High School Never Ends

Chapter 13: Decline

Twice! In one day! What is going on with me? Tetsuko paced around her apartment. Circe was out for the night and Ben had made Tetsuko take a day off when she showed up to work in bandages. And now she probably had to look up a specialist for muscular cramps and/or irregular heartbeats. Today just sucked. This is going to cost a fortune I don’t have. I’ll have to push it off a little. I’ll just take it easy and maybe it’ll resolve itself. I’ll be fine. Tetsuko pushed off the doctor’s visit for a week, then two when nothing major happened besides normal cramps from working out and soon she was convinced that everything would work out. She ignored any irregularities, and when they did happen, the brunette sat down for a minute and let calming breaths get her back to normal. It wasn’t until her thigh muscle started looking a little thin that she really paid attention to her body.

On one of the days she didn’t have classes up at SBU, Tetsuko was getting ready for what Kira had dubbed “Goth Day” at work. Tetsuko had purchased the cutest corset dress in black with layers of purple ruffles down the poofed skirt that feel just above her knees. It had lace strings up the sides and front, the sweetheart bodice perfectly framing her breasts and the girl paired it with black mesh full arm bands, black thigh high stockings and killer black heels. The brunette was busy streaking her newly curled hair with strips of washable black marker when she noticed it. And by “it” she meant the deformity in her thigh. Rushing over to the mirror, Tetsuko examined her leg and concluded that her right quad was definitely skinnier than her left one and noticeably so.

“When did this happen?” Tetsuko began thoroughly examining her body for other weirdness when she saw how skinny she’d gotten. Standing in her bra and underwear, the girl could clearly see the outline of her ribs through her skin, the bones in her face and her joints were starting to poke out. “Geez, I’m starting look like an anorexic person!” Then she thought about the last time she’d eaten anything other than a banana for breakfast and came up blank. She really hadn’t eaten a full meal for weeks. “Ah! I am and anorexic person!” The girl quickly dressed in her Goth outfit so Circe didn’t see anything and then went calmly downstairs to eat a bowl of cereal.

“Hey, Tiger! Are you almost ready to go?” Circe called from the bathroom.

“Almost! And if you’d get out of there I could put on my make-up!” Tetsuko dumped half her bowl of cereal down the sink because she’d let it get soggy while staring at it. Circe walked out a few minutes later and skin tight, black leather pants with a skull belt buckle, a crop top with holes missing around the shoulder and red biker gloves and boots. She’d gone heavy metal on her make-up, pulled her hair into a jagged mess of bed head and added fake metal piercings to her ears and tongue.

“What do you think?” The other brunette gestured and twirled around so Tetsuko could see her in all her glory.

“Utterly punk. What about mine?” Tetsuko asked, twirling as well. She’d slightly stuffed her thigh high to make her leg look normal. She only hoped it would hold its shape.

“Righteously depressing, yet cute at the same time. What’s that style called again?”

“Goth Lolita. Now that you’re out, I can do my face!” Tetsuko squeezed past her roommate and dashed to the bathroom.

“We’re on a time limit, so be quick!”

“We’re only on a time limit because you take too long to get ready!” Tetsuko applied her black eye shadow and lipstick quickly and smoothed over the bones in her face. No need to look like a skeleton as well as looking like a freak. Yanking her hair up into two twin tail pony tails on top of her head, Tetsuko hopped out of the bathroom a few minutes later. “Let’s go!” She ran out the door, dragging Circe behind her.

At work they got to witness Kira in her element, decked out in a black leather mini skirt, black, push up corset, the tallest shoes known to mankind and more chains and piercings than a tattoo shop. She’d streaked her hair red to match her lipstick and huge black circles of eye shadow ringed her contacts. Markus was dressed similarly in black leather pants, but he’d gone grunge Goth in his gray, pinstriped long sleeved shirt, a black hoodie and combat boots (complete with many rows of buckles). His bleached hair had been dyed black and hung in his eyes like yesterday’s laundry and he was wearing guy-liner and black male-polish with pale white skin.

“What?” Markus grunted when Kira stared at him for over a minute.

“You are such a Doomcookie.” The witch replied pointing at his makeup.

“What the hell does that mean?”

“Google it, Doomcookie.” Kira unlocked her gaze from the man and swung to the girls. “Oh my Goth! You are the perfect GothLoli, Tets’!”

“Thanks…I guess. This isn’t really my thing.” Tetsuko shrugged and yanked her skirt down.

“Yeah, she seriously took like two minutes to do her hair and makeup when it took me thirty!” Circe raved.

“You’re such a PerkyGoth, Circ. Can’t you ever be depressing? By the way, love what you did with your tongue.” Kira reached over to press her two-inch black nails against Circe’s face to pry her mouth open.

“Don et ooo exithed. Ith ake.”

“Looks fabulous anyway.”

“Well, we can’t all go Uber Goth like you, K. We just have to muddle along like, what do you call them?” Markus grumped.

“Mundanes.” She replied.

“Yeah, we’re like ‘mundanes’ most days.” Markus flopped down into his seat and took out today’s agenda.

“Today I’m mostly Panda Goth.”

“What does that mean?” Tetsuko asked, taking her seat as well.

“It means I was too lazy to take off my makeup last night and walked out with it still on this morning.” The Goth replied.

“But it looks perfect!”

“That’s because it won’t come off unless I use an ultra-strength makeup remover.” The click of Hardwick’s heels halted all conversation as the short lady walked up to the group, who was waiting for the disapproving eye and the lecture. They were surprised when their boss showed up in a severe black blazer, a black pencil skirt, black tie and black dress shirt to match her black pointy heels. Her salt and pepper hair was pulled back into its customary bun, but was accented by a black tulle hairpiece.

“What are you staring at, Intern?” The older woman snapped at the Japanese girl, her maroon lips pulling into an even deeper scowl.

“Nothing, ma’am!” Tetsuko averted her eyes

“Remember Robinson,” Hardwick turned her fierce glare on Kira, “I only allow you to do something this extreme once a year.”

“I’ll remember that ma’am.”

“Good. Now get to work!” Hardwick left them all alone, not even criticizing their clothes.

“She’s a closet Elder Goth.” Kira announced once the old lady had left.

“What’s that?” Tetsuko asked, confused again.

“A Goth that’s over thirty. Either that or she’s a Corporate Goth. And before you ask: that’s a Goth that wears business clothes.”

“Wow! I didn’t know there were so many different types of Goth!”

“Of course you didn’t, you’re not a true Goth. Most people don’t realize that there are many subcultures to our subculture and that ‘Goth’ is just a far-reaching over generalization of a whole movement.”

“Use small words, K. it’s too early in the morning for big words.” Markus flicked a rubber band as the witch and she batted it away with her pen.

“Those weren’t big words, you’re just an idiot.”

“Good morning, Petra!” Tetsuko called to her advisor as the red head passed by the editing team. The woman was wearing a slinky black and purple mesh dress and heavy makeup with knee high motorcycle boots. The red head glared at them and slunk away with an order to get to work. “Wow, everyone’s going Goth today.”

“That would be fantastic if they did.” Kira nodded, smiling softly. Her voice then when monotone and unemotional. “Then we could darken everyone else’s outlook on life.” The editing team laughed with her and then got to work sorting and proofreading about a bazillion articles. Tetsuko was sent out for coffee which made waiting in line a little uncomfortable in her Goth clothes, but she made it back safely just in time to un-jam the copier. Then she had to do it again once the advertising team and art team fought over who got to copy first and somehow got both their projects tangled into the printer and then the art director and the photo editor got into a huge argument about text and picture placement right outside the copy room in the hall that quickly escalated into a shouting match between the creative director’s staff. Then Hardwick had to come over and use her executive editor’s power to get them to shut the hell up and get back to work! Once the copy room was cleared, Tetsuko was left to finish her work on the printer. That fix took almost an hour and by the time the brunette got back to her desk, Markus had fallen asleep in his seat again and Kira was drawing a Hitler mustache on his face while Circe went to go get a snack from the vending machine. The rest of the morning and the early part of the afternoon passed quickly and soon it was time for Tetsuko to leave for Hero’s Bar.

The Japanese girl walked into the women’s restroom to change, slinging her change of clothes out of the bag she’s packed this morning. Tetsuko yanked out her twin tails and pulled her long hair back up into a single, high pony tail as she shrugged out of her Lolita dress. Pulling on a pair of well worn jeans and a long sleeved green shirt, Tetsuko slid into her sneakers and packed up all her clothes, slinging her bag back on her shoulder. She left the Journal and checked her phone as she walked to her motorcycle. Antonio was bugging her about an art history assignment, she had a reminder about studying for her entrance exam for the police academy (since there were so many applicants this year, the academy was having a pretest to screen volunteers) and Bunny was texting her about a new club that opened up by his apartment while he was on break. He wanted to check it out with her. Tetsuko hadn’t realized she’d stopped in the middle of the sidewalk until a strange man dressed like some sort of insect ran smack into her back. Both adults stumbled to their feet. Tetsuko glanced up at his red, bug-eyed goggles, moss green jumpsuit, cornrows and – are those antenna? – until she noticed his upside down T goatee. Ooo! That’s kind of cool! But I don’t know if I’d like my beard to be a letter. Especially and upside down one. Maybe a two piece goatee would look cool…she mused about the beard for a second until Buggy smiled at her and hopped away with a bag full of money. Then it hit the brunette that he was a thief. She burst into action, scooping up her phone and running on her newly strengthened legs and pumping her powerful arms.

“Hey! Get back here!” She yelled, giving the thief a literal run for his money.

“Not on your life, lady!” The thief shouted back. They ran for a few blocks, disrupting sidewalk traffic and leaving chaos in their wake until a familiar voice blasted off of the top of a nearby building.

“Repent, sinner. Your judgment is at hand.” Lunatic was pointing a flaming crossbow bolt down at the pair and released it in one smooth motion. Tetsuko was close enough to the bug guy to leap and tackled him to the ground as the shot whizzed past them.

“Run!” She shouted to the people milling about. They scattered as a wooden bench burst into blue flames, screaming that Lunatic was there. Tetsuko ducked into the thief’s jacket as another bolt rushed over their heads, setting a tree on fire.

“Oh no you don’t, Luna-prick! Destroying public property is my thing!” The brunette yelled up at the vigilante.

“This is ridiculous. You are in my way again, girl.” Lunatic loaded another bolt in his crossbow but didn’t light it up yet, staying on top of his building. “Let justice be served to this sinner.”

“No! Please don’t!” Buggy begged as he threw Tetsuko off him and tried to escape. Lunatic wasn’t having any of that and lit up the section of sidewalk next to the criminal’s feet.

“No! No! Don’t shoot!”

“He’s trying to kill you, numb nuts! Of course, he’s going to shoot at you!” Tetsuko saw the flash of police lights from a block over. They’ll get grasshopper, I’ve got to stop Luna-dick. The girl stood up and swung her fist around to connect with Buggy’s face. He was sent smashing into a pole and slumped to the ground, disoriented. She then ran for the building Lunatic was standing on top up and pushed through the doors. Glancing around with a serious case of déjà-vu, the brunette ran for the stairs and up to the roof, her right leg throbbing now. No. Not now. Please, not now. She stepped more carefully, slowing her speed a notch but still made it up the stairs quickly and cornered her nemesis on the roof. Lunatic had lost his cape at some point, probably burning it up with his entrance and her wore his wacky outfit and his palm-faced mask. Turning the googly eyes on the girl, the vigilante scoffed. Tetsuko glared at him but was distracted by nearly being blown off the roof as two new helicopters neared the building. Tetusko pushed against the wind, the force dragging her backwards as she fought to get to Lunatic. The vigilante stared up at the copters and the camera crews that manned them and shook his head. He walked backwards to the far end of the building’s roof. Tetsuko knew what he was going to do. He was going to escape.

“No!” She yelled and pushed harder, ran as fast as she could and leapt to grab Lunatic as he leapt off the building. Her heart fumbled and her leg buckled at the moment of her jump. One of her hands just missed grabbing the wacko’s shirt, the other clutched to her chest as her heart started beating normal again. Tetsuko hit the ground and crawled over to the edge of the roof and peered over just as her nemesis disappeared in a burst of blue flames. “Damn.”

Tetsuko slammed her fist into the roof cursing Lunatic’s name. She lurched to her feet, stumbled to the front side of the building and peered over the side to watch the cops drag grasshopper into a flashing police cruiser. She sighed in relief. Well, at least one got caught. Luna-dick will be back, but at least he didn’t kill anyone this time. Tetsuko began the painful trek down the stairs, favoring her right leg. Halfway down, her phone went off. The brunette pulled out her cell and clicked on the text.

Nathan: Hey, Ivan just messaged me saying that Handsome broke Stealth Soldier’s tip record! We’re throwing a congratulatory party after work tomorrow so bring the fun, Tets!

Tetsuko: Sure thing! I can’t believe he did it! He doesn’t need any more money and now we’re going to have to pay him for this month’s challenge!

Nathan: I know!

That record’s been around since Stealth Soldier broke the last one. Wasn’t it close to a thousand dollars in tips in one month? That’s over half of my pay check now with two jobs! And Stealth Soldier set the record in the busy season whereas Barnaby broke it in a regular month. This just means his popularity is getting out of hand! Which wasn’t bad at all for Tetsuko because their partnership had boosted her popularity, as well as her own tips. It was just a shock that such a long standing record had just been broken, by a rookie no less. Stealth Soldier had already placed the record years before he trained Tetsuko at her first day on the job. It was startling. The girl pocketed her phone and hopped the rest of the way down the stairs.

The whole episode with Lunatic had cut Tetsuko’s travel time and with Nathan’s text, the girl knew she was going to be late for her second job. She weaved between police car and avoided any news crews-no need to be any later-as she walked back to her bike. She slung her backpack full of clothes on her rack (nearly forgetting she had it at all) and slid her key into the ignition. The familiar rumble of the bike grounded Tetsuko, the past fifteen minutes having thrown the girl up in the air. She revved the engine and pulled out onto the busy street, melting effortlessly into the bustling city. The drive was short and when she got into the restaurant, the girl took a few minutes just to watch from the shadows. Sky High was his usual cheerful self and Origami Cyclone was hanging around the background as usual. Blue Rose was in a happy mood, swaying and singing in her costume on the small stage. She’d received a letter from Titan Records and they were going to fast track her career as a singer when she graduated in the summer. Right now though, they were working on releasing a single to get people in the music world to notice her.

Dragon Kid waltzed out onto the floor with a tray of drinks and had to dodge a couple of kids who were jetting to the bathroom. As she twisted and stepped around the small bodies, she didn’t spill a drop from her cups and skipped away with a smile. Tetsuko then spotted Barnaby chatting and serving a group of girls at the other end of the restaurant. She smiled softly as her boyfriend took their orders with brisk professionalism and got them taken care of with some drinks. Tetsuko had always wondered how he moved so effortlessly in his mecha boots (which resembled women’s heels) but he made it look so easy. Tetsuko sighed again; losing Lunatic again had been weighing her down, but just seeing her all of her friends lifted the girl’s somber mood. Then she was found out. Sky High pointed at her and called to Dragon Kid.

“Dragon Kid! Our replacement’s here! And again, she’d here!”

“Finally! I thought you’d never come!” The green haired girl finished serving her tables and walked over to the brunette.

“Yeah, sorry I’m a little late!” The Japanese girl grinned apologetically and tucked her arm behind her head. “I got distracted after work.”

“I know you’re distracted easily, but what could’ve possibly kept you so long? You’re a half an hour late.” Tetsuko jumped as Bunny appeared behind her. Sweat beaded on her brow as his disapproving stare scored her back, her racing pulse aggravating her aching leg.

“Uh, if I said ‘Lunatic’ would you still be mad at me?”

“What?” The whole restaurant seemed to quiet, many of the patrons stopping their conversations to listen to the brunette’s response.

“Geez! I’m like a horse in a spotlight now!” Tetsuko exclaimed, all the attention making her a little nervous.

“It’s ‘like a deer in the headlights,’ old lady. You weren’t even close.” Bunny’s green eyes glittered dangerously as he flipped the girl around to face him. “Now you’d better tell me what went on or I might have to beat it out of you.”

“Bunny! That’s no way to treat your girlfriend!” The blond raised a brow at her disdainfully. “Okay, okay. Here’s how it went down…” Tetsuko related the afternoon’s experience to the whole restaurant since everyone was listening now, but she carefully omitted the part where her heart and leg didn’t do what they were supposed to. No need to worry everyone with her own problems.

“Tigress, you are so reckless!” Bunny sighed after she finished her story.

“What can I say?” The brunette started.

“You’re a lightning rod for trouble, that’s what!” Dragon Kid piped up, making everyone laugh, included Tetsuko.

“Alright, time to get back to work.” Bunny broke up the pow wow and the restaurant’s individual conversations started up again.

“Kill joy. We were having fun!” Tetsuko batted her boyfriend’s plastic covered shoulder.

“We still have jobs to do, Tigress.” The blond pointed out

“Yeah, but everyone had forgotten that!” Bunny started to reprimand her, but the brunette cut him off with a kiss, tipping her head so she didn’t bonk it on his helmet. “Congrats, by the way.”

“Huh?” He replied intelligently.

“The tip record, dummy. Congratulations.” She shook her head at him. “What do we have to buy you this time?”

“I don’t need anything. I’ll just take cash.” He shrugged.

“Again? That’s the third time you’ve just taken our money. Don’t you have anything you want?”

“No I’ve got everything I need.” Bunny gave her a soft smile.

“If I didn’t know you better, I’d think you were trying to be romantic.” She commented, ruffling the boy’s feathers.

“We’re you’re right about that. I wasn’t talking about you. I was taking about my new surround sound system and my sports car.” The boy covered up his emotions behind his cool wall of riches but she knew that he knew that she knew it was a farce.

“Liar.”

“Go get dressed. We’re short staffed at the moment.” He nodded to Pao-Lin and Keith who both had de-costumed and waved as they ran out the back door.

“Bossy, Bunny.” Tetsuko went to change; her pony tail swinging behind her flirtatiously can came out with a disguised thigh muscle and a smile on her face.

After work, Bunny and Tetsuko had a little tryst in a park near the girl’s apartment. They laid on a grassy hill and pointed out the stars they could see through the city’s lights and the smog. The evening air was brisk, sending Tetusko into Bunny to snuggle against his red jacket. Wrapping in the blonde’s arm, the brunette tucked her head into his shoulder as he ran his fingers through her hair.

“So, how’s the apartment working out?” Bunny asked, twirling his finger around a lock of her long hair.

“Fine. Circe’s a great roommate but I never thought living on your own would be so hard! I mean, I have to watch the toilet paper to make sure I have enough to go to the bathroom, but heaven’s sake!” Bunny laughed at her exaggeration that wasn’t really an exaggeration. “How have you done it for so long, Bunny? I know you went to boarding school because your fan girls informed me of that, but how have you lived alone for so long?”

“Well, I had a good guardian,” Bunny paused, as if collecting his thoughts. “Mr. Maverick’s been like a father to me for as long as I can remember.”

“Huh? What do you mean?” Tetsuko shifted so she could look at the blonde’s face. He was staring into the sky, his eyes lost in his thoughts.

“Well…Mr. Maverick and my parents were very good friends. He would look after me whenever they were tied up with their research.” Bunny smiled and Tetsuko wondered if he was remembering something happy. It made her smile too. “He was always there for me whenever I needed him. Even on that fateful Christmas Eve, all those years ago.” Bunny’s expression darkened and Tetsuko knew he was thinking about the night his parents died. She tightened her arms around him. He squeezed her back. “He’d taken me home after visiting a Christmas display and waved to me as I walked inside. Moments later my parents were killed.”

“Oh, Bunny.” Tetsuko breathed, her heart going out to the boy. Even talking about it years later, the grief still clung to his voice.

“After that, I was an orphan and Mr. Maverick took me in.” Bunny’s mood lifted slightly as he kept talking. “He raised me like I was his own son. Even when I was at boarding school he was always looking out for me. And he knew I wanted to catch my parent’s killer, so he encouraged me to do all that I could. He even helped find some good connections in the justice system to help me look. Without Mr. Maverick, I wouldn’t be who I am today.”

“That’s a hell of a story.” Tetsuko said after he’d finished. She knew his life had been hard without his parent’s, but she hadn’t known that Mr. Maverick had played such a big part in it. Bunny always came off as the kind of person who was an adult even when they were kids. He could take care of himself and not need anyone’s help. So hearing that he’d relied on his guardian made Tetsuko feel special that he now relied on her as well.

“Until now, my only goal in life was to avenge my parents, but after all this time I finally have a new one.”

“What is it?”

“I’m going to do everything in my power to show my gratitude for Mr. Maverick, even if I spend my whole life repaying him. I guess you could say it’s my dream.” Tetsuko giggled and Bunny shifted to look down at her and scowled. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing! You’re just chasing the dream, huh?” Tetsuko tried to hide her smile so the blond didn’t think she was still making fun of him.

“And what about you? You must have a dream too. It’s probably something crazy like being the first woman to win a men’s wrestling championship or something like that.”

“No, nothing like that! I just want Kaede to think her mom’s cool.” Tetsuko smiled at the mere thought of her daughter’s bright face with a huge smile on it.

“But that’s so simple!”

“Hey! What are you trying to say?”

“Just that there’s a difference between a dream and sentimental pining.” He shrugged nonchalantly, bouncing the brunette’s head on his shoulder.

“Shut it.” Tetsuko broke free of her boyfriend’s arms and pointed a finger at him crossly. “I’m not going to judge myself by your standards!” She waved her finger at him, “As far as I’m concerned, it’s an awesome dream!”

“I hope you’re able to get your wish someday.” Tetsuko stared the blonde’s smiling face, startled that he hadn’t teased her more.

“Yeah, well, I don’t think that’s going to be happening anytime soon. She already doesn’t see enough of me, and she’d got her own life to lead, I guess. Not a lot of room for a second mom.”

“Don’t worry. From what I’ve seen, she loves you.” Bunny reached for her again, taking Tetsuko back into his arms and lying down on the grass.

“Yeah, but only on her good days. Half the time she’s scolding me for not calling her back or for taking too long to visit.” Tetsuko snuggled closer again, hoping for a kiss.

“You’ll work it out.” Bunny smiled down at her and the brunette couldn’t resist anymore. She reached up with her lips and captured the boy’s in a sweet kiss. Bunny shifted the girl so she was on top of him, laying on his chest as they began a passionate make out session. Tetsuko tangled her fingers into her boyfriend’s hair and chuckled as his hands began to wander over her back. She growled as Bunny’s fingers slid under the hem of her T-shirt and snapped her bra strap, sending a sharp pain sliding across her skin.

“Hey!” She disconnected their mouths and one of her hands to lightly punch and smirking idiot.

“Hey, yourself. I was just having a little fun.”

“Yeah, well your ‘little fun’ actually hurt that time.” She scowled.

“Okay, okay. I won’t do it again. Can we get back to what we were doing?” Bunny huffed impatiently.

“Horny bastard.”

“You’re just as bad.”

“Am not!”

“Are too!”

“You’re the one who’s the rabbit!”

“That has nothing to do with this! You’re the one who gave me the name in the first place! So it shows that your mind is in the gutter if you think I’m a horny rabbit!” They continued their argument until they gave it up and began kissing again.

That evening, Tetsuko slumped on Circe’s couch, her smile finally falling into a frown. Staring at the coffee table cluttered with both roommate’s work and pictures, she reached behind the couch cushions and brought out a little black book. Flipping through the pages, Tetsuko stopped at the last entry and reached for a pen as she read the previous logs.

Today my leg gave out. No heart problems.

My heart skipped a beat but got on track again. Only minor cramping.

Leg spasm and slow heartbeat at the gym today. ‘Tonio’s worried. I can’t hide this for much longer.

Tetsuko penned in -Both happened today. It’s getting worse- and then stuck the pen in her mouth, thinking. My leg’s thinning out. I need to see if I’m sick or something. These can’t be coincidences. The brunette snapped the book shut and shoved it back into the cushions. Out of my sight, out of my head, right Tomoe? Close enough anyway. I could really use a drink right now. This sucks. Left with her dismal thoughts, Tetsuko pulled a Bunny and spent half the night up and working with a bottle of beer and the rest in fitful sleep.

The next day, Tetsuko spruced up. She was shadowing one of the Journal’s reporters on an interview as part of her internship. The interview wasn’t until the evening (the sexism protest group was doing an all day march so the leader wasn’t free until later) so the girl was going to have to wear a monkey suit all day. That and she’d have to leave the interview and go straight to Bunny’s congratulatory party, making for a tiring day. The girl sighed, thankful that her criminology class had been cancelled that day. She’d gotten up early to go shopping, purchasing some theatrical make up and props so she could make her leg look normal. She didn’t know what was going on but it looked thinner every time she checked it out, like the muscle was wasting away. Anyway, the stick on she was using for her thigh was like those fake cheek bone actors will wear so they look more evil, or something, only she had one for her thigh. She applied the stick adhesive to the plastic and centered it on her leg before glossing it over with dark make up to match her skin.

She slipped into the pack pencil skirt and her well worn green button up. Clasping up the shirt, Tetsuko rummaged around for her tie- the one that she always wore with her school uniform to piss off Bunny- and knotted it around her neck. Shrugging on her brown blazer jacket and Oxford heels paired with ankle high, white socks, Tetsuko was nearly ready to go. The girl wore her watch and bracelet under her sleeves, put on her promise ring and at the last minute, slipped Emily Brooks’ locket on under her shirt. Grabbing her newsboy cap, she called to Circe that she was leaving early for the office.

“Okay! I’ll see you at work! Don’t forget to eat something!” The other brunette called back.

“I won’t! See you there!” Tetsuko slung her brown satchel over her shoulder walked out the door and headed for her bike.

Work went swimmingly, the hours passing by faster than the brunette expected them too and at five o ‘clock, Missy Barton was messaging her to head down to the lobby so they could head off to the interview. Missy was a sweet gal with an annoying southern accent, blonde bob and way too much lipstick for her own good, but whatever works. Tetsuko noticed she had a style similar to Ms. Agnes, clean and simple with bright, vibrant colors that drew your eye to her. Missy was wearing a deep orange ruffled, knee-length skirt with a white, long-sleeved ruffled blouse and black heels. Donning her brown coat, Missy looked like autumn incarnate.

“Hey there, Kaburagi! Ready to go? Time’s a wastin’!” Missy waved the girl out the door and into one of the Journal’s cars. Once seated inside, Missy took it upon herself to yammer away. “So, is this your first interview?”

“The first one where I’m the one taking the notes, anyway.” The brunette shrugged.

“So you’ve been in interviews before?” Missy took out her lipstick and put on another coat using her reflection in the mirror.

“Yeah, my partner in school was pretty popular so the school newspaper was always dragging him around for stuff and of course, I had to go along with him.”

“That doesn’t sound too exciting. School newspapers are so juvenile.” The blonde chick frowned in her window-mirror.

“That was only the beginning because then I got caught in the Fortress Tower bomb attack, and Lunatic and I can’t seem to get out of each other’s hair so other newspapers and TV channels have gotten a hold of my partner and me a couple of times.”

“What? Are you serious? That was you and your partner?” Missy was suddenly very interested. She flipped around in her seat to stare at Tetsuko with her huge blue eyes. The blonde took the brunette’s hands in her own and started asking questions (per her reporter nature) and conversing with the girl as if they’d been friends for the longest time. Tetsuko was thankful that the drive was short and the protest group took all of Missy’s attention for the rest of the evening. Tetsuko watched how Missy interacted with the group’s leader and took diligent notes until she grew bored. Seriously, how long are they going to talk? It’s been two hours already! I have to get to Bunny’s stupid party soon. Tetsuko tuned back into the conversation as she slouched in her chair. Okay, what the hell do heel shoes have anything to do with the protest? The brunette steamed in her seat and started badly doodling Bunny’s face in many angry expressions until Missy had all she needed and the shoes conversation wrapped up.

Finally! We’re getting somewhere! I thought I was going to lose my mind, Tomoe. I can only take so much shoe talk at one time, even if I am a girl. Okay, that was kind of sexist. I guess I didn’t listen to the protest very well then, huh? This is the part where you say I’m hopeless, Tomoe. Tetsuko chuckled to herself and endured another car ride with Missy until they were back at the Journal. She barely made it out of Missy’s company with her ears attached as the blonde kept yammering in her ear. Once free of the chick, Tetsuko drove over to the restaurant and parked her bike next to Bunny’s. Killing the engine, the woman put on her happy face for everyone before walking inside.

“The fun has arrived!” She shouted, drawing everyone’s attention. Dressed in either their costumes or casuals, all of Tetsuko’s friend smiled and called greetings. Ben nodded to her from the back of the room and the girl smiled back at him. Karina waved from her spot next to Pao-Lin who was still in costume. The blonde girl had just come from one of her gigs by the looks of it, decked out in a sleeveless, stunning baby blue dress with a big bow and matching heels. Keith had taken off his helmet and was swishing his cape back and forth while talking to Ivan who was going his little Origami Cyclone ninja routine without his helmet on as well. Nathan sidled up to the Japanese girl, just having changed out of his costume and into a flamboyantly bright pink, sequined shirt and tight white pants and boots.

“What are you wearing?” Tetsuko asked, shielding her eyes dramatically.

“Pink, Tets’. What are you wearing, honey? I’ve never seen yyou so spiffy outside a dance.”

“I had to go on an interview today; so on goes the money suit.”

“It looks hot. If only you were a man.” The black man sighed dramatically, “Except that hat, of course. You need to retire that thing.” Nathan gave her the fashion look, the one where he didn’t like something presented to him.

“No way! It’s so cool!”

“No it’s not. That thing’s older than you, and that’s hard to do.” Bunny walked up and slipped his arm about Tetsuko’s waist. He looked nice, all dressed up in a red blazer jacket and black slacks.

“Shut up.” Tetsuko smiled and ruffled his hair with her free hand. Bunny glared at her and patted it back into place. “Don’t give me that look, Bunny! This is a party! Its all smiles here!” Tetsuko chuckled. “Now where’s the food?”

“You pig.” Bunny laughed at her. Tetsuko grinned even bigger because she’d gotten him to smile.

“No really, where’s the food? I’m starving!”

“Over there!” The blond pointed over at the center table.

“Thanks, Bunny!” Tetsuko went over to grab a snack and then spent the rest of the time conversing with her peers. Tetsuko snuck behind the bar at one point and grabbed one of the Mr. Legend cups and filled it with soda.

“Hey! You’ll need to pay for that!” Ben called good-naturedly.

“Put it on my tab!” She called back, sticking the straw into her mouth. Ben pulled her over an hour later, to a table in the corner and they swapped stories about the “good old days” until he brought up a subject that Tetsuko didn’t want to talk about.

“Hey, how’s the leg?” Ben asked, his eyes searching hers. He’s really still worried about that? I thought that he’d forgotten.

“Fine. It’s given me a little trouble, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.” She told the half-lie easily, sipping at her refilled Legend cup.

“I don’t want you pushing yourself, remember? If it gets too hard, let me know. Did you ever see a doctor?

“Na, its fine. It hasn’t gotten any worse, so I didn’t feel the need to go. Please, don’t tell anyone. I don’t want them to worry about me.”

“Sure, but let me give you some advice: you’d better think hard about this. Is it worth it not to get it checked out? You might just have to pay for it later, and it’ll be a much steeper price. Maybe you should be rethinking become a police officer.” Tetsuko started to say something, something to make him shut up, to make him understand that it was her dream to get out and do what she could to help people, but the man cut her off. “I know it’s what you want to do, but can you do it? If your leg worsens, it could cause permanent damage. I don’t want you to quit, but maybe you need a new plan. I’m saying this for your own good.”

“But I don’t want to be done yet!” The girl hissed, and slammed her drink down on the table. She stood up fast, knocking her chair to the floor and stormed out of the room with heads turned in her direction. Tetsuko shut the door behind her, and leaned against it as she got a hold of her emotions. Ben just doesn’t get how much I want to do this. He only understands a little. Tetsuko listened through the door as the gang started talking again.

“What was that?” Pao-Lin asked.

“PMS probably.” Nathan commented.

“I’ve never seen her like that.” Ivan said.

“I’m going to see what’s up.” That was Bunny. Tetsuko dashed out the door, trying to avoid an awkward conversation with her boyfriend. She ran for her bike and leapt on before Bunny had even made it two steps. She tore out of the parking lot with her name ringing in her ears as her boyfriend shouted for her to come back. Sorry, Bunny, but I can’t deal with you and me right now. Tetsuko didn’t even know where she was going, she just knew she had to get away, get away from everything. From the one person who knew her secret, and the one person she didn’t want to burden with it. She didn’t even know where she was running until a scream caused her to skid her bike to a stop near a back alley.

“Somebody, help me! Somebody! Please!” A woman yelled. Tetsuko couldn’t ignore the call and deposited her bike at the entrance of the alley, pocketing her keys. She ran down the dark passage, looking up to where a woman was struggling four stories above her with a man. The girl jumped onto the building’s fire escape stairs and took the steps three at a time. She heard the man being to speak as she ran.

“Now zere, time for your spanking, sweetheart.” Tetsuko reached the roof of the building just as the man pulled out a whip and cracked it at the woman cowering against a railing. The man sounded French, his tacky purple suit and red hair seemed familiar to the girl. Where have I seen him before?

“Hey, there. What do you think you’re doing?” Tetsuko asked one hand on her hip as she took a powerful stance.

“Huh?” The French dude turned to glower at her.

“Please, help me.” The lady begged, her huge eyes filling with tears. She hugged her coat closer to herself, covering up her revealing dress.

“And who might you be?” The man swung his whip around, heading it straight for the brunette. Tetsuko ducked as the weapon swished past her head. He grunted and brought the whip around again. It caught the girl in the arm, ripping her sleeve and the skin underneath.

“Damn.” Not even checking for blood, the girl ran at the bastard, intent on tackling him, but he moved fast and grabbed his hostage and used her as a shield, snapping his whip on the ground defensively.

“Ha! You wouldn’t hurt and innocent woman would you? I know I would.” As the brunette growled at him, she remembered who he was. Benoit Depardieu, the Lady Killer. One of the reporters had written an article about him and it was on Kira’s desk. He’s killed nine women in the past two years and Hardwick had someone researching him for the Journal. “But if you won’t let me have her, I’ll just have to kill you then, pretty girl.” Depardieu took his hostage and threw her over the railing. Tetsuko watched in shock as she hit her head on the rail and fell unconscious, slipping down the roof. She forgot all about the Lady Killer, running and leaping over the side to catch the woman’s ankle before she slipped to far down. Grapping the railing with her other hand, Tetsuko watched as Depardieu laughed and ran out of sight. Using all her strength, the girl hauled the woman back onto the roof and set her down gently before running after the killer. He’d escaped down the other side of the building and was just reaching ground level when Tetsuko stepped on the stairs. She ran down them even faster than when she’d run up the other ones. I’m gonna get him, Tomoe. This creep’s not getting away from me!

Depardieu jumped on one of the frontrunner trains that was just pulling out of a nearby station. Damn! Why’d he have to pick the trains! I’ll lose him if I don’t get on this on! Tetusko dashed for the tracks, her breathing laboring to keep up with her face. She grabbed on to the last car before the train picked up to much speed and climbed up onto the roof because the back door was locked. Depardieu seemed to have the same idea because he was on the roof as well.

“Did you think you could escape justice, you murderer?” Tetsuko shouted over the wind, digging her feet into the roof of the train.

“I always love a chase! But zis time zee roles are reversed!” The Lady Killer chuckled again, unfurling his whip and cracking it dangerously. Like before, the girl dodged the first one but wasn’t fast enough to miss the second strike, this time getting a rip in her pants and thigh. But now she was close enough to him to slam the heel of her hand into his stomach. Watching him fall to the ground had never been so satisfying.

“Sorry buddy, but you’re going to have to do better than that.” The girl wagged her finger at him, convinced he was down for the count. She hadn’t expected the whip to wrap around her upheld wrist and pull tight, cutting her skin once again.

“Vell, vhat do you know? Looks like I’m doing better alreazy, eh?” The Lady Killer’s thumb came up and pressed a button on his whip’s handle. Electricity raced into Tetsuko’s body and she screamed as pain blossomed all across her skin. Her heart shuddered at the agony, it’s beats fluttering like a dying leaf. Tetsuko clutched at her chest, her breathing coming up short. The girl collapsed on her knees once the whip let her loose. “Pasetic, my little cabbage. I thought you’d give me more of a fight!” Depardieu kicked the girl in the face and pinned her to the roof with a foot on her chest. “Or maybe you’ll do better in bed? Vhat do you sink about zhat?”

“Bastard!” Tetsuko stared up at his tacky leather shoes at spit at him.

“Never mind, you’ll be more fun to kill.” The Lady Killer kicked her in the face, sending her off the train’s roof. Tetsuko screamed as she fell, the drop so much longer because the train had just entered a bridge that ran over a neighborhood. She cursed as the man got away as she fell down, down, down, landing in a dumpster with enough force to knock her out. The metal rang around her aching head, a cloud of dust rising up as darkness closed over Tetsuko’s eyes. Sorry, Tomoe. I failed. Again.


Barnaby hadn’t seen Tetsuko for days. She’d ran out of the party and hadn’t messaged or called him since then. He’d sent her texts called her apartment and when someone picked up, it was Circe. The boy was getting worried. He asked his girlfriend’s roommate if she’d seen the old lady, and all she could tell him was that the night of the party she didn’t come back home and when she rolled in at eight in the morning, the girl looked like she’d been through hell and back. She’d hadn’t seen the brunette since then. That really got Barnaby worried. It wasn’t like Tetsuko to not call him back, usually it was her bugging him about stuff. Barnaby moped for a couple days, his work didn’t suffer at school or the restaurant, but his heart wasn’t in it one hundred percent. When he finally did get a call, the old bat dodged all his questions. The second her name showed up on his caller I.D. he picked up on the first ring.

“Hey Bunny! What’s up?” She sounded the same as usual.

“Where have you been, Tetsuko? I’ve been calling you for days!” Barnaby vented all his anger into that one sentence.

“Yeah, sorry about that! My phone’s busted so I needed to get a new one.” She broke her phone? Not unusual, but she should’ve told me through somebody else!

“That’s no excuse! What happened the other day? You left the party in a rush and then I don’t hear from you at all! What’s going on?”

“Well, Ben ticked me off and I needed to blow off some steam. After that I got into a fight and broke my phone. You know, just a typical night for this chick!” She chuckled drying. That was one of the endearing things about Tetsuko, her ability to laugh, but now it was just pissing Barnaby off.

“You’re a bitch, you know that? I was so worried about you.” Barnaby curbed his emotions, putting his cool voice through the phone before he lost control.

“Aw, you were worried! I’m fine, Bunny. I’ll see you at work, ‘kay? I’ve got to go!”

“Wait, Tet-“ The line when dead. That silly old fool. She pisses me off sometimes. Scratch that. All the time. Barnaby flipped his phone shut. When he got to work, he stalked the door until his girlfriend walked in. One of her arms was wrapped up, covered in burns and her forearm and leg were bandaged as well. He hounded the girl, checking her over with scientific precision until the brunette threw him off. Barnaby just wanted to make sure she was okay. Tetsuko looks like she hasn’t slept in days. Dark circles are forming under her eyes, a testament to sleepless nights and her posture is stooped, another sign of exhaustion. Tetsuko saw the blond appraising her and brightened up.

“Geez, Bunny! You look like I don’t get into fights every day! Lighten up! I’ll be good as new before you can say ‘mid-life crisis!’”

“Mid-life crisis.” The blond repeated stubbornly.

“Well, don’t expect a miracle.” Tetsuko went to change, but Barnaby grabbed her wrist with his hand.

“You’re not going to tell me what happened, are you?”

“It’s nothing to worry about, seriously.” Tetsuko turned her head around to smile reassuringly. I had concluded as much. She’s too cowardly to admit she lost the fight and it trying to hide it from me. She’d doesn’t have too. Tetsuko took her arms back and went into the women’s dressing room. When she came out, Barnaby was waiting for her in his costume. She’d covered them up expertly with make up so the blond couldn’t even tell that the cuts and burn had existed at all. Barnaby watched as Tetsuko pulled her hair up and caught sight of a giant bruise reaching down the back of her neck and up into her scalp, mostly covered by her hair. How did that happen? He knew it would be useless to ask since Tetsuko would just wave it off. Barnaby would give her time to sort it all out, and then he would question her.

She never did seem to sort it all out, even when the bruise faded and the burns became pale scars on her wrist. That and the fact that Barnaby forgot all about it with plans for his up and coming birthday. This year he was excited to be sharing his birthday with his friends again. Last year had been half a joke and half an attempt as an apology on Tetsuko’s part and even though it had turned out great, Barnaby was relieved that this year he was helping with the planning, and by the time Halloween rolled around, he was nearly ecstatic.

Barnaby was actually enjoying himself this year. The room in the karaoke club Nathan had rented for his party was pretty sweet and he couldn’t wait to get the party started. This year for Halloween he decided to take a page out of his parent’s book and dressed up as a scientist. Then Nathan had to go crazy and make him a mad scientist complete with wacky goggles, skin made to look like he’d been through a couple of explosions and the transvestite did a number on his hair with gel. Now the blond looked like he’d stuck his finger in an electrical socket. The boy-girl was currently trying to get Tetsuko into her new costume since the black man didn’t approve of her Mr. Legend get up. In fact, neither did Barnaby, even if it was clingy spandex. It was too old, like her. The blond took a look around and spotted Antonio. Actually it was hard to miss him; he was dressed as the Hulk, big, green and shirtless. The chest hair was wigging the boy out. Ivan was hiding behind him, cosplaying as a Japanese ghost in a white kimono and a weird triangle head band. Pao-Lin was behind him dressed up as Bruce Lee, and she was shirtless as well. Well, almost. The shortie had a white tube top over her flat chest, paired with black martial arts gloves, Chinese doll shoes, black exercise pants, a black wig (or hair dye?) and numb chucks thrown over her shoulders. Keith was wandering around in his huge dog suit, one that looked exactly like his golden retriever, John. The blond kept smacking his fake tail against things and tipping them over, causing him to apologize for everything twice.

Karina was sitting in the corner, regally watching over the karaoke machine in her Egyptian queen get up. She wore fake gold jewelry all over her body and a cobra circle on her with a golden scepter to complete the look. She’d lined her eyes with real kohl and bought a black wig to finish her outfit. All that was missing was a very sexy man angel (Barnaby was scarred for life) and whatever the hell Tetsuko was being forced into.

“I’m not wearing that!” Barnaby girlfriend shouted from the bathroom.

“It’s not nearly as bad as your swimsuits! What’s the problem?” Nathan cooed back loudly. They’re fight had drawn the whole gang’s attention.

“But it’s provocative!”

“Do you even know what that word means?”

“Yes! I do!”

“I doubt it. Now put it on!” There were noises of struggle in the bathroom and squeals of distress.

“No!”

“Do it or I’ll do it for you!” Nathan’s pretty serious about this. He must really hate the Legend costume.

“Ah! Get out of here! This is the women’s room for heaven’s sake!”

“Are you saying I’m not a woman?” The high voice accused.

“Yes!”

“That’s it! I’m coming in!”

“No, damn it! I’ll put it on! Just get out!” Tetsuko screamed, shoving Nathan out the door. The black man was barely wearing any clothes as well. It seems to be the theme of this party, Barnaby concluded. Nathan picked an angel as his costume and he was wearing basically a white handkerchief around his waist, a white shoulder sash and a pair of fluffy wings and sandals.

“At least she’s putting it on.” The boy-girl shrugged, batting his white shadows eyes at his audience.

“What’s she wearing now?” Pao-Lin asked.

“You’ll see.” Nathan winked at Barnaby. “You’ll like it, Handsome.” The blond held down a blush as best as he could.

“Why did you bring her a costume anyway?” Barnaby asked as Nathan took a seat next to him and grabbed a drink.

“I knew after last year that she was going to go back to her fall back, and I wasn’t about to let her embarrass herself again.”

“She’ll embarrass herself in anything she wears, you know that.”

“Yeah, but now when she does, it’ll be sexy too!” Nathan gushed.

“I can’t wait.” Barnaby replied drily.

“I don’t want to wear this!” Tetsuko screamed from the bathroom.

“You didn’t want to wear your hero suit and look how well that turned out!” Barnaby called back.

“All it did was make a bunch of prepubescent boys turn into hentais!”

“Including Handsome!” Nathan piped.

“Did not!” The boy retorted, blushing.

“Did too!” Tetsuko chuckled as she peeked out the crack in the bathroom’s door.

“Just get out here already!” Barnaby scowled.

“If you say so.” Tetsuko opened the door. Even though the girl said she hated wearing overly sexy stuff, she owned the floor when she did. Barnaby couldn’t believe what she was wearing. “Check it, Bunny! I’m a bunny!”

“Ta da!” Nathan hopped up and started prancing around Tetsuko waving his hands. Tetsuko had on finger pulling down her lower lip and was pushing up her breasts with her other arm, one leg seductively crossed over the other. She’s in a corset. With bunny ears. Oh, God. Barnaby drank in the sight of his girlfriend wearing a tight black corset that almost pushed her boobs out of it and made her waist look impossible slim. With black fishnet tights and black heels that made her legs go on forever, the girl was a bombshell. Tetsuko had a bunny ear headband on like the Playboy bunnies, and her hair was pulled into a high pony tail, revealing the cute fluffy bunny tail pinned on the back. Barnaby felt his nose start to bleed. “Isn’t she a cute bunny?” Nathan asked slyly.

“I’d say more of a naughty bunny myself, since I get into so much trouble.” Tetsuko was totally playing it up, making such a simple conversation sound absolutely lewd. Barnaby tried not the squirm in his seat as Tetsuko walked over to him, her breasts bouncing with every step.

“Wow! You’re like one of those ecchi girls from Japan!” Ivan shouted, blushing as he pointed at her boobs.

“I’m glad you decided to be an animal too! Glad!” Keith cheered.

“Seriously, you’re going to be a stripper someday.” Antonio shook his head.

“That’s not nice, hamburger!” Tetsuko hissed.

“Yeah, bison! She’s really pretty. And you’re not!” Pao-Lin struck a fighting stance and dodged the Spaniard’s punch.

“Stay out of this, muchkin!” He growled.

Then Karina attacked.

“Aaaaah!” Tetsuko ran for her chest’s life as the Egyptian Karina squealed in delight.

“Get back here, Boobs!” The blonde girl cried.

“I don’t know if you mean my nickname or my actual boobs!” Tetsuko admitted as she dodged the swiping hands.

“Hey! You got to grope her last time! It’s my turn!” Nathan began chasing both girls around.

“But you’re gay! You’re not supposed to like boobs!” Karina growled, just barely missing Tetsuko’s bunny tail.

“I need something to aspire too!” The angel-man answered, smacking Karina’s hands out of the way.

“You’re creepy!”

“Please stop having gay arguments while you’re both trying to get my chest!” Tetsuko leapt onto one of the tables, barely holding her chest in. “You’re the fiend who put me in this in the first place!” She pointed and accusing finger at the angel.

“You should be happy! I’m your guardian angel when it comes to fashion!” The white clad-black man pouted.

“You’re not angel! You’re the devil!” Tetsuko stamped her foot and the table wobbled. Barnaby had stared transfixed, his eyes glued to the brunette but once she began to fall backwards off the table, he leapt into action. The blond raced over to the table just as Tetsuko tipped over and caught his damsel in a princess carry. “Oof!” She gasped as she fell into the boy’s arms.

“You’ve gotten lighter. Have you stopped eating fried rice every day?” He asked, shifting the girl so she was more comfortable.

“You pig! Put me down!” She struggled in his arms, the very picture of sexy as she tried to hop out of his embrace.

“No, first I have to save you. Or do you want to continue your game of cat and bunny?” He purred threateningly.

“No! Save me first!”

“As you wish!” Barnaby ran around the room, ducking the two “girls’” hands until he got fed up with it and told them to cut it out! Then Pao-Lin wanted some cake and Keith volunteered to cut the cake after they sang “Happy Birthday” but he was nixed when his big paw gloves nearly smashed the pastry. In the end, Ivan was in charge of the cake, Nathan the presents and Karina and Tetsuko the entertainment as they sang and danced up by the karaoke machine. When she finally had a free moment Tetsuko came over to Bunny’s table just to sit with him.

“I like what you’ve done to your hair!” The brunette patted the blonde’s head and ruffled his spiky hair. “It looks sorta like mine.”

“There’s your first clue to get a new hair style.”

“Mean, Bunny.”

“I’m only being truthful.” Barnaby leaned into her hand, silently begging for a head scratch from her long nails.

“Happy Birthday, Bunny.” She whispered in his ears, sending chills across his skin as she itched the boy’s head for him.

“Thanks, Tetsuko. At least this time I got to prepare for my birthday party.”

“Hey! Last year was fun! And you got a date out of it too!”

“Yeah, those opera tickets were a good idea, but you slept through half of the performance.”

“At least I went with you!”

“True, but you missed the mark in the present department this year.” Barnaby reached over to another table and grabbed her present to him. “Come on, vinyl records? I don’t even own a record player! They’re ancient as well.”

“But I own a record player, so you can come over. Also this record was said to skyrocket the population when couples played it at night…” The brunette winked seductively, causing the blond to swallow hard. “And I got you a really cool Legend figurine to add to your collection.”

“You said you’d never mention that!” The blond reminded her, outraged.

“But no one can hear us. They’re too busy harassing the karaoke machine.” She pointed to the gang who were fighting over the song selection, the TV and the microphone. Tetsuko leaned over to give Barnaby a kiss, one that was interrupted by Nathan pointing it out to everyone.

“Ooo! It’s getting hot over here!” The transvestite sidled up to the couple, batting his lashes and winking knowingly.

“Only because you’re over here now, balls of fire.” Tetsuko joked. She got a good look at Bunny’s face and he knew that he was beet red at getting caught kissing, and she was never one to miss an opportunity for teasing as he well knew. “It’s either that or Bunny’s face has something to do with it! His blush could heat a sauna!”

“No it couldn’t!” The blond snapped back.

“I thought Handsome wasn’t into the whole ‘public display of affection’ thing.” Nathan pointed out.

“Na, he’s getting better, but we still haven’t fixed the blush problem. Behold, Exhibit A!” Tetsuko threw her arms around Bunny and nuzzled his face. He turned two shades darker.

“Stop it!”

“You’re cute when you’re angry.” Tetsuko purred as Bunny was yanked out of his comfort zone, getting right in his face and licking her lips.

“I am not!”

“Are too!” She grinned evilly and suddenly stood up, waltzing away. Barnaby noticed that her swaying hips seems to be less curvy. And I saw that her waist was really thin too. Is she working out too much? She also seemed a lot lighter than normal.

“Hey Nathan, does Tetsuko look different to you?” Barnaby asked off handedly, wondering if he was just over analyzing things again.

“Other than the fact she’s actually wearing something sexy? No.” The boy-girl shrugged. “She should do it more often. I get a kick out of it and you seem to enjoy it too.”

“Who wouldn’t? She can be sexy when she wants to be. Or when you want her to be.”

“And that’s why they pay me the big bucks.”

“Nobody pays you for that.”

“They will someday.”

“I wouldn’t doubt that.” The clue kicked them out when Tetsuko accidently sent one of her heels flying into a speaker.

“You’re hopeless, Tetsuko.” Barnaby sighed as they walked out of the club. Antonio was fending off Nathan’s hands for the umpteenth time, not even having time to button up his coat. Pao-Lin was catching Halloween candy in her mouth as Karina tossed them at her and Keith was having a lively one-sided conversation with Ivan about the merit of dogs. Tetsuko was shivering in her corset and Mr. Legend cape.

“Hey, it’s not my fault that Pao-lin was tickling me. Those heels didn’t have straps anyway and when I kicked my foot out, it just came flying off! Whoosh!” She added hand effects to her noises, replaying the incident with gusto.

“Oh joy. Here we go again with the sound effects.” Barnaby listened to his girlfriend’s rendition of the whole shoe in the speaker accident for the third time before the gang reached the parking lot where everyone’s respective cars were. They all parted ways for the evening, waving goodbye before departing in every direction. Barnaby smiled, leading Tetsuko to his car, graciously opening the door for her as she plopped down in the shotgun spot. They drove to her apartment and kissed goodnight, Tetsuko sweetly wishing him a Happy Birthday before walking up to her door. She fished out her keys from her bag and unlocked her door, waving to her boyfriend as she went inside. Barnaby waved back, smiling and watched as she shut the door before driving away.

“You’re taking a vacation?” Barnaby asked Tetsuko over the phone one evening when they were talking.

“Yeah, my bro’s going to pick me up in his clunker and we’re visiting mom for the weekend, so no work for me! Is that okay?”

“Why are you asking me? This is your break. You should be spending Thanksgiving with your family anyway. I’ll see you when you get back.”

“Hold down the castle for me, ‘kay?”

“It’s fort, old lady, and I can take care of myself.”

“Whatever. I’ll keep you posted. See you in a few days!” Of course, an hour later she was messaging Barnaby with pictures of her brother, Muramasa.

Tetsuko: Check out ‘Masa! He’s so serious!

The text was accompanied by a picture of Muramasa driving the clunker van Tetsuko mentioned. The older brother shared traits with his sister that Barnaby could pick out, like the tan skin, the dark hair and same shaped eyes, but the similarities ended there. The man was the picture of composed, literally as he stared at the road. He was wearing a yellow sweater for the cool November air with a coat over it, and Barnaby noticed that his set chin was covered in stubble. This is the part where Tetsuko says that if she had a beard, it would have a form or shape or something.

Barnaby: Someone has to be. You’re not going to do it.

Tetsuko: Bunny! Why are you always against me?

Barnaby: I’m not against you; I’m keeping you in line.

Tetsuko: More like shoving. G2G, we made it home. Txt ya later!

Barnaby was sitting in his lone chair eating a salad and watching the first flurry of the season when Tetsuko texted again. He didn’t have the motivation to get out of the chair and walk over to his backpack just to read one of her dorky updates. He’d get it in a minute. Barnaby grabbed the TV remote and turned on the screen, flipping to a random channel while he finished eating. Depositing the rinsed dishes in the sink once he was done, the blond checked his phone for his girlfriend’s message.

Tetsuko: Mom says that Kaede is coming over with the Reeds and they’re spending the break with us! Isn’t that great?

Barnaby: Yes, that’s good. You can spend some time with her now.

Tetsuko: I know! It’s going to be so much fun!

Barnaby: Good luck.

Barnaby tossed the phone onto his bed when she didn’t instantly message him back and went to complete some over-the-break homework. He finished an essay and two reading assignments and took a nap late in the evening. The blond set about putting his room back in order after his backpack threw up all over it and accidently kicked his phone into the back of his closet by accident. Then he had to dig around for it between pristine rows of shoes until his fingers snagged it. He checked the screen and saw that he had three messages: all from Tetsuko.

Tetsuko: Bunny! Kaede finally showed up! She’s so cute! Look!

The picture showed the toddler in a black sweater and blue pants, staring up at her birthmother with a huge smile. Barnaby smiled, happy that the two of them were getting along. The next message wasn’t so pleasant.

Tetsuko: Bunny! Kaede got pissed off when I tried to help her unpack her bags. She thinks that I was trying to go through her things to snoop! What could a six year old possibly be hiding from me? it’s not like I was snooping, I just wanted to help out!

She sounds really stressed out about this. I’m sure Kaede just wanted some space. Tetsuko can be claustrophobic sometimes. Barnaby clicked on the last message.

Tetsuko: My mother told me to eat more vegetables at dinner in front of everyone. How embarrassing is that? And she bashed fried rice! What’s wrong with fried rice? This day sucks.

Barnaby: I’m sure you’re just being overly dramatic. Good to bed and start tomorrow fresh. I’m sure Kaede will have forgiven you by then and your mother is going to make a delicious breakfast if her bento boxes are anything to go by.

Tetsuko: Thanks, Bunny. Maybe you’re right and I need to lie back a little.

Barnaby: I’m always right.

Tetsuko: Except when you’re wrong.

Barnaby: I’m never wrong.

Tetsuko: Shut up.

Tetsuko said goodnight and Barnaby put his phone away. He took a shower (washing his neck first) and dried his hair carefully before slipping into his long sleeved pajamas to go get a glass of milk before bed. The winter months always made him cold, his lower body temperature not helping at all either, so the blond grabbed a few extra blankets to keep himself warm. After the milk, Barnaby brushed his teeth with his electric toothbrush and checked to make sure the apartment was in order before getting into bed, his nest of blankets nearly burying him. He was awakened an hour early by his phone going off multiple times with one of those obnoxious pop songs Tetsuko bought without his permission. He slapped his glasses on and checked the clock. Five am. I should’ve been able to sleep at least another hour. Well, at least I didn’t have any insomnia last night or else I’d be really pissed off. The boy grabbed his phone off the nightstand and checked the screen. Not only did he have twenty text messages, but he also had three missed phone calls, all from Tetsuko. Or someone with Tetsuko’s phone because the spelling was bad, even for her.

Tetsuko: Buny! Hie!

Tetsuko: Is tis ting on?

Tetsuko: Look! Mom has a spot!

(That text was paired with a shot of Tetsuko’s foot, a mole spot on her skin.)

Tetsuko: Bedheead!

(That had a picture of Tetsuko tangled in the sheets, adorably drooling on her pillow, her head a mess of long brown hair.) Barnaby had figured out that Kaede had the phone by this point and was basically sending him random pictures from the memory card. The pictures included ones of Barnaby and Tetsuko on dates, Tetsuko taking pictures of her outfits for Nathan to appraise, pictures of Antonio and Tetsuko stuffing their faces at a buffet in high school, pictures of the heroes in their costumes, one really embarrassing photo of Tetsuko trying to take a good shot of her butt and the like. Kaede had also tried to call him, but the voicemails were garbled with squeals and giggles until Tetsuko caught her.

Tetsuko: Bunny, I’m so sorry! Kaede stole my phone! I hope she didn’t wake you up!

Barnaby: She did but it was worth it. Nice butt, btw.

Tetsuko: Damn that girl! I meant to delete that one!

Barnaby: Well, I’m not going too.

Tetsuko: Hentai!

Barnaby: I am not a pervert. I can appreciate a good shot when I see one.

Tetsuko: It’s basically porn!

Barnaby: What were you trying to do with your butt anyway?

Tetsuko: Nothing! I’ve got to go eat breakfast!

Speaking of breakfast: what should I have? Barnaby threw off the covers and made himself a nice hot bowl of oatmeal and a cup of hot chocolate. He didn’t have work until the evening so the whole day was his. Barnaby spent the breakfast making a schedule to guide him through the day before getting dressed in jeans and two long sleeved shirts. He used his kitchen table to spread out all his college application stuff and scholarship forms. They weren’t due until February but Barnaby thought it was better to get a head start. He went through all the scholarship information and by the end of the morning, he’d either decided on a full ride scholarship in the science department for the University of Sternbild, or the full ride scholarship to another university that would pay for his housing as well, if he decided to go. Filling out applications with precision, the blond only stopped his work when his phone went off. It’s probably Tetsuko again. First I get mad at her for not keeping in touch with me and now she won’t leave me alone! Barnaby sighed and got up to go search for his phone again. But it’s nice not to be left out of her vacation. Heaven knows it’s going to be quiet around here. Grabbing the mobile device, the boy opened it up and read his girlfriend’s message.

Tetsuko: Bunny! Guess what?

Barnaby: You discovered how to produce renewable energy.

Tetsuko: No! That’s your job! Anyway, ‘Masa and I spent some time together at the shop. I haven’t helped him in forever and it was fun! We even had a talk over a bottle of Katayama Whisky! We’ve never done that and I can’t legally drink for months but he still poured me a glass!

Barnaby: That sounds intoxicating.

Tetsuko: You have no idea. And then Kaede wanted to play with me! She’s co cute! So how’s your break going?

Barnaby: Quiet. I’m just going over to Samantha’s for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.

Tetsuko: Samantha’s your old caretaker, right?

Barnaby: Yes, she’s the one who sends me a cake every year on my birthday, remember?

Tetsuko: Yeah, but you never share that cake.

Barnaby: That’s because its mine.

They both texted until Kaede got mad at Tetsuko for being caught up in that “cute asshole” and demanded that they go play outside. Tetsuko said goodbye and then didn’t text or call at all that evening. Barnaby wasn’t worried. She probably had a lot of family stuff to do, there being six people in a house that usually only had one occupant. Barnaby bummed around his house, watch a rainstorm wipe out what little snow had fallen yesterday and went to bed late that night, not being able to fall asleep for hours. I guess yesterday was a reprieve; it was too good to be true to sleep through the night. Insomnia stinks. Barnaby finally drifted off to a fitful sleep for a few hours before he got a phone call at five in the morning. Again.

“Hello?” His voice was groggy and sleep laden when he answered the phone. Someone was sniffing on the other end.

“Sorry, for waking you, Bunny, but I needed to talk to someone.” Tetsuko was crying.

“What’s wrong? What happened?” Barnaby was in instant full alert as he sat straight up in his bed.

“Everything’s fine now, but I didn’t text you yesterday because my mother hurt her back and Kaede was freaking out, I was freaking out and the Reeds nearly called the hospital when Mom stopped them. We were all just a little scared so we helped take care of her. And then Kaede went missing.” She started sniffing again.

“What? Have you found her? Did you call the police?” Barnaby instantly thought of that angelic face and he got just as worried as Tetsuko.

“No, I found her. She’d snuck out to go to one of the shrines in the neighbor hood. To pray I guess, for her grandmother, but then the storm blew in and knocked down a tree in front of the shrine and she couldn’t get out. All of us except mom were running around in the rainstorm, frantic to find her. I was near the shrine when I heard her scream.” She stopped for a moment and Barnaby waited breathlessly for her to go on. “She was yelling for ‘mom,’ Bunny. I don’t know if she wanted Mrs. Reed or me but just hearing her say that made me so scared to think if I had lost her. But I found her.” Now Tetsuko was really crying and the boy could only imagine the fear and panic she had gone through. “I got the family to help me with the tree and little Kaede ran right to me. Practically flew into my arms saying that she was sorry for getting in trouble, sorry for scaring everyone. Then she ran to her parents and said the same thing, over and over again.”

“I’m glad she’s safe. That would’ve been awful if anything had happened to her.” Barnaby could only imagine what it was like to lose a child. It’s probably a lot like losing your parents, not having family connections you need to survive. I know how that feels.

“Yeah,” She paused again, sniffing. “I couldn’t lose her as well as Tomoe. I don’t know if I could make it out of that one.” Barnaby wanted to reassure her that she wasn’t alone, that he wasn’t going to let her be along.

“I’m here for you, Tetsuko. I always am.” He was completely honest with her.

“Thanks, Bunny. I’m here too. I won’t leave you, ‘kay?” Barnaby could practically hear her smile, eyes still shining with tears. “I love you.” Those three words almost had him crying at this point.

“I love you too.”

“Bunny, I’ve got to sleep. I’m wiped out.”

“Yeah, go rest. I’ll talk to you later. I’m so happy everyone’s safe.”

“Yeah, ‘night. Or mornin’ I guess.”

“Whatever. Go to sleep.”

“Yeah, you’re right. That’s a good idea.” The girl yawned into the phone and Barnaby chuckled at her.

“It is. And I’m always right.”

“Shut up.” Click. Well, that’s the end of that. Time to get ready. Samantha wanted me over early so we could visit before lunch. Barnaby stretched and took the longest, hottest bath because he could. Then he dried his hair, curled it and went to put on something nice for his old caretaker. Dressed in a red dress shirt and gray pants, the blond grabbed his red leather jacket and his car keys. He drove out to Samantha’s modest house and parked in her driveway. Ringing the door bell, he was trapped in a hug before he’d even said one word.

“Barnaby! My how you’ve grown!” The elderly caretaker squeezed him tight.

“It’s good to see you too, Auntie.” Barnaby smiled as he hugged her back.

“Come in! Come in! I was just started to prepare lunch.” She released the boy and led him inside. Samantha wearing a simple light green button up and loafers, her wrinkled face looked old, but the shine in those eyes was as young as ever. Both the senior and the teenager straightened their glasses before laughing at each other. “I’m so glad you’re with me this Thanksgiving. We haven’t had a lot of time to talk. How’s school?” Samantha walked into the kitchen and Barnaby followed her.

“Fine. We’re on break right now, but even though I’ve not in school I’m still as busy as ever.” Barnaby sat down on one of the counter stools and started chopping the vegetables that Samantha handed him.

“Be useful, will you dear? And why are you busy? This is supposed to be a break! You should be out having fun, dating and all that jazz.” Samantha waved around the wooden spoon she was holding as she talked.

“I would date, but my girlfriend’s out of town. She’s the one keeping me busy. Busy texting her that is.” Barnaby chuckled, “She won’t give me a moment’s peace.

“If you’re this good natured about it, then she must be something special.” Samantha turned back to the oven with a smile. “When someone bugs you, they almost end up dying because of it. You were such a polite little boy, but when someone got on your nerves, you would throw the biggest tantrums!” The old woman began laughing at the boy, causing him to blush.

“Well, I was a child! It’s to be expected!” Barnaby hid his blush in the vegetables and kept cutting.

“Now, is this the Tetsuko girl you’re talking about?”

“Yes, and I don’t know how I put up with her.”

“She’s probably the one putting up with you,” Samantha said, giving the boy a sly look. He blushed deeper. “Anyway, she sounds wonderful. I’m glad you’ve made friends and have a girlfriend to bond with. It’s nice to see young people getting out there. Heavens knows, you were lost for so long.” Her voice turned sad and Barnaby wanted to get up and hug her.

“Yes, you’re right. I’m thankful that I have people around me. Like you, Auntie.” Barnaby wasn’t going to cry. He wasn’t.

“Yes, today is a good day to be thankful. I’m glad you decided to spend Thanksgiving with me, Barnaby. But won’t Mr. Maverick be lonely?” Always thinking of someone else. She’s just like Tetsuko.

“No, he got pulled away by his new job. He apologized to me multiple times, but I know work is important to him.” The pair talked about everything after that, the conversation running into lunch and then late into the evening. When Barnaby finally left his caretaker’s home, he was laden down with leftovers to last a week and a promise to call more often. Smiling like a fool and stuffed like a turkey, Barnaby drove home and spent the rest of the night talking with Tetsuko who had way too much to say. He was surprised to get a phone call from the hospital that wasn’t about Tetsuko a few days later.

“Is this Mr. Brooks?” A girl asked politely on the other line.

“Yes, this is Barnaby.” The blond had stopped his daily workout to take the call, hopping off the treadmill.

“That girl, who was helping Jake, just came out of her coma from the helicopter crash.”

“What?” Barnaby’s heart nearly stopped. She’s awake. And she can tell me why, why Jake killed my parents! The dying embers of Barnaby need for revenge lit up, his anger turned to a more constructive goal: closure and justice.

“She wants to talk to you as soon as possible.”

“Okay, I’ll inform you when I’m coming in.” Barnaby hid his emotions behind his mask, calmly relplying to the nurse on the line.

“Thank you, and have a good day.” Click. Barnaby started at his phone. She’s awake. She’s awake and she’s going to tell me everything. Barnaby decided then that he should wait for Tetsuko to go with him. They started that whole incident together and they should finish it together. That and he didn’t want to go alone. Barnaby was at work when Tetsuko came back, all the employees getting ready to open up the restaurant for the day.

“Tiger! You’re back, that’s great!” Origami went running up to her, pulling most of the gang off the floor with him. Barnaby hung back, not wanting to get caught in the crush of people. Tetsuko smiled, scratching the skin in front of her ear.

“You took off so suddenly that we were worried about you!” Fire Emblem’s high voice whined, gathering the brunette in a hug.

“Yeah, sorry but I spent the break with my family.” The Japanese girl chuckled.

“It was only a few days, but something didn’t feel right about it.” Dragon Kid said, shrugging her shoulders.

“I have to agree,” Barnaby watched Tetsuko jump as Antonio walked up behind her and put the woman in a headlock. “I wanted to go have a drink with you!”

“We can do that now! Let me go!” Tetsuko struggled in his hold until she elbowed him in the ribs and he released her.

“But now you’re back! And that’s a reason to celebrate!” Sky High pushed his way to the front of the group. “Welcome! And welcome again!”

“It’s good to be back.” Tetsuko saluted the blond.

“What’s everybody getting so excited about?” Blue Rose’s cold voice asked.

“Huh?” Tetsuko was at a loss for words for once.

“I mean, you didn’t have to come back if you didn’t want too.” Blue Rose walked right past the brunette to get a drink from the fountain. “Why doesn’t everybody admit it: it was nice to have one less rival for tips.”

“What’s the point in lying like that?” Sky High asked, walking up to the girl.

“What?” Blue Rose replied.

“If I’m not mistaken, you were worried about Ms. Kaburagi more than any of us.” A not so icy blush appeared on Karina’s face, destroying the cold act she was trying to pull off.

“I just missed her gorgeous breasts, that’s all!”

“That totally makes you sound like a lesbian!” Tetsuko pointed out with a pointing finger.

“Does not!” Then the conversation turned into Let’s Pick on Blue Rose Time. Barnaby stayed in the background until Tetusko spotted him on one of the stair levels.

“Hey, Bunny! What’s up?” She waved to him and the visit to Kriem popped into the blonde’s head.

“I need your help with something.” He stated, walking down to her level.

“What?” She asked, pushing through the group to throw her arms around his suit.

“I’ll tell you later.”

“What? Don’t keep us in the dark!” Fire Emblem whined, the others nodded with him.

“Hey, and me too! I’m the one helping so I should know!” Tetsuko gave Barnaby the biggest kitty-eyes he’d ever seen, her golden irises expanding exponentially. He sighed and leaned down to whisper in her ear.

“Kriem’s awake and I want to visit her with you.” He breathed. Her eyes widened, in shock this time and she nodded.

“So what’s going on?” Origami asked.

“Nothing. Just a little business that needs to be taken care of.” Tetsuko smirked as she replied.

“No fair! Tell us!” Dragon Kid demanded.

“Nope! Got to go!” Tetsuko escaped out the front door before the gang could charge her and beat the answers out of her mouth. They knew Barnaby wasn’t going to talk so left him be for the rest of the evening. The next afternoon when they both were off work, Barnaby picked Tetsuko up at a coffee place near her apartment. She was standing in the cool November air with two cups of steaming coffee, dressed in her green winter coat as a few snowflakes began to fall. The boy pulled up in his red sports car and leaned over to open the door for the woman.

“Thanks! Coffee, Bunny?” She sat down and held out a cup to him.

“Thanks.” Tetsuko shut the door as the blond carefully took a sip from his hot cup.

“Any news on Kriem?” Tetsuko asked as Barnaby deposited his coffee in the cup holder and pulled into traffic.

“They said to come over, but her condition worsened after she heard about Jake’s death, so who knows if we get in today.” Barnaby wanted to speak to her so bad, so clear up everything about his parent’s murders and just be done with the anger and hate.

“Not surprising. They were in love. A weird, sick love.” Tetsuko took a drink.

“Thanks for coming with me.” Barnaby began the familiar trip to Sternbild General Hospital, happy that this time Tetsuko was I the car with him. The parked at the hospital when they arrived and spent an hour waiting for permission to see Kriem, the police officers in front of her door staring them down. Barnaby waited on a bench, but Tetsuko was up and about, pestering the officers with questions about their jobs and police training. They answered her questions as best they could, but finally both men got fed up with the pest and Barnaby made her sit down before they locked her up for harassment. They whispered about their Thanksgivings, Tetsuko gushing about how cute Kaede was and Barnaby talking about his visit to Samantha. Then the doors to Kriem’s room opened and a white haired doctor called them in.

“Mr. Brooks? Ms. Kriem would like to speak to you know.” Barnaby’s heart skipped a beat in anticipation. The couple stood up and walked into the hospital room, the door closing behind them. Kriem looked awful. Her normally pale skin had a chalking look to it, her hair was shaved off and she looked like she could barely stay awake. All the machines keeping her alive beeped around her as she looked up at Barnaby. He walked up to Jake’s accomplice and stood by her bed, Tetsuko right next to him as his support. “The doctor said you had something to tell me, Ms. Kriem.” The woman in the bed didn’t say anything. “I need to know: why did Jake kill my parents?”

“I guess you don’t understand,” Kreim’s voice was so soft that Barnaby strained to hear it. “He was my savior.” Her breath puffed into the oxygen mask attached to her mouth. “Mr. Jake meant everything to me.”

“Yeah, right.” Tetsuko took a step forward to confront the woman, but Barnaby held her back with one arm. “This is nonsense.” Kriem laughed weakly, turning her head away. She wasn’t wearing any of her makeup, of course, but her purple tattoo on her face stood out without the cosmetics to complement it. She laughed again, pissing Barnaby off.

“Ever since I was a little girl, people treated me like I was some awful monster, just because I happened to be different.” Kriem’s eyes got a faraway look in them, like she was remembering something. “People would avoid me or terrorize me wherever I went. I was isolated, persecuted by my peers. Nobody had anything kind to say to me. They either ignored me or abandoned me. Even my parents didn’t love me.”

“What does this have to do with anything?” Tetsuko sighed, annoyed by the looks of it.

“Be quiet, please.” Barnaby asked her nicely, knowing that Kriem was getting somewhere with her story. Tetsuko huffed and shut up.

“I was different from everyone. I wasn’t their kind of normal, so they shut me out. I was alone all the time. And when Mr. Jake found me, I was in sitting on a park bench, minding my own business. Everything was so dark, until I met him.” Kriem coughed and regained her voice again. “He was dressed in all black, a suit and a bowler hat, like some criminal out of an old film. He clapped his hand over my mouth, his red gloves stopping me from screaming as he pulled me away. He told me not to make a fuss and at first I was scared of him. He kidnapped me and sent a ransom video to my parents, but I knew they wouldn’t want me back. That’s how much they hated me. He demanded a large sum of money from my father.”

“So that means that you were Jake’s victim at first?” Barnaby leaned over, getting closer to hear Kriem. She nodded.

“Then why the hell did you end up joining that son of a bitch?” Tetsuko snapped.

“It was a simple decision. Mr. Jake saved me.” Barnaby gasped and so did his girlfriend. “We waited at the train station for hours, but in the end, my parents didn’t show up with the money. Mr. Jake patted my shoulder, I remember. I asked him, ‘They’re not coming, are they? They don’t want me. It’s because I’m not normal. I’m a freak.’ He looked at me, glaring. ‘Sorry,’ I said, ‘My parents don’t think I’m worth the money. There’s no point in waiting. You can kill me now.’ And I did want to die. I wanted to leave my horrible life behind. I told him to get it over with, that no one was going to miss me anyway, but he just asked me to tell him what was so great about being normal. He told me to be proud of who I was, that being normal was overrated and stupid. He let me go. His words released me from my suffering. He was going to leave me there, but I wanted to be with him, the one person who understood me. I went with him.” Kriem’s eyes came back to the present and she looked at Barnaby. “Now, when I look back on it, the only happy time in my life was with him. It was when I felt truly alive and free. Mr. Jake and I were trying to build a world that we controlled, that we were in charge of, free from persecution.” Barnaby watched as the woman turned over and tried to sit up. “It was a dream he had for a long time, something we shared together.” She sat up and clutched at her chest, breathing heavily.

“Are you alright?” Barnaby reached for her, but she pushed him away with one weak arm, grabbing at her oxygen mask, ripping it off.

“If you and your friends hadn’t interfered with the plan, we would’ve been free to do what we pleased!” Kriem’s voice got louder as she vented her anger at the pair. “And you killed him!”

“How does that make any sense?” Tetusko asked, “You were terrorizing school students for money, abusing your power and making life miserable for other people. You weren’t trying to accomplish anything good for this world or your own.”

“It would have been a natural progression. The weak giving way to the strong, the different.”

“And then you would be ones doing the persecuting, the hating.” Barnaby added, his voice hard. “So it that why Jake killed my parents, to prove his point about the strong?”

“To defend Mr. Jake’s honor, I’m going to tell you something.” Kriem’s voice shifted into her psycho voice, the one she used on the abduction videos. “You think he was the one who killed your parents, but you see he didn’t!” Barnaby couldn’t believe what she was saying. “I’m sure you remember your parents were killed years ago on Christmas Eve, but that also happened to be the day Mr. Jake kidnapped me.” Kriem grabbed her chest again, the heart monitor speeding up as she exerted the effort to speak and sit up.

“What are you saying?” Barnaby demanded, slamming his hands onto the woman’s bed.

“I can vouch for his innocence, I was with him the entire day.”

“You’re lying!” Barnaby started to lose it, this woman was lying she had to be.

“Sorry, but the truth of your parents murder hasn’t been solved, I guess.” She smirked in triumph, laughing at the boy’s distress.

“You’re lying!”

“I hope the past tortures you for the rest of your life!” Kriem screamed as she began ripping Iv cords and monitors out of her skin, spreading fluids and blood all over her body. “This is your punishment for killing Mr. Jake!” She threw down the last cord and stared at Barnaby with hurt and angry eyes. She’s killing herself!

“What are you doing?” Tetsuko shouted. Kriem clutched at her throat, losing control of her body. “Hey! Get a doctor in here!”

“What happened to her?” The doctors and policemen ran in.

“We’re just a small faction of Ouroboros!” Kriem flopped around of her bed, struggling as the doctors held her down.

“What are you talking about?” Barnaby yelled, trying to get answers from her as he was pulled out of the room.

“Ouroboros will never die!” She screamed.

“Hold her steady!”

“I’m trying!”

“Mr. Jake! I will be with you forever!” The machines stopped beeping and the doctors stopped trying. Barnaby was pushed out, and left in the dark as everything he ever knew dropped out beneath him.

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