Chapter 23:

Painful Knowledge


“...Romeo?” Bookmark here

Meru’s voice brings Romeo back to his senses. Romeo normally kept the memory of his loss to Amon a few years back locked away in his mind, and it all came rushing back to him once Meru had opened the floodgates. But now he's back in Jojo's room, at the corner of his bed with Meru right beside him. Meru looks at him with concern.Bookmark here

Romeo rubs his temples.Bookmark here

“...Sorry. What did you say about the alley?”Bookmark here

After realizing Romeo had probably just entered a state of shock given what Meru had just revealed, Meru smiles.Bookmark here

“I said I know about the girl you saved. It’s not important how. I just want to know why you kept it a secret.”Bookmark here

Romeo groans and gives Meru a look of annoyance.Bookmark here

“What’s it to you? I can do whatever I want.”Bookmark here

“Haha. No need to be so defensive. It’s just— well, I don’t think I should be giving you any warnings at this point, should I?”Bookmark here

“.........”Bookmark here

“Someone like you getting involved with a civilian… I fear that it might not end well.”Bookmark here

Romeo feels his heart wrench.Bookmark here

“...I know. That’s why I need to get out of Makai as soon as possible.”Bookmark here

Meru observes him for a second, then places a hand on his shoulder.Bookmark here

“...Romeo, I’m sorry. This is all my—”Bookmark here

Don’t. I told you I don’t want to hear it again, didn’t I? I did what I did back then because I wanted to, okay? Nothing I'm dealing with now is your fault.”Bookmark here

Meru grips Romeo’s shoulder a little tighter, trembling.Bookmark here

“...Why did you save me? All I did was pass my leash onto you. You would have been better off never helping me at all.”Bookmark here

Romeo can feel Meru’s regret in his grip, but says nothing about it. He shrugs instead.Bookmark here

“...Because it really looked like you wanted to die. So I decided not to kill you.”Bookmark here

“Romeo…”Bookmark here

Romeo gently takes Meru’s hand away from his shoulder as he feels his face heat up.Bookmark here

“Don’t look at me like that. I was being petty. That’s all.”Bookmark here

Meru laughs quietly and decides not to mention Romeo’s blush.Bookmark here

* * *Bookmark here

Hnghh… Aaaghh….Bookmark here

“Oue! Isn’t that enough!?”Bookmark here

Franz yells in horror as Endo’s grip tightens around Oue’s neck, the veins on his arms bulging the harder he squeezes. He has Oue shoved up against the wall so high his feet dangle far from the floor. Seconds pass without Endo letting up until Oue shakily taps Endo's arm. Endo lets go without care, and Oue crumbles to the ground in a fit of coughs.Bookmark here

“Oue!! Are you all right!?” Franz rushes to his side and kneels down next to him, placing a hand on his back. Oue gasps for air as he grasps his throat.Bookmark here

Endo looks at both of them with disgust.Bookmark here

“There. I did what you wanted, freak. Now it’s your turn.”Bookmark here

Between coughs, Oue starts to laugh, slowly regaining all the air he lost. His face was flush from the rush of blood and adrenaline, but, instead of pained, he looks elated.Bookmark here

“Thanks… Endo… I really needed that…”Bookmark here

Franz helps Oue back on his feet, still in disbelief over what had just happened. Bookmark here

“Are you mad!? Why did you ask him to choke you like that!?”Bookmark here

“Oh, zip it, Franz.” Oue staggers to his feet, holding onto Franz. “Can’t a guy just enjoy feeling alive once in awhile!?”Bookmark here

Endo shakes his head.Bookmark here

“Come on, hurry up. Tell me about Cooking Pot and the other Cooking Guy. Who are they and why did they call me to tell me they got all beat up?”Bookmark here

Oue holds on to the wall, taking deep breaths.Bookmark here

“It’s Cooking Pot and Cooking Pan. How hard is it to remember?” He coughs. “Eh, I’m not part of your gang so I don’t know too much… I do know they look up to you and want to become the next Kappore leaders because you promised them they could, or something.”Bookmark here

“...I did?”Bookmark here

“Well, yes. Under certain circumstances. If they’re calling you now to tell you they got beat up, I don’t suppose this is about the same incident that got me sent here. My guess is something else happened to them. Did they tell you who did it?”Bookmark here

Endo nods.Bookmark here

“Thorn Whip Kagiya, they said.”Bookmark here

Oue’s eyes open wide in shock.Bookmark here

“No. Way.”Bookmark here

Franz looks at Oue, then at Endo, completely lost.Bookmark here

“What are you two even talking about?”Bookmark here

Oue ignores him and covers his mouth as he begins to laugh.Bookmark here

“The Kappore are cannibalizing each other for control, huh? Hehe. I knew this would happen, but it’s so much fun to see it in real time!”Bookmark here

Endo frowns. “Does that mean Thorn Whip Kagiya’s part of my gang, too? And he did this? That Cooking Pot person sounded real young, though.”Bookmark here

Oue catches his breath again and shakes his head.Bookmark here

“Oh, yeah. That little one is definitely not in high school. But don’t feel bad, they’re both pretty annoying and had it coming, anyway.”Bookmark here

“I let a little kid join the gang? And I let ‘em get beat up, too?”Bookmark here

Oue, surprised with Endo suddenly hatching a conscience, crosses his arms.Bookmark here

“My dear Endo, you did so much worse than that. Your crew had pickpockets, bullies, and people who loved targeting civilians… The Kappore gang is nothing more than a playground for bad guys all around the city, and you were its king.”Bookmark here

Endo winces, then looks away. Only the sound of the hospital TV droning on about local sports matches fills the room. Oue sighs.Bookmark here

“I suppose it's easier to be a bad person that pretends to be a good person in front of his family than to accept that you’re a much more horrible person than you thought you were.”Bookmark here

Franz slowly steps back.Bookmark here

“I get the feeling this conversation is getting too dangerous for me…”Bookmark here

CRACK!Bookmark here

A baseball player on TV suddenly hits the ball with a distinctive sound amidst all the commentators. Endo's eyes widen as he turns toward the screen.Bookmark here

CRACK!Bookmark here

Almost as if mesmerized, he takes a step forward, watching the snippet of yesterday's game. Oue follows his gaze instinctively.Bookmark here

“...You like baseball?”Bookmark here

“No………. Romeo…”Bookmark here

Oue snaps his head towards Endo, unsure if he heard that right. Bookmark here

“Y-Yes, Endo? Sorry? Did you say something?”Bookmark here

Franz, who had almost made it to the door, stops in his tracks when he hears that name. He knows that name too well to not recognize who he means.Bookmark here

“Huh? Did he just say…?”Bookmark here

Endo’s not listening to them. His eyes are wide open, unblinking, looking at the screen as he opens his mouth again.Bookmark here

“Bloody... Bat... Romeo…”Bookmark here

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