The Tiger.

By fatsoko

Suma Tanabi

Onira Shigubi

Katsuhiro Oh

Kazuya Nishika

Hoji Kisaru

Trace Itoh

Tomo Akihara

Yuki Nagawe

Akira Susuke

Tae Yoo Park

Prologue.

[Kazuya] Sometimes when you walk into a room, someone’s in there waiting for you. Someone that draws you to them, pulls you to them, lures you into their life and end up changing you. Their charisma can be felt from across the room, glowing, kissing you with what can only be described as addicting. ....It was you. When people called us gangsters and delinquents—kids with no futures, it didn’t matter because you were there to lead us with your strong, gentle hands…because you were the one that brought us together with that burning look that you reserved only for us, telling us that we—you chose us as your friends. You make me so frustrated, Suma….Why do you this to yourself? Why do you torture yourself with regrets that you can’t change no matter how much you punish yourself—no matter how much you deny yourself of any happiness when all you deserve is happiness? Remember? It was your 18th birthday. You took a week to write dumb things you wanted for your birthday like bubble gum and sand but on the last page…you wrote something that wasn’t dumb; it was anything but dumb. On the birthday list that we mocked—on the list that you smiled at when we laughed, you wrote, “Tadaima. I’m home. That’s all I want to say.” Some people think that destiny can be changed… but no matter how hard you try—no matter what you do…all the chess pieces still fall back into place in the end. ........ That’s the bitter truth.

[end Kazuya] Suma’s POV. I’ve been told that I’m a cold person but maybe it’s because my heart never knew how to grow. I think that once, long ago, my growing heart stopped growing because for a long time….I’ve only known the frigid embrace of winter. I’ve been frozen.. “Get her out of my sight,” were dad’s words to the Obaa-san that greeted me with a strained smile. He dumped me at some random place in the middle of nowhere, shoved me towards the old lady with gray hair, got into his black Mercedes and drove off, never to be seen again. There were no goodbyes; his style was making quick appearances and then just disappearing again. That’s how it always was. The Obaa-san was a nice lady but that doesn’t mean she was my mom. No way. Okaa-san was way prettier. When Dad used to take a hold of my hands, he always whispered, “Your green eyes are just like your Mom’s. They’re beautiful, Suma.” I remember how he smiled at me when he said that so she must have been really pretty like how the Statue of Liberty is pretty. I don’t know what jobs my parents had but Mom was the daughter of a politician and Dad…I don’t really know much about him. They loved each other but couldn’t be together so they ended up eloping. But…as always with star-crossed lovers, there was a tragedy, a curse that had to pull them apart, rip them apart until even their hearts were torn to shreds in the separation. That was me. Good ol’ Suma. When I was born, Okaa-san died, leaving my father behind with a gash of growing acrimony, festering where hope had once been. Otou-san grew bitter…they sacrificed everything to be together. They threw away family—threw away their past lives just to be with one another—spend their lives with one another. Not this. He was so frustrated with life—he wanted to kill himself just to be with Mom but his conscience wouldn’t let him. Mom’s conscience wouldn’t let him kill himself, wouldn’t let him kill me. He held back even though, to him, I was the worst thing that interfered with his life. It wasn’t his disagreeable father or her reputable parents that were his obstacles. It was me, because of all people, it was me who ultimately ended every spark of hope he ever had. He honestly thought that all of those obstacles disappeared when they eloped, but they would never have it so easy. Okaa-san…she knew that if she had me, there would be no way she would live. She knew but she still went through with it. Otou-san…He couldn’t even look at me because I reminded him so much of the woman he loved and the life that he could have had if I didn’t exist…so Otou-san…he couldn’t help but blame me for destroying his world. To Dad, it was only fair for him to take away my world. I would feel his pain too one day. One day, Otou-san would take away my greatest love—take away my world, just like I did to him. He would slowly, excruciatingly, unravel each hope built in my heart until I had nothing. Just an empty, black void. It was four years before I fully recovered from my difficult birth, but when I did get better and actually began to run around like a normal kid with no hospital gown donned on my frail body, Dad frowned at my tiny burst of happiness and instantly signed papers to give me up for adoption, turning away from me, his only daughter. A monster like me wasn’t his responsibility. Dad, with his large, calloused hands, took my small face in his hands and drilled these words into my mind: “We’ll meet again Suma. When we meet again, my revenge will be complete.” Yes, it did sound extreme, even to me, but Dad was capable of anything. I always believed him to be a hardened man with a mean streak, a man that could make even the biggest muscle-bound freak break down and cry with a snap of his fingers. A man of the mafia doesn’t forget grudges—I could tell because his eyes grew so dark and lonely when he said those words to me, like he wanted to erase me off the planet but making sure I suffered and hurt until I was the one who begged for death. He knew that revenge wouldn’t bring anything back—he knew everything but there was so much rage and built-up hatred for every breath that came from my lungs—he wanted to wipe that out because the one that was supposed to be breathing was his wife….not this monster….not me. At the orphanage where I grew up, I only knew Aoi, a young woman who worked there and took a liking to me because she had a daughter my age. Aoi was the ironic counterpart of her name. Instead of being blue, to me, she always glowed with a golden radiance. The warmth she gave off was a gentle glow that felt like she wanted to protect you from anything dirty in the world, like a warm breeze that caressed you on a summer day. She would bring her daughter with her sometimes to play with me and the first time we met one another, her daughter Rie laughed at me. She said I looked like a beggar that just woke up from a nap in the trash can. I didn’t understand the term until Rie spitefully said, “That means that you have nothing! That means that you don’t have a mom or dad because you’re bad!” …I’m bad? When she said that to me a wave of confusion covered my face, creating worry lines on my milky-white forehead. What

was so wrong about not having a mom and dad? I had Aoi near me and for me that was more than I could ever ask for considering how Dad neglected me when I did live with him. What was wrong about not living in a house when I was happy where I was? Houses don’t have anything of importance. It’s just all walls and furniture, nothing I could stay by and say, “Yes, this is what I want to stand by and protect.” It didn’t make sense what Rie said. When Aoi saw me with a frown, she asked me what was wrong, her warm hands on my small shoulders, comforting. “Aoi onee-san…Am I really that bad?” I asked, my face blank. I feared that she would say yes, confirming Rie’s accusations, making me feel smaller than I already was. I still haven’t gotten over all of those doctors….After awhile, you don’t feel the needles anymore, but the doctors were so cold and shielded that they treated me like I was dead already. I always wanted to just grab one of them and tell them, “I’m not dead. But why do you treat me like I am? Why won’t you just talk to me? Just lie to me—I don’t care. Just don’t treat me like I’m nothing!” But that was all I was. Nothing. I was just too afraid to confirm it. Aoi’s forehead creased. “What are you talking about?” “Is that why no one wants me—because I’m bad?” I asked bluntly, my pale face becoming even whiter. A sad smile broke onto Aoi’s face trying to reassure me that I was mistaken. She embraced me, trying to hug out the bad thoughts in my mind, trying to protect me from the cruel world. “No Suma. You’re not bad at all. And I need you Suma. You’re special to me.” I tried to smile too, relieved that Aoi didn’t hate me. I didn’t realize I was holding my breath on Aoi’s response. I didn’t see Rie watching us from the door, an angry expression mauling her face, her tiny fists clenching until they turned ghost white. That year, when Rie and I entered Kindergarten, Aoi dropped both of us off on the first day of school, giving us hugs and words of luck. “Be nice, okay girls?” We both nodded but after Aoi’s car turned the corner, Rie snatched my lunchbox from my trembling fingers and threw it across the sidewalk, watching in amusement as the box smashed, its contents flying everywhere. I could only stand there in horror, tears filling my eyes, shock thrumming through my body, my black bangs clumping to my wet eyes. Aoi made it for me. “I must have done something wrong,” I kept thinking to myself. “That’s why Rie hates me.” I was dressed in a blue t-shirt with stained grey pants while Rie was dressed in a pink frilly dress. Even though I tried so hard to look presentable for the first day, Rie splashed juice on me during breakfast and because we were in a rush that morning, Aoi just said to me, “It’ll be okay.” I wanted to believe in those words so I kept repeating them as we entered the classroom late. Aoi was always right. I just had to trust in her words of comfort. I saw a little boy make a face as he pointed at me. “It’ll be okay.” A group of girls huddled together turned to me, their pigtails swinging haughtily, their young noses in the air. “It’ll be okay.” “It’ll be okay.” Do I belong here? I bit my lip, unable to look anyone in the eye. As we stood beside each other with all eyes focused on us, I felt like an imposter. Me…the dirty kid with no manners and Rie…the pink princess whose bubbly charisma people loved. People were looking down on me, dissecting me because I wasn’t good enough, right? What is this feeling? What is this emptiness right here? I gently touched my heart, feeling the hollowness. A tear threatened to fall out of my eye so I quickly wiped it away. Yah. I sniffed away my tears. I don’t care. They don’t know anything about me…right? I don’t care….I don’t care. What was a friend anyways? I didn’t know. I didn’t know how to make a friend. A thought clutched me. If felt strange to be here. I don’t know why I’m here. My footsteps automatically stepped backwards, my blue backpack slipping off my rail-thin shoulders. Does no one talk to me because I don’t have a mom or dad? My hand grabbed hold of the doorway, trying to steady myself. Did they hate me because I was dirty? I felt their eyes shooing me away, telling me to get out of their sight because I wasn’t worth being seen by them. I almost cried but I didn’t want Aoi to be disappointed in me. She always told me that tears never solved anything. They only made the situation worse. Her words to me were, “In a sad situation, tears only make everything more melancholy. In a hopeless situation, tears only make you lose more hope. Suma……just be strong—stay strong. No matter what—people who don’t understand you won’t treat you right even if they try to understand you. So don’t listen to their empty words because they’ll only hurt you. Just stay strong and hide your tears inside—save it for a day where no one will see your pain because fabricated pity for tears is the worst thing of all.” In the cool autumn air with the tiny breeze and deep shades of leaves, I spent my lunchtime alone. I sat idly on the swings, just

And your daddy…he didn’t want to die too so he left you with my mommy! And…and when you killed your mommy. Maybe she wasn’t as bad as I thought. Rie finished peeling off the message and turned to look down at me. What kind of gang names themselves such a retarded name? I wonder if they even know how to spell O-rain-guh-tang…. her ivory teeth glimmering.. “Stay away from my mommy! What if you kill her too?” I didn’t know how to answer Rie. I don’t deserve Aoi’s pity. Last night I finally took out those damn Orangutans.If I just pretended…If I changed myself. “Nope. “Whoever did that didn’t know anything. straightening the note out. Rie’s pink shadow towered over me. my hand was trembling too much. Why did it hurt so much? What did I do to ignite such a deep hatred from Rie? “Did I do something wrong? Is that why no one likes me?” I asked her. “How horrible! Who could have done this?” She began to peel the message off the locker. Opening my locker door. “…is where it belongs. making sure to scrape off the yellow masking tape residue on the metal frame.if I'm not me.watching the other kids play games until the bell rang and waited to be the last one to reach the shoe lockers. ” “There.” Aoi….I hate me.Just this once. Whatever their name was. “…Save it for a day where no one will see your pain because fabricated pity for tears is the worst thing of all. What’s going on? Those tiny stitches…I painstakingly sewed over my heart…. I blinked back my tears. Rie glared at me..” I can’t. Rie thought for a second. I could feel the snaps of each thread unraveling from my beaten-up heart. trying to see her in a new light. It felt good. “It’s because you’re a monster. feeling the dam in my heart slowly seep close. they were still idiots.” I felt a hammer in my heart slowly pound away at the concrete support I thought was strong. I won’t be a girl anymore. I could only stare dumbstruck at the yellow post-it note dangling from my shoe-locker. Just this once…. Twelve years later… Damn I’m so tired. your mom died. The best place to put something like this---“ she grinned widely. and it made me want to curl into a ball in a dark corner away from any thoughts. I stumbled back. I heard small heels tapping their way over to me. No more…. …. “….” She looked at me condescendingly.no more…. “You Monster! Murderer! Die! Go to hell!” were the bold-lettered words inscribed onto the note on my locker. Just a crack and I’d be a broken person. Mommy told me that when you were born. Che. Now it looks perfect. That makes you a monster! You killed your mommy. I hate them……. then maybe I can pretend that I’m not a monster. What were Aoi’s kind words? “In a sad situation…. It was strange to not feel hostility coming from Rie. When I showed up yesterday at that one shady building off the . is it okay that I just cry so it won’t hurt so much? Maybe. “In a sad situation…. I hate what I am.tears only make everything seem more melancholy. I hate myself. away from all of these sharp words cutting into me.. Maybe she was a real princess. Aish…whatever. I tried to stitch my heart over again but in my mind.Save it for a day where no one will see your pain…” So that was why…Everyone hated me. I could feel the tears prick. her thin fingers rubbing over the bent corners.” She stamped the scarring message on my forehead.Hide your tears inside….That sounds right. pasting it tightly so that it wouldn’t fall off. They were being childish.they were coming undone..it'll be better.. shoving me. Chapter one Suma’s POV. your eyes turned green because she cursed you!” I began to hiccup. Baka one hundred percent!! I hope they feel like crap. still trying to grasp that it was real—that it was really happening. her clear pretty face in shock.what if I don’t care about fabricated pity? What if I just need to let go of these tears because it hurts too much? Those threads that I painfully used to stitch the holes in my heart are coming undone. Did that mean…I didn’t do anything wrong? I looked up at her. Maybe she’s right.

corner of the ice cream shop. always a narcissist. School isn’t for playing—it’s strictly for sleeping. I’m sick of this. I’ll never get any sleep. Those monkeys had been bothering me for a while now—especially that one chick who kept trying to hit on me even though her boyfriend was the leader of the Orangutans. Why the hell did I come to school? Those damn teachers don’t even like me. Five days of torture. DAMNIT! I rubbed my head furiously. I’m going to rip their heads off! I need some sleep!!! I don’t know how they can act like this. Ever since everyone found out he was a genius. I smelled something faintly oniony and moldy. He just won’t shut up about how good looking he is. “GIVE IT BACK YOU BASTARD! THAT’S MINE!” I lunged for my hat but I missed that fat tub of lard. Confidence my ass. They deserved to get beaten to the ground. so my score was in the bottom one percent. There’s something about him that sets him apart from other trivia junkies. I know. Not cotton candy. and back then honest to god. The teacher grabbed my hat and started going off about respecting him. Onira placed on the opposite end of the scale. really conceited to the point where you just want to stuff a ball of cotton into his mouth. They’d rather drool over Onira. just like he is. really. it turned out that he was the smart one in class and I was the stupid dumbass with the lowest scores. He’s perfect. He wants to be an underwear model one day—or at least that’s what he tells me everyday. “Blah blahblah blahblahblah. and ended up smashing into the ground. Onira Shigubi. Some days I just want to jumpsmack him in the head for being such a narcissist but in the end. God damn it! I pulled my cap tighter over my head. I could hear him a mile away. Stupid Katsuhiro. using it as a makeshift cushion. Trust me. Perfect Onira. it only took me one second to realize that they were all talk and no show. It’s okay. because it’ll just melt in his mouth. I met him in middle school. I slept in. “What the hell do you think you’re doing you piece of—“ . That’s the only way to describe him without missing a beat. Damn his breath almost knocked me out. I just want a little sleep but that bastard keeps talking about his damn hair products! Gr…. The next person who bugs me will honest to God go to hell in a body bag. Same old lecture. He’s a good kid—just really. I’m the kind of tired where when you’re sitting there. …. I know that they’re trying to be funny but I swear if they do that again. That’s just Katsu for you. My teacher cried when they got a letter about Onira’s perfect score. especially with those weirdo gizmos they wore. His skin is perfectly smooth and he’s got the genes of some Greek god or other and some other things that I don’t even want to hear about but still ends up going into my brain. Once a narcissist. I lifted an eye open to look at what was up. Don’t get me wrong. God I’m tired. I felt my neck sway slightly to the right so I shook myself off and gently laid my head onto my right arm. we all had to take this huge country-wide exam that took five days to complete. I didn’t even need backup for them. I seriously thought he was a retard because he always just sat there and did nothing. Take a handful of it and just shove it into his mouth—that’ll shut him up. He’s the most honest person I’ve ever known. In middle school. Yes. at least. I don’t blame them. A piece of paper hit my back. I could hear the teacher still going.. A voice kept filtering into my ears. I don’t remember much about it because I missed three of the test days and the two test days that I did attend. He says that it’s essential to be good looking in the underwear modeling career and also to have a lot of confidence. Hoji and Kazuya. I would use these vicious arms of mine and choke him slowly until he’s so blue his pretty hair will fall out…. I scratched my ear. Aish. The teacher’s ugly mug was in front of me.. his scores were perfect. you don’t even realize when you fell asleep until someone wakes you up. There’s not an ounce of messed-up gene in him even though his family has a lot of political connections. but in reality. Blahblahblah… That’s it. What the hell? That hurt!! I glared at the teacher and snarled. really. Stop thinking evil thoughts.Yah Suma…you sound psycho. He’s got a fan club these days but I don’t think he knows they exist because he’s way too absorbed in his schoolwork to even glance at a girl.if I had the energy. maybe even in the negative percentile if that’s possible. Did they think that shiny earrings made them look cool? Even after I ripped them off? Maybe they’ll appreciate the scar…it’ll make them look a little tougher. I made sure to mess up her boyfriend’s face really bad to teach him a lesson to not get a girlfriend that was so stupid. Bastards think I’m the scum of the earth and should be in jail right now incarcerated like the other smart-mouth criminals in the world. he transformed from this quiet kid into this sophisticated punk that all the girls drool over.” At this rate. As in.He better not look at a girl. there’s no point. They’re right about me most of the time. but the real cotton that you buy in the plastic bags at a drug store.

Looking in front of me. That slug of a teacher grabbed the stupid kid’s shoulder. Those kids think they’re so sneaky. “Shove it kid. I felt someone near me. Who does he think he is…. It got on my clothes! I didn’t want to smell like that gay boy so wherever I smelled that junk that he sprayed on me. .don’t sit in front of me! I could hear Kazuya and Hoji. putting up his right hand in a peace sign. smiling like they were best friends and said. I don’t know that idiot but he’s going to die!!!! My fists pretended to crush him slowly and painfully. I can hear you!!! If I were halfway across the world. Yeah. They’d better stay away. pulling out wrinkled bills proudly. He gave up after that and probably just apologized for me to the hospitalized kid. right. Did Onira want me to punch the guy in the nose instead? That’s what it sounded like. Onira asked me to apologize so I did…and then I punched the kid in the nose and ran away.” Hoji complied.HAHAHAHA! Hahahahooohoo……” Who’s laughing? My eyes snapped to the front of the room. I almost turned around to yell at the two of them for being idiots but Tomo’s fat head kept distracting me…. Move it. I saw the teacher usher him towards the seat in front of me. Kazuya?” “Ten bucks—no—Twenty!” Kazuya yelled. like Tomo was his new crush or something. we both know it won’t last for very long. “SHUT UP!” He was grinning widely and then burst out laughing again. I scrunched up my face and kicked him square in the head from behind. not really. and then his lip curved up in a grin. I sat back down. If Tomo comes within five feet of me. I thought he looked like a girl. how much do you wanna bet. It looked silky like it was cut and washed at a salon daily. “Kazuya! Look at what he’s doing! He’s brave enough to actually sit in front of Suma!” Hoji whispered loudly.” He whipped his head around to face me and fiercely whispered. It was his fault that he sucks at aiming and sprayed me everywhere! Onira got mad at me for beating up that hairspray kid but I didn’t care. Hell no. It’s not my fault that he sprayed that hair junk on himself while I walked by. On many others. “Ikura desu ka? Hey. right?” “Yo.“Heehee…. soo. I snatched my hat from the teacher. I tried to calm down so I glanced out the window thinking that whatever was out there would distract me enough to calm me down but all I saw out there were some annoying pricks in gym class pretending to run in a circle. I could still hear you! Kazuya nodded dubiously at Hoji. I didn’t want to deal with this crap anymore. My face went blank. Oh well. Maybe that’s why all the girls are writing his name everywhere but personally. “Soo. Do I regret it? No. What the hell? Is this kid stupid? He’s seriously getting on my nerves. Shut up.” He really wants to die. There was something about him that made him different from my other classmates. The last kid that tried to be cool never came back from the hospital. I hit him in that same spot really hard. releasing my anger onto the red cap. But just because you’re not dull doesn’t mean that I’ll let you off for being an idiot. It wasn’t until Onira explained to me that when I got sprayed. you ------------“ Something bopped me on the head.that gay girl better move it. I got hit in the nose with the spray.” the stupid kid said. crumpling it with intensity. “Stupid! That’s our lunch money! How are you supposed to treat us if you give me all of your money?! Baka!” Hoji slapped Kazuya’s hand and was about to add more but was unable to finish. Whatever. Not kidding. Oooh…he thinks he’s hot stuff. the fad looked ridiculous but it matched Tomo. Right. His face was clean too. My face was probably scary looking. Stupid teacher. It’s not like I asked to sit in front of you. I peered more closely at the idiot. That’s why I thought the spray got everywhere but really the smell was just on my nose. Demo. I will kill him for breathing my air. that stupid grin still on his face. “You must be Tomo Akihara. “You’re in my way freak. I swear I keep getting interrupted! Who is it this time? Oh. brooding. His hair had originally been a deep shade of midnight black but he had gone with the fad and dyed it light brown. My arms went into the air in aggravation. It’s not that he was smart—he just wasn’t dull. “Hey!” I lowered my voice. I made a double take. “When I say *move it*.

Katsu laughed.Onira could always read me too well. I felt worthless because they shattered my dreams of being normal. Onira…. don’t you Mr. calling me a monster. winking at them. making us look like we were some kind of cult. that’s for sure. Hoji and Kazuya stood with me. Well. They all looked so happy. I could stick them in a room full of paperclips and they would be happy for three weeks straight. “Kazuya baka! You idiot! That’s not it! It’s cause Tomo looks like a girl! You know how he hates chicks. trying to comfort me but thankfully. When we reached the front door. Tanabi-kun. scraping against the polished wood floor. It’s a perfect opportunity to ditch. But I didn’t say it out loud. So true. My parents taught me to survive in this land of illusions.“Suma Tanabi! Stop it this instant! First. these idiots made me happy. I saw the dark look on the teacher’s face. just soaking up the rays and playing in the grass without any interruption. I don’t have to sit here and listen to his bull about the secrets of life when I didn’t care. I hate girls…they’re despicable creatures. Onira.” Katsu pretended to be a sissy girl and walked with his model-like feline grace towards Kazuya and blinked femininely towards him. I was thinking that one day I’ll burn down my thinking tree because it knows so many of my secrets. causing my wooden chair to teeter and push back. I stood abruptly. Back then.Even you are my enemy. right Suma? It’s because the girls like him huh. Aw. They knew I was pissed. thinking about the past. I thought he’d reach out and touch my shoulder. I truly did want to die.” but telling him that would get me nowhere. Those kids never grew up. I smiled big and wide with a lighter and carton of gasoline behind my back. “Go back where you came from you delinquent!” Fine with me. so was I. I was really afraid to become friends with anyone. I’m a genius. Tree down. End that thought. Friends could hurt you a lot more than other people. Kazuya said it out loud first. My eyes stayed glued to my friends. then I’ll hate you just as much. causing me to smile. For a long time. you break the simplest school rule and endanger the school with your antics and now you’re hell-bent on killing the new student the moment he sits down! What’s wrong with you? Why do you always have to disrupt the little peace there is? Can’t you even be a nice boy for once and find the manners to wear your uniform like the others? Please. I learned that the hard way. I stopped caring about what others thought about me a long time ago. They all probably thought I was just some punk trying to be cool but I don’t care. I could still remember those damn kindergarteners bullying me. Tree? In my mind. “What are your parents teaching you?!” My response to that dumb teacher’s attack would have been.” There was a huge smile on his face. “Do you know what my parents taught me? They taught me that I was worthless. I had to. He looked pissed off. Hoji and Kazuya fooled around. I felt Onira’s body behind me shuffle a little. I thought about what that stupid teacher yelled at me. “Like that!” Kazuya pushed his face away in a sour pout. then God…let me live this illusion for as long as I can. keeping his distance. I turned to take one last look at my pathetic classmates and grinned. getting ready to burn Mr. even adding a little blush. I could see that it was already lunchtime. “Daikirai? You hate him a lot. How could I be normal when I was a monster? I shuddered. the teacher just wanted to get in the last word so his fat mouth threw out.. I implore you to change your ways before you influence any more of those boys that you hang around with! Understand? What are your parents teaching you?!” His face was red in fury as he continually whacked Suma’s desk with his ruler until it chipped. I’d rather go back to hell any day. Me? What the hell? I tipped my cap down and bit back from yelling something that I would regret and instead smirked. There was a long silence as I picked at a few blades of grass. Katsuhiro. Onira never played with them. They all knew that I hated the new kid already. They taught me that I was a monster. I brought the guys outside. If this is an illusion. his hand stopped in midair. I just had to stop caring because being numb was the only way to not feel so hurt. I sat there thinking as Katsu. Peering up at the sun overhead. Damn. Class sucked anyways. to my thinking tree. Right before we left. Onira saw me. We stayed out in the sunshine for hours. I grinned a little because they know me so well. I closed my eyes for a moment. If you look like a girl.whatever. I could feel his eyes penetrating my back but I wouldn’t look him in the eye…. Even you. Even though I would never admit it. praying. I wasn’t jealous of the attention. I tried to imagine for a moment a world without these four boys and a wave of sadness swept over my face and emptiness filled .

luckily for Tomo. Tomo wouldn’t be groaning. If he were. doesn’t he? “Pretty boy….” Yeah…Who else? Your mom? I glared at him icily but he didn’t seem fazed. I heard the bell ring. My fist would have smashed into his pretty face already. Well. though…I wasn’t at the center of attention. Normally. drooling like crazy. I could feel him smiling at me even though he was facing away from me. “Hm?” “…. Chapter Two I was so relieved that gym class was after lunch so I stopped being lazy. I’ll always be with these punks. That Tomo was different. I’d call it dogs in heat.Never mind. God I feel so dirty every time I go to gym. I smiled. Tomo smacked something on my forehead. They were being childish. kids would be screaming for air at this point. In a way. right? You never know when you’ll get ambushed. I mean. “Yah…Kazuya?” I asked. Girls would sneak their camera phones into their gym jackets and snap shots of Tomo doing stupid things like drinking water or running or tying his shoe. If only they knew. I could hear Tomo groaning as he began to pull himself up. The piece of paper that was on my forehead had fallen to the ground. “Learn how to aim!!” Did he want to end up like the hairspray kid? Tomo looked shocked for a moment until he saw my face. guess what? You’re all idiots if you think guys actually give a rat’s ass about dogs in heat.” She stamped the scarring message on my forehead. “There. I felt bad for him but he’s the one asking for the attention. Flashback “Whoever did that didn’t know anything. Because they don’t. The only crappy thing about it is the drooling girls. Hmm…Maybe he was good for something. but Tomo seemed okay. I wiped that sad look off of my face. . I’m sick of you. I heard his back crack at the impact. but when I stop glaring. I pushed him against the wall and sneered at him. No one told him to look like a girl.” As I walked away. he’s not a rival gang member. I was walking down the east hallway when someone’s flying lollipop smacked into my face.” I shoved him away.” I looked over at Tomo…. If they were dogs. Dead or alive. Now it looks perfect.why did it keep bugging me? He was…different. Today. I could feel his girly eyes pierce my back. I grabbed Tomo’s arm and twisted it behind his back. Sure I love sports but not when I know every girl outside is gazing dreamily at me ripping off my clothes in their head. I can feel their tongues hanging out. Who else?” I loosened my grip on his collar to see what he had to say. I shouldn’t be sad. I hope they attack him. making it hard to breathe. indicating that lunch was over so we all went inside. He started smiling and rudely said.Don’t touch me again unless you want to die. he looked like some idiot straight out of one of those girly fashion magazines. Was he angry? If I were serious. They stop when I glare at them. I think…no. Let’s hope he hurt. Clutching at my heart. I lifted him up by his collar and slammed him harshly onto the hallway floor. Who the hell did it? I looked behind me and saw a familiar head casually walking away. The best place to put something like this---“ she grinned widely.Oh…it’s just you. Even I had to admit it. He would be crying in the hospital but. “Of course it’s me.” End of Flashback Making a face. “Anata…. They’re just not natural. Gym is an easy ‘A’. Rain or shine. he’d be dead. I know he plucks his eyebrows. I tried to pretend that it didn’t matter. They all think it’s mating season everyday and that school is their breeding ground where they eliminate the male species into the best of the best. All of the attention was given to that stupid punk Tomo. Right before we went back inside to change. Tomo coughed like crazy and then began breathing again. this high school is famous for violence. Kazuya…I wanted to ask you…if you felt it too. It’s just too disturbing. “It could have been some gangster for all I know. Honestly. “Consider that your first ambush. Is that what he had to say? Don’t insult me. We split ways once we headed inside. He just really loves to piss me off. I brought my face close to his ear and muttered. At least no one’s drooling over me.” I smiled at him but there was no warmth in my face. None of my friends were either. “Where it belongs. no matter what happens. It was that Tomo punk again! He’s gonna die!!!! I came from behind him and snatched his collar.me inside.

I’ve been looking for you. They used methods that even terrorists would cringe at. The Beast Clan. I met up with Onira. “I’m Tomo. He’s really getting on my nerves. I was afraid….’ When I got to class. doncha know? They all switched to my side because they said you were being too cold to them—isn’t that sad? Anyways…what else did people say about you. They were really quiet. After school.they are the morons of society. I went up to Tomo and glared at him.I picked it up. I saw Tomo meet up with two other pretty boys. The Beast Clan…I wouldn’t risk our lives fighting them. I smiled suddenly. It sounded cool. Either way. It sounds like bull to me. I shouldn’t have faltered. they didn’t know who I was. I took the crumpled note from my pocket and smacked it onto Tomo’s clear forehead.” . I was afraid that they’d see me weak. When I had gotten the invitation from the Beast Clan. Gangs like the Eagles were gone. Katsu and Hoji in front of the school gates. That’s it. okay? I’m starving just dreaming about it…Okay.” I tried not to be fazed. He was the leader of a gang? I slapped his outstretched hand to the side.” Was I too harsh? I think I almost sounded a little too soft. they used guns.my voice would break. “Mina! You guys…Change of plans. I masked my face with a cheerful smile and put both of my hands into my pockets.” Tomo’s face changed. Frankly. Damn. Everyone in the school knew who I was…who my friends were. I could feel my heart sinking. like someone stuffed an invisible orange into my mouth.I mean…the toughest guy looks so weak…you’re the leader of The Tigers.had become the leader of the Tigers. you know who to ask!-Tomo in case you forgot. Some memories just don’t die that easily. But even so. Tomo’s expression was so pitiful that I had to slash his dreams. So before you embarrass yourself any further. My eyes…I felt them darken when I recalled the things I once did to survive.” He continued. Even though their numbers were small. If I didn’t act calm. My mouth was agape.” Everyone nodded. You’re really different from what I imagined….” He put out his hand to be shaken. I couldn’t deal with dead weight when I had bigger fish to kill. We live self-destructive lives that are only destined to end in tragedy. I tried to act calm as I told my friends the plan. It had to be this way. It was a long time ago but some things…they hurt for a long time. If you’ve got questions. Ahh…whatever. Only idiots dream of glorifying the gang life. I suggest you break up that group that you’re leading before I break your face. “What is this rubbish?” On the note was a smiley face. It was so simple. How had this freaky daisy figured out where I was? I thought that threatening people would keep our whereabouts hidden but somehow this idiot had found out about us. We’re not taking out the Beast Clan next week. But I remembered them so clearly. I had never heard of the Serpents. My usually happy face was marred. “What the hell is this? Do you know what you’re asking?” Tomo smiled. That meant that either my sources didn’t think Tomo was a threat or it meant that Tomo was new to the concept. It was very rare that I declined a challenge but they didn’t question me. “Do you know who I am?” I yelled at him. That must have been his ‘gang’. ‘Yo Suma!! Guess what? You and your gang are going DOWN!!!! Know why? Cuz I’m here! Tomo’s the name and winning’s my game! I challenge YOU to a duel this Saturday in the Auditorium. I’m the leader of the Serpents…That’s my gang. It read. Gangs…. I could only look at Tomo’s hand in shock. “Tomo…I don’t know what the hell you think you’ll accomplish by leading a gang. That was my former gang. “Suma Tanabi. Kazuya. I could feel everyone’s eyes on me. “Isn’t that great? We should go eat out next week then. Taking a deep breath. Tomo nodded. The number one guy in this school…You have a fanclub. I thought with a grin. aren’t you? You and your gang…. Meeting’s over. It seemed pathetic to me. He seemed angry that I wouldn’t acknowledge him as an equal. I tried to be casual as I said. Even the decade-old gangs were gone. It was impossible to fight them. “You’re Suma right?” “No kidding Sherlock. We had become the most feared gang in the region. “Don’t kid with me. They didn’t realize that I…Suma Tanabi…. Tomo was not my problem.

Damn his face was soft. I turned around and pointed at the black shoe sticking out from behind the sparse bush. In an obvious gesture of “I know you’re there”. But then. All they did was mug people. He looked stunned for a moment and then said calmly. I looked to Tomo. they wouldn’t understand the concept of admitting defeat and bowing out of the business. The three of them should go and take some lessons in stalker education. They were holding metal bats and pipes along with some nasty looking equipment. not scared crapless of me. I’ll never forget to wear it. waiting for me to go to school like sick fangirls. Everyone else had left already. I know I’m popular but this is just too extreme. They thought that I was fighting them today. I tossed a couple of rocks behind me. I feel like I’m getting dumber. It would have been okay if they actually knew how to trail someone but they were all so damn obvious that it was embarrassing.” I shrugged.” Tomo smiled. But he surprised me by mentioning something else I had forgotten about. brushing off his immaculate black slacks. He nodded in response to my answer. They had no clue how…how much it takes out of you. The sooner Tomo finished talking. I’m gonna come smash your girly face in!” Tomo stood up from the sparse bushes. It annoyed the crap out of me but they weren’t a real gang.. He pretended like he didn’t even hear my threat. Damn I can’t take this. Fifty feet from us. I rolled my eyes but nodded in acknowledgement to Yuki. That shut him up. I’m Suma the greatest coolest gang leader in history! What makes you so great that you can look down on us? Are we not good enough for you to fight? I see how you look at me and my gang! You don’t even care. You heard me Mr.” he said as he ran off. Yup. I hope he’s not a crazy stalker. oi. He pointed to the shorter boy with moles beneath his right eye. do you?” Yuki broke off Tomo’s rant and tapped me on the shoulder.He’s part of …” Tomo mouthed ‘my gang’ to me. On my cap read ‘Tiger’. I thought it was basic knowledge but Tomo and his friends have reached a new “basic” level if they don’t even know the basics to stalking me. Bye Smarty. pointing behind me. “Meeting’s over smarty pants. Tomo and his two friends. This is Akira Susuke. For me. Bye Suma. Why the hell won’t this kid leave me alone? I really didn’t understand how girls liked him so much. My mistake. I’ve worn it every day since Kazuya gave it to me. Onira took my shoulder before I turned to leave. “Get on with it. “Suma?” I looked at him questioningly. “Tomo!!! You dumbass! I know you three have been trailing me since I left school! If you don’t leave me alone. I grabbed Tomo’s face and said. It was kind of disturbing. “This is Yuki Nagawe…. But still…they didn’t openly show themselves to me. “Okay. They would just continue to mug people and be annoying. grinning as I heard “Ow!” over and over again.” I said. frustrated with the idiocy of the situation. I never bothered to tell them I didn’t want to fight their dumb asses. I pulled my cap tighter closer to my head. Those idiots called themselves a gang but they never even claimed turf. If he really did want to fight me. I’m not sure why they were following me but it’s getting creepy. “What about the invitation from the Grassland gang? They wanted to fight us today. That ‘Why don’t you tell me what’s wrong?’ look. Even if I did beat them up. These newbies didn’t know anything about a gang even though they let on like they did. he chose the wrong way to do it. I couldn’t stand it any longer. I can only deal with this idiot so much. Oh. Kazuya made this for me a couple years back. Really. I thought I saw some idiots trailing behind me. I see. God damn it.We cannot forget my other…” he trailed off. It looked like the gay trio. not wanting to say gang member. It was obvious that they were only in love with the idea of a gang. On my way home. Suma grumbled. the sooner they would leave me alone and get a life.” I let go of him. He admires you a lot Suma!” “JUST SHUT UP TOMO!” I felt like I was listening to a three-year-old talk about his favorite toys. He hand-stitched it too.Everyone nodded. . “Hide behind that bush again and don’t come out until it’s clear. Yuki and Akira whose eyes were wide in shock? Fear? I slapped my forehead. I looked around me. They’ve been trailing me for ten minutes. Tomo didn’t stop. “Hey Suma? Who are those guys over there?” I turned around. “What’s so great about you?” What? What was he talking about? Tomo continued. They weren’t. Was there something else I didn’t go over?” Onira had that look again. what a dumb day. I didn’t want them to trail me to my house. I’ve got to go to cram school. “Oi. not wearing the hat meant that the Tigers were dead. I could already see them camping out of my house. He looked really happy. I spotted the Grassland gang members. “Yup. “Fancy meeting you here Suma!” He pulled up his friends from off the ground and introduced them to me. “Yeah. That idiotic gang? “Not worth it.

They were vulnerable. I could feel my green eyes turning dark. What will you bet from this battle?” He smiled. It’s unacceptable. I can only see a faint outline and hear the cries of pain. indicating the surrounding areas. I don’t want anyone else to have blood stain their hands. Stay hiding. If you continue to mug people and blackmail people or promote that porny prostitution then I will personally hunt each of you down and slit your throats. Because…. “Oh yeah? Is that so?” I smiled but my smile didn’t reach my eyes. My eyes narrowed. “How do I know you’re the leader? What if you’re lying?” I growled. I knew I connected when I heard a sickening crunch. I didn’t kill him. greasy tar. He was the kind of guy that used dirty tricks. He shook his head.my green eyes were on fire. “What? You think you’re in a position to bet?” “Hell yeah I am!” Do I sound cocky? I don’t think so.” I spread my arms out. Did I want to fight? Hell no.Look at what we have here…. I’ve learned that fighting this way…fighting with these unshed tears…it makes it easier because I don’t remember the faces as clearly. They didn’t understand that. “If I make you cry and beat down you Grassland punks then I don’t want to hear about you anymore. He probably thought that I was a scared little sissy who was going to cry for help. I closed my eyes for a moment and could feel the adrenaline rush through my veins. I could hear him groaning. I brought up my elbow and smashed it against a nose. I hated the leader already. “You idiot! Baka! Hide behind that stupid bush! DON’T…. That’s so. I could tell the moment that I saw them that they had potential to become a strong gang but I couldn’t encourage that. The leader looked skeptical. I’d never do that. My eyes were filled with unshed tears. I opened my eyes and dodged the pipe from behind me. “How much do you want to bet?” The leader was confused. As much as I hated girls. I won’t stand for it. clutching his stomach. I lashed out a kick at the leader.A lost little kitty…” My face went blank. They’re not your problem.. “Suma? You can’t fight them on your own. It’ll be yours. He was the kind who got involved in drugs and prostitution. We can help you!” I looked at Akira.I’m a monster. “I’ll bet you all of the Tigers’ turf that I can make you cry!” The leader looked pissed. He seemed surprised to hear me speak.” I could feel guys approach me from behind. . I hoped to God that Tomo. I can handle them. Why do I feel so empty? I could feel my fists getting bloody but I couldn’t tell if the blood was mine. I felt someone grab me from behind. But no. If you try to help me I’ll kill you. But if I lose…then you get the whole region. I don’t remember the faces in pain and agony because it’s so blurry. Hell no. “Shut up. My hands have already been bloodied. Akira and Yuki wouldn’t come out from that bush. like pools of thick. At this thought. And if you’re not sure if I’m the leader. I turned to face the fifteen Grassland members.Tomo looked perturbed. I didn’t like the idea of one human controlling another human so dirtily. still kids. “Yeah. If I see even one of your hairs then you’re all dead. I hoped that they weren’t watching change into a monster. I’m not that low! “I don’t go back on my word. My eyes…. “No! Let’s run! They’re far away still!” That idiot doesn’t understand anything. I didn’t want innocent people to get involved. I shook my head.” I told him. Any numbness is welcome. I swung my fist out at a blurry face. It disgusted me. It was clear that they didn’t get the foundations of a gang. I could only remember feeling the deep look of anguish on my face as I turned to face my attacker and pummeled him to the ground. It was a matter of pride. I smirked at him. I punched Tomo in the face and yelled at him. If only I could end this nonsense. but I knocked out a few teeth. Especially for this freakazoid. All three of them were too innocent for the true world of gangs. I got hit once with a metal bat but I don’t even remember the pain.” That’s what I wanted to hear. If I don’t fight…then someone innocent will try to fight. I hate this. “What do you want? It’s not like you’ll win.” The three of them looked shocked but they didn’t know how to handle a situation like this. He seemed like a nice kid. “Oh…. I don’t want someone else to become like me. But I had to. “Just stay here. then you’ll know for sure after this battle. I saw that their friendship was strong but I also saw that they would throw away their pride in an instant if they needed to. It was built on pride and friendship.I repeat…DON’T COME OUT UNTIL IT’S CLEAR!” Tomo was about to say something but Akira beat him to it. breaking it. Their leader came up to me and flicked my hat.

“There…. “Why do you hurt yourself Suma?” he asked me.Aren’t you scared of me? I could feel my nostrils slightly flare as I tried to keep in this sudden flurry of emotions. That’s why…of the members of the Tigers…my legend was the greatest. Every time I went alone. I feel like a little bit of me dies…but it’s okay… as long as I know that no one else is suffering. No…. Kazuya…. I reached out my hand to push them to go home. So Kazuya…don’t look at me like that. My words…. but Tomo flinched. like today. They looked scared of me. . My anguish grew deeper.just go home and forget about becoming a gang.They saw me…as a monster. Why did Tomo have to be so frustrating? My heart…it hurts too much. I would turn into a monster. If I didn’t. Even though you’re in my gang….I hoped my words reached them. insulted and disgusted by Tomo. “Suma!!! Watch out!” With my remaining energy. If it was safe enough that my friends wouldn’t get hurt badly then I would tell them…But. It was the only way to defeat the other gangs.I had to turn into a monster. Whenever The Tigers would get invitations…I would research the gang. I turned around and punched a guy square in the face.was he in awe of my legend? Is that why he pursued me? I turned a worried gaze to see where the three wannabes went. not awed. The pocketknife in his left hand fell to the ground as he grabbed his broken nose.Just don’t look at me like that. when I knew it was dangerous…I usually went alone.. Gomenasai.What was Kazuya doing here? He was the one who told me to watch out. My voice was shaking. Every time I fight. his eyes shadowed.you don’t know what kind of world you’re stepping into! This isn’t a game! These are real lives that you’re dealing with! If you step into this world. And I couldn’t bear that thought. I didn’t want anyone to see me like this. I wouldn’t look any of them in the eye. there’s no guarantee that you’ll come out alive! Just go home…. but bit his lip. There was hesitation as he tried to understand. What??. A scream erupted from behind me. My hands shot out and grabbed hold of Yuki’s shoulders. I don’t want your pity. pretending that he wasn’t scared of the idea. Whenever you fought beside me…I never became like this. They looked so frightened by me. . I’ll be okay…. pissed off at their reaction. I feel like I’m going to die. I pulled back my hand and mumbled an apology.Why do you look like you’re about to cry when you don’t have a scratch on you? “Suma…” Kazuya began.I was looking at the ground but I deeply wished that these words that I was shouting at the ground…. “Don’t talk to Suma that way…” He was shaking his head. Hurting people…. I could tell because there were tears flowing down his porcelain white face. All of the other Grassland members were already down.. He was so angry at Tomo.I smashed his face with my fists until he cried for me to stop. Kazuya…People called me indestructible. His eyes were so puffy. I was afraid that Tomo…Yuki and Akira would get hurt. Tomo looked at me with eyes glazed over. It makes me think that you’re in pain too. I threw my anguish at the ground.don’t look at me like that. Why do you cry for me Kazuya? Kazuya looked at Tomo and said.I lowered my head. He only shook his head. “Is this what you want? Look at me you three! Is this what you want? You want to become a gang? You want to live your life like me?!” Suma…you sound crazy… Akira looked at me. There were streaks of tears running down his once cocky face. knocking him out. Kazuya….” Those were the last words he heard before I punched him once more. Tomo…. I slowly got up. He scoffed. shaking him. feeling that cool dark gaze fade away. frustrated by their actions. He understood that I wouldn’t respond to his sympathy. I squeezed my eyes tightly and put out my hand. Especially you.. “You kids…. My eyes were still dark and my heart felt so heavy. I’m sorry….Against fifteen men…. They called me a monster…. You’ve lost. I saw the three of them slowly rise. “Are you scared of me Suma? Is that why you don’t want to fight us?” Kazuya grabbed Tomo’s cuff abruptly. You’ve never seen me like this before.. My eyes lowered. You know that right? I couldn’t bear to look at you with these monstrous eyes….” I shoved Yuki away from me.but they were in awe. They were watching…. signaling to Kazuya to drop Tomo. He looked scared but so worried.it doesn’t make me happy. ashamed. Shaking him.

about what you said. Tomo exclaimed. Maybe. Tomo made a disgruntled face. In a way. I slapped Tomo in the back of his head. “When I saw you fighting last week…” He blocked himself. My eyes narrowed. Chotto…Hold on… I didn’t like the sound of this.. rubbing the red mark forming on his head. Tomo didn’t speak to me. No.coming into contact with the cold knuckles of my bloody fist. that was why I befriended Kazuya. Don’t be angry at Tomo…. I was surprised that whatever I said to him actually got through his thick head. He better get to the point fast before I smack him for touching me. I was thankful that he listened to me right away. This better not be long. He was a lot like me…only so much more innocent. “Suma!” he yelled. If I had lived as innocently as Kazuya. shuffling his feet. thinking I would hit him for watching the fight when I had told him to stay hidden.” He slapped my arm. “Ie. growling. Didn’t he hear the resolution in my voice? Was he deaf??? He was getting angry again.” Oh no. I couldn’t look at his face. even though I was standing only a few inches away from him. I came face to face with Tomo.” he began. Turning around.Only I’m supposed to be in pain. I didn’t want him to be inspired.” I warned him. All I could picture was Tomo’s face…his soft face…. That idiot. Don’t be in pain…. sighing again. his words quivering. “Demo….don’t cry for me. peering at him curiously. When I came back to reality. his harsh breath blowing my hair to the side. When he realized that I was still waiting for him to speak.But…. “Do you think…. I didn’t want him to see me that way. Don’t do anything rash you doofus. “Okay…Just say what you want to say.” Tomo looked at me. Kazuya grabbed my arm and flung it over his shoulder.it’s not his fault. I felt someone tap my shoulder.then I would have no choice but to destroy him. Kazuya…. Why does he look so serious? I made a face.” I crossed my arms.” This kid didn’t know when to give up. He wasn’t supposed to see me that way. “When I saw you fighting last week…I don’t think I ever felt my heart race so fast.” Tomo looked peeved and tried to prolong the conversation. seething. “What? I was thinking that it was a great idea…” I shook my head. “What? I’m not a kid! I’m older than you! I can make my own decision okay?” He’s overreacting….All I could say to them before I turned to leave was. “You better not say what I think you’ll say. he lowered his arms and continued. “I rechallenge you okay?” . then he and I would be very much alike. “You fight…when you fought…all I could think was…are you really human? I mean…it was amazing. because…of all my friends… I knew that Kazuya was the most sensitive. “What?” Tomo looked down at his sneakers and sighed. I thought it was fear that made me cringe…but it’s really cuz I was so shocked. Not at all. trying to make me understand. “I said no. “I’ve thought about it a lot this whole week…. “You fight good!” What? That’s it? Tomo wasn’t finished.whatever. Kazuya…that’s who I’m worried about. but I wasn’t really listening.do you think I enjoy hurting people?” I prayed that Tomo wouldn’t pursue the matter further. Sugoi…” Idiot. a wide grin on his face. flicking his head backwards. I could hear him talking about how he had made a pact with Yuki and Akira…to become a gang. If he seriously entered the gang world…. He no longer sat in front of me. Chapter Three For a week. “Idiot. “I even discussed it with Yuki and Akira.” He furrowed his finely arched brows.

I’m not. Don’t you realize? I know understand these words…I know you understand this fate. I’ve got it under control. Whe…Katsuhiro? Why do you look worried? There are no important fights…And even if there were…I’m not sure I’d tell you.” He looked skeptical. Last time…that time…you got hurt. “No. Make sure to come at…Three o’clock. chiseled sidewalk. What? Are you surprised that I would actually give you a chance? No. arm by arm.I don’t care. It just doesn’t seem fair if I throw you to the wolves.” I said. He looked stylish…as usual. Katsuhiro Oh…. We’re completely serious this time.” Three hours…That was more than enough time to fight Tomo and get myself cleaned up. “Katsu? Don’t worry about anything. Tomo looked confused. remember? I pulled on a convincing smile.it’s aching. Saturday. The school was only a ten minute walk from where I lived.I shook my head. thinking that they were true rebels for “going against the system and getting away with it”. It just started showing. patting Katsu on the back reassuringly. It was only Tomo. flicking a peace sign into the air. I stood for a moment at the front gate. Tomo nodded. saluting me with glee. …He said that just being near a person as great as me was good enough for him… but he doesn’t realize anything about me at all. Tomo…he was a special case. He wanted to do something great with his life.” I sound calm. I only had an hour of sleep but I felt relaxed. I thought about the auditorium.” I think he dropped the subject. Why did he do this? Tomo…Tomo…you’re such an idiot! Maybe. but do you really…understand the depth of this pain??? This kid…. “I don’t fight against kids…” “I’m not a kid! I’m older than you! Why can’t you fight me? I told you already…. That’s why he joined me. When I woke up this morning…I felt so refreshed. He thought….. It wasn’t until I remembered that today was the fight with Tomo that I stiffened up. sir! This Saturday…At noon. I don’t want you to get hurt. The auditorium was aging and falling apart. pushing down the finger he pointed angrily at me. its biting wind knowing exactly where to seep through your clothes to clutch at your vulnerable skin. Katsuhiro…I’m not great at all. burning down everything in its path…that is what a gang does. “Yes. “Suma…. If I lose. The school auditorium had always been in a sorry state. even for our average school reputation.He wanted to be an underwear model. I pulled on a sweater and tied my shoelaces. I haven’t scheduled any fights this week. don’t I? But my heart is racing….Me. Same place. “Suma….. I wouldn’t get the others stuck in this mess.” “Okay. I’m just crushing that hope in your eyes…because that glint that you have will only cause a fire. No one ever . leg by leg. Akira and Yuki….we’re a gang now…for real. do whatever you want. “Is there another fight anytime soon?” he asked casually. anticipating something…blood? Victory? Failure? Aish……It just hurts… Tomo…why do you have to do this to me? Why do you force me to hurt you? I saw Katsu approach me. There had never been enough working lights because delinquent kids would play “Hit the lights with rocks” for fun. just like the students and faculty that milled the school it belonged to.god he’s making me irritated. gently patting the gruesome bruises.” The upcoming fight with Tomo---that was personal. “Katsu…” I slapped his hand away.” I couldn’t hear his words anymore. This was from our fight the other day. The school gave up on assemblies because the auditorium only urged kids to act more like animals than students. I hoped.” His eyes narrowed as he neared me. but it was chilly in autumn. he picked at my hair. It was better this way…if I hurt him right away then he’ll give up right? As I walked along the pale. it would be best if I just made you realize how stupid you are… “Okay.he thought I was great. Just keep dreaming about eating out on Saturday! Tell the guys that we’re meeting up here at the front gate. And then they widened. his eyes cross-examining me. Instead. “Suma Tanabi! I see that bruise! How the hell did that happen?” He started fussing over me like a mother hen. I shook my head firmly.” I don’t care? No…it’s not that I don’t care. “I’m fine. collecting my thoughts. I’ll fight him… “I said okay! I’ll fight you! If I win…you three will have to completely forget about the gang world. like usual.

groaning. He groaned. made him loathe and despise me.. his tall frame standing up. I think I had become a monster. Worried. I admit…he was a lot better than I thought he was capable of being. knowing with resignation that this was Tomo’s battle and not theirs. the iron taste of blood filling my mouth. irritated by the lack of presence of my friends. This auditorium was full of junk.are getting dark again…. They had other things to do. they could only watch Tomo writhing in pain. their fists clenched. Tomo frowned.did Tomo give up? I let go of his collar. Why? Are you worried for me?” I smirked. Walking up to Tomo.. kicked his side. I could see Yuki and Akira examining their surroundings in disgust. He seemed mesmerized for a moment and then. suddenly. my eyes gluing onto the dark liquid smeared on my shaking hands. I swung and punched his jaw. He arched his back in pain when he came in contact with the floor.. My body slammed against the wall.. Who said I needed their help fighting you Tomo? You’re nothing. I groaned and punched Tomo right back with my good arm. He was shaky as one of his fists punched the wooden floor. I absorbed the empty silence. My arm caught on a piece of chewed up metal. He already seemed angry that I still wasn’t taking him seriously. I saw that the door was already slightly ajar so I let myself in. I swiftly grabbed his arm and bent it back. Copycat!!! Argh…Take this! I tripped him.” “Of course we are. his bruised muscles crying out for comfort. about to tell him to give up. ………I have to end this before something tragic happens. My eyes…. I picked him up by his collar and looked at him in the eye. This fight…I’ll start it…and end it. he was serious. But he did something I didn’t expect. Tomo’s back met with the torn up rug when I socked him to the ground. ripped and began to bleed. DAMN! Stop it Suma…. “The others? Not here. “I thought you were a gang. I felt my eyes start to glow dark. “TOMO!!! FIGHT GODDAMNIT! GET UP AND FIGHT ME!” My voice…why did it sound so cold? I noticed that Akira and Yuki hadn’t stepped in.” His shoulders…did I just imagine them stiffening for a moment? I hoped my words made him hate me. It ends here. Tomo’s hand twitched. Tomo started to kick me and got a hook in.. He’s good. That idiot was stunned for a moment before he decided to actually start blocking my hits. As I repeatedly punched him.. I got off of him and said. Tomo saw me and his eyes darkened. I smiled.. tears began to fall from his eyes. kicking him down before grabbing his collar. hearing his arm dislocate. “No holding back. Their eyes glistened as harsh tears dripped into dark pools at their feet. causing both of us to form ugly bruises along the sides of our faces. Tomo was sitting on the stage looking surprisingly calm.. There wasn’t even a lock on the door because one of the hinges was chipped off with a pocketknife. ………Did Tomo see that? . This has to end now!. I nudged him harder. slowly dragging himself up. my scarlet blood mingling with the splurts of crimson spewing out of Tomo’s mouth. Yuki kept mumbling about a rat the size of the Lochness monster that was waiting for him behind a mouse hole and Akira’s mouth was creased in a thin line..bothered to clean it either. an audible crack filling the air as my left arm twisted back grotesquely.” he breathed. finally realizing that Tomo hadn’t even thrown a punch at me. “Where are the others?” he asked me. knowing that as long as Tomo didn’t ask for their help.just stop it. Tomo held onto his limp arm but still ready to fight. his fashion-walk self being displayed among the ruins of broken chairs and shattered lights. My arms were shaking…. For a moment. nudging his limp body with the tattered sole of my shoe. It made me more certain that I had to end his dream. Their forms watching us.. “Fight.. Dragging myself over to him. tremulous. My head snapped to the right. He wasn’t moving…No. He twisted his body out of my grasp and slammed his head into the side of my skull. I grabbed Tomo’s arm and twisted it.”. “Fine. and whacked the other side of his face.before I turn into a monster. showing that he did not enjoy the situation placed before them. expecting him to squirm but he just maneuvered out of my hold and tried to copy me.. making him scream. Pausing. feeling my knuckles bleed as my fist connected with his face over and over again.scrap metal was the least of my worries. Tomo…I can’t play nice with you anymore. Maybe. He seemed out of his element. That was more like it.” He rushed at me and brutally hit me in the face. foreboding with an ugly desire to continue—to finish him.but good doesn’t cut it.

Aish. shaking his head. Demo…Why can’t I just cry? …. dark. As I pulled out my apartment key. at the way the blood just dripped like it was ice cream on a hot summer’s day. I hope that idiot’s friends had the sense to call for an ambulance…. When the elevator door opened. I slowly balanced myself upright. I winced as my limp arm accidentally came into contact with the wall. I stumbled clumsily as I reached my apartment complex. the one where she made me realize that I was just pretending to live a life I deserved. disbelief lining his tearstained face. I have to get out of here. Tomo…. No matter how much pride Tomo had…Yuki wouldn’t just watch next time…he wouldn’t. I had the urge to kill Tomo…Innocent Tomo…I felt sickened with myself... I hated knowing that it was me…that I was a girl…a vulnerable gullible little girl with no chance at redemption. Whoever said that red is the color of love was a fool. a rush of gratitude came upon me. Being one.I hated being a girl. His tears wouldn’t stop. Tomo’s eyes just kept crying as he looked to where Suma had once been. he wouldn’t let this just happen. “Tomo?” He gently slapped Tomo’s face. I swallowed it down.My injuries…I never let them get this bad.. cradling Tomo’s bruised face. I grabbed my side where Tomo had kicked the old bruise from the metal bat the other day. No more carefree little Suma. His hand reached up and held Akira’s confused face in his palm. Akira. my mind relapsing into the past as I slumped against the wall. thankful that there was no one there to see me in my sorry state.…His brows furrowed achingly. I tried to carry myself towards the elevator but I was sagging heavily. Akira rushed over to Tomo as Suma left. No more. Leaning on a brick wall as I tried to make it home.you’ve given up. Bile ran up my throat and bitterly. Shoving myself off of the needles. “Are you okay?” Yuki asked. “How could I?. My body slumped against the door as my shaking hands fumbled to find my key. Everything is such a painful color of red. I couldn’t speak to girls civilly—my words turned so harsh. The innocent—none of them deserve to feel these cursed hands trying to choke the life out of them.Doshite? Why am I such a monster? I felt my lids slowly shut down. I wobbled down the narrow. Akira couldn’t stand the silence…the strange tears. I hated being so vulnerable.he was hurt just as badly as I was…probably more. Next time.” Tomo’s tears wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t look at a mirror. . Most of the time. I couldn’t hold my own picture without feeling snakes of remorse tendril around my heart. I’m sorry Tomo. “Say something! Anything!” Tomo’s eyes didn’t waver.I don’t know… But…as long as I get out of here…I won’t see the damage anymore. Had I been too easy on Tomo? What happened??? …. I felt brown vines menacingly protrude into my frame. My eyes continued to trail the blood stains. Knowing one. the sharp needles drawing blood. I haven’t gotten this injured in so long…. Gomen. sincerely wanting to let Akira know what he had discovered. Chapter Four Damn Tomo. Girls…I really did hate them. stark white hallway. feeling nausea overtake me. I didn’t want it to come to this at all.” His voice tightened as a flood of more tears streamed down his face. recalling the last time I had gotten this hurt. My blood dripped like maple syrup. No matter how annoying you were. My white carpet was drenched in a trail of crimson. even as he closed his eyes and passed out. blankly staring down at my bloody hands. Yuki knelt down. Seeing one. lazily and thick. my hand stopped in midair. Since that incident with Rie so long ago. “Why did I try to hurt someone with such sad eyes? Why won’t Suma just cry? If Suma doesn’t cry…then I’ll just keep wanting to cry for him. right? No more gang life for you… That’s all I wanted. I didn’t even bother speaking to female because I was too scared to hear what scarring words would jump out of my mouth. my weak legs exhausted. painfully. I wiped a trail of blood near my eye. I didn’t want to hurt you like this. scrunching up a large purple bruise.………Did I scare him? A rock lodged in my throat… I realized that for a moment. I was only a kid back then… A stupid…stupid kid. “I’ve never…I’ve never seen someone with such sad eyes. I changed. Opening the door. And definitely….” His voice was so calm.

thick lashes. everyone around me still knew I was a girl.. In a rough swipe. Suma…Suma. silent to her wounded voice. but short sobs were breaking through. I just…. Thud-thud-thud-thud. I followed Rie’s dainty footsteps. “Hello? Is someone there?” she asked. “Shut up!” she scowled. She was so hesitant but Rie continually pestered her—accusing her of being a horrible mother because she was paying attention to me. I sniffled loudly. She screeched. My hand shook worse. rolling her large eyes with their long. But of course. the bloody scissors held up towards her face. so I did what I did best. hovering over her with a monstrous expression. and with a snarl. I felt a thin stream of snot slowly dribble down my upper lip. I saw Rie raise her hand. I took the scissors in my right hand and shoved her to the ground. The one with the lime green handles. I prayed and prayed and prayed that maybe…if I prayed hard enough. She turned to face me. I prayed so hard. she swiveled to face me. She just kept screaming and screaming. “What the hell is wrong with you? Why are you so nasty?” I bit my lip and closed my eyes. She had her own daughter to take care of…I didn’t want to be a replacement. she slapped me. begging me to tell her what had happened that caused the sudden change in me. That day. I… . Around that time.. My hands were dripping…oozing blood as the scissors in my hand cut through my skin. watching it strike my head with a thud.So I ran from my reflection. I didn’t want to hurt her. They only snickered and found more reason to despise me. and took over. With wobbly knees. I sniffled. Holding the scissors above her eyes. She had always had a thread of hope inside…waiting for me to tug on it and return to her side but I stubbornly refused to be comforted…to be protected. blind to the splattering of my blood on the floor. my arms reaching towards her…. Maybe…God heard me or Buddha or some other deity. I pushed Rie to the ground.because…It hurts too much. I whispered. I heard Rie’s movement stop still. I didn’t want to hurt Aoi any longer so the once kind smile I showed her turned into a cold grimace.it shook worst than when I was locked out of the orphanage one day during winter. I kept pounding on the door…so scared that no one wanted me…so scared of the devilish frostbite that crept up on me. Did she realize anything yet?. Finally. politely asking if she could leave to go to the bathroom. “Oh. My heart thumped crazily—it felt like it was going to burst. The only way to get Aoi to hate me…the only way to get Aoi to never look at me again with kind eyes was to hurt Rie.” She turned back to the mirror and resumed her grooming. I was shaking. her hand in her hair. Rie growled and threw her hairbrush at me. And became a walking boy.. because at that moment.or was she going to continue to just pretend that I was invisible? She was just an arms length from me. They noticed the change and mocked me for it but they didn’t stop me from changing. It was only fair that I left the other good woman on earth so that the rest of the world could appreciate and bask in her good heart. It’s you. I hurt Aoi. she tried to look me in the eye. its rims becoming puffy. When she grabbed my chin with her soft fingers..I just don’t want Aoi to keep trying to give me love…. She screamed and screamed. fixing the flowered bobby pin. My eyes reddened. On that day…I took a pair of scissors…just an ordinary Fiskars scissors from my classroom desk drawer. I drew closer to her. I stopped it before it completely shut and let myself in. To me…the only good women in the world were my mother and Aoi…I had already killed one of them. I finally felt Aoi slowly let me go. My nostrils flared as I tried to control my breathing. I pulled it out and began to occupy my hands by cutting up the black construction paper. the monster finally woke up again. “Do you know how easily I could cut out those pretty eyes of yours?” Rie finally realized that something wasn’t right—definitely not right. the real me woke up. My tiny hand…. unwilling to come to terms with the fact that I was about to hurt Aoi…I was about to hurt Aoi… The bathroom door was about to swing close again. scrambling to get away from me but I cornered her to the wall. silent to the motherly worries she directed my way. and launched at me with her claws. I could tell it upset her to see me so cold but it was the only way to let her go without letting her know how much it hurt me. Quietly slipping out of the classroom unnoticed. I could somehow go through with this.

and all I could do in response was smile coldly…an empty smile that never reached my eyes. He threw me away after I stopped responding to his taunts. I blacked out and when I came to. With Rie. throwing vases and prize trophies. “Just…” she began to warn me. I spotted cuts on her wrist one day—she caught me staring and only covered up her hands with her sweater sleeve. the last voice of my poor ‘sister’. “He told me he’d kill me if I told anyone. Foster home #1. Yes. pretending that nothing was amiss. Foster family #2. her gaze bitter. While rummaging through my ‘sister’s’ belongings one day. He got bored of my indifference but the truth was that I just couldn’t hear him anymore. My ‘father’ abused me verbally. He never touched me—he would never lay a hand on me—only revere himself when he realized that he succeeded in hurting me. tears streaked down her face. She only shook her head. I awoke to screams…My ‘sister’ had a mental breakdown. My ‘Mom’ was the kind of woman who had too much pride in her perfect family so flaws were prohibited. The words kept breaking on her tongue—she choked every time she tried to start a sentence.” I smiled. They didn’t even do background checks…. who was ten years of age. . ‘Mom’ found a journal.they were secretly wishing that I would end up in a corrupted family. … “Otou-san…. slicing through the toughest fibers in my mind…in my heart. I just wanted to leave as soon as possible. the emptiness in her eyes that ‘dad’ was at fault. His words didn’t reach me anymore. confessing that ‘dad’ kept being strange towards her. ‘Dad’…. I’m just a no one. she turned her face towards me.she seemed so shaken by this but her stone face wouldn’t show it. almost schizophrenic habits relative to a man built on a grave of paranoia. Another body being wheeled off to a separate ambulance and Aoi running alongside that bed… For a moment. But I could tell by the fear in her eyes. Not beside me—beside her daughter. ‘Dad’ would watch over her carefully. She finally noticed my presence and pulled me by the arm. When I returned to the orphanage. I almost believed in the lies…But then one day. came to me crying. I never saw her again. it turned out that Aoi quit. calling me every spiteful word possible. My ‘sister’ was so perfect.” My foster sister’s sobbing broke at my childish words. She believed that they were blessed with perfection…so why did they get a bad seed? It didn’t make sense…the only kids they fostered had been perfect angels. I’m not anyone. harsher cries. It only made her sob harder. saying over and over again. The workers there didn’t like my “unstable” behavior too. One morning.. who was still recovering from her injuries in the hospital. The doctors were amazed at how quickly I recovered from my deep cuts but in all honesty. getting into the other ambulance. it didn’t make sense to ‘Mom’. Those were the last words I heard her speak. I just silently watched her hand shaking the journal in front of ‘Dad’s’ troubled face…. My ears couldn’t listen to it anymore. I was being rushed to an ambulance by paramedics. I was like gross Halloween candy. Yes…. They were a family of four with kind smiles plastered to their flawless faces connected to starch white collars. His words cut so deep. The kids at the orphanage didn’t pick on me anymore…they were too scared. “You can tell me.. her expression horrified. “Don’t trust him. ‘Mom’ …. I was six at the time and stayed with him for about a year. the same color as the starch white of my ‘Otou-san’s’ shirt collar. That’s how he was. so that she could take care of Rie. but I really did believe in those words. Rie.what did he do to you?” I remember asking her.” I nodded. Simple words…cruel words simple enough for a six year old to comprehend. They hauled her off in a white van with men in crisp white suits. Her eyes trembled. Her face grew paler as the days went by and her actions were so hopeless. ‘Mom’ was so enraged.I silently watched as she slapped him. so they tried to throw me away as soon as possible. my foster sister.she looked so betrayed. She turned to Rie and walked away from me.I don’t remember what happened after that. I hated doctors…I hated the hospital. That’s where Aoi should be. I didn’t know how to comfort her. other than to give her my prized red crayon. And then it began. She just stopped speaking. Her eyes were so full of venom….he always seemed too curious. He fidgeted when he thought no one was looking and had nervous. desperately thrown at whoever rang the doorbell.

My whole body throbbed. faces hidden by the shadows nearing me. Punks?. whose figure seemed stiff—as if he was restraining himself from falling back into society’s illusions. nudging one another. My foster parents were waiting for me at the door so they could take out their anger on me again. The only lights on were a lamp a few feet from me and a dim light bulb in the far corner. I felt my body being lost in the confusion. breaking a few teeth as I sputtered out blood. They ganged up on me. about five years ago. I blinked when he started waving his hands in front of my face. “Who are you?” I scrambled to gain some composure. I clutched my thin jacket closer to my thin frame. baritone voice was so cold and so empty. confused. so that they could take their wooden stick and smash it across my back until I passed out. wondering. Just the start. carelessly smashing up trash cans and cardboard boxes. twisted faces…with iron hands. for taking care of me. Out of nowhere. His eyes were dark and full of despair and anguish—I could feel them piercing right through me. His hair was short and messy. before a piercing darkness covered my vision. shocked to find that my head was wrapped in gauze.” he called to the lanky boy before me. Cruel. He looked to be two or three years older than me. “Awake yet?” a calm voice asked me. interrupting my thoughts. “Are you okay kid? Those punks knocked you out pretty hard. but there were too many of them. forlorn boy whose face seemed hardened by reality. I looked around in a panic.oh I remember now… Someone’s hand… “Hello?” I decided that I liked his voice. It was just before my thirteenth birthday. Like a juggler’s ball. His clear.. I felt myself visibly and mentally cower. towering over me. My nose was gushing. I heard voices turning malicious. He was speaking of my ‘sister’. I heard voices nearing me. I couldn’t even recall names now. I’ve never seen this place before. What the hell happened? I touched my forehead. trying to take a new route to extend the time getting home. like I expected.“Did you do the same thing to her?” “You don’t understand! Why did they take her away?” He broke down sobbing. laughing and scoffing. My body transferred to another cruel hand. I tried to turn around and stop the bat from hitting me again. Yoroshiku. which took me and kneed me. “Daisuke. The luminous light of the moon had begun to shine.. It was soothing—harsh but honest. They spotted me. Three figures emerged from behind the stranger before me. the torment seemed to last for days as I felt warm blood trickle out of a gash in my head. Ignoring my question. slapping my head. My head ached like crazy. “Gomen.” I rubbed my head. The first one was a tall. Frightened. Once they receded. His smile made me frown. He was dressed in scruffy jeans torn at the knees and wore a brown nondescript sweater. a bat smacked me in the back. trying to delay the time. so once again…I fell back into the system…without a struggle. wondering where I was. When he stepped into the light. he walked over towards me. like he just woke up but it wasn’t dyed. Sorry—thank you very much…. demonstrating their power by striking at a trash can with a wooden bat. Standing. If Takeshi and I didn’t find you when we did. I was in a warehouse. repeatedly stomping on me.” Lights flicked on. I felt the blows as if they were cannon balls being shot at me. you’d be a goner. I could only recall a hand reaching out to me from above. He had a thin frame and was tall. repeatedly striking me with crow bars and bats. but I ended up getting lost.. being pushed around like a rag doll. . When I awoke. only scars on my body helped me remember their malicious faces. curious. I transferred precariously from one abusive hand to the next. This…this was just as bad as going home. Someone’s rough hands grabbed me by the hair and punched my face. I felt the drowning waves of the court orders and new faces pull me under…I didn’t realize that this was just the start of the nightmare.for saving me. shoving me against the floor. “You sick bastard! What about me? What about me? Don’t you love me? Aren’t I your wife???” She let me go after that. The torture. wondering how I got here. My hesitant feet were walking home from school. like a person who has lost all hope in humanity. “I loved her…I loved her!” Oh. Shouldering my backpack. never in one place for longer than a moment. I felt a kindred spirit in this stranger. I looked up at him in alarm. he gently asked. over and over.

This neighborhood is dangerous. Zenzen. He didn’t even glance at me as he spoke but I could tell he was speaking directly to me. “Walk him home. To the eye she was beautiful and would only become more so with age. I felt warning signs go off in my head but instead of taking heed of them.” Daisuke started. I really don’t know why he said that. and maybe I listened because I wasn’t a person—I wasn’t any better than a dog. His tone wasn’t friendly. I could feel his skepticism permeate into the air. “Where do you live.” “Chotto—hold on. If I wasn’t here. but that word changed my life. “Onii-chan. “Haha…. keeping direct eye contact with him. There was a hint of irritation in the way he said that one word. I must have been attacked by a gang. My voice came out raspy and dry. “Anata…. That would have solved everything. He seemed angry. concerned. So that’s who these people were. …to that house with horrible people. No. I frowned at Takeshi. My mom…is an angel. I looked at Takeshi. She stepped into my view. “Then why did you walk into this area? Haven’t you heard of gangs?” I see. I stood up. concentrating on the carpet stain by the tip of my right sneaker.” He looked perturbed. “Don’t you know your way home? Are you stupid?” I could feel my eyes well up with tears. I stared him down. my elbows bent. If I really was a foreigner without a clue about how messed up this world was. Six months. but instead my mouth blurted out.wa tenshi desu. The last boy was probably my age. No. I have a hard time thinking of him as sympathetic.” he acknowledged his friend. I had to stay because he said I had to. It was only one word. “Iie. “Nani? What?” What he said then.” He turned his gaze towards me.Gaijin wa? You…are you a foreigner?” I chuckled. . No.” I finally said. because Takeshi kept asking questions that hurt me. “What? I’m a girl.” I said. Was it because of pity or sympathy? I don’t know.I looked towards Daisuke. He turned his head.” I didn’t say anything about my father.” Daisuke looked at me. “Didn’t you hear me the first time? I don’t have a home. I shook my head at Takeshi’s assumption. “Are you a fool?” My hands were placed on my knees. “You can’t just go out by yourself. but her eyes were permanently narrowed. Foreigner? Oh yes…my green eyes. “Takeshi. shocked me. It’s time to go…I flinched at the thought. How do I explain it to them? “I got lost. It’s time to go home. They were a gang. The only thing I noticed about him was how his eyes constantly wandered to the pretty girl. Could he tell that Takeshi was stepping over the line—asking too many questions I didn’t want to answer? Could he tell by my tears? Takeshi’s voice went quiet—I had to strain my ears to hear him. I didn’t want his pity. I don’t have a stupid home. What’s going on? Who is that?” came a girl’s voice.” “I don’t need your pity. I found my eyes glued to the floor. Takeshi stopped me in mid-stride and looked to Daisuke. that word chained me to his side. making me visibly cringe. Everything appeared to her for her amusement. “How?” he asked me. as if seeing the world in prospects. He didn’t believe me. staring directly at him. Can’t you see?”. boy?” For a moment. not a person. He felt bad for me—he felt sorry for me. I don’t belong anywhere. I could feel Daisuke flinch. my blurry eyes unwavering. a surprised look crossed my eyes and I almost said. the tall boy with the brown sweater. Not at all. Please excuse me. “Your parents?” I shrugged. accusing him. but all I could say was. Was he in love? Who are these people? The leader—I think Takeshi was his name—looked straight at me. Gently I said. “Stay. An hand on my arm stopped me from leaving. What he said in his icy tone was more like a command to a dog. Let me go with you at least. “Shut up. glaring.” In his icy tone there were no other options suggested.. It was more of a command. He nodded towards the authoritative figure. But regardless. There was something about her that didn’t settle in me. I’m not a fool. I found myself at a loss for words. You already got hurt. an empty laugh filling the cool air. I shook my head once more at his pointless questions. Briskly he asked. I could tell by the way he stared at me.” “What?” he asked. “I don’t have a home.

. Daijobu. …It all happened so fast. She said she was fine. She scared me. I could never feel at ease in her presence. grinning. A part of me could feel that she was waiting for an opportunity—for an opening to hurt me. I would have seen through her mask and into her twisted soul. Her hand held my face as her face twisted into a smile.” she said quietly before viciously slapping me. her make up running and her hair looking like she had been shocked in the electric chair. and one day. It was the other one that kept me on my guard. He wasn’t necessarily a bad person. He grabbed me. Toshi ran in. I could laugh with them. It’s just that his desperate love for Shizuka made him dangerous towards me. Yeah right. I would give my life to them. The Beast Clan. because I showed no interest in her. I quickly picked up on her tiny pranks. He was the member that was my age—the one I had caught fawning over Shizuka. but it escalated as she realized that I was spending all of time with ‘her precious’ Daisuke. I heard two bodies rush in at once. Her eyes were ambitious and greedy. a word I didn’t even know could exist. “Daijobu.. dismissing all of her bad traits. scratching my head. The sad cruelty of it was that he was only loyal to Shizuka. “Daijobu? Are you okay?” She came closer to me. He. “He tried to hurt Shizuka while we were all gone!” “Shizuka?” Takeshi asked. As I rubbed my eyes. I really could. her shirt torn up. as they were called. I didn’t do anything. Takeshi’s once hard gaze was now soft. I found myself drawn towards Daisuke’s easygoing ways and Takeshi’s silent authority. …What’s going on?. it was just a seed of dislike. “Shizuka-san?” I mumbled. a glow in my face. With them. I grabbed my cheek. First. she shamelessly pursued relationships. because Shizuka did not like me. Daisuke’s eyes popped out. Daisuke could see right through Shizuka. avoided Shizuka’s gaze.” Shizuka’s hatred towards me grew over the three months. an angry look pasted on his face. Even though she didn’t openly show hostility towards me. I avoided Toshi. He took a step towards her. His eyes crinkled. He would try to provoke fights over and over again. He grabbed me by the shoulders. like I had nothing in the world to worry about. going after so many unsuspecting suitors.. She said she was okay. was a loyal gang. His voice was raspy and his face turned hard. “How dare you touch Shizuka!!” …What the hell was going on? He thought I touched that girl? No. “Suma? Daijobu? Are you okay?” I nodded. “Suma…look what he did!” he accused me. And then…that day came. Shizuka—the girl that looked like a doll and Takeshi’s younger sister—was poison to the heart. punching my face twice with each of his fists.Those months had been so happy. At first. Takeshi…Daisuke. During those six months. But there was someone that she claimed she loved. It was only a cruel coincidence that her dream boy was Daisuke. I’m fine. What the hell? Why did she hit me? I heard a piercing scream erupt from Shizuka’s small frame. She would constantly use Toshi on me. seeing me changed so much. the sweat on their faces turning cold at the sight before them. my empty chuckle turned into a muffled laugh. I really did burst out laughing so freely. He had loyalty painted all over his face. He loved her to a fault. It confused her when I gave her a lack of response to her blinding beauty and charm. causing me to sprain my ankle. It made me more than glad that she would never get that one guy. I would trust my life with them. shocked that I was laughing so freely. Toshi spoke for the quivering Shizuka. I wanted to say. They had run in from basketball. I saw a dazed Shizuka walking towards me. but it never worked because I was always level-headed enough to ignore him. “What’s going on here?” Daisuke asked. She also would never like Toshi. He was more a toy for amusement. her brother’s right hand man and the boy that became my best friend. my shoes had been trashed by dog bites. He didn’t know what to say. Pushing her away. I had been in the foyer. “Daisuke and Takeshi. Even if I had been a boy. Toshi also “accidentally” pushed me down the hill.. just waking from my afternoon nap. I could see it in Toshi. worried that there was something wrong with me. It disgusted him to know that there were females in the world whose existence wholly relied on using other people. I remember realizing at one point. but he never said anything. looking towards his distressed sister. like me.

She handed me a metal stick lying on the ground. everything for the next three months I try to forget. Shizuka used me as she used Toshi. I felt that new me just shrivel up and die. There was no one on my side. And then one unsuspecting day. His eyes were trembling. Maybe it was better this way. I would become more quiet—more closed off to the world. I was afraid that if I opened them. He pointed at me. He’s only six! What the hell are you? You dog! You slave!” Shizuka looked annoyed. “I don’t care. At least…I’m not a puppet. He came towards me in a violent strut. I felt his trembling hand drop the gun. At least…I’m not a monster. right? You’re my best friend. Do whatever you want with him. I snapped.” Monster. making my blood run cold. I guess……………. If I see you again then I’ll kill you. At first. They wouldn’t trust me back. They were like brothers to me. I pretended like I didn’t hear him. “Suma. I was her dog. Just end it Takeshi. He couldn’t have been more than twelve but tears were streaming down his furious face. his figure shaky as he put the gun to my head. Shizuka. I clutched at my heart. That strong friendship. I heard him groan and then shove me. I’ve learned. I haven’t done anything wrong.” I don’t care. I would burst out crying. Anata…you’re mine. She noticed a kid coming up to us with an angry face. Suma baka. Say something. I found myself waking up from a daze after beating up kids. I don’t want anyone to get this close to my heart. scrambling towards her brother’s protection. That’s it? Where are you going you bastard? You tried to rape me! Brother! You can’t tell me that you’re going to let him go! I have to punish him!” shrieked Shizuka.” After that. It felt like it was being slowly crushed. Will you have some faith in me? Onegaishimasu. His gaze was turned from me. I listened to her because I felt as if there were no other reason to live. Inside of me. You’ll save me right? Daisuke? I wanted to shake him. “Get out of my sight. begging. If that’s how you want it Takeshi…I don’t care anymore. nodding. In my nights.She looked at me fearfully. “Go!” he yelled. Say something—anything. “No.” I said to him. His voice came out angry. only to realize afterwards that I was the one that created those bloody sceneries. I’m a girl. “Onii-chan. refusing to cry. confused. I closed mine. Daisuke. Why the hell would I do that to Shizuka!” it wouldn’t have mattered. my face deadpan. Shizuka smiled. I pushed him off and punched him in the face. You two…you don’t know this but you’re my first friends. . That illusion that I created never existed. I kept seeing blood everywhere Shizuka brought me. “Suma? What the hell do you think you’re doing? This is how you repay me? Of all people …you had to hurt Shizuka? …I won’t forgive you. I was too heartbroken to care but Takeshi noticed it. I stood to leave. A voice stopped me. I trusted these two with my life and they couldn’t—no. Idiot. my voice resigned. “You can hurt me as much as you want. and grabbed a revolver from the counter. I was hurting innocent kids. There was a long silence. His eyes…they looked scared. yet they disappointed me. I don’t care anymore. I trusted them with my life. I just continued to follow Shizuka and do as she said. I was hurting people for no reason. Takeshi shoved Shizuka towards Daisuke. I realized then that even if I had told them that. Every other part of me died when Daisuke and Takeshi betrayed me. Is this how it feels to die without actually dying? My body feels like a corpse.” I could feel Daisuke’s horror. Every day. Life has betrayed me enough. Takeshi grasped the gun tighter. a heavy weight on my heart.I won’t be able to just walk away. I opened my eyes. Shizuka had just closed her cell phone after talking to her 10th boyfriend.” I took the metal rod from her petite hand and whacked the boy in the side. clenching my jaw. The cool metal kept shaking on my forehead. “You bastard! How could you hurt my little brother! He’s in the hospital because of you. “Shoot. feeling the guilt eat me up inside. He looked up at me with blood dribbling down his chin. I felt a cry choke in my throat but I wouldn’t let it out. a lone tear trickled down my expressionless face. That me with the smiles and the jokes---that Suma disappeared. Crumbled. You know I wouldn’t do this right? You can see through Shizuka. So that’s how it was. I put so much trust in them…I loved them so much. not realizing what I had done. so Shizuka’s scornful gaze was all I had left. Without realizing it. I wondered…what did the others think of Shizuka’s actions? Daisuke had tried to apologize I remember…but it was too late.” I kept my eyes closed. “Get him. And then she would make me kidnap kids and torture them slowly. she made me do little things like bully kids for money. I was a toy. Please. Even if I told them this time…next time Shizuka would find another way to convince them to get rid of me. I would thrash about. trying to attack me. hearing his teeth crack. Whatever twisted desires she had…I fulfilled.

watching—waiting to see if I would collapse so that they could catch me. waking me up. What the hell did I do? I dropped the metal rod and clutched at my hair. He wanted me to eat better so he cleaned up my face a bit before leaving to the store. there was only ramen.” he begged. He cleaned up after me and tried to find something to make in the kitchen. saying over and over again. but if you come back. He was going to ask me about a spare key but then remembered it being thrown on the ground. Chapter Five As I slept. I could barely tell how he looked like with all the blood on his face. “Let me help you Suma. No. see?” I cringed and leaned against the wall. It was my own voice screaming. Onira’s voice was set. My eyes darkened and suddenly the world went blank. right? Hoji came running to my side.” I shook my head. “Snap out of it! He’s dead!” He was crying too. couldn’t feel his warm hands against my ice-cold face. I’m perfectly fine. I pulled the blanket over my bruised body and shivered myself to sleep. The second time. I’m their leader. A flash of panic went through me. He quietly walked back to where I was laying and glanced at me with grave intensity. I just ended up running away. Takeshi…won’t go after you. Let's go. I groaned and tried to pull myself together. “I’ll be okay. mumbling to myself. See? I pulled myself up. “I’m sorry. “What were you thinking Suma? Why did you fight alone when you knew that we all would give our lives to you?” Onira winced when he looked at the pool of blood soaked on the couch cushion. rocking back and forth. He put his shaking forehead on mine and whispered. then grabbed my face. I’m sorry. but you better not pull any more stunts like that. trying to forget everything. I hate that place. Gomen. So bright.what have I done? I sat down on the ground and held his head in my arms. but I couldn’t see him. Daisuke arrived to the scene with Shizuka at his side." I asked them all to leave. I just continued to cry and hold the boy’s head in my arms. I pushed him away as I opened my eyes. I looked at my hands. collapsing beside it. Suma. You’re injured Suma. What was that red lump on the ground? My eyes widened. pushing him away.” He pried my hands away from the dead body as he cried.” Daisuke pulled me up and held me at arms’ length. The ground was so messy…I was in a trance trying to figure out my surroundings. I could feel how tense everyone was. I’ll never go there. He found it and picked it up. grappling at my aching body. So go Suma. You won't get better here. No. “No. So ugly. staring him down. “I can take care of myself. motioning for the others to go. Daijobu. I’m sorry. “I’m so sorry. He would kill you. You may be our leader but you just can't do that.” I said. “Suma. A group of astute students walked past him. He looked down at me in pity.” I said sternly. I grabbed a bag filled with bandages and ointments and threw it on the bed. I sniffled. I have to be invincible. I don't know what happened. “Gommenasai. No. I’m sorry. What had happened? Shizuka was gone. Was he that worried? “Got it? Let’s go. I patched myself up messily. This is your chance to start over. No. I’m fine.” I shook my head. “At least let me bandage you!” Hoji insisted. There was blood smeared everywhere. Onira felt a slight breeze as he walked towards the grocery store. What…Katsu? Hoji? Kazuya? Onira? What were they doing here? “What are you—doing here?” I breathed groggily. Don’t come back. Onira stood by the door. “Daikirai. dissecting Onira because he was their rival but he merely nodded lightly and continued . I won’t go there. My head lolled. Got it Suma?" There were tears in his eyes. I felt someone shaking me. I’m sorry. I don't need help. “Suma!” He slapped my face. pocketing it. The metal rod in my hand looked like it had been dipped in red paint.” My eyes were so frenzied that I just shoved him away and ran. “Suma? Suma! Get up!” It sounded like Onira’s voice. Daisuke was shaking.I took a tighter grip on the metal rod and swung it at his head. "I can do it. I couldn’t see anything else. They can help you there. Please go. I hate the hospital. It sounded so hoarse and petrified. I can’t be weak. Trying to forget everyone……but it didn’t work. After a few minutes I heard someone screaming. He rummaged through my fridge but to his dismay. he’ll stay true to his word. “We’re taking you to the hospital. crying. He hugged me. a faint smile on my pain-wracked face.” Kazuya pleaded with me. No…. You're not okay. I crouched down and held the boy’s face in my hands.

For some reason. biting into the white meat. I carefully took it off and gazed at it in wonder. the taste was dry. “—Yeah. staring at the blood slowly soaking through the towel. meeting eyes with a glowering. There was silence. I stood up woodenly. “Go. Go now. In sleep. he grabbed a packet of fresh fish. I was becoming so like my past self. his head hitting the ground hard. making the apple have a strange salty taste to it. Now. It felt like my mind was cracking open. “Suma?” My eyes were so dark and so empty that it scared Onira. causing Onira to feel some concern. “Will you take care of yourself? Will you eat well?” he asked. it emerged from me in flashes. vicious monster. What appeared to be tears almost threatened to fall but I would not cry. It came back. You’re not okay. Onira’s eyes quickly narrowed in worry. I’ve never seen you like this before. My eyes widened when my hands met contact with my bandana. Tanabi. I caressed the messy lettering that Kazuya had inscribed.” “What? No. my knuckles were dry. Once he was gone. Go—before I force you to leave. I looked at the faded building that I had called a home for three months and a hellhole for another three months. Go. It overshadowed Onira. wanting to warn Suma. You don’t take care of yourself enough. who had never seen such a side in me throughout the many years that he had known me. menacingly enter the light. I trust you with my life Suma Tanabi. Without my knowledge. My body was succumbing to the past. Onira backed up to the wall. I had never told them about the Beast clan even though they all knew that I had had a past with them. The liquid dripped onto my bloodstained hands. When he turned back to lock the door. I spat the taste of blood out of my mouth in disgust. I smirked. bagging a few kiwis and oranges and while walking through the meat aisle. I would deal with the Beasts later. rubbing my neck. Or when I had fought with Tomo. Onira smacked me hard across the face. Onira hadn’t seen me this…unconsciously open about my worries. My hands shook uncontrollably. my zombie-like body colliding to the floor. the cold surface of white on his backside. fine! Just go. It must’ve been Onira. I grabbed an apple tenderly. You’re not okay. ready to leave towards the old warehouse that I had walked away from those sad years ago. So like the beast that I had caged within myself. I was just so scared to lose everything.” I shook my head. This guy must have broken in somehow. Onira opened the apartment door with the key and set the bags down. I knew what was happening. three plastic bags in each hand.” Onira clenched his teeth. “Not until you’re better. Shigubi. I couldn’t help but smile slightly at the sight of fresh fruits and vegetables in my fridge. my hand reached up to caress the bruise that Onira had inflicted upon me.” I shoved him away gently. he was swept off his feet. Go back to sleep. Onira quickly grabbed my hands and rushed me towards the sterile bathroom. I wondered bitterly if they all would be there. my bruised face numb. confused and alarmed. “Go Onira. He fell to the ground harshly. causing Onira confusion. I shuddered. But you—I don’t know if you trust me with yours. so he backed away hesitantly. I was shaking so much. I wanted nothing more than to succumb to the sweet taste of sleep. Silently. I sat on the toilet. What’s gotten into you? I’ve known you forever but it seems like you don’t even trust me. I could forget my worries. Right now. I didn’t want the others to know. He could see the intruder slowly. Onira smiled weakly. I growled as I clutched my head with my bleeding hands. It’s not safe. What was happening to me? I was changing back…for the worse. I clutched at the bandana. Please go. unquenched of thirst. He grabbed a towel and wrapped it around my hands. I had .” “Onira. “Onira. He left the store with heavy-laden arms. It was unnerving. The cuts were reopened. After I wiped my hands clean. Don’t worry about it. When I awoke a few hours later. I was so tense. I only used that voice when we fought rival gangs. I’m not going to leave you to bleed to death. I put my bandana and cap back on. Now. I wasn’t the same person. I kept staring obsessively at my hands. the blood lazily dripping onto the white carpeting. My green eyes were stoic but my brows furrowed slightly. if only for a fleeting moment. I cast him a look of disgust. I immediately grabbed my face and rubbed weakly at the would-be bruise. I walked over to my fridge and opened it.” There was an edge to my voice that Onira recognized. if they were all still the same.on his way. like just then. A monster. “I never asked you to trust me with your damn life!” I croaked in anguish. urging him to leave me alone. In my mouth. “What’s going on?” I asked drowsily. The monster’s eyes were glazed over in the dark lighting. my head slumped against the wall. “Just delusions. It was—no—I was becoming a Beast once more.” He shook his head in frustration because of how stubborn I was being but he listened to me. He would risk himself as long as he could make me listen. He browsed through the fruit aisle. He groaned and glanced up at his attacker. when Onira had returned from grocery shopping. I buried my face in my arms and fell asleep in that position.” My eyes glanced at Onira.

I’m the leader of the Tigers and as their leader. I see. “Konbanwa Daisuke-san. Unexpectedly. I was just trying to lessen the pain. “You’re right.” He agreed. I swallowed the hurtful words I wanted to scream at Shizuka. I turned towards him. Maybe at that time. A lot changes in five years. He sneered at me.” Five years…. Shizuka’s eyes widened. “Friend?” I murmured bitterly. He looked surprised. That Suma that you once knew died in those moments five years ago—waiting…begging for you to say something. “It’s been five years. You don’t remember.” I shook my head.” She smiled sweetly. You doubted me. He looked up at me. you idiot?” I muttered bitterly. a trail of vomit ran up my throat as I spotted the place where…where I killed that boy five years ago. “I never said you did. the youthful face masked by a hardened glaze. “Suma?” I nodded. It hadn’t changed. resigned. Everything looked the same—only faded. “Don’t touch me.” I watched his face—as it swum in a sea of emotions. We’ve all become so different. What changed…was Daisuke. In my mind I could still hear that boy screaming—I could hear myself screaming amidst all of that cursed blood. “Okay. you idiot? I thought I told you before…I thought I said to never show your face around here anymore. It still stabs my old wounds. “Takeshi’s changed a lot. There is nothing to explain. I won’t let you off so easily next time. His eyes narrowed. happy then sad. about to touch my hair. “Yes. . wrapping her arms around his. It still makes me feel so empty. “I’m not here to say hello.. I refuse to fight the Beast Clan. Don’t try to explain when it’s too late. Please leave before you get hurt again. I heard a squeal. Begging you to stop the false accusation. He seemed flustered for a moment and then angry. The next time we meet. There is nothing to explain. Just know now that this is the last time. Most men went weak at their knees when someone as beautiful as Shizuka came along. No. My eyes darkened.” Daisuke said. “What kind of friend were you? I guess a friend like you were quick to assume that I had raped Shizuka. Shizuka.” He had gotten older. I’m Suma now. “You’ve grown up…well. Good evening Daisuke. I watched in horror as Shizuka clasped hands with Daisuke. That’s all there is to it. I came to reject your offer. You didn’t say anything. But that Suma shouldn’t have waited because the people he believed were his friends were only fools.. “Daisuke? Who’s the kid? He’s cute.” “What offer?” “I’m not the same person you knew five years ago. “Who are you?” “Baka. I’ll have to cast off the fact that I once called you my friend. “What are you doing here? Why are you back.but even after five years it still hurts like hell. angry and disappointed.” I nodded.” He was speechless. He looked confused. Suma.” “Leader?. Suma. Remember now?” Daisuke’s eyes widened. She ran up to Daisuke. If I confronted Daisuke about betraying me then maybe—I wouldn’t have to confront another traitor because I would no longer have those words inside me to give. You betrayed me. Daisuke. He’s brutal. My words hurt—it hurt bringing them to the surface.lived my best and worst days here.” She didn’t change.” She frowned. “Who’s there?” That voice. The lines in his face seemed permanent.. “It’s me. She let go of Daisuke’s hand.” What? What did he say? Friend? Angrily I lashed out at him. My eyebrows furrowed in recognition. yet Suma gave her no response.” I smiled. “It’s Suma. I didn’t want to save those words inside me forever. did you?” “Chotto matte kudasai! Please hold on a moment! Let me explain myself!” he cried out. right?” Daisuke turned away. softened as he drank in my name. Refusal accepted. It’s nothing like that. Why does he seem so desperate to make me understand? “Daisuke. I’m brutal.

You weren’t supposed to go alone. And for once. I shook my head. Takeshi let go of me. No matter how pretty she is. “Who the hell are you? What the hell are you doing here?” I blinked and suddenly a torrent of tears streamed down my face.“You haven’t changed. …Daisuke? Shizuka…what have you done? Why did you hurt Daisuke like this? “Shizuka! What…?” The words died on my lips. Being here…it rips me up inside. “I saw them. who had already shed enough tears for me. . I thought…I thought that you’d at least learn from the past. My face fell. I shook Shizuka. as if he were finally seeing things as they were. He said quietly. You were able to start over last time. I couldn’t look back any longer. my disappointment at Daisuke. It was all because of that girl. my mind wouldn’t accept this cruel reality.” A little late. He didn’t understand what was going on. So how come…I didn’t know what to do for them? How come I couldn’t help him?” Kazuya frowned. They betrayed me. Let’s break up. “What did you do?” She glared at me. I didn’t pull away. He came back with a blanket and tucked it around me. I don’t fear anything. as if I were a child. I turned to leave. Suma.” His jaw had dropped. “It’s your fault. “It’s all your fault. Kazuya continued to rub my head. I thought for sure that Kazuya left until I felt a warm body slide down next to mine. Not in front of Kazuya. Don’t think I didn’t see the way you looked at each other!” What…was she talking about? My grasp on Shizuka loosened as I stepped back. “I don’t know why but I was so scared to see them again. Daisuke. trying to comfort me. “I don’t know why you look so hurt but I want you to know that it’s okay to be hurt. Kazuya fell to his knees. If you didn’t come back then Daisuke wouldn’t have left me! Ever since you came into our lives. beginning to cry. Daisuke’s mine. Just…just walk away like last time. If I can’t have him then no one can have him!” Baka…. His worry only deepened.this is what you call love? Ai? Daisuke…what did you get yourself into? Were you trying to say sorry to me by breaking up with Shizuka? Idiot. I don’t want to stay here any longer. I was speaking nonsense. He looked at me gravely. “At one point I thought to myself. But…I was wrong. They were my first friends. heaving dry sobs. I pushed her away with barely contained hostility and instead threw my anger. is this all a dream? Yume? What’s going on? Why did I come back? But then. I heard a couple of desperate slaps to Daisuke’s frozen face. his eyes glued to the tears streaming out of my green eyes. He shook his head. I don’t think I was strong enough to. Why does my heart hurt so much? Don’t cry. He noted that I wasn’t crying. Even though everything felt so real. My mind couldn’t accept this. but I thought you were smarter than this. Then Daisuke blinked. All of the lights were turned off so he flipped the switch. “I knew you changed. have you pet?” Shizuka asked. I remembered that I’m the leader of The Tigers. it doesn’t make up for how screwed up she is. Shizuka. right? Just do it again. sprinting as fast as I could. Even if you are our leader. Kazuya understood how weak and lonely his leader was and it pained him. I thought. The pain—the torture of the things I did in the past clings to me—trying to eat me alive. “I had to. I heard him turn off the light. I wouldn’t let myself break down in tears again. as if he were going to defend himself. He took off his helmet and ran over to the scene. but he understood that Suma was hurting. You knew this would happen right? You knew right? I tried so hard to stay calm. You’re not invincible Suma. I was sitting against the wall. I stopped in my tracks when I heard the rev of a motorcycle come to a halt. The Daisuke I knew could see her fangs but now I suppose you’ve become blind like the rest of the world. It’s dangerous. Wogatta? Understand?” He rubbed Suma’s head like an older brother would to his crying sibling. I couldn’t turn my eyes from the three of them. Gomennasai Shizuka. Daisuke wouldn’t even give me the time of day. “Idiot. I must stay calm. Kazuya poked his head in. He stood and ran after me. I pushed him away and took off. It wouldn’t accept the bloody wound of Daisuke’s heart.” My eyes were so distant. Slowly he turned to face Shizuka and suddenly pushed her parasitic frame from his. Takeshi.” he repeated sadly. I’ve never loved you. I could hear Takeshi yelling out my name over and over. His eyes seemed to clear. He just wanted to check in on me. My apartment door slowly opened. I felt my body slam against the wall. Bang! What? I turned around at the loud gunshot. It wouldn’t accept the image of Shizuka holding Daisuke in her arms—holding Daisuke’s dead form so lovingly. understanding a little bit of my conversation. If I accepted it then I was afraid I might just break down. “You’re right. slowly rocking myself. “Suma? Is that you?” I can’t stay here anymore. No matter how much I was trembling. telling me to stop but I couldn’t stay there any longer. Knowing this—knowing how weak you’ve become hurts more than everything that happened in the past. Daisuke. I felt Takeshi’s gaze pierce me. so tears fell from his eyes. For once. I slowly backed away—trying to pretend that everything I just witnessed never really happened. Shizuka continued. “Suma?” I didn’t answer him.” “Idiot.” Kazuya scolded.” I whispered. “Daisuke?” I began to back away but for some reason.

“He must be okay if he’s eating right now…” Tomo jumped out from the kitchen doors.” His words died as he broke down sobbing. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he didn’t.“It’s okay to cry Suma. He just hoped that Suma would turn out okay. he felt afraid.” he said. Insert chapter. “What is this?” I asked. “I’ll pay him back for this. referring to Suma. He had always wanted to be as great as them. But even as he thought that. His eyes narrowed.” I was afraid that if I started to cry. and he had a blanket wrapped around him. “I’m so sorry Suma! I never realized…. No matter what. “Bishounen. He looked perfectly normal except for the insanely huge bruises on his face. He sniffled. Kazuya was engrossed in the stack of papers he held. He didn’t like Suma’s cocky attitude and he hated how Suma was able to hurt him so bad. You know how it is. “I was just testing to see how strong he was. “I don’t get it either. then I wouldn’t stop crying. he exclaimed. He couldn’t accept it. I smacked him.” I shook my head. then Kazuya didn’t mind being a pillar for his friend. almost uncontrollably. Kazuya stayed with Suma for the night but when he woke in the morning.” I looked over Kazuya’s shoulder. He clenched his fist. Tomo would get back at Suma. Suma’s demeanor…he never realized anyone in the world could become dragged headfirst into such a state of fury and pain. what he saw that day in Suma’s eyes was just some stupid illusion that his mind created. “demo…. Is this what he was crying over? Kazuya’s fingers tried to snake back around the thick manuscript but I slapped them away.” Tomo limped a little but he covered up most of his pain. You could have died but you act like you’re not hurt at all. and grabbing hold of my arm. “…. Akira looked at his friend. He didn’t know what Suma was playing at but he didn’t like it one bit.demo…” …. Suma was gone. scared to hurt Suma but unwilling to believe that Suma was weak. did it mean that The Tigers were greater? He didn’t know. smiling.” He cracked his knuckles and cracked his neck. They didn’t turn their backs on one another. a pop tart hanging from his mouth.He’s so unapproachable. What the hell? I took the manuscript from his hands.. “Yeah. Colder than ice. “How is he?” Yuki asked when Akira opened the door to Tomo’s house. There was a huge grin on his face until he thought of Suma. . But for the first time. “Tomo?” Tomo sniffed and said. “Eh? What’s that?” I asked. “Pretty boy. But now…because Suma beat them. If that was what Suma needed. They were noble. When Kazuya saw Suma again. “Kazuya! What the hell is wrong with you?” He sniffled even louder. No one that strong could be sad.but…” Cold.” “No. Suma acted like his breakdown never happened. He wouldn’t admit defeat just yet. his hands were trembling. Maybe. if I remembered how to cry. He’s cute…. Akira shrugged. “Damn he pisses me off.” he thought. I don’t. “I don’t want to remember how to. His head was bandaged up.” “Kawaii-desu.” That’s what they whispered.” Tomo had always looked up to the Eagles. Not to some scrawny ass like Suma.

With dead fish eyes. “But it’s so funny! It said that your lucky boxers were so badly worn that one day. I don’t even know anyone named Benny.My grin faded. Suma.” “But.” He looked confused. but he asked her. “You think---“ he pointed to his chest. “Kazuya. showing off her cigarette infested. “Omedeto. “It’s the saddest story ever! Suma—you’re so awesome! But…. I did not just see a fanfic with my name on it. Tanabi-kun.” My face flushed.. Challenged gangs were defeated. Kazuya took it from her and tossed it to me. “Pretty boy.” I threw the script back at him. I’d rather not see it again. No. My eyes popped out. Chapter 6 Lately. What the hell? The Guy was Cold By fatsoko I flipped over the title page. “Yeah. He wiped the dripping booger from his nose and bellowed. Why the hell was Kazuya reading this crap? I glared at him. feeling the flames sear me at the last moments. No one was bothering us anymore. Ask Yoomi for a lighter. We were all in class when our homeroom teacher began handing back quarterly reports. “Didn’t you?” He shook his head. rotted teeth. His breaths only made the flames grow larger until the script was in ashes. No casualties to us.” he protested.” His eyes shone. I mean—it’s just a fanfic. I knew that my scores for math and science were low so my expectations weren’t that high but when he handed me the paper.” His name? Tanabi. All lies.” Cold—colder than ice. “What is this crap?” I asked. I think. wiping the residue on my pants. “It’s all over the net. Congratulations. Wait. If he wasn’t going to burn this trash. A month had passed already.” “Kawaii-desu…He’s cute…. “Your point? What are you trying to do—blow our cover? You know that I don’t want our location to be uncovered! What were you thinking?” Kazuya blinked. Life was good. Kazuya’s eyes bulged.but…..” That’s what they whispered. With a manicured hand. One of your fanclub girls dropped it on the ground. “But of course—” Kazuya continued. That author goes by the name of fatsoko…whatever that means. You were just imagining it.demo…. “Suma—I’m just getting to the good part! You’re reuniting with your childhood friend Benny!” I rolled my eyes. smacking it on his head. “It’s so tragic!” I clenched my jaw. I lit the stack of paper on fire... so I picked it up!” He smiled. If I find out who ‘fatsoko’ is. it seemed as if I had gotten a lifetime pass on the rollercoaster of hell and no one could reach me. “We all know that didn’t really happen. “Bishounen.” . Suma Tanabi. recognizing my name. they’re dead. “You think I wrote it?” My eyes narrowed. I let it go.” ………… “…. pretending this was all imaginary. It’s really popular now. you know?” I nodded stiffly. he smiled. then I suppose I’m obligated to do it for him. tears spilling over.demo…. She smiled widely back at him. No one knew about that. “Throw it away. during gym class. she pulled out a fancy zippo from her elaborate handbag. I was healing and Tomo kept his distance. they just ripped apart and you didn’t even notice them. I slowly closed the cover. holding it up by the stapled corner. “He’s so unapproachable. They broke into a tragic stance before he suddenly started trying to blow out the growing flames licking up the manuscript.

Poor kid. I closed my eyes and passed out. making him look up at me in shock. He had been stressing so much. “You passed too! I didn’t realize you were so smart Katsuhiro!” He shook his head. “I can’t do this! No matter how much someone can try to teach me. understanding my unwillingness to stop what I had started. Wogatta? Understand? Omae-san…. I glanced over at Katsu. Damn. it’ll be a wonder if you pass at all. I was deflated. Onira shook his head.” Kazuya grinned. “Plan A.” Even though I said those words to him. The night before. A-. A+. By the time the day of the test arrived. “Gambarre! Good luck!” Katsu only shook his head in worry. I think I do. A. Average: C A grin spread on my face. Katsu’s head crashed to the desk. “Whe? You giving up? Looks like somebody wants to be a panda bear!” It scared the crap out of him every time so he kept on studying.” Kazuya frowned. anyways. If my next test isn’t an A. “Actually…I’ve got babysitting this week. A. Go figure. English.You… You will learn. Math. “I’ll do it!” Then he stopped smiling. It’s okay. I warned him that if he didn’t memorize ten concepts then I would give him a personal panda bear.” I shook my head. When I woke up. I will never be a teacher because they’d send me to jail for torturing kids. The second day was worse. Katsu—I won’t let you down. Gym. “I’m passing!” The C average looked like a goldmine. Bastard. All A pluses. I understand Science. Math. Everyone did better than me! Katsu? I snatched it out of my hand. And I’m going to teach you.” Hoji smiled. then I’m a goner. “It’s not that easy. Grr. “This sucks. Just hope for the best. I narrowed my eyes. We’ve got on hand three Science geniuses.” What? I guess I have no choice then. Gym. Kazuya? B average. For some reason. “Katsu? How’d you do?” He didn’t look back at me. I had to threaten Katsu with his hair products. “Katsuhiro. I thought as I patted Katsu’s back. I peered at the piece of paper in my hand so hard I was certain that a hole had burnt right through its center. You’ve worked really hard. English. My family’s not rich or anything but they said that if I don’t keep an A average then they’ll send me to some freakin prep school. “Club.What? A teacher congratulating me? Ehh?! No way. “Katsu. I went around his desk and slammed my hands in front of Katsu. Each day that I came to tutor Katsu.” I didn’t like his attitude. The Tigers wouldn’t be the same without you! I clasped his shoulders.” I won’t give up. I drowned myself with science facts late into the night and regurgitated it back to Katsu the next day. I looked at the three Science geeks. he nearly quit on me. The first day. F. Panda bear=black eye. it became more difficult. He seemed disappointed but I smiled at him. I jumped to Hoji. Katsu . I saw Onira smile. A. Right guys?” I grinned. A. History. “Victory will be ours! I am not tired! I’m energized to give my student my all! That’s what I am. C-. “My dad’s gonna be pissed off if he finds out that I’ve got a B. I found myself waking up after an hour of sleep murmuring science facts that I didn’t even understand. Every time Katsu would start giving up. Science. Katsu only had his bottle of green gel left. Gambarre. I quickly wrote something down and handed it in. History. smiling. A. “What?” he asked.” What? Doshite? Why? No. He seemed to be deep in thought. Onira approached him so he showed Onira the copy of his answer sheet. There seemed to be bags beneath my eyes that seemed to grow heavier with each passing day. I’d threaten him by saying. even with these bags under my eyes. I would eliminate them one by one until his desperation became so severe that he would fall on his knees and beg me to stop and by the end of the day.average.” “Daijobu. With the one you have right now. “Woohoo!” I jumped out of my seat and cheered. I nodded off in class but every time Katsu looked back at me I would give him thumbs up and say. Science. I jumped to Onira. F. “You need to get a better attitude. Not on Katsu. Average: BI looked at Katsu’s face. Even Kazuya approached me about it.” He seemed frustrated. “They knew that I wasn’t good at Science. Okay?” He frowned. “I’ve got cram school.” I scratched my head. They can just tutor you. he still seemed unsure and when the tests were handed to us. There was a crease in his brows. Daijobu. Straight A’s. I’ll never get it!” All I said to him was. “Suma? Daijobu? You look really tired these days. I can help you. Katsu passes Science. I just don’t get it.

“A night on the town? Oh…. Shouldn’t you have too?” He’s right. “What?” “Celebration!!!! I can see it now! The flashy lights. You failed. excited. “Suma. She held it out to me. This place is exciting. Typical. I hated people like that. I smiled. He was always prepared. Right Suma?” I grinned bigger. No. looking at her coldly as the green pieces of paper scattered about.” Katsu looked strange. Onira. I saw Onira take out a schedule and a map of Tokyo. “Suma! Yatta! I aced it! Arigatou!” He bit his lip. He walked over to my desk and picked up my answer sheet. As we walked the city boulevards.” he began as the girl took off in tears.grinned back. This isn’t a true or false quiz. right guys?” Hoji shook his head. You realize that this is a science test right?” I nodded. “Nope. Were we that noticeable? A girl ran up to me. Katsu looked out at the vastness of Tokyo. nodding. He frowned. So many stares. “I thought you taught Katsu. He smiled. The teachers are going to drag us to the universities there.” That’s why she was so put out. Of course. He had never been fond of car rides. The air…the people—even the lights have a certain glow to it that draws you in. He aced the test. Tokyo was exciting. “Tokyo…. The teachers had gone ahead already.” What? I pounded my desk. Tomorrow’s the senior trip. Yummy yummy in my tummy! Katsu? Can you feel it? The warm heat of okonomiyake in my tummy? The perfection of its golden crust? I love it! Sushi too!” I suddenly got carried away with the thoughts of food. Onira looked at the map.Even better! Let’s just skip the university lectures! Let’s go play in Tokyo!!!!” “Un! Okay!” Katsu smiled. “Suma?” Onira asked me.” Bam! . it remained pretty. I shook my head as I chewed a hard candy. It was a long drive and difficult for him to sit still. “Suma! Let’s go on a rollercoaster first!” he said as we got off the bus. “Tokyo’s ours!” The next day. I’ll pretend this never happened. “What?” She smiled. Not even slightly so I guess yellow buses are better than none. Hoji put his hands down onto the sidewalk and kissed it. “Suma. We agreed to meet in half an hour at a statue. Hoji and Kazuya split and decided to look for a pizza parlor. her face in a pout. People that honestly believed that other people were just disposable toys. she pulled out a wad of bills. She looked like she was about to burst into tears. It was exciting. I admit. But pretty? Only if you didn’t see through all of the layers. They were all multiple choice. We all have to pack tonight. Why do I feel unease here in Tokyo? “Yay! Our stop!” Kazuya said.Kiree ne? Isn’t Tokyo pretty?” Katsu asked me. Come check mine. “Are you a celebrity?” Slowly. relieved. Don’t you remember? We’re all staying in downtown Tokyo for the night. After we went on the rollercoaster. I had a smile plastered onto my face. groaning at the sight of the yellow buses.” I whacked the money onto the ground. “Suma. He glanced at the numerous billboards. “Then can I keep you?” I pushed her from me. “I don’t care. Kowaii. What the hell is with you? Do I look like a toy you can buy right off a shelf?” She began to take out her wallet.” He looked perturbed at my solemn face but kept on his happy smile. Unbelievable! Oh well. The yummy food. I had a look of confusion on my face. “Wasn’t that a bit harsh?” My grim expression disappeared as I turned to face them. “Please? Just for one day. I looked out from the dingy bus window.” I motioned to him.” I stopped chewing my lip and began to grin. Onira. “No. I chewed my lip and shrugged. Now get out of my sight. Hold on. imagining his face on them. we all arrived at the school with our packed belongings. Didn’t I know the material too? Wasn’t I the teacher? Damn it. smiling. All you wrote were T’s and F’s. I felt strange. “Yo. I went with Katsu to go and grab some food at a side vendor. Ooh I love food! Yum yum yum.. are school wasn’t rich. into the hotel. No coaches? By any standards. Yes. I shook my head. “Matte. “I don’t take bribery. When she opened it. “You know what this means. Katsu’s arm flew in front of me. What the heck is with her? She smiled even bigger and said. It’s not my fault that I’m not a prostitute. Why? He made a face. “Iie. Scary. “The pizza parlor should just be around the corner. “Yatta! I did it!” He shook the answer sheet in the air. Of course it’s a science test.

“Suma…” As his eyes closed. his arm at his side. Kazuya couldn’t just stand back any longer. You. then believe her. “Where is he! No one makes you cry!” “But it wasn’t his fault! I insulted him. The girl continued to cling to him. “Why the hell are you fighting me? I didn’t do anything to you. Kazuya looked alarmed. his eyes glittering with anger. I felt something overtake me. “You don’t have the right to judge us.” he thought. That’s what I know.” The pissed off guy shoved Kazuya. What the hell was going on? They did nothing to provoke this fight! Onira! I shoved aside the punks. Kazuya and Hoji. If she said it’s not what it looked like.“Watch where you’re going you prep!” The guy who had bumped into Onira had on a ripped black t-shirt over a white long-sleeved shirt. pushing them towards the dead end wall. He saw them come out of a side shop. “Doko? Where?” “A block from here. It’s not what it looked like. . You’ve been asking for an ass-whooping. None of them did anything to you! What the hell is your problem!” In my mind. “I belong here. “There’s a fight! Onira and Kazuya…. He looked pissed off. Kazuya saw us running and said. My eyes were furious. putting two and two together and shoved the stupid guy away from me. I yelled at him.” Kazuya wasn’t fazed. She looked familiar. trying to protect himself but I could see numerous bruises from hateful feet smashing down on his body. A cul de sac. pissed off. feeling sorry for the three guys who had nothing to do with the situation as he led them all to a back alley. He was in the center of the circle. They held them off for five minutes but more kept coming. Calm down. Where? We can’t go at it in the open.” she pleaded.” before passing out cold on the cement. “I know that I’d like to beat you up. There was a huge crowd in the alley. Onira…Kazuya. “You!” the punk yelled at Onira. But. He scrambled through the crowd. He was in a fetal position. “I can explain. unwilling to stop. Get up!” He groaned and opened his eyes. his left eye bleeding. In the alley near the old pizza parlor.” I broke out running. “Okay. lying on the ground. “That’s him.” “Follow. trying to find Suma and Katsu. What the hell was his problem? I punched him right back. “Shigubi! Omae-san. Please. I was screaming say anything! Anything! I don’t care what your reasoning is—I could let you off if this wasn’t all for the sake of a stupid girl. Guys crowded the three. I bent down and shook Onira. I was trembling. “I’ve got to get help. baffled. food still in their mouth. kid. Throughout the fist-fight. I lashed out at Onira and Kazuya’s attackers. once again. Don’t say this is for a girl. “You…came. “Hey.” He turned around. You don’t know anything about us. My eyes darkened.” He spat at Onira. my expectations were cut short.” Hoji nodded. A flood of punks came at Onira. “Since when were preps friends with gangsters? Go back where you belong!” Onira grimaced. I believe that you owe an apology to my friend here. “Eh?” Hoji said.” he said. “I’ll never forgive you!” I struck out the punks on my left and began tearing up the crowd. Kazuya looked towards Hoji. It was the girl that Suma had rejected.” He smiled. She clung onto the rude guy’s shirt and said. Trapped. Onira only glanced at him. He went up to them. Hoji. He smiled. I heard cracks and snaps but continued to hurt everything until I found Onira. then looked at the punk. I saw his eyes constantly wander to…that girl? I blinked. “I hate people who misdirect their anger okay? Anyways. I heard someone say. “Go find Suma! Go!” Hoji seemed at a loss for a decision until he lost sight of Onira and Kazuya’s faces. isn’t it?!” (Their leader?) came up to me and tried to punch me in the face. Suma’s POV Hoji grabbed me and said. trying to catch up to the rude guy. “And just who do you think you are? This is none of your business. What do you have against me anyways?” Kazuya nodded.we were outnumbered…” I threw the food on the ground and asked. Hoji watched in casual amusement as a girl ran past them. my attacker kept glancing away. punching and kicking at the bodies that wouldn’t move. Where was Onira? Where was Kazuya? My anger skyrocketed when I saw Kazuya pull out from the mob. enraged.

He remembered sadly how hurt TaeYoo had been. I found Onira and dragged him upwards. Flashback I looked at my hands. Please…let me be selfish. He had tried for ages to find her but she couldn’t be found.He spat at me. I’m sure everyone could tell without me saying anything. he couldn’t help but have a childish grin plastered onto his face. I couldn’t see anything else. I had intended to end gangs because they were messing with the system. That was for Onira. But even then. Tomodachi. For stopping me. I coughed. What the hell did I do? I dropped the metal rod and clutched at my hair. making sure to leave a dark mark. rocking back and forth. I smacked the words right out of his mouth. She found him. And just like that. When she moved to Korea to live with her father. “Did you honestly believe that I could forget about you?” They had grown up together.what have I done? I sat down on the ground and held his head in my arms. watching over her like he was her guardian angel. His childhood friend. I wouldn’t know how to answer them. Her ‘boyfriend’ watched sadly as she abandoned him but I couldn’t show him any mercy. his warm eyes crinkling in disbelief. I wanted to bring an end to the Yakuza dynasty because. and now. He was there for Tae-Yoo when she scraped her knee on the sidewalk on the way home from fourth grade orientation. shaking. He was there for TaeYoo when she cried over her ice-cream melting onto her hands. End of Flashback I grimaced. The metal rod in my hand looked like it had been dipped in red paint. There was blood smeared everywhere. It couldn’t be real. . These hurtful hands is what I detest most in this world. Katsu was there for her.” I blinked. I turned my head and saw Hoji’s head. So many unconscious bodies. No one really talked about the incident. I didn’t know what to say.it couldn’t be real. His eyes blinked. I felt someone grab my arm. feeling my eyes clear.” Onira and Kazuya…they got hurt because of me. I couldn’t believe I was saying these words. That girl…. because these hands…. He wouldn’t leave the house for three days because he didn’t want to go out into a world without Tae-Yoo. What was I supposed to say? “I wanted to kill him. He opened it and flipped through the mail. I smiled slightly. That’s what he thought. He screamed out in pain but I could only mutter.she ran off. That was the worst answer. I hiked Onira on my back a little higher so he wouldn’t fall off. That was my greatest goal. Ever since they were kids. but that was okay. trembling. I just want to enjoy this time a little longer. Katsu and Hoji walked tentatively with the conscious Kazuya behind me. But maybe I’ve been aiming too high. They didn’t know what to say. “Let’s go to the hospital. I looked around. Silence. No. Were his eyes deceiving him? Tae-Yoo Park.this is what I have to end. Onira recovered over a couple of days but Kazuya had a hard time explaining to his parents how he had a black eye. The Tigers.” Everything became so hazy.” Standing up. hard battle will only destroy us all. “Thank you Hoji. But still…. So ugly. She cried so much. The ground was so messy…I was in a trance trying to figure out my surroundings. Katsuhiro never felt afraid. My eyes…why are they so vengeful? So dark and green? I smashed his face with my fist over and over again. according to the letter in his hands. But I knew that it was getting worse. she was coming back and wanted to see him. He never felt hesitation. Until now. throwing him on my back. “No one makes my girl cry!” I cringed. If they had asked me what had gone through my mind at the time. I was so close to snapping again. “And that was for Kazuya. Onira…Hoji…Katsu…Kazuya…they all have bright futures. With Tae-Yoo.” I punched his eye. they had lost contact with one another. So red. I took his leg and twisted it until I heard his knee dislocate. Katsu bawled his little ten-year-old eyes out. he had always felt so comfortable with her but he wondered if that feeling changed. “Teme. in honest terms. He was there for Tae-Yoo when she was picked on at school. Chapter Seven Katsu smiled tentatively. sadly. mumbling to myself. Katsu ran home. straight for the mailbox. No….” he whispered as he looked down at the letter. No. “Tae-Yoo Park. I thought about everyone. I think they were scared to. crying. I crouched down and held the boy’s face in my hands. So red. Especially the Mafia. What was that red lump on the ground? My eyes widened.Just a little longer. Suma. Bastard. That was the wrong answer. She cried so hard. they were the ones that controlled the country. The letter he had gotten from his childhood friend….” Yeah right. but for some reason. As I dragged Onira on my back towards the hospital. With the Tigers. Where did all of that anger go? I looked down at my hands. So bright. This long. I could barely tell how he looked like with all the blood on his face. Katsu was there for her when her mom died. “That’s enough. What had happened? Shizuka was gone. No.

I smiled.the one of Suma’s green piercing eyes…. I thought for sure that you’d be different but I’m glad. Someone smarter. Why did Suma not destroy him? Why did he just walk away? Was it because he thought that Tomo was too weak—is that why Suma walked away from the fight? Tomo’s arms sagged. Suma didn’t know Tae-Yoo like he knew her. He sat down on the bench in front of the elementary school where he and Tae-Yoo had gone to school together. “I don’t get it. “Tae-Yoo?” He could only stare. He crossed his arms.” he mumbled. He knew that if Suma ever found out about Tae-Yoo. he wanted a rematch because he didn’t feel that the fight went how he wanted to. “I don’t think we’re meant to be because I---“ he spotted a girl with glasses and grabbed her arm. Kazuya glanced back. Stop it Katsu. What was with that guy anyways? Tomo wondered. Tomo seemed too thick to notice anything but his own little world. He looked at his now former girlfriend. “I’m glad. Could he tell that it was fake? I wonder. his attention overtaken by the thought of confusion clouding over the subject of Suma Tanabi. Why did Suma look at him like that? His eyes…. had a good personality and great hair. rushing towards me. I looked up at the two of them from beneath my cap. Date’s over. blushing. At first thought. And anyways. I’m glad. He walked away from the pair of mismatched. I stood and grabbed Kazuya by the shoulders and pushed him forward towards the park across the street. Suma wouldn’t be jealous. not even glancing at the girl clasping tightly to his hand. Tomo could tell that Suma was hiding. I was afraid that you’d forgotten about me. He never told Suma about Tae-Yoo because he didn’t think it was a big deal. Beat up Suma? He recalled the situation the first time he fought with Suma. “Um…the truth is…I like someone else. She looked beautiful. dragging his stumbling girlfriend. She smiled. But no…it wasn’t. disappointed. Suma. I stared him in the eye. She was pretty. didn’t he? Oh…Or maybe. They were murky with distaste but clear with hostility. “Do you want to go get some ice cream? For old times sake. “Never mind. He thought for sure that Suma would be jealous because he picked the prettiest girl he could find. slurping my cherry slushie. if he did. “Suma! Meet my girlfriend!” He seemed excited. I spotted Tomo coming near me—with a girl linked in his arm. Even though my facial expression was blank. Katsuhiro. Tomo could sense something wrong. “Okay. I turned away from him when I heard Kazuya come out of the shop. grinning dreamily. Was that really his Tae-Yoo? She looked…so grown up. Of course. Don’t say anything rash. Tomo? I was sitting on the sidewalk.” I lied to him. Suma would tell him to stop seeing Tae-Yoo because Tae-Yoo was a bad person but Katsu wouldn’t believe it. “No way! How could I forget about you! How could you even think that! How could I forget you? You’re the first girl that I talked to!” She shook her head.” Suma’s POV I frowned. He made a face. waiting for Kazuya to come out with his slushie. Katsu shook his head vehemently as he stood.” He smiled too. Katsu. “I love her! She’s soooooo soooooper smart! Understand?” The girl Tomo clung to looked up at him shocked for a moment and then sagged into his arms. His eyes widened. In a way. Why didn’t he have a reaction to his girlfriend? He chose the prettiest one. the enigmatic leader that he respected but wanted to pummel. Why wasn’t Suma reacting?” He just kept walking away. “I wasn’t sure if you would show up.they were so hateful. My eyes were clear.Katsu thought briefly of Suma. truthful. . That hate that Suma bottled up inside—it was for Suma—and no one else but Suma. pouting. Wait. Katsu knew that. Suma was jealous of the smart ones. He looked at the nerdy girl.” His girlfriend’s face distorted in confusion. noticing Tomo. grinning. dumbstruck girls. realizing why I was in a rush to leave. Tomo looked lost. He weighed the thoughts. Could he read my eyes? “Is there something wrong Suma?” he asked me.” She tucked her hair behind her ear. Stay calm. He could tell that Suma was going to burst. “Katsu?” a soft voice asked. You haven’t changed at all. You’re still just Katsu. That was his childhood friend he was thinking about. That image…. Tomo waved at me. Tomo’s face kept on smiling like an idiot as he tried to explain. one would have concluded that the hate was for them. He met eyes with Tomo.it pinched Tomo’s pride. Who wouldn’t be jealous? He frowned. “No. He smiled cheekily at his girlfriend and said. Katsuhiro turned his head towards the soft voice. Nothing’s wrong.” He made a face. “You like me?” she drawled to Tomo. Suma wouldn’t have taken it well. He smiled as he recalled their memories.

” I told him. glancing casually into rooms filled with deterring students. “I’m bloated. continuing to roll around. then he wouldn’t have to be reminded of Suma…. he had never truly spoken to the infamous delinquent. “Thanks!” He grabbed my cup and. “You sure?” I nodded. When he finally tracked down Suma in gym class.” In a frenzy we both raced. But then again. It was expected that he was given the basic class duties. Take mine. he thought. bowing respectfully. “Figure out which club each student is joining. Baka. which was our finish line. He tipped it. He took the binder under his right arm and walked around the school. The teacher. Suma was so real. My stomach does hurt like hell.Some people held within them a hatred so intense—so unreal—that if it ever surfaced. The moment that Tae-yoo left his side. watching worriedly as the last drops hit his tongue. “Eh?” He tapped the paper cup. “Let’s go.he wouldn’t be reminded that today. unwilling to let one another win. Tomo felt that in Suma. Maybe Katsu had turned off his cell. Gomen. slurped up the remainder of my cherry slushie in five seconds. the other students would be a breeze. you idiot. Noon. If he didn’t answer his phone. he got a call from Onira. “Suma? Yatta! I did it! I beat you!” “Only this time!” I growled. Oh well. which was a lot more often than Suma would ever admit. But still. smiling hesitantly.” He took the binder politely. Both were good students but they had a wild streak in them that became apparent on the days the teachers’ faces scrunched up in horror after uncovering a new prank unleashed by Hoji and Kazuya. There was just something so…charismatic about Suma. Katsu looked at his cell phone. Junior year. Onira looked up at the clock. Namely—the school troublemaker. No appearances anywhere. From his position. . everyone present would become scarred. Onira became the class rep and had to speak to all of the students individually about the upcoming events for school. I’m sorry. Onira’s face tightened. not even bothering to switch straws. Today.” He pulled out his battery. handed Onira the binder of student profiles. worn from frequent wear. he pulled Suma aside.” I feigned. He remembered Suma’s words to him when he first joined the gang. deciding if he should answer the phone. It was only a quarter empty.” “Ugh….” I handed him my cherry slushie. No one was answering. “Go ahead. He smiled as he thought of how difficult Suma had been towards him shortly after Suma formed The Tigers. “ITAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIII! It huuuuuuuuurts!” “A. At that time.” Onira looked down at his phone. Suma. Maybe Suma was at lunch. Beside him were the other two daredevils in class: Kazuya Nishika and Hoji Kisaru. It’s only because I let you. “Gomen. I don’t have a clue how Kazuya can cope with running after that junk he swallowed. “Suma? I think I’m in love. His face froze as he stared down at the cell. you’d notice that I let you win. he had broken the promise he had made to Suma one year ago. soo desu ka? Oh. He was still the perfect student-role-model Onira that everyone knew. “What? What’s wrong? Are you okay?” “BRAINFREEEEEEEEEEEEZE!” he yelled out. I stepped on his shirt so that he would quit rolling around. He thought about their upcoming plans and hoped that it would bring a smile to Suma’s face. Was Suma gay? Was he homophobic or something? Who knew? Suma’s POV I looked at Kazuya’s face as he lovingly slurped his slushie. She wasn’t even (that) stuck up. Kazuya ran to the end of the block. he could see Suma with his infamous blazing red cap. Onira wasn’t part of her gang. A frown appeared on his childish face. Suma Tanabi. I can talk to him some other time. and twirled around with his hands in the air. He had duties thrust upon him that he had gotten used to. Kazuya. Junior year. Suma had always intrigued him. He took a turn and stopped in his tracks. Everyone knew he was responsible enough to handle the class schedule. he had broken it. he thought. even with all of those protective coverings shielding him. He dangled his long legs as he swayed his head back and forth. I stood up suddenly.” He smiled. alarmed. Kazuya dropped the cup and rolled on the ground. It had always been that way since he got popular and well-known as the top student. his knees drawn up and both of his hands clutching his head. “Yatta! I did it!” I heard him scream excitedly. Even though Suma had been in his class for years. He didn’t realize how fast time had gone by. Onira was once again nominated as class president. Why the hell wasn’t that guy affected? He had the prettiest girl. putting his palm to his forehead when he got brain freeze. Looking at the list. “I have no more. If you were smarter. It pained him when Suma was unhappy. Once Suma’s name was crossed off. I’ll lose this time. There were certain “people” he would have rather not have to deal with. His face was glowing. Is that right? I wonder why. Onira decided to track Suma down first. His head should still be numb but I guess he grew immunity to having his brain being smushed by junk like slushies. I don’t want to go home sick. He looked at me curiously. a permanent scowl on his face.

” Onira opened his binder. It’s the truth.” Suma was firm with her answer. In order to promote school pride. “Nishika-kun? Kisaru-kun?” Kazuya smiled. I won’t find someone else. “Honto? Really?” He looked at Suma skeptically.” Suma scoffed. He ruffled his head and decided to go out there and deal with the infamous pest.” “A…. It closed off and Onira couldn’t feel anything from Suma anymore.” Onira looked to the other two. her green orbs pulling him in. I got it. “Me too.he wouldn’t give up. Shigubi. her eyes glancing at him—not threateningly but rather…calmly. Did Suma see him? Probably. “I can’t do anything for you. “I know that.” Onira wouldn’t give up. There were no details so Onira had to prompt Suma. Suma-kun…” He lip began to curve up into a smile. “Tanabi-kun. “The Tigers…you mentioned it earlier. Onira pushed again.” Suma looked up at him. My duties are to make sure that everyone in class has enrolled in at least one club. right? Let me join. If not—they can create their own club—but it must be educational. Onira looked like a prince beside Suma.” Suma scratched her head. It’s your club. Suma asked him what he wrote. He smiled uneasily.” Onira wrote something down. observing them with curiosity. Onira wrote it down. Both in AV club. No. Wogatta? Understand?” “Yeah. Only blankness. His stubbornness came out as he spoke back to Suma.” “Demo…it’s required. “Find someone else. I’ve been elected as class president this year. “Tanabi?” “Iie.” He nodded. “It was never a requirement before.” “The Tigers. shielding her eyes from the glare of the sun. But this time…. the delinquent pauper. Onira—startled—stumbled back. Suma’s head shot up.” Hoji nodded. Kazuya and Hoji.Onira peered out at them.” she said. With his prim attire and proper attitude. No hostility. “No. the administrators have required that all enrolled students must join a club. But I’m not the president of it.soo desu ka? Is that so?” “Hai. Suma said. They were so full of…remorse. But then something came over Suma’s eyes. So leave me alone. “I’m too busy. He looked at Suma once more. Nishika-san to…. “What’s that?” Suma ignored his question.” Suma was silent.” Suma shook her head. I’ll decide if it’s educational. Instead. You’re interesting.” “Doshite? Why? You have to join something. “I’m already in the AV club. “No.” Suma looked him in the eye. No can do. You can’t join. He is!” he pointed to Kazuya. Yes. “Baka? Are you an idiot?” “Iie. He had never failed in his duties as class president. “Do you have members?” “Of course. Kisaru-san. “Honto desu. As you know. It’s a selective club. . Yes. “Omoshiroi desu. But the school policies change with each year.

What are they up to? “….” Chapter Eight I smiled like a child. Are there any requirements?” Hoji and Kazuya looked at Onira like he was psycho. his face popping in front of mine. his cheeks puffing out like a chipmunk’s. “No peeking until I’m done!” “Okay!” Kazuya rooted. “You can’t have a girlfriend. I peeled off his fingers. “I said to not peek!” “Okay!” Kazuya repeated. It was all so well-groomed. What was it? He didn’t know. “Yah…. frustrating me. “You can’t catch me!” he taunted. Yesterday's events kept filling my thoughts. He smiled.baka. Did Onira realize how idiotic his proposal sounded? Suma stood up. anyways? “Suma…” he breathed.” That was a first. speechless. was it? Suma Tanabi—president of the Tigers.What is it?” Hoji blinked in disbelief.Move. “I don’t get it. “I don’t know my way home. I tried to pull it out of his vice-like grip but he wouldn’t let go. dusting off his pants. “There’s only one requirement. Aigo…. Stuffing the bound papers into my uniform.” “Don’t you have a phone? Just call someone. “Do you at least know where you live? Your address? Neighborhood?” . Damn him. Tomo crouched down onto the pavement. In a covert manner. “Your birthday wish list…of course!” He grinned. his hands in ‘okay’ signals over his eyeballs. taking in the sparse surroundings. Tomo?” Bending down. The Tigers. Pulling Kazuya’s hand closer. surprising them all. I shoved his face away with my hand and scolded him. She said to Onira. and from my left. out of the radius of my swinging arm. his right hand scrawling a picture of himself with large question marks popping out of his head like mushrooms. Hoji held out a thick stack of papers from my right. covering the papers as I started my wish list. shoving him away. slapping his head. I blew my bangs out of my face and readjusted the crimson tip of my cap. He didn’t understand why his feet brought him here. pulled out a camera and caught my bewildered expression with a click of a button. Why did he come. Aish. I tried to move past him but he grabbed a hold of my leg. “Yah…Tanabi?” “What?” Tomo had an indecisive look on his face. I glanced at the bound papers. palming his left cheek. How can you not know your way home? I pointed at him. “I added myself to your club. Glaring at him. Briskly. then out of nowhere. “What…what the hell are you doing. I grabbed all of the colored pens and pushed everyone away. Huh. Kazuya held out an array of colorful pens. threatening him to erase it but he only hopped to the side. “It’s dead.” Aish…baka Tomo. I smacked his head again.Onira looked back at Suma and smiled. “I don’t know my way home. “How did you know where I lived?” I remember writing down some stupid fake address on my school forms—so how did he find me? His face was scrunched up. leaning against a desk for support.” Silence. this time signaling from five feet away. trying desperately to fall into a deep sleep. Flashback Curiously.” he concluded. How dumb is he? “What are you talking about? Of course you know your way home!” Tomo stood up. carefully trimming the hedges.” He tilted his head. Then he stopped himself. Tomo could already see in his mind a gardener coming in daily. his hands constantly moving as he struggled to explain. I raised my fist at him. I clunked my head back down onto the desk. then shook his head.” My foot gently kicked Tomo to the side. his eyes darted around nervously. I hunched my body over.

I socked Tomo in the face. What if you end up here forever and steal my ramen packs???? “You want to go home.” I snickered. someone whose soul reflected the pains of my own. then warn me alright?” He stalked off. but I could read his changing expressions as he fought to complete his words—words that I didn’t care to hear. His words reflected something that I never guessed he was capable of having. I don’t think so… Tomo grinned suddenly. He had a gentle look in his eyes.” Tomo was taken back by my sudden display of hostility. No. I did a quick once-over of him. I want kids. It doesn’t matter if I’m rich or not. What the hell is with him? “Stop it. no matter how much you want them to. Pathetic. “Tanabi…do you always run away? You look the type. I want to be a good father and husband. not even caring if I was listening. They’ll never come true. His eyes lowered again. I don’t want to look at Tomo because I see the reflection of myself. Don’t tell me that he’s secretly homeless. I was able to glimpse the soul of someone so deeply bounded by loyalty. “Don’t be stupid. He frowned. I just want to be able to come home and be happy.” What???? That little…. complimentary of Gucci. He kept fidgeting.” He just shrugged.” When did Tomo’s voice ever sound so small? I finally looked at him. Grabbing the back of his head. He suddenly started talking. That’s why they’re called dreams. the expression on his face too soft for my hardened skin. Maybe he wants to lure me there so he can mug me instead of fairly attacking my in broad daylight. “When I’m older. making me itch. double-checking to see if he had any weapons ready to use on me. Broken. “What the hell is wrong with you? I just felt bad for you because you’ve been weird for awhile. wringing his hands back and forth on his black knit designer sweater. Looked-looked at him. I don’t really care. I dragged him by the arm until we hit the sidewalk. You’re right.” His eyes glanced downwards.” I hate people who fidget. his black pupils trying to stay focused. “Suma?” “Huh. Tomo’s eyes…they were so full of anguish.” “Yeah. “Where do you live?” He reluctantly pointed towards an…alley??? “That’s where I came from. Why does it matter?” Idiot.you’ll be able to see the purity of it all. I slapped his hands in annoyance. “I don’t know. I don’t. I took a look behind me. Right now…I don’t want my future to be the life I have now. “Suma. His voice cracked. It does matter. “One day. Dreams like that can’t exist.“Ano…. “Which way did you come from—that long road with the Barbie houses or the one going to school?” He pushed my hand away and said. as if he already foresaw a picture of the life he wanted. Desires I would have rather not dwell upon. Angrily. I don’t want to come home to an empty home anymore. almost willing to back down. you’ll be able to feel that there’s love….” “What? You don’t know anything about me. “Suma???? Are you doing what I think you’re doing? I know I’m beautiful but I’m not…I don’t swing that way. My hands wavered at my sides. Pathetic.” I murmured coldly. “What kind of lotion do you use?” “Wha???” I smacked his head again. leaving me alone.” He seemed deep in thought. but I just want to be able to have a home where…when you step into it. He hesitated. but if you’re going to be a snot.” It scared me how Tomo’s words expressed my deepest desires. I’m so pathetic. It wasn’t annoying to my ears. I directed it right and left. Tomo’s eyes wavered.” Tomo’s voice changed. “Suma…” He started reaching out towards me. I took a step back. I can’t just leave you here. Parasitic. His next words made my hands shake. right?” Silence. I could smell depth in Tomo’s soft words. regretful of the damage I . “Stop it.

too weak to move because the threads that held him together had worn away. Nodding. I feel like there are a lot of things that I’m forgetting. “Damn Suma’s clean. almost as if he were the confessor in a one-sided infatuation. "Yah Shigubi. zooming in on Suma’s barren desk chair. Like Onira. I’ve been on edge.had caused. He couldn’t be like the others. In obvious anger. He would wait. reading the question in my mind. muttering incoherent words. but he was different.” Onira’s smooth voice resonated. He knew that forcing Suma to change to accommodate for Katsu’s insecurities would only frustrate Suma. Katsu wondered………why was Suma always so selfish? Didn’t he ever consider them? How worried they were? It wasn’t fair. "Oh yeah. but for some reason. groaning as I felt cracks ripple down my back. Katsu would do the same. he wished that Suma would understand this dilemma. I don’t know if it was the sudden depth I just realized Tomo had or the concern he had for someone who he was almost killed by. Onira shoved a piece of bread in my mouth. To sum it up………. I chewed listlessly.. that’s why he babied Suma with his great cooking skills. but only because it meant that Suma would stay near. "You guys better get me everything I ask for!" I smacked Onira with the stack of papers and told him. Where did everyone go? "Physics. Suma would disappear into thin air. No one bug me. He wasn’t even close with the other three in the gang—not by a long shot compared to Suma. He concluded with a loud harrumph that he had no choice. Katsu didn’t like that their friendship was so one-sided. He knew that asking for more from Suma would result in having nothing.Not even a piece of hair. Katsu wasn’t a patient person. Like Hoji. I didn’t want to attach myself to the monkey. No notes—no calls—not that that bastard carried a cell phone on him anyways… It pissed Katsu off.. He tolerated them. Kazuya blew his bangs into the air. Once a month. I didn’t want to know him more. Katsuhiro slapped his desk. It made him confused. He was so afraid to lose Suma. The older you become the more memories you’re supposed to have. No way..” Katsu whispered. For ditching them. I scratched my scalp and said to Onira. He didn’t bother to elaborate on Suma’s whereabouts. My heart. His keen eyes couldn’t keep a watchful eye on Suma and it irritated him. I'm going outside. It had to be enough. Tomo hadn’t even been too bad. Bitterly. it just added to my growing problems. With my birthday nearing.. instead of them worrying about Suma. He felt unattached but wanting to feel attached." he said. Like Kazuya. He sighed.. I massaged my forehead.he liked me? Nah. afraid that doing so would create a dependence that Suma couldn’t handle. He would wait patiently until Suma returned.Katsu was afraid. Bending over. whose feelings were put to rest beneath their skin. He hated Suma for doing this. crossed his arms and huffed in irritation. as if he were investigating a mysterious crime scene. He seemed different. I stood and stretched. informing the teacher that Suma would be back in two days. losing the investigative furrow between his brows. He began taking imaginary snapshots with his hands. Hoji held out his magnifying glass." A smile snapped onto my face.had it forgotten to learn something along the way? And what the hell? Tomo almost sounded gay back there. The others were content with waiting for Suma for a day or two. Katsu had to physically exert his frustrations in growls and glowered expressions.. my memories seem to diminish. He's probably just having a weird moodswing.. for two or three days.. wishing Suma was there to end the boredom. He didn’t want to be left hanging pathetically like some sort of rag doll without any strength. There’s zero nada zip evidence that Suma was even here…. frustrated. taking a glance around the classroom. He wanted Suma to worry for them. vanish into thin air. He was afraid that one day Suma wouldn’t come back. Don't forget! I'm working tonight and tomorrow so make up some excuse to the teacher. because Suma couldn’t—or wouldn’t change. but Katsu felt that pretty soon. .. more easy to annoy. “I hate this. Don't tell me. falling back into his seat. His face scrunched up. I picked up the papers Hoji had handed to me earlier that had fallen out of my uniform. I felt something hit the floor. "Eat.." Onira answered me. actually. because he didn’t know if Suma was eating or breathing or sleeping properly. It was enough just to wait. one day would turn to two days and two days would turn to three until the days waiting for Suma would no longer have a number. He was afraid to lose the only person he ever truly considered a friend. End Flashback I lifted my head. okay?" Chapter Ten With squinted eyes. groaning about how boring everything was.

hanging the bag by its string on the rusted stall door. It’s anything but that. “How’d you know where I was?” I asked. stretching out his lean arms. they want a band-aid even if there’s no blood. The heat felt good. revealing a Styrofoam bowl filled with soba. With his eyes. I sat on a splintered. like Kazuya. one seat forward was Tomo. enjoying my moment of awe in the beauty of fluffy white bread. When a kid falls down. That’s just dumb. I heard someone enter the bathroom. but he never failed to wear them. woolen scarf. drowned out by construction workers drilling adamantly into metal railings. Bright yellow earmuffs prevented red ears and a brown beanie covered his head. I pulled out my work uniform from a plastic bag. so empty without Suma. I pulled out a bun and happily munched on the steaming bread. languidly taking short glances at the glowing images cast from the screen. ‘Albino reindeer’ he once told me. They tried to intimidate me with their burliness and gruff voices. they got used to me. “Suma Tanabi…. Sniffling. My hands were so stiff. it was scheduled to be complete in another four months. came to accept me. comforting. sitting down with hot drinks and steaming soup. “Hey Suma!” one of them called out to me.” I unscrewed the cap and brought the thermos to my chapped lips. he traced the remains of the old chemistry stain that had leaked through the ceiling that a former student had created. Two? Three? Ah. covering my stinging lips with the back of my hand. It was so silent. Achoo! I sniffed. trying to relieve the sudden pain. I opened the bag. whatever. There were animal crackers and hot buns wrapped into there also. a steaming paper bag in the grasp of his fuzzy white reindeer mittens. making my stomach growl like a lion. A forecaster in a grey suit and heavy makeup directed her sickly-skinned hand along the waves of precipitation coming in from the south. I worked on and off. He was dressed well for the chilly weather. Always smiling. I came to a halt on the weather channel. the glass pane in my hand nearly shattering. feeling the scraping wind cut at me. wooden crate. and went to get a warm lunch. “Yah…Suma. Do you realize it?” People stick together because that’s how they are. a thick winter jacket zipped beneath a hefty. “Drink. They huffed as they tried to create the basic support for the new commercial building. They left. I’m crazy. Smiling. There was a gray mood in the air. “Take a break!” I pretended not to hear him and continued to scrub off the sticky residue. more or less legally. I finished pulling off my tie and sighed heavily. The project had been going strong for the past three months. He leaned back in his chair. pulling on a jacket. wincing when the soothing liquid seeped into the raw crevices. stinging my lips.it doesn’t mean that the people around me are all screwed up. The chill struck my unprotected face. but since I never had any official papers. The days of the week flared on. The smell wafted towards me. There was more than one person. He nudged me. with his own thoughts on the missing person of the day. Hold on. the back of my neck ached and I couldn’t feel my hands anymore. Kazuya watched me silently. reaching blindly into my right pocket for a handkerchief. I noticed some of them coming back. I shouldn’t be complaining. His mittens were identical to him…. I bought it for him during his birthday last year. so reckless. I guess it was a tad on the illegal side. You crazy turd.pure…. shock knocking me over. preparing myself for work once more. “Hungry?” Whe? My eyes darted to the voice. I didn’t do anything crazy like sell drugs. It looked like it was on fire with the white tendrils snaking into the frozen air. waving his hand.so lifeless. Closing the bathroom stall firmly. because that’s how they are. No. you malnutritioned baby. blowing warm air into my frosted hands. bite into my skin. I flipped on the TV. giving up on my quiet stubbornness.white. I am the way I am just because that’s how it’s always worked. just because my life is screwed up…. saying that I was too soft for this kind of work but I only ignored them. He took my hands and wrapped them around the steaming white paper bag he had been holding in his mitten. trying to smudge numbers off of the large windows. It’s freezing outside and you go work in a sweater? What kind of gloves are those too? They look like strings wrapped around those bony fingers of yours. It was probably going to be another long day at work.Sitting to the left of Katsu. yet you bring life and order to the world around you. flickering every time I flipped the channel. Undoing the red school tie hanging around my neck. Isn’t that dandy? My birthday’s going to be flooded with rain. He noted an irony with a frown. But even so. chapping the already reddening skin. I’m stupid. One hour break. I clicked the Power button and hopped off of my couch. I chided myself. Kazuya was sitting next to me. I continued to work. Shh!! I told my belly. He told me that they were ugly.” I set the glass pane down and rubbed my arms. Huh. especially in front of me. Eventually. This was easy work. The workers here didn’t like me at first. . My toes were numb. He handed me a thermos. The squeak of my hands cleaning the glass panes was silent. I pulled it away quickly.

“Shinpai shinaide.” I shook my head. The liquid ran down my throat. “Tomo was at your apartment. right?” I said. “No worries.’” He turned to me and nicked me in the forehead with his gloved knuckle. Suma. “Why do you work so hard? What for? If you need money so badly that you have to work so hard. I don’t understand at all. Kazuya handed me a Kleenex. S-E-C-R-E-T. “Yeah. I also had a job working part-time as a gas attendant. “Why do you slave for days straight.” He brooded for a moment. I sniffed up snot. mussing his covered head. but…. Or maybe. huh. concerned. warming my insides gratefully. ‘Suma….” Kazuya’s eyes blinked. He thought you skipped school to avoid him.” He scrunched up his face. but you never tell us anything.” I smiled. Ever since I met you.” I shook my head slightly. to pay for an apartment that you don’t even like? I don’t get you. Kazuya would kill me if he knew I had three other jobs. okay? I bet you missed me. sloshing scalding chocolate onto his jacket. “That’s alright. aren’t I? “Yah…Kazuya???” “Hmm?” “Arigatou. taking to care to steady my lips against the dull ache. a repairman. I am pretty scary. His words sounded so distant. Don’t worry about it. this time reaching for the hot soup. trying not to let it drip down my face.” He let out a long sigh before he continued. dumbfounded. Impossible. never really there even when I could see you.I’m worried. I’m just trying to pay rent. I wasn’t sure where else to look for you.” Kazuya scratched his head. Thank you. I whacked him with the thermos. I kept looking over to your seat—and in my mind I could see you there. I know you can take care of yourself. “He has nothing to apologize for.A short laugh escaped Kazuya. “When you were gone. What’d you tell him?” “I said that you weren’t in school because of work. waiting until you come back and flip the switch for us. “Suma? Why do you work so hard? You haven’t been to school. but it’s been over three already. “Rent?” I smiled grimly.” I lifted my head. Don’t worry. I get paid to keep bar brawls under control. I guess I got lucky.” “You don’t have to. I uncrumpled the top of the white bag again. smiling casually.” “Break’s over!” I heard the other workers yell. Onira told us you only said two days…. My eyes widened. The frustration in his face deepened. curious. It surprises me…that the school doesn’t do anything. Even with all of those hours I put in. Kazuya. Don’t live there anymore. Kazuya stared off. and at night. .you were only supposed to work for two days. It’s just a jacket. so he wanted to apologize. “Who told you I worked here? I specifically made sure my location was secret. It’s just rent.it’s probably because of him. We’re all just left in the dark.. “I never realized until you pulled this the first time. I’m lucky that the school doesn’t try to kick me out of school for my truancy. don’t be afraid to ask.” I mumbled before I casually took another sip from the cooling thermos. “Ah…Gomen Kazuya…. inhaling the essence of the construction site. it barely covers the monthly rent. staring out the window. “Yeah. embarrassed.” I nodded.” He just brushed off the liquid. I’m willing to help. I never thought that I would feel so affected by everything you do. “The truth is…I followed you once to this place a few months back. I kept thinking…. Tomo? At my house again? He’s getting too conceited. He didn’t understand.” I nodded. I’ll be back tomorrow.” He nodded. they’re all just scared of me. That’s why they never bother to punish me. “Suma.

Tae-Yoo. She shook her head. When he saw me. “Welcome back. but fresh tears stung his eyes. He nuzzled his face in my hair. The fields around the lake were filled with bright yellow sunflowers. “Just keep your promise. treating me like a puppy. Bringing his hands up to his mouth.you idiot.. he yelled out. right? Probably couldn’t follow directions like ‘no cutting in line’ or ‘eat your vegetables’. Chapter Eleven Flashback “Promise?” I asked. He was worried.” She groaned and pouted a little with her arms swinging back and forth but she consented with a nod. covering her shock. “Back to work. “Ow!” I brought my hand up to my lips. Am I part of your gang now?” My eyes looked relieved.” Katsu’s face marred visibly as he noted how Tomo’s face slowly smiled when his eyes caught sight of Suma’s tired frame. putting pressure on the bloody lips.” I said. Her slender. I shouldn’t smile. they weren’t tears of joy even though he wished that they were. Can you guess why I brought you here?” Katsu asked. A large lake glared out at them. Hoji grinned when he spotted me. zipping it up. I barely started on the soup. She was smiling tenderly at Katsu’s gentle thoughts. “Tae-Yoo-ah. Tomo waved a curt goodbye to Akira and Yuki and turned to walk into the room. buying these things along the way. Since when did Tomo think that Suma was his friend? Katsu didn’t like it. You probably sucked in school. Katsu ran his fingers through his hair. “No. Why are you so nice to me? I’m not even good. The gloves still had tags on them. I don’t see what the big deal is but if that’s what it’ll take then I won’t have one. and to take care of myself.” “Okay. . Only if you keep your word. even though I was seated. Why?” He chuckled.” End Flashback “Katsu-yah…Why am I blindfolded?” Tae Yoo asked.” “What do you take me for?” Katsu asked. I handed it back to Kazuya. “Of course I promise. With his arms around her head from behind. knocked out on the desk. Tanabi!” He turned back and disappeared into the station. his fluffy reindeer gloves still on his hands. relief drowning his face. I tried to suppress it. “Just shush and follow my directions. at his meaningful gift that only Katsu could concoct. I promise I won’t ever have a girlfriend. their petals opening towards the dots of stars that were beginning to peek out from the afterglow of the sun setting. facing me. he muttered an inaudible. offended. I turned around to see Kazuya running home. “Sure. telling me he was going home. “You better come tomorrow! I want my coat back. He turned around for a moment. Be good and I’ll promise to say that you don’t suck at life. It pleased him to hear Tae-Yoo gasp. sheepishly returning to the dingy windows. towards the train station in nothing but his school uniform. Kazuya. Kazuya patted my back. A warm coat was thrown over my shoulders and a pair of new gloves sat beside me. but a small smile formed on my lips. its reflection mirroring the intense hues of the sky. “He’s back. The next day. I pulled the warm jacket tighter over my frame. “Suma!” Katsu hugged me from behind. Kazuya must have come here before going home. he untied the blindfold and let it drop to he ground gracefully. Katsu pulled her body to a stop and put his chin on her shoulder.. the dark bags beneath my eyes told him I had worked myself into fatigue.” Onira silently regarded my pale figure.I groaned. manicured hands were slowly brought to her face.

Wish 995: I need new socks. wasn’t it? “Is it a surprise party?” I asked Kazuya. Suma Tanabi. it was hard. Wish 1000: All of my life.There was a time when I saw Hoji for the first time…he was way different back then—didn’t laugh much. To you…I hope you stay as perfect as I’ve always remembered you. “Tae-Yoo-ah. alright? I…. “Tadaima. I wish that I can always smell his ramen. I love you. “I chose her.” Katsu gulped. I’ve never really understood the concept of a family.” His eyes welled up. Yeah baby. I refused to go shopping with him—he deserves better…I wish that Katsuhiro won’t be angry anymore. She always did this—gave him strength to continue—to go through with his heart’s feelings. Only you. Suma. “You. Friendship and love…they should go hand in hand. I threw a mini tantrum. Closing his eyes.”. realizing the sacrifice he just made to pursue his love for TaeYoo. oblivious to how tense Katsu was. He had no other time. Katsu hugged her. pulling at my hair. right? I turned the last page over and in small print. “If you don’t love her too.” So. Wish 998: Kazuya Nishika. even in the future. What’s a wish that would match you? Oh! I love the smell of Kazuya’s ramen whenever I go to his house.” he whispered into her ear. One day…I want to say. We’ll slurp our ramen.” he thought. I ran out of space and was about to erase a few lines but stopped.” I looked around. “Suma? What are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be here. My last wish. It had to be right.Suma Tanabi only have one wish that I want to come true. cruel Kami-sama…God…I know you’ve never been fond of me but hear me out this once. his resolve couldn’t disappear when he needed it most.” he thought.I only had half of a page left but…. “Party!!!!!!!” Kazuya yelled. “Tae-Yoo. I have to finish this stupid list! Forty pages…. When would he tell Suma? How was he supposed to do it? It had already been so hard just to confess. Welcome back. I just want him to not be mad. no one was ever there to say back to me. “Suma! Happy birthday!” Snapshots of my face floated around the room on tissue paper decoration. Who?” Her vulnerability fazed Katsu. It shouldn’t hurt to say it but Katsu was so hesitant—he thought that it would be easy to say but now that he was about to confess. (This is important. You know it.it felt like pressure was building—I have to make these last wishes count somehow. realizing that his voice almost cracked.” Is that too much to ask for? That’s all I want. “I love you so so much. And it hurt him so much. “Okaeri. I won’t get mad at him. like he deserves to. “I think that I’ve fallen in love with someone. Katsuhiro Oh. Suma’s POV I crumpled up my can. who looked flustered at my presence. when we’re all old and wrinkly. Welcome back. he hugged Tae-Yoo tighter. on this day.” That’s what he thought but Katsu was afraid. had. I wish that Hoji keeps living his life to the fullest. pissed with a capital P. I wish you stay that way. “Oh.) Wish 996: Serious wish. relieved—knowing that this decision—it had to be right because it was Tae-Yoo. His face froze when he saw me standing at the door. We can’t be friends anymore. Wish 999: I’m really sorry to Katsuhiro…because that one time. of course. I wrote my 1000th wish. When the hell did they take these? My face stayed blank. You’re constant. . didn’t do much living—all he did was study his brains out. then we can’t be friends. trying to rid the empty feeling left behind by cutting off his guilt. I was never able to come home and say “Tadaima! I’m home…. “Okaeri.” She smiled. ne Shigubi? Wish 997: Kisaru…. I promise to go shopping with him whenever he asks. PISSED.you can only have one. and have someone answer. shaking my head like a three year old at the situation. I don’t want him to turn into one of those old farts who don’t know what tic tac toe is….” The reason is.Katsu’s decision was made. let alone tell Suma the truth. My 1000th wish… Do I really need one? I hesitated……No one will see it. but when you’re forced to choose…. There was a huge banner above Kazuya’s head that read. talking about ‘the good ol’ days’. But now was the time. like a rock…that’s why I admire you. My face look bloated and pissed off in every one. Perfect. betrayed his best friend. I guess this is for Onira Shigubi. Just one. I’m home. age 17. It was supposed to be a surprise.

I had this strange feeling… . “Tiger meeting: 6 pm at Hoji’s house.Hoji baka… Even though he said that. lined with care and showered with love. What? I thought that superstition was only for weddings…. …. Chotto! Hold on-. sneaking towards the kitchen. Something was wrong. People were dispersing. He worked hard on it. I think you should just wait……or not. saw the note in my hand and smacked his head.Hoji walked in with flour all over his face. My eyes glistened looking at the cake with the poorly spread orange icing and uneven squiggly letters. “That’s the note you were supposed to give to Katsu. Katsu? You’re okay. I still ended up watching as he struggled to measure out flour and sugar and whatnot. As if reading my thoughts. and like Kazuya had done. “What’s going on?” He saw me standing with an annoyed expression on my face.” I shook it at them. then called out to Kazuya and Onira to join us. A small smile crept onto my face as I watched Hoji pull out the cake meticulously made from sweat and blood. Hoji put his hands on my shoulders. trying to find shelter from the light precipitation.” he said to Kazuya. just enjoy this moment. It was funny how his hands shook so much.what are you making.” Hoji suggested. right?” He looked at the clock. Bring a present. “I did give it to him. always making sure to look up between letters for me to stop looking because I was “ruining the moment”. but no tears fell. I shrugged off his hold on my shoulders. Katsu probably just got held up at the train station. If you see the cake now. he froze and asked. I never let them. Katsu was late. He spotted me.pretty scary. I didn’t know what he meant but that’s okay. his arms outstretched. almost sprinting towards the shelter. pulling out a crumpled note from my back pocket.It’s a mile or two away from here! Suma? It’s going to start raining soon. “So. I said.” The door had already closed shut. Something was different this time. Kazuya nodded. Hoji?” I asked. so it was just Hoji. enjoying the show. “Aren’t I a Tiger. “Suma? What are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be here. It’s your birthday. my hands in my pockets.I hope nothing bad’s happened. The rain began to fall harder so I began running faster. Which station was he coming from?” “Station A. It was only a few blocks away—the train station was only a little further. curious. filling up the doorway.. Suma Tanabi. “Suma. blocking the entrance to the kitchen. It was a harsh contrast to my empty walls. He motioned for me to come take a closer look at his masterpiece. His eyes widened as he suddenly jumped back. It was suppose to be a surprise but now it’s not. No one had ever gone to these lengths for me before. preventing me from getting up. Katsu’s got to be there. I looked up at the clock on the wall. you’ll get bad luck forever!!!!” He emphasized forever by shaking his fist at me. I rubbed my arm and glanced around. right?? One mile…two miles…It doesn’t matter how far you any of you guys are… The lights of the train station were just in my view. My eyes trailed the walls lined with smiling faces…family portraits. He’ll be here any minute. trying to keep a straight face. too?” Onira stepped into the room. It was 5:30. Still early.. I pulled my hood over my capped head as it began to sprinkle lightly. Before lighting the candles. He said he’ll be here. Throwing on my jacket. “I’ll go look for him. He had an uncanny way of always being on time. Hoji’s family was gone for the weekend. “You stay out. His eyes squinted dangerously. Katsu was never late. It was 7 already. He iced it and designed it. unconvinced. visiting some relatives up north. Right.” I threw my bag on the floor. noticing why the room seemed empty. so I sat down. I shook my head. because he was trying so hard that sweat was dripping down his face. but it was worth applauding. I sat on the counter. no matter the weather or the traffic or the occasion. pointing at him. It looked pretty…. Don’t worry too much—you worry too much. As a cold breeze touched my skin. At 6.

Am I part of your gang now?” My eyes looked relieved. smiling—I’ve never seen him so happy before…. He looked so happy…. his piercing laughter ringing in the dark air at the water hitting them.It was just across the street now. so I stopped for a moment to catch my breath. I stood in front of Hoji’s driveway. Hoji pulled me in. but in a gentle way. I couldn’t move. but for some reason. The warm house looked so small from where I was standing. Katsu ran his fingers through his hair. No. breathing in the damp air. Let’s get you into dry clothes. The walk light turned red. unsure of what I was seeing. The girl with him…. Flashback “Promise?” I asked. That was my Katsu. I was in my own little world. his heart dropped. Even though he broke the promise he made to me. Is that Katsu??? He flashed a smile.I couldn’t deny him that. I shook my jacket. It had already begun. “I’m okay. When you said that it would rain. worried. I couldn’t bring myself to be angry at him. It was unfair. a man and woman stepping out. not even realizing that Katsu had passed me.Katsu didn’t have a sister…. “Sure.. “Of course I promise. waiting for it to turn white. prohibiting me from going further as traffic sped through. I closed my eyes tightly. freezing me in place.” “Okay.” End Flashback I couldn’t help but remember the look on Katsu’s face. creeping into my bones. but it wasn’t the weather that made me this way. The pitter patter of the rain continued to fall. The lights were on and I could see the bright decorations with my name on it.” I tried acting normal. When Hoji opened the door and saw me. He had his arm draped around the girl—not in a flirtatious way. debating if I should even go back in there. He held his jacket over their heads as a feeble attempt to ward off the pouring rain. Did that mean that I had been mistaken? . Katsu? I rubbed my eyes with my wet sleeve. I knocked on the door feebly. I was dead-white. My feet were impatient as my eyes were glued to the walk sign. “Come on. I didn’t think you meant that it would pour. but I couldn’t really feel it.” I nodded. Yes. but it was useless against the pelting rain. There was just no more life in me. I don’t see what the big deal is but if that’s what it’ll take then I won’t have one. offended. realizing what was happening.” My teeth were chattering. What would anger solve right now? I sighed. One person was lost to me.I squint my eyes. Katsu??? Is it what I think it is? I could feel the rain drench me. I should have brought an umbrella. Suma…act normal…Act normal. in a cab towards Hoji’s house. It started. waiting for the little walking man to turn white. unable to think straight. Only if you keep your word. In a daze.” “What do you take me for?” Katsu asked. It was so hazy…. “Where have you been? Katsu got here at least twenty minutes ago! We were all worried that you were looking for him when he wasn’t there any more. but I knew that the closer I walked the closer to my destruction I would be. I promise I won’t ever have a girlfriend. A cab pulled up to the curb across the street. “Just keep your promise. The rain pelted down harder. but it was so forced. There was no guilt on his face. I turned around and walked back to Hoji’s house in a slow manner. I couldn’t do anything but watch as Katsu ran with the girl to shelter. I saw Katsu’s smiling face looking at me from the kitchen.

” was all he could say. Only in this way will you truly live.No. That’s what makes them so irresistible. “What are you talking about?” “Can you see the future Onira?” I looked out towards the horizon. Even his clothes were color coordinated. I knew that one of these days. Why did it hurt to hear them laugh? I wanted to break down…. We’re not kids.he’s seen past my words too many times to not realize that I lied to him all the time.only calm and composed. I wondered how strong everyone would be. It meant that Katsu had no regrets. Suma seemed to be slowly disappearing.” Onira wouldn’t accept that. The less between friends. Without struggle. I pulled on some pants and folded my wet clothes neatly. so I sat on the front steps. After the celebration. He was always so happy that it made me envious.” “I know. Suma was becoming more distant. He wanted to snatch hold of Suma but it was as possible as trying to make ice cream stop melting in hot summer sun.you can’t just give up. Suma. I was trembling…trembling…Why the hell can’t I stop trembling??? It’s not fair knowing that this laughing would come to an end. reassuring him that I was okay. but the words seemed to choke in my throat. the more demanding promises become. I’m pretty sure it’s all clean. He was worried but Onira always had the same tone. “You worry too much about us when you shouldn’t. “What are you talking about?” I bit my lip. “Did you run into problems on your way to the station?” I only shook my head. “Whatever you’d like to wear. “Nothing. The immaculate cleanliness. What Suma had just said made Onira queasy. Onira noticed. They saw me coming down the stairs and immediately began to sing Happy Birthday. Am I so transparent? I waved my hands.” Hollow words. Smiling sadly. That’s what I wanted to say to him.” He shut the door. “Nothing I didn’t predict. My eyes were so sad. The perfection in the organization.” My hands were laced across one another. pulling in my legs as I sat. Nothing happened. It stopped raining. you can’t survive. “Don’t worry too much. This was the one person who could unite them all without even realizing it. I took off my wet clothes and threw on one of Hoji’s sweaters. right?” He was getting confused now. which was a first. because the sun’s only resting--it’ll come back and you’ll see again. It reeked of Hoji.” The sun goes away…because you have to learn how to grow on your own…survive on your own. Onira approached me. Kazuya came to join me after Onira went inside. I didn’t say anything more. I only had them make one promise to me and that one promise was already quickly snapping at the seams. He was never angry…. “You’re a good friend. When I opened the door. He didn’t want his friend to disappear. Lately. you’ll still be Onira. Hoji opened his closet and said. as if Suma were trying to lessen the hurt of whatever he predicted would come. I had changed him but some habits die hard. This was the guy that made everything possible. Suma was melting away and no one could stop it. “No matter what. Suma. In time. I chuckled. I looked around the room. I could hear everyone downstairs laughing about something. I looked at Onira. I couldn’t hide it from Onira…. I hope. It was so bleak…but just because the sun goes away and leaves you in darkness…. I tried to hide my frustration but Onira could see it. motioning with my hand how far…how large the future was. I felt myself grin but my eyes were downcast.. Onira tried to make sense of his friend’s rambling but he didn’t understand. “What happened?” he asked. but your happiness comes before mine. you’ll understand. Where did that joy come from? “Suma?” “Hm Kazuya? What’s up?” . one of them would break their promise because promises are meant to be broken. Crawl into a corner…go far away.

He started reading them off. I was so afraid to step into that lonely place again. “Was that too corny?” He shrugged. They’re not…. “A lot of people love you. I smiled. Don’t forget that. “Suma? Come inside.” “Okay. It was just junk. He was so innocent to the world.words I hear every day…ever. trying to forget the nagging feeling of my aura just then. okay?” Katsu said with his head out of the door. it wouldn’t hurt so much right? Inside.” His straightforwardness hit my unguarded face. okay? Let them be happy forever…. I sighed. “Change my wish.. Before you get sick. “Don’t tell me that you’re surprised?” He smiled again.. I looked shocked to hear such innocent words. But even though he was innocent. all you’ve got is junk.” He pulled away. He scratched his head and made a face. I could only smile as I watched how childish everyone was being. And I know hugging isn’t a manly thing but it’s okay because you’re my best friend. laughing at my childishness. right now…You see these people around me? I want them to be happy…you can take away my happiness if that’s fair. Poor Kazuya. holding me so tightly. Remember. I couldn’t show them how hurt I was because I knew that doing that would only make it hurt more.” He looked dismayed. “Be proud of it.” . Just grant me this one... you’ll get through it. showing off his teeth..Kazuya. “Suma? Eh? What’s wrong?” I shook my head. Suma? What is this? Why didn’t you ask for something awesome like ‘I want to dominate the world!!!!’. I’ll never ask for anything again. It felt like a real home.” Kazuya hugged me. Kazuya. “Thank you. He ran up to me and pushed me towards the house. Forever. “I want dibs on the corner!” I could hear him say.” He slapped my leg. I began to cry but looking at me. embarrassed. I knew that Kazuya was stronger than anyone thought. My heart was breaking right now but I had to stay strong. making him smile. Pretend I never said anything about my 1000th wish. I knew but I didn’t want to face it. Wish 2: I want to pass science class. then tell us what’s wrong. You’re our leader! Do you know how much power you have over us? If you look so sad. feeling the weight of loneliness envelop me. Wish 3: I want bubblegum. I was about to pick it up but stopped. okay? If we screw up.That’s all I can do for them.” he said as he went back inside. If I could only separate myself from them. He looked around him before closing the door. mature smile. I wish it could be like that always. just let these four people be happy. It was as if….That’s all I’ll ever ask you for…. “Wish 1: I want to pass math class. I seemed intensely quiet. it would make the pain less right? If I slowly let go of them. I trust you with my life Suma. made me feel uncomfortable. It was the end. could you feel how strained we’ll all become? Can you feel it too? I was trembling but Kazuya was oblivious. “I’m not sure what’s been bothering you but I know that whatever it is. wanting me to understand his words. He held me so tightly that I was worried for him. Instead. Okay?. even that last wish…all junk. It crowded me. Katsu pulled out from my bag the stack of wishes I had made over the last week. then tell us! Don’t keep everything to yourself or else it will eat up all of your insides. They were right.He smiled at me. There was so much laughter.” His words were so sincere that I nodded. I smiled as my back hit the warmth of the home. I had come to depend on the few people I called friends even though I tried so hard not to.” I said. you would only see a face with a wistful. “Don’t worry about it. Hoji threw the list to the ground. “Suma! This is just a list of candy!!! It goes on for ten pages!!!” I shrugged. Kazuya’s face peered at me strangely. Hoji took the list from him and skimmed through the pages. For so long now. “Hey and Suma?” “What?---Oomph. I’m only asking for one wish. he said. “I know that I’m not as good of a person as you but I hope you’ll accept me as your friend. Because you are Suma Tanabi. “Kami-sama? God?” I thought. With a frown.

It meant a lot to him. made him more confident. it still made him happy to hear encouragement. prepping himself for the grueling exam. you look at me with such clear eyes that I almost want to believe your deception. I’m just unsure how long I’ll be able to endure it. “As long as you’re happy. Onira breathed deeply and then collected his belongings. Onira nodded slightly. but hearing kind words from Suma made Onira happy. continuing to pull out his pencils from his bag.” She put her right and left pointer fingers together. as if you’re on the most important errand in the world. furry bathrobe hanging around his tall frame. “I know I’m not assigned here.” “Good luck. do we? But. Let’s go have a drink. “Sit where you’re assigned. uninterrupted.” She scrunched up her face. I broke that promise I made to you. dark eyes and hair like a doll’s. He stood and went to one of the instructors. but those few words of encouragement did mean something. making him look like either an angel or a dead person—your choice. An abrupt noise startled him. Every day…when I see you. Never had a pimple in his life. a smile still on her face as she did it. Happy 18th birthday…. Happy Birthday Suma. She was ivory-skinned with large. Surprise! I have a girlfriend!” Yeah…that’s what I’d expect you to say. It’s not by me so please leave. but my heart…My heart was crying so hard as it realized that this was only the beginning of the end. it must have been the best with the number of doctors it milled out. You scare me. It ached. Someone had sat next to him. He turned his head back to the front and then said. alright?” Onira curtly shook his head. when I see you. preventing myself from cracking. We never go shopping anymore. Suma. but he took the test because he knew his father expected him to. He rubbed his temple thoroughly with his hands. A plunk. who was a big man in the political circle. he took off his black backpack. symbolizing ‘together’. When she smiled at him. Sitting down in the wooden seat. “I’ll see you tomorrow. which was the best school in Japan.” The girl gave a sly smile. Onira didn’t mind it if he made it into Todai or not. They both understood that Onira had always been mature—he didn’t need to be looked after. it’s always a carefree. “Yah. pale fingers tapped unconsciously on the marble sink counter. “What? I’m not pretty enough? You have a girlfriend already? I don’t care. because I’m afraid of what will come out of my mouth if I stay awake. Katsu-yah. I’m sitting here because I want to date you. but every day. then again. I’ve pretended to ignore those times where you leave suddenly. your cell phone in your hand. Katsu. “Hey Suma! Are you going to sleep in class again?” I find myself nodding numbly and falling into a deep sleep. The girl stared straight at him. I’m not so bad myself.In my mind I thought. What’s with you? . I haven’t exactly been the greatest person to talk to. he ignored her. I pulled my skeletal limbs closer to my body. and his mother. Especially from his loved ones. though she loved her son. She was already staring straight into his eyes. then I’ll endure the pain. Katsu. have I? Rubbing my arms. He didn’t see much of his father. I did it. a pale white.” he heard Suma say. You scare me into believing that the next words you’ll spout out will be.Three weeks…do you all notice or are you too kind to say anything to me? I don’t really know…I can’t really tell.” That’s what my mind was saying. Chapter Twelve Onira’s POV He waved bye to Suma and said. If you’re happy. I think we’d be perfect together. Tomo’s POV Tomo’s long. causing him to fall back in his chair for a moment. if I continue to see you lying to me so bluntly. Suma wouldn’t think much of it. bangs across and long hair streaming down her back. Katsuhiro. staring intensely into the reflection of his flawless face in the mirror. requesting a different seating arrangement. waiting until he looked her in the eye. So I just shut myself down. so he turned his face towards her and found him self blinking. People tended to forget that even though Onira was a genius. “Tomo baka. He was taking the entrance exams to Todai University. So? You look like a good kid. to say the truth. Suma’s POV Three weeks already passed…. “I’ll pass. had her own ambitions to deal with . and he expected Onira to pass with flying colors because only the best went to Todai. There was a long and twisted road hailing near. unnerving him. Onira’s mouth creased when he realized that the girl didn’t move.

I burst into my room.ha…. Pushing the door open with urgency. What was it? How could he explain it? Tomo could just feel somehow—know somehow that Suma Tanabi’s life held the same roads as his. but I felt unusually stable. My hands ripped the calendar from the wall. No. I clutched so tightly to it that I couldn’t even see that my nails had torn through the paper to the other side. He felt that connection—that current of electricity between the two of them.. as uncertain. It wasn’t that. but he didn’t regret it. Yes. jail-like encompassment the rooms created. stupid. your mind becomes clouded. I don’t deserve to die. rather than one. causing my hair to fray. But I had to confirm it.but there were just certain things that were shared better with a stranger—a colder person. manipulated by large forceful hands. and I knew I looked like a psycho with blood splattered all across me and bloodshot eyes.where was I? What was going on? My eyes were half closed. That’s what my mind created. So what if Tomo was rich? It’s not like he didn’t have hardships too. across arms that have never seen the light of day. skidding into the rug. The bullet of that word would shoot me back away into the cruelty of reality. “Go on! I dare you to die!” And that anger fuels people to go through with suicide. I didn’t know where the hell I was. “Ha.he felt different. The black envelopes stopped coming. saying. “Tomo—what the hell’s gotten into you?” The other day had confirmed it. like how a mother has indefinable love for her newborn— that’s how strong it was. just like that boy I had held…I wanted to sleep like him.” But how hard was dying? Walk into a road and let a car hit you. his hands pushing me into an apartment. And he just realized that…. I was so lost…. Suma. How can someone who doesn’t deserve life even be alive? I was nothing. Cut wrists and watch as the running water turns red. my eyes looked everywhere but that one square in the wall where the calendar was pinned. the ruined calendar falling to a sad lump on the ground. referring to the empty white walls I had stepped into.” he said. I’m not gay.but if these damn envelopes stop coming. Damn it. I would have crumpled to the floor.” It would shoot me back awake. it means that he doesn’t expect me to live here anymore. like me. That’s too easy. I’m not gay. His footsteps halted. their paths were destined to cross many times over. I smiled dreamily. Empty. I got the date wrong.Damnit. but for some reason. trying to tell myself that it wasn’t today. There was no life between the two of us. He had Akira—he had Yuki by his side…. I ran back to my apartment. Suma’s POV Panic. It really didn’t come. You can’t die now. Suma was the other side of the tracks. Dead. Any sane person would have felt suffocated by the sheer. lone person…. but why did it matter? “It suits me. When you want to die. It wasn’t today. Ha…. Dying wasn’t hard. that’s it. there was only red. not caring how I had ripped the poster paper in half. My eyes tried to avoid it. Suma was a mirror image of himself. all I could see was red—all I could feel was the need to sleep and every time I tried to. exactly. like Suma.” Then he disappeared. Flashback My body dragged. “more will come.the road doesn’t seem to be as craggy. It was always in the same place on the wall. “On the 18th. But when I wanted to die. Ever since he transferred—ever since he met Suma—saw Suma—spoke to Suma…. the other side of the world with the same harsh memories. looking around skittishly for the calendar. unable to take in my surroundings.” I thought. To Tomo. inexplicable it was.complete? No. . My arm swung out at an imaginary foe in frustration. In my mind. all I could hear was. Take a bottle of pills. he told himself. This man that was behind me had stained hands just like me. If his hands had let go of me. for fear of rejection. That’s why I’ve been working so hard! I don’t need that man to help me…. for fear of discovery. He had killed. I was laughing. and never wake up. He wasn’t gay. because I didn’t even deserve to live. What the hell was going on? Why the hell wasn’t it there? I scratched at my head in frustration. Tomo wanted that second person to accompany him.” His right palm smashed down on the counter. stupid. “Mom. My dazed eyes…my drugged state took one glance and for a moment. the Hallmark image that graced the upper half of the calendar in two. laughing so hard like a madman because I knew. because it was empty. frustrated. trying to calm myself.he wondered if Suma would understand him. Everything was just so blurry. Today was the 18th and it didn’t come. leaving a thirteen-year-old clutching onto a black envelope of money. when he already had a difficult time understanding himself. But every time my eyes closed for a moment. as scary. Stupid. he never felt so…. My fingers numbly scanned the dates. Dead. Dead. He wondered…. like the crimson laces of cuts that a suicidal person inflicts upon themselves. Before. I didn’t need it. drops of blood falling onto the white carpet.empty laughter. It was the will to actually do it that was hard. I didn’t need the goddamn money that lined the inside of that cruel paper. and never would have the will to pull myself back up. causing the counter to tremble for a moment. as if my mind was saying. My hands dropped to my sides. In the future…possibly in the past too. The man who had brought me here shoved a black envelope in my hands. I wanted to sleep so badly.when there are two people walking a path.

I was thirteen. Suma. getting up to use the bathroom. flap by flap. but there’s nothing here anymore. On the order form that my loving mafia dad filled out was one letter. staring at my pathetic sight with disgust. What 18-year-old still honestly believed in the tooth fairy? And Frosty? He felt himself laughing hard with her—smiling wide with her. He was very happy—happier than he’d been in his entire life. Didn’t you want to come here and rub in my face that I killed another person on my birthday?” The envelopes were supposed to pay for this condo. unless I stocked up on cup ramen or went to get my mail. I slowly opened it. “What are you going to do? What are you going to do with this life that Okaa-san gave you?” I was sorry. I’m here. more will come. I’ll be there. bubbling with happy fairies. empty air. So this is what a girl did to your life. I took another look at the order form. My daily routine was waking up to white walls. Destruction. She was smart—a smart-aleck. How did this happen? He didn’t really understand it himself. Bitterness…tears of bitterness coursed down my cheeks. but it wasn’t like it mattered. Otou-san…What’s hilarious is that you didn’t even bother to come today. You were watching me this whole time. no one would hire a kid. but then. watching me suffer. “Otou-san…. I used them out of desperation.Ha…I recognized that man…. I left the bathroom that smelled like sour noodles and took a look at the box..the one who had dumped me here. like a two year old.” “Suma? Are you there?” Hoji asked. a tinge of worry in his voice. Normally. feeling woozy. I retched over the toilet after each meal. stagnant.” he pleaded with me. Onira thought that it was possible…that it was highly likely that this girl next to him…he thought he really liked her. resembling a school uniform. I didn’t know what was going on.so you knew this whole time…You knew everything. “What?” “Meet up with me at the mall. by her childish actions. I need a bodyguard. I pulled it out. “Suma.” A boy’s school uniform. A box was thrown onto the ground and he disappeared. aren’t you? Your jokes…. . Just air—stale. I stared upwards at the bathroom ceiling. so unlike him. then trying to eat a cup of ramen. He worked for someone I knew. pouting. I didn’t leave my asylum for months.” That’s what he said. bitter harsh laugh.Bastard…. as if mocking me for my former attempts at pretending— forgetting that I was a girl. but he was bursting. Once I finally pulled my energy together. Okaa-san…I shouldn’t fight it anymore. “Otousan…You’re laughing too. M! I laughed a bitter. A sheet of paper was laid on top of the cargo—an order form? I set it down.. okay buddy? ‘kay??? I’ve got to get something for my dad. Things were changing. aren’t you?” He wanted me to go to school. because I was just a kid. leg by leg. I picked it up.” Onira’s POV Onira crossed his arms. usually throwing up the noodles into the white porcelain toilet. He never really did think it would be like this.” I croaked. The ring of the telephone interrupted my thoughts. There were clothes in the box. I felt a presence in the doorway. he would have been annoyed—and he was at first. “On the 18th. one of a kind. Does it make you smile. “…. I was so sorry…All I’ve done so far with her life was destroy and destroy. “Otou-san…. right? That’s all I know. for some reason. the food just wouldn’t stay down. Wait for me by the entrance. and in the beginning. I couldn’t run or hide from my old man. “Yeah.I forgot for a moment how cruel you can be. it’s impossible. was M. End Flashback Five years ago.you’re really laughing right now. weren’t you? Even through all that crap…you just sat back. Suma. but he was happy. because in the blank beside the word ‘Sex’. You understand. Dad? Do you smile when you hear reports of me being beaten raw—being broken down to this state? What’s funny. Didn’t you know? Today is my birthday. arm by arm. but he was amused too. he never thought about it because of Suma.

it was strange getting glances from girls because somewhere. Suma had crossed his mind on more than one occasion. I was about to tell him to hurry up and wave to him to hurry but my breath caught short when my eyes moved a bit to the right. pointing to Trace. My back made contact with a stone statue. next to him. I spotted Hoji in the distance. making the both of us fall in separate directions onto the floor. and just with a touch of her hand. You did what Katsu did too. He didn’t want to let go of this girl’s hand. God knew what would happen if Suma knew. chiding him for getting her a gift. Let’s pretend that I wasn’t seeing this. the smile I had on slipping off my face. “Like hell this is nothing!” he accused. When she had approached him during the Todai entrance exams. isn’t it? Suma’s POV I tipped back my head to down the last of the cold slushie—the last drops of ice-mixed with flavor were always the best. He looked happy.what kind of friend are you?” .. He smiled. Onira didn’t even know how it happened. saying that it was fine. making him shove Onira. that it was nothing.He held her hand in his. “Nothing?” Hoji breathed. He didn’t want to give up Trace. Onira didn’t want to stop laughing. I didn’t like the feeling of eyes on me all the time. Love. I pretended to not notice them at all.It’s funny. She captured him. A girl ran up to me. it had filled.Everything seemed to fly by in slow motion. My head was leisurely turning left and right as I strolled past stores looking for Hoji. Hoji caught Onira’s shoulder and threw a hook at his friend’s face. She was holding onto Onira’s arm. but every time his friend came to mind. “What the hell are you doing you dingbat?” I could hear Hoji say from where I sat. It felt real. falling backwards onto the floor. Ha. but Onira pushed her away.Slow motion…. inside of me. People were always trying to make him laugh. To remember this day. he thought. I went to grab a slushie from the food court while he browsed around in some geezer stores. I could see them all now. his thoughts sputtered out. It wasn’t a matter of right or wrong—it was simply a matter of having Trace there. “What’s wrong with you?” Hoji continued to yell at him. Instead. We should go hit the arcade. didn’t you? You. “I want to get you something. Amazing. walking out of a shop that sold antique watches. shaking my head. the girl trying to stop Hoji. but being the polite gentleman he was. which only angered Hoji more. When he saw Onira. slamming into my body. who understood me best are doing this too. thwacking the back of Onira’s head. There was a small bag in his hand so I assumed he was done shopping. …. I stumbled.” he told her. her cheeks flaming red. I took a step back. “Idiot! Do you want me to kill you?” He hit Onira again. how they continually probed me with their invasive eyes. In angry motions. She was about to say something I was pretty sure I didn’t want to hear so I but I gave her a deadly. Amazing. Onira. not the other way around. Cloud nine. he thought. I was yelling. swinging their sweaty palms back and forth. it made me feel like Hoji was in more shock than I was—more turmoil than me—his expression was that dark. Ha ha…. Ha ha…. Onira had a hole in his heart. “Hoji! Over here!” I hollered to him. unsure of where to find Hoji. and he didn’t know how to escape—but he didn’t want to. My eyes hardened. Hoji looked my way. It felt right. Onira saw Hoji—made direct eye contact with him and then he turned away. I slowly got up. strolling with her. This is love. he put up with her. Hoji’s fist curled around the small bag with his father’s gift. she pestered him until he couldn’t stand it anymore. I thought. Is this…Onira was afraid to say it—afraid to even think it. “Get the hell out of my face” glare. Suma had too many problems to be able to see anyone else’s. He felt like a husband having an affair—was it right? He didn’t seem to care anymore. just a glance at Trace Itoh and Suma would disappear. They shouldn’t fight with one another. so he turned to look too. Trashing my paper cup.I never suspected Onira. Hoji saw the expression on my face. So that you’ll remember me. Suma had too many problems to help other people laugh. “Stop it! Are you blind?” I didn’t look them in the eye. Everything…. “Nothing? What kind of friend…. She scurried to a stand and ran off. Even Suma had failed to do that. trying to ignore that Hoji was standing right in front of him. but she made him laugh. And he was just like Katsu. slapping him in the face. I put my hands into my pockets.

who had noticed the commotion they were causing. Will I be okay? “I don’t know. you liar. We went to the mall together but after that. They wouldn’t be chained to me. “Let’s go. I thought he quit his day job and started working at some restaurant. my face melting. Promises are there to be broken. they would be free to do whatever they wanted—live however they wanted. If I just let them go. . I ignored him. “Daijobu.” Onira remained silent. forgetting when to breathe—it didn’t matter as long as my legs moved me further away. It’s okay. just continued to talk. do you? He could only watch on in disgust. I knew. I was restricting them. He sat on the countertop beside Kazuya and kept his lips in a grim seal. making Kazuya make a fist. I pulled Hoji even more roughly.” Kazuya groaned. “Hey Hoji?” Kazuya nudged him. I promised to rid the world of gangs but I’m afraid that now…” My thoughts began to dwindle as my shoulders shook. pulling Hoji harder. When Hoji walked through the door. He kept looking at his cell phone. “Stop it Suma! Don’t think like that! You can do anything you want. I’m not strong. as I watched Hoji walk away. overcome with reality. I thought it would be best if I left him alone. taking things lightly. I pat his back. afraid to talk. his eyes dark. And then Hoji could see. From me. then eye him strangely as he turned away from Onira and Katsu.” Hoji sneered. I wouldn’t look at Onira. Suma’s always in perfect health. When my body wouldn’t move anymore. “I have no clue where he went. Hoji.” Katsu shot out two thumbs up. Just don’t look at Onira. as well as Kazuya. “Yah. right? Suma?” I could feel how hesitant he was to leave. not moving.” They would all come to hate me. putting down his cake. stealing a chunk of Kazuya’s slice. “I haven’t seen him all day. causing everyone to jump in their seats. Hoji. “Where’s Suma?” Kazuya asked casually as he chomped on cheesecake. Just don’t talk. Is he working?” Katsu shrugged. I tried to calm my shaking hands as I spoke to Hoji. taking awkward glances back at my unmoving figure. whining at the ceiling. for once completely honest with him. “Katsuhiro. My hands let go of Hoji’s wrists. clutching at my head. tilting his head back. You’re Suma. “He’ll be fine. Hoji shook his head. Just don’t look and maybe—if you try really hard—it won’t be real.” I said as I dragged Hoji away. You know how it is. “But he was supposed to piggyback me to the park today! I was really looking forward to it too. I’ll be fine. “I’m sorry Hoji. I don’t know anymore. I ran towards Hoji.” “You’ll be okay. leaving red marks. running my heart out. my arms pulling him away from the scene before the police got there. A radio was to his mouth. shaking my head. I knew it would happen. It pained him…Katsu. we split ways. Hoji. I shook my head. Don’t make excuses. I couldn’t help but ask him. “I don’t think it’s like that Katsu. They would be free. checking if he got any messages. towards home.I could see a policeman coming their way. I’ll lose you too.” said Katsu absentmindedly. “Let’s go!” “Suma!” Onira called. just tracing the lines of wood with his eyes.” I shooed him away. Will you be next?” Hoji was taken back by my question. “Suma….” I heard Onira. Don’t fret. he slammed it shut. Onira. alright? Go give your dad that watch. they wouldn’t be chained to the gang. You don’t really care. shaking me. I just needed to talk. “What are you talking about? How could you even say—“ I didn’t hear him. He had some stuff he had to work out. “Have you seen Suma anywhere? It feels strange without the guy here you know?” Kazuya said. everything finally caught up to me. I think I just need some time alone. “I dunno. “Let’s go Hoji!” I urged. Go home. practically sprinting.” “Katsu too?” He couldn’t believe it. Hoji took my by the shoulders.

Do you know how much Suma has done for all of us? For me? For you both and Kazuya? Do you remember the challenge we got from the Beast clan? The one he used to run with? We all knew how much it hurt Suma to even hear their name. Every little sincere thing. I definitely would. He helped you study that time too. Do you know how much that must’ve cost him just to take that cab? A month’s pay. but he couldn’t help but say. “You both knew what you were getting into. He set his cell phone down and then looked over at Onira.” . It was so hard to convince your pops that Suma wasn’t a kidnapper and that the tape wasn’t a ransom tape. tired all of a sudden. “What’s up Hoji? Having family problems?” Katsu asked. collecting his scattered thoughts. If he asked me to punch you. It wasn’t hostility. he helped you get your grades up didn’t he? Would a girl have done that for you? I wouldn’t have done that for you! You get way too distracted you bastard. He’ll forgive us.” He worded ‘girl’ with disgust.” About love. Hoji. It’s not the same. And all he asked from you was that you keep that one promise. who had been silent. at least. “Is that hostility I sense from you. One promise…that’s all he asked. Once Kazuya had left though. grimacing. How could you do it? How could you do it knowing how much Suma would hurt? How could you? Do you know how much he trusted you both? We made a promise. “Okay! More for me then! Ja!” Hoji managed a weak goodbye wave to Kazuya. Even though he sucks at science. Onira didn’t answer. to see if he would do the same as Katsu and admit. He started texting a message. Suma’s saved your ass so many times that I’ve lost count. “It’s not that easy. causing them to wobble. He shrugged and said. Onira took a deep breath. My ma’s cooking macaroni and cheese tonight! Anyone wanna come?” There was no answer—just a dead silence. It’s knowing that you have lost the greatest friend you will ever have to some girl. It was accusation. “Aish. When you experience love. Hoji jumped off of the counter and whacked Onira and Katsu’s heads hard. He only looked down. I value his friendship more than my life. We would have been dead by now. I’d probably do it. What Suma is…isn’t love. but Suma shouldn’t have gone alone. He didn’t think he would get so emotional but it hurt him to imagine how hurt Suma was. then how hard is it?” How hard is it to say yes to someone like Suma? Onira smiled bitterly. About a girlfriend. I don’t know what happened. Are you so desperate to lose your friendship with Suma?” “He’s still my friend! What I have with Tae-yoo is not a crime!” Katsu yelled. Kazuya seemed oblivious to the tension as he hopped off of the table. He has to know how much Trace means to me to risk our friendship. but Kazuya didn’t notice. “I don’t. “I know exactly what I did. It’s not a crime. “Don’t tell me you’ve never thought about it. and they couldn’t even keep that. He seemed to be so distraught. Onira? You couldn’t go see him because of your exams so I sent him a tape of how you were doing to him. His eyes moved back to his phone. “You too?” he asked casually. “If Suma’s not showing up. take it out on someone. He looked over at Onira.Katsu looked up in surprise. So you finally admit it. Katsu was a little sobered by Hoji’s onslaught of words. Suma isn’t that childish. he wouldn’t have done it. suddenly defensive. His hands were covering his head in frustration. did you know? “No. If it weren’t for us. Katsu. You sound scared. “What the hell is wrong with you?” He sat down in a chair across from the two of them. Suma was the last person he wanted to see hurt. then I guess I’ll go home. About a wife. He went there in person and told them straight out that we would not accept their challenge. He never told you but I helped that idiot put the thing together. “She’s not just some girl you idiot! I knew Tae-yoo before I even met Suma! Is it so wrong that I love her?” Hoji shrugged. Hoji thought. A family. If Suma asked me to jump off a bridge. Funny?” Hoji could only shake his head. Hoji shook his head tersely. Katsu finally caught on to what the conversation was. Suma took a cab there to hand it to him. It’s what bound us together!” Hoji’s eyes were red. it’s not the same. drained. He didn’t mind their silence and said. What kind of friends are you for breaking that promise? Huh? Huh?” Hoji wanted to hit something. Hoji continued. When that girl accused you of harassing her. Hoji? Mr. he stepped in and got the truth out of her. “Are both of you blind to all of this? Everything Suma’s done was for us. He still didn’t know what was going on. “And you. So if he asked me to promise him to never get a girl. Katsu wouldn’t accept it. only intent on macaroni and cheese. It’s breaking a promise. “And do you remember when your dad was sick. It’s knowing that your friend will never forgive you. Suma already hurt too much for lifetimes.” “You both deserve a beating.

trying to keep warm.” Hoji told them. It didn’t make sense.” Suma’s POV “Wouldn’t it be easier if I disappeared?” I crushed a flower in my hands. could only bury his face in his hands. lying back on the bars. But they knew that I liked slushies and tea. as if making sure that it was really there. Hoji’s right. They knew that I was a difficult person to be around. not wanting to talk to the two. They thought that Suma would overcome his petty reasoning and just accept things as they were. They didn’t know so much. I rubbed my arms. “I wouldn’t know what to do if Suma just left us. Monsters aren’t weak. so rapidly that I would fall on the ground. you know? It was so long ago. “If this doesn’t cool over. . He’s like my brother. just watching the vast sky. pretending none of it existed. He was supposed to be their leader through thick and thin. where no one would betray me.” Katsu nodded. I hated Onira and Katsu for making me fall down. They weren’t even ashamed. I don’t know if I can live with myself. Katsu. But Tae-yoo. Running alongside Katsu. I was so happy that I forgot all about that promise. I’m not a model citizen. okay?” After he left. They knew that I hated girls and hospitals.” Katsu said as he raked his hand through his hair. I beat up people for a living.Hoji shook his head in disbelief. I feel like a little kid who got scolded. My heart was pounding erratically. Onira. I hated them because it hurt so much. If he never forgave us. which were crossed on top of one another. staring up into the skies. Because I was the one that was going to run away. I didn’t want to feel that vulnerability.” “Where is he? I need to talk to him. I should act like it now. Tell me you’ve got some backup plan! I thought I was so ready to tell Suma! But he already knows? Why do I feel ashamed?” he asked Onira. He pulled on his jacket and spoke what was on his mind. I don’t know if he’ll be alright. I really don’t know. Suma should know that. feeling the evening’s words seep into him. smoothing it in my hand. I hated them for helping create this fantasy of mine. how am I supposed to choose? What the hell are we supposed to do man? I don’t want to decide! I don’t want to have to choose!” Onira stood. Onira’s calm face understood what was happening. I don’t know how to compare their worth. It felt like I was dying inside. Hoji shrugged. “I forget sometimes that I’m a monster. They didn’t know much about my corrupted family or about my life before I met them. What right did he have to decide what Katsu was doing was right or wrong? He couldn’t help it. my cap on the floor and my red bandana was in my left hand. Maybe they even knew that I wasn’t the strong one in the group. “Promises are only there to be broken. I had never told them anything too personal about me.” He began crying now. I closed my eyes to the words. “Over there!” Onira yelled. He was supposed to support them and congratulate them when something like this happened. My hair was falling through the cracks. I kept touching the bandana. When did it become like this? “Like I said. They didn’t know about who I was: that I was even a girl. In finality. Why did you idiots have to hit him where it hurts most?” Hoji whacked their heads again before saying. He liked the parks and the public fields. who kept a straight face until Hoji disappeared. dead. Onira slammed his fist on the table. trying to remember anything about Suma that would wave a flag to where he might have run off to. I didn’t want to feel weak. “I don’t know anymore. I’ll never forgive Suma but if I lose Suma. Katsu. in any minute. under every stone and in every tree.” Onira looked down at his hands.” The two of them had been looking everywhere. and not my imagination. “You’re so smart. “I’m just a juvenile delinquent. Katsu’s blubbering finally getting to him. my best friend. but since when did I care about stuff like that? I don’t. dangling in the air. They didn’t know that my mom died in childbirth or that I was abandoned because I was born. he looked really bad. I’m seriously going to beat you both up. “We don’t have to decide. Onira. “He needed time alone. I’m as good as trash: disposable and dirty. I was on top of monkey bars. Where would Suma run off to? It was around noon already.” I thought about my friends. But when I left him. do I? No. but he too couldn’t accept Suma’s childish reaction. Katsu bit his nails as he ran. Katsu could only think how selfish Suma was being. but who was I kidding? Only I could create this fantasy. When I saw Tae-yoo again.” He stood up. Did we betray Suma? What if he doesn’t forgive us? God. “I was right. not moving. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. Instead. not answering Katsu. Hoji had told them that Suma wouldn’t forgive them but they both scoffed. he turned away. He didn’t understand why Suma was making things so difficult. They didn’t care that they were hurting Suma. the next day. That’s a promise. If I lose Tae-yoo. I thought that maybe Suma forgot about it. “It’s not fair! He shouldn’t be able to control our lives so much! We can make our own decisions. It’s Suma who’s deciding right now. sobbing. “But still. shaking Katsu’s shoulder.

“Let me get used to the loneliness. Because. as the leader of the Tigers. I must be cursed. And I succeeded. For once. I can’t help it though! I think-I think that I might even lov-“ I sat up and glared down at him.” I pulled out my headband with the Tiger insignia. It hurts. “I don’t want to see you again. I jumped down from the bars and placed the bandana in my pocket. Don’t waver. That’s my promise to you. “I’m sorry Suma.” Katsu felt tears well up in his eyes.” “What’s going on?” asked Akira. trying to find me. For the first time in fifteen years.” “Alright. You’d know too. He looked up at me. I brushed him off. disregarding the presence of Tomo and his two friends.Katsu saw the Serpents heading their way. I took the little courage I had left and shed tears into the bandana that symbolized everything that I was about to let go of. You’ll feel trapped. I can’t let them back in. Katsuhiro. My eyes were watering. You’d understand if you’d ever been in lo-“ My face went blank. I smiled at the sight. Let’s go guys. If I do. I kept thinking and trying to stop myself from falling into my sorrows. It hurts so much. the glass shattering to the floor. You’ll need something else.” My voice was so empty. and it scared him. “It’s none of your business. as your friend. So. I blinked softly. When Onira’s hand reached for me. I’ve fought so hard. alright. “Let me be by myself. But what did I fight for? For an impossible world? How long will this charade last? How long until I can’t stand anymore from these burdens? So much guilt eats away at me. “Don’t make any excuses for yourself. He couldn’t just let me say that. making me feel like this was a high. Her eyes looked so pained that it hurt to watch. Suma. This is none of your business. My eyes were dark…so dark . “Is this the end of the Tigers?” he thought. whimpering like the babies they were. I lie back in the middle of the empty baseball diamond. Katsu has forsaken me…Onira has disappeared. “Try to understand us.” I cried into the bandana. if you keep coming back for me. The Tigers looked as if they had disbanded or quarreled at least. “Suma! Listen to us!” he cried out. like my white-washed apartment.” Onira whacked the monkey bars. hiding the fist that had formed. because it made him doubt. it’ll just keep hurting more. Is this the end of the Tigers? “Ha. “Go away. “Nothing. “I understand. I smiled down at them but my smile wouldn’t reach my eyes. You would never kill them. He recognized that tone of voice. I can’t let them back in because I’m too scared. I was closing myself off again. Adrenaline was pumped in my blood. I wanted to wake you up and see how glorious life could be. He shoved Yuki back and said. Onira frowned. My heart has already surrendered to the monster. “I understand alright? Our ties are now cut. after Suma had disappeared. But unlike the both of you. Why was Suma making it so difficult? He grabbed my dangling arm. But now. “Suma’s going to forgive us right?” Onira stayed silent because he didn’t know. but there was no response. They were all down on the ground. I won’t hesitate to kill you. I get it. We can’t help but be like this.” They left. I built the Tigers to help you grow up.” Katsu stated bitterly. I continued. I’ll keep it. but you wouldn’t tell them that. he didn’t know what was going through Suma’s mind. He looked worried.” Lies. He didn’t know if Suma would. Even when I try to grasp onto a helping hand. Chapter Thirteen SMASH! The window broke. “What? Are you jealous? Is that why you’re avoiding us like the plague? Why are you being a coward? Can’t you be happy for us?” Onira pulled Katsu back. “All of my life. I end up destroying that hand and then I end up alone again. I’m crying now…and it’s just as I remembered. life…you all will soon feel like the life I gave you won’t be good enough. No matter what I do. The skies were so blue and uninterrupted.” Katsu couldn’t bite back his retort. “What’d you do to him?” Tomo finally asked. my last gift to you all will be freedom. Just let them believe you. I’ve been so alone.

but he just said. “I’ll tell you there. walking over to me with an uncertain smile. disappearing from the gruesome scene.” His brows furrowed at my attitude.Damn Onira. I tightened the bandana on my head with care. “Yah…. “Don’t order me around. feeling drops of dark blood falling to the ground. worried. My face was aloof. …. right?” I didn’t say anything. but I continued to walk. his voice muttering. almost desperate. In the corner of my blurry vision. almost a week now.with menacing happiness.Suma. I jumped through.” He was going to meet them there and plan out a search for Suma. only to receive no response. I know it’s you. I cringed. He asked Onira if Suma had said anything about work again. Hoji shook his head. but it was impossible.” Kazuya eyed him strangely and sat down. “Hoji…. the dirt on my clothes. Kazuya asked everyone to meet him at the Pile Café. Just stay away from me. Kazuya turned to Katsu. “Suma??? I thought it was you. “Goddamnit. I squeezed my hands. I reached the brick wall then turned around. My eyes were blazing…. They asked him why. Lucky me. Hoji?” he asked. “Come back with me Suma. my arms cut.” he whispered hoarsely. My hands picked up a stray can and threw it into the garbage bin beside Kazuya.I don’t need anyone else. Kazuya’s POV Kazuya looked at the empty desk. Since when was it ever safe? Why are you being like this????” His hands were moving around. frustrated. I poked at the window and making sure most of the glass protruding was bearable. I can do this. pretending no one was behind me. After school. my red cap faced forward on my quaint head. their leader missing once again. Haha….” I glared. “Kazuya. onto the street. There was a cloud of gloom hanging over the Tigers. his face sad. I had to find the next gang.” His eyes processed my bloody hands. My short hair was put up in the back with a small black elastic band I had found on the floor. What was up with everybody? “What’s wrong. My face was bruised.blazing with adrenaline. Quit hiding. This was already the fourth gang this week that I had taken down. leaving a sanguinary trail. Hoji? He looked at his friend. Don’t follow me. “Kazuya! Come out. but Hoji only closed his eyes. not wanting to put more stress on my busted knuckles. a question on his face. It was like I wasn’t feeling any pain.he was so mad…Was this because of something Onira or Katsu did? What’s going on?” . and my legs were sore from kicking so many faces. Damn Katsu…. Kazuya sighed. he attacked my request. I spotted a tall figure trailing me. but Onira shook his head. but I was oblivious to it. Someone was behind me. my knuckles split after meeting a fat jaw earlier that day. realizing I shouldn’t have done that with the condition of my hands but I didn’t miss. Suma’s POV I walked casually down the promenade with my hands in my pockets. deciding to plan a search party. I was just going to round up the guys to look for you. I can do this on my own. I kept rubbing the bandages on my hands. okay? It’s not safe. I was wearing a loose black t-shirt with a jean jacket over it. The dead end alley I was in was narrowing.” He stood from his crouch in the doorway. “I’m not. Stupid…. alone. Instead of asking me about my injuries. trying to get a hold of the whole situation.

like he didn’t know how to deal with anything anymore. “Suma…. Hoji eyed him strangely.I trusted them. that he was no longer associated with the Tigers. how horrible he sounds. because they had already gone through this. “I saw him on the way here. “He left early. glared a Katsu. but did that stop you? No! …There was only one rule…one promise. You’ll believe that.” Kazuya began.” he said.I trusted them and they betrayed me…. He . He had his reasons for reacting the way he did…Can you believe that you used to actually respect that? It’s your own fault. He asked where Onira had gone. out at the gentle meander of pedestrian traffic. crawled off fixing my cap. still a Tiger.” I saw Kazuya’s lips. okay? …My voice… “Those traitors are nothing now. At least. Suma was like a drug—you don’t realize you’re addicted until it’s gone.he’s kind of unstable right now. As soon as he regrouped his thoughts.I can do all of this on my own. but was cut off by Katsuhiro. the way they trembled as he punched the wall. “Never speak those names to me!!!” I was trembling…. Now it’s impossible. He felt more secure because of that. From his full cup of latte.How is he?” Katsu asked. Each time he spoke. If he saw you…or Onira. trembling. Kazuya looked uncomfortable. but he suspected that Suma would act like he did.My eyes blazed. Katsu—how could you?” Katsu didn’t respond. and with reason.Just go away. who had been silent. He was still a Tiger. “What had Onira or Katsu done that was so bad? Why—” PUNCH! “—won’t you—” PUNCH! “— tell me—” PUNCH! “—anything…” He dropped his fist. Kazuya had hope. watching Suma walk away in dignity. Can one week change someone so much? What the hell happened? He’s worse that I thought he’d be. God. it would have meant that he no longer cared. Katsu! You’re the one who lied to him… You’re the one who betrayed his trust! You knew it would hurt him. “I know. but he was thinking the same thing. anything. He was unfazed. “Katsuhiro Oh. beneath all of that anger. But now…I can’t. What else was there to talk about? He had been missing for a week.” he said sedately. but now.” “…. Kazuya looked up at me. He snuck off with Taeyoo so many times.” “What’s up. He fell in love knowing that Suma would never forgive him because at the moment. my hand slapping the wall. He ruffled his hair and looked outside of the café window glass.” He peered over at Katsu. “Where?” Kazuya smiled. he’d probably lose the little control he has left. Kazuya’s POV He smiled sadly. whose expression had been inscrutable. You know that Suma isn’t petty. because it was strange to see the gang like this: so talkative yet so broken apart.” Kazuya nodded. “I didn’t trust anyone? I trusted those bastards…. Suma doesn’t want to see me. “Kazuya…. knowing full well what would happen if Suma found out. He really did. he punched in frustration at how I was being so narrow-minded. His bandana…his cap was still there. of course. walking back to the Pile Café where the other three were supposed to have been waiting. He wanted to tell Suma.” I turned my face away from him. still left in the dark. but it seemed like a lifetime. If he hadn’t been wearing it. but the two of them only exchanged knowing glances. “What did you two do anyways? What did you do that was so bad?” Katsu raked back his always-perfect hair and growled in a low voice of frustration. especially concerning Suma Tanabi.” Because you’ll never understand.” Right. Hoji. He hadn’t seen the guy for a week. “He’s always been so calm that it’s hard to see him…to see how horrible he looks. He knew that what Hoji had said was true. right?—I just don’t want you to appear in front of me anymore…. but he never actually believed that Suma would find out. Suma really wasn’t abandoning them. It was only Hoji and Katsu. any kind of response from me. he felt as if he could go through hell and back unscathed with Tae-yoo at his side. don’t you realize—no one can help a monster! No one can help. “Why do you keep saying that? What did they do?” “Just shut up…. his feet turned around. not bothering to say anything but. “Suma. “How come you don’t trust anyone? How come you won’t let anyone help you?” he murmured. I shoved him to the ground. the loose bandana covering my bangs. you know?” He didn’t understand. not yet. Shut up. Kazuya? Why ask everyone to come here?” Katsu asked. “No kidding. “Katsu. They betrayed me. “I can’t—I just can’t pretend I’m not in love! He just doesn’t understand! Why the hell won’t Suma just listen to me?” His mood seemed disheveled. “He’s not there anymore.Just don’t say anymore. Hoji immediately grabbed hold of Kazuya’s shoulder. Katsu. you know?” He sighed. No one—Kazuya. so difficult. demanding something.

sitting across from me. What the hell is with my luck? What the hell? “Can you reach anything?” I asked him. I’m serious! I really did meet with someone. Yeah right.they had broken the one rule behind the Tigers. Even after all this time. keeling over. “Don’t worry. Yup. “What the hell are you doing here? Where are the rest of your stupid friends?” Akira hopped up onto the stairwell and clambered up the rickety steps. it’d solve nothing.” Akira chuckled. pointing to a constellation. “You won’t tell anyone right?” “About you being here? No reason to. Then Akira pulled out his phone and turned it on. and he had thought that it would be enough. I’ve come here ever since I was a kid. tripping on the ledge. Yuki sat across from him. swearing when I saw Akira’s pondering face. Kazuya looking remorseful. I met up with someone I knew and I don’t know what happened. They were both worried about Akira. He smiled at the cute girl attempting an Utada Hikaru hit. “Hey! Wait up!” Akira hollered. He clumsily ran after me. My eyes widened and quickly. Akira was still there. It was so peaceful. After a couple of hours in silence I asked. They were sitting in the sand on a deserted playground. “It’s so beautiful. My eyes saw that the jacket he had worn earlier was on me so I peeled it off and covered up the stupid boy. Uh huh. I’m not here to kill myself. “Thank you. but right now. No! No. He felt invincible just being with Tae-yoo. I mumbled something incoherently to myself but Akira didn’t push me about it.didn’t need Suma to watch out for him anymore. He must have followed me. The strobe lights swirled in patches.” I turned to him. It was my turn to chuckle.” Onira whispered. the building is ugly as hell but the view-it’s good for me.” He agreed. I’ll remember to tell you next time.” I closed my eyes and snuggled into the wall. it is. Both Onira and Katsu…. Sorry I didn’t call. “Sure--that and committing suicide?” He said those last two words as if asking a question. Sure.” Akira shrugged. right off the building. my eyes boring lazily into his own. even if the rule didn’t change. Akira had awoken. “Yeah. I felt warm eyes on me. so quiet. He was barraged by a flurry of rings shrieking into the crisp clear air of morning. Tomo’s friend. smoking a cigarette. When he got to the rooftop. Onira held Trace in his arms. See ya. losing himself to the blissful moment. I wish I could stay here forever. my face molded in a tired. his chin resting on her right shoulder. “Yeah. not saying anything.” He grinned at me as he hung up. A jacket encompassed me. an almost-empty beer bottle in his left hand. with my reflexes. I glanced over at Akira stoically. He understood now. Did I freak you out? Sorry. The moment was beautiful. so softly that I barely caught it. smiling. He took her right hand in his own and pointed into the distant sky. looking up into the stars together. almost ignoring his presence. I tried to grip onto him tighter. Sitting idly in the karaoke booth was Tomo. He opened it and spoke as he looked at me. My gaze drifted across the vast expanse of run down urban streets and buildings with broken windows. “Tomo? Oh! I’m sorry!” He slapped his forehead. finally understanding the messy situation. who had been sitting down. they wouldn’t be able to stay in the gang. Suma’ POV I spat down at Akira from five stories. I was staring lifelessly out at the blinking city lights. Suma had told all of them that if they had girlfriends. falling across me some time during the night. Did he want me to say anything? I shrugged and began walking back down the creaky stairwell. it’s not a girl this time. Conversation ended. isn’t it?” Trace nodded. “Is this where you come?” he asked. I’ve thought about it before. bringing out a euphoric atmosphere but Yuki and Tomo were not in any state of euphoria. except that he only wore his thin t-shirt. and when I awoke. the rules didn’t change. “Good. he stepped over the tiny brick ledge and walked over towards me. But…he was wrong. . He was late. “I completely forgot. “Look. much too old mask for my age.” Akira looked relieved. “Akira!” I yelled. But the gang members changed. I grabbed hold of his arm. “Why’d you follow me?” He only smiled at me.

I fell from my spot on the platform but managed to grasp at the next floor’s railing. “I’ve been living in these parts for a long time. world news. The reporter finally caught her breath and asked what had happened. One of the residents explained to her. and even though he was so tired. “Don’t let go!” I pleaded. just sitting down with their hands held together. which made Trace really want to meet Suma. the camera swooping up and down. deciding to catch up on the weather.” he whispered. so why the hell was all of this happening? No. Concern was etched deeply in his usually collected face as he panted. relaxing into the soft cotton padding. It was a miracle that the ambulance could even squeeze in as close as it did with the debris. “Is Suma okay? Will he be alright?” Kazuya spoke up after looking around at the others. but Onira wasn’t even on good terms with Suma now. he had the urge to just get right up and see her again. causing the both of us to fall to certain death. the stubby cameraman following dumbly behind. “How did the two kids look like? Have their family members been contacted?” the reporter asked. whose face had gone gaunt. the panic beginning to spread across his face. sideways. The railing creaked. She was hoping desperately to get more out of the old man than empty words. his hands leaving slightly oily imprints on the glass panes. Akira. We were five stories up with no one to watch their deaths. My hands…No. This story was supposed to make up for the other ones that fell through. “This morning….he was with Akira-” Onira had a question in his eyes—Was Akira responsible?—but Kazuya only shrugged. Six o’clock news was on. “Live coverage!” The reporter was running down the streets..“No.” Onira dropped the remote. What the hell was he talking about? “We won’t die you idiot!” I slowly began to pull him upwards but suddenly. he sat back up and walked over to his television set. The ambulances had driven away already. just watching the stars comfortably. Sweat trickled down my arm. Chapter Fourteen Onira’s POV Swish! Onira threw his jacket onto the dresser. Akira was a good guy who needed to live. I heard a foreboding CRREEEEAAKKKKK!!!! The stairwell broke off again. talking for the whole night. The receding noise of ambulance sirens in his head thundered louder and louder as he bolted. Onira pressed channel 8. looking for something even though he could barely move. His hand kept on struggling to find something. trying to catch his breath. solemnly waiting. skewing towards the ground. Paramedics pushed two bodies with masks covering their faces into the backs of the ambulances. He ran through the swinging glass doors.” “No!” “Let go! It’s better if one of us dies than both of us!” I clenched my teeth. …I hope they both do okay. later going to a coffee shop. Ah! It was a red hat. he didn’t do anything wrong. “And for years these railings have been as worthless as toothpicks. I had one hand holding onto the rickety handrail while the other pulled desperately onto Akira’s slipping arm. said resignedly. Damn it!!! My hand lost hold on the railing. I don’t know what those two kids were doing up there but when I found the both of them. sweaty hands. the railing slowly pulled away from the brick wall. easing the little grip between us. He was crawling around.” . I gripped tightly onto the dangling Akira. giving the audience scraps of the surrounding and the sound of pounding feet. “All I could remember was that one of them had a red bandana on. He had just dropped off Trace. but right before his lids could get a chance to close. like he usually did. The old man shrugged. He was exhausted and was about to just doze off into sleep. begging for mercy on Akira’s life.” he said. mostly about Suma. falling backwards onto his bed. My hold on Akira was so thin: we were both connected only by our tired. The ambulance was in view of the camera scope. blazing stripes running across the stream. They had stayed up all night beside one another. pulling on the rusty nails barely holding it in place. “I don’t know what happened exactly okay? Yah…Onira. stumbling.he was so hurt…. She shoved the microphone in his face. “Let go of me Suma. I shouldn’t have let Suma walk away like I did…. the clash of plastic diving to the floor.” The camera zoomed in on the shattered stair railing lying in heaps around them. running with a frantic speed towards Mercy’s Hospital. The other Tigers were there already. I called right away for an ambulance. unable to answer. Onira pelted them with questions. at the rusted metal that had crashed to smithereens. saying. no one else would speak.

to keep him company when he got lonely. She glanced up. “Blink twice if you can. he was with Suma Tanabi!” “Wogatta…. her beloved velvet teddy bear in her arms. just waiting for a uniformed person to stroll up to them with good news. a fractured arm. Face to face so wake up soon. she kneeled to retrieve the board and then slowly approached me. He jumped from his seat and rushed to her. but how could I ignore it? Argh!!! Damnit! This is so stupid! He’s in ICU alreadyThe docs won’t let us see him we’re not family. A female nurse walked in.” What? My eyes went alert—a questioning look in my eyes but the young nurse did not catch that question. I tried to speak but found myself unable to.” Yuki nodded. didn’t even breathe—and if he did. The four of them left the white-washed room once their ten minutes were up. Was Akira okay? Onira saw the nurse first. alright? Don’t lose your cool. He didn’t want her to get troubled by unnecessary distractions. all casting a worried look back at the frail body. “That’s bull! He’s…he’s like a brother to us!” Tomo looked over at the Tigers—he too had been sitting there. the breaths were harsh and short even though an oxygen mask was wrapped around my face. even my stupid teeth. a busted leg. covering up my partially bruised self. He made a face at her leg dangling in the air. Before leaving. stupid Suma looked pretty bad…he tried to hide it from me. I don’t even mind pond water. still dressed in her dirty work clothes. She walked up closer to the bed and placed the bear beneath the sheets with Akira. Carefully. Four broken ribs. I don’t know what happened but Akira--he has to get better…He’ll be okay. “Is he okay? How is he? Did he wake up?” . the bandages covering everything. ne?” He left the room. an onslaught of questions bursting from his mouth. She was unconscious as her suited father stared down at her. And those poor boys—they looked so worried…They should know how you’re doing. was sobered up for once as he looked mournfully down at his dying son. but was met with silence. carrying a clipboard. This was only the beginning. The nurse smiled. “Soon. I tried to move my arm but noted disdainfully that it was tied and wrapped up in a clean cast. bruised muscles and a severe concussion.” Onira groaned in frustration. it was barely visible. who was normally drunk. Yuki held his head in his palms. Large purple pock-marked bruises were on the little skin of arm that was exposed. muffling his tears with a stained fuzzy blanket in his tiny fist. His worn out mother sat at the side of his bed. I blinked slowly.” I felt my lids open and close twice in response to the nurse’s request. When I breathed. The room was cool in comparison to the warming day and it felt like every bone in my damn body was broken. Everything was spinning out of control. “I’ll contact your doctor immediately. white room. He looked up at Tomo. sucking me under. I opened my crusted eyes and felt nausea overcome me in waves. “He told you that he met up with someone right? Does—what are we supposed to think? It’s Suma! Of all people. reminding the nurse that no one but the staff was allowed to see his daughter. he whispered. deliberately. broken. He was only three but he could sense the pain that Akira was experiencing. His father. She smiled awkwardly as her eyes filled with tears. Akira’s kid brother pulled on the thin bed sheet. I yearned for a dose of water—hell. These were serious injuries. Akira didn’t move. dropping the clipboard. The doctor had only permitted him to see his daughter for a few minutes and so he did. weren’t they? My hand—my hand ached dully. She thought she understood. My mouth felt dry. cursing himself. Weakly.I know. His fifth grade sister was sobbing softly. you would almost just assume that he was dead. I could barely move my fingers. My skull was fractured. I looked up at the cold whitewashed ceiling and wondered what the hell had happened.“What?” What was Kazuya talking about? “When I saw him yesterday. a tiny smile breaking across her young face. “Can you hear me?” she asked. but she didn’t like it. on Akira’s arm. the top of my head bandaged heavily. trying to put my distorted world into some kind of order. I’ll see you soon Suma. the doctor later told me. I didn’t know why I was incarcerated in this sterile. He watched her barely recognizable face. Suma’s POV I felt a roll of coughs wrack my body.

She shooed everyone away from me.The nurse. He looked overjoyed to see that I was alive but there was confusion and anger on his face.Suma…Why were you so adamant about us not dating girls? What the hell is wrong with you? Were you—were you just being possessive?” He chuckled resentfully. I let someone die again. Katsu reluctantly let go of my hand after a full minute. He looked upon my broken form.” Hoji’s hand was trembling. Hoji slumped. His eyes were like that of a deer standing before headlights in the middle of the road. I could feel Onira dissecting me…casting a forlorn glance back at my withering form. trying to remember what had happened. because I told you I’d stay by you for as long as you wanted. Tomo and Yuki looked at one another first. watching my fragility in a trembling anguish. “I’m not mad at you Suma. I thought you might want to know. I almost thought he would jump on me. Their eyes were wide—unsure if they heard the nurse right. .. then at the Tigers.” Seeing their confused faces. Kazuya was last. Rest. Tanabi. she continued. I had failed. strength. my tired eyes wouldn’t leave the hazy white ceiling. shake me to death with questions but he only threw me the same look he always gave me: reassurance. Katsu was so mixed up in his emotions. “I’m just hoping you get well. thinking they were quiet from relief. See you soon.” He shut the door. Maybe you can go home now. shook her head. I felt tears forming.” he thought. a lump forming in his throat. “The young lady—I believe her name was Suma. still disbelieving to the entire situation. He looked so sad because of all of the mass confusion surrounding him. His eyes were glazed over. a stream of confusion running through his mind. who assumed that Onira was speaking of Akira. Just go home. Kazuya set his candy bar down and ran a troubled hand nervously through his messy hair. I shut my eyes painfully.. Okay?” he asked monotonously. Suma’s POV The door was whacked aside. I had been holding onto Akira. he didn’t want to even think about it. overwhelmed and dazed. not being able to say anything. But then…everything started crashing down. leaving me alone. Hoji and Kazuya. He didn’t get it. didn’t I? Akira had to be okay. The nurse burst into the room along with Onira. His eyes glistened as he felt the pangs of guilt overcome him like a storm upon an island. as if he were accepting this revelation with unnerving calm. Katsu??? He was face to face with me. He smiled maliciously with a strange anger at my bandaged hands. She has just woken up. Katsu broke the silence with a shuffle of feet as he ran towards Suma’s room at light speed. but sadly. I closed my eyes…Damn. Onira’s head drooped. No matter what. “Do you want her to go into shock?” she reprimanded them all.Especially when you’re one too?” He took my bandaged hand roughly in his own as I closed my eyes painfully. more than anything. Suma… The nursed seemed troubled but she continued. So. “Suma…Why couldn’t you just trust me? What was so bad that made you hate girls?. Crap. Katsuhiro tried to keep his gaze on the ground so no one could see the sea of emotions hovering in him. So what if I’m a girl??? Damn it! Their silence gnawed at me… Kazuya looked over to Katsu and directed to him to leave so he shoved his way through the crowd assembled at the doorway. a dark cloud forming over them. he was spiteful. Katsu…I’ve never seen such a twisted look on your face. “Get better Suma. “She’ll be okay. but despite my efforts to look at him in the eye. Onira’s face had gone ashen. He was just trying to be nice to me….I didn’t want him to get hurt. so bitterly spiteful… “Yah…. Why the hell did he fall too? Tomo’s POV Tomo sat with a layer of anxiety caked on his every movement and thought. resigned.

Tomo thought back to that day between the Tigers. wiping the bead of sweat rolling down his temple and with his long arms.” Onira breathed. He wanted to talk to his father. There was so much pain in them that it frightened all who had been present. Until recently that is. He was trying to defend himself. His mind was going to burst from frustration. defend Tae-Yoo. so positive that if there was one person on earth that he could trust with his life. Suma was like family to him. towards the exit door. He felt so--so angry? Why was Suma so close-minded? When he had found out about Suma’s dislike for the other half. She didn’t care. He was so sure. disgusted really. He knew that everything would be okay as long at Tae-Yoo never met Suma. “It’s none of your business. Tomo. Onira felt like a fool. alright.” She jumped to the ground.” Tomo shrugged nonchalantly. “I understand. . Onira gazed upwards. Everyone noted the long period that Suma had disappeared. “Suma!” he cried out. Suma? Hoji’s POV Hoji’s faith had crumbled. trying to meet the unnerving calm on Suma’s face. walking on different paths. It hurt a lot. missing from his world and then. he still kind of felt that way but it was hard to accept. He was going to go crazy. Onira’s POV Onira couldn’t bear it. Quietly she said. Let’s go guys. It was only out of respect for their friendship that he didn’t do what Katsu had done—he didn’t want to lose their friendship. I won’t hesitate to kill you.” Katsu’s POV Katsuhiro looked over at Onira as they both walked down the hallway. We can’t help but be like this. Suma sat silently on the top of the monkey bars. I get it. “Suma. “Try to understand us. He lugged the dusty boxes away. A girl! All of this time…Three years now. Hoji opened his closet. making sure to avoid the experimental whoopee cushions he had left scattered about the room. She blinked softly. What were you thinking. Onira gave him a dark frown. “I understand now that our ties are now cut. he reached way into the back corner of his closet. They split ways after leaving the hospital.” she said. Onira corrected himself. “What? Are you jealous? Is that why you’re avoiding us like the plague?” Onira put his hand on the shoulder of the red-faced Katsu. Akira and Yuki had just quarreled with Katsu over something frivolous. “What’d you do to him?” Tomo asked Onira. He had noted that Suma had never had a girlfriend just as none of Suma’s fellow gang members hadn’t. Now. It was right after the confrontation between Suma. He pulled out his shoebox of letters. Onira recognized that tone. he had felt the same way. She was throwing herself into her grave. hiding the fists that had formed. He felt like his arm had been cut off. but the dead tone of her voice spoke volumes about how much she cared how they felt. She smiled but the curve of her lips never reached to her eyes. the reflections of clouds glazing over her eyes. “Don’t make any excuses. I can’t help it though! I think-I think that I might even lov-” Suma’s façade quickly crumbled as her eyes turned fierce. He opened his wallet as he sat on the stairwell. to speak to him and beg for advice. Katsu and Onira.” Her voice was severely empty. Suma was closing herself off again. when Tae-Yoo had returned. They were yellow with age and smelled of musty chocolate. never showed any signs of being a girl. old picture of himself and his father. “I don’t want to see you again. This was the first time Katsu had gotten caught on the wrong side of Suma’s anger and it hurt. he was grateful that his best friend Tae-Yoo had not been there. She looked so carefree but beneath that placid façade she was withering away. Katsu began first. He---no--she. It was an overwhelming force that seemed to have no end to it. If I do. then that person was undoubtedly Suma. But it took so much of his willpower to not bombard Suma with the questions he wanted answered. You’d know too-you’d understand if you’d ever been in lo-” Suma’s face of anger transformed into a distant mask of aloofness. his arms crossed at his chest. slowly but surely. It was then that Tomo came forward. she was so aloof. Even though he hadn’t bolted like Katsu. That’s a promise. She put her hands into her pockets. he thought it’d be best. Suma trailed her eyes across the skies. brushing off Onira’s hand from her shoulder.When Suma had first seen Tomo with his own girlfriend. “I’m sorry Suma. Because Suma was so narrow-minded. Katsu couldn’t just tell Suma. She shielded her eyes from the sun as the clouds passed while Onira and Katsu both tried to reason with her unwavering form. Suma…a girl?! He couldn’t fathom it.” Katsu blazed at Suma. without feeling of any kind. holding in his hands a picture--an old. He admired Suma and all. “Alright.

” She sighed. From now on. Right?” “Why do you care? What if I did?” Hoji asked. It’s your first step to becoming a man. Join the crowd. Okay?” She had a bemused expression on her face as she signaled her hands into an okay sign. “Ooh. Suma had short cropped hair in those days but her eyes were still the same piercing green. She had a funeral black umbrella in his right hand. But those clumsy fools weren’t what caught his eye. “Are you crying? Just to let you know—I don’t like people who cry. I don’t want you to cry. he felt a kind of calm rush through him: as if the world was finally answering his prayers.He smiled bitter sweetly. He liked it. “You got a girlfriend?” she asked. trying to hide his face. “What’s wrong with you? Why are you so stiff?” Hoji shrugged and attempted to ignore Suma’s persistence. Hoji fixed his tie leisurely and watched amusedly as his fellow peers slipped on the greasy walkways. my friend. Smartypants? Answer me…. Don’t give it back to me. . “What?” Suma asked. “Don’t what?” “I—don’t—have—a stupid girlfriend. “You look good. I will personally rid the world of gangs. a hint of laughter in them. “Damn man. are going to help me. I don’t. Suma sighed.Oh no. he had been an over studious maniacal genius.” She looked completely serious and genuine. “Hey. It’s way more fun than being a brain. Okay. That smile. Strapped on his—no—her bag was a heavily pocketed backpack and on her head was a cap. Suma had given him her hat in exchange for a change in his attitude. “I’ll sit by this guy because he seems like he knows all the answers. Hold on a minute. And you. A reaction. Suma smiled cheekily. He used to spend his weekends studying and in his leisure time he watched educational programs.” “Good. I’m your leader from now on okay?” Suma enlightened him. “Let me guess. I don’t accept gifts. Don’t tell me I killed him with kindness. messing up his neat uniform. It was so genuine and pure—so infectious. okay? Here. She then looked strangely at Hoji’s calm composure and began poking him. a hint of mockery and charisma. I’ll call you Smartass. all these teachers are pricks aren’t they? Why do they care how I dress? As long as I don’t walk into school in my underwear it should be okay right?” She nodded to herself triumphantly. Show me your gritty side—your ‘I’m gonna kick your ass’ side. If you’re gonna be in my gang. “It’s yours. When Hoji had first met Suma four years ago. “Why would I want to follow you?” he asked skeptically. “I know you’re hiding something Smartass. lose that crappy attitude of yours. Call me Suma. got it?” She took the hat from him and slammed it over his well-groomed hair and smiled widely.” Hoji looked down. irritated. all right?” Without a reply.” he said vehemently. Suma smirked at the crowd and scoffed at the teacher that suggested that Suma change into suitable attire. “I don’t want it. NOOOOOOOOOO. It was the cap that Hoji remembered with a kind of nostalgia. Instead. Smartass. Hey—I like that. not just about books. smiling. “What? Never had a friend before? Come on.” Suma’s eyes narrowed. The rain was pattering softly. I don’t. she walked straight towards him and said. That day.” “Fine. She didn’t. which had been sprinkled with a dust of water. early like usual and helped put all of the chairs onto the floor and then went to the window to gaze down at the lush courtyard. Suma slumped into the chair beside Hoji and whispered not too discreetly. Flashback He had arrived at school. Hoji didn’t answer.” Hoji’s face turned into a frown. But first off.” Suma pulled off her hat. Helloooooo. Life is about living. His clothes. But what shocked him more were Suma’s eyes. what are we learning right now?” Hoji glanced at Suma’s friendliness with wary. Keep it. had already dried. when Suma walked into his classroom. “Yours. He remembered acutely all that had occurred on that fateful day. It was the casually dressed teenage boy—no—girl in their midst. “Because I’m number one.

Was my own father…threatening me? He continued. He had clear. I blinked.” I couldn’t find any words to say. This man…this thing…was my father. I’ll do anything for you. I have wasted far too much time watching you make mistakes. His eyes narrowed. “No more getups of this kind. You never know when there might be an accident. Your mother would have highly disapproved. We will be transferring you to the hospital over there. flawless skin. then he had no right to stop her. “It’s okay. Their deep brown coloring should have been warm. End Flashback Suma Tanabi was honest—is honest. I felt myself collapse. His eyes…they were so cold. I am a man. He noticed me wake up.” What? My blood ran cold. He looked up at Suma. Suma. What the hell am I suppose to say? “Everything is ready for you in Nagasaki. If you want a friend.Don’t go near them. But I had something my father didn’t possess any longer. I will destroy them one by one. I am a changed man because of you Suma. If that’s what she truly wanted. I could be stuck in some prep school trying to conquer the world. Joining gangs and running wild like some kind of animal. but the coldness in his brown eyes seemed to swallow me whole. not wanting to give up the memories that Suma had given him. I had inherited his fine structure. I was tall and lean. It’s better than the dump you call a home anyways. “What is wrong with you? No daughter of mine shall masquerade as something she is not. She was the first one who taught him how to set up a practical joke. “Eh. monstrous crimes. Even though I had committed heinous. I will find time to destroy those boys that you call friends. He couldn’t have been more than forty. I’ll do anything Suma. You can no longer contact any of your former companions. I will always be your friend.” was all he said. I have explained to everyone that you are my daughter from a former marriage who I have recently found. “If you disobey me in any way. with porcelain skin and alluring green eyes. not sure if I was seeing correctly. he knew he wouldn’t stop her. There were so many possibilities. He recalled the ridiculously meticulous lessons that they went through. “I have eyes and ears in all places. Haha…I remember he said that in the past. “From now on. My eyes. If you didn’t rescue me. I don’t care. I love this life that you breathed into me.” Hoji thought finally. “I don’t care if you lied. a stranger was at my side.” I glared at him. Suma showed Hoji the way. But even honest people lie. “You have your mother’s eyes.” I looked stricken. there’s no way I can ever repay you. The structure that allowed me to masquerade as I had done. There was something vaguely familiar about the man. I have friends in very high places who would see to it that there be no problems.” No…Don’t touch them…. lines of gray sprouting at his roots. Even…If you want me to forget you…I’ll try even though it’s impossible. My father spoke again. Yakuza? Don’t make fun of me. In the suburbs of Nagasaki. He looked down on me with contemptuous eyes. I know now that what makes me happy is this simple life that can get so complicated that I can’t even untie the knots anymore. But because of you. I had inherited so much from this man.” He didn’t want Suma to run away but after everything that happened. I could barely look him in the eyes. “You could almost be good enough for the Yakuza. He was fairly tall with aged black hair. I still seemed untouched by the world’s perversions—something that bastard could never understand. If you do…there will be dire consequences. finger by finger. I won’t lose you now. Anything.Hoji was grinning broadly. you will live with me. what matters is what you ended up doing to me.it was uncanny. and looked as if they had been once. dark eyebrows. It would be much easier that way. If you want forgiveness. his eyes glittering. I live far from here. I had inherited the unearthly glow and the thick. because in the end. Even an idiot like me could see it. He began chuckling and went on to a full blown laugh while Suma looked on. I’ll give you forgiveness. He handled the cap in his hands carefully. because my dear. Suma’s POV When I awoke. a gentle smile on her face. I know that I won’t be happy doing that.” He smirked. Even if you lied about every single thing you told me. I had inherited the finely carved structure of his jaws and cheekbones. What’s so funny?” Ever since then.” . I love this life that you gave me.. I think you’ll like it. The resemblance…. I don’t really care. but could have passed easily as thirty.

causing nurses to rush into the room. I feel like crap. tearing at the floor. “Please. When the nurses came. I would ignore their questions and pretend like they weren’t there and when the doctors came. Hoji.” I stared long at the ceiling. over to Tomo and Yuki. They were so cold. Don’t die. he stood up suddenly and began running after the doctors. The doctor walked passed him. I’m ready. isn’t it?” Shut up. the large bills visible. Katsu. “Why did it have to be Akira? He never did anything wrong. People will be so much sadder with him gone…..” Tomo looked so pitiful that it was painful to hear his words. “I’m sorry. his hands placed over his ears as he began sobbing hysterically. Immediately. I began to convulse.” Kazuya felt something cold clasp his heart—he didn’t want Suma to disappear.” Suma’s POV Why not? Why shouldn’t I die? I’m the worst. Kazuya had never seen someone in so much…pain. I breathed once more and closed my eyes. No matter what. The door opened again. The only crime he committed was being my friend. Onira. “You’ll have to fight on your own now.. “It’s beautiful outside today. A doctor came out. The monitor went flat. worry on his face. What was going on? Why weren’t they helping Akira? He wasn’t okay. he whispered. No one will miss me. It was as if his heart was deflated. Sure god. I felt myself smile. Why the hell am I still alive? . People need him more than me. Yuki restrained him once more as Tomo screamed in agony. What was he doing here? He smiled sadly. I have no one left. When he saw the bodies being rushed to the ER. Tomo had crumpled to the floor. It was probably another nurse. “Save him! No matter what—just save him! I’ll give you all the money you need! I don’t care! I just want him back!” he yelled at the doctor as Yuki tried to restrain him. My smile disappeared when I saw the blood dripping off his shirt. Please remain in the waiting room.. “What’s going on?” One of the nurses looked at him and said. “Sir. I noted that my room was different. I could see Akira’s shadow as the medical staff rushed in but all I could do was cry. Kazuya rushed towards him. Not ICU. Save him.” He collapsed to the floor and bowed deeply. You’re too precious to have that choice Suma. “Akira! You’re okay!” I thought. tears spilling out. “Suma. relieved.My father returned to me only to threaten the lives of the four people I had fought so hard to meticulously protect. as if he could read my thoughts. Kazuya felt something snap inside of him. It seemed as if their high school life had just been dropped from the sky with no parachute to help it stay on its feet. whatever that is. Kazuya. Why don’t you punish me God? Why the hell did you have to be so cruel? Akira…People in this world love him more. even though he knew he wouldn’t be able to see Suma. drained and hurt. “Suma?” My eyes flashed open. The nurse came in—she couldn’t look me in the eye. He kept shaking his head. instead. What the hell? Akira wouldn’t speak. I acted unresponsive. No matter what. I could feel wet splotches drip onto my blanket. “Suma?” he whispered tentatively. I’ll come to heaven. He shook his head sadly. I closed my eyes and feigned sleep. “What’s going on? I thought Suma was fine? Doctor?” He grabbed the doctor by the cuffs but the doctor only shrugged him off. He just kept shaking his head and in a sudden. never choose death over life. Chapter Fifteen I woke up today.” I thought. “Onegaishimasu! Save him!” Both bodies had been rushed to the Emergency rooms. swift movement. I felt hands on my arm. he pushed me back onto the bed. “What’s going on!” Tomo yelled. In a pathetic voice. she went to my window blinds and pulled them up. telling me. Sh*t. Everyone else was too strained to stay. right? He wasn’t okay! “Go help him! Somebody!” I wanted to scream…. Kazuya had been the only one to stay behind. My one arm grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him.He was right there!!! Why wasn’t anybody helping him??.. at his eyes. I’m ready Okaa-san. He threw his wallet at the doctor’s foot.

Try it again and you’ll find out what the consequences are. “AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Akira…. tapping. Slow down. He’s gone. He backed away. My heartbeat slowed down…back to normal. caressing my face. What the hell? One of my hands covered my chest. causing it to flash. his fingers gliding up the metal railing that framed my bed. voice. his stance was saying. One.”. My throat. pressing a button. now that my voice is back? He spoke first. He’s gone. those simple words. Off. On. asking what was wrong. disapproval on his face. I lay in my bed…it was like the old days now that I think about it. They penetrated me. Lights flashed. Which should I call him.hate you so much.…. The door opened. Damn you. Otou-san…. . Speak! Nothing. tapping. B*tch. Off. “Good morning. so I shut up. Thirty.” were his words. Stoic doctors. “Do it again and I’ll kill you.” He looked taken aback for a moment at my sudden attitude. My heart beat. telling me. Understand? I’m just as excited as you are Suma…to be happy. because he said something else. Otou-san. “Never disrespect me. Closer to home. okay Suma?” He came towards me. unhappy people passing by every minute just wondering if they would live or if their loved one would make it. He’s gone. Two. Besides telling me not to disrespect me. Akira stood in front of me. Screams. his face decayed. What’s wrong? What’s wrong? Akira…. My heart…my heart’s beating out of control. Slow down. What did he say? Take care of Tomo? Sh*t. The doctor came rushing in.” Happy? F*ck you.Akira? I remembered how he looked at me right before I passed out…he was so bloody. only to get a confused look from my nurse. “Take care of Tomo.Akira? Akira!!!! What the hell? I screamed and screamed and screamed.. On.Akira…you don’t have to say anything. frowning. Bastard. I hate you…. I wanted to ask the nurse—beg her to tell me where Akira was. Father. blood gashed everywhere across his body. The plastic mask on my face was so nauseating. He came near to my face and bore his eyes into my own. I can’t take care of anyone…No one. The nurse came to my side.I hate you. smiling. Suma. He disappeared. Why was there no voice coming out of me? What the hell? Speak. “Tomorrow I’m moving you to a different hospital. unable to breathe—my lungs…. Sleep well?” Which one should I call him? “Bastard. Out of control. I feel like I’ve been swearing so much. Six. isn’t he? He’s gone…. A car will return promptly at three tomorrow to see to it that you are transferred properly. I blinked.

but I still cry. It was like I wasn’t even there. No more blood. Early. I was clutching onto my bandana…. still in my hospital gown. He pretended to toast to me. Only…you don’t cry anymore. trying not to make a noise. twitching on the ground. Just walking as I did with these short steps I could barely breathe. haven’t I? Hey…Katsu doesn’t live too far from here. My legs were all wobbly like I was a toddler who was still learning how to walk. I slowly got back up. I just have to get there…to one of them. disappearing into the ground and darkness engulfed me. I don’t have time to waste. All down. The glaring red clock read 1:43 am. I could still hear Katsu talking to himself. an imaginary shot glass in the air. I didn’t really believe that anyone would stop me— it was so late…security wasn’t tight either. Where am I? This hospital…I’ve been near here. Whenever I want to do something—nothing ever goes right! I coughed. I collapsed to the floor. “Those drinks are so strong! You feel real!” He pushed me again. I woke up. glad that there was little traffic. My arm was useless. He took out a gun and put it in my hand—what the hell was going on? The gun shot off one—two—three—four times. painfully. Everything hurt. I turned back. Suma’s not that weak. No more bullets. I knocked on Katsu’s door— praying that maybe he was awake—that he was home. my face all busted up…. in pain against the rough pavement. But…I don’t have a choice. Katsu…you’ll be home. I gently opened my door. He was moving strangely. I saw them. No more Dad. I don’t want them to follow me anymore.sh*t. I don’t want anymore people to die. I’m just Suma and Suma is tired. they wouldn’t look at me. “Suma! Holy crap! I must be really drunk!” He came over to me and pushed me. Let me just dream. against the smooth tile. Waste of time. The breeze…. Damn. .Excited? Is that what I heard you say? You must be really saying. He threw up over the balcony. He smiled. No more gangs to beat up. yelling at them that I was right here—but no matter what. but I must be delusional. spitting out blood. Hoji. God this is frustrating. Kazuya…Onira…. “Man…that felt real. I had to walk somewhere—anywhere. I heaved myself forward.my arm cast in layers of bandage. my father took my arm and smiled at me. ne stupid legs? I heaved myself up. in case it might alarm the nurses. do you? We’re both monsters. the acrid smell striking my sensitive nose.Hoji…Katsu. Sh*t it was painful. I’m not superhuman.” He walked past me and opened his door. clutching my bleeding ribs. “Suma! You even feel real! Good! I want to punch you! I just really want to punch you Suma!” He lifted me up and threw a hard punch at my face. The imaginary gun fell. drunkenness written all over his face. his fist curled. I trudged upwards. I can do this. causing the machinery to crumble down with me. Suddenly. My ribs…damn it hurt. All of them went down like bowling pins. do I? I can’t run away. Nothing. accusing me—why didn’t I just walk away? I took the gun and brought it up to my head and pressed the trigger but only air shot at me. I was waving at them. In my dream. Achingly. What did he eat? “Katsu?” I asked. My feet were bare. I don’t want them anymore. I had to get out of this bed—out of this room—this stupid hospital. leaving me out in the cold.” I know you. cursing the invention of stairs. I’m excited to watch you cry and cry and cry because there’s nothing left to live for. I’m so so tired of living like this. right? I spotted his apartment complex. I can do this without any repercussions— only if I hurry. Just like me. My ribs…. Kazuya…Onira and Katsu. No more pretending I’m a boy. If I hurry. sputtering. thinking that maybe I should keep on going when I saw Katsu. I knocked again. Too much crap I can’t deal with because Ha! What a surprise. He looked up over at me. Sh*t. woozy. I can’t do anything. Nothing. Father. Too loud.my hat. my hospital gown was a bit suspicious.it bit at me. “I’m excited. Katsu?” I asked him. I’m excited to beat the crap out of you. “What the hell are you doing. trying to gasp for air. I had to get out of here. I flew to the ground. their eyes looking at me. You’re sick.

Katsu…what’s wrong with you? A glint caught my eye. I began sobbing. One…. Kazuya…. my cheeks gaunt.” I breathed. as indicated by the lack of lights and the bold “We’re Closed” sign on the glass door. You’ll spot me I hope. “At the hospital? I’ll come over right now.Kazuya…he pretends like nothing changed. not even minding that his bike had crashed to the floor. running towards me. I’m not there…Remember the convenience store by Katsu’s house? I’ll be there. I could hear him getting up and I could imagine his messy hair. Kazuya—it said. I heard someone heaving my way on a bicycle. Thank you god. alright?” “Iie. The convenient mart was closed too. On the count of three. my hand slipped on a number—it dialed.it was Kazuya. “Suma! Idiot! What the hell are you doing out here in that?” …. “Hello? If you’re not going to say anything.” “Where are you?” Kazuya asked me. Dial…Dial… Who would listen to me? Accidentally. alarming him. Katsu had dropped his cell phone when he punched me. my head spinning from the force. I don’t really know how I’ll get in because visiting hours are over. The phone rang.” I interrupted him. cutting off Kazuya and proceeded to force my way down the stairs. “Suma!” Kazuya jumped off the bike.” I said. I’m going to hang up Katsu. But everything has changed. hollow. the pedal and chain creating a clack clack noise from the jangling friction. “…. Stairs…. “Suma? Suma? Are you okay?” “…. I looked at him. “Hello?” He had such a sleepy voice but I could tell. No. Why does it seem so far? I was still trying to regain a sense of stability but the stairs…it reminded me of Akira… …Akira. “Here. Someone picked up. I crawled over to the phone and opened it.Hello? Who is this? Katsu?” Kazuya asked. He was breathing hard. but I’ll try. My feet touched the ground and the thought of Akira vanished.” “What??? You’re supposed to be in the hospital! Suma—” I closed the phone. .” Should I? “Thr—” “Kazuya. “Two…. BBRINNNNNNNNNNNGGGGG!!!!!!!!!! BBBBBBRRRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNNGGGGGGG!!!!!!!!! BBBRRRRINNNNNNNNNNGGGGGGGG!! Click. I rubbed my face.” Kazuya sighed. “….

then I’ll at least know that I tried. Take care.” I tried to smile but it came out crooked. Otou-san is with me now.” “No. So I vowed to become a good friend that could trust people but what was I thinking? I understand now that it’s impossible. “…Suma. I shook my head. See where it’s gotten me? Broken friendships and a dead body. Suma. Everyone else seemed mad. Suma. “It’s something very important to me…. I’m just not built to be a good friend. It can’t be the same anymore. Kazuya? I have a goal now. my old man did what he promised. You’re a great friend. better than I deserve. I wanted to tell him so badly that I had to go. Of course. Good Kazuya. “Give it back to him for me. “I promise you that. I was moved to a different hospital. Before he disappeared. Okay?” I nodded. And then a selfish girl came and made me realize that friendships are so fragile that someone as weak as me could never protect it well enough.” I smiled and took Kazuya’s hand. afraid. casting me a longing glance.” I explained.” Kazuya said in disbelief.” Kazuya shook his head.” Why did I sound so cheery? So fake? But…Kazuya seemed to accept it. I can’t be happy. he spoke to me encouragingly. You’re too good. but I couldn’t.” “How long?” Kazuya asked. Suma. “Are you saying that you’re not happy here?” Of course I’m happy here. don’t you realize? Even if you can act like nothing changed.all of this. “Aren’t you happy for me. I told Kazuya to go home. “If I stay. got on the bike and returned home. No one else can.” he said sadly as he let go. “I can’t be your great leader anymore—no more of that Tiger junk. Kazuya. Just Suma.” “You don’t mind?” I asked him. miffed. you dimwit. why would they trust me? I was just some nobody that was used to getting trampled on. For years…. He told me that he was so happy to find me. Away from Onira’s knowing eyes. okay?” He turned. saying. “He’s going to send me to a good school and I’ll meet good people so I can live happily. I remembered that I had Katsu’s phone. “Kazuya? You came…” “Of course you dummy. groaning when I got on the back of his bike. can I? If I go. “I have tried. A real one. “They’re not mad. I have something greater to do than to lead you guys. Who could be mad at you?” “But…. “I’m not giving up! I met my dad. He didn’t want me to go. biting my lip. Finally. Isn’t that great? I have something to actually look forward to now. I’m bad luck.” I paused in thought.” Kazuya surprised me. deciding whether I should tell him. “ …I have to go. I’m going away soon and there’s a lot I have to do yet. so I said. He threw his coat on me and sat down with me when I collapsed onto the floor. I can’t do it.” “Your point?” “Ha…. You’ll always be a Tiger. Kazuya.” If I stayed. Kazuya took it.Kazuya…you know too…. . “You’re talking lies. How could I even consider staying? “Couldn’t you at least try to stay for a while?” Kazuya asked. I’m the reason why Akira’s dead. I opened it and enclosed the faded cloth into his palm. Away from Katsu’s narcissistic poses and Hoji’s intellectual comebacks.You’re not normal. He was so happy because we were going to be a family again. away from Kazuya’s smile. my legs white in the moonlight.” I said. “Take it. Otou-san would hurt you…but if I just go without a fight. okay? It may not have been intentional but if I just—” I sighed in frustration. I can’t.Don’t you feel betrayed? He still looked just as worried as he normally would. I’m not a Tiger anymore. I mean. hesitant to leave. How could they? It’s you.” “What? What are you talking about? Are you—Suma Tanabi—are you giving up? I’m not sure if I’m really hearing this.” I seemed deep in thought. I’m just Suma now. because he felt he knew what I was going to say. “I’m really not coming back. I sighed. will ya?” I asked. then you’ll be safe. Convince him. hugging me fiercely. to protect him. okay?” I dug my hand into my pocket and pulled out a square cloth. The following day. “Take care of yourself. tears falling. When we finally arrived at the hospital entrance. “I lied to you. Kazuya saw it and backed away.It’ll probably take me a whole lifetime. did you know? He’s really rich—handsome fellow. Let me help get you back to the hospital.” Man…my words sound so stupid. “Yes you are. “I used to have friends once that I thought would stick by my side till the end of the world. Kazuya shook his head.

. did you know? I had always been protecting you. Onira. Onira. I love Trace. “What’s with the dramatic look?” Kazuya touched his shoulder and chuckled. “But now.” His brows furrowed. but he’s a smart kid. He turned his head to the side. If I even took one split-moment glance behind me. Onira knew. brainwashing myself to understand the importance of not looking back. It only took a moment to recap Kazuya’s farewell from last night but it seemed ages ago already. as if asking him. averting Kazuya’s eyes. like staccato notes being played by a professional musician.” .” “Quit it. Hoji would understand my reasons. whoever she was with. “Suma said that she has something greater to do that she can’t do here.” Onira pushed past him. She was the reason why Onira wouldn’t run after Suma. In that instant. His stance tensed for a moment but then quickly returned to normal. A keepsake. He was my first recruit. underlapped. Kazuya?” Onira questioned impatiently. they believed in my flame of righteousness—to rid the world of gangs. remembering the punch he had given me.” he whispered vehemently. I guess you just don’t care anymore because you look like you sure as hell don’t care. defeating me. “I’m serious Onira! She said she’s not coming back here! She’s not coming back! Do you know how jealous I am of you? Even if you don’t speak to her. boring his eyes into Kazuya.” Chapter Sixteen My feet touched the pavement. Just stay still and listen. He was your first friend. “That flame has been passed on to you. I hurt him more than I thought. Maybe once everything settled down again. No. who knew what could happen? Mina…Everyone…Your safety was what propelled me to follow through with this charade. He turned to face his friend. Please…lead with your heart. chew me until even the bone marrow was digested. the shield that stood between him and Suma. He still wouldn’t forgive me but I was okay with that.Alone. It was a huge. I had never abandoned him before. where ever she was. Kazuya took his shoulders. with us. I touched my slightly healed face. didn’t I? But even then. Recruit. Just like everything else. There was still a little bruise. Heck—it wasn’t even supposed to be an argument. she’ll always be in walking distance for you. I’m only going to say this once. “She’ll never understand. my pores unable to feel any “welcoming” vibe from the foreboding mansion. She said that there was nothing left for her here. He was my first friend after what happened with Takeshi…Daisuke. Kazuya. I wouldn’t want it any other way. She was happy. tears spilling. I could feel the iciness that lay within. In time.” “I don’t care. There was a feeling in me that told me that Onira might understand. okay? I continued to talk to myself. I’m jealous. but even from the outside. I felt so alone in a world without them.” Onira muttered bitterly. To those guys. circled around me. Every thread…they overlapped. convincing myself.fine. grand home looming before me. Don’t look back anymore. my thoughts intercepted. Suma didn’t need them. He had to return to Trace because she was waiting for him. I always would. It’ll take a whole lifetime. But I kept it in. I still want to protect him. I was afraid that Katsu would become bitter towards me for leaving everything in a mess. taking hold of his elbow and walking towards a discreet area of the café. my legs extending out from the panther-like black Mercedes Benz. I was shivering in the mellow spring air. but not right away. Kazuya. Keep walking. so he’s probably confused. Kazuya smiled sadly. if you can call it that. I suppose I was their beacon of light because for some bizarre reason. and continued towards Trace. disgusted. I was just released from the hospital. You might see her now and then. And anyways. “I’m sorry if I’m wasting your time. He made certain that Onira was blocked from running away by cornering the guy into a dead end zone. If only it wouldn’t disappear. I thought. I miss them. You’ll see her be happy and you’ll get to see her do her great things and meet her great people. he would be able to see through my lies again and understand why I left. but I couldn’t untangle my messes anymore. She feels unhappy here. “Yes. “I can’t forgive Suma because she doesn’t understand that I couldn’t live without this girl. waiting for me like a cougar in a cavern. leaving behind the comfort of my old life to dredge my way through this…life. Kazuya’s POV Kazuya pulled Onira aside. confusing me. Onira’s attitude had changed dramatically from what he had once been. Hoji. I know that Suma’s father is a higher up. my jacket seemingly invisible against the slight breeze. “You’re wasting my time. The walk from the car to the doorsteps seemed so short. Kazuya was always crying because of Suma. Suma. waiting to devour me.” I thought. I’m jealous. Onira could see the expression from the corner of his eye.” Kazuya shook his head at his losing argument. as I did.

hurt that Onira could be so cold to his longtime friend.“You’re right. In all the years that she had been their friend. He agreed to watch out for Suma’s safety but he knew that she could take care of herself. He wanted to cry—he wanted to slap Katsu out of his stubbornness. Suma’s POV “My problem. because Suma lied. He could have been really upset at Suma for lying about her gender but what was the use? Suma’s not going to change. right?” Katsuhiro’s POV “Suma deserves to go to hell. that girl. Because she is different. A lot. And don’t say that’s not true because it is. She didn’t bother to trust them with anything.” He left Kazuya behind. “They’ll understand.” Kazuya flinched noticeably. turmoil boiling in his head. but he couldn’t bring himself to label Suma that. Didn’t you ever wonder about the Beast clan? I feel honored that I trusted us after what those bastards did to her but we’re just as bad. and could do whatever she wanted with charisma like that. minute. He was pissed off because Suma just did it again. hour. If Suma held that grudge against him. He could hear Kazuya’s steps after him and felt a shove as he hit the ground. One second. Again.” “Why the hell should we? We didn’t do anything wrong! It was all her stupid fault! Making stupid rules about girls! Lying to us! Making us her puppets!” “We were never puppets.. We all came willingly. Best friends…it was nothing now. Watch over her. aren’t we? Not believing Suma. Was he really that blind? Did Suma hate him so much that she couldn’t even bring to tell him the truth? It hurt him. He accepted Suma for all the faults that she had. Okay? Just go away!” . Onira—you can say whatever you want. it wasn’t a lie that could be overlooked so easily.. Suma wants her stupid perfect life with perfect people. “Ahh…Soo desu ka? Really?.” Onira said flatly. a habit he had adopted from Suma. Why should he care about a liar? Why did it hurt so fricken much to think about Suma? He didn’t want to think anymore. People were drawn to her without knowing why and they followed her for those inexplicable reasons.” “Iie…She left because she couldn’t face you Katsu. It’s not everyday that you find out that your best friend isn’t what he…no…she seemed. Onira. he could never bring himself to go as low as something as childish as name calling. “I don’t know.” “Fine! Just leave me alone! I don’t want to talk about Suma anymore.” I whispered to the moon. “I hope she dies a horrible death. she had always taken the burdens upon herself. Do you know how hard it is for her? She’s already gone through this once before. My solution. She lied and then didn’t even bother to sit down with them to discuss things out. he wanted to think. Suma was supposed to have been his best friend and accept every part of him. It hurt a lot but that’s how it had to be. Suma made mistakes but she is the best person I know. He had decided that he had to give up Suma’s friendship for his Trace. I don’t know what’s going on in this head—if I’ll ever forgive Suma or not okay? I just don’t want to think about that person anymore.” said Katsu. but get this straight. She.” He turned his back on the frustrated Kazuya and simply walked away. He laughed in his head. “You already told me. All she did cause was trouble. The guilt and shame Suma harbored on her shoulders like they were second nature. how pissed off he could ever get at Suma. Make sure people aren’t too rough on her in high society. Didn’t he understand anything? Couldn’t he just forgive her? Couldn’t he just accept things and move on? Katsu shoved Kazuya away and said. “What the hell’s your problem! You and Onira! I know it hurts but why do you have to be this way? Why are you putting complete blame on her! You haven’t even asked Suma why! You don’t know why she left us!” he blared. “She isn’t good enough to be important. He felt so angry. Suma just dismissed Trace—it wasn’t fair. Selfish b*tch. No matter how angry. She had a lot to offer the world. not giving her an ounce of credit. He knew that she would hate him for loving Trace but he couldn’t help it. A person like Suma could never hold any importance to me. It’s the least you can do for her. even if Suma is a worthless person to you. She had always been a strong person.” Kazuya bit his lip. Suma would easily sacrifice herself for those who followed her and they all knew it. It was stupid. he could easily say that he held a grudge too. I’m glad she’s gone. And this time. Because we saw Suma as different. He was just pissed off because Suma didn’t even give Trace a chance.

The students were intelligent. Nothing. The softened expression on Katsu’s face could only be described as the look of a child who has just realized that his pet passed away. I didn’t even want to think that it was possible. No way. He let it go. I found out. But the school was just as it was promised. Anywhere Suma went.” His gaze clouded. I can’t say it. I wasn’t running away. If they needed girls to survive. The best of the best. This was the only way I could manage. Anyone who listened to her seemed to take her words to heart. letting it drift onto Katsu’s lap and turned away. He was disgusted with my hair so he had me get extensions. he had been waiting at the exact same spot. He sniffled and then grimaced. “She said she wouldn’t come back. his pain seeping through. My father was a high ranked politician. She’s gone. I felt so lonely knowing that Kazuya or Hoji wouldn’t greet my with a joke. then so be it. She was rash and far more desolate than he had thought. I’m so sorry. catering to my needs. I would be under constant surveillance. There’s no point. right? Do whatever you want with me. my dad even went to the lengths to attach to me my own personal babysitter. he would have given up already. It was immaculate. Or Onira’s presence or even Katsu’s outrageous comments. “Tadaima. trying to see if he could spot her as she left the school premises. “Why don’t you ever turn around and look at us trying to help you? I hate you so much—you know how much it means for you to lead us. I still couldn’t say. To not hear them laughing for no apparent reason. There were the remains of dried blood still fresh on the cloth. There’s no point if you’re not there.” Katsu buried his face in the hollow of his elbow. “I hate you Suma. When I left the house. To not see them. When I woke up. my happiness didn’t matter.” The words didn’t faze Katsuhiro. He closed his eyes in pain and laid his face on his fist. To protect them from far away.” Suma’s POV I felt myself shuddering in the large. shaking his head in disgust at Katsu’s immaturity. he said he’d do it. she won’t come back. I hate you. right? He would look out for her…. no matter how hard I tried…no matter how many times I reprimanded my rebellious tongue.Kazuya took a long look at the pieces of Katsu and sighed. The first time I entered my new school. asking me polite. And you’re always right. Well too bad cuz there’s no way in hell that I would let—” Kazuya pulled out the Tiger bandana from his pocket. He straightened his button down shirt and sighed. Chapter Seventeen Onira’s POV He fingered the flaps of his suit jacket. heads turned. I just can’t say it. A few teardrops soaked onto the bandana. am I? I’m sorry. Their happiness was what I wanted. But if they needed me there…that was one request I would deny. do you? Aigo…I’m sorry but I still can’t forgive you. then I would disappear. I was just too tired to fight the old way. “She’s not coming back. I didn’t think I could. having the time of her life—and anyways. As long as they were alive. My room was immaculate and the servants were civil to me. I can’t forgive you. Suma listened well but did not listen to others well. a guise over his rather shady occupation in the mafia. Just don’t touch them. purely. They wouldn’t understand. I couldn’t fight with my fists anymore. My father did a perfect job. But I’m stupid. servants would be at my side. “Even if you and Onira forgave her. I wasn’t done suffering.” Kazuya spoke simply. He knew what time it was. My new school was the best of the best. It never occurred to him to change his tactics because he was so certain that he would be able to find her from his one position. One little mistake and my friends would pay the price. “Aish! Baka! You don’t know when to stop running. Just another minute and the bell would ring. Don’t’ even think of coming back. Two weeks now. a tranquilizer always at hand. rich and well-bred. I never wrote letters to them. It had been two months. empty questions like. He took out his phone and checked if he had missed calls. Why did he bother? If he were normal. My face was tampered with but I didn’t fight back. “Right. Searching for someone with strong shoulders and charismatic juices oozing. His tone was sarcastic. Katsu had always revered his friend and knew that he was lucky to have a friend who was so stable and so charismatic. I can’t. Because I forgot. . cold room. Onira scanned the crowd of students leaving the school grounds—searching for height. He had to see if Suma really was there. But guess what? Even after two months. aren’t you smart guy? I bet she’ll come crawling back begging for forgiveness. unwilling to check the time.” You see…I’m not really home.” There was too much stained history between the two of them. Who else can do what you do? What about your crusade? I thought you were out to destroy all the gangs in the world? What about that? We were all supposed to do that together. his hand sifting his hair. I succumbed to the lavish lifestyle with no resistance. “Would you like breakfast?” or “Are you ready to go to school?”. If they needed me gone.

he felt strange. Long legs. He just had to baby-sit his way to the top. “So don’t think you have any chances with those love struck boys that are always after you. This job was supposed to be easy. Just let me get a glimpse of your face…to see if you are Suma. moving her towards a sleek. cascading hair—it couldn’t be. It wasn’t Suma. She kept getting smaller and smaller. He didn’t want it to be. his looks and collectedness. That person didn’t feel like Suma. He didn’t know what to say. Onira stopped running. Onira thought he caught a glimpse of her…right? That back…that back was hers. “You know you can’t date. It was better than stealing food from people. but he had waited for two weeks—now was as good a time as any to see if it was her. “Hey! Listen to me when I talk to you. their curious eyes following the path of his long legs. Suma was jacksh:t. asking who he was and what he was doing there. not really listening to him.V. black vehicle. He had been there religiously for the past two weeks. right after school let out. “Fake. How could she have been a leader with that intense will to please others? Real leaders were strong—with the power to do what they wanted—they never bowed down to others. Onira was scared. he was told. but what he saw was anyone but that. It couldn’t be Suma. Turn around. He could see how hard she was trying to not mess up. What did she see that made her eyes light up for a moment? He felt something in him lurch. Was it??? He wasn’t sure. A gangster and a whore. like the fish in Hemingway’s novel The Old Man and the Sea. For a fleeting moment. He was a prodigy in knowledge. She was a whore. She was dirt. her eyes meeting with his. For a moment. he saw flecks of happiness fade from Suma’s eyes.As he stood there.” her bodyguard told her. . her long hair shimmering in the sun like satin sheets.” Suma nodded. they could see that he was a fine catch. and as if the girl he was after could sense his presence. He took note of her lack of attention and grabbed her roughly by the arm. no matter how much the odds were against them. What made him hesitate though was that a young man was holding onto her arm stiffly. in physical activity—it was just by inconvenient luck that he had ended up where he did. one of the youngest recruits taken in by Suma’s father. He stopped. He stepped forward from the support of the wall and inched himself closer towards her.” So much lighting and air brushing that it was more man-made than natural. Onira was a fine specimen everyone wanted a piece of. hair that streamed down her back…it was like he was looking at a T. Suma was supposed to be someone to be feared—someone with real power. She was a cold-blooded killer. you b:tch!” She moved her head towards his and looked at him calmly. His eyes had watched how ridiculously awkward Suma’s steps were as she came down that expensively stone-furnished stairway. From his posture. commercial. He could have passed for a college student visiting his high school sweetheart—it was a romantic thought. How else had she had so many bow down to her? His name was Hotaru Daigo. No. like he was playing the role of her substitute boyfriend. She was listening. If only…if only he were looking for one of them. not a leader. you whore. So unbelievably beautiful that you couldn’t help but think. multiple eyes trailed his striking figure. He was only 18. He ran towards the pair. her head turned slightly his way. further away from him. but as a young adult in the Yakuza. wasn’t it? But that person didn’t stand like Suma. Long. He saw such a pitiful excuse for a human. making gasps float through school girl mouths. Who was he waiting for? everyone wondered. No. right? -Suma. No matter how innocent she looked. When he had first seen Suma. It wasn’t Suma. he was still sheltered. whispers escalating. From what he was told. he had heard everything already. he thought. He was only imagining things. defeated.

but she just woke up a few minutes too late. He could see that she was just a shell. like there was something in her eye. and eyed him peculiarly. “It really won’t hurt to ask. Suma was as darkly beautiful as her father was. . They were going home. Was he seeing correctly? Of course he was. which he could see she disliked immensely. Suma’s eyes…he had always believed that her worst features were her dead. He was supposed to keep track of her actions and her words and report them to her father which. since he had become her bodyguard did she ever even give him an ounce of recognition. Why did they call her a leader? She was nothing. That was his job and no matter what. when he had to come in and sat in Suma’s room because she was lagging. It wasn’t even her hair or the way she was born perfectly proportioned that made you drawn to Suma. no hesitation to her graceful pirouette. It was so soft and featherlike. A beautiful shell. but he had an inkling of an idea. tricking the world into believing that she was solely a beautiful shell. Hotaru looked up to see why she was looking into the mirror so long. And just when she did that. Her eyes were always so dead that he didn’t even know. “Do I know you?” Her tone made his heart crush. Without hesitating.he almost wanted to believe that someone was alive in Suma’s body…someone that she kept in herself. He thought to himself. But Suma. but Hotaru did what was necessary. locked up. But still…Suma confused him. Not Suma. There was a small furrow in her brow as she brushed her hair. He didn’t know what it was exactly. That girl…she bore such a striking resemblance to Suma that he was certain it was Suma but Suma…He didn’t want to think that Suma had been reduced to that thing that he saw the day before. bland brown eyes but…her eyes were green? The way the yellow light flickered off of her eyes…. -Onira’s POV Onira stood by the gate again. He was well known for his lady killer looks and dark handsomeness that not even the thickest brick could ignore. She looked into the vanity mirror. was ridiculous. What she said made Onira’s heart drop. He blinked. but he still towered over her. The sea of students parted at his will.He remembered how her hand hesitantly reached out to shake his. he stood straight just as the bell rang and students milled from the school doors. His hand touched her shoulder.” He just wanted to hear it straight from the source. how her eyes were mildly displeased by his presence. She put her contacts in. allowing him room to access his target.Suma?” he prompted. on a certain level. He had 20/20 vision. He loosened his grip on her arm as they sat in the backseat of the leather-seated vehicle so that she could put on her seat belt. There was virtually nothing in Suma. “Excuse me…. covering the small window to her soul. Everything was different. He could see regality in Suma—something that couldn’t be manufactured. He was supposed to make sure she didn’t run off or disobey her father. There wasn’t an ounce of recognition in her eyes. his boss could not be questioned for his decisions. Not once. you’re either born with it or you aren’t. She regarded him with…he didn’t even know. By his need to be there. He wasn’t blind. and he didn’t treat her with any in return. She was taller than most girls he had known. Her father thought for sure that she was feigning sickness. He felt it tense. That gorgeous thing. It wasn’t Suma. right? He was supposed to pretend to be her boyfriend at school. The girl turned around. A theory that was probably wrong. She didn’t treat him with any kind of fondness. He saw her right away this time so he moved swiftly through the crowd. Once. He was just hallucinating. She wasn’t even human anymore. he sat on a stool as he watched her pull on a sweater and then rush to brush her hair clumsily. gossiping about relationships astray and love letters. That doll. He shook his head.

“I’m sorry. he pulled out his cell phone and began to dial for someone to go beat up the stupid college guy. “Go ahead. when they both got back to the main house. still agitated. “Get in the car.” Suma thought about what he said for a long silent moment. only to get a cackle as a reply.Wait a minute. -Suma. Hotaru slapped Suma’s face with the back of his hand. at the way she fixed her hair back in place so carefully that if he hadn’t just felt the fibers give way in his hand moments before.The words came grated through his teeth. He grabbed hold of her silky hair and yanked on it harshly. He was ticked.the power of the Yakuza? -“Get up! Don’t tell me you’re tired. the more she confused him. He should go home. It was the college guy that had been the hot topic in school.” Hotaru didn’t believe her. I thought you were someone else. He threw her jacket at her roughly. “Go ahead. “You’re not to talk to anyone!” She nodded. But. No. He couldn’t think that way. she could tell Hotaru didn’t expect to see this too.” he told Hotaru. Wig? He eyed Suma. Tell him. Then it went back to normal. right boys?” Suma’s father grinned sadistically. “Tell me where he is! I know that traitor’s been talking to you! Now!” Suma winced as another strike of the whip cracked. “You think I’m blind? Who was that punk that talked to you? You think I won’t tell your father?” For a moment. like she was struggling to hang onto something invisible. do you? He’s an eyesore. . unwilling to answer him. When she sat down.” was her level reply. He thought for sure—that if Suma really knew that guy—then she would have made a move to stop him. He stuttered out. He looked at Suma. The more he saw Suma. Hotaru let go of her hair. a fresh wound dripping from the back of her father’s victim. he would have just assumed that Suma was perfecting the way her hair fell. Hotaru saw in the corner of his eyes how Suma hesitantly took a small glance backwards. But she didn’t. who threw him to the wolves.” What really killed him though was the small look of confusion on her face before she nodded and returned to her former state. He was just a stranger. he saw the solidity in Suma waver. Suma was just another whore. Make him go home. I don’t care. his eyes red in pleasure at the sickening sight. a crimson-drenched whip in his gloved hand. then I’ll assume that you don’t care if I call some guys to jump him. “It’s time to show the both of you the power of Yakuza. She nodded a lot these days. tightening with each crack. Out of spite. It’s not my problem. he called Suma’s father and told him what had happened. feeling the wig snap slightly beneath his clenched fists…. who abandoned him—like his sister. “What the hell is your problem?” Suma looked away. Like his mother. It wasn’t until later that he realized that she had responded when he said her name. “I’ll be home tonight. “If he’s no one. He knew Suma? Or was he another admirer? As if Suma could read his thoughts. The distinguished fellow that had an army of followers at his feet. “I don’t know who he is. his grip hard. He caught sight of who she was staring at and frowned. towards her prize boyfriend that waited for her with a frown beside that damned black car.” Hotaru made a face. he put his phone away. Suma was no different. He was probably another admirer. she said.” he told her. so before the call rang out. you b:tch! I think you need another slap. Hotaru felt a chill…. used to the lecture. They all were whores. I don’t care. She didn’t move for a second and then consented. Hotaru was holding onto her arm. just to make sure. The mystery man that all the girls gushed over. but she didn’t even wince.

in that room. Suma’s father gripped the man’s shirt tighter. You have to let her give you a beating first. her nails piercing through her skin. Suma’s father clucked his tongue. he felt pity. “Fcuk off you b:tches! Let go of me! Let me get the fcuk out of here! Sh:t sh:t sh:t!!!!!” Her arms couldn’t fight off the musclebound thugs that trapped her. He grappled the tips of Suma’s shoes. Yes. Suma closed her eyes. She couldn’t see it.. The ragged man was kneeling. Her father pushed her. swept up in the crunching of the garbage. Chapter Eighteen Her father looked astounded by her attempt to escape.” The man’s eyes widened. “Help me!” Suma…her face was blank. but there was a wicked grin dancing on his lips.The victim was a middle-aged salary man with three kids and a wife. trying to get away from the blood-crusted whip that her father wanted her to handle. telling her to open her eyes. A bat rolled across the ground. her rough voice pulling through as she yelled obscenities. but was lightening as she truly began to realize that there was no escape for her. Leaning close to the sweaty ear. but he had never had to be so desperate. as if forgetting to be submissive. the solo light bulb dangling precariously. this was your favorite hobby. he breathed. but she was stopped by the hordes of Yakuza that conveniently lined themselves along the shady wall. knowing that once again a life was placed into her hands. “See that ugly b:tch right there? That screaming one—that pathetic piece of sh:t? She can save you. She couldn’t see it. and dangerously. The whip flew past her ear. She wasn’t strong anymore. All because he spoke to a stranger a couple of times. Her soft. Yakuza thugs were surrounding him. wasn’t it?” She felt Hotaru trembling. Suma’s face paled. he whispered. He was fresh blood. And for some reason. bruises probably forming on his knees from the impact with the cold cement. “Please!” he cried out again. . Daisuke. but he didn’t care about that—he forgot the existence of pride. A life. afraid of the consequences if he didn’t play along with his sick oppressor.. “Did I tell you that you could close your eyes? Don’t you know I’m putting on this show especially for you? Don’t you just love these kinds of things? If I remember correctly. he just wanted to live. Nowhere. missing teeth and a black eye. He looked up in the dank room. Hotaru’s grip on her fell. she shook her head fervently. She tried to make a run for the door—she didn’t want to be there. She gave it up for them. contemplating. She could never fight again. And that guy said…he said he would let him go…if. the air nearly slicing her. on his knees. jeering at his pathetic state. Akira.” The crying man pulled away. He had just seen a glimpse of Suma for the first time. fake feathery voice turned to ashes. “Do you want to know a secret?” His victim nodded. He had never felt so low in his life. He rubbed his eyes. Suma bit her lip. “Not so fast pumpkin. okay? After that…you’re free to go. but he never wanted to get into a mess like this—with the Yakuza after his throat. He didn’t know the nitty gritty details of how the Yakuza operated. even more so when she saw how her father was grinning at her expression. She was once again a Grim Reaper—of the innocent. the light burning his crusted eyes. A solo shot. Suma’s father shoved the whip into her hands.she gave it up when she came with her father. But now…here he was. Red. on the ground with welts across his back. subject to watching her fcuked up father as he beat the crap out of an innocent man. She clenched her fist. a grim line on his face as he realized something. Immediately. “Please!” he begged. pleased by how tortured she looked. so hard that it bled. He would do it—he wanted to live! He fell in front of Suma’s restrained figure. He grabbed the helpless man by the back of his collar. It was still slightly flushed from her attempt to escape. The sound of bones crunching. Hotaru watched her. unyielding. He was used to submission.

Her father slapped Hotaru’s back in a friendly manner. “Give it to me. but next time…” He approached Suma. but he knew better.” she said to him like a broken record. Pleading. okay you brat. weakening. the air suddenly thick with tension. Her eyes were downcast to the floor.” Hotaru…he wanted to speak out against this…. Answer him. “Che. biting. Piece of sh:t. He even had the nerve to ask. lighting a cigar in his mouth. You realize that if I release this idiot.against whatever was going on. Will you save his life?” Hotaru watched her. nervous nod. knocking her out cold. Suma’s eyes were clouded. Don’t let her come out—you know the drill. If I were…none of this sh:t would have happened. Did you enjoy the show?” Suma’s father asked him. “Okay. kicking Suma roughly before handing his daughter over to her bodyguard. “And guess what? I crossed my fingers!” His tone went frigid. He could tell that…Suma was just thinking. That man…he shouldn’t have begged Suma. lower than dirt. Your begging is like crap to me. Shock thrummed through him when he saw the resolution in her eyes. she sunk lower to the ground. the whip in his hands slick with blood. “you won’t have a say.Suma’s eyes lowered. “Why so stiff? You act like I’ll do it to you! It’s just a game. “You Monster! You killed you Mommy!” Her father leered at her. She threw the weapon across the stained floor. pulling Suma up by the collar of her shirt. Hotaru consented.” her father said to her limp figure.” A game? Hotaru thought. her eyes staring off into blankness. a knot formed from worms of queasiness. He straightened himself. “Yah. her father unable to wipe that sick grin off of his face. Let him go. even as he thought this. And yet…her father only scoffed at her. What are you going to do if I don’t?” Her eyes flew open. the whip went still.” he mimicked. her limbs limp. “You promised.” -“Hotaru. “Sh:t. larger.” His shrewd eyes were barely concealed beneath his bubbly words. another one will just take his place?” She knew. his grin instead growing wider with each splatter of blood. but still. “I’m not a bodyguard…I’m not a babysitter. debating. He gave Suma’s father a small.” The conviction was only a sliver in her voice. Her father grinned again. “Onegaishimasu! Please…” Her head was so low to the ground that she could have kissed it. I’ll let this idiot off. He shouldn’t have. …Get used to it. in the way her hands unclenched. “…Otou-san. It’s such a cruel. Suma? Do you like it? Do you like it you monster?” At his comment. …What was Suma going to do? Goosebumps formed on his skin. his pitiful words unwilling to roll off of his tongue to fight against the corrupted ones of his boss. It was earsplitting. vicious game…. socking her gut. I think I’ll keep him around. deaf to his screams. It seemed like she was looking down at the head of the crying man bowing at her feet. “Next time. “Take her to her room. Watching caused a knot to form in his stomach. Crack! Crack! Crack! She was mercilessly striking her victim. but in his mind he thought. kiddo. “Why the hell should I? It’s fun to see a brat like you grovel. her voice dead. “Let him go. Suma.” She sounded weak. he was deathly afraid of going against Suma’s father. Her father just mocked her.” He turned to Hotaru. . deaf to his pain. “Why the hesitation? Don’t be so rude to your elder. because it just wasn’t right! He didn’t like Suma…but this just wasn’t right! Where was the honor? Yet.” He cackled a bit more. He only laughed at her. Suma’s palm opened to her father. “…You promised. Disheveled.

Should he tell Kazuya? A commercial spokesperson: that’s what she looked like. She’s…. He looked up at Onira. You’ll be safer this way. When Suma had tried to run from the scene. A commander’s voice. But. Suma baka never knows how to take care of herself…Suma never knows when to cry. knowing that this battle…it was a defeat. -Kazuya’s head perked up. “Yah Onira! …. She never lived. Kazuya missed Suma so much. Man. trying to garnish a look of assurance. After Suma’s slight struggle. “Honto? Really?” Kazuya sighed a breath of relief.” When Suma was stopped. I’m so glad that she went…I’m so glad. she doesn’t want to remember herself: she’s not Suma anymore. Victory would only come to her if she remained passive… If she repeated her actions from that night in the future…she would only see annihilation. Kazuya’s eyes were red and puffy. crouching onto the ground. Onira’s face was deadpan. “I was so worried. All that could go through his mind was. Onira…he grasped his shirt. the tips of his lips wavered upward into an awkward smile. Or…our Suma anyways. Why is he doing this?”. He missed how she always gave him her slushie…how Suma always piggy-backed him for blocks. right? But when Kazuya asked him two weeks ago…when Kazuya begged him to find Suma. He missed how Suma always came over to his house to eat dinner with him. That was just…too much. Kazuya jumped on him. Don’t move.” he told the gullible Kazuya. telling himself. He was becoming more like…Suma already. Hotaru had only stood there. Was his view of her changing? It couldn’t. “Suma never let herself be happy. His relationship with Trace? It had only grown stronger but…Suma. Suma always nagged his thoughts. Onira.” . “So? So? Well?” Onira was still pissed off with Suma…He was! He was. He was lying to protect Kazuya’s feelings.not Suma anymore. Onira—you have no idea.” He had gotten all teary. awake. but his body was telling him. Man he was a coward.” He sobbed deeper into his arm. Our friend has disappeared. I’m so happy. “Hai…Suma is very happy now. Her raw. anticipating. He missed everything. he didn’t even bother to stop her.” Did you find her? was the unvoiced question. “Yah Onira. “This is too much.. unsure of how to comfort Kazuya. “Yes. about to enter. he didn’t try very hard to decline. he didn’t want Kazuya to think otherwise. who had touched his shoulder. A sh:tless coward. That girl that he saw…didn’t want to remember the past. he felt goose bumps on his arms rise. the tension in his brows dissolving. made him wonder…Was she okay? Was she happy? What was he supposed to tell Kazuya? He didn’t want Kazuya to worry. There was nothing about watching an old man get beaten with a whip. Onira. rubbing his sweaty palms against the dry cloth. He could see how relieved Kazuya was. One because he had said he would…and the other because. tears dripping messily. Suma never knows when to just be happy. her father laughed at her. her voice was so heartbreaking. “I don’t want to be here too.” She changed. screaming voice sounded so spine-tingling. He really wasn’t prepared for any of this. -Suma stared lifelessly at the door. but realized he could do nothing. He missed how Suma was just…his friend.He turned to Suma’s door. right?” Onira’s mouth creased and slowly. They all told him this job would be easy…just babysitting. he knew that he wanted to see Suma too. She’s happy. He missed how Suma never got mad at him even when he screwed up badly on their group projects for art class. Even though most of the words were desperate profanities. Suma’s really happy. “Suma’s fine. He was just…her babysitter. She didn’t want to remember us.

not wanting to spill blood. right? He tried to straighten his shoulders again. He was taken back. He was going to tell on her. he couldn’t go against her. Money. scaring her because she was confused. There was no joy in the way he looked at how Suma was crumbling beneath his hand. it sounded like a sick hobby of hers. why was she so reluctant to hurt someone? That was a specialty for all gangsters. I’ll try hard Suma. because every other girl that he had come into contact with he wanted to murder or slap silly to the point of no return. Her eyes snapped up. because…it would be the closest he could be to Suma. holding out his hand. Suma. wasn’t he? Her lip was trembling. he thought. He didn’t see the unhinged bathroom door or the tattered bed sheets. He resolved that he would continue Suma’s mission. I…will be as great as you Suma. He realized that Suma shouldn’t come back.” Of course she meant to. Hotaru would have laughed if the situation wasn’t so dark. wasn’t he? He was going to tell her dad that she made a mess. “I didn’t mean to. For some inexplicable reason. her tattler. She came into the arena only to forfeit. That’s what friends were for. Her eyes…he hadn’t been imagining things. telling her that it was all right. She hadn’t left since she entered the night before. . But…he could see the desperation in her eyes. he’d be as good as dead. “I didn’t mean to…” Suma indicated. He wondered about Suma…if she had been such a great gang leader. It nagged at him. Suma…wasn’t happy with us. he would have tattled just to get Suma in deeper sh:t. He barely noticed the trashed room. but restrained himself. he finally admitted…and he didn’t get it. he thought. He neared her. You’re still alive to me…you’re alive in me. it was boring ass hell sitting in the hall waiting for her to come out. spots bald from hair decapitation. referring to the trashed room. If Suma’s pops knew what he was thinking. He was so drawn to Suma. And I can’t live sanely without Suma. Kazuya stood. afraid. trying to stand strong because that’s what Suma would have wanted him to do. but he didn’t want to. Suma. Was Suma really that scared? He pet her head like a puppy. Because you’re my best friend. Youth. -Hotaru looked at Suma’s door. But then…it was weird. Jealousy. He knew he himself was a coward…but Suma had retaliated—why did it have to be so half-hearted? She gave up the battle even before a punch was struck. making her flinch. he had to be happy…because Suma was happy. She was scared of him when clearly Suma had some anger issues—then again. He opened the door. swaying. They were so murky and …green. His breath caught in his throat. Huge wigs were strewn across the floor. in fuzzy chunks. He was after all. She heard him. He decided to just bug her for the hell of it. Life. remembering that sad…deafening cry of hers. Maybe. His eyes were blind to the smashed bottles of perfume that reeked up the stuffy place. “Why did you do it?! Why did you give in?” He didn’t get it. which had no lock (courtesy of her daddy) and felt his heart stop. Hotaru did have the upper hand. I can’t.“…Good…” Uneasily. I’ll try hard. Didn’t mean to? He could have understood if Suma had broken a vase or some silly sh:t like that but to fcuk up a room to this state of disarray? It was just lame to say. All his tunnel vision could show him was her. And from what her father had said. And I miss you. He wanted to ask her. Green…It held so many meanings. Even if Kazuya were miserable because of Suma’s absence. Hotaru brought his hand closer to her. Man he was thinking such dumbass treasonous sh:t. if he hadn’t seen Suma in that dank cellar room rebelling against her father. shaking. He was tempted to just barge into her room.

Flashback “He says he wants to make good money fast. A fcuked up whore of a mother who had more than countable nights with her rich bed partners. It really shouldn’t have been a surprise to him to see his sister turn over her leaf to her mother’s whoring ways…but he had been shocked nonetheless. He realized then…that he lived in a shameless house of sluts. protective older sister who had always taken their mother’s fluffed up words with distaste had one day come home. I guarantee it. perfect for a monster. He looked down at Hotaru and lifted his chin.” he heard polyester man say. His beautiful sister…his proud. Looking at Suma. Hotaru wanted to push the guy’s greasy hand off of him and wash his face vigorously a million times with some major antibacterial soap but refrained himself. An abusive father that ditched him when he was ten. He would have left…but hell. But he did. His whole life…it had been nothing short of a tragedy. “Let go of me you steroid-infested fcuker!” he heard the twelve year old scream. “Don’t worry so much. So he consulted her for advice—he wanted to learn how to make money fast. If he had the courage to defy his boss. He almost ran to his sister to celebrate the fact that they had the money! But a scream hit him. What was the deal? Hotaru was led away from his sister. giggling with their mother about a client. Everything was an if. And he thought of something else. She tapped her palm again. She even had the gall to tell Hotaru that he should join them. He should have never listened to her. Hotaru had a foreboding feeling about Suma. “Greedy b:tch. a frown present. I told him you could help.” he said to Hotaru’s sister. he tried to dismiss the thought. Because he trusted her. Gullible. If. This ice princess…. reveling in her riches. so that he could run away. he was a boy and boys weren’t allowed in her whore house. his flashy polyester pants blinding in the dark night. Green reminded him of something else. If he cared. Her short hair beneath his palm felt real. Why? She wasn’t even crying…but he felt such a twang in his heart that moved him to tears. His sister only laughed at the comment. He was just a kid. You’ll have a fun time. If he had the courage to trust in a female…If. “Okaasan! What’s going on? This is a fcuken whore house! NO!!!!! Okaa-san!!! You told me we were going to get new sneakers!” .was making his life fcuked up. …. tears just dripping. He remembered seeing a bathroom on the way to the room so he walked out of the isolated room and crept down the hall to the small bathroom. making his feelings all jumbled up. She held out her hand to the greasy fellow and didn’t smile again until he placed a wad of bills in her hand. “He’s a beauty—just like you. he found himself crying. bargaining with the man still until he placed an even larger sum of money into her palm. crouching down to her face…into her eyes. He cast a look of distrust to the polyester bastard and was given a reply of. It was…everything that defined Suma. he could feel her warm scalp radiating heat into his palms. telling her own daughter to join her in the fun because she had given her daughter genes of beauty. but for some reason. “Mom!!!!” he yelled towards a tattered woman that stood sadly near the entrance of the shady building. but pity because although he had her beautiful genes.Corruption. He thought…maybe my sister could help…maybe she hasn’t turned completely bad.” Hotaru’s sister said to the tall fellow that stood before them.he saw his sister’s face from where he stood. Green was toxic. And his mother giggled back in return. …. And he knew she liked it because of the nights she came home. He was naïve. He just wanted money. He spotted another youth struggling to free him self from burly hands. Just wait in this room okay?” He would have waited in the room. He understood that he would have many nights like this with Suma. but he had to piss.

…What? Hotaru pulled himself into the bathroom, the deep pang of betrayal seeping into him…his sister…that traitor! That fcuken traitor! He didn’t want to cry over her….but it was just…what the hell? He knew they would be looking for him soon. Shit. He looked up. There was a bathroom window. He was lucky. Hotaru escaped, unlike that poor twelve year old boy. Sneakers? Great excuse, he thought as he wiped away his tears. End Flashback Girls fcuked up things. Suma was fcuking up his life…but what? Why did he hesitate to say that he wanted to kill her off too? He continued to pet her head, trying to calm her, realizing as he kept his stare with Suma’s cloudy, tear-filled eyes, that he didn’t mind that Suma was just fcuking up his life more because…if. If, the thought ran through his mind. The more he looked into her…the more he felt compelled to believe that he had to do what he could to help her. If he cared. If he had the courage to go against her father. If he had the courage to trust a woman. A slight reassuring grin played on his usually sarcastic lips. His eyes warmed, tears still spilling. Suma was staring at him questioningly too. “Why?” she rasped. She reached out to touch Hotaru’s tears, her touch electrifying. “Why are you crying too? Like Kazuya? Like Tomo?” She looked at his tears like they were magical: a fantasy. Hotaru took her hand from his face and squeezed it. “Because you’re Suma,” was all he could say. Suma broke into a small, small smile that Hotaru would lock away. “He said that too.” Hotaru didn’t ask who, just grateful that he saw a smile, even if it was a crappy one. His decision was made. “Suma….Don’t worry okay? I won’t tell your father,” he told her. He would care about Suma…He didn’t like her dad anyways…and he wasn’t trusting just any woman now…was he? He was trusting Suma. The leader of the Tigers. He really didn’t understand her at all…but his instincts were telling him that he should stick by Suma, even if she was on the losing side. Because…it was Suma. And Suma had such green, addicting eyes that told him…that cried out to him that if you believed in those cursed eyes, you had the opportunity to live. Not live like he had, where he hated the world. Where he lived only to save his own skin. Looking into those eyes that wanted to cry…told him that living didn’t necessarily mean that life was easy. In his case…he had to fight to live. He had to have courage. Chapter Nineteen The atmosphere of the room was unusual. Deafening. The classroom that once held the notoriety of Suma Tanabi was now silenced by her absence. Gone, but no one said a word—no one that mattered anyways. The only students who had publicly cried out in agony about this certain gang leader’s sudden disappearance were the dedicated fangirls. The same ones who had written fanfics about her. All across the school, they cried for weeks on end, wondering where their Suma had gone, their hearts breaking from their unrequited love, now reduced to smithereens because they wouldn’t be able to see Suma again. Tomo and Yuki had gone too, which only raised the number of crying girls, which only raised the bar of emptiness. And there were now two empty seats in class 3-D. Suma. Tomo. In place of four people who in the past were seen as good friends were now four separate entities. Strangers was the term some people would use. Onira’s seat moved to the front, his eyes no longer focused on Suma Tanabi, only seeing the scrape of chalk on black, ignoring the lack of snores that used to plummet through the air so often in the past. Katsuhiro moved to the back corner, to where he could easily text his girlfriend without getting caught by the teachers. He only had eyes for his Tae-Yoo. Smart little Hoji didn’t move, but he didn’t talk to anyone either. He remained in his seat, his eyes churning deep in thought, trying to find answers—he thought that if he tried hard enough, he would find a solution to this mess. But nothing. His fingers tapped with each second of the clock, thinking…thinking. Sometimes, he just wanted to stop thinking, to just stop caring because…it was useless, wasn’t it? Sometimes, he felt like it would be best if he just…pretended that Suma didn’t exist, because where Suma existed, the only answers were vague ones.

They all noticed too that the relationships between one another had plummeted. They were never really friends to begin with. Only with Suma. And now that Suma was gone…they had no reason to associate. Of course, there was something very wrong about this picture. Kazuya. Where was Kazuya in all of this mess? None of them really cared to prod for answers because it was too painful because Kazuya—good little Kazuya—he was so fixated on being more and more like Suma. He would miss more and more school days—on the days he came back, there were visible signs of violence inflicted on his face. He limped when he walked now. When he sat down in his chair, he never looked at the board—only gazed at Suma’s chair, at how empty it was. There was so much longing in his eyes…so much sadness. But no one helped him because it was too painful. Kazuya wanted so desperately to do what Suma did and no one wanted to help him because they just wanted to forget about Suma. To them, they didn’t want a cheap imitation. They either wanted the original or nothing at all. Kazuya would never reach what Suma reached. So they couldn’t care. They didn’t speak to—didn’t acknowledge Kazuya until he did something that stabbed them all. Opened old wounds, making them fresh again. He came in one day wearing Suma’s head band. He looked dirty, unwashed, traces of dry blood caked on him. He walked in with a mission. His eyes were fixated on something, his jaw clenched. And again…he was limping, but heavier on this day. His hand touched her desk, swept across the surface where she used to sleep. Suma’s desk. And then. He sat down. In her desk. It was taboo. Wrong. A stab in the face. Hoji, who had never changed seats, immediately stiffened by Kazuya’s sudden move. “What do you think you’re doing Kazuya?” he asked, an edge to his voice. No answer. Kazuya looked down at his hands, unable to look Hoji in the eye. Standing now, Hoji grasped Kazuya by the shoulders. “Get out of there now Kazuya!” Iie. Kazuya wouldn’t comply and remained seated, unwilling to let Hoji pull him from the seat, his face still looking down at his hands. Hoji’s raised voice brought attention to the two, making Katsu and Onira look. The expressions on their faces turned from curious to furious in seconds. That was Suma’s desk. What…was Kazuya doing? “Get out of there Kazuya!” Hoji roared, pulling at Kazuya with more strength. He wouldn’t budge and just shook his head, still unable to look Hoji in the face, like a child hiding in a corner, unable to look at their mother, only shaking their head, turning away. By now, Onira had set his thin notebooks down and strolled over, cool fury gracing his features. “Kazuya Nishika. Remove yourself from that seat.” His tone was clipped, hard. But Kazuya wouldn’t relent, and only continued to shake his head, his eyes unable to look at any of them. Poised Katsuhiro finally stepped in, his cell phone in his pocket. But he didn’t have any mind-blowing words to give either. He just repeated the order. “Kazuya. Move.” Kazuya shook his head. No. Why was he being so stubborn? Hoji wondered. What the hell did he think he was doing? Settting his phone down, Katsu pushed at Kazuya. “GET OUT OF THERE RIGHT NOW!!!!” He rocked the desk, but it wouldn’t tip over with Kazuya’s feet that were firmly planted to the ground. The teacher hadn’t come in yet. But even if he had…he wouldn’t have been able to control the three of them homing in on Kazuya. They were just too angry—so so angry. They were barely keeping their emotions civil.

Hoji decked Kazuya on the head. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, huh? What are doing???” Kazuya shook his head sadly. He finally lifted his face to his former comrades who would never understand. He had been crying. Like the little kid who couldn’t face the world, Kazuya finally raised his face to the world. His eyes were puffy, tears streaming down his face, but it didn’t soften their resolved hearts. They didn’t want him in Suma’s seat. Who cares if he was crying? His voice was so small. Kazuya sniffed. “I just wanted to see…how Suma saw. I wanted to feel how Suma felt. And it was so lonely….so so lonely. I tried to hold in my tears like Suma did but look at me! I’m crying like a baby right now….” Those words…no one heard them. They didn’t care. No reason was good enough to give Kazuya the right to sit in Suma’s chair. Try to replace her. Onira took advantage of Kazuya’s moment of weakness and swung his fist, knocking the sobbing boy to the floor, out of the seat. He didn’t care what Kazuya was trying to do. “You’re not Suma, Kazuya. Don’t try to be.” Kazuya lay on the floor, unhelped, but he didn’t bother to get up. He began to mumble to himself…sad, lonely words. “Suma…I don’t care what they say. They don’t understand how much you hurt. They’re trying to forget you Suma…but not me. I could never forget you. No matter how hard I tried, I could never erase you.” -Tomo stood in front of Akira’s house. So this was why Akira never wanted him to come over. He lived in the slums, his house just a crappy little hut. He knocked on the door but no one answered. It was a shady neighborhood; no kids were playing outside. He knocked on the door again. It was now or never. He didn’t know if he would have the courage to return to anything of Akira’s after this. He pushed the rickety board open, revealing a house that was dirtier on the inside than it had appeared from the outside. He wondered where everyone was. The thick fume of beer and feces rubbed against his nose, drenching his senses. “Shhhh!!!” he heard. A sound of whimpering was the reply. Curious, Tomo crept forwards towards the noise, his arm extending out to open the door to the dark room. “AAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!” A small girl jumped out at him, charging into him, waving an iron pan in her fist. “RUN!!” she pleaded. Nothing. “RUNN!!!” she cried out again, but whoever she was talking to didn’t seem to want to move. Tomo tended her off of him with one hand while the other whacked at the wall, spreading in circles, trying to find a light of some sort. The switch flicked on, illuminating the room. “You!” Tomo cried out in recognition. “You’re…Akira’s sister, aren’t you?” She was estranged, spaghetti strands of hair blown across her face from her attempt at attacking Tomo. After hearing her brother’s name, she subdued a bit. “You knew him?” her voice came out softly. Tomo nodded slowly. “Hai. …Eh…Where are you’re parents?” Her lips pursed, not wanting to tell him, suspicious to why he was asking. “I just wanted to come by here for once. Akira never let me visit.” He glanced around. It felt like Akira. “This is his room, isn’t it?” His sister nodded. Tomo just started laughing. At first just a short chuckle…and then it was an eruption. “Hahah. HahHAHAHAAHHAHAHAHA. HAHH…..Hahhh..hha….ha.” The two children looked on at him as if he were crazy lunatic, his fingers cradling the edges of his eyes, combing back into the roots of his hair, sweeping away the warm tears that flowed, despite his reluctance to do so. Grieving…wasn’t supposed to last this long, right?

She scurried upwards in alarm. muttering. “Where are you bastards? Did you do what your dumb brother did? Leave me and spite me with hospital bills? Huh? Huh?” A menagerie of items could be heard hitting the walls. With silent allies. his breath reeking of cheap alcohol. Ring ring. shielding him. Why was it that she lived when you were the better person…” His gargled words were interrupted by a bout of yelling coming from outside of the room.” He felt her hurry her steps. He thought that it was better this way. unforgiving to the mother that gave up so easily. crossing them back and forth in front of her body. “…with Akira. …. Maybe…she had imagined everything.” Hotaru threw the bells at her and said. seeing in each of them his lost friend and he sobbed harder. hitting Tomo. surprised by his actions. He walked ahead. “Otou-san drinks every day. a question in her eyes. Tomo looked at the kids—how…no matter how brave of a look they fronted.” The room was perfectly put together. “Wake up. “Akira…It should have been me—not you. Akira’s father had burst in. Take so damn long. he said. her voice hard. Hotaru jingled the two bells in front of her face again. She didn’t say anything much. “Wear them.” He threw on his backpack and left the room. With a hurried look at her surroundings. He towered over the small children in an intimidating posture. Akira’s sister ran in front of her younger brother. He was being nice? She rubbed at her head. Nothing was out of place. or kicking a hole into that wall. She would survive this way. Hotaru smiled grimly. pushing him to the ground. The door opened. Suma shrugging on her backpack. With a glance back.” the elder sibling spoke.” the girl said. That Suma didn’t realize he sympathized.He gently touched the faces of Akira’s siblings. That he would help her. the two small bells swinging back and forth before her eyes.” What? Tomo knelt down to their height. confused by the events that had passed. Things were back to normal. But it didn’t matter. shuffling his feet as he waited for Suma. . at a loss for any other words. The door swung open. By some cruel miracle…maybe she hadn’t trashed her room. All the time. just loud enough for her to hear him. “Otou-san’s not bad. “Sh:t. That hurt like a b:tch. He just gets like this when he drinks. her breath caught wondering if maybe. feebly defending her father’s tarnished name. causing Suma to rise.Sh:t. He isn’t. “Where’s your mother?” he asked. fear always laced they way they stood. his dirty shirt stained with beer. Because…it was easier this way. “Slow b:tch.” he muttered. Hotaru was standing in front of her. his face flushed red from the alcohol. she had imagined punching out that lamp. It should have been SUMA! Not you. crashing to the floor. The younger brother was blunt. Akira’s sister shook her hands. She turned to face him. -The small bells jingled. “Be ready in five minutes. He only rang the two little bells again.

” was all he said. -Yuki stared hard.” she whispered. “I asked you to come for a reason. she wouldn’t retaliate. It was Suma’s father. The blade was glinting in the light. What…exactly was Tomo doing? As if Tomo could read his thoughts. “These are Akira’s siblings. Just watch. unkempt man. only downwards instead of sideways.None of them?” he asked. His mouth popped open instantly. Hotaru thought…that there was a slim chance that Suma would once again refute with her father but as always. right? .” Yuki licked his lips.” “Yuki. Suma…her father put her under the spotlight again. Was she really okay with this? Hotaru bit back his words. Because for now…he could only fight a silent battle for Suma. “Cut them all off. confused. her face blank. Because…these two are finally home. Because he would never tell Suma. Because he was her bodyguard. so heartlessly. Her father. -Hotaru’s cell rang. Suffer.” Tomo murmured. But he had to. “I will help you. “Tonight. And Hotaru? He too…would watch. she never ceased to surprise him. Her future. We’re throwing a welcoming party. Her self. smiling.” The only way to describe Yuki’s reaction is to take note of how a microwave door opens. “No no no no!!!! Please!!!!” the man cried out. but Hotaru got it.They were headed to school. And suffer. She said it so coldly. Tomo’s hands were being detained by two smaller hands. And he hoped that Suma…that she wouldn’t give up.” so he hoped that she was strong enough to will herself against the tides that would soon come and try to sweep her under their waves. just like that. dots of blood splattered within the cracks. “So? How many? …. he smiled. Suma would endure another torturous night tonight…and on this night. one on each side. -“How many fingers should we let him keep?” Suma’s father asked casually as he splayed out the fingers of the balding. He…had no say in this. He picked it up. He really didn’t know…what he could do to rescue her. well-sharpened. He pulled out his pocketknife and flicked it open. What the hell was going on? “Tomo? What’s the deal? What’s with the kids? You tell me to wait at your house because something comes up and when I come…you pop up with kids? You don’t even like kids.

His pointer finger disappeared. the wailing voice screeched through the air. don’t you think so?” What could the poor man do but agree. The body was cold. the tips of her lips lifted. She stood straight. watching the horror with an unconvincing smile on her face. Let’s cut off his toes too! Haha…. She would enjoy it. wasn’t it? Her eyes would blink now and then.” he said. Clip. Dreaming was…just as bad as this. She wouldn’t cry.” she whispered.” She didn’t even try to close her eyes.What a great idea. “That was fun. he snapped off the finger from its stringent tendons. with tears streaking his pallid cheeks? Her father slowly grated the pocketknife against the skin of the man’s pinky. Slowly. freak! But. not her father’s. resounding against the cement walls that barred them in. And Suma stared. She no longer counted the centimeters of blood that spread from the body. her eyes wide open. “Finally! You’re coming around. They were her words. devoid of life. she told herself. Index.Suma’s father nodded at her words. He proceeded to pass out from the blood loss. His middle finger. . each rough cut of meat torturous enough to invoke a new definition to pain. I change my mind. distorted against unshed tears. Pop. his other hand trapped within the vice-like grip of her father’s men. The second scream was fainter but nonetheless disturbing to the ears. making sure to have the last word before he left the room “Shoot him. He had given up hope. The puddle spread like an overturned bucket of slop. forcing him to stay awake for the finale. First. “Cut them all off. The man’s sobs were softer. his fingers being clipped off one by one. Or course she would never forget it. “Make sure he suffers and that the b:tch watches him die a slow death. her face blank. his screams so useless against the cold.” Suma only nodded. His hand was now no better than a branchless tree. Chapter Twenty The screaming. She had said that. but one of his retainers pulled his scalp back. but never waver from the growing puddle of blood. He turned. only adorned by bleeding knobs and one broken branch. Love it with every breathing moment that she witnessed it. Suma’s father played around with the bleeding man. Clip. Smile. She couldn’t faint. didn’t even try to stop her father by saying that he had forgotten his promise to rid the man of his toes too. The first scream of pain was the worst. flat faces of this mob of thugs. she barely noticed when the man had stopped crying in pain. He cut around the bone of the pinky and smiling. forcing her to never forget. the orbs of her eyes flat. immobile to the one-handed clawing of the victim that pulled at her leg. How was it possible for a man to bleed so much? The moment was carved. daring her to forget it ever happened. forever stained upon her memory. to secure her from fainting. He made sure it was slow and grisly. No. aren’t you. stiff. She enjoyed this misery. All she could see was that stamped image burning through her vision. his thumb disappeared. There was a large smile on her father’s face. Suma’s mouth twitched. There was no point in closing her eyes to this. A rough hand was to her scalp. Standing there. she wanted to tell them. Gone. her body unflinching with each bullet shot that rang past her ear into the desolate man that lay on the bloody floor. the reflection seeming to waver slightly. His strength had caused the extension to be severed but it still hung limp off of the man’s hand.

There was a swollen lump on her head. Who the hell was yelling at her? She glanced around her surroundings. It didn’t seem real. Yet with her stupid. She lifted her head. “Suma. When did a rope get strung around her neck? Why didn’t she resist? Why didn’t she just punch him.” She trembled.” the voice repeated. dragged away like an animal from the cold corpse. knock him out cold? She could have easily broken his pudgy arm. Honestly. “Suma. It felt stupid. She recognized that sound. Suma relented. What had happened to Hotaru? He had been behind her right? No. staring at her. but the pungent smells that struck her were anything but flowers and silk. Tense. her breath still puffing out white clouds. “Bang!” His slimy voice rolled off of Suma. “BANG BANG BANG!” she heard. she just couldn’t believe anything that had happened to her. It was the sharp metallic smell of sticky blood smattered across her face. There was no point. the sign of a gun.” a voice whispered. Hotaru had disappeared some time from her side last night. realizing that it was better that she didn’t remember. she found herself unable to resist. Sometimes. she could not recall even falling to a slumber. It was the sound of a lock. everything just happened to replay in her mind again. dislocating it right off at the joint. glazed. No. She tried to remember how she passed out the previous night. threateningly close. Groggy. “So easy. She hadn’t moved from her desolate spot in the freezing underground cubicle. Four prisoners were lined up. trying to fend off the tears that threatened to break her solid form. She immediately shuffled away from the dead body that had slept the night beside her. For how long she stood there was unaccounted for. “Suma!” Her eyes snapped open. Who had done that? A burly hand grabbed for her. Exhausted. drenching her attire. his eyes still open. swaying slightly to and fro. Grim. She rubbed her head. “Come here!” he growled. The whole damned system was fcuked up. Don’t. kneeling on the ground with brown bags over their heads.Her eyes were a cool green beneath the plastic contacts and only grew cooler and cooler. . Damn she wished that sound never existed. She threw a frazzled look around her. It was wet. It was the voice of her father laughing at his own childish words. “Bang!” Then he came towards Suma. Her sleep deprived eyes blinked. but as he led her deeper out of the maze of rooms. barely standing up.” he whispered. “Cut them all off. the coarse rope scuffing against her irritated neck. She didn’t deserve to cry because monsters didn’t know what the fcuk tears were. Suma shook her head. A gangster re-adopted by her Mafia father? Throw in a couple of deaths and some tears and Voila. One fricken Blockbuster. over and over again. No one but the limbless-handed man. unrelenting. She had heard it enough in her lifetime. psychotic recurring mindset. unable to see clearly—trying to understand. Click. accusing her. wide awake. He hadn’t. All that was certain was that when she opened her eyes. Her skin had become all dry and chafed. She almost believed that she had fallen asleep in the bath. She felt stupid. She was woozy. His shooting finger shot again.

now do we?” Suma shook her head.I’ll take that as a compliment. remember?” she whispered. She never minded a mess. She had to pull her self control together from losing it. almost wishing they could hear her. Four is better than one. As long as they were happy. Suma. I thought that maybe you were more than a jackass…a pretty boy. more pathetic than me. That they were okay. Beatings. still rattling it. There was a dry brown crust covering her clothes and her hair. People that do that….“This is your gift. No tears. but then called himself stupid. feeling nauseous at the twisted sight. walking straight into the shower. Kazuya was suddenly very hostile towards Katsu. because he realized that…it only shone brighter in the face of Suma’s willing subjection to her father’s wishes. Suma’s blood. He had done it again…. No. The bandana he had cross-stitched upon still smelled of Suma. He just…had to say his share and then he could go. Every damned day. A few girls scooted further from the tense scene. Watching torturing. Last night. He hit his fist weakly against Hoji’s desk. Her father whacked her roughly in the back of the head. He could see irritated marks around her neck. He waited for Suma to return in the night. He hated ragging others but…what he had said back there was only the truth.” Katsu spoke first. but hygiene? Kazuya had never seen someone scrub so hard. Suma was willing to take this torture if it meant that they were safe. This past year…as a Tiger. I used my one wish for you. He awoke upon hearing their words. At least…that’s what Suma would have said. He grabbed his belongings and glared at Hoji…Onira…. We wouldn’t want you to be a truant student. This would be her motto. It would be ridiculous if he got sick because of a piece of cloth. She thought this and only this. She hurt so much. but he fell asleep. “I just want you guys to be happy. You seem to throw everything away with such ease. even when they don’t want you to. What a nightmare. turning it on without bothering to undress her dirty clothes. She slumped against the tiled walls and hit at it uselessly. You care more about strangers more than your own friends. What had happened after he left? He berated his cowardice. She saw Hotaru dozing outside of her door. He clutched desperately onto Suma’s last gift…last keepsake. unable to stand it. dark bags beneath her eyes. “I hate people like you. You’re pretending to not care…but why else would you behave so irrationally?” “Shut up. He couldn’t bring himself to watch. criticizing herself with weak words for her helplessness. -Kazuya couldn’t forget the indignant expressions of his former gang members who did nothing but ignore him as had laid on the cool schoolroom floor. He was afraid to even wash the fouled cloth. I know that you’re all probably thinking I’m just talking about dumb things—making up excuses but it’s only the truth. But…it had to be okay. Her hair was matted across her face. You go around. as well as the fresh smell of shampoo. He supposed it would be best to wash it. the random kind that you buy that’s inexpensive. isn’t it?” She could already hear their muffled cries. poking your nose into everyone’s business. “All three of you. right? This was the right decision. Her father really did want her to go crazy. you all flip out on me. Flashback He slowly pulled himself from off of the ground when he heard the murmur of his classmates speak of the teacher coming down the hall. He didn’t want to stay here. She just walked into her room.look at you!” “….Katsu. you’ll have to wait until after school.He had been a coward and left Suma to fend off the wolves again.” . It was the smell of iron. “You walk around pretending that Suma never existed but when I just touch her desk for crying out loud. You are even more despicable. his eyes widening slightly at the sight of her. to push over the edge. To witness one murder and then to wake up to the birth of four more murders. as if she had been tied in a noose. She was escorted up the stairs to her room.you always have a sick front on so that people think you’re so beautiful and kind…that sort of junk pisses me off. It was her only decision. Suma always had a thing about being clean but messy. I told Suma that she shouldn’t have welcomed you because….” he seethed. he had left the suffocating room. “Of course. sympathizing.

because he had never helped Akira. If I’m a fcuken girl. huh? How the hell did Akira turn out so god damn good? Huh? Huh?” Tomo was shaking the sloppy old man.I don’t get any of you. Flashback Akira’s father burst into the small bedroom. -Yuki still was unable to grasp the enormity of Tomo’s decision. The last time he was called a girl…was by Suma. Tomo was genuinely caught off guard. his face flushed red. to join Akira. Akira’s sister shielding the little boy. Best Friends Forever. That whatever they were trying to do to destroy their memories of Suma…was as good as nil because no matter what. Tomo was still a kid himself and he just waltzed in with two kids like they were the latest fad. because she wasn’t strong enough to survive for her two other children. “…. then you…” He was seething.He turned to Onira. Now that was something to add to the books. He’s not!” the girl cried out. Kazuya looked at them in remorse. That title would always exist. Damn it! He watched the two children.” he stated lewdly. Like he did.” she cried out. Tomo yelled at the man. The little girl ran to defend her horrible father whose sluggish form couldn’t keep up with Tomo’s anger. He towered over the two siblings. “Teme. “And then you…I don’t even want to look at you. his own son’s girlfriend. Just look at him!” Tomo’s eyes were bulging. “He’s going to turn out just like his bastard of a brother!” “Akira was not a bastard. “Don’t hurt him! Please. With his deranged fists. He couldn’t believe it…How did Akira…stand this bastard? He couldn’t just let it be. “Sh:t! Why are you such a sh:tty father. How dare he…” The drunk didn’t even bother to lash out at the younger man berating him. grabbing Tomo by the arms. Yeah. Yuki’s tense face softened. To each of them…that’s what Suma was. they loved Suma. had relied on Akira too much for breath. Kazuya knew that even though those three were dumb asses for being so cold to the truth. his breath reeking of cheap alcohol. “He’s a sh:tty excuse for a human being. And no matter what fall outs…what moments of cruelty…BFF. he lifted up the small girl. Tomo swiped his arms out at the air. “You honestly think I don’t know that? Who’s the one whose been telling you that Suma won’t return? It certainly wasn’t a blind man. Everyone in this house…did they all just give up when Akira died? Akira’s mother…if he had heard rightly before. “What do you mean ‘he doesn’t mean to be like this’? Then what the hell does he mean to do? Be a nice guy? That’s just…not true. his dirty shirt stained with beer. . “You! Are you Akira’s b:tch? No wonder he was never home. he got that the two runts were Akira’s brother and sister but Tomo…adopted them? It was crazy. “He…he doesn’t mean to be like this. pushing him. I know Suma’s not coming back…So why would any of you care if I sit in an empty desk that no one will return to?” End flashback He just wanted them to realize that they didn’t know what they were talking about. He turned to the two children. Akira was no bastard. A wry grin formed on his face. This fat beer belly didn’t really know.” “Grow up Kazuya! Suma’s gone! Get that through your thick skull! Quit trying to be Suma! Quit pissing us off!” Katsu murmured dangerously. so damn frustrated. causing Tomo to smile slightly at her bravery. But when Tomo explained to him. How…how dare he call Akira a bastard. With a scrunched up face. She was right. He was probably so busy with you. BFF. did he? And he thought that Tomo was a girl—better yet. but dropped the old man. That’s why…she took her own life. his head knocking into the wall with empty thuds. disgusted. “Don’t you dare insinuate that Akira…that Akira is a bastard like you old man!” Akira’s father looked startled to discover another being in the room. He struggled to raise himself from the ground and made himself known to the inebriated man. Akira’s father was a sorry excuse for a father. “Don’t try to help him you little b:tch!” their father yelled.” Tomo shook his head. Tomo grabbed Akira’s father by the throat. letting him slide to the floor.” He turned to Hoji. clearly seeing younger versions of his best friend and it ached him. His derogatory comment struck Tomo.

And Yuki. That’s what friends were for. Why did her father do this? He was all ready for Suma. He didn’t like how the circumstances came to be but agreed heartily that Tomo’s willingness to foster the two children would make Akira…where ever he was up there…really happy. “What will you do?” he whispered. He felt dumb again—one of those sh:tty moments that festered in him when he realized that he really sucked at ‘making things better’. She wanted to spit on her father. As a friend. a fifth grader talked down reality to him. aren’t you? You’re not mad at me are you?” “Let go of us!” Akira’s sister yelled again. Why? he wanted to ask. Epiphany. because although she was so young.” The toddler finally found room to speak. Upon her return. relieved.” “How could I? If I did. knew that Tomo. Despite the sh:tty conditions. right? Hotaru swore to himself that he wouldn’t abandon Suma again. standing before the same four men that had been kneeling there since morning. “Come…live with me. okay?” She didn’t believe him. “Akira…you’re telling me something. Chapter Twenty-One She swore internally. He knew how badly Tomo craved for family. they’ll separate the two of us. fear still in his eyes as he glanced at his broken father on the floor. out of these repetitive hands that restrained her. That’s why I never answered the door. He would just end up ripping Akira’s family even more apart. Tomo grabbed the two children’s arms once more. . “Let go! You’re going to take us to Social Services aren’t you? I know all about it. Even if he is your dad. recognizing their clothes. cuss him out without any damn repercussions. the two of them were willing to stay with that fcuked up man. He looked to Tomo hopefully. with his smiling words and his blunt demeanor…would make a fine father. “I’m serious. She wanted to run over to the four kneeling teens with those crinkled brown paper bags over their heads and hug them. Why the hell would they want to stay? The girl answered Tomo’s thoughts. he would watch to the end what Suma’s father planned for her tonight. She began to shake a little bit. he had the privilege of witnessing this. “Don’t worry. but each of the four fresh victims were young. -Suma stepped into the house again.He grabbed each of the children’s arms. Tomo took the two children by the hands and squeezed them reassuringly.” He cracked a hesitant smile.” They struggled against Tomo. I’ll be…your Otou-san. If you take us there. refusing to go with him. despite his bitterness towards reality. About Akira. Akira would come back from the dead to make me regret it. no matter what he used to be. No matter how disgusting. didn’t he? The four victims with the paper bags over their heads were dressed like her four friends. Yuki was willing to throw him some pointers. “You’re not staying here. He knew so little about how sacred family was. further from here. That man—he’s not your father anymore. “You’re lying. himself and Yuki that had been hung upon a wall. You won’t be separated.” Tomo smirked bitterly. a gun in his hand. free them from here. As long as they weren’t separated. He understood.” End Flashback Yuki ended up accepting Tomo’s decision. She wanted to walk away. and here they were now. His eyes were soft as they drifted across a photo of Akira. Tomo made her stay still. School had just finished. It couldn’t be them. She baffled him. Just when he really thought that he grew up a little. You don’t have to stay here anymore. walk away. And if…Tomo stumbled in this. yanking her towards that wretched cellar. her father’s men immediately grabbed her. even when his greatest wish…was to have a family. she was damn right. Her father really wanted to drive her crazy. making him realize that he knew so little about life. She hadn’t noticed before.

” Suma breathed hard. She always made him cry. Always that damned sadistic grin! she thought. No. Click. And ironically. Her father had handed her a gun…just like the one that was situated in her hands at the moment. but Suma could only pity him. so that she would be incapable of shooting the gun. You don’t have to do this. But this…She wanted to strike out at him so bad. Her dad was just tricking her. But. “Do it!” Suma brought her hand up. aimed at Kazuya—no—the boy who looked like Kazuya…her finger wouldn’t connect with the trigger. She would only think that these four were imposters.She looked to her father. thinking that no one would hear her.” her father urged. She always did. the real ones…her real friends would die. to not be so stubborn. These four…were strangers. but one of the captives had heard her so clearly. Her friends were lined up just like this…and then she… She did it. It wasn’t Hoji right there or Katsu kneeling there. No. Hotaru stepped forward from behind her. you would rather strike the stranger than the friend. He always pushed her to be true to herself. It was just like this. she would be able to just call him an asshole. because it’s so much easier to hurt someone you don’t know. all trembling in fear. He…was just setting her up right? These four kids…weren’t her friends. “You know the drill. She couldn’t help but remember that dream she had a while back.” she whispered. the four before her. his hand on her shoulder. right? It wasn’t them. “I’m so sorry. despite everything. If she didn’t hurt them…her father would hurt her friends. I saved them especially for you. Her vision cleared. her resolve clearly shaken. Suma wouldn’t think of that. The noise was muffled. If maybe her father would answer her with a b:tchy reply every time. That person wasn’t Onira. Who are you to bring the four of them here? Her father did love to torture her senses. What are you doing to me? she wanted to know. but no. she was granted with five fingers that worked perfectly fine on each of her hands. Her father noted her prolonged silence. Always. Now. “Suma. He didn’t deserve it. Even though her arm was out. And her mind returned to the dilemma at hand. His mouth was probably covered. That…if she denied her father. A grin was her reply. …Right? “Go on you monster. sobbing even as guards kicked at him to shut the hell up. The cruel reality of life is that when you get the choice to hurt two people.” . knowing that they would die at any minute. The motion of his hand on her shoulder was Hotaru telling her. before you can’t do it at all. It was Kazuya. He took a hold of her numbed hands and placed cold iron in them. She wished she didn’t have fingers. this was by far—it was pretty high up there on her list of sh:tty experiences past and future. Aren’t you happy?” Of all the things that Suma had endured. “What are you doing?” she whispered. He began to cry. but the way he was grinning just then put him in a category with the loonies. She couldn’t think like that. the one that was sobbing so openly before Suma was the last person she wanted to see cry again. He was just messing with her. This person wasn’t Kazuya. “Come on. Yes. She couldn’t take it. even though she didn’t mean to. she told herself.

“How could you do it?” One last shove and she crumbled to the ground. More than just a battle between hurting her friends and these strangers—they were strangers. A gurgled scream each time. When there’s only a one-way radio.But the two of them…didn’t connect connect. crawling towards the fallen prisoners. Hotaru’s mirrored looked slunk into a look of annoyance. She took a step forward and pointed. Not one person. He just killed. she wouldn’t dare take it. but he couldn’t read beneath it. Closing her eyes. squirming in agony beneath the cover of the brown paper bag. it was a hand reaching out to a dying creature only to be rejected. Hotaru shook. “What the fcuk are you waiting for?” he yelled at her. All he could come up with was. Slowly. A body brushed against him. Even if Suma had realized that Hotaru was meaning to help her. How could he even begin to know? From the outside looking in. “Bastard! I hate you!” Suma was hitting him weakly. Shoving Suma aside. disbelieving. . Imposters. Suma couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t real. He could see her doing that thing again. it was a decision that bargained so much more. blind to outside forces. shoving him. but from the inside out. he saw the surface mountain of confusion and pain. He couldn’t watch it anymore. But in this moment. where she would shut out the world and then decided something without…listening to anyone else. but he really just wanted to join Suma in her shock fest. But she pulled the trigger on command. Her eyes were so wide. her eyes were only plastered to the cool metal gun within her grasp. She hadn’t noticed that her gun had a silencer. They were only imposters. “That’s how you do it! What the fcuk is your problem you piece of sh:t? Why do you take so damn long?” Those were the words he said. No. and the messages they could yell at one another were shadowed by the rumbling of cliffs. Her sweaty hands curled around the weapon tighter. she didn’t even notice until one of the bodies fell over. “I didn’t want to see Suma do it. until they were almost black. It wasn’t Hoji. her face pleaded. Please. darker. Her father was becoming impatient. and then her color drained from her face when she realized. she pulled off the paper bag of the dead boy closest to her. His tone startled her. Because all of those helping hands she had taken beforehand…she had destroyed. how do you answer—when the mute button is on. They fell and Suma could only turn to Hotaru with a look of horror. Hotaru closed his eyes. to support her. He had used a gun. It was just…stupid. Please don’t let it be them. couldn’t even begin to comprehend the structures of friendship because Hotaru had never had a friend. He was really scared. a crevasse that neither of them could cross. right? More than this. he took the gun and shot at the remaining three prisoners. their blood soaking through the brown paper bags that covered their heads. She brought up her hand to his face and began to smear away the blood. she opened her eyes and found that she couldn’t tell. pale in comparison to the wrongs that balanced it. always trying to ‘do the right thing’. Because. Her eyes were darkening. trying to weigh the consequences. her face contorted in anguish. The right thing…was only ‘right’ for a few. Suma unconsciously shrugged off Hotaru. in this room. but three.” But was that good enough? …It had to be. excruciatingly. the echoes lost within the multiple gorges. how do you hear? Hotaru didn’t understand the conflicts within Suma. the scene of Hotaru’s hand on Suma may have looked like a guard holding down his prisoner. darker. trying to reason his actions. Hotaru felt like a void was created between the two of them. darker.

made you shake because you’re nervous. he wanted to yell at her. She couldn’t stop smiling. Her face was ash-white. Out of nowhere. No reaction. her eyes scanning the book report that she would have to do for the following week. because she knew that there weren’t very many options left for her. No. on the night that Suma killed one and he killed three. that was it. And every night. These were all fakes. No. she would use it mercilessly. right? Hell no. Yes. she crawled to the other bodies and pulled off their coverings. It didn’t make you want to cry senseless tears or tear out the wall because you couldn’t prevent the world from turning. Love made your heart flutter. The once bright light in her eyes that had grown faint now became extinguished. Handing her ‘Get Well’ flowers wouldn’t work. these days turned to weeks and from weeks turned to months until the calendar was even changed to accommodate for the change in year. On this day.” And Suma. In a twisted manner. Hotaru watched as Suma’s lips slowly rose into a plastered smile. It wasn’t love. There were no words left to say for an empty person. Why are you smiling you idiot? What are you doing? “Hahaha. but now it was just a matter of…how. The girl hater. That’s why she decided to shoot. “Eat up. It was a decision that bargained so much more. seeing Suma crawl into her void caused Hotaru to worry lines into his face. that it had barely begun and she had already thrown in her towel even though there wasn’t sweat on it. “Good aim. . Her smile was a farewell smile.” Suma’s father said in glee. It was no matter that Hotaru had shot the last three bullets. with what looked to be a smile on his flawless face. had been so lost in his own shock that he hadn’t seen Suma give up. In the end. And then. You took all the fun away from poor little bastard here. And she didn’t make a move to stop it. Suma. She decided that it was okay for her to die. tell her that the fight wasn’t over yet. His kind actions made the girls watching swoon in admiration and the guys undoubtedly jealous. He patted Hotaru’s back. Hotaru. He knew that he had to help Suma. The leader of the Tigers. And she would have shot the rest if Hotaru didn’t interfere.” he urged her. Who needed words anymore when what was said made no difference? Hotaru. It was Suma who had done the first. Flashback They were in school. You get too antsy. To Suma Tanabi. a blank face on.Frenzied. Like great fears unleashed. he would have knocked sense into her. Hotaru felt so wronged by Suma’s situation. who appeared to be so calm. The stubborn friend. her body stiff. It was just wrong and he never knew he felt such a passion for doing what felt right. -Days and days passed. there was no look of relief on her face. Suma’s brows furrowed. And just being kind? He had tried. If he had known. She was just Suma Tanabi now—a daughter of a Yakuza god. That crap had already been covered. Talking would be like hugging a wall. This crap that she was doing right now wasn’t all something that she dreamed of doing for the rest of her life. Seeing this. Her heart was beating beating beating erratically like there was no tomorrow. As long as they weren’t her friends. she was apprehensive. that her pale hands would have even more free time to cause pain. She had been seated at a table by herself. And nothing changed for Suma other than that she almost completely stopped speaking. A ghost of a dead mother. Why did it look like she didn’t care anymore? Suma had to care. Because she knew. Every night…she would be handed a new toy. had such terrifying hands. He wondered sometimes what happened to himself also since he met Suma. when she graduated. Her father would be more than happy to take advantage of that. he realized that he had never seen someone that scared him so much. No. Hotaru popped up behind her with a steaming bowl of ramen with chopsticks. Rather. He still couldn’t handle watching Suma give up but he stood there beside her and watched.

His goal was to see her on the floor.he knew that the past couldn’t be changed.” His look was skeptical. There was no point in letting his thoughts linger on the past.” “Quit bullsh:tting me. Yakuza will love him. “Damn it. He wanted her to hurt so much—it shouldn’t be so hard to make someone cry. It was just another guest room.” he said. but Suma…. He had run these halls over and over again as a child. Don’t call back. And he would never be satisfied until this happened. a poor substitute for love from his parents.Suma only looked to him in suspicion. I don’t care. “Go talk to the boss. “I’m looking for a job. Just…don’t pretend to be nice.” He nodded and waited until the stubby man in a hat came along and motioned for him to follow. beautifully furnished with handcrafted chairs and billowing curtains imported from some raaj in the Middle East. . -At a time similar to this. It always managed to tick him off. As he strode along. a dark glint in his eyes. Her father loved it—loved how Suma no longer retaliated. Swear at me. To his dismay. but the pain wouldn’t dissipate because Suma couldn’t die that easily. Where did they go?” He pulled out his phone from his jean pocket and called Yuki. her sanity waning with each day. “His name’s Hoji. “Right. His boss only shrugged. Yell at me. he couldn’t break her to the point of tears. the long grey corridors of his childhood taunting. Soon after. No answer. The kid wanted to die? Go right ahead. he would have a better idea as to where Chiyo and Dai disappeared to. “Dai? Chiyo?” he called out. End Flashback He thought he knew how to help Suma but all that was happening was that he was just pushing her further and further away. he could feel dark spirits quickly trudging him down deeper.” Suma spoke icily. Hanging up. his grin still on his face. the inquisitive man emerged from the private room. He heard laughter in the distance and with a quirk of an eyebrow took note of an open door. two small heads peering up at the flat screen with grave intensity.” Chapter Twenty-Two Tomo frowned. This new Suma…was just a shell. Did you think I forgot that you worked for my father? Did you think that I’m that naïve? At least be straight with me. The grin on his face was too wide to look at. She had let herself die months ago. Dai-chan? Tomo peered into the room. He looked at the spiky-haired bartender. She honestly thought that if she just gave up 100% that she would shrivel away and that the pain wouldn’t matter anymore but everything only purged deeper into her veins. “Bingo!” he whispered. “What are you doing?” “What do you mean?” “Why are you pretending to be nice?” Hotaru sighed. wondering who the kid was. it would be MEGA time out. It’s sick. flowing through her blood like the contamination of HIV.” He really wished that Yuki would change the message. a tall man chuckled to himself and entered a shady night club. a circle that never ended. all Tomo got was that damn answering machine: “Yuki is busy. “Believe what you will. Yuki tended to be better at figuring out kids. He wanted to see her die completely. even though she willed herself to. to escape from the pain. he discovered that it was just an empty hole. he began his long search. thinking that with his wise words. “Do you need a smart man?” The bartender wiped away the condensation built onto the wine bottle and smirked. and in the end. “I’m not pretending. Very smart. The television was flipped on. The bartender saw his boss later and threw a few questions across the table. Where did those two kids run off to??? When he got his hands on them. pushing a large bill across the counter. but whatever.” was all he could say. But…. to his bitter disappointment. not just physically but mentally too. because no matter what he made her do. warm liquid spilling from those monstrous eyes of hers.She never did and that pissed him off. looking for something…anything. But it frustrated him to hell. He loved watching her from where he stood as she fell deeper and deeper into her hole of no return.

And Tomo didn’t know because they were never there for him to ask. who had turned off the television. It wasn’t just Suma. heaving loudly.The Tiger killed you. everywhere he turned. That gang… Where was Yuki to tell him to let go of the past? Yuki…who Tomo knew had so much more heartbreak…Where was Yuki to calm him? Yuki?. He wanted to scream out at the world. how he was such a coward. even though it felt like sh:t devouring him when he thought of his dead friend.Akira who was so much more beautiful than the world allowed him to be. Because…. Tomo only saw Akira…. And Akira. The past was himself. He didn’t want to think about The Tigers.do become dangerous maneaters... The Tiger killed you. Animal Channel. Tomo found fear even more overwhelming because…here was Dai and Chiyo. ask that one question that he was so afraid to ask. As long as he knew that humans were ‘the smartest’ animals in the world. One look was all it took for him to unconsciously back away from the image on the television. he would crack. But the past wasn’t just Akira.all he wanted to do was one thing. Each day. It was a special on Siberian tigers. doll-like eyes were wide in wonder over the slew of facts. . Now. the friction causing his face to redden in agitation. He didn’t want to think about The Tigers. forcing time to disappear into those hours that he spent with them. He didn’t want to think about it. he found himself facing the past. He hated looking upon the past because everything became so murky that in the end…. “Would things be different if I had never met you?” The only answer he received was a small caption from the Animal Channel show Chiyo and Dai were watching. who he found himself wanting to hate so much…tear up into shreds. The lies that he told himself. But in those unexpected moments. So that Akira would still be alive. but it always caused him boredom. He used to watch it too. deaf to worried tugs that followed from Chiyo and Dai. the first love they feel. His hands cradled his face. or more specifically…her. right Akira? Tomo thought.thinking of Suma would make him think of Akira…. his palm sliding up and down his face. And how he failed Akira. Tomo would never be able to move on. He looked at the brilliant screen. but it was the same as being too afraid to face it. His father who he could never find himself speaking to. wasn’t it? Yes…Suma Tanabi. Yuki? Tomo’s butt fell to the floor. “Suma?” he whispered. “….Ah. These animals are often sick…” Tigers…. At this rate. His mother who never failed to disappoint him. Suma. It was Suma’s fault. So that Tomo wouldn’t be here…in this situation—raising children even though he was no more of a child than them. knowing that if he didn’t have that small smile. The past. There was no motivation for him to watch— learn—about the animal kingdom. How he wasn’t able to do enough. He smiled at how Chiyo and Dai’s large. And the only shield he put up against that raging storm of memories was a small smile. he devoted himself to being a good figure to Dai and Chiyo. But…if he wasn’t good enough to be loved by his mother and father. The Tigers. everything else was of little importance. No. Tomo’s palm went to his forehead. in this time of the present. his body sobbing. they experience—comes from their mother and father. looking to him for love. how would he be able to love these two? He hated tigers. “Am I not good enough to be loved?” because…for most children. And then…from Akira…he would think even more of Akira..that bittersweet smile of his friend’s.

“Pft. her head dipped down. “How much longer? However long you want to stay.” “What do you think you’re doing Tomo?” his father asked. I’m sure you’ve seen my grades. “Father. He knew what she was saying and it pained him to answer. as if he were unable to register her words and when she nodded at him to tell him that he had heard correctly. “Thank you. the pupils of her eyes gazing intensely at the polished surface. “You know that’s not what I mean. “You mean it like how my father means it when he says he loves me?” He hated that retort of hers. Tomo turned.” At his comment. It would be so much easier…better.” Death isn’t for you. You’re smart enough to keep your mouth closed.” He saw the figure behind his father. What…were they talking about? His mother stepped into the light. he told her that if anything happened. Suma swiped off the pencil shavings.” “There are different ways to be smart. if I just died.” He looked to Dai who was next to Chiyo but Dai was already asleep.” Hotaru told her. Suma.” he seethed. he began to tear. Hotaru said it without hesitating. -“Tell me something that I don’t already know. he could only say that he hated himself.” Suma picked at the small curls of pencil shavings on her vanity. wouldn’t it?” Without even meaning to. Suma scoffed. Suma’s hollow eyes looked to him. “Not even by choice?” “…No.” he whispered. time and time again. “How much longer?” she spoke. “Mother.” As if Suma gave up on the useless chatter. -Tomo kissed their foreheads as he tucked in the kids.” “Why?” She was saying it so carelessly. but her reaction was the same as always. “Because you don’t deserve to die. I love you. Right.” Hotaru pleaded. “Why do you say that?” “I mean it. “Thank you Chiyo. “You’re smart. It’s not up to your father.Because tigers made him think…. His smile slipped away. “Yeah. her breath leaving condensation on the desk. As a father. He couldn’t stop smiling because…it was like a miracle to him.” Tomo’s eyes widened.” Alarmed. You’re observant. He eyes looked at her incredulously. watching the hazy image of her self being reflected. Her small face glowed back at him. but…You’re not smart enough to accept help. “Tomo. Dai and Chiyo? They didn’t deserve it. Smiling to Chiyo. confused. “Good night…Otou-san.” . If anything. He always found himself pleading Suma to listen. her finger swirling across the table. “Tomo. her chin resting on the wood. “I want to help you. Do you realize how stupid you are? Give them back. he would be in the next room. “Stop it. He had dreamt of someone tucking him in since he was a child. Hotaru’s hand went up and hit Suma on the back of her head.” She nodded. Chiyo…loved him.” “Help?” She said it as if it were a foreign word. hugging Chiyo tightly. Someone other than a paid employee. Tomo pet his head and left to his room across the hall. after all that thinking. Warmth spread through him.and in the end. he didn’t want to repeat the past.

This is our home and you are our son. He…wasn’t the same child that they had left in this home for so many years. Tomo. When I graduated. When they get hurt. “Do you know that this home…no one lives here? “No one smiles here? “I’ve been here for so long but still I have refused to call it my home. “You have no right to tell me what I can and can’t do. someday. The house staff. you had to throw away selfishness in order to devote yourself to the life that you created and are bound to protect. It hurt me so much because I never had the courage to tell you. Chiyo and Dai made me realize how important being a father was. Of course. He stared into his parents faces. They hated to admit it. It’s supposed to be where my mom is supposed to tell me not to worry when I have nightmares. Once again.” his mother spoke. trying to push his parents away. They were dumbfounded. All you spoke about were ways to bribe the school into changing those grades. to hold them near. When they are at fault. But what Tomo said…they could never do.” Tomo’s eyes narrowed. His father spoke first. it seemed like they had provided for Tomo well. I scold them. ‘Good luck Tomo! Eat well Tomo! Good night Tomo! Don’t cry Tomo!’ I haven’t had one birthday with the both of you present. Tomo ran in front of them to block the door. but Tomo was a man now. “If you don’t bring them back. They have real parents and it’s not you. And they had to accept it. “I know more about raising children than both of you. you didn’t frown. You’re just a child!” “Stop it!” he cried out. I run to them.” They turned to leave and one day. You know nothing about raising children. anything he could ever want… To them. Tomo saw the look of defeat in his parents’ eyes. Tomo’s parents pushed Tomo aside and his father prepared to open the door to Chiyo and Dai’s sleeping forms. I will do everything in my power to protect them. They never thought that they would see Tomo like this. but not realizing that to be a parent. How hard it must be to watch sometimes and see how your children get hurt. And maybe.” “Tomo. They believed that they had raised Tomo well. where she tells me that she loves me despite how imperfect I am. You never take out time to say. “Do what you will Tomo. “Don’t do this to them! Don’t do this anymore….” His father’s voice cooled. only to get slapped by his mother. When people try to take them away. They loved him. With heavy sighs. Don’t say that you’re sorry because…what’s done is done. almost arrogant. But…I am their father. you never yelled at me. They just showed him in all of the wrong ways. Because a home is supposed to be a warm place…where my dad is supposed to talk to me like a real person and ask me about my day and tell me about his. “But…when we come back again in the future…maybe then we’ll be able to. “They aren’t toys. they would return.” Tomo let the words sink in before continuing. you didn’t attend. When I came home with failing grades. You never see me.What? Was he hearing right? How did they know about Dai and Chiyo? Wait. A father. He had a roof over his head. .” His spew of words left them speechless. They didn’t like Tomo’s straightforward admission as well as his criticism of their parenting. Looking at the straight back of his mother…he came to realize something. “Get out of our way. He nodded. “I forgive you even if you don’t understand what you did wrong.” She had called him Otou-san. but everything he said had been true.” he sputtered. we will. Tomo didn’t know when…but those words that his parents spoke to him told him everything that he had wanted to know. because they don’t deserve to be pulled away from their family again. They were young and foolish. When my friend died—when Akira died—you rejoiced by saying that he was a bad influence! When I beat up kids.” His retaliation struck them. I will fight back with every breath in my body…even if it’s you two that I have to fight. “I always wanted to tell you that. Tomo’s words struck them. they would learn to love his children too. Just regret. marrying well. “I know more than the both of you. But I wanted you to know. Right now…We can’t accept them.

It doesn’t help that you’re dealing with one of the craziest guys on the market. the blinds were drawn and that there was no one there. His eyes roamed the sheets. one that Hotaru hadn’t seen in such a long time. It was only expected that security for him had to become tighter. The large room looked destroyed. As he walked away into the dark night. He looked well. he mentally noted something to himself. in a three piece suit. the sleazy informer pulled out from his bag an envelope. This was Onira’s happiness. The ice cream was sloshing all over his hands. right? Looking at Onira in all of his success—doing what she always saw him doing in the future. He didn’t have all day. He was dressed well. “If Onira is happy…then I’m happy too. -Hoji turned to the guy next to him. cowering when their attacker walked by to leave towards the exit. He tore the envelope from his bag and quickly opened it. -Suma turned on the television. looking perfect as he always had. his hair combed perfectly. his dark eyes unreadable—perfect for a politician’s son. there would only be soggy cones in his hands filled with piles of mush. Everything…didn’t make sense. causing Hoji to frown. he made sure his door was locked. washed her hands.” Hoji snatched the envelope and left the noodle stand. right? It was good. “Onira looks happy. “Did you find out anything?” He only held out his hand. Didn’t TaeYoo realize how hot it was outside? By the time she flushed the toilet. “Yeah. who was giving a speech. He looks happy. wiped them clean and primped up her image. They were covering up their wounded areas with their working hands. “Now there’s only one more to defeat…. “You’ve got a big fish on your hands.He needed a mother for his children. Girls always took so long in the bathroom. the history. doesn’t he?” She broke into a small small smile. When he looked back at his handy work.” Suma turned off the television. Katsu smiled. He began to lick his dripping ice cream.” she whined. unable to watch anymore. Who would have believed that this was the work of one lone man? He reached the exit.” Her words were said with a lightened tone. “You know you weren’t supposed to start without me. Once he reached his apartment. . The image of laughter was extinct from Kazuya’s face. Hotaru finally answered her. In a not-so-professional manner. the floor littered with overturned and mutilated furniture. A familiar face greeted her.For you Suma. “Onira…” Onira was standing beside his father.” The innocence was lost. the pictures. Things changed for him after beginning to work for the Japanese mafia. The heaving of bodies against walls wouldn’t cease. but her body told Hotaru that she was still in defeat. -Katsu made a goldfish face. “Katsu! What are you doing?” Tae-Yoo asked with a pout. Suma thought…that this imprisonment…it had been worth it. Hoji paid the informant the fee for his knowledge and waited. -The air was hot. the shadows of his actions showed in his face. Suma…was content.

He kept thinking as he flipped from one page to the next, Oh my god. Oh my god. Suma…What the hell have you gotten yourself into? Damn. He had to move fast. He hated himself for not stopping her so long ago. If he had known what Suma was doing…he never would have let her go to her father. Was that why Suma was so intent on leaving? His hand went to his face, covering it in shame. Man he was stupid. He knew it. Suma did it again. She tried to prevent them from getting hurt…and in the process, took all of the blows for them. That’s not how Hoji wanted it. Suma wasn’t supposed to get hurt again. He would stake his life for her. And now…he began to wonder. Her father…he was a big politician. And politics….he knew of someone that knew all about politics. Hoji’s fist clenched, knowing the answer, but still finding him asking it in disbelief. Had Onira known?

…………. Yes. Chapter Twenty-Three “Suma. Eat.” Hotaru put the piece of bread in front of Suma. “Come on.” She didn’t answer him. Her eyes were far off, glazed, so so lost. Why try anymore when the rest of her life would be like this? Hotaru shook her. “Suma! EAT! What are you trying to do by not eating huh? Huh?” He put the bread to her lips but it only crumbled away. She had been like this for the past week. And Hotaru…he could only find himself in such aggravation over the situation, because Suma…just gave up. He was so irritated but…he understood why she was behaving as she did. “JUST EAT you…” He threw the remaining piece of bread on the ground. He didn’t even have the energy to swear at her. It didn’t bother Suma anyways. He hated this. A week prior to this, Suma’s father pulled the final straw. Flashback “If you do this, then you won’t have to do it anymore. It’s a promise.” Do what? Hotaru had wondered. A muffled cry made them look, horror lacing even a few Yakuza veterans. Her father was truly a sick man. It was a child. She didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl but it didn’t really matter. Hotaru believed that Suma wouldn’t kill a child. Believed as in past. And once again she proved him wrong. Rather than say, “No! I won’t do it!” Suma said, “You promise?”

Hotaru was trembling. Her father never kept his promises! Why would Suma believe it? Don’t do it! he wanted to yell at her. But Hotaru’s thoughts of “Don’t do it!” turned to “How could you do it?” as they left the sad body of a homeless child to be swept away by Yakuza cleaners. It was so short that he still scarcely believed it had happened. End Flashback He had known all along that Suma was monster, but for some reason, he always found reasons to redeem her from her monstrous crimes. Yet this…was on a completely different level. At times he wanted to strangle Suma because he knew that she was a stronger person than this but at the same time he wanted to pull her into a hug and assure her that it wasn’t her fault. But…he didn’t believe in his own words enough. She hadn’t spoken or eaten for a week. She just paced around in her room, rocking herself, pulling at her hair, staring at the ceiling and using the bathroom when she needed to. She hadn’t bathed in a week; she hadn’t done anything for seven whole days. And as the seventh day moved to the eighth, he was getting really scared. She at least needed water or else…who knows what. He stood and left, unable to stand this nearly insane Suma who could no longer see the real world. Upon closing the door to her bedroom, the voice of her father came to him. He was standing near the stairwell, a large grin on his face. “I hear she hasn’t been eating?” Hotaru nodded. “And that she refuses to speak?” He nodded again. “Ah. That’s fine. Hey Hotaru. It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” Since what? Hotaru wanted to ask, but Suma’s father answered for her. “Since Suma has come here. I think it’s time to let her go.” Hotaru had a look of incredulity spread across his face. Was he hearing her right? This man…was bi-polar, wasn’t he? Her father thought that Hotaru was thinking something else. “Why that look? You’ll still have a job here so don’t worry about that. I just thought that…I punished her enough.” Was Suma really going to be free? -Her father walked into the room, that damned grin of his on his face. “Suma?” She didn’t hear him. He stood right in front of her, still smiling. He touched her shoulder. No reaction. He spoke anyways. “You’re free to go. Do you know why? I’m not angry anymore. I shouldn’t have ever been angry because it’s not your fault Suma. It was never your fault. Got it? You deserve to be free and to never see my face again. Okay?” She was still staring off into space. Hotaru grabbed her by the arm and said to her father, “I’ll escort her off of the properties.” “Yes. You do that.” He left without a care. Hotaru pulled her up from the ground. He peered into Suma’s blank face. “Snap out of it! Aren’t you happy Suma? You’re free to go! Come on! Give me some reaction, Suma!” He dragged her angrily from her room, not bothering to slow down to have Suma grab her belongings. She would need none of this. She just needed her self. It was all happening so fast, that Hotaru almost suspected that it was a joke. But it wasn’t. By the time they had reached the front door, he finally registered that Suma was going. Away. From where he belonged. Over the two years with Suma, fear had swallowed him whole. Because he knew. If Suma’s father had ever asked her to kill her own bodyguard, she wouldn’t hesitate because the only people Suma saw…were those lucky friends of hers. But still…he had wanted to help her. Because he trusted her. It didn’t make sense, but that’s how it was.

When they got to the gate, Hotaru stared at her and then slapped her, trying to once again wake her up from that blind state of hers that she had learned to love retreating to. “Suma. Suma! Didn’t you hear your father at all? He said you’re free to go. So run from here before he changes his mind, okay you idiot?” She still wasn’t responding so he tried to change tactics by consoling her. “Baka! It’s not your fault okay? It’s not your fault, Suma. Wake up from your sorry state Suma.” She mumbled out an, “I’m sorry” to Hotaru. What? Did he hear right? She was speaking…but why was she sorry? Suma’s POV The slap hurt. But…it’s okay. I’m sorry Hotaru. I’m sorry because you’re my bodyguard…because I saw how tortured you were as I did those…things, even though you were an ass to me in those early months. I’m sorry that you saw me turn into a monster night after night. I looked to Hotaru. “You did well. You are only my body guard. These past two years, you did your job. You made sure I ate, that I drank, that I didn’t get into fights. No one could guard this soul…this heart….It’s really okay. Don’t give me that look of sympathy. You did the best that you could.” He smiled slightly and nodded. I feel like my eyes are beginning to see again, but my heart…in these two years, rather than healing, it has smashed into even smaller smithereens, doused in the bloodiest puddles of blood. “Thank you,” I told him. “I hope…we never meet again,” I whispered to him, my throat coarse from dehydration. Hotaru nodded again. Yes. It was best that we never see one another again. He took my hand and gave me a wad of bills. “You’ll need this,” he told me. Hotaru. You’re a good man. I turned to walk away. -Suma’s father watched from the window as his daughter walked away with slumped shoulders. Suicide, he thought. He loved that word. He couldn’t wait for Suma to commit suicide. At her pace, all she needed was one more pin to tumble down. Strike. Chapter Twenty-Four Exhaustion washed over me. I couldn’t push myself to walk anymore…even a few extra steps. My body shut down, as if I were a robot without battery, unable to move, forcing me to stand before a bench, egging me to have a seat. I plopped myself down, my sighs floating away like feathers on a bed. It’s strange. I still expect to meet my father around the corner, gagging me back to that wretched home of his. I must be paranoid. My hands scratched at one another, badly wanting to destroy each other…make them disappear. Every time my eyes wandered, they would fall upon these horrid hands and like a movie reel, I could see my hands wrapped around a neck…holding a knife…the blood smearing its way from my fingernails to my wrists. I saw that monster inside of myself and I became ashamed because it felt like the whole world could see it. With this money in my hand, I could build a new life. Be a nobody.

I couldn’t help but think how changed everything was. Ch…what were the chances? Katsu? No…It couldn’t be. I pulled my woolen jacket closer to me as I strolled along.. replaced by a mini-mart. “He’s a symbol of our beloved country’s pride! He’s already graduated from Todai with honors two years in advance!” There was clapping.Yes. sitting in the back of the room. I sensed something. The name felt foreign on his lips. I should throw it away now. observing the flashing of the lights. I can’t watch. I have to see them. I lit the candle with a match. Not here. I lifted the black plastic lid and let the bag drop. I found myself walking towards Katsu’s house. The old haunted house that I forced Hoji to check out for me once was now just rubble. Sitting down. right? The crinkled brown pastry bag was still in my hand. He felt someone watching him. Just…one more time. But. thinking that by some bout of craziness. On the way. I spotted a garbage dumpster at the edge of the alley. But…I have no more wishes. Watching you…strangles me. I hope…that like how this place has changed…they haven’t changed. hearing it land with a thud. Aside from the norm. A torch…to The Tigers. I walked into the press conference unnoticed. He was so high up there…so out of my reach. The wax candle placed on top of the orange icing was formed in the shape of an orange tiger’s face. . every single one of them. “Suma?” he whispered. Only that one…it counts for all of them. Because if they changed…then they couldn’t be happy. What happened to your Tae-yoo huh?! What happened to that girl who brought you so much joy? You’re so lost…that you can’t even see me anymore…even though I’m standing right here… I covered my mouth. I turned around to see a figure lying on the ground. There were posters announcing that politicians Shigubi and Ogata would be campaigning here. his mind far far away from here. You’re supposed to be in the ads by now. I have to see them. as I walked through the crowded streets. Turning back towards the main road. That’s what I’ll do. Did my father look like that too as a politician? Onira was seated behind his father. I felt my feet stop. Familiar. the serene expressions of the veteran politicians.. Like a statue set high on a podium for passersby to admire.. I drew out a few dollars and left with a small bag in my chapped hands. I pulled on a demure smile. “Make a wish. crying with a bottle of beer in his hand. Katsu’s POV He turned his head. I watched as Onira’s father introduced his perfect son. The cupcake was perfection. looking around at this familiar setting. After eating the small cupcake. Onira…wasn’t the same anymore. crying your heart out! What happened to you? You don’t look happy at all. soft sobs resounding near from where I stood. Like he didn’t remember me. making sure the wind wouldn’t blow out the small flame and began to sing happy birthday. I could hear sobs. a brochure in my hand. Walking into the busy corner bakery. I stopped. Slowly. Katsu would still live there. the wind gently sweeping aside my bangs.. This wasn’t the Katsu I knew. Opening the pastry bag. His eyes were puffy from crying. Suma’s POV I entered the five-star hotel. Not a hair was out of place. But first. his face in perfect symmetry. Where we used to have ice cream…it was torn down. Even these faces…they were strangers. I’ll start over on a fresh slate.” That’s what I would have said. his face unshaven. I felt as if I could breathe in the memories of the past. afraid that it would betray my presence. I’m torturing myself…but I can’t help it. I can do it. He didn’t look like Katsu at all.

What have you done to yourself? I watched as he stood guard to the most notorious drug ring. sweat dripping down his forehead. He knew that presence anywhere. Holy crap.His father continued. Wait a minute. I asked a woman. Maybe…it was because he was getting closer. Hoji almost found Suma. Hoji Hoji Hoji. Suma’s POV Hoji. There were worry lines etched in Hoji’s once jubilant face. Looking from the corner of his eye. His home was vacant. I could see that he had extinguished his youth in order to stand there beside his father as a politician. “Onira and I have spoken time and time again. right? Hoji’s POV He felt someone watching him. And me? I was part of his youth. Hoji…what are you doing there? This isn’t my Hoji. “Excuse me. Was it all just his imagination? He broke to a halt. trying to describe my friend to the neighbors but I was only able to garnish blank stares. right? . and he’s very energetic. Suma’s POV I walked through Kazuya’s old neighborhood. “He’s about this tall. I rubbed my head and looked at the other person. What’s going on? I’m scared Kazuya…what’s happened to you? Maybe. It couldn’t be real. I crashed into a pedestrian.” The woman shook her head. Kazuya? Where have you gone? I approached an old man. I don’t belong here. Was he imagining it? Onira looked through the crowds discreetly. I was shaking in disbelief. What do you think you’re doing? You’ll only get hurt this way. Watching his face. He loves those. Are you okay?” I asked her. All he found was an empty chair. In haste. a real estate sign posted on his lawn. “I’m sorry. That was it. my face contorted in anguish. Yes. When did his family move? I asked around. We believe that we must revive the educational system in order to have its standards as high as countries like Sweden or Korea!” More clapping. That’s why he felt weird. Suma? He wanted to run from his spot to assure his suspicions but his feet weren’t listening to him. In heaves he still continued to run. Reluctantly. standing. the both of us falling down to the ground. Onira’s POV His skin was tingling. She went to my school. I set the brochure down on the seat. he’s eating a slushie right now. Do you know where I can find the family that used to live in that house? I’m a friend of their son.” The man didn’t know. It felt familiar…. He rushed out of the building and ran down the streets. all that remained in his sight of vision was a ghost of a shadow. He chose success over happiness. he managed to return his attentions to the speech.

but he suddenly became weird and didn’t come to school that much. ………. I cursed God… I cursed the world…. Suma Tanabi. Everything today…I wanted to see them to leave with no regrets but seeing them…. There was no joy left. like me. “It’s not everyday the best-looking guys argue.” It felt as if she were telling me a made-up story. huh? Do you hate me that much God? Damn…I said I’d give up everything for you guys.She looked at me and smiled. …it was about their friend. He went crazy. he was always all beat up. and in the end…not one of you was happy! Each of your faces…. . Suma Suma Suma…back to square one. I thought that I could bear with the pain because for every day of hurt I endured. By any chance…do you know where he is?” The girl was deep in thought before replying. suffered alone. How come…it didn’t work? How come it didn’t come true? Falling to the ground. Yet… Suma-baka…If I could find a way to make you happy again… …Even if in the end my pain would be tenfold. Nothing. On the last day he came to school. A light of recognition crossed her face. “No. I hate you all… How could you all…. I know I still wouldn’t be able to walk away. That kid who dropped out of school a couple of years ago. When he did.. Watashi…wa anatatachi ga…daikirai desu. thinking that as long as I could save you four…then it was okay. What happened to that wish. “Yeah. “Hey! I’m looking for someone! His name is Kazuya Nishika. You were dead anyways no matter how hard I tried.” “Dropped out?” Kazuya…drop out? It didn’t seem feasible. you all would live another day with a smile on your faces! I gave up everything for you all.” Stupid girl…it’s not something to be amazed about. “Oh. Onira…Hoji…Katsu…Kazuya.” “…a fight?” Kazuya…pick a fight? Were we talking about the same person? “Yeah. I thanked the girl and continued on my way. Did the opposite. I cursed once more…this time at the irony of it all. But look at you…you’re dead too. He used to be really hot and funny. I chose you four over the whole world and still.be so unhappy? I wasted TWO years.” A sigh of defeat. I killed so many people. As if she sensed my confusion. “It’s okay. it meant nothing.” She almost just stood to leave but I couldn’t help but ask. . “So do you know where he might be?” I asked her. he got into a fight with his friends about something and left. the girl filled in the blanks for me. I’m all right. I think…no. She had a look of wonder in her eyes. I killed myself for two whole years thinking that it was okay because you were all so happy.” “You remember…a lot.

He finally took notice of Hoji standing there and asked. throwing off the seasoned worker. He was the boss’s daughter’s bodyguard. “Sir? May I help you?” the old butler asked Hoji. “Hey hey. It was a fake smile and bizarre. He grabbed a large helping of potatoes and munched happily. Who’s that guy?” “Hotaru Daigo. His ducts had run dry before the tears could reach him. I would fight for you…to the last breath. He would definitely put aside some time to have a little chat with Mr. “I work here too.” he spoke quickly. “Stop right there! Who are you? Explain yourself!” the bumbling old man uttered. his eyes shrinking into slits. “Yes?” “Who are you?” Gruff voice. There was a defeated look set in his eyes.” A suited man stood blocking his way. not bothering to explain himself to the butler. pleased by the new information. as if it burned him. Hoji held up his hands. “Okay. He picked up his suitcases and let himself in. He found himself standing before the home of his new boss. taking lingering glances at his surroundings.Despite my bleeding heart. Daigo. his mouth shape in a definite o when he said ‘too’. “Suma walked these halls. Sitting down. okay. Lazily. The anticipation was so thick upon his skin that it weighed down his ability to lift his strong pointer finger to press the white doorbell. In an instant.” he noted to himself.” A spark of interest lit brightly in Hoji’s eyes. I’m stupid…aren’t I? Chapter Twenty-Five Hoji’s POV A deep look of satisfaction was etched across Hoji’s face. I want to eat. And then. Whoosh! Splat. Everyone here acted like they had never seen a stranger before with their poking poking into business questions. Hoji threw him an exasperated sigh. It was a little bothersome working for that dumb drug ring but he had amused one of the bosses and got a good recommendation after punching out the lights of some WWF wannabe punk that caused a mess at his old boss’s nightclub. The pillow smacked him in the face. Jackpot. And that could only mean…he had found Suma. Hoji turned his head upwards. “Who are you?” Hoji smiled.” He went back out. And here. I’ll leave you alone. a butler staring at him in an expressionless face. dismissing the faltering image of the old man. a young man who couldn’t be a day older than him stared off into space. a little blackmail there and voila. .” He gave Hoji a dark glare that told him he could kill Hoji for saying that. He had stood there immobile for so long that the door just opened for him. Hoji tightened his hold on his luggage and continued on his way. Suma’s father. They really loved him. How nice and boring. “Depressed much. I get it kid. no regrets. “What’s up his butt?” He headed back towards the main dining hall. told by the butler that it was time for dinner. he nudged the guy next to him when he saw that depressed emo guy. In defense. Sitting on a bed. And when they finally understood that Hoji was just new staff they shrugged and let him pass. Hoji turned his head at ninety degrees to face the elderly butler and grinned extra widely. Iie. He was so nervous now that he was actually standing there. Clearing his throat. It had taken a few tugs here. his pink gums glistening. pretty boy?” “Fcuk you. And here. Hoji moved towards the staff dorms and shrugged off his jacket and threw it on his luggage. And also here. He threw his ID around in a semicircle and waited for recognition to be lit on someone’s face. “She breathed here. They were reluctant to let him go but he had given them a laugh by showing off his drug-trafficking pictures of them. he flinched at the sudden change of aura in the double-bedded room. Stop nudging me. Glancing back at the door he muttered. as if he were going to cry even though the tears had left him long ago.

P. Don’t you know that???” He heard Hotaru go. Drink up. He was just prompting the answers. “Give us a few bottles of you-know-what okay???” He winked at the too young waitress and settled back in the leather loveseat. It looks more hip this way. When she returned. “I want the V. “Keep drinking. His glassy eyes were true to their emotion. he pulled out a blackmail picture of her which set her running to kick the other V. Hoji took the bottle and poured it into the small glasses. Before she could object. “Women…are so fcuked up. He just pulled out a couple of photos from his right pocket at the guard and walked in. mumbling nonsensical things about women. I’ll drop it. “Did your girlfriend break up with you?” Hotaru swung at him. “Don’t give me that look. but Hoji knew how to ease his way to the front.” The word alerted Hoji…did Hotaru mean Suma? Hotaru’s grasp on the glass tightened as he brought it up to his mouth. drinking down the bitterness. you know? But…” . The clubs don’t let you in unless you’re cool. “Che” but he followed along. Flashy. Don’t go to sleep you sleazy bastard. table okay?” he said to one of the waitresses.’s off. “What?” Hoji asked him without emotion. You have to welcome me some time.I. but he looked weak. Yeah baby. “What happened to Suma?” What? Hotaru threw him a deep look of suspicion. his nostrils slightly flaring in aggravation. A trip to the good ol’ bar should answer any questions Hoji had.” He didn’t bother to argue with Hoji and just took the shot glass and downed another bit of the foul liquor. shall we?” He forced Hotaru to pull on his jacket and wet his hand. patting Hotaru’s hair.P.” Hoji muttered. “Sh:t you punk! What the hell???” “Come on. “Rookie…Do you know what I hate most in this world?” His lips were trembling. Immediately after the glass clinked with the table. Hoji moved to pour more of the substance in. Let’s go drink up a bit. turning back to go to sleep. The line to get into the club was a couple of blocks long.” -It took forever for the drug to take effect. smiling at the sweat that formed on his former co-worker’s head. His face no longer sulked.” Hoji threw on his snake-skin jacket. unwilling to slip about the girl he had tried and failed to protect. After dinner. “She’s not my girlfriend!!!” He had hit a nerve. Hotaru had begun to cry.” Hoji poked Hotaru harder until his back arched in pain. his mask aloof. “Oi roommate. “Thank you!” Hoji told her. He didn’t look like a bad kid. He sulked on his bed staring at the wall all night until Hoji screamed out. It would be simple to squeeze the truth out of her bodyguard. “Okay okay. “Ai yai yai!!!! What’s your problem??? Why are you being a dunce? What kind of idiot sits there and stares at the wall with a face like this?” He imitated the sulky face Hotaru had poised with a T. “Women. -“Oi. He got right to business. looking at Hoji like he was a spy. “Drink up.I. his hand loose around the liquor-filled glass. But Hoji could tell that now was his chance. he found that Hotaru drowned in his sorrows.His roommate. I get it. dropping a small packet of white powder into Hotaru’s glass. hadn’t he? Hoji swung his legs over his bed so that his feet were on the ground.

” He motioned for the waitress to send Hotaru back to the house. So hurt that…she’s eager for death. Onira shuffled back his folders and turned off the lights in his office. “He’s going to wake up in hell. “Who are you talking about?” He was afraid of where this was going. into a world where emotions were discarded at the start line. “You want…to know what he did to her? Her father…broke her in half. pounding weakly on his chest. Hotaru grabbed the bottle and took a deep swig of the strong liquor. . “What happened to her?” “Too many things. With slightly crazed eyes Hotaru grappled Hoji’s arms.” His eyes began to close and he passed out silently on the black love seat.what did she go through for two years? Why didn’t she say anything to them? Why didn’t she just…ask for help? Onira had a lot of explaining to do. But something that would die quickly. There were no bad memories between them. all that was left for him was his family. He had to know where she was. So…fragile. ignoring the warning signs that erupted around the former Tiger members. He chose the safe route. but he was content. right? That’s who you mean. He reached the elevator door. where words were transformed into swords wielded to cut through one another’s pride and beliefs. he patted the kid’s back and told him. “I’m supposed to be her bodyguard.” Onira’s POV The world was a small place. Trace…had left him long ago. but he needed the details.” He was just confirming it. He just wanted to know what happened to Suma. You did your best. Actually. He had forgotten the promise he had made her. Even if…your best still didn’t help her. they had both agreed that what they had together…was once in a lifetime. He should have been crying over the loss. It had been bothering him forever. “Thank you.He prompted again.” He went in for another shot but the glass was empty. “But what?” His patience was beginning to run thin. So he went to school. Suma…. his thoughts disarrayed. her tale of emotions. He chose to venture into the world of adults and corrupted politics. From behind him. spitting into his face the words.” The expression he wore when he told Hoji that told him that it was nothing good. preparing to leave for home. the bottle pouring steadily onto the ground. He had forgotten her strength. Hoji sat back in his chair. “I was too weak! I couldn’t help her!!!” Was he getting closer? Hoji loosened the grip of Hotaru’s hands on his arms and told him to calm down. He thought that he had separated himself from the past. As he walked down the deserted hallway. Remembering was just bitter. He really did. He turned to Hoji. Trading cards with death. Walking into destruction. bordering in disbelief and helplessness. And after he cut off his relationship with Trace Itoh. He couldn’t hold back anymore. her will. He helped him to the open bottle but Hoji’s arm stopped him. forgotten the eternal friendship he had given to her thinking that she too had chosen to forget. each going their own way into the world. “What did he do to her?” Hoji’s voice was low. “I couldn’t help her…that damn boss of mine’s daughter. tipping her with her blackmail photo. He had forgotten Suma Tanabi. Angry steps. Giving Hotaru a last sympathetic glance. Because forgetting was sweeter than remembering. his ears picked up the solid steps ascending the stairs. Hotaru continued to babble. right? How come…how come she left so hurt then? She told me it wasn’t my fault but how come the pain is still right here?” he asked. “Suma. Holding hands with despair. His future. almost a cry. the stair well door opened and a great shock of anger reverberated across the air. A youthful memory. almost a snarl. And he won’t remember a thing. For trying to watch over her.

He’s a politician. “Onira. We all abandoned Suma to a guy like that. Perfect Onira. “You…. All I found out was that Suma…we let her die. Hoji’s next words woke him up even more. I’m so Good that I Can just Forget. Why are you here?” he asked. Hoji was furious.” Hoji wouldn’t believe it. His friend Kazuya… Yes. speaking to emotionless Onira. He let her go. We left her to the wolf. his mouth quivering.” Hoji could see his words sink into Onira’s thoughts. the curse of them cut through Onira’s skin and flowed through his capillaries to his arteries. running at Onira who was turning around. Though Onira and Kazuya were polar opposites. And like you said. I need to know where she is Onira! If you don’t know…then no one does. It’s in the past. He had already pieced together the situation and it only hurt him. Why didn’t we question Suma? Didn’t you feel it? You read Suma best.” “She should…be with her father. filling with remorse. Hoji. He wants to drive her to her death. afraid to hear the news. She should be fine. “Yeah.” He had felt her lies. “I knew what?” “I tried Onira…I tried to find her on my own. “You have to know.” Hoji looked at him incredulously. didn’t you? Didn’t you feel her lies? Onira! You should have known! You should have knocked sense into her. “Kazuya’s dead. thinking that I didn’t need your help.why are you always so aloof? Why are you always so much better than the rest of us huh? Why is it that you chose…to forget…even though you knew?” “What?” Onira’s smooth level voice resonated. “Where is she?” He shook his head. “I only let Suma go because I thought that she would be happy because she found her father but…do you know who her father is?” “Of course I do. “Do you know who I work for?” “Who?” “Her father is one of the largest underground Yakuza tycoons. I haven’t seen you in a long time. His stubbornness overrode his guilt. “Let it go.” Hoji emphasized the syllables of his name as if he were afraid of the inevitable words that he had to tell him. The most fcuked up man in all of Japan.“Onira…” Hoji curled his hand into a fist. “You knew you bastard! You knew!” Onira didn’t get it. right?” Where she was happy.” “What are you talking about?” Hoji’s cold demeanor broke. Like me. they still stood as friends.” His eyes blinked. But it was fruitless. He was his friend. Kazuya was gone from this world. Fought together. Bitterness…was better than the faux of sweet oblivion.” Two words but the finality in them. But he knew. I don’t know where she is. Hoji would only be here…if it had to do with Suma. making him realize that he had been a fool to try to forget. “You’re asking the wrong person. his fist meeting Onira’s unmarred cheekbone with a crash. He shoved Onira against the wall. “He wants Suma to die! But that man…he’s too much of a damn coward to kill her with his two hands. His anguish was still there. Onira was wondering why Hoji came to him after two whole years. Where she was fulfilled. “Didn’t you know. He voiced his thought only to receive another punch from Hoji. who was refusing to listen to him. But. Suma…she doesn’t care anymore. Dreamed together…for a world without gangs. Mr. striking his heart. Onira?” His face was distorted in pain. “Hoji. tears beginning to streak down his face. “Kazuya…” Onira’s breath came short. Do you know why he let her go?” Hoji nodded. “How do you think Suma would feel if she found out that Kazuya died? In her name?” . He let her go…but she’s so broken Onira! She’s so broken Onira…She’s so broken that she’s…he told me she wanted to die. you and me. He couldn’t believe the dark words spilling from Hoji’s lips. realizing the futility of him being there.

picture him somewhere out there. We were in love! he wanted to yell out. Because he was like that. gesturing to one of his men to help me up. clenching my fists. The young leader looked down at me from his ridiculous throne. bowing low on the ground. There were moments when he thought that he could really move on. he no longer saw clearly. His heart had already burned to ashes. His dreams had dwindled away like the ash of wood in a fire pit. Tell me where he is!” I cried out. The R. I didn’t know who to ask. You’re the reason she left me. begging for answers. Suma who hated Tae Yoo. For being right. They dragged me to their leader. Right? He had forgotten who he really was. That he could really be happy at Suma’s expense. No matter what. They knew. “Where is he?” “Who are you?” There was a look of concern in his face. clouded by his hate and consumed by the fire of despise. but saying his name only aroused suspicion. . Suma’s POV I’ve been running up and down these streets for days. And in his fury. I asked a couple of the members. Katsu hated Suma. clan should still be around. bribing for clues. Kazuya…where are you? Did you…try to fight without me? Are you hurt somewhere? Crying somewhere alone in an alley? Kazuya…I could see him. What a laugh. I looked up at his hidden face. He just…did. Suma who couldn’t understand what the hell love was. He took pity on me. Be together forever. “I just want to know…where Kazuya is. I found their headquarters easily. trying with his honest heart to fight on. Maybe sacrificing his friendship hadn’t been worth the agony that pulsed through him. forcing me to bow down on my knees.S.I. He wanted to erase her thinking that if he knew that Suma was finally gone then he could finally be at peace. inquiring about Kazuya. Because he couldn’t bear the thought of that nagging feeling that maybe…it wasn’t worth it. Suma. He let it engulf him. I didn’t want to approach them.Katsu’s POV Who knew how strong ‘hate’ really was? He hated Suma. “You knew Kazuya?” Of course I did. Suma…Tae Yoo was worth it! You’re the one that was wrong. “Kazuya. I told myself I wouldn’t make contact with any of them. They had to know. Please. tripled by the ghost of Suma’s voice whispering. Suma who despised their relationship. I decided to ask the old street gangs that had been on my list. There was nothing left of Katsu to save. He never gave up on me. She thought I couldn’t love her until the day I died but I could have loved for an eternity and still it wouldn’t have been enough. “I don’t know who you are lady but…If you’re looking for Nishikasama…I suggest you try the cemetery. welcomed hate to flow freely in his veins. That list I made two years ago…should have been burned with my leave. We were meant to have eternal love. It hadn’t moved at all. She doubted me. asking around.” …Cemetery? He didn’t mean…. alone. but the thought of Tae Yoo…the thought of her always sent him back reeling to harbor more hatred for Suma. I told you so. control the way he saw life.E. Onegaishimasu!” I bent lower. Katsu wanted to kill her. breathed air.

Nishika-sama’s days of rule ended months ago. It’s my fault. Strong hands grasped my arms. I have failed. Tomo…Why are you looking on at me like that? I tried to pull out of his grasp. “You’re kidding right?” “Iie. I thought…my heart dwindled away to nothing years ago…but who was I kidding? I was frozen…for a long time. ready…to leave this world. right? A pain that surpasses the end of the world…a pain like this engulfed me. Inscribed in stone you lie…your ashes spread along the east winds. You told me…Kazuya. Get down from there and put on your shoes. but the moment you four walked into my life…I’ve been slowing melting into this weak person that you know. “I’m sorry.” How small was this world really? To meet Tomo once more. You hated how I never cried Kazuya…but I’m crying now for you so easily. Everyone around me is in so much despair. “Who will I share a slushie with? Who’s going to sew up my clothes? Huh? Who’s going to trust me as much as you did?” My world…has ended. Nothing is going right. This weak person that couldn’t even protect someone as beautiful as you Kazuya. He’s there…thanks to the Beast Clan. baring my face.. I told myself that my tears were long gone…but I was only kidding myself.. Those eyes that should have been staring me down with hate…instead were sympathetic. making their way from his arms to his face. You’ll catch a cold. Let me…go to hell now. Chapter Twenty-Six My eyes shifted uneasily. flying higher and higher… Kazuya…this is just a figment of my imagination. whipping it away. The wind blew against my growing hair. heading off towards the bridge that expanded across the wide river. This weak person that is on my knees bawling my eyes out.” I whispered before I prepared to jump into the rocky waters. I turned to look at the familiar face. .My head shot up. But Kazuya? If I continue to cry…will you come back? “Heuk…heuk… Kazuya. my hoarse voice mumbling. ne? How do I give you one…if…” She couldn’t bring herself to say it. I thought…that life is worth living as long as I could at least protect you guys…but who have I been fooling? None of you are happy…and you’re gone….” -So it wasn’t a lie. okay? I walked slowly from the cemetery. I thought you wanted a piggyback. rocking silently. following the red-bricked walkway to the exit. You don’t even have the ability to be in this world anymore. He gave me a look of exasperation and shook his head but it only made me struggle more. I took off my shoes and began to climb onto the railing. “Suma Tanabi. I had a feeling it was you. You told me a long time ago that if I just let it all out…that I would feel better. isn’t it? It’s all…my fault.

His eyes flashed. It had been said so softly that I almost wondered if Tomo actually heard me. I could really be free…from it all.Angrily I swiped at him. Should I be a coward…and jump from this forsaken bridge? Everything I’ve done…tells me that it would be so easy. Suma. Exhaustion trembled upon my lips as I tried to fall back into denial. Don’t be a child. I was afraid to speak again. If he let me go. He wasn’t angry or disappointed. Where had all of my strength gone? Was I so weak now that I couldn’t even compare to Tomo Akihara? He continued to watch me intently. My fists…they don’t even work anymore. For sure…I believed that Tomo would have hated me. I would have. wordless. There’s no use pretending. I wanted to tell him. “Let me go. Not this hell. frozen rage in his eyes. that… if he just let me go. And there was so little conviction in those words.” Still not enough conviction. Tell me that he…that I just imagined looking down at his grave stone just now.” His voice was so factual. bringing an edge to Tomo’s voice. All that greeted me was that damned sympathy. I wouldn’t have to live a life knowing that I had failed. Suma. I’m no hero. releasing my wrists.” was all I could say. I couldn’t bring myself to reply. And again those same useless words slipped out. But this time…wouldn’t it be better? If I killed myself now…wouldn’t Tomo feel better? Wouldn’t my father be so happy? Wouldn’t…everyone else be so ecstatic to forget me? Didn’t the world love to forget cowards? Laugh at them? Hotaru told me that I didn’t deserve to die…but a lot of people don’t deserve things. And regretted it. desperation but I really…just wanted to hear those lies. . “Why can’t I just die?” my strangled voice pleaded. And other emotions…like care. I…Suma Tanabi…am a coward. But I suppose…it made sense to Tomo. Like Tomo. encouraging me to say something. Don’t be so pathetic. It had always surrounded me. Two years imprisoned with my father…was supposed to be compensation for allowing them freedom. It was as if he were daring me to jump from the bridge. My hands were frozen cold. “Tomo. It was unnerving. Slightly. I admit it. Too rehearsed.” My swollen eyes wearily tried to stay open. knowing that hate would come back quickly to swallow me. Like love and tenderness. my eyes glazing over into defeat. Tell me I’m crazy. confronting me. Yell at me to wake up. “Who are you? Where is Suma Tanabi huh? Why are you giving up so easily? I thought you were strong huh? You’re supposed to live. I don’t have super powers. I lifted my head to meet Tomo’s eyes. life. He shouldn’t have. pushing him back. So unlike Tomo’s. negating my attempt. That maybe…I’m still sleeping in my father’s house having a nightmare. “If you don’t live…what was the point of Akira dying?” He was right…but wrong. Yet. “Let go of me. That I’m just…hallucinating. Those fleeting emotions…they choked me because it was too painful to watch them come and go without notice. And being fearless…being someone’s hero isn’t my role. because I knew it would sound too superficial. I was so used to hate. And I wondered. There was no point to Akira dying. “Why can’t I huh? It hurts too much Tomo. Anything. my face scrunched up in anguish. crushed me…but I would still be alive. He shook his head at me like I was speaking an alien language. But no matter how much I say I want to die…everyone keeps telling me that I can’t. But stopped when I heard him whisper. What makes it so impossible huh? What makes it so wrong that I end my life? Wouldn’t it be better to end the suspense—the knowledge that if I continue to go on living…I’ll just crawl deeper into this despair? This hopelessness?” He just simply huffed once. “Don’t kid yourself. It’s not fair. Because the things it promises are always so empty. You don’t understand! It hurts…so much. my words cutting off into stutter. “Tell me that Kazuya is still alive. Who’s standing right here…with her face—” I snapped at him. Wasn’t Tomo rash? Predictable and naïve? Didn’t he have a mouth so big that not even the most skilled doctor could stitch it shut? The silence made me itch. to give him a reason to comply with what I wanted. but his hold stayed strong.” I knew I was pathetically looking at Tomo with an expression close to eagerness. his hand itching to grab me and shake me. I had too many questions…too many thoughts all trying to surface at one time. I wouldn’t have to live a life…remembering that Kazuya…was gone. And they still get it. He’s dead. I know that I’ve never taken the easy road.

” Until what settles down? My heart? My life? My world? It will never happen. I lost someone…and I felt my heart shatter into enough pieces to rival the stars in the sky. I was just setting myself up for messy scenarios. Like he knew I’d ask him. Look at what happened to the others. Tomo. as if he were trying to compose his words. “I was pissed at you. That’s what I was thinking but he carefully continued forward. it was you. echoing softly throughout the mansion. as if he could read my thoughts.” This was too surreal. wondering what I had to laugh at. Why was he so proud? I felt compelled to ask him the question that had been on my mind and let it slip out. said. “Tomo…You should have left me alone. taking my silence for assent. Tomo…almost too not Tomo. But he was so sincere. “Suma… don’t talk like that. But I was lucky enough to find someone that needed me as much as I needed them. “Stay here for a while. I should have never taken his hand. but it wasn’t mocking. “You’re human Suma.A coward like me didn’t know what to do. It only made me bitter. Déjà vu.” “Don’t you know…that—” “Don’t talk.” Hesitantly. But nothing came out. “Don’t you know…that if I live…someone else will end up hurt?” Or die. “Suma Tanabi. You survived…Akira didn’t. my mind was mumbling. To remind me that I had to believe in the living and to lay rest the dead. It’ll still hurt twenty years from now. “Shut up. And for a long time. Or those words that Kazuya would speak to me on those dark nights so long ago. Tomo’s hand was gently gripping my arm. . his sharp eyes piercing me with questions. Or Onira. He brought me to his home.” He didn’t speak right away after that. And I think…I probably would still feel the same way but…” “But what?” He looked so serene that I was envious. he took my hand in his. Discourage him. I should have just killed myself then. It was situated in the middle of the city. And it was too large for a solitary resident. but in every other way. It looked like such a cold building. ignoring the expression of disbelief on his face.” A small grin broke onto my lips. It hurts now. It would have made things so much simpler. The cynicism in my voice. A bitter. That is the loaded question of the day. His hand…was warm. You’re meant to live. But hating you…wishing ill of you didn’t change anything.” I heard him say. A sigh left his lips but it felt like he was sighing with his whole body. Maybe not in blood. “Yakusoku? Promise?” he asked. pride laced in his voice. A coward like me just wanted…to let someone else take care of me. Just the fact that you have questions is enough. “Tomo…Why don’t you hate me?” He smirked. But I had the right you know? Akira…was my brother. I could feel Tomo watching me. Walk away now. How messed up was that? “I wished so hard that instead of Akira dying…you should have been the one six feet under. wasn’t I? His words…sounded like something I would hear from an angsty Katsuhiro with the rare wisdom of Hoji. I don’t…do promises anymore. “I’ve learned a lot. It was so easy. “You don’t need to know all of the answers. I wanted to ask him why he was here—why he was even speaking to me instead of punching me to oblivion. “This is my home. I wanted to blame someone. My eyes swept over him nonchalantly. dry laugh escaped my mouth. What made him change his mind? He smiled wistfully. Until…things settle down. Got it?” I nodded dumbly at the dead serious tone he was speaking to me in. strong. But it’s supposed to. But it happened. isn’t it? Truthfully…I really don’t know what happened that day with Akira and that god awful fall…Most of the time I don’t even want to think about it. Wogatta? Understand?” I didn’t pull my hand away right away. Didn’t have the courage to jump over this bridge to snap my neck. I saw Kazuya’s face imprint itself briefly over Tomo’s features.

“And this is Daisuke. As if he wanted to say something to me. I felt my heart tremble. then that was his choice. “DADDY!!!!!” Daddy? Even in this dulled state of mine. softened by his absence and this family. I don’t. “Nice to meet you Daisuke. Even though I could not feel it when the children were near. But I couldn’t really hear him. the monster of emptiness crept back into Tomo’s mansion. How he had died. Thoughts of suicide faded and the pain of thinking about Kazuya still caused me to tear when I thought about him. I could only wonder about Kazuya. “Suma. …Two of them? I must have been dreaming. I was awake. I adopted them. I could tell his chatter about useless subjects was just an attempt at trying to make me feel more comfortable. about the priceless paintings that lined his walls.” Eyes large. In short. I barely even noticed the changing calendar. It was the monster of emptiness. Sometimes I could feel him staring at me. I couldn’t tell him. If he wanted to risk his neck by having me live with him. curious. Like a real dad. right? I don’t…I don’t care anymore. An annoyance certainly. “This is Chiyo. Tomo…became a good friend. when they went to school—when Tomo went to work. Then his hand slipped to the boy’s hair. Was it just cruel fate for that child to have the same name as my first friend? But of course…They weren’t the same. cooking them meals. He turned the children around to face me. He did such simple things like tuck them in at night or scold them for making messes. and feel the edges of something. the tension in his face loosening as he began to chatter away. but it was a question of courtesy so I nodded my head.” I smiled weakly at her beaming face. Even though I thought that. comfortably talking about current news and politics. He asked me if I was okay. as if he had questions for me. And Daisuke. Opening a door. Did Tomo feel this too before he had adopted Daisuke and Chiyo? When Tomo had told me that Daisuke and Chiyo were actually Akira’s siblings. I never would have thought that he could be a friend. and about their life before Tomo adopted them. even thinking that. Meet my children. I would have rearranged someone’s face if they had told me that back in the day. How could such a thing happen? It wasn’t right. And maybe…I thought that it would be easier if I just stopped struggling.” The abrupt sound of Tomo saying my name interrupted my thoughts. but the hurt had dulled around the edges. but even long ago. Of no life. Had I heard correctly? “Otou-san!” came another voice. Wouldn’t they come take them back? . I became much like a part time nanny. and as if Tomo could clearly see it. I wasn’t. He led me from the main entranceway into the inner rooms of the large home. As if…demons here were not monsters under the bed or in the closet. he began to laugh.And still. the laughter still lighted in his eyes as he introduced them. I couldn’t meet his eyes. the incredulity spread to my eyes. “Where are their parents now?” I had asked him. sending them to school.” Just because they had the same name…meant nothing. “Suma.” Oh. I looked down to see a small boy hugging Tomo’s knee and a young girl embracing Tomo’s waist. too old for those young faces. I couldn’t do it. I was surprised to see a heavily stocked toy room. with them. How he had lived. he had never truly been an enemy. I would sit alone in that large house. Who would have thought? Suma Tanabi a nanny. If Tomo wanted things to be like this. taking measures to ensure that his children were happy. I blinked a few times. This new Tomo was mature. What? Tomo…was a father? How was that even possible? He must have fathered a child when he was around…10. He looked down at the young girl and then up to my eyes. Revulsion swept my features. He led me up the staircase to the second floor. I couldn’t help but wonder at Tomo. but never an enemy. tousling it. While I stayed there. I found myself almost admiring him.

No. He would have let go. And Takeshi…it hurt to even consider that he had killed my best friend. That’s all that really matters. You don’t want them to see you this way. I had to let it go. Thoughts of him burned my heart for a long time. Comforting. I should have splintered Kazuya’s heart so that he wouldn’t be…like this. motioning to the spot beside me. Kazuya…Hoji…all of those guys. “I want to tell you something.I saw Tomo’s eyes grow reminiscent. But I just had to…I had to tell him to keep The Tigers alive. “Why did you find me?” I asked him. “I wanted to. I had wondered about Tomo’s motives. Kazuya kept crying for me. I blocked him. That time. glad that he could understand me. I should have just burned that damned bandana and all the ties with it. I knew that even if I was gone…they wouldn’t be alone. “Sit down. In this house.” Being here. Kazuya…you foolish boy. God no. “Another night. “With the others…it was different. three months had passed. “This is…the happiest I’ve felt in a long time. I thought a lot about Kazuya.” I told him. his slightly crooked tooth and wide smile. He didn’t even condemn me. Enough blood had been shed. He wouldn’t have taken the list to try to fight those gangs. muttering about stupid after work socials. a bit on the drunk side. right?” That distinctive protectiveness that Tomo wore whenever he spoke of Chiyo and Daisuke—it was like electricity. We all crave some semblance of human contact. In the beginning. He wouldn’t have followed in my footsteps. Shizuka…had the malice. Humming. It feels good. I nodded to his words. “I’m sure…that they came to understand. From fall to winter. I knew they all had a family…that really loved them. a light smile on his face. “Arigatou Tomo. Why did you do it? Tomo had a job working with a Public Relations firm. Like I belong here. Of seeing Kazuya right up until I left. Even though each of us is all alone…we’re doing fine because we’ve got each other. It would have been done in cold blood. I should have ended it there. He wouldn’t have defended me. He said it more eloquently than I could have.” I was embarrassed to say it but I wanted to. Powerful. I am their father now.” There was no hesitation in his answer. They still did. I would think about how we met and became friends. The kids were sleeping already but he wanted to see them. They didn’t need another drunken father to greet them. Thank you. interested. Before I realized. his childish face. I couldn’t help but smile.” He patted my back. But they could never understand that. “In this house…we’re all the same. He seemed to understand what I meant to say because he nodded. Tomo came home. A part of me was proud that he did so well to earn respect but another. I would think about my memories of him. And I would think about those times when the childish Kazuya would fade for a moment and in its place was a Kazuya wise beyond his years. I feel comfortable. larger part of me had been horrified that he had done it…alone. “Is that the only reason?” . On one night.” “Nani? What?” he asked calmly.” He nodded. “I’m their guardian now. He wasn’t that drunk. And tender.” Tomo was just trying to comfort my fears but it made me wonder once more about his motives. It made perfect sense.” He said it so…right. understanding. after Tomo had transferred in…and that fight. He didn’t talk much about it but he asked me to watch Chiyo and Daisuke on the nights that he would work late. Where was Hoji? And Onira and Katsu? Why didn’t they stop him? Why didn’t they stop him???? If they had…the Beast Clan…Takeshi…Shizuka…which one of them killed Hoji? I wondered.

I should have never come. “Not this way. firm. Makes me question myself. I have to say no.” I couldn’t sleep that night. “You’re looking for something…that is already there. My hands went still.” He frowned at my shooting him down so quickly. he stopped and said to me. the monster that destroys everything…is me. standing up. Don’t you want to stop being lonely?” I looked at him now. A life with me…with my family. His eyebrows were furrowed. suddenly feeling as if his words hit too close. a gift that is not mine to open. “I do know. Baka. And what I am.” I know…that I’ll hurt you. “I don’t hate you. “If you saw me at those times…you would push me out onto the streets. There was more. “I know what I am Tomo. her body lacerated to the point where blood became her skin. My father…You’d hate me.” That I’m dangerous. Tomo shook his head. To love them. I can’t do this. Confused. squeezing them until my fingers were white.” “You don’t know that. “Did you know that each person in the world is granted with one wish? That…once they make that wish. “Why should I be?” “Why shouldn’t you be? You think I don’t see? Those distant. But now… I turned to him. Clearly. To see the disgust on your face that I should be used to. heartbreaking eyes makes me think you’re lonely. pushing his hands away. His offer hung in the air between us. destructive creature…no matter where I go. Miru-desu. .” He didn’t want to listen. To take care of my children. to cherish and remember. “What don’t I know about it? You and I…we’re too similar—I’d be blind to not notice. always expecting someone to show up makes me think you feel lonely. I imagined Chiyo on the ground.” The small smile that had crept onto his face earlier was gone. The way you look around. “What are you saying Tomo?” There was a thoughtful look in his slightly hazy eyes.” Tomo whispered to me. “Aren’t you lonely?” he finally asked. Suma. “You need to know about me. but that I know will tear me up inside. Will you still think of me the same if I told you I was a cold-blooded killer? Would you trust me with your children if I told you what I had done? Tomo…you don’t know me at all yet you look at me with such…eyes that I’m afraid to tell you. What if…I stay too long and you get hurt?” “Shut up. I’ve lived life thinking that what I want is an unattainable thing. No.” Tomo mumbled. If I can be a father…why can’t you be a mother? What isn’t normal about it?” He gave me an earnest look and looked almost pained at my confusion. “You’re wrong about this Suma. To understand them. in the end. as if he were attempting to find a way to explain it in better words. Not when you’re like this. I trust you Suma. His hand began to reach out to me but stopped. questions in my eyes. is an ugly. What is it about this person that makes me stare and stare and stare because I just can’t understand this person at all? Tomo.” His hand reached out to touch mine. that wish has already permeated into your heart? ” “Who taught you that fairytale? That’s the lamest thing I’ve ever heard. to hold.” I was so frustrated.” His words faded into contemplation and then he said. I have to leave. For a moment. No no no.” “What do you know about it?” I asked him. It was simply a dream. slowly pulling his hand back. myself standing over her. it makes no difference because deep inside. there’s no turning back? That even if later on you say you’ll change your mind. Tomo. you’re a miracle. His words struck me. My hands laced with one another. “You don’t know what I’m thinking.“Iie. I know that something bad will just happen. You make it sound like you’re some kind of curse…but the truth is. a sharp knife in my hand. He left to his room. “I trust you.

And he was glad that he did. I had already promised it didn’t I? But…didn’t I care for these three too? For Chiyo whose quick mouth could manipulate any game to her advantage? For Daisuke…who had pecked my cheek yesterday? For Tomo who gave me this… This…fami. And for once in my life. About her father. Because I was supposed to suffer. his hands covering his face. About Suma. My father. -Tomo opened the door to Suma’s room and was met with silence. Because…he knew that I still had people in this world that I had vowed to protect. Me or him. And Hoji. How she pretended to not care but…just looking at her eyes gave everything away. To hug Chiyo…to hug Daisuke. How. telling Tomo that there was at least someone else who cared for Suma. Like the Tigers had once been my family. I used to believe that death was not my answer because I didn’t deserve the freedom of death. That…he thought that he was beginning to love her. no matter what. After pulling a few strings with the phone company.. What would he do next? I realized that…death is the correct answer to this puzzle.” . But as long as I’m alive. I wanted to believe that even miracles happened—that even from devastation. Where had she gone? No. He laid back and closed his eyes. When I saw Kazuya’s name engraved into that cold stone. no one would be safe. Suma. Suma…it’s true.… Oh god. He wanted…so much for Suma to know. that friend of Suma’s just laughed at the situation and said that Suma should go to hell. Something seemed wrong. From him. he made three outgoing calls. he took a glance around but was only greeted with the gentle light streaming its way through the glass. Suma. a noncommittal answer. Before. Not now. but he knew he had to. And then…when he called Katsu. He returned to her room and sat down on her bed. His eyes were misty.Daisuke…little Daisuke with haunted eyes and stinging bullets in his head. He wondered if they would show but at that moment he was so tempted to trash his phone. something beautiful could be born. He loved her flaws. wouldn’t they? They had to. To my wish of one day…of one day having a family. as if the one holding it had vanished. Without those clear eyes of his. He just couldn’t put his finger on it. To that dream. But I realized that it couldn’t exist anyways because certain things were still in the way. Because of those times…when I lost myself over and over again. From me. I had to take responsibility…for Onira. It was Hoji who had told Tomo everything. I didn’t need anything where I was going and hoped that no one would come after me even though a small voice in me wished that I wouldn’t do this alone. He almost didn’t have the heart to call Hoji Kisaru about the situation. I didn’t even want to contemplate suicide. Tomo couldn’t stop trembling in anger at the call. I really didn’t want to leave this world. Here…was almost the faint promise of a family. I think…I’ve let these three become my family. To tell Tomo…that maybe…in time. His children. And my father. Suma thought that it was her fault. Tomo couldn’t help but scream out in agitation. He knew. They would know. My father. I was so close. No matter what. When he had called Onira. As long as he lived. Because of my mother. People I loved. And then I gave up on those notions and wanted death like a child wanting its mother. And Tomo…Oh god…Tomo. Katsu. he was met with silence. Tomo pulled himself together and tried to come up with places she might have run off to. I wanted to be able to say goodbye. I almost felt like I was home. crippled on the ground. About the abuse she went through. “What the hell Suma??? Why didn’t you tell me? Don’t tell me…that you went back to that bastard. And then opened them. Everything was still there but…something seemed off. I didn’t want to leave them behind. Will I come back? Wishful thinking. They are…mine to protect. That she didn’t need to worry anymore. I left my things as they were. Onira. Katsuhiro Oh was a bastard. Tomo knew…that he loved them. Bringing himself to the kitchen. for Katsu and Hoji’s futures. Because Hoji flipped out. Frantically. My hand suddenly felt colder. My father had that power over me. asking me why I was doing this. I couldn’t let them be hurt. Maybe even both of us. my father would never leave me alone. I would have told him yes. He loved how she worried to no end about the ones she loved. But now…death. Of saying Tadaima—I’m home. I wanted to stay.

He stopped before the both of them. Your decision is your own. I’ll-Save-the-Rest-of-the-World but not Suma???” “Fuck you Hoji. He wasn’t sure. . He came…he came because he felt that the bitterness of remembering was better than forgetting. Only. “Those bastards. after all. he had long been off of it. I actually have feelings. haven’t you?” “…Ie…I just…” “Just go then! Walk back to that daddy of yours and those messed up politics with a fucken smile on your face. I don’t give a crap about what other people think. But even though he was walking towards them. Would Suma have hesitated? Would Suma had said. Tomo…had become like one of them. they would figure something out. A first for Onira. Hoji shook his head and was about to throw a frustrated punch at Onira but Tomo held his arm back. The entire time…since Suma’s departure from that Yakuza mansion…she had been with Tomo? How did that happen? That Tomo had treated her so well didn’t make sense to Hoji. You’re just wasting time. He saw a heaving Hoji run his way. trying to evade their questions about where Suma had gone.I thought you cared but all you care about now is some fucken reputation that is nothing…compared to Suma. Every time they brought her up. mauled with grief. He really. Low profile was his kind of game. The minutes ticked by. Either Suma went back to her father willingly. sobering himself to his future. Whatever. or was forced. the look on his face told them that he wasn’t walking with them. his reality. as if he were tearing apart from the inside out. Hoji would meet with Tomo and from there. Onira’s usually expressionless. You think it’s easy for me? To wear my heart on my fucken sleeve? It’s not. his world.” They were met with the figure of Onira calmly walking their way. What the fuck is your problem? You’ve…really thrown away the past. You can walk away. He still. They all needed Suma in their lives. “It’s okay. but even still… Remembering didn’t change his mind. He had to save his energy for Suma. calm face was cracked in distortion. still on the other line felt a bit of shock at Tomo’s words. “Onira Shigubi. but Onira could understand his frustration. Everything he would do now was only for him. because his father had told him that the media would devour his heart. And he swore. standing in the middle of the sidewalk. Tomo couldn’t help but look at his watch in heavy thought. Like him. Attached to Suma. ‘I don’t know? My job is on the line?’ Hell no.” He had hidden it away and lost it over the years.” Tomo saw the annoyed click of Hoji’s tongue. If you came here to tell me you weren’t coming with us.” Tomo told Hoji. as if dismissing Onira. “I don’t…want her to die…I just…” He fell to his knees.” Onira couldn’t be like them. worked on the inside within the home of her father.Hoji. Disgust spread across Hoji’s face. He almost wondered at an ulterior motive but when he heard Tomo’s worry. He had dropped off Daisuke and Chiyo at school already.” The expression on Hoji’s turned cool. Hoji was being harsh. Let’s go. What will stop him from killing her? Wake up Onira. “I can’t bear my heart on my sleeve for the world to stab at…” “So you’ll just stand there and watch? Stand there like a pansy as Suma gets shot down? Like Kazuya? Shit Onira. “I called…your other friends…but there’s no time to waste. It was Hoji who had dismissed the idea of gathering crowds to overtake the situation. “I just…I just don’t know. Just walk away. Tomo was already there. he felt a pang of guilt for even considering it. Tomo didn’t know what to say. cradling his head. Her life is at stake you bastard! If she went back to her father…what will happen to her? We both know who he is. hadn’t he? Even though Suma had been a drug to him.” He was snarling. What the hell happened to your humanity Mr. You and I both know that you aren’t the same man from two years ago. He wouldn’t try anymore. unsure of what to do. you shouldn’t have come at all. Don’t you care anymore? Don’t you know that Suma would have fought for you to the death without hesitation?” “I don’t know! I don’t know Hoji! She left us once…she never came back to us…what makes you think it’s easy for me to just accept her back? You want me to risk my life for someone who never tells us when she’s coming back? We thought she was dead for months! We couldn’t find her for months! I can’t do it anymore!” Tomo puts his hand on Onira’s shoulder. “I think it’s just us. “Hoji…” He nodded at Tomo. he was in his own. It was a politician’s way of life. Go back to that life.” He wouldn’t go with them. “I’m sorry. maybe even more than Hoji could imagine.” He ended it at that. And don’t bother to come back…I went to you because…. What he has done to her. Onira was stuck between the world of adults and teen angst. truly had moved on with his life. But at least…I’m true to my heart. They were so happy now too. “Onira. You fucken bastard. I’m human Onira. Rather than living in Suma’s world for Suma. She’ll never know either way. contemplating deeply about his political career. And Suma…she never asked for your help. They were to meet up a few blocks from the West side cinema. “Why did you come then huh? Why did you come???? To throw it in my face—to tell me that Suma’s not worth it? Why are you such a fucken bastard huh? What happened to helping Suma? What happened to your heart Onira??” “I…don’t know.

” He touched his chest with the tips of his fingers. They would come severe.” He kicked at the ground. life’s gotten more dangerous and yeah. Are just the two of us enough to help her? he wanted to ask. rubbing the edges near the sides of his face. believing that I would be happy with a 9 to 5 job. It’s a double-edged sword. Hoji looked at Tomo thoughtfully. “Want her?” Hoji shook his head. would it? You’ve made Suma your business. She was just…Suma. back to his life. “Her safety. It’s not that like that. Onira was gone now. more than once in my life I’ve felt the fear of death but this is life. his eyes dazed. Tomo held his eyes closed. a white picket fence and a Barbie trophy wife. When he opened his eyes. “No. even though you knew sword would run you through. “The question of the century. even though he had tried. there was a gaping hole right here. smirking.” Tomo’s eyes bulged at the last comment. even if he wanted to. Suma didn’t exist in his life anymore. Suma had given him life. find Suma. to save her. Genius Onira who lived for facts hated that. But to the two of them. Tomo smiled. Even though I had a family. But facts…were always right. Tomo knew why he wanted to be there. a smile with thin lips that could easily be smoking a cigarette. “It didn’t even matter that she was a girl. Trying to save Suma. my sister. speaking promises that he was scared to utter. the dark but beautiful life within her was unreal. dusting himself off. He couldn’t go back. his thumbs to his eyelids. She was my brother. She’s like an alpha male and I’m just a mutt who got chosen to follow her lead. It’s life. but later.” And with Suma. always setting me straight. It was a fact. proud gait as he went back to his life without Suma. And nothing could be done to change it. I mean. But what about Hoji? “Who is she to you?” Tomo asked. saving Suma meant the world.” was all he said. That was just plain fucked up. Yeah. Somehow. don’t you think I thought about it? The moment she left. But after she disappeared. the world suddenly seemed too many shades too cold. Hoji shook his head. there is no pleasure. his hands in his pocket. It’s not heroic. To the world. “Will she be okay?” Tomo wondered. “Heroic. I admire her. but Hoji had already stopped looking for a time already. I don’t regret it. A friend. the joy. I really don’t know. she had been everything in my life. he said nothing. “This is probably suicide. The more you hurt. Tomo noted.” Tomo muttered. A mentor. laughing morosely at the conclusion he saw in Tomo’s eyes. Chapter Twenty-Seven Tomo and Hoji watched Onira’s stiff. He was just doing what she wanted by living it. I want her. He knew he should have been thinking of his kids—and he was but it was just one of those things where he knew he would feel condemned either way. “No. isn’t it?” He looked both anguished and content. “I don’t know. I’d be sitting in a dark little cubicle at a university somewhere. Worth it. but his eyes said so much more. to watch over his rash friend…he knew that if he did…he would be unable to return to his world. “Yeah. And don’t think that I haven’t thought about that a long time too. “I thought she was playing mind games with us all after we found out. “And I realized that even though I hated her for lying to me. Through blood and tears of course. she was my mother and father. shit. That’s how…that’s how it was in a family. He walked away from his once-upon-a-time best friend Suma Tanabi. Tomo found himself agreeing. Hoji threw the question back at Tomo. They would rip their hearts out and lay them on a platter for her father to devour if Suma could be safe. Someone who holds tightly to a part of my essence even though she doesn’t realize it. to find her.He found himself standing. I’d rather tell you to fuck off and say that it’s none of your business but that wouldn’t be true. even if the situation was insane. refining that blank mask about him and walking away. Life would be so much simpler. A hero. . Without the pain. “What’s in it for you?” Helping Suma. Suma…he closed his eyes. They were all Suma had now with the rest of the Tigers gone. Even though he wanted to see Suma’s face again. the more beauty there is. A leader. hoped for so much more. As if it mattered. always looking out for me. wistful looks on their previously disgusted faces. If I had never met Suma. As a human being to a human being. In any way. He couldn’t walk away from Suma and he couldn’t abandon his children.” He smirked. The consequences would come later. Hoji shook his head. If Hoji saw it. I didn’t even know Suma was a girl.” What we’re doing. The Onira from two years ago had died and so too had those ties. And yet. But things didn’t turn out that way. He was just trying to set things right. as if he heard Tomo’s silent question. a thoughtful expression on his face. This attraction…this pull I feel isn’t because of that.

but I wasn’t. He refused to listen to his worries.” He took the cuffs. She would brood and then I would get so confused because Suma can be so easy to read sometimes but other times. Suma taught me to not rat. All of those empty houses were more depressing than his. not even looking at him. Just waiting for time to come by and swallow them up. “What the hell are you up to?” “Take it. “Do you trust me. But now that I think on it. agonizing. He said so. “We saw her as a god. From us. his eyes saying that they had wasted so much time already. Hoji’s eyes darted from his watch to the premises. Because either way. one who commanded our lives but one who we wished to lead.” “She’s special. I thought I was all badass. don’t you?” Tomo nodded.” Hoji nodded. The gate opened and Hoji drove through. as if he were simply going to work.” He said it not with pride.” Hoji pulled out cuffs. “Pretend to act pissed. without a plan of action.” Hoji explained.” At this Tomo scoffed. . I wondered about what I was seeing. but it changed all of us. The man at the gate took Hoji’s security card and scanned it. He was calmer than Hoji thought. Tomo had been silent since getting into the car. as if remembering the heaviness upon her heart. “You’re different from me. His Cheshire smile was amused. Maybe he was still a kid to think that he wasn’t the same person. “What do you mean?” Tomo asked. You’re more of a man than I thought you were. who was trying hard to pretend to be struggling against his cuffs. Suma living. I’ll do anything. “No. maybe she knew the whole truth the entire time was just biding her time. Like she always did before she decided to run away. A child or a wizened old man? Did she really need us or was it just us that needed her? I couldn’t quite understand. The truth is the truth and when we found out about Suma. if they were valid because of that one little lie.” Akira dying. Even though we knew Suma wasn’t weak. Easy as pie. there’s a victim and a victimizer but when someone rats. It made me question the years we spent with her. He could feel her near. She said that in the end. that Suma might not even be here. so unlike Hoji’s brief memories of Tomo in high school. Tomo. the laughing would cease. when I first met her. without promises or keepsakes. but just factually. she’s as hard to read as a tree. Yes.” Tomo was listening the whole time.” Hoji said. “He thinks he can yell his way out of cuffs. nodding. “Wasn’t I always?” But then he shook his head slightly at his own words. “Tomo. Hoji spoke again.” Tomo was aghast. Tomo?” Hoji asked as he neared the estate. It was even more impressive than his neighborhood and that was saying a lot. talking glibly with Hoji. Back then. his eyes picking up on the filthy rich neighborhood. that Suma might even be dead already. wondering. That she was.They got into Hoji’s car and headed towards Suma’s father’s estate. She left and I couldn’t face her because I felt like I had betrayed her too. Hoji joked a little bit. “Yeah. and later at other times. Suma was alive. Because I knew that Onira and Katsu screwed up big time but I couldn’t rat on them too because even though it was messed up. sarcasm always fresh on his tongue. “On that day.” The guard seemed to agree. You want to save Suma. “You know why I changed. Hoji continued. to move it along and see what the end of the story was. A child left in our care.” “Yeah. even though we knew she wouldn’t break so easily. She was there. still not understanding and clumsily put them on. his thumb casually pointing behind him at Tomo. even though I had kept my promise with her. someone to revere and to protect. it felt like she would. He was pulling out his id badge. telling Tomo what he had observed. Put it on. The truth only hurts when it’s someone you love that lies to you. “Fresh meat.” He said it as if two years was equivalent to a lifetime of experience. but I was just a kid then. “Yeah. I was supposed to be happy that her dad came for her. But the heaviness that I saw in her heart. maybe you’re right. “Trust? I barely know you. Isn’t she?” They sat there. It was just one day. Fool. the truth always comes out and that it’s better to not rat. From Suma’s chosen. I can’t think of anything else right now. They were pulling into the driveway. I felt like sometimes she would be laughing and then suddenly. “Put these on. I don’t know why she thought like that. the middleman becomes the scapegoat and that is never justice to the truth. we became the victims and Suma the victimizer but it hurt like hell. He knew it.

“Fresh meat?” Tomo asked, dumbfounded, after the guard was behind them. “That’s what I am? How the hell will that help Suma?” Hoji put a finger to his lips. “Hush, Tomo. How else do you think I could have gotten you in? No questions, no explanations. This place is impossible to break in. Don’t you think I should know? I work here. Anyways, just act like a whining cow. We have kids like that all the time.” Tomo looked miffed. “And what happens to them?” Hoji’s voice turned wooden. “We play with them.” The car came to a halt, parked alongside similar vehicles. “Let’s go,” Hoji whispered. “Let’s see what the situation is. If worse comes to worse, I might be able to let you go with a missing limb. But Suma…if I have to kill you to save her…No hard feelings, Tomo, but I’d kill you in a heartbeat.” There was no threat in his tone, no malice or hatred. It was just the truth. And Tomo had nothing to say, not to that. Hoji’s words were heavy, reminding Tomo once again that this situation was impossible. People were going to get hurt. “At least get me out of these cuffs, Hoji,” Tomo said. Hoji unlocked it deftly, without a key, leaving Tomo slightly bug-eyed at the trick. “No guarantees, kid. What happens to us, to Suma…we can only hope for lots of luck.” The both of them got out of the car, Tomo rubbing his slightly red wrists. Immediately, guards surrounded them, a few of them trying to mask the confusion in their eyes. Why were they ordered to obtain Hoji. He was one of them, wasn’t he? Hands clasped Hoji’s arms. Hoji looked in alarm at the crowd of guards that seemed to emerge from thin air. “What is this?” he asked. One of the guards he was unfamiliar with prodded him in the back with what felt like the tip of a gun and grunted, “Move.” Hoji knew then that he had been watched—that the wool had been pulled over his eyes. He was a fool. Of course Suma’s father knew who he was. Of course Suma’s father was keeping tabs on him. He was a fool to think otherwise. What shitty luck he had. What shitty luck he and Tomo had. He met eyes with Tomo, a sorry in his eyes for being so foolish, for believing that he wasn’t a player in Suma’s father’s game. As he walked forward, he prayed for them to have quick deaths, but he inwardly laughed emptily. No prayers were heard in that cursed home. -Suma’s POV At first, I thought that I would return to my father right away. But when I left ho…when I left Tomo’s home, my feet took me elsewhere. To old pizza joints, to high school. And to Kazuya. My eyes swept the names on the tombstones, my feet walking past offerings and flowers. I would join them maybe. If I would get a burial, anyways. I stopped. Akira. I saw his tombstone barely a few rows from where I remembered Kazuya’s was. So this was why Tomo had seen me. What were the chances? I always kept thinking that whenever Tomo was around. What were the chances that we would meet? What were the chances that I would hurt him and he would heal me? Tomo’s words repeated in my head. “I don’t hate you Suma.” My thoughts faltered. What were the chances…of me? And Tomo? Right now, none. But when I thought of what could be, my heart soared with so much…dare I say it? Hope. Something. I almost didn’t know what to call it. It was too unfamiliar. I sat down in front of Akira’s headstone. “You knew Tomo well, right?” I asked the stone. “You must have. I didn’t know you very well, but I could tell you were a good person. Resilient. I think you must have been good for Tomo even if he didn’t know it. He was a big brat back then, wasn’t he? “But I was too. Some times. But it never really felt legitimate you know? A laugh here, a laugh there, but the air was always stifled. In the back of my mind, my father’s figure stood, towering, overpowering, laughing at me.”

There was silence and I thought that in that moment, Akira was chuckling at the circumstance. “Yes, I know,” I whispered. “Me and Tomo? It’s not love. It’s not that cheesy shit that damsels in distress moan about. There’s just…something, you know? Like a maybe. Or a what if. What if I wasn’t messed up? What if Tomo had a gazillion siblings? What if…I chose Tomo?” To love. To protect. Oh wait. I already did. I tapped the tombstone a couple of times. “It was good talking to you, Akira. It really was.” I took a breath. It didn’t calm me. I stood in front of the gates that I had just walked away from three months ago. This was for the best. It always was though, wasn’t it? Immediately, the gates opened in an ominous fashion, as if my father were telling me, “I knew you’d come back.” Because there was nowhere else for me. But he was wrong. There was a place for me, I wanted to tell him. Even if there wasn’t a place for the legendary tiger, there was a place for Suma. It was just my bad luck that those two entities were trapped in one. My father didn’t greet me. I was too speechless to wonder about that man when I saw an unexpected face in front of me, smug. A strangled laugh echoed from me. “You,” I croaked. This situation should have been absurd but it made sense. My world was imploding in my face. “You,” Takeshi sneered. Hurt came and fled my features. He could still make even the simplest, unassuming words gouge deep. “Why are you here?” I asked. His face was so timeless, like an ice sculpture. The bitterness crawled out of him like maggots on a carcass, overwhelming, continually breeding itself over. “What do you think?” I didn’t know what to think. I just knew that there was a strong possibility that his hands had strangled the life out of Kazuya. With a bullet. With his words. With something. I didn’t want to use my imagination but it was spiraling out of control. My father appeared before the both of us and whistled out to me, as if in surprise. “Well look who decided to show up. Today seems to be a day for a bunch of rats to crawl in through the gates.” Rats? “What are you talking about?” He smiled and left me hanging, wondering. He motioned for me to follow him to the courtyard. I could feel the presence of Takeshi walking behind me. I still didn’t understand why he would be here. How long had he known my father? From the beginning? No. It couldn’t have been. Takeshi couldn’t have known my father so early on but somewhere along the line, I saw that they had become acquaintances and I had an eerie feeling that it was because of me that they met. The house was unusually silent, not even the sound of guards scuffing their feet against the carpet. Like during those times my father brought me to that dreaded basement. We entered the courtyard and I felt my blood freeze. The guards were lined up, their heads bowed, their hands at their sides. I saw my father snap his fingers, motioning towards a few guards. They parted like the Red Sea and a couple of guards pushed forward. God no. My father was laughing at me, because he knew that those words he promised me so long ago were truly, finally coming true. Right before my eyes. He would take away my world, my hope, my love and dreams. Like I had done to him. In the arms of the two guards that stepped forward was Hoji and Tomo. Restrained by only cold guns to their head and confusion and fear. Dry tears were sweeping down my face, my eyes swollen and body heaving. Darkness screamed from my eyes, the dark of hate, the dark of fear, the dark of inconsolable confusion etched deeply into my soul. He did this to me. He created me. He wanted to destroy me. He wanted to destroy them. It was like a horrible parasitic pattern. Getting close to someone only to watch them suffer and then disappear. No.

Not anymore. “Don’t touch them.” My father smirked. “Did you just order me around?” My brows knotted together. Anger pulsed through me. I snapped. They weren’t supposed to be here. “Don’t touch them! Don’t look at them. Don’t speak to them. They aren’t yours. They aren’t yours to play with. Not anymore Otou-san. Not anymore.” I called him Otou-san with such bitterness. He pressed the cold iron against my chest. I could feel its harsh weight on me, its coldness trickling through me, through my skin, striking down my spine into my toes. His breath was against me, his eyes oily and devilish. His hand snapped to my hair, clenching it in his fist, pulling my eyes to his. “Don’t fucken talk to me like that, bitch.” I stared at him hard and whispered, “I may be a bitch, but I’m still your daughter.” I was sick of him. I was sick of this. I was tired of being responsible for…was it his mistakes my own? But it hurt because I didn’t know if I could do it. Kill him. No, I don’t think I could kill him. Not even for Tomo. Not even for Hoji. But I wouldn’t let him kill them. I hated him for what he did to me—for how he made me live in fear—afraid to approach another human being for fear that I would kill them. He was right. But so wrong. I saw Hotaru in the crowd. My good old bodyguard. He was rigid with apprehension and he cast me a look of pity. I didn’t want his pity. I had enough of that already. What I wanted…could I even imagine? Yes. I could. I looked at my father squarely. And then casting aside my inhibitions—I jumped at him. I caught him in a chokehold, restraining his arms. I could do this. Just go with the original plan. That had no price. Hotaru looked me square in the face, as if asking, “Will it be worth it?” Yes. It was. I would do this a thousand times….A million times. How would I die? I wondered. Would my father order his guards to shoot me dead? I hoped so. I was so caught in a rush of adrenaline that I failed to hear my father laughing. So hard. His face was red but he was sputtering out laughter. “Do it,” he egged me. Try it. “Let’s see what will happen to those brats.” Brats? I gripped him harder, his face graying with the pressure. “What do you mean?” He had them? How? I stiffened. No. They were in school. Dai and Chiyo. He knew. He knew. Oh god—he knew. About them. He misunderstood him. I didn’t want to kill him. It was the other way around. Why did he have to bring them up? Hotaru, who had been holding onto Tomo tensed. Tomo saw the look on my face and understood too, who my father was talking about, his broken heart painted on his face. Hotaru turned from me. He had tried to help me once already and at this point, I could see a loss in his face. I was no longer his to protect the moment I walked away from this estate, from Hotaru’s frail protection. My father laughed at me, speaking nonsense, down at me, even as I head locked him. And then he said words that barely registered within my brain. “Did you really think it was solely the Beasts who killed your friend?” My grip loosened and he pushed me away, elbowing me in the gut. What did he mean? He laughed at my confusion. But his words hit me. Made me question. I thought that the Beasts killed Kazuya—I looked in Takeshi’s direction but he couldn’t meet my eyes. But…My eyes narrowed. “You lied,” I said. Could these words really be coming out? “Kazuya wasn’t supposed to die!” I thought of his innocent smile and darkness clouded my eyes. My lips were trembling with rage and hurt and betrayal. “I promised….I stayed with you! For two years! That’s all you said….that’s all. I didn’t even talk to him.” The question hung in the air. How could you do this to me? After I kept my promise? I saw Hotaru bring his lips near Tomo’s ear, a threatening look in his eyes. Very much like the dirty mouthed Hotaru I had met in the beginning but mixed with a dull, uncertain gaze. Hotaru slowly let go of Tomo, knowing that he had forfeited his own safety. His hand went to Tomo’s back. “Run to her. I won’t shoot you,” he whispered. “If you fucken love her then don’t let her stand alone against that monster!” He pushed Tomo away. Towards me. Tomo seemed a little uncertain but on the spot, he interrupted the conversation between my father and me, standing between us, his arms spread out, blurting the first thing on his mind. He was so upset. “Do you think you can just treat Suma this way? Suma…strong Suma looks so weak breaking down before you—how the hell can you do this? Isn’t Suma your own flesh and blood?” Hoji was struggling too, wishing he were freed too. “I’ll kill you! You shithead! You bastard…there’s no way you’re getting away with this.” “Ah…the rookie. The pretty boy. And a monster. What a colorful group we have here. I thought for sure that the politician and the drunk would show too. I guess not.” From your flesh…blood will flow. I could read that in his eyes. He looked down at Hoji, smugness on his face. “You should know your place.

But no. Fool. so easily. . make you think that Suma’ll be yours and then in the midst of it all.” Tomo spit at him. I had forgotten that Takeshi was even there. What a joke. when they break and start to drown…if they’re lucky. gouging the cut deeper. “But you fight too hard. His gaze turned towards me but his words seemed to be directed at his frustrations. That you had the power to bring me down.” he breathed.” Hoji muttered. I stepped closer to my father. “When I was born. Just…don’t talk. I watched as his face slowly scrunched up into a vicious smile. Pity crept into my eyes. “Idiot. I drew malice into my face. undefined and undeniably inhuman. there will be someone there to save them. Tomo’s eyes grazed me. ‘You’ll get your punishment later.” I told him. huh? I’ve seen you kill so many others…but why is it that you won’t kill me father? Is it so difficult to kill a monster? Or don’t tell me. You were supposed to kill yourself. First blood. We’ll save you. Today is the day you fall. You fell into your dark hole and decided to stay there because to you…it was easier than accepting that no one wanted to save you.” His lips snarled as he kicked me harder. you monster.” I seethed. the ring on his index finger digging a gash into my cheek. adding fuel to the flame. Goading him to try and hurt me. “But no one saved you. the image was gone. I saw Takeshi grab hold of him. “That’s what humans are! They grow and they grow. “I enjoyed it. “And when they fall.” I turned my voice towards my father as I eyed Tomo to just shut his mouth. You love me?” I thought I saw surprise lace his eyes but it couldn’t have been. I had said it out loud. “There’s a difference between you and Suma. “I don’t want your help. Don’t talk anymore. prodding him. I wondered if that was how I looked right now. And I knew that he finally took the bait. “Yakuza. Even if you say no—even if you fight and refuse…we’ll help you. You’re the monster. you’ll be found dead. “We’re a fearsome bunch. I told him with my eyes. It was foolish for you to think that you could destroy me. Trying to distract him. glaring down at me when I fell to the ground. “Suma. My first kill. “Why are you so afraid to kill me. He kicked me hard. “Feeling her die as I drained away her life! It was the best feeling in the world. I know you hate me. Suma. Suma’s still young and sure—she’ll make mistakes. You’re rotting. mutating into something else. What would push him to finally end the bane of his existence? The answer came to me so suddenly. you traitor’ look.” Tomo had a look of pity pasted on his face. Wogatta?” No. “It felt good!” I yelled at him. What cold eyes. but that’s okay. “No Suma!” I heard Tomo plead. urging him to do it. No one wanted you. Because Suma’s so charming like that. I saw him flinch. huh? Why the fuck didn’t you just leave it? Shut up Tomo. He really just needed to stop talking. hitting me in the same spot as last time. I felt a rib crack. My father didn’t have any inhibitions towards scrapping a loud mouth. a. It’s strange how I acknowledged that he was my father…so easily. You’re not dying inside like Suma is. Tomo almost believed that he saw a flicker of agreement in my father’s eyes but he felt he must have been mistaken because when he blinked. I spoke to my father. it felt so invigorating. You weren’t supposed to be here! Why the fuck do you care so much.” Rage flew into his face and he backhanded me again. My father was. I had seen it done before. But it wasn’t on my list of priorities. The source of it all.” For a moment. He was accurate. Our hands were both sculpted for blood to run through them but I wanted that blood to stop.” There was amusement in his eyes and a hint of regret. I know that I’m the reason you’re like this. I decided to test my luck.“And you…Suma’s taken you in huh? Pretended to like you. I locked eyes with him. “I don’t need your help. harder.” He gave Hotaru a searing scrutiny. I ignored them. Suma had the choice to be like you but Suma’s not. I know you want me dead. He wasn’t responding how I wanted him to. He spoke too much. The back of his hand lashed out at me. Tomo picked me up but I shrugged him away. Mother. To wither and die. What you are…is terrifying. They make mistakes and they choose to learn from them. not me. Even in that you failed. not Suma.

will it make a difference?” He sobered. Tomo with his arm around me. It would take centuries for me to have a chance at humanity. I’ve endured too much in too little time. “You’re serious aren’t you?” What the hell? “I’ve been fucken serious from the beginning! I don’t have bargaining chips. Not now. “Just shoot me and quit playing these fucken games!” He laughed at me. pinning me with his black leather shoes. I just want to die so that I won’t be looking behind my back every waking moment.” he spat as he pulled out his gun. glancing at Tomo. After…when I was rotting in hell. Hoji was livid. my broken rib screaming out in pain. You don’t have a heart Suma. his vibrations wonderful and strong and right.” He motioned to Hoji and I flipped. “You bitch. “I know. Do it. I could see them in the future. But this lifetime. “Just kill me! Just fucken kill me already!” No more games. “Do it. Hurt too fast. I just couldn’t bear to see that man hurt Hoji. When I broke down in tears. “Just do it.” I hung limply in his grasp. . “You don’t have any right to hate me after all I have done for you!” Hoji scoffed but my father ignored it.” he sneered. the symbol of everything I hoped for. My father bent down and pulled me up to his face.” I whispered again. “But I’m so so tired of these games that you play with me. a look of distaste on his face. they never stopped.” He did want to.” I whispered. Maybe I was being selfish.” He jerked me upwards. if you blow my brains out. maybe I’d fall to become something nasty and insignificant. Maybe then. breathed too fast. I tugged the gun.” I told him again.I saw Tomo flinch and try to remove himself but he couldn’t do a thing. After I was dead. “I know what you lost.” I told him. “You. So that I won’t be afraid to have children—to have friends. Kill me so that I won’t be afraid to be happy—so that I won’t be afraid to look a person in the eye and tell them that I could love them. “You don’t know what I lost because of you. “Shoot me! Even if you’re right…. watching as he became angrier. I haggardly pulled myself up to him and pulled his gun to my heart. learned too fast. simply replying. “I am grateful.even if I don’t have a heart. “You should be grateful for the time I’ve given you!” he yelled. Shoot him.” I whispered. He pointed towards a guard. “You have no right to hate me. I didn’t want to deal with it. “Shooting you there won’t do a thing.” My hand reached up towards his hand. He dropped me to the ground. pulling the gun towards my head. looking at me with welcoming arms. almost begged him. I’ve lived too fast. To have a father. But I could tell that he didn’t want to give me the satisfaction of knowing that I could control his emotions. I struggled beneath his crushing foot. his hand still gripping my shirt.” I sniffled. growing up. Tomo standing between them. I don’t have the motivation to kill a bastard like you. I wished that he could just do it. not wanting to argue. crying over little things like kids should. Shit. I struggled some more and moaning in pain. He raised his voice. He stared at me in silence for a while. Images of Dai and Chiyo swept through me. “I know you want to. And then a light bulb went on in his head. My eyes felt so weather beaten. chuckling. I could sit there and cry from whatever punishments I would receive. I’m so tired. I thought. It was too crucial of a time. I spit some blood into his face. Or if Buddha was right.” He looked like he had been slapped again. Not now. “I know. beaming with joy over simple things that grown ups forgot about. I lifted his cement foot. Tears could wait.

knowing that it would probably be his last day alive. hands shaking. reminding me. Suma had been his scapegoat. But Takeshi was waiting for him. That’s why he willingly killed Kazuya. It’s just…he had no one to blame. he only felt guilt. He knew that revenge was a monstrous cycle. eyes dilated. I just fought hard and broke through skin fast so that it would leave my sight quicker. He told them to screw off. for her grief and her sorrow. they had muttered in fright. I knew. Any idiot knew that hurt only gouged deeper hurt until there was nothing left to gouge but memories. Because he knew them. he took it. The Beast Clan dispersed. When he arrived at the base. But the Beast Clan—he didn’t know them. they’d give him what he wanted. the work. even if they both didn’t know it then. It made him double take because he slowly began to realize that he may have been set up.The scars I bore hadn’t all healed. He told all of his subordinates to leave. That was before they passed out. And he did. as long as he took Takeshi with him. he hadn’t been fighting for Suma’s dream. they had come a long way into the threads of society. If only things were different. His goal had always been to destroy the Beast Clan for destroying Suma. If they stayed. he saw that he only hurt her more. The long run repercussions were irrelevant to me. Cannibal. They kept being cut back open. He only thought about it for a moment before saying that he wanted Suma’s head. but he didn’t mind. drowning me in a pot of black blood.that he was responsible for ripping to shreds. Kazuya came to Takeshi. By the ones who really knew me. when the world had turned its back on him. Daisuke had gone. They were so high…but he cut it all away. The documents. he could have been in Tomo’s place. it was deserted. He didn’t know who else to blame for Suma’s tears. but Kazuya’s ambitions were never that high. good Suma who he remembered as a sad child—good Suma whose nature was so torn…. physically self-inflicting harm. just lounging on an old. But they persuaded him by telling him that if he did what they wanted. didn’t he? But when the opportunity arose to exact revenge on her. He had been fighting for his own. He just knew that the Beast Clan hurt her. And then Takeshi was given a proposition from the Yakuza. Not in this lifetime. He was more than willing to destroy whatever was left of Suma. the entire base. They wanted a hire-to-kill job done. I just wanted to dip my head below the surface and fall prey to that sick stench. So this is the Suma he had left to die. Or the next. But looking at her. They knew that Kazuya would make his move soon and that he would come on his own. The Yakuza wanted him to take out the remainder of Suma’s gang. He had nothing now. he glared it face on. festering at the sources. Flashback The Yakuza told Takeshi that waiting would be simplest. Why wasn’t he shooting me? Chapter Twenty-Eight Takeshi’s POV Takeshi could feel his heart squeezing at the sight. He just knew that he owed it to Suma to end them. Long run…I knew there was no long run for me. Good. Anything. Since the birth of the Beast Clan. Everything was destroyed. and even then the pain didn’t subside because revenge plagued rougher than everything else. He once thought he forgave Suma. protecting Suma. The drawn out silence made me realize that I was still alive. A long time ago.he had no one left. I wasn’t going to say I was ever a martial arts master because they don’t really exist in this day and age—not the kind people imagine. Because Suma had been one of his confidantes. Kazuya asked him for his . He threw in a few curses and that was that. Takeshi could still smell his blood. Daisuke was gone…. saturating me with the knowledge that I would never be clean. Gaunt. I had been called. He had moved from the original objective of the Tiger Gang. Maybe. Fuckin monster. He was responsible. but subconsciously. He knew that the other Tiger members had hurt Suma too but it was different. He just never thought to turn that glare on Suma. haunted and bitter. They agreed. if things were different. vanilla couch. He couldn’t blame his sister because she was destroyed mentally. it meant death. Suma was the only one to blame. He had nothing to gain. And though it should have brought joy to him. He didn’t mean to do it. Suma had wanted to take out the Yakuza. thinking—an eye for an eye.

“And you are?” Kazuya lashed out. kid. He knew that. Maybe because he wanted to hear what Kazuya had to say—maybe because he felt bad for the kid and wanted to offer him the mercy of confession before death. realizing. “Suma attacked my sister. So that maybe some justice can finally be reached. reminding him of its permanence. “Suma told me before that you had been a friend. “It’s okay. “Why would he lie about that?” Where the hell was this conversation going? If Kazuya had appeared harsher.” His statement was without rancor. Gone was the Kazuya of innocence. Being a boy. Kazuya took out his gun. wouldn’t it? . You don’t believe anyone. Kazuya sunk into himself.” She had said those words herself and those words had burned in his memory. David and Goliath. firm in their belief that there was a such thing as Santa Claus. That’s justice. you have to die. colder. Didn’t you know…Suma wasn’t even a he?” It was so random. But it just wasn’t fair to her! It would all end after this. “Are you the only one? Where is the rest of the Tiger gang?” At this. just true. “No. The words licked off Takeshi’s tongue like flames searing across a line of gasoline. Do you know how much I trusted that shithead? Too much.” “You should keep those words to yourself. “Did you know…. The cherub and the demon.name—they had never met before. Whatever the reason.” Kazuya wasn’t deterred. And you? Are you the only one?” Takeshi leaned back on the arm of the chair. “She’s no longer a tiger. “Today.” Kazuya kicked imaginary rubble. Kazuya still stood. Everyone else has died already. He didn’t know if he really was doing the right thing after all. cold part. Who broke Suma. still spoke. Takeshi would have shot him dead already.” Kazuya huskily whispered. Right?” It was a comment lightly said. The comment seemed absurd. “I am…all that is left. Takeshi stood. “I don’t know. his height towering over Kazuya’s slight form. A back stabber. “How long had Suma been pretending?” Kazuya wondered. leveraging the height between them.” The look on Kazuya’s face was thoughtful. “I just want to know the name of the man who betrayed Suma. He noticed how Takeshi kept referring to Suma as ‘he’. It felt like he was looking at a child. that is. Another person dead…would hurt Suma. Why wouldn’t she lie about being a girl?” “You lie! That’s the dumbest shit I’ve ever heard.” Kazuya simply shook his head. He was a psycho. causing Kazuya to smile sadly. those words. but just as accusatorily slapped. leaving a rancid taste on the tongue. But he was hesitating. a child’s nuance in them. Takeshi feigned ignorance. “What does it look like? And Suma? Where’s that bastard?” The tip of his lips rose in faux joy. Takeshi simply told Kazuya that he didn’t deserve to know his name. We’re not in a stupid little comedy. People don’t pull that shit in real life. kid. I don’t know. “There is no justice in this world. I’m not offended.that she hated girls?” “What does that have to do…” Kazuya interrupted.” Takeshi told him. as if he knew already but just wanted confirmation.” And Kazuya aimed. “Suma hated herself. Suma should have died. “Why do you think that is?” Takeshi found himself not wanting to answer honestly.” reiterated from his lips. I don’t know!” He changed the direction of the conversation. “I’m Suma’s friend!” “You’re friends with a traitor. but Kazuya could see a part of Suma in Takeshi—the hard. contemplative. like copper. like a scar. Was he saying that Suma died? “I don’t believe you. “You’re not leaving alive. Takeshi remembered distinctly what Kazuya said then.

Even this kid.” He pulled the cold gun to Kazuya’s head. Kazuya shook his head. Because of Suma. He was feeling pity for the kid. Suma was a boy. his eyes more than a little crazed.” But Takeshi was scared of Kazuya’s words because it painted such a pretty picture of Suma. Shut up. He wasn’t wrong. betray her trust. I couldn’t hear her footsteps resounding near me anymore. not even for a second from a crazy kid. and words no longer mattered. With his arm extended straight. He felt stupid. End Flashback Takeshi bowed his head in deep shame.” “You’re annoying. he wondered how he had accumulated so much hate for someone with such a clean aura. It was all Suma’s fault. “That’s why…I had to resort to the only thing that I could do. Suma just vanished. Everything he had done…he knew that Suma wouldn’t be back. Profanities were screaming in his head like a jammed key. “I’ve looked for her for so long and cried for her so many times because it seemed like at every corner. how painful it was to be alone. Until trust became nothing. his lips barely moving. he was afraid that he had been wrong. “We all are a little crazy. being reminded of his past with Suma.No. The Suma I knew was so warm that she was cold. Suma’s a fucked up prince who thought that he could trick me so that he could try and rape my sister. I became just like you. The kid’s words were already getting to him. “The Suma I met was so afraid to trust. That’s why everything can’t be changed anymore. Not she. Suma’s not a girl. “No. It was nothing new. because Suma…” Kazuya’s eyes were accusing when he muttered. Kazuya’s eyes were nostalgic. and he didn’t want to believe it. Daisuke was dead. the oil ran drier. agreeing but disagreeing. became so hard to hold onto. when I thought she’d be so close. What am I going to do? What am I going to do? How do I live Suma? I wish she could answer me. Shizuka was almost raped. he knew he had no control over events.” Takeshi didn’t want to hear anymore. Suma was in the wrong. He hoped she suffered. When he turned the boy around.” The gun went off and he felt the smaller body go limp in his arm. because it was something. It’s too late. Whatever was keeping her. That was justice.” “Stop it. A kid.” Kazuya shook the gun at Takeshi’s face. His delusional cracked-up mind pissed Takeshi off. I’m home. you punk? You’re lying to me. To hear someone say. “You want justice. “Do you know what Suma wanted? More than anything else in this world?” “Too many things. Bye you bastard. Suma wasn’t dead.” Takeshi spoke. He threw Kazuya’s body into the river. There was a look of pity pasted on Kazuya’s face.” he said. as if speaking to her. Because he was just that. Yes. I’m afraid Suma. She just wanted to say ‘Tadaima’. snapped out of his delusions.” Kazuya’s eyes dimmed. ‘Okaeri’.” Takeshi snapped. He rammed Kazuya to the ground and twisted Kazuya’s arm around his back. “I understand now. I knew she was always trying to protect me. All I could do was live life like a machine and each day. No. As if Suma being alone was his fault! No. a gun in hand. But…he just had to speak. Takeshi seethed. And when people began to leave her. Shizuka lost her mind and left Takeshi alone in the world. Because of Suma. Kazuya’s wavering voice said. “Sayonara. Psycho Suma raised a psycho crony. and something was better than nothing. Suma brought misfortune upon herself. no family. He just knew it. Suddenly. Because she never ever could say it. she stayed for so long…ignoring how painful it was until it was too late. “Doushiyo? Doushiyo? That’s what I ask myself over and over again. No. It was easier to hate Suma when he never saw Suma. he felt his heart twist. No friends. Kazuya looked at Takeshi carefully. It was just fair that she got punishment for it. . his current world momentarily washed away in her memories. But she stayed. The happiness that used to be a constant companion became a burden. “Can I tell you a secret? I wish Suma could forgive me. She had gone somewhere I couldn’t reach.” “You’re psychotic. Who do you think you are to come here and accuse me of being the bastard who hurt Suma? I never touched that kid. Because of Suma. No. I should have killed Suma when I had the chance so that Suma wouldn’t send me her dumb fuck cronies to try to finish me off. The Suma I knew was so afraid that everyone would leave her one day. But just being in the same vicinity. He wasn’t wrong about Suma. “Suma didn’t want to be alone. no matter how hard I tried. But…I never wanted her to fight alone. It wouldn’t bring Suma back. teme. Screw Suma. XY.

He felt like a monster.” She had grabbed Takeshi’s arm and the gun had shot her twice. his blood painted messily across Suma’s father’s crisp suit. seeing this. It was like the world came crashing down on the madman. Her father’s shell. after watching her grow up. As he watched the face off between daughter and father taking place before his eyes. He never cared before but Suma made him care. Bang Bang Bang! His eyes went wide. with blood stained across his teeth and rage in his eyes. After all he did for her. It didn’t help that he was lying over the body of that sick man. “I’m a monster. “Let her live you fucker. Takeshi swore. as he saw her crying. ugly hoarse tears shaking from him. he told him.how could he think she was a monster? He had never seen her cry before. He couldn’t believe how stupid he was. her hands not bothering to cover her wounds. blood dripping from his mouth. Blood spit from his mouth. Suma’s father pushed Takeshi’s injured body off easily. Shit. He was in a daze. okay?” She was crying uncontrollably. that he was the one who had betrayed Suma and that he had killed a kid who should have killed him. as if he had just woken from a dream. “But I don’t want to kill you. It broke his heart to see how wrong the world was and how the bad always won and the good never came through except for in the movies. Takeshi heard the bullet first. after those endless nights of torture. Her father was shocked too. And then he felt it. how deep a hole Suma was digging to distract her father from looking away to them. she protected him? Why? Suma was lying on her back. not doing a thing to protect her. But Suma…he had Suma. Her eyes glittered. trying to not wince for her every time her heart pumped and blood splurted from beneath his hands. Takeshi began crying harder. the pain shooting everywhere in his body like a severe punch. Her father was still. and jumped on Suma’s father again. No one made a move. Tell her I’m sorry. aimed at Suma’s father. he would like to make amends.” She wanted him to know that. that he had broken Suma for no reason. even when he had beaten her. How fucked up could things get? He realized that he had nothing left. small laughs of insanity bubbling from her. Played.” Takeshi shook his head. Even touching him slightly made him want to puke. but he had never truly seen and understood those facts. and the child at its core that he had beaten bloody. Exactly like her mother.. but today.. Her green eyes…. Somehow he had always known it..Taking shots for that bastard…. It made him a little jealous to see how fiercely she was defending those Hoji and Tomo. Bang! Instinctively. He had hurt her for so long. thick hot tears. he saw the immense depths of her pain. telling him that he was in the wrong. isn’t she? I won’t be joining her…but tell her I tried. taking another bullet deep in the gut. Tomo did it for her.. Even if doing so meant that he was admitting that he had been wrong for years. as if seeing if their master would die. “Otou-san? Mom is an angel. out of craze.Used. “Leave Suma alone!” He takes his gun from his pants and with a clumsy hand. because Suma always tried to hide her pain.” she slurred. He felt nauseous. But just like her mother. bringing the gun back up—forgetting to care about Tomo. out of shock. Everything was too surreal. that it was his sister who was always a psycho crazy bitch. gleaming of regret. Her mother’s eyes. He was a volatile man and they didn’t care either way if he lived or died. ”Shit! Suma???? What the hell???? Suma????!!!!! What are you doing?. And Takeshi didn’t get played. “Fuck old man…. The guards around him weren’t making a move.” His eyes were pained. Threateningly. “I hate you. Happened too fast. He aimed for Suma. For justice. The face of Suma’s mother shedding tears over the thought of how far this small family had fallen. Suma’s hand reached out. Shit. one in the leg and the other in her stomach. The third bullet had shot into the sky. most especially not by the damn fucking Yakuza. Shit. disgusted. He was wrong for so long. He saw the gun in Suma’s father’s hand lift upwards towards the pretty boy who had the guts to go against Suma’s psycho bastard of a father. he couldn’t help but feel like just once.when will you learn?!” He’s crying. His hands reached for Suma’s father’s collar. . a series of images flitting through his memory. muttering no no no. he busted through the tense atmosphere and knocked Suma’s father over.

Just know that I’m doing this…as your father. but I missed him already. Not caring that the man had put her through hell. How can people fight their way back to life? How could they when this felt so good? .I’m a bad father. The sound was solid. But Suma reached out to him. ignoring how Tomo was blatantly trying to shield her from him. dark. In the movies. “No! Don’t do it…” she pleaded. I could feel my body still struggling for breath. “No matter what happens to me. Voices begging me to live. My father was dead. Then they would smile. as her father.” As if he knew that even with this newfound knowledge of what he had done to his child. I shouldn’t have but his last words almost made me believe that he didn’t hate me.” The words registered and she tried to pull herself up. I was breathing harsher. The twisted man cracked a smile at her at her effort. but failed. so there was no more need to worry. but with fondness. comforting sleep and nothing else. I felt tears splashing onto me. death was warm in its coldness. I’ll still hate you. They were bent over Suma—Takeshi was on the ground.I wish that I would have done things differently. loved you like you deserved. She could feel death upon her. more like mumbles. he wasn’t foolish enough to believe that he could have a full change of heart. Hoji and Tomo were trying to keep calm. even if I want to change. It was the end. telling me that breathing wasn’t important even though my mind knew the truth. Final. he blew out his brains. I didn’t really care. shock filling my body. wheezing. petting her hair awkwardly. I was mesmerized by the realization that darkness didn’t feel like darkness. Just a little bit. Suma’s eyes were heavy. people’s lives always flashed before their eyes before they died. What the hell??? It was like some sick curse. “Goodbye. I’m so sorry…If I could start over…. dry parsley. don’t blame yourself. Everything hurt. Chapter Twenty-Nine-end The ambulance was coming. The cruel man understood his cruel self. But my mind seemed to wander off. in the air. Takeshi was exchanging curses with Hotaru in the background. but it was too late.” With his last act on earth. I think…that after this. It just felt like a deep. This couldn’t have been hell. I hated the man. mumbling. helping Tomo. I think that things would have turned out the same. I wanted to sleep. That he loved me. Her father crawled to Suma’s side. She barely heard his words. letting its brilliance dim. I wanted to tell them that everything should be okay. When he pulled the trigger. in my stomach. fading to the green of dull.Hoji was released and he ran to Suma. He was her family. a green no longer toxic.” She didn’t understand. feeling like he failed. Forever if I could feel like this. no longer caring that he was responsible for issuing Kazuya’s death. He hurt Suma again. I just had a feeling that everything would be okay. speaking to me in nervous voices. wasn’t he? He didn’t look like the same man from five minutes ago. seeing a bright light at the end of the tunnel. my chest rising and falling dimly. But even if I could start over again. Just a little bit. it didn’t sound the same as the previous bullets in Takeshi’s body. But it didn’t feel like what heaven should feel like either. it’s too late. The present melts away and nothing else seems to matter anymore but relaxing into death’s embrace. there was so much blood. What did he say again? “No matter what happens to me. In real life. “I’m sorry…. no longer visible to the world. She just wanted to die remembering the touch of her father’s hand. Just know that I’m doing this…as your father. There were voices tugging at me. I closed my green eyes. but they felt so muted. don’t blame yourself. letting it cradle you as its warmth seeps into your bones. if you let me live. I should have known that only happened in the movies.

I promise I won’t ever have a girlfriend. my revenge will be complete. Promise. That part of me that I had been harboring for far too long. I was home.Forever. Yakusoku. Promise.” “There’s only one requirement. It was simply a changed state. Some concepts. telling me. No one really knows what forever is despite how the term was thrown about so casually. pushing at me. -My heavy lids opened. Tomo later told me that I survived because I fought for life but it wasn’t true. we could only speculate and create grand tales to tell children about angels and demons. Families fight and die and cry. You can’t have a girlfriend. a cry of relief emitted. Something pierced my arm. And maybe. Like a mantle. spoken and unspoken. Even death wasn’t eternal. Enemies love and hate. The word whispered to me promisingly. scorn and wallow until there is nothing left to defeat. Me. So yes. drowning my mind’s eye. Into accepting the monster as a part of me and then. . They were both signals of change. Anxious faces peered at me. Promise? Yakusoku?” There were too many promises. slipping through my fingers. Not. Nothing is forever. Permanence simply could never exist. I blinked and tears fell unapologetically. Friendships dissolve because of time. “It’ll be okay. This foreign place? It was home. just maybe. reminding me that forever is not forever. drawing on the very angels and demons we saw on earth. a part of me was still dead. about good and evil. I just subjected myself to change. Why did that word sound so familiar? Promise. From this world to the next. But no one really knew what happened in that next world. I had risen from the dead. my senses slowly returning to me. like forever. It was just gone. I had been sucked into being The Tiger. Hopeful eyes met mine. Every thought joined together in a whirlwind.” “Promise?” “Of course I promise. Somehow. becoming less and less muted.” “We’ll meet again Suma. were simply beyond us. My body began to feel heavy. with the dissipation of my father. Even. Nothing stays the same. distance and change. When we meet again. Was I about to die or live? I didn’t know and I didn’t mind either option because they were both doors to a new life for me. The sweet deep of sleep was draining away.” “Don’t talk like that. It took me a minute to realize the resounding thought that had been pounding in my head since I opened my eyes. And I landed in a foreign place.

He came over to me and I could see his bloodshot eyes. About the kids and Hoji. That’s not what I asked. We’ll raise Dai and Chiyo together. his hands tightening on mine. held his cheek in my hand. Earnestly. all of the hopes that I had dashed before they could grow. “Yakusoku. I could see clearly the beauty in his actions. “That’s disgusting. knowing twinkles in their eyes. Suma? Promise?” My first reaction was to tell him that I didn’t make promises anymore but I never got to voice it because Tomo’s lips were already over my own. He gently winced and my hand automatically touched the bruise I had slapped. It was a promise. how I had lashed out at him and how stupid I had been when I ran away from him. gently kissing me. as if he understood what he had done wrong. Either that. I felt his hand gently squeeze my hand. “What happened?” I managed to get out. began to bloom. I didn’t want to connect. his unwashed body. Epilogue My keys jingled in the lock and clicked.” he told me vehemently. I’m going to kiss you. The easy but skewed banter we had in high school I put behind me. but there was always distance between us even while I was close to Chiyo and little Daisuke. His lashes were so long. He was so tense. His lips kissed the tip of my nose. “You got hurt. “If that was my only choice and I didn’t give up my arms and legs and you died.It was the third time for me in a hospital. Tomo. What a sick and childish image. He didn’t pull away. With his hand in mine. He came for me. the scent of blood still lingering on him. I had lived with him for months. The bed. He had been crying but he didn’t want me to know. But now. Tomo interrupted my thoughts. Yes. intense. He took my silence as a yes. for someone to lean on. And then he said such simple. He had always been beautiful in his own way. I used to hate hospitals because they held a stigma to me but the truth of the matter was. It was like a twist to the heart. I realized a lot of things during my almost death. I’m going to marry you and love you. He was still here for me. The shock on my lips faded to a hesitant smile. Heads popped out from around the corner. “How would you live if you did that?” He smiled warmly. I remembered his confession to me and I clearly remembered how much I had resisted and how scared I was and in that fear.” I told him. My hand reached up towards his face and he brought his face in closer towards me. Living with Tomo.” No. how could I live anyways?” He pulled my hand from his face to our sides. who had been lounging against the wall smiled. I knew the goodness in him. but not there. But it was also Tomo. or he didn’t care. Suma. But it was sweet of him and I smiled slightly. and my feelings on hospitals were one of them. my message never got through to Tomo. his face so gaunt.” Why couldn’t you just leave me alone? His hand held mine against his cheek. I opened the door and glanced down at the pile of shoes in disarray. I would have done it. I wanted to know about Takeshi. Tomo’s lips were just above my own. for people to love and to not worry about them being killed in front of my eyes. he said to me.” His voice was a little hoarse. He didn’t comment on my injuries but he was being careful by not putting pressure on me. I didn’t like being in hospitals because it was a statement that there was something wrong with me. “Suma. Because I didn’t want to hope for stability. anguish in my eyes. I wanted to know what happened to my father--that godforsaken man. the broken blood vessels under his eyes telling me that he hadn’t slept. The sterile smell.” I murmured. but apparently. his breath warm as he said.” I whispered. I remembered noticing that when I first saw him. “I thought you were going to die. And Tomo knew it too. And everything that I had been holding back before. They were all smiling at me. “Tadaima. I could feel his warmth. I slapped him harshly. I wanted to know who the hell put the fist-sized bruise on Tomo’s left cheek. I had been there. as if they were petulant weeds just waiting for a chance. He bent over me and pressed his forehead to mine. “What happened is that you made it. “You could have been killed. If the doctor told me that I needed to chop off all my arms and legs in order for you to wake up. sure words that touched me and made me ache. in his words and in his thoughts. Or he cared so much that he didn’t care about what I was trying to accomplish. .

thank you for going on this journey with Suma to the end. jumping around in a circle. thankfully. I don’t know if I will delve into this world again. From the bottom of my heart. myself and most of all. “Okaerinasai.Daisuke and Chiyo ran at me and grabbed my hands. with little stories and lessons to be learned but it turned into this and I’m glad. I feel like I’ve grown so much from the prologue to the words “The End” over the last two to three years. died. Tomo. The End A/N: Thank you for reading this. to me. I wrote this for the readers. Really. without you readers. Chiyo added.” he said. maybe not. Suma was at first a boy. I’m considering writing about Katsuhiro. We all know that’s every other minute you’re reaching for the mayonnaise. a leader out to set things straight among wannabes. It was just…right. Too perfect. They fell to imperfection before being able to make themselves whole again. Mama! Okaeri!” I chuckled at their sentimental antics. I knew that there would always be ghosts whispering to us. It was supposed to be like a Jdrama. but I didn’t tremble under their weight anymore. Daisuke. “Mama Mama! You have to look at our drawings! Papa already put it on the fridge so that we could all look at it every time we were hungry. Maybe. Those ghosts didn’t yell at me anymore because The Tiger had finally. The Tiger came into being and I hope I did it justice.” Daisuke explained to me. -Kou . People often dismissed that even the Brady Bunch was created from broken families.” Daisuke pouted and Chiyo sighed. but I might not. “Welcome home. “Okaeri. God I felt like I lived in the Brady Bunch. I loved this perfection. the underwear model who disappeared off the map. who had been watching me the whole time.” He looked so content saying that. From nothing. I would have lost heart a long time ago. gave me a warm look. “Only every time you’re hungry. I didn’t have nine lives anymore at my disposal—just this human life to live. It was so perfect. for Suma. I want to keep writing.

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