The sound of the explosion was deafening, and debris fell all around him as Shinji Mimura crawled across the ground.
Please be alive, he thought as he reached the body of his best friend, Yutaka Seto, who was lying face down in a pool of blood. Gently, Shinji rolled him onto his back and was overcome with relief when he heard a grunt of pain.
"Yutaka! You're alive, thank God!" he cried as he laid the smaller boy on his lap.
"Yeah, glad you're ok too," he said with a slight smile, his voice weak. "So the bomb worked, eh?"
"Damn right it did! We got Kiriyama good! I'm sorry; I was supposed to be for Fumiyo's revenge.."
"It's ok. I bet we still surprised those ass holes in the government," Yutaka laughed.
"I bet we did," Shinji replied. He took a closer look at Yutaka's injuries and knit his brows with worry. "Hate to say this buddy, but you don't look so good."
"For once I can say the same about you." He tried to laugh again, but cried out from the pain it caused. A serious expression came over his face and he looked up at Shinji with pleading eyes. "Mim," Yutaka whimpered. "Mim, it hurts."
"I know it does, but just hang in there, ok? We can get you some help. Someone will help us." Shinji replied with a weak smile, gently moving Yutaka's hair away from his face.
Yutaka shook his head slightly, and he began to cry. "No. No one will help. Everyone is playing the game. O-our friends.. They're either dead or playing. N-no one will help." He took a deep breath, trying unsuccessfully to calm himself. "I-I don't wanna die, Mim."
"You're not going to die! I-I won't let you!" Tears filled his eyes and he struggled to hold them back. He didn't want to cry in front of Yutaka; it would only make him feel worse.
They were quiet for a few moments. Then, Yutaka smiled and got a far away look in his eyes, as if remembering something. "Do you remember when we first met?" he asked, fixing his gaze on Shinji's again.
"Yeah, of course. You were trying to save that dog from those men, so you peed on them." He laughed at the memory and wiped away the tears that had escaped with the back of his hand. "Y-you're always doing stuff like that. You're so caring. I look up to you, you know? I've always wished I could be as kind as you."
"M-me? But you're the one people look up to. You're smart, and athletic, and everyone likes you. I'm just a fuck-up. Look at the mess I've gotten us into now.. I could never figure out why you bothered with me."
"Because you're my best friend," he responded without hesitating. Shinji couldn't hold back his tears anymore, so he let them fall freely. "You're not a fuck-up, Yutaka. I-I couldn't have made it this far without you," he said between sobs.
"You'll make it, Mim. You have to live. Win the game... For me."
"W-we're going to win it together! You and me, we'll escape and.." Shinji trailed off when he saw the look in Yutaka's eyes. He looked so calm, like a peaceful feeling had come over him.
"Not me. You gotta win for me, for the both of us. I'm going to die here, but that's ok. I'm happy to die now, because I got to spend my last moments with my best friend. I'm so glad I met you, Mim. Thank you." He said these final words as his eyes slid shut, a smile gracing his lips.
"I'll win for you. I promise you I'll win," Shinji whispered. He realized his words were lost on Yutaka; his best friend was already gone.
Shinji bowed his head to give a moment of silence for his fallen friend, the pain of his loss greater than that of his wounds. He was angry. Angry at the government for allowing this 'game' to happen. Angry at his classmates who were willing to play. But most of all, he was angry at himself for not being able to do anything about it, and for letting Yutaka die.
Hearing a creak behind him, a feeling of dread filled Shinji. He gently moved Yutaka off his lap and took a final look at his bloody but peaceful face. Then, he stood and turned toward the noise and saw Yutaka's killer standing there, unharmed. It was time to face Kazuo Kiriyama for what he knew would be the last time.