T H R E E
Mac stretched his long arms towards the ceiling, yawning shamelessly loud. By doing that gesture, it earned him whack on the head from Jacky, who had been sitting besides him. Although Mac was scheduled for his 4am watch, he wasn't doing a very great job. Lethargy was getting the best of him and without knowing, he had drifted into the kitchen and had forgotten all about his duty.
Across from where Mac sat was his other childhood friend - Ran. The trio sat around a circular table, chatting quietly amongst themselves. Jacky and Ran weren't meant to be on watch, but they had been finding it hard to get sleep.
Ran hadn't been brought up at the orphanage. Her family owned the restaurant next door. Whenever the club opened, the restaurant would close. Takeshi would kick all the orphans out of the club and make them stay at Ran's restaurant. It was then that they had mingled with the girl and formed a strong bond with her. It was only recently, about two weeks ago, that Ran had moved out from the restaurant to start a small café business on her own.
"Thanks for lending the place to us. Thanks for letting us stay here for the night," Jacky said. He added a compliment. "You're amazing."
Jacky was being a bit too nice.
"No, not at all!" Ran laughed, waving it off.
Mac's lips twitched upwards. All the boys had said their thanks to Ran, but Jacky had been extra considerate, saying multiple thanks in one go in that heavily accented voice. There was a clear reason why Jacky would emphasise how grateful he was.
Leaving the club had proved to be a difficult task. Mac had taken control and stated to the boys that it had to be done. They couldn't back out of it because they all knew that club8 was no longer safe. Club8 had been their home. Even Arsenal couldn't hide his reserved expression when they had left. Mac had told them to take important belongings with them, but when he saw Arsenal sneak the darts board behind his back, Mac had pretended not to see.
They were only going to sleep at Ran's apartment that night. After that, it was Mac's job to find a new place for them to stay.
Mac gave another yawn, lazily listening in on Jacky and Ran's conversation.
"…not a problem! Ai and you boys have done so much for me in the past, so I'd like to give something back in return."
"No, not at all!" Jacky laughed, waving his hands in the air.
"We're the ones that should be thanking you. You're providing us hospitality, and on top of that you always have made us the tastiest meals in Osaka." Mac winked. He gave a side-glance at Jacky and caught him glaring daggers at his direction. Mac almost chuckled out loud. "You know, Jacky's always wanted to change club8 to an Italian restaurant because he fell in love with the pasta you'd make. It's been his dream."
Ran smiled brightly. She put a hand on Jacky's head, patting him fondly. "Naw, aren't you sweet?"
Only Ran could get away with patting Jacky on the head without getting a hit or punch back.
"He the only one amongst us who has graduated from a business course at some university – he might as well do something with his degree!" Mac snickered. He stopped teasing when he saw Jacky's face turn an unhealthy shade of red. Mac wasn't going to push Jacky that far because he knew that Jacky would do something to get back at him. Jacky could get nasty when you'd least expect it.
"So Ran? How has your café been doing?"
They continued to talk useless chatter for a while. Mac wasn't exactly aware how long they talked, but he felt comforted by it. He missed talking about carefree things. For days he had been engulfed with so much emotion, not only from himself, but from the others. It was tough and it pained him. The useless chatter was therapeutic because useless chatter was better than facing reality.
Mac knew that Jacky hadn't been sleeping well. Usually Jacky slept like a log. For years, Mac had shared a room with him. He had spent almost every night throwing pillows at Jacky in an attempt to put an end to his snoring. Jacky had been holding his feelings about Ai's death in. In front of the others Jacky had been acting like a sturdy pillar - Mac knew better. There was no denying that Jacky was affected by the situation just like everybody else.
"I'm going to have a look outside," Mac declared, jumping on his feet. Whether Jacky or Ran objected, he didn't know.
Outside Mac saw that the sky was no longer pitch-black and the outlines of buildings were becoming vaguely visible. The occasional morning joggers bobbed past him and cars were building up slowly on the street. In an hour or so, there'd be traffic. Peak hour would cause them a hassle. It was still a good sign. There were no enemies that Mac could see, or anything out of the norm that was worth investigating. All thanks to Arsenal's paranoid skills, they hadn't been tracked.
Mac went back inside, closing the door behind him. He heard a creak and then saw a figure walking down the stairs. The figure paused, then moved forward. The closer the figure came, Mac muscles relaxed for he was able to distinguish who it was.
"Hey," Mac greeted. He rested a palm on the frame of the door, barricading Johnny from going out. "Where do you think you're going?"
"Air, some air." Johnny mumbled back, eyes looking at the ground. Johnny's eyes were a bit pink. He was trying to hide from Mac that he had been crying.
Mac placed a hand on both of Johnny's shoulders. "Don't you know what day it is?"
"I know," Johnny replied, head still bowed down.
"How can I be sure that you won't go off somewhere?"
"I'm not lying. I left Gum a note as well!" Johnny stumbled on his words. "I won't miss the-"
"-I'll meet you at the cemetery."
"No," Mac shook his head. "Come back before nine and we'll all leave together."
"Don't order me around, Mac. I'm not a kid anymore."
"I'm not saying that you were. I just want you to be there. I don't want you lashing out last minute. We're all going to be there and…Jacky will most likely blame himself if you don't turn up at the funeral."
Johnny closed his eyes, massaging his temples. "He won't blame himself."
"You know he will. Right now, he's thinking that you hate him. Can't you just forgive him?" Mac questioned. "Jacky – he didn't mean it."
"I know." Johnny sighed in reply.
"Not only him - we're all worried about you, Johnny." Mac felt strange saying those words. He wanted to talk sense into Johnny. He didn't want Johnny to do anything reckless or go out of line. It was rare enough that he was so blatantly honest, but he wasn't lying. Mac was concerned about the Johnny.
"It's not me that you all should be worrying about. It's Ace." Johnny shrugged away from Mac's grasp. "I - Mac, I need to go."
"You'll be there then?" Mac repeated. He wanted to confirm that Johnny wouldn't back out of his promise.
In response, Johnny nodded. "Can't guarantee I'll be back on time. If I'm not here by then, I'll definitely see you at the cemetery."
"Fine. I'll meet you there."
Johnny was being stubborn. Mac knew that Johnny wasn't going to change his mind. Choosing not to argue with him, Mac unlocked the door and let Johnny walk out. It was Johnny's life. Mac knew there was nothing he could do to convince Johnny to stay. All Mac could do was trust Johnny – and so that was what he did.
. . . . . . . . .
He had wanted to join Ran and Jacky, but when Mac had passed the kitchen he saw Ran resting her head on Jacky's shoulder. Ran's short black hair was poking at Jacky's chin, but he didn't move and stayed still in that position. Mac wasn't blind. Choosing not to intrude, Mac had crept off. No longer slacking off on his duty, Mac went to do the bedroom rounds.
In the first room, that Mac went in, he was welcomed with Gum's gorilla-like breathing. Mac could distinctively hear the air whistling in and out of Gum's lungs. Whenever it came to physical strength, Gum was known to be the strongest, but sleep had always been his weak point. When they were younger Toppo had done experimented on Gum, using tactics ranging from ice-water pouring, to Ace and Ai having screaming competitions on each side of Gum's ears to wake him up. None proved to be successful. If this vital information was leaked out, the enemy could literally have the opportunity to kill Gum in his sleep.
The other two futon beds were empty. As Johnny had informed, there was a folded note next to the foot of Gum's futon bed. Another person was meant to be lying on the other futon. Only one bed was meant to be vacant…
Mac caught sight of lace curtains. They were flowing in harmony with the wind. The glass sliding doors was gaping open and Mac could just about see the balcony.
Not missing a beat, Mac sprinted for the balcony. Perhaps he was jumping to conclusions, but he would only feel calm until he knew where Ace was. Mac didn't know if he could deal with another tragedy.
Frowning, Mac looked over the edge. No body. There was no body on the pavement or footpath. What a relief! Yet, Mac couldn't shake the feeling off. He felt uneasy. Where was Ace? Where in the world had Ace disappeared off to?
When Mac sniffed smoke, it was then that he realised what a real idiot he truly was. Mac hadn't been looking properly, for Ace had been there – it was just that Mac had missed him completely. The embers of Ace's cigarette were dying out. The cigarette was lodged between his Ace's thin fingers, yet he didn't make a move to take a huff. In fact, it looked as if the cigarette had been lit and Ace had forgotten that he was holding it.
In the corner of the balcony, Ace was squatting down. Mac hadn't noticed him straight away because he had charged forward and not paid attention to the actual sides of the balcony itself. Ace was trembling. His narrow eyes dully gazing up at the broad bleak sky. Mac had known Ace to be a person always full of spirit, hot-tempered, cheeky and not ashamed to face the world. The more Mac stared at him, the more Mac began to wonder where the Ace that he knew was.
"Oi!" Mac lightly kicked him. "Go back to bed, idiot."
Mac squatted down next to him, tapping Ace on the arm. Ace didn't respond.
To think that Mac had thought Ace had been doing better. Had Ace been acting all that time? Countless of situations, when they were younger, Ace had gotten out of many chores by feigning stomachaches. One time Ace had pretended to be sick so well that Takeshi had actually called an ambulance. Did that mean that Ace had pretending to be coping fine whenever the other orphans would prod him? Had Ace been pretending to be all calm and collected because he hadn't wanted to worry anybody?
That had meant that Johnny was right - Ace had deceived them.
Another day, Mac would have shaken some sense into Ace, but he let him off the hook. Ace he could no longer act, for it must have dawned over him that that day would be Ai-chan's burial. Reality had finally caught up.
Mac went back inside and grabbed a blanket, tossing it around Ace's shoulders. When Ace's shivering became weaker, Mac figured that it would be safe to leave Ace alone. If Ace had wanted to kill himself, he would have already. That was the type of person Ace was.
There was a glow illuminating from under the door of the next room.
Behind the mahogany desk, Arsenal looked up when he saw Mac enter. Arsenal's arm covered what looked like to be a small diary. Mac had seen the leather-skinned diary before. Arsenal refused to show it to anyone what the actual contents were inside. From the maroon lampshade, the soft lighting brought Arsenal's features out – his infamous disheveled hair and intent eyes that currently bore into Mac.
"What are you doing?" Mac asked.
"You should be sleeping then. I'm on watch tonight. Ace, Jacky and Ran are up too."
Mac had left Johnny's name about because Mac knew that Arsenal would blow it when he found out that he had allowed Johnny to go out for a little stroll. Although Johnny was tall and sharp looking, he was inexperienced when it came to combat. To Mac, Johnny was still a spoiled little rich boy. He was the cleanest out of them all.
"If anything happens, Ace and Jacky can handle it."
Arsenal bitterly laughed. "Ace isn't capable of protecting himself at the moment."
Mac had nothing to rebut against what Arsenal had said. It appeared as if Arsenal had already known about how badly Ace had been coping.
"I could get Gum up?"
"You know that's impossible. You need a bulldozer for that thing to be woken up." Arsenal chuckled.
"Mm." Mac was half listening now, distracted by the sleeping pair that his eyes had caught sight of.
On the floor, Toppo was snoozing. His body was laying on his right side, arm drooping over Kohana's small body as she slept against Toppo's chest. Mac knelt on the tatami mat and ran a few of his fingers through Kohana's soft hair. He leaned forward and planted a kiss on the baby's forehead. If no one could save them, Kohana could. The girl was capable of working miracles even when she was asleep.
"Who do you think will have a kid next?"
Mac stared at Arsenal, confused. It wasn't like Arsenal to ask a question like that. The question had been sprung out of nowhere, but Mac answered anyway. "We're all not dating or seeing anyone, but when I think about it…it's got to be Jacky."
"He's getting all cozy with Ran right now."
Arsenal laughed. That time it was a real one. Arsenal looked handsome whenever he laughed. His features stood out more and he seemed as if he was another person. Unfortunately, the laughter was short-lived.
"You said that we'd get revenge before, Mac." Arsenal stared at him, brows furrowed and waiting for an answer. "Did you really mean it? Or was that a show to calm down Ace?"
Mac wasn't sure why he had said it. At that time Mac had been furious. It wasn't fair. It was unjust. He was infuriated because it had happened so quickly that he, nor the others, couldn't react in time and take any form of action. They had to do something to get back at the people who had killed her. Mac was definitely convinced about that. Every angle that Mac had looked, he didn't understand the reason why they had killed Ai. There had to be a more valid reason. Maybe Mac was missing something. Maybe Mac needed to concentrate more on reading behind the lines.
One thing that Mac did know was that there was a high chance that they hadn't escaped the yakuza's scrutiny. Mac couldn't read their minds, but he had a firm hunch that they were capable of attacking them at any time. After all, Arsenal had shot two of their men without a second thought. They'd be thirsty for blood. That was for sure.
"We've got to get them back, or find out what they're really planning. Blackmail them. Anything. Just as long…" Mac trailed off. He glanced at Kohana. "As long as we'll be fine in the end."
"We don't do things like this," Arsenal said. "We only have thieved and fought to protect each other. That's all. Do you think we'll be able to make it?"
"Why are you asking me?"
"Mac, we need you to strategise again. Everyone knows that's your forte. You can't just say something and back out from it. Most of us want to do something and I…I need to prepare too."
While Gum was the main force when it came to physical strength, Arsenal was known for being a good shot and was somehow always posted with what happened in the underworld. No one really understood how Arsenal got his information, and when asked Arsenal would not listen and pretend not to hear. He didn't want to delve further. Arsenal deserved his privacy. Mac assumed he had connections, but he trusted Arsenal - just like how he trusted the other orphans.
"I'll get back to you about it. After the funeral. I swear."
"Mac, you've just got to remember. We're not an army. The yakuza have more men. We're only seven."
"Can't forget Kohana-chan," Mac quipped back.
Arsenal cracked a weak smile. "Of course."
Whenever it came to creative ideas, Mac was the plotting genius in their group. He was the mastermind behind their stealing escapades and the person they'd turn to when they wanted to prank one of the other orphans in exchange for money or food. Then again, the orphans tended to respect and rely on Mac for he was the oldest. Mac wasn't planning to fail how they perceived him to be. He wouldn't.
. . . . . . . . .
Johnny hadn't made it.
They had waited an extra half hour for Johnny to arrive back to Ran's place. Arsenal had a scowl on his face that it looked like it was going to stay permanently there, while Jacky had lost his patience and was non-stop whining in that loud voice of his that strained Mac's ears . The morning hadn't started out good.
Not being able to keep up with their complaints anymore, Mac mentioned that they should leave since Johnny was likely to meet them at the cemetery. Toppo had given him suspicious looks at Mac's suggestion. Luckily for Mac, Gum backed him up and explained how Johnny had left him a note stating that he wasn't going to miss the funeral.
But he wasn't there.
The weather wasn't too cold, nor was it too hot. Tombstones were everywhere and the thought sickened Mac for under the ground, there were cremations of many people. Ashes. To think that they'd be all ashes one day. The thought frightened Mac.
Ace had finished reading his eulogy. He'd constantly choke up during every second sentence, to the extent that there was one period when he had stopped talking altogether. The boys dropped words here and there and Ace was able to pick up where he had stopped, making it through the speech in one piece thanks to their support. Obachan had her arms around Ace's body, kindly guiding him down the platform.
All the younger, second batch of orphans were there too.
After the incident at the club, Obachan, Takeshi and Jacky had moved them to Jacky's hometown in the country. On the day that Jacky had disappeared with Ai's body, he had taken Takeshi and Obachan with him. Little did they know that Jacky had also went upstairs and evacuated the children out of the club. Jacky had then organised and covered the train fair fees the orphans to stay at his parent's house in the country.
Jacky had done the organising all on his own. Some of the boys were not happy about Jacky's decision – mainly Johnny – but Mac believed that Jacky had made a quick and correct decision. Dragging everything on would have made it much worse. Jacky may have had been too gruff and appeared abrupt, but he went straight to the core and handled the problem rather professionally. That was why Mac secretly respected Jacky as much as he enjoyed mocking him.
When Mac saw all five of the younger orphans dressed in their finest outfits they had, he had found it touching and at the same time heartbreaking. Ken, Daichi, Naoki, Sasami and Reika - Ai had been like an older sister to them, just like Ai had been a younger sister to the generation of orphans that Mac belonged to.
Ai had been their role model in contrast to the seven older idiotic men. Together they had made one big family. It was nice that Jacky's parents had allowed all five orphans into their home. Obachan had made sure that Takeshi stopped recruiting more children after Kohana-chan was born. If there had been more than five orphans, Mac knew that the Murakami family would have accepted them anyway.
Filing in a line, the kids trailed towards the tombstone, clapping their tiny hands together and saying their prayers.
"Macy-kun?" Reika whispered, eyes sparkling with tears. "Will I ever see you again?"
Mac head fell back as he laughed. "Of course I'll see you again, you little brat." He messed up her hair and carefully ushered her to where Obachan, Takeshi and the rest of the orphans waited. Obachan and Takeshi had emphasised that they'd be the ones in charge of seeing the younger orphans off at the train station.
"I don't want to go! Why won't you let me stay with you?"
It wasn't a surprise. There always had to be some sort of resistance coming from Daichi. He was throwing a fit - another one of Daichi's spoiled boy tantrums. Like Johnny, Daichi had come from a rich family, but his family had been swindled. Mac remembered seeing his parents going to the club and literally dropping onto their knees, begging Takeshi to accept him for the time being. Until then, Daichi had been living with them for a good two years.
Daichi's light brown eyes fiercely stared at the older generation of boys. "Tell me what's going on! I refuse to leave and-"
Before any of them were about to intervene, Ran had put an arm around Daichi's shoulder and moved him away from them. "Not here, Daichi. Ai wouldn't want that."
Mac flashed her a thankful look and Ran returned a nod. There was a bit of struggle on Daichi's half, but Ran managed to get him away, maneuvering him back to where Takeshi, Obachan and the other orphans were.
Soon it was only them left – six men and a baby.
The older generation looked at the tombstone, not moving an inch from where they had been standing. None of them were keen on saying their goodbyes to Ai-chan because then it would be confirming her death.
Toppo who was holding Kohana-chan in his arms, cradling the baby every now and again to stop her silent sobs. It was like the baby could sense that she was at her mother's funeral. Jacky was staring at the opposite direction, hiding his tears. Ace sobbed openly. It wasn't like how actors cried beautifully in movies – Ace was shaking, teeth gritting and crying in a strained voice. Gum had his hand on Ace's shoulder, digging into Ace's black jacket as if to show him that he was there and, at the same time, trying to support himself from collapsing in a heap. In the distance, Mac spotted Arsenal. Arsenal was the farthest from the tombstone, standing under a shady tree, gun planted in his hands as his eyed darted everywhere. Even at a funeral, Arsenal still had his guard up.
As Mac stared at Arsenal, something happened. He could no longer see Arsenal clearly. His vision was blurring. It was only when Mac dabbed under his eye with a finger that he felt moisture. Mac had also started to cry.
"We should go now." Then there was a light punch on Mac's shoulder. It was Jacky. Mac also thought he was right about how they should say their prayers. If none of them went to say their prayers any time soon, they'd be standing in the cemetery for ages.
After Jacky's turn, Mac gulped and stepped in front of the tombstone. He closed his eyes, hands pressing together and the tip of his fingers grazing his lips. Mac didn't know what to pray for. Ai-chan wasn't there anymore. He could picture Ai-chan pointing and laughing at him for doing something so silly. She never believed in spirits and the afterlife – so that's what Mac ended up praying for her. He prayed that their would be another world out there for her discover. Another world where she would shine her own colours; Another world where he, and the rest of them, could meet her again one day.
Everybody went to pray at the tombstone after Mac. One at a time they had said their prayers. Toppo had even taken Kohana's small palm and rested it on the tombstone.
Ace was the last person to bid his farewell to his sister. He crouched down, smirking and muttering words under his breath that no one could hear. It was like he was telling Ai-chan a joke that only she would get. After all, Ai-chan was probably the only one that laughed at Ace's lame jokes.
Mac sighed, feeling the calming breeze. His attention drew to the strings of smoke that whirled upwards with the wind, rising up in the air from the thin sticks of incense.
That was when Mac saw splashes of colour. Sprinkling down, he saw pinks, purples, blues, yellows and oranges fall onto the tomb. He stepped closer, squinting his eyes and made out that they were actually a rainbow of petals.
Johnny had made it at the last minute.
Mac didn't understand the meaning behind it, but he didn't interfere and let Johnny continue. Whatever the flowers meant to Johnny, Mac wasn't sure. If that was what Johnny had to do for solace, so be it. Johnny passed the basket of petals to Ace, and he too grabbed a handful of petals and let go over all over the new tombstone.
As the last flower petal gracefully floated down, a thunder of violent gunfire churned…
( a / n )
Thanks for reading! :)
I have an important announcement - I will no longer be posting new chapter links to this fanfic on the Kanjani8 community as of now. It's more in order to prevent spam on the community and because I'm not really comfortable about advertising this story everywhere.
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Thanks to all of you who have left feedback. I wasn't really expecting people to follow on with this story because it's gone away from the 8U plot altogether. :) There's good news and bad news that I have to say.
Good news: I'm writing Infinite as my NaNo project
Bad news: Because I'm using Infinite as my NaNo project, I'm going to be more focused on writing the story instead of editing and posting each chapter up
The next chapter will be Gum centered ;)
Congrats if you've gotten past reading this chunky a/n!