Chapter 26:

Going Next



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

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

“Sowwy…,” cries Tama from the opposite side of the bed in Jojo’s room, 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!”

Romeo glares at him.

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

“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.

“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!”

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. He sets a bottle of iced tea on it while he takes out another soda for himself.

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

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

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

“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.”

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!”

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

“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!?”

Romeo gives him a deadpan look; annoyed but defeated.

“... Romeo’s fine.”

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.”

“Pet!?” Tama blinks. “You mean me!?”

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

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

“Says Mad Dog Jojo,” scoffs Romeo.

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

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

“... Are all of you Makai?”

Meru meets his eyes, but Jojo responds to all of them instead.

“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!”

“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 captain-less ship and create our own group like we always wanted!”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Hey,” objects Romeo, but Jojo continues.

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

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

“Well, it was such a long time ago…”

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

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

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

“... Thanks.”

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

“... Tamaya.” Romeo suddenly addresses Tama as he holds his forearm and rotates his wrist to test the bandages. “Could you help us find the other two Summer Fireworks?”

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


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

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

Tama scratches his ear.

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

“Don’t call me that.”

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.”

Jojo gulps. “He sounds scary…”

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

“Thorn Whip Kagiya,” interrupts Romeo.

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

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