Chapter 1: Face It Buster!
(Near the end of Year 2)
As he walks home, Totomaru’s mind wanders back to his first meeting with Hikaru Onigashima - when the short, effeminate young man unexpectedly knocked the stuffing out of him with that last punch. The guy didn’t even look like he could break a twig, yet that hit had been solid!
But what gets him most is his own utterly ridiculous blushing reaction the next day, when Hikaru took his hand after Totomaru accepted defeat and offered his allegiance and friendship. Every single stinking time the memory pops into his brain, Totomaru’s cheeks burn. He hates it. He HATES it! What kind of a guy reacts that way to another’s friendly gestures?
That question has haunted him for almost two years and he still kicks himself for it. Not just that once, but for constantly reacting to the leader of Shishiku as if Hikaru was a cute girl. As if! The guy had proven himself over and over. He’s just conservative, that’s all. He’d even seen the guy’s chest once. True proof! Totomaru wasn’t about to question Hikaru - ever. Their leader had been through so many humiliating situations: being treated like a girl by Yuuta, being coerced to wear a girl’s cheerleading outfit with Konparu, being accused of being a girl by a rival school‘s gang. Hadn’t the guy had enough without Totomaru adding to it with … With what? Feelings for the guy? GAH! Totomaru shakes his head to clear his thoughts. When that doesn’t help he punches a light post. The smarting in his hand does the trick to help distract him.
Earlier that day, Hikaru had told him how he and his sister confronted their dad about not wanting to be part of the Onigashima Syndicate. Once Hikaru had become the leader of the school, his dad granted him one request. The twins knew exactly what they wanted, but took a little time to plan their approach. The pair really wants nothing to do with the yakuza lifestyle. So they made it clear that they care for and respect their dad, but they want their own path. Hikaru wants to teach karate and his sister wants to be a model. In the end, they were true to themselves and their passionate request succeeded in reaching the heart of even the callous leader of the Onigashima Syndicate.
Now, if only Totomaru could do the same.
What does he want for his own life?
One thought he’s been mulling is the direction he’d take after high school. Of course, his dad wants him to be a doctor – to help others. That’s part of why he always nags about grades and staying out of fights. Totomaru’s heart just isn’t in it. Tutoring his friends, especially helping Konparu and Hikaru, is something he really enjoys. Every day he sees the kids at his school struggling with their studies, giving up and opting for the gangster lifestyle. Unfortunately, the school really is a recruiting tool for the Onigashima Syndicate. What if he could help those kids, so they could have more choices in life? That would be the influence his dad wants, right? But he isn’t ready to deal with that quite yet. There’s still time.
The other thought? Totomaru mumbles choice words under his breath. He can’t deny it anymore. The other is Hikaru.
‘You dumbass. You’ve felt this way since the day after the first year opening ceremony. Your brain plays it over and over in your head, because you’re trying to avoid the truth.’
Never would he have imagined himself liking another guy, but staring him in the face are the feelings to prove it. He angrily kicks at the pavement with his high-top shoe.
How will he deal with his dad trying to decide his career AND deal with his feelings? Feelings that his dad would surely disapprove of. Well, the funk he is in sure doesn’t help. Maybe a stop by the arcade to destroy a few imaginary enemies would help.
By the time he offs two baddies in the classic Mortal Kombat, his brain has settled, and he’s come to a decision. One of those two issues is something he can deal with tomorrow. He has a plan to ask Hikaru after school. What could possibly go wrong? Well ok, that’s a bad question. Maybe his best friend will hate him. But he’ll always be there for Hikaru, no matter what his answer is. That is, if Totomaru doesn’t chicken out first…
Chapter 2: Outta Time
*dachi = bestie, best friend
** In Japan the ambulance and police have separate emergency numbers.
Seeming to drag on and on, the slow day tortures Hikaru’s right hand man. The end bell for the last class seems like it will never ring. Every tick of the second-hand grates on his nerves. Totomaru’s stomach knots with anxiety, yet he glares at the clock as if he can make time go faster. Why didn’t he decide to ask in the morning on the way to school? He could have swung by Hikaru’s place, walked with him and asked along the way. Baka! Why is he so good at school subjects, but so lacking in people smarts sometimes? Granted after school would allow him to pick a more private spot to ask....
Jolting with a start, Totomaru snaps back to the present. Deftly scooping up his books, he zips out of his seat like a shot.
“Minowa, a word with you please…” The teacher’s request causes Totomaru to groan and look to the ceiling, as all the other students rush past him into the hall. Pivoting on his heel, the young man has a pleading look in his eyes - trying to communicate ‘PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE HURRY!’ without being insolent.
“I just wanted you to know that I’ve heard about what you’re doing,” the teacher has a kindly look on his face as he shares.
Taking a step back, Totomaru can only think of the plan to ask Hikaru. A horrified look covers his visage as he sputters, “What? … How?”
“It isn’t anything to be ashamed of, Minowa.”
Totomaru’s eyes widen and his heart skips.
“I know you’ve been helping Konparu from Wisteria class. His teachers say his grades are improving, and he claims it’s all due to your help. Students so rarely take their grades seriously here. To have one of the best fighters take the time for another is rare. I hope you’ll keep it up.”
Looking down and running his hand through his hair, he lets out a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Sensei, I will.”
“That’s all, young man. It looked like you were on a mission.”
Totomaru nods. The adrenaline kicks in again as he books it to find his dachi*. Spotting Hikaru’s pink hair as it disappears past a store, he puts on a little extra speed.
Rounding the corner, he sees Hikaru go down and a punk from the neighboring school run off with a bloody knife as he laughs and screams with sick glee, “I did it! I took down Shishiku’s top dog, Hikaru Onigashima!”
Instinctively dropping his bag and sliding in on his knees to help his bestie, he doesn’t even notice the knees of his pants shredding and his skin doing likewise on the hard cement.
His diminutive friend is gasping and holding his side. Shoving his friend’s hands aside, Totomaru chokes out an order, “Let me see.” Opening Hikaru’s jacket, he locates the wound. Blood, lots of it - spreading so quickly. A coppery tang fills Totomaru’s nose and he fights down the urge to be sick. The vivid red is soaking the white shirt and Totomaru untucks and undoes the bottom buttons to get to the wound. As he presses down to stop the bleeding, he finds bandaging already there but above the wound. Was Hikaru in a fight that he didn’t know about? Never mind that right now, Hikaru needs help!
“OY!” He hollers at the shop keeper in the window who has his back to the trouble, and evidently oblivious. At least the shop door is open. Totomaru tries again. “Call an ambulance! My friend’s been stabbed!”
That gets the older man’s attention. He nods, then runs behind the counter to make the call.
Totomaru’s hands shake as he puts pressure on the wound while the blood oozes between his fingers, and his voice is hoarse, “Hang in there Hikaru, help is on the way.”
The shopkeeper emerges and hollers that he’s going for the police** down the block too as he dashes that way.
Grimacing, Hikaru tries to nod and manages in the barest of whispers, “I guess you know, now.”
“Know what, Dachi?”
Before Hikaru can answer, a policeman enters the scene, “Step aside, please. What happened?”
Totomaru gets up as he points to where the wound is and explains what he saw. Taking over stemming the bleeding as they wait, the policeman asks more detailed questions. What did the attacker look like? What school was he from? You guys are from Shishiku? What’s the victim’s name? When? Why is there a bandage on your friend’s chest? What was he doing? The onslaught comes at Totomaru as he kneels by Hikaru’s side. Gently taking his dachi’s hand, he doesn’t notice that his own hands are covered in that very friend’s blood. Hikaru’s eyes lock on him and he returns the gaze as he answers the questions. When the interrogation stops, one handed he phones Konparu who can inform the gang and Hikaru’s family.
Finally they hear the sirens and Totomaru prays it’s in time. He has no idea how long it’s been, but it feels like an eternity. Hearing the crew emerge and bring a stretcher, he refuses to let go of his dachi’s hand - afraid of the loss of contact. After the policeman explains what happened and Hikaru is put on a stretcher, Totomaru is hustled along with Hikaru into the ambulance. He sits in the back to be out of the way.
When the ambulance crew rips open the bloody shirt, exposing the binding on the chest Hikaru’s face goes crimson.
“Young man, I suggest you put your eyes toward the front of the vehicle. She looks mighty uncomfortable right now.”
“What? … She?... But how?... Shit.” Totomaru’s eyes widen in understanding and he confirms, “That’s what you meant, when you said now I know.”
Tears run down her cheeks as she nods. “Don’t hate me,” she squeaks as the paramedics work.
“Oh jeeze, no! I couldn’t ever hate my bestie.” The irony hits him making him laugh as his eyes cloud up. Laying his head next to hers, he confesses, “I was gonna ask you out today, even though I didn’t know your secret yet. I couldn’t stop thinking about how kind and strong you are and how you made me feel when we first met. My stomach was really in knots, I was so worried about what you’d think of me. And here YOU were worried about the same thing. Hikaru, I … I just hope that you don’t think less of me now.”
She sniffles and shakes her head, then touches her forehead to his and laughs before wincing.
He revels in the joy despite the continued concern for her. Her! He wasn’t crazy and he’s not gay for Hikaru. Not that he’d have cared either way. Once he’d made up his mind, he was at peace with the possibility. But still it’s a relief to have one less fight with his dad ahead of him.
A few moments later she murmurs, “Call me Hinako.”
“He’s my twin. We switched places,” she winces before finishing, “because he hates fighting.”
Then the rest of the puzzle clicks in place. “So you, a mere slip of a girl beat every one of us at Shishiku? … Starting with me? And Hikaru stepped in when you needed to prove...”
Concern etches her eyes, but softens with his belly laugh. When he catches his breath he asks rhetorically and squeezes her hand, “No wonder I fell for you the day I conceded. You do realize this is such an insane twist, that no one else is gonna believe it, right?”
“Kira-sempai knows. But will the others hate me?” She clenches her eyes shut as the medics continue working to stop the blood flow and investigate the wound.
“I think Konparu will be the most thrown by it, but like the others he’ll deal with it.”
When she opens her eyes, there’s hope sparkling in them.
His phone buzzes and he answers, “Oy, Konparu! I think it’s gonna be ok. We’re in the ambulance and they’ve been saying that it was good that the wound wasn’t higher. Oh really? They caught him, huh? The bastard can burn in hell for all I care. You’re serious? They didn’t kill him? I can’t believe it! Yeah, I’ll share the news. Did you get a hold of Hikaru’s family? Good. Yeah, I’ll keep you informed. Later.”
“We’ll prep her for surgery,” a paramedic informs, and hands a couple disinfecting cloths to Totomaru, “You’ll want to wipe off your hands, so you don’t shock people in the waiting room. How ‘bout I put bandages on your knees. This’ll sting a bit.”
The other puts a mask on Hinako’s face.
Pulling his hand away, he notices the sticky squelch and flinches realizing it’s her blood. The red covers both his hands and the one of hers that he held. Despite being gross and drying, it also seems so wrong to be disposing of it. When the paramedic disinfects his knees, he hisses.
Tenderly, Totomaru wipes her hand off too. “I’ll always be here for you,” he reaffirms. Not caring one wit that she smells like disinfectant right now, he presses her knuckles to his lips. Then she drifts off into unconsciousness with a small smile on her face.
Chapter 3: The Truth Is Out - and It’s So Out There
I He’s just updated Konparu and the crew, saying that he’ll let’em know when she’s awake. Noticing that his phone is also covered in blood, he tries wiping it off on his pants to no avail. Next, he makes a call to the real Hikaru and his bodyguard, Sakaguchi, who were both freaking out. They’ll be on their way now that they know which hospital she’s in. It’ll take them a bit to get there.
Just maybe, Totomaru can be the one there for her when she wakes. Squeezing the local shrine’s good luck charm on his phone, he murmurs a quick prayer.
Now for the message he dreads most. Pulling up the contact, he takes a few deep breaths and steels himself.
「Hey Dad. Am Ok + keeping my promise. Just waiting for friend to get out of surgery @ Mishi Hospital. Might be home late.”」
Hopefully that will be enough to stem too many questions and yet reassure his dad.
Unfortunately, there’s a response within seconds. 「A fight? How is this keeping your promise?」
A growl escapes his lips, despite trying to keep quiet in the half full waiting room. He texts back, 「 Wasn’t in fight! Just have skinned up knees from sliding to check on my friend + call for help! Friend was jumped while walking home. Area is usually safe during day! Was just a freak thing!」
「Betting this friend is the good for nothing Onigashima yakuza kid that convinced you to remain at Shishiku. Stay at the hospital. I’ll pick you up after work.」
Fuming, he furiously types.「Thanks anyway. Will catch ride w/ his sister. FYI - This particular Onigashima + twin declared intentions to not be part of the family’s Syndicate. Mr. Onigashima accepted! I admire the courage. 」Take that, Dad!
「I’m sure your disrespect is this kid’s influence on you! You will stay at the hospital like I told you, or I’ll pull you from that delinquent school faster than you can count to three! 」
Sucking in a breath, Totomaru feels like he’s just been punched in the gut. But the wind isn’t completely out of his sails yet. Better curb the attitude for a while before his dad really does carry out the threat. They just barely avoided it the last time he threatened to send Totomaru to another school.「Fine. I’ll be here. Wish you could see what I do.」
Jeeze, now that he’s finally admitted his feelings, he can’t risk his dad‘s threats. Especially since the top fighter of the school is a girl. Hell no! Can’t the old man ever see past his prejudices?
The memory of Hik— Hinako glomping on to him at the airport makes so much more sense now and he focuses on the peace that moment brought. Damn, it’s gonna take a while to train his brain to call her Hinako. Knowing that he’s at least important to her, gives him hope that she’ll accept his confession. And she didn’t outright reject him. Stupid paramedics, couldn’t they have waited just a bit longer to put her out? Yeah, yeah, it’s not fair to the guys trying to do their jobs. Seriously though, they had the worst timing!
Yet again, Totomaru has to wait. Flipping through his phone for pictures of Hinako, he reprocesses the memories of their times together. So many of them make him chuckle as he sees the moments through new eyes.
When the nurse calls, he leaps up with a start, “Is she Ok?”
With a reassuring expression, the nurse shares, “She’ll be fine. Surgery went ok, and she’s in recovery. We need to contact her parents. Do you know how to get ahold of them?”
He lets out the breath he didn’t know he was holding. “I contacted her brother. He’s on his way here and’ll be able to contact her dad.” Anxiety makes him babble his desperation, “May I see her? She’s my best friend.”
“Usually we only allow family, but I can’t see any harm in it this time - since you’re the only one here for her so far.”
“Oh, there’ll be a whole passel soon… a lot of people care about her,” he admits, only slightly chagrined that he’d orchestrated it this way. Maybe she’d want the others to be here. Well, they’ll be here later. For now, he just wants this time with her.
Seeing her pale and unconscious - with her hair wildly sticking up in bits and other locks pasted to her forehead - causes a lump in his throat. He runs to her side and grabs her hand interlacing his fingers with hers, as the nurse offers a chair. Slumping down into it, he puts his head against her shoulder. “I’m here, just like I said.”
The nurse informs before checking on others, “It might take a bit for her to wake up.”
“Thanks,” Totomaru chokes out. The insanity of the day is sinking in and the adrenaline rush that kept him going is gone - leaving him shaky and feeling way too vulnerable. He nuzzles into her shoulder and huskily confides, “I wish I’d been there to stop them or to take your place. Please wake up soon… it’s only gonna get crazier when everyone else arrives.”
About 20 minutes later, stirring jolts him awake. “Totomaru...” The first word out of her mouth is his name. Despite the scratchiness of her voice, it’s the most beautiful thing he’s heard all day.
“...my… my hand hurts.” she finishes.
A bit deflated as he realizes what likely happened, he untwines their fingers and opts to just cover her hand with his. “Sorry. I think I squeezed your hand the whole time. How are you feeling?”
“Groggy... Where am I?”
“The recovery room after surgery. They had to make sure there wasn’t more damage from the stabbing.”
“There was blood on my hand?” she lifts her free arm, looking at it in a daze.
“Yeah, we both did. But you’re gonna be ok now.”
“My side hurts.”
He presses the button for the nurse and requests a pain killer for her. While the nurse adds another bag to the IV, she asks Hinako some questions. The girl answers a few. Still trying to piece things together as her mind wanders half awake, she turns to Totomaru, “Are you my boyfriend now?”
That catches him so off guard, he blinks stunned. He’d mentally prepared himself to bring it up later. Probably days later, considering the hubbub of friends and relatives arriving soon. But the first thing she remembers is that conversation.
“Totomaru?” worry tinges her voice.
“Yeah, if you want me to be,” he lovingly pushes the wisps of hair out of her face.
She nods, but her brow furrows as she’s starting to make more sense now, “You said you were gonna ask me. Did you know my secret?”
“I didn’t know until the ambulance ride. The wound was far enough down to avoid removing your wraps, and they figured out the wraps weren’t to cover injuries.”
The same scarlet as on the ambulance ride tints her face and she stammers, “But you… you thought I was a g…”
Covering her lips with his index finger, he soothes. “Shhh. Doesn’t matter. All I know is that you’re the one who’s important to me.”
“You’re important to me too.”
“At the airport last spring, when you hugged me so tightly I started to wonder...”
“...if I was a girl?”
“...why I might mean so much to you. Maybe we were dachi, maybe something else?”
“So that’s why you always got nosebleeds?”
Oh shit! He’s been caught and unable to answer. But he coughs to disguise his reaction and redding face.
Before he can recover, the nurse clears her throat. He forgot she was there! She heard the whole damn story. Just peachy.
“I think Miss Onigashima can be moved to her room now. She’s lucid enough and you two can continue your chat there.” The nurse gives Totomaru a raised eyebrow and he looks away. Maybe now is a good time to call the gang...
After he gets her some water and makes sure she’s warm enough with the covers tucked up under her chin, Totomaru curls up beside Hinako in the hospital bed. He puts his arm over her shoulder and lets his slippered feet hang off behind him. While he wants Hinako to get better, he wishes this moment with his new girlfriend would never end. Girlfriend! He still can’t believe it!
Hikaru’s loud voice startles the couple. Indignantly stomping into the room, Hinako’s twin brother demands to see his sister and shouts at the top of his lungs, “What in the hell is Minowa doing in bed with my sister?” Startling, Totomaru loses balance and falls ungracefully to the floor.
“Young Boss, please be quiet. The whole hospital is going to think there was something really going on. Minowa was only laying beside her. See the covers?” The bodyguard tries to calm his charge as he points out the obvious. Then focusing on the patient in the room, he addresses “Young Mist.. I mean Miss, how are you feeling? Minowa wasn’t doing anything he shouldn’t, was he? Because if he was, I’ll k...”
“I’ll be ok, thank you. And yes, my boyfriend was a perfect gentleman,” she confirms meekly.
The two newcomers squeak protest in unison, “Boyfriend!?”
As he gets up and tries to recover his dignity, Totomaru wipes his hand over his face. Jeeze la-weeze, this is going to be a long evening.
With the rest of the gang streaming in shortly behind them, the blitz of questions begins. The long haired Hikaru stops all conversations and gets raised eyebrows when he refers to the patient in the bed as his sister. Kira pipes up to cover for the mistake, “Are you sure you weren’t rushing over your words and meant brother instead?”
Hinako struggles to sit up, and Totomaru helps her. Ensuring that only her close friends and family are here, she gingerly bows an apology as she holds her side. “I’m sorry. For worrying you all and for the deception. Hikaru and I switched places last year before the opening ceremony. My name is Hinanko Nakayama. Please forgive us!”
Showing no sign of remorse, Hikaru scowls, “What did you go and do that for?”
Chaos erupts and Totomaru stands in front of Hinako ready to defend her, as Sakaguchi does the same for his charge.
At that very moment, Mr. Minowa chooses to walk in with a nurse who tries to calm the group for the sake of the other hospital residents. Disdain is written all over Mr. Minowa’s face, “TOTOMARU! We Are Leaving NOW!”
“Dad, I’ll be out in just a few minutes…”
“NOW! My only son won’t be hanging around with this rabble any longer! Just look at the chaos they’re causing here! No respect at all! And that yakuza brat is ruining your chances to be a doctor! I don’t care if Shishiku is the only school here that would take you because you got expelled. There is still an opening at that American school!” His dad rants and points rudely at Hinako.
The nurse hisses, “Sir, you’re the loudest, most disruptive one here. Please be quiet!”
Totomaru, choosing to hide his girlfriend's true identity because that would go over even worse, retorts with a quiet yet determined voice and clenched fists, “No, Dad! Onigashima is the kindest and strongest person I know! It’s you being an overlord and deciding everything for me that’s causing my rebellion! I’m not going with you or leaving Shishiku! If I have to, I’ll move out on my own! I don’t even want to be a doctor! I’m gonna be a teacher and help kids so they have choices beyond the yakuza or the streets! Being a doctor will only be trying to help them after it’s too late!”
Hinako looks with admiration at Totomaru, then painstakingly bows to his dad, “I’m sorry for the trouble I’ve caused. Please know, I’m grateful for all the times your son has stood beside me and all the times he’s helped me with my homework. Please don’t make him leave Shishiku! He’s my best friend and we need him as part of our leadership! We need guys like him who actually care about others! Totomaru is the most loyal person I’ve ever met and he’s making a difference at our school!”
Next Konparu steps forward and bows with his hands pressed together in front of him, taking the cue on the gender cover, “Onigashima is the best leader and has united our school like no other before. We found the attacker and instead of killing him, we knew our leader would want him handed over lawfully! Onigashima’s never said an unkind thing and watches out for the weak! Also, please don’t make Minowa go! I actually kind of understand the homework when he explains it! I wouldn’t have passed last year without his help and I won’t this year either!”
Yuuta follows suit, but without the bow, “Sir! Onigashima, your son and Konparu all helped save my concert last year from a rowdy group attacking our school. It would be awful to see him go! Should you do so, I will personally write a song about how your son was wronged and speak about it in every media outlet that interviews me!”
And Kira adds, “I knew Onigashima from our childhood days at the orphanage. He was picked on in the orphanage, not knowing that he had family out there. I watched out for him like a brother. He’s grown stronger and never uses his fighting skills to bully others. Instead he only brings people together. Your son is his closest companion and best support - Hikaru’s first friend ever. Do not take that away! He finally has a family and friends and your son is doing good in a school of delinquents. Together they’re making a difference!”
Hikaru chimes in - rather unhelpfully, but still remembering the gender switch, “You’re the one that’s being disrespectful! You can’t even listen to your own son, when our yakuza dad did, and didn’t force us into a future we don’t want! You better not hurt my twin by taking Minowa away!”
Houou steps up with arms crossed matching the older gentleman’s height and encroaching on his personal space, “The nurse is right. It might be good for EVERYONE to be quiet, with all due respect, SIR. I will personally escort your son out after we finish our talk with my little brother and sister. I’m the one inheriting the family business. Seeing the hard yakuza life and how he and his friends want to change the lives of those around them, I support their crew 100%.”
A throat clears behind Mr. Minowa, making him jump and turn in alarm, then inch away with loathing. Sparks fly in tension between the two men as they stare each other down.
Isamu Onigashima gruffly adds , “I know you have no respect for me, Judge. You never did. But let me be frank, these kids are right. Your son sees a need where he can make a difference in the lives of others. You’re helping the government crack down hard on us yakuza. Yes, my life is criminal and violent. It cost me my wife, 15 years with my daughter and untold numbers of companions.
“But what’s happening as the government tightens the noose? Instead of the streets being cleaned up, rougher wilder gangs are forming from those left behind on the street. They have nowhere to go and no hope. These new gangs are growing at an alarming pace.
Organized crime is diminishing, but soon what takes its place will be much worse and Japan could descend into chaos!
“What happened today is an example of that very thing! Your son is wiser than both of us put together because he sees a solution. Do not force this lad’s hand in your blind hate for those like me. You will regret it for the rest of your life!”
Pursing his lips in an uncharacteristically hesitant gesture, Judge Minowa considers all that’s been said. His personal grudge wars in his heart with what he’s heard. You could hear a pin drop as the group waits for his answer. Shaking his head, he offers, “My mission these last eighteen years has been to eliminate the yakuza scourge, because they killed my older brother. But Son, you and your friends … and,” his face wrinkles with distaste, “this…” he waves a hand in Onigashima’s direction, “… you make a valid point. There is a need for another option. Very well…”
Cheers erupt, and the nurse frantically tries to get them to keep the noise down despite initially cheering with the group.
Holding up his hand, Judge Minowa adds, “on one condition…”
Totomaru closes his eyes and clenches his jaw, waiting for the impossible condition to come - just like it always does.
“...that you follow through and you be careful.”
Opening one eye, Totomaru ventures, closing the gap between himself and his dad, “You’re serious?”
Judge Minowa nods. “I see your passion to help others and that we’re working on different sides of the same problem. I couldn’t ask for more.”
Totomaru looks down into his dads eyes. Scooping him up into a gruff bear hug, he says, “Thanks, Dad. It means the world to me.” Showing such outward affection is highly undignified. Freezing for a moment, the strict judge stiffly pats his son’s back.
Chapter 4: One of the Things He Loves About Her
After Hinako gets out of the hospital two weeks remain of school, and she’s allowed to finish the year at Shishiku. She insists she can hold her own, that her friends are always by her side, and that she wants to support Totomaru’s mission.
The next night Totomaru takes her to an arcade in a nearby town, where no one will know them. Picking her up at the apartment she shares with her brother, he stares gob smacked at the sight of her in a cute little blue dress and sweater, with her hair done up in a bow. This first glimpse of her feminine side makes his heart beat faster.
On the way, they stop at the local shrine to buy matching good luck charms. Next they grab some bento lunches from a cheap stand tucked in an out of the way spot and eat on a bench in the park. Hinako shares her inarizushi. After they finish, Totomaru caresses her cheek to cover for wiping off a stray sesame seed. He doesn’t want to embarrass her by bringing too much attention to themselves with a lot of open affection!
At the arcade they take turns picking games to play and they find Hinako is better at pinball, while Totomaru beats her at the old fighting arcade games. Together they earn enough tickets at skee ball to get a little black stuffed puppy charm for her. Instantly, she names it Toto.
Affronted, she mollifies him a bit after explaining that Toto is the cute little dog from the Wizard of Oz. The name coincidence really bothers him, but he stifles that feeling not wanting to ruin the evening. Though, his brain continues to ruminate on it, despite his attempts to move on. Granted he’s loyal to a fault, follows her everywhere, and protects her fiercely…
Letting out a breath, he admit that maybe he is. Well, whatever he is… he’s hers.
Finally, they hustle hand in hand to beat the closing of the little pop-up shops to get one last treat for the night - a green tea lucky cat cookie that they share and Totomaru nibbles the last bite from her fingers.
As they head to the train station, lack-a-daisicaly they swing their arms - hands locked together, enjoying their last few moments before their date ends. Heading past a side street a thug jumps in front of them demanding that they give him their wallets or he’ll beat the girl up.
Hinako glances at Totomaru with the steely eyed determination that he loves. Returning a Cheshire cat grin, he joins her by dropping into a fighting stance. He warns, “Buddy, you have no idea what you’re in for.”
Chapter 5: Making a Difference
Walking home together the next day to study at his house, Totomaru mentions under his breath, “Man, I wish we could hold hands… Even with Konparu out sick, we can’t. Can we?”
“I know. We’ve got to be careful. It won’t go over well at school.” Hinako sadly admits, then gets an impish impulse and shoves him with her shoulder good naturedly. “First one off the sidewalk or into the wall loses!”
“Hey!” he shouts and shoves back pushing her toward a storefront. “I don’t care if you can beat the crap outta me! I’m not gonna lose this time!”
The pushing match has them laughing and weaving all over the sidewalk the whole way. Having lost count of who actually won by the time they reach his apartment door, they’re both out of breath and grinning from ear to ear.
“I definitely won this time!” Totomaru declares pompously as he opens the door and motions for her to go in.
Kicking off her shoes in the entrance and dropping her school bag, she protests, “What? No way!” She shoves one last time, catching him off guard and sending him into the wall.
Stocking feet on the slick wooden floor slide out from under her as she leans, and his arms reflexively catch her. Breath hitching and cheeks flushing, she looks up into his eyes. He’s not held her romantically before, even on their first date.
Letting instinct take over, he reaches down to kiss her. The unexpected advance makes her go rigid, but soon she melts and returns the kiss. When they finally break off, she tucks her head into his shoulder and he sighs contented.
In the silence, he yields, “I can’t win against you with that tactic. Though, I don't mind one bit...”
He gets a giggle in response. Pressing his forehead to hers he confesses, “How am I gonna keep from kissing you every time I see you, now?”
Eventually they make their way to the main room. He starts warming up the kotatsu table, then goes to get a few snacks for the study session. While he’s in the kitchen, an idea hits him like a lightning bolt. He scoops up the stash and runs back to the living room precariously juggling Pretz and Ramune in his arms. “Hinako! I’ve got it!”
Her head tilts in curiosity.
“The solution to the low grades at our school!” he blurts. Scooting under the table cover beside her he expounds, “If we start a sparring club that’s dependent on working to improve grades to compete, it may just motivate the students!”
Her eyes light up to match his excitement for the idea. “And it would give everyone a physical outlet and add to our school’s fighting tradition!”
“Exactly!” He beams.
“The teachers could give input on the conditions and it would be Shishiku’s first after school club!” she adds, caught up in the brainstorm frenzy.
“Our shoving match on the way home gave me the idea. I could just kiss you for it!” Unsure when he’ll get the opportunity again, he won’t pass it up.
Absorbed in the lip lock, they don’t hear the door open. “TOTOMARU! What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” an angry voice booms.
Hinako cowers a bit at the yelling as Totomaru mumbles under his breath, “Oh shit.”
They both turn slowly to see his dad in the doorway - so red-in-the-face angry he might just explode on the spot. “I come home early to find you not only kissing another boy, but it’s the yakuza’s brat?! What the hell is wrong with you?! So, this is why you wanted to stay at Shishiku?!”
Too shocked to answer they both stare at his dad. Gulping, Totomaru stands to defend his girlfriend.
“It ends, NOW!” Judge Minowa demands then sputters, pointing at Hinako, “You… you… YOU! Get-out-of-my-house-this-instant!!!!”
Putting up his hands, Totomaru tries to diffuse the situation, “Dad, please listen to me…”
“There’s nothing to listen to! I know what I saw!” His dad tirades.
As he hears Hinako get up, Totomaru motions for her to stay and insists, “Hinako stay. My dad can keep a secret.” His look hardens and there’s a hint of malice in his voice, “Can’t you dad?”
Mr. Minowa’s eyes narrow, then he switches into defensive mode. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
Totomaru presses for the advantage and advances on his dad, “The story you always tell about your brother, there’s never many details. I always wrote it off as too painful to talk about. But after my girlfriend got stabbed and you faced off with Mr. Onigashima - I realized there might be more to the story. You know what I found? Your brother was yakuza!”
“DON’T YOU DARE, BOY!” The judge lunges and shoves him against the wall, with his forearm at his son’s throat to shut him up. Hinako bounds to Totomaru’s defense and pushes Mr. Minowa aside to keep him from harming his son and screams, “Stop it!” as she puts her arms out and stands in the gap between them.
Totomaru coughs as he tries to get his breath and continues. “He died trying to defend Mr. Onigashima’s wife and daughter! The only one who survived is the girl standing before you!”
Judge Minowa sinks to the floor and mutters, “But how...”
Slowing his volley, Totomaru kneels by his father, “Dad, your brother didn't die in vain. He died saving someone very important to me. Help keep her secret.”
Gaping, Hinako turns to stare at Totomaru. He shrugs apologetically, “Hinako, I was gonna tell you today, actually… but we had the idea to help Shishiku and I kind of got distracted.”
His dad moves to the kotatsu but remains silent with internal struggle. Totomaru gestures for Hinako to follow into the kitchen.
“My dad just needs some time. I always make big plans on how to deal with our issues, and it never goes right. Always ends in a fight.” Shifting gears, he asks softly and puts a hand on her shoulder, “How are you doing? You looked so shocked.”
“I… I don’t know.” She rubs her arm with her other hand.
“Can you handle one more thing?” he queries with concern and a raised eyebrow.
Biting her lip, she’s unsure.
Sympathy radiates in his eyes as he continues, “It’s an educated guess. But I think it’s important. Did Hikaru switch places with you to protect you?”
She gasps and covers her mouth.
Pulling her to him, he finishes the thought. “We’ll have to ask, to be sure. But I think it might be safer for you in Shishiku posing as your brother. It didn’t make sense to me that he would just avoid fighting and want to dress up as a girl. Maybe he really does like it. I dunno. But, what if?”
“You really think that’s why he talked me into such a crazy thing?” She looks up as the wheels turn in her head, reconsidering the situation.
“Maybe. If it’s really as hard for the syndicates right now as your dad said it is, they’ll be scrambling for survival. Has your dad said anything, or is he trying to find a way out of the family business?”
Thinking for a moment, she sorts through the past two years before answering. “No, but I haven’t seen him much. Seems to keep his distance from Hikaru and me.”
“Safer that way. Harder to make the connection for would be attackers.”
“But the most notorious fight school? Oh… Because I can defend myself in a fight!” she concludes.
“Bingo.” He tightens his arms around her. “I got your back, Dachi.”
After a moment, he glances over at his dad in the other room. “When I got kicked out of the last school, is when he stopped listening to me. He’s always so afraid of me getting hurt or joining the yakuza.”
She adds, “But right now, he’s probably terrified of you protecting me - just like his brother did.”
“Crap,” he whispers, realizing she’s right. “Kinda starting to look like the Montagues and the Capulets, isn’t it?”
“From Romeo and Juliet? Maybe, since the two sides are at such odds.” She snuggles into his embrace, worried about the prospects for the future. “Do you think our families can ever really see eye to eye?”
“Dunno,” he ponders as he holds her head to his chest. “I’m not even sure where we go from here.”
“Maybe we sould get your dad something to eat?” she offers.
Ruffling her hair, he admits, “Good idea. Do you need to text your brother?”
They bring in a single plate of okonomiyaki with a glass of water and a cup from the family’s sake set. Setting the plate with chopsticks in front of his dad, he lets her pour a cup of warmed sake and offers it with both hands. Totomaru hopes his dad won’t miss the symbolism. Without a word, they bow and turn to leave.
Judge Minowa’s eyes are red, but there are no tear tracks on his pained face. Gesturing to the kotatsu, he requests, “You made enough for all of us, I assume. Please, sit and eat.”
After giving quick thanks for the meal, the trio shares an uncomfortable silence. Judge Minowa finally breaks it with a bombshell, “The kitchen is too close for a private conversation…”
Totomaru runs his hand through his hair and Hinako goes pale.
Pinching the bridge of his nose before raising a bit of the savory pancake, he tries again. “This is good.” Taking another bite, he tries to find better words.
“It was Hinako’s idea…” Totomaru tries to dodge the compliment.
“But you knew what his favorite is…” She follows suit.
Mr. Minowa shakes his head. “I suppose arranging for both of you to go out of country together won’t work. Will it? You’re set on helping the disadvantaged youth here.”
Totomaru nods, properly introduces his girlfriend, and they explain their plan.
With a sad smile, his dad shares, “Son, you take after your mother. She and I, we disagreed often.”
“But I’m like you too. Is that why we butt heads so often?” Totomaru contrasts.
“And at 17 - not far from being an adult, with your own ideas about things. I was at odds with my father too.” Minnowa concedes, “I see I’ve been holding on too tight, afraid of losing you, like everyone else in my life. But hearing you two talk and what you said the other night… I need to let go before I push you too far away.”
Totomaru stops mid-sip of his drink. Setting it down, he doesn’t trust himself to speak.
Preferring not to dwell on himself any longer, Mr. Minowa probes. “So, you’ve known the Onigashima twins switched places from the beginning?”
Looking at the ceiling, Totomaru tries to hide his reaction to the uncomfortable question.
“Since I was stabbed,” Hinako offers to take the pressure off her boyfriend.
“So this romance is just budding from a close friendship after learning the truth...” Mr. Minowa closes his eyes and gives a quick bob of his head, evidently deciding this is acceptable.
Holding hands under the kotatsu for comfort, the couple can only hope that no more questions come. The truth would be far too uncomfortable, in this newly found peace.
“Miss Nakayama, tonight we’ll give you a ride home, since the streets aren’t as safe as they used to be. Perhaps the Montagues can do that much for a Capulet,” his dad offers.
Chapter 6: Epilogue
Shishiku’s teachers are ecstatic about the idea to improve their students' interest and grades. It takes a bit to catch on. But when the first few start bragging about the matches they won, the tide can't be stopped. Though, it does bring a few unintended side effects. The toughest one to route out is betting on the matches. Slowly, the school’s fighting funnels into the club. Granted, most of the students there still struggle. But more and more are finding jobs in the security and police sectors. Totomaru is the first in Shishiku’s history to go to college.
The common goal brings Totomaru and Hinako closer together than ever. Judge Minowa and Mr. Onigashima refuse to speak at the wedding. But the couple considers having them in the same room voluntarily to be an accomplishment.
Totomaru becomes a math teacher at Shishiku. Across the street, Hinako opens a dojo focusing on the disadvantaged girls of the area. Their contribution to the youth of the area makes a difference for years to come.