BLOODY BAT ROMEO
Jojo rushes over to where Romeo hit the floor. Romeo sits up, dizzy, rubbing his bleeding nose.
Kagiya steps closer, his eyes locked on Romeo and blazing with fury. He reaches behind his back, slowly revealing a black, spiked whip, and Romeo's eyes go wide. He just barely manages to roll out of the way as Kagiya's whip strikes the ground.
“You never called!”
“You never checked on me!”
“And worst of all, you never told me you joined Makai! HOW DARE YOU!?”
Over and over, Kagiya strikes the ground, the spikes of his whip just barely grazing Romeo with every desperate dodge. Romeo digs his heels into the ground, finally able to swing his bat out as Kagiya's whip comes down and wraps around it. Kagiya violently yanks his whip back, and Romeo grits his teeth, kneeling on the ground, his grip firm.
“...I told you, I didn’t want to join any gang... but you kept trying to make me join the Kappore!”
“So Kappore was out of the question but Makai wasn’t!? How does that make any sense!?”
Kagiya tugs on his whip just hard enough to rip it free from Romeo’s bat, recoiling backwards. The two snarl at each other, at each other's necks like feral cats.
Jojo, standing much closer to the action than he ever intended, watches them with his jaw on the floor.
“B-Boss… Are you okay?”
“Hey, hey, Kagiya!” Tama raises his hands as a sign of peace, slowly approaching Kagiya from behind. “Put the whip away, will ya? Don’t you wanna hear him out first?”
Kagiya whips his head over in Tama’s direction, furious.
“...You. You traitorous little worm. Are you part of Makai now, too!?”
Tama starts sweating bullets. He keeps his usual smile on his face, but it has an obvious twitch.
“N-No way! I’m just friends with these guys! They just both happen to belong to the Makai gang!”
“Why are you with them? Have you no pride?”
“Hey! I have lotsa pride! But, um… Oh, right! Romeo! Romeo took my lighter! Yeah! Ooh, he got me good…”
“He took Sparky? How?”
“Does everyone know your lighter’s name!?” Jojo suddenly interjects, ignored.
“Listen, Kagiya,” Tama slowly lowers his hands and takes another step forward. “Nobody really wants to fight you. I mean sure, Romeo’s here to kick your ass, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Don’t you wanna know why he’s doing this? You’re gonna liiiike it!”
Romeo behind them slowly gets back to his feet, wiping the blood from his face with his sleeve and readying his bat in front of him.
“Leave it, Tamaya. If he doesn’t wanna talk, that’s fine with me.”
Kagiya looks at Romeo over his shoulder, then looks at Tama again.
“My grandfather started the Kappore gang a long time ago,” Kagiya points the handle of his whip at Tama. “This gang rightfully belongs to me and no one else. The fact that I haven’t been at the top since the beginning is a disgrace, and it’s all Raging Fist Endo’s fault for stealing that place from me.”
“Eh?” Tama blinks. “What’s this all of a sudden?”
“I could have taken him down before his faction got too big,” Kagiya continues, “but I held back because I met Romeo, and, after seeing for myself how powerful he was, I wanted to build the strongest gang in the country with him as my right-hand man.”
He turns quickly on his heel to attack Romeo with a speedy crack of his whip, only for Romeo to jump out of the way. It strikes a festive, discolored sign, causing it to crumble.
“I could have been the Kappore leader so many years ago! But now it’s too late! And it’s all your fault!”
Shit… He’s still as fast as I remember…
Romeo scrambles to his feet with his bat as Kagiya's whip comes down on him just as fast, kicking out of the way. He dashes toward the carousel and circles behind it, Kagiya in hot pursuit, just barely blocking another strike of his whip with his bat.
“I get it, you’re mad. But what did you expect!? I was never going to join and you were never going to stop trying to make me join!”
“So that’s your excuse!?” Kagiya cuts through the middle of the ride to catch up to him, gripping the horn of a unicorn to keep himself steady at the ledge as his whip snakes toward Romeo again. “You just disappeared on me because you assumed we didn’t have a future together!?”
“Stop making it sound weird!” Romeo blocks Kagiya’s attack again with his bat, the strike loosening the bandages he hadn't had the time to remove. “This is why nobody wants to follow you!”
Kagiya jumps down from the ride, closing the distance between the two of them. His whip cracks too fast for Romeo to block it this time, and it cuts deep across Romeo's chest.
“Boss!” Jojo dashes towards him, but Tama skids in front of him with his arms out.
“Don’t get involved, Jojo. He’s supposed to do this alone, remember?”
“But…” Jojo grits his teeth, his eyes darting from Tama to Romeo with concern. “Boss is…”
“He’s fine!” Tama beams a reassuring smile. “Don’t you trust him? He’s the strongest delinquent in the city, isn’t he? Besides… if you get hurt, you know he'd be sad.”
Jojo's shoulders relax, but the worry remains on his face as his eyes follow Romeo and Kagiya chasing each other through the fog.
Far from the carousel by now, Romeo takes advantage of a brief opening to swing his bat into Kagiya's arm— the one that isn't holding the whip. The hit connects, causing Kagiya to stumble and hit the ground.
“Ugh… You hit me… You really hit me…!”
Romeo doesn’t approach him, knowing full well how long his whip's reach is.
“Yeah? You hit me first. Like I said, if you wanna do this the hard way instead of talking, I'm fine with that.”
Kagiya glares at him.
“Of course you’re fine with it. Fighting is easier for you, isn’t it?” He staggers back to his feet, holding his arm and hissing in pain. “Letting others know what you’re thinking... You can’t do that, can you? You’ve never been able to. That’s the real reason you didn’t want to join the Kappore gang. Because you didn’t want to get involved with anyone else!”
Romeo’s eyebrow twitches.
“See? You’re still the same as you were back then! You can’t change, Romeo! You’ve never changed! And you never, ever will!”
“I said shut up!!!”
Romeo dashes forward and swings his bat into Kagiya's other arm, but Kagiya rebuffs it with a quick crack of his whip. The recoil is enough to cause Romeo to stumble, but he manages to keep his balance. Kagiya clicks his tongue.
“...You’re getting on my nerves. I’m glad I added more spikes on my whip just for this.”
“...Huh? Aren’t you a little too prepared? Did you know we were coming?”
Kagiya rotates his hurt arm to try and will the pain away.
“...I heard Raging Fist Endo was out of commission, so I decided to expand into his territory in central. I fought the pair I thought he left in charge, and they both told me all about your little quest when I won.”
“Yes, a little kid and a tall guy. The tall one put up a fight, but the tall one instantly surrendered once I started focusing on the little one.”
Romeo opens his eyes wide. An image of Pot sitting on Pan’s shoulders suddenly floods his mind, and his body aches with the phantom pains of Pan's strong kicks from that day they fought behind the hospital.
“...Cooking Pot and Cooking Pan? ...You took them out?”
Kagiya nods. “Like I said, it didn’t take much. Perhaps if I had fought only the tall one I wouldn’t have made it, but he gave up for both of them just so I’d stop hitting his friend. It was touching, but I didn’t care for their silly cooking accessories.”
Aren’t you dressed just as weird…
“Anyway, it’s not like it matters. They weren’t the actual leaders, so I didn’t gain anything from it. It was incredibly satisfying, however.”
“...You’re an idiot.”
Kagiya narrows his eyes at Romeo, offended.
“Hmph. You said you want to be the leader of the Kappore gang, but you treat every Kappore member like shit. What’s that all about?”
“I told you! The Kappore gang is my legacy! I’m trying to claim what’s rightfully mine!”
“You’re trying to take over someone else’s work, dumbass. You didn’t put in the effort to create this gang, you’re just trying to steal it!”
Kagiya’s nostrils flare with rage. He ignores his aching arm, raising his whip again and assaulting Romeo with quick hits in rapid succession from every direction. Romeo can only block so many strikes from such a close range, gritting his teeth with every hit that cuts into his arms and legs.
“Stop talking! You don’t know anything! YOU! STUPID! TRAITOR!”
Within the hailstorm of blows, Romeo catches sight of an opening. He braces himself and raises an arm in front of his face, letting the whip strike it head on as he winces in pain. Still, the whip wraps around his arm just as he expected, and in that moment Romeo yanks his arm back with all his weight, pulling the whip and Kagiya right into him.
Romeo meets Kagiya with a quick, reckless headbutt, and the recoil sends Kagiya crashing to the ground.
Romeo tosses the whip to the side and rubs his throbbing forehead.
“Ouch… You have a hard head…”
Kagiya whines in pain and writhes on the dirt, nursing his throbbing forehead.
“Y-You… That was dirty! —Ah! I’m bleeding!” He looks at his hand stained with makeup and fresh blood, trembling. His shock quickly turns to rage, and he begins to crawl towards his whip.
“You’ll see… You’ll pay for this—Agh!”
Romeo jams his bat down into Kagiya's back between his shoulder blades, pushing him flat against the ground.
“...Let’s end this now, Kagiya.”
Kagiya’s eyes go wide. He can’t see Romeo from this position, but he doesn’t need to. He’s seen this before: Romeo with his cornered prey. How his eyes grow dark, and how nothing can stop him. His hand, that had been so fiercely reaching for his whip, now shakily grips a fistful of dirt.
“—You’re right,” Romeo interrupts him in a quiet voice, surprising Kagiya. “...The truth is, I haven’t changed at all. I keep trying and trying, but... I’ve only made things worse.”
“...I’m... doing this so I can finally leave the Makai gang.”
“...I,” Romeo hesitates for a long moment before taking a slow, deep breath, as if bracing himself. This fight with Kagiya made him realize he’s never told anyone the real reason he wants to leave the Makai gang, because he hates opening up, no matter who it is.
With the bat still pressed against Kagiya's back, he finally speaks.
“There’s... someone I want to protect. And I can’t do that while I’m a delinquent. Amon said if I defeat the Kappore’s Summer Fireworks, he’ll let me get out of the gang.”
Kagiya is taken aback by Romeo’s sincerity. In all the time he’s known him, he’s never once seen him show mercy or stop before the final blow. He'd fully expected Romeo to have knocked him unconscious by now, but instead he finds himself pinned under this stranger; a Romeo he’s never met before.
He feels something shift behind him, and then sees Romeo’s hand reaching down to pick up his whip from the muddy ground.
Slowly, Romeo releases the pressure from his grip, allowing Kagiya to roll slowly to his side and look at Romeo.
“...Are you really going to leave the Makai gang?”
Romeo coils the whip into itself as small as he can make it, being careful with the thorns. He nods without looking at him.
“I’ll take this for now,” he says, then gives Kagiya a look. “Unless you have a problem with it?”
Kagiya frowns, but shakes his head.
Romeo turns on his heel to walk back towards Tama and Jojo, no more than silhouettes in the distance through the fog.
“...You’re wrong, though.”
Kagiya’s voice makes Romeo stop in his tracks without turning back. Kagiya continues.
“...You’ve definitely changed, Bloody Bat Romeo.”