The once-again stricken members of Toho dared not to breathe a word as the ambulance sped away, its sirens blaring. Kitazume was gone. Although nobody could say when or it he would ever return, they felt a measure of comfort knowing they were safe for the time being. Now there were more important matters at hand.
“Are we going to have to visit him in the hospital?” Sorimachi finally asked.
Takeshi looked up, his face a mess of tears. “Not unless you want to smother him with a pillow,” he said, his voice hollow.
Everybody slowly turned to stare at him. This strange, cold behavior puzzled them--something was definitely wrong with the boy.
“I don’t care what you say,” Takeshi continued, his voice shrill with defiance. “I know we’re supposed to respect him no matter what happens, but I can’t do it anymore! I can’t ever forgive Coach Kitazume for what he put poor Hyuga san through! I hate him!!”
Uneasiness washed over them. Takeshi had always been considered the “baby” of Toho, and his child-like innocence often was a tonic for the more violent players. All circumstances considered, it was frightening seeing him harden so bitterly.
However, Takeshi snapped out of his rage as soon as he saw his captain start to open his eyes. “Hyuga san!” he exclaimed, all smiles. “Don’t try to get up. You’re going to be fine.”
Hyuga gazed at him with vague recognition, wincing slightly as the boy supported him. “What....what am I doing here...?” he asked wearily. “What ha--”
“He’s gone,” Takeshi said simply.
In a startling motion the older boy sat up, his eyes wild. “But...what about Tsubasa?! Where is he--the challenge! How could I miss it? What time is it?!”
Wakashimazu stared at him, confused. “Hyuga san, you’re not making any sense at all. Unless--oh, forget it. Forget about the challenge for now. You need to relax.”
“But...” He began to protest, but as soon as he moved away from Takeshi’s support he found himself too exhausted to continue.
Sorimachi spoke up hesitantly. “Maybe...do you think it’s a good idea to stay in the middle of the road like this?”
This question got a laugh out of most of them. Good ol’ Toho Gakuen was starting to look very inviting compared to the blazing inferno they were standing in at the moment. As the team picked themselves off the pavement to a better location, they silently promised not to mention anything concerning Kitazume’s fate to their captain. It would be easier to believe it was nothing more than a dream.
“I have to beat Tsubasa,” Hyuga said suddenly.
“Tsubasa?” Takeshi asked, his eyes wide. “But why?”
Hyuga didn’t answer. His head was starting to throb as painfully as before. He took a few deep breaths, trying to steady himself--he knew everyone was staring at him as if he was crazy. Who cares? he thought. Maybe I am.
The entire team stopped walking the instant that they noticed something was amiss. They turned toward their captain, looking very young and frightened. Hyuga stood apart from them with his head lowered, shockingly pale. “Do you feel sick again?” Sorimachi spoke up for the rest of the group.
Hyuga shook his head. “I have to beat Tsubasa,” he repeated, staring blankly ahead.
“But Hyuga san--” Takeshi protested.
“I have to.” He closed his eyes briefly. When he turned them on his team once again they were unusually bright. “I have to beat Tsubasa because he wants to kill me.”
Silence. How could they respond to that?
“That’s silly. Why would he want to kill you?” Wakashimazu, apparently, was as confused as the rest. “He won the championship, didn’t he? There’s no logic behind this.”
Hyuga faced him, dreadfully serious. “He doesn’t want to hurt any of you, only me. The team has nothing to do with this.”
“But why would he want to kill you?” the goalie asked again, his voice gentle and tolerant.
“Because...” He colored, ashamed. “Because I’m not white.”
“I see.” Wakashimazu glanced at his teammates for a moment to see that they too were trying hard not to laugh. Not white? What does that kid think he is, purple? But Hyuga san is really suffering...
“You mean...Tsubasa’s in the Klan?” Takeshi whispered. “Here?”
“No, he’s not in the Klan,” Hyuga said immediately.
His teammates were relieved.
“He’s a Nazi.”
Now they were really laughing; even Takeshi had difficulty keeping a straight face. Hyuga didn’t bother to reprimand them--he didn’t say anything at all, standing before them with a pained expression on his face.
“That’s enough,” Wakashimazu before things got out of hand. The players immediately quieted, realizing what they had done. How could they make fun of their captain in his moment of need?
“I’m sorry, Hyuga san,” Takeshi said quietly. “I didn’t want to be so mean.”
“Thank you,” his captain whispered. He glanced up briefly to meet the apologetic gazes of the others and forced a smile. Maybe I’m taking this too hard...”You are all my friends, after all...”
“Of course!” Takeshi told him with a childish grin. “But Hyuga san, I was wondering something.”
Hyuga raised his head. “What is it?”
The boy shrugged, looking embarrassed. “I was thinking. None of us are white, you know...so I don’t understand why the Nazis are mad at only you...but you’re just so much darker than the rest of us. What are you?”
“Takeshi!!!” Wakashimazu exclaimed, exasperated.
However, Takeshi was not finished. “Hyuga san...” he asked in a quiet, curious voice. “Are you Aladdin?”
Hyuga was shocked into silence. He stared at the ground, an odd expression on his face, and the world seemed to grow very quiet despite the six-car pileup not far away.
“...Hyuga san...?” Wakashimazu said tentatively, unnerved by the sudden arrest of sound. “Are you--” He could almost understand the nature of the younger boy’s question; Hyuga’s coloring and features were surprisingly similar to the ever-popular Disney character’s. But check out the nose on that guy! That’s insulting! After seeing no response, he elbowed Takeshi sharply. “Now look what you’ve done!”
Takeshi hung his head in shame. I’m always insulting Hyuga san! he silently berated himself. My best friend, the light of my life! What kind of scum am I?!
Yet, as he lowered his eyes to the grass, he noticed something.
His captain was smiling.
Hyuga raised his head. “Ain’t that the eternal question.”
Tsubasa jogged down the field at a slower-than-normal pace, dribbling a soccer ball. He was feeling a little better--at least his stomach didn’t feel like it was being wrung out anymore.
His one-man practice was interrupted by the sound of a dog barking. He turned around, but he wasn’t fast enough. Within seconds he was bowled over on the grass.
“Down, Blondi,” Schneider commanded. The dog climbed off poor Tsubasa and returned to its master’s side obediently. “He is one of us. Wait until I blow the special whistle! Only then may you kill!”
Relieved, Tsubasa got to his feet and brushed himself off. Schneider stood about three yards away from him, still clad in his gray getup. Hefner was not far behind. Tsubasa hadn’t even finished his wave of greeting when the German cut him off.
“How did it go, Aryan Ozora?” Schneider asked.
Tsubasa blinked. It took him a minute to realize what he was being asked; the German’s accent was so thick. “Huh?”
“How did it go?” Schneider repeated urgently. “Did you destroy Hyuga? Did you totally humiliate him? Did you crush him both mentally and physically and then mop up the field with his broken body?”
“Oh, that,” Tsubasa said. “Not really.” Schneider’s eyes widened with approaching fury. “Well, he never showed up,” the flustered boy quickly explained.
Schneider let out a low growl and grabbed Tsubasa by the front of his shirt. With amazing strength, he lifted him right off the ground. “WHAT DID YOU SAY???!!!!!”
Tsubasa just gaped at him, terrified. He let out a pathetic whimper, his eyes filling with tears. This seemed to bring his attacker back to his senses.
“Forgive me, little Aryan brother.” Schneider set him on the ground almost tenderly. “I must remember that there are alternatives to striking one so high in my favor.” He looked menacingly at Hefner.
Tsubasa smiled, relieved.
“Oh, I almost forgot. I had this made up while I was waiting for you to finish with that disgusting piece of slime.” Schneider reached into Hefner’s odd coiffure and pulled out a rolled-up piece of paper. Dusting it off, he handed it to Tsubasa. “Here.”
Tsubasa unrolled it. It was a poster with a picture of Schneider with his arm around...a likenessof himself? Both were wearing Nazi armbands, both were smiling. It was obvious that the photo had been retouched. “That...that’s me and you!”
“There’s more,” Schneider said proudly.
Rubbing his eyes, Tsubasa stared at the message emblazoned at the top. It was in German, but he could make out both of their names. “What does this mean?”
“It means that you’ve won, Aryan Ozora! You are now the Nazi Boy’s Club’s second-in-command!”
“But what about--” Tsubasa asked weakly. He didn’t have to finish; looking at Hefner said it all. The wounded eyes, the silent stare...it was obvious that he was looking at a broken man.
“Of course, there is a small membership fee, but money is no object when it comes to loving your race.” Schneider patted Tsubasa on the head. “Take care of yourself, Aryan Tsubasa. May the Fuhrer grant all your wishes of genocide.” With that, he left, dragging Hefner behind him.
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