“NOOOO!!!” Schneider screamed.
Hefner blinked, startled. He really hadn’t been looking forward to delivering the news about the arrest of three of the Brothers to Karl, but now that he had officially fallen from grace, he was forced to play messenger boy. He wanted to turn around and run...but to where? He had to stay and face his fate.
The blond German looked at his inferior with a rabid expression on his face. His eyes were blazing. “Why is this happening to me?!” he demanded.
Hefner didn’t answer. He was beginning to get a bad feeling about what would happen next...
As quickly as it had been stolen upon Hefner’s arrival, tranquility returned to the small room. Schneider drew in a breath, then turned to the other boy and smiled. Hefner shivered--it was a frighteningly inappropriate contortion of his face. No... Still smiling, Schneider walked over to his desk and pressed something...a small red button that was hidden inside what had been made to look like a book. With a low rumbling sound, the wall behind them began to move away...
Hefner bit back a scream. He knew...he knew what this meant...that strange wheel mounted on a panel where the wall had been... His eyes bulged when Schneider reached under his desk and pulled out a cardboard box filled with something that glinted in the lamplight. Daggers...?
“Don’t resist,” Schneider said.
Hefner said nothing...his vocal cords were paralyzed. Indeed, his entire body was paralyzed...he couldn’t even fight back as Schneider tied him to the wheel and placed a live grenade in his mouth.
“All right. Let’s try to break our record, shall we?” Schneider smiled coldly. He raised his dagger, and it started again...
The early morning sun’s rays shined softly, light catching on the dew sprinkling the grass. The clean air and cool weather promised a refreshing day.
The person on the damp wooden park bench wore a placid expression. The past few days had been so stressful--like none he had ever experienced. How nice it was to sit quietly and become one with nature, just another of God’s creatures; not fighting to prove himself to the world, but living as a part of it...
A large object came flying out of nowhere, striking the tranquil figure square in the face and snapping his head back. His hat sailed a few feet and settled to the ground.
“...Ouch...!!” The person cursed, holding his head with one hand and fumbling for his hat with the other.
“Hi, Wakabayashi kun!!” chirped a familiar voice.
Genzo Wakabayashi replaced his hat, scowling. He looked up, and his expression melted into one of pleasant surprise. “Tsubasa!” he gasped.
Tsubasa nodded, smiling. He had exchanged his ever-present soccer uniform for a white short-sleeved shirt, a red scarf, blue pants, red socks, and oddly styled penny loafers. “It’s great to see you again, Wakabayashi kun,” he said, taking his friend’s hand in his own.
“Yes,” the goalkeeper agreed, returning the smile. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
The pointy-haired captain nodded, lavishing a breath of the new day’s fragrant scent. This is such a wonderful feeling, he thought rapturously. A cool breeze, a bright sun, and a beloved friend...I feel like I’ve finally come home after a long, tiring journey. All the ugliness of these past few days is gone, obliterated by the morning sun and the beautiful presence of my friend, Genzo Wakabayashi.
Wakabayashi narrowed his eyes and yanked his hand out of Tsubasa’s grasp.
“Wakabayashi kun...?” Tsubasa asked, confused. Something had interrupted his dream, but what? “Wakabayashi kun, what’s wrong?” he implored, his gaze wide with concern.
The goalie’s face grew dark, and he trembled. “You’ve been seeing Karl Heinz Schneider,” he said, his voice curiously flat.
“What...?” Tsubasa asked fearfully.
“You have the stench of him all around you!!!” Wakabayashi screamed, startling the hapless boy into a near-stroke.
“....What?!” Tsubasa felt even more confused. He had just taken a bath! “Wakabayashi kun...” he whispered, a deep wave of sadness washing over him. “My friend...”
“Silence!!!” The other boy made a fierce growling sound, his eyes crazed. His hands shook uncontrollably as he raised them to his captain’s throat. “I’ve seen the posters, Tsubasa, I’ve seen the flags! What do you think I am, stupid?!”
Tsubasa caught Wakabayashi’s hands before they had a chance to throttle him, on the verge of tears. “Please, stop!”
“Shut up! How dare you associate yourself with that Nazi scum?!” He tore his hands away and clenched them into fists. “I hate him! I curse the day he first set foot on this planet! I hate him! I hate--”
“Wakabayashi kun...” Tsubasa faced his old friend, placing his own hands on the boy’s shaking shoulders. He cried freely, unashamed of his emotions. “Wakabayashi kun, let’s not fight...”
Seeing his captain so distraught softened the goalie slightly; he unclenched his hands and lowered his head. When he spoke his voice was a low mumble. “I just don’t know why you like that Fascist swine better than me.”
“No...” Tsubasa protested. “I will never, ever feel about anybody the way I feel about you! You’re my great friend! My life isn’t complete without you!” He let out a sob and lifted Wakabayashi’s chin with his index finger, ashamed to see that the steely goalie was crying as well.
“Damn you, Tsubasa...” Wakabayashi sniffled, trying to turn away. “It’s bad enough you deserted me...but do you have to embarrass me too?”
“I’ll never desert you, my dear, dear friend.” Tsubasa reached into his pocket to produce a handkerchief. Smiling gently, he wiped away the other boy’s tears. “There there, all better.”
Wakabayashi managed a sheepish grin, self-conscious. “Tsubasa, you don’t have to...”
“Nonsense,” the pointy-haired captain said matter-of-factly. “We’re close friends, aren’t we?”Seeing the other boy blush, he smiled. “Now, let’s forget about this mess and go for a walk. Would you like that, Wakabayashi kun?”
“Okay,” the goalie responded in a small voice.
“I know a nice path not far from here. We’ll take that one, okay?”
“Okay.” Wakabayashi allowed himself to be led away from his spot near the bench. He adjusted his hat. “Tsubasa...are you going to today’s game?”
Tsubasa nodded vacantly. “Who’s playing?”
Wakabayashi raised an eyebrow. And he says soccer is his life! “Toho and Hanawa. Didn’t you know?”
His captain nodded again and continued his emotionless gait. It was better that way. If Wakabayashi knew what was going on...
“Toho has to play without Hyuga. Did you know that he’s been injured?” The goalkeeper quickened his pace, but to no avail. Tsubasa was nearly running, and it was impossible to keep up with him.
“Mm hm,” the boy responded, not bothering to face his friend.
“They still have Takeshi and Wakashimazu. It won’t be an easy game.” Wakabayashi scowled, put out. He didn’t like being ignored by anybody. “And I’m sure Hyuga will be fine for the game after that. He couldn’t have been hurt that badly.”
“Let’s go this way,” Tsubasa said quickly, cutting him short. Sweat beaded on his forehead, but he forced a laugh to set himself at ease. Why...he thought anxiously, why does he have to keep saying that name? Hyuga kun...he’s always been my rival. All this stress...I almost wish Schneider would just finish him off and leave me alone! Then all my problems would be over. No more daily Nazi visits, no more beer...I could play soccer the way I used to. But I can’t let him do what he wants to Hyuga kun...I don’t want Karl to hurt him...I just don’t want to throw up anymore. Hyuga kun isn’t my enemy!
“Tsubasa!!” Wakabayashi’s voice snapped. “Which way?! Are you going to tell me, or do I have to guess?!”
“Huh?” the boy turned, dazed. “Which way?” he echoed.
“Welcome to reality, Tsubasa,” the goalkeeper said, annoyed.
“Uh....sorry!” Tsubasa shook his head, flushing. In a swift motion he grabbed his friend’s arm and yanked him toward the left path. “Oh! Did you know that Misugi kun is in the hospital?”
Wakabayashi, to his captain’s pleasure, was shocked out of his ill humor. “Really?” he asked, his eyes wide. “What happened? Is he going to make it?!”
Tsubasa nodded, relieved by his success. “His heart popped last night, but he’s all right now. The doctors say he doesn’t have to stay there much longer.”
“That’s good.” Wakabayashi sighed and continued walking.
After a short while they came to the end of the path, where a rope bridge stretched over a stream wide and treacherous enough to be considered a river. Tsubasa stared down into the churning white-blue water and felt his pulse quicken. A challenge hung heavy in the air.
“Want to cross it?” he asked eagerly, blood already pounding in his veins. “It looks pretty deep down there...”
“Why not?” was Wakabayashi’s hasty response. He peered into the rapids and looked away instantly, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
“Are you okay?” Tsubasa asked. “What’s the matter with you, Wakabayashi kun?” Concern creasing his brow, he leaned over and placed a hand on his friend’s tensed shoulder. “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. I just thought it’d be--”
“Don’t patronize me!” the goalkeeper interrupted, anger flashing briefly in his eyes. He drew back and shrugged helplessly. “I’m just wondering about Misugi, that’s all. I was pretty sure he was going to be all right.”
“But he is all right,” Tsubasa insisted. “Really!”
Wakabayashi smiled. “I’m glad. If things turned out worse, it’d be Ishizaki all over again...”
The pointy-haired boy nodded slowly, his gaze wandering to the ground. “Is that it?” he asked softly. “You can’t stop thinking about what happened to him, can you? That’s why you’ve been so upset lately. You poor thing...”
“No! I...I’m not upset anymore. That’s the way life turns out sometimes.” Wakabayashi took a step back, his heels grazing the first slat of the bridge. “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. If you can’t deal with that you have no place on this planet.”
Tsubasa shook his head. “You look so pale, Wakabayashi kun. Are you feeling all right?” Blinking, he moved toward his friend.
Wakabayashi instinctively took another step back further onto the rope bridge. “Leave me alone!!” he yelled. “I told you I’m fine!”
“I’m still worried!” his captain pleaded. “You really do look sick! Let’s go back, Wakabayashi kun! I don’t want to play this anymore!”
“Then you’re a coward!!!!” Wakabayashi let out a crazed laugh and began to jump up and down to demonstrate his physical well-being. “See, I’m--”
Bad move. On the third jump, the boards broke out from under Wakabayashi. It was a foolish action--the boy had watched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom several times--and he cursed his stupidity as he crashed through the flimsy structure. Why didn’t I just try to lose a little weight?! he wondered.
Panic surging into his limbs, Tsubasa rushed forward to save his friend, who clung to the remaining boards for dear life. However, in his haste he stepped on the poor boy’s fingers and forced him to let go.
“Sonna...” Tsubasa gasped as his old and dear friend plunged about ten feet into the churning water below. “WAKABAYASHI KUUUUUUUUUUUUN!!!!” he screamed. “NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”
There was no time to lose. Tsubasa let out a battle cry and dove off the river bank. He didn’t think about what he was doing. He didn’t think about dying. For the first time in his life, he didn’t think about soccer. Only one image flashed in his mind as he jumped: the look of terror in his beloved friend’s eyes as the current carried him away.
The water felt like a thousand icy daggers piercing Tsubasa’s skin. “Wakabayashi kun!” he called. “I’m coming!” However, his words were drowned out by the river and reduced to strange noises.
It didn’t matter. When he came up for air, he saw Wakabayashi’s hat floating on the surface a few feet away. Tsubasa swam over to it,fighting the current all the way. It was just his hat--the rest of him was gone. Where?!
In a flash of red and green, the answer came to the desperate captain. He dived under the surface without taking a breath, swimming blindly. Love would guide him to his prize.
However, it was this love that nearly killed him. Tsubasa let out a choked cry as he collided with something underwater. Forcing his eyes open, he recognized his dear Genzo Wakabayashi.
“Wa--?!” Tsubasa started to call his friend’s name, but choked instead. Shimatta! he mentally cursed. I’m still underwater! He summoned his last ounce of strength and hefted his favorite goalie to shore and lay next to him, gasping for breath. Wait--is he--?“Oh no...” Tsubasa croaked, too exhausted to cry. “Wakabayashi kun...” His heart heavy with sorrow, he lifted his close friend into his arms and proceeded to transport him him back to safety like a man carrying his bride over the threshold. Wakabayashi kun...he thought as he trudged up the path they had taken just moments before. I should’ve never left your side. You were always my favorite...my dear, sweet Wakabayashi kun...your smile lit up my life like a thousand suns...don’t leave me alone...I can’t face another day without you! Tsubasa laid Wakabayashi on the wooden bench he had found him sitting on, crying freely. If only he had stayed on that bench. If only he had turned away from death!
But wait! It didn’t have to end this way! He could save his magic friend!
However, as Tsubasa leaned to bestow the breath of life upon his beloved goalkeeper, Wakabayashi opened his eyes and let him have it.
Tsubasa staggered back a few steps, shocked. Wiping blood from his mouth, he got to his feet. “Wakabayashi kun!!” he exclaimed, grinning idiotically.
Wakabayashi responded by punching in Tsubasa’s face once more. “I don’t like being touched like that, you hear?!” He jumped to his feet and ran away, leaving the pointy-haired captain alone in his jubilation.
His magic friend was all right!Part Fifteen