Chapter 15:

The First Hideout


“No way,” says one of the thugs with dyed orange hair, spreading his arms in excitement. “Is that the Bloody Bat Romeo I see? What’s the most famous delinquent in the city doing on our little side of town, huh?”Bookmark here

Romeo lowers the bat he had pointed at Jojo.Bookmark here

“...Are you Kappore?”Bookmark here

“Yeah,” the thug grins, cracking his knuckles. “We’re not too fond of Makai trash around these parts, either.”Bookmark here

Romeo grimaces, then exhales. He hates being reminded of Amon’s leash on him.Bookmark here

“I’m looking for Fire Jet Tamaya. Take me to him and I won’t hurt any of you.”Bookmark here

The thugs all look at each other and cackle, turning their faces back to Romeo.Bookmark here

“You won’t hurt us, huh? Even though we outnumber you twenty to one? Hahaha! You’re one ballsy idiot. Whaddya want with our boss, anyway?”Bookmark here

Jojo steps closer to Romeo, swallowing, keeping an eye on the colorful array of enemies around of them.Bookmark here

“B-Boss…”Bookmark here

“I see,” Romeo smirks, ignoring Jojo. “So you’re part of his gang, aren’t you?”Bookmark here

“Oh, it’s more complicated than that,” says the orange-haired delinquent. “We’re all friends here!”Bookmark here

Romeo taps his bat on the concrete a couple of times before bringing it back to his shoulder. Jojo recognizes that pose and immediately backs away from him.Bookmark here

“I take it that means you and your friends won’t back down quietly, huh?”Bookmark here

“Hah!” The orange-haired delinquent scoffs, this time cracking his neck. “Not a chance.”Bookmark here

* * *Bookmark here

What was once a quiet, dirty street, had quickly turned into a pile of defeated delinquents strewn across the pavement and sidewalks, blood pooled around their bodies. Some of them were just barely conscious enough to still groan in pain.Bookmark here

Romeo, with barely a scratch on him, wipes away a few drops of sweat from his forehead while Jojo watches from a safe distance around a corner, biting his nails.Bookmark here

“B-Boss....”Bookmark here

Romeo fixes his crooked sweatband, then quickly swings his bat to get some of the fresh blood out. On the ground in front of him is the orange-haired delinquent, trying to sit up but clearly in a great deal of pain.Bookmark here

Shit… Y-You’re the real deal, alright…”Bookmark here

Romeo steps closer, gazing at him coldly as the thug hacks up some blood.Bookmark here

“Where’s Fire Jet Tamaya?”Bookmark here

The question seems to bother the delinquent, his eyebrow twitching as he frowns.Bookmark here

“...Since you’re here, I guess you already know where our hideout is, huh.” He coughs again, continuing in a raspier voice with a grin. “He’s there, but I wouldn’t go if I were you. You think you’re strong? Haha. Our boss will kick your ass in no time flat.”Bookmark here

Romeo frowns. “We’ll see about that.”Bookmark here

He circles around the orange-haired delinquent and continues walking down the street. Jojo panics for a second before coming out from his hiding place and quickly follows from a safe distance, sidestepping the stream of unconscious delinquents on his path. Bookmark here

He feels guilty, like he should have done something to help, but he couldn't so much as lift a finger with Romeo controlling the fight from start to finish. But even if Romeo hadn’t, even if Romeo had been in danger at any point… Jojo isn’t sure he would've had the guts to spring into action.Bookmark here

They walk in silence until Romeo speaks without turning to look back at Jojo.Bookmark here

“I told you, didn’t I? You're useless in a real fight.”Bookmark here

His cold words pierce straight through Jojo’s heart, stopping him in his tracks.Bookmark here

“Boss, I…”Bookmark here

Romeo grimaces. Bookmark here

Dammit… Why won’t he leave? What do I have to say to make him go away?Bookmark here

“Shut up. Go home.”Bookmark here

Don’t look back, self. He’s gonna have that kicked puppy look in his eyes, and it’ll all be over if you look at him.Bookmark here

Romeo keeps walking, no longer hearing Jojo’s steps trailing after his own. He wants to turn around and make sure Jojo isn’t there anymore, but the footsteps behind him resume soon after at a quick pace. He sighs.Bookmark here

“Boss…” Jojo’s voice is quiet. Romeo doesn’t stop walking despite that. He turns a corner and there he sees it: a burnt-down arcade.Bookmark here

“Here it is,” Romeo says to himself.Bookmark here

Jojo looks over in that same direction, listless and sad, but the moment he sees the building something clicks inside his head. He slowly, very slowly opens his eyes wide as saucers, murmuring to himself.Bookmark here

“This place…”Bookmark here

Romeo heads towards the entrance. There’s no door; only a couple of two-by-fours in the shape of an x sloppily nailed over each other to prevent entry. Easy enough to enter for anyone who crouches down— which is exactly what Romeo does. Jojo follows closely after, fired up by his own curiosity.Bookmark here

Inside is a large maze of arcade machines, all badly burnt and unusable. The floor and the walls are black, dyed with smoke and soot, and dozens of metal paint cans litter the floor. The only thing left of the windows are sharp remnants of glass jutting out from the edges. The air inside feels thick and almost unbreathable.Bookmark here

Despite the apparently deserted state of the arcade, Jojo hears a familiar song playing loudly deeper inside, marked by distant, flashing lights. A string of mechanical dings and whimsical battle cries play over the song, and even from this distance he can hear someone mashing buttons at an alarming speed.Bookmark here

Romeo follows the direction of the sounds and the lights down an aisle made of arcade machines on either side, but stops midway to turn around and look at Jojo, startling him.Bookmark here

“Are you gonna keep following me? Even knowing you're just gonna be a burden?”Bookmark here

“...Huh? Ah, n-no, Boss… Actually, I wanted to check some—”Bookmark here

Romeo slams his bat loudly against one of the machines, its echo resonating throughout the entire building.Bookmark here

“GO AWAY!Bookmark here

Jojo gasps, staring at Romeo’s infuriated face. His hands are trembling, so he balls them into fists, swallowing and lowering his head.Bookmark here

Romeo doesn’t move. Jojo doesn't, either. The sound of that single arcade game is the only thing interrupting the awkward silence, but even that suddenly stops after a sad game over jingle plays, followed by a character select song. Bookmark here

“Aw, maaan! I got distracted!” says a voice in the distance. Bookmark here

Romeo turns away from Jojo and toward the direction of that voice. They hear the sound of footsteps getting closer and closer from that direction. Bookmark here

Eventually, the figure turns the corner, stepping into their aisle.Bookmark here

Red hair, little cuts on his face, jagged sleeves and pants and a Macaron keychain hanging from his belt. Jojo feels his heart sink the moment he lays eyes on him. Bookmark here

The boy only notices Romeo, however, resting his elbow on the tall machine next to him, tilting his head to the side with a smile.Bookmark here

Heeey, aren’t you Bloody Bat Romeo? What are you doing all the way here?”Bookmark here

Romeo stares at him, resting bat on his shoulder. “I’m looking for Fire Jet Tamaya. Is that you?”Bookmark here

The boy blinks at him, then grins widely, pointing a finger cutely at his cheek.Bookmark here

“I prefer Tama, though! Nice to meetcha, Romeo!”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.