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


[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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally. I didn’t want to hurt her. I heard Rie’s movement stop still. I saw Rie raise her shook worst than when I was locked out of the orphanage one day during winter. I sniffled loudly. I pulled it out and began to occupy my hands by cutting up the black construction paper.So I ran from my reflection. 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. When she grabbed my chin with her soft fingers. And became a walking boy. I just…. Maybe…God heard me or Buddha or some other deity. “Shut up!” she scowled. everyone around me still knew I was a girl. I whispered. thick lashes. My nostrils flared as I tried to control my breathing. 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. I prayed and prayed and prayed that maybe…if I prayed hard enough. I… . She screeched. fixing the flowered bobby pin. I prayed so hard. “What the hell is wrong with you? Why are you so nasty?” I bit my lip and closed my eyes. 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. On that day…I took a pair of scissors…just an ordinary Fiskars scissors from my classroom desk drawer. politely asking if she could leave to go to the bathroom. silent to her wounded voice. She was so hesitant but Rie continually pestered her—accusing her of being a horrible mother because she was paying attention to me. To me…the only good women in the world were my mother and Aoi…I had already killed one of them. scrambling to get away from me but I cornered her to the wall. because at that moment. Quietly slipping out of the classroom unnoticed. My hand shook worse. and with a snarl. She had her own daughter to take care of…I didn’t want to be a replacement. and took over. I sniffled. 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. I didn’t want to hurt Aoi any longer so the once kind smile I showed her turned into a cold grimace. My hands were dripping…oozing blood as the scissors in my hand cut through my skin. Suma…Suma. 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. I pushed Rie to the ground. “Oh. I could somehow go through with this.. begging me to tell her what had happened that caused the sudden change in me. its rims becoming puffy. I finally felt Aoi slowly let me go. she slapped me. hovering over her with a monstrous expression. she tried to look me in the eye. I stopped it before it completely shut and let myself in. That day. The one with the lime green handles. With wobbly knees.” She turned back to the mirror and resumed her grooming. My tiny hand…. the real me woke up. My eyes reddened. I hurt Aoi. I took the scissors in my right hand and shoved her to the ground. “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. Around that time. In a rough swipe. It’s you. But of course. Holding the scissors above her eyes. blind to the splattering of my blood on the floor. She turned to face me. She just kept screaming and screaming. and launched at me with her claws. but short sobs were breaking through. They only snickered and found more reason to despise me. Rie growled and threw her hairbrush at me. the monster finally woke up again. I followed Rie’s dainty footsteps.I just don’t want Aoi to keep trying to give me love….or was she going to continue to just pretend that I was invisible? She was just an arms length from me. silent to the motherly worries she directed my way.. I drew closer to her. the bloody scissors held up towards her face. I felt a thin stream of snot slowly dribble down my upper lip... I kept pounding on the door…so scared that no one wanted me…so scared of the devilish frostbite that crept up on me. Thud-thud-thud-thud.because…It hurts too much. so I did what I did best. She screamed and screamed. My heart thumped crazily—it felt like it was going to burst. rolling her large eyes with their long. watching it strike my head with a thud. her hand in her hair. I was shaking. “Hello? Is someone there?” she asked. They noticed the change and mocked me for it but they didn’t stop me from changing. my arms reaching towards her…. she swiveled to face me. Did she realize anything yet?.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take care. When we finally arrived at the hospital entrance. You’re a great friend. I’m just Suma now. Finally. Kazuya took it. Good Kazuya. No one else can. Kazuya saw it and backed away. I wanted to tell him so badly that I had to go. Suma.all of this. Okay?” I nodded. For years…. I’m the reason why Akira’s dead. but I couldn’t. . “I have tried. “Are you saying that you’re not happy here?” Of course I’m happy here. then I’ll at least know that I tried. “You’re talking lies. He was so happy because we were going to be a family again.” “How long?” Kazuya asked. “They’re not mad. Kazuya. better than I deserve. Otou-san is with me now. “I’m not giving up! I met my dad. Isn’t that great? I have something to actually look forward to now. did you know? He’s really rich—handsome fellow. Kazuya. Before he disappeared.” Man…my words sound so stupid. I remembered that I had Katsu’s phone. Suma.” Why did I sound so cheery? So fake? But…Kazuya seemed to accept it. then you’ll be safe. How could I even consider staying? “Couldn’t you at least try to stay for a while?” Kazuya asked. “I lied to you. Let me help get you back to the hospital. I was moved to a different hospital. I’m going away soon and there’s a lot I have to do yet. tears falling. “If I stay. away from Kazuya’s smile. Everyone else seemed mad. hugging me fiercely. “Take care of yourself. “I can’t be your great leader anymore—no more of that Tiger junk. to protect him.” I said. okay?” I dug my hand into my pocket and pulled out a square cloth. “He’s going to send me to a good school and I’ll meet good people so I can live happily. can I? If I go. “I’m really not coming back. “Yes you are. my old man did what he promised.” I smiled and took Kazuya’s hand.” Kazuya said in disbelief. You’re too good. casting me a longing glance. afraid. I told Kazuya to go home. got on the bike and returned home. so I said. will ya?” I asked. I mean. “It’s something very important to me….” If I stayed. I’m bad luck. He threw his coat on me and sat down with me when I collapsed onto the floor. Otou-san would hurt you…but if I just go without a fight. miffed.” “What? What are you talking about? Are you—Suma Tanabi—are you giving up? I’m not sure if I’m really hearing this. The following day. I can’t be happy. I’m just not built to be a good friend.” I seemed deep in thought. “Give it back to him for me. See where it’s gotten me? Broken friendships and a dead body. because he felt he knew what I was going to say. I sighed. okay? It may not have been intentional but if I just—” I sighed in frustration. “I promise you that.” Kazuya shook his head.” Kazuya surprised me. okay?” He turned.” “You don’t mind?” I asked him. Away from Katsu’s narcissistic poses and Hoji’s intellectual comebacks. Away from Onira’s knowing eyes. “Kazuya? You came…” “Of course you dummy. I have something greater to do than to lead you guys. Kazuya shook his head.Kazuya…you know too….” he said sadly as he let go. you dimwit. I shook my head. “I used to have friends once that I thought would stick by my side till the end of the world. How could they? It’s you. Suma. saying.” “Your point?” “Ha…. Convince him. “Aren’t you happy for me. He didn’t want me to go.It’ll probably take me a whole lifetime. So I vowed to become a good friend that could trust people but what was I thinking? I understand now that it’s impossible. my legs white in the moonlight.You’re not normal. why would they trust me? I was just some nobody that was used to getting trampled on. biting my lip. Of course.” I paused in thought. “Take it. groaning when I got on the back of his bike. I can’t. A real one. 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. he spoke to me encouragingly.” “No.Don’t you feel betrayed? He still looked just as worried as he normally would. “ …I have to go. “…Suma. hesitant to leave. deciding whether I should tell him. He told me that he was so happy to find me.” I explained. don’t you realize? Even if you can act like nothing changed. Who could be mad at you?” “But…. It can’t be the same anymore. Kazuya? I have a goal now. I opened it and enclosed the faded cloth into his palm. You’ll always be a Tiger. I’m not a Tiger anymore. I can’t do it.” I tried to smile but it came out crooked. Just Suma.

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

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

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

Turn around. he saw flecks of happiness fade from Suma’s eyes. He stopped. but he had waited for two weeks—now was as good a time as any to see if it was her. he was still sheltered. he was told. He was only imagining things. but as a young adult in the Yakuza. From what he was told.As he stood there. not really listening to him. Who was he waiting for? everyone wondered. That person didn’t feel like Suma. he felt strange. further away from him. He could see how hard she was trying to not mess up. they could see that he was a fine catch. no matter how much the odds were against them. He was a prodigy in knowledge. like he was playing the role of her substitute boyfriend. It couldn’t be Suma. “Fake. She kept getting smaller and smaller. She was a whore. Long legs. No. 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. but what he saw was anyone but that. he had heard everything already. you b:tch!” She moved her head towards his and looked at him calmly. This job was supposed to be easy. He took note of her lack of attention and grabbed her roughly by the arm. He ran towards the pair. “Hey! Listen to me when I talk to you. He didn’t want it to be. commercial. For a moment. defeated. whispers escalating.” her bodyguard told her. When he had first seen Suma. wasn’t it? But that person didn’t stand like Suma. So unbelievably beautiful that you couldn’t help but think. Onira thought he caught a glimpse of her…right? That back…that back was hers. her long hair shimmering in the sun like satin sheets. “So don’t think you have any chances with those love struck boys that are always after you. She was listening. If only…if only he were looking for one of them. “You know you can’t date. He stepped forward from the support of the wall and inched himself closer towards her. black vehicle. asking who he was and what he was doing there. Onira stopped running. in physical activity—it was just by inconvenient luck that he had ended up where he did. you whore. their curious eyes following the path of his long legs. A gangster and a whore. moving her towards a sleek.” So much lighting and air brushing that it was more man-made than natural. and as if the girl he was after could sense his presence. How else had she had so many bow down to her? His name was Hotaru Daigo. He was only 18. right after school let out. her eyes meeting with his. No matter how innocent she looked. making gasps float through school girl mouths. Suma was jacksh:t. He had been there religiously for the past two weeks. He could have passed for a college student visiting his high school sweetheart—it was a romantic thought. He saw such a pitiful excuse for a human. her head turned slightly his way. Just let me get a glimpse of your face…to see if you are Suma. It wasn’t Suma. like the fish in Hemingway’s novel The Old Man and the Sea.” Suma nodded. He didn’t know what to say. He just had to baby-sit his way to the top. No. one of the youngest recruits taken in by Suma’s father. Suma was supposed to be someone to be feared—someone with real power. 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. From his posture. right? -Suma. His eyes had watched how ridiculously awkward Suma’s steps were as she came down that expensively stone-furnished stairway. For a fleeting moment. What did she see that made her eyes light up for a moment? He felt something in him lurch. She was dirt. he thought. Was it??? He wasn’t sure. What made him hesitate though was that a young man was holding onto her arm stiffly. It wasn’t Suma. It was better than stealing food from people.V. She was a cold-blooded killer. Onira was scared. cascading hair—it couldn’t be. . Long. multiple eyes trailed his striking figure. not a leader. his looks and collectedness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…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?

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

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

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

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

Her hair was matted across her face. unable to stand it. he had left the suffocating room. -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. you’ll have to wait until after school. Suma’s blood. A few girls scooted further from the tense scene. We wouldn’t want you to be a truant student. “I hate people like you. you all flip out on me. She thought this and only this. Four is better than one. As long as they were happy. remember?” she whispered. to push over the edge. Beatings. You are even more despicable. I told Suma that she shouldn’t have welcomed you because…. Every damned day. because he realized that…it only shone brighter in the face of Suma’s willing subjection to her father’s wishes. There was a dry brown crust covering her clothes and her hair. This past year…as a Tiger. his eyes widening slightly at the sight of her. She had to pull her self control together from losing it. sympathizing. Her father really did want her to go crazy. right? This was the right decision. more pathetic than me. He just…had to say his share and then he could go. But…it had to be okay. 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 supposed it would be best to wash it. This would be her motto.” Katsu spoke first. “You walk around pretending that Suma never existed but when I just touch her desk for crying out loud. She was escorted up the stairs to her room.He had been a coward and left Suma to fend off the wolves again. He couldn’t bring himself to watch. He didn’t want to stay here. She hurt so much. Her father whacked her roughly in the back of the head. dark bags beneath her eyes.look at you!” “…. To witness one murder and then to wake up to the birth of four more murders. poking your nose into everyone’s business. He hit his fist weakly against Hoji’s desk. It would be ridiculous if he got sick because of a piece of cloth. “Of course. She just walked into her room. He hated ragging others but…what he had said back there was only the truth. People that do that…. That they were okay. but he fell asleep. but then called himself stupid. the random kind that you buy that’s inexpensive. I know that you’re all probably thinking I’m just talking about dumb things—making up excuses but it’s only the truth. “All three of you. He awoke upon hearing their words.” . It was her only decision. No. turning it on without bothering to undress her dirty clothes. You’re pretending to not care…but why else would you behave so irrationally?” “Shut up. At least…that’s what Suma would have said. even when they don’t want you to. You seem to throw everything away with such ease. She never minded a mess. almost wishing they could hear her. as well as the fresh smell of shampoo.“This is your gift. He was afraid to even wash the fouled cloth. Suma always had a thing about being clean but messy. Watching torturing. It was the smell of iron. What had happened after he left? He berated his cowardice. She slumped against the tiled walls and hit at it uselessly. He had done it again…. Last night. He clutched desperately onto Suma’s last gift…last keepsake. still rattling it. What a nightmare. Suma was willing to take this torture if it meant that they were safe. He waited for Suma to return in the night. No tears. feeling nauseous at the twisted sight. criticizing herself with weak words for her helplessness. isn’t it?” She could already hear their muffled cries. You care more about strangers more than your own always have a sick front on so that people think you’re so beautiful and kind…that sort of junk pisses me off.Katsu. She saw Hotaru dozing outside of her door. The bandana he had cross-stitched upon still smelled of Suma. “I just want you guys to be happy. I used my one wish for you. but hygiene? Kazuya had never seen someone scrub so hard. I thought that maybe you were more than a jackass…a pretty boy.” he seethed. He could see irritated marks around her neck.I’ll take that as a compliment. Suma. now do we?” Suma shook her head. You go around. as if she had been tied in a noose. He grabbed his belongings and glared at Hoji…Onira…. Kazuya was suddenly very hostile towards Katsu. walking straight into the shower.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn’t want to approach them. inquiring about Kazuya.I. asking around. he no longer saw clearly. He took pity on me. He let it engulf him. I told myself I wouldn’t make contact with any of them. bribing for clues. Suma who despised their relationship. “I don’t know who you are lady but…If you’re looking for Nishikasama…I suggest you try the cemetery. His dreams had dwindled away like the ash of wood in a fire pit. It hadn’t moved at all. And in his fury.E. I didn’t know who to ask. 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. There was nothing left of Katsu to save. Suma. What a laugh. clenching my fists. Please. Be together forever. We were meant to have eternal love. trying with his honest heart to fight on. control the way he saw life. I found their headquarters easily. Because he couldn’t bear the thought of that nagging feeling that maybe…it wasn’t worth it. Right? He had forgotten who he really was. That list I made two years ago…should have been burned with my leave. welcomed hate to flow freely in his veins. His heart had already burned to ashes. I told you so. I looked up at his hidden face. clouded by his hate and consumed by the fire of despise.S. picture him somewhere out there. Katsu wanted to kill her. I decided to ask the old street gangs that had been on my list.Katsu’s POV Who knew how strong ‘hate’ really was? He hated Suma. but saying his name only aroused suspicion. Katsu hated Suma. They dragged me to their leader. . He just…did. “I just want to know…where Kazuya is. forcing me to bow down on my knees. Tell me where he is!” I cried out. The R. “You knew Kazuya?” Of course I did. tripled by the ghost of Suma’s voice whispering.” …Cemetery? He didn’t mean…. That he could really be happy at Suma’s expense. There were moments when he thought that he could really move on. The young leader looked down at me from his ridiculous throne. Because he was like that. begging for answers. Suma’s POV I’ve been running up and down these streets for days. He never gave up on me. You’re the reason she left me. Suma who hated Tae Yoo. They had to know. They knew. gesturing to one of his men to help me up. Maybe sacrificing his friendship hadn’t been worth the agony that pulsed through him. bowing low on the ground. alone. but the thought of Tae Yoo…the thought of her always sent him back reeling to harbor more hatred for Suma. I asked a couple of the members. clan should still be around. “Kazuya. “Where is he?” “Who are you?” There was a look of concern in his face. Suma…Tae Yoo was worth it! You’re the one that was wrong. Suma who couldn’t understand what the hell love was. He wanted to erase her thinking that if he knew that Suma was finally gone then he could finally be at peace. She doubted me. breathed air. No matter what. We were in love! he wanted to yell out. Onegaishimasu!” I bent lower. For being right. 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.

Strong hands grasped my arms. But Kazuya? If I continue to cry…will you come back? “Heuk…heuk… Kazuya. Nishika-sama’s days of rule ended months ago. I thought you wanted a piggyback. He gave me a look of exasperation and shook his head but it only made me struggle more. Let me…go to hell now. “You’re kidding right?” “Iie. “Suma Tanabi. flying higher and higher… Kazuya…this is just a figment of my imagination. . Get down from there and put on your shoes. You told me a long time ago that if I just let it all out…that I would feel better.” I whispered before I prepared to jump into the rocky waters. Inscribed in stone you lie…your ashes spread along the east winds. but the moment you four walked into my life…I’ve been slowing melting into this weak person that you know. heading off towards the bridge that expanded across the wide river. Tomo…Why are you looking on at me like that? I tried to pull out of his grasp. I took off my shoes and began to climb onto the railing. I had a feeling it was you. Chapter Twenty-Six My eyes shifted uneasily. okay? I walked slowly from the cemetery.. I told myself that my tears were long gone…but I was only kidding myself. You hated how I never cried Kazuya…but I’m crying now for you so easily. I thought…my heart dwindled away to nothing years ago…but who was I kidding? I was frozen…for a long time. making their way from his arms to his face. This weak person that is on my knees bawling my eyes out. I have failed. ready…to leave this world. “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. It’s my fault. You’ll catch a cold.My head shot up. following the red-bricked walkway to the exit. ne? How do I give you one…if…” She couldn’t bring herself to say it. The wind blew against my growing hair. 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…. You don’t even have the ability to be in this world anymore. whipping it away. Those eyes that should have been staring me down with hate…instead were sympathetic. “I’m sorry..” How small was this world really? To meet Tomo once more. my hoarse voice mumbling. I turned to look at the familiar face. baring my face. This weak person that couldn’t even protect someone as beautiful as you Kazuya. He’s there…thanks to the Beast Clan. isn’t it? It’s all…my fault. right? A pain that surpasses the end of the world…a pain like this engulfed me. Everyone around me is in so much despair. Nothing is going right. You told me…Kazuya. rocking silently.” -So it wasn’t a lie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He wouldn’t try anymore. They were to meet up a few blocks from the West side cinema. his world. Just walk away. “Onira Shigubi. truly had moved on with his life. mauled with grief. ‘I don’t know? My job is on the line?’ Hell no. Tomo…had become like one of them. Every time they brought her up. cradling his head. Onira was stuck between the world of adults and teen angst. I’m human Onira. A first for Onira. contemplating deeply about his political career. You can walk away. They all needed Suma in their lives.” He wouldn’t go with them. You think it’s easy for me? To wear my heart on my fucken sleeve? It’s not. “I don’t…want her to die…I just…” He fell to his knees. Go back to that life.” Tomo saw the annoyed click of Hoji’s tongue. Would Suma have hesitated? Would Suma had said. Hoji shook his head and was about to throw a frustrated punch at Onira but Tomo held his arm back. hadn’t he? Even though Suma had been a drug to him. sobering himself to his future. Like him. Either Suma went back to her father willingly.” Onira couldn’t be like them. trying to evade their questions about where Suma had gone. “I just…I just don’t know.Hoji. The minutes ticked by. “I think it’s just us. She’ll never know either way. he was in his own.” He was snarling. still on the other line felt a bit of shock at Tomo’s words. It was a politician’s way of life. but even still… Remembering didn’t change his mind. It was Hoji who had dismissed the idea of gathering crowds to overtake the situation. They were so happy now too. he had long been off of it. Everything he would do now was only for him. But at least…I’m true to my heart. maybe even more than Hoji could imagine. I’ll-Save-the-Rest-of-the-World but not Suma???” “Fuck you Hoji. unsure of what to do. 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. after all. as if dismissing Onira. He really. I don’t give a crap about what other people think.I thought you cared but all you care about now is some fucken reputation that is nothing…compared to Suma. Tomo couldn’t help but look at his watch in heavy thought. worked on the inside within the home of her father. He came…he came because he felt that the bitterness of remembering was better than forgetting. Let’s go. calm face was cracked in distortion. Hoji would meet with Tomo and from there. Whatever. He stopped before the both of them. And don’t bother to come back…I went to you because…. And Suma…she never asked for your help. “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. Only. He saw a heaving Hoji run his way. He still. What he has done to her. Tomo didn’t know what to say. Hoji was being harsh. “It’s okay. I actually have feelings. he felt a pang of guilt for even considering it. “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. Onira’s usually expressionless. He had dropped off Daisuke and Chiyo at school already.” Tomo told Hoji. Attached to Suma.” They were met with the figure of Onira calmly walking their way. You fucken bastard. .” He ended it at that. you shouldn’t have come at all. but Onira could understand his frustration. Your decision is your own. Rather than living in Suma’s world for Suma. What the fuck is your problem? You’ve…really thrown away the past. because his father had told him that the media would devour his heart.” He had hidden it away and lost it over the years. “I’m sorry. standing in the middle of the sidewalk. And he swore. “Hoji…” He nodded at Tomo. “Onira. Tomo was already there. as if he were tearing apart from the inside out. 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. Disgust spread across Hoji’s face. “Those bastards. “I called…your other friends…but there’s no time to waste. But even though he was walking towards them. they would figure something out. the look on his face told them that he wasn’t walking with them. his reality. Low profile was his kind of game. What the hell happened to your humanity Mr. or was forced. He wasn’t sure. He almost wondered at an ulterior motive but when he heard Tomo’s worry. What will stop him from killing her? Wake up Onira. You’re just wasting time. If you came here to tell me you weren’t coming with us. You and I both know that you aren’t the same man from two years ago. He had to save his energy for Suma. 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. 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.” The expression on Hoji’s turned cool.

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

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

“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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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