Fox & Wolf

Chapter 1

Gang of One

Yuki Yamakawa jumped.

The world record for a standing high jump (she looked it up) was six feet and change. She could match that without breaking a sweat.

Jirô’s roundhouse right parted the air beneath her feet. This time she’d really ticked him off. As she’d intended. She just thought he’d be better at picking his fights.

Well, if he didn’t know it before, she’d be sure to teach him that lesson now.

Yuki turned her torso through the sky with the grace of a gymnast doing a dismount at the end of her floor exercises. A full three-sixty accompanied by a half-rotation twist. The top of her head brushed his. She wasn’t trying to show off. Okay, maybe a bit. Once the pushing and shoving got past the pushing and shoving stage, calling up a bit of the wolf in her was the best way to keep from bloodying him too much. Or breaking bones.

Uncle Hiroki wouldn’t like that. “Don’t leave any marks,” was his version of fatherly advice, when “Try not to get us sued, okay?” didn’t have the desired effect. Uncle Hiroki was a lawyer whose clients had a bad habit of leaving marks. “Because they’re too stupid to think of better ways to settle a dispute or deliver a message.”

Yuki had run out of better ways to deliver this particular message.

She tucked her legs beneath her, planted her feet high on Jirô’s back, shoved off, flipped backwards, and stuck the landing.

Jirô sprawled on the dusty loam of the Omiya High School baseball infield.

He should have stayed down for the count. Instead he sprang to his feet, whirled around and charged. Yuki felt the rhythm of his feet pounding against the ground, measured his gait and distance—

The kid had a considerable advantage in height yet not the slightest idea how to use it, and not enough heft to bowl her over like a sumo wrestler. He was a prematurely big dog who let big do all the thinking for him. Except she could make an actual big dog her best friend in an afternoon. Precisely because a big dog didn’t know its own pedigree. Once a dog learned its place in her world, that dog didn’t forget.

Jirô Onodera knew his own pedigree only too well. His family had connections. Lots of connections. That meant the rest of them—from the first years right up to the teachers—were supposed to shake off his crap like a dirty dog shaking off a mud bath, making sure none of it landed back on him.

Yuki was going to make sure all of it landed back on him.

Instead of going high, she ducked low, shifted her weight back and swung her right leg at a rising angle. She did take some of her uncle’s advice to heart. Instead of driving the toe of her sneaker into his solar plexus, she connected instead with the smooth arc of her instep.

The air went out of him like a punctured beach ball. He collapsed to the ground on his hands and knees.

No, Jirô wasn’t a big dog. Yuki thought too highly of dogs to stick with that comparison. He was one of those volcanic mud pools in Beppu (the rare class trip that had been worth the bother), all that erupting energy splattering everybody around him.

She walked over and squatted down next him, bôsôzoku biker style, forearms resting on her knees, feet flat on the ground.

“Hey! Jirô! You need to sign up at a dojo and learn how to fight. Because you damn sure don’t know how. But you never fight anybody who fights back, huh? Until now.”

He glared at her out of the corners of his eyes. “That’s Jirô Senpai to you,” he wheezed.

How dare she address an upperclassman without attaching the required honorific? Yeah, he was all about the respect, didn’t they all know.

There was nothing wrong with a name like Jirô, but maybe being labeled Number Two Son from birth was a chip too heavy for his shoulders to bear. For all she knew, Number One Son was an even bigger asshole and his little brother was only living up to the example.

“Look,” she said, “I kinda get where you’re coming from. I don’t care for doormats either. Kids who never stand up for themselves, who never take their lumps, who run away from every fight. I don’t like them, but I really hate the jerks who walk all over them. Think beating up cowards makes you a tough guy? Well, Senpai, how tough are you feeling right now?”

She stood and walked away.

Yuki almost reached the first base line when Jirô dragged himself to his feet and bum-rushed her from behind.

She didn’t turn around. She didn’t have to look—still leading with his right. He really was Mr. One-Punch Man. Because in real life, when some slack-jawed idiot threw the first punch, few knew how to throw the second. One hit and they went down like a sack of rice, curled into a ball, and waited for the storm to blow over.

This far in his life, he’d never had to count past one.

The knuckles of his fist touched her right shoulder blade. She dropped her shoulder and took a small step to the side. He tumbled over her thigh, momentum carrying him forward. She grabbed his forearm and elbow and swung down in a counterclockwise arc.

He cartwheeled head over heels, fell on his butt, and slid into first. Too bad Jirô didn’t play baseball. In that game, he would have been safe.

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