High School Never Ends

Chapter Three: Lights, Camera, Action!

Every other Friday was wear-whatever-the-crap-you-want day at school and Tetsuko always took the opportunity to look good. She shimmied into a black mini skirt with slits up the sides, a deep green button up shirt, a cream and gray vest, black thigh high socks, and precariously heeled black and white Oxford shoes. She added her white button-black tie and signature bracelets to finish up today’s outfit. She added some striped hair clips (because hats were not allowed on school grounds) and oversized pearl earrings to complete the look. For once she made it to school on time and got to walk in the front gates with everyone else. She had only one argument with Brooks about the length of her skirt (or lack thereof) have he gave her a what-the-crap-are-you-wearing look while she noticed him noticing her noticing him looking at her butt as she walked away. The Japanese girl ended up turning around again and folding her arms in a way that pushed up her breasts and exposed more of her cleavage. And Bunny totally blushed and stuttered something as he dashed off in the other direction. Satisfied with her little victory, Tetsuko even managed not to fall asleep in her first classes. The day couldn’t be spoiled until the glasses wearing brat reminded her at lunch about Ms. Agnes’ interview.

She grabbed lunch from the cafeteria and wandered outside. Karina and Nathan waved to her from their usual lunch spot under a tree and Tetsuko spotted Ivan hanging around silently in the bushes. Seriously the kid needed to get in the group more! She smiled at them and waved back, making her way over to sit with them when a strong grip hooked around her bicep and dragged her in the other direction. She glanced back at her captor’s perfectly curled hair as she was hauled over to another tree that was currently devoid of students. He nodded at fellow students who laughed at Tetsuko’s situation and a few of the girl’s looked ready to kill the brunette.

“What the hell, Bunny?” She shouted as she dumped her into the shade and towered over her.

“I need to talk to you about the interview today.”

“Crap, that’s today? I totally forgot!”

“I figured you forget, hence the dragging.”

“If this thing’s all about you, then why do I have to be there?” She complained as she sat down, still intent on eating her lunch. The girl glanced up at her unwanted guest as she unwrapped her sandwich. He wore his same red and white jacket with cargo pants and the red man-hooker boots. He’d switched out his black T-shirt for a long-sleeved version and layered red under it. He also sported a gold necklace with a squarish pendant dangling from his throat.

“Because we’re a team, even if we both dislike it.” He replied sternly, no trace of the Fun Barnaby Tetsuko got to see last night.

“Ug! This whole thing is stupid!” She flopped back on the grass and tucked one of her arms under her head and held her sandwich across her eyes dramatically before taking a bite. She opened her eyes a millimeter to peek up at the brat. He’d folded his arms by now and was glaring at her again. Did I insult him? I didn’t say he was stupid, geez!

“You’re being immature about this. It’s just a way for the school to get a better grip on me and what I do around the school and community. You just happen tag along everywhere because we’re shackled together.”

“Maybe you should install a sidecar on you Chaser if I’m just going to be your side kick.”

“Wouldn’t want to waste the money.” He flipped his hair at her.

“Bastard.”

“Anyway after the initial part of the interview, Ms. Agnes is driving us into Gold for the Helios Energy meeting with Mr. Seymour and then-“

“Is that why you and Lloyds scheduled that today?” Tetsuko asked, their nefarious plot coming to light.

“I see you have selective memory,” Barnaby commented, “Yes, because we knew that Mr. Seymour would be fine with the filming and gracious enough to still host us with the Newspaper Club accompanying.” He finally sat down on the ground next to Tetsuko to continue what would become a lengthy explanation about “being on your best behavior and showing their partnership in a good light or else Joubert would cut off one boob and Lloyds the other.” Okay, so he didn’t say it like that but Tetsuko simplified it in her brain.

“You sneaky bastards have me cornered,” she grumped.

“That’s the point. And don’t call me that. My parents were married.” Were? I’ll have to pry that story out of him. Tetsuko grabbed her fountain drink and popped off the lid to get to the ice.

“Whatever you say, Bunny.” She smirked as she crunched on her first ice cube.

“Don’t call me that either!”

“Too bad, you only get one.”

“I’d rather have bastard.”

“Okay, Bunny!” She smiled again as Bunny gave her a death glare. So cute! Even when he’s pissed off! The brunette took another bite of her sandwich. Tetsuko decided that her BLT was missing something and grabbed her secret stash of mayonnaise from her backpack. She popped open the bottle to add a few squirts to the bread.

“That is so gross. Do you know how much weight you’re going to gain?” Bunny started nit picking on her again.

“It’s good, you should try it! And it all goes to my boobs anyway. Mayo makes everything better.” The girl held out her lunch to Bunny but he just gave it a disgusted look.

“No thanks.”

“Your loss.” Tetsuko glanced around and didn’t see Bunny’s food anywhere. “Where’s your lunch?”

“I’m not really hungry at the moment. I think it happened when I saw your face.”

“Asshole! I don’t know why all the girls love you because your personality leaves something to be desired. In any case, you need to eat more. You’re so skinny! It’s not good for you health to skip meals.” Tetsuko took another bit of her sandwich and savored the calories.

“It’s none of your business, old lady, so stop meddling.” Bunny stated as Tetsuko finished her lunch and went back to her drink. She plucked another ice cube out of her cup and popped it into her mouth. Her teeth snapped shut with a crack as she munched her ice. Bunny winced in annoyance. Tetsuko did it again, grinning at him. He glared back, one of his signature scowls on his face. The brunette delicately held another cube to her lips and placed it in between her teeth. It was like watching a volcano get ready to erupt as pissed-off-ness possessed his face. And when she cracked down he shouted, “Quit it!” with such anger that Tetsuko decided her work here was done.

“You told Ben you needed today off, right?” Tetsuko asked while she crunched the ice in her mouth.

“Yes, Mr. Jackson knows. Did you?” Bunny gave her an exasperated look.

“Duh! I’m not stupid, ya know!”

“Could’ve fooled me.”

“That’s it! I’m leaving!” Tetsuko wrapped up her sandwich and grabbed all her stuff. She’d been insulted one too many times and left Bunny sitting alone as she joined her friends under the other tree.

“What was that all about, Tets?” Nathan moved over so the Japanese girl could plop down on the ground. Today his lipstick matched his hair and he wore silver earrings to accent his dark skin. His outfit was flamboyant with a dark undershirt, a low buttoned pink jacket with a tall fur collar, tight fuchsia pants and pink heeled boots.

“Bunny’s being an ass.” Tetsuko wasn’t hungry anymore and chucked her sandwich towards a nearby garbage can. She missed. Just then, Yuri Petrov walked past and glared right at the girl. She shrugged and went over to pick up her trash and dispose of it. She heaved a sigh of relief when the gray-haired senior walked away in his bright purple polo without carding her.

“Tell me all about it. We’ll have some girl talk.” Nathan cooed and wrapped her into a half-hug half-cuddle.

“One of us doesn’t quite fit that description,” Karina pointed out, brushing her blonde hair behind her shoulders. She pulled her tan and pink dress down so the skirt barely brushed her thigh high socks. Her brown vest was open around her chest (to draw attention to her boobs, no doubt) and she tucked her tan boots under her butt as she gestured to Nathan.

“I am sorry that I am a boy and therefore cannot have ‘girl talk’.” Ivan’s soft voice joined the group as he finally got out of the bushes. He wore his signature purple Japan jacket and paired it with baggy green pants and clunky boots.

“I wasn’t talked about you, Ivan.”

“Then who?” Nathan asked, his cheek pressed against Tetsuko’s possessively. The brunette was attempting to push him away and failing.

“You, drag queen.” Karina took a swig from her water bottle as the black man started in shock.

“What? I am-“

“Save it you two!” The Japanese girl shouted. They have this argument at least once a day, Tetsuko thought. She escaped Nathan’s clutches while he was distracted. The man made another grab at her as she scooted a few paces away. “Hands off! I have to look ‘presentable’ for my interviews later.” Tetsuko threw up some air quotes to mock her partner.

“So is that what Handsome was talking to you about?”

“Yeah, and then he insulted me a couple of times, nitpicked my personality and I got fed up. Oh well, it’s nothing I can change. I’m stuck with him for now.” She covered up her hurt pride with a smile and asked Ivan if he liked the manga she lent him.

The conversation turned away from Tetsuko and onto random topics. Keith was making his rounds around to all the students eating lunch and chatted with the mismatched friends when he reached their tree. He had a golden boy look just like Bunny (only less vain). He had on a simple blue jacket and a white shirt along with popular sneakers and a simple pair of jeans. By the time the SBO and his permanent smile moved on, lunch was almost over. The friends went their separate ways and Tetsuko slunk to her cooking class. She hadn’t been allowed back into the kitchens until now. She’d accidently set off the fire alarm two years ago when she disintegrated her casserole in the oven and let out a cloud of smoke that floated right up to the detector. Antonio was supposed to be watching the timer but he’d been looking up football (no, it’s not soccer) scores in Europe and Tetsuko had fallen asleep. Tetsuko dropped into her seat and decided that she sucked as a chef. Fried rice was really the only thing she was good at preparing and everything else she made didn’t taste quite right. I’m cursed, she thought. Class proceeded without any damages and the meat loaf actually turned out okay, mostly because Setsuki and Collin didn’t left the brunette fall asleep on them.

By the time the interview rolled around, Tetsuko was really missing her daily nap she usually took in math. She walked to the Newspaper Club’s room and suppressing a yawn, opened the door. Bunny was already seated at a table next to a printer. The newspaper room was full of copiers and computers and recording equipment all piled around work desks and stacks of paper and rolls of film. The sound booth and editing room was just off to the side protected by a soundproof door. Ms. Joubert’s office was next to that with the door tightly shut. Tetsuko nodded to Bunny as she sat down two tables away from him.

“You’re late.” Tetsuko checked her phone by the time.

“By three minutes,” she scoffed.

“Three and a half minutes of my life that I’ll never get back.”

“Boo-hoo! It’s always about you, isn’t it?” She snapped back, raring for a good fight.

“Well, right now it is.” Ms. Agnes entered the room from her office. Today her color was purple: Light purple blouse, dark skirt and violet pumps that were even higher than Tetsuko’s. Her partner in crime, Cain, followed close behind with his somewhat afro, ridiculous sideburns and beard/mustache combo. If I had a beard it wouldn’t be that big, Tetsuko thought. The black man had always had a good relationship with the Japanese girl that one time they had lunch together just to gossip and gripe about Joubert. He gave Tetsuko a smile and fixed his bright yellow jacket. The back was embroidered with the Newspaper Club’s emblem of a pen and pencil crossed in the center and a camera lens balanced underneath. Another student dashed inside the room and was instantly ordered to collect equipment, or to get this, or set up this camera up over there. Mary Rose was sorta quiet, but very nice and Orlando Cooper (the camera man with the pony tail that Tetsuko had seen skulking around with Agnes a few times) came and joined the video mixer with the equipment. Agnes chatted with Bunny and laughed at something he said. Tetsuko had almost fallen asleep when a camera was shoved in her face.

“Gah!” She fell off her chair in surprise and landed on the floor. Rubbing her butt, Tetsuko looked up into the camera lens.

“We’ll edit that out,” Agnes motioned for Orlando to keep rolling.

“What do you think of Barnaby? Agnes repeated her question as the girl picked herself up off the floor and back into her seat. Tetsuko thought for a minute, everyone’s eyes on her.

“Eh, I got nothing’.”

“Cut!” Agnes yelled. She turned to the brunette, “Is that all you have to say?”

“Hey! I barely know the guy! It’s been what? A couple of days?”

“But seriously, you can’t think of one thing to say?”

“My mother taught me that if I can’t say anything nice, not to say anything at all.” She chuckled and slipped her arm behind her head. Two people with extremely angry green eyes glared at her, the other three didn’t care. Agnes looked like she was going to strangle the girl and Barnaby looked pissed enough to kick her in the face. “Okay! Okay!” Tetsuko held up her hands in defense. “Give me a minute, I’ll think of something.”

“That could take all day,” Barnaby retorted.

“I see your mother didn’t teach you as well as mine.” Bunny’s look could kill. Ouch, I hit a nerve.

“We’ll come back to you.” Agnes turned back to Bunny and the blond instantly became professional again. He’s got a nice mask.

The other night’s bike ride flashed though Tetsuko’s mind. Why can’t he be like that all the time? Thoughts of holding Bunny’s rock hard torso popped into her head. He totally worked out and she could feel the sculpted planes of his chest and abdomen though his shirt and jacket. Tetsuko wanted to see his abs again, the brief glance she got when he changed his shirt at work was not enough to satisfy her curiosity. Then her thoughts turned to the gutter as the thought of Bunny wearing nothing flashed through her brain. Those legs were almost (but not quite) long enough to rival Tetsuko’s and she wondered what they’d look like in his-what kind of underwear does he sport? She blushed and bit her lip hard enough to almost draw blood. Tetsuko ducked her head in embarrassment as if the other people in the room would be able to read what she was thinking just by looking at her. Why did I think that? Do I like this pushy brat? She glanced at Bunny from under her spiky bangs; he was flashing Ms. Agnes a coy smile and winked at the camera. No, he’s such a poseur! And preppy and a brat with and has an asshole up his asshole! When the camera turned back to her, Tetsuko’s blush had faded and she said something along the lines of his admirable professionalism, and dedicated work ethic (“Just check out all these pink slips he’s given me!”). The whole crew, including Bunny, looked shocked that she came up with not one, but two nice things to say about her partner.

“What now? First, you were mad because I didn’t have anything nice to say and now you’re surprised? I can come up with some nasty things instead, if you want. He’s an assho-“

“That’s good! We don’t need anymore!” She pushed Orlando to turn back to Bunny. She then asked Bunny what his favorite food was. Cabbage rolls (what are those?) and beef stroga, strogon-nof (whatever). She also asked what kind of music he liked to listen too. The dork told her he liked opera. Yuck.

Off the hook for the moment, Tetsuko took the opportunity to lounge in her chair, out of the way. Both her backpack and Bunny’s were on the floor next to her. The girl’s eyes spotted a red flip phone hanging out of one pocket and snatched it when Bunny wasn’t looking her way. His background was one of those generic computer generated ones that were interesting and boring at the same time. Opening up the camera, Tetsuko crossed her eyes and pulled a duck face while flashing the rock sign. She giggled as she set the picture as his new background and slipped the phone back into its pocket.

An hour later, after a cat nap on the Japanese girl’s part, Bunny reminded Agnes about the Helios Energy interview and the whole crew packed up and got ready to move out. Tetsuko chatted with Cain in the van on the way to the city and the older man and Orlando laughed at her lame-ass jokes. Bunny was checking his curls in the mirror and Agnes was reminding Mary about the other segments she had to finish for the show. She was half-twisted in the front seat white driving pointing her finger at the girl who was making a list of things she had to do on the video mixer. Apparently Bunny wasn’t the only one being featured; Joubert was hitting most of the major club and school leaders including Petrov and Keith. The van pulled up to the Helios Energy building with twenty minutes to spare and Tetsuko glanced up at the golden phoenix topping the skyscraper as she stepped out of the van. Bunny’s shouts pulled her head back to the ground as a pink-clad man glomped the blond from behind, arms wrapped around his chest and neck.

“Get off, please!” Bunny tried to shove Nathan away but the man clung tighter to him.

“Ooo! Handsome you do look fabulous!” He cooed, nuzzling Bunny’s face unabashedly.

“Nate, hands off Bunny. You’ll muss of his damn hair!” Tetsuko intervened with a glomp of her own against the transvestite. With the three of them hugging each other, of course they ended up on the ground.

“You klutz!” Nathan squirmed underneath Tetsuko’s body.

“Bunny don’t touch that!” The girl blushed as the blond’s hand squeezed her butt.

“Hey! Get off my leg, Seymour!“ Bunny yanked said appendage out from under the guy.

“Don’t touch there either!” Tetsuko yelped as Bunny’s other hand grabbed her breast as the three of them tried to disentangle themselves from each other.

“Quit touching her and touch me!” Nathan cried out.

“I’m not trying to touch either of you!” Bunny’s hand released a furiously blushing Tetsuko and she was the first to get out of the dog pile. The boy’s picked themselves up and brushed off their clothes as the girl yanked down her skirt. All of a sudden, Nathan swung around and slapped his perfectly manicured hands onto Tetsuko’s cheeks.

“Thank goodness you’re here!”

“I sought yous er ear or Unny!” The brunette tried to speak around the nail polish.

“No, I need you right now!” Nathan said dramatically (and slightly kinky-like).

“Why exactly?” Tetsuko forcibly removed the hands from her face so she could talk.

“My father has been wearing the most god-awful, stiff suits lately and he won’t listen to my fashion advice because I’m his son.”

“And this involves me how?”

“You’re gonna tell him for me.”

“The hell why?”

“Because you’re a girl!”

“Thank you, Captain Obvious. I’m glad we established that.”

“Well, you certainly don’t act like one.” Bunny piped up as the adults caught up to them.

“That’s because you do it enough for the both of us.” The Japanese girl winked at him. “And you’ve had personal hands on experience that proves I’m a woman.” Bunny’s face was redder than a sunburn.

Nathan giggled and led the whole group inside and up to his dad’s office. The place reeked of money and Tetsuko didn’t want to touch anything for fear of breaking it and getting slapped with a huge fine. Red and gold seemed to be the main color scheme for the whole building, and there were bright and exotic flowers everywhere that begged for attention. Tetsuko clasped her hands in front of her stomach and shrunk into herself a little. This didn’t go unnoticed by her ball and chain.

“What’s wrong?” Bunny whispered as Nathan chatted up Ms. Agnes for no reason.

“I don’t want to break anything. I have the worst luck in expensive places.” She clasped her hands three separate times before going on, “It’s like that old saying about the cow in the vase shop.”

“Uh, I think you mean ‘like a bull in a china shop.’”

“Whatever!” He chuckled at her discomfort as the whole group plus cameras entered into an elevator. Tetsuko heaved a sigh of relief and slapped Nathan’s hand away from Bunny’s butt.

“Oh, you’re too good, Tets!”

“I’ve had lots of practice warding off hands myself. Don’t call me that, it sounds like ‘tits’.”

“Really? You’re attractive?” Bunny cocked and eyebrow at her, mocking the hands comment.

“Yeah, my butt is irresistible!”

“I doubt that.”

“Well, then go on!” She turned her butt to the blond, “Take a feel.” Tetsuko challenged. She was stunned when he actually did. She smacked his hand away where it was pinching her butt cheek and covered her behind with both hands.

“Hey, pervert!”

“You offered.”

“You weren’t actually supposed to pinch my butt!”

“Quit messing around you two!” Joubert snapped as the elevators doors opened to the top flood. They all exited quickly and Nathan took the lead again with his girly walk. The group strode down a red carpeted hallway and through a set of huge oak doors into Mr. Seymour’s office. The room had multiple couches and chairs for lounging, and conference table for meetings and a massive desk for the man himself. He was standing over by the wall that was completely windows and was staring out onto the cityscape until he turned to greet his guests.

Mr. Seymour had Nathan’s coloring, with chocolate colored skin and deep brown eyes, but he didn’t have a fabulous head of pink hair, in fact he had no hair on his scalp at all. He did have a half beard on his chin that went up a fraction of his jaw. If I had a beard, it’d be cooler than that one, Tetsuko asserted. Then she caught sight of his suit. It was a three piece disaster. Mr. Seymour looked like he was going to a funeral in his black velvet outfit with a black vest and a sharp white shirt that choked Tetsuko just looking at it.

“That is a god-awful stiff suit.” Tetsuko whispered to Nathan discreetly.

“I know!” He whispered back.

“Welcome Mr. Brooks and Ms. Kaburagi, and also to your Newspaper Club. I see my son has taken good care of you.”

“Yes, he did, Mr. Seymour.” Bunny walked forward and shook the CEO’s hand. Tetsuko wasn’t far behind and smiled at the man who spawned the devil in pink that was her friend.

“It is good to see you again, Ms. Kaburagi.”

“It is good to see you as well, Mr. Seymour.”

“How’s your mother these days? Still paying your damage fines?” He chuckled good naturedly at her.

“No, she cut me off the last time I smashed through a wall” Tetsuko scratched the skin in front of her ear as the black man roared with laughter. The girl turned to the blond who had been ignored for the moment. “This is my partner Barnaby Brooks Jr. and we’re here on official school business as you know, not just to poke at my past.”

“Yes, of course. Let’s get started then.” The CEO offered them two seats in front of his desk and waited for the Newspaper Club to set up patiently. After the formal introductions, Tetsuko let Bunny take over with the whole speech about Sternbild High’s sponsorship program and all the other stuff she didn’t really care about. Mr. Seymour was gracious and intently listened to the blond even though he’d probably heard this spiel for years by various high school students. Every time Agnes stopped them to get a better angle with Orlando’s camera or to have Bunny repeat something, Tetsuko would check her phone discretely to read all of Nathan’s fashion advice for his dad. Occasionally the men would include her in the discussion, but mostly it was Bunny’s show.

Nathan kept trying to make her laugh on camera with silly faces, naughty looks and sexy pick up lines he mouthed to her from in the corner. She tried her best not to laugh, but once Nathan started sensually licking his fingers while glancing at Bunny she burst into laughter. Agnes berated the girl about her non-professional behavior and made her shut up for the rest of the meeting. Mr. Seymour winked at Tetsuko with a smile, letting her know that he thought it was fine. She grinned widely back at him.

At the end of the interview, all three participants stood and shook each other’s hands. Then Joubert had to review the tape quickly with her team to make sure they got everything they needed for the show. Nathan got Tetsuko’s attention from across the room and dramatically nodded in his father’s direction. The girl shrugged, not knowing how to broach the subject with the CEO. Nathan pointed with his pink head and widened his eye imploringly like the color of his dad’s suit was the end of the world. The brunette sighed and looked at the older man.

Now, how to bring up the suit situation without being too obvious? After thinking for a moment, Tetsuko ran over to Bunny and threw her arms around his neck from the back of the couch he was sitting on.

“Hey, Bunny.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Bunny,” she continued, “just curious, but what sorts of suits do you wear?” He looked at her like she was crazy.

“What does this have to do with anything?”

“I was just thinking about the formal dance coming up in a few weeks and wondered what types of suits you’d wear. Keith and I were just talking about it the other day. He goes for navy most of the time with a bow tie, but I don’t think that’s your style at all.” Tetsuko started rambling for a minute to distract Bunny from the conversation whip lash she was causing and to grab Mr. Seymour’s attention.

“Of course that’s not my style.” Bunny never missed a chance to correct her, “I’m fairly tall so I wear mainly double breasted suits to add width to my frame. And crimsons are my preferred colors. That or I’d wear a black suit jacket with a red vest or dress shirt.” Bunny gave her a look that said, where are you going with this?

“Cool.” Tetsuko made a show of looking over Mr. Seymour while Nathan waited on the edge of his seat in anticipation, already having figured out the girl’s plan. “I think Mr. Seymour would look very dashing in a red suit as well, don’t you think?” Tetsuko gave Barnaby her own look of keep playing along.

“Yes, I think so. Or maybe a gray pinstriped suit to accent his broad shoulders.” The CEO turned toward the pair.

“Yeah, I totally read in one of Karina’s fashion magazines that the style for this season is for really eye catching colors paired with more somber ones for contrast.”

“’Really, like what?”

“Take Mr. Seymour for instance,” Tetsuko unlatched her arms form Bunny’s neck and walked around the couch to where the dark skinned man was standing. “Darker skin tones go well with a variety of color palettes. I’d pair a deep emerald suit with a gray or black shirt and a matching tie.”

“But green is your color, Kaburagi. Maybe Mr. Seymour doesn’t particularly fancy green.” Bunny joined Tetsuko, finally catching on and started throwing out color combinations. “I’d go with that gray pinstriped suit I mentioned earlier and add a red shirt. It doesn’t need a tie that way.”

“Ooo! What about a deep violet?” Tetsuko asked.

“If I wore a violet suit,” Mr. Seymour joined in the conversation as well at this point, “I’d pair it with a black vest and a white shirt.”

“That’s brilliant!” Tetsuko laid on the charm with a flirtatious smile. The fashion-fest ended after a while with a list of fashionable suit combinations that made Nathan do a victory dance behind his dad’s back. They left the Helios building in good graces with both Seymour’s appreciation and a fat sponsorship for the high school.

“I totally go that all on film.” Agnes said as she passed the partners on the way to the van. Tetsuko was about to reply when Nathan planted a big kiss on her cheek for her help. It left a huge lip mark on her face that she didn’t even notice. “I got that on film too.” Agnes informed the girl. Tetsuko blushed. Bunny avoided his kiss with a passion, much to Nathan’s disappointment. Nathan waved goodbye a few minutes later and left the couple standing on the sidewalk watching the Newspaper Club pack up.

“You’re a flirt when you want to be, old lady” Bunny started, shouldering his school bag.

“Yeah well, if it helps my friend’s father’s fashion reputation, them I’m happy to help out.” She shrugged back at him, ignoring the ‘old lady’ and slinging her own bag onto her shoulder. “That’s what friends are for: helping each other and trusting others with your problems.” Bunny was silent for a few moments.

“Well, since you weren’t such a dunce this afternoon, how would you like to go out for dinner as a ‘thank you’?” Tetsuko turned to him in surprise. He’s surprisingly generous sometimes. Bunny was gauging her response and the girl wasn’t about to give up free food.

“Sure! I’d love too!” She glanced at their ride home. “But didn’t you leave your bike at the school?”

“No, I knew that we’d be coming to Gold so I took the bus today. Why drive all the way out to Silver when I’d have to come straight back?”

“Smart, I’d have never thought that one out.”

“I know.”

“Hey!”

“Come on you two! Get in the car!” Agnes called from the open widow of the van. Everyone else was piled inside and waiting.

“Ms. Joubert, thank you for the offer, but Ms. Kaburagi and I don’t need a ride anymore.” The woman looked back and forth between the two teenagers for a moment.

“Fine then.” She checked her lipstick in one of the side view mirrors, “Whatever happens to you know I’m not liable for, ‘kay?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Both students answered in unison.

“See you guys at school on Monday.” She was about to drive off when she turned back suddenly, “And don’t let Tetsuko get you into any trouble Mr. Brooks.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Bunny answered as Tetsuko gaped at the advisor.

“Why is it always me who-“ the van screeched off into the night before Tetsuko could finishing replying. She pouted until the car was out of sight, and then perked up.

“Do you like hotdogs?”


Best damn hotdog I’ve ever had, Barnaby thought as he bit into his dinner. Kaburagi knew of this little resturant they were at and dragged him over to the shopping district to get him to eat. She was conscious of my wallet too, surprisingly enough. Food for both of them only cost about ten dollars, even with the girl ordering two hotdogs. The Japanese girl finished putting a disgustingly insane amount of mayonnaise and ketchup on her hotdogs and took a bite of one. I bet all that weight goes to her hips, Barnaby glanced at her waist for a second and decided that if the calories did end up there (or anywhere for that matter) it’d look perfect.

“You should watch your weight,” Barnaby stated.

“You should eat more,” she shot back.

“You’ll get diabetes if you keep adding mayo to everything you eat. Then you’ll lose a foot when you blood sugar gets messed up.”

“The only way I’m losing a foot is up your ass!” She angrily finished off her first hotdog and started on the second.

“This is good, by the way.” Barnaby took another bite.

“I know!” Kaburagi was happy again. I think she’s got a bipolar disorder. “Lemson’s makes the best hotdogs in the city. Actually I found this place by accident when my brother’s ghetto van broke down while making deliveries. It seriously went like this: BOOM rattle-rattle-rattle chug-chuuuug-chuuuuuuggggg, sputter and just rolled to a stop. He had to take it to a shop and handed me five bucks for food.” Barnaby listened to her story and sound effects with mild interest as he winked as a passing red head. She giggled and shied away into her clique of friends. “And now I’m sitting around the Gold Stage where everything costs a hand and a foot,”

“Arm and a leg,” Barnaby interjected.

“With five bucks for lunch thinking, ‘what the hell do I do now?’” She continued on like the blond hadn’t spoken.

“So I wandered around for a bit until I came to this mall and literally ran into Rocky.” She laughed at herself, “I wasn’t paying attention and tripped over my own feet and crashed into him coming back to work from his break.” Barnaby rolled his eyes at her typical clumsiness. “We picked ourselves up and I ended up buying a hotdog from him at Lemson’s. I bummed around the counter while he worked and we talked until ‘Masa called me.”

“’Masa?”

“My older brother, Muramasa,” she explained. “That was four years ago and this place still looks the same.” Lemson’s was a little café in the mall complex with its own awning and a few little tables for customers. Barnaby scanned the employees and spotted the Rocky that Tetsuko had ordered the hotdogs from. He looked to be in his mid twenties with deep chestnut hair and bright blue eyes. He was shorter than Barnaby (and Tetsuko for that matter) and wore a clean apron even though this clothes underneath were filthy from a day of cooking. The teens were sitting on a wall of a water fountain in the mall. All types of people were walking past and Barnaby smiled at everyone he caught looking at him. He also noticed that many attractive girls were giving Kaburagi fierce glares because she was the one sitting next to Barnaby. The brunette, of course, wasn’t paying attention. She’s lucky she gets to sit by someone as gorgeous as me, he thought. And I’m just lucky I haven’t been mauled by girls, yet. It was nice for once just to have to pay attention to one girl instead of twenty. Barnaby concluded that if he hadn’t been coupled with the hold-back, he wouldn’t have associated with her at all, and therefore would be surrounded by girls by now.

“Hey, Bunny! Smile!” Kaburagi threw her arm around the blonde’s neck and shoved her phone’s camera in her face. Only lightning fast smile reflexes kept him from looking like a dork. The shutter went off and the girl backed away.

“What was that for?”

“We were doing something fun and I thought I should take a picture of it ‘cuz it’ll probably never happen again.” She clicked a few buttons and showed Barnaby the picture. They actually looked like they were friends. Which they weren’t. “And now I have a picture of the fabulous Bunny Brooks Jr. to make all the other girls jealous!” The brunette cackled as Barnaby pulled his signature eyebrow lift. He scanned the mall again when she didn’t look up from her phone. He flipped his curls as he caught another girl staring at him and placed a coy smile on his face.

“Sorry, Antonio texted me. Hey, can we go somewhere?” Kaburagi poked Barnaby to get his attention. “Do you have to flip your hair at every girl you see? Doesn’t you neck get tired?”

“No,” he replied honestly. “Where could you possibly want to go? It better not be a strip club.”

“What do you take me for, a slut? Don’t answer that.” She pointed a finger at him as she finished off her second hotdog. After she swallowed, Kaburagi continued where she left off. “I wanted to see the Fortress Tower. It’s been open for a few days now and Nathan told me the observation deck at the top as a spectacular view of the city. He says it’ll become one of the most romantic spots in the city.”

“Romantic? Are you trying to turn this into a date?” Barnaby gave the girl a sideways glance as he finished his hotdog as well.

“No! I wanted to go there before it turns romantic!”

“If you say so.” Barnaby stood and offered his hand to his partner.

She took it and pulled herself up while yanking down her black skirt. “You’re glasses are crooked.” She reached up to fix them herself, her fingers resting gently on his frames. Barnaby held down a blush as her face came within inches of his own. Once the glasses were straightened to her satisfaction, they both grabbed their bags and Kaburagi waved to Rocky the hotdog guy as they left the mall. One short bus ride later and they were both standing at the bottom of the massive building known as the Fortress Tower. It reminded Barnaby of the Eifel Tower, with the way the building was structured wider at the bottom than the top. The observation deck on the top of the building looked like a bulging marshmallow had been skewered on a campfire stick. Kaburagi grabbed Barnaby’s hand and pulled him behind her as she ran into the skyscraper. He shied away from her touch the second she loosened her grip.

“Wow! Look at this place!” The building was still full of visitors this time in the evening. Little crowds were all over the place on the green tiled floor and Tetsuko had run over to a huge statue of Lady Justice. She whipped out her phone and took a picture.

“Why do you need pictures of everything?” Barnaby asked as she walked up to her.

“Because I want to remember everything.”

“If something’s worthwhile won’t you remember it anyway? I find pictures and souvenirs to be tedious and meaningless mementos that convey nothing of the experience they’re supposed to represent.” The teen stated, his voice gaining a hard edge. Barnaby had always lived by that conviction, owning very few possessions besides his necessities: only his laptop, a family portrait and a toy robot he’d gotten from his parents.

“Ooo, looks like Bunny got out his dictionary again!”

“Shut up and come on. Didn’t you want to go to the observation deck?”

“Yeah.” Barnaby led his partner over to the elevators and pressed the call button. The car took forever to come down. Kaburagi ever resorted to pushing the call button as fast as she could in her anxious mood.

“Maybe it’s broken?” Kaburagi ventured. The pair almost left when finally the door dinged open. A tall black man exited the elevator in a blue workman’s outfit and cap. He also carried a red tool box in his hand and walked away without a word.

“Hey! Is it okay to get on?” Kaburagi called after the man.

“Yeah, I just fixed it.” The man’s low voice replied. He turned to look the girl in the eye.

“Fixed it? It thought this place was brand-new.”

“It wasn’t anything big. I was just greasing the cables.” He walked away and Barnaby entered the car.

“I’m waiting.” He called to Kaburagi who was still watching the workman.

“Are you sure it’s safe?” She leaned in and tucked her arm behind her head, mussing up her spiky hair.

“Just get on.” Barnaby let the elevator music fill the silence as he straightened his leather jacket. The ride was short and uneventful, and Barnaby found out that the observation deck wasn’t just for gazing at the city; it was also an expensive restaurant as well. He directed his companion over to the windows without tables in front of them and looked out over the Gold Stage.

“Nathan’s right, this place is great!” Barnaby had to stop Kaburagi from sticking her hands on the glass and started asking her about the buildings they were looking at.

“What’s that one?” He pointed to another skyscraper across from them.

“How should I know? It’s a building.”

“Don’t you live in this city? Why don’t you know these things?”

“You’re the one who lives in the Gold Stage so you should know!” Barnaby shook his at her and pinched the bridge of his nose. They looked out the windows for half an hour before Barnaby started getting bored. He glanced around and was about to start his flirt-with-the-girl-halfway-across-the-room routine when an alarm went off.

“Attention all visitors,” the P.A. intoned, “the building’s security alarm has been activated.”

“Great.” Kaburagi huffed.

“Remain calm and await instructions from our security personnel.” The rest of the announcement was drowned out by men in green uniforms asking everyone to evacuate. Barnaby spotted two officers whispering to each other and snuck his was over to listen in on their conversation.

“We’ve got a bomb threat,” one said.

“Where’s the bomb?” The other asked.

“We haven’t found it yet.”

“Were there any demands made by the perpetrator?”

“No, but it could just be a prank.” Barnaby’s adrenaline began pumping in fear as he made his way back to Kaburagi and told her what was going on. She was silent for a moment, fear evident in her eyes as well. Then they got wider in shock.

“I’ll be right back!” She started to dash off but Barnaby grabbed her arm at the last second.

“Where the hell are you going?” He hissed.

“I’ve got to check something out!” She broke away and ran around the dome. He admired her for sprinting in her ridiculous heels. Barnaby followed her and barely escaped being herded towards the stairs by the security guards. He’d lost the girl in the confusion but crouched behind a huge vase of flowers near the elevators completely hidden by its shadow. Then gunshots rang out. Barnaby ducked down even further in the shadows as men in black clothes and masks stormed into the hallway. There had to be at least a dozen of them.

“Everybody down on the ground! We’ve got a bomb hidden in this building and we will blow it up with all of you in here if you don’t cooperate with us!” One of the men shouted and shot off a machine gun round. The terrorists were all in the restaurant area with the visitors and guards. They’ve probably blocked all the exits down to the lower floors like the stairs, Barnaby reasoned. But why aren’t they stationed by the elevators?

“Take out all your wallets, money and give us all your precious jewelry and no one gets hurt!” Another man shouted.

“All guns out! Kick them over to me and no funny business or you’re all gonna be full of lead!” Barnaby heard the metal of the guns hit the ground and slid across the flood. Old lady where are you? Barnaby glanced around nervously, trying to find Kaburagi without giving himself away. He sweated for a few minutes, his irritation at the old lady for leaving him, his desire to get out of there, his need to at least try and help the situation and fear of being caught roiling around in his stomach as he hid. He crouched further behind the flowers, until he heard a soft thump and quite footsteps. Kaburagi in her bright green attire crept out from the elevator room and Barnaby grabbed her waist and yanked her into his hiding place as she passed him. He clapped his hand over the mouth before she could shout and give them away.

“Where the hell did you go?” He was beyond pissed at her. She threw his hand off of her face and glared at him.

“I found the bomb, idiot! Where are the attackers?” She whispered low enough that Barnaby had to lean in close to hear her.

“In the restaurant area. Where is the bomb? How did you find it?”

“It was weird that they were still working on the elevator in a new building. So I checked the car we were in. It wasn’t in there but then I saw the maintenance door on the ceiling and climbed up. Hell, it was hard to do that in a skirt! The bomb’s on top of the elevator.” She crouched next to him and looked around for anyone coming. “Come on, we’ve got to get out of here.”

“No! Take me to the bomb!”

“Are you out of your fucking mind? We’ve got to get those people out of here!” Always thinking of others.

“No, I can disarm the bomb and then the biggest threat the attackers have is gone. All the authorities have to do is get the guns away from the terrorists and get everyone out.”

“You can seriously disarm a fucking bomb?” She gave him an incredulous look, “What messed you up as a kid to teach yourself how to do that?”

“My parents were robotic engineers so I read engineering manuals and texts when I was young.”

“That’s no childhood!” I didn’t really have a childhood to begin with. “Come on then!” Kaburagi crawled out when the coast was clear, the terrified noises of the hostages were silenced by more gunshots. Barnaby noticed she’d ditched the Oxford heels and was walking around in her stockings. He also noticed rips in her skirt that she didn’t have before. She silently led him down the hall and around the corner to the elevator she propped open. Inside looked the same as when they’d rode up in it, except the hatch that was dangling open. Kaburagi was about to jump up when she stopped.

“What’s the hold up? Get moving!” Barnaby seethed with impatience and terror.

“I kinda ripped my skirt on the way up the first time!” She backed away holding the hem down. Barnaby took a look at the piece of clothing and saw that she’d tied one of the slits back together at the waist and the other looked ready to fall apart. The shirt was almost short enough to almost show the cleft in between her legs. “Don’t look! I don’t want you seeing my underwear again!”

“Now is not the time to be worrying about this! Come on!” Even his low, quiet voice sounded poisonous. Barnaby put his hands around her waist and hoisted the girl up to the hatch. She suppressed a squeal and grabbed the ledge. She kneed Barnaby in the face as she shimmied up.

“Ow!” He hissed as he peeked at her black thong, butt cheeks in full view.

“Sorry!” She whispered down and reached down her hand to pull the blond up. Once up, Barnaby pulled the hatch closed so no one knew that they were up there took a look around the elevator shaft. Sitting in the corner was the biggest bomb he had ever seen. Tetsuko’s shoes were thrown next to it haphazardly. Cylinder shaped and almost a foot tall, the bomb was counting down from nine minutes in bright blue digital numbers. Barnaby froze for a moment, letting terror consume him before roughly pushing it down and kneeling next to the device. Kaburagi joined him, her breathing quick and shallow with fear.

“How did you know it was here?” He softly put his hands on the bomb.

“It was weird that they were still doing work on a brand-new building. And that workman was so clean he couldn’t have been greasing cables all day.”

“I see you schooling did actually teach you something.” Barnaby joked flatly as he reached into his cargo pants for his pocket knife.

“Hey, just because I got held back does not mean I’m completely retarded!” Her voice rose with her temper.

“Sh! Keep your voice down!”

“Sorry.” The girl looked at him nervously, “So, you got a plan?”

“Yeah, be careful. You’re lucky you didn’t set it off when you barged in here. And don’t throw your shoes next to explosive devices.” He handed the brunette her shoes and she just clutched them to her chest like they were her lifeline. He took out the screwdriver piece of his knife and set to work taking off the exterior shell. Kaburagi watched him intently, not moving an inch.

“What are you doing?”

“Sitting here, what do you think?”

“Why don’t you get out of here, I can handle this by myself.”

“I’m not gonna ditch you. What kind of jerk do you think I am? Don’t answer that one either.”

“Anyway, that’s touching but if I were in your place, I’d ditch me.” Barnaby turned back to his work and removed the outer panel, revealing a mess of wires that instantly brought images of bomb schematics into his brain.

“Yeah, well, I’m not you, okay? And don’t get the idea that I like you because we’ve only known each other for a few days and we get on each other’s nerves and piss each other off too much for that. But, I’ve got standards too, ya know, and I’m not leaving you here alone when I can help.”

“I know how you can help.”

“How?”

“By shutting up.”

“Bossy Bunny.”

Barnaby dismantled the whole front of the bomb and got to work on the wiring, recalling past instructions he’d memorized from his readings. We’ll be okay as long as the criminals don’t set off the bomb. Then we’re all dead. Minutes ticked by as he worked. The screwdriver went away and the cutters came out as the blond wiped the sweat from his brow. His hair kept on getting in his way as he brushed it angrily behind his ears.

“Here,” fingers were combing through his curls and pulling them back into a hair band. Barnaby shuttered as Kaburagi’s cool breath broke the heat on his skin. “What kind of girl doesn’t have a hair band in her arsenal of tricks?” She joked, easing the tension in the air just a bit. She backed away and the boy was grateful not to have to worry about his hair anymore. Her fingers on his scalp were also a bonus. A ripping noise cut through the air as Barnaby glanced up at his partner. She held out a piece of her shirt sleeve to him. “It’s hot in here, and you’re sweating like a pig and I don’t want you to ruin your precious jacket.” The girl smirked as he took the cloth and wiped his face.

“Then you won’t mind holding it.” The boy quickly slung it off and tossed it to the girl. She caught it and hugged it to her chest instead of her shoes. I’d like to get held to that chest. Barnaby thought suddenly. He yanked his thoughts back to the device in front of him. This is no time to be thinking about breasts. Focus. Six minutes left. He began cutting wires carefully.

Five minutes.

Four.

Three.

By two minutes he’d disconnected the conductor and explained to Kaburagi about the trap. He’d narrowed the wires down to the one above the detonator and the one below it. If he cut the wrong one, it would all be over.

“This is so cliché! If you cut the right one we’re safe, but the wrong one we’ll KABOOM!” Her sound effects weren’t helping the situation.

“Yeah so now I have to cut the one that’ll defuse the bomb.”

“Well, cut it already!”

“If I knew which one it was I would have!”

“Well, arguing isn’t getting us the hell anywhere! Cut the top one!” Kaburagi pointed to the upper wire.

“Why?”

“’Cuz my gut says so and it’s got a pretty good record!”

“As if!”

“Well then, Mr. Logic: which one’s the right one?”

“I’m trying to figure that out!”

“Well cut one of them! Hurry up!”

And alarm went off on the bomb as they were arguing. Both teens gasped in shock as the countdown display flashed red with each passing second. 30…29…28…

“The bottom? Or top?” Barnaby spoke to himself, his trembling hand going back and forth between to the two wires. 13…12…11…10…

“Go high! Now!” Kaburagi commanded. Barnaby gasped and cut a wire, squeezing his eyes shut.

“Are we dead?” Barnaby’s eyes opened into the dim elevator shaft and a Tetsuko with her hands plastered over her face. She was trembling uncontrollably as she kneeled on the floor.

“No, we’re not dead.” Tetsuko opened her big golden eyes and stared at Barnaby in awe. She crawled over him to peek at the disarmed bomb.

“Which on did you cut?” She smiled as she spotted the broken top wire.

“Ha! You listened to me!”

“If you’d been wrong I’d have haunted you for eternity and given you hell for it.” All of a sudden Barnaby was pinned under the girl’s body with her lips crushed against his. All he felt was her warmth and soft flesh as she pressed close to him. Barnaby kissed back, just happy to be alive and slipped his tongue into her hot mouth. They dueled for dominance, as his arms wrapped around her back and cradled her head, fingers twisting into her hair. Tetsuko’s arms tightened around his neck and Barnaby’s leg slipped in between hers to pull her lower body even closer. She gasped into his mouth when the blond ground against her hips. She disengaged their lips with a pop.

“Whoa, slow down there, Bunny. We’ve still got a hot situation downstairs.” She panted against his face, clearly turned on as well.

“A hot situation indeed.” He smirked at the innuendo.

“Oh, don’t tell me you got turned on from that!” She tried to climb off but Barnaby didn’t let her and held her close a moment longer.

“How could I not. You jumped me!”

“Did not!”

“Did too!”

“Well, cool it then ‘cuz we still have to get out of here in one piece.” Barnaby let it slide that she felt just a hot and bothered as he was. I’ll tease her about it later. The blonde finally let her go and grabbed his jacket, the situation banishing all thoughts of having Tetsuko on top of him again.

“I wonder why they haven’t realized the bomb didn’t go off.” The girl asked as she lifted the hatch ever so slightly to take a peek outside.

“They probably thought they had more time or they’ve left the building already.” Barnaby joined her by the hatch. He could still hear the men collecting their spoils from the frightened hostages. “Idiots. They can’t even keep track of time. They’d been blown up by now too if I hadn’t disarmed the bomb.”

“Well, idiots can’t be that hard to beat. Jake Martinez’s goons seem more capable that these bozos.”

“Then they shouldn’t be a problem for you, considering I had to save you last time, old lady.” Barnaby poked.

“For a bunny, you’re not so cute.”

“I wasn’t trying to be.” Barnaby retorted. “And don’t call me Bunny.”

“Yeah well, they outnumbered me that time.”

“We’re outnumbered now.”

“Yeah, but there’s two of us. Soon to be more.” She reached into her shirt and dug around her breasts.

“What are you doing?” Barnaby blushed as Kaburagi fished out her cell phone.

“You know, you shouldn’t be embarrassed. Girl’s had the original breast pockets, not men.” She dialed 911 and told the operator the situation. Kaburagi got patched through to the police on the scene down stairs.

“The bomb has been disarmed and the criminals are on the top floor robbing the hostages,” she whispered. “There are about fifteen men from what my friend saw and they all have guns. The security guards don’t have any weapons at this point. The whole group is in the restaurant area.” She paused and listened to the officer on the other end of the line. “Okay.” She hung up.

“What now?”

“Well, he told me to say here with you and not to move, but I think those people downstairs need our help, don’t you think?” She gave him a wild grin and she started climbing down in her racy outfit.

“You’re crazy, but I can’t think of anything else more boring than sitting up here. If nothing else, at least I get the glory for stopping the bomb.”

“Always thinking of yourself.” Tetsuko dropped softly to the floor, shoes in hand.

“Of course.” Barnaby joined her as they crept out of the elevator and hid being yet another vase of flowers.

When the first masked man passed by their vase of flowers he was knocked to the ground by Barnaby’s fancy footwork and incapacitated by Kaburagi’s furious fists. Barnaby took the machine gun and Kaburagi whined about how she was stuck with the guy’s pistol. The blond told her to shut up and they crept down the hallway silently. Barnaby almost laughed at his partner when he saw the pistol in one hand and her shoes gripped tightly in the other.

“Hey, heels make good weapons!” She hissed at him. They split up onto different sides of the hallway and hid behind pillars when they heard voices. Two guys were walking down the hall toward the elevators, probably going to check the bomb. The pair leaped out at the same time when the black-clad men passed their hiding spots. Barnaby’s guy got silenced when he clubbed his head with the butt of his gun. Tetsuko’s got a face full of boobs and a crack on the head with her Oxford heels. Both went down silently. The shoes weren’t even damaged.

“See?” Kaburagi held up her heels and twirled them around her finger by the straps.

“I will never doubt heels again.”

“Only twelve left. I’m beginning to like our odds.” Tetsuko chuckled quietly as they both grabbed the guns and strapped them across their backs. They began moving down the hallway again. “I feel so badass!”

“Don’t get too excited. The rest are all in a pack.” Barnaby passed a fire extinguisher and unhooked it from the wall with one hand, the other still holding his gun.

“What’s that for?”

“Diversion. It’ll also make a decent smoke screen.”

“Smart.”

“I know I am.”

“Shut up.”

They reached the entrance to the restaurant and carefully peeked into the room. The robbers all looked nervous, their hands all twitching against their guns. The hostages were all on the floor, a few people were silently crying.

“Where are they? Finding out what was wrong with the bomb shouldn’t take this long!” The leader growled at an underling.

“I don’t know, sir. Should we send someone else down?” The underling was trembling under the glare of his boss.

“No, I can’t waste anyone else. We need to get out of here. Take some of the women and children; we’ll use them as shields.” Barnaby couldn’t let them do that. He unhooked the fire extinguishers hose and turned it on as he chucked it at the nearest goon’s head.

“Gah!” The metal clanged against his skull and Kaburagi was in motion the second the entrance was obscured. She chucked a few of her guns at the prone security guards who instantly reacted and snatched them up. The whole room went straight to hell. Barnaby lost sight of his companion as he fought his way through the robbers. Gun shots rang out and the screams and shouts of robber and hostages alike obscured all other noise. Barnaby swung his gun into one goon’s face and kicked his feet out from under him before knocking him out. Strong hands wrapped around his neck and yanked him back. He gasped and struggled to breathe as his feet kicked the man behind him. A sharp crack let Barnaby fall to the floor as the goon collapsed next to his buddy. One of the guards had saved him. He swallowed tenderly and nodded his thanks. The security guard kept watch on Barnaby’s back as he did the same. The smoke in the room made it hard for anyone to see anything, but the civilians had all backed into the corner by the stairs and were escaping. A bullet whizzed by Barnaby’s head as he dodged and attacked the man who fired at him. The goon got in a punch or two before Barnaby put out his lights. All of a sudden a single voice could be heard above the roar of the fight.

“FUCK!” Tetsuko! “That was my leg, you asshole! And you give that back, pervert! I have to wear that to not get ticketed for indecency again!” Her form came into view as the smoke began to dissipate. Someone had broken one of the windows and it was letting in the cool night air. Barnaby saw Kaburagi’s skirt in the hand of the leader of the robbers, leaving the girl in only her black thong. Her lip was bleeding, her shirt torn up; vest missing and she had a bullet wound in her right leg. Barnaby took a step towards her when the leader grabbed the Japanese girl by the throat.

“Nobody move or she dies!” The whole room fell silent. Barnaby prayed that the hostages were out and the police on their way up, or else the girl might asphyxiate to death. Kaburagi’s hands scrabbled for purchase on the hand cutting off her air ways and settled on his forearm in a white knuckled grip. She kicked at the goon with her stocking-clad legs, but it didn’t seem to have an effect on him. Her face was turning purple and blue as she gasped for air. Kaburagi caught Barnaby’s eyes and pleaded for help. He nodded slowly and counted down with his fingers. 3…2…1…Tetsuko swung her body up in a last-ditch effort and kicked the terrorist in the face. Off balance and stumbling, the robber was in the perfect position for Barnaby to dash across the room and crouch to sweep his left leg right under his body. The criminal landed on his back with a thud and let go of his hostage. Tetsuko fell right into Barnaby’s awaiting arms as they crashed to the floor. Her blue face slowly regained color as the authorities rushed into the room and surrounded the perpetrators. Perfect timing, Barnaby noted. The girl in his arms hacked, coughed and gasped for air as Barnaby held her safely on the ground.

“Thanks,” she croaked out when she could speak.

“No problem, but as I said before, I won’t always be there to catch you.” He brushed some of her hair out of her face so it wouldn’t get caught in her mouth.

“But for now,” cough, “you make a pretty,” cough, cough, “good landing pad.” She smiled weakly up at him.

“I’m not going anywhere with you anymore, all you do is cause trouble.”

“Aw,” she whined, getting her voice back. “And I thought we had something besides mutual hate going on here.”

“Let’s get that leg looked at.” Barnaby said, avoiding further conversations. He cradled the injured girl in his arms and slowly stood up.

“Could you grab my skirt? My butt’s showing.” Tetsuko pointed in the direction of her handcuffed would-be murderer.

“Nobody cares about that now.”

“I do! Now go get it!” Barnaby did as he was told and grabbed her skirt to she could drape it over her hips. Medical personnel were looking after the wounded and Barnaby took his partner over to one of them. Then he had to hold Kaburagi down so the man could remove the bullet with tweezers. Kaburagi grit her teeth and only yelped once as the metal projectile was removed from her thigh. The doctor bandaged up both teens. Barnaby had a compress around his next for his bruises and a bandage over her lip to stop the bleeding. Kaburagi was in a much worse state with her bullet wound; severe bruising on her throat and deep cuts all over her body. She said, “One of those assholes had a damn knife.”

Barnaby had to half carry her down to the ground floor when they were allowed to leave. Questioned out of their minds for the police records, the men in blue were impressed by their teamwork and Barnaby’s skills with bombs but disappointed that they had disobeyed orders and not stayed on top of the elevator. Both their families had been contacted and were on their way. By the time the duo made it out of the building Barnaby was exhausted and almost dropped Kaburagi as a result. She was too tired to even complain about it. When they walked out of the building, the first person Barnaby recognized was Ms. Agnes running towards them with her crew trailing behind with the cameras.

“What did I tell you about getting into trouble?” She yelled at the girl hanging off of Barnaby’s body.

“To not drag Bunny into it.” She replied grumpily.

“Correct, but I have to admit your foolishness is golden news reporting! The second we heard about the bomb threat we drove straight back to get footage of the scene. Low and behold, I find out that you two are inside and Barnaby disarmed the bomb! Fantastic stuff!”

“How’d you know it was me?”

“I eavesdropped on the police scanner when they got your call, Kaburagi.”

“Typical, Joubert.”

“You betcha! You’ll be famous for this, Barnaby!”

“What about me?” Kaburagi’s question went unheard as Agnes pressed the blond for details. He retold the whole incident for the third time and was glad when his uncle Maverick showed up in a private car to take him home. The stocky man had a huge mole on his face and wore a butterfly neck tie with his suit and glasses. He greeted Ms. Joubert and her crew and asked after Barnaby’s welfare. Barnaby was ready to go home and sleep, but he didn’t want to leave Tetsuko alone in the mess that was the courtyard of the Fortress Tower. She was leaning heavily on his shoulder, practically dead on her feet, but she perked up when shouts of “Tetsuko!” broke through the crowd.

“Kaa-san! ’Masa!” The Japanese girl lurched towards her family as they ran up to her. Muramasa reached her first and took his sister from Barnaby’s arms. He was taller than his sibling, with the same tan skin but darker eyes and hair. Their mother reached them a few moments later. Mrs. Kaburagi was an attractive older woman with a few wrinkles here and there, pale skin that contrasted with her children’s and deep brown eyes filled with tears. They spoke softly in Japanese and hugged each other. It was the first time Barnaby had seen Tetsuko cry. And then the blond started tearing up himself when he saw how much they all loved each other, but he quickly wiped those tears away.

“I think it’s time I took Barnaby home.” Maverick’s hand descended on his shoulder, anchoring the boy with reality. He nodded at his guardian and went to say goodbye to his fellow student who was headed to the hospital to have her wound stitched up properly.

“I blame you.” He stated as the Kaburagis looked at him.

“All because I wanted to see the view.” Tetsuko laughed dryly.

“In the most romantic spot in Sternbild.” He threw back.

“Hey, it’s not romantic yet.” She quipped.

“And yet you still managed to break it.”

“It wasn’t my fault this time!”

“Whatever.”

“Yeah, whatever.” She let the argument drop for once as Maverick led him away to the car. Barnaby thought about the night and realized that where was more to her than met the eye. And maybe she’d seen something in him that he hadn’t noticed yet, because she had been determined to stick to his side that evening instead of leaving him when she had the chance. And then the heated kiss popped into his head and he blushed as he leaned toward the window to watch the city pass by. It was a good kiss, he decided. Maybe I can get another sometime. He drifted off to sleep, exhausted and deeply dreamed of golden eyes and black miniskirts.

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