High School Never Ends

Chapter Four: New Suit, New Suprises

They were famous. Well, Bunny was more famous than Tetskuo, but she was okay with that. Ms. Agnes hadn’t slept all weekend because she wanted all the bomb incident footage mixed for the show and the school let her air it on Monday instead of Wednesday. The student body ate it up like sharks in frenzy. I’ll let the kid have the spotlight, Tomoe. He actually deserves it this time. Tetsuko glanced at her promise ring and smiled sadly. She then looked up to scan the school yard. Under the shade of yet another tree she had the perfect view of Bunny being Bunny with a bunch of girls. He thrives off this stuff, I tell you. Bunny wrapped his arms around two female students and flashed his winning smile as the other girl holding the camera took the picture. Ivan was totally hiding in the background. And he thrives off of photo bombs. Seriously Tomoe, he needs to get into the crowd once in a while.

Tetsuko thought about the conversation the two partners had earlier about how she wasn’t supposed to touch Bunny’s phone because it was not appreciated. Just thinking about how miffed he was made her laugh. She carefully rolled out her neck; the weekend’s injuries were still plaguing her. The bruises on her neck were beginning to heal and most of her cuts were gone by this point. It was her bullet wound that was giving her trouble. The hospital had given her a crutch to walk on but after two days of falling over more than usual because of her lack of coordination with one leg, she’d chucked the thing out of an open window. ‘Masa went outside and grabbed it for her. It was only Wednesday and she wanted to bludgeon herself to death with the thing so she didn’t have to use it anymore. The wound just kept hurting, damn it! It’s a good thing the bullet didn’t hit anything important, Tomoe. It just really got caught on the side of my thigh muscle, so I don’t see the big deal about me using a crutch. It’s fortunate my body’s really good at healing or else it could be a lot worse, ya know? The doctor who stitched her up said she’d be fine to walk on her own in two weeks and the girl had been marking off the days on her calendar with vigor. Only nine more days, Tomoe, and then I can chuck this thing out the window again.

It was the lunch period and Tetsuko was lounging with Karina outside, listening to her practice for the choir club. She had a solo performance coming up and the blonde was having a hard time sustaining some of the high notes for long periods of time. Tetsuko promised her that every time she succeeded, she’d toss her a quarter. The brunette had lost two bucks so far.

Keith and Nathan ended up joining them. They tried to swipe Tetsuko’s quarters so she had to fend them off with her crutch and shoved the money into her right skirt pocket (the leg that no one would touch) and grabbed her lunch for today: fried rice. It was the only thing she felt like eating and the grains were small enough to swallow without straining her throat. She chucked a spoonful of rice at Nathan when his hand wandered down to Keith’s butt and then continued eating as if nothing had happened. Ten minutes later Bunny joined the group, voluntarily this time.

“Oh, what a surprise! That star has decided to grace us with his presence.” Tetsuko patted the ground next to her and Karina for the blond to sit down.

“Don’t get too excited because I came to tell you not to litter.” He eyed the scattered rice grains as she sat down.

“Yeah, yeah. Wake me up when your lecture’s over.” She cocked her head back and faked snoring which got the group to laugh. Except Bunny, of course.

“I also see that you decided to wear the school uniform correctly for once.” Tetsuko had buttoned up her blouse to as high up as the buttons went and pulled her skirt as far down as it would go. She didn’t wear her tie because it irritated her neck, but no matter what she did, the bruises still showed and her leg bandages peeked out from under her skirt.

“My injuries aren’t as flattering as yours are, eh?” His own bruises were almost gone and his lip wasn’t swollen anymore.

“That’s because you’re too reckless.” He pointed out, running a hand through his hair.

“I’ll have you know that when people are in trouble I don’t-GAH!” Tetsuko yelped as Karina leapt at her. The blonde girl pounced on her boobs and squeezed the soft globes of flesh in her hot little hands. “What are you doing?” The Japanese girl struggled under the younger female.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for forever!” She squealed gleefully, squeezing the brunette’s breasts multiple times. “They really do feel as good as they look,” she methodically felt every curve like she was studying a new species. “And you don’t even pad them or anything!” Tetsuko’s hands zipped up to Karina’s and tried to pry them off, but she only held on tighter.

“Ow! That hurts!” Tetsuko was blushing beet red as she glanced around at their company. Ivan (who had snuck over at some point) was blushing worse than she was and ducked into his bush the instant Tetsuko made eye contact. Keith had plastered a fake smile to his face and slapped his hands over his eyes, so not to see anything. He looked liked one of those “see no evil” monkey statues, minus the tail. Nathan was alternating between girlish cackles and trying to get in on the action, his dark eyes alight with fire. He “ooooed” in his falsetto voice and vaulted over toward the two girls but Karina pulled Tetsuko clear of him by her boobs, rolling under the older student in the process.

“OW!” Tetsuko shouted. It went ignored.

“You can have your turn next, drag queen! It’s my turn now!”

“Party pooper! There are two of them! Share!”

The roll had put Tetsuko and Karina right into Bunny’s space and he was stuttering as he tried to get words out of his mouth. Probably something about appropriate conduct on school grounds, but he was too busy lisping and trying to keep from staring at the girl’s rolling around on the ground to actually say anything coherent. He can’t hide anything in that blush-ow! Damn you Karina!

“Do you have a special diet to make you chest bigger?” Karina started questioning the girl for the thousandth time about her breasts. “I read that when women lose weight it goes from their breasts first. It that true?”

“She wouldn’t know, because the old lady only eats fattening foods.” Bunny got his tongue working again but was still blushing furiously as he scooted out of the way of the struggling girls.

“Quit calling me fat and help me, Bunny!” Tetsuko managed to get one knee tucked up near her chest to put a barrier between their bodies. The only problem was she’d used her right knee and the girl could feel the stitches in her wound straining.

“So seriously, is this,” boob squeeze, “all genetics or did you eat something to make them grow so big and full? Because I’ve seen girls who are apparently a DD but their breasts have no volume, just the distance from their ribs.” Karina used one of her fingers to poke her captive’s breast right in the center. A zing shot up the teen’s spine that made her entirely too hot and uncomfortable.

“Don’t touch that! It’s sensitive!” That certainly turned some heads in the school yard. Bunny’s nose actually started bleeding, Ivan was nowhere to be seen (probably under a rock, like Tetsuko wanted to be), Keith hadn’t moved an inch, and Nathan was laughing so hard he had to hold his stomach.

“This is turning into porn!” Nathan exclaimed loudly, saying what no one else would.

“Karina, get off me now.” Tetsuko’s voice was so low and dangerous that the blonde paused in her chest rape. Actually scared of her friend for a moment, she stared in shock at the fierce glare and bared teeth Tetsuko was showing. The Japanese girl took the opportunity to unlatch her frozen hands and throw the other girl off. She then leapt up and ran as fast as her hindered leg let her. Her thigh screamed in pain as she quickly limped around to the back of the school building. Once out of sight her leg decided it had had enough of the pain bullshit the girl had put it through and gave her an extra special dose of hurt as it collapsed under her. Hitting the grass hard, Tetsuko cried out, barely catching her upper body with her hands. She crawled over to the school’s shadowed wall and pulled herself into a sitting position. The girl hissed as she checked her thigh. Blood had seeped through the bandages.

“Damn,” she whispered roughly, voice coated in pain as she dropped her skirt on her lap. She smoothed her wrinkled blouse and rubbed her tender chest. “Girl’s got a good grip.” She caught her breath after her escape (cursing Karina) and heard the harsh voice of Yuri Petrov lecturing the younger girl about proper behavior. Tetsuko laughed at her, not caring that it was mean.

“I know I said I’d never run away from my problems, Tomoe, but that ball buster is an exception.”

“Who’s Tomoe?” Bunny surprised Tetsuko as she whipped her head around to look at him. Her neck flared up in irritation.

“Ouch.” She rubbed her aching muscles gently.

“That looked like it hurt,” the blonde stated. He toted her bag and crutch in his hands as he sat down next to her again.

“It did. Thanks.” She took both items Bunny held out to her and set them on the ground. “You were no help,” she accused.

“I don’t fight battles I don’t have a plan for.”

“You were too busy enjoying the show, that’s why.” She hoped that Bunny didn’t bring up Tomoe again. No such luck.

“Who’s Tomoe, old lady?” Tetsuko growled at the nickname.

“He’s a guy I met in middle school. He hung out with me and ‘Tonio a lot and we dated for a while.” The short version’s better, no need to open up a can of emotional mess.

“Did he graduate already?” Sort of, Tetsuko sighed.

“No, he died two and a half years ago of cancer.” There was the sharp pain in her chest again, only this time it wasn’t caused by Karina’s hand.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” He actually looked sympathetic, like he’d experienced something similar as well.

“Aw, hell,” Tetsuko slipped her hand behind her head and forced a smile on her face. “No need to drag up the past, Sleeping dogs and all. We loved each other, that’s all.” Bunny looked like he knew that she knew that he knew that she was downplaying everything she was saying.

“Is that why you wear that ring every day?” He gestured to the silver band around her ring finger. Tetsuko hadn’t thought he’d noticed. I shouldn’t be surprised, nothing much gets past Bunny.

“Yep, he made me promise to keep helping people if I could.” The bell ringing the end of lunch kept the boy from answering.

“Come on, old lady. Let me help you up.” Bunny stood and grabbed the crutch from the ground. He pulled Tetsuko up gently as she got situated on her left leg. She tucked the crutch under her right arm and took her bag from Bunny.

“Thanks.” She started hobbling away when she tripped clumsily. Strong hands caught her waist and held her steady, the same strong hands that had roamed all over her back during their heated kiss. I wonder if he thinks about that kiss as much as I do. It was kind of nice.

“Don’t break your hip, old timer,” he teased in her ear.

“Oh, zip it!” Tetsuko’s fiery personality returned in full force as she yanked herself away from the boy. Why did I ever kiss him? She wondered if it was just elation at not getting blown up, sheer stupidity or if she really feel something for the brat. Tomoe, she started her mental one-sided conversation again, I don’t think I’m ready for any serious relationships and certainly not with that bastard. I haven’t thought about anyone except you for years. So why now? She realized that Bunny had been following her into the building the whole time.

“You’re thinking about something. It doesn’t look good on your face.” The blond stated nonchalantly. Tetsuko tripped him with her crutch.

“Think on that, brat!” She waved her crutch back at the boy sprawled on the floor and started away as fast as she could into the busy hallway.

The next week after that, Ben finally let her come back to work. He called it “forced vacation,’ she called it “punishment” but he wouldn’t let her work as long as she was on a crutch. The second she didn’t need it, out the window it went. Bunny had taken over her section and was gaining popularity like a tidal wave. He even put up a fight for the monthly challenge, which Dragon Kid was poised to win. If the middle-school student won she was going to have the crew buy her a new punching bag and pads for her kung fu training. When Tetsuko limped into Hero’s Bar that first Monday she got back, she was greeted by six costumed teenagers and one tank-like man.

“Antonio!” She broke into a stumbling run and tackled her best friend in a flying hug.

“Hey there, ‘Suko!” The Spaniard laughed in his deep, warm voice. He wrapped his burly arms around her torso and swung her around a few time before setting the girl on the ground. He still sported the slicked back hair, red V-neck and leather jacket her wore in high school. Tetsuko also noticed he wore the beat up boots she’d bullied him into buying years ago under his jeans. And then she punched him in the arm really hard.

“Ow!”

“Why didn’t you text me two days ago?” I’ve been trying to reach you forever!” She crossed her arms and glared up at one of the few men taller than her.

“I crushed my phone,” he stated, “so I couldn’t text you back, obviously.”

“How did you do that?”

“I sat on it.”

“You’re butt broke your phone?” Tetsuko roared with laughter as she slapped the huge man on the back. “You’re worse than me sometimes!”

“No, you will always be worse,” he shot back.

“Agreed.” A whole chorus affirmed the comment.

“You all suck.” The heroes laughed at her.

As they chatted for a few minutes before the restaurant opened, Tetsuko finally got a good look at Bunny’s suit. Nathan’s phone didn’t do it justice, but he still sort of looked like a robot with the black under suit and hard outer shell covering his body in red and white. The helmet was smooth like and egg and had blue eyes and a visor that Bunny had up at the moment. The helmet didn’t look quite right to the girl, it needed something else. But what? She didn’t know what was bugging her about it. She looked at the blond again, holding the helmet issue on her back burner. It took Tetsuko a moment for figure out what was different about the boy. Curls, check. Deathly white skin, check. Cocky Bastard smirk, check. Dorky glasses…not check. How can he see anything? Is he wearing contacts? The girl was about to ask Bunny about that when Ben’s voice called her into his office. She knew what was coming and it deflated her good mood. She left Antonio fighting for his butt as Fire Emblem clung to him and walked as steadily as she could.

Ben’s office was a simple affair with a desk for him, a filing cabinet for official documents and business affairs and pictures hung on the wall of heroes that had worked at the bar over the years. The man was sitting at his desk and gestured for Tetsuko to take a seat, pulling out a shipping box that was still taped up. Her stomach dropped just seeing the disaster that was about to happen. She sat carefully in one of the two chairs looked up at her boss.

“It’s good to have you back Tetsuko.”

“It’s good to be back. I just about went stir crazy this last week. I had so much time on my hands that I actually studied for school, can you believe that?” She joked a little to make herself feel better, even with the heavy pit forming in her stomach.

“Yes, actually. You’re more dedicated to school than you let people believe. You just get in way to much trouble to let people see that side of you.” The black man chuckled warmly.

“You caught me, like always.” She scratched her ear, “So what’s up?”

“Your new suit came in last week,” he patted the box, confirming what Tetsuko had deduced. She dashed to the desk and set her hands on the top of it.

“You didn’t show anyone did you?” She panicked just a little. What if it’s stupid or way to flashy and everyone saw it before me and knows I’m going to look like an idiot?

“No, this is yours and you get to see it first. Even I haven’t looked.” That was a relief. “Do you want to see it now?”

“Do I have to wear it?”

“Yes.”

“Shit.”

“Just open the box, Tetsuko.” Ben provided a razor and the girl cut the tape holding the box shut. She peeled open the flaps slowly, dreading what monstrosity was packed inside, and peeked in. She was right with flashy in its most sexual context.

“What the hell is this?” She exclaimed at she stared at half an outfit. “Is this all of it?”

“Yes.” Ben laughed at her reaction as he looked in as well.

“How could you do this to me?” Tetsuko wailed as she slapped the box shut, not wanting to look at the thing, let along wear it. “This is worse than Blue Rose’s costume!” She pictured the lingerie-like uniform Karina wore and shuttered as her own face popped up instead of the blonde’s.

“Just try it, okay? Give the thing a chance before you maul it to death.” Ben tried to console the teenager, but it didn’t really work.

“Fine, Ben. But I’m not going to enjoy this hooker-fest.” She picked up the box and stalked through the door, almost bowling over the heroes huddled in the hallway. “Out of my way!” Tetsuko elbowed her way to the girl’s dressing room, her anger completely obscuring the ache in her leg as she raged. She stomped into the changing room and slammed the door on the girl’s who were trying to follow her in. She locked the door with a, “If I’m doing this, I’m gonna be alone,” and leaned heavily on the frame of the door. Sighing she got up and opened the dreaded box again. This is going to be a disaster, Tomoe. I can feel it in my gut. Tetsuko undressed, the school uniform getting tossed into her locker blindly. She resisted the urge to put on her old costume and pulled out the plastic wrapped new one. Good thing I wore a thong today.

The suit looked similar to Bunny’s in style but with a green and white theme instead of red and white. There was one more major difference: it had a lot less coverage. What Tetsuko held in her hands could almost fit into the category of “wear this when you’re being kinky for your boyfriend.” She had no problem with the black clingy stockings that reached halfway up her thighs, white and green mecha boots, black arms sleeves and chunky gauntlets that reached past her elbows and paired with black grip gloves. Neither did she mind the black and green neck piece or the see-through green and white pointy shoulder pad -things. What she had a problem with is there was no helmet like Bunny’s (which meant that she would have to wear her domino mask all the time now) and the hard black and green leotard. It rode up her butt when she put it on, almost exposed her woman hood in the front and most certainly exposed all of her chest except her nipples. The top resembled a square-cut bodice, only it went much lowerbut it had a really cool tiger icon on a white triangle decoration right below her cleavage.

Tetsuko clicked on the costume as she swore and cursed every known god in any language she knew. The girl heard Blue Rose repeating everything that happened in the room to everyone else and Tetsuko kicked the door with a hard mecha boot to get her to go away.

Suited up, Tetsuko glanced in the mirror and visibility paled. “God, I’m not going out in this.” Thighs exposed (except for her small bandage on her right leg) and breasts pushed up and out, the teen looked like a stripper and felt like an insecure little girl trying to act like a mature woman. Help me, Tomoe, she prayed. This is worse than that time we went skinny dipping in the park pond with Antonio and got caught. I’d rather be naked than in this get up! Tigress placed her domino mask on and brushed her hair behind her shoulders and with a dash of lip gloss; she was as ready as she’d ever be. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it confidently and with coolness. Tigress coached in her brain as she steeled herselfto walk out that door and impress all her peers when Dragon Kid said, “What’s going on? It got quite.” The brunette listened at the door for a moment and heard her friends theorizing.

“Maybe she passed out from shock or something,” Blue Rose suggested.

“Maybe she’s practicing her sexy faces!” Fire Emblem got in a pinch and Antonio yelped from outside the dressing room.

“’Sexy faces?’ Please, she doesn’t have any.” Bunny’s voice held contempt and doubt and Tigress really wanted to punch him.

“Maybe she’s practicing her winning smile! And again, a winning smile!” Sky High cheerfully suggested.

“No, that’s what you do, honey,” Fire Emblem pointed out.

“She’s probably hiding in a locker, to cowardly to come out.” Antonio raised his voice at the door as he spoke. That prickled the tiger’s fur and she yelled back at him.

“I am not a coward, you hamburger!” She growled as she unlocked the door and heard all the heroes back away. She opened the door and posed like she’d never posed before. Turned to the right at an angle, back arched, chest and butt out in their respective directions, right leg popped, right hand on her neck, elbow out and head tipped back slightly, Tigress pouted with her full lips and seductively asked, “What do you think?”

The boy’s jaws dropped, Dragon Kid cheered her entrance, Fire Emblem squealed and clapped his hands together and Blue Rose stared at her breasts.

“You better take back your previous statement, Handsome,” Fire Emblem poked Bunny’s slack jaw,” because that was hot enough to turn on a eunuch!” The transvestite laughed happily.

“No fair! Now you boobs look even bigger!” Blue Rose complained as she reached out to touch Tigress. The cat covered her chest with her gauntlets and made her escape behind Antonio’s back.

“You’re not raping me again!” She peeked out from behind her wall of muscle.

“Aw, come on! Just one little squeeze?” The bluenette coaxed.

“No!”

“And I thought you said you weren’t a coward,” Antonio accused the girl, looking over his shoulder to peer at her. Tigress grinned evilly.

“Oh, Emblem!” She sang the sentence and the black man’s head snapped around eagerly. “He’s all yours!” The Spaniard ran for his butt’s life as Fire Emblem’s pinching fingers came out and chased him. But not thinking, the tiger had sent her protection away and Blue Rose pounced. Tigress dodged and ducked her pinching hands and ran around the four heroes not participating in fetish time.

“This is becoming a yuri/yaoi episode,” Origami Cyclone asserted, watching Tigress keep Blue Rose on the other side of the group as both scantily clad women ran around the room. Fire Emblem had backed the bull-man up against a wall. The Spaniard had his hands on in buttocks and tried to escape the man who shamelessly rubbed up against him and reached for his butt cheeks. Dragon Kid and Sky High laughed at the scene, Origami watched calmly (he’s beet red under that helmet) and Tigress saw Bunny following her with his eyes. She had a fantastic idea to get back at him for calling her unsexy as Blue Rose tried to grab her again. She skipped out if her reach the best she could and got the bluenette to follow her until they both were on either side of Bunny. She made her move when Blue Rose began to charge forward.

“Bunny, catch!” Tigress didn’t understand why, but human nature compelled people to catch what was being thrown - no matter what it was. Bunny did this as Tigress leapt onto his body and Blue Rose dashed towards her. They ended up in a dog pile with Bunny on the bottom, again.

“Old lady,” he growled slowly, clearly pissed off.

“That’s for saying I’m not sexy, you bastard.” The brunette fended off the girl idol’s hands as she sat on Bunny’s washboard abs, pinning him under two bodies. The blonde opened his mouth (probably to insult her again) but Ben chose this moment to walk in.

“What in hell’s name is going on here?” Tigress pictured what he must be seeing: two dudes in the corner grinding in their clothes, three kids on the floor with more groping, and then three others on the fringes of the room that were laughing at everyone else.

“We’re practicing a comedy routine for school. Is it working?” Tigress grinned lazily from the floor, shoving Blue Rose off her as she made excuses. Ben shook his head, his expression hovering somewhere in between amused and irritated.

“Just get to work you delinquents.”

“Yes, sir!” The teens replied and split up to go to their sections. Antonio escaped, telling Tigress he’d hang out with her when her shift was over. Tigress stood up and let Bunny pick himself up and looked at his helmet again. I swear it’s missing something, she thought again. But what the hell is it? The brat made to leave but the brunette grabbed his arm.

“Wait, Bunny.”

“Why should I?” He glared at her, apparently pissed off on being on the bottom again. Ha, on the bottom! She inwardly chucked at the jibe.

“Your helmet looks funny.” The mention of his appearance made Bunny concerned.

“What’s wrong with it?” His hands roamed all over the top, trying to find something out of place. Tigress had a thought.

“I’ll be right back. Stay here.” She went into the empty boy’s locker room and looked for Bunny’s locker. He’d shut it, but the girl had experience breaking into things and bent down to listen to the tumblers. Her boot tops kept poking the joint of her hips and the shoulder pads got in the way. She popped open the locker after a few moments and saw Bunny’s impeccable organizing skills. Clothes all hung up neatly and everything else stored away in its place, even his backpack was carefully placed on the bottom shelf. She yanked out the bag and rummaged inside to pull out what she was looking for.

“You’re not supposed to be in here-hey! What are you doing?” Bunny stalked over to his locker as Tigress flipped around and placed something on his head.

“Wha-“

“There. Now it looks right, Bunny.” Tigress had snapped on his stupid headphones that looked like rabbit ears on his head. The pink contrasted with the mostly white helmet and balanced out the color scheme.

“What did you do?” Bunny rushed over to the mirror and gaped at what she had done.

“You head looked plain, Bunny-boy. You were missing your ears!” She stated innocently, holding up her hands to her head in imitation ears.

“These are for listening to music, not for dress-up! And they’re expensive!”

“Then you’ll be careful. Plus they look good on you.” She headed towards the door not realizing that she’d given him a compliment. “Come one, partner. We’ve got work to do.”

He ended up leaving the headphones on. The other heroes didn’t know what to think for a little while but they complimented his “ears” as they got used to them and Bunny soaked up the praise like a pro. Tigress’ new costume made a great splash and for once she was getting noticed just as much as Bunny in their shared section. It worked out well: the girl’s loved the blond and the men ogled the brunette. The two partners danced around each other all throughout work, only bumping into each other a few times. They were getting better at communicating and were efficiently keeping the customers happy. Tigress had to rest a lot because of her leg and when she was sitting, she watched how Bunny interacted with his guests. He was smiley as always and polite to anyone who wanted to take a picture with him. It was mostly kids from school, but some adults recognized him from the bomb scare in the Fortress Tower. Then he’d get asked to tell his side of the story and no matter how many times he had to repeat himself over the night, he’d keep smiling and laughing. But the smile never reached his eyes. That was one of the first things Tiger noticed about the boy, he never truly looked happy to her. After each little break was over, the brunette stood up, feeling a horrible pull in her leg and then went back to work. Once she was walking the wound would behave, but standing and sitting were always a chore for the hero.

That night a Mr. Legend episode was playing on the big screen and Tigress told Bunny that she was taking a break.

“But you just took one like ten minutes ago!” He called after the retreating hero.

“Forget it, Handsome! This happens every time Mr. Legend comes on. She just has to watch it and there’s no stopping her.” Fire Emblem said as he waltzed up to the blond. Tigress kept tabs on the conversation to make sure Emblem told Bunny the right version. She did not have sexual fantasies about Mr. Legend; she just admired him more than any other hero.

“But what about her job?” Bunny

“Jackson already knows and if he’s okay with it, we have to be okay with it. Now give me some sugar!” Fire Emblem leaned in for a kiss and a butt squeeze, but got neither as Bunny danced away. Tiger laughed at Fire Emblem’s crest fallen face and turned back to the show. Mr. Legend was awesome. He saved people and always caught the bad guys and no matter how many times the girl watched his show, she never got bored. After thirty minutes of T.V. heaven, Tigress got back to work with a lighter bounce in her step than before.

After a busy night at Hero’s Bar, Tigress dismantled her costume and got dressed in her school uniform again. She picked up the leotard piece of her costume and held it up as she rubbed her right leg down. She shook her head and placed the whole get-up in her locker, covering her old costume.

“It’s okay, I guess. We’ll try this again tomorrow.” She talked to her mecha suit as she cleaned up. “Seriously, I thought you were going to be a whole ton of trouble, but it was really easy to get used to you. I think even Tomoe would’ve gotten a kick out of seeing me in you. Right, Tomoe?” Tetsuko chuckled and shut the locker door with a click. She flipped off the lights to the dressing room, the last one out for the night. Yelling goodbye to Ben, she left the restaurant and waited for Antonio outside on the sidewalk. Bunny had already left at the same time as the other heroes, calling Tetsuko as slow as a lady on a walker. After working all night, the girl felt like she needed a walker.

Antonio’s green monster of a truck roared into the parking lot ten minutes later. He’d jacked the wheels since the last time she’d seen the car. Antonio had gotten half the thing from the junkyard and built the rest of it from scratch. It was his baby and for some reason, the inside was always filthy. Tetsuko had to have her friend hoist her up into the cab and nearly slipped on the beer bottles scattered on the floor. Seriously, he could stand to clean up last week’s lunch that molded in the cup holder and put in an air freshener because the inside smelled like butt.

“Where the hell did you get all the booze and can I have some?” Tetsuko fished around the bottles with her foot as she sat down until she hit a full one. She picked it up and popped the lid. Swallowing half the bottle, the bitter liquid hit her stomach and soaked into her system. The world turned a little fuzzy and Tetsuko felt the irritation of her bullet wound dull with her senses.

“Hey! Don’t drink in front of me! I’m driving!” He was so weird. Antonio would drink until kingdom come, but he wouldn’t do it while driving. I suppose that’s a good thing, otherwise we’d probably be dead right now because he’s a crappy driver. Tetsuko chuckled.

“Then get to where we’re going fast so you can drink with me!” She finished off the bottle she had as Antonio left the parking lot and decided to hold off on the beer. He pulled out onto the street and made his way further into the Silver Stage. “You really need to clean out this truck, ‘Tonio. It’s a pigsty.”

“It’s probably cleaner than you room!” He laughed back.

“You’re right. The only difference is that I get rid of my liquor bottles before my kaa-san catches me. If we get pulled over you’re going to get sent to jail.”

“You’ll end up at the station too, ‘Suko. Underage drinking is against the law.” The bull-man pointed to the empty bottle in her hand.

“At least we’ll go down together, right?”

“Just like always.” The pair was silent for a few minutes, the Spanish music flowing from Antonio’s speakers doing all the talking for once.

“School really sucks without you.” Tetsuko admitted. “It’s not really fun to sneak in by myself and since everyone else graduated already, nobody but the guys from work talk to me. Except Bunny, but he usually just gets on my case about my ‘bad behavior’ and nags me about our P.R. appointments.”

“How’s that going? He seemed like an okay guy.” Tetsuko snorted.

“Yeah, but he’s got a major stick up his butt and an ego about the size of the sun.” Her hands started doing half the talking as she continued harping on the brat. “I mean, seriously, he’s an ass and always thinks he’s right, he’s rude and pushy and bossy and completely irritating and he frustrates the hell out of me and is so in tune with his little girl inside that I’m surprised he’s not like Nathan. He uses more hair products than me and I’m a girl!” Tetsuko ranted until she had to take a breath.

“But then again, you never were much for appearances. Remember that one time you showed up to school in your pajamas and the office had to give you a uniform that was three sizes to big? I thought you were going to lose your drawers every time you stood up!” They both burst out laughing.

“Yeah and Petrov almost had a field day when the shirt kept slipping off my shoulders and I almost kept flashing the student body!”

“Ha! And remember that time we both styled our hair into Mohawks and used all of your mom’s hairspray? Petrov followed me into the bathroom to wash it out in the sink! He’s so freaking creepy, especially when he’s staring at you through a mirror with your head in the sink!”

“He sent on of his girl goons into the bathroom with me too! And then she chatted my ear off about the latest diet I should try the whole time! When I flipped my wet hair up, I sprayed her entire uniform. She looked about ready to murder me and I said, ‘Oh sorry! I thought wet T-shirts were supposed to accentuate your good qualities, but it looks like you don’t have any!’ She sent me to the office for verbal harassment!”

“I remember that! And then you had to serve detention for a week!” Antonio snickered at Tetsuko’s pouting face.

“Yeah and I had to be a guinea pig for Dr. Saito’s little experiments! His lab was working on a robotic glove that sent some sort of electric shock into the nervous system and it kept shorting out! I had a serious case of frizzy hair after that and I couldn’t stop twitching!” She shook her head, “I don’t think he was supposed to be doing that anyway.” Antonio clapped her on the shoulder as he pulled into the Bronze Stage. They pulled up old memories and stunts they got in trouble for and Tetsuko noticed she’d been missing the talks they had more than she’d realized. Being with Antonio felt like all the times the three of them got together. Laughing, studying, and getting in trouble. Tomoe, Antonio and Tetsuko were practically synonyms when they were in middle school. The first year of high school was awesome as well, before Tomoe got sick. Then everything went downhill. Tetsuko got in more fights, her grades and Antonio’s started slipping down the drain and then Tomoe ended up in the hospital. Tetsuko let her best friend’s voice fade away as she was pulled into her memories.

It was sunny the day that Tomoe died. He was sitting up his bed, confined to the hospital when his condition worsened. The cancer was killing him and Tetsuko spent as much time with her boyfriend as possible. They both knew he was dying, but neither of them brought it up, they just joked and talked for hours about silly things and what Tetsuko had done on the days she visited. They had so little time left. She’d brought flowers for him on her last visit, snap dragons today, in bright pinks and yellows. The girl smoothed out her green blouse and black slacks, wanting to look her best for the man she loved with all her heart. She put a spring in her step as she neared his room, hiding the dread that followed her everywhere in one of her smiles.

“Tomoe, I’m here!” She opened the door and set the flowers in the vase that the hospital staff always had waiting for her. Tomoe’s dark eyes were tired and his short dark hair looked stringy and washed out, but today he managed to pin up the long sections of hair that framed either side of the boy’s face. Usually he just let them hang in his eyes. His skin was gaunt and stretched out all over his thin body and as pale as the sheets he was resting under, but Tomoe managed to smile at his cheerful girlfriend.

“Hi, ‘Suko. How was your day?” His voice was weak and he coughed a couple of times after he spoke. Tetsuko sat down in the visitor’s chair, dropped her school bag on the ground and took off her newsboy cap. Her boyfriend’s attire today consisted of teal hospital scrubs and the pink jacket that Tetsuko left here one time. She’d let Tomoe have it after he said that he’d get cold in the night and it was nice to know the jacket got some use. He also said it smelled like her, it calmed the boy down when he woke up from the pain of his sickness.

“Fine, I guess. I didn’t get carded today, thank God. I swear they’re just singling me out lately just for fun.” Tetsuko twisted her cap in her hands, heartbroken at the condition of her boyfriend. She’s tried so hard to take care of him, but nothing she did worked and even professionals hadn’t helped. She didn’t know what to do. It was like taking a test you’d studied for and then as soon as you’re staring at the paper in front of you, everything you know just disappears. She didn’t have any of the answers to make this better and that’s what hurt the most. Tetsuko couldn’t help the one person she really wanted to be a hero for.

“They have good reason too, you know. You’re a loose cannon, Tetsuko.” The boy smiled softly.

“So says the class rep. I like to call it flamboyantly active.” The girl smiled back.

“Either that or carelessly destructive.”

“Hey!” That got a laugh out of Tomoe. Tetsuko scooted close and took his trembling hand. She felt the need to anchor the thin boy to the ground. Holding it in between her brown ones, the girl told Tomoe everything she could possibility think of that Tomoe missed at school today. He laughed as the girl related the story about how Antonio split his pants in gym trying to impress a girl and how Tetsuko completely kicked her shoe off playing soccer and hit the gym teacher in the face.

“So,” Tetsuko gazed at Tomoe with concern when there was a lull in the conversation. “How are you today, Tomoe?”

“Well,” The boy started, “I don’t feel any worse, but I don’t feel better at all. The doctor’s are trying to stabilized my condition so that they can formulate a treatment for the next stage. Other than that, nothing out of the ordinary has gone on around here. Did you grab my homework for me?”

“You’re always the responsible one, aren’t you?” Tetsuko reached for her bag and produced Tomoe’s homework from today. Handing the paperwork to him delicately, Tetsuko squeezed his hand.

“One of us has to be and it’s certainly not going to be you.”

“Funny, Muramasa told me that one once.”

“He’s right you know.”

“Shut up. I can be responsible if I have to be.”

“Try it sometime. I’ll laugh at you when you fail.”

“Give me some credit!” Tomoe snickered at her outrage.

“I do, just not in responsibility.” The sun was beginning to go down. They’d been talking for hours.

“ Ben’s got me working a late shift tonight, and I couldn’t get it off so I have to go soon.” Tetsuko didn’t want to leave, not for a second. “But I don’t want to leave you all alone.”

“You won’t be and I know how much you love your job. Go help people.” Tomoe took her left hand in both his and twisted the promise ring on her finger. He wore a matching one on his left hand as well. “Promise me, dear, that you will never stop helping others. That’s one of your best qualities: your gigantic heart.”

“I promise Tomoe.” They leaned in for a few soft kisses, delicate and gentle before the girl had to leave to make it to the bar on time. She blew Tomoe a kiss as she left. “I love you, Tomoe.”

“I love you too, Tetsuko.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow, ‘kay?”

“Sure thing.” The look in Tomoe’s eye couldn’t have been sadder as she left. Later that night, Tetsuko got a call from the hospital telling her that Tomoe had died shortly after she’d left. The girl rushed the hospital and flung open the doors in the morgue and collapsed on her boyfriend’s covered body, sobbing. The loss of Tomoe tore Tetsuko apart. She didn’t leave her room for days and was constantly drinking behind everyone’s back. Antonio had to finally slap some sense into her before she killed herself. From then on, Tetsuko faked her way through the days, living for the sole promise of helping those whom she could.

“Hey, Tetsuko!” Antonio’s voice right in her ear yanked the girl out of her memories.

“What?” She looked at the Spaniard; they’d already made it to the man-made reservoir that the trio loved to skinny dip in.

“You seriously tuned me out for like ten minutes, girl. What were you doing in your head?”

“Nothing,” Tetsuko shrugged, not wanting to drag up bad memories, “Just getting lost for a minute. It’s been a long day.” She opened her door and hopped out, shoving a few beer bottles and cans into her school bag. “Come on, ‘Tonio.”

Tetsuko made her way up to their usual sitting spot, a hill with a single tree planted at the top. The spot overlooked the small lake and was perfect for trying to pick out the few stars that Sternbild didn’t obscure. She flopped down on the grass once she reached the top and popped open another can of beer. Downing the drink in a matter of seconds, Antonio soon joined her as they drained his entire stash of booze down their gullets.

“It’s really stuuuuipd that they built this reservoir in the middle of a city, don’t ya think?” Tetsuko asked six cans later. “It takes up so much damn space and we don’t need it for water supply anymore.”

“You always, hic, point that out when we come here.” Antonio was only on his fourth but he could almost drink as much as Tetsuko.

“Oh.” The girl finished off her drink and reached for another. Antonio snagged it from her hands.

“Oh no, you don’t. That one’s mine!”

“Give it back, you bastard! I had it first!” She ground tackled the bull-man and leaned over him to grab at the beer he held just out of her reach.

“You’ve had more than me! I need to catch up!”

“But you’re driving!” She straddled his stomach, making her arm’s length almost equal to Antonio’s.

“It doesn’t matter at this point! We’re both sloshed!” Tetsuko leaned over too far and they both went tumbling down the hill, the beer can lost in the darkness. When they stopped rolling, Tetsuko ended up staring up at the sky with Antonio sprawled on top of her. She stared at the stars she could see in the September sky and wished Tomoe were still here. He’d love the clear view tonight. No clouds, the smog had dissipated for a while and the moon was bright and full. Keep me out of trouble Tomoe. Or as much trouble as possible. And keep me from killing Antonio and Bunny. I have a feeling I’m going to need all the help I can get to keep surviving. Because that’s what you told me life was, remember? Surviving the best we can with what we got.

Antonio drove her home, and the girl stumbled up to her room somewhat awake. Her kaa-san had waited up for her and started a bath for the girl as Tetsuko reheated dinner. She them relaxed in the tub, staring at the ceiling or her ugly bullet wound. Another scar, she thought. Her whole body was covered in them; light little nicks and marks that no one would notice unless they looked at them in the right light. Every one worth it because I helped someone. Tetsuko got out of the bath and half dried her hair before going to study. Tonight’s going to be a long night. The brunette cracked open her books and left the light on deep into the night.


Friday mornings were typically noisier than regular weekdays and Barnaby decided it was because the weekend was coming up. He was out in the school yard in the brisk October air wearing his signature red jacket and keeping the noise to a minimum like he always did with his fellow hall monitors. That’s when disaster blew in.

A roaring of an engine from the street momentarily halted all the talk within earshot. A motorcycle zoomed down the street in a green and white blur. The boxy bike had wide-holed wheels and a bulky front end. The black leather seat held the black helmeted driver and when Barnaby spotted her leaning forward in the motion of the bike he thought, damn she’s hot. Then he noticed the model of the bike. Oh, no. That’s a Chaser. Please tell me it’s not her. He watched in apprehension as the biker pulled into the parking spot next to his own Chaser in the area blocked off for cyclists. Switching off the engine, the driver sat up straight in her seat. She wore Nathan-tight, black leather skinny jeans, a lime green leather jacket with a black tiger detailed on the back and tall, black stiletto boots. She took off her black visor helmet and shook out her spiky brown hair. It is. Kaburagi grabbed her school bag from the holding rack attached to the bike and placed her helmet there instead, strapping it in quickly. She dismounted with a graceful swing of her leg and then walked toward the school building.

To Barnaby it was like the world moved in slow motion. Her hair flowed around her shoulders and shined in the morning sun. The click of her boots was louder than the sounds of the city and her eyes glittered with rebel pride. She flashed Barnaby a triumphant smile as she moved towards him, hips swaying sensually with her gait. The jacket she wore accentuated her slim waist and opened in her signature style to expose a ton of her cleavage and the black V-neck underneath. Barnaby just about let his jaw his hit the ground when Nathan Seymour broke the spell.

“Oh, balls! Girl, where did you get those pants?” The black man ran to the Japanese girl and started bombarding her with questions about her outfit. The school burst into gossip and conversation as everything returned to normal. But to Barnaby, nothing was normal anymore. The single act of Tetsuko owning a Chaser clashed with everything she represented to him. She didn’t own the latest and greatest stuff and she certainly didn’t come off as “cool” in any other context. Goofy, yes. Cool, no. and she certainly shouldn’t have the effect to stop the blond in his tracks just by pulling up into the parking lot to come to school. His heart was still beating wildly in his chest, his breath coming up short. No, Tetsuko Kaburagi was an older woman with an awesome bike. Nothing more. And Barnaby was definitely not crushing on her. The couple walking towards him was joined by Karina who wanted to know how in the hell she could afford a bike like the Chaser and Ian hovered behind the group explaining the significance of the tiger on the brunette’s jacket. To that Kaburagi replied, “I just like tigers, Ivan!” When the group reached a completely composed Barnaby, Kaburagi gave him one of her goofy smiles and struck up a conversation.

“Hey, Bunny! Check it out! I finally bought the bike!” She patted his shoulder, “Looks like I won’t need that side care anymore, eh?” She laughed.

“Yes, you won’t but now you’ve added to my list of things I have to watch out for.” He went for mildly ticked-off this time instead off full grown irritated.

“Eh? What’s that?”

“I have to watch out for vandalism on your bike as well now, and I have to make sure you’re not drag racing on school property.” He pushed his glasses up his nose and glared at the girl authoritatively.

“Aw, come on give me some credit! I bought this bike with my own hard earned cash! I’m going to be responsible with it.”

“I give you credit for showboating and unnecessary destruction of property but not in responsibility.” Barnaby stated. He was surprised when Tetsuko gave him a look that bordered on confusion and sadness. “What?”

“Nothing!” She smiled brightly and walked off suddenly. Barnaby watched her retreating back and shrugged. He didn’t understand her one bit.

For a Casual Friday, Barnaby didn’t have to card as many students as he usually did; Kaburagi wasn’t even close to being carded today which was a miracle. Nathan made a pass at him in the hallway, his theme a deep orange today with Halloween themed accessories. He wore black pants that weren’t quite as tight as Kaburagi’s, orange heeled boots and an orange jacket that hugged every line on his body. His pink hair had orange accents in it that messed with Barnaby’s eyes. He avoided the black painted nails with an air of practice and kept walking to his next class while Seymour whined in disappointment.

Lunch had to be held inside when it started raining outside; much to the disappointment of all the students, and Barnaby took a seat in the corner of the cafeteria. Many of the girls stopped by his table to have a friendly chat with him, but no one stayed for long, heading off to their own cliques after a few minutes. Barnaby was resigned to eat his salad in peace when the click of boots alerted him to a visitor. He lifted his head and prepared to have another meaningless conversation when the girl walking towards him hugged him from behind. He cringed at the contact and was about to ask them to politely get off when the student spoke.

“So, Bunny,” Kaburagi hooked her head over his shoulder and he knew it was futile to have her move until she did it on her own. Fortunately, she quickly moved to sit in the seat next to him, plopping her bag carelessly on the table. “Whatcha doing for Halloween?”

“Nothing much. I’m staying home.” He poked at his salad, popping a bite into his mouth once he found the carrot he was looking for.

“I heard that day is your birthday,” she sung her way through the sentence.

“How did you find that out?” Barnaby questioned, slightly nervous. He didn’t really disclose any of his personal information to anyone.

“Your fan club. Apparently they stalk you and get into private school documents so they can stalk you some more.”

“Tell me who did it! They shouldn’t be getting into school files without permission from the administration!” Barnaby’s hall monitor mode kicked in.

“You’re more concerned about the papers than stalkers? Wow, I’m not surprised, actually.” Kaburagi swiped a cucumber off his plate and tossed it into her mouth. “Seriously, I think you like having stalkers.” She leaned back in her chair and pulled out her own lunch, the ever present fried rice.

“I don’t enjoy the stalkers, there’s just really no way to stop them.” Barnaby poked Tetsuko with his fork when she reached for another piece of his salad.

“Ouch!” She rubbed her hand and glared at the boy.

“Eat your own fattening food.”

“You’re not going to let that go are you? Just because I don’t starve myself doesn’t mean I’m fat!” Kaburagi grabbed her fried rice and ate a bite moodily. Barnaby gave the food a glare of contempt.

“Is that good cold?”

“I don’t eat it cold, the lunch ladies let me use their microwave every once in a while, which happens to be every day. They don’t even notice me back there anymore.”

“How fascinating, you can be stealthy.” Barnaby crunched a bite of lettuce after his sarcastic sentence.

“I am sneaky; you just don’t see any of it.” She waggled her eyebrows at him. “I know this school better than you know the back of your arm.”

“Hand.”

“Whatever.”

“I seriously doubt that you can make it into the school grounds without being seen. You’re too loud and obnoxious.” Barnaby tapped his fork on his plate, intrigued to see if Kaburagi would spill any of her secrets.

“I know for a fact that you personally have missed me almost two dozen times in the morning. You need to get your glasses checked, Bunny.” Before he could reply, Tetsuko’s posse decided to make their appearance.

“Honey, where have you been? We were looking all over the cafeteria for you and here we find you chatting up Handsome!” Nathan sat down next to Barnaby, Karina took the seat next to Tetsuko and Ivan slid in next to her, almost filling up all the seats at the round table.

“I had to confirm Bunny’s birthday!”

“Ooo! It’s your birthday? When?” Nathan clapped his hands together in excitement.

“The thirty-first,” Kaburagi announced, clearly proud she was one of the first to know.

“That’s Halloween!” Nathan deduced.

“Thanks for pointing that out, drag queen.” Karina rolled her eyes at the black guy. “How old are you going to be tomorrow?”

“Seventeen.”

“Oh, it’s Mr. Barnaby’s birthday tomorrow? Congratulations! And again, congratulations!” Keith took the seat on the other side of Nathan as he joined the group.

“Ha! I knew I was only two years older than you!” Tetsuko did a little dance in her chair.

“What does that have to do with anything?” Barnaby asked, puzzled.

“You keep calling me old.” She said that like it explained everything.

“And?”

“And, I knew I could only be about two years older than you because you’re a junior.” She took another bite of her fried rice and hummed happily. “It means I’m not as old as you think I am.”

“Don’t talk with your mouth full.” Barnaby pointed to the rice on her cheek. She wiped off her face and stuck her tongue out at the blond. The group talked and ate for the rest of the lunch period at Barnaby’s table. Is this what it’s like to have friends? Not that I need friends, it’s just kind of nice. Once in a while. Barnaby had never been good at making friends. He was always the loner in any school he attended and he was fine with that. He had more important things to deal with. The bell rang and with a goodbye butt-pinch Nathan spirited away to his next class with Keith while Karina dragged Ivan to choir with her. Kaburagi got up and brushed off her pants. They showed every curve of her legs as she walked away. She waved to the boy telling Barnaby that she’d race him after school if he wanted too. He called out something about no drag racing on school property before she disappeared into the hallway.

They were only ten minutes into the next class period when the PA announced that all school officers and custodians needed to report to the chemistry lab. Barnaby had a feeling that something terrible had happened. He was right. Barnaby hadn’t seen such a colossal mess before. The chemistry lab was a field of glass and chemicals that had been knocked out of their beakers and storage units. There were scorch marks from tipped over Bunsen burners and all the tables and chairs were haphazardly thrown all over the place.

“Old lady, what did you do?” Barnaby asked, his voice a mix of murderous and pure loathing as he turned to the Japanese girl standing in the corner. Kaburagi had ditched her jacket and wore her black V-neck shirt that looked slightly scorched.

“Okay so this time it was kind of my fault but kind of someone else’s fault at the same time.” She sheepishly explained that while picking up the materials for an experiment, one of the other students had left their bag in the walkway instead of storing it in the lockers like they were supposed to. Kaburagi had tripped and dropped all her equipment and crashed into another rack holding beakers and test tubes and accidently knocked over a Bunsen burner that started a small fire. The students had panicked and fled the room in a stampede that basically destroyed the rest of the lab. “At least we got the fire put out before the alarm went off.” She amended, like that would make the situation any better. She’d been the only student to stay and help the teacher put out the small fire, clearly showing chivalry and stupidity in their finest qualities. Barnaby got called out into the hall by Yuri Petrov, leaving Kaburagi to stare at the mess she made. The captain of the hall monitors pulled him aside and whispered in his ear with the low voice that made Barnaby very uncomfortable.

“We can’t let her off on this one. Kaburagi will pay damages along with the other student.”

“But, if what she says is true, then it was purely an accident.” Barnaby argued, standing up for the girl.

“So the school should have to deal with all the fines and replace all the equipment, leaving the students blameless?”

“No, but-“

“Both students will pay damages, Brooks. I expected your respectability to rub off on Kaburagi when the administration paired you together, but obviously you can’t handle her.” Petrov fixed him with a stare that prickled Barnaby’s pride. “I’m also disappointed that she’s not following your example.” The captain walked away, probably to find the administration as Barnaby growled, frustrated at being talked down to. He noticed that there were noises coming from inside the lab. He peeked in and couldn’t see the girl until she stood up swearing. She had a broom in one of her hands and was sucking blood off another, cut by glass. He watched her clean for a few more minutes, getting his frustration under control before heading back in.

“You realized that this’ll reflect badly on the school and the administration, correct.”

“Yes, but at least nobody got hurt.” She shoved a dustpan full of glass into the garbage can, once again excluding herself from the list of the wounded.

“True but this shouldn’t happen in the first place! And now you have damages to pay for again!” Barnaby was about ready to lose it with the girl, his anger getting the better of him.

“It was an accident! Accidents happen! Not everything can be planned out like you want it to be!” Tetsuko started yelling at him as he yelled at her. They were alone for the moment, but soon the chemistry teacher and other personnel would be coming back to help clean up. “You think you understand everything, Bunny, but you just don’t, you asshole!” She threw her broom down and grabbed her jacket off the chair she’d thrown it on and slung her bag over her shoulder. “I’m not going to sit here and let you lecture me on my mistakes when I know I messed up!” She then ran toward the windows instead of the door like Barnaby expected her to.

“Old lady, don’t!” She leapt out the windows that were propped open to let the room air. Barnaby saw her leg almost give out as her feet left the windowsill and she reached for the tree near the side of the wall. She grabbed a branch about halfway up the tree and swung down to the ground. She landed heavily on her right leg and it slightly collapsed under her weight, but she got up and ran towards the parking lot as Barnaby leaned out of the window to watch her. She raced out of the lot a few minutes later on her bike, flipping him off as she drove out of sight. As Barnaby was hanging out the window, Principal Maverick and the chemistry teacher came into the room, accompanied by a couple of custodians and Dr. Saito who wanted to check the fire alarm system.

“Wow! This place looks significantly better than when I left it.” The chemistry teacher pointed out that Tetsuko had stored all the unbroken equipment in the cabinets and swept up all the glass that had spilled on the floor. Barnaby helped in the rest of the clean up as their fight echoed in his mind. Tetsuko had brushed off all this damage like it was nothing, the more he thought about it, the angrier Barnaby got. He fumed the rest of the school day, he was cross all through work (though he hid it from everyone) and was grateful that it was Kaburagi’s day off or else he probably would’ve strangled her for no reason. He was vexed all the way home and couldn’t calm down enough to sleep and frankly by that point he’d almost forgotten why he was mad in the first place.

Tossing and turning in his bed, images of his past haunted his dreams and awake, his frustration kept him from finding any peace enough to get back to sleep. Insomnia wasn’t something new to Barnaby and he resorted to his usual late night activity: researching. Barnaby got out of bed and threw on a white tank over his sculpted torso and straightened his red pajama bottoms. He grabbed a glass of milk from the fridge and sat down in his single chair, flipping on the wall T.V. for background noise. Opening of his laptop, Barnaby let the light from the screen illuminate the years and years of effort he put into his search for his parent’s murderer. All he had for years was a symbol of a snake swallowing its own tail and eventually he got a name: Ouroboros. Nothing else had come up for months now but Barnaby began surfing the web anyway and whittled away the hours of the night until he passed out from exhaustion.

His body woke him up at six ‘o’clock on his birthday, and as usual, he began his morning routine of showering and meticulously curing his hair to perfection. He didn’t have school today and settled into a nice day of relaxing. He spent most of the morning and the beginning of the afternoon reading and doing homework. His old housekeeper, Samantha, sent him a cake for his birthday and he called to thank her. They talked for a while, reliving happy memories. Barnaby hung up in a much happier mood and took a nap, expecting to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening in peace and quiet. That was until he got a text from a number he didn’t recognize a few hours later.

Unknown: Barnaby, its Antonio. Has Tetsuko talked to you at all?

Barnaby: How did you get this number?

Unknown: Tetsuko gave it to me a while ago. Never thought I’d have to use it. I haven’t heard from her at all since yesterday. Nathan told me you two had a fight. What happened?

Barnaby: She basically trashed the chemistry lab when she tripped over another student’s bag. Has to pay damages and we got into a fight.

Unknown: Did the fire alarm go off or something?

Barnaby: No.

Unknown: Then it’s still not as bad as the time we set off the fire alarm by setting our oven on fire in cooking class.

Barnaby: She did that too? What hasn’t she broken?

Unknown: The sewing room. She won’t set foot in there.

Barnaby: Fantastic.

Unknown: So she hasn’t talked to you at all?

Barnaby: No.

Unknown: Oh, well. Thought I’d check. Bye.

Barnaby stored the number in his phone under “Antonio Lopez” and decided that Tetsuko needed to stay out of his things. He was going to put pass codes on every piece of technology he owned. Disturbed by his diminishing privacy, he sat down in his lone chair to think, only to stand up again when his doorbell rang. He glanced out the window and saw the sun was hanging low in the sky. Where did the time go? He sighed and threw on a jacket over his casual clothes and went to answer the door. He peeked through the eye hole and was shocked at who was outside the door. Kaburagi? Speak of the devil, this day is just full of surprises. He unlocked the door and opened to yet another surprise.

“Kaburagi, what are you wearing?” She was standing in the doorway wearing a cheap knock off of Barnaby’s jacket, camouflage daisy dukes and tall, laced up, red boots. Her hair had been curled and dyed in Barnaby’s style, professionally by the looks of it, and she managed to get duplicates of his glasses as well.

“It’s Halloween! This is my costume.” She turned around for him to view her at every angle. Barnaby appreciated it, completely forgetting they were supposed to be fighting. She looked good in long pants, but Barnaby decided that nothing looked better than Tetsuko showcasing her endless legs in the shortest shorts possible.

“I’d thought you’d go as a hero, since you love to do that kind of stuff.”

“I’ve been Mr. Legend for the last six years so this year I’d thought I’d go as something scary.”

“Scary? And that’s what you chose?” He eyed her costume again, trying to figure out if she was joking or being serious.

“Yep! There’s nothing scarier than you! Especially after what I saw yesterday.”

“Yesterday I was really angry at you, old lady, but I’m not scary, I’m just professional..”

“Professionally scary.”

“Where’d you get the boots?”

“Nathan let me borrow them. He’s got more boots than a shoes factory. He let me borrow them, but I have to be careful in them.”

“You? Careful?”

“Hey, it can happen,” she shrugged and scuffed her shoes against the carpet of the hallway.

“And where’d you get those glasses?” He pointed at the fakes hanging off the end of her nose.

“You keep a spare pair in your backpack.” She winked at him, “I can’t look directly in them or else I get a headache! You’re so blind!”

“So that’s where they went! You little thief! How did you even get them out?”

“While you were fussing over your headphones the other day. Now are you going to let me in?” She peeked over his shoulder to get a view of his apartment.

“No. How did you even get up here?” He crossed his arms and blocked the door even further.

“Your apartment’s doorman let me up. I told him I came to wish you a happy birthday, one student to another.” She shoved past Barnaby and slipped inside his house, despite his best efforts to keep her out. “Man! You’ve got, like, nothing in here!” She dropped a bag on the ground and spun to look around. “You seriously have one chair? What if you have company over? Where do they sit?”

“I don’t usually have company over.” Barnaby shut the door and watched the first girl who’d ever been in his house.

“You’re private life must be boring then.”

“I think its fine. Why are you here exactly?” Barnaby wanted her to get to the point so she could get her blonde head out of here. It was kind of freaking him out.

“I came to change your private life! We’re going Trick or Treating!” Kaburagi chucked the bag she’d brought with her into his arms. He caught it easily.

“Really? Me and what costume? Besides isn’t Trick or Treating for little kids? I haven’t been since I was second grade.”

“Seriously? I’m in high school and I still go Trick or Treating! If you just sneak up behind a group of kids it looks like you’re chaperoning them and the adults give you candy anyway. You’re missing out.” She pointed to the bag, “And your costume is in there, I hope you like it.” Barnaby peeked inside as Tetsuko continued talking, “I tried to pick something that matched your personality but I was having a hard time trying to find something more sophisticated than a devil with a pitchfork, but this is the next best thing, I think.” Barnaby pulled out a black cape, a frilly dress shirt and a pair of fangs.

“A vampire? How does that match my personality?” There wasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that Barnaby was putting the costume on. “I don’t suck blood in any way, shape or form.”

“Well, you don’t suck blood, but you’re a fun-sucker. A stick in the ground.”

“Mud.” He corrected for the millionth time. Can’t she get any idioms right?

“Whatever, just go put it on.”

“No.”

“Come on! I didn’t even get the cheap plastic fangs since you’re such a clean freak! They’re stick-ons!” She opened her mouth and pointed to her canines, smiling pleadingly. Barnaby just stared back at her. “We get free candy! Free candy!” He said nothing. “Don’t make me do a strip tease! I can’t mess up my hair!” She pulled his signature hair flip, probably memorized from seeing him do it so much.

“Go ahead. Start teasing.” Barnaby half expected her to do it, she really wanted him to be a vampire.

“Bunny, you’re a bitch, you know that?”

“I am not.”

“Put the damn cape on or I’m telling everyone at school that you play with toys still.” How did she notice my robot? Barnaby had put that gift from his parents on the table next to his laptop in full view but Tetsuko had been facing him the entire time.

“Fine, I’ll put it on only if you get rid of the blonde hair after tonight. It doesn’t look good on you.” Barnaby gathered up all the pieces of his costume and walked over to his bedroom.

“Funny, the hair stylist told me that too. It’s a good thing Nathan paid for the appointment then. He’s also paying for the one that gives me my natural color back.”

“Why exactly?” Barnaby called from the other side of his closed door. He peeled off his casual wear and slipped into the black dress pants and buttoned up the pirate-like dress shirt.

“I sent him some black-mail pictures of Antonio in a Speedo when we went swimming a park pond the other day. It’ll be the last time we do that for a while. Damn that water was cold! Trespassing seems to be a bit of a hobby for us.” The girl got off track for a moment before coming to the point. “Nathan was so grateful he agreed to pay to get my hair dyed and then dyed it back on Monday.”

“I say he wasted his money.”

“He thought I was worth it. And I’m happy to be the provider of wet dreams if it means I can embarrass you in public.” Barnaby didn’t have a response; he just put on his red boots (the real ones) and tied on the black, high-collared cape. All he needed was the fangs now. Opening the packaging he noticed there were two pairs of fangs instead of just one, bottoms and tops. He dried his teeth with his finger and went over to a mirror to apply the fake teeth. Once satisfied the fangs were straight, he smiled in the mirror and liked the effect they brought out. They made him look threatening. He cracked the door, looking for where Tetsuko was. She was standing on the short stairs that surrounded his chair, back to him and looking around. He flipped off all the lights and dimmed the window from the control panel next to his bedroom door, leaving the entire apartment in darkness. Tetsuko yelped and spun around, trying to orient herself. Barnaby’s eyes adjusted quickly to the darkness, one of the pros to having indirect lighting, and crept silently towards the girl.

“Bunny, cut it out! I’m going to trip and break something and you’ll get mad at me for it if you don’t turn on the lights right now.” He’d almost reached the girl as she took a step blindly in the direction of the table. Barnaby grabbed her by the waist, pinning her arms to her body and reached his other hand to tip her head back and bare her neck. She shrieked and struggled against him, but he didn’t let her get away. Just like a real vampire he moved his head to bite her neck and whispered seductively, “I’m going to suck your blood,” and poked his fake fangs into her skin. She laughed as he tickled her neck with his hair.

“Bunny, you creeper! Let me go!” She spun out of his arms and promptly fell over, tripping over her heels. Barnaby walked over to the light switch and flipped on the lights again. Tetsuko was sprawled on the ground trying to get her hair to part the right way.

“Here, let me, since you’re so incompetent with hair.” Barnaby kneeled down and fixed her hair for the temporary-blonde and then yanked her up.

“I’m not incompetent, just inexperienced.” She pulled down her shorts that had ridden up her butt in the fall and grabbed Barnaby’s hand. “Don’t forget your keys. I’m not driving you anywhere. I provided the costume and the pillowcases so you have to drive yourself.” Barnaby did has he was told and locked his apartment behind him.

They raced around the Gold and Silver Stages on their Chasers, reliving the thrill of their first ride together as they dashed in and out of traffic leaving pink and green blurs all over the city. Racing each other was almost as fun as tailing groups of children to join. Each group had a variety of costumes including princesses, astronauts, superheroes, ballerinas, cowboys, dinosaurs and a ton of others. They rode up and down elevators in apartment complexes, gathering their spoils from amused adults until their pillowcases were full to bursting. Tetsuko was always in the front of the group, smiling and yelling, “Trick or Treat!” Barnaby hadn’t had this much fun on Halloween for years. After one particularly successful apartment complex, Kaburagi-Barnaby turned to the real Barnaby and smiled at him.

“What?”

“You’re a pro now. I haven’t gotten this much candy from Trick or Treating ever. It’s nice going with someone your age, for once. Muramasa quit coming with me a few years ago, chose to run our dad’s liquor shop instead of bumming with me.” She twirled around again and headed to where their bikes were parked. “We’ve got one more stop!” Barnaby check his phone, it was almost eleven at night.

“One more? Haven’t we done enough damage for one night?” Barnaby didn’t feel like quitting early, but he felt like he had to be the responsible one.

“No! We have to stop at Hero’s Bar! Ben always gives out king-sized candy bars to Trick or Treaters and he promised he’d save me some. Last stop, I swear.” Barnaby shook his head as she clasped her hands, begging by her bike. He swung his leg over his own bike and revved the engine.

“Fine, but this is the last one.” Tetsuko jumped into the air.

“Yay!” She mounted her bike and started her engine. “Race ya! Last one there has to give up their caramel apple from that Gold Stage family.” She flipped her motorcycle around and Barnaby followed suit.

“There’s no way I’m giving that up so prepare to lose, old lady!” They pulled up to a red traffic light, waiting for it to turn green so they could race. Barnaby felt the tension in the air like the smog of the city.

“You’ll eat this old lady’s dust, grasshopper!” The light changed and they gunned their bikes. Tetsuko put up quite the fight, weaving in and out of traffic like pro, but Barnaby had more practice and barely beat her to Hero’s Bar. They squealed into the mostly empty parking lot, gasping for breath as Tetsuko nearly fell off her bike.

“Damn! I was so close!” She turned off her engine as Barnaby shut his off.

“I will always be better than you, old lady. Now hand over the apple.” He held out his hand as the girl fished out his prize. He took the treat and stashed it in his own bag.

“Oh, well. I didn’t need the sugar anyway.” She sniggered as she walked up to the back door. It was unlocked, but the whole interior of the restaurant was black.

“Are you sure he’s still here? Wouldn’t he have left the lights on?” Barnaby felt around for a wall to steady himself as Tetsuko charged on ahead.

“I don’t know, maybe he forgot I was coming for the chocolate.” Barnaby heard her trip over something and swear very loudly. “Shit, I may have broken something. Oh! Found the switch!” Barnaby walked towards her voice and ended up right next to the girl when the lights flipped on.

“SURPRISE!” A chorus of voices nearly gave him a heart attack as Barnaby blinking in the restaurant’s lights. “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BARNABY!” The whole place was decked out in orange and black decorations and balloons, and the heroes Barnaby worked with were dressed in entirely different costumes tonight.

“Old lady, what did you do?” He couldn’t believe they’d pulled together a surprise party for him.

“Well, I-“ Kaburagi started.

“She felt really bad about what happened yesterday and wanted to make it up to you!” A witch waltzed up to Barnaby, clad in a black lace corset dress and an over the top pointy hat. Nathan’s pink lipstick peeked out from said hat as he ran up to hug the birthday boy.

“It was her idea to throw you a surprise party, since you weren’t doing anything else.” Karina was dressed up as a cat girl, complete with black ears and a tail that matched her black dress. Barnaby pried Nathan off only to be assaulted by Keith.

“We thought it was fabulous! And again, fabulous!” Keith hugged Barnaby tightly, clad in Captain America red, white and blue. The shield he held in his hand poked the other blond in the back. He was glad when that hug was over.

“I told her she could use the place tonight, as long as she gave us enough time to get ready.” Mr. Jackson was dressed up as Mr. Legend, apparently one of the reasons that Tetsuko decided to dress up as something else.

“So you were stalling?” Barnaby asked the other Barnaby.

“It wasn’t just stalling! I really wanted the candy!” Tetsuko pointed out as a bull fighter tackled her from behind.

“We know that!” Antonio’s hat kept falling off and he had to let go of his friend to fix it. His cape swished as he straightened up. “And yes, the texting was a front, Brooks. But you took forever getting here! Did you get caught in traffic?”

“More like they got caught by the police, you never know with Tigress.” Pao-Lin skipped to the group in bright yellow spandex. She had red circles painted on her face and cute little ears to match her zigzagged tail.

“We did not!” The Japanese girl argued. “Nice Pikachu by the way.”

“Thanks! It took me all yesterday to make it, but Ivan’s is still better.” The younger girl pointed to the corner where a very authentic-looking samurai hid.

“Thanks, but this is nothing. Anime convention goers are even better cosplayers than me.” Ivan blushed at the attention and came closer, rattling his armor and ducking his head further into his helmet.

“Well, now that we’ve stood around for ten minutes talking, let’s eat!” She’s never one to waste food, Barnaby thought as Tetsuko led the way to the table where all the snacks were laid out. They’d even got him a cake. It was a cheesy Halloween themed disaster but it was still nice. Ben lit the candles before Kaburagi got a hold of the lighter and burned the place down. Then they all sang “Happy Birthday” to Barnaby, very badly. Tetsuko’s very loud “BUNNY” nearly drowned out all the “Barnabys.” He scowled at her. She took a picture just to bug him. He blew out the candles, not knowing what to wish for, and then cut the cake for everyone.

“I wanted to get you a carrot cake, Bunny, but everyone else shot me down. You get white instead.” Tetsuko said through a mouthful of cake.

“Good thing, I like white cake better,” he replied, swallowing another bite before speaking.

“Present time!” Nathan sang a while later after everyone had finished eating their piece of cake, two in Tetsuko’s case.

“You didn’t have to get me anything, really.”

“But what’s a party without presents?” Pao-lin asked, sliding up to him.

“Point taken.”

“Here you go!” Nathan presented the blond with a pumpkin-colored wrapped box with he opened calmly. Everyone’s eyes were on him as opened the lid of the box. Everyone but Barnaby burst into laughter as he held up a pink rabbit plush.

“Whose idea was this?” He asked in his I’m-not-amused voice, singling out Kaburagi.

“Hey, it wasn’t me!” She held up her hands in defense, flashing a “Barnaby smile” at the blond.

“Keith, Ivan and I chipped in and bought it,” Karina admitted, “but it is because Tetsuko calls you bunny.”

“Damn you, old lady.” Before Barnaby could strangle her, Pao-Lin swiped the plush out of his one hand and replaced it with a much smaller box. Inside he found a new plug-in cord to attach his headphones to his music player that Antonio, Pao-Lin and Nathan had jointly paid for.

“Tetsuko said your other one looked hammered, so we got an upgrade,” Antonio explained as he shoved a sexy black witch away from him. Barnaby gave the blonde-turned brunette a doubtful glare. She shrugged at him.

“I told you I could be sneaky if I wanted to.” Ben’s gift to him was a bonus in his paycheck to get something he wanted. He expected that’d be all he was getting for his birthday when Tetsuko tapped him on the shoulder.

“Here.” She blushed as she handed him a plain red envelope. “Happy Birthday, Bunny.”

“It’s Barnaby.” He carefully opened the envelope and was genuinely surprised to find two tickets to the opera nestled inside a birthday card. The card had a generic birthday greeting but the blond turned his attention to the hand written note at the bottom. Sorry I’m such a screw up, but I’ll try my best to make it up to you. Hope you had a Happy Birthday, Bunny. She’d signedit “Old Lady Tetsuko.”

“It’s so you can take some lucky girl with you,” Tetsuko slipped her hand behind her head and played with her dyed hair. “It’s not until January, so you’ve got time.”

“Thank you, that was very thoughtful.” Barnaby smiled softly.

“Ooo! Take me!” Nathan called from where he was assaulting Antonio’s tight bull-fighter pants.

“He’s supposed to take a girl, you transvestite! You’re not a girl!” Karina snapped at him.

“I am too!”

“No you’re not!” The party digressed after that and was put to a halt when Kaburagi and Lopez started a game of tossing candy into each other’s mouths and scattered food all over the floor. Even clean up fun as everyone got ready to go home. Barnaby walked around the room thanking everyone with his cape swishing behind him. He’d long since taken out the vampire fangs, but it was nice to have a little fun on Halloween. He packed up his gifts in the bag Kaburagi brought with her. She’d let him borrow it only if he returned it to her on Monday. Everyone left the bar in good spirits, especially Barnaby. Tetsuko gave him the “see ya” salute as she mounted her bike once again.

“Get your hair dyed back, old timer! I don’t want you slandering my hair do!”

“If only that was possible, Bunny! Everyone would just think I’m obsessed with you!” She cackled at the ridiculous notion.

“You secretly are.”

“You wish!” I kind of do actually. You’re the only one who’s not obsessed with me. She zipped away on her motorcycle telling Barnaby to enjoy the sugar and thank her later. Thanks old lady, I had a wonderful time at your party.

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