Finally got my ass around to dig up another old one from a competition. This one back then was held in memory of Shadowclad, for those of you who remember him. Of Starts and Durations Toshirō sat down with an ache, immediately the pain started to fade. Tired he opened his helmet, cluttering it to the ground next to him. With the visor shattered it was not of much use anyway. Almost unnoticeable a small light was blinking inside. He exhaled deeply and the first thing that came to mind was the night he first met Hajime. The streetlights rushed by as they made their way over an almost deserted highway. The Akamichi, the Red Roads, were out in force. 20 boys and girls, you hardly could have called them men and women back then, riding racing machines on their way out of town. A police remote hovered close by keeping an eye on them, they didn´t care. This night they were on the road to celebrate and not to cause any trouble. This was an escort for his brother Heishiro who had been married that day, it was meant to be a night of joy. Then they met the Raitora. The Thunder Lions were new in town and up for a clash. So as they came up to Heishiros´ favourite Izakaya, it was surrounded by bikes, only of the wrong type and a smug smiling boy stood at the door. Toshirō went over to him. The boy flashed his dark eyes upwards and all was said. He wanted to punch him right into this smile, but by now there were three remotes hovering by. Any trouble would end badly. “Half an hour, track 18, you and me.” The challenge was blunt and very brash. Toshirō acknowledged it and left. Toshirō checked his comlog for any new transmissions. It still was jammed. He rested his head against the cold wall and thought of the race. The boy was good. Having the whole racetrack to themselves Toshirō and the upstart offered themselves no quarter. Driving next to each other almost the whole track, he could see him keeping this smug smile. Toshirō was burning with rage. How could they mess with his brothers´ party? Cursed Earthborns. He was so angry that he almost overlooked the last curve. Swearing loudly he steered sideways and onto the wall of the compound. Dazzled by this the other one slowed down just a notch. It was enough. Managing not to crash his machine Toshirō jerked of the wall and crossed the line first. Then he lost control of the machine. For a brief irritating moment sliding over the asphalt was completely painless, then he crashed into something and the world went dark. The next thing he knew was the sight of people surrounding him and two pairs of dark eyes. One was the young Raitora, the other one he didn´t knew back then, but she was beautiful. Before he passed out he saw how she held him back. Waking again, Toshirō was dazzled. Sleep was dangerous. He reached into his pouch and drank some water, it burned like acid. Coughing up a bit of it, he heaved himself back into a more straight position. He cursed inwardly. He felt similar to the time he learned Sōkos name. After the crash he spent the next few days in the hospital. Later he learned that his brother had given up a large part of his wedding money to pay for his care. Money he would beat out of the Raitoras face. Yet the only face he saw, when he woke up in the hospital that day, was the beautiful one from the racetrack. Clad in a tight fitting racing suit of black and yellow, she casually sat on a nearby stool with her feet put up onto the railing of his bed. She seemed immersed in the holographic displays of her comlog, so Toshirō had some time to admire her frame and he really liked what he saw. Suddenly she turned her face to him and he once more looked into these dark eyes. Framed by her just as dark hair her face appeared somewhat of a negative to his still blurred vision. “What are you looking at Bōya?” “You.” “Seen enough?” “Not yet, could you stay like that for a while longer?” She jumped to her feet in a graceful manner and left the room. He remembered her slight smirk. “Wait. Who are you?” She didn´t answer, but later he would find a message from a Fujishi Sōko in his inbox, it came with her picture. Before that happened someone else entered the room, it was the young Raitora. Toshira growled in anger as he entered, despite his arrogant bearing the newcomer made gesture of peace. “What do you want here?” “Well, I wanted to say that I´m sorry that you got hurt, but…screw that you red scum!” “Wait until I can walk again, I´ll beat the crap out of you, you bastard!” “You´re welcome to try.” They locked a fierce stare and tried to stare each other down. They looked away at the same instant, which only fired up their mutual dislike. The Raitora stepped closer to the bed, looming over Toshirō he whispered. “I´ll wait for you to get better Hashimoto Toshirō, the days of you and your gang are numbered.” “Strong words for a boy who is too afraid to even tell his name.” Toshirō snapped back at him. “My name is Imayama Hajime and I will be your doom.” Toshirō laughed. “Like you have beaten me on the race track?” Hajimes face twisted a little bit and he went for the door. Shooting another dark look he said. “And keep away from my sister!” Then he was gone and both knew that they´d be enemies from this day onward. Moving a little bit to stay awake, the pain returned. The light in his helmet was still blinking. The blinking of his comlog woke him up to an incoming call. Sōkos face popped up on his display. “Wake up already.” “Hello. What a pleasant surprise.” She smiled at that with her peculiar smile in which she bit her left lower lip. “If you want to save on the pay for the hospital, why don´t you get down here and we take a ride out?” She zoomed out a little bit and he saw that she was standing in front of the hospital with two bikes. He hesitated, it could be a setup. On the other hand he was sick of this place anyway and every day less to pay the better. “So ka.” “Sweet.” She disconnected and he got out of bed. He was scheduled for release in two days and was feeling well anyway. Actually he wanted to leave three days ago but the doctors wouldn´t let him. He tapped into the hospital network as good as he could to determine his best way out. He had nothing to dress but the hospital gown. That would be fun. After a while he really did manage to get outside without being seen much. Even though he had to punch out a nurse on the way, he also got a scar on his arm from that encounter, a story he would grow quite fond of telling. When he reached her she threw a bag at him. “Here, you can´t drive like this.” He zipped it open. Inside was a simple racing suit. “Arigatō.” “Don´t mention it, it should fit.” He looked around for a place to change, but besides the bikes itself not much cover was to be found. “What´s the matter? Shy?” That smile again. With a snout he undressed, still he turned his back to her. Deep down hoping that she would not knock him over or something. “I guess that makes us even?” “Guess so. Nice ass, by the way.” Not knowing how to take that compliment Toshirō just blushed silently. He turned around again. “Let´s go.” She jumped on her bike and he took the other one. Before he had time to take a look at it she took off. He followed. Unfamiliar with the machine it took him some time to catch up again. After a short chase through the suburbs, including two close calls with surveillance remotes, they came to a halt at an old construction site. There between the half-finished buildings he found her standing next to her bike. Toshirō slowed down and got off, his back hurt, maybe the doctors had been right all along? “Not bad for a wounded boy.” “Wait till I´ve got my own machine back.” He took a long look at her. The moment passed when… A sound from his comlog tore him back into reality. Finally a signal. They were nearby. He tried to send a message himself but didn´t get through. Cursing he punched the floor, pain flooded him and he blacked out. “Hey, you red scum! Keep away from her!” Toshirō stood real close to Sōko when Hajime showed up. He slid around the corner on his machine and nearly ran the two over. “Piss off Hajime, leave me alone.” Hardly had she snapped this at him he was off his bike and Toshirō in a fighting stance. “Alone gladly, but not in the company of someone like him.” They glared at each other. She stepped between them. “Enough of this. I promise I´ll be home within the hour, but leave us now.” Hajime looked at her, only to thrust his finger at Toshirō. “This is not over.” A moment later he was gone. She turned around to him, she looked worried. “Sorry, for my brother.” “Brother? But…” “I´m adopted, okay.” “What?” “Can we talk about that another time?” “I guess, yeah.” “Good, because I think I like you.” “Even though I´m an Akamichi?” “I have nothing to do with your silly gangfights.” Something in her beautiful face evaporated Toshirōs´ rage at this remark. He didn´t know what it was beside that face, but he did like her. A part of him also liked the trouble which would come out of this. Toshirō woke with a resemblance of the smile he wore in that moment. He felt stiff and cold. Moving only brought pain but he did it nonetheless. Something damp had started to soak his midriff. It felt muddy when he touched it. Reaching for the water again he emptied the bottle. It still burned in his throat, yet not as bad as the last time. He tried to concentrate on his surroundings but he soon faded back into his memories. He came out of nowhere and tackled him. They fell to the ground in a heap of limbs. Cursing loud Toshirō tried to get on top of his assailant but failed. He trashed out with his elbow and hit something, in return the blow to his stomach cost him his air. He pulled up his leg and hit him with his knee, while taking a punch to the face. With a loud shout he headbutted his opponent. That finally loosened the grip and both rolled a few feet. Coming back into a stand he got a look at Hajime who glared at him. Blood was dripping from his face. “Are you insane!” “I told you to stay away from her!” “Bite me!” With a roar akin to his namesake he charged. Toshirō tried to sidestep but wasn´t fast enough. He felt something break in his chest under the impact. Striking away with abandon he smashed his elbows into Hajimes´ back. Falling again he hit the pillar behind him. Once more jerking up his knee he felt resistance, he couldn´t enjoy the thought for long as he got a fierce punch in his left armpit. Crying out again he tried to get a hold of Hajimes´ neck. Finding a grip he turned him painfully upside down. With a cry of anguish the tiger lashed out with his right foot. He lost his stand and fell to the ground, but his foot hit Toshirō squarely in the face. Snapping back against the steel his vision faded for a second. As he came by he kicked the figure to his feet but collapsed himself a second later. For some minutes the only sounds in the empty garage were the rasping sounds of the two boys gasping for air. Illuminated by the faint light of Toshirōs machine he could hardly make out the form of Hajime, but he could see his defiant stare. He returned it. If this sucker wants a fight he was to get one. Hajime was the first one to move again. Toshirō made a gesture of defence as he slowly picked himself up from the floor, but the Raitora waved. He tried to speak but needed two attempts to do so. “Keep…away…from…my…sister.” Toshirō slid himself up the pillar. He was not in any better condition. “That´s…for…her…to…decide…you…moron.” Hajime tried to raise his fist but recoiled from the pain. “Let´s take…that…to…the track…,shall we?” “Alright…,…the track.” Hajime started to limp into the darkness. Before he was out of sight he turned around. “Next week. At High Ground.” Toshirō showed his approval and limped to his machine. His rips were just as broken as they had been back then. With a cry of pain he stuck one of them back into place, he faded again. Like their first duel on the track both showed up with backup. Also Sōko tried to talk both of them out of it as they learned later on, yet they were here and furious. Not wanting any outside interruption they even did register the race with the authorities beforehand, therefore they had a fully operational race track at their disposal. The fee had been high still having no surveillance remotes, except for the fire control ones, was well worth it. This was to be a contest of skill and will. Nothing more, nothing less. Toshirō was the first one to be on the track. His brother and twenty more of the Akamichi came with him. Hajime showed up only shortly after, he had an entourage of similar size. Only Sōko was nowhere to be seen. They got to the track and onto their machines. Toshirō felt watched and glanced to the side to find Hajime glancing at him. Both looked away. On the cue they fired up their engines. Jumpstarting Toshirō got the lead, but in the first curve Hajime managed to close up. For some reason he smirked. The first lap went fast and neither managed to get more than a heads length away from the other. Toshirō solely focused on his front tire and the ground it ate away as he started into the second lap. It took him a while before he noticed the absence of his rival. Paying attention to his comlog he received the call from his brother. “What´s going on?” “It´s the triads, they got your girl.” “What?!?” Toshirō almost crashed when he slowed to a halt. “What happened?” “We don´t know, but we got it from tapping into the police feed.” He opened a channel to Hajime. “Where is she?” “Down in the south centre of Peripheral 1.” “Good let´s go.” A moment of silence passed between them, then Hajime grunted. “Hm, we finish this later.” “Agreed.” Firing up their engines again, the two left for the south. “Where are you? Damn it Toshirō.” Snapped back into reality by the familiar voice, he fumbled with his comlog, but the connection was lost again. At least they were looking for him. Sparks showered over him and he drove right into the fading explosion. Hajime was right behind him. With all the surveillance remotes destroyed they continued on their path. “The restaurant to the right.” His voice cut clean into Toshirōs´ focused mind and he wheeled around. Jumping from the highway at a sharp angle he landed on a hover car on the sidewalk. It´s windows shattered with a loud crash and the alarms were raised. The law was inbound. Absorbing the impact Toshirō blacked out for a second but came by as his wheels hit the street again. The adrenaline took care of the pain. Behind him Hajime crashed onto the same car, silencing the alarms. Without a pause he smashed into the façade of the restaurant, he neither noticed nor cared about it at all. They had Sōko in there. He hardly saw anything in the flying debris and something was stuck in his hip, as he followed her comlog sign. The strange sounds he heard were bullets passing by him, yet he learned of that only much later. When he saw her a large brute was standing next to her, he raised his weapon but Toshirō geared up even more and just ran into him. Despite all the sound around he heard the splashing sound of the man dying. A table flew into him. He toppled to the side and lost control of his machine. He was stopped by an aquarium. Completely losing his orientation he snapped back when someone tore away his helmet. It was her. A shadow fell onto her, it was Hajime grinding to a halt in the remnants of furniture. Suddenly blood poured from his shoulder and he collapsed. Sōko screamed. Toshirō grabbed her. “Go. I get him out!” Whirling her into the direction of his machine he jumped to Hajime. He was still breathing but blood poured freely from his frame. Pulling him from his machine Toshirō dragged him behind a flipped table. He fell and started to notice the pain in his hip. There was blood all around. The last thing he saw before he faded was Sōko driving away through the façade. “We got you. I´m on my way.” He hardly noticed the voice from his helmet as he dozed between his memories. “Terazawa Hakenoru” “What?” was echoed by two voices. Toshirō could hardly move but managed to tilt his head to see Hajime lying in the bed next to him. Both were bandaged up quite badly. “That is my name, and you will mark it well.” Veering back he saw the face of man standing between the two beds. He wore the uniform of the StateArmy and had an expression not to trifle with. “Why?” echoed both again. He smiled, it was terrifying. “Because, I pulled your asses out of jail or even downright execution, we will never know that, by drafting you into my unit. Welcome to the army boys.” He left. Toshirō only thought of Sōko. Up till this day the first months of training were just a conglomerate of images and feelings, mostly feelings. Being part of the same unit Toshirō and Hajime had to work together but they tricked and teased each other at every opportunity and they never entered one of the racing competitions as part of the same team. Both transferred to different units before a race in order to defeat the other, thrice. When off duty they had to share their time with Sōko who never stopped loving both of them. Until… ´Ping` …. ´Ping´ Fading back into reality Toshirō needed a moment to identify the homing signal. He was closing in. Good, he wanted it to be over. His head slumped and he noticed that his blood by now had accumulated in a pool beside him, just as hers had back then. Torn asunder by the alien weaponry, Sōko died before their eyes. For the second time in their lives they acted as one and got her body out of the combat zone. Even hijacking a military transport just to get away from the city. Fuyan was one of the first cities to fall to the Combined Army and they had been there on leave. Only far behind the frontlines they discovered that even her cube had not survived the attack. She was gone. The two of them almost throttled each other to death over her corpse. They didn´t speak a word to each other for years afterward, as each one blamed the other. He woke to the touch of steel. His jaw was lifted by a pistol and he looked into Hajimes´ eyes. After all those years the hatred was still there. “You look like shit.” Toshirō could only grumble in reply. Hajime holstered the gun and drew forth another. He injected something into Toshirōs´ neck, immediately the pain lessened. Hajime slapped something onto his side before he lifted Toshirō up. Toshirō despised that he was rescued by Hajime as his hate also had never vanished. Yet that didn´t matter anymore. He had knew Hajime would come for him. After all they were comrades.