High School Never Ends

Chapter 17: Happily Ever After for Now

There was no way to fill the void welling up in Barnaby’s soul. He felt disconnected from everything, floating without an anchor in the black expanse of his mind, unable to root himself in the real world anymore. He’d only felt this way one other time, when his parents were murdered in front of him and he wished to never feel this way again. But of course karma’s a bitch, or at least that’s what she would have said. She was that small weight on his knees, in his arms, his one tether to the real world, to his friends and that chain had been snapped. It was unbearable for Barnaby to sit there and hold his girlfriend as she died in his arms when they should be celebrating: the robot was defeated, they were safe and their friends and Kaede were free. But all Barnaby could do was tremble.

Tetsuko seemed so small in his arms, barely there. Barnaby could feel every bone in her back and shoulders just by the way he was holding her. She was so skinny, so small and so still. She was never still. Tetsuko was one of those people who could never sit still or had to be doing something at every moment. She’d chew her lip when she was thinking; she’d tap her pencil on her desk when she was daydreaming in class. She’d nod her head when she listened to music and wave her hands in the air when talking. She was always running someplace, to meet someone or be somewhere. She’d even roll around in her sleep! And the blond knew that from experience, having been kicked off the bed the few times they were corralled in one together. Tetsuko would even smile when she was having a good dream and subconsciously wrap her arms around the boy and hold him close. She did that night when Barnaby couldn’t sleep on Spring Break. She was always answering his phone calls in the middle of the night, no matter how tired she was even if she had work or school the next day and just talked the blond down from whatever problem he’d blown up to epic proportions. She made Barnaby feel important (which he was but it was nice that someone else knew it too). She was always there for him. Always alive and full of energy and smiled and laughs and stupid jokes so seeing her this…this…lifeless was heartbreaking. Barnaby couldn’t look up at his friend’s faces when they halted behind him on the observation deck, especially Kaede’s. He just looked down at Tetsuko’s still face, partly shell shocked that she was actually gone.

“What happened?” Karina asked from behind the blond. The whole gang was just standing there, letting the blonde chick speak the question that was on all their minds.

“She was in trouble.” Barnaby started, not quite knowing how to go on. “Her leg had been deteriorating and she was suffering from bradycardia, making it hard to fight.” He went with the medical approach, his emotions were too out of whack to deal with explanations.

“What?” Nathan’s falsetto was the next to speak.

“What it came down to it, she told me to fire, knowing she wouldn’t make it.” Barnaby choked up again, just remembering sent a metaphorical hot poker through his chest. He squeezed Tetsuko’s body tighter in his arms. She was so limp, unsubstantial in his embrace. Old lady, come back. Tetsuko…Barnaby was trembling; he could feel it in his hands. His heart ached in a way so familiar it scared him. Not again. I can’t go through that again. Images of his parent’s death flashed through his head, reopening old hurt with the new one staring him in the face. He couldn’t survive something like this again. He’d barely made it through the last one with his sanity intact, this time he’d go crazy with anguish.

“What are you saying?” Karina sounded desperate now, her breathing hitching.

“Mom!” Kaede was kneeling next to Barnaby now, shaking her mother. Barnaby released Tetsuko a little so she rested against his knees again so Kaede could reach her better, letting the girl scream out her grief. “Mom! Please! You have to wake up! Please, mommy!” The child started to bawl as she cried out for the birthmother, fat tears running down her face. She hugged her mother’s chest, lying down on her torso as she cried. Barnaby gazed down at her, trying to hold back his own tears for her sake. He couldn’t stop one or two from sliding down his cheek.

“Tetsuko…” Antonio whispered quietly. Barnaby heard sobs and sniffles behind him. Footsteps sounded from the metal balcony above the gang, turning every head as they stopped. The atmosphere of the room was like a roiling storm, tense and charged. He was standing on an overlooking balcony, like some evil, horribly grinning gargoyle.

“Well done, Barnaby. You managed to defeat H-01. I’m very proud to see this, my boy.” Maverick was staring down at everyone, an evil smirk on his face. Barnaby glared up at him, his profound grief turning to rage. He’s going to pay for this! He’s going to pay for taking her away from me, the monster!

“You think you’re going to get away with this?” Barnaby snarled, hovering over Tetsuko’s body as if Maverick could hurt her again. But he couldn’t, could he? She wouldn’t be hurting anymore. “You took away my parents, then Samantha, and now…” His eyes narrowed in hate, “Tetsuko.”

“We’re going to put a stop to you right now!” Keith declared, bringing everyone out of their emotional rut. They had a goal now. It was one of justice to be sure, but it was also fueled by revenge, something Barnaby thought he’d given up on.

“Don’t be so sure about that!” Maverick’s hand came up ominously, his eyes shielded behind the shadows of his glasses. Barnaby remembered how he’d changed their memories to forget Tetsuko, maybe he was going to do that again, to make them all forget. He’d love to forget the last day: the fight with Tetusko and then the one with a damn robot, but not at the cost of his last moments with the woman he loved.

“You planning to mess with our memories again?” The blond snapped, baring his fangs menacingly. She’d be proud of that snarl.

“Don’t even think about it, you jackass!” Barnaby saw everyone get ready to fight, willing to take this madman down themselves. Antonio cracked his knuckles, Keith brought up his fists, Ivan took a ninja stance, Nathan took out his perfectly primed claws and Pao-Lin struck a martial arts pose. As the blond looked at each of them, he noticed a fire burning in all their eyes. A fire of passion, of retaliation and justice. Barnaby’s blood boiled just thinking about the beating Maverick was going to get for everything he’d messed with. Without even batting an eyelash, Barnaby realized his life had turned to revenge once again, revenge for everyone Maverick had hurt. Especially the people he loved most: his parents and Samantha and Tetsuko.

“I won’t need to go through all that trouble.” The man snapped his fingers and something in the building whirred to life. Barnaby hands tightened on Tetsuko, the one supporting her neck tangling into her shorn off hair. His eyes widened as more robots shot up from tubes set around the room, the red lights behind each one glowing ominously and each was encased in mecha-like armor and helmets. There had to be at least ten of them, if not more! His heart sunk at the prospect of fighting so many when the price of defeating one had been too high.

“Androids can be marvelous weapons,” Rotwang walked into the light and stood next to Maverick, Kaede growled in frustration between her tears and muttered something about the asshole not staying down like she wanted him too. Barnaby would have to ask her about that later. “And they can be mass produced in perfection, unlike humans. Don’t presume victory just because you destroyed one of them!” Rotwang’s smirk could curdle milk sour. If we lost one person to defeat just one of these things, how many more people could die because of them? Barnaby glanced around, desperate looks to each of his friends. We won’t survive this fight if one breaks out.

“Oh no!” Ivan was looking around and the gang leapt towards each other, protecting their friends’ back. Barnaby pulled Tetsuko closer and by default, Kaede as well. If he kept this up, Tetsuko was going to be glued to his skin, he seriously couldn’t pull her any closer at this point.

“Why you-!” Antonio smashed his fists together and charged, leaving the formation, his hotheadedness getting the best of him.

“Don’t do it!” Ivan yelled after him. The robot’s gun came out and the Spaniard dodged several blasts and punched the machine. It dodged his attacks and took out its sword, leaping towards the man. Antonio leapt back, the sword barely grazing his stomach and got punched into a wall. The Spaniard clutched at his abs, growling something about ruining his jacket before Barnaby got lost in the fight. The other robots attacked simultaneously: one kicking Nathan in the stomach, two with their swords out ran for Keith, one started shooting at Ivan while he ninja-ed his way around the room with flips and crap, and Pao-Lin was fighting off three robots at the same time. The Chinese teen ingeniously grabbed and errant set of sparking wires that Barnaby remembered Tetsuko ripping out and flipped over one of the robots chasing her, landing gracefully on its shoulders before ramming the wires into its brain and short circuiting the machine. She leapt off as the android flailed around, clearly malfunctioning before falling over in a heap of metal. One down.

While the fight erupted all around Barnaby, his first thought was for the two females in his arms. I’ve got to get them out of the line of fire! The blond stumbled to his feet the best he could with his injured leg hindering him and threw Tetsuko’s body over one shoulder – asking her forgiveness for handling her this way-and chucked Kaede’s squealing form over the other. He hobbled away from the robots fighting his friends as fast as he could; all his energy devoted to getting two most important people in his life out of danger. He tripped when his stab wound gave out a particularly nasty shock of pain, tumbling to the ground in a very ungraceful, un-Barnaby like fashion. Kaede yelped with him as the blonde’s body crushed hers, the girl pinned between the floor, Tetsuko and Barnaby. A laser blast passed right over their heads, shutting the child up and shocking the boy into action again. The blond struggled to his feet, trying to be gentle with his girlfriend’s body (how he hated to refer to her as that!) and not smash Kaede anymore than he already was.

“Barnaby!” Karina ran over to the trio and snagged the six year old into her arms and helped the boy stand. Once he was up she ran towards the walls, away from the fight. Barnaby swept Tetsuko up into his arms princess style, the bittersweet position tugging at his heart. She hated being carried this way, he recalled as he hobbled towards the wall. She complained to kingdom come that it destroyed her reputation and bad assery. Assery still isn’t a word, old lady, Barnaby thought to himself sadly. Karina had already set Kaede down and was trying to calm her when Barnaby reached them.

“It’s going to be okay, Kaede. We’re going to get out of here and get you back to your parents.” The blonde girl was rubbing her back as she knelt down next to the girl. Barnaby knelt as well and carefully set Tetsuko down, arranging her body so she was lying straight on the floor with her arms next to her sides. The boy fondly recalled watching her sleep with her arms and legs thrown all about and tangled up in the sheets. She really did look like she was sleeping like this, her eyes closed softly and her face relaxed. But he knew better than to hope for that. She was gone. That was that. Barnaby glanced behind him, watching the fight for a moment before staring up at Maverick and Rotwang. Barnaby glared at the reason for this whole mess, his source of his hatred who smiling down on the chaos unfolding below him. Maverick’s smile got a little wider when he saw the blond looking at him, the sinister glare off his glasses was back and Barnaby growled at his former guardian.

“Watch over them.” Barnaby ordered Karina as he stood up. It was time to get back into the fight. Barnaby checked his makeshift bandage quickly to make sure it was secure. Blood was seeping into the cloth but he’d have to worry about that later. The blond dashed towards the nearest robot and kicked its gut, sending it flying into another robot. One of the buggers kicked him in the back, causing him to grunt in pain and stumble into debris left on the floor. Barnaby tripped catching himself before he could fall and getting back on his feet. Ivan slammed into him, both of them rolling on the ground as a laser blast hit the wall behind them. Barnaby’s head popped from somewhere under Ivan’s arm and glanced up at the boy.

“Thanks.” He said, shoving the teen off him.

“No problem.” Ivan panted back before getting on his feet and helping Barnaby up. The world fell away as they rushed into the fight again, shouts and crashes reverberating around the room, blocking out anything other than the fight to survive. Barnaby and Ivan split up, dodging the winding their way through debris and robots. Barnaby started kicking at the nearest robot, desiring revenge for everything Maverick had done to them in the past few days. That kick was for messing with their minds. Throwing that robot was for making him fight Tetsuko. knocking that one into a wall was for kidnapping everyone and all the rest of his attacks were for his dead girlfriend. Barnaby was lost in his rage, but even with every attack he did get across, three were hit into his battered body and he knew already that he and his friends were losing this fight.

“Look out!” Karina yelled, drawing everyone’s attention to Pao-Lin who’d just been swept up by two robots, each holding on of her arms. They flew up to the ceiling; the machine’s rocket boots stabilizing the trio as the Chinese girl struggled to get her arms back, yelling in Chinese. Barnaby figured they were swear words by her tone of voice and all the glaring. The robots heaved the girl back and threw her forward, aiming to break her into the ground. Keith was already running towards her but Karina got their first, catching the girl in her arms. The blonde tripped and both girls fell to the ground and rolled over each in a heap with lots yelps. A robot came out of nowhere, Ivan’s throwing stars embedded in its head and started chasing Barnaby. The blond ran for his life and spotted Ivan struggling with his own robot, the laser sword whirring from its arm. The one following Barnaby unhooked its gun and aimed.

Laser blasts littered the walls, tearing through glass and concrete like it was paper and giving Lady Justice a black eye. Barnaby ducked and dodged, knowing full well the consequences of getting hit by one of the lasers: death. He rolled out of the way and kicked a robot off of Ivan’s position before it could strike with its sword, further away from Kaede and Tetsuko who were way to close for Barnaby to be comfortable. The blond glanced up as Keith shouted at him, eyes widening in fear as part of the ceiling collapsed. Ivan and Barnaby leapt out of the way as concrete rained down and unfortunately, so did the robot. Rolling a good twenty feet away from where he had been, Barnaby stood up shakily, coughing up dust as the ceiling settled into its new place on the floor. He kicked the disoriented machine, pushing the robot off balance and Antonio tackled it to the ground before wrestling with it. Ivan and Barnaby ganged up on the machine, ripping at the armor with their bare, bloody hands before the Spaniard bashed in its head repeatedly, using the floor as a weapon like Jake did to Tetsuko months ago. The robot sparked and shuddered and shut down, its limbs going limp. Two down. Barnaby stood up to move onto the next robot, and then the next until they were all gone. He wasn’t out, not by a long shot. Covered in sweat and blood that wasn’t all his, aching in places he didn’t know existed, the blond got up again and was about to run towards the robot that was pinning Nathan down when Kaede started screaming franticly. On the other side of the room, half the walls of the floor had been blown away, the deck completely open to the night air now as dust swirled into the sky. Kaede was on the ground near the edge of the floor that was hanging off the side of the building and the girl was pulling on something.

“Mommy!” She screamed, yanking what seemed to be Tetsuko’s ankle. The brunette’s body was falling out of the building, her entire top half dangling over a one hundred and thirty floor drop and by the way things were going she was going to fall, pulling Kaede over with her. Barnaby moved without even knowing it, all the air sucked out of the room, running towards the pair as fast as he could. He wasn’t going to make it in time. A piece of ceiling dropped and fell the distance Tetsuko was about too, Kaede slipping closer to the edge. Tetsuko’s stomach slipped past the lip, her waist next. Barnaby tried to reach them as the floor crumbled some more. Kaede was struggling to pull her birthmother’s body back into the building. No! She’s getting into trouble even when she’s dead! Just as Tetsuko’s weight was about to pull them both over, Karina came out of nowhere and grabbed the brunette’s other leg and hauled with all her strength. Barnaby felt his heart unclench as Tetsuko was brought back into the building and moved away from the gaping hole in the infrastructure. Barnaby skidded to a stop by the group a few seconds later.

“Kaede are you alright?” He quickly checked the girl over, patting her down softly.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” She said between sobs. The child was obviously in shock, still clinging to her mother’s ankle like it was her most prized possession.

“Okay, just stay here and don’t get into anymore trouble.” He said, pulling her into a very un-Barnaby like hug.

“You might as well give up. You won’t be able to win!” Rotwang crooned, nearly doing a happy dance.

“Maverick…” Barnaby hissed, glaring up at the man.

“All the credit for this goes to your parents.” Barnaby narrowed his eyes and then quickly leaped out of the way when a robot tried to slash him in half with its laser sword. “The lethal power demonstrated by these androids is base entirely on their research. In truth, they’re the ones responsible for this.”

“You’re wrong!” Barnaby screamed, his anger spreading through his body like wildfire. Everything he just said was a lie. His parents never wanted any of this! Barnaby got up on his knees and then to his feet to yell at the old man. “The research my parents did was always meant to save people! Not to create killing machines! Ah!” Barnaby didn’t even see the robot. He was blindsided by a kick in his gut and thrown back into Keith. They both crashed onto the floor, but Keith got up and Barnaby didn’t. He was too tired to move, it was nice just to stop. The boy stayed flat on his back, his torso flaring in pain and his leg throbbing. The stab wound was bleeding worse than ever and Barnaby was on his last leg. The gang was surrounded by a ring of machines, the ten that were left. All of them were pointing their guns at the kids. This was the part where they died.

“There’s just one thing left to say: farewell children.” Maverick said, sounding very pleased.

“It’s been a pleasure knowing you!” Rotwang sang, throwing his arms into the air. “Now it’s time to finish off these brats!” He clenched his hands in victory.

“Damn it all.” Antonio growled, clutching his bleeding stomach as he swore; his body a mass of bruises. Keith was wiping blood off his lip while helping hold Ivan up, and Nathan was holding a battered Karina who was doing the same to a limping Pao-Lin. The robot’s guns started powering up, the whirring slowly, maddeningly, getting louder. Barnaby lay on the floor and turned his head to look between the legs of the androids. He could barely see Kaede and Tetsuko in the dim light, the cities brightness blocked from this angle. The girl was still kneeling over her mother, her shoulders shaking with sobs. Tears sprang to the blonde’s eyes as a sobering thought hit him. I’ll be with you soon, Tetsuko. You won’t have to be alone for much longer. Barnaby didn’t know if Maverick would kill Kaede too, but he wanted the girl to live, even if it was out of his hands. A feeling of helplessness welled up in his heart. I couldn’t even save the ones I love. Tetsuko, your sacrifice was in vain. I’m so sorry.

“Tetsuko.” He whispered.

“Kill them!” Rotwang commanded. Barnaby closed his eyes tightly, wanting his last sight to be of Tetsuko and not the flash of light that was going to kill him. The whirring got louder and louder, drowning out every other sound in the boy’s darkness. His heart was beating so fast, trying to keep living even at the end. This is it.

And then it wasn’t.

The whirring shut off and Barnaby’s eyes snapped open just in time to see the robots power down their guns. They weren’t firing. He looked at Maverick and Rotwang on the balcony, they seemed just as surprised as everyone else.

“They all stopped.” Nathan’s falsetto broke the silence.

“But why?” Pao-Lin asked, looking around from under two pairs of arms. Barnaby sat up in disbelief.

“Barnaby.” The blond was startled when someone whispered his name. The boy looked around for the source, but everyone else was in shock still. “Barnaby, do you copy?” It was Dr. Saito!

“Yeah, what’s going on?” He whispered back.

“I forgot to tell you that those transmitters I gave you also have some radio capabilities, but only for a short time. Did the robots shut down?”

“Yes. Did you do that?”

“Yes. Where did Tetsuko’s signal go?” Barnaby’s heart clench at the mention of her name. Of course, they don’t know. He was about to answer when Rotwang snapped out of his surprised stupor.

“WHAT?!” Rotwang yelled in frustration.

“They’ve gone into safety mode.” Maverick stated calmly, his face morphing back into a stone mask. He turned and started walking away.

“Wait!” Barnaby called after him, struggling to stand once again. He wasn’t getting away.

“What are you going to do, sir?” Rotwang started following him with halting steps.

“I’m going to reboot the main system controls.” He said.

“Oh no, you’re not!” Antonio ran right past the robots and slammed into a teetering support for the balcony and knocking it clean off. A laser sword must’ve hacked into it during the fight. Both men screamed as the stairs and balcony collapsed, throwing them through the window that was Lady Justice’s other eye. Maverick and caught onto the floor, holding up his body with both his arms. Barnaby couldn’t see Rotwang but by the volume of his screams, he hadn’t fallen yet. Probably hanging onto Maverick himself or the edge of the floor.

“Don’t let me fall! Help me please!” The scientist pleaded.

“Let go of me.” The coldness in Maverick’s voice surprised even Barnaby. Even talking with him today, the man hadn’t ever sounded so heartless.

“But Mr. Maverick that’s suicide!”

“Now that your androids have been completed, I have no further use for you.” Barnaby managed to get to his feet as the two talked.

“But I thought our plan was to exterminate those kids together! They’re still alive!”

“The trouble is that you know too much. You’re dead weight.” Maverick’s foot came up and slammed down, ripping Rotwang’s grasp apart before anyone could get to them. The scientist’s screams rang out, fading as he fell all one hundred and thirty floors to his death. The blond just stared in shock as his old guardian murdered a man in cold blood and got up. He started running to a doorway in the observation deck just as everyone was picking themselves up.

“That man’s a monster!” Ivan spit, wiping blood off his face. Maverick opened a sliding panel and disappeared into the room. The gang ran after him, they crowded the doorway, shoving each other to get in first. Maverick was typing at a control panel under a huge orange and purple brain. That’s obviously the main system for the androids, Barnaby concluded as he took a place in front of the group.

“You’re not getting away!” Pao-Lin shouted, striking a martial arts pose. Clearly her energy wasn’t spent yet.

“Accept your defeat and surrender!” Keith followed up her threat with an ultimatum.

“You’re wasting your time.” Maverick turned as soon as he heard his escape get blocked. “Even if you did arrest me it wouldn’t do you any good.” He just doesn’t know when to give up.

“And why is that?” Antonio asked, cracking his knuckles.

“Because I have the full respect and trust of powerful people in this city. In my short time in the administrative CEO board of Apollon Robotics, I’ve gained powerful friends. You can go to time with all the accusations you want and no one will dare to question me!” Maverick threw out his arms like he was all powerful. It disgusted Barnaby.

“Are you crazy? You killed Tetsuko, our Wild Tiger! You can’t escape your judgment for that!” Karina hissed.

“Actually no, Barnaby is responsible for her death.” Maverick’s bard hit the blond hard, Barnaby cringing in guilt. It was his fault, even if she had told him to do it. “Don’t’ forget, I have the technology to control people’s memories. They’ll believe what I want them too.” Maverick started laughing evilly, ticking Barnaby off further. He clenched his fists in rage, ready to beat the ever-lovin’ shit out of the man. Then a spotlight flashed on, dousing everyone in the control room under the harsh light. Barnaby’s arm came up to shield his eye and most everyone else’s did too. The whip of helicopter blades disrupted the air and ripped at the boy’s clothes as he tried to see who was piloting the copter.

“Bonjour, kiddies!” Ms. Agnes’ voice came over and intercom system, booming out over the helicopter’s blades. “We just recorded everything you said, Mr. Maverick. I didn’t know you were so thoroughly corrupt.” Barnaby couldn’t help it, he chuckled at the whole situation. Maverick was trapped like a rat in a cage. Where did she get the helicopter? Probably seduced some poor sap and then hung him out to dry!

“Damn it you!” Maverick yelled.

“I can’t hear you, but I can see you’re upset. But truthfully I have to thank you. You may have just gotten me a new job! You honestly didn’t expect laser blasts that tear through one of the most prominent buildings in the city to go unnoticed? I’m just lucky I got here first! This’ll make my career!” Barnaby could just imagine the crazy fire in her eyes as she got the scoop of a lifetime. Maverick’s eyes got huge in fear. “Oh yes, Mr. Maverick. Most everyone in Sternbild is seeing this live since I hacked into the broadcast feed. The station will forgive me later I’m sure since I’ve just exposed your whole evil plot and attempted murder of several minors! I wish you could see the look on your face because I got the whole thing on close up!” Ms. Agnes laughed in triumph.

“It’s time you surrender!” Keith shouted. Maverick growled and started running.

“This guy doesn’t know when to quit!” Nathan said as everyone ran after the man again. Barnaby heard Ms. Agnes setting the helicopter down on the platform outside the observation deck as the gang dashed into the trashed room, searching for Maverick.

“There’s no place for you to hide, Maverick!” Antonio called into the seemingly empty room. “You might as well give up!”

“Don’t be so sure about that!” Maverick’s voice caused Barnaby to pivot around sharply. The monster walked out of the shadows, holding a gun to Kaede’s head, his arm around her neck as she kicked at his legs. The girl’s arms were clutched around the one holding her neck tightly, her eyes huge with fear and tears. Barnaby’s heart stalled as he gasped, his protectiveness for Tetsuko’s child overriding everything. He had to get her away from that murderer.

“Watch it,” Maverick snarled, his voice going dangerously low as he sneered at the gang. “Any sudden moves and this girl is dead.

“Kaede!” Karina breathed sharply. Barnaby heard the clack of heels and Ms. Agnes and Cain came running in, the camera hoisted on the black man’s shoulders.

“Right on time.” Maverick’s hold on the child tightened and she gasped for breath and kicked harder. “I’ll be taking your helicopter, Agnes.” A dark figure slowly rose behind Maverick and Kaede and Barnaby gasped with everyone else. Maverick jerked to see what was behind him. “Oh my God!” He pointed the gun at the shadow and gave out a strangled sound as he was punched in the face and fell to the ground. Kaede freed herself and stared up at the woman standing above her, clad in only a torn skirt, a pair of beat up sneakers and a trashed, red leather jacket zipped up to her neck.

“I’m bringing sexy back, bitches.” Tetsuko declared dramatically, placing her hands on her cocked hips and smirking. Barnaby’s heart soared, he couldn’t believe it. She’s alive! He was rooted on the spot, just staring at the woman he thought he’d lost forever. “Uh…I guess that time was a little to much, huh?” Tetsuko was obviously talking about her corny one-liner as she scratched her head but Barnaby didn’t care at all. She’s alive! “I was thinking about that one or ‘I’ve come back from the depths of hell,’ but they both sounded cool so I thought since I’m sexy I should use it to my advantage.” Tetsuko stumbled where she stood, compensating for her bum leg.

“Tetsuko, you’re okay?” Barnaby took a disbelieving step forward, his voice barely audible.

“What?” She looked confused.

“I thought you were dead. I saw you stop breathing.” Barnaby limped closer to her, his injured leg making it difficult to walk at all now. They were a matched set.

“Come on, man! Give me some credit! I passed out from the pain!” Tetsuko waved one of her arms about and then winced noticeably. “Did you even check my pulse?” Barnaby didn’t care what she was saying; he just threw his arms around her. Kaede latched herself to the woman’s side, the blond felt her near his leg. “What’s with you?”

“Oh, mom. Mom.” Kaede was crying again, and even though he’d never admit it, Barnaby was too as he held the warm body of his woman who looked sexy in his jacket. (He’d never admit that either.)

“Boobs! I can’t believe it!” A sobbing Karina shoved Barnaby out of the way and grabbed onto Tetusko’s breasts like she normally would.

“Owowowow! Shit! Shit! Hands off the boobs! I’m burned there!” Tetsuko briefly hugged the blonde and then shoved her off, cradling her chest. “Damn, I think my blisters broke.” Then she spasmed in pain and fell to her knees, her leg giving out. Everyone was on her in a second, hugging and trying to help her in some way. “What’s going on?”

“Come on, are you nuts?” Antonio was touching her shoulder and Barnaby helped Tetsuko stand again by holding her arm and waist.

“It’s not nice to make girls cry,” Nathan said, wiping away his own tears.

“Welcome back,” Pao-Lin smiled at the brunette.

“And welcome back again!” Keith cheered. Then Ivan gave a battle cry and took out his throwing stars as he leapt into the air. The metal projectiles headed straight for Tetsuko and Barnaby didn’t know what to think Ivan was doing.

“What are you doing?” Tetsuko shouted. Barnaby wanted to know the same thing but the weapons pinged into the floor behind the group, stopping a crawling Maverick in his tracks as he tried to escape.

“Stop!” Ivan shouted.

“So, Mr. Maverick,” Tetsuko took a step towards him, shoving Kaede behind her and protectively blocking her from Maverick’s view. “’That’s pretty lame of you.”

“How could you?” Barnaby stood by his girlfriend, wrapping his own protective arm around her shoulders. “I devoted my life to avenging my parent’s murder. At times it was my only reason for living!” Barnaby clenched his free hand tightly until his nails dug into his skin. “You have to pay for that! And all the other crimes you’ve committed!”

“Crimes?” Maverick stood up with his back to them. “What crimes have I actually commited?” Maverick turned, cleaning his glasses on his stupid butterfly neck tie and placing them on his nose.

“What?” Tetsuko snapped.

“Because of my efforts, various sectors of scientific technology have advanced exponentially.”

“That doesn’t give you a free pass. In fact, what you just said is kinda stupid! And believe me, I know what stupid is.” Tetsuko shot back. “You only did that so you and your cronies from Ouroboros could run this place!”

“What’s so bad about that? Someone has to be in charge. I did what needed to be done and if you hadn’t gotten in my way I could’ve changed this city into something magnificent!” Maverick turned to look out at Sternbild, ranting now and sounding crazier every second.

“Nice try, Maverick, but you’re finished here!” Keith interjected.

“And your Ouroboros.” Tetsuko added.

“Ouroboros will go on.” The murderer said softly. Barnaby reeled in shock. It had to end here and now! He couldn’t go on if Ouroboros continued to exist, it would haunt him all his life.

“But aren’t you the boss of Ouroboros?” Tetsuko asked.

“You understand so little.” Well, he’s telling the truth there, Barnaby admitted. “I guess I have no choice.” Maverick reached inside his pocket and pulled out a syringe filled with the same liquid that he’d injected into Barnaby when he altered his memories and depressed the plunger. The syringe shattered as Maverick pulled it out of his neck and dropped it, his hands falling listlessly to his sides.

“Hey! What are you doing? What are you talking about?” Barnaby shouted, dashing over to Maverick and put his hand on the man’s shoulder to turn him around. “What do you mean?” When the man faced him, Barnaby gasped. Maverick’s eyes were blank, his face devoid of all emotion and drool was slipping out of his mouth.

“He turned himself into a vegetable!” Tetsuko shouted. The answers slip away yet again. Barnaby sighed in defeat and let him go. Maverick was of no use to him now, everything he’d known about Ouroboros lost to his mind. A crash behind him made the blond turn around. Tetsuko was on the ground, limp and breathing heavily. Barnaby forgot all about Maverick and ran back to her. Kneeling down neck to Kaede, the rest of the boy’s friends surrounded the group.

“Tetsuko!” Barnaby grabbed her shoulders and placed her upper body on his knees.

“I’m fine, Bunny. It just hurts.” She reached under her jacket to feel her burns and when she pulled her hand out it was covered in sickly yellowish liquid. “Damn, my blisters did pop. They’re gonna get infected now.” Her eyes wandered to her daughter. “Sorry Kaede, that was kinda scary, wasn’t it?”

“That’s okay mom, you were awesome!” The small girl’s held her mother’s hand tightly. Great, Barnaby mused, now the old lady’s going to be acting like a goof. Tetsuko’s eyes lit up before rolling back into her head.

“I’m not dead,” she said before passing out again.

“Mom!” Kaede shouted, tears springing to her big brown eyes.

“Kaede, it’s okay. She just passed out again. We’ve got to get her medical attention.” Barnaby called to Agnes to go get help. She ordered Cain to watch everyone and keep filming beforeing running to the helicopter to call someone. Barnaby could fainting hear police sirens and the wails of ambulances below them. The next space of time was a blur as the police swarmed the observation deck and checked everyone out. The gang and Ms. Agnes and Cain were all ushered downstairs, Barnaby carrying Tetusko since they couldn’t get a stretcher up there for her fast enough. It was just comforting to feel her warm body snuggled into his. Once out onto the street, EMTs took Tetsuko off of Barnaby’s hands, but he followed close behind as they took her to an ambulance. The authorities hauled Maverick away and threw him in the back of a police truck with a few guards and zoomed off. Medical personal were checking everyone for injuries that they all needed treated when a familiar pair of men came running up to Barnaby.

“Wow! I can’t believe it!” Ben and Dr. Saito ran over to the stretcher where Tetsuko was being strapped down. “Tetsuko, you’re alive! I thought you were dead!” The pair stopped at her stretcher and leaned over to see her.

“Join the club, Ben.” The brunette chuckled weakly, jerking a thumb to her friends. Barnaby scowled.

“Then why did we lose her signal if she wasn’t dead?”

“Well, just look at her!” Dr. Saito gestured to the mess that was Tetsuko. “We lost her signal because her transmitter was destroyed. Along with her shirt, I see.”

“Oh, who cares? I’m just glad you’re alive!” Ben patted Tetsuko’s shouted and she winced him pain.

“Stop it, will you? That hurts!” The EMTs told him to stop it too. A piece of paper was shoved into Barnaby’s face.

“Here.” Dr. Saito handed the slip to the blond.

“What is this?” Barnaby took the paper and opened it up. 1104+728=10313329 stared back at him.

“Any idea behind the meaning of these numbers? You’re parents used it as the password to activate the safety mode. I had a hard time hacking into the android’s system and decoding this sequence but I still don’t have any idea what it means.” The numbers meant nothing to Barnaby.

“No.” He replied.

“I see. Well, if it helps, your parents protected you today. All of you. Be grateful to them.” Dr. Saito turned away and wandered off.

“I always am in my heart. But was I able to avenge them?” Barnaby whispered, holding the paper tightly. “I still don’t know the truth behind all this.”

“Hey! We captured the bad guy so let’s call this a win!” Ms. Agnes popped up behind Barnaby, obviously eavesdropping. “If anything, this is going to make you even more popular in school, Barnaby. And the rest of your friends too! I’m got the scoop of a lifetime!” The gang gathered around and started cheering. Then Tetsuko yelled that they were hauling her away. Barnaby and Kaede hopped in the ambulance before it took off without them. In the vehicle, Kaede plopped down on Barnaby’s lap and Tetsuko took her hand.

“Hey, Bunny.” The blond looked down at his drowsy girlfriend, the scene before him disturbingly familiar. She’s been in a ambulance to many times for me to be comfortable.


“My biggest dream came true!” She smiled softly. “Kaede thinks I’m cool!”

“You’re a dork.” He rolled his eyes.

“Yeah, mom! A dork!” Kaede laughed.

“Hey! What happened to cool?”

“That’s so five minutes ago!” Kaede giggled playfully.

“You’re driving me up a building you little minx!” Tetsuko chuckled with her daughter.

“It’s ‘up a wall’ you old goat.” Barnaby smiled, not even minding that she was messing up her idioms again.

They were dropped at the hospital and Tetsuko was wheeled away to have her burns treated along with her broken ribs, slashed stomach and other ailments while Barnaby was escorted to have his leg stitched up. The doctor who took care of him said he could possibly have a scar, but he didn’t mind. Tetsuko had lots of scars and she was fine. He’d look like a badass now. The rest of the gang was supposed to stay in the hospital one night for observation except for Antonio who broke some of his ribs too, had to have his stomach stitched up as well and broke his hand in several places after collapsing a balcony. Kaede’s parents and Tetsuko’s mother showed up as soon as possible. Mrs. Reed was in hysterics as she enveloped her daughter in a bone crushing hug. Mr. Reed picked up Kaede as soon as his wife released her and spun her in the air. Anju Kaburagi sat next to Barnaby and patted his good leg.

“I’m just glad you’re all safe. If my daughter keeps this up much longer, I’m going to die from worrying.” The older woman sighed, settling into her chair. They were out in an upstairs lobby, waiting for Tetsuko and Antonio to come out from surgery. Barnaby checked his bandages and stitches several times, having to get them changed twice when blood kept seeping through but for the most part he read magazines to Kaede and played little hand games with her while the adults talked and made sure the little girl didn’t steal his crutch. Karina, Pao-Lin, Ivan, Keith and Nathan wandered in after their checkups and joined the conversation. The nurses didn’t bother them as long as they were quiet and once everyone else’s parents had shown up they nearly filled the lobby! A while later, Barnaby got a phone call from the police, saying that Maverick had been killed by Lunatic. Honestly, the boy wasn’t surprised or mad at the vigilante. He wasn’t going to get any answers out of Maverick anyway and he deserved what he got. But there was still a hollow emptiness inside the blonde’s chest, an echo of sorrow he should’ve felt for the death of his guardian, but it wasn’t as painful now, knowing that Maverick was a cold hearted killer. Barnaby was tired, and worn out and all he wanted to do after that phone call was to rest.

When everyone had filtered out to fuss over their own kids and injuries, the Reeds and Barnaby and Anju were left along in the lobby. Tetsuko’s doctor came out to inform them that she was just getting cleaned up and would be out soon.

“Now, as well as injuries sustained in the fight, Tetsuko has had extensive muscle deterioration in her right leg compounded by a wound we found on her thigh and she’s showing signs of malnutrition caused by anorexia nervosa. So, you will have to watch her carefully to make sure she’s eating right and getting the proper care for her leg in the future.” Barnaby had figured most of that out (except the part about the eating disorder but it did explain her lack of weight) but it shocked everyone else. The doctor left and when Tetusko was in her room the whole group when in their quietly to check on her.

Tetsuko was hooked up to several machines and was sleeping soundly. Kaede said goodnight and had her dad hold her up so she could kiss her cheek. Anju patted her daughter’s hand before walking the Reeds outside. Barnaby was left with Tetsuko for a few minutes and he hobbled over to her bedside. He leaned his crutch on her bed and bent down to kiss her lips. She was so warm and alive and the blond found himself crying again.

“Don’t you ever leave me, old lady. You hear me? Don’t scare me like that ever again.” Barnaby whispered as his tears fell on her cheeks. “You’re too important to me and I don’t have anyone else anymore.” The blond took her hand carefully, mindful of the IV stuck in her skin and squeezed gently. He spent a few minutes just listening to her breathe. It was such a simple thing, but it calmed the teen and helped him feel that she wasn’t going anywhere. As long as Tetsuko was with him, he could get through anything.

Mrs. Kaburagi came in after a while and sent Barnaby off to his own bed so he could rest, promising him that she’d call when Tetsuko woke up. The boy went off to rest and fell asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow. He woke up the next day and hobbled off to see his girlfriend before eating breakfast. He was getting used to the crutch and it helped alleviate the pain in his leg. As usual, he was up before Tetsuko was.

“Wake up, old lady. You can’t sleep the day away.” Barnaby grumbled as he sat in the visitor’s chair. Mrs. Kaburgai had gone to get them something to eat and the blond was alone again.

“Don’t call me old. I’ll wake up when I want to!” Tetsuko moaned, rolling her head lazily towards the boy and reached her hand out as far as she could.

“You’re so lazy.” He replied, taking her hand.

“But this time I deserve it, right?” Tetsuko’s smiled was brighter than the sunshine that was filtering through her windows. Barnaby couldn’t help but smile back.

“Yeah, this time you deserve it.”

Tetsuko couldn’t remember the last time she had mayonnaise but it had been too long. She smiled cheerfully as her boyfriend presented her with packets of mayo he had Nathan swipe from the hospital cafeteria and snatched them right out of his hands. That was the first good thing to happen all day. Tetsuko had already endured one doctor lecturing her on eating and anorexia, another jabbered on about her bradycar-bradly-her heart condition and her dytrofy-dsytomi-her leg and another that was in to check on her like, every forty five minutes. It was downright claustrophobic! The only thing she’d wanted to do was scratch her stomach, but she wasn’t even allowed to do that because of her burns and her stitches.

“Thanks, Bunny!” Tetsuko bounced in her bed, holding her mayo like prized possessions.

“Hold still before you rip something,” Bunny pressed his hand on her shoulder to still her. He placed his crutch by his bed and sat down in the visitor’s chair. Tetsuko hid her mayo packets under her pillow so the nurses didn’t take them away and leaned back again.

“How’s your leg?” Tetsuko asked, glancing over at her visitor.

“Fine. The pain meds help a lot but the crutch is unnecessary.” The blond gave the crutch a look before turning back to Tetsuko.

“Just use it, trust me. You may not want to, but I’ll help.” Tetusko knew from personal experience that throwing a crutch out the window just because you didn’t want it made getting better a longer process.

“I’m going to but I’m not going to like it. How are your burns?”

“They itch and sting and they have to washed in hot water every day. I mean seriously! Who wants to wash hot, itchy skin in boiling water! It hurts like a mother!” Tetsuko reached over to scratch her stomach, but stopped herself because she wasn’t supposed to. “And I can’t pop anymore of my blisters and I have to careful scrub around the already popped ones so they don’t get infected but I can’t get any soap into my stitches or else my cut will hurt, I can’t on my own at the moment because of my leg and everyone around here is watching me like a eagle to make sure I’m eating and all around I’m just miserable.”

“It’s ‘watching like a hawk.’” Bunny corrected.

“I don’t care what it is its just annoying!” Tetsuko huffed, folding her arms roughly and wincing when realized that was a bad idea.

“You brought that one on yourself for not eating. We’re just making sure you’re getting the proper nutrition.”

“I’ll do better, okay?” Tetsuko promised. “How’s everyone else?”

“Fine for the most part. Antonio’s in a cast now because of his hand and everyone else mostly had bumps and bruises so they’re going home today for the most part. The news and police keep trying to bother everyone but the medical staff has them at bay on us for the moment. I need to talk to the officer in charge of this case soon so we can get everything straightened out. Maverick was killed by Lunatic yesterday while they were transporting him.” Bunny went silent and Tetsuko digested this new piece of information.

“I’m so sorry, Bunny.” She started but he cut her off.

“He rightfully deserved his punishment; I just wish I got answers first.” Tetusko had only heard that cold tone of voice three times in her life and each time it was when they were fighting: the fight before the Jake thing, the fight when she slapped him and the fight where he tried to kill her. She was glad somebody else was on the receiving end now, but she really hated it when Bunny talked like that, he sounded heartless himself.

“But he raised you. Don’t you feel at least a little sad, even after what he did to us?”

“It’s complicated, but after everything that happened yesterday, I don’t know how to feel about it. I can’t forgive him for murdering my parents or chemically altering my memories and having us fight killer robots, but he’s been a father figure to me for as long as he’s been my guardian. I don’t know how to feel.” Bunny dropped his head and clasped his hands on his knees. “And especially after yesterday, I learned just how corrupt and heartless he really was, but I can’t shake the fact that I at least respected him until then. I mean, he nearly killed you for heaven’s sakes!” Bunny’s head came up and he looked at Tetsuko with a pained expression. “And I helped him, in a way.”

The brunette hated seeing Bunny like this. He was blaming himself for nearly killing her and he wouldn’t let it go. Tetsuko had to take responsibility for her actions so Bunny didn’t do it for her and let his haunt him the rest of his life. She couldn’t let him have that burden when it was clearly her own. Tetsuko struggled to sit up in her bed and once Bunny saw what she was doing he rushed to help her. His strong hands pulled her into a sitting position and Tetsuko gave him a soft smile. He’s so cute when he helpful. Then she sobered up and got down to business.

“I’m going to be serious now, okay?” She started.

“Okay.” Bunny answered, and then waited for her to go on.

“Bunny, you know that moment when the sum of all your fears are staring you in the face? I had one of those moments and I knew what I had to do to save everyone.” Tetsuko looked Barnaby in the eye steadily, her golden orbs staring into his green ones. “I knew the moment that you were stabbed in the leg that I had a real chance of losing you, of losing myself from losing you and losing the fight and our friends in the process. In that moment, when you were lying on the ground, bleeding, I knew the lengths I had to go to win that fight and it scared me. It scared the shit out of me and I didn’t want to do it. But I had too.” Tetsuko reached over and grabbed Bunny’s hand tightly. “I did what I had to so I could save you. And if I could save myself, fine. But I wasn’t fast enough, my body gave up on me and that was one of the consequences of my actions.” Bunny was silent for a moment, looking down, before squeezing her hand back and opening his mouth.

“I had one of those moments too. The one where all your fears stare you in the face.” The blond looked up, he eyes full of pain and anguish. “It was when the smoke cleared after you told me to shoot. I believed you would get out of the way, but you hadn’t. You were on the ground, and I thought you were dying and it was all my fault because I shot when I didn’t want to. I’d never want to hurt you and seeing you bleeding all over the floor…again…” Bunny gave a short chuckle and Tetsuko joined him. “I thought I’d lost you. The one person in my life, who gets me for me, can see behind my masks, can make me laugh and cry on command, someone who I can’t live without now….” He was breaking up now, his grip on her hand even tighter than before. “And I broke. And when I break, only you can fix me, and you were gone. I thought you were gone for good.” Tears slid down his face and Tetsuko reached up to wipe them away, leaving her hand against his cheeks. Bunny’s other hand came up and covered hers, warm and alive. She liked that feeling.

“You can’t get rid of me that easy. I’m hard to kill apparently.” The brunette chuckled again, and then winced as her burns stung. Air sucked through her teeth quickly and she tensed in pain. “Though, beating the shit out of me is a common occurrence.”

“It’s easy to do that when you’re only half there, you anorexic.” Bunny gently pulled the sheets back so there wasn’t as much weight on her torso. “We can’t let you waste away anymore so you need to eat up like you’re always telling me to do and I’ll bring you lots of mayonnaise if you do.”

“And uh…how about that fried rice you promised me?” Tetsuko smiled, pleased that he was bargaining, that meant he was going to be okay for a while. Bunny blushed bright red.

“Uh, yeah. About that…” He was totally floundering now. Tetsuko grinned wider.

“You thought I’d forgotten about that, didn’t you?” She giggled gleefully.

“No! I just didn’t expect you to remember so soon!” Bunny was so cute when he was flustered. “I haven’t perfected it yet, and I don’t want you to taste it until I have it perfect.”

“Always trying to be the best…” Tetsuko smiled softly. “I’ll wait for perfection if you want, I only require mayo and you’re company at least once a day, okay?”

“Yeah, I can do that.” Bunny held up his bum leg dramatically. “My room’s right next to yours for the time being and Nathan’s got some very creative hiding places for packets.”

“Oh good, and in exchange he’s going to want a pretty steep price.” Tetsuko sighed, knowing how the boy-girl operated.

“Actually, I think he’s just happy to be alive right now. Thanks to you.”

“It was a group effort. I can’t take all the credit this time.” Tetsuko brushed it off. She didn’t need any of the glory this time. She was just happy to be alive too. Bunny patted the brunette’s hand and reached for his crutch. He stood up carefully and tucked the crutch under his arm. “Don’t trip me with that thing.” Tetsuko said, eyeing the blond carefully since she’d done the same to him once.

“Whatever gave you that idea?” Bunny said smoothly. “Get some rest, old lady.”

“I am not old, Bunny.” She replied softly, pouting cutely.

“And my name is not Bunny. It’s Barnaby.” He shot back for old time’s sake.

“Of course it’s Bunny, because you’re my lil’ Bunny.”

“If you say so.” He shrugged and made his way to the door. But secretly, Tetsuko could tell that he liked being called hers, even if she said he was a rabbit.

“I do.” Tetsuko called out to him. She grinned widely and settled into her bed. He’d be back. She knew it.

Bunny came back every day to visit Tetsuko when he was released from the hospital. The gang came and visited her too, and she spent a lot of time with Antonio and his massive hand cast until he was released too. The only reason Tetsuko was still in the hospital was because her doctors wanted her under observation for the anorexia and the bradly-braky-heart condition. Mostly it just pissed her off at this point.Two visits later when he didn’t need the crutch, Bunny came in with a huge vase of flowers and set it on the table near Tetsuko’s bed, the clack of the vase hitting the surface waking up the brunette to a wall of calla lilies and freesias in pinks and yellows.

“What the hell is all of that, Bunny?” Tetsuko called to the young man on the other side of the wall of flowers.

“A thank you from Ms. Agnes.” Bunny came around in his hospital scrubs and sat next to his girlfriend. “Apparently hacking into the news broadcast system and sending in a live feed that skyrocketed ratings and internet posts all over the web got her a job at a station. She wanted to say thanks for getting into trouble again. See? It even says so on the card.” The blond fished out a small card from the flowers and handed it to the woman. Tetusko read:

Thanks for getting into trouble for me.

Now don’t do it again.


“Wow, I’ll never see her do something like this again.” Tetsuko looked at the floral monstrosity and stared howling with laughter, smacking some stray carnations out of her face. That is, until her torso lit on fire and she started coughing violently. Bunny rubbed her back and supported the brunette while she clutched her stomach until she calmed down. The blond helped lay her back and brushed her hair out of her face. “What station does she work at now?” Tetsuko asked once she had her breath back.

“Here On the Hour. Not only did she get a new job, she got a job at the most popular news channel on TV. I’m sure she’s ecstatic.”

“Wow! She’s on Here-O TV? That’s cool.” Tetsuko blew a flower out of her face. She could barely see her boyfriend past the plants. “Can you possibly move these somewhere else, Bunny? I’m going to smell like flower shop.”

“Oh yes, and we wouldn’t want that.” He replied sarcastically, sliding the vase to the edge of the table before sitting down. “But it would help the body odor situation.

“Hey! I do not smell!” Tetsuko snapped. The blond chuckled as she girl fumed at the barb.

Bunny left after a few hours of visiting and bid the girl goodbye when her mother stopped by. Tetsuko’s kaa-san shoved a prepared meal into his hands and promised another tomorrow. Tetsuko laughed at Bunny’s face when he realized that more people would be taking care of him now. And since he didn’t have a guardian anymore and he insisted that he wasn’t going into foster care since he was already eighteen and clearly responsible enough to take care of himself, it seemed everyone’s mothers were going to baby him anyway. Karina’s mother kept making him dinner and so did Ivan’s, Keith’s was constantly over at his apartment to clean up and keep him company and Tetsuko’s kaa-san kept him company when she corralled him to her home every once in a while and always had a hot meal prepared for him as well. The girl just got a kick out of it and laughed so hard when he griped about it. She stopped laughing when she aggravated her burns too much and her heart monitor bounced around. Bunny was sick of being controlled by adults, even if they were completely sweet mothers. He just wanted to be left alone and he told her so on one of his last visits before Tetsuko was released.

“From now on, I just want to make my own choices. I can’t wait to be in the adult world and out of high school. I don’t want anyone controlling or monitoring me anymore.” Bunny growled, obviously still plagued by the thought of his former guardian’s manipulations. Tetsuko thought about what he’d said and gave it some thought of her own. He wants the adult world and not to be controlled. Well, the adult world is all about control. Tetsuko thought about all the people in her life: her bosses Hardwick and Petra who acted like the strictest teachers, her co-workers Kira, Circe and Markus who mostly acted like dorks, the gang Antonio, Keith, Pao-Lin, Nathan, Karina, and Ivan, her family, Ben, the Reeds and Kaede and Bunny. And then she realized something.

“Bunny, the adult world is just like high school,” He turned towards her, leaning in closer to the hospital bed.

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” She started, “You’ve got the Goth chicks like Kira, the players who are always trying to get dates like Markus and the naturally pretty people like Circe who when they wake up look perfect. You’ve also got the dicks like most the jerks at the office, the bitches at the beauty salons, the jocks like Antonio and Pao-Lin, the nice guys like Keith, the free spirit types like Nathan, the music geeks like Karina and the Japanese freaks like Ivan, the stuck up preppies like my boss Petra and the super strict types like Hardwick. You followin’?” Tetsuko stopped and looked at Bunny.

“Sort of. What’s your point?” He looked genuinely confused.

“My point is that high school never ends, dumbass. Even when you’re an old fart, you’re still dealing with the same crap you’ve dealt with all your life. It’s just how to deal with it that makes a difference.” Tetsuko thought it was easy to see, but apparently she saw the world better than Bunny for once. He’d apparently noticed that took.

“Since when are you a genius?” The blond asked, taking Tetsuko’s had that had the IV drip stuck in it.

“Since forever.” She chuckled. Tetsuko was dead tired now and sleep seemed like the perfect idea. She yawned widely and squeezed her boyfriend’s hand. “I’m tired. Will you kiss me goodnight?”

“It’s the middle of the afternoon, old lady.” Bunny squeezed back and rolled his eyes.

“Yeah, but I’m on the mend, I need all the rest I can get.” Tetsuko eyes began getting heavy, each blink a struggle to stay awake.

“Fine, you rest up so you can get out of here faster and I’ll be here when you wake up.” Bunny smiled softly, exhaustion written all over his face too. He’d probably take a nap too.

“Deal. Now don’t move around too much, you might rip your stitches.” Tetsuko reminded him as she settled into her hospital bed. Her boyfriend gently touched her stomach.

“Same to you. We don’t want you causing anymore damage to yourself. And stop worrying about me. Worry about yourself.”

“Never. You’re what’s on my mind right now.” Tetsuko’s eyes slid shut, the blackness comforting knowing that Barnaby was going to be there waiting for her to wake up. Is there a greater feeling than the one where you know someone is going to be watching over you, Tomoe? I know you’re doing it right now, babe. Bunny does it too now. I think he’s got the idea that he can stop focusing on himself once in a while.

He learned that from you.

“You’re too selfless. Sleep well, old lady.” The brunette grunted at the nickname.

“That’s not quite right, Barnaby.”

“Go to sleep, Tetsuko.” His voice was soft and quiet. He leaned in and the brunette felt his gentle lips touch hers in a delicate kiss. Tetsuko smiled into the kiss, causing her boyfriend to laugh at her. “You got what you wanted.”

“Always do.” Tetsuko cracked her eyes open to look at Bunny’s face so close to hers.

“No you don’t.”

“Well, I try.”

“Shut up and go to sleep.” Tetsuko decided to do just that. She drifted off into sleep with a smile on her face, comforted by the fact that Bunny would be waiting for her to wake up.

One Year Later

Tetsuko walked out of her Multi Media class and whooped really loudly. Finals for the semester were over and it was nearly Christmas! The brunette started running down the sidewalk, but decided against it once she hit a patch of ice and nearly fell on her face. She walked briskly after that, wrapping her coat around herself tightly. It started snowing, the white flakes drifting softly down to the earth until a gust of wind sucked them back up into the air. Tetsuko made a beeline for the Business College; her being late for their meeting would tick Nathan off. The wind picked up and Tetsuko felt the small snow flurry gain some power, her leg ached enough to tell her that tonight would be a big storm. She dashed towards the building about two football fields away and whooshed into the lobby just as the snow started coming down. I guess it’s a good thing that Bunny’s picking me up in his car, since my Chaser is in the shop again. I hope he didn’t’ park to far away from the Engineering college or else he’s going to have to carry me because of all the ice and I hate it when he carries me. Tetsuko unwrapped her green scarf from around her neck and shook out her hair.

“Tets’!” Nathan called from the café, waving his perfectly manicured hand at her. The brunette smiled at the man-woman and walked over. Today Nathan was wearing a sparkly read top with black leather pants and green knee high boots. The brunette slid into her seat gracefully before dumping her backpack on the floor.

“What’s up, ‘Than?” She asked as she ordered a coffee from the waitress on duty.

“Nothing much, babe. Only that you’re late.” Nathan gave her the eye.

“Sorry, the test took longer than I thought and you know how my bum leg is with ice: not good.” Tetsuko chuckled at her own clumsiness and thanked the waitress as she set a mug of coffee on the table. Nathan had already ordered and was delicately munching on a chocolate croissant.

“You’re forgiven. So what’s this big idea of yours?” The brunette hadn’t told him anything yet, she wanted to knock him off his feet.

“Well…” Tetsuko laid out her whole idea and pitched Nathan a part in it. The transvestite was intrigued, she could by the way a little half smile graced his frosted pink lips and one waxed eyebrow stayed raised above the other. Tetsuko knew she had him, the idea appealing to both his masculine and feminine sides.

“I adore it!” Nathan cooed, clapping his hands together. “And it’s a good way to bump up my future company’s reputation. I’d love to lend a helping hand to your cause, girly.”

“Glad we’re on the same team again. “ Tetsuko reached out and Nathan took her hand, pumping it up and down. “I’m going to have to get a loan though.”

“From who?”

“My boyfriend. He’s rolling in money.” Tetsuko winked mischievously

“I don’t know how you do it but you manage to be an idiot and deceivingly cunning at the same time. If you were a man right now I’d be really turned on, babe.” They released hands and Tetsuko smelled Nathan’s lotion clinging to her skin.

“I don’t know whether to take that as a compliment or an insult.”

“Take it however you want. I just want to be in on all your plans.”

“Good, because I need someone who knows how to manage a business. I suck at this stuff.” Tetsuko leaned back in her chair and sipped her coffee.

“I know.” Nathan replied smoothly.

“Shut up.” The brunette drawled.

“Old lady!” Bunny blew into the building, his hair someone perfectly curled despite the storm brewing outside. How does he do that? Tetusko glanced up at her own windblown hair and sighed in defeat. Bunny would always have her beat in the hair department. Bunny shook out his long red coat and tapped his hooker boots on the doormat to dislodge snow stuck in the treads. Today he was wearing a black sweater that Tetsuko’s kaa-san had knitted for him and a pair of well worn jeans Tetsuko had seen on many occasions at her apartment.

“Don’t call me that!” She shouted across the room, disturbing many conversations and getting a lot of glares. Bunny shook his head at her as he joined the pair at the table.

“What are you too doing?” He asked, eyeing both “girls.”

“We’re plotting to take over the city.” Tetsuko lied easily, “And we’ve decided that robots are not the way to go.”

“I’m so glad you’ve come to that conclusion.” Bunny rolled his eyes. “Now what are you really doing?”

“Tets’ is pitching an idea to me and I’m interested.”

“And what idea is this?”

“I’ll let her tell you.” Nathan sat back and preened his fabulous white fur coat he’d hung on the back of his chair. Bunny waited for her to go on.

“Well, I was thinking about starting a non-profit charity that combats domestic violence and helps underprivileged people in the city. I don’t know what to call it yet but Nathan says he’s in as a sponsor. It’ll boost his company’s reputation to have that kind of organization to support.”

“I like the idea. It’s a lot safer than you getting into the police force.” Bunny was still thinking it over; Tetsuko saw that look in his eyes.

“Bunny, we knew last year that I wasn’t going into the police force. I can’t do it with my leg, idiot.” Tetsuko lightly smacked his arm.

“I don’t want you in getting in danger anyway.” Bunny stated, smacking her back.

“Aw, you two are so cute!” Nathan cooed, clacking his red manicure on the tabletop.

“I like your idea.” Bunny said to Tetsuko.

“Good, because I’m going to need a loan.” The brunette smiled widely and pleading with her eyes at the same time.

“I’ll have to think about that one.”

“Oh, come on! You’ve got mountains of cash to spare!”

“We’ll talk about this later.” Bunny cut her off and switched the subject. An hour later Nathan left, wishing the couple happy holidays.

“How was your test, Bunny?” Tetsuko asked, ordering another coffee to go before they left.

“Easy. When you study taking tests is a breeze.” Bunny gave her the eye.

“Only one semester into college and you already think you know everything.” Tetsuko chuckled.

“I do know everything.”

“Save it for someone who cares. Ready to go?” Tetsuko slid back her chair and got up. Bunny was up faster than her and held out her coat. “Such a gentleman. Thank you.” The brunette slid her arms into her sleeves and buttoned up her coat as the blond did the same with his. “Where are we going for dinner?”

“I was thinking about Italian. How about that little restaurant in Silver. We haven’t been there for a while.”

“Sure!” Bunny took her hand as they walked out the door. Tetsuko sipped her coffee as they walked, grateful for the small heat as they trudged through the storm. Tetsuko slipped on a patch of ice and yelped as she fell. Bunny caught her under the armpits and laughed at her clumsiness.

“It’s been a year and you’re still a klutz. Honestly, you haven’t changed.” The blond set Tetsuko on her feet but kept his arm around her waist incase she slipped again.

“Yeah well, I don’t get to set my own limits on stuff like this, even when it comes to being ungraceful!” Tetusko laughed and leaned into her boyfriend.

“You’re unbelievable.”

“What I can’t believe is that now we have three whole weeks to ourselves! This Winter Break is going to be awesome! It makes we want to shout for joy!” Tetsuko whooped and then growled and howled like a tiger. “Wild Roar!” She shouted. “Come on, Bunny! Roar with me!”

“No.” He curtly replied.

“Fine, I’ll just continue.” And she did, whooping and yelling until they reached Bunny’s sports car and tumbled inside. Tetsuko was out of breath from laughing and trekking up to the parking lot when she slid into her seat. Bunny started the car and drove out of the lot and into the storm. Opera was playing on the stereo and Tetsuko rolled her eyes at the blond. He already knew what she was making fun of and ignored her. “So what are you going to do over the break?”

“Study some of my textbooks, get my classes sorted out for next semester, and visit my parents. Your mother invited me over for Christmas dinner.” The blond turned out onto the street and headed for the campus’ boarder with the city.

“Of course she did! You’re practically family!” Tetsuko flipped on her seat warmer. “Do you want me to come with you on Christmas Eve? I don’t want you to be alone.”

“If you must come you can.” Bunny always had Tetsuko come with him now, even last year when she’d just gotten out of the hospital.

“I’d like that.” Tetsuko reached over and placed her hand on the one Bunny had on the gearstick and squeezed it. And that’s where they were Christmas Eve. Bunny placed a bouquet on the snow covered grave while Tetsuko held the umbrella over both of them. Snow drifted down gently onto the ground. Bunny stayed kneeling on the ground and Tetsuko sensed that he wanted a moment to himself. She handed him the umbrella and walked a little ways off, but was still close enough to hear him.

“Sorry I haven’t visited you, mom and dad. I’ve been trying to sort some things out. But it’s the anniversary of you death…I miss you so much, mom and dad.” Bunny pulled out a photograph, one that Tetsuko had seen many times. It was the one of Bunny’s parents just after he was born, the blond the small baby in the picture. Emily Brook’s neat handwriting was scrolled on the bottom of the photo and Tetsuko had thought multiple times that she wished her handwriting looked as nice. Bunny’s shoulders started to shake, tears welling up in his eyes. “I wish I could’ve spent more time with you.” Bunny slipped the photo back in his jacket and reached out to brush the snow off his parent’s headstone. He stared at it for a second and then his eyes got wide and he quickly pulled out the picture again.

“What is it Bunny?” Tetsuko asked, her curiosity getting the better of her.

“I just figured out something.” He called back, wiping away his tears. Tetsuko walked back to him and took the umbrella.


“The password that Dr. Saito gave me last year, it’s the combination of my parent’s birthdays added together to equal my birthday and how much I weighed at birth.” Bunny wiped away more tears. “Mom…Dad…” Tetsuko knelt down and wrapped her arms around her boyfriend.

“It’s okay, Bunny. Let it out.” And he did. This was one of the only times Barnaby really lost it and Tetsuko always vowed to be there for him when Christmas rolled around. They stayed a while longer, holding each other as the snow fell around them. After Bunny said his goodbyes and Tetsuko promised to take care of him to the Brooks, they left, heading over to Tetsuko’s apartment for the evening. The next day was crazy because they were headed to the Reeds this year for dinner and Tetsuko had about a billion presents to haul into Bunny’s car and he just shook his head at her.

“You spoil Kaede too much. “ He said, watching the brunette pack all the gifts into the backseat.

“She’s my only child, so that’s what I’m supposed to do!” Tetsuko replied shoving another present into the pile.

“She won’t be your only child forever you know, so you’ll have to cut back on the gifts now or else she’ll be mad at you in the future.” Bunny held open Tetsuko’s door once she had finished so she could climb in without having to worry about her heels. The brunette was wearing a sexy red dress tonight, her and her boyfriend having switched colors this year. Bunny was wearing (as Tetsuko happily noticed) a tight, handsome green dress shirt that looked a lot like her own and a black tie with black slacks and shiny black shoes.

“Are you offering, Bunny?” Tetsuko waggled her eyebrows at the boy, causing him to blush as he imagined how you get kids. The brunette cackled delightfully and closed the door herself. Bunny was blushing when he slipped into the car and didn’t say much on the way to the Reeds.

Christmas lunch/dinner was a noisy affair with everyone there and craziness ensued when the almost seven year old Kaede saw all her gifts. She kept jabbering and peeking at her presents to the point where it was irritating Mrs. Reed whole yelled at her to leave the Christmas tree alone and come eat. Tetsuko laughed at her daughter and winked at the girl when she slid into her seat. The early dinner went smoothly after that and Kaede finally got to open the rest of her Christmas haul with everyone else. This year Tetsuko and saved up to get Barnaby a nice watch with a black leather strap and a red and silver clock face. He in return bought her something she never wanted Kaede to see and slammed the box shut the second she saw what it was. She gave her boyfriend a fierce glare when her child started pestering her about what her present was and had a hard time shoeing her away.

“Bunny! What the hell?” Tetsuko hissed in his ear once Kaede was distracted by a bowl of candy.

“I thought you’d like your gift, since you love to tease me with all your short skirts.” The blond chuckled at Tesuko’s blush and she fumed.

“Sexy Santa lingerie is not a gift you give out publicly! What if Kaede had seen it?” The woman blushed brighter just thinking about the sexy, clingy dress she duct taped shut and shoved under the couch. It would come out when she wanted Bunny to get a boner in public as payback.

“She would’ve barely known what it was for. How about I give you something else to make up for it?” The blond seemed like he already had something in mind, but was still laughing over Tetsuko’s face when she saw the lingerie.

“You’d better after what you pulled!” Tetsuko snapped, wishing she’d stop blushing.

“Close your eyes. I didn’t wrap this one.” The brunette did as she was told and waited. She felt Bunny’s fingers at her ears, pulling out her earrings and replacing them with something else. Once his hands disappeared he told her it was okay to open her eyes. Tetsuko dashed over to the nearest mirror and gasped at the gorgeous tiger’s eye teardrop earrings that hung from her lobes. They were perfect!

“Thanks, Bunny!” Tetsuko dashed back over to her boyfriend and gave him a flying hug. He caught her, of course and swung her around once before falling back onto the couch. They were alone in the living room, everyone else preoccupied with dessert and the couple had a few minutes to just cuddle and look at the sparkling Christmas tree.

“I still want to see that lingerie, you know.” Bunny remarked off handedly.

“Shut up. I’ll wear it when I want to.” Tetsuko snuggled deeper into the man’s arm and rested her head on his chest. She listened to the sound of his heartbeat and smiled. There was no place else she’d rather be than in Bunny’s arms.

“I also have a pair of hooker boots to go with it.” Bunny whispered in her ear, causing the brunette to shiver.

“Hentai.” She whispered back and turned her head so she could kiss him full on the mouth. Bunny chuckled and deepened the kiss. They would’ve stayed like that for the rest of the day, but then Kaede ran in and taddled on them for making out when they were also groping a little, but she didn’t see that part and the pair sprang apart before anyone could see that. Kaede giggled at the scowling, blushing pair and ran out again before they could tickle attack her at being interrupted.

“Later.” Bunny whispered as they settled back into the couch with the adult’s laugher behind them. Tetsuko purred at that “later,” happy at the promise it held. It’s the perfect Christmas, Tomoe. I wish you were here but I mostly hope you’re happy too. We’ll, it’s perfect except for the lingerie. I’m not wearing that in a million years. Tetsuko glanced up at Bunny who was looking into space where the tree was. She blushed at the thought of wearing something like that for him. Maybe I’ll wear it, just for him.

“Merry Christmas, Barnaby.” Tetsuko said with a smile.

“Merry Christmas, Tetsuko.” He replied. And then they were being called in for pie and whip cream and Tetsuko vowed to lose all this Christmas weight just as soon as her kaa-san and Bunny stopped shoving food in her mouth. All in all, it was a good year. I hope next year’s just a good. Tetsuko shoveled in a bite of pie and smiled at her family with her hand tightly wrapped around Barnaby’s. He gave her a quick peck on the lips before digging into his own pie. She wouldn’t mind if there was lots of kissing too, and Tetsuko smiled as wide as she could and squeezed Bunny’s hand. He squeezed back and that’s all she ever really wanted: someone to squeeze back.

The End

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