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Part Fifteen

The time had come. Hyuga sat silently on the bench, watching as his friends hooked an elaborate and unrecognizable device up to the wooden slats above. I have faith in them, he reassured himself. They’re a fine team without me, and this is only one game of many...but I can’t help how I feel.

“There. That should do it,” Takeshi let out a satisfied sigh and gave Coach Kitazume’s hanging form a test-swing. “This harness seems strong enough. Now he has a front row seat. We have to play now, Hyuga san. See you later!”

His captain nodded, turning away so he didn’t have to see his friends take to the field. Even when he closed his eyes he could sense Kitazume leering at him unpleasantly. Alas, that was all the old man could do.

At midfield, the Tachibanas exchanged looks, smiling evilly. “They may be bigger than us, but we’ll win ‘cause we’re cool, Niichan,” Masao whispered to his brother. Kazuo snickered.

Baffled, the members of Toho watched as the twins did a weird handshake and took their places on the field. They were definitely up to something, but what?

The whistle blew to start the game. Masao passed the ball to his brother, who, in turn, tapped it back to him. Not particularly impressed, Sorimachi made his way up to the two naughty leprechauns, intent on intercepting.

Masao winked. As Sorimachi ran up to the older Tachibana, Masao simply leaned over and screamed in the boy’s ear as loud as his little lungs could muster.

Sorimachi teetered around for a few seconds, his hair standing on end, his eyes twitching. He fell over; the shock of the snaggle-toothed freak’s banshee yell all but destroying his semicircular canals.

Takeshi stopped his pursuit when he caught sight of his helpless friend and stood frozen with a horrified expression on his face.

“Go!!” Sorimachi cried from the ground. “Don’t let them get away!”

“H...Hai!” However, just as Takeshi was about to resume his chase, the whistle sounded.

“What?!” Hyuga jumped to his feet, squinting to get a better look. “Now what are those idiots doing?!”

Masao and Kazuo turned around to see a lanky referee in black microshorts run up to them, waving a yellow card in time with the whistle blasts.

“Hey, Masao,” Kazuo snickered to the other Tachibana. “This one’s for you!”

Masao nodded, an impish grin on his elfin face. “I sure hope Mom’s watching!” He faced the referee, sneering.

“Now, see here, young man,” Black Shorts began in a hoarse, raspy voice, his eyes boring into the perpetrator’s. “I understand that you have your anxieties about this game. However, what you just did was not in this sport’s code of gentlemanly conduct. Remember, you must consider the welfare of others before you act. If you insist on this dangerous behavior, I will be forced to terminate your existance in the tournament, understand?”

The younger Tachibana nodded, his eyes wide and full of fear. He hang his head in shame as the ref and his two “brothers” picked up Sorimachi’s body and carried him over to the bench where his captain was sitting.

As soon as the referee was out of earshot, Masao broke out in hysterical chipmunk laughter. “I’m sorry for not being a gentleman,” he cackled, giving Kazuo a high-five. “I’ll be better next time!!”

The ref turned slightly and made a strange noise. He blew the whistle to restart the game.

“Kuso!!!” Furious, Hyuga leapt at Kitazume’s defenseless swinging body and proceeded to take his frustrations out on him with a broken piece of wood.

“I’m sorry, Captain,” Sorimachi said miserably, lying sprawled face down across the length of the bench. “If it weren’t for my defective inner ears, I would be making you proud right now!”

His captain halted his play and sat down next to the recumbant player. “No need to blame yourself, my friend. Tomorrow will be a new day for both of us.”

“You’ll be playing with us?"

Hyuga nodded. “It’ll be a great game. Our first real challenge.”

Sorimachi struggled to sit up, but immediately fell over. He sighed, disgusted. He was beginning to have doubts that the team woud make it that far. Sure, playing against Hirado tomorrow would be a challenge, but the present game wasn’t looking very good, either.

Masao and Kazuo ran side by side, dribbling the ball around Toho’s defensive line. At the goal, Wakashimazu was perfectly calm; the previous day’s events showed no effect on him. He remained unfazed when the little creeps stole the ball before Toho had even used the free kick awarded to them after Masao had been a bad boy.

The weird twins stopped directly in front of the goal. “Let’s do it,” Kazuo said slyly.

Masao nodded. “All right!” He stood still as his brother strutted closer. The younger Tachibana smirked. Perfect, he thought. Now that I have the ball, Kazuo can distract Wakashimazu while I use our new technique!

Hiding a smile, Kazuo planted himself close to the left goalpost and turned to the enemy goalkeeper. “Oi,” he said.

Wakashimazu glanced to the side but did not turn.

The older Tachibana addressed him in a dignified tone. “You think I’m pretty dumb, don’t you?” he asked.

No response.

Kazuo sniffed. “Well, what I’m going to tell you might surprise you. I really do like to educate myself, even though Masao makes fun of me for being a nerd sometimes. Every day I open up the big red dictionary my grandma gave me for my birthday and open it up to a page. I try to learn a new word every day.” He paused and leaned closer, serious.

“And?” Wakashimazu stared ahead with slightly unfocused eyes.

“Well...” Kazuo smiled sweetly. “Today I learned the word androgynous. Are you androgynous, Ken sama?”

Sweat beaded on the goalie’s forehead, and his eyebrow twitched, but he kept his emotions in check. He couldn’t reply; he had a job to do...

The nasty little soccer player cocked his head to the side, puzzled. Looks like it’s a no-go...he thought, disappointed. So much for the subtle approach.

A peal of obnoxious laughter welling up in his throat, he stuck out his tongue. “Nyah, nyah, you look like a girl!!!!”

As if on cue, the entire field of players turned around and stared.

Wakashimazu watched as not-so-subdued giggles scattered across the stadium, his eyes wide and horrified. Even the announcer was laughing at him! “W...what do you think you’re doing?!” he demanded. “You can’t--”

“Hurry, Masao!” Kazuo called, cutting him off. “Before he gives a speech!”

Masao let out an ear-grating cackle and picked up the ball. Giggling madly, he ran between the hapless goalkeeper’s legs and placed the ball in the goal.

The crowd broke into a riotous roar. His face crimson, Wakashimazu sank to his knees and hid behind his hair as the two brothers delighted in his misfortune. “How...” he whispered, his eyes stinging, “...what....what the hell was that?!"

Unfortunately for the Tachibanas, the whistle sounded again. Furious, the referee stormed up to Masao, his footsteps nearly shaking the ground. He shoved a yellow card in the little guy’s face. “Rule number one. No fighting in the field,” he said, trying to stay calm. “Do you know what Rule Number Two is?”

Masao gazed up at him and shook his head innocently.

The ref made a sharp snorting sound and smiled. “All right. I’ll tell you.” He leaned dangerously close to the boy’s ear. “NO PLAYING THE BALL WITH YOUR HANDS!!!!!” He paused, serene. “I’m afraid this will result in an expulsion.” He grabbed the violator’s arm. “Let’s go.”

Masao responded true to form and sank his teeth into the ref’s leg.

Black Shorts gaped down at his appendage in complete and utter terror. “Aaahhhhh!” he shrieked, jumping up and down in an attempt to shake the vermin off. However, Masao was not about to let go until he was satisfied.

Kazuo stood nearby, laughing hysterically. “You got him, Masao! Let him have it!”

“Get him off!!!” the ref pleaded, tears spurting out of his eyes. “Please! It hurts!”

Two other referees rushed onto the field with whistles stuck in their mouths; they both looked so much like the injured one that they could’ve been produced in a Soccer Referee Bioengineering Lab. One of the “brothers” managed to dislodge Masao, who promptly fled and cowered behind his Niichan, still snickering. The other knelt by Black Shorts Number One, stroking his hair and murmuring soothing words.

“Don’t worry,” he cooed to the sobbing man. “Look, it’s only a scratch. You’ll be okay.”

“But...but...” Black Shorts whimpered, his face wet and contorted with pain. “I haven’t had a physical in so long...”

His “brother” jumped to his feet, alarmed. “Quickly, send for an ambulance!” he shouted dramatically. “He must receive a rabies shot, lest he contract the dread disease!!!”

Masao and Kazuo exchanged their special sneer as the wounded ref was carried off the field on a stretcher by his two clones.

“Yeesss! I’m still in the game!” Masao cheered, doing an odd dance with his Niichan. “Nothing’s gonna stop me now!”

Kazuo pulled back and gave him an angry look.

Masao laughed nervously and crushed Kazuo against him in a bear hug. “Uh... we’re both way past cool!”

Enraged that Masao was not going to be punished for his crimes, Hyuga seized his broken piece of bench. “Damn it to hell!!!” he exploded, dealing Kitazume so mighty a blow that the harness snapped and sent the old man flying onto the field.

Sorimachi watched from his place, his eyes wide. “What’s wrong, Captain?” he asked nervously.

Hyuga didn’t answer, on the verge of hyperventilation. After a minute or so, he sat back down, satisfied. “Did you ask me something?” he said pleasantly.

“Captain,” his teammate began, “forgive me for saying this, but...well, don’t you want Masao to stay in the game so our team can defeat him and Kazuo personally?”

Hyuga blinked. “No,” he said slowly. “I just want them to lose.”

Sorimachi was shocked into silence. He glanced at the field, where the white blob that was their coach lay motionless. Since the referee wasn’t there to remove him, the two teams would most likely have to play around him.

Kazuo, still standing next to the goal, picked something off the ground. The ref’s whistle! After receiving a silent approval from his brother, he blew it as hard as he could.

“Looks like halftime,” a nameless green clad player said, relieved. With that, the rest of the team unceremoniously charged the stands. Screaming in terror, at least half the spectators fled the scene on the spot.

The Toho players exchanged confused looks. It was amazing that all it took was two little weird people to wreak havok on an entire stadium.

This is a nightmare, Hyuga thought, his throat tightening with frustration. This game is going absolutely nowhere--it’s like a circus! And with the referees gone, it’ll only be a matter of time before those little weasels do something really crazy!!

“We’re sorry, Hyuga san,” Takeshi said miserably, averting his captain’s gaze. “We’re doing very badly, aren’t we? We’re sorry for letting you down.”

“ haven’t let me down!” Hyuga insisted. “What did any of you do to let me down?”

“We haven’t scored a single goal,” Takeshi told him, blinking back unshed tears.

His captain nodded, sympathetic. He stood up and patted his young friend’s shoulder. “But you haven’t allowed them to score...not really. You’re doing fine. It’s not you I’m angry at--it’s them.

The depressed team turned to the field, where the green goons were setting up what appeared to be a large and expensive stereo system.

“I see what you mean,” Wakashimazu said, annoyed. “I don’t see why we can’t just kill them and call it justifiable homicide.”

Hyuga’s expression changed to one of concern. “Are you feeling all right?” he asked.

Wakashimazu flinched. “W...what do you mean?”

His captain stepped closer and placed a hand on his shoulder. “You’re not that kind of person. I know you too well.”

The goalie didn’t answer, turning away.

“I know how sick you must feel right now. Not many people would’ve been able to stand their ground if Masao and Kazuo got that close to them.” Hyuga lowered his voice. “I couldn’t have done it. I admire you, Ken Wakashimazu. There are few as courageous as you.”

“Captain...” Wakashimazu said, his eyes sparkling with tears.

His captain smiled and nodded. “Keep up the good work.”

Takeshi cleared his throat. Hyuga turned around, startled. “I bought you something, Hyuga san.”

The lovable lackey grinned and held out a paper bag with those unmistakable golden arches on it. “I thought all that beating up on the coach might’ve worked up an appetite.”

As if in response, Kitazume made a growling sound and tried to roll over onto his side. His efforts were in vain; the body cast had him trussed up like a hawg.

Hyuga took the bag from Takeshi, curious. “What is it?”

The boy beamed. “French fries! And they’re really salty!” I should know, I ate half the bag while he was giving Wakashimazu san goo-goo eyes, he mentally admonished himself.

“Just how I like ‘em.” His captain opened the bag and peeked inside, amused. “What, no ketchup?”

Takeshi’s smile faded. “Oh no, I forgot. Wait, I think they have some at the concession stand. I’ll be right back!”

Hyuga and the rest of the team watched in surprise as their youngest player tore through the stands. He always was so eager to please!

“So, he wants ketchup, does he?” Schneider said slyly. “Go, Hefner!”

Takeshi slowed his pace down to a walk as he neared his destination. The concession stand...Mission accomplished, he thought happily.

His contented expression vanished when he reached the Promised Land. There was nothing! Absolutely nothing but mustard and the ever-present packets of Mystery Substance. “Where’d they hide the ketchup?” Takeshi asked desperately. Nobody was willing to help him. It figured!

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a tall, red clad figure running away from the crowd of customers, holding something in his shirt. A bunch of somethings.

“Stop him!!!” Takeshi cried to the nearest bystander. “He’s stealing all the ketchup!” As people turned and gasped, he stooped over to pick the packets the criminal had dropped off the ground.

Hefner ran like the wind toward the parking lot, smiling as the resulting breeze blew through the odd brown projection he called his hair. All those little packets of ketchup were getting heavy, but he was almost home free! Just a little more...

Instinctively, Hefner glanced over his shoulder, more out of curiosity than anxiety. He shouldn’t have looked back. Two midgets in green were hot on his trail, determined to give chase. Letting out a scream, he sped up.

“Stop right there!” one of them called. Hefner didn’t listen, continuing his flight across the parked vehicles. He had almost made it to the getaway car when he tripped over a beer can and fell to the pavement, his treasure flying in all directions.

“Got you cornered!” Masao said happily. “You thought we were so busy that we didn’t notice you pull that fast one, didn’t you?”

They took Hefner away.

Part Sixteen
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