High School Never Ends

Chapter 15: Wanted

Tetsuko had been parked outside of Barnaby’s apartment for an hour and he definitely wasn’t answering the door any time soon. He probably wasn’t even home to begin with. He wasn’t even answering her calls at this point! I am such an ass! How did this happen again? After all we’ve been through I had to go and mess it up again! Tetsuko was leaning against the wall sulking, and she was tired and she wanted to go home. Night had fallen outside and she really didn’t want to drive home. So she did what any good girlfriend did: she hacked Bunny’s security system with tips Markus had given her and walked inside. Shutting the door behind her, Tetsuko realized that she had been right, Bunny wasn’t home. The brunette debated on whether or not to ransack his fridge, but her stomach protested the very thought of food. That and she was still a little queasy every time she thought about hitting Bunny. Tetsuko fell asleep on the one chair in the entire apartment and woke up to her phone ringing.

“Hello?” The girl shook off sleep as she answered with a huge yawn.

“Hey, Tigress, have you seen Barnaby?” It was Pao-Lin. Shit. I don’t have an answer for that.

“Why do you ask?” Tetsuko skirted around the issue by asking a question.

“Because his secretary and historian from school are looking for him and they won’t stop bugging me because they know I have his number! Apparently the school’s hosting a charity event and Barnaby’s in charge. So, have you seen him? He’s not picking up my calls.”

“Can’t say that I have. Not since yesterday anyway.” It’s the truth, mostly.

“Oh well, thanks anyway! I’m going to try Fire Emblem. He seems to know everything about everyone.” The chipper girl said.

“Okay, if you say so. Bye!” Tetsuko hung up after that and looked around Bunny’s apartment while wondering the same thing Pao-Lin had. If he didn’t come home last night, where could he be? Just as the brunette was about to get up and go look for him, Nathan called.

“Hello?” Tetsuko asked.

“Pao-Lin just called me and I’ve been getting texts from Karina and Ivan all morning about Handsome being missing. You didn’t get into a fight with him again, did you?” Nathan’s falsetto accused through the phone.

“It really wasn’t a fight-“ The girl started.

“Oh no you don’t! You got into another fight with him, didn’t you?” If Nathan was there, Tetsuko was positive he’d be all up in her barbeque. Or something like that.

“So it’s all your fault.” That was Ivan’s voice. What? Are they conference calling?

“Why don’t you tell us what you did?” That one was Keith, and he was not happy.

“Come clean, ‘Suko.” Antonio urged the girl.

“How many people you got on this phone call?” Tetsuko was an unwitting victim of a phone call team up.

“Well, I uh…” Just then another phone call came in and Tetsuko checked it. It was Principal Maverick. “I gotta take this guys.”

“Wait, so you’re just going to hang up on us-“ Antonio started, but the girl really did hang up on them. Few! Thank goodness for good timing. Tetsuko picked up the call.

“Tetsuko, here.”

“Hello, Tetsuko. It’s Mr. Maverick.” His voice instantly sent a shiver down the girl’s spine. He’d been able to do that since she started high school and now that she was out he could still scare the shit out of her.

“To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I’d like to talk about Barnaby. I need to speak to you privately.”

“Uh…”

“I’m sorry to drag you away from your morning, but could you come to my office in Apollon Robotics, please?”

“Uh, yeah. I’ve got time before my job.”

“Thank you. I’ll see you there.” Click. Well, that was weird. Tetsuko made sure she looked presentable, borrowed some of Bunny’s body spray to make her smell pretty (and yes, Bunny did smell pretty every day) and left the apartment soon after. She drove over to the Apollon Robotics building and asked to see Principal Maverick. A secretary directed her to the man’s office and she knocked on the door politely, after checking her hair, of course.

“Come in.” Principal Maverick called through the door. Tetsuko opened it and stepped inside, taking off her coat and hanging it on the coat rack.

“You wanted to see me, sir?” She closed the door behind her and stepped into the tasteful office.

“Have a seat.” Maverick directed her to the couch. “Would you like some coffee?”

“Ah, I’m fine, sir. Thanks but don’t trouble yourself.” Tetsuko took a seat and watched as Principal Maverick walked over to a table with a tea set on it.

“It’s no trouble at all.” Maverick poured her a cup and fiddled with something but Tetsuko couldn’t see beyond his back. Probably just cream or something.

“So, uh, what’s this about Barnaby.” She asked. Damn it’s weird to say his name!

“Ah yes, Barnaby.” Principal Maverick turned to look at the girl. “Well, you see I received a rather distressing phone call from him last night.”

“Strange how?” Well, at least he called someone. I felt horrible after our fight and it’s good to know that he’s been in contact with someone.

“He said he didn’t believe in anything anymore. That he’d lost his faith. And I haven’t been able to get in contact with him ever since.” Or maybe not. Shit, I really messed things up this time if he’s getting depressed. But we fight all the time! Sure I slapped him, but I punched him in the gut last time! Kaede won’t ever let me forget that. She saw the whole thing from her front door! “I was hoping that you’d have some idea what was going through his mind. Did anything unusual happen?” The older gentleman brought over two cups of coffee and placed Tetsuko’s on the table in front of her before sitting down. “Any thing that might have set him off?”

“Well,” I’m certainly not telling him about out squabble. If Bunny did tell him anything it would be about Jake and his parent’s murder. “We learned that Jake wasn’t the one who killed Barnaby’s parents.” Okay, I’m calling him Bunny from now on. I don’t care if it destroys Principal Maverick’s opinion of him, it’s too weird when he’s not calling me Tetsuko back! Maverick’s eyes widened and he made a noise of surprise.

“It wasn’t?”

“Turns out Jake had an alibi.” Tetsuko reached for her cup, the heat from the coffee hot enough to feel through the china. Better not burn my tongue. “We talked it over and decided that it might be good to inform the police at this point and reopen the investigation, as well as doing some digging of our own. Then I kinda got him upset. But anyway, I’m worried that he might lose it and get in trouble again and you know for a fact that that’s my job!” The girl gave a half hearted laugh as she grabbed and spoon and stirred her drink. Tetsuko was about to take a sip and realized that her coffee was too dark to have cream in it already.

“I have to say, Barnaby’s a lucky boy to have such a partner looking after him.” Principal Maverick smiled and Tetsuko smiled back, his kind words boosting her mood a bit.

“Oh, well…” The brunette decided against cream and went to take a drink, but stopped.

“Is something wrong?” Maybe cream would be a good idea.

“Got any cream?” Principal Maverick’s eyes softened, having tensed up for some reason.

“Ah, why of course.” The man stood up and got her a small pitcher filled with cream.

“Thanks.” Tetsuko poured some in and finally went to have a drink. Then her eyes caught something shiny under the table and she set her cup down.

“Now what’s the matter?” Maverick sounded ticked.

“Looks like somebody dropped something.” Tetsuko leaned down and stretched her arm under the table to grab whatever it was. Her fingers tiptoed across the carpet and pinched the small object between her fingers. She brought it up and looked at the pin. It was the one she’d bought for herself yesterday. “Well that’s weird.”

“Yes, but what of it?” Tetsuko looked from the pin to her vest and realized that her pin must’ve fallen off.

“Oh, it’s mine! I guess I forgot I pinned it on today!” She pointed to her vest like it would explain everything. “Looks like it’d fallen off. I’m really glad I found it.” Tetsuko deposited the pin in her pocket and vowed to make sure it was secured properly next time. Principal Maverick smiled as she picked up her coffee cup again, but then her phone started ringing. Can’t I just take a drink already! “Sorry about that!” She reached for her cell.

“Go right ahead.” The man said as he let her take the call. She picked up and walked to the other side of the room.

“Hello?”

“Hi Tetsuko, its Samantha.”

“Samantha? How did you get my number?”

“Barnaby’s old school directory had your home phone and then your sweet mother gave me your cell. Do you remember me?” The old lady asked.

“Yeah I do! You’re Bunny’s old housekeeper!”

“Yes, I have a photo I’d like you to look at if you would like to come over later. It’s a picture of Barnaby, and I’d like him to have it.”

“Yeah, sure. I’ll be over after my work shift today. Is that okay?”

“Yes, dear. I’ll see you then. Goodbye.”

“Bye!” Tetsuko hung up.

“What was that all about?”

“This lady’s got some old photo of Bunny that she wants me to see. She says it’s important that I see it.” Tetsuko went to grab her coat from the hanger.

“A photo?” The man asked as the girl shrugged on her coat.

“Yeah, I’m gonna check it out, but I’m going to be late for work if I don’t leave now. Sorry to cut this short. Thank you for having me.” Tetsuko bowed to her old principal. “And for the coffee!” She smiled and ran out the door. The Japanese woman spent all her shift at the Journal and the bar afterwards thinking about what Samantha had told her. And old photo of Bunny, huh? He should be adorable, shouldn’t he Tomoe. If he’s such an ass about his appearance now, just think about him when he was little! After dodging all her friends at work, Tetsuko changed to go meet Samantha. As she slung on her coat, something poked her in the side.

“Ow!” She reached inside her pocket and pulled out her pin. The back was missing. “Not again.” Then she remembered that she put the pin she found in Principal Maverick’s office in her other pocket. She fished out the other on and stared at the two pins in her hand. One of these is Bunny’s! And that means he was in Maverick’s office recently! Tetsuko put the pins in her pocket again and grabbed her phone. Redialing his number, the girl ran to her bike as she waited for the man to pick up. “What’s going on?” She muttered to herself.

“Hello?” Maverick picked up.

“Uh, are you there, sir?” Tetsuko asked, starting up her Chaser.

“Yes, what is it?”

“It’s about that pin I found on the floor of your office today, remember?”

“What about it?”

“Well, the thing is…it belongs to Bunny.” There was silence on the other end while Tetsuko pulled onto the street, so she continued talking. “You see, I bought a matching set of pins, one for each of us and I first thought that one was mine. But then I just found mine in my coat.” Tetsuko was trying to drive, talk and think at the same time and it was really putting a strain on her brain as she talked over the wind of traffic into her phone. Her voice went a little pointed. “So the one in your office was obviously Bunny’s.”

“Was it?”

“So you see, Bunny was there. He must’ve been in your office earlier.” Tetsuko turned a corner and nearly ran over the curb. Driving one handed sucks! And I need to check the address Samantha sent me. I have to cut this conversation short so I know where I’m going!

“Well, I…”

“I mean when you weren’t around. I’m thinking that whatever happed to make Bunny go AWOL on us, it happened to him there. Did you happen to notices signs of a struggle or anything like that?”

“No, I can’t say that I have.”

“Well, alright. Just thought I’d ask. I’m on my way to see Bunny’s housekeeper, now. I think this photo she wants to show me is pretty important. Maybe it’s a clue to where Bunny’s gone.”

“Yes, you may be right. Let me know if you find out anything.”

“Thanks for your help Principal Maverick!”

“And my dear, you don’t have to keep addressing me as ‘principal’ since I’m no longer one.”

“Sorry ‘bout that! Thanks again!” Tetsuko hung up and stopped at a red light to check Samantha’s address. The brunette made it to Samantha’s red, green and white house just the night was deepening. All of the old lady’s lights were off but Tetsuo went up to the door anyway and rang the bell. When there wasn’t an answer, she rang the bell again. Still nothing.

“I guess she’s not home.” Tetsuko scratched her cheek as she looked around. Then she noticed that the front door wasn’t shut all the way and being the curious cat she was, the girl quietly opened the door and stepped inside. “Ms. Samantha!” She called. There was a light coming from the living room that the girl hadn’t seen from the outside. It was a fire in the fireplace and it looked really high. “Whoa, that’s blazin’! You want to be more careful ma’am!” She called out as she grabbed a poker to disperse a lot of the heat. No answer. Tetsuko didn’t want to pry into the old lady’s things so she just stayed in the parlor as she waited for Samantha.

Thoroughly bored, Tetsuko spotted a photo album on the coffee table and opened it up. It was a bunch of pictures of Bunny. The girl smiled as she looked at naked baby photos and first walk photos of her boyfriend, it was the first time she’d seen anything like this. There were awards and certificates the blond had earned in there as well as school pictures and even a few articles of his accomplishments. She even found shots of her in the album near the back. There were ones where she’d taken pictures with her phone and sent them to Bunny (and then obviously sent them to Samantha) and there were others that Bunny must’ve taken the girl wasn’t even aware that he had been taking pictures. It seems that Bunny was keeping Samantha in his life by sending her pictures. Tetsuko smiled and flipped through the pages until the fire went out. She wasn’t even aware that she’d fallen asleep on the couch at that point, clutching the photo album in her arms as she slept.

“It’s cold!” Tetsuko woke up shivering on the couch, sitting straight up and dropping the album on the floor. “I’m sorry about that ma’am! I must’ve dozed off!” She called out to the house. Still no answer. Tetsuko looked out the window and saw that it was morning. “Ma’am?” Nothing. She must’ve been out all night. Where could she have gone? Tetsuko grabbed her phone and tried calling Bunny. He wasn’t picking up, so he probably didn’t know where Samantha was. That or he still didn’t want to speak to her or he was still missing. Tetsuko called Nathan next to see if he had any news on Bunny, but the boy-girl didn’t pick up either. Neither did Antonio, or Keith. Going through her list of friends, Tetsuko came up blank. Why isn’t anyone picking up? Oh well. Tetsuko stood up and stretched. Her foot kicked the photo album and she had a strange desire to take it with her. I can’t just steal some lady’s photos! Well, I can always bring it back, I’m sure she won’t mind if I leave a note. The girl did so and left the house, taking the album home. Catching wind of her smell, the girl decided it was high time for a shower since she’d been in the same clothes since the day at the rink.

By the time she’d gotten to her apartment, Circe was gone already. Tetsuko into work to take a day off from the Journal and took her sweet time in the shower. Then she decided to eat and then undecided that and instead took some time for homework and then decided to visit the gang at the restaurant and figure out why the hell nobody was picking up. Dressed in a fresh pair of jeans and a green sweater for the cold weather, Tetsuko got on her Chaser again and headed towards the bar early in the afternoon. On route to the restaurant, Tetsuko glanced over at a bunch of TVs in a window display and waited for the light she was stopped at to turn green. She was surprised when her face popped up on screen it was a picture of her they took at work, long hair and all jazzed up, she had a serious expression on her face. What was more surprising than the photo was the headline underneath it: Be on the Lookout for this Homicidal Woman! Accused of Killing 68 Year Old Samantha Taylor! Samantha’s picture popped up next to hers. What the hell? I didn’t kill anyone! Tetsuko nearly fell off her bike as the TV stared her in the face. What’s going on? Someone who’d been looking at the TV spotted her.

“There she is! It’s the murderer!” Tetsuko panicked, fire racing through her veins as the fight or flight mechanism took over her body. Scared and confused, the girl hopped the curb and sped off into the city, trying to outrun her wanted poster. As she illegally raced through the streets, Tetsuko’s brain went into hyper mode. I need someplace to get out of sight! I can’t go to the restaurant, because of obvious reasons, but what if my friends can help me? They’ll believe I’m innocent! Tetsuko took the long way to work, keeping to back alleys and little used roads until she ventured into the bar’s parking lot. Pulling up to the building she saw that Keith was out front getting ready for the afternoon shifts.

“Hey, Keith!” She pulled up near him and waved, glad to see a familiar face. Only it wasn’t a familiar face. Keith was giving her the “Bad John” face, like she went and shit all over the carpet.

“Stop right there, murderer! I’m going to apprehend you and contact the police for killing an innocent woman!” The blond got a running start and tackled the surprised girl off her bike.

“Keith! Stop playing around! I didn’t kill anybody and you know it!” She wrestled with the man on the pavement, elbowing him in the face.

“That’s not for me to decide! A jury will decided if you’re innocent or not!” She got out of the blonde’s grip and ran for the open restaurant door, trying to get away since Keith blocked her bike.

“Did you even hear one thing I was trying to say to you?” Tesuko ran into the girl’s room and locked the door behind her. Smart, Tetsuko. Now you’ve blocked your only exit! The girl turned the light on as Keith banged on the door, trying to get her to open it up or break it down, the girl had no clue. I need a disguise. I can’t keep running around in my face, because if Keith doesn’t even believe me when who will? What is wrong with him? It’s like he doesn’t even know me! Tetsuko ran to her locker and opened it up, hoping that was another set of clothes in there since Keith just ripped the ones she was wearing on the pavement outside. Popping open her locker to Keith’s shouts, Tetsuko growled when all she saw was her old hero suit next to her new one. No spare set of clothes. Crap! Tetsuko grabbed the spandex and prayed there was an anime convention in the city so she wouldn’t look so weird before shoving the suit into Karina’s extra sling bag. Sorry, babe, she apologized, taking the other girl’s bag without permission. Spotting scissors on the counter, she made a split second decision and hacked off her hair at the shoulders. Once again spiky, her brown hair bounced wildly as she gathered up her things. All she had to do now was get out.

Tetsuko flipped off the light and let her eyes get accustomed to the darkness. Keith was still banging but someone else had joined him. The girl listened to the voices and heard Pao-Lin and Ivan outside. As she eavesdropped against the door, Tetsuko discovered that those two didn’t recognize her either. What the hell is going on? Why don’t they know who I am? Tetsuko heard a key in the lock and leapt to the side of the door, covered in shadows as three figures carefully walked into the room.

“You notified the police?” Ivan asked Pao-Lin as they stepped inside.

“Yes, you heard me on the phone just two seconds ago! Why are we going this? She’s a killer!”

“We have to capture her! Capture!” Keith whispered, as if Tetsuko couldn’t hear him already. They were searching for the light when Tetsuko pounced. She cracked Ivan and Keith in the back of the head and knocked the air out of Pao-Lin with a knee to her small chest.

“Sorry guys, but don’t you know who I am?” She punched Keith in the stomach as he tried grab her again.

“Tetsuko Kaburagi! Wanted murderer!” Keith shouted struggling to rise.

“Fine then! Be that way!” The brunette yelled as she ran out the door and smack into Karina.

“Huh?” The blonde chick gasped. “You’re that woman on TV!” Karina ran at her. Why do these guys all run at a “supposed” murderer? Don’t people usually run away?

“Shit!” Tetsuko dodged her and shoved her into a wall on her way out the door.

“Hey! Get back here!” Karina shouted.

“Why don’t you remember me?” Tetsuko shouted back as she burst into the parking lot. Antonio blocked her way.

“Bison! Stop her!” Karina was yelling again.

“Antonio! What the hell are you doing here? You don’t even work at this restaurant!” Tetsuko yelled as her best friend landed a punch in her side.

“And how would you know that, lowlife?” The bull man growled as he went in for another punch. Tetsuko blocked it with her arm, cringing as he side bloomed in pain.

“Damn it! What is wrong with all of you?” Tetsuko took a page out of Bunny’s book and used her long legs to deliver side kick to the Spaniard’s face. He went down and she leapt over her body only to be tackled by Karina.

“You should give up! This is silly. I’m not letting you go!”

“Yeah, well don’t fondle my boobs this time, okay? I don’t think I’ve recovered from the last time!” Tetsuko was pushing at the blonde’s face, trying to get her off. “Get off me! I’d wish you would all stop chasing me! I’ve done nothing wrong!”

“Liar! We’re not letting you escape, you murderer!”

“I told you all before: I didn’t kill anyone! How many times do I have to say it?” Tetsuko shoved Karina hard, breaking her grip and throwing her into Antonio who was just standing up. They crashed to the ground and the brunette was up in a flash, staring down at her friends. “What the hell happened to you guys? Why don’t any of you recognize me?”

“Hm?” Both Karina and Antonio grunted as they looked up at her.

“Okay, maybe this’ll jog you memory: remember that time I caught you singing in a bar? I gave you a tip and told you to follow your dreams and if you wanted to be a singer, to go for it!”

“What are you talking about? Tamiko was the one who gave me that tip! How do you know so much about my private life anyway?” Karina fumed.

“Who’s Tamiko?” Tetsuko asked, confused. She kicked Antonio in the face again as he tried to make a grab for her. Keith, Ivan and Pao-Lin were now outside as well. Damn I can’t fight them all by myself!

“How do I know? Because I’m the one who gave you the damn tip!”

“That was Tamiko!”

“Who is that?”

“My friend I’ve known for a very long time!”

“But that’s supposed to be me!” Tetsuko wasn’t getting through to her and the others were staring to circle.

“Stop spouting all this nonsense!” Karina yelled, her eyes hard.

“You’re the one who’s spouting nonsense! You’re crazy!” Tetsuko knew she needed to calm down before she lost it and they got the better of her, but this was so frustrating! “And I suppose you’ve forgotten about that time I gave you that towel as well.” Her voice was softer, more hurt than angry. “How could you forget that? You were so pissed! At a rehearsal I spilled coffee on your towel and ruined it and then I gave you a really cool towel to replace it!” Tetsuko blocked Keith’s punch and leapt over Ivan’s leg sweep as she continued talking to Karina. The blonde girl’s expression changed, confused now as well. “Will you snap out of it? I’m really Tetsuko! Your friend! Please believe me!” Tetsuko heard footsteps coming around the corner. Great, someone else to give me bullshit.

“Hey, what are you guys doing back here? Have you seen Barnaby? He was staying with Mr. Maverick but now he’s not there and he’s not returning my calls and I’m wor-“ A girl who looked very similar to Tetusko walked around the corner and stared at the rumble going down. She was Tetsuko’s height with smaller boobs and green eyes. She also looked as polished as the girl’s okaa-san’s silverware.

“Who is that and what does she have to do with Barnaby?” Tetsuko asked pointing in disbelief.

“That’s Tamiko! She’s Barnaby’s girlfriend!” Karina’s eyes were cold again, whatever progress Tetsuko had made with her gone.

“But I’m Barnaby’s girlfriend! So who the hell are you?” Tetusko shouted. Everything’s wrong. How did this happen?

“You’re the chick who murdered that old lady!” Tamiko accused, just like all the others.

“No I did not!” Tamiko charged, trying to land and punch in on Tetsuko.

“Get her!” Antonio yelled from the sidelines. They gang had backed off to watch the two women duke it out. They’ve replaced me with this bitch!

“Stop cheering for her! I’m the one who’s your friend!” Tesuko snapped, dodging a right hook and punching the look-alike bitch in the stomach. Her abs were almost as hard as steel with only a little give and Tetsuko’s hand did not appreciate the bruising impact. Tamiko smirked and got Tetsuko right in the jaw. The brunette stumbled back and glared at everyone.

“You can drop the act now. We all know it’s a lie.” That was Karina again, piping off her two cents.

“What happened to you guys? Aren’t we friends? Colleagues who’ve been through so much together?” Tetsuko was nearly in tears as her best friends glared at her like she was dog shit on the underside of their shoes. “You have to believe me! This is some kind of nightmare. You’ve really forgotten who I am.”

“What is this crazy girl talking about?” Nathan waltzed up and threw his arm around Tamiko’s waist. “Tamiko, you should take this crazy nutcase and lock her up, because you’re the best when it comes to fighting.” Antonio growled at Nathan.

“Hey! Who’s the best at fighting?” The Spaniard’s pride had to be pretty hurt after that one.

“She is sweetcheeks. But you’re butt’s still the best.” Nathan winked flirtatiously at him. Antonio backed off before he was assaulted.

“Why the hell are you all here at the same time? You’re shifts should be staggered!” Tetsuko was thinking that her karma couldn’t be this bad, all her friends trying to kill her in a large group at the same time. Someone was fucking with her. Tamiko took a step forward, readying to attack. Tetsuko didn’t know if she could do this anymore. She had no allies, no friends and she was tired of fighting.

“Is this how it’s going to end for you?” A creepy voiced asked the brunette. Tetsuko’s head whipped around as she saw her archenemy load a flaming bolt into his crossbow.

“Damn! Lunatic is going to get her!” Nathan sighed, obviously disappointed with this result.

“Lunatic?” She gasped “Stop! Let me explain! I’m not the murderer!”

“You need to reflect carefully upon your actions.” Lunatic was aiming right for her. He shot, and missed Tetsuko. The blot dug into the pavement right in front of Tamiko, who jumped back to avoid getting hit. The flames flared and burned away but Tetsuko was already running behind Lunatic.

“Why are you helping me? I thought you were going to kill me!” The brunette questioned, keeping her distance from the vigilante all the same.

“Passing judgment on those who are truly sinful is my idea of justice. Thereby having you get captured by the hands of false justice would be something that goes against my beliefs.” The palm faces bastard replied, ever calm.

“Huh?” Okay, this was the limit of Tetsuko’s confusion, she couldn’t take anymore of this messed up situation.

“Tetsuko Kaburagi, is this how you’re going to let your idea of justice end? I thought you were more stubborn than that.” The two enemies stared at each other for a moment; the girl nodded and then ran the hell out of the way in case he changed his mind. Righting her bike the brunette leapt on and made to speed away.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing? Are you planning on defending that criminal?” Nathan was still calling for her blood. I’m never pissing him off again. After I punch him for this, of course.

“I defend no one, nor do I follow your code of justice. I obey the voice of Thanatos.” Lunatic was talking again and that was the last words Tetsuko heard before she dashed away. I don’t understand…why did he help me?Ten minutes later, she’d parked her bike a few blocks away from her old school and had changed into her hero suit so she didn’t look like a homeless person who’d just rolled in a dirt pile for fun.

“Great, I’m running around here like some kind of sewer rat!” Tetsuko popped out from behind two houses, already dressed in her crapsuit. She needed to rest for a minute and think. Tetsuko thought about the look-alike Tamiko. She had no idea where the girl came from but everyone seemed to know her like they used to know Tetsuko. She also seemed to have Bunny’s number because she said she had been calling him. She also said Bunny was at Maverick’s, but why would he be there? Principal Maverick was looking for Bunny too. Or has he been with Maverick the whole time? Tetusko thought about the pin she’d found in the man’s office, and the fact that’d he had overheard her conversation with Samantha right before she died. “You need to reflect carefully upon your actions.” That’s what Lunatic had said and now Tetusko knew that Mr. Maverick was somehow involved in everything. Damn him! The girl needed to get everything sorted out quick before something else popped up to kill her.

I’m going to have to look like I’m advertising, or else I’ll be the weirdo again. Tetsuko brushed off the dirt off her spandex and slipped on her Tigress mask. I can’t go home because the police are probably watching my place, but Bunny said the school was having a really long winter break in exchange for a short Spring Break, so I should go there. No one’s going to be in the building and I know for a fact that I left a spare set of clothes in the ceiling in case of a fight where I got really messed up. It should still be there. Maybe I left a juice box there. I want sandwich. Tetsuko’s thoughts digressed as she thought about food, her perpetually empty stomach growling in discomfort, but just the thought of food made it roll with nausea. On second thought, skip the sandwich. Ten blocks, that’s how far away she from her new change of clothes.

Tetsuko walked out onto the street, putting on her girl swag and calling out promotions for Hero’s Bar every time someone gave her a weird look. She waltzed her way through five blocks in her happy girl mode before someone pulled up next to her on the sidewalk.

“Hey there, stranger. Need a lift?” Tetsuko was looking at the most friendly face she’d seen today.

“Ben!” She opened the door and leapt into the car. “Good grief! I’m so glad I can still count on you!”

“Wanna tell me what the hell is going on? I know you didn’t kill anybody.” The black man asked.

“You’re the second person to believe that today. Or the first, because crazy flamethrowers don’t count.” Tetsuko took off her mask and shook out her hair. “Can you drop me off at the school? I know I left a change of clothes there and I don’t want to ruin my suit.”

“Sure, but I want to talk first.” Ben parked a block away from the school.

“How did you find me anyway?”

“Just passing by. I had to pick up some stuff for the restaurant and to my surprise I saw you walking around in that ancient suit on the sidewalk. It was luck mostly. But I have to say I’m shocked. On TV they’re talking about you like you’re the murderer.”

“Yeah, but it wasn’t me! I have no clue what’s going on, only that my friends are trying to turn me in and I have no place to go. Somebody made sure I was framed.” Tetsuko growled, punching the seat. Then she spilled everything she knew.

“I see, so this whole mess is Maverick’s doing.”

“Yeah, and he’s even gone through the trouble of finding someone to replace me! I mean, that Tamiko chick looks almost just like me! Only I’m sexier. And by the way, why was everyone at the bar this afternoon?”

“We were going to clean up for the holiday season and I needed everyone there, but if they’re all bent out of shape to get you into jail, I suppose not much work will get done.”

“Sorry, for the inconvenience.” Tetusko replied sarcastically.

“I’ll tell ya, you sure know how to make enemies with the wrong people, Tetsuko.” Ben chuckled at her.

“Yeah, it seems like it’s always happening to me! It’s a talent I have.” The girl sighed and stared out the window. The school was just around the corner. “And I think that Barnaby’s not going to remember me either, judging by the way my own friends were treating me. You’re the only one I can trust.”

“Well, I’m flattered but that’s not going to help you much. What’s your next move?”

“To try to make everyone remember me, but I’m at a loss for what to do.” Tetsuko gave her boss a strained smile. “Oh, well. I’ll think of something!”

“Well, good luck. Didn’t you need something in the school?”

“Yeah, well I’ll be seeing you then! If I don’t get thrown in jail this time!” Tetsuko got out of Ben’s car and walked over to the school’s gate as he drove away. The girl shimmied up her sneak in tree and climbed into the second story window. She noticed that the lock hadn’t been fixed since the last time she broke it and slipped into the deserted school. She leapt off the same file cabinet she always did and hooked her hand into the tiles. The brunette snuck by memory, winding around ducts and pipes until she reached her spot. She felt around the floor with her fingers until she brushed against fabric. It’s still here! Tetsuko grabbed her old school uniform and quickly switched outfits. It had been a year since she’d wore the uniform but instead of being too small, the blouse hung off her boney shoulders and the skirt kept slipping down off her waist to low ride on her protruding hips. Geez, I’ve lost a lot of weight. Tetsuko put her white boots back on (having left her sneakers by her bike) and stored her crapsuit up in the ceiling. Hopping out, the girl was about to leave the school when she heard door down below open and slam shut. Damn! Who’s that? Tetsuko raced to the stairwell and listened to the voices, trying to determine who it was. It was the gang. Shit! How did they find me?

“Spread out!” Pao-Lin shouted. Several voices shushed her. Quiet footsteps started milling about and Tetsuko was about to run to the window and get out when someone got on the staircase below her. If she ran to the window they would see her and give chase. Hiding was the better option at the moment. Tetsuko ran up the stairs silently and looked around the third floor for a hiding spot. All the classrooms were locked and there was no way to reach the ceiling. Someone was following her. Tetsuko panicked like a cornered cat and ran for another stairwell, boots clicking on the floor.

“She’s up here!” The brunette had been spotted. She ran to the top of the stairs and pushed open the door in her way and burst out onto the roof.

“Crap! Trapped again! I really should think these things out better.” Tetsuko slyly noticed that the fencing around the roof had been taken down. Bunny had said something about banning students from the roof during lunch because of it. The girl quickly took stock of her position before her “friends” ran onto the roof.

“You know, for a murderer you’re really bad at getting away.” Karina snapped viciously as she stood front and center in the group.

“I told you I didn’t do it!” Tetsuko growled, sick of being blamed for something she didn’t do. “How many times to I have to say it?”

“Quit lying! We don’t believe you!” Pao-Lin pushed her way around Antonio to shout at the brunette.

“How did you find me anyway?” Tetsuko was really puzzled on that one. She’d gotten clean away at the restaurant.

“I know everything.” Nathan winked at her evilly. “We’ve been tailing you this whole time using Ivan’s considerable talent to stay out of sight. And how do I do this? I-“

“You have your connections to people in the city who keep you informed and trade information with you and you’re a notorious stalker when I comes to keeping tabs on your friends.” Tetsuko paraphrased Nathan’s explanation before he could say it. “Some of the things I know are for one thing: you shave your facial hair and armpits three times a day!”

“Oh! How-how did you?” The black man was confused and embarrassed now, the expression on his face priceless.

“I know you all! I’m your friend! And I’m going to prove it!”

“Pao-Lin!” Tetsuko pointed dramatically at the small girl who jumped in shock. “That time when you were babysitting little Sam, you called everyone asking for baby advice and finally got on the phone with me and we hashed it out. I know that ever since then, you’ve been wearing that cute flower hair pin your parent’s sent you.”

“How did you know that?” The girl questioned, scratching her scalp, her eyebrows scrunching together.

“And Karina, I know that your first love was being a singer.” Tetsuko moved on without answering any questions.

“How could you know that?” The blonde asked, her eyes wide. Karina’s hand went to her head, her forehead wrinkled in pain.

“Ivan, remember when Edward escaped prison? I helped you gain confidence in yourself and you ended up doing the right thing by helping save your friend. I also know about your small magical girl fetish collection because you made me purchase most of the volumes.”

“I-I-“ The boy stuttered, placing his hand on his head, eyes cringing.

“And you Keith, you like sucking the yolks out of fried eggs like this!” Tetusko demonstrated the obnoxious way he ate and asked, “Am I right or wrong? Because you totally did that in front of me at that Japanese place I treated you too.

“Uh…” The man’s voice was several octaves higher than usual and he massaging his temples now.

“What’s with this chick? How does she know this much?” Antonio seemed to be trying to deflect Tetsuko’s attention from reveling any of his secrets.

“Could it be she’s-?” Pao-Lin started, her hand placed over her mouth.

“Yes! You remember now, don’t you?” Tetsuko’s hope soared. They remembered her! It was almost too good to be-

“You’re a stalker!” The Chinese girl accused as the gang started stepping closer to the brunette.

-true.

“I am not! Are you kidding me? Those were memories of the time we spent together! You still don’t believe me after all I’ve said? Seriously? Do I really look like the kind of girl who’d go out and kill a person?”

“Yep.”

“Yes.”

“Uh huh.”

“Sorta.”

“Yeah.”

“Kinda.”

“Really?” Tetsuko was dumbfounded. They were all jerks.

“This is the end of the line for you!” Keith took a stance and everyone else did likewise. Tetsuko sighed in defeat and got ready to take a beating. Again.

“No, she doesn’t.” Karina mumbled, drawing everyone’s attention. “Just look at her guys, I can’t even imagine her killing someone.”

“Thanks, Karina.” Tetsuko was so happy something was getting through.

“It really makes no sense! If she really was the murderer, then why stick her neck out like this to prove her innocence?” Karina was starting to make sense, even if she didn’t remember the Japanese woman.

“Don’t be fooled!” Antonio held up a fist. “She’s trying to trick us by gaining our sympathy. That’s not going to work!” The bull man ran up and locked fists with Tetsuko who used all her strength to hold him at bay.

“Will you quit it, hamburger?” Tetsuko grunted as she pushed against the wall of rock that was her best friend. “I don’t want to do something I’m going to regret later because you still owe me eighty bucks and a wild drinking night on the town!”

“Shut up, you lowlife!” Antonio shoved the girl back, getting her to let go of his fists and stumble for her footing. She fell on her butt, most of the fight she’d had gone out of her.

“You have to believe me, I swear.” Tetsuko was near tears, but she wouldn’t let them out. She couldn’t. The brunette stood up to face her so-called friends, her head down in defeat. “So what happens now? You gonna chuck me to the police? Arrest me?”

“You just don’t know when to give up, do you?” Keith took a step forward.

“It’s one of my best traits, I guess.”

“Oh, she will, once she’s in jail.” Nathan took a step forward as well, completing the circle around the Japanese woman. Tetsuko gave Karina a side glance, silently thanking her for at least partially believing what she’d said.

“What happened to all of you? Why don’t you remember me?” Tetsuko shouted as she turned to look at every one of them. Keith came forward and grabbed her wrist, holding it up triumphantly. Tetsuko sighed again.

“The gig is up, am I right?”

“No, it’s ‘the jig is up.’ Ah-” Keith gave her a confused look and then a small body smacked into his legs, knocking him off balance and then to the ground.

“Wait!” It was Kaede.

“Huh?” Everybody including Tetsuko asked.

“My mom never killed anybody!” The small child shouted into Keith’s face. “Stay away from her! She wouldn’t hurt anybody!”

“Kaede? Why are you here?” Tetsuko reached for her almost six year old daughter.

“She’s your kid?” Karina asked.

“Young lady, this woman has done very bad things,” Keith started, but Kaede punched him in the face as she sat on his chest.

“Those are lies! You’re lying!”

“I understand how you feel, sweetie, but we need to turn her over to the police.” Nathan tried to console the crying child. Tetsuko was still in shock to see her daughter up on a roof defending her while pounding on Keith, but she did see Antonio clutching his head now. Something must be getting through!

“No! No, you can’t! You can’t!” Kaede shook her head from side to side, denying everything anyone said to her. “My mom is kind and really, really strong! She wants to help people every day and gets beat up doing it! She wouldn’t, couldn’t kill anyone! Sure she breaks things and swears a lot but she’s a good person!” Tetsuko was crying now, fat tears rolling down her cheeks. Thanks, pumpkin. She wanted to sweep her bundled up little girl into her arms and give her the biggest hug ever.

“Well, this is a pickle, huh?” The boy-girl smacked his forehead in a face palm.

“So stay away from her! She’s my screw up!”

“Hey! Kaede!” Tetsuko snapped at her kid, her pride injured.

“Screw up?” Ivan asked and then everyone was holding their heads, crying out in pain.

“What the hell? What’s going on?” Tetsuko grabbed Kaede off Keith as she started thrashing around and tucked the girl onto her hip. She watched her friends in pain and wished she knew what to do but as soon as it started, it was over. The gang looked at each other in confusion.

“Huh?” Keith said, looking up at everyone else.

“Hey, wait a second guys…what are we doing?” Pao-Lin was blinking her eyes like she had contacts and they were blurry.

“What are we doing? We were about to capture Tigress, of course!” Antonio replied.

“Yeah, but why would we do that?” The Chinese girl asked.

“Because she killed someone and-huh?” Nathan cut himself off.

“I’m not sure why but we were definitely treating Tigress like a criminal.” Ivan folded his arms, his Japan jacket billowing in the breeze. “I think.”

“But why? That would be impossible. Wouldn’t it?” Karina was thinking now too and it was all Tetsuko could do not to tackle them in a huge hug. She was already bouncing on the balls of her feet in excitement, jostling a smiling Kaede. “Can you tell us what’s up, Boobs?” They all looked at her, waiting for an explanation.

“You remember me!” Tetsuko jumped for joy, boucing Kaede until she laughed.

“Huh?”

“Thank God you finally remember me again.” Tetsuko placed a hand on her chest, threatening to cry again.

Why wouldn’t we?” Keith asked.

“You’d completely forgotten me! Like, everything!”

“How would that happen? You’re too annoying to forget, honey.” Nathan pointed out.

“Ignoring that.” Tetsuko huffed.

“Uh, mom? Can you put me down? My pony tail is coming out.”

“Sure, sweetie.” Tetsuko set her daughter on the ground. “What are you doing here anyway?” Tetsuko kneeled down to Kaede’s height and placed her hands on the girl’s tiny shoulders.

“Well, I saw you on the TV and it scared me. I wanted to know that everything was going to be alright so I went to see you at home. But then you’re friend told me you had already left. She was scared too, so I went to your work. I saw you running away after that scary flame guy saved you and tried to follow you.”

“Okay, that all makes sense and I’ll lecture you on the dangers of a six year old girl going out into the city by herself later but how did you find my house and Hero’s Bar?” Kaede reached into her pocket and took out a smartphone.

“Everything was in momma’s phone! It was easy to look up your contact stuff and find you!” Kaede gave the brunette a smile that made her scared for the children of the next generation and technology.

“That aside,” Tetsuko started. She wanted to know who was behind the memory thing. Specifically if Maverick was behind it. “Did any of you have something strange happen within the last day or so?”

“Well,” Karina thought for a moment, “Principal Maverick wanted to meet with me. That usually doesn’t happen.”

“Hey! Me too!” Pao-Lin jumped up and down raising her hand.

“Me too.” Antonio agreed.

“So it was Maverick’s fault all along. I thought as much after I learned that he had seen Bunny after he’d gone ‘missing.’” Tetsuko growled, her anger beginning to boil. How dare he drag explained everything she pieced together in the past day or so. “He was playing you against me, trying to frame me for a murder I didn’t commit (which he probably did) and manipulated your memories so you wouldn’t recognize me and try to help me out.”

“I’m sorry. This is all our fault.” Ivan bowed in apology.

“I should’ve put two and two together when you mentioned the fried eggs!” Keith nearly sobbed.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m just glad you all remember now!” Tetsuko smiled, brushing off their apologies because she’d already forgiven them.

“Boobs, I…” Karina wanted to say something but she couldn’t get it out.

“You’re a good friend.” Tetsuko looked her right in the eye. “Even with your memories gone, you never stopped believing in me. Thanks.” The brunette turned to point at her best friend. “You on the other hand: you treated me like a commonplace criminal!” Antonio shrugged apologetically.

“Sorry, it’s all still a blur.”

“I believe the word you used was lowlife. Twice, actually.” Tetsuko held up her finger to demonstrate. “And you still own me eighty bucks and a wild drinkin-“

“Why don’t you introduce your little girl, ‘Suko? I’m the only one who knows her and I’m pretty sure she’s half the reason I remember you now!”

“Oh, right! This is my daughter, Kaede.” The brunette gestured to the girl.

“Hi, everyone!” Kaede gave them her cutest smile and Tetsuko couldn’t help but beam with her. She’s so cute!

“Daughter?!” Everyone minus Antonio shrieked.

“Yeah, I’ll explain later!”

“It’s nice to meet you!” The adorable child chirped.

“She’s adorable!” Nathan squealed, sweeping up the girl in a hug. Tetsuko smiled as everyone gathered around to hug and greet her daughter, but she noticed another visitor too late. A blond head of curls spoke from behind the group. Bunny was like an avenging angel, all flames and hate, draped in his red jacket, as he stepped onto the roof.

“What are you doing?” His voice was like a razor’s edge and sent chills up Tetsuko’s spine. His eyes held nothing but anger as they bore into her own. Uh, oh.


There was no forgiveness for this. His friends were conversing with the enemy like they were old pals! Barnaby narrowed his eyes on each of them, satisfied with the shivers he was causing. Only the killer didn’t shake. The blond took a step forward, hate and grief fueling each step he took. This person killed Samantha, she was the reason Barnaby was in anguish and pain and so alone. He had only Mr. Maverick in this world now and it was all her fault! “I’ll never forgive you! You’ll pay for killing Samantha!”

“Hey…Barnaby…” The murderer’s eyes were wide, but it wasn’t fear that was in them. It was pity. And Barnaby hated her pity.

“Take it easy now, Handsome.” Nathan held up his hand and the gang stood between the blond and his prey.

“Yeah! Tiger didn’t murder anyone!” Pao-Lin shouted. Barnaby dismissed them. There was no way they were thinking straight. This woman wasn’t Tiger, Tamiko was. What is wrong with all of them?

“It’s no use you guys.” The murderer spoke, her voice surprisingly calm considering Barnaby was thinking of kicking her pretty face in.

“Yeah, but-“ Pao-Lin started.

“Barnaby has been brainwashed by a bad man. He’s not going to remember anything about me unless I pound it into him, like I did with you guys.” Kaburagi was speaking nonsense and her implications were ticking off Barnaby even more. What is she talking about? Is she crazy along with being a killer?

“Everyone else out of the way, my business is with her.” Barnaby began stalking forward, finally making a move.

“Listen, Barnaby! You’re being manipulated now and Maverick is behind it all!” The murderer was shouting at him now.

“I’ve heard enough!” Barnaby yelled, running forward to kick her face in like he planned. Antonio rushed forward and blocked his foot with his crossed arms and repeled the attack. Keith and Ivan each took one of the blonde’s arms to hold him in place, their tight grip almost unbreakable. Almost. Barnaby just had to wait for the perfect moment to escape.

“Calm down, Barnaby!” The Spaniard demanded.

“Handsome, she’s your partner! You’re girlfriend!” Nathan was spouting nonsense now too.

“That’s right! Try to remember!” Pao-Lin had stepped in front again, shielding the killer and the small child next to her.

“What are you talking about? That woman is a murderer!” He shouted, trying to make them all see that they were wrong. Barnaby was always right.

“Barnaby…” Karina was moving close to him, her arm outstretched.

“Don’t interfere!” He hissed, and she cringed back.

“Come on, Barnaby. You have to snap out of it.” Keith was lecturing him now, giving him those soulful eyes when he was trying to get John to do what he wanted.

“Let me go!” The blond struggled against his human shackles, trying to get away. “Tetsuko Kaburagi! Why did you kill Samantha?” He had to know. He needed to know why she did it. “ANSWER ME!”The murderer moved, whispering something to Antonio before coming out from behind her human shields. Barnaby zeroed his gaze on her smirking face, burning with vengeance. Kaburagi was staring at Barnaby now, goading him on with her wolf-like eyes. Barnaby glared at her, wanting her to drop dead.

“Let him go.” The murderer requested and the blonde’s friends obeyed. How dare they follow her! Have they lost their minds? Either way, his way was clear for revenge. She was going to pay. The killer stuck her tongue out at the boy, his irritation at her immaturity causing him to growl. “If that’s the way you want to play, Barnaby, let the hunt begin. Come at me, bro.” She gestured to come closer with her fingers before running for the edge of the roof.

“Mom!” The little girl yelled as the brunette jumped off the building.

“Tetsuko!” The was everyone else. Barnaby couldn’t believe Kaburagi had jumped off the roof. It was insane! Was she trying to kill herself? The boy ran over to the ledge just as a crack and a string of curses sounded from below. He leaned over the edge and saw a tree branch hanging by a thread and the murderer hanging by another. Barnaby stared in shock. Damn, I hoped that crack was her skull on the pavement! Did she know the tree was there? Has she been here before? Well, she is wearing our school uniform, but that could be stolen. Barnaby’s brain ran through the possibilities as the brunette waved at him from her branch and swung up into the tree before leaping over the school’s wall and running down the street. She’s not getting away! Barnaby turned and took a running start before leaping off the building. He sailed through the air, fear and panic engulfing him for a split second as he freefell. Then survival instincts kicked in and he reached for an unbroken branch to grab hold of.

The wood bit into his hands, tearing open his palm but he kept moving, catching his leg on a lower branch and climbing over to the wall. He leapt off the wall and ran to his bike parked on the sidewalk and started as quick as lightning. The blond saw Tamiko running into the building and was pleased that she was going to deal with those traitors on the roof. He turned the vehicle around and spotted Kaburagi on the sidewalk several blocks away and zoomed after her. He’d almost reached the woman when she leapt over a fence and into someone’s backyard. Barnaby skidded to a halt, pissed that he’d lost her. He went through his options of following her through the neighborhood’s yards when she drove out onto the street on a green Chaser. Did she steal that or something?

“I did not steal my own bike, Mr. Skeptic!” Kaburagi shouted at him as she pulled up in front of him. Barnaby wanted to run his bike into her a knock her brain against the pavement.

“How did you-“ Barnaby couldn’t guess how she’d known what he was thinking.

“I’m your girlfriend! I know how your devious, privileged mind works! Well, mostly. It’s a pain to have to go through this pisse- off phase again!” The woman blew some hair out of her face.

“You are not my girlfriend!” Barnaby yelled at her, again. She is so stubborn!

“Okay, let’s race to see who’s right: if you win, I’m wrong and if I win you’re wrong.”

“But I’m always right!” Barnaby and Kaburagi shouted at each other at the same time, perfectly in sync. Surprise knocked the boy’s anger off kilter as the woman smirked at him.

“I know, Barnaby.” Her all knowing tone angered the boy. “But we gamble anyway and you beat me every time. Sound familiar?”

“If I did anything like this- which I don’t- I would do it with Tamiko!”

“Whatever, let’s race!” Kaburagi took off with a head start and a whoop, something Tamiko used to do when she was wild. Skirt flying up to reveal a black thong, short hair ripped back by the wind, she was just as adventurous as Barnaby’s girlfriend had been. Of course, Tamiko wasn’t like that now, she was a refined lady, but it was still scary how both of them acted the same. Barnaby shook off the similarity and took off after her, baying for blood. Kaburagi was good. She read traffic well and could perform pinpoint turns and skids even better than Barnaby but she was losing ground because she didn’t have motivation to win. Barnaby did: he wanted her splattered all across the road, even if killing a murderer was murder. The brunette taunted and jeered, egging the boy on and shouting nonsense at him.

“Remember when we first drove home together? We did that here!” She yelled when they were neck and neck on a speedway. “And that time I made a joke about needing a sidecar to you motorcycle because I was just your sidekick! You shot that one down because it was it was ‘too expensive.’” The woman let go of her handle bars to make air quotes with her fingers like she was repeating the blonde’s words.

“I never said that! Pay attention!” Barnaby went to ram her with his bike but the brunette hit her brakes and fell back as he passed in front of her.

“Doesn’t this bring back memories? We took our first drive on his highway!”

“No, we didn’t!” Barnaby was getting frustrated by her talking and his inability to get her to crash.

“Seriously? I knew you were a thick headed bastard, but this is ridiculous!”

“Don’t call me a bastard, you cretin!” The boy slowed to come even with the woman. He kicked out his leg, trying to knock her off the Chaser.

“You always hated it when I did that!” Kaburagi dodged him and laughed. “Come on, you ass wipe! You can do better than that!”

“I am not an ass wipe, you bitch!”

“’Bitch’ is always your fall back insult for me, don’t you remember?” The woman was giving him huge pouting eyes that resembled Tamiko’s as she changed lanes. Barnaby had the strange sensation of seeing those big yellow eyes before but he dismissed it.

“No! Quit saying that!” Barnaby took a swing at her, releasing one of his handlebars. She ducked and glared at him.

“Hey! This is dangerous! Eyes on the road!” She ducked again as Barnaby swung his fist towards her face. They exited the free and started going through town at outrageous speeds. Barnaby was close enough to grab Kaburagi’s face, his fingers nearly going into her nostrils. She glued her hand to his face in retaliation. They pushed each other around for a few minutes, Barnaby still kicking her legs off her bike just to make her crash when the woman looked at the incoming intersection. “Hey! Up ahead!” There was a semi truck coming into the intersection and they were all going to crash. As much a Barnaby wanted his enemy to die, he wasn’t ready to die as well. Releasing her face, the two bike sprung apart and they sped towards the semi. “Aw, crap.” She seemed so calm about this. Barnaby watched as the woman was about to get squashed like a bug against the truck, secretly elated that she was finally going to pay for her sins when she tipped her bike and skidded between two axels on the vehicle, her wheels sending up sparks. Barnaby went the easy way and skirted around the back of the truck. Barnaby stopped in the intersection, watching as a near crash almost happened. The intersection was now blocked by swerving cars and a stuck semi. Barnaby’s heart was racing from his close call and he looked over to see the woman in the same state, panting heavily. She reached down on her Chaser to finger the scratches in the body.

“Well, there goes my paint job.” Kaburagi sighed, having stopped as well. She looked at Barnaby, short hair all wild and windblown and then she zoomed off again. The blond swiveled his bike around to follow her, the game of cat and mouse beginning all over again.

They raced all over town, fighting, arguing and causing trouble everywhere. With each failed attempt to kill the woman, Barnaby got pissed off all over again and tried even harder to get her. The pair ran through stop signs, almost hit a few unsuspecting people (but avoided that, thank God) and they were both tired by the time they reached the pier next to Stern Bay. Kaburagi skidded into a halting turn, facing the boy as she idled on the empty sidewalk. The pier wasn’t popular in winter, the air to chilly and the water ice cold if you fell in. Barnaby stopped in front of her, waiting for some sort of confrontation. He was ready for it. He was ready for her to finally fight back, give him something to hit.

“We first met at the school, remember?” She seemed almost pleading now, her eyes wide with tears in them. Whether they were actual tears or wind tears from the race was indeterminate and irrelevant at this point to the boy. “You helped me kick some of Jake’s crony’s butts and then carried me in your arms after a fell out of a tree.”

“I would never do something like that for you!” Barnaby shouted, tired of her ramblings. He rushed her on his bike, trying to clothesline her on his arm. She ducked, too quick for him, but she turned to chase after the boy. Getting neck and neck again, Barnaby pushed her into a road barrier, scraping the side of her bike and her leg against the concrete. The woman screamed, her cried music to the boy’s ears. Kaburagi swung her arm out to push him away from her when her fist hit the blonde’s face.

“Uh…oops.”

“You bitch! So you want to fight now!” Barnaby kicked at her leg, connecting with her shin.

“Ow, asshole! No! It’s not like that!” The brunette waved her arms wildly and dodged Barnaby’s next attack at her head. A foghorn sounded from one side of the bay. The pair was headed towards a suspension bridge, and the road was being pulled up by strong cables. Barnaby slammed on his breaks, squealing to a stop while Kaburagi sped past him. Is she going to jump it? The blond stared in horror as his chance at revenge was making the tough uphill climb up the steep incline. Tetsuko reached the top before the bridge separated too much and leapt over the opening. Barnaby didn’t see if she’d made it to the other side or not as the ship passed in front of his view. There wasn’t a cloud of smoke on the other side so he assumed the murderer had used one of her apparent nine lives to save herself. So reckless. He had a feeling he’d said that before about her. No wait, he’d said that to Tamiko on a few occasions when they’d first met, but she’d grown out of that and was a calm and thoughtful person now.

“You suck, Barnaby! Now my suspension’s all out of whack!” The annoying voice called over a ship.

“She’s seriously loud, isn’t she?” Barnaby sighed. He’d have to wait to kill her until the bridge was down. The blond turned off his bike and crossed his arms resolutely. “When I get over there, I’m going to kick her in the face to shut her up and then get her gut and legs for Samantha. I’ll get her shins for insulting Mr. Maverick and then I’ll kill her for myself. Good plan.” Barnaby tapped his foot on the pavement in impatience. “What is taking this damn boat so long? Hurry up! I’ve got things to do!” Barnaby yelled at the ship just passing out from under the bridge. The cables holding up the road starting moving again, lowering the bridge and closing the gap. Barnaby spotted Kaburagi next to her bike, fiddling with the tires or something. He revved his bike, itching for the woman to fight back again. The tires on his Chaser squealed as he rocketed across the bridge and Kaburagi screamed as he got close. His first pass was dodged by her jumping out of the way.

“Cut it out already!” The brunette ran around to the other side of her bike, trying to avoid Barnaby. He kept missing her, she was too damn fast! Barnaby leapt off his bike, letting it stop on its own with a crash (he could afford the repairs) and went for a roundhouse kick to the woman’s face. She blocked it with her forearm, grunting against the impact. “Barnaby…” She growled.

“Fight me! You’ll pay for what you’ve done!” Barnaby disengaged and delivered a right hook which Kaburagi dodged, but just barely.

“I taught you that right hook so don’t use it against me!” She called indignantly. The woman ran at him and tried to get his face with an uppercut punch. Barnaby caught her fist before it got his face, pushing her hand down with his own and throwing her back. She kneeled on the ground and glared up at him.

“Damn it!” This is the perfect opportunity! She’s defenseless right now! I can get her! Barnaby charged, growling as Kaburagi quickly stood and brought her arm up. Her fist crashed into his face, pain blossoming on his cheek bone, head twisting painfully. She’s strong. Barnaby hated to admit it, but maybe the woman was a worthy opponent. If that was the case, bringing her down would be a great challenge and a pleasure when it happened. The boy growled and spun around once and on the second turn, brought his leg up to boot her in the face with his fabulous shoes. She cried out in pain, getting thrown to the side and into a railing. She rubbed her face as she sagged against the railing and then ran to the side to lunge out of the way of Barnaby’s neck kick. The fight continued on like that, neither gaining the upper hand, talking and delivering blows until they both stopped with their fists in each other’s cheeks, panting heavily. Tetsuko jumped away first, resting her hands on her knees like Barnaby was doing, leaning over to catch her breath.

“Barnaby,” Her voice was soft; a direct polar opposite to how the blond wanted her to sound. She was supposed to be evil, murderers were evil. They killed innocent people that had families and friends. They didn’t deserve to die and yet, they were killed by people like her! Barnaby whipped her head around to glare at the woman. “You still don’t remember who I am?”

“No and your continued yammering is starting to annoy me!” Barnaby took a few steps towards the brunette. She closed her eyes for a moment and just as the boy was about to attack, she held her hands up.

“Wait, there’s no point in continuing on like this.” She looked sad. Why is that? What does she have to be sad about?

“Oh,” Barnaby’s harsh tone was smug, he’d finally won. “So you’re finally surrendering?” Kaburagi was walking towards him now, getting closer. Perfect, the closer you are the easier it is to break your pretty face. His eyes narrowed, watching her every move. The woman stopped in front of him, beat up, her skirt and blouse hanging off her like sheets on a clothes line. She was looking him in the eye, and then she looked at her right hand, eyes growing wide. What is she doing?

“Instead, let’s try this!” Her hand came out and palmed the blonde’s cheek in a sharp slap. His head whipped to the side, shock on his face. The discomfort of the slap sparked something in Barnaby’s mind. It hurt a lot more than it should have, as if this had happened before. But it didn’t matter. She’d taken advantage of him like he was going to do to her, only now the boy’s pride was hurt as well.

“That pain feel kinda familiar? Yeah, I bet that jogged your memory.” She sounded smug and apologetic and sad at the same time. “Well, it damn well should. It’s the pain of friendship.” Friendship? What the hell is she talking about? I should just ignore her from now on. I’m tired of listening to her gibberish.

“That was a cheap shot!” Barnaby snarled, turning his head slowly to glower at the scared woman threateningly. “You’d thought you’d win with a sucker punch?”

“No, wait! That’s not!” Barnaby rammed her ribs, her proximity working in his favor. He punched the brunette in the stomach and sent her flying, rage boiling inside of him at her deception. He’d been fighting fairly- well, mostly- so why shouldn’t she? Kaburagi slammed into the ground, face up and carefully lifted her head to look at him.

“Well, that didn’t work the way I wanted it too. Then again, most things don’t.” Barnaby leapt into the air, intent on punching her ribs in with both his feet when she flipped up onto her hands and sprung away before he impacted her body. Barnaby yelled, delivering a spinning shin kick to her forearm and then a series of quick jabs with his foot while she cowered behind her defensive stance. He got through and was satisfied with her grunt of pain and she lowered her arms. Then right punch, left punch, upper cut and she was down again. The boy stepped on either side of her torso, towering over the woman. He wanted her to be his punching bag now, to vent all his anger and frustration and grief out on the person who caused it all. So that’s what he did, striking her repeatedly while she tried in vain to talk him down.

“So you’ve forgotten all the good times we’ve had together just like that? You’re a lot further gone than I thought you were.” She was giving him the disapproving stare that Tamiko gave him sometimes when he’d done something impolite, which wasn’t often. Usually it was him giving the disapproving stare when she reverted back to her crass personality. Barnaby hated the similarities this woman and his girlfriend shared and kicked her hard in the ribs because of it. Kaburagi flew into the metal railing that kept people from falling into the bay and slumped done, defeat written all over her face. Barnaby glared at her, panting heavily again. The brunette looked up slightly, exhaustion plain in her eyes. “Like the time we first met? That day couldn’t have gone any worse. I was a screw up back in high school to repeat my senior year, I’d been teased constantly for that fact, I was surrounded by Ouroboros cronies and Jake stole my backpack, beat me up and threw all my possessions in a freaking tree. And then Mr. Lloyds had me team up with you for the P.A. committee.”

No, I teamed up with Tamiko. I helped her fight off Jake and then she thanked me when Mr. Lloyds called us into the committee. We’ve been working together ever since. How dare she slander my memories of that day! She’s lying!

“At first I hate the whole idea,” She was still talking and Barnaby didn’t know why he was listening, but he was. “After all, why did I have to partner with some smartass, hotshot kid? I was only at school to do what needed to be done, not to make friends or babysit. But then, as time went on, I started to get to know you better. And before I knew it, I felt like we were always meant to be teammates. I fell in love with you, Barnaby, after all those years of keeping people at a distance, I let you in and you let me love you. The two of us had some pretty good times together, didn’t we?” She totally sounded sincere, her eyes getting misty, but it was all wrong. Barnaby didn’t even know this woman, how could she love him? He hated her! They’d never even met! It was all lies. He walked forward to teach her the truth, to beat it into her if her had too, again and again until she realized they were enemies and he was going to kill her for everything she’d done to him! The murderer stood up, shaking on her feet and looked him in the eyes. He hoped she saw her doom.

“I know you’re in there. Come on, Barnaby! Don’t look at me like that!” She was pleading again and he like that. She smiled faintly, her eyes filling with tears. “Please, please remember me. I can’t lose you again because of something stupid! You’re my partner! You’re my boyfriend, Barnaby!”

“Shut up!” He slugged the prattling woman in the face. She fell on her knees heavily. “How dare you speak to me like you know me? I don’t even know you and my girlfriend is Tamiko Karasuma! How dare you dishonor her by slandering my experiences with her!” Kaburagi had those huge eyes again and then they dimmed, half closing. “I have to do this for Samantha! The woman you killed!” Barnaby took a few steps back, to get a running start. Then he got ready to end the life of the woman who made him miserable. His foot came up to break her neck, to silence her lying tongue when she spoke one last time.

“So I guess this is how it ends? Take care, little Bunny.” Barnaby’s vision split, he was seeing Tamiko and Tetsuko occupy the same space in his mind. It was disorienting and confusing. Barnaby saw Tetsuko calling him that damn nickname for the first time and then many times after that until it became a term of endearment that he loved. But he’d never admit it. So if that was Tetsuko, then who was this Tamiko chick? Barnaby halted his attack and words just popped out of his mouth as he tried to orient himself.

“How many times do I have to tell you? It’s Barnaby, not Bunny.” He put on Lecture Voice because he wanted his girlfriend to get it right for once. Girlfriend? Tetsuko was curled up into herself, cowering beneath Barnaby. That wasn’t right. She never cowers. The girl looked up in shock. “Uh, why did I just say that?” Barnaby had to think for a minute. There were still two women in his head. He was Tamiko’s boyfriend, right? Or was it Tetsuko’s? No, it was definitely Tetsuko who was his girlfriend. He didn’t even know anyone with the name Tamiko. “Tetsuko? What’s going on?” She was staring at him in shock.

“You’re back!” She breathed, stand up slowly. “You know who I am.”

“Well, obviously. Is your memory going now, old timer?” Barnaby asked sarcastically. “But don’t change the subject, old lady. I really don’t appreciate you calling me a bunny, okay?” Tetsuko amber eyes turned molten and she smiled.

“You must really hate that nickname. I’m glad you do.”

“What?”

It’s about damn time! You’re you again!” Okay, I know she usually doesn’t make sense but this is going too far.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“So, you remember me?” Tetsuko was pointing at her chest and Barnaby couldn’t help but notice the shabby, ripped uniform she was wearing. That thing looked ancient hanging off her bony body.

“Were you listening, old woman? I asked you first!” Barnaby wanted his answers and he wanted them now. “Tetsuko?” The brunette took a step forward and stumbled. Barnaby reached out to catch her and pulled her into his arms. She was laughing and crying at the same time. “What’s gotten into you? Hey, now! Are you crying?” Barnaby felt her hands tangle into his hair as she threw her arms around his neck.

“That’s my Bunny!” She cried, “Oh that’s my boy!” Her grip was painful now, her arms vice like as they wound around him.

“Hey! You’re hurting me!” Barnaby winced. “What is wrong with you?” She was still rambling one about the good old times and stuff like that and the only way Barnaby knew how to shut her up was the forceful way. He crashed his lips down onto hers, silencing her nonsense effectively. Tetsuko’s shock was apparent by the way her embrace slackened and then Barnaby felt the need to tighten his. He squeezed her close, arms around her waist and back as he kissed her. She melted in his arms and kissed back, her wet cheeks brushing against his. Barnaby opened his mouth and licked her bottom lip, asking for entrance which she readily gave. Tetsuko moaned as the boy’s tongue slid into her mouth, caressing every inch and playfully teasing her own tongue. The blond always loved the sounds she made and he wanted to hear more, but there were some things to sort out still, unanswered questions that needed explanations. Barnaby released his girlfriend but still held her close, arms looped casually around her waist. Tetsuko opened her eyes and smiled happily at him. Barnaby reached up and patted his hair down.

“You messed up my hair.” He stated without malice.

“Yeah, but you messed up mine. What was with you?”

“What do you mean?”

“You and all of our friends forgot who I was and you all tried to kill me. I never want to get on your bad side again!” Tetsuko blew a piece of hair out of her face, and Barnaby reached up to brush the rest out of the way.

“You cut your hair.” He stated, fingering the short strands. He kind of liked it long, maybe she would grow it out again for him sometime.

“Yeah, my wanted poster had a picture of me with long hair so I cut it off. I can honestly say that my head feels much lighter.”

“Wanted poster?” The boy was confused again.

“What, you don’t remember that now?” Tetsuko raised an eyebrow at him. “I was framed for murder and you were going to kill me.” Her voice softened. “I’m sorry, Bunny, but Samantha’s gone.” Grief and pain hit the boy like a wrecking ball. That’s right, Samantha was murdered. But by who? Bits and pieces were coming back now, the whole episode where he’d really had been trying to kill Tetsuko, his not-girlfriend Tamiko who’d acted like she was, the stay at Mr. Maverick’s, the mind altering procedure, Maverick’s confession to killing his parent’s, and the fight with Tetsuko that had started it all. “That’s right. It was all Maverick’s fault!” Barnaby was growling again, his anger back but directed at the right source this time. Maverick’s going to pay! For everything this time!

“Hold on a sec, you already knew he was behind all this?” Tetsuko asked.

“Yes, but he took care of that. He altered my memories using a drug therapy and brainwaves to change everything. He’s also the one who’s responsible for my parent’s deaths.” Barnaby sighed, remembering the wild chase through the city and the subsequent fight afterwards when he tried to kill his girlfriend. He realized that for once that he was wrong. “I’m so sorry, Tetsuko. I turned against you, I betrayed you-“

“Don’t worry about it; you were under Maverick’s control the whole time. I guess it’s payback for the fight we had. I shouldn’t have slapped you but you just piss me off sometimes.”

“All these years he’s been using me to fulfill any sick, twisted goals he’s had.” Just then a small man came running up to the pair. Tetsuko flipped around to see who it was and then shivered and jumped behind Barnaby before he could react. “Tetsuko?”

“It’s him!” She shrieked. Barnaby finally recognized the short, Japanese man. It was Dr. Saito. Tetsuko was still shivering and cowering behind her boyfriend.

“Hello, Doc Saito. What brings you here?” Barnaby asked as the man ran up to them. He was still wearing the stuff he did in school, casual clothes under a lab coat, a black backpack but this time he had a shopping bag in his arms. He stopped in front of Barnaby and the blond had to lean in close to hear his reply.

“I heard on the news that Tetsuko was accused of murder and it unsettled me. Then this afternoon, I went out to grab a few items from the electronics shop and saw you two fighting over here. What was that all about?” The man was whispering so softly that Barnaby had a hard time following him.

“Nothing, just a normal argument for us!” Tetsuko said over Barnaby’s shoulder.

“So why were you at-“ The boy started when a car pulled up behind him and the driver poked his head out of the car. Barnaby flipped his head around to see who it was.

“Tigress! Barnaby! And who the heck is that?” Mr. Jackson waved at the trio from his car.

“Boss!” Tetsuko smiled brightly. “What are you doing here? I left you at the school!”

“In your terms I’m staking. I was worried about you, Tetsuko. Now who the heck is that?” The black man pointed to Doc Saito.

“This is Doc Saito, He works at my school in the Electronics-“

“Geek!” Tetsuko interjected.

“Club.” Barnaby continued on, ignoring the brunette. “I meet with him regularity to discuss robotics. He saw us fighting and came to check on us.”

“Yeah and he’s evil!” Tetsuko piped up from behind Barnaby again. Saito said something but he had to repeat it three time and Barnaby had to scoot closer with Tetsuko to hear him.

“Be careful what you say, Tetsuko, or else I’ll have to invite you back to my office.” The small man adjusted his glasses with a distinctly evil smile.

“No! Stay away from me!” The brunette leapt back and cowered behind Mr. Jackson this time.

“You’re hopeless.” Barnaby sighed.

“Okay, now that’s we’ve successfully scared, Tigress, don’t we have work to do?” Mr. Jackson gave Barnaby a meaningful look and poked Tetsuko in the forehead as well.

“Yes, we do.” Maverick’s not getting away with any of this!

“Then get your ass in the car!” Mr. Jackson hooked a thumb to his sedan and everyone piled in.

“Why did you have to come?” Barnaby looked back from the front passenger seat. Tetsuko was scrunched up against the side of the car in the back seat, as far away from her fellow kinsman as was physically possible.

“Because this is interesting.” Doc Saito just smiled and pushed up his glasses. Barnaby did the same, shaking his head at his girlfriend.

“I’m fine with it. The more support we have the better.” The blond shrugged, rubbing his face. Tetsuko had hit him hard a couple of times and he ached, but she looked worse. And yet she was still energetic enough to complain and squeal with every move Doc Saito made. They’d filled him in on the whole situation and the small man had seemed to take it well. Now he was fiddling with something he’d pulled out of various pockets and his shopping bag. He was in his own little world now.

“We I am not!” His girlfriend retorted, plastering herself against the door.

“I’m offended, or do you want to retract your previous statement?” Saito whispered. Tetsuko whimpered and nodded her head vigorously. The midget went back to fiddling. “Barnaby, will you do something for me?” Doc Saito asked a few minutes later. Ben was halfway to the Gold Stage and Maverick’s office. “I’d like to test out one of my inventions. I’m hoping to submit this to the Board of Sciences and get a grant for more research.”

“Sure, what is it?” Barnaby twisted around in his seat to face the teacher.

“I’ve designed some transmitters in my spare time and now have just finished them. They not only display locations through wireless signals, but also monitor heart rates and vitals of anyone wearing them and if placed on an electronic device, they can transmit the condition of machinery. I want you to wear one so that I can work out all the bugs.” Doc Saito held up a pair of tiny black devices with minuscule antennas. He handed Barnaby one of the transmitters. “And you get one too, young lady.” The man gave Tetsuko a sideways glance.

“No! I’m not wearing any of your devices! The last time I did that I got electrocuted for free!” The girl nearly shrieked as she cringed away from the small man’s outstretched hand.

“No shocks, I promise.”

“No!”

“Just do it.” Barnaby slipped his transmitter into his pants pocket and straightened his red jacket.

“Fine.” Tetsuko pouted and took the second transmitter. She pulled open her shirt collar and slipped the small device into her bra, completely oblivious of her company. Barnaby blushed as he got a good look at her lacy white bra and a good amount of tan cleavage. “What, Bunny? I don’t have pockets! So stop staring!” Tetsuko spotted him peeking and folded her arms with a huff.

“She’s got a point” Mr. Jackson commented.

“Shut up!” Barnaby snapped at both of them, hiding his blush behind his hand. He watched through his fingers as Doc Saito took out a laptop from his backpack and started typing. The two transmitters in his pocket and Tetsuko’s bra beeped suddenly, startling the pair.

“What was that?” Tetsuko asked.

“The startup sequence. I’ve synced the transmitters to the same signal and now both of your appear on the screen and I’ll be about to track you wherever you go.” Doc Saito turned the screen so both Barnaby and Tetsuko could see their signals on a city map, the green and red dots moving down a street. The small man had changed the icons on the screen so that Barnaby had a cool rabbit icon (damn the old lady and her stupid nicknames!) and Tetsuko’s was a red octopus wiener with Xs for eyes.

“Hey! Not cool!” Doc Saito and the blond chuckled at the girl’s distress. “Shut up, Bunny!”

“Fine, happy now?” Saito clicked a few things on the screen and now Tetsuko’s icon was a tiger similar to Barnaby’s bunny.

“Yes! Cool!” Then Barnaby’s phone went off and just before he could open it, Tetsuko ninja snatched it out of his hand and picked it up. “Hey, Karina! We’re heading over to you guys now and I’ve gotten Barnaby back! He’s with me now.” She stopped talking and waited for an answer. “Karina? Uh, hello?” Her eyes went wide open in shock and the girl hit the speaker button.

“How unfortunate that this didn’t work out.” Barnaby glared as his adopted father’s voice filtered through the speaker.

“Maverick!” He hissed, clenching his fists in anger.

“And then you had to drag everyone else in with you, didn’t you, Tetsuko? If you’d just taken the fall, none of your friends would’ve had to get involved.”

“What the hell have you done with them?” Tetsuko demanded, her wolf eyes lighting up with flames. Barnaby would hate to be Maverick now. That bastard was in for a beating from both of them now.

“Have no concern. Everyone’s safe for now.” There was an obvious threat behind that calmly delivered statement and Barnaby hoped his girlfriend heard it. She was known for charging into situations without all the facts. He’d remind her of it later. “And we also don’t want any of the authorities getting involved, so keep your mouth shut, or else your daughter might just have an accident.” Tetsuko’s mood went volatile.

“What did you just say?” She snarled, the metaphorical mama tiger claws coming out. “You think I’m just going to let you threaten my daughter?”

“You monster! She’s just a little girl!” Barnaby sided with Tetsuko, his own protectiveness coming out even though he’d only met the girl a couple times.

“The two of you have turned into a massive liability for me. I just can’t have you causing any more problems.” Maverick seemed surprisingly calm even after the death threats. “You can save them all by simply surrendering.” Never! “I will be waiting for you at Justice Tower.” Maverick hung up suddenly, leaving the car in silence.

“Damn it!” Tetsuko yelled in frustration. She slammed her fist against Barnaby’s seat, rattling the boy through it.

“He won’t get away with this!” The blond declared, his previous rage coming back, but directed at the real culprit this time.

“What do we do now?” Mr. Jackson asked, carefully turning into the center of the city. He was headed towards Justice Tower, as if anticipating the plan of action.

“Bunny and I are going to kick his ass! Right?” Tetsuko asked, growling.

“Right!” Barnaby flipped around in his seat when he saw resolution in the brunette’s eyes. They boy heard Tetsuko yank off her boots and pull on sneakers, much better for footwear for fighting. Barnaby knew she’d forgotten all about her bumps and bruises from their fight because he’d already forgotten about his as well.

Ten minutes later, Mr. Jackson pulled up to Justice Tower, the tallest, most prominent building in Sternbild. It also happened to look like a woman with angel wings. Doc Saito did one more check on the transmitters and then the pair got out of the car. Mr. Jackson and Saito would be standing by to call the police is anything happened to either of their signals. Tetsuko gave the black man a smiled and her kinsmen a shiver and grabbed Barnaby’s hand. They walked up to the tower’s door, fingers tightly intertwined and opened the door. The grand lobby was dark, only the safety lights were on.

“They must’ve closed the building early today.” Tetsuko whispered, even her soft voice bounced off the walls. “It’s only just after sunset.”

“Most everything’s going into holiday hours now, and I suppose Justice Tower does the same.” Barnaby whispered back, leading the girl deeper into the building.

“You have been expected. Please come inside.” A male computer voice boomed over the intercom, making the partners jump in surprise. An elevator pinged open, the light illuminating more of the lobby. Tetsuko took a step towards it.

“Wait, we should be careful. It could be a trap.” Barnaby was being very cautious, not wanting to fall into Maverick’s hands so easily.

“I don’t care if it is. Come on. There’s no time to lose.” Tetsuko was so serious in her reply that it almost scared the blond. I guess she’s like this because Kaede is in trouble. I would be scared out of my mind if I were in her position. The brunette pulled him into the elevator and the doors slid shut and they started moving without having to push a button.

“Welcome,” it was a woman’s voice filtering through the speakers now. “And thank you for choosing Justice Tower. We’re happy to have you as our guest.” Barnaby took stock of their location, the floor indication moving upwards without any stops. “This elevator will take you to the rooftop observation deck in the most exclusive section of the tower: the Gold Stage.” The voice shut up and rink a dink elevator music played through the speakers and the couple stood in silence. That is, until Tetsuko snorted and then laughed out loud.

“What?” Barnaby snapped, his nerves finally getting the better of him and getting ticked that she’d ruined the serious mood. They were entering the proverbial lion’s den and she had the gall to laugh!

“Sorry, sorry!” The brunette said between chuckles. “It’s just…they couldn’t get better music than New Age?”

“That’s not important! Quit getting distracted!”

“Okay, okay!” Tetsuko shut up and tried to morph her face into a serious expression. Barnaby ignored her sad attempts and watched the floor indicator again until the numbers switched into a R. The elevator doors pinged open and Barnaby walked out. The observation deck was a circular room with silver tiling around the edges and red tiles in the middle surrounding a blue power core that rose to the ceiling that Barnaby deduced supplied the whole building with electrical power. Windows lined the perimeter of the room, floor to ceiling for the perfect view of the cityscape. All this took mere seconds and then Tetsuko ran out.

“Kaede! Where are you, Kaede?” She was calling for her daughter, running out into the room.

“Tetsuko! Calm down!” Barnaby tried to be the voice of reason as he followed the woman.

“How can I be calm when he’s got my little girl? It’s my fault she’s in danger!” They were near the power core now, and Barnaby thought they were alone in the observatory, but then he spotted someone else in the room. Tetusko was still too busy looking for her daughter to notice anything else. Barnaby saw the figure was a woman, standing near one of the lights so her face was half in shadow.

“Tamiko?” The woman’s face remained impassive as Barnaby identified her, her hands tucked into her bulky coat pockets. Barnaby head ached just by looking at her. His memories were silently flipping back and forth between Tetsuko and Tamiko again, the fake moments taking over the truth before sliding away again. This woman lied to me to help Maverick and I want to know why! Barnaby took a step towards the woman but Tetsuko beat him to it.

“You bitch! Who do you think you are? Where is my daughter?” The boy’s girlfriend stomped over to the other brunette before Barnaby could stop her, her short hair flying wildly. “How dare you steal my boyfriend and pretend to be me! Who the hell would do such a thing? Don’t stand there looking stupid! Answer me!” Tetsuko brought her arm back and loosed her fist on the imposter’s face. Tamiko caught Tetsuko’s hand in her own, the force of holding back the punch splitting her skin with a pop. But there was no blood. Barnaby gaped at the metal knuckles poking through the tan skin covering as Tetsuko gasped. Tamiko’s eyes glowed red, the fake green pigment fading away. The pair had seen eyes like those only one other time when they fought Cis.

“Damn! Why is it always fucking robots?” Tetsuko yelled, disengaging the mechanical girl and backtracking to Barnaby.

“Ah, so you’ve finally figured it out.” A screen flicked to life on the far end fo the deck, Maverick’s face appearing on it.

“What the hell is going on?” Tetsuko shouted at him.

“Weren’t expecting that, eh?” A new face appeared and split the screen with Maverick. “It’s been far too long, Barnaby.” The gray haired old scientist smiled sinisterly.

“Rotwang?” The blond was shocked to see him again.

“I suppose it must be a shock to run into me again.” Took the words right out of my mouth. The robotics engineer laughed.

“Shut up!” Tetsuko was yelling again. “Maverick, where is Kaede? I want to speak with her! Put her on!”

“Now, now,” Maverick had the gall to be drinking tea at a time like this, stirring the liquid with a spoon as he languidly watched from the screen. “You should be far more concerned about your own fate.”

“What are you talking about?” She’s just as dense as ever, Maverick’s probably planning for us not to make it out of here alive.

“Do you really think I’m going to let you leave here alive?” Maverick smirked in a condescending way, the one that always made Barnaby feel like a bug to be squashed underfoot when the man turned it on him. See, told you.

“Oh, please. I’ll crush this tin can in a second!” Tetsuko waved a dismissive hand at the robot Tamiko who was just staring calmly back at the pair.

“Oh, will you?” Rotwang was speaking again, the eerie red lights in whatever room he was in making him seem more evil by the second. “You had quite a hard time battling Cis if I remember correctly. “And H-01 is far more technologically advanced, her power levels are far higher.” Barnaby flashed back to the fight with the other robot, Tetsuko barely walking away from that one with her face intact. “You’re little pals failed, even with their combined strength they couldn’t even put a dent in her!” Barnaby and Tetsuko both gasped, shock on the blonde’s part and most likely concern for their friends on the brunette’s part. “How will you fare? Here’s your chance to turn tail and run.” Rotwang was smiling evilly now, malice and mocking glittering in his eyes.

“Screw you and screw that bitch monstrosity!” Tetsuko stamped her foot down hard, completely set on a fight.

“I was quiet impressed with the technology he developed during the last android incident so I made a deal with Dr. Rotwang. I secretly gave him this facility and all the resources he desired.” Maverick informed off handedly, like he needed to explain why the heck this was all happening. In fact, he kind of needed too because Barnaby still hadn’t pieced together what the hell a robot had to do with any of this.

“And now you see the fruits of my labor: H-01. I finally created the ultimate-no perfect- being, on that will stand towers over the human race!” Rotwang was gleefully boasting now, his smiled getting bigger by the second.

“Maverick, what the hell are you trying to accomplish here?” Barnaby demanded, glaring at his ex guardian.

“I’ve come to realize something: androids are the perfect embodiment of justice in this world. We have no need for weak human militaries or authorities. One day, androids will replace everyone in the justice and military systems so that peace and order will reign: a new age will begin!” The man was smiling now too, just a hint of crazy in his eyes. Barnaby was disgusted with Maverick, his hate bitter on his tongue.

“How dare you call this hunk of junk the embodiment of justice? How in the hell is this thing supposed to do human’s jobs better than humans? We live to protect the ones we love, to get ahead in life, to make the world better! All this thing can do it take orders from a greedy, psycho bastard like you!” Tetsuko’s rant was interrupted by Rotwang.

“Can’t you see how wonderful this is, Barnaby? This is the day that robotics will play a crucial role in society! Your parent’s dream has finally come tru-” That was the last straw.

“This wasn’t their dream!” He’s twisted their work into something hideous and I won’t have that thing slandering my parent’s name!

“You may fight her together, if you wish. The data from this encounter will be used for future development.” Rotwang cut Barnaby off before he could get started.

“If you can’t defeat H-01, you can’t save anyone. Not one of your precious friends, or your daughter.” Maverick pulled up shots of Kaede handcuffed and strapped to a chair. Tetsuko gasped. “Such a poor innocent girl and none of this would’ve happened if she didn’t have you as a screw up mother.” Barnaby could feel the barb hit home, Tetsuko biting her lip in frustration and guilt.

“Kaede…I swear I’ll get you out of this.” The brunette vowed. The boy silently took that vow himself, promising to get both of his girls out of there alive. He was touched by Tetsuko’s need to protect her child, the same instinct that his own parent’s must’ve had for him. They said they’d always protect me, no matter what and that’s what Tetsuko wants to do for Kaede. Barnaby briefly thought of the night his parent’s promised to protect him; it was over a silly bedtime story and he’d felt so loved back then. I’m not going to let Maverick hurt Kaede in any way! That’ the least I can do for the one I love.

“You’re not going to get away with anything any longer!” The screen flicked off but Barnaby was sure that Maverick and Rotwang were still watching. Tamiko- H-01- started moving, shedding her winter coat to reveal a hard metal body encased in a black Kevlar jumpsuit with weapons strapped to her hips and arms. She took a step forward, the faint hum of her joints now perceived by the boy’s ears and her red eyes glittering in the dim lights of the observation deck.

“Let’s do this.” Tetsuko took a stance, reaching out to take the blonde’s hand and squeezing it tightly once before letting it go.

“I’m with you.”

“Just hang on Kaede. Mommy’s coming to save you, sweetie.” Tetsuko was so focused on her goal that she hadn’t comprehended that H-01 was pulling a huge gun off her back and firing at the woman.

“Watch out!” Barnaby shoved Tetsuko out of the way as a purple blast flew over them and decimated the wall. Tetsuko looked at the scorch marks and then at the blond.

“Holy shit.”

“You took the words right out of my mouth.” They were so dead. What have we gotten ourselves into this time?

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