BECOME CABBAGE MAN
The Original Simp’s attack didn’t do shit.
Joshua grinned to properly feel the adrenaline ripping through his heart. His head was in the clouds. His fingers were loose and giddy.
He wanted to laugh it off. He wanted to hump the air and dance. He wanted to throw that white-haired weirdo some Ls, but the cold sweat dripping from his chin begged him to not throw his dignity due to peer pressure. He had something to protect now.
And it was from a damn sword that he never saw.
But then again, Leigh wasn’t on the same page. Joshua’s helpless smile grew. Everything fell apart when Ryan rushed forward. Just like that, he ruined everything. Again. The damsel was still as shaken as before. But her strained, desperate yet hopeful eyes were dead set on that bastard.
She was raring to go to his side. She kept looking around, stuttering as she breathed, trying to think of a wonderful scenario, a way to go to him. It was like her life didn’t matter at all.
It would be all too easy if Leigh turned to Joshua instead. Running away would be fine. He’d take the blame. She pretended that he didn’t exist until she needed him.
It was the same as before.
Everyone referred to it as the park. It was an abandoned lot where the kids would play, punch each other, and have their parents punch each other next to defend their children. It’s that kind of spectacle that drew people in to stay there.
It was when the skies. It was when the skies stretching above turned into a heavy orange. Rain was bound to come. It was just the two of them hanging out. It was fun, as he could remember. People were about to pour out, and it was when Leigh tugged his clothes and begged him not to go.
Joshua kept his head low and stepped forward.
Maybe he wanted this.
Leigh’s concern was directed to someone else. Bitter. She wore that same look when she asked him to go out, just the two of them together, to share a cup of cold pineapple juice and a single stick of fried breaded quail eggs. She wanted to run. But she didn’t want to go alone.
Back then, the sun faded out along with the rest of the world’s color. Time dragged. Joshua mustered a smile. He fanned himself as he waited for Leigh to pick her words. She looked adorably embarrassed. For a moment, he thought that the world belonged to him. For a moment, all they heard was each other’s breaths until it was broken by the thoughts he would always remember.
Her soft yet calloused hands pressed into his. She trembled as she breathed through her words carving every sheepish syllable into his brain. That was a long, torturous moment that he would give anything to return to.
She flashed him her eyes. Desperate yet shy. How dirty her face looked at the moment didn’t matter. The world seemed to not exist.
“Would you… take me away… from here? From everything?”
And she just had to say that.
Her voice rang in his head. Her lips formed a slight smile. Unlike him, she wanted to abandon everything like nothing mattered.
His smile quivered. So was hers. She nodded at herself and realized his answer. She tilted her head to the side, and for a moment, the half-empty cup of juice in his hand grew heavier.
It was for his family.
The thought twisted his heart, and it did the same with his smile. He had to pay for the things that his parents had sacrificed for him to be able to grow old, to live. It was his job to take care of them, no matter how hard he had to deny himself. He was someone that his family could depend on.
Leigh’s hopeful gleam darkened. It rotted into a glare like she’s forced to appreciate a piece of trash as the greatest piece of art.
He led a sad life.
But what he felt inside him screamed to differ.
Joshua’s grin twisted even more.
Joshua clutched his chest. He won’t get hurt. These people wanted him. No one would be able to even hurt him anyways. No one would be able to crush him.
Even the one named Juan Montefalco wouldn’t.
Everyone’s looking, and he felt nothing but mad thrill and fun. For a moment, he seemed alone, but that awkward piece of the board that no one noticed came up and turned the whole playing table.
“I’m saving both of your asses. Again.” He flashed Ryan a pained smile. “I’m the one that they want.”
This poor excuse of a hero, this one-armed cabbage man, was at the height of his uselessness. He would be left confused, pained, betrayed. And he would die, knowing that someone saved him, and he failed to do anything to change it.
Joshua’s steps wavered upon hearing Leigh’s voice. He stopped. This unknown expression drawn on his face turned hopeful. He faced his back. He was killed five times over when Leigh rushed to Ryan instead.
She said nothing more. She slapped the guy in the face. She had Ryan reeling back, grinning to ignore the pain. Only then did she notice what she was doing.
Joshua faced Leo. “I’m the one that you want. Take me.”
“That sounded so goddamn wrong…” Ryan commented weakly.
Leo clicked his tongue. “Like I said—”
“I get to choose if I die or not. And we’re looking like prime targets. I’m the Chief of Defense now. And that Montefalco would be gunning to kill me, and he couldn’t.” Joshua licked his lips. “You’re all looking pretty naked right now. I have no doubts that all of you are strong, although none of that matters if you all get crushed by rocks. The last time we fought against something bright and flashy, that guy flattened an apartment building along with the neighborhood. You don’t get to tell me what to do.”
Leo’s eyes narrowed.
“You want me, right?” Joshua chuckled and pointed them at the wasteland not far from his back. “You need my power. And you’ll get it, given that you don’t touch them. But hey, this guy would probably bleed to death anyway, so all you have to worry about, if you could kill me, is one little girl.”
Leigh heaved. “You don’t have to…”
“You don’t have to try so hard to finish something you didn’t want to say.” Joshua sighed at Leigh. “And I don’t want either of you to go save me.”
Ryan looked at Joshua with disgust. Leo said nothing more and walked away, expecting Joshua to follow his lead. Leigh was a bit confused, but he realized something.
“For a second there, Ryan, I thought that you would understand, but hey… I can see it now,” Joshua smiled at Leigh. “You’re really looking as poor as ever.”