Chapter 7:

Seesaw Friends


Later that night, Jojo called for Meru to meet him at a nearby park. He'd parted with Romeo bitterly after pleading in vain with him to abandon his suicidal quest. When Meru arrives—the park cold and empty, unlike how it was during the day—Jojo takes a seat at one end of a seesaw and Meru takes the other, both clearly too big for a game like this.Bookmark here

Meru patiently listens to Jojo as he explains what Amon said at the Makai hideout. Jojo's voice breaks while he retells it, and he keeps his head down, as if that would make it any less obvious how hard he’s trying to keep himself from breaking down into tears.Bookmark here

“...I see,” is all Meru says after a pause.Bookmark here

“Things are getting serious, Meru. Boss is really gonna do it, y’know.”Bookmark here

“I know. It’ll be incredible.” Bookmark here

What!?” Jojo whips his head up, shocked. “Are you kidding me!?”Bookmark here

“I am.”Bookmark here

“Man, I’m serious here! I dunno what to do!!”Bookmark here

Meru simply looks at him with a smile, rocking the seesaw gently, causing Jojo to instinctively do the same. It soothes Jojo, much like calming down a baby. Bookmark here

“...Jojo. Why do you think he wants to quit?”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

“Why do you think Romeo suddenly wants to quit the Makai gang? Has he said anything to you?”Bookmark here

“Um… not really? He keeps sayin’ it ain’t my business… but I thought he told you, though. He tells you that kinda stuff. Even though I’m his best friend.” Jojo mumbles that last part.Bookmark here

Meru shakes his head. “He hasn’t said anything to me, either. But… he doesn’t have to.”Bookmark here

“Oh? You know something, Meru?”Bookmark here

Meru shrugs and offers a wide smile. Bookmark here

“I know lots of things, hehe.”Bookmark here

“I mean about why Boss is quittin’, dumbass.”Bookmark here

“Ah, that. He’s not quitting.”Bookmark here

Jojo's face lights up and his eyes sparkle with hope, his body rising slightly from the seesaw, causing Meru to sink lower in turn.Bookmark here

“He’s not!? Seriously!? How do you know that!? So he did tell you something after all!”Bookmark here

Meru almost feels bad for breaking Jojo's heart after giving him so much hope, but Meru does it with a smile regardless, waving his hand dismissively.Bookmark here

“Haha. It’s nothing like that. I just know Romeo quite well.”Bookmark here

Jojo plops his weight back on the tiny seesaw seat with disappointment. Even with the added weight on the other side, Meru’s still pretty close to the ground—his long legs extended and his shoes dragging along the sand, his gaze fixed on the trail left by his heels. He continues without looking at Jojo.Bookmark here

“He’d never admit it, but no part of him wants to stop being a delinquent. Even if he quit the Makai gang, he’d simply go solo again. That’s the kind of guy he is.”Bookmark here

Jojo scratches his head.Bookmark here

“I dunno, man. He told Amon he was burnt out. I think he meant it.”Bookmark here

“That was obviously a lie.”Bookmark here

“Hah!? Why would the Boss lie to Amon? That’s like having a death wish!”Bookmark here

“Hehe. It’s very Romeo-like, isn’t it? ...But, it also means the truth is something so precious he’s willing to risk his life to keep it hidden.”Bookmark here

Jojo slowly rocks the creaky seesaw a couple more times before stopping, looking at Meru with a troubled look on his face.Bookmark here

“Hey, can I ask you somethin’?"Bookmark here

“Yes.” Bookmark here

“Um... uh…” Jojo hesitates, a little flustered after Meru responds so candidly for once. He clears his throat. “Well, you said Romeo saved you too, huh? I never asked ‘cuz you were already Romeo’s friend when we met, but—”Bookmark here

“Do you want to know more about Romeo's past?”Bookmark here

Hell yeah!! —Wait, that’s not what I was gonna ask!” Bookmark here

Meru laughs, flustering Jojo even further.Bookmark here

“I just wanna know how he saved you, man. Like, from what. Were you being bullied, too?”Bookmark here

“Oh, no. Nothing like that. I wasn’t a loser.”Bookmark here

“—Hey!? What’s that supposed to mean!?Bookmark here

Meru snickers and bounces gently on the seesaw again, knowing it calms Jojo down without fail. It works. He takes a deep breath, looking up at the starry sky above them as his mind wanders back in time.Bookmark here

“...Romeo hadn't joined the Makai gang yet back then. He was a solo delinquent, but he was so strong that no one who challenged him ever stood a chance. There was something lurking inside him— and the more he fought, the more of a terrifying, bloodthirsty beast he became. Like someone had flipped a switch..”Bookmark here

Jojo listens attentively and swallows. He’d seen Romeo fight before, so he'd witnessed this change countless times— but he'd thought it was just his imagination. He didn't realize everyone else could see it, too.Bookmark here

“A few different gangs had their sights set on recruiting him, but he clocked them all,” Meru chuckles proudly; Jojo joins in.Bookmark here

“That sounds like Boss, alright!”Bookmark here

“Yep. He listened to nothing and no one.” Meru pauses. “Until Amon put a leash on him, that is.”Bookmark here

Jojo’s happy expression turns sour again. He frowns, clicking his tongue.Bookmark here

Amon… That bastard...”Bookmark here

Meru sighs, but even gently rocking the seesaw again doesn’t seem to calm Jojo down this time. He carries on regardless, speaking with his usual, composed tone.Bookmark here

“Sadly, that’s how the story goes— Well, it’s not like you didn’t know that part, anyway. Romeo challenged Amon for control of Makai, lost, and, as punishment, he’s now Amon’s attack dog. It’s been that way ever since.”Bookmark here

“Yeah…” Bookmark here

Jojo’s head begins to lower again at the thought of Romeo being chained to someone like Amon simply because of an incident from such a long time ago, but then his brain picks up on something Meru just said and pauses, looking up.Bookmark here

“Why would Romeo want control of Makai?”Bookmark here

“...Hm?”Bookmark here

“I mean… He was doing fine on his own, and never cared about joining a gang, so why would he suddenly challenge Amon like that? It makes no sense, right?”Bookmark here

Meru looks at Jojo with an empty expression, silent for a long moment, unblinking. Unreadable. Bookmark here

A second later, Meru stretches his legs suddenly, dropping his entire weight onto his side of the seesaw and forcing the other side to slam up into Jojo, between his legs. Jojo yelps in pain, keeling forward and holding his crotch.Bookmark here

Gah!! My unborn children—!!Bookmark here

Meru laughs, knowing the hit wasn’t that bad but definitely came as a shock. He slowly balances his weight on his seat again, matching Jojo’s weight once more.Bookmark here

“...You’re a good friend, Jojo. Worrying so much over someone that doesn’t need your protection… I admire that about you.”Bookmark here

Jojo, still struggling to catch his breath, grits his teeth and shakily lifts his head, glaring at Meru.Bookmark here

“I… don’t care…”Bookmark here

“Hm?”Bookmark here

“I don’t care… that Boss doesn’t need my protection… This ain’t about that at all. Boss… has always been there for me, so of course I want to protect him. He’s... my best friend…”Bookmark here

Meru’s eyes open wide, impressed. He laughs quietly again.Bookmark here

“If what you said is true and he plans to take on the Summer Fireworks on his own, he’s about to fight three of the strongest delinquents in the entire city. Will you still have his back then, Mad Dog Jojo?”Bookmark here

Hell yeah!Bookmark here

“Hehe. I knew you would say that.”Bookmark here

With the pain of Meru’s surprise attack taking a backseat, Jojo grins, breathing himself back into a normal seating position again. He starts to move the seesaw on his own this time, and Meru happily returns the favor, the two teenagers playing like toddlers in the dead of night.Bookmark here

“Oi, Meru, in the end you told me about Romeo's past and not what I asked you about!”Bookmark here

“I did? ...Whoops.”Bookmark here

“Don’t ‘whoops’ me! You tricked me!”Bookmark here

* * *Bookmark here

Given Romeo’s aspirations to come back to school died the same day they were born, he'd gone back to skipping class. He can’t go to class, he can’t go back to the Makai hideout, and yet, before he knew it he'd ended up in front of the hospital where Endo is staying. He looks up at a covered window on the third floor— Endo's room.Bookmark here

Bumping into Yuri now would be terrible, he thinks— for both him and his ego. He’s ashamed of his decision to brandish his bat and do Amon’s dirty work again despite so eagerly claiming he was washing his hands of his delinquent lifestyle. But whenever guilt started gripping him again, he'd keep assuaging himself with excuses:Bookmark here

I had no choice. It wasn’t my fault. Amon framed it like it was my decision, but it never was. If I had refused his offer, he would have beat me and Jojo up right then and there. Probably Oue too, but that weirdo woulda liked it.Bookmark here

AAHHH! NOT THE FLOOR!!Bookmark here

Romeo hears a familiar voice yelling from around the corner of the hospital building, where dumpsters and the containers full of hospital waste stood. Romeo immediately follows the scream, reaching for the bat hidden in his coat and pulling off the bandages as he rushes over, keeping his distance until he can get a good look at the scene before him.Bookmark here

Between a couple of trash containers, two high schoolers appear to be beating up a kid who’s crouching down, holding his head in his hands. Romeo quickly grips the base of his bat.Bookmark here

“What!?” The shorter—much shorter—assailant needles Oue in a high, shrill voice. “Isn’t the line supposed to be ‘not my face!?Bookmark here

“But I don’t mind if you hit my face! I just can’t stand filth!Bookmark here

…….Oh, hell no.Bookmark here

Unfortunately, Romeo’s hunch is correct: the shout he'd just heard belonged to Pain Killer Oue, in all his annoying glory.Bookmark here

Maybe I can just pretend I didn’t hear anything and walk away…Bookmark here

The shorter one suddenly yanks Oue up by the hair, forcing Oue to look at him.Bookmark here

“Tell us where Bloody Bat Romeo is, or I’ll dig out a used hospital rag and rub it all over your face, you masochist neatfreak!” the short one yells before kicking Oue’s back again. Bookmark here

Romeo’s eyebrow twitches.Bookmark here

Great. They’re here for me, huh.Bookmark here

He finally takes a good look at Oue’s aggressors. Romeo can't entirely tell from this distance, but he thinks the short one is a middle school boy. Yet, this kid is wearing a high school uniform that's clearly too big for him, the sleeves flopping in the wind every time he moves. His hair is messy and dark blue… at least, from what Romeo can see, since most of his hair is hidden beneath the silver metal pot he’s wearing on his head, which covers his eyes and part of his nose. Bookmark here

The tall one… hasn’t moved at all. He’s also wearing a high school uniform, but he’s taller than any other kid Romeo has ever seen. He has long, dark hair fashioned in a ponytail. He looks as scary as any other delinquent Romeo has ever faced— except for the big silver pan hanging from his neck like a statement necklace. Bookmark here

...What the?Bookmark here

CRASH!!Bookmark here

Romeo’s bat accidentally knocks into the side of one of the medical waste containers while trying to sneak closer, causing the lid to come crashing down. Bookmark here

Immediately, the two thugs and Oue snap their heads to Romeo. Romeo, meanwhile, just grips the handle of his bat over his shoulder, blinking. Caught. Bookmark here

The short bully, despite how the pot on his head should be blinding him, gasps and points at Romeo, letting Oue’s head fall from his grip.Bookmark here

“Bloody Bat Romeo! We found you!”Bookmark here

Though Oue's face is flushed red, dizzy from the excitement of having been yanked around so violently, he still has enough sense to sit up and look in Romeo’s direction.Bookmark here

“It’s you… You came to save me?”Bookmark here

“Like hell I did,” Romeo interjects immediately. “Who the hell are these guys?”Bookmark here

The short delinquent laughs and brings his hands to his hips.Bookmark here

“Allow me to introduce us, Bloody Bat Romeo. We’re Cooking Pot and Cooking Pan, and we’re the next leaders of the Kappore gang!”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.