Summary: It's an old-new language for both of them.
Rating: PG for language
Fandom: Hikaru no Go
Spoilers: none, if you've read the manga/watched the anime
Original Story: Midnight Game by jain
Name: Thank you to my beta zhynchan, who helped with the grammar, terms, and the characterization. And most of all, a big thank you to jain because her fics are wonderful, but this story is the one that I've loved since the first time it came out. Thank you for sharing your fic, it was a thrill to remix it.
Hikaru shifts, then shifts again, groans under the sheets before succumbing once more to the silence.
Sai watches him, takes another glance at the glowing contraption on the bedside table. He knows. "Unable to sleep?" he asks.
There is a huff under the sheets before Hikaru's yellow bangs peer out, eyes peering at him wearily. "What makes you think that?" When Sai does not answer, he gives another huff, before muttering, "No. Can't."
Sai is silent for ten seconds before he says brightly, "Let's play a game?"
"No," Hikaru says, pauses, then sighs, "What the hell."
Sai has already given up reprimanding him on his manners, realizing he has more pressing issues at hand like teaching Hikaru to play go. He tries to tone down his smile, though, as he watches the boy push back his blankets and grab the go stones. Go is important to Sai, but he cannot deny that Hikaru is also equally important, and there is a weariness in his friend's stance that concerns him.
"You know that some players actually unwind by doing something else before a competition?" Hikaru asks him as he holds out his hands for nigiri.
Sai holds up two fingers, pursing his lips as Hikaru spreads the stone to count them. He wants to say, You can't afford to stop if you want something, but he doesn't. Sai has always known himself to be selfish, and though he wants the Hand of God for himself, he is surprised to realize that dreams can change even when you're dead, and now he wants Hikaru to want things for himself.
So he says tentatively, "We don't have to play."
Hikaru glances up at him, eyes meeting, and there it is, the light of competition in Hikaru's eyes. Sai feels his throat block, thinks, Oh, Hikaru.
"I can't afford to stop," Hikaru says, and Sai thinks, No, you can't, but you have to do this for the right reasons.
Because Hikaru wants this dream, but Sai knows he can't let Hikaru take the path of a thousand-year old ghost full of regrets.
The game starts, and Sai taps his fan against his chin, wondering how to say this without Hikaru exploding. Sai has never been very good with words, and he knows he expresses himself through emotions that roil through Hikaru's stomach. There is always the danger of Hikaru interpreting things differently, and this is a delicate matter that Sai cannot leave for another day, not when there is an important test in the morning.
Not for the first time in years, he wants to reach out and connect.
Hikaru sits across him, patient as he is wont to be, because he is used to this, used to Sai taking ten, even twenty minutes for fuseki, and it jolts Sai to realize that this is comfortable.
"Have you thought about how words aren't necessary to comfort?" Sai blurts out.
"Uh." Hikaru only blinks as if Sai has lost his mind. "What?"
Sai smiles. Perhaps this is something he cannot teach, but something he can share. He points to a corner where Hikaru dutifully puts the first black stone. Better to be cautious, he thinks. The move is answered mechanically, white already thinking ahead, competitive and harsh in how the stones are placed. Sai bites his lip, thinks of an answer, hesitates through the opening moves, dancing answers to Hikaru's paranoid defenses.
Chuban is a harsh affair. Hikaru's expression is intense, while Sai presses gently, strives to maintain a harmonious flow, seeking and drawing back. Once in a while, he glances up at Hikaru, sees the emotions on his young friend's face: confused, insulted, then—finally—amused.
Hikaru jerks his head towards him, grinning. "Are you—"
"Hush," Sai interrupts gently, although there is a smile on his lips. "We're not done talking."
There is a huff of breath when Hikaru laughs, and Sai cannot help the chuckle that escapes his lips.
Then Hikaru's moves become gentle, his body removed from its rigid stance. He sits with one leg drawn to his chest, chin resting on his knee. Sai can never remove the practice of seiza from his own system, but he appreciates the change in posture, shows it through a tease in chuban where Hikaru stops trying too hard. The stones become a language written on a go board, the lines becoming the flow of conversation.
In more than one occasion, Hikaru raises his head, opens his mouth, but Sai is quick to deflect the sound with an answering move. Then Hikaru's brows furrow together, answering, or sometimes even asking a question of his own. Mostly, though, he speaks without Sai having to catch the unformed words from his mind.
I want this so bad, confesses through a particularly vicious attack, to which Sai answers with an understanding move.
I'm a little scared, he confides when he overdoes his defense, and Sai rebukes him softly with an attack on a seemingly forgotten corner.
You'll be here, right? he asks, hesitant, stone hovering over a point, making Sai hold his breath—hold his breath as long as a ghost can—as he watches the fingers descend over the territory, giving Hikaru the chance to capture a line of territory.
Sai cannot touch the stones, cannot speak even if he wants to; there is a lump caught in his throat. He answers, Yes, by defending. He assures, I know, by mirroring a move that makes Hikaru smile even though it can destroy his left territory.
And then by yose, when they flow through the process of attacking, defending, taunting, capturing, the lump in Sai's throat is larger, and he still cannot speak, so he moves to end it, making sure he is gentle. He says, finally, with his last stone, Hikaru, I'm proud of you.
They sit there, not counting territories, because there is no need for force tonight, not this game. Sai knows there will be the competition the next day, but what he has learned for thousands of years—what Hikaru is fast learning—is that it is not always about winning, but how you reach out to your opponent, who can also be your closest friend.
Hikaru whispers, "Good night, Sai," and Sai nods, still not trusting himself to speak as the boy climbs back to bed, draws the sheets up to cover himself from the moonlight.
He wishes he had someone to talk to like this, a thousand years ago. Maybe it would have given him more purpose. Maybe he would have forgiven himself for being too driven. Maybe he wouldn't have been so quick to let everything go.
But those maybe's would never have given him this game, would never have given him Hikaru. So maybe he doesn't wish for those too hard.
The next day, Hikaru is all nerves again, psyching himself out.
Sai watches, feeling tension broiling through his skin even as he watches his friend skitter through the house, finally jogging to the station in an effort to keep the energy down.
"Hey, Hikaru," he says.
Hikaru spares him a short glance before staring out the window once more. "Yeah." His head is already filled with scenarios, opening moves, angles and lines, Ochi's face across the board with his promise to be the undefeated insei.
Sai thinks of spaces and stars, of galaxies and universes, of games that delight the mind. He feeds Hikaru this calm, watches as the boy stops jittering, starts breathing slowly. He says, very truthfully, "I'm glad you like go." He pauses, watches as Hikaru moves to answer, goes on quickly, "I'm glad you like it for yourself."
Another glance at him, and this time Hikaru is amused. "I'm glad I do too, Sai," he replies.
And even if he has no materiality, no warm skin to offer for comfort, Sai puts a hand over Hikaru's, presses his fingers around the small digits that are currently enclosed around the pole. He thinks how go stones can be their language, how words can convey meaning. But mostly, he thinks how this touch—ghostly fingers through spaces of another person's hands—can bring messages across, just as loud and just as clear.