All the Pretty Little Horses
The air was eerily quiet, save for the light, summer breeze rustling through the chain-link rent-a-fence that haphazardly surrounded the half-demolished gates of what was once Binan Land Amusement Park. The last twinkling golden rays of the sunset reflected off of the piles of twisted, rusted metal that littered the ground of the demolition site. Yumoto wasn’t entirely sure why his legs had brought him to the park; Gora would certainly be worried if he had known where Yumoto was going. After all, it wasn’t like him to wander off anywhere by himself. He spent most of his free time with his senpais in the Earth Defense Club or doing his chores at Kurotama with his brother. But every now and then, Yumoto would deviate from pattern, following whims that struck without warning. Like chasing a pink wombat-like creature across town. Or visiting the wreckage of his favorite amusement park after he’d heard on the news that demolition would be complete within the month.
Oh, how different the place looked compared to just a few months ago on the last day of operation, when Yumoto and the Battle Lovers found out the truth about the ‘VEPPer’’s past and just what it had to do with Gora. Yumoto reached up to curl his fingers through the links in the fence, squinting past the crumbling gates towards where the Mad Mouse coaster lay in crumpled ruins. He couldn’t see much from his vantage point, but he saw it all in his mind’s eye so clearly; his bewildered senpais, the hurt and betrayal and anger on the faces of the Beppu brothers, the bizarre whiteboard drawing chronicling CIDE 1 and 2… he also saw the Binan Land of his childhood; the happy, vibrant place that brought warm, fuzzy feelings and an overwhelming sense of affection for his Anchan. That visit that coincidentally had been the beginning of the Beppu’s obsession with Gora had also been one of the first times Yumoto had been out of the neighborhood with Gora since it had gone down to just the two of them. Before, Gora had been hesitant to let Yumoto go much past the limits of the shopping district surrounding their bathhouse, not wanting to be too far away from home in case something happened, Yumoto supposed. So the memory was a fond one, in more ways than one.
So it was even more bittersweet to see the place in disrepair, soon to be leveled into a parking lot or a shopping mall or some other place that would never be as amazing as Binan Land. Especially considering the aftermath of the Battle Lovers and VEPPer’s ‘final battle’ of sorts, Yumoto found himself remembering the Beppu’s faces more clearly- how they positively crumpled under his brother’s affection and how desperately they’d cried at being finally, finally noticed. Yumoto had understood it, then. As much crap as he got from his senpais for being overly emotional, he knew as well as anyone how much it hurt to feel alone. That must’ve been why when he was faced with the sun setting over the torn remnants of his favorite childhood place, he wished desperately that Binan Land hadn’t closed, so perhaps he, his senpais, Gora and the Beppus could have visited one last time. Maybe then, Yumoto thought, Akihiko and Haruhiko could have had a little more closure. Maybe then, he wondered, they would all actually get along.
In name only, the Beppus had joined the Earth Defense Club, having insisted on staying in Binan High until the end of term upon Dadacha’s departure, splitting their idol duties with their studies. Yumoto didn’t see much of them, as packed as their schedules were, and they had only dropped by the clubroom at school once, only barely hiding their displeasure at the state of the room. They dropped by the Kurotama only slightly more often, even though their spaceship/house still remained across the street, and they tended to chat with Gora more than they actually joined Yumoto and the rest of the Defense Club in the bath. As much as his senapis thought that Yumoto was childish, he wasn’t as dumb as he appeared. There was something in the Beppu’s demeanor that said that even though they had gotten what they wanted and were content enough to stick around, they still didn’t seem to like Yumoto very much. It was in the little things, like how they made eye contact with Gora every time he spoke, but would glance off to the side when talking with Yumoto, or how they dismissed Yumoto’s invitations to come by with excuses but cleared their schedule when Gora said they should visit. Yumoto understood it on the one hand; forgiveness would take time. But on the other, he hadn’t done anything wrong. He just… had what they had wanted. But now that they had Gora’s attention, and were actually happy being idols instead of doing it to achieve a goal… Yumoto felt that being friends shouldn’t have been too much of a stretch, should it?
And okay, maybe getting the cold shoulder hurt a little bit. Being a Prince of Love and being ignored? ...maybe that was how the brothers had felt.
Yumoto sighed and dropped his hand from the fence, pouting as the sun dipped behind the horizon, bathing the remnants of Binan Land in purples, blues and oranges. He supposed he should probably just go home. Gora would be worried, and he was supposed to spend time with his senpais the next day. He needed to get a good night’s sleep. But he wasn’t able to turn away. No, something was drawing him there. Whatever had drawn him there in the first place wasn’t letting him leave until he figured it out. He peered past the fence again, standing on his tiptoes and craning his neck, trying to see what remained of the carousel or the tilt-a-whirl or if anything was still left standing. But what remained of the front gates was still blocking his view. The fence, while seemingly weak at first glance, didn’t have any noticeable gates and was too sturdy to knock over easily. However, it didn’t appear sound enough for Yumoto to climb. It likely wouldn’t support his weight without falling to pieces, and he really didn’t want to risk getting hurt…
The true loveracelet shimmered on his wrist. While they hadn’t had the need to transform in weeks, Wom-san hadn’t taken the technology away. As Battle Lover Scarlet, a fence would be a minor annoyance. Yumoto grinned in spite of himself and kissed the charm, letting the familiar warm sensation of the transformation take over him. He supposed a nagging feeling that he was supposed to do something was as good a reason as any to transform, wasn’t it?
Once fully shifted, Yumoto hopped the fence easily and started the task of looking around, taking the very familiar loop that circled the perimeter of the park. It was deathly quiet amongst the wreckage and dark demolition equipment- giant shadows looming over piles of rubble as the sun rapidly set in the distance. Yumoto felt as if he were in a graveyard of sorts, which wasn’t too terribly far from the truth. So many memories were put to rest in the ruins, both wonderful and terrible. Every visitor to the place had a story. He wondered just how many of them were intertwined, like his and the Beppu’s. There could have been tens or hundreds of people who had different versions of the same day’s memory. How many people had seen the same things he had and come to entirely different conclusions?
Yumoto stopped in front of the carousel, frowning as he saw the colorful metal top twisted in a crumpled heap next to a pile of scuffed and damaged plastic horses. Rusted, metal poles jutted out of the pile every which way and more than one of the horses was missing a saddle, limbs, or the paint had peeled off entirely.
“It really is like a graveyard,” Yumoto said to himself, shaking his head. The entire demolition seemed like such a waste. While the carousel had been in bad shape before the park had closed, it would have been easy to restore the horses with paint and some TLC to put on a new carousel, wouldn’t it? Yumoto approached the rubble heap, gently placing his gloved hand onto the nose of the nearest horse. Obviously, it was cold. The horse had never been alive. But Yumoto had always treated carousel horses with care; thanking them for their hospitality and service each time he toddled off the merry-go-round to go to the next ride. Gora had played along with him, too, telling the horses that he’d bring them carrots next time. That had always made Yumoto laugh.
“You did a good job,” Yumoto said, rubbing the cold plastic, just for old time’s sake. “You can rest, now, mister horse.”
He stood there for a moment or two in silence, paying his respects to the forgotten carousel horses. He was just about to turn away when a flash of silver caught his eye. Curious, Yumoto carefully tiptoed around the edge of the pile, following the glint caused by the last rays of the setting sun. His eyes widened when he found the source- two of the horses offset from the others, lying on their sides in the grass next to one another. They were in bad shape like the rest, their identical silver dapple coats chipped in places and their saddles worn, but for the most part were actually intact. On the bridle of the first horse was a glittering, crescent moon, on the other, a golden sun. The symbols looked oddly familiar-
Suddenly, Yumoto had an idea.
“And don’t forget, the galaxy’s newest idols, the VEPPer are having a special celebration concert on the 21st of August- “
“That’s right! It’s the VEPPer’s birthday celebration and all the apes are invited!”
“Get your tickets today!”
The massive visage of the Beppu’s mansion/spaceship was fully dark by the time Yumoto returned from his excursion. The building loomed menacingly over him as he huffed and puffed his way up the front steps, lugging the two carousel horses from Binan Land as best as he could. He hadn’t bothered to change back to everyday Yumoto from Battle Lover Scarlet, thinking that carrying the horses would be easier with the suit’s enhanced abilities. He hadn’t been wrong, there, but he hadn’t exactly thought his idea through very well, either. Carousel horses were surprisingly heavy, even for a so-called ‘superhero’.
Oh well, it was too late to back out.
Yumoto swallowed and looked up at the darkened mansion, hoping he’d been right in that surely the twins would be home the night before their birthday concert, resting in preparation for what was surely going to be a busy day. It had been absolute chance that Yumoto even knew of their concert at all; the advertisement had happened to play on the radio while he’d been helping Gora with the chores. He hadn’t actually seen the Beppus in weeks, the two most likely being busy with rehearsals or idol autograph tours or whatever it was that they did. Of course, when he’d brought the concert up to Gora, his Anchan already had received tickets, courtesy of the VEPPer themselves. “They came in the mail,” Gora had said.
So perhaps it was a logical conclusion that Haruhiko and Akihiko at least were aware of a potential visit from their neighbors. After all, it would have been rude not to get them a present, wouldn’t it?
Still, that didn’t make the uneasy silence that followed Yumoto ringing their doorbell any easier to bear.
And it was silent for a long while after.
Maybe they weren’t home. Maybe even if they were home, they wouldn’t answer the door to unannounced company. After all, they were idols. They probably got visitors all the time. Maybe his idea was stupid and childish. He could always leave the horses at the door with a note, but then they might think they were trash or not even read the note. They definitely weren’t the best things to look at, outright. Yumoto bit his lip and shifted on his feet, his arms aching from holding up the two heavy horses by their poles. He shouldn’t have come out, shouldn’t have brought the horses back, shouldn’t have-
“Who could be here at this hour?”
“They might not even still be there, Haru.”
“Because you took too long deciding whether or not to answer the door!”
“You absolutely did-”
“Oh, shut it-”
The door opened, and both of the twins’ voices trailed off mid-sentence. They both were dressed casually, much moreso than Yumoto had ever seen. He’d wondered a few times if the Beppus even owned plain t-shirts, yet there they were in matching black shirts and white slacks. They obviously were taken aback by both Yumoto’s presence and the carousel horses, their expressions puzzled, owlish, and a smidgen hostile if Yumoto was perceiving them right. He then remembered that he’d never transformed back from Battle Lover Scarlet before ringing the doorbell. Whoops.
“What are you doing here?” the twins said simultaneously, arching opposite eyebrows. Their eyes were trailing from Yumoto to the horses and back again, probably trying to figure out just what in the world was going on and whether or not they should be angry.
“And what exactly are those?” Even though all was supposedly forgiven, the ice still remained. Yumoto swallowed, gave a sheepish smile and bowed his head. Hopefully this would fix it.
“Happy birthday, Brothers-senpai,” he said, fidgeting in place between the horses. “I went to Binan Land today, just to see if there was anything left… I found these horses from the carousel and I thought you both might like them.”
The twins blinked again and one of them, Akihiko, Yumoto thought, made a small noise, though he couldn’t tell if it was good or bad. He pressed on, despite feeling his face warm in spite of himself. Usually he was passionate and always knew what to say. Words just came to him, even if he got made fun of for the feeling behind his words. But for some reason, he was having trouble. Was he embarrassed?
“They reminded me of you!” Yumoto said, then gestured to the two horses individually. “See, this one has a sun and this one a moon, and they’re both silver-ish like your hair, and they were together away from the rest of the horses… they were kind of lonely looking.”
The other twin, Haruhiko, tilted his head at that, but they both said nothing.
“I know that broth- Akihiko-senpai and Haruhiko-senpai also really liked Binan Land… maybe even more than I did. But we liked it for pretty much the same reasons! I thought that you might want to have something from there to remember it by.”
For a moment, everything was silent, the only sound being the breeze whistling through the dark streets. The Beppus just stared at Yumoto, and he couldn’t place the looks on their faces, although both of their faces had turned a bit pink. Yumoto fidgeted again, but there were no more words.
“...you brought those all the way here?” Haruhiko said, moving forward out of the doorway towards the horses.
“To give them to us?” Akihiko said, doing the same.
“Why?” they both asked, looking at Yumoto curiously.
“Why?” Yumoto said, blinking. He thought he had explained himself relatively well, but the twins still seemed suspicious. So, he decided to tell more of the truth. “Because your birthday is tomorrow, and I wanted to get you two something nice… and I wanted to do something nice ‘cause I know you still don’t really like me much and I really really want us to get along because… well… now that I know what happened I think it’s cool that you believed in my brother and looked up to him- and anyone who’s a friend of my brother…” he trailed off for a moment, gripping the carousel poles tightly. The Beppus were wide-eyed, silent. “...anyone who’s a friend of my brother, I want to be friends with, as well.”
“...hm.” The brothers looked between one another and then back to Yumoto, their expressions softening slightly, although it could have been wishful thinking on the part of Yumoto’s imagination. They both reached out to inspect their respective carousel horses, running their fingers over the chipped paint and decor on the bridles.
“You brought these horses all the way here to give to us as gifts,” Akihiko said.
“Did you get yourself anything from Binan Land?” Haruhiko said.
“You did say it was special to you, as well,” Akihiko said.
“No… I couldn’t carry any more than these,” Yumoto said with a shrug, then nodded towards his clothes. “That’s why I’m in this… it was easier this way.”
“I see,” the twins said together, then went back to inspecting the horses. They hadn’t said one way or another if they liked them or not, although they were talking to him more in those five minutes than they had in the entire time since the ‘final battle’. Yumoto supposed things were going well, but there was still an air of… awkwardness. They were all so stiff! Why couldn’t they just… get along already?
There was one last thing he could try.
“The horses need a little fixing up…” Yumoto said softly, looking between the twins. “I thought maybe if you wanted to… we could do that together? That’d be enough for me.”
Akihiko and Haruhiko shared a look between the two of them that Yumoto couldn’t decipher. But then… they smiled.
“That… can be arranged,” Haruhiko said.
“It sounds like a good idea,” Akihiko said.
“Oh! Good!” Yumoto said, unable to help his own smile. “I’m… glad. Happy birthday, senpais.”
It had always amazed Yumoto how the Beppus could move in perfect sync with one another. He had to wonder how they were able to do it. And he was left wondering once again, when the two leaned in, in perfect harmony, and placed identical kisses to his cheeks.
“Thank you, Yumoto.”