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Part Eighteen

He had been there for almost an hour, but he didn’t move. It was for the best; he didn’t want anybody to see him cry. He knew he was no good to his team, and no good to Hyuga if he didn’t pull himself together and act like a man, but what had just happened was too much for him to handle...

“Wakashimazu, where have you been? We’ve been looking for you!”

Wakashimazu lifted up his head at the familiar-sounding voice. “Captain...” he managed to say. Hyuga was standing over him, his dark eyes concerned. He could see the rest of the team standing behind him, but it was obvious that they were going to let their captain do the talking.

“This isn’t like you,” Hyuga said, kneeling down on the grass next to his goalkeeper. “A terrible thing happened today, and I know you feel responsible, but--”

“Of course I feel responsible!” Wakashimazu snapped. After realizing what he had said, he lowered his head, clearly ashamed by his outburst. “I mean....I...well, look what I did to Kazuo, Hyuga san! I killed him!”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Hyuga insisted. “You were just doing your job--protecting the goal. You played just as you always play. If there was another way...”

“If I were a good goalkeeper, I would’ve found a way to defend the goal that didn’t involve killing one of the members of the other team.”

Everything was silent after that. Sighing faintly, Hyuga tried again. “You shouldn’t talk like that,” he told him. “It was just a terrible accident. Also, you saved our team. Don’t forget it.”

Just as Wakashimazu was about to respond, a horrible, ear-grating voice sounded. “I’ll drink to that!”

Startled, everybody turned around to see none other than Kozo Kira standing there, holding a large bottle filled with clear liquid and a bag of plastic cups. His lumpy face was beaming. “Hello, team,” he said good-naturedly. “I brought something nice. Have a seat, all of you.”

Hyuga watched with an odd expression on his face as Kira opened the bag of cups and began to count them out. “What are you doing?” he asked, the faintest hint of suspicion coloring his voice.

The man grinned. “I think we need a celebration after today’s game, don’t you? Now please don’t interrupt me. Five, six, seven, nine, ten...” He cursed under his breath. “Damn, lost count. Now I’ll have to start over. One, two...” After a bit of this, Kira stopped counting and smiled nostalgically “You know, Kojiro...” he said, “I was just thinking of the good old days, when I was with you and Wakashimazu and that little guy...”

“His name’s Takeshi,” Hyuga interrupted. He knew he was out of line, but something was not right here. “And what are you doing here, anyway?!”

Kira hiccupped. It was now that Hyuga’s suspicions were confirmed. He was blitzed. “Well, actually,” he began, “ I got a good deal on this sake here, so I thought I’d bring it over and we could have a little Meiwa family reunion right here. And your friends can have some too. What say you?”

Takeshi watched his old coach start to fill all of the little paper cups with wide eyes. “But Coach Kira, “ he protested, “don’t you know that we’re not allowed to drink during the soccer season...? We can’t...”

“That’s right,” Wakashimazu interrupted. “You just want to get us all drunk, don’t you? You’re not setting a very good example!”

Kira was so buzzed that Wakashimazu’s comment went right over his head. “Here, have some, Ken won’t bite....” Letting out a belch, he took a swig directly from the bottle. “Man, this is some good sake...”

The rest of Toho eyed him warily. “He really is drunk,” Sorimachi muttered.

For some reason, this comment actually registered in the man’s brain. “I heard that!” Kira screeched, jumping to his feet. “You little punks have no sense of gratitude!” He waved his kendo stick at them threateningly(he just happened to have it with him). “Drink!” he ordered. “Drink!”

Hyuga had been trying to keep relatively silent, but having a drunk man threaten his beloved team was more than he could stand. “Stop it!!!” he screamed.

Everybody froze. Kira looked at his favorite player with a dazed expression on his face. “Kojiro...” he started to say.

“I mean it!” Hyuga faced the bedraggled man, so upset that he was visibly shaking. “How could you come to this stadium drunk? And after a game that my team that how much I mean to you now? Answer me!”

For a second, it almost seemed like Kira was about to cry. His eyes watered a bit. Then he opened his mouth, letting out a huge belch that echoed throughout the stadium. Satisfied, he smiled crookedly and took another swig. “Whassa matter, boy?” he asked. “You’re uptight, need t’loosen up. Jus’ take a hit of ol’ Kira’s secret medicine and you’’ll....” He broke off and pushed a cup into Hyuga’s hands. He was so wasted that he could barely talk.

Hyuga stared at the cup, feeling his entire body tense up with frustration. What is this...?! Just what does he think he’s doing? Coming here like this... A sudden, sharp pain in his head caused him to stumble a bit, but he straightened after a few seconds. Damn..why now? I’m not that badly injured! His vision was starting to blur, but he forced himself to stay upright. He knew he had been hurt not long ago, but why was it affecting him now? He had felt fine couldn’t have been the sake!

Kira noticed Hyuga’s strange expression and let out a hoarse laugh, his head swaying from side to side. “Yeah, that’s it. That’s the stuff. An’ give some to Ken chan, okay? Poor cuss looks like he could use it...” He wheezed, an unfamiliar figure catching his eye. “An’ what’s your name, boy?”

The boy stared at him, feeling horror wash over him like a sheet of ice. “Uh....Kazuki Sorimachi...sir...” he stammered.

“Sorimachi? That’s it?” Kira narrowed one eye, but left the other wide open. The result made him look a bit like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. “Damn stupid name. Gotta remember that one. But you’re cute. You like to fly, Sorimachi?”

Sorimachi shrank away from him in disgust. “No.”

“Yeah....well....” The smashed man shrugged, then turned to Hyuga and snatched the cup away from him with frightening swiftness. “Don’ let it sit like that, Kojiro! It’ll go bad!” He gulped down the sake and watched in vague amusement as his favorite little toy collapsed. “Wha’ th’ hell’s wrong wi’ you, kiddo? Ain’t nuffin you can’t tell yer ol’ buddy Kira...”

Hyuga did not respond. Ugly Kira snorted. “Now, now....where’re yer manners, boy? Answer when yer coach talks to ya....” Kneeling by his side, he poked him a few times with his kendo stick. “Looks like you need a visit from our friend Corporal Punishment...”

Before the mistake of nature could lay a finger on his captain, Takeshi grabbed a handful of Kira’s hair and yanked him backwards. “Don’t you touch him!”

The shock of being attacked so suddenly must’ve shaken Kira back into coherent speech patterns. “Interloper!!!” he squawked. “How dare you interfere with what is rightfully mine? Now you will see what happens to those who dare to challenge Kozo Kira, the most awesome man alive!” With those brave words, his eyes rolled back in his head and he hit the ground with a thud.

The onlookers weren’t fazed. They knew what alcohol did to some people. Wakashimazu gazed at the mess on the ground with a mixture of disgust and relief. “It’ll be a while before you plague humanity again,” he said. This was answered by thunderous applause.

After this was over, Takeshi shoved Kira’s worthless body aside in an attempt to get a better look at his captain. He was not moving. “Hyuga san...” the boy whispered. “How could this happen...?” Tears springing to his eyes, he turned back to his teammates. “He’s not responding!” he cried. “What should we do?”

His friends glanced at each other. If any of them had an idea, they weren’t showing it. “Too bad Kitazume’s not around,” Sorimachi said dryly. “I bet he’d wake up really fast then.”

Takeshi was not amused. “What should we do?!” he said again, tears finally starting to run down his face. “We have to get him to safety...but we can’t go home on the bus with Hyuga san like this! People’ll think we killed him!”

Wakashimazu nodded, understanding. “We can’t go home on the bus,” he said firmly. “That’s not even an option.”

“Then how will we get home?” one of the other players asked.

The goalie smiled faintly, tossing back his spectacular hair. “We’re going to walk home.”

Walk? The others exchanged incredulous looks. How could they walk home? Their school wasn’t very close by, and it was getting late. It could prove to be more difficult than attempting to casually board the bus with the lifeless body of their captain in tow. Would they be expected to pay fare for him as well?

“If we’re going to walk home, what should we do with Hyuga san?” Takeshi’s childlike eyes were troubled. “Do you think I should carry him?”

Wakashimazu bit his lip; it was all he could do to keep from bursting out in laughter. Takeshi was so worried about their captain, and his heart was in the right place, but his offer was ridiculous! Hyuga was at least a full head taller than Takeshi, and a zillion times heavier.

“That won’t be necessary,” Wakashimazu managed to say.

“Then what should we do with the body?” Sorimachi wondered aloud. “We can’t leave it here.”

Takeshi’s head snapped up. “Don’t call him a ‘body’! He’s our captain, and he’s alive!”

The remaining team members exchanged doubtful looks.

“Well, he is breathing,” one of the more prominent ones spoke up.

“We have to get him home so he can rest!” the youngest player cried. He was so infuriated by their apathy he could spontaneously combust!

Wakashimazu nodded. Takeshi was always concerned for everyone’s welfare, especially Hyuga’s. Even when pushed to his limit, he remained gentle.

The goalkeeper, without a word, ran across the field and returned with the wheelbarrow the Tachibanas had used during their “musical number.” “There,” he said with a flourish. “That’s much better.”

Sorimachi eyed the wheelbarrow warily. “Won’t this be just a little bit embarrassing?”

“Nonsense. He won’t remember a thing.”

Takeshi blinked. He had to admit, the idea was kind of bizarre, but if it would help Hyuga san, he would do it. Wakashimazu san was so loyal; he wanted to help, too. “Let’s go, guys,” he said quickly.

“What about him?” Sorimachi gestured to Kira, who was still suffering from sake overdose. “He’s too ugly to take with us.”

“Leave him,” Wakashimazu answered vaguely. “He’s the law’s responsibility now.”

The brown-haired forward said no more, satisfied with this reply. He still didn’t like the idea of pushing a wheelbarrow through a busy section of town. People might think they were queer or something--not that there was anything wrong with that! “If Hyuga san wakes up before we get back, we’ll get back, he’ll be mad.”

“He won’t,” the goalie replied with confidence. “Now, shall we go?’

Takeshi nodded. They had to hurry. He could help but wonder why his captain’s condition had degenerated so suddenly. Could it be a portent of some kind?

So off they went along the street, pushing the wheelbarrow in front of them. It took two people--Takeshi and Wakashimazu--to move the blasted thing. Sorimachi and the rest of the team formed a small crowd around them so they would seem less conspicuous.

“What if somebody does see him?” Sorimachi asked, worried. “This really does look bad. What if a police officer sees us? Doesn’t it kind of look like we’re trying to find some place to dump our murder victim?”

“We’ll have to cover him with the hay if someone gets too close,” was Wakashimazu’s hasty reply. The wheelbarrow was murderously heavy, and there was still a long stretch of pavement ahead of them. “Takeshi, are you helping at all?”

Takeshi had other things on his mind. “If we cover Hyuga san with hay, won’t he smother?” he said fearfully.

The goalkeeper shrugged and gave the wheelbarrow a mighty shove in the hope of lightening his burden. To his horror, it shot out of the reach of his hands and began to roll off down the street on its own!

“Hyuga saaaaan!!!!” Takeshi screamed as his favorite player zoomed away. “Help him, Wakashimazu san--help him!!!!

Wakashimazu took off after the fleeing vehicle, his heart pounding like a jungle drum. If Hyuga was lost forever, it would be all his fault. First Kazuo, now his own captain--what kind of monster was he?

Suddenly there was no time for thought. The wheelbarrow was nearing a break in the sidewalk. If it hit that break--

Wakashimazu,in an amazing display of agility, sprang off the nearest street sign. His karate skills would save the day once again. All he had to do was grab the handles. . .

No! He had gone too far! The martial artist/goalkeeper soared over the handles and, to his chagrin, landed in the wheelbarrow. He and his captain zoomed towards the break in the sidewalk on a twisted hayride.

“Damn!” Wakashimazu managed to lift his head. What he saw wasn’t pleasant. The break was only a few meters away--Takeshi and the others were running after them as fast as they could, but there was no way they would catch up with the wheelbarrow from hell!

This was the end. Short but brilliant years cut short by an unthinkable accident. What would the newspapers say? Two of Toho’s star players commit a love-suicide using stolen gardening equipment? Unbelievable!

And then it happened. They hit the break. They died.

Part Nineteen
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