Chapter 21:

Crumbling Down


“So, I guess this means you know Thorn Whip Kagiya, Romeo?” asks Tama as he takes another sip of his drink.Bookmark here

Romeo grimaces.Bookmark here

“...Yeah. I met him before I joined the Makai gang. I’d say he’s the one Kappore I’ve met with the most pride for their gang— more than Raging Fist Endo himself.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, yeah!” Tama nods quickly. “He’s super into Kappore as a brand. If his territory wasn’t the furthest from the main hideout, I’m sure he'd have taken over the entire thing already! ...Well, that, and also, nobody really likes him, except for a few weirdos, so he doesn’t have much pull as a leader.”Bookmark here

Jojo settles onto his giant Macaron beanbag and faces them.Bookmark here

“So he’s one of those guys that's thrilled Endo’s in the hospital, then?”Bookmark here

Tama nods. “Yep. He’s probably the happiest of us all about this entire situation.”Bookmark here

“Hah.” Romeo scoffs. “Looks like both the Kappore gang and the Makai gang are just as shitty.”Bookmark here

Meru laughs quietly, standing up from the corner of the bed to take the tea Jojo left for him from the table, shrugging. Bookmark here

“Such is the nature of gangs, yes. If you're too trusting, you might get stabbed in the back. Though, I can't say I dislike Kagiya's pride as a Kappore in the least..”Bookmark here

Jojo scratches his head. “I don’t get it… If Kagiya wants to take over Kappore that badly, why didn’t he just take down Endo himself? I mean, Boss took him down— He probably wasn’t that tough in the first place!”Bookmark here

Hey,” Romeo glares at Jojo, who jolts back. “I don’t like what you’re implying, but… you’re not wrong. Raging Fist Endo wasn’t really all that.”Bookmark here

“Yeah,” Tama slides down the bed and reaches for one of Jojo’s cushions to sit on it next to him. “Endo’s just the strongest guy at the center of the Kappore turf. Kappore's so big anyone can join, which means you don't really gotta be strong to get in. My guess is that even if Thorn Whip Kagiya were stronger than Endo, he just had fewer followers. If he tried to challenge Endo, the sheer number of Endo's followers would crush Kagiya's tiny faction, and Kagiya'd just get kicked out of Kappore for trying.”Bookmark here

Jojo looks at Tama with excitement.Bookmark here

“Aw, man, Tama! You know so much about this… I’m so glad I invited you over!”Bookmark here

Tama beams at him. “Hehe. I just know what every Kappore knows! Though, not gonna lie, being one of the Summer Fireworks means I get some exclusive info on some of the other leaders, too.”Bookmark here

“Do ya have anything that could help Boss defeat him!?”Bookmark here

Tama’s turns to look at Romeo as if examining him, and Romeo winces, uncomfortable.Bookmark here

“Hmm… I mean, Romeo’s pretty strong, isn’t he? I don’t think he’ll have a problem with Thorn Whip Kagiya at all…”Bookmark here

“Yeah!?” Jojo perks up with excitement. “You think Boss could take him!?”Bookmark here

“Oh, sure. I know he could… buuuut…”Bookmark here

Romeo looks away from Tama’s prying eyes and sighs.Bookmark here

Ugh...Thorn Whip Kagiya… He’s the last person I want to face.”Bookmark here

Tama laughs and points at Romeo, looking at Jojo.Bookmark here

“But that! See? Romeo seems very against it!”Bookmark here

Meru blinks and tilts his head to look at Romeo.Bookmark here

“Oh? Are you still not over what happened last time?”Bookmark here

Jojo scrambles to turn his body over the beanbag and face the bed again, surprised.Bookmark here

“Eh!? Boss!? Meru!? You know what happened last time!? What was it!? What was it!?!?Bookmark here

“It was nothing—”Bookmark here

“Romeo and Kagiya briefly partnered up to beat a common enemy and Romeo was almost recruited into the Kap—mmph!Bookmark here

Meru’s explanation gets cut short by Romeo shoving a clean roll of gauze in his mouth. Unfortunately, he wasn’t quick enough to keep Tama from perking up.Bookmark here

“Haha! No waaaay! You joined forces with someone? And almost joined a different gang!?” Bookmark here

Jojo climbs halfway onto the bed, clawing at the sheets as he looks at Romeo with distress.Bookmark here

“Is that true, Boss!? You had another best friend!?”Bookmark here

Shut up, all of you!!” Romeo raises his voice with a clear tint of embarrassment on his cheeks.Bookmark here

Meru removes the gauze from his mouth, coughing. It makes Romeo realize he lost his temper for a moment, so he takes a deep breath.Bookmark here

“I wasn’t in Makai back then, okay? Back then, people from different gangs would try and pick fights with me for no reason.”Bookmark here

His words clearly don't reach Jojo, who wraps his arms tightly around Romeo’s leg. “Tell me, Boss! Tell me!! Was he your best friend!?Bookmark here

Let go of me!” Romeo shakes his leg to get Jojo to let go. “No! We weren’t together for that long!”Bookmark here

“How long, Boss!? Do you still talk? Are you still friends!?”Bookmark here

Finally, a quick kick of his leg knocks Jojo loose from Romeo’s leg.Bookmark here

“Of course we don’t talk anymore! He tried to recruit me into Kappore, and back then I wanted nothing to do with any gangs. I refused and never saw him again.”Bookmark here

Tama whistles, shaking his head. “Ooh, boy. You partnered up with Kagiya and then broke it up? That couldn’t have possibly gone well at all.”Bookmark here

“...It didn’t. But his turf is far enough from the Makai gang’s turf that our paths haven’t crossed since. If it were up to me, I’d never see that weirdo again.”Bookmark here

“Ughh… It hurts…” Jojo crawls back over to his beanbag, sniffling and rubbing his nose after Romeo's knee hit it. “Boss… I know all Kappore—except Tama—are shit, but what’s so bad about this one in particular?”Bookmark here

“I’m not Kappore anymore!” Tama interjects, completely ignored.Bookmark here

Romeo rubs the back of his head and looks away as Meru pats his shoulder, picking his words carefully.Bookmark here

“Kagiya's… How should I put this? He’s a strong asset if you’re on the same side, but that’s about it. He doesn’t take rejection well. He’s flighty and moody and possessive…” Romeo pauses to groan. “Also, he dresses so gaudily it’s embarrassing, but that’s beside the point.”Bookmark here

Tama bursts out laughing.Bookmark here

“It’s true, it’s true!! Kagiya’s into visual kei and he is not afraid to show it! Haha! I can’t picture him and Romeo teaming up at all! Can you imagine!Bookmark here

“It certainly paints a picture,” Meru snickers and takes Romeo’s drink from him. “I’m sad I didn’t get to see it myself. But now that Romeo has to hunt him next, perhaps they'll have another chance to team up?"Bookmark here

“Why are you enjoying this?” Jojo barks at Meru. “This has nothing to do with you, Normie. You won’t even be there!”Bookmark here

“And you will?” Tama suddenly asks. Jojo flinches, his mood suddenly dampened. Bookmark here

“That’s right… Boss… You’re really gonna do this on your own?”Bookmark here

“That’s the rule, isn’t it?”Bookmark here

Jojo opens his mouth to say something, but immediately goes quiet again as he thinks back on the incident at the arcade. His expression is transparent as usual, and Romeo can practically read his mind. Annoyed as he is at Jojo’s clinginess, Tama’s presence reminds him he should try to be a better friend, too, and decides to reassure him instead.Bookmark here

“...But I guess that doesn’t mean I won’t need any help.”Bookmark here

Jojo’s eyes sparkle and he perks up.Bookmark here

“Boss?”Bookmark here

Please… Don’t look at me like that…Bookmark here

Romeo sighs.Bookmark here

“I have to fight Thorn Whip Kagiya on my own, but there's a chance his followers are gonna try to jump me while I do. If you really wanna come, then hang back and keep an eye out so I don't get anyone interrupting me and him.”Bookmark here

Jojo leaps from the beanbag straight at Romeo for a hug, squeezing him tightly.Bookmark here

BOOOOOSSSS!!!Bookmark here

For the first time, Romeo really does try to fight the urge to push Jojo away, but his patience starts running thin before Jojo's had his fill of this crushing embrace. Instinct takes over, and Romeo slowly starts reaching for his bat as his irritation begins to show on his face. Luckily, Tama peels Jojo away from him by the shirt first. Bookmark here

“Good for you, Jojo! Romeow-meow wubs you!”Bookmark here

While Jojo wipes away some happy tears from his eyes and Tama rubs his back with encouraging words, Meru leans discreetly closer to Romeo, his voice low as a whisper.Bookmark here

“Romeo…”Bookmark here

“......?”Bookmark here

“This is a dangerous mission. You really don't have to do this if you don’t want to.”Bookmark here

A brief memory of Yuri flashes through Romeo’s mind.Bookmark here

“...I do.” Romeo replies in an equally quiet tone. “I need to get out of Makai as soon as possible.”Bookmark here

Meru observes him in silence for a second, noticing that Romeo’s mind is elsewhere. Jojo and Tama's conversation has derailed into some discussion about Macaron, off in their own little world on the beanbag. They aren't paying any attention to the conversation happening at the corner of the bed. Bookmark here

“...Is this my fault, Romeo? Are you doing this for me?”Bookmark here

Romeo finally turns to look at him, surprised by Meru's conclusion.Bookmark here

“What? Of course not.”Bookmark here

Meru narrows his eyes.Bookmark here

“...But you are doing this for someone, aren’t you?”Bookmark here

Romeo feels a chill run down his spine, choosing his words carefully to mask his discomfort.Bookmark here

“What? ...What makes you say that?”Bookmark here

Meru slowly places a hand on his shoulder, and offers him the most gentle of smiles.Bookmark here

“...Because I know about the girl you saved in the alley.”Bookmark here

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