BLOODY BAT ROMEO
The arcade is silent following Tama's introduction. He tilts his head to the side, his smile never once faltering.
“You’re looking for me? Why?”
Romeo stares at Tama, unbothered by his cheerful demeanor. He opens his mouth to answer, but Jojo steps out of the shadows and stands next to Romeo with his wide eyes fixed on Tama, trembling as he quietly calls out his name.
Tama perks up and lets out a small gasp, pointing at Jojo.
“Jojo!? What are you doing here!?”
Romeo whips his head towards Jojo, incredulous. “You two... know each other?”
Tama steps away from the burnt arcade machine he'd been leaning against and grins widely, spreading his arms wide as if beckoning Jojo into a hug.
“Yeah! Jojo’s a very dear friend of mine! We’re both huge Macaron fans! Aren’t we, Jojo!?”
Jojo doesn’t respond, nor does he approach him for the hug, either.
“Tama… You’re one of Kappore's Summer Fireworks?"
Tama’s smile falls away, leaving a frown. He lowers his arms with a long sigh, disappointed.
“I didn't really have a choice. I just joined Kappore ‘cause I live in their territory, but they pretty much let me and my gang do whatever we want on this side of town.” He pauses, then scratches his head. “...If you know about the Summer Fireworks, that means you’re part of a gang too, huh. And if you’re here with Bloody Bat Romeo, that means…”
Romeo clears his throat to get Tama’s attention again.
“That’s enough, Fire Jet Tamaya. You should know what I’m here for.”
“Eh? I really don’t, buuuut if the strongest Makai brawler came aaall the way to my territory and entered my secret eden, I guess it’s not to play fighting games with me, huh? At least, not the fun type.”
Despite Tama’s smile, Jojo can feel tension building between him and Romeo. He steels himself and takes a step forward, addressing Tama.
“H-Hey, Tama. Boss isn’t here ‘cuz he wants to, y’know? He was sent over by our leader to defeat you, but we can just pretend he did, yeah!? L-Like, just lay low for a few days, and—”
“Boss?” Tama interrupts, blinking at Jojo incredulously for a moment. “Ooh! This is the guy that ‘accidentally’ called you then hung up yesterday, huh?”
Romeo's face instantly flares a bright red, whipping his face away from Jojo just before Jojo can see it.
“...Boss?” Jojo pries, trying to peer at his expression.
Tama grins when Romeo fails to answer. “Hehe. See? It was no accident! He wanted to call you! He probably wanted to apologize for being so meeean to you!”
Romeo glares at Tama and lowers his bat to his side— his face still tinged red as he changes the subject. “So you two were together last night.”
Jojo stammers at a complete loss for words, even though all he needs to do is offer a simple affirmation. Lucky for him, Tama speaks first.
“Oh yeah, we had all sorts of adventures. Didn’t we, Jojo?”
Romeo’s eyebrow twitches.
“Tama…” Jojo swallows nervously, flustered by Tama’s tone, and tries to steer the conversation back on course. “Didja hear what I said? Y-You just gotta lay low, man… Just for a little while…”
“Oho?” Tama crosses his arms, looking confidently at Jojo. “It almost sounds like you’re saying I should run away or else I’ll get my ass kicked by your friend here.”
“THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT I’M SAYIN’!”
Jojo snaps at him out of concern, but Tama simply sighs. He takes a step forward and picks up a paint can from the floor, rattling it to gauge how full it is.
“You know how I became one of the Summer Fireworks, Jojo? I’m a noodle and not really good at brawling, but I make up for it in other ways. So, you’re right: if Bloody Bat Romeo were to attack me right now, I wouldn’t stand a chance!”
Tama steps closer to the both of them, and they both tense up. Romeo swings his bat onto his shoulder again, ready to counter any attack that might come their way, and Jojo sweats.
“The thing is, I have a secret weapon at my disposal.”
To their surprise, Tama walks between the two of them and keeps making his way down the aisle of machines. Romeo and Jojo turn around to follow him with their eyes, confused.
When he reaches one of the broken windows, Tama shades his eyes from the glare of the sun with a smile that matches its brightness. “I have the power of friendship!”
Romeo and Jojo look at each other, then back at Tama. Since Tama doesn’t elaborate, Jojo takes a few steps in his direction.
Tama snickers and turns around to face them again. “I told you, didn’t I? My friends are the most important thing in the world to me… and that includes you, Jojo.”
Jojo’s heart skips a beat. His first instinct is to look back at Romeo to see his expression, but he fights it with all his might.
“If you’re planning to attack me, Bloody Bat Romeo,” Tama continues, “I’ll have no choice but to call them for help. You see, that’s how real friends are supposed to be with each other. Ride or die— no in-between! No hanging up on them! We apologize to each other when we screw up like men!”
Romeo grits his teeth. This is his second time getting called out for this and he doesn’t like it. He scoffs.
“What friends? This place is empty.”
“In here, yeah, but out there? You can’t walk a step without running into one of my pals.”
Jojo, still processing the whole friendship talk, twiddles his thumbs nervously as he thinks back on the bloodbath that had just happened minutes before arriving at the arcade. “Um… Tama…”
Before Jojo can think of how he wants to ask what he and Romeo are thinking, Romeo jumps in. “Are you talking about the orange-haired guy and his posse? I took them down already.”
Jojo yelps in distress over Romeo's tactless reply.
Tama’s smile disappears instantly as he looks at Romeo with wide, unblinking eyes. Jojo shivers, frightened by the sudden shift in Tama’s expression.
“......What did you say?”
Romeo carries on, unfazed.
“They ambushed me on my way here, so I had to get rid of them. Nobody’s coming to rescue you.”
Tama stares at Romeo in shock for a few more seconds before lowering his head.
“...I see. I shoulda known. How else would you have made it all the way here, huh?”
Jojo swallows, taking another step forward towards Tama in concern. “H-Hey, you okay?”
Jojo’s words make Tama lift his head again. The smile on his face now bitter as he scratches the back of his neck. “Yeah. Haha. It kinda sucks, y’know? The only reason I’m one of the Summer Fireworks is ‘cause I make friends everywhere I go, and most of them ended up following me… But, man... They all got beat up? For real? That’s... kinda hard to believe… Some of them aren’t weak at all!”
Romeo shifts uncomfortably, tapping his bat against his shoulder.
...Ugh… Do I really have to beat up such a weak kid?
Jojo, easily moved as he is, rushes to Tama’s side, gripping his shoulders and shaking him.
“Tamaaa! I’m so sorry! They attacked Romeo first, he had no choice, he—mmph!”
Tama covers Jojo’s mouth with the hand not holding the paint can, snickering softly; sadness still lingers in his eyes.
“It’s okay, Jojo. You don’t have to cover for him anymore. A ‘friend’ ashamed of being your friend is no friend at all. You don’t owe him anything.”
Jojo looks at Tama with watery eyes. Tama’s words ring true in every way: a real friend wouldn’t call him names and push him away. A real friend would accept him as he is. And yet, Romeo always does the exact opposite.
Tama slowly releases Jojo’s mouth, smile growing brighter as he sees the gears in Jojo's head turning in real time.
“So what do you say, my everlasting friend? Wanna join me instead?”