day? What happened that day?"

I feel sick. No one cares. I gotta pull it together. "I... I don't remember. Honest to... fuck. I don't remember. But after that, some time after that, he got into Go, and then he had his own goban and stones, and sometime after that, he got a goban from his grandfather, and after that..."

I hadn't heard about the bloodstained goban until I started researching, starting looking for him. Maybe I waited too long. But no one could have known. It happened... step by step... stone by fucking stone...

Waya nods slowly, and then he straightens up. "Ok. Ok, I get it. It exists." I look up at him, and I see it... He licks his lips... he wanted it, too. Wanted the power, the knowledge, the whatever it was that Isumi-san and Hikaru and all those freaks in the Illuminati, he wanted it and got close and he chickened out. Of course, he made the right choice, but.

Still, chickening out is chickening out.

"I don't know where they are, not exactly. But you said you had that stone? The person you need to talk to is Touya-sensei. Well, you need to talk to his son... but that's the second step. Take that punctured silver stone to the Go Institute in Tokyo, go up to the third floor. There's an archivist who works there off hours, named Jun. Old man, very neat. Give him the stone, and your number, and tell him you'd like to play the teacher. Yeah.

"That's all I can do for you."

I stand up and hold out my hand. I still feel like I'm on a fucking boat and I'm a bit disturbed by everything we've talked about, but for the first time in almost a year, I've got a positive lead. "Thanks. I really can't tell you enough. Thanks. You could be saving a lot of people."

"I'm not saving anyone. I'm putting you in harm's way," he says darkly. "You still have no idea what you're going into. And no one knows but the people who aren't telling. But. Good luck, I guess." He's got that haunted look again, and it occurs to me to wonder how badly he must have been wounded to drive him to leave not only the game that was his life, but his own country. "And. Wait. I don't know your name..."

"Akari," I smile tiredly. "Fujisaki Akari."

"Fujisaki-chan," he says, nodding, taking my hand. "If you're really going after Shindou, prepare to give your life."

I don't even know how long it took me to get home. I spent the night in the airport, and then it was to Los Angeles and to Dallas and then to Tokyo and to the train and I don't even know what day it is anymore. I just know that the sun is too damned bright, I've been thinking way too much, and Mitani is waiting for me on my stoop.

I'm not expecting that, so it can't be good.

I approach him slowly, but I'm... I'm seriously tired! And annoyed, and... I just don't want to deal with it. But he gives me that tired, lopsided, sardonic smile, like there's a joke and only we two are in on it...

I sigh.

"Don't look so happy to see me. I'll get a big ego," he says quietly when I'm close enough to hear.

"Bigger?" I tease him. "It's just not a good time. I'm jetlagged and exhausted and..."

He holds out an envelope for me. I take it because I'm too tired not to just blindly do so, but I stare at it. It's just a plain brown envelope. I have no idea why he's giving it to me or why I should care...

"Haze had our reunion last weekend," he says quietly. He's watching me. His eyes are the same as always, somewhat sloped, kind of sleepy looking, but I know he doesn't miss a thing.

I look back down at the envelope. "You went? That's surprising..."

"The Go club went out for dinner." He points to the envelope. "That stupid volleyball bitch was there. Do you know, she's a surgeon now, head surgeon in some backwater hospital in the middle of nowhere," he grumbles.

That makes me smile, because... well. I open the envelope and pull out the pictures. In a way, I wish I had been there with them. I wish I had a normal life that wasn't full of mysteriously ominous warnings and missing friends and silver stones... of course, if I had that life, it would mean I had given up on Hikaru. I want to say something to Mitani, something to make him understand, I wanted it...

And what sort of life will I have if I do find Hikaru? Do I... do I think that he'll finally realize how he's been madly in love with me for years on end now? It makes me want to laugh.

And then he's kissing me. Mitani is. Because I really don't know where Hikaru is. This is Mitani, and he's just like he always is. Sweet, and tender, and hesitant, but confident... he makes me feel confident...

He breaks off the kiss, and steps back, licking his lips. "Remember? I told you I'd kiss you any time I caught you thinking of Shindou."

I'm blushing, I know it. Oh, shit... he made that promise to me our first year in college. When we started dating. I nearly fell in love with him... fuck, maybe I did. Is that why I need to find Hikaru? For closure?

"Stop gaping at me," he sighs. "C'mon, let's go upstairs. I'll make you tea and draw your bath and you can get some sleep in a bed."

"Mitani..."

"You used to call me Yuuki. Akari." He says pointedly, looking at me sadly. Yeah, well. I used to.

I don't know exactly what happened, but I sort of fall into his arms. I'm close now, and I need to tell him all about it, even though I'm sure he doesn't want to hear it. And he'll even support me in finding Hikaru, because he's not the little shit he makes himself out to be, so he doesn't want to abandon a friend, but...

It's my motives that he's wondering about. I'm wondering about them, too, now that he's here.

Never can just be easy, can it?

"So let me get this straight... you're going to take a punctured silver Go stone to an old man and he's going to give you the secret password to the clubhouse of the cult that stole Shindou?"

I make a face at him. I don't know how he ended up spending the night. I don't. I don't know how I ended up wearing just his shirt while making him breakfast. Of course, breakfast is just energy bars and double coffees, but that's fine for him, too. "Something like that. Only not."

"I don't know, Akari. It sounds dangerous. Are you sure you want to do this alone?" he leans back, looking worried. And cute, too, or I'd give him an earful as I toss him his energy bar.

"Please. I'm not exactly new to this. I can do this."

I know he's giving me a look because he sighs heavily, but I ignore that. I can't deal with his looks just now. I'll put it on my to do list.

"I know it sounds crazy..."

"You love him."

I hate it when people tell me that. I don't need to be told how I feel. And... Hikaru... he's more like a brother, except...

"I've done some asking around myself, you know. In the Go world... salons and stuff. Shindou was a fast-rising star... a rival to Touya Akira. And then he just stopped playing... professionally. But there were still reports of people who played him."

"I know all of that," I snap. I don't mean to. Just. I do know all of that!

"You know... the people who tell the stories... " he leans forward. "They aren't the ones who actually played Shindou. They're the friends or relatives. The ones who play him..."

"Don't come back. I know." I'm not looking at him. I'm sucking down my coffee fast, feeling annoyed.

"Do you care if you come back?" His voice sounds like shattered glass. I can't help but take a glance at him... I wonder what's wrong with me that I can keep hurting him like this when he's the one I.... "Let me rephrase that. Are you willing to sacrifice yourself for Shindou? Do you love him that much?"

I don't know what to say to him. The fact that he's echoing what Waya told me... I don't know what to say to that, either.

What price am I really willing to pay?

It's just after sunset when I slip into the Go Institute. People are milling about the lobby, workers who are getting ready to leave, and students and pros, still talking. This makes it the perfect opportunity, and after spending most of the day screaming at and being screamed at by my boss, I'm glad for anything to be going right.

I've got a wicked headache, and I keep hearing Waya's voice and Mitani's. I can't listen, though. Ever since Hikaru's mother came into my mother's house and broke down into tears, I've promised myself that no matter what, I'd find the answer. I'd find him, and answer... all my questions. So. I've just got to keep focused.

I take the stairs, because I don't want to be noticed by anyone. The third floor doesn't get much action, it looks like, so it's pretty dark. I walk quietly, checking every door...

A few twists and turns down the way, there's an open door with light pouring out of it. Can't hurt to check it out, so I poke my nose in...

The man at the counter has got to be one hundred years old. If not older! His bald head is speckled with liver spots, his white hair runs unevenly down his back, his clothes look dusty, threadbare, and drooping. He'd definitely lost weight, and probably height, since he first bought them. His chin is covered in coarse, dark hairs sticking out strangely, but there are two long strands of white hair tumbling down off the corners of his upper lip.

My first instinct is to back off and try something else, but the reporter in me goads me onward.

I need to find Hikaru.

"Jun-san? Am I disturbing you?"

He doesn't look up from whatever it is that he's doing. He's bent over an old scroll, dabbing it lovingly with a cotton ball he's holding with tweezers. Archivist work, I suppose, but I don't know anything about it. He doesn't look up at me when he responds. "Of course you are, young lady. Obviously. How could you not be? We've never even met before. Introductions are always disturbing."

I grin. At least he's not completely desiccated. And he doesn't appear to have claws or fangs, so. Nothing ventured. I pull out my treasured silver Go stone and put it down, punctures side up, on the counter. "I was told that I... I could ask you to arrange a meeting with Touya-sensei."

He gently pulled his cotton ball back, and gave my stone a disparaging look. He set the cotton ball aside neatly on a Petri dish, and sighed, pulling out an ancient pair of spectacles, which he hooked over his ears, landing the bridge just on the tip of his nose.

"And now. It's been a long time since I've seen something like this. I have to wonder where a young lady who otherwise looks relatively more respectable than most of the hussies you encounter these days would acquire such a thing. Tell me, miss. Are you seeking the Hand of God?" He peers at me as sharply as a fox would, with dark eyes not dissimilar.

But I'm not fazed. "I'm seeking a friend of mine who went looking for that and got lost."

He snorts, and takes his spectacles off slowly. "Then he is truly lost, my dear. Give up on him?"

"Not in this lifetime, I'm afraid."

He sighed, and shakes his head. "That boy Kouyou has enough trouble on his head. He doesn't need anymore lost souls to fret over."

I wince a bit. Partially just because...calling Touya-sensei 'that boy Kouyou'... "I don't know whether Touya-sensei can help me or not. If not, well, I'll have to find some other way. But I need to find my friend. Shindou Hikaru. I'm not giving up until I find him."

He starts just a bit, and looks at me, narrowing his eyes. "Shindou... hm. You knew that boy."

"Y-you know him?"

"I knew of him. That boy Kouyou knew of him. Hm. I see. Young lady..." he hesitates, and I bite my tongue to keep from saying something that will sway him against me, because he's clearly debating with himself... Finally, he sighs, bends over, picks up a small card from behind his counter, and writes something on the back. "Here. Take this to the Touya residence, and give it to whoever that boy has answering the door now. It's all I can do for you. But. I would advise you to come to terms with your friend's... loss. Some territory can never be returned."

I press my lips together, too happy to be too annoyed with him. "That's the great thing about being a bad player, isn't it? You never know what you can't do until you try." He snorts, and hands me the card. In very neat but weak handwriting, he's written Give this girl a lesson - Jun.

"Knowing you're a bad player also means it's up to you to know your limits in picking opponents," he says, but with good humor.

So I press my luck. I take the stone again, and bow to him. "Do you mind if I ask, Jun-san, but... how do you know Touya-sensei?"

He cackles, and picks up his cotton ball again, with the same delicacy as before. "And who do you think taught that brat to play in the first place, young miss?"

My heart races, though I'm not sure why. I feel more comfortable now, though, seeing the line of connection... from this old man to Touya-sensei to Touya Akira to Hikaru to me and around again... "Jun-sensei. What is the Hand of God?"

He pauses for a moment, and then bends his head over the scroll he's working on. "For some, it is the path to glory. For some, it is the path to ruin."

"Man, how should I know?" Mitani grumbled. "I stopped playing Go in high school. If you'd remember. Not like I was ever interested in hands of god or whatever. I just played!"

I make a face at him. He's cooking me dinner, or I'd kick him out. I decided to go see Touya-sensei the next day. After all, showing up at his house after dark... that just might leave the wrong impression entirely. I don't want him to think I'm psychotic or anything...

Obsessed, sure, I can't argue with, but not psychotic.

"You're useless to me," I sigh. "How am I supposed to get a lesson in Go from Touya-sensei when I don't even know the first thing about this... hand of god thing. I always thought it was something stupid only Illuminati freaks could believe in, but..."

He turns to give me a look. And then he starts to pull dinner off the stove. Great, I'm starving. "How much have you researched this?"

"What are you talking about? I may write for a rag, but I know my stuff!" Really, I don't need to be writing for tabloids, but it just suits my purposes...

"I mean... there are some... references to the Hand to God, the search for it. Going back to the time of Shuusaku. You know what that means?"

"That... it's some big Go thing..." I shrug and shake my head. He brings over the food... simple stir-fry over rice, but it looks and smells like fucking sex. A man who can cook... there's nothing more I need.

Well.

"It means. If there's some... cult or something that's got Shindou. It's been around since the time of Shuusaku. Maybe even before." The way he says that, he makes it sound ominous. But.

"Don't most cults have a history to them?" I ask, trying to brush off his fears. I take my chopsticks and give thanks for the food, but he's still watching me.

"We're talking about a group that has kidnapped or brainwashed or both Shindou, that Isumi guy, and possibly even the son of the most prominent Go player alive. If that's really why you have to see Touya-sensei to see Touya Akira. And they've been around for that long, and it doesn't strike you as being a bit suspicious?"

I pause and consider what he's saying, letting the meat I'm holding slip back down to my plate.

Well. Damn. I hate when he has points.

I do exactly as I was told, though, exactly as we planned. I go to the Touya residence, carrying the card from Jun-sensei. At first, I thought I should wear a kimono or something, but I go for a sedate pantsuit. I hate it, but it looks professional and dignified and I can kneel down without tugging at my hem every thirty seconds.

It's the little things that get you through the day, you know?

There's no lock on the gate, so I go straight the front door. It's answered by a young man, somewhat round in the cheeks, pleasant looking, a little handsome... except for the lines under his eyes. He looks accustomed to worry. "Can I help you, miss?"

I bow and I apologize and I hand him the card, keeping my eyes down. He frowns at it, but he shows me into a sitting room, which literally has nothing but a large pillow and a single branch precariously placed in its vase, with some wilting flowers clinging to it still - I hate Japanese decorating, really.

After a few minutes, the man who answered the door comes, bows, and asks me to follow him. He shows me to a parlor, bowing as he lets me in... this time, there's slightly more décor, which includes a goban in the middle of the room. There's also a man with a face like a tree trunk and hands like the branches. His hair is neatly combed and waxed back, but there's no more black in it. He doesn't look up at me when I enter, even after I introduce myself, even after I sit down opposite him. He's imposing as all hell, but I don't feel afraid of him.

I feel like I don't want to disappoint him.

"Touya-sensei, I... I'm looking for my friend..."

"I'll give you a handicap of ten."

He seems to have given that a lot of thought. Frankly, if he gave me a handicap of thirty, it wouldn't be enough. For some reason, I'm reaching for the stones, but... "Touya-sensei, I'm not really a Go player, I just..."

"Put down your stones," he says quietly, but with weight.

Man. Well. Not like I couldn't have expected that. Fine, then. I put down my stones. Normally, I would have spread my ten stones out like seeds, trying to cover as much area as possible. Of course, I'm not quite the kid I used to be, and I've lost to Hikaru enough times, despite a huge handicap, that I know there's no hope.

So, I cover a small corner. It make only be a few moku, but they're mine. He raises his eyebrows, and rubs his chin, but otherwise, he seems uninterested.

We play about a half dozen hands, maybe even less, and I feel like I'm being driven down by the pressure of his moves. I remember playing Hikaru, and feeling something like this, like nothing I can do can help me, but this... this is much worse. I feel myself starting to sweat, even.

"You have a deep desire to protect," he says, and he started to collect the stones. There's no shape yet, but I can't blame him. It's been too long since I played, and even then, I couldn't play someone like him.

I wonder if there really is anyone who can.

"Are you going to tell me that if I want to protect my territory, I have to be willing to give some up? I've been getting that a lot, lately," I try to joke.

"Some things... cannot be sacrificed," he sighs.

My heart pounds. "Touya-sensei... I was told... I was told that if I came to see you, I'd be able to... to see your son... and, then, I could find a friend of mine. Shindou Hikaru."

He doesn't move for a moment, just staring down at the board. "Ah. My son... is living in town. With that friend of yours. I have a key, and a standing invitation to go and... visit. Or join." He nods slowly, still staring intently at the board.

Is it... could it be that simple?! He has a key... he knows where Hikaru is? "May I... may I join you, sir, the next time you go to visit him?"

He shakes his head sadly. "I cannot go to my son, not where he is." There's such a wealth of sadness in his voice, but I want to throttle him. Cannot?! I don't want to hear that now! "If I go, I will lose the only advantage that I have. I will have to sacrifice something... that is far too precious for me. And so I sit in stalemate with him. His hands are sublime. He has good position. The game seems to be his... but there must be a way to break his game. There must be."

I shift a bit, because I'm not really sure if he's just blabbering insanely or if he really has a point. "I'm sorry, sir, I don't understand. Who is he...?"

He looks up at me, and I realize, looking into his eyes, he's not as old as he appears. But he's haunted. "Sai."

My blood runs cold. That name... I lean forward. "Sai... that's... that's who's got them? You know him?"

"I played him once. Or... perhaps twice... mm. I played him through the computer. I don't know what he looks like. I don't know if he's real. I don't know if that's who has them, as you say. Tell me something, Fujisaki-chan. Have you heard of a bloodstained goban? Have you seen it? Has Shindou?"

I feel like I can't breathe. This again. I don't know. Bloodstained... "No... I've never..."

"Shindou knew nothing of Go, correct? You knew him when he was in grade school. Before, even? He never played? And then... one day, he showed up at a junior tournament, making astute commentary. He defeated my son, handily, in a masterful teaching game. He started up the path of the pro. Why? Why did he begin to play?"

It feels like there's water rushing through my head. Why did Hikaru start to play? Why...? Why? I don't want to think about it. I can't.

"There's a connection between Shindou and Sai. There must be; he arranged my match with Sai. So, why does Sai not come out in public? Why does he not play, even online, anymore, and yet, he's so desperate to play me, he takes my son! What sort of monster is he?"

My world spins. It's summer and the cicadas are crazy loud. It's hot and stuffy and dusty as hell. We're someplace dark, and Hikaru is before me. I reach out for him, but suddenly... suddenly...

I lurch forward, only then realizing I was lying down. I feel like I'm about to lose everything I've eaten ever right there, but there's a cold towel on my forehead, just fell in my lap, I grab it, and press it to my face, concentrating on the cooling, trying to stay... calm...

I can't.

"Miss? Here, have this."

The smell is enough to knock me out, but someone is pressing it to my lips, so I take a sip. It's tea mixed with sake and ginger. Something like that. I take a few more sips, and then I look up...

It's the man who answered the door. He's smiling genially at me, though he looks tired.

"I'm sorry... to trouble you."

"Don't worry!" he replies, a bit too boisterously. "I'm just glad you're ok! You scared us there for a minute. Have you not been eating properly?"

I certainly don't want to get into the possibility of a repressed memory, so I just vaguely incline my head, and take another sip. Good stuff. The tea is strong and jacked with as much caffeine as a tea can get. I'm getting my sea legs back, which is good, because we're actually on land.

I look around experimentally, but I don't see Touya-sensei anywhere... Yeah, I messed that up royally, didn't I? So close, and yet...

"Sensei wanted you to have this," the man says quietly. I take the envelope he's offering me... and rip it open unceremoniously.

Inside, there's a security keycard, and an address.

I grin, and I nearly pass out from the happiness.

"Miss?" I look up at the man. He looks really concerned. "Miss... be careful, all right? Touya-sensei... he's desperate. He's not giving you this because he thinks it will be good for you."

He doesn't need to finish that thought. I know why Touya-sensei is giving me this. "Don't worry. I'm not going to be doing anything dangerous. Just talking to an old friend."

He hesitates for a moment, clearly dissatisfied with my answer, so I smile harder. He sighs, and leans back...

"Well. If you get a chance... please tell Akira-kun... Ashiwara is still waiting for the game he owes me."

This is not a smart choice. But I feel so close, I don't know what else to do... I've got to go as fast as I can! Going into an unknown situation when no one knows where I am or what I'm doing... that's not smart. Very much not smart.

So I do the smart thing, and I send Mitani a quick text message, and then I use my keycard and I'm in, I'm in the place where Hikaru is.

And I don't have the slightest clue what I'm doing.

The building was about as nondescript as a building can get, just a grey brick four story surrounded by other grey brick four stories. It's not that wide, and once I'm inside the door, there are not many choices... I can go up the stairs or down. It's probably not logical but I choose to go up...

The place was all dark wood and dimmed, yellow light. And quiet. Like a tomb. Shit. I don't need to be spooking myself out here... My footfalls on the stairs seem to echo dully and as I go up, I can see the hallway at the top of the stairs... it gives me a creepy feeling, all dark wood and yellow light and doors, making it feel like a maze.

Like a trap.

I could keep going up. I go down the hallway a bit. The doors have bright brass handles, and there are four per side. There's a window at the end of the hall, but it's painted black. No light comes in or out, and it makes me realize that the front door was painted black, too. All the light is from the dim sconces with their dirty-yellowed glass...

I try a door at random, because I have to try something. Inside, the floor is bare, the walls are bare, there's not a single light on... The absolute quiet of it freaks me out, so I close the door quickly.

I'm going mad, and it's my own stupid fault. I force myself to open the next door, too, just to prove to myself that I'm going nuts. That room is so deeply dark, I can't see a thing. There's a smell, though. That smell...

I close the door quickly, and go back to the stairs. It's too quiet down here. Nothing can be here. Nothing alive.

On the next floor, there's a pair of sliding doors in front of me as I step onto the landing, and more stairs up. One more floor, right? I'm shaking as I reach out... my fingers touch the brass plate for sliding the door open, and I get a shock... an electric shock. And then I hear it. The soft, ominous clacking. I used to love that sound...

I open the door slowly... At least there's light inside. There are rows of tables, too. Like a law library... only... there were gobans set out, and stones... Here are there, there were games going on, too. I walk past slowly... but no one's paying attention to me. Even as I stand right behind them... it's like I'm invisible. Or they're all so totally wrapped up in the world of Go... they don't see me.

They don't see anything but the stones.

I go to stand behind the oldest player there, an attractive young man with dark, slightly messy hair, dark eyes, and a good build. He's reproducing a game, moving with almost robotic timing. I watch him, the perfect way he holds and places the stones, the precise way he builds the game, and most of all... the totally blank look on his face. It's like... he's got no soul anymore.

This is too creepy. He's just a Go player. I know how to deal with them. I sit down opposite him, and pick up a stone.

He looks at me, at least.

"I'm looking for someone," I say quietly.

"Did you want to play? Do you take a handicap?" he asks, like I hadn't said a word.

Single-minded... "I didn't come here to play. Can you tell me where I can find Shindou Hikaru?"

"If you came for Sai, you came to play. It's all right. If this is your first time here, I'll give you a handicap of four stones." He starts to clean up the board, looking pleased to be playing someone.

"I'm here for my friend, Shindou Hikaru. Not Sai."

He gives me a perplexed look. "Yes. They're the same. Sai has been playing Go for a thousand years. If you've come to learn... this is the right place. Here, you can become as strong as you were meant to be."

I shake my head. He's not listening... the same? A thousand years? "Do you... do you know, then, where... where Sai is? Where's Hikaru?"

He looks confused, like... something is trying to wake him from a dream. "Let's play. You can have a handicap of six."

I stand up. "I don't have time to play. Sorry. But... can you answer me? Where can I find Hikaru?"

"You want a handicap of ten? Sai will teach anyone. It just matters... that you're willing to give him your heart. He needs you to love the game. If you do... he'll let you walk the path. He's played for a thousand years. Doesn't that sound... like paradise?" He smiles at me, and it breaks my heart. He's so handsome, especially when he's smiling, but his eyes are vacant.

I'm starting to wish that maybe I had done this differently.

"Thank you... I'm sorry, my name is Fujisaki Akari. You are?"

He blinks twice, and then appears to think about it. "Ah. Isumi. Isumi Shinichirou."

I freeze. Isumi... "Isumi-san. A friend of yours is waiting for you in America. Waya. He's... he's still waiting for you."

Isumi returns his attention to the goban, to the game he's reconstructing once again. "Waya... he wasn't willing to then pay the price for greatness."

There it is again... price. My stomach is churning. I've got to find Hikaru, but suddenly, I'm aware that I have no plan. Hikaru and this Sai... they're... always together? Sai's been alive for a thousand years? It doesn't make sense. But when I find Hikaru, what am I supposed to do? I just don't know...

I go back out to the stairs. It's either the fourth floor or the basement. If it's the basement, I'm really not sure I'm ready for that. So I go up, instead. Upstairs, there's an open space... and a single room. I put my hand on the doorknob, closing my eyes tightly. I don't know if I believe in a god or not. I mean, I forget. Who am I supposed to call out for in a situation like this? I have no idea. So, I apologize to whatever god it is, and I beg for help.

The door is locked.

Stupid of me, really, because I see the keycard slider as soon as my hand meets resistance. Crap. Well, I have a keycard. Probably won't work, but...

I try it, and the door opens. Now, this card was meant for Touya-sensei. So, whatever is inside, it's meant for Touya-sensei.

I open the door, and blink immediately. The room is white, with a grey tiled floor and a dormer window, which is filthy, but at least some real light exists. It's so bright, it hurts my eyes.

"Hello?"

I blink, working on focusing. There's a young man, not bad looking, but very pale, very thin, and very chained down. He's got on a collar and wrist chains... but he's sitting casually on a neat bed, reading. There are books all around, a table with a goban, of course, and a small kitchen area, as well as a door leading to what might well be a bathroom. This young man is a prisoner, but a comfortable one. Which means he has to be...

"Touya Akira. I... I'm sorry for intruding. My name is Fujisaki Akari. I'm a friend of Hikaru's."

His expression changes. He sets aside his book, and leans forward. The closer he is, the more I can see how pale and thin he is. His hair is pulled back loosely, more to get it out of the way than for style. He looks bedraggled. He swallows hard. "Is he replacing me?"

I blink, totally confused, and shake my head, involuntarily, freezing once I realize I'm doing it. What...? "I'm looking for Hikaru. He disappeared a long time ago, and...I've been looking for him." "Ah." He leans back, and picks up his book again. He seems... relieved?

"Do you know where he is?"

"I'm sorry, I don't leave this room. But he'll be here. Just after sunset." He looks up at his filthy window. "He'll be here just after sunset..."

I look up at the window and I suddenly feel like I should find Hikaru before sunset. I take a step forward, just. I don't understand this at all! "Your father... your father is very worried. He helped me get here, because... because he wants you back. And at your house... Ashiwara says... that he's still waiting for that game you owe me."

He smiles at me kindly. "Thank you. I know I'm... worrying father. I'm sorry. But... it may be a while still before Ashiwara gets that game."

I look around, a bit frantic. "You're a prisoner here, right? I can help you get out... you can go back to your father tonight..."

"It's true I'm a prison here," he says, shifting. "But I'm not going back to my father tonight. Shindou is coming, right after sunset. I'll wait for him."

I have an uneasy feeling, and I realize that I find this Touya even creepier than that Isumi downstairs. "Is it because of Sai? The... the hand to god? Is that why you're staying? Your father's teacher... he told me that it was the path to ruin for some."

He looks at me a bit more sharply, like he's really trying to look at me. "Jun-sensei... ah. Well. That's true. This is my ruin.

"But Hikaru is coming to see me, just after sunset. I'll wait for him. He needs me. I need him."

I back away, like I'm stung. Like. Shit. I can see it in his eyes. He's trapped here, but he's never known more freedom, either.

I have to get out of this room.

"Your father... will be so disappointed." I jerk on the handle, desperate to get out. Just as I'm going through the door, Touya calls out to me.

"Akari-chan. I'm sorry. Thank you for coming, but... could you do me a small favor? Could you tell my father... never to come here. He must never come here..." Then, Touya's voice sounds...

Terrified.

Feeling a bit of that myself, I start running down the stairs. It's only when I get to the first floor that I realize that I have a choice.

Out the front door. Down into the basement.

I stick my hand in my pocket. Before I left, I put the silver Go stone in there. I rub my thumb over the puncture marks. After everything... everything that I've done to get here...

I walk around to where the stairs down are, and I take a deep breath.

Hikaru is... probably there.

As dark as it is everywhere except in Touya's room, down here, it's darker, and colder, and the air feels too thin, electric. It's my own fear, and I keep trying to convince myself to let it go, but I can't. I'm petrified.

Hikaru is here.

I stumble as I get to the bottom of the stairs. The floor feels strange, and after poking around with my toe, I decide it's because it's a dirt floor. Strange... can't believe the building was designed that way. I put my hand out to feel along the wall, so I know where I am...

The corridors here seem to snake around each other. There are turns and twists, but very little indication that there's really anything that the twists and turns lead to. I'm just stumbling around in the dark, too afraid to call out for Hikaru, but continuing on in the hopes of...

I don't even know what, anymore.

Finally, I see the flicker of a candle ahead of me. I move toward it, and my brain supplies a moth to the flame metaphor that I really don't need to be thinking about...

I must be in the center of the basement now. It's hard to remember, because all the halls twisted around each other. But now there's a big room, and in the center, there's a rug laid out, Persian, and in the center of that... that...

I take a step back, and he looks up and I look at him and I'm looking into Hikaru's eyes for the first time in... in...

"Akari. I'm surprised to see you."

"I bet," I say, a bit bitterly. That wasn't quite... at least Hikaru doesn't seem as spaced out as those guys on the third floor. "It's been a long time. Your mother is worried."

"Ah..." he inclines his head to the side. "I suppose that's true. But that part of my life is over now."

My heart falls, right down into my shoes. "Over? C'mon. She's your mother. That's never over."

He looks up at me and smiles, and for a second, he's the old Hikaru, the one I've always known, and I move closer, just... "Do you still play?" He points down to the goban, but I don't want to look. "Probably not, huh? That's ok. You can still learn. If you still love it. Hey, do you recognize this? We went together to my grandfather's attic. We found this... do you remember? That's when I met Sai."

"No... I don't... I don't remember... Hikaru, you need to come home with me. Please. Just. Get away from that thing and... think of your mother, and... this stuff is dangerous, I don't know if you're aware..." I hold out my hand for him, but I know he won't come with me. I know he'll just laugh, and he does.

Laughs, and strokes the goban before him... "Back then, there was just a little bloodstain, here. You couldn't see it, but I could. I touched it, and Sai came into me. I think back on it now... the God of Go must have been looking out for me. He chose me. Strange, isn't it? But there was a reason. Now, there's not just a little stain.

"The whole surface is covered in blood."

I stumble backward, finding a wall. "Hikaru... Hikaru, I don't know what you're talking about. We need to leave..."

"You came here looking for me? It must have been hard. Yes... I haven't been out of this building in a long time, it's true, but I don't need to... not with them..." He looks up, like he can see through the ceiling, all the way up to the third floor where his minions are...

Minions?

"Hikaru, I don't want to play games. I don't know what you're talking about, but I know it's... it's time for you to forget all this crap and..."

"You're in love with me, right?" I freeze. His voice is so cold and cruel... I feel stabbed. And betrayed. This... this is not my Hikaru, right? "It's ok. I wonder if we can have a child, in my condition. That might be worth trying. Instead of me leaving with you, why don't you stay here with me?" He reaches his hand out, smiling, and...

Oh, no...

"This is the Hand of God. Sai can teach you... you love Go... you can stay by my side. You can be as close to me as Akira. I think it's fitting. We can have a thousand years together, or more. What do you say, Akari?

"Are you willing to pay the price?"

And he licked his fangs... long, gleaming white fangs...

I turn and run... all of a sudden, the house that was quiet as a tomb becomes louder... there are footsteps, footsteps on the stairs, on the third floor and marching down, and I have to get out of here now, now, right now, but these damned hallways...

I can see the stairs before me now, but Isumi turns the corner. He looks at me and grins. "Akari," Hikaru laughs behind me. "C'mon. It's not like I'm forcing you or anything. You came here to find me, right? So... I'm happy you did. Let's be together, Akari. For a thousand years."

I turn and bolt. This hallway can't lead anywhere. I've only seen the one set of stairs, but that doesn't mean there's not another, right? If I turn around enough times, maybe I can ditch them. I don't know. I don't know what to do...

Someone yanks on my arm and pulls me into a utility room, and covers my mouth with his hand. I struggle and kick, but he's bigger than me, and stronger. I hear footsteps move past the door...

"I can get you out of here," he hisses in my ear. "Just work with me, ok?"

Slowly, he moves his hand away from my mouth. "Sure," I get out between my gritted teeth. "Mind getting your hand off my breast?"

"Oh, sorry. Reflex."

What a winner.

"Just who the hell are you?" I ask.

"Later, come on." He pulls me along, in between the furnace and water heater... up at the ceiling, there's a window. It looks like it leads out to the alley. Not much in the way of light is getting out, but the window is open, and...

"Ladies first," he says, offering me a hand up. Between his hand and the water heater, I manage to hoist my way up there, and I slip through. I squirm around, giving him a hand up. After we're both out, and on our feet, he grabs my arm and pulls me off, and I figure out why damned fast... not all of... of Hikaru's minions are stuck in there. We just... we run. I have no idea where I'm going, and I have no idea who this guy is... I turn and look, though, and there are three of them after us and they're gaining...

My 'savior' decides to turn left at the next junction, but I dig my feet in and pull him the other way. We make a mad dash, because the indecision gave our pursuers a chance to catch up but up ahead, like a real knight in shining armor...

"Yuuki!"

He brakes hard, causing the guy behind him to beep, but he's smart, and he gets his car door open... I fall into it, and blondie with me falls, too, pushing me right against Mitani and when he pulls the door shut, we're a nice little sandwich up here, but Mitani pulls away and...

I turn and glare at blondie. "You've got a lot of explaining to do buddy. And get your hand off my ass."

"Sorry, reflex," he grumbles, trying to get into something that would more closely resemble a seated position. Mitani glares and turns a bit too sharply, shoving him against the window.

"Vampire... ghost?"

Mitani keeps repeating that like it'll someday make sense. Blondie gives him a withering look and sips his coffee, pushing his thirty years ago stylish glasses back up his nose. "Look, I've been researching this for longer than Wonder Woman there. I sponsored Shindou when he first became an insei. I suppose... it's my fault that Akira is..."

"It's his choice," I say harshly, looking away.

"That may be, but he wouldn't have had the exposure to Shindou if I hadn't forced it," he counters, and I couldn't care less.

Hikaru was...

"Fujiwara no Sai lived a thousand years ago. He was an Imperial Go instructor, but he was betrayed and sent away. His desire to keep playing the game, though, kept him clinging to life... such as it was. He fed off the lives and passion of players, keeping himself alive... but he has no body. It's just a rumor, but there's a legend of a bloodstained goban... the blood is from his first victim. Barely clinging to life, he entered the body of a boy at a goban and possessed him. But the boy's body wasn't enough to keep both their souls bound to this world, so that's why he needs to feed on..."

"Blood," I finish darkly. Mitani gives me a look, but I can't look up and meet his eyes.

"Right. So. The blood from his first victim spilled on the goban, and that became his corporeal form. No one's seen him, but he's inside of a player... these days, apparently, Shindou," blondie explains.

I shake my head, though.

"I'm sorry, I know he's your friend..."

"Just who the hell are you?" Mitani demands. "What were you doing there tonight?"

"I've been watching their hideout for years now. I... I owe it to Touya-sensei to save Akira..." He's lying. I look at him from under my bangs. He doesn't care that much about Touya. He might feel some guilt, but. It's Sai he's interested in. It's Sai he wants. He's willing to pay the price... the price that Hikaru is paying. "I'm... I'm a friend of Touya-sensei."

"What's your name?" Mitani demands. "Or is Touya-sensei so strict you're not allowed one?"

I grin at that. Blondie rolls his eyes. "Ogata. If you're familiar with the Go world, you've probably heard of me." We stare at him blankly. "Anyway, you can't just go barging in there without a plan or a defense!"

Mitani gives me a stricken look. I ignore him.

"Anyone who gives his or her blood to the host will become connected to Sai. Sai can speak in them and see through them. So, basically, it's like a hive mind. The only real defense is a silver bullet..."

"That's werewolves," Mitani interjects dryly.

"And Santa wears a red velvet thong. Fairy tales aren't the best source of information. The silver acts as a toxin to the blood, breaks the connection. Of course, the problem is... how do you shoot a ghost?" He looks at us both, waiting for a smart answer... He pulls a small handgun out of his pocket, like a peashooter, really. "You're going back, right?" he asks me.

"No, she's not!" Mitani objects.

Ogata puts the gun on the table. "Be prepared. Either to pay the price, or to extract it. Don't go back unarmed, at least."

"She's not going back!"

Standing, Ogata nodded to me. "If you can, just free Touya, please?"

He thinks I can't see through him, but I can, entirely. He's not waiting for a chance to join the club. He's waiting to become Sai's next host.

Asshole.

I let him show himself out, but then there's still Mitani. While he's slamming the door after Ogata, I slip the gun into my jacket... don't want Mitani taking that away...

"You're not going back."

He pulls his chair right up to me and looks me in the eye. His gaze is... blinding.

"Akari... what have you been searching for all these years? The boy you loved? Love? Is he there? Is the Hikaru you dreamed about marrying when you were ten still alive in that building?" I wince, but he's right. He's right.

Of course he's right.

"I'm sorry, I don't want to hurt you. But... you can't put yourself in danger. You just can't. He's got a bead on you. He wants to take your life, your passion. He wants to destroy you because you love him. He's become a monster. The host for that monster..." He touches my cheek. His hands are gentle and kind... he's really worried about me.

I think about Hikaru and that goban and the monster...

I know I can't save him. Or maybe I can, but... I love him still, but I know he's gone. He's gone to be with Touya every night and play Go and take his blood, waiting for his father to come and play against Sai. A worthy opponent, and someone Sai is desperate to assimilate, I'm sure.

And still.

I lean across and kiss Mitani gently, and then a little more... and I stand up. "Mitani. I need to be alone. Please... please just go."

He looks like I just kicked him and his puppy, too, but he stands up. "Akari... Akari, I love you. I'd do anything for you. So... so please, if you... if you do go back, don't go alone. Please." He takes my hand and squeezes...

I watch him shuffle to the elevator and then I lock the door. I go to the bathroom, and turn the shower on full blast hot, shaking as I start to take off my clothes. I'm a mess. A definite mess. As I take off my pants, I finger the stone in my pocket...

I stand under the water, my hands on the wall, just letting the heat sear into me. Thing is... I've seen Sai.

I've seen that monster.

I should have known all along, shouldn't I? That wasn't Hikaru. The Hikaru I knew and loved... he died. That afternoon in Hikaru's grandfather's attic. The bloodstained goban... I couldn't see the stain, but Hikaru could... Sai chose Hikaru... possessed him... then... I saw him. He was beautiful and monstrous and he invaded my best friend's body, and I screamed... the monster in the attic attacked Hikaru, I said. They told me it was a shadow, and Hikaru fell and hit his head. Hikaru took the goban a week later. And after that, more and more each day, Hikaru's whole life became Go.

That was Sai. Sai, taking over Hikaru's life. Taking over his body. Turning him into a monster who could feed... feed on blood...

The water is cold, and I'm shaking from my memories, and there are tears pouring down my cheeks.

I have to save him. My best friend.

A price has to be paid. It's all a question of what you're willing to sacrifice. I know now, and I know what I'm willing to give up, I've decided, though it makes nothing at all easier. I sent Yuuki an email. I don't need backup here, because I don't need anyone else to pay the price.

Hikaru's already paid enough, I think.

I don't use my keycard this time. I mailed that back to Touya-sensei, with a note of thanks. I just knock. I know it won't be long. I suppose I would have loved to just ignore all this. Walk away and never come back. But if Hikaru's decided he wants me to have his baby...

The door opens, this time, it's a short, dorky looking guy with round glasses. He nods, and stands aside. I come in, and he goes ahead of me, leading me...

Straight down.

When we get to the room where Hikaru... and Sai... are, he steps aside. I tug at my skirt... It's the short one I wear when I'm doing interviews with otherwise reluctant interviewees. Hikaru looks at my legs, and grins, his horrible fangs glittering.

"You came back."

"You knew I would." I enter slowly, and sit down... next to him. I don't want to look at that goban.

He reaches out and brushes my hair aside, revealing... revealing my neck. I close my eyes and shiver. The price... that has to be paid...

"I hoped you would. I never forgot you. I know I treated you badly... I'm so glad I get a chance to fix it all."

I could just cry. If this were only really Hikaru...

"Akari. You're not going to run away again, right?"

"No," I say, my voice shaking. "I was scared. I... there were things I chose to forget. I wasn't strong enough, and... well. I've had time to think. There's only one choice."

He pets my neck. "Yes, there is. I'm so happy."

He parts his lips, and brings his fangs closer. I shiver, because behind him... behind him, that ghost, that monster, he's looming. Maybe I can see him, faintly, now because Hikaru is going to take my blood. He's just as beautiful, just as terrifying as ever. Hikaru's arms come around me, and his teeth... press to my neck...

It's a rush of pain and ecstasy like from some trashy romance novel when his fangs penetrate my skin, and for a second... for a second, I just want to succumb. I start to cry, because... my life is flowing into Hikaru. Hikaru has his arms around me. Hikaru is absorbed in me.

"Hikaru... Hikaru, I love you. I love you... so much. I love you," I sob, as I hike up my skirt and put my hand on the peashooter Ogata gave me, strapped to my thigh. That silver Go stone... it will do its job. The jeweler gave me such a strange look when I asked him if it could be melted into a bullet shape, but kids these days. We do such strange things. "I'm sorry..."

We kill the people we love the most.

The ghost screams first as the silver bullet smashes the goban to splinters. It's just a peashooter, but there must have been something to that silver toxin thing, and anyway, at this close range... I want to believe that Hikaru will be fine, but he slumps against me... I push him back, and...

There's a giant gaping hole in his chest.

He looks at me and reaches for me and maybe he wanted to scratch my eyes out, but I choose to believe that the real, buried Hikaru was there, saying goodbye...

The ghost is howling with rage, and I don't know what it can do now, now that its link to this world has been shattered, but I don't want to find out. I get to my feet and start running. I stumble around, because I can't see through my tears, but it's easy to find my way out. Round Glasses is rolling on the floor in the fetal position near the stairs, sobbing. As I go up, I can hear them all, all over the building, sobbing and screaming...

When I get to the first floor, Touya is there, his 'chains' hanging from him like jewelry. He grabs me and looks me over...

Looks at Hikaru's blood all over me.

He pushes me aside and runs down the stairs. I call out after him, "Sai! Stay away from Sai!"

He stops and looks back at me. "Sai has no power with me. I'm only interested in Hikaru."

I want to tell him that he never met the real Hikaru, the one I loved, but there's no point; it's too late. As I run out, Ogata tries to rush me and run in, but I wrap my arms around his torso and knee him in the dick, as hard as I can.

Yeah... that sure as fuck felt good.

Out on the street, just like I thought... no, that's not fair. Just like I hoped, Mitani's car is there, waiting for me. I run for it, stumbling... once inside, I just fall into Mitani's lap, sobbing my heart out. I'm covered in Hikaru's blood. I feel sick, and I feel empty and I just killed Hikaru, even if he was possessed and a vampire, and I... I need Mitani so much...

"Akari. I'm sorry," he says quietly.

I can't stop crying to tell him how much I appreciate him.

Flowers come between my computer and me. I don't look up, but I grin, and keep typing, from under them. "You're early, I hope?"

"Nope, of course you're working late." He sits down next to me, smiling gently. "This party is for you, you know. Your award. There's fashionably late and then there's..."

I finish the sentence I'm on and I scan it over, making sure... yeah, it's ok. I pick up the flowers and smell them. Such a good scent.

Forget-me-nots. My new favorite.

I lean over and kiss his cheek. "I know, I know. Forgive me if I don't feel like celebrating." Sure, the article was my ticket into respectable journalism, and I won an award. But my exposé on the destruction of a secret underground cult that was brainwashing its members...

Well. It was about the night I killed my best friend. A mixed bag, at best.

Yuuki gives me a measuring look, and then he winks at me. "Ok. Let's ditch the party. And elope."

I laugh. "What makes you think I'm going to say yes this time, mm?"

He grins that sexy little grin, and leans in... kissing me slowly... and he puts something down on my keyboard. "The flight to Vegas doesn't leave for a few hours. You have time to finish editing that piece, send it in, and tell your boss you're taking the weekend off, for once."

I stare at the boarding passes on my keyboard, and then at Yuuki... and then at the nice piece of rock he's casually got on his knee.

I can't believe this guy. Thing about respectable journalism is, you don't get the same opportunity for fun and adventure as you do when writing about the alien that raped the bearded lady's three legged dog.

I may have had my fill of adventure, but it was about time for some fun.

fin



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