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Part Ten

In a flash of light, two barrel-chested warriors from beyond touched swords, naming themselves the sole protectors of truth and justice. They gazed at the ruined city, righteous anger in their eyes. They were vengeance! They were the night! They were...Double Dragons!

Sorimachi passed the bowl of popcorn to the person sitting next to him, his eyes glued to the TV screen, where two unproportional guys were duking it out. “It’s too bad the field’s down for repairs,” he commented.

Takeshi nodded. “It’s nice of Coach Kitazume to lend us his TV, but this show really sucks!” He leaned forward, trying to get a better view. “Why are those people saying ‘The Shadow falls’?” he asked nobody in particular. “Do they want to lose?”

Wakashimazu’s eyes widened as the red-clad Dragon let out a battle cry to top off all battle cries and performed a stiff jumpkick directed at a dark, white-haired figure. “The acting is fantastic!” he said in awe. “That guy really sounded like he was in pain!”

Takeshi responded by imitating Jimmy Lee’s yell, sounding very much like a wounded animal. Needless to say, he was accurate.

The entire team burst out in hysterical laughter. A few others tried to duplicate the sound, but one of them came as close to the original as Takeshi’s. They were so absorbed in the program that they didn’t even notice their wounded captain silently enter the room. He had given them his word that he would rest, and they had faith that he would follow through. Besides, American cartoons were so captivating!

Hyuga smiled to himself. He was touched to see them during such a peaceful moment. They were children, after all, and they needed to play after they cleaned off the dirt of the battlefield. I wish I could find that innocence, he thought. If only I could love life after witnessing all its pain. I’ll never be their equal...never experience life with the same zeal and enthusiasm. I’ve seen too much...there always will be another battle, and I’ll never be anything more than a lonely soldier in this endless war. If only I could forget...

The show was now at a commercial break, and the audience was passing the time by singing the Double Dragon theme song, with Sorimachi and a few of the other providing the instrumental accompaniment. They were so silly, so endearing. Invisible to all, Hyuga longed to join in and be a member of that chorus, but there were many factors other than his lack of singing talent that prevented that. A new battle was about to begin.

He glanced at his reflection in a mirror mounted on a nearby wall. For all his uneasiness he looked the same; maybe a shade more pale, but his gaze was as fierce as ever. He was still the same Kojiro Hyuga. He had changed into his school uniform, deciding that he would be less conspicuous--but should he have refrained from rolling up the sleeves of his shirt? That alone could give him away in a second, but what would Tsubasa think if he saw the change? Wouldn’t he read fear in the motion? Hyuga wasn’t afraid. He was no weakling--he removed the head bandages without a thought about his health. Will made the body stronger, it would see him through.

He still had to face Coach Kitazume and inform him of his plans--he owed his teammates that much. Better to meet defeat with a courageous face. He was certain he would lose a great deal more than he gained, but he vowed to never turn his back on his friends again. He had to show them that he loved them all, that he wasn’t fighting for himself, even though he knew that after today it would all be--

Wetness trickled down Hyuga’s face, and for a moment he was confused. He raised a hand to his eyes and it dawned on him.

He was crying.

That tears it, he thought disgustedly, grabbing his bag from the corner of the room and turning to leave. What tiger cries while approaching a battle? I should be happy. I just need to stop acting like a child and remember what I really am! I’m not like them!

“I’m gonna check on Hyuga san as soon as it gets to another commercial,” Takeshi announced, managing to shove about half the contents of the popcorn bowl into his mouth at the same time. “I feel bad fooling around when he’s alone.”

With a rueful smile, Hyuga left the room. He knew Kitazume was nearby--he could feel the tension in the air already. It’s time to get this over with, he admonished himself. Before you lose your mind.

The orange-haired coach, surely enough, was sitting at a table in the next room, sipping dirty-looking coffee out of a cup and perusing the morning paper. He didn’t look up when his injured captain entered the room.

“O.J. Simpson claims he’s been framed by someone who wants him ruined,” he said vaguely.

News travels fast, doesn’t it? Hyuga quickly wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and cleared his throat. “I...Coach Kitazume...I have something I want to say to you.”

Kitazume started violently, choking on his coffee. “Hyuga!” he spluttered, dark fluid dripping down his shirt. “What are you up to now?! Didn’t I tell you--!?”

Hyuga gulped, sweat beading on his forehead. He couldn’t lose his nerve! If Kitazume was that steamed about seeing him out of bed, what would he do if he heard what came next?

“Hyuga saaaan!” a familiar voice cried.

“Captain!” called another.

Hyuga watched dazedly as assorted members of his team burst into the room, all wearing the same wild expression. They stared at him--all of them--with wide, concerned eyes, concerned for his well-being once again.

“What is it that you want to tell me?” Kitazume thundered, folding his arms across his chest. He struggled to hide his anger, but his nostrils flared and the veins in his neck bulged out like breadsticks. “Say it!!!” he commanded in a voice so much like a bark that Hyuga and the others would’ve laughed if they weren’t so frightened.

Hyuga glanced nervously around the room, taking in the sea of faces with the eyes of a caged animal. This was worse, much worse than before. It was going to be difficult to deliver a speech that would end my soccer career, but why does the torture have to come so soon? How can I do this with my team looking on? How can I violate their trust so blatantly?

“Hyuga san...” Takeshi whispered, and when he gazed into the tragic depths of his eyes Hyuga saw that the boy already knew what was about to happen.

“I...I...” The words had to fight their way out now.

“Yes?” Kitazume asked menacingly.

“I...I’m sorry! But I have to do this--don’t you see?” Hyuga managed to say, hot tears running down his face freely. They could have his tears, he promised them that. “I don’t want to! I have to...”

Kitazume didn’t need to hear any more. He began to growl, softly at first, then rising gradually to a greater volume. He rose to his feet in a smooth motion, tossing his chair aside as if it weighed no more than a pillow.

Hyuga took one look at the murderous expression on his coach’s face and fled. Out of the room, down the hall--his surroundings were no more than a blur, but the horrified figures of his friends remained locked in his vision through his flight. He felt nothing but fear--for whom?--and a slight but increasing pain in his temple.

“Hyuga san!” Takeshi cried from behind, sounding shockingly close. “Wait! We want to help you!”

“Just where do you think you’re going, Hyuga?!” Kitazume’s cruel drawl cut through the madness. “There’s nowhere to run to in this building! Give up or suffer!”

He was a hunted tiger. Against his better judgment he paused briefly to catch his breath. Kitazume’s right... he thought desperately. There is nowhere left to run to.

Gasping painfully, Hyuga forced himself to focus on his surroundings. They had caught him at the top of a staircase--there was no alternative route of escape. If that crazy old man caught up to him at this point there was no telling what he might do. Judging from his reaction, and what followed, he might--

Push Hyuga?

There’s no telling what he’s capable of now; I’ ve pushed him so far. I can’t underestimate him. The dark-skinned captain braced himself against the railing. That look in his eyes...I’ve seen it so many times before--my reflection in the eyes of the enemy. I can’t control myself, my rage...Kitazume’s mad with rage. He’ll stop at nothing. Nothing!

A thunder of footsteps informed Hyuga that the time he lost in thought was ill-spent. He had to act fast--before it was too late.

Just as Kitazume came huffing around the corner--he wasn’t in such great shape, after all--Hyuga did an amazing thing. He jumped over the railing and propelled himself right through the closed window below.

“HYUGA!” Kitazume yowled as glass sprayed everywhere. “You’ll pay for that!!”

“Hyuga san!” Wakashimazu yelled, not far behind. “Don’t go any further!”

“Hurry, team!” was Takeshi’s determined cry. “Let’s rescue our captain from the clutches of this evil!”

“No!!” barked their coach as he saw his victim shake out of his daze and continue his flight across the grass. With a loud shout and a creaking of old bones, he leapt after him. However, his attempt wasn’t quite as flawless. He plunged through the jagged hole and fell rather clumsily into a large bush. Hey, what did you expect, a repeat performance?

After all, he is an old man.

“Hyuga san!!!” Wakashimazu called, diving after Kitazume and performing an impressive flip through the broken window. He landed on his feet in front of the bush, ever graceful. “Your concussion!!”

“We’re coming!” chorused the remaining members of Toho, trampling their coach in their descent.

Oblivious to their cries, Hyuga kept running, his feet pounding the cement of the sidewalk. A screeching expanse of street zoomed forward--he was so dizzy! The bag in his hand felt like an iron weight--without thinking, he flung it aside and continued his sprint to freedom. It was getting on his nerves, anyway!

Kitazume hauled himself out of the bush, shouting many curses in many languages. Damn...he cursed silently. I haven’t lost him yet!!! Adjusting his glasses, he resumed his pursuit with renewed enthusiasm.

The entire team rushed across the lawn, their protests mingling with the honks and screeches of late afternoon traffic. “Stop!!!” was their communal cry. “Your concussion!!!!”

As he neared the street, a familiar object caught Takeshi’s eye. His captain’s bag! As if on instinct, he slowed to a stop and opened it. “Hyuga san!!” he cried, heartbroken. “You forgot your uniform!”

Hyuga turned around, alarmed. The old man was right behind him!! He had to get away, he had to!!! Even if he had to die in the process!!!

“You can’t have me!!!” he told his pursuer before running directly into traffic.

“Nooo!” Takeshi shrieked, sobbing uncontrollably. “That’s a four-way intersection!! Go back, Hyuga san, go back!!”

“For the love of God, listen to us!!!” Wakashimazu shouted.

Through the fevered fog of madness their voices reached Hyuga, but the pain in his head burned out all his sense of reason. When he halted and turned to face his friends, his expression was unrecognizable. The fire...too much...The last thing he heard was Takeshi’s frantic cry to him as the world exploded in bursts of blood red and midnight.

His teammates gazed in horror at the sight of their captain lying collapsed on the pavement. Why weren’t the cars stopping?! He’d be killed!!

“Got you now!!” cackled evil Kitazume. “I’ll teach you to disobey me!”

However, poor old Coach Kitazume was the only one who needed to be taught a lesson--the lesson that good mommies and daddies teach their children as soon as they are old enough to leave the happy little microcosm of their house and venture out into the real world. The lesson that warns boys and girls not to ever, ever play in traffic.

Kitazume learned the hard way. He took one step toward Hyuga and was hit by an oncoming cyclist.

The middle-aged spandex-clad man on the bicycle didn’t look back after he struck Kitazume, sending the old man’s body into a telephone pole. The cyclist sped away, leaving Kitazume wrapped around the pole like a stuffed car ornament. After a few seconds he slid off and lay motionless on the ground, his limbs bent at strange angles. His eyes were unfocused, his mouth open in a silent scream.

The events that followed came in a blur. A woman pedestrian took one look at Kitazume’s twisted corpse and dashed for the nearest phone. The motorists, anxious at being held up for such an outrageous amount of time, began to honk their horns repeatedly. This further panicked the remaining members of Toho.

It was just what they feared. The cars were slowly moving forward--they had places to go and they’d be damned if they were going to let some punk teenager pass out in the middle of an intersection and keep them waiting!

“Stop! Stop them!!” Takeshi screamed to his teammates, running to the edge of the street. “They’ll hit Hyuga san! Sempai, please help him!!!”

The line of vehicles drew closer and closer, each driver’s lips curled back in the same bloodthirsty grin. “What can we do?” Sorimachi asked nervously. “If we try to stop them, we’ll wind up like Coach Kitazume!”

Immediately all eyes were on the old man, still sprawled on the ground in the same awkward and embarrassing position. That was not the fate they aspired for.

“It doesn’t matter,” Wakashimazu said suddenly.

His teammates turned to him, startled.

“Team, our captain is in danger! Do you know what position that puts us in? It means...” He paused. “It means that if Hyuga san dies, we’ll all die with him!”

“A..are you sure about this?” Takeshi asked timidly. He would give anything to protect his favorite player, but how could he not hesitate? Double suicide never was an attractive prospect.

Before Wakashimazu had a chance to respond, a red convertible sped down the street toward the site of the accident. A sign on the hood read “Student Driver”....the person behind the wheel probably didn’t know how to work the brakes! Why would he stop to avoid them?! Death was inevitable!!!

The team was frozen numb with terror. This isn’t happening...this can’t be happening...not our brave, invincible captain lying cold on the ground waiting to be struck down...with nobody to save him!!! Why can’t we save him?!!

However, Fortune had another sly trick up her sleeve. Mere seconds before the clueless car reached its target, Wakashimazu sprang forward and sprinted across the sea of motorists. He stood protectively in front of the senseless Hyuga, glaring at the wave of oncoming car with the intensity of an inferno. “Stop in the name of love!!!” he commanded.

The car swerved to miss him and smashed into a tree, in the process smacking a mint green minivan into a wild spinning frenzy across the intersection. When the chaos died down, at least six cars were completely destroyed.

The air was choked with smoke. Takeshi coughed, shielding his eyes. “Where are they?” As the gray fumes dissipated, a lone figure standing in the center of the intersection took shape. “Sempai!” the boy called, overjoyed.

“It’s all right!” the newly crowned Traffic King answered. “They can just put that one on my tab,” he muttered, hearing sirens in the distance. By the time the soccer season was over, his legal costs would become significant!

Takeshi sighed, relieved. Everything’s all right now, he told himself, savoring a few deep breaths. Coach Kitazume has been stopped...the cars have been stopped. All we have to do now is wait for the ambulance to come and take that bad man away. “Let’s go!” he said to his teammates, gesturing for them to follow him into the hushed street. “Hyuga san needs our help!”

They raced to the scene and formed a lopsided semi-circle around their injured captain. Takeshi knelt by his side, a tragic expression on his young face. “Hyuga san, what’s wrong?” he asked, his voice shaky. “Please, answer me!”

Hyuga didn’t respond, his face the same dead-white color as his shirt. Takeshi looked up at his friends, tears in his eyes. “Why was he trying to run away? He looked so scared!”

No one had the courage to answer, watching silently as two uniformed men carried Coach Kitazume off an a stretcher. He was beginning to regain consciousness, though his mind had left him for another realm. Either his injury was affecting him, or he had seen that photographer snap a picture while he was bent into a pretzel.

The old man smiled weakly. “Almost got ‘im...”

The paramedics took him away.

Well, that's it for Part Ten...ne..dou? I don't know if Takeshi calls Wakashimazu sama "Sempai" in the Japanese dialogue...but it fits, ne...?

Part Eleven
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