BLOODY BAT ROMEO
“So, I guess this means you know Thorn Whip Kagiya, Romeo?” asks Tama as he takes another sip of his drink.
“... Yeah. I met him before I joined the Makai gang. I’d say that he’s the one Kappore I’ve met with the most pride for their gang— more than Raging Fist Endo himself.”
“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.”
Jojo settles onto his giant Macaron beanbag and faces them.
“So he’s one of those guys that's thrilled Endo’s in the hospital, then?”
Tama nods. “Yep. He’s probably the happiest of us all about this entire situation.”
“Hah.” Romeo scoffs. “Looks like both the Kappore gang and the Makai gang are just as shitty.”
Meru laughs quietly, standing up from the corner of the bed to grab his tea before shrugging.
“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…”
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!”
“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.”
“Yeah,” Tama slides down the bed and reaches for a cushion near Jojo to sit on. “Endo’s just the strongest guy at the center of the Kappore turf. Kappore's so big that anyone can join, which means you don't really gotta be strong to get in. My guess is that even if Thorn Whip Kagiya was 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.”
Jojo looks at Tama with excitement.
“Aw, man, Tama! You know so much about this… I’m so glad I invited you over!”
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.”
“Do ya have anything that could help Boss defeat him!?”
Tama turns toward Romeo and stares as if examining him, which, in turn, makes Romeo wince in discomfort.
“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…”
“Yeah!?” Jojo perks up with excitement. “You think Boss could take him!?”
“Oh, sure. I know he could… buuuut…”
Romeo looks away from Tama’s prying eyes and sighs.
“Ugh... Thorn Whip Kagiya… He’s the last person I want to face.”
Tama laughs and points at Romeo while looking at Jojo.
“But that! See? Romeo seems very against it!”
Meru blinks and tilts his head to look at Romeo.
“Oh? Are you still not over what happened last time?”
Jojo scrambles to turn his body over the beanbag and face the bed again, surprised.
“Eh!? Boss!? Meru!? You know what happened last time!? What was it!? What was it!?!?”
“It was nothing—”
“Romeo and Kagiya briefly partnered up to beat a common enemy, and Romeo was almost recruited into the Kap—mmph!”
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.
“Haha! No waaaay! You joined forces with someone? And almost joined a different gang!?”
Jojo climbs halfway onto the bed, clawing at the sheets as he looks at Romeo with distress.
“Is that true, Boss!? You had another best friend!?”
“Shut up, all of you!!” Romeo raises his voice with a clear tint of embarrassment on his cheeks.
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.
“I wasn’t in Makai back then, okay? Back then, people from different gangs would try and pick fights with me for no reason.”
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!?”
“Let go of me!” Romeo shakes his leg to get Jojo to let go. “No! We weren’t together for that long!”
“How long, Boss!? Do you still talk? Are you still friends!?”
Finally, a quick kick knocks Jojo loose from Romeo’s leg.
“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.”
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.”
“... 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.”
“Ughh… It hurts…” Jojo crawls back over to his beanbag, sniffling and rubbing his nose after Romeo's knee hits it. “Boss… I know all Kappore—except Tama—are shit, but what’s so bad about this one in particular?”
“I’m not Kappore anymore!” Tama interjects, completely ignored.
Romeo rubs the back of his head and looks away as Meru pats his shoulder, picking his words carefully.
“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.”
Tama bursts out laughing.
“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!”
“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?"
“Why are you enjoying this?” Jojo barks at Meru. “This has nothing to do with you, Normie. You won’t even be there!”
“And you will?” Tama suddenly asks. Jojo flinches, his mood suddenly dampened.
“That’s right… Boss… You’re really gonna do this on your own?”
“That’s the rule, isn’t it?”
Jojo opens his mouth to say something, but he immediately goes quiet again as he thinks back on the incident at the arcade. His expression is so transparent as usual that Romeo can practically read his mind. Annoyed as he is at Jojo’s clinginess, Tama’s presence reminds him that he should try to be a better friend, too, and decides to reassure him instead.
“... But I guess that doesn’t mean I won’t need any help.”
Jojo’s eyes sparkle, and he perks up.
Please… Don’t look at me like that…
“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.”
Jojo leaps from the beanbag straight at Romeo for a hug, squeezing him tightly.
For the first time, Romeo really does try to fight the urge to push Jojo away, but his patience starts running thin before Jojo has his fill of this crushing embrace. Instinct takes over, and Romeo slowly starts reaching for his bat as irritation begins to show on his face. Luckily, Tama peels Jojo away from him by the shirt first.
“Good for you, Jojo! Romeow-meow wubs you!”
While Jojo wipes away some happy tears from his eyes, Tama rubs his back with encouraging words. Meru leans discreetly closer to Romeo, his voice low as a whisper.
“This is a dangerous mission. You really don't have to do this if you don’t want to.”
A brief memory of Yuri flashes through Romeo’s mind.
“... I do,” Romeo replies in an equally quiet tone. “I need to get out of Makai as soon as possible.”
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.
“... Is this my fault, Romeo? Are you doing this for me?”
Romeo finally turns to look at him, surprised by Meru's conclusion.
“What? Of course not.”
Meru narrows his eyes.
“...But you are doing this for someone, aren’t you?”
Romeo feels a chill run down his spine, choosing his words carefully to mask his discomfort.
“What? ...What makes you say that?”
Meru slowly places a hand on his shoulder and offers him the gentlest of smiles.
“...Because I know about the girl you saved in the alley.”