Kuwabara is Dead (Long Live the Honinbou)

Kuwabara Honinbou is going to die today at 3:26pm, but he doesn't know that yet.

He wakes up precisely at 6:00 am because that's when his alarm rings, but he doesn't get up until 6:55 am because there's no damn way he's going to let a machine control his life.

He brushes his teeth at 6:57 am (The interval between 6:55 and 6:57 he spends doing something that should not be described in polite company). He does a very thorough job of brushing on this fine morning, seeing as how he's gotta impress the dentist later on today. Fortunately, his teeth are perfectly white (despite his chain-smoking) and perfectly straight (despite the lack of orthodontia); unfortunately, he doesn't have very many of them left (despite his best efforts). But the pearly whiteness of his remaining teeth is still enviable for a man of his age!

He walks for an hour to get to the dentist's office even though he could get there in five minutes by train. He hopes to see some of his neighbours along the way, have an early morning chat, maybe have a good laugh when he catches one of them peeing by the side of the road. But he doesn't see anyone he knows. Ah well, there's always tomorrow.

He gets to the dentist's office at 8:55 am. A little before opening time, but they let him in when they see him grinning through the window.

"Kuwabara-sensei! I hope you're well?" his dentist greets him with a warm smile.

"As well as an old geezer like me can be. Brushed my teeth extra hard this morning for you."

The dentist acts as surprised as always when Kuwabara opens his mouth. "I've never seen such white teeth! It's a miracle of modern dentistry!"

"That's what they all say," Kuwabara replies with a toothy cackle. "'It's a miracle of modern medicine! It's a miracle of modern podiatry! It's a miracle of modern hip-joint surgery!" My favourite is Ogata-kun's 'it's a miracle you're not dead yet!'"

He gets the whole dentist's office roaring even without the benefit of laughing gas.

Kuwabara Honinbou leaves the dentist at 10:51 am on the day of his death. He's going to be glad he got his teeth cleaned. Gotta have clean teeth when you meet your maker. Even if Kuwabara doesn't know that yet.

Zama Hisanori, who once had the pleasure of signing his autographs with a famous go title appending his name, but who no longer has the pleasure of signing autographs much at all nowadays, is the first person Kuwabara sees upon entering the Go Intitute. Zama Hisanori, after the necessary unpleasant pleasantries, says with hardly-veiled suspicion, "What are you doing here? You don't have any games today."

Kuwabara should be flattered that Zama-kun bothered to look up his schedule, but Kuwabara is not flattered. He is rather used to this kind of thing. He replies, "I'm just here to sign autographs. Want one?"

Zama-kun doesn't look impressed.

"I usually sign them 'Immoveable Honinbou.'" Kuwabara goes on. "How about you?"

Zama-kun doesn't just look unimpressed now, he looks downright pissed off. Exactly how Kuwabara likes 'em.

"I hope you enjoy your little jibes," says the go player formerly known as Zama Ouza. His voice sounds a little strained. "You should enjoy what little life you have left, old man."

"Oh, I do. I enjoy every day as if it's my last, by talking with young people such as yourself."

"Young!" laughs Zama-kun bitterly. "I haven't been young for a long time, and you probably don't remember ever being young at all."

"Ah, but I'll always be sixteen at heart, Zama-sensei. I've got to, to keep up with the likes of you."

"Don't mock me." Zama-kun walks away stoically, stiffly, his broad shoulders thrown back proudly. Quite the rude exit, that. Kuwabara hopes he never gets as old-hearted as that one.

The time is 12:04 pm.

There aren't many seats left in the lunch room by the time Kuwabara gets there--it's an oteai day, and the room is full of pros on break from their games--but some youngsters scurry to make room for Kuwabara as soon as he enters the room, and so he finds himself in a most wonderfully located seat.

"Kuwabara-sensei, please have my seat!" Bow. "I'll be happy to move for you!" Bow. "I'm sure you want to sit with Ogata-sensei!" Bow.

Ogata-kun, sitting in front of an elegant, half-eaten chirashizushi lunch set, gives Kuwabara a practiced look of bored sophistication seething with supressed irritation and says, "You don't have a game today. What are you doing here?"

"That's exactly what Zama-sensei said to me," Kuwabara answers gleefully, sliding into the chair across from Ogata. He ate before he came to the Institute--no need to pay for the ridiculously overpriced bentou sets they order around here--and only came to the lunch room for the company, such as it is. "Tell me, Ogata-kun, is it just me or has everyone memorized my game schedule?"

Most people wouldn't notice the subtle changes in Ogata-kun's expression, but Kuwabara's got a sixth sense when it comes to the boy. Ogata's eyes have narrowed evilly just a little more than usual. It's pretty obvious he doesn't like being compared to Zama-kun, or getting caught memorizing Kuwabara's schedule.

"I just noticed who was in the playing room today," Ogata says smoothly, or what passes for smoothly with people these days. "You weren't in it, hence you didn't have a game. I don't remember anyone's schedule except my own."

Kuwabara grins toothily. All the better to show off his newly cleaned teeth, of course. "No need to get tetchy. Touya Kouyo's brat and that Shindou kid are playing today, that's why I'm here. Wouldn't miss it for the world."

"You missed the first half of it."

"I had a dentist appointment. And an appointment with the nice young lady down the street who's always wearing those tiny skirts."

Ogata, despite not having finished his lunch yet, lights up a cigarette in clear defiance of the NO SMOKING signs plastered on the wall behind him. "It's just an oteai game," he says, breathing smoke into Kuwabara's face (nasty stuff, Ogata's candy sticks). "Nothing to get excited about. Those two play all the time at Touya-sensei's salon."

Ogata-kun ever-so-slightly emphasizes the name Touya-sensei , as if to remind Kuwabara of who's Mejin now. And the reminder works. Kuwabara knows full well that Ogata-kun is not someone to take lightly. He'll be coming after the Honinbou next. But Kuwabara will defend his title. He never writes the wordimmoveable lightly.

Kuwabara takes out a cigarette of his own (the real stuff), holds the end of it up to Ogata's burning tip, lights up, and brings it to his mouth to take a long drag. Just had his teeth cleaned, might as well celebrate. "Nothing to get excited about? You go on telling yourself that, Ogata-kun. I think there'll be plenty of excitement, personally. Better watch out, young Meijin."

As Kuwabara gets up he sees Ogata throwing his cigarette into a trash can in disgust.

What a fine day it is!

The time is 12:26 pm.

Kuwabara Honinbou, despite being a healthy, strapping old man, has thought about death plenty of times. He's thought about how much he hates ceremony and flowers (especially peonies, god does he hate peonies), and how the last thing he wants is a lot of carrying on before and after he dies. When he's gotta go, he just wants to go. Like when he pees.

But there is one bit of drama he'd like to have when he's lying on his deathbed. He wants Ogata-kun there so he can mock him one last time.

Kuwabara Honinbou: Guess you're never getting the Honinbou from me now, huh?

Ogata-kun: I hate you so, so much, old man.

Kuwabara Honinbou: Love you too, darling.

Ogata-kun: I'll get your title after you're gone. That's a promise.

Kuwabara Honinbou: Something about over my dead body.

(Ogata-kun sheds a single, lonely tear)

Yeah, that's exactly how Kuwabara wants it.

He occasionally visits this scene in his mind, amending it, adding snappy little retorts here and there, a few more tears on Ogata's part. Kuwabara doesn't wonder if it's healthy, to think about such unhealthy things as his death scene. Hell, he's an unmarried ninety-something-year-old bachelor-for-life chain-smoking son-of-a-bitch. He doesn't think about his health much. He can still take care of himself just fine, doesn't need a wife or children to prop him up or cry over him when he dies. Ogata-kun will be good enough.

He cackles at the thought of Ogata weeping over his cold, dead body. Maybe he should die giving him the finger.

(Unbeknowest to Kuwabara, after lunch Ogata goes back to his game, ruthlessly demolishes the last vestiges of black's defenses, discusses his opponent's mistakes in a cursory manner, and then promptly stands up and leaves the room. On his way out he glances at Shindou and Touya, who are still absorbed in their game, and at Kuwabara, who is watching them closely--but Ogata has a teaching appointment to get to, and it's not like he won't see Shindou and Touya play again.)

The time is 12:30 pm.

Shindou-kun and Touya-kun's game isn't bad. They both play to their expected level. Kuwabara is a little disappointed, actually.

The after-game discussion makes up for it though.

"This," says Touya Akira, intoning the word in such a way that it's obvious that this is the most sickening thing ever beheld to man, "is the most sickening thing ever beheld to man."

"And women!" pipes in a cute young female pro at Shindou's side, whose name Kuwabara is really going to have to find out because damn is she perky.

"It's a perfectly reasonable move!" Shindou yells back, throwing his hands in the air in outrage. "If you just hadn't noticed the diagonal here, and the katatsuki here, and then fallen for my trap in the G8 area, it would have gone just fine."

"Shindou," says a kid who Kuwabara recognizes as one of Morishita's students, "I want to be on your side but even I'll admit that was a stupid thing to say. And do."

Kuwabara wants to tell the kid, Ah, but have you looked beneath the underneath? or something wise like that, because he can see what Shindou-kun was trying to do, in his clumsily brilliant way. The strategy never came together, because taking risks is like that--sometimes they don't work. But sometimes you've just got to dive in, and Shindou's boldness will do him well someday. Someday soon.

Kuwabara doesn't say much, and the kids hovering around the goban don't take much notice of him, despite him being the Honinbou and all. Shindou-kun's go is invigorating, and it's captured the attention of everyone around him with eyes to see it. But what not everyone can see is that it's Touya Akira who makes Shindou Hikaru shine like the star he is, and it's Shindou Hikaru who makes Touya Akira come alive at all.

Times are changing. He'd mocked Ogata about the threat of the new wave, but it's not like Kuwabara is immune to it.

He looks again at Shindou-kun and Touya-kun's board. It's an interesting board, now that he looks past the mundanity of the mid-game. Maybe it's time for Kuwabara to change a little too. Take some risks, even if they don't always work. Like what Kouyo's doing. Two can play at that game. Kuwabara resolves, from here on out, to do something bold the next time he plays.

The time is 1:44pm.

Kuwabara looks around the Insitute for Ogata-kun, wanting to test his new playing style on a worthy opponent. Not that he'll ever tell Ogata he's a worthy opponent.

At 2:09pm, he finds out Ogata has already left.

Ah well. Probably shouldn't give the poor boy any further anxiety today. Kuwabara knows that any change of playing style on his part will give Ogata-kun migraines and smoker's cough for a week.

But without the boy here, who to play, who to play?

"Kuwabara-sensei, might I interest you in a friendly game?" asks the former Kisei title holder Ichiryu Takatoshi, who is lounging on a couch looking fat and sweaty in his poorly-tailored suit.

No, Kuwabara wants some young blood today. "Sorry, sensei, I've got an appointment to play with that kid over there." He points at a short-haired girl who's buying a drink from a vending machine. "Maybe another time?"

"Of course," says Ichiryu amicably. "Next week, perhaps."


Now. How to make an appointment to play with that kid over there?

Kuwabara wouldn't say he exactly creeps over to her, but she certainly doesn't hear him coming.

"Hey, little girl, want to play a game with me?"


Once she calms down, she manages to tell him that her name is Oka, she's an insei in the first class, and that she wants a three stone handicap.

"That's a rather big handicap, isn't it, for a first-class insei?" Kuwabara laughs as they find a table and seat themselves across from each other.

"N-no!" she stutters. "I was actually thinking of making it a four stone handicap."

"You'll never pass the pro exam with that kind of weak attitude."

Oka-chan lowers her gaze in a way that implies that Kuwabara kicked her puppy. "I was really close to passing the last test. Just one game off! And even that brat Shouji passed..."

"Oh?" says Kuwabara, interest suddenly piqued. "Is that your boyfriend?"

"HELL NO!" Oka suddenly yells, rising from her seat and pounding her little fist on the table. "He's just a stupid boy I used to play a lot! He's always saying stupid things! He's so so so stupid!"

Kuwabara has seen this kind of passion before. Just fifteen minutes ago, actually, when he was watching Shindou-kun and Touya-kun discuss their game. Which means...

"Ah, this Shouji kid is your rival, isn't he? And you're mad because he's left you behind."

Oka's eyes go wide and her fists slacken a little. She flops back down into her chair and stares at Kuwabara like he's a fossilized alien from another planet. Which he kind of is.

"That's not..." she says weakly, "We're not rivals. I don't think he...I don't consider him that way."

"You're blushing!" Kuwabara notices with delight. "You're actually blushing. I didn't think young women did that kind of thing anymore."

"I am not!" Oka protests loudly, her veneer of politeness completely disappeared.

"Heh. I'm not going to push it. You'll figure it out on your own. Let's play."

"Yes, finally."

He expects her to play a typical opening, but Oka sucks in a breath and slams down her first stone on 5-5. Kuwabara gives her a big, toothy grin--to think that that he was the one who'd decided to play more boldly from now on! He should know by now not to underestimate the shy ones, not after that Isumi kid beat him in a Shin Shodan game.

"That's what I like to see!" Kuwabara cackles as he places his white stone on the opposite 5-5. "I hope you can come up with the hands to back that up, girlie."

"I probably can't, but I'm sure it'll be a good chance to learn from you, sensei. Hm, I think I'll play...here."

"You can drop the niceties, I've already seen your true face. And that move was too soft."

"That wasn't my true face, that's just the one that Shouji brings out in me."

"Nah, it's your better side. Nurture it. Shouting is good for you. Cleans out your arteries. Though you're too young to be worrying about such things."

She actually laughs a little at that. "You must really like Shindou-sensei and Touya-sensei then. I could hear them shouting this afternoon all the way down the hall."

"I admit they're an interesting pair. Very much married to each other."


"And I take it you're a fan of them too."

She gives him a nervous smile. "The player I look up to the most is Touya Akira. All the insei know it."

Such a young girl, still in her small insei world. "And what about Shindou Hikaru?" asks Kuwabara.

Oka begins to blush a little again, and she lowers her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "Well...the player I look up to the most is Touya Akira, but the game that's affected me the most was probably the one I played against Shindou Hikaru in the Young Lions Tournament."

"Ho?" says Kuwabara, his bushy eyebrows raised up high. "Is that so. Sounds like Touya-kun and Shindou-kun all right. No wonder you played 5-5."

"Anyway, it's your turn, sensei."

"Yes, yes, I know, I'm just stalling for time, excuse this old man's senility."

He looks at the two pieces on the board, arrayed in perfectly opposite symmetry against the other, and feels a strange fluttering in his heart. It's almost painful.

"Come on," goads Oka. "What's your next move?"

The time is 2:28 pm.

His game with Oka makes it into chuuban, at which point he can no longer ignore the pains in his chest.

At 3:17 pm, Kuwabara Honinbou decides his heart is giving out.

He was told once that when death comes, it comes quickly, surprisingly, even if you've been expecting it for a long time. And when it's finally here, you know it and accept it, and no one else does.

"Is there an AED machine in this building?" someone is screaming, and there are unfamiliar hands trying to get at the buttons on his suit jacket. Oka is somewhere nearby, making gasping noises (he wouldn't have had a heart attack in front of her if he'd known about her asthma). They've put him on a couch and there are people all around him, watching. So many people. Where's Ogata-kun?

"There's a traffic jam," someone says, almost apologetically. "The ambulance is going to take twenty minutes to get here."

"Good god," someone else says.

Out of the corner of his eye he sees Touya Akira. Good, the boy can deliver a message to his father. Because Touya Kouyo is in China, as usual, instead of here at the Japanese Go Institute, where Kuwabara is dying. Kouyo's always in China nowadays. How very convenient. Kuwabara wants to tell Kouyo, Hope you find what you're looking for.

But then he hears a familiar voice and realizes there's someone else behind Kouyo's son. Behind Touya Akira there's Shindou Hikaru, and behind Shindou Hikaru there's...

Well, there's something. It's the same thing he saw on the day he met the boy. For a time it had been there, and then it suddenly disappeared. He'd wondered where the thing behind Shindou had gone.

"Hey, I know you," he says to the thing.

Some of the older pros are giving him pitying looks now, while the younger ones look scared, or just nervous. They don't know who he's talking to. He doesn't quite know either. Kuwabara turns his head (it feels like someone poured a thousand go stones over his body, he can barely move now) so that he can look straight into Shindou's eyes.

"It's never just one plus one equals two with the two of you, is it?"

"What?" says Shindou, who can't seem to stop his tears. "What do you mean?"

But Kuwabara can't remember very many good words right now. He says again, "I know you."

"Of course you do," Shindou hiccoughs. "You're dying, not senile."

Touya (among others) gasps, appalled. "Shindou!"

There's no time for being appalled, no time for holding back, he wants to say, but again, he doesn't have the words. He's got so much wisdom in him that he needs to tell to these youngsters. But--

"Bye bye," says Kuwabara Honinbou, one last time.

He shudders, just a little. The thing behind Shindou Hikaru pulses softly, hums a quiet tune. Don't be scared, it says.

Never, he tells it. Immoveable Honinbou, that's me.

I know. Me too. Let's play a game.

Kuwabara Honinbou manages a smile. He's going to die in five