This page lists English translations for the online novella (or online novels) found on the Japanese official website for KOF: Maximum Impact 2. This section will also include the original side stories from the KOF Maximum Impact Regulation "A" site.
These stories were written by Akihiko Ureshino.
KOF: Maximum Impact 2
Sons of Fate
His eyes reflected stars and were littered by the star filled sky. He could hear a howl from a stray dog and the painful sobs of his younger brother.
Don't cry, Soiree.
He tried to speak these words, but Alba's lips could only tremble faintly. Alba could only sense his body's wretched state, dulling as it bled and his heat sucked into the earth, gradually became colder. He was beginning to feel beyond pain. Gently, surely, Alba felt himself sink into the abyss of death.
As he had an intense coughing fit, Soiree moaned.
He heard the sound of something being dragged, yet all he saw was the faraway starry night and the square cut of the building's silhouette. Alba soon saw the face of his younger brother enter his world. Soiree's face was nothing but scratches. The slightly handsome boy had just lost his charm.
Not just his face, his entire body was scarred too. Beaten by the senior punks and kicked away, perhaps it was fortunate that they could share the same fate. At the last moment, Alba protected Soiree and they ended up like this. Since they were beaten up so badly, Alba had wanted to share a laugh with Soiree but he just couldn't find his voice.
"W-Wake up, Brother..."
Soiree crept closer to him and was able to grasp his hand. Alba felt the warmth from his brother's grasp but couldn't return it with his usual strength.
Don't cry, Soiree. It's not like you're going to die.
Alba thought this deep within his mind. He became aware that he actually lowered himself to feel satisfied by these words and was nauseated. An older brother who risks his own life to protect his one and only brother. Perhaps it would have been a fine story in this rotten town, but there were one or two other stories just like it. Besides, it would only satisfy for a split second. It was something people would hear just to get by, turning their eyes away from reality.
Exhausted from roaming everyday, not knowing how faraway they were from their hometown or how many more days they could go, understanding only what he could learn, Alba perhaps thought in the corner of his mind of throwing it all away and taking the easy way out. Even though he had little left to give up, he might have hoped for a sense of liberation.
He could throw it all away, except he knew his lifeline was always his younger twin brother. The thought of leaving Soiree to make everything easier for himself sickened Alba.
He was able to speak these words but barely.
Soiree was right beside him, but Alba thought his brother's voice was awfully distant. His consciousness was fading. As he gazed into the vast starry night, he felt his grasp on the real world slipping. He might be dying. He felt as though being awake was weighing him, until a strong power at that time forced him jolt back into reality.
Someone... -two maybe more- he heard running footsteps coming towards him. The stray dog let out a sorrowful wail before running away. Soiree was seized by apprehension and held his hand tighter. His grasp made Alba understand what happened. Those guys came back.
Are they back to beat us again?
Using whatever strength was left in him, Alba revived himself one last time and moved his injured body to attention.
"Hey! Are you boys okay?!"
It was an adult's voice he heard. Not the guys from earlier he felt, but Alba couldn't think himself to believe that anymore as his wounds got the better of him. As his eyes faded out his surroundings, Alba's last thought was how the starry night sky vaguely reminded him of his hometown.
Schwarzwald was the place on earth which didn't have its starry skies completely polluted by the city. Climbing up to a high fence, Soiree looked up at the twinkling lights above and raised his voice in admiration.
"... Look, Brother."
As Soiree spoke, his breath puffed up clouds of white into the night. Even so, Soiree's cheeks were flushed with excitement.
They were used to always looking up at the stars, but they were quite the spectacle. Perhaps it was because tonight was particularly special. Alba strode with both feet so he could rest his waist on the top of fence, while Soiree kept looking up at the sky without getting tired of the sight. If they jumped down from the fence, they could return to their old life.
To a life bound by rules. Though it was inconvenient, it guaranteed everyday timed meals and a bed to peacefully rest in. If they wanted to, they can live their lives like that until they weren't children. However, if they took the leap to the outside, they could lose everything they had left for them in an instant. No one would be there to protect them, warm food, and tranquil slumber wouldn't be assured. In exchange, all they could have was a sense of freedom, even if it had no definite shape or outcome.
"...You don't have any regrets?"
"We're never going to come back here. Are you sure you're fine with it?"
"Yeah, well, I always told you that it feels suffocating living here."
They've talked about this with themselves countless times. Soiree gave him a suspicious look, as if it were pointless to mention such matters now.
"I'm fine with it. I just want to go where Brother goes, that's all."
"Do you lack independence?"
"I believe more in Brother than I ever would in myself. ...Besides, it'd be easier if I just left everything to you."
Expressing his true thoughts with a silly laugh, Soiree skillfully leaped on top of the fence and reached his right hand out to the starry sky.
"There's nothing to really talk about now, right? Anyways, let's hurry and go, Brother!"
"Yeah. I'd rather die than face the humiliation of an adult catching us."
They put their luggage over their shoulder and loaded it onto the lone bike waiting for them below. They only had a small amount of food taken from the refrigerator in the orphanage and a fistful of cash saved up. Any lingering dribbles was left to dry back at the bottom of the fence.
"Hey, let's jump off together since we're doing this!"
Soiree took Alba's hand as he said this. He usually would refuse such a childish proposal, but Alba was also just as excited as his brother and was incredibly happy with the idea. It also felt like a solemn and sacred ritual, kind of like an initiation.
"Yeah, let's do this. Okay! Ein, zwei..."
Getting his older brother's approval, Soiree raised his voice as he finished the countdown.
Only the starry night bore witness to the great leap over the fence and the boys' new life of freedom.
When he opened his eyes, he found himself on a rundown bed with springs that felt like they were dying.
While still lying down, Alba gazed up the at the dirty ceiling as he regained his sense of feeling. At least it didn't seem like he was in heaven or hell. Instead of moving his body freely, his eyes moved to the wall, decorated with darts boards and posters of glamorous playmates, and the coarse furniture barely within his sight.
However, these weren't the things his eyes were searching for. As he was glancing around, he suddenly felt a weight against his knee and saw that Soiree was sound asleep, leaning over the bed and asleep by his leg. Noticing the chair next to the bed, Alba surmised that his brother was sleeping in it while staying by his side. His brother was miserably covered with bandages over the bruises here and there, but Soiree looked otherwise fine. Alba let out a sigh of relief.
But then he gradually realized that they were still in a turbulent situation. He knew nothing of the room they were confined in and a new problem had arisen. Seeing the state they were currently in, it seemed that someone had saw them in the quiet alley and came to their rescue. But if it was the police who found them, he was sure that they would have been accommodated at beautiful hospital, no matter how run down the town. If they were sent to such a place, they would discover that they were illegal immigrants. Even though he didn't know all the details, Alba was sure that it was considered bad for them to be there and they would have been deported.
No matter how much he looked at it, this room in every aspect was just a cheap apartment.
As he wondered about the true colors of the apartment owner, he heard footsteps of two or more people coming towards the room. The noise reached Soiree and he stirred as his eyes opened.
Soiree overcame his sleepiness when he realized that Alba was up. His face brightened with a wide smile until he too heard the footsteps coming closer. His expression stiffened as the younger boy turned to look at the door.
"Ah, they're both awake."
The boy, who opened the door entered the room first, making his way towards the bed. He judged the two boys with a Popeye like expression.
"They're pretty tough for being so thin."
"That's enough, Noel."
The boy, who looked to be the same age as Alba and Soiree, stepped aside as tall adult men entered.
"They're tough, alright. Only I wouldn't say that for people who got beat to a pulp, got a fever, and slept for several days."
His mirthful chuckle made him seem like he was an appealing character. He seemed to be a good person at a glance who had calm eyes. Though he looked to be in his thirties, his features held a mysterious charm to them. It was only his rough looking clothes and giant body with sturdy muscles that were easy to understand. He held a paper bag, which drifted a savory smell around the room. Soiree instinctively uttered a sound of interest from his throat, making Alba notice it as well.
"If you're awake, then get lost."
These harsh words were spoken by a man who stood by the "good intentions" person, shooting the boys a cold-hearted expression. The man lightly waved his long black hair away from his chiseled profile, revealing a face that women would find attractive and lovely. His shirt and accessories seemed to be a sad joke within the room, making the surroundings seem brutish by comparison.
"Should people in The Organization get any trouble from these brats, what am I going to do when something bad actually happens?"
With eyes that suggested they were diseased vermin, the "dandy" took a short glance at Alba and Soiree.
"It may not have meaning for you to save people, but think about your own status a bit. It isn't like how it used to be when you were a no-name punk."
"I got it, Chance. Just this once."
Uttering an exasperated sigh, the "dandy" Chance left a joking wink as the "good intentions" man set the paper bag on top of the nearby table.
"You two, you're hungry right? If you want, do wanna grab a bite?"
The "good intentions" man handed them a hot dog with one hand, but it took the boys a few moments to understand his words. The invitation of having free food to casually eat was unfamiliar to them. The "good intentions" man was the first one to give them such an offer. Alba couldn't find himself to answer, even when Soiree wistfully reached out his hand and quickly restrained it.
Alba knew how things worked in this town. People who don't have an underlying motive for their actions are nearly extinct in this town. These people must have some reason for saving them. Or so Alba thought.
Acting as though he was found out, Chance leaned against the wall and puffed a cigarette. Though he said his words hatefully, it probably was a misinterpretation of his real thoughts.
"These brats just can't seem to appreciate your words. ...They'll take a lot to take care of."
"Really? You don't actually think that, do you?"
Doubtful of his colleague's worries, the "good intentions" man removed the contents of the paper bag on the table one object at a time. A hot dog, hamburger, a matured red apple, mineral water, a chocolate bar... Not caring about their nutritional value and wanting to take a bite right away as they were arranged, Soiree gulped and moaned in his throat. Even Alba felt his restraint weaken at the sight, but he dared not to reach out his hand. After displaying the food for them, the "good intentions" man seemed a bit exasperated as he said,
"You two can't be content to just look but never eat. Come on, eat up."
"Hey, could it be that they can't understand what we're saying?"
Noel, the boy who entered the room first, leaned against the door as he spoke.
"Can't understand...? You mean... are you two illegal immigrants?"
Hearing the wild voice of the "good intentions" man made Alba bite and tighten his lips. Though he didn't want to voice his words and affirm it, at this rate, they could be taken to the police and put under investigation. The fact that they came to the country illegally had been put to light.
"Looks like you hit the bullseye."
Taking the apple from the table, Chance polished it on the cuff of his flashy shirt. He stared at Alba carefully and laughed.
"Well, at least the terribly messed up one seems to understand English. The other one has been acting unresponsive to our words, but I reckon he understands it too."
The man was sharp. Maybe not as much as the "good intentions" man, but the man named Chance seemingly had x-ray vision that betrayed his gambler image. Not knowing who these men were gripped Alba's throat and sealed his lips.
"At any rate, it's not poisoned."
He threw the spitting clean apple in front of Alba.
"Even if The Organization's lackeys have to lynch to get by, it's still a supposed to be a secret, yeah? You can see it in the town by looking, you can tell that they're the ones stealing and ripping people off in the stores. The kids who know the type of world we live in know that we're the Sanctions Rain and hear about what we do."
Knowing that he foresaw Alba's thoughts, Chance shrugged his shoulders and pointed to the "good intentions" man.
"My good man here keeps jabbering about it and can't shut up about it. We didn't save you to get any thanks or nothing, so just eat."
"Hey, Chance. You could have said it a little nicer. We've got injured here."
"You're just being too easy on them. They think you're shrewd. ...Especially that one."
"Is that right? They're still kids. No different than Noel here."
"Stop it, Fate! I ain't a kid anymore!"
"Your face gets red when you see the ladies at Emmanuel Street. You're still a brat."
"Chance! Don't take sides with him!"
As he gazed at the friendly argument in front of him, Alba handed Soiree the apple.
"Is... is it okay, Brother?"
"Yeah. Go ahead and eat."
Making sure the men wouldn't hear them, they spoke quietly to one another in German. As his brother ate, Alba kept staring at the men who didn't fit at all in Southtown, at the good man who hindered the annoyance around him.
Fate. It may not be his real name, but that was what his comrades called him.
As the poignant and sneering Chance had said, Fate was known to and fro as the gangster benefactor of the area. He had a strong sense of obligation and was an honest person who believed that there was no one who wasn't worth saving. This was something that Alba understood quickly.
It was true that this man, Fate, was a generous man who didn't suspect anyone. He had taken Alba and Soiree in without knowing who they were, letting them live in his apartment for their operations as their home, preparing food so that would never need to ask, and even gave them pocket money sometimes. This kindness wasn't kept to just the twins, but it was for others too. Fate also lavishly entertained yearning children who had no relatives, people who were handicapped, poor people, and the elderly who could not afford to work for themselves.
That's why he felt he could never leave this ragged apartment for a long, long time. When Alba expressed the irony to Chance, the older man nodded greatly with him.
"It's true, like you said. He's the bastard that every household in the slums accepts as their neighborhood nice guy. Even if he would have to sacrifice himself, he just wants to have one big happy "family". Especially the brats, he loves seeing their pleased faces."
Commonly said to be pure, down talked as an idiot. Fate was the type of man who didn't match at all with this town. Living in this town with that kind of thinking was just too naive.
On that day, Alba knew what type of place Southtown was and understood what was needed to live in these slums. Power. If not that, then at least cunning. If he didn't have either of these elements, he couldn't stand a chance in this town. And there was Fate, who didn't like to sacrifice himself for such a man. Alba just thought he was too weak. But at the same time, being weak mysteriously didn't become him.
Why was it too naive to think this way? Was it the idealists who didn't want to see reality or was it the level-headed attitude in the slums that called his gang the strongest?
The under elevated basket court was a playground for the nearby children. Boys with various color of the skin and ages shared cheerful laughter, running and chasing after the one ball they had. Soiree was in the group and, though he yelled something to them in English and blended with them, his appearance was mysterious and incompatible with the rest of them. Sitting on a casual pile of old tires, Alba watched the other boys from afar as he nursed the plastic cast on his right arm.
"What a shame. You can't play with them because of your arm's condition."
Turning to the jovial voice, he saw Fate and Chance walk down the stairs next to him.
"He's playing "mountain" already. But, time is more important right now. Until we can safely take off the cast, sit tight and take care of your health."
As if it were completely unrelated, Fate ignored mentioning the new cut on his face as he discarded his leather jacket and joined the rest of the boys in their game.
"...You should try mixing up with the other brats more often."
Chance murmured, trying to kill his gnawing boredom with a long yawn. Alba faced him and they stared straight into one another.
"...You guys went "out" again, didn't you?"
"Yeah. Our other "family" was slipping too much so we had to hang in there for some stupid reason again."
Chance lightly swung around his Grolsch and nodded.
Long ago, the only rule in Southtown was one by absolute power. A colossal underground empire built by an extraordinary American businessman, but Geese Howard had died several years ago. The fight for his successor hasn't reached its final conclusion. Both big and small organizations are confused by the chaos and the infinite, ghastly competition of washing one's blood in the another continues to this day. Therefore, it was easy to bribe the police for bail and the gangs were near impossible to control.
The mass media reports such incidents as an everyday occurrence, many residents in the town even fearing one another. The gang wars made the town unpopular, forcing the several residents to commute to the sister Second South, and the well meaning population mainly live there. But, the story of the town wasn't unheard of and was on a much bigger scale. The town's influence spread far beyond its boarders and continued to rot the country and the world. In fact, when Alba and Soiree first came to America, they have seen towns like it several times.
And that was why Alba grew up to have a distrusting mind not befitting boys of his age. The innocent Soiree didn't even have the slightest bit of ill will towards anyone. So, in his place -and to ensure that Soiree's brightness never faded- Alba thought he should always judge a person twice before accepting them and held suspicions of every other person aside from Soiree.
Rubbing his stubby chin, Chance continued sighing.
"The other night, I finally persuaded this really passionate and beautiful Latin girl to spend the night together with me. I was going after her and she put up with me for half a year. Half a year, half a year I tell ya. But then those idiots had to ruin everything by being all forceful and there was a fight with one of my partners. I have bad luck, I tell ya."
People only saw Chance as a man only concerned with beer, women, and gambling, but Alba thought of him a bit differently. It was due to this strong and reliable realist that the idealistic leader of "Sons of Fate" could even be called the greatest gang. Fate was the central force of positivity and charisma, which was what the poor people in the slums clamored to, but it was Chance who organized the group efficiently and brought them together. With Chance's cool-headed talent, they were able to become the eminent power they were now.
Fate probably couldn't have even handled the task when he first started the group, which was five maybe ten at most when it started. On the other hand, Chance's unpredictable calculations would have also made it impossible for people to keep following just him; sooner or later, he would have no one with him.
That's why "Sons of Fate" was Fate and Chance's group.
Habitually stroking his forelock of hair, Alba uttered.
"But you won the fight, I presume?"
"I don't mean to brag, but I never lose in a fight."
Seeing Chance smile at him, Alba looked away.
"...Still, Soiree's acting pretty good lately."
"Maybe he's just decided to have fun?"
Alba turned to Chance once more.
"Don't you have any plans to stay?"
Chance's smiling expression faded and Alba felt his heart speculating. He could often not tell what he was thinking under that smile of his, which was why he considered Chance a trickier opponent than Fate.
"...That's none of your business."
"A tough front as always."
With a spontaneous shrug of shoulders, Chance gave a wry smile.
"...Could it be that you still think we'll swindle you two and sell both of you somewhere?"
"Aren't you thinking too much? If we were the type of guys who do that, Noel would have been gone a long time ago. Unlike you distrusting brats, he was a lot easier to raise."
Alba had heard that Noel was older than the twins and was fifteen now. He was a little outspoken and a bit cowardly, but that allowed the strong and kind Fate to act like an older brother to him. At least that's what he heard, although Alba had suspected that the last part could have been a little mistaken.
Directing his eyes down to the hand in his cast, Alba spoke.
"If I thought that, then maybe we could relax our guard."
"When you're too cautious while heading towards a delusion, it's just a delusion."
Chance had uttered while looking up at the unclear sky. But his words had an inarticulate delivery to them that had Alba slip a small chuckle.
"Let's say that we are the villains you think us to be. Why would we trap brats like you two and pretend to comfort you? If we wanted to, we could've just taken you two by force and contained you two on a ship, right? You've got a good head on your shoulders, so there's no way that you couldn't have thought about that at least."
Alba had no trump card to play and he couldn't give a "yes or no" answer. Chance had already read through him and won the argument.
"What did Chance say?"
Fate headed over to Alba and voiced his concern. Since it was impossible for him to keep up with the tough teenagers, Fate used the neck of his jersey to wipe the sweat off his face. Chance had placed the Grolsch on top of the steel drum so Fate drank the remainder of the bottle to wet his parched throat. He gave out a big sigh after he gulped it down.
Observing the figure in front of him, Alba still couldn't see Fate as the leader of the strongest gang. The boy couldn't even fathom Fate with any bone of malice in his body. Wiping the froth of the beer with the back of his hand, Fate said,
"He doesn't mean to pick on you. He's just got a nasty mouth. He's really honest, even if he is blunt to everyone he meets. Well, it's because he's like that everyone misunderstands him. But still..."
Without looking at Fate, Alba answered curtly.
"I want to understand people like Chance. I don't mistake his intentions. ...Doesn't mean I like him though."
"Oh. Well... uh, that's fine."
For a moment, Fate had a confused expression but he reverted to his beaming common smile. There was a certain warmth to his smile that made the person who saw it feel relieved without reason, like the ray of sunshine in spring. Yet Alba couldn't stand that popular smile right now.
"Chance really buys into you. He's settling down at a weird age and starting to lose his temper more."
"That probably means that he's dealing with an uncute brat."
Biting his thumbnail, Alba clicked his tongue a little.
"Ah~ it would be nice if you could be more honest like Soiree, but you are you. You've got this nice looking face but then you're mulling over things too much."
"Shut up. Don't care about me. Just hurry up and leave."
In a tiny voice, Alba said this in German so Fate wouldn't understand him.
"Anyways, lighten up on the thinking and relax."
Venturing closer to Alba, Fate put a pondering hand on Alba's head. Alba didn't feel the need to brush it aside or move away from it, and thought he had the room to do neither.
"You are free here and you are also free to leave. But as long as you are here, I'll look after your burdens for you. It's because everyone who lives in these slums is my "family"".
Tapping his head gently, Fate returned to the game with Soiree and the others.
Leaving the business matters to Chance just so he could have time to play with games with the other kids in the slums. Alba threw away the image he had of Fate as a fairly comfortable leader.
"Look after my burdens... he said?"
Jumping down from the tire and slightly tidying his messy hair, Alba took the empty Grolsch bottle and threw it behind him.
"He can just say that so easily---"
The bottle that crashed into the brick wall of an old apartment scattered around vividly colored emerald fragments.
Ever since they were brought to this apartment, Alba and Soiree have been staying in this room. It was actually Fate's room, but he parked himself into another vacant spot so the twins could use his room to their liking.
"Brother, can you take off your cast yet?"
Soiree piped from sofa as Alba sat on the bed.
"Don't call me Brother."
Alba responded while overly patting his cast on his right arm.
"I've said this before, didn't I? When you call me that, it makes both of us look like brats."
"Sorry, it's an old habit... so I just..."
Shrinking away from his brother's light scolding, Soiree looked as though he was being punished.
Alba gazed at the wristwatch on top of the table.
"Huh? What are you saying, B... Bro."
"I'm taking it off. It should be fine now."
Peeling off the adhesive tape on his cheek, Alba stood and walked toward the window of the vacant lot. He raised his cast arm high in the air.
"Wha... What do you think you're doing, Brother?!"
"At the very least call me Bro."
Indifferent to his younger brother's distress, Alba smashed his right arm against the window frame. The gypsum splintered and a chunk of it shattered on the ground, bits of white smoke rising in the air.
"Are you sure it's okay for you to do that?!"
"No problem. If something happens, I predict that I can see that quack doctor somewhere around here."
With a huge crack now in the cast, Alba forcibly straightened his fingers out and peeled the constricting plaster off his right arm. He slowly tested the power of his right arm through his fingertips. Though his arm and fingers were slightly thinner than before, he felt no obstacles with moving. Hardly any pain at all. Confirming his observations, Alba walked to their coats on the wall and threw one to Soiree.
"... Let's go, Soiree."
"Go? But where will we go?"
"Anywhere is fine."
He felt a note inside his jumper's inner pocket. It was pocket money given to him from Fate.
"We can go anywhere. At least, I want to go any place but here."
"Wha... Hey, wait!"
Soiree stood from his spot, his voice concerned.
"Why, Brother? Can it be---"
"Don't call me Brother."
"Argh, never mind that now! Brother, are you still having doubts about Fate and his group? Fate and them's done all of this for us! Well, even if they're all in a gang---"
"...You sure are thinking a lot for Fate, Soiree."
Am I envious of Fate? Alba thought to himself. He was quietly shaken by his private criticism. The answer came quickly and it was clear. Admitting that he couldn't be completely invoked with that emotion, he reasoned that leaving now would erase any feelings of the sort that he held towards Fate.
"Yes, I know too."
That Fate and his gang were good men for the people.
"I understand that they aren't like other gangs. I've known that."
"Then why?! Why all of sudden want to leave---"
"Are you hating the idea of leaving here?"
"Hate is, well..."
His eyebrows dropping, Soiree's eyes lowered.
"...We've walked through lots of towns before, right?"
"During that time, we've seen a lot of bad things and we've been to a lot of places where we couldn't settle down and relax. We've seen a lot of places like that even when we came to America. Here, here it's, something about here... It's different than the others."
"I don't know either and I can't really say it very well... I guess it's the comfort it gives."
"This junkyard of a town?"
"Yeah. Sure, this town is one of the worst out there. But that isn't all. There's something else. It's like we can be with the people here, that it's okay if we lived here. That's how I feel."
It wasn't because of the town that he was thinking that. It's because that "benefactor" was here.
Bringing himself to comprehend Soiree's words, Alba let out a heavy sigh.
"---Even so, I'm still going."
Stunned by Soiree's expression, Alba felt a sharp stab in his chest. Yet he couldn't let go of his determination and couldn't change his mind. If I stay here, I won't be able to be myself. Facing such vague anxiety pained Alba further.
"...I get it, Brother."
Exaggerating a shrug with his shoulders, Soiree laughed clumsily.
"I go where ever Brother goes. That's what I decided ever since we escaped the orphanage."
"Is it okay?"
"Why shouldn't it be? I believe in Brother's judgment more than my own. If Brother's saying this much, then I should just say the same."
Like the blood stain that could never be washed away, Soiree started to put on his coat. But, compared to when they first arrived in this town, his face held a feeling of ambition never seen there before. Thinking that it was due to the town and Fate and his gang's influence, it was a complicated vibe for Alba.
Taking what little cash they had, the twins stealthily climbed out the apartment's window and headed to Second Street by foot. While it was the only exit to the outside world from this town, they had to hurry to find tickets and buy other essentials for their trip. There was a drugstore by the apartment, but too many people in the vicinity knew their faces and names.
Looking up on whim, Alba saw a starry night but it was eclipsed by the smoke, the stars twinkling weakly. Ever since their parents' death and their childhood in the orphanage, he and Soiree would look up at the stars together. He sensed that the sight was more beautiful than the one above him, yet it was hard for him to remember it now.
Alba snapped out of his meditation when Soiree quietly pulled on his sleeve. Vivid shadows were cast upon the colorful neon lights around them. Waiting for them several meters ahead were four or five young people in their twenties, chuckling as they frivolously laughed getting off a broken-down opencar.
He remembered them at first glanced. He couldn't forget even if he wanted to.
When Alba and Soiree first came to this town, they were unable to withstand their hunger and planned to offer to be "helping hands" at a drugstore. But they were discovered and couldn't escape when they were caught by those guys. Rather than taking the boys to the police, they were brought to the back alley and made to be their "sand bag substitutes". Chance had later told him that that drugstore had people with "The Organization" in it. Those punks were constituent members and when trouble is in the community, it's smart -or put it bluntly, easy- to say that it was their work.
Alba understood why people warned about having healthy looking bodies in the area. "The Organization" wanted to prove that they were above and beyond anyone there, including children. They would have continued beating them, even if they were unconscious, just to prove this to the other people in the slums.
The fear, disgrace, and pain from that night came rushing back. An anger threatened to overflow from his chest and burst out, making it difficult to suppress. As if he were representing Alba's feelings, Soiree balled his hands into fists and uttered.
"It makes me a little disgusted... Leaving this town with the way those guys are..."
Back then, they were starved and tired. The twins were confident they could beat anyone, even if they were older than them, as they had many times before. Those thugs were begging for any spec of talent and gave them a beating until they were half-dead. If they weren't ever going to return to this town and not get back at them, it was like waving the white flag. It certainly didn't feel too good.
Without saying anything, Alba took a glance at Soiree's face. Soiree scrubbed the tip of his nose with his thumb, laughing a bit. As if they were signaled to, Alba and Soiree broke into a sprint at the same time. When the punks noticed the sound of footsteps coming towards them, the twins simultaneously kicked their feet on the asphalt.
Putting all their weight into their speed, the twins smashed their feet smack dab in the middle of two punks' faces. In an instant, two men were down.
"Who are you---?!"
Startled from the sudden attack, the punks recognized they were the boys they beat half-dead the other day came back and the remaining ones were briefly astonished.
"Take this as your reward!"
Soiree, who was caught by the nape of his neck from one of the punks and was about to be attacked, shouted as he head-butt his assailant in the nose.
"Here you go!"
As the man backed away instinctively from the blow, Soiree turned and hit him with a twisting kick. Soiree didn't get any formal martial arts training, but he possessed a naturally gifted balance, and was able to kick in beautiful form in a way that no one else could copy.
"This stupid kid!"
"You say that when you aren't an adult yourself."
Alba calmly faced a tattooed skinhead wielding a knife. As the tip of the blade raced towards his chest, he quickly replaced his position.
Seeing the sideways blow coming towards him, Alba avoided it in a simple swaying of his feet and directed his blow to the man's ankle.
Holding his hand in front of the face of the man who tipped his balance, Alba threw him into the bonnet of the convertible to his heart's content. The car's polish sparkled for a moment before it became a defective article, ruined much like the man that was sent flying into it.
When he was searching for the remaining man, he heard the sound of several more men showing up from the shop.
"You little maggots!"
"I got it!"
Pushing aside the knocked out punks, Alba ran past them. They were able to beat those four since they were able to surprise them with their ambush and speed. This time, if they were surrounded, it could be disastrous and could lead to a repeat of last time. The gangsters couldn't reach them anymore if they got to the station in time. Imagining that there more enemies that they could handle, Alba and Soiree attempted to break past them without looking back.
As they came to a crossroads behind a trailer, someone finally caught hold of Alba's shoulder.
Without looking, he raised his right leg to hit behind him.
As his pursuer fainted from being hit in a "vital area", the boys booked down a right hook to their destination.
At that moment, pain shot through Alba's right arm.
Seeing that Alba had stopped in his movements, Soiree whipped back to his brother with wide eyes.
"I'm your opponent now, maggots!"
The punk that caught up to them kicked Soiree, sending the boy crashing into the telephone box at the corner. The sound of the glass breaking exploded in the downtown night. A middle-aged woman who happened to be in the place saw it, screamed and turned away from the street of the disturbance with uncanny swiftness.
Their surroundings were encircled by the punks, beating Alba and Soiree. He didn't know how many had came to beat on them. They suffered an endless amount of punches and kicks, and more still as the punks thrashed from everywhere. There were a lot of shops with "The Organization" in the area, and members came from all around them.
Enduring the crack of his bone, Alba flung himself at a man in front of him.
Because such a trouble became an everyday occurrence, people started the signal to part and wait from afar, watching Alba and Soiree's solitary struggle.
What cold-hearted adults. Or at least that's what shouldn't be thought. It's because it's a natural reaction. This wasn't a world where everyone alive likes to intervene on others' fight. In Alba's mind, he hated when people tried to half-heartedly live up to such a heroic fantasy by reaching out their hand only to pull it away. Rather than failing to live up to that image, it was better to not get involved from the start.
Standing back to back with Soiree, Alba subconsciously let this phrase slip.
We don't believe in anyone. We don't rely on anyone. We only have to believe and rely on ourselves. Any other person is just an outsider.
Biting back these words within himself, he hit the face of the man in front of him. In return, he pummeled him several times more. Somehow the more men Alba and Soiree beat, plenty came to replace them until it was too much for them to handle.
As the men surrounded the exhausted twins, their lungs were greedy for air. A man holding a knife too large to be considered for cutlery was suddenly thrown into a street light, blowing a bubble before he fainted.
It wasn't Alba who did it. It wasn't Soiree who did it.
"...So this is where you two were."
Naturally addressing them, he came towards the boys and the men encircling them were instantly divided. Looking like he had ran everywhere and with sweat beading all over him, his face told them that he was glad to see them.
"It's... it's Fate----"
Someone within the circle of punks identified the man and their faces became blank with surprise. Seeing the unfitting smile on his face unsettled them, some uttering a mummer of awe. As Fate began to look more pleased with his reunion with the twins, his entire face struck fear in the punks.
Unknowingly, Alba had voiced his name. He sighed with relief though he felt conflicted once he became aware of it. As he began to become rejuvenated, it confused him.
Why do I see this fool's smile and feel calm for no reason?
As he wrestled with the "it can't be" and "there's no way it can be" and tried to shake them out with a fierce denial, a single punk was unable to stand the silence and gushed forth.
"Who cares, get 'em! If we get rid of 'em, we can rule the streets!"
"I dare ya to come here----"
Toughening themselves up, the punks began to move. The fear of the strongest man in the slums faded as they unanimously shouted their insults. Three of them charged towards the trio.
"It's all right."
Seeing the twins resuming their stance, Fate assured them.
"I'm here with you two now. It's all right."
On what grounds did Fate have to say those words? Alba had wisely listened to his words and had already formulated an answer. Fate looked no different than the neighborhood nice guy, but there had to be a reason why he was called the strongest in the slums.
"I said that I would look after your burdens, didn't I?"
Within the same instant, the people who were coming towards them were suddenly sprawled on the ground and crawling away; Fate merely shook his fist lightly and winked at the twins. As the men on the ground had received countless amounts of blows from Fate's mighty fist, the men who watched felt their spirits drained. Of course, Alba and Soiree were just as speechless.
"Whatever you two think, you're my "family" now. Once I make a promise, I never break it. I'm just a simple guy who only has the talent to fight after all."
Fate turned and began to hit the other men around them. Even if he was the strongest and boldly jumped into the fray bare-handed with no hesitation and with no means of knowing his enemies numbers, the boys spared time for a verbal chat with one another about the promise that was shared.
".....He's really an idiot."
"Even if he's an older adult."
As the boys murmured these lines, Soiree couldn't contain the laughter bubbling from within him and Alba even spared an enjoyable smile. Laughing like his younger brother would have looked unbecoming on his face. Scratching his forelock of hair lightly, Alba then clasped his right fist.
"If we're beside that man, we can become an idiot and a dupe together."
So saying, Alba and Soiree ran forward.
Later, Chance came driving up in his beloved car and the four of them fought off the punks together. Either half of them ran away or half of them were knocked out during that time.
"...The hell... There's the brats we have and then we've got you!"
Tightening his grip on the steering wheel, Chance had tried to bite back his anger, but he finally slipped and let loose.
"You're the damn leader of "Sons of Fate", right? Then think more about what you're getting yourself into!"
He was reproving Fate's recklessness for fighting "The Organization" and making himself a marked enemy to save the twins. Since Fate's large frame couldn't fit the narrow seats, he took the back seat himself. He laughed like it was a bad joke and smiled timidly.
"I believed that you would come to save me like always. You were worried about Alba and Soiree too, right?"
"Shut up! You just shut the hell up, idiot!"
Chance turned up the volume of his car radio and took a sharp turn on the wheel.
It was close to dawn. The four of them rode in a white Corvette heading towards Southtown Port. Sucking in the early breeze of daybreak, Alba murmured.
"If I believe in others, my heart will depend on people and I'll become weak."
Not directing these words to anyone, he inadvertently spoke his thoughts.
"If I become weak, I can't protect Soiree. So I don't believe in anyone."
If I don't believe in them, they can't betray me. If I think that someone is a traitor from the first meeting, then even if they catch me off guard, I won't feel like I've been betrayed. That's why Alba has never trusted anyone except for Soiree. In Europe or when they first arrived in America.
"Are you scared of being betrayed by someone?"
Fate had questioned him so Alba gradually looked at his face. Soiree was in the passenger's seat and he noisily sang to the pop songs on the radio until he unexpectedly dozed off. He must have been tired since they had fought well past midnight.
Alba crossed over his seat to verify his brother's sleeping face, nodding quietly.
"We've been betrayed by so many people. So many of them had looked at us like we were dead. Rather than to taste the feeling again, it's easier just to not believe in people. ...But Soiree would never betray me. I would never betray Soiree. I thought that was enough."
"What elegant brotherly love -is what I want to say, but aren't you ten years too early to be abandoning the world like that?"
Chance lightly chuckled at Alba's confession.
"Because my partner doesn't betray me, I believe in them. That's an arrogant way of thinking, Alba. When you believe in somebody, you don't expect a guaranteed payback. Who cares if they betray. It's more important that they have people who believe in them from the bottom of their hearts."
"...I never expected to hear a line like that from the realist. I thought you were the one who trusted no one."
"That was one of those pick-ups that Chance uses to persuade women."
Brushing a hand through his hair as his sweat dried, Fate laughed.
"Even if you betray me, the love I feel for you won't change. Or something like, it's one you use a lot, right?"
"Trying to make him believe in others is just another way to saying he needs to fall in love with others. It doesn't matter if they're a man or a woman. ...Am I wrong?"
"Well, it's similar at least."
"I may look like I don't rely on anyone, but that's just a misunderstanding. I can tolerate this guy on an everyday basis, but I have high expectations on who I'll trust. ...I think you're like me in that sense, Alba."
Looking and talking at Alba with the back mirror, he pointed over his shoulder to Fate sitting behind him.
"On the other hand, our Mr. Leader's standards are way too low. He trusts anyone and everyone way too easily, falling into so many traps and staring death in the face too many times. Then he doesn't learn a bloody thing from his experiences and just keeps going. If he didn't care about being ran out on, he wouldn't have taken you brothers in. He keeps getting cheated by the women too."
"Well, to get back on track, it just means that my love is deeper than your's, right?"
"It's not deeper, you're just too forgiving. But then again, having a stupidly humane gang serve under you might be one of your good points."
Shifting his shoulders, Chance laughed. Chance probably believed in Fate from the bottom of heart and Fate probably considered Chance the person he believed in the most. Seeing the two of together made Alba finally loosen his jaw.
They were really stupid but good grown-ups.
"What's so funny, Alba?"
Fate asked once he became aware of the boy's face.
"Nothing... it's just that I'm actually a little afraid to trust someone who can be fooled so easily."
"But, somehow pairing you with the distrustful Chance makes a happy balance for me."
"Is that supposed to be praise?"
"It's not. It's just the simple truth."
"You're still not cute."
"Hearing you say that makes me thankful."
As the light of the day began to rise, Alba narrowed his eyes.
"I was thinking that I want to someday become the one person in this town that no one here will look down on."
That was Alba's goal as he decided to live here with Soiree.
Alba and Soiree
He quietly observed the two animals at his feet. The two cats drank their milk busily, a damp lip-lap of their tongues resounding throughout the room. Each wore a collar with a silver accessory, one being a spade and the other a diamond. Both of the silver charms were handmade by Soiree. On that night when town was marked red with a fire, these cats were found by him and were brought to their home. Soiree had made them their collars, but he still didn't name them.
It was three days since Alba had last seen Soiree.
"...I can't take it."
Leaning against the wall whilst watching the cats, Alba Meira took his sunglasses off the table and started to head out of the room.
Just as Alba was hurrying his exit, he almost ran into Noel in the creaking corridor. He composed himself to a stop.
"What's wrong, Noel?"
"Ah, er, well... it's nothing really but..."
Scratching the tip of his nose, Noel eluded his gaze. He looked as though he were embarrassed to be there, his mouth seeming to search for the proper words to say. Alba put on his sunglasses and closed the door behind him.
"I'm going out for a bit."
"What? But it's night already!"
"Noel, I am not a child. It's natural to want to see the town at night from time to time."
"N-No, I didn't mean it like that... It's, um, I was thinking... what are you planning to do at this time of day?"
Managing to spit out these simple words, Alba sighed as he couldn't answer the question given to him. He began to walk away.
"---I'll be back by dawn. The cats had plenty of milk so if they get noisy, put them outside."
Hearing Noel's dispirited voice behind him, he opened the door leading to the rust covered stairs and headed out. The essence of Southtown's air, mingled with the exhaust of vehicle emissions, put Alba's mind in a haze.
Three days have passed. It was barely three days after the finals of the King of Fighters tournament. Alba remembered fighting a strange man named Jivatma and prevailing as the victor. But, what happened after that, he can't clearly recall. Even at that moment, he only saw everything as though it were a flashback on a screen. The crumbling mosque, a vivid starry night sky, and a pale butterfly that reminded him of a woman's face. As for what exactly happened there, he couldn't clearly think about or explain it.
Alba only realized one unmovable, undeniable fact from it all. Some time during the fight, Soiree had disappeared.
The woman who seemed to hold the truth behind all of his questions appeared before him once, but she vanished as though she were a fading illusion. He hadn't met her since. Wandering through the town at night -searching for that woman or simply because he ended up that way- even Alba didn't know why or where he was going. Only feeling the confusion and remorse boil inside him, it was impossible for him to look upon the lively yet indecent town with the same zeal he once had.
It was only three days, but this town's "King" felt a gapping hole in his chest and felt an expanding and longer gnaw of time within him.
As he stared at his feet moving him forward, Alba heard a familiar foreign rhythm float into his ears. He looked up. He was close to Delta Park, the blazing downtown neon lights stimulating his retina. He knew he wasn't in "Sons of Fate" territory anymore. However, he knew that it wasn't the turf for any other organization. Even in this town filled with gangs and the mafia littering and claiming whatever they came across, there were still air pockets free from their influences. Places untouched like this area.
This Pao Pao Cafe was the "fighters' social spot", the spot where fighters could come every night and not be bothered by any organization. An organization trying to lay a single hand on this place was like asking for a fight with every fighter in the city.
Stopping there as he gazed up at the all too happy neon sign, Alba adjusted his sunglasses and entered. As soon as the door slided open, all the sounds from the berimbau, pandeiro, and caxixí rushed toward him, a river of sounds and beats. Then, as the people on the floor came to greet Alba, they acted a little surprised to see him.
Alba would never be able to understand how he became something of a celebrity in this town. He could only gauge from their glances their curiosity and wonder, as if they were doubting what they saw before them. At least in this store, everyone knew who Alba Meira was and the man who carried that name.
The inside of the store was built to have an open ceiling, making it possible to see the entire store from the terraced second floor. Alba searched for an empty seat on the second floor, ignoring the gazes and whispers, and sat by himself at a table.
"---Good evening, Hell Alba Meira. Will you be alone tonight?"
In no time at all, a man with dreadlocks for hair came to him with a menu. The man wore a spotless white shirt and black slacks, cutting a clear-cut bartender image. The fine, delicate bowtie did its best, but it couldn't completely conceal the hard toned body of training that hid underneath the gentle image. Alba thought that his manners were very calm, a little too much for his liking, as he accepted the menu. Perhaps this man was just like this with everyone.
"...Am I truly that famous?"
"I can't say for myself if that's true."
The man adjusted the small, round silver tray a bit to his side. He looked down at the floor below and chuckled a little.
"---I've been working at this place for awhile and that's just what the people say."
"I see... Apparently I just made myself the unwanted guest in this place."
"No, please don't be offended. They must think that you being here is unusual. They may have not expected this city's "King" to come to this place himself."
He also said his own surprise before jotting down an order. Even with the presence of the "great" Alba Meira, the store resumed its normal atmosphere and drowned with the other customers' chatter. The African religious sounding music rang throughout the area, uplifting the hearts of all that heard it. On the stage area were people prancing with Capoeira steps. They must have been the staff in the store.
But, if Soiree were there, he would have danced with steps that outclassed any other and would have bathed in the applause of the entire store.
Alba pictured the scene and smiled. It was a weak, small grin that leaked without him realizing, but it was able to faintly appear on his features.
"----Hey, Hell Meira."
Not bothering to meet with the gaze of the voice, a man he remembered seeing before came near with a tray.
"It's not "Master" Mestre. I'm visiting today. My store's still being renovated."
"Then why are you imitating the boy?"
"Hey, I just heard that you'd be coming here."
Richard Meyer, the owner of the first Pao Pao Cafe and one of the martial artists in Southtown known by name. Hoping to show off Capoeira from his homeland and abroad, he was an experienced capoeirista who opened the store at the same time to teach young fighters his techniques. Richard walked closer to Alba's table, unloading a dish with a pile of churrasco and a drink within a Caipirinha glass.
"I thought I ordered a Diebels."
"Since you personally came to the store, I'd appreciate it if you tried the caipirinha at least once. I always use the highest quality cachaça for each caipirinha I make... Or does it prove to be too much hard alcohol for you?"
"Not weak with my liquor... but it is true that I don't take hard drinks too often."
As Richard recommended, Alba brought the lime colored glass to his lips. Caipirinha was a cocktail that consisted of raw sugarcane distilled in liquor, spritzed with sugar and the skin and juices from limes. Alba gulped a portion of it in his mouth, and was startled by the initial sweetness. Then a bitter pucker came to his lips from the sour and bitter taste. It was a completely different experience from his usual Diebels, one that he hasn't tasted before.
This would be something that Soiree would be into, Alba thought. Again, he smiled, if only a little, at the thought.
"I'm in the middle of renewing the place right now, but do you think you could come by the first store sometime? Maybe you could come together with your friends next time."
"I suppose, but wouldn't that cause problems with you?"
"If you are okay with it, then I'm okay."
Adding some spice to a churrasco, Richard took a bite out of it as he laughed.
"---Doesn't matter if you're in a gang or not. If you walk into one of my stores, I won't discriminate amongst my guests. You're the type of man who doesn't cross others, right?"
"I try to be sensible, but I have my share of enemies all the same."
"Enemies, huh... Seems tough to always carry the title of "King"."
Shifting his posture, as if someone were watching them, Richard changed his countenance entirely.
"This maybe old news, but have you noticed that these enemies of yours are becoming more lively day by day?"
Alba couldn't answer and his gaze dropped to the floor.
"Actually, today I went to Central Market and met that girl. You know the one I'm talking about, the hyper one who wears bells all the time."
"Basically, Chinatown has gangsters who don't want to get involved. They are always pushing for neutrality. ...So, wouldn't it benefit you to go meet them in private and make ties with them?"
Long ago, when Fate was still alive, the man spoke in his favor and Alba had learned Chinese boxing from the elders in Chinatown. Their time together was not long, but he would never forget the depth of obligation he held for them.
"Even if they can't openly support you in public, they're still worried about you. That girl told me that there's another group on the move to try to become the new "King" in town."
"...Because Soiree's not around."
Pushing his sunglasses aside, Alba uttered these words with a strangled sigh.
"The "King" without his younger brother can't do anything. They must have noticed that by now."
"...What was that?"
Richard suspiciously asked once more.
"What happened to your brother?"
Alba fogged the caipirinha glass with a hot sigh. The strong alcohol from the south had loosened his tongue and made him a tad more talkative than usual.
"I have always -even before we came to this town- fought to protect Soiree. Ever since I have known him and grown attached to him, I would do anything just to defend him."
The lime slice slipped within the tall glass. It fell into the melting ice and rang an awfully loud sound at the table.
"I never wanted to involve Soiree.... But, every time he entrusted me with a decision, somewhere along the way, Soiree became something that I always had to take care of."
Alba sat shallowly on the rattan chair and slowly crossed his legs. His gaze went far beyond the view of his sunglasses.
"But funnily enough, the truth is just the opposite. ---Soiree wasn't the one who needed me; I'm the one who needs him. From the moment he disappeared, I finally realized that for the first time."
Up until then, Alba had always thought Soiree was a child. Yet Soiree was a man capable of thinking for himself, without Alba beside him.
"I'm no good dealing with this complicated stuff, so you decide, Bro."
---Even if he asked Alba, Soiree had actually chose to enter the King of Fighters tournament -one before and the one that happened- by himself. On his own free will, to deal with his own problems with his own strength. Alba didn't realize that Soiree had grown into a man empowered with a strong conviction of his own. Perhaps, he knew deep down that there was only so much he could do while protecting Soiree. Maybe he dared to avert his eyes from what was happening before him.
Whatever he thought before, Alba had to face the truth now.
"...I'm the one who can't do anything without Soiree."
The fist on Alba's knee trembled.
"My comrades all think that I'm a calm and clear-headed man who makes decisions, but I'm nothing like that at all. For my team, for my friends ---I may look like that for them. But it's because I had Soiree with me that I could face any danger with my head held high. The reason I'm on the "King"'s throne was because Soiree had wanted it for me, more than anyone. ...That's all it was."
"That's very masochistic of you."
Richard, who was silent through Alba's monologue, pushed aside the empty glass and heaved a long sigh.
"---Is there anything wrong with that?"
Alba raised his eyes to look at Richard's face.
"I'm a Brazilian who wanted to make Capoeira known to the world by coming to this town. That doesn't mean that I came here just for my love for Capoeira. I fought not only for myself, but also for the sake of my lovely wife. I'd never look down on someone who is devoted to fighting for another. Rather, I think it's proper manners to respect it."
"And yet----But I, I couldn't protect Soiree----!"
Regretfully, Alba's fist hit the table. It wasn't the powerful man called "King" who made the blow; the empty glass was barely shaken from the impact. Richard's chair creaked as he doubtfully tilted his head at the theatrical action.
"I lost midway through the tournament, so I have no idea what you're talking about. ...When you said he was taken away from you, you make it sound like he's dead. Is he?"
As he saw Alba's lips clam up, Richard knew he had shocked him.
"Please forgive me for questioning rudely. I'm not just asking to satisfy my curiosity. So, are you feeling regret for not being able to prevent Soiree's death? Is that drink there for the one your brother can't have?"
Alba then showed signs of breathing, gently shaking his head quietly.
"Soiree isn't dead yet."
He had no proof, but Alba knew. If Soiree had lost his life, no matter where he was, Alba felt that he would know. Without any parents or any other siblings, the bond he had with his one brother hadn't been cut off. Soiree isn't dead yet. Soiree is still alive somewhere. Then ---what should he be doing?
Sucking in a long breath, Alba adjusted both of his fists on the table. The truth of Soiree's disappearance that had once leaned so heavily on his shoulders was pierced by the eyes of one who knew what to do; it lowered itself far underneath Alba's feet. But, that sensation lasted for just a moment. Now, Alba's gaze had regained its shine and looked at the distant wantings of his desires.
"...It seems I was a little confused."
Alba had uttered these words in his usual, unchanging tone of indifference.
"Yes.... Soiree isn't dead yet. He hasn't died yet. He's just missing."
"Then this isn't the time for you to be here with this cheap drink, is it?"
Richard had meant to wink, but he had to address his attention back to a man's dissatisfied voice.
"Hey, wait a second. Cut me some slack, Richard."
Bob had came near the two with a wry smile, placing a tumbler filled with cold water in front of Alba.
"Couldn't you have said that better? What was that supposed to mean?"
"Don't get too rowdy, Bob. I just meant that he didn't have the time to mull over a sad, dark drink."
"Yeah... I guess you're right. This is a good place for it."
Without them noticing, the Capoeira show had ended and the other eye of the shop would open --the time when the brawlers would take part in their intensive fights was about to begin. During that time, the floor would be tightly packed with people, no margin of room would be available.
"----Come with Soiree next time. He'd be happy."
Staring down at the growing tension he felt on the floor below, Alba drank the water he was given in one gulp.
"Today is all on me, señor."
"My apologies. ...I made you listen to a weird story."
"Nah, I don't mind. I'm used to hearing young people grumbling about their lives."
Richard shrugged his shoulders with a light tug and winked.
"Dear customer, your youth may seem like your weak spot right now, but there's nothing wrong with saying your say about whatever is bothering you. ....You don't have to blame everything and anything on yourself. You're being too mature, dear customer."
"Thank you. I'll remember that."
As Alba was about to go down to the first floor, he was stopped by Bob's hushed voice.
"I saw a suspicious looking group walk out of the store just now. I can't tell for sure, but maybe---"
With Soiree gone and Alba without the arm to support him, it must have been the group who aimed to take the title "King" for themselves. It may have been sometime since he last fought, but Alba couldn't help the small smile at their foolish attempt to underestimate him.
"...Did the drink wake you up enough? Do you need any help?"
"No, it might be a burden for you if you were to cause trouble with any gang."
Answering Richard with a tingling sense of excitement, Alba adjusted the leather straps of his gloves.
"I alone will suffice. ---I'm in the mood for some good mental rehab."
"Well, at least leave from the back door. ...They most likely have their eyes set at that entrance already, but it'll be a better chance for you to not cause a mess near us."
"Indeed. I don't want any trouble to leak to this place."
Quickly saying his thanks to Richard and Bob, Alba left from the cafe's rear entrance.
The smog clouded in what-would-have-been a beautiful starlit sky. His huffs were mixed with the slight scent of alcohol.
"If Soiree were here, he'd be excited by this."
Alba hurried onwards into a gloomy alley as he felt countless stares piercing his back. He may have had a taste for alcohol, but it would no way weaken him to a drunken stupor. As he regulated his breathing during his sprint, the caipirinha's influence receded.
"--Wait right there."
They were faraway from the noise of downtown at a basketball court underneath a viaduct. The shadows of several men quickly surrounded Alba. Pao Pao Cafe would've really had its share of enemies if Alba hadn't lured them away from it.
"Are you Alba Meira?"
Someone in the group of men had spoken to him.
"And if I am?"
Alba eyed and counted the men who surrounded him, in spite of the dark lighting and his sunglasses. He was honestly disappointed; they were too few. Alba would've liked a few more for a proper beating. Escape was no longer an option, at any rate, since his name had been thrown into the open. If he tried to leave without notice, he would be inviting the men to attack his unguarded back.
"If you lot were to take the title, "King", this city would really be done for."
With a pleased expression, Alba moved. His enemies were stupefied to face the genuine article, eying one another as if to trigger a silent signal. The stalled men were sluggish to comply, yet they suddenly descended upon Alba as swift as the wind. Not bothering to hide his agitation for them, Alba slammed his fist into one of the men jumping towards him.
The man suffered a punch to his torso and was sent flying back into one of his comrades. Alba wasn't done with them as he used the momentum to turn his body for a spinning kick.
Alba felt the shock of his enemy's broken bones through his leg and through the heel of his boot. His victim groaned as a tooth flew and blood spluttered from his face. Everyone was speechless until the man silently crumpled to the ground in a miserable heap.
Fists from every direction flew towards Alba, but not a single one had connected. Alba had long predicted them and evaded. Ever since he was a member of Sons of Fate, which also had its fair share of enemies, he was accustomed to fighting groups simultaneously by himself.
If a lone fighter were to lose his footing against such a large group, he was good as dead. It would be impossible for him to move and the trampling from his foes would overwhelm him easily, regardless of the lone fighter's skill or abilities. Alba knew this more than anyone. His large physique ironically made him a liability in this situation, as even a single minor wound could be fatal.
That's why Alba kept moving about and fought the trifling numbers by methodically defeating his foes one by one.
Around the time that his enemy numbers were halved, Alba spotted a familiar face hopping over the rusted fence around the court.
"Is that you Noel?"
"Damn it, you said you were just going for a walk! You gotta stop doing this, Alba!"
With a voice that could raise hell, Noel came bursting through the men with a bright smile on his face. Even Dude, who is often hard to understand since he rarely talked, had a smile on his lips. The two men must've been worried about Alba being out too late and were probably looking high and low for him everywhere.
The duo were the only ones beside him, but, for Alba, they were all that he needed.
"Really? You're fine just letting them go?"
Noel looked dejected as the wounded group licked their wounds and carried their companions away.
"No need to pursue those who lost the will to fight."
After he adjusted his polished sunglasses to their proper spot, Alba shrugged his shoulders.
"Let's say that we did do as you propose. We beat them beyond recognition. Their comrades would then want to retaliate by coming at us to avenge them. I would rather refrain from causing needless bloodshed."
"I get that much, but they're already out for blood, right? We don't know who they are or what group they're from, and, if we don't cut 'em down now, they might think we're looking down on them. The same thing might happen with another group or this group, and you're saying we should be okay with it?"
"They couldn't withstand just the three of us. We've done enough damage to them."
If a third party were asked to state who were the assailants and the victims, they would be hard pressed to identity which side was which. Alba and his friends were untouched –except for their most wounded, Noel, who had a blue bruise hovering around his eye. The group of men were covered in bruises as they painfully dragged themselves away. It was hard to spot the ones whom didn't have broken bones.
"The ones who attacked me aren't even thinking of avenging themselves. Once the other groups against us knows this, they'll quiet down for a time. This is all we need to do for now."
"Oh, so now I'm the one who's out of the loop."
"Don't say that, Noel. Come on, let's go home."
Alba pounded the complaining Noel's shoulder as he walked forward. Noel was still pouting about his new bruise.
Before he had realized it, the eastern sky was brightening and the remnants of the night sky washed away. Pockets of the night tucked away in the corners of the town were bathed away by the splendor. People who roughed up the night returned to their slumber, and the short transition to day was one of the precious moments of silence for Southtown. Noel had walked behind Dude and Alba a few steps, their long shadows stretching across the asphalt. He finally spoke up,
"Not like I'm in the position to say you can't be selfish though."
"What do you mean?"
"Soiree's whereabouts. I'm having the younger guys look for him."
Alba bowed his head a little.
"I'm sorry. We've caused you unnecessary hardship."
"Hey, don't apologize like that."
Trying to hide his embarrassment, Noel lightly nudged Alba's back.
"Both you and Soiree, you two guys are the heart and soul of Sons of Fate. Everybody in the group and the two of us here thinks that. So, don't blame it all on yourself. I ain't perfect and everything, but you, you're pretty awkward sometimes."
"Right... I forgot I had comrades I can trust."
Alba lowered his sunglasses and sighed.
Even if they were to look in this town –in Second Southtown or Glasshill Valley– Soiree wouldn't be found. Noel could have thousands of guys searching for him, but they would never succeed. That's what Alba thought to himself.
But that wasn't going to make him give up on his brother.
On his shoulder was the wing of the devil. Soiree had on his opposite shoulder the wing of the angel. If the two were to be parted, the twins would never fly.
"---I will claim my missing wing."
"What was that?"
"Nothing... That reminds me, how are Friedrich and Wolfgang doing?"
Noel and Dude gave each other questionable looks after hearing Alba's question.
"Friedrich and Wolfgang. The cats I adopted."
"Oh, those two. Yeah, they're probably sleeping with Anne right now. But wasn't their names Uno and Dos? Gallagher called them that."
"Don't call them such crude names without telling the owner."
Alba's hand familiarly glazed over the handrails of the stairway leading to their apartment. He sternly corrected them.
"Friedrich is the one wearing the spade on his collar. Wolfgang is the one with the diamond. I'd appreciate it if you two honored their dignity."
"Aw, come on! Cats can't understand something like. And what's with those names?! They're so hard to remember!"
"How about Nietzsche and Gothe? I like those names better."
A cool voice had calmly interrupted their conversation. Alba and his men turned to look behind them in almost perfect unison.
"It's been awhile, Alba Meira."
Highlighted by the dawn's rays, a beautiful woman with a butterfly hairpin stood as though she illuminated the entire slums. She was grounded and had a shadow like any other person, but there was still something mysterious about her.
"Hey, Alba! Isn't she-?"
"Yeah, I know."
He quieted Noel's loud outburst with a hushed voice. Alba addressed their guest.
"I searched for you, Fraulein Meyrink."
"Luise is fine."
The cool gaze she gave hadn't change from their first meeting. Before he was too fierce and demanding with Soiree gone. He was uncharacteristically panicked. Even if she spoke the truth, she must have thought Alba was in no condition to accept it then. Luise had left him suddenly and had only shown herself to him now.
Staring at him for a time, Luise brushed her silver hair and smiled.
"It looks like you cooled your head."
Alba deeply inhaled and exhaled, nodding his head.
"I think I can listen to you now within reason. Would you be willing to chat with me?"
"Of course. That's why I'm here now."
Confirming Luise's affirmative reply, Alba turned to Noel and Dude and towards the sleeping inhabitants of the apartment above him.
"Go on ahead. I need to talk to her."
"It's too early to rouse our unhealthy gang from their sleep. Don't say anything to anyone."
"... Okay, boss."
"I'll be back by noon. I'll treat everyone to lunch."
He patted their two shoulders before he walked past them. The burning rising sun pierced his eyes through his sunglasses.
Somewhere, he thought he heard two cats mew, wishing him a safe departure.
KOF Maximum Impact Regulation "A"
The following translation is for the story printed in the booklet of the game's official soundtrack.
A noise reverberated nearby. It pierced through the fog of the sullen night, rousing the stray dogs to attention as though one of their own called them. Whether it was the horn of freighter ship or the howl of a dog was indeterminable, yet it echoed within the quiet darkness enveloping the midnight scenery of Southtown Port. Turning his back to the tips of the nearby shopping district, he was quite sure he had left the men behind him barely clinging to life.
So what else was out there?
People often fought for their own ideals, and those men likely held something dear to them when they faced him. Yet the man walking with the eclipsed circle on his back could care less. His only concern was leaving the fog which surrounded him, searching for the one clear exit. He was hardly dazed by the violence he experienced.
Then, he heard it. He directed his attentions to a container nearby, visible through the fog. A young man in Western fashion waited atop of it, his portable audio player booming a lively tune in his ears. The youth was listening to his music until he noticed the man. He spoke to the one below in a small voice,
"Yo, I was waiting for you."
He glared at the youth speaking to him. His shadow concealed his face along the concrete, and his calm killing intent had frightened the stray dogs away. But the youth met the man's gaze head on. He plucked the headphones out of his ears and hopped down from the container.
"Care to join me for a dance, Mister Yagami?"
The jocular youth winked at him. The man didn't bother with a reply, already removing his fists from the pockets of his red pants.
• • • • •
Atop a tall red skyscraper which seemed to defy the aging of time and next to the cycling movie of the building's digital billboard was the shadow of a woman. She stood atop a mechanical crane stretched from the construction which loomed down below. The height would have been a dizzying horror for most people, but her composure was calm and erringly natural. With her ornate butterfly hairpin clipped in her hair, Luise Meyrink looked below as though she could see all of Southtown.
Luise turned to the voice, as though it had flown to her from the rooftops.
"It's a good night for excitement, miss."
She saw a young man --or a boy to be precise-- dressed in a red leather body suit. A smile was sketched across his tricky face.
• • • • •
The attack stung like a serpent's bite and sent Soiree Meira's body flying backwards. His back smashed against a chain-link fence in his path.
"Don't interfere with my quarrel with him."
Blue flames circled around his right hand and united into a fist-like shape; Iori Yagami extinguished them without blinking.
"Unless you want to die."
"See, it's like this... We're not interested in your guys' fight, and we didn't want to butt in."
Soiree used his body strength to hop back to his feet, rotating his shoulders and neck back into place with a smirk. He didn't appear to be too hurt.
"If that's all you're here for, then why do you even bother with KOF, huh? You guys can settle your grudge anywhere else without all of the fuss, can't you?"
"... It's a pathetic farce."
Iori hissed the remark from his breath, his lips grimacing.
"Yet, if it remains the shortest path leading to him, it serves my purpose."
"So it's all a show to you. ...But we're still the big shots living in this city! It may look like a big act, but it ain't that petty to us!"
Soiree bounced back into his fighting pose and glared at Iori. The intricate rhythm of his self-taught Capoeira footwork shone through. The cheerful Soiree moved like a genius of the art. His legs were no longer warmed up for harmless street performances; they were deadly weapons.
"Iori Yagami--- Us brothers couldn't hope for any other prey to raise our rep. I've got nothing against you, but I'm gonna take you down!"
"Hmph... You won't obtain fame from me, just a futile death by my hands. Deluded fool."
Facing the brunt of Soiree's dynamic twelve kicks, Iori's cursed flames struck back.
• • • • •
The abandoned parking outlet was the stage for the clash of two ambitious contenders. Passing headlights kept giving and taking the light away from the area, but the faces of the fighters within were undeniable.
Alba Meira and Kyo Kusanagi.
"I'm not in the mood for games. Do you want to get burned that badly?"
Crimson flames surrounded his figure. In the heavy fog around them, it looked as though a boat of flames had manifested into the mortal realm.
"Burn, and be reduced to ash... Fine, if that's what you desire."
The sunglasses on his unreadable face opposed the red heat of the flames. Alba uncrossed his arms and methodically readied his defenses. Kyo was the first one to move. Kicking off the asphalt at the chime of an imaginary signal, he rushed towards Alba's opening. As though he were empowered with the life of war, Kyo came crashing towards him with a kick.
Alba had predicted Kyo's attack and dodged at the last second. He used the momentum against Kyo to flip him off his feet, smashing his fist onto his downed opponent.
Feeling the force of the counter, Kyo counterattacked with a flame powered fist.
Alba narrowly evaded the fist and immediately distanced himself. A section of his glove was seared away, puckered black by the ash around it.
"...The rumors hardly do you justice."
"Could say the same about you. I thought the gangs around here were nothing but chumps."
Facing Alba's pokerface once more, Kyo readied his guard. Alba adjusted his sunglasses and smiled.
"Why would a gang be in KOF--- is that what you're thinking?"
"Maybe a little."
"It might be pointless explaining it to you... But it's because we're a gang."
"This town is locked in an endless power struggle between numerous gangs. If I'm going to unite those who remain divided and prevent them from repeating their disputes, I need proof of my power. One which can't be disputed and can be easily understood by everyone in this city. For instance--- winning KOF as its champion should suffice."
"So that's your reason for entering? Pretty messed up."
"I care not if you mock me. You won't win against me."
Alba moved. He instantly closed the gap between them, slamming his fist straight into Kyo's torso for a heavy blow.
"That's... my line!"
Even as he guarded the attack, Kyo flew back into a wagon from the nearby scrapheap. The smile had vanished from his lips as he barked,
"I'll burn you alive!"
• • • • •
The boy who appeared was at the tip of the crane. His body disappeared in a flash of green flames before he materialized once more closer to her, joining her at the dangerous height. Ash Crimson accepted the feat to be as natural as breathing. Luise, who bore witness to the spectacle, was similarly unmoved.
"You don't look surprised. That's kinda a letdown for me."
He admired the glamorous nail art on his manicure as he chuckled. When he noticed she was ignoring him, Ash's lips pouted as he peered to the town below.
"Fufu, they're really going at it. Everybody's trying so hard, aren't they. There's nothing to be so tense over."
"Ah, but it's such a waste. Lil' Kusanagi and Lil' Yagami have no idea why their powers exist and they're like that. ...Don't you agree?"
"I am not familiar with those two."
It was the first response Luise had said to Ash. After a slight pause, her eyebrows creased her forehead.
"But, yes, those brothers are the same. They don't understand their powers, themselves, or their true will. They know nothing."
"Looks like we both have it rough, mademoiselle."
"I have nothing comparable to you. At least, I don't share the same schemes as you do."
"And why would you ever think that~?"
"Your face can't lie to me."
And with that last remark, Luise's body vanished. Basking in a flash of blue light, a swarm of butterfiles seemed to scatter from within her. It seemed they would join wings in the sky before they dissipated with a blue shimmer.
"I don't know who she was or where she came from, but she seems special."
Ash's eyes squinted with his renewed smile. He gazed down at the town.
"But it does look fun. There's people strong enough to entertain 'Lil Kusanagi and 'Lil Yagami and me."
• • • • •
"I know a certain someone will tell me that it's too soon to fight them, but it's my first escape in awhile. Maybe I should cut loose."
The ring of church bells rang in the cold autumn wind. Sitting on a bench, Alba was still and only moved his pupils at first as the sound of footsteps came near. He raised his head to look up.
What a gloomy sky.
Cutting under such a sky were men clothed in black. One said nothing, another lit a cigarette, but they all had dark expressions as they walked along the gravel footpath. Beside him, he heard Soiree hum a sad and nostalgic sounding melody. His younger brother saw the men coming and gave a slight wave.
"If possible, I didn't want to ever wear these clothes."
At the head of the group, Gallagher fumbled with his necktie as he looked around.
"...What is it, you can't be leader just for today?"
"I can't come to school wearing this get up. Noel just told me out of the blue to change into this."
"Is that so..."
Gallagher wisely nodded, stroking the short cut beard along his jaw.
"We're going on ahead. We'll head back to the shop and get tonight's preparations ready."
"You sure you don't need our help?"
"Yeah, we can take care of this. Besides, you two need to stay by Anne. ...She'll probably cry."
"You're right about that."
Alba said with a wry smile, looking back up at the sky.
"----It came quickly."
While Alba uttered these words, Soiree nodded, his countenance losing its usual wondrous charm. After Gallagher's group walked away, Alba heaved a heavy sigh as a distasteful silence crept its way into his heart.
A bright voice had said, followed by a series of thundering footsteps on the steel stairway. Alba was leaning against the handrail of the stairs and waving, and Anne called out to Noel as he made his way down the stairs.
"The other teams have calmed down lately but don't lose your guard, Noel."
"Leave it to me! Compared to one of Soiree's rides, I'm much safer."
Roaring up the Cadillac's engine, Noel gave her a wink. Soiree was biting back a large yawn when he happened to hear his remark. He leaned over and roared.
"Hey! What's that supposed to mean?!"
"Ah...! N, Noel, you little...!"
Soiree gritted his teeth as he glared at Noel. They were the mood makers of the team and they got along, though they bickered over trivial things. At least when it came to arguments, Soiree didn't stand a chance against Noel. He was always hot-tempered and impatient and the smooth-talking Noel could always silence him with a single word. It was impossible for him to match up.
Walking over to the Cadillac's passenger seat, Anne looked up at the red-faced Soiree and giggled.
"Geez, Soiree always gives into Noel's taunts."
"Go out with Soiree later, Anne."
"Right, we're going now, Alba."
Anne got inside the car and Alba watched them until Noel drove off. He shrugged his shoulders.
"Did something upset you, Soiree?"
Soiree was leaning his waist at the middle of the stairway, eyebrows knit with objection as they wrinkled a straight line on his forehead. He grudgingly remarked about Noel.
"That Noel, thinking so highly of himself just because he's got the car a little more often---"
"Noel is a steady driver because of it. When I consider for Anne's safety, I'd probably would've done the same."
"Ugh, even I know that. It's just he didn't have to drag me into it, you know?"
"So tell me. When Anne came back with you earlier, who was responsible for the big scratch on my car?"
Pushing up his sunglasses, Alba suppressed his accusing tone as he asked. Instantly, Soiree sucked in his breath and understood.
"That-that was.... I-I already apologized for that!"
"Your apology still can't dramatically improve your driving skills."
"I know but---"
"I'm not going to get angry at you for that. I'm just saying that when it comes to Anne, I trust Noel to drive her around than you. As for why Noel had to say what he did... Think more about what you yourself did earlier."
"Huh? Did I do something to him?"
Soiree asked, looking back at his brother doubtfully. Alba daringly answered for what he insinuated.
"What are you taking about? At the hamburger stand at Emmanuel Street, there's a waitress working there----"
"Huh? What happened to Catherine?"
"No... it's nothing."
Every member in "Sons of Fate" knew that Noel held a thing for that cheerfully spirited and slightly freckled waitress. Everyone except for probably Soiree. The child would frequently visit the place more than Noel and, as he wolfed down his hamburgers with big appreciating bites, he didn't see the admiring gaze from the girl as he ate. Soiree probably didn't notice her at all.
"Not realizing Noel's feelings... it's like watching a solo wrestling match."
Saying this more to himself, Soiree perked his eyebrows when he heard his brother,
"Hey, why are you laughing, Bro? You know something, don't you?"
"Even if I do know something, it's pointless coming from my lips. You're going to have to face Noel on that. ...All I can do is give some advice."
"And that is?"
"Refrain from eating hamburgers for awhile. That shop's double double cheese burgers pack too many calories. Combining it with the soft drink they offer isn't healthy for you either."
"What?! You mean I'm getting fat?! Am I that chubby now?!"
As Soiree misunderstood the meaning behind his words and panicked on his own, Alba kept a cool visage as he polished the lenses of his sunglasses. The silhouettes of the buildings on the business street dyed the area black as the dazzling morning sun began to rise. It was more like autumn as of late, but it seemed like today would be one clear day.
"Good morning, gentlemen."
Alba straightened his sunglasses and put them back on. Soiree sat upright with an unfaithful expression to address the woman's voice above them.
Looking up at the beautiful brunette who was blushed slightly red from the morning chill and yawning away, Alba twisted his lips into a frown.
"It's not "good", Shirley. I know I always tell you this, but you're sleeping in too often. Anne already went to school a long time ago."
The men started to shuffle in their jumpers as the beauty walked down the steps. Shirley Coleman placed a hand over her lips as her eyes opened wide like saucers.
"Ah, this person's an embarrassment to all mothers. If you're a mother, at least wish your child to have a good day before they leave."
"Who took her today?"
"And there she goes ignoring my words as usual---"
"Noel did this time. ...But she's growing up to be a bright girl."
"Haha... well, her mother's teachings is topnotch."
"...You're one to talk."
As Soiree grumbled his misgivings under his breath, this time Shirley's eyes became like a kite's and she narrowed them with a fierce glare to him.
"Did you say something, Soiree? ...Now that I think about it, you haven't paid your tab for my shop, have you?"
"Ah, excuse me, miss! It's nothing really!"
Flailing around his arms in distress, he emitted a frightened yet cheerful laugh. Soiree wasn't the only one. Jay, William, and the other young men were frequently allowed to drink liquor for free at her shop. Therefore, whenever she threatened them with a bill, there was nothing they could do but spout apologies and surrender. Shirley deeply inhaled the chilly morning air before relaxing again with a sigh.
"...Ah, but joking aside, you two really do help me out by looking after Anne."
"Please don't worry about it. We're doing it because we enjoy it."
"Yup. Everyone in "Sons of Fate" is like one big family. We see Anne like our little sister and you're the old---"
"The young, ever so lovely, good older sister. Right, Soiree?"
Facing Shirley's glare once more, Soiree's neck shivered a bit. Just as quickly though, her expression loosened and she lapsed into a silly chuckle.
"Heheheh... But, it's really interesting."
Alba was observing the children playing in front of the apartment, but he inquired to Shirley's attention at that moment.
"You two, you and Soiree. You look half like Fate and Chance."
"Oh? Is that so?"
"Alba, your conduct and sense of responsibility is just like Fate, but your level-headed calculations is more like Chance."
Shirley was famed as a person who was exceptionally talented at reading people's character, but Alba couldn't help his dry smile at her analysis.
"I admit that my height and character may seem a little like Chance, but I'm nothing like Fate. That's overrating me too much."
"Hmm, you think so?"
"Yeah. If we're talking only about similarities, then wouldn't Soiree be more like Fate than me? Soiree is popular with people and has the shining ability to draw people towards him. That's something I don't have."
"Oh? Did you say something good about me just now, Bro? Praise me more! Come on, come on!"
While Soiree rejoiced and hopped up with joy, Shirley quietly learned towards Alba and whispered.
"But his habit of hitting on women is more like Chance, isn't it?"
"...I must talk with Chance about that sometime."
Alba begrudgingly uttered with his expression souring. Shirley continued mischievously.
"It's a problem, huh. It must pain you to see your treasured brother take after such a frivolous man."
"Nope! Chance looks cool and flashy when you first see him. Just like me, right?"
Soiree cleared his throat a little after his comment and nodded approvingly. Alba's neck tilted a little in disbelief before he turned back to the wiser woman who wasn't marred with make-up.
"...Do you hate Chance?"
"Heh, then what about Fate?"
"Of course I like him."
Answering the twins' questions without thinking twice, Shirley spoke at once.
"---But right now, the one who is most important to me is that child."
"What is it now, Alba? What did you mean with that vague phrase?"
"Nothing... Our team just has a reliable and strong goddess on our side."
"You won't get anything from me if you try to flatter me in that manner."
After rapidly tapping the shoulder of the one called "King", Shirley made her way down the steel stairs.
"Ah, it wasn't meant to be like that! You're already a part of "Sons of Fate", Shirley!"
"And for that you have my thanks."
She stopped for a moment and gazed back at where Alba and Soiree were standing, suddenly looking at them as if she were in a daze.
"...Hey, you two."
"There are a lot of good men in "Sons of Fate", but if anyone is going to try to become better than Fate or Chance, I think both of you are the only ones capable of doing it."
"It's like she says, Bro."
Soiree gave his older brother a tiny smile as they looked at one another.
Shirley was a fiery spirit and an iron-willed woman. Even if she was facing Fate or Chance, she was the type of person who said precisely what she wanted without fail. An unworldly woman to be sure.
Alba couldn't say anything after that, content to watch her from afar as she greeted the neighborhood children while opening her shop.
"Bro. Hey, Bro."
Slowly feeling himself float above the abyss of slumber, Alba felt Soiree shaking his shoulder. Looking above the lenses of his sunglasses, he noted the patches of blue barely in view as the clouds spread throughout the heavens and the cold-hearted breeze had softened. Amazingly, it looked as though only ten minutes have passed. The minute hand of his watch confirmed his observations. Alba heaved a lengthy sigh.
"That's strange. Didn't think that Bro would have taken a nap on a bench."
Bending his waist to be closer to him, Soiree's face crinkled with worry for his brother.
"---Can it be that you're really tired?"
"No, just a little. ...I saw a dream of the past."
"I had a dream of when Shirley was still alive."
"Ah... It's been a year since then..."
Frozen there together, they looked up at the clouds above. The clouds had bundled together to the far west blocking the beams of sunlight from a faraway summer day, blackening and thickening the twins' shadows, stretching from their feet far beyond them.
From a distance, an upbeat girl was calling out to them. Upon hearing her voice, both men stood up from the bench at the same time, perhaps due to some secret synchronized beat they had from being born on the same day. They may not look alike or act the same, but it was times like this that Alba thought they were truly twins.
"You're both late!"
Coming towards them from the same walkaway that their companions had left a little while ago, Noel was walking in a black suit. Beside him was Anne, her brunette hair just like her mother's and kept tidy in a ponytail. Adjusting his sunglasses, Alba's eyes were drawn towards the big bouquets that they held near their chests.
Anne glanced at the white lily with a lonesome nod.
"...Because Mama liked these flowers."
"Even so, you two bought quite a lot of them."
"Of course! We bought all of the ones the store had!"
Noel, who looked like he didn't belong in a black suit, curved his necktie chest forward proudly and bellowed a laugh.
"What are you acting so proud of? You're being too happy with yourself, Noel."
"Ah, it's fine, isn't it? At least you two will know that Shirley would be pleased to have these. It's the least we could do for her."
Noel pouted his lips as he complained while Anne's neck quivered as she shook her head.
"Oh no, it's not like that... Everyone was really nice to Mama."
"Thank you, Anne. ...Yeah, seriously though, we really feel like we haven't paid back Shirley's kindness, so we're obligated to go to extra lengths for her. She was the one who was always taking care of us."
Soiree lightly scratched his nose as he bobbed his head quietly. To make the usually cheerful Soiree and Noel adopt a stern complexion showed the respect they had for the woman who laid in the ground beneath them, Alba thought. Then he found himself pondering.
Shirley... Fate and Chance... Why have all the adults that he admired disappear from them, one by one?
One was Shirley's grave. The other one adjacent to hers, though it was slightly newer, was Fate's spot. Placing the bouquet in front of her mother's resting place, Anne's voice died in her throat as tears began to flow down her cheeks. Soiree and Noel could be the trustworthy men to look after her, but, as expected, they couldn't flip the one page of memories regarding her mother's death for her.
Noel was on one knee next to the girl, placing a single hand on her shoulder, rubbing it as an awkward form of comfort.
About a step away behind them, Alba silently watched their backs. Maybe next year, he would witness a similar sight, but he was sure Anne's sorrow would lessen over time. Alba's hand formed a cross over his chest and he uttered a voiceless prayer, yet he noticed that next to him, Soiree had been oddly silent and was biting his lip.
"What's wrong, Soiree?"
Perhaps due to the casablancas' sweet fragrance drifting through the air, Soiree sniffled and whirled his heel away. Noticing the uncharacteristic movement, Alba followed Soiree's exit. Walking aimlessly amongst the numerous line of crosses, Soiree voiced his thoughts once more without looking back to his brother.
"...It's been a year since then."
"Didn't you already say this before?"
"It's fine though. First, it was Chance, then it was Shirley, and Fate went and died--- right, Bro."
"What are you trying to say?"
"When I left the orphanage with Bro, I never imagined that I would feel this sadness about losing anyone except for you. And then, standing before Shirley's grave like that, I remembered when we were together and I got sad all over again, y'know? ---I'm still just a kid..."
Scratching through his silver hair with a rough hand, Soiree's voice hushed itself. Alba wasn't close enough to see Soiree's face, but he imagined that if his younger brother continued, Soiree would start crying uncontrollably. In a voice that seemed to withhold the same inclination, Alba spoke.
"----It's nothing to be embarrassed about. It's the same as how I feel."
"You're fine, Bro. You don't have the type of face to be like that. It's impossible for me to have a pokerface like yours in my lifetime."
In fact, unlike Alba's cool ability to keep himself in check, Soiree was the one who couldn't hold back his true feelings in front of anyone. It was one of Soiree's merits but also one of his faults. Being a little envious of Soiree's honesty at the time, Alba broke out sarcastically.
"In other words, you're saying that I don't feel emotions, Soiree?"
"Huh? Is that how you took it?"
Taking the joke in stride, Soiree became his usual self again.
"What is it?"
"Don't leave me without saying anything, okay?"
"Sons of Fate" had young members who'd lost their leaders too soon in succession. Alba might be next- is probably what Soiree was likely thinking. With their gang's history, he couldn't necessarily blame him. Balling his fists within the pocket of his black slacks, Soiree's eyes narrowed as the wind blew from the opposite direction.
"If you were to suddenly disappear, I would look everywhere for you. The place where we belong is here. It's this town, right?"
Brushing aside his lock of silver hair, Alba shook his head.
"Those are my exact words to you, Soiree."
"Rather, you're the one who seems more likely to disappear on whim."
"Hey, hey, don't talk like people are so quick to leave their roots. I'm not the man who would live the life of a groundless warrior and go on a journey. Huh, Bro?"
"You don't look it."
Soiree laughed as he poked Alba's shoulder lightly.
"---Hey, you guys!"
Upon hearing Noel's voice, both twins turned their gaze simultaneously.
"What are you guys jabbering to yourselves over there?"
"It was nothing."
Alba tightened his necktie as they headed back to the other awaiting party.
"---Tonight, we'll drink until dawn in Shirley's honor. ...At any rate, are you fine, Anne?"
The girl patted a white handkerchief to her eyes as she nodded, even braving a small smile to assure him. Although she didn't act like her departed mother, who was a strong woman who wasn't afraid to deface the toughness of manhood, Anne was definitely Shirley's daughter.
"Thanks for today, everyone."
"Ah, don't worry about it. ...Okay, we've got to hurry up and go to the places we need to be!"
"Yeah. Gallagher maybe leader for today, but he could be going crazy with his new position and doing who knows what."
"Gallagher wouldn't do such a thing. He isn't like you and Noel."
Putting Anne between them, Noel and Soiree walked away as a group. Alba gazed at them from afar, witnessing the all-too-familiar sight. Ever since the time Shirley had brought Anne to Southtown, those two had naturally became her big brother figures on their own will. Stopping before Shirley and Fate's graves, Alba felt a smile grace his lips.
"With those two noisy older brothers and three people acting as her guardians, do you think that girl is a little troubled? Anne is already a teenager, but at times, I have no idea what to do for her when planning out her future... What do you think?"
Alba listened, but he knew the cold grave markers couldn't give him an answer.
"Yo, Alba! What are you doing?"
Noel had turned and waved towards him.
"Hey, Mr. Driver--! The little miss is waiting for you--!"
"...I'm going now."
Softening to Soiree's comment, Alba smiled wryly at the two graves.
"---We'll come again, Fate, Shirley."
Italian cities have a seasonal cityscape, one which is patterned by calming and ever-changing colors. People tread through the streets with light footsteps and enjoy the peaceful humdrum of life. Southtown was no different. Once the day was done and the night beckoned, and the cold darkness seeped in with a silent crawl, the trees along the walkways would then flash their dresses of gorgeous illumination, and the shadows would fade into the asphalt. The spectacle wasn't restricted to the busy shopping districts. It was a common sight to see one or two houses peppered with their own set of Christmas lights.
Even the apartment Alba and his gang lived in were swept into the spirit, as some of the richer inhabitants gathered up from who-knows-where some of their own decorative lights. They were put up around their place a month before the holiday. It wasn't a fanciful artist with a good eye for coordination who put them up; it looked more like everyone simply celebrated and put any bricka-brack anywhere they pleased. He couldn't truly compliment it as a refined masterpiece, but-
"A bad bush is better than the open field."
Alba's aesthetics may have been repulsed by the vulgar mess of electric bulbs, but he thought it best to at least keep it for the brighter lighting in their neighborhood. He knew there was no reason to remove them. The children frolicked happily whenever they saw them, and Alba strangely felt content to let Soiree and Noel entertain them.
He cut the engine of his beloved car after he parked it in the garage, just as the sinking embers of sundown touched the earth and the glow of lights began to flicker throughout the town. Alba looked up and thinly smiled. The children who had played with the layer of snow around their place yesterday were running to him.
"Welcome home, Alba!"
"Yeah. I just came back."
"Alba, did you get in a fight with Soiree or something?"
The boy asked so innocently that Alba's head tilted.
"Not to my recollection. ...Is something wrong with Soiree?"
"Um, we came here because we wanted to play with him. So we ran up to his room."
The girl started to explain in an uncertain tone.
"But when we got in, the electricity and the stove weren't being used. He was on a corner of his bed, wrapped up in a blanket and holding his knee."
"We thought maybe Alba had yelled at him and he was being sad about it. Is that true?"
"I wouldn't know..."
At least Alba wouldn't know when he left earlier today. Soiree was the same old Soiree. He had spent all night out in the town with Noel, but he noticed Alba leaving and saw him off, half-asleep as always.
"Thank you for waiting here to tell me. The sun's already setting, so be sure to go home before it's too dark."
"Okay, we know. See ya, Alba!"
The children with rosy apple cheeks swiveled on the snow and gravel and ran off. Soiree watched them until they were out of view before he turned back to the apartment with a sigh. Soiree's room was dark, no light on at all. Alba cradled the bag of groceries and walked up the steel stairs, heading to his brother's room.
Alba knocked lightly, but there was no answer. Alba bowed his head and opened the door.
"Soiree, I just got back."
Just like the children described to him. Soiree had wrapped himself in a blanket and was holding his knee on top of a corner of his bed. The chilly air blew in from the opened door, causing his brother to shiver involuntarily in the already freezing room.
Alba addressed his brother, and Soiree looked at him as a violent chill quaked through his shoulders.
"You'll catch a cold if you stay like this. How about turning on the heater?"
The older twin placed the groceries on the table –soon wondering why was there a rose bouquet resting in Soiree's room– and turned on the oil heater standing near the wall.
"Wha-What am I gonna do!?"
"... Beg pardon?"
Soiree ripped off the blanket and rattled his perplexed brother for all he was worth.
"What am I gonna do!? Tell me, Bro!"
"I can't be expected to give an answer if I don't know the details. What exactly happened?"
"I-I did... Anne got upset and..."
Now that he thought about it, he didn't see Anne in the kitchen. She would always be there around this time to cook something up for the residents in this apartment. If Soiree had angered her like he professed, then her absence would be explainable. It would be more productive to get a second opinion about the incident.
Alba threw Soiree a single apple, told him he would return, and dashed out of the room.
A bath, a toilet, and a kitchen in a single room. A combination present decades before the gang came there. It was a simple age-old apartment. Half of the first floor was the garage, the other half was for the entrance hall. Every floor above it were residential spaces. The second, the third, the fifth, the sixth floor: each floor had three studio type rooms. Fourth level was the party room with a communal kitchen. The room for the apartment manager was parked next to it.
Alba stayed in his own room on the fifth floor. His neighbor next door was Soiree, and Noel took the third living space available.
It's a mystery how Fate claimed the apartment building for the gang, and no one knew how it was done. To the Sons of Fate, however, it was their safe haven. It was the one place in Southtown they had claimed as their turf. Fate fondly called it their home. And it still continued to be their home when Alba took over. The cramped building couldn't hope to fit all the gang's members, but it was the one place where everyone could meet. If anything happened, the gang would always come to this apartment.
Alba left Soiree's room and headed down to the fourth floor.
Gallagher greeted him when he reached the table in the communal kitchen. As he watched him set down a bottle of Grolsch, Alba spied the mountain of empty bottles and the pizza well past its heated goodness resting on the table. Glancing at the unlit stove, Alba hitched his lips.
"A somber dinner."
"Don't start with me. You know how much I didn't want to resort to this."
Gallagher sighed with disgust. He may not have a gourmet taste or the talent for cooking, but his tastebuds only had the heart for Anne's dishes. He lowered his voice to a whisper and gestured towards the manager's room.
"...What's up with Anne? I've already called for her, but I don't get an answer. Quiet as death in there."
"It certainly appears as though something occurred. No other leads besides that."
Anne's room was the manager's room, the biggest residential space in the building. Shirley and Anne once lived there together as mother and child, but Shirley's death left Anne alone. In retrospect, the entire apartment the gang lived in was Anne's house.
Alba stood before the door to the room. He gently raised his right hand to knock yet he immediately froze it in place. He barely heard the soft sobs of a crying young women beyond the door.
He turned on his heel and headed to the fridge. Pulling out a chilled Schnaps instead, Alba said to Gallagher.
"... Let's leave her be for now."
"If you say so. But what in the world happened?"
"The child we knew won't be one forever. She's at a difficult stage of her life... probably."
He took a swig of his drink and exhaled, already walking back to Soiree's room. The alcohol's warmth spread from the back of his throat and rigidly heated the rest of his frozen body.
Ring, ring, ring. The ringing of a cheap bell bellowed constantly in the room. Just when he think it stopped, it would start chiming again in a systematic cycle. Whoever it was, they were persistent.
Soiree wiggled his head out of his blankets to stop the never-ending chime. Last night, he had adjusted the lights in front of the apartment, went with Noel to stock up on casablanca flowers, chatted this way and that about the Christmas party with him --an all out spree on the town. Before he knew it the night had ended, and he managed to crawl underneath the blankets to hide from Mr. Sunshine.
Pressing a hand to his splitting head, he glanced at his bedside clock.
"It's not even noon yet."
The words spilled bitterly from his mouth, and his headache did nothing to raise his spirits.
"You gotta be kidding me..."
Last night's leftover mineral water wet his parched throat as he squirmed out of his blanket and lugged his heavy body towards the door.
"Who the hell visits at this hour..."
He tossed his hair with one hand and opened the door. The moment it swung open vivid colors and the scent of roses invaded his five senses.
"What the hell!? What's with the flower-"
Forcing his face past the red rose bouquet, Soiree barely saw a boy bowing before him. He looked about fifteen or sixteen with a body and face thin as a lamppost, wearing a set of glasses emphasizing the boy's intelligence. Soiree never attended school, but even he could tell the boy was one of those obedient, honor roll students.
"H-He-Hello! I-I'm Tony Marcus!"
"H-Here! M-My mom's own r-rose bouquet! She-She calls them L-Las Vegas, so-so-so please accept them!"
The boy's face was flushed as he stuttered and gibbered with his words, shoving the flowers towards the confused Soiree insistently.
"No, seriously. What's your problem?"
"Y-You're the older brother!? I-I... go-go out-on a date... with me?"
"Ha!? What type of crap you trying to pull!?"
"N-No! Not you! I-I meant... Um..."
"Ugh, you just can't keep your trap shut."
Soiree's eyebrows knitted together as he massaged his throbbing temples.
"To begin with, you've got it all wrong. I'm the younger brother."
"R-Really? You're the older one? Are-Aren't you?"
The color drained from Tony's face as he faced Soiree's grumpiness. He was not in the mood to deal with him, and the boy began to quiver when the irritation rose in his voice.
"You've got ears, don't you? I just told you I'm the younger one! Bro is out right now. Don't you dare tell me these flowers are for him!"
"No-No! You-You're mistaken! These roses are for... Ah, but, maybe it's better if you have... Here!"
"I don't know what fantasy world you're living in, but taking flowers from men is not what I do!"
"Pl-Please just take them from me without saying anything! If you don't, it'll be death of me!"
Tony's eyes were hurting behind his glasses.
"Whoa, wait up, don't cry. Now it feels like I was bullying you."
"Wha- Tony, is that you?"
Soiree and Tony looked up towards the female voice cutting through their conversation.
Finally gazing at the brunette girl he sought for, Tony happily smiled. But for her, for she was Anne Coleman, she looked at Soiree and Tony with an unsettling weariness. Soiree scratched his head and muttered,
"Oh, I get it. You know him, Anne."
"Uh, yeah. He's a ...friend from school. But why are you here, Tony?"
"Ah, I-I just wanted to pay a visit to your home once. I met your younger brother here, yup."
Anne absorbed Tony's words slowly before they took effect. She gave a small gasp at her belated epiphany.
"Oh, oh no. You can't mean Soiree?"
"Ah, Lil' Soiree, is it? He sure is big for his age. I could've sworn he was older than you."
Tony's strange misunderstanding finally hit Soiree. His lips drooped into a frown.
"Hey, you. Who are you calling Anne's younger brother?"
"B-But you said it yourself. Y-You said you were younger-"
"Wait, wait, Tony! Soiree isn't my brother! ---Well, I admit he acts like a child and I have to take care of him all the time..."
"Whoa, time out, Anne! What did you mean with that?"
"Tee-hee, I guess you heard me."
She stuck out her pink tongue with a small giggle when Soiree turned to her.
"Don't laugh at me! Besides, you're always going-"
"Now, now. Don't be so cross with your older sister."
He was tearing up only moments ago, but Tony came between Soiree and Anne like a completely different person.
Soiree barked and Tony hopped up with fright.
"Who do you think is responsible for this mess in the first place!?"
"Who-Who... Whose was it?"
"Don't play dumb with me!"
He jabbed his fingers into Tony's chest as his voice grew louder. Soiree's eyes pierced into the boy as his words carried a harsher edge.
"You! You! It's all your fault, Tony! Get a clue, dimwad!"
"Wait, cut it out, Soiree!"
"Anne, shut up and stay out of this!"
The girl tried to sooth Soiree out of his tantrum, but he wasn't going to let go of his intimidation that easily.
"You listen here, Mr. Honor roll student. I am not Anne's younger brother. If anything, she's the younger sister to me. I've always looked after her since she was a kid."
"So-So Lil' Soiree- I mean, Mr. Soiree, who are you?"
"Me? I'm Soiree Meira, Sons of Fate! Remember that, because there's gonna be a test!"
"So-Sons of Fate? Isn't that a ga-ga-ga-gang?!"
"Heh, some smart guy you are. At least you know that much."
As Tony's eyes became wide like saucers, Soiree felt smug. He leaned closer and he continued,
"Sons of Fate is the gang that took over all the others in Southtown, and you're talking to one of its prime members: the Soiree. And my real Bro is the leader of Sons of Fate, the one this town calls "King", Alba Meira! Got that?!"
"A-Anne's brother figure...? G-Gang?
Tony looked at her, and Anne couldn't continue. She lowered her eyes from him.
"Hey, Lil' Tony."
Soiree lightly tapped the boy's shoulder with one of the most forced smiles to have ever crossed his lips.
"If you think you can date our idol, Anne, here, you've gotta show us more spirit than this. Something more than these roses. I'm talkin' about the guts to protect Anne from anything with your life. That's the stuff we appreciate. See if you've got what it takes to replace us brothers."
"Stop it, Soiree!"
Breaking the two men apart, Anne looked at Tony apologetically.
"I'm so sorry, Tony."
"N-No... It's fine."
Shaking like a broken robot, Tony shook his head rapidly with an awkward smile.
"I-I'm... Today-today going..."
"I-I'm, um... I need to prepare... Uh, um, I... Ah, bye!"
Shoving the red roses towards Anne, Tony bolted away from the suffocating room and disappeared like a flash from the building.
"Who was that guy?"
Soiree heaved a small sigh and shrugged his shoulders.
"Sure got scared all of sudden. Pretty pathetic if you ask m-"
His words were cut off by a dry sound.
A sharp pain stung his cheek. It took Soiree a moment for him to understand what had happened, and he couldn't think. He didn't want to believe that their calm and collected Anne would lose her temper and slap him. Swallowing the reality of the situation, Soiree lightly shook his head and looked at her.
"What was that for, Anne!?"
"Soiree, you idiot!"
What does that mean! -is what he wanted to say, but the words died in his throat. Anne's spilling tears of anxiety had killed them instantly. If Alba was in the same position as Soiree, it was doubtful if he could say anything either. More so, if he realized that her tears were his fault.
"You idiot, Soiree! I hate you! I never want to see your face again!"
Anne threw the bouquet at Soiree's face and ran away crying.
"Ah! Wait, Anne! Anne!!"
The empty Schnaps was filled with water and a few roses found a new home within it. Setting the makeshift vase by the window, Alba heaved a heavy sigh.
"I see... I now understand why something so out of place is in your room. Your words were truly insensitive."
"Insensitive? Well, yeah. I've got nothing to say against that this time."
Soiree sat on the edge of the bed, looking at his brother now and then, while he nodded deeply. Alba leaned against the wall and removed his sunglasses.
"---But it was bound to happen sooner or later."
"Anne didn't pay attention to it when she was younger, but she is probably aware of it now."
"About everyone else in the world thinking that she is a part of Sons of Fate."
"Uh, yeah? What's wrong with that? She's one of us, isn't she?"
Soiree gazed at Alba's face interrogatively.
"...You haven't realized it either it seems."
Alba couldn't hold back his smile. Soiree's natural optimism helped him blend into Sons of Fate. He probably never considered the brooding realism Alba mustered. It just never occurred to his younger twin to think of the world in his perspective. Polishing his sunglasses, he ventured again,
"You're wrong, Soiree."
"Huh? I am?"
"... Anne is like our younger sister, but she has never been a part of the gang. She's not in Sons of Fate."
His younger twin's eyes widened at the realization.
"Yeah, Bro. I get it now."
"That's how it is. Anne is a normal girl who has never dirtied her life with violence. We mustn't think of her as one of us. ---But the world won't be as understanding. People will only think she is a part of the gang. If someone else were to know Anne's association with Sons of Fate, their attitude towards her would change instantly. Like that boy, Tony. It's sad but, in a sense, it's a completely natural reaction."
Alba chased after Fate's humanistic ideals and kept true to them with the gang. The people in the slums didn't fear them, rather they have grown to rely on Sons of Fate. But Alba was practical enough to know that their supporters were the minority. Reality was much crueler, as many people would prefer to avoid the mere mentioning of gangs much less associate themselves with them.
Soiree's hands pressed themselves against his lowered head.
"I was so stupid. I shouldn't have said we were Sons of Fate like that."
"Don't blame yourself, Soiree."
"I said this before, but sooner or later that boy would've known about us. We can't hide who we are, even if we tried. It may be hard on Anne, but perhaps this is for the best. She needs to be aware of it before she gets too deep. There's always the possibility that we'll drag her into trouble in the future."
"I know that much. I know, but... What should we be doing for Anne for now on!?"
Soiree clenched the empty bottle of mineral water as he pondered aloud,
"What should we be doing for her happiness?"
"...I don't know yet."
Alba lowered his head thoughtfully.
"... This is a shot in the dark, but maybe Anne would be better without us."
"Anne leaving us... Then what?"
"We could take her to a peaceful place where no one knew about us and enroll her in a proper boarding school. She could throw away her past of being with a gang and be allowed to live the life of a normal woman-"
"Hey, hold up, Bro!"
Soiree interrupted his brother's thoughts and stood up. He had been seriously hanging onto his older brother's every word until that moment. He glared at Alba fiercely.
"Do you really think that Anne would want that!? Do you really want for Anne to forget the time she spent with us!? Is that what you're really thinking, Bro!?"
"I didn't say that. I'm proud of Sons of Fate and to be a part of it. It's just---"
Alba couldn't bring himself to finish, but the thought lingered in both their minds. He wouldn't regret it if people knew he was in a gang. He wouldn't mask his genuine feelings. He just couldn't say that it was right for them to drag Anne into their ideals. He didn't want to believe it. Yet, as long as they carried the label as a gang, she would never feel the true rays of the world's sun.
"I don't get it, Bro! ...I don't."
Uttering the line with all of his pent up frustrations, Soiree sat down.
"Neither do I. ---In any case, Anne will be the one to decide. It's her life."
"... Yeah, maybe."
Soiree quietly buried his face in his hands.
"... Anne's thinking more like an adult than we are. She's not thinking like a kid anymore."
"Shocked by the reveal of her boyfriend?"
Wanting to dispel the dreadful mood, Alba had said the line with playful ridicule.
"Ah! It's-it's not like I'm jealous of that boyscout or anything. If he was a more reliable tough guy who I feel I could trust with Anne, then I wouldn't-"
Alba couldn't help smiling as he watched Soiree panic, juggling between several amusing expressions at the drop of a hat.
"... Let's leave it at that, shall we?"
"What's that supposed to mean? Hey, Bro, don't misunderstand me!"
"Oh, I don't think I am."
"You totally are! Look, that smile of yours is loaded with it!"
"I'm doing no such thing."
"Yes, you are!"
The twins' interaction continued as such until Soiree's stomach --tired of gnawing on the lone apple he ate the entire day-- grumbled loudly in the room.
The next day came and nothing changed. It was nearly noon, and Anne was still cooped up in her room.
"Oi, Soiree. How'd you mess it up this time?"
"You're tellin' us that we gotta eat crap again?"
"Tonight's party is ruined if this keeps up."
Noel and Gallagher knew it was Soiree's fault for upsetting Anne and had marched into Soiree's room. They heartlessly helped themselves to the beer and apples stored in his refrigerator. Even if Alba had originally bought the refreshments for him, Soiree knew he was to blame for his comrades' hunger. He merely bowed his head to their complaints with a sorry expression.
"Would you guys forgive him with this?"
Coming to them from a corner of the room, Alba presented a flourish of dollar bills to the men at the table.
"Uh, Bro. Is that my---"
Ignoring Soiree's staggered comment, Alba counted some of the dough and handed the parted stack to Gallagher.
"Use this to eat out for now. We'll try to manage here until your return."
"Ah, that's Alba for ya! So grown up, unlike Soiree here."
As he eyed the cash in Gallagher's hand, Noel whistled. It was enough to feed the entire gang breakfast, lunch, and dinner at their fast food joint.
"Ah... my money."
Soiree dribbled the words regretfully from his lips, but Alba kept his gaze towards Gallagher.
"Give my regards to Catherine and company."
"OK. I'll get everyone in the apartment and head off. ...Anne is in your hands."
Gallagher folded the wad of bills in half and somehow stuffed the thick stack inside his leather jacket. He gave Alba a knowing wink before he left the room.
"Oh yeah! I get to see Catherine all day!"
Noel pumped his fist with joy as he followed his compatriot's exit.
The twins were left in the room by themselves. Soiree crawled to his hidden stash to see what remained. His thoughts were voiced deplorably.
"B-Bro, that was cold..."
"No complaints. You hurt Anne in the first place, remember?"
"I know, but still---"
"Consider it as a cheap loss if you come out of this in one piece."
"Huh? Aren't I'm fine though?"
"Not now. You're still in the thick of it."
Soiree took the hint in his twin's warning. If they failed to appease Anne's anger by nightfall, there was nothing to stop the gang's disgruntled fury for Soiree. The twins walked out and headed down to Anne's room. Whether it was cooking or for tea, Anne would be humming in the communal kitchen for their everyday needs. That morning it was untouched. Perhaps it was due to the morning chill, but it felt awfully cold as they walked past it.
Alba approached the manager's room and knocked softly.
"Anne, it's me. Are you awake?"
Even with his voice ringing past the door, there was no reply from Anne. Alba nudged his brother, and it was Soiree's turn to try.
"Ah~ ...I-It's me, Anne. I-I'm really, really sorry for yesterday. So, could you please cheer up and come out? Everyone's worried about you."
Alba and Soiree leaned their ears closer to the door, waiting for an answer from the girl.
Soiree frowned and looked at his brother. He spoke in a lowered voice,
"... Maybe she's still asleep?"
"You two are nothing alike. Anne is not a deep sleeper. She should be awake by now."
"Then why isn't she saying anything?"
"Are you suggesting she has no reason to still be angry with you?"
"Uh... When you put it that way..."
The younger twin's words were hushed as his head lowered.
Alba's fingers were curled to knock again until the door clicked open. The infernal flat crevice was replaced with Anne's face.
Stupefied would be the word to describe Soiree. He was happy to finally see Anne's face, but he was at an utter loss for coherence. His mouth shaped and bobbed dumbly, and her name was the sole word he said with success. In place of his younger brother, Alba decided to speak for them in his casual tone. He removed his sunglasses as he greeted her.
"Good morning, Anne."
"... Good morning."
Her tone was disappointed yet she responded. She had spent most of last night crying, her eyes faintly swollen red and her clothes unchanged from the day before. Timing it so she wouldn't see it, Alba discreetly kicked Soiree's shin before he continued,
"May we have a moment? Soiree wants to say something."
"Y-Yeah, that's right! Anne, about yesterday, I just--"
"... You don't have to apologize."
Soiree was interrupted by the weak shake of her head.
"R-Really!? So, so does that mean you forgive me?"
"No, that's not it..."
Anne walked into the hallway. She closed the door behind her and leaned her back against it. Her eyes were glued to the tiptoes of her shoes as she muttered,
"I was the one who snapped and lashed out at Soiree. But, when I calmed down and thought about it, Tony's reaction was probably normal. ...It must have been. It's scary to hear someone's in a gang."
"Ah, but don't take it that way."
When she heard Soiree's dispirited tone, Anne raised her face and tried her best to muster a happy smile.
"There aren't any downsides for me living here. ...This place is filled of my memories with Mama, and I really like it. Besides, I love everyone in Sons of Fate, including both of you. Even if I'm burdened with the Sons of Fate label, I'm really happy being here with all of you."
"Oh, is-is that how it is. If that's how you feel about it, then that's good..."
Soiree's gaze met with Alba. The twins shared a sigh of relief.
"Bu-But what about that bookworm guy? Didn't you like him or something?"
"I can forget about Tony. He's smart and very sweet, but he's also naive and would be hopeless in a fight. I think we might be ov--"
"Huh? Are you talking about me?
The voice interrupted their conversation so leisurely that Soiree and Anne couldn't hide their surprise as they turned towards it. Speak of the devil, there he was. Tony Marcus, dressed in a duffel coat to keep warm with glasses slightly misting, stood in the kitchen with a bewildered expression.
Alba wore his sunglasses promptly,
"That was sudden. ...I presume you are Tony?"
"Yes siree! I'm Tony Marcus! Are you Anne's older brother figure, Mr. Alba?"
Politely exchanging handshakes with the boy's extended hand, Alba shook his head. He never imagined the boy would return. Apparently Anne shared the same thoughts. Yet his countenance hardened when he observed the sheer surprise and joy which swept across her face.
"T-Tony... Why did you come back?"
"Oh, posh! I told you yesterday, didn't I? I needed to mentally prepare myself for my comeback."
"Ha? Is that what you said? I could've sworn--"
"Come on now, Mr. Soiree!"
Tony swept his hand through his dull, slicked-back hair with a jolly laugh. A massively exaggerated gesture with the hint of embarrassment. It was though he was trying to suffocate his shame with it.
"My love for Anne can't be stopped just because she's next to a gang! I was just startled yesterday. Really!"
"H-Hold up! Don't take advantage of the situation, Tony!"
Her face was red and her words sounded upset, but she couldn't hide the happy smile across her lips.
Soiree placed his hand on Alba's shoulder as he huddled to him,
"Hey, what're we gonna do, Bro? Honor roll's full of it."
"Indeed. As Anne's legal guardian, I simply can't bring myself to approve of him."
"Eh? N-No way..."
Before he had realized it, Tony felt his pedestal in the conversation had been stolen away from him with the twins' short exchange. The excitement drained from his voice.
"You, you look too slim."
Alba casually pounded his fist against Tony's sternum as Soiree circled around to the boy's back, easily bouncing the blow with his own,
"Yeah, doesn't seem reliable at all."
"Power may not be everything in this world but, at the very least, I expect you to have the strength to protect Anne."
"Huh!? Wait, no! I-I'm more of the brains over brawns type... Uh, A-Anne! Please say something to them!"
As the two gang members appraised Tony, he looked at Anne for help while on the verge of tears. But Anne spared him no mercy as she cheerfully retorted,
"Good luck, Tony."
They shared a laugh over Tony's expense before Anne's hit her palm with an idea.
"Oh, good timing! If you'd like, would you stay a little longer, Tony? We're going to have party at the apartment tonight!"
"A-A party? Really? I wouldn't be barging in, would I?"
Soiree had trapped Tony's head into a noogie, but his face brightened with Anne's invitation.
"Is it okay, Alba?"
"Sounds like a good idea."
Alba nodded to the proposal, as he rattled the pot warming his wine on the stove. He hasn't been to Germany in years, yet Alba never failed to make Glühwein --spiced white wine-- during the Christmas season. He poured the drink into a mug on top of the table, a warm steam emanating towards them as he continued.
"---Many of our friends are gathering here tonight, and it would be a perfect opportunity to introduce Tony. As Anne's boyfriend, of course."
A smile burst onto Anne's faced as she rushed towards Alba and captured him in a grateful embrace.
"Easy now, don't shake me too much. I'll spill the wine."
"I'm going to put my heart and soul into tonight's meal!"
She kissed Alba's cheek before she skipped back to the manager's room to change.
As Anne closed the door of her room, Tony stood outside of it and waited. The happy lovebirds innocently chatted to one another while Soiree leaned closer to Alba and softly whispered,
"Is it really okay?"
"Do you have a problem?"
"Kinda, well... I mean, are we really gonna introduce him to Noel and the guys when they're drinking? I don't think everyone's gonna be civil when they learn the cute little sister we've cherished got a boyfriend out of the blue..."
"That's exactly why it's fine."
He sipped his Glühwein and exhaled with a warmed breath. Alba's lips curled upwards.
"This is our chance to see how serious this boy is about Anne. If he crumples before our gang's intimidation, it means he can't possibly assume to be Anne's knight."
Alba was wearing his sunglasses, but Soiree could clearly see the cold sting in his twin's eyes.
"Überzeugungsverbrechen? B-Bro, you're scary..."
"Huh? What are you guys talking about?"
Anne had finished changing into a clean set of clothes and noticed the twins huddled next to one another, curious to know why they were whispering.
"It's nothing. We were just looking forward to tonight's party. Right, Soiree?"
His older brother's voice had dropped its unnerving tone seconds before. When Alba signaled for Soiree to follow suite, he knew he would have to fold and quietly obeyed.
"Okay then, see you guys in a bit. I'm off to buy groceries with Tony."
She linked her hand with Tony's and they cheerfully walked out of the room. Anne strangely didn't notice the awkward smile plastered on Soiree's face.
"Wow, I feel so grateful! I thought gangs were much more scarier, but they're actually really nice to know in person! It must be because they're your brothers, Anne."
"Tee-hee. I knew Tony would understand."
Soiree overheard their happy banter as the couple walked towards the stairs, watching their backs inquisitively. He huffed a sigh as his hand leaned against the door frame.
"Nope, we're really scary. You just haven't really realized it yet, Lil' Tony. Don't know what you heard about Bro from other gangs, but he's really not that easygoing--"
Alba was at the table drinking his Glühwein; he used the moment to gesture his mug towards his younger brother.
"Don't say anything unnecessary."
Thinking about it now, the one who was most shocked about Anne's boyfriend was probably Alba himself. Soiree knew his brother's current temperament. If he had pointed that out now, he would probably fall victim to his brother's wrath so he immediately shut his mouth.
"What is it, Bro?"
"Could you inform Noel and the others about Anne? We didn't get anything set up last night, so everyone needs to work together for the preparations now, right?"
"Oh, good save, Bro. The sooner I get to them, the better. Gotta stop 'em before they treat themselves to an all day drinking fest with my stash!"
"I've been so focused on Anne, I almost forgot what party we were hosting. ...If I recall correctly, wasn't Dude supposed to get the tree?
"Then I'll fetch one instead. It's impossible to move the car when it starts snowing."
Pushing the mostly filled mug towards Soiree, Alba hurried to the stairs.
"Wait a sec, Bro."
Soiree lightly winked to his brother as he drank the Glühwein.
Alba fondly answered the sentiments in their mother language before he departed. The familiar jangle of his car keys sang in the morning as he descended the stairs.
Wanting to disperse the stagnant feeling in the room, Soiree opened the kitchen windows to air it out. The chilliness of the morning rushed in and prickled lightly against his skin. He hummed a jolly tune as he returned to his room, rummaging for the oiled coat he seldom wore and wrapping a scarf around his neck. As he checked his hair in the mirror, he heard the growl of his brother's Mustang.
"... Bro sure is being unexpectedly cooperative."
Soiree smiled wryly as he watched the Mustang speed off from his window. Alba acted like he had no interest in the party, but that assessment was far from the truth. In some ways, he was probably more eager than Soiree about it. Of course, he knew Alba wouldn't express it in the same extroverted and merry way as him or Noel. It was more subtle than that. Alba was the perfectionist of the group; he wouldn't feel satisfied until he confirmed everything had been prepared and carried out exactly as planned.
"I think it wouldn't hurt for him to be a little more open, but that's my Bro."
He balled his hands in his coat's pocket while leaving the room, gazing up at the sky which was begging to snow. His breath tinted his sight with a whitish haze. They would have to sit down and think of Anne's future someday, Soiree thought. He could leave everything else to Bro, but he was not excluded from seriously considering the security of her wellbeing.
But that can happen another time. Today, he didn't mind forgetting about his worries to celebrate.
His steps seemed to bounce of their own accord as he walked towards the burger stand, seeming to dance in sync to a silent rhythm. Sharing the Christmas spirit with nearby acquaintances and well wishers, Soiree kept the merry jig in his gait to town.