Chapter 20:

Going Next


Ouch.Bookmark here

“The more you move, the more it’ll hurt, Romeo.”Bookmark here

Romeo grits his teeth as Meru gently applies a damp cotton to a wound on the back of Romeo’s hand.Bookmark here

“Sowwy…” cries Tama from the opposite side of Jojo’s bed, sitting on the corner with a pout. “But look at it this way: all you got out of our fight was a small burn, nothing major!”Bookmark here

Romeo glares at him.Bookmark here

“Who invited you here? You’re still Kappore.”Bookmark here

“Jojo did, I presume,” answers Meru as he examines Romeo’s hand for more burns. As if summoned, Jojo bursts into his room, holding a plastic bag in his hand. Bookmark here

“I’m back! Wheeze… I ran as fast as I could… Got Boss some bandages, and I also got somethin’ for all of you, so pick what ya like! Ah, the strawberry one is for Boss, though. That’s his favorite!”Bookmark here

He cheerfully reaches inside the bag and takes out a can of strawberry milk, placing it in Romeo’s free hand. He tosses a soda can to Tama, then walks over to the little table in the middle of the room and sits down, setting a bottle of iced tea on it while he takes out another soda for himself.Bookmark here

“I found your old man tea, Meru. Took a while, so you better drink it all.”Bookmark here

“Thanks, Jojo. I’m a little busy right now, though.”Bookmark here

“I know, that’s why I didn’t toss it to ya. How’s it going? Do you need more bandages?”Bookmark here

“I don’t need any bandages,” answers Romeo in Meru’s stead. “You’re all making a bigger deal out of this than it is.”Bookmark here

Tama takes a big gulp of his drink before shaking his head. “No, Romeo! You gotta treat them burns as soon as possible! I should know!”Bookmark here

Romeo glances at Tama. “What happened to calling me by my full nickname?”Bookmark here

“Haha! Aw, come on! We’re friends now, right!? There’s no way I can call you that anymore! Or would you prefer a different nickname, then? Oh! How about Romeow-meow!?”Bookmark here

“........Romeo’s fine.”Bookmark here

Meru laughs quietly as he wraps a fresh bandage around Romeo’s hand. “So this is what you guys were up to yesterday. I’m a little heartbroken I was left out of all the action. You even brought a new pet with you.”Bookmark here

“Pet!?” Tama blinks. “You mean me!?”Bookmark here

Meru smiles. “Hehe. You’re even more of a puppy than our dear little Jojo here— or, perhaps, simply a different breed?”Bookmark here

“I’m not a dog!” Jojo objects, offended. Bookmark here

“Says Mad Dog Jojo,” scoffs Romeo.Bookmark here

AAAHH! I told you not to call me that!!” Bookmark here

Tama looks at Romeo and Jojo with a smile, but then his gaze falls on Meru again, intrigued.Bookmark here

“...Are all of you Makai?”Bookmark here

Meru meets his eyes, but Jojo responds for all of them instead.Bookmark here

“Boss is Makai for now, but he’s gonna be free as soon as he knocks the other two Summer Fireworks out of orbit, and I’m Makai as long as Boss is Makai, too. I ain’t got no reason to stick around if he doesn’t!”Bookmark here

“I see, I get it. Now that Romeo ‘took’ my lighter, I’m not Kappore anymore, which means I can finally get me and my friends out of that captainless ship and finally create our own group like we always wanted!” Bookmark here

“Yeah!!” Jojo lifts his drink. “And maybe once Boss is free we can all join your team and help you find the perfect arcade!”Bookmark here

“Don’t drag me into this…” Romeo leans away from them.Bookmark here

Tama laughs and takes another sip of his soda, fixing his eyes on Meru again. “How about you, Meru? Are you Makai, too?”Bookmark here

“........”Bookmark here

Meru continues working on Romeo’s bandages in silence. Oblivious to the awkward atmosphere that Tama created, Jojo responds for everyone again.Bookmark here

“Nah, Meru’s not a delinquent. He’s just another guy Boss rescued, I think.”Bookmark here

“You think?” Tama looks at Jojo. “Aren’t you friends?”Bookmark here

Jojo looks at Tama and sighs. “I mean, yeah? Boss rescues all sorts of people! It’s like his hobby!”Bookmark here

Hey,” objects Romeo. Jojo continues. Bookmark here

“Anyway, Meru and Boss never talk about how they met, so I just stopped askin’.”Bookmark here

Meru laughs as he puts the finishing touches on Romeo’s hand.Bookmark here

“Well, it was such a long time ago…”Bookmark here

Romeo looks at Jojo for a moment, then clears his throat, whipping his head in Tama's direction.Bookmark here

“Does it matter? He’s not a delinquent, so don’t get him involved in your stupid plans.” Bookmark here

He touches the bandage on his hand, carefully applied and secured; it still feels like overkill to Romeo, but he knows if he didn’t let Meru do this, he would never hear the end of it from Jojo. Bookmark here

“...Thanks.”Bookmark here

“No problem,” says Meru as he puts away the rest of the cotton and gauze.Bookmark here

“...Tamaya.” Romeo suddenly addresses Tama as he holds his forearm to rotate his wrist, testing the bandages. “Could you help us find the other two Summer Fireworks?”Bookmark here

“Ohhh… You’re asking me to betray my precious Kappore gang just like thaaaat?Bookmark here

“..........”Bookmark here

“Haha! Kidding, kidding! Fudge the Kappore, they made me join them and I never wanted to in the first place.”Bookmark here

“Whoa,” Jojo turns to look at Tama, surprised. “Are you sure? Won’t you get in trouble?”Bookmark here

Tama scratches his ear. Bookmark here

“Hmmm. Probably. But only if Romeow-meow loses. So you better win, okay!?”Bookmark here

“Don’t call me that.”Bookmark here

Tama laughs. “Haha! Okay, let’s see… Cutter Knife Matsuri’s territory is on the opposite side of town for me— the fancy part, so I’ve never been to his hideout. His group is the smallest one ‘cause he’s not afraid of stabbing anyone that gets out of line, or so I’ve heard, which means he doesn’t have many followers.”Bookmark here

Jojo gulps. “He sounds scary…”Bookmark here

“Oh, yeah,” Tama shrugs. “He’s super scary. But honestly the one I’d be afraid of the most is—”Bookmark here

“Thorn Whip Kagiya,” interrupts Romeo.Bookmark here

Tama looks at him for a second, examining Romeo’s face, and then nods. Bookmark here

“Yeah. Thorn Whip Kagiya. That guy is... something else.”Bookmark here

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