Chapter 4:

Headless Chickens


The day after Romeo visited Endo in the hospital, Jojo invited both Romeo and Meru to hang out at his place after school. He said he was inviting them over to play video games, but his real goal was to get Romeo to explain himself. As he kicks Romeo’s ass in his favorite fighting game, he prods Romeo for answers, never looking away from the screen.Bookmark here

“Hey… Are you really not gonna tell us why you decided to quit the Makai?”Bookmark here

“I told you to stop asking, didn’t I?”Bookmark here

“Sorry, Boss, I’m just worried, that's all! There’s rumors you were brainwashed and stuff, or that you suddenly got scared of the Kappore gang ‘cuz they’re gettin’ bigger.”Bookmark here

Romeo shakes his head, irritated, but he knows these fake rumors are better than the truth. Besides, if they found out why he really left, no one would believe him.Bookmark here

“I don’t care. If they wanna call me a coward, that’s fine by me.”Bookmark here

“Boss…”Bookmark here

“Stop calling me that already!”Bookmark here

“S-Sorry, Boss! But what am I supposed to do now!? I only joined the Makai gang ‘cuz you were there, so what happens to me now?”Bookmark here

Jojo’s character on the screen KO’s Romeo’s once more, but Jojo doesn’t celebrate. Romeo sighs, settling himself better over the giant anime girl beanbag he’s sitting on, and picks a different character from the selection screen for the next round.Bookmark here

“I never asked you to join the Makai gang. You can just leave if you want.”Bookmark here

“Aw, man, you know it ain’t so easy. You can get away with it because you’re Bloody Bat Romeo, but what about me!?”Bookmark here

“What about you? You’re Mad Dog Jojo. You've made a pretty good name for yourself,” Romeo snickers.Bookmark here

Jojo cringes, making a pained noise as he picks his character— a cute magical girl in pigtails.Bookmark here

“Stop it, Boss. I hate that nickname...”Bookmark here

“Haha. Why? You earned it, didn’t you? You should be proud!”Bookmark here

“By accident!! My bike wouldn’t break downhill! I didn’t mean to run over all those Kappore thugs!!”Bookmark here

“Right, but you did. So if you talk to Amon about quitting I’m sure he'd let you leave if you want to that badly.”Bookmark here

Jojo doesn’t answer.Bookmark here

Meru, who had been sitting on the corner of Jojo’s bed behind them and snacking on a bag of potato chips while watching them both play, finally decides to chime in.Bookmark here

“Are you afraid you'll get picked on again if you leave the Makai gang?”Bookmark here

Romeo stops smashing buttons for a second to look at Jojo, who seems concentrated on the screen, pointedly ignoring Meru’s question. Romeo goes back to try to win at least one round by pressing as many buttons as possible.Bookmark here

“...Don’t be stupid. No one will dare mess with you now, y’know.”Bookmark here

“You don’t know that! I might not look like a nerd anymore, but that’s only ‘cuz I changed my clothes and dyed my hair to look like you, Boss!”Bookmark here

Meru snickers quietly.Bookmark here

“Ah, right. Romeo rescued you from your bullies, didn’t he? Back when you were the president of the Anime Club...”Bookmark here

“Damn right he did!” Jojo responds proudly. “He was so cool, too!! Took ‘em all out like nothing! Bang, bang!Bookmark here

“Don’t make it sound like I shot them!!”Bookmark here

Another KO. Of course there’s no way Romeo would ever beat an ex-president of an Anime Club at a videogame, but he wants to believe his day will come. He grunts in disgust and throws the controller, which Jojo barely manages to catch. Bookmark here

“That seems to be a hobby of our Romeo, doesn’t it?” says Meru with his usual, gentle voice. “Saving people, that is.”Bookmark here

After hearing this, the image of Yuri in the alley flashes quickly through Romeo’s mind, and a chill runs down his spine. He leans his back on the bed and cranes his head back at an awkward angle to look at Meru, who gives him a knowing smile. He feels a drop of sweat roll down his forehead.Bookmark here

“...What are you talking about, Meru?”Bookmark here

“Oh? I’m talking about Jojo and me, of course?” Meru answers, confused.Bookmark here

...Ah, right. There’s no way Meru would know about Yuri, huh.Bookmark here

Romeo straightens up again and shrugs, facing forward once more, trying to hide just how scared he was for a second.Bookmark here

“I didn’t save you, I spared you. And I thought you said you didn’t want to talk about that time ever again anyway.”Bookmark here

“No. You saved me.”Bookmark here

Meru’s reply is uncharacteristically defiant, but his kind tone and smile soften the blow. Romeo doesn't know how to reply to that, so he just waves a dismissive hand at him without turning to look at Meru and decides to change the subject. Bookmark here

“Whatever. Anyway, I know I can’t hide from Amon forever, so I’m meeting with him tomorrow at the Makai hideout to give him the news myself. Bookmark here

Jojo perks up immediately.Bookmark here

“For real!? Freakin’ finally! You have no idea how the gang’s been houndin’ me for answers simply ‘cuz we’re best friends!Bookmark here

...Ugh. Bookmark here

Romeo gives Jojo an annoyed look.Bookmark here

“I still can’t believe you ran over to tell everyone in the gang like five seconds after I told you. You made my life hell.”Bookmark here

“Huh!? What!? Whaddya mean, Boss!?” Bookmark here

“What do I mean?” Romeo looks like he’s about to snap before continuing. “Did you already forget you bawled your eyes out the moment you opened the door and saw my face all messed up!? It’s your fault Raging Fist Endo and his lackeys ganged up on me, obviously. You were the only two people I told, so after you ran crying to them, someone at the Makai must have spilled the beans to some Kappore trash and the news traveled upwards directly to him, idiot.Bookmark here

Jojo looks at Romeo with big, wide eyes. Shocked. Speechless. Even trembling a little.Bookmark here

“I— It was my fault…?”Bookmark here

Meru’s eyes are wide too, blinking at the two of them in surprise.Bookmark here

“Oh, my, Jojo. What did you do?Bookmark here

Romeo keeps his glare fixed on Jojo for a few more seconds, then sighs and slumps back against the beanbag, facing the magical girl posters plastered on the ceiling.Bookmark here

“I mean, I took care of it, so it doesn’t matter. As long as Raging Fist Endo doesn’t remember me, I think the Kappore gang will steer clear from me and Makai for a good while. They’re like headless chickens without him. They won’t make a move.”Bookmark here

Despite Romeo’s reassuring words, Jojo remains mortified, holding his head in his hands, and immediately messes his hair up frantically. Bookmark here

AAARGH!!! I’M SO STUPID!! I screwed up, Boss! You saved my life and this is how I repay you! I’m a traitor! I’m disgusting! You probably super hate me noooow!!Bookmark here

“Shut up, Jojo. I don’t hate you. You’re just stupid and I should have seen it coming.”Bookmark here

“But Booooss…!!Bookmark here

“...Headless chickens can still run,” Meru says, suddenly.Bookmark here

“What?” Bookmark here

Romeo tilts his head, trying to look at him. Jojo is so taken aback by that comment he stops his dramatic outburst with both hands still tangled in his hair, looking in his direction. Meru crunches another potato chip and continues.Bookmark here

“You said the Kappore gang are like ‘headless chickens’ without Raging Fist Endo. But headless chickens can still run. They live quite a long time too, actually. The record is eighteen months!”Bookmark here

They’re all completely quiet for the next few seconds. Romeo breaks the silence eventually.Bookmark here

“...How the hell do you even know that?” Bookmark here

Meru smiles at them, pleased. Bookmark here

“What I’m trying to say is... maybe you shouldn’t stop carrying your bat just yet, Romeo. Just because Raging Fist Endo is out of commission it doesn’t mean the entire Kappore gang will sit idly, right? They’re probably very upset at you, too.”Bookmark here

Yeah, I bet.Bookmark here

Romeo shifts to the other side of the beanbag so he can sit facing Meru. He crosses his arms and rests his cheek against the edge of the bed, close to Meru’s knees.Bookmark here

“Maybe. But I took down their leader. I think they’re gonna try to stay away from me instead. All they have going for them is their numbers; they’re all weak. And they won’t make a move without that ugly troll.”Bookmark here

“Boss... “ Jojo inches uncomfortably close to Romeo. “I just got a great idea! You should go into hiding! Then you can stay at my place for as long as you’d— Agh!?Bookmark here

Romeo shoves Jojo's face, causing him to topple back.Bookmark here

“You don’t have to get so close!” Romeo huffs. “I said I don’t care if they think I’m a coward, but I’m not actually a coward.”Bookmark here

“S-Sorry, Boss… I was just trying to help...” Jojo whimpers dejectedly, looking like a kicked puppy as he sits up, rubbing his nose.Bookmark here

“Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps they’ll be more afraid of Bloody Bat Romeo than ever,” says Meru, unfazed by Jojo and Romeo’s antics. “But what will you do if you’re wrong?”Bookmark here

“...Hah? What do you mean?”Bookmark here

“I mean, what would you do if, instead, you’ve only managed to light a fire under them? The remaining members might not be as strong as Raging Fist Endo, sure, but the Kappore gang—much like the Makai gang, thrives on revenge, after all.”Bookmark here

The atmosphere stays tense for just long enough that Jojo opens his mouth to start saying something stupid, but Romeo speaks first.Bookmark here

“...I dunno yet.”Bookmark here

“Eh? Boss?”Bookmark here

“That’s why I need to talk to our boss— err, Amon, and tell him I’m out. If the Kappore gang has personal beef with me, that’s one thing. But if they’re gonna make this into a gang thing, then I want nothing to do with it.”Bookmark here

Romeo turns around on the beanbag to face the screen, the KO message still flashing. He wiggles into a proper sitting position and stretches his arms before picking up the controller again.Bookmark here

“Come on, Jojo. I’ll kick your ass this time.”Bookmark here

“Oh! Sure thing, Boss!”Bookmark here

Jojo happily sits on the carpet next to where Romeo sits on the beanbag, grabbing his own controller, too. They start playing again like nothing happened. The fighting sounds from the screen, the clicking of the controllers, and Meru’s loud crunching of potato chips stave off the silence.Bookmark here

Eventually Romeo has to ask one thing that has been bothering him:Bookmark here

“.......Eighteen months? Really?Bookmark here

Meru laughs.Bookmark here

“Yup.”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.