Chapter 12:

Seesaw Friends


Later that night, Jojo called up Meru to meet him at a nearby park. He had parted on a bitter note with Romeo after pleading in vain for him to abandon his suicidal quest.

When Meru arrives at the park—cold and empty, unlike the daytime—Jojo takes a seat at one end of a seesaw while Meru takes the other, both clearly too big for a game like this.

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. But it’s no less obvious how hard he’s trying to keep himself from breaking down into tears.

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

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

“I know. It’ll be incredible.”

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

“I am.”

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

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

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


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

“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.

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

“Oh? You know something, Meru?”

Meru shrugs and offers a wide smile.

“I know lots of things, hehe.”

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

“Ah, that. He’s not quitting.”

Jojo's face lights up, and his eyes sparkle with hope. He steps up slightly from the seesaw, causing Meru to clunk down to the ground.

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

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.

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

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 fully extend with his shoes dragging along the sand. His eyes linger on the trail left by his heels. He continues without looking at Jojo.

“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.”

Jojo scratches his head.

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

“That was obviously a lie.”

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

“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.”

Jojo slowly rocks the creaky seesaw a couple more times before stopping, giving Meru a troubled look.

“Hey, can I ask you somethin’?"


“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—”

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

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

Meru laughs, flustering Jojo even further.

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

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

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

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.

“... 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.”

Jojo listens attentively and swallows. He’d seen Romeo fight before, so he'd witnessed this change countless times— but he thought it was just his imagination. Everyone else had actually seen it, too.

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

“That sounds like Boss, alright!”

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

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

Amon… That bastard...”

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.

“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.”


Jojo’s head droops 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.

“Why would Romeo want control of Makai?”

“... Hm?”

“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?”

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

Suddenly, Meru stretches his legs, dropping his entire weight onto his side of the seesaw. That forces the other side to slam up between Jojo’s legs, who yelps in pain, keels over and holds his crotch.

Gah!! My unborn children—!!

Meru laughs, knowing the hit was more of a shock than truly damaging. He slowly balances his weight on his seat again, matching Jojo’s weight once more.

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

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

“I… don’t care…”


“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…”

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

“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?”

Hell yeah!

“Hehe. I knew you would say that.”

With the pain of Meru’s surprise attack taking a backseat, Jojo grins before breathing the pain away so that he could sit up again. He starts to move the seesaw on his own this time, and Meru happily returns the favor, the two of them playing like toddlers in the dead of night.

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

“I did? ... Whoops.”

“Don’t ‘whoops’ me! You tricked me!”

* * *

Given that Romeo’s aspirations to come back to school died the same day they started, he went back to skipping class. Unable to go to the Makai hideout either, he ends up in front of the hospital where Endo is staying before he realizes. He looks up at a covered window on the third floor— Endo's room.

Bumping into Yuri now would be terrible, so 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 to wash his hands of his delinquent lifestyle. But whenever guilt starts gripping him again, he'd keep assuaging himself with excuses:

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.


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. He keeps his distance until he can get a good look at the scene before him.

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.

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

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

… Oh, hell no.

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

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

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

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

Romeo’s eyebrow twitches.

Great. They’re here for me, huh.

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 schoolboy. 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, what little bit isn’t hidden beneath the silver metal pot on his head, which covers his eyes and part of his nose.

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 novelty necklace.

... What the?


Romeo’s bat accidentally clips the side of a medical waste container while trying to sneak closer, causing the lid to come crashing down.

Immediately, the two thugs and Oue snap their heads to a surprised Romeo, who blinks with his bat held over his shoulders. So much for being discreet.

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

“Bloody Bat Romeo! We found you!”

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

“It’s you… You came to save me?”

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

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

“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!”