High School Never Ends

Chapter 5: We're All Lunatics

“Did you hear about that vigilante that’s killing criminals?” One girl asked another while they were in the bathroom. The gossip was all over the school. Tetsuko had heard it all multiple times. Apparently an arsonist had snuck into a prison complex in the city and burned three guys in their cell. Their names were Jack Brown, Bob Johnson and Tony Smith. They were busted for robbing a bank and the grand theft auto when they stole multiple cars on their run from the police. Then, sometime in the week, this vigilante snuck into the prison and set their cell on fire. The blue flames burned for hours apparently. The incident scared the shit out of the city’s population and the worst part was the senior class was taking a trip to the same prison to finish up their course of the basics of the justice system. Tetsuko had already been on this trip once already and only Keith and Nathan were coming along out of the people she really liked, so it was sure to be boring the terrifying at the same time, for different reasons.

The girl sighed inaudibly and kept her feet on the toilet. She didn’t want the girls knowing she was in the bathroom, especially with her looking like hell. Jake had cornered two of Tetsuko’s underclassmen behind the school building to harass the students again and she had bailed them out, but got the crap beat out of her in exchange for hardly a “thank you.” This time there were only four other guys but they were more experienced than the last batch she’d fought a week ago. She still sent them packing with more bruises than an abacus could count, but she still felt like hell. The two girls finally left, completing one last touch up on their hair and walked out into the hall. It was the middle of the class period and Tetsuko didn’t want to go back yet. She sat down on the toilet for a minute and wiped off the tears that had gathered in the corners of her eyes. She felt like hell, looked like shit and this whole business of criminal murders had her in an emotional mess. She hated when people got hurt, and even if they were criminals, they were still a person and didn’t deserve to die such a horrible death as burning alive.

The girl emerged from her stall and took out her ever-present make-up case. Most people thought she didn’t wear cosmetics, but they didn’t see the careful mask of foundation that kept most of her imperfections and bruises a secret. The brunette sighed again and cracked open her mineral power and base. She spent the next ten minutes covering all her exposed skin until she looked pretty much perfect. Tetsuko even covered the cuts on her legs where the dickheads kicked her and split the skin. She poked her fingers into the corners of her mouth and yanked her lips into a smile when she was done. Satisfied that she looked normal, Tetsuko peeked into the hallway to make sure she was clear to sneak out of school. There was only one more class period, no point in staying. Besides, she felt like a long soak in the bathtub was over do. She took one step into the hallway and was confronted by one and a half extra inches of salon-worthy blonde hair.

“You got in a fight again.” It was not a question, it was a statement and Bunny looked ticked.

“My god, Bunny! You nearly gave me a heart attack!” Tetsuko placed her hand on her ample chest to catch her breath again.

“You got in a fight,” he repeated. Bunny gave her his disapproving stare and crossed his arms.

Yeah, so what? They happen, who gives a shit?” Her mouth was running away with her again and she mentally slapped herself.

“The point is trying to stop the fight before it gets physical, you do realize that?”

“Yeah, I do,” she stated sarcastically, “but it doesn’t always work, especially when Jake Martinez is involved. He swings first, asks questions later, and is also a whack job if you haven’t noticed.” Tetsuko walked around the hall monitor and continued down the hall. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s already killed somebody, that’s how messed up he is.”

“You’re limping,” Bunny pointed out, following her.

“Well, then let me practice walking! It’ll go away.” She stopped when Bunny didn’t leave. “What are you doing out of class, Mr. Perfect?”

“There was a disturbance outside and they sent me to check it out.” Bunny eyed her knowingly. “All I found was some blood on the grass and a rumor that ‘the hold back got in a fight again,’ so I went to check all the bathrooms. Now I’m escorting you back to class, or you can go to detention with Dr. Saito after school instead of having your day off at work.”

“No!” Tetsuko shivered as she thought of the short Japanese man with the balding head. He scared her more just out of the fact that he drew you in with his quite voice and then did unspeakable horrors to you in detention. With lots of electricity and weird gadgets. Kind of sounds like a BDSM slash novel. With fear compelling her to go back to class, the brunette sped up her pace, noticing her weak leg was getting used to the motion. “See,” she glanced back at her classmate triumphantly, “the limp’s gone.”

“It doesn’t matter that it’s gone, you still go in another fight on school grounds.”

“Card me for it then.”

“Maybe I will.”

“Hey.” Tetsuko laced her fingers behind her head and slowed down so she could walk next to the blond.

“What?” He asked, confused and irritated by the change in subject.

“Did you hear about the guys who died in prison?”

“Yeah, what a shame. We almost had to suspend the field trip, but they got everything under control so the school decided to keep the date. It was murder going through all the paperwork.”

“That’s all you have to say?” Tetsuko was not pleased with the boy.

“What else is there to say? I can complain all I want about forms and files but they won’t disappear if I do. And the fact that you’ll probably stop listening to me doesn’t help-“

“No, about the men. Don’t you care?” Tetsuko’s voice turned sad as she realized that Bunny didn’t care like she did.

“They’re criminals,” he stated factually, “they’re in prison for crimes against the state so if they die it’s no loss to society.”

“But they’re people too! Every life is precious even if they’ve done some bad things! Why can’t anyone see that?” Pissed off and completely worked up, Tetsuko ran to her next class, leaving a startled Bunny far behind her.

Tetsuko stewed about their conversation all that night and didn’t feel any better in the morning. She felt off, and when she felt off she was clumsier, more verbally awkward and more prone to get into arguments than ever. The day was colder than usual when the bus pulled up to the prison, the mild winter of Sterbild beginning to set in, so most of the students were wearing coats and the girls also got to wear tights or leg warmers. Tetsuko walked with Keith and Nathan as the three of them exited the bus. Already bored with the whole thing, the girl turned her thoughts to the murders that had happened here just a week or so ago. The metaphorical dark cloud hovering over her head darkened and started pouring rain. Even Keith, King of All Things Happy, noticed her depressed mood and tried to cheer her up. The brunette pretended like it worked as the senior class passed through checkpoints and into the prison, just to make him feel better even if she still felt like shit.

On the ground floor, the students were surrounded by guards and felons in their cells. They listened to a lecture by the warden and their government teacher. Tetsuko caught both Ms. Agnes and Mr. Lloyds gesturing for her to pay attention. I’d rather staple packets with Principal Maverick’s secretary all day. That happened to be her alternative to the field trip if she got in big trouble: spending mind-numbing hours with the African-American woman doing paperwork. I should’ve misbehaved more.

The escorted tour continued into the cafeteria, another cell compound and then out into the yard. The brisk air whipped through skirts and pants as the seniors watched blue suited inmates exercise outside. Everyone looked as bored as the girl felt, except the ones who were scared shitless at being in a prison. There were always a few in every year. Tetsuko caught an underclassman trying to look up her skirt and elbowed him in the ribs when no one was looking. Some of the students were using their balled up gum wrappers and tossing them at their friend’s faces. The brunette almost fell asleep on her feet when everything went to hell. She had one quick thought of, why does this always happen to me, before the girl leapt into action.

Something had been shot through the air, into the yard and hit an inmate who was reading on a set of bleachers. He burst into blue flames with a blood curdling scream and ran around trying to put out the blue flames. The class erupted into chaos and ran for the exit as the guards opened the gate to the yard to control the prisoners. Tetsuko slipped in with the guards, her overwhelming need to save the man taking over all rational thought. She burst out of the crowd, flung off her jacket and made it to the burning man before anyone else. She beat at the flames with her coat as the smell of scorched flesh reached her nose and nearly caused her to vomit. The man’s howls of agony started to soften as he collapsed on the ground. Tetsuko beat harder and faster until the fire was out. She threw her jacket somewhere and pushed away the hands that were trying to grab her and knelt next to the dying man.

“Hey! Hey, come on! Come on, buddy. Stay with me! Please, stay with me!” She shook and called to the inmate but she already knew he was gone. Not again. She let the man’s body fall from her trembling hands. Tears slipped from her eyes as the guards finally reached them and pulled her limp body away from the corpse. Not again. Mr. Lloyds and Ms. Agnes ran up and started yelling at her, but the girl had shut down, dead to the world. She slumped into the arms holding her up, eyes blank as she stared at her failure. Not again. Not again. Why? Why? Why? Her vision overlapped as two bodies came before her eyes: the charred one in her present and the sheeted one from her past. Not again. Not again. Not again. Not again…

I failed.

“Did anyone see anything?” A man called out over the roar of the yard.

“Tetsuko Kaburagi you are in big trouble! Did you hear me?” Ms. Agnes harped in her ear.

“Young lady, whatever were you thinking?” Lloyds grabbed her shoulder roughly and shook her slightly.

“Did anyone see what happened?”

“I saw someone on top of that building before it happened!” An inmate pointed to another of the prison’s complexes. Tetsuko came alive again with a fire of her own, one for justice. She surprised the adults by jumping up and sprinting towards the fence, not the gate. They chased her across the yard but she was fueled by a sort of madness that pushed her be faster than ever. When she reached the fence Tetsuko took a flying leap and grabbed onto the metal links and hung on as the fence shook around her. The brunette scaled the fence like a monkey, ignoring the bite of metal on her hands, and gracefully swung her legs over the top of the barb wired guard on the fence. She landed heavily on both feet and vaguely realized that she probably just shredded her skirt and thighs. Tetsuko ran intent on her goal and forced her way into the building as another guard opened the door.

She shoved him aside and searched for the stairs to the roof. Spotting them, the girl took off a breath later and climbed the stairs two at a time. Her footsteps echoed in the stairwell, mimicking her racing heart. She burst through the door and onto the roof, hungrily searching for the murderer. Nothing. Just gray skies above and gray stone below. She roared in frustration and dropped to her knees, feeling as defeated as the day she lost Tomoe. I didn’t want to lose anyone else, not if I could help them. I failed, Tomoe. I’m sorry. She stared up at the gray sky until the grownups came to collect her, golden eyes glazed with pain that had nothing to do with her bleeding legs.

The adults let her off the hook after hours of cleaning and questioning. They called it a mild case of PTSD, posttraumatic stress disorder, at seeing someone die a gruesome death right in front of her. They decided that it wasn’t her fault that she acted recklessly, but Tetsuko knew she had acted recklessly while in a right state of mind. Now afterwards, she wasn’t in her mind at all. She just slumped into the seat Mr. Lloyds sat her in and stared at her lap. She had to be driven to her house by someone else after the prison said she could go. Nathan and his driver were her ticket home and she wouldn’t be fined for leaving her Chaser in the school parking lot overnight. Nathan’s car was hotrod red and basically luxury on wheels but Tetsuko couldn’t have cared less. She was once again staring blankly at her hands, reliving every crushing moment of the morning’s disaster on loop. She couldn’t get the inmate’s screams out of her head or his charred face out of her eyes. She clenched her hands together tightly.

Nathan theorized about the perpetrator and how it had to be the same guy from last weeks. He’d been talking for twenty minutes as the elderly driver took Tetsuko home. She wasn’t paying attention at all. Inwardly screaming, the girl felt like she needed to get out so she could erase the smell of burning skin from her nose. City pollution was the best option at the moment.

“Hey,” she spoke up and halted Nathan in his third time ranting about the murders. “Can you let me out here?” There was a park nearby and the girl wanted to walk.

“Are you sure?” Nathan motioned to the driver to pull over. “We’re not even close to you place.” The black student reached over to take the girl’s hand. He leaned over in the back seat to grasp her shoulder.

“Yeah.” Tetsuko disengaged her friend and made to exit the car. “I need a breather.” She got out and called thanks as she shut the door. Nathan rolled down the window as Tetsuko stepped onto the sidewalk.

“Need some company?”

“Huh?”

“A warm body to snuggle up with?” Nathan asked the girl sincerely, clearly concerned.

“Na, I’m not your type.” She shrugged as began walking. “I don’t have the package you want.” Tetsuko waved and continued down the path. The red vehicle passed her and Nathan waved goodbye out the back window.

The park was dark and nearly deserted as Tetsuko walked along a designated path. The girl had put on her scorched jacket when she’d left the prison but it still smelled of fire. She angrily ripped it off and stuffed it into a trash can, wanting to get rid of the smell. She still scented it on her clothes and began to run, finally breaking down. Tetsuko T. Kaburagi could hide many things from everyone, but once she was alone, she couldn’t hide anything.

She ran blindly through the park, startling animals and a couple who was making out in a bush. She ran until her lungs ached for air and she couldn’t feel her bandaged legs. She slumped to the ground, brought her knees into her body and hung her head, sobbing. She cried until she had no more tears mumbling, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” over and over again. A completely rung out Tetsuko stood up and wiped her sniffles away.

“Ug, that sucked.” Her skills of understatement summed up the situation nicely. She oriented herself in the park by looking at the buildings that towered over the trees. Then she began the long walk back to the bus stop. She talked to Tomoe, unburdening herself into the evening air.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t fast enough, Tomoe. I tried my best but then I lost it. I lost that guy. I was right there and I couldn’t help him at all! I hate feeling that way and you know that. I live for the promise you gave me and when I can’t keep it all the way I feel…feel so…” She couldn’t explain the void in her soul she had at the moment and gave up trying to name it. Tetsuko walked slowly, calmed and semi-free from her emotions. Everything was quiet again for a time as she made her way back to the park’s borders and then the girl noticed a low rumble that she felt through the sole of her shoes. The ground started to shake as the roar of an engine drew closer. The instinct of fight or flight reared its head in her body and she stood frozen on the spot until the threat revealed itself. She did not expect a fucking robot. Vaguely resembling a human body with two arms and legs with feet attached to tank treads, the machine charged towards her, the gruesome face painted on the cockpit growling at her menacingly.

“What the hell?” She scrambled out of the way as the treads of the robot ripped up the grassy lawn and knocked down trees. The machine overshot the girl and turned with a screech to find its prey. Tetsuko ran. She ran even faster than when the thing started shooting at her. A fucking machine gun? Really? She ducked and dodged as the right arm’s gun followed her. She reached the sidewalk and dashed across the street to hide behind a building, severely winded. Bullets ripped into the wall behind her and took off chunks of plaster and stone as Tetsuko fumbled for her phone. I gotta call the police! This is fucking insane! She got it open but a stray bullet distracted her as it whizzed past her face and she accidently called someone from her contact list.

“Hello?”

“Damn it! I can’t believe I called you!” Bunny sighed though the phone.

“They why did you? I’ve got things to do, old lady. The school needed me to stay after to finish paperwork. I’ve already been here three extra hours and need to concentrate.”

“Some fucking robot thing it trying to kill me!” It sounded completely ridiculous coming out of her mouth but she didn’t care that it was Bunny she told; she had to tell someone what the hell was happening here. She ducked as another bombardment rained against her hiding place.

“Very funny, but I don’t have time to indulge in your imagination. I’m sick of your pranks.”

“This isn’t a joke, goddamnit! I’m serious!”

“Goodbye.”

“Bunny, wait!” Dial tone. “Goddamnitmotherfuckingshit, you’re a bastard Bunny!” Tetsuko added some more colorful swears in Japanese to curse the blonde’s mother, race, gender and asshole-ness until the gun stopped shooting. The girl peeked out from behind the wall. The robot seemed to be waiting for her to come out. “Okay, here we go.” Tetsuko pocketed her phone and walked out calmly into the street. Taking a fighting stance, the girl and the machine stared at each other for a moment in dead silence. Then Tetsuko made her move. “See ya!” She pulled a Bunny as she ran off. I can’t fight a freaking robot! That’s suicide! The robot followed her down the street and the girl was surprised to see a familiar red car coming towards her. “Hey! Hey! Stop!” she waved wildly at the car with both hands above her head. The car halted in front of her. “What the hell are you doing here?” Tetsuko leapt into the door waiting open for her.

“I got halfway home and couldn’t stand it! I was worried about you! Can’t a friend be worried?” Nathan hugged her lightly as the brunette tumbled into the vehicle.

“Quick! Go the other way! Turn around!” Tetsuko shouted at the driver.

“Why?” Nathan asked as the mecha robot came into view.

“That’s why! It’s trying to kill me!” The car a 180-turn that shoved the two teens against the door as the driver floored the accelerator.

“Who did you piss off?” Nathan interrogated the girl as they sprawled tangled in the back seat.

“No fucking clue!”

“Watch your mouth!”

“This coming from the guy who says ‘balls’ every other sentence?” Tetsuko pushed the boy off her as she sat up to argue.

“I have them so I can say that!”

“You wish you didn’t.” Tetsuko pointed out.

“True.”

“Duck, kids.” The driver’s gruff voice commanded and the pair hit the deck as bullets demolished the top half of the vehicle.

“Hey! What the hell are you doing? This is my car!” A deep, angry voice shouted at the gunman. Tetsuko almost didn’t recognize Nathan’s voice, it was so damn low! The driver just kept doing his job, ducked low over the wheel. “This is like something out of a movie or one of you weird-ass anime series! This shouldn’t be happening!” The falsetto tone was back as Nathan shouted at her when glass rained down on them.

“It’s happening! But it is and it’s cool! Terrifying, but still cool!” Tetsuko shouted back as Nathan scrunched down even further into the ruined leather seats. “But we can’t keep running like this forever!” She yelled as another volley was unloaded on the speeding sports car.

“What do you suggest, genius? This is your mess, not mine!”

“It’s yours now too! You’re the one who wanted to snuggle!” Tetsuko ducked further down as she argued with Nathan.

“Only as friends!”

“Whatever you say!” The gun clicked behind them, empty.

“Out of ammo?” Nathan asked, peeking up just a little bit.

“Let’s find out.” Tetsuko peeked up with him from the back seat as well, and instantly ducked right down again as blue flames torched the back end of the sport’s car. I’m surprised we haven’t blown up yet! “Nope! Definitely not!” The car swerved and knocked the teens around again. “Wait! I got it!”

“Got what?”

“We’re gonna find out who’s driving that thing! Hey,” the girl called to the driver, “get lined up on the far left side and when I give the signal, slam on the brakes and move behind him so he can’t attack us!”

“Are you crazy?” Nathan grabbed clutched her shirt and shook the girl.

“Yep!” She smiled charmingly. “I’m gonna jump on that thing’s back and pry open the top hatch! Then we’ll know who we’re dealing with!”

“Whatever you say, Tets! It’s your funeral.” Nathan’s chaperone did as the girl said and lined up with on the far side of the mecha and let it get closer. Tetsuko got ready to jump, crouched on the seat. “Now!” The car squealed at the drastic change in speed and their attacker shot past them. The car swerved to the right and sped up again, getting as close as possible. The world slowed down to Tetsuko. The machine’s whirring seemed lower and slower, the creak of metal was lazy and the wind whipped her hair into her face a lazily. She felt smaller next to the mecha (it was about two and a half Tetsuko’s tall), but from her considerable experience, big things can only move so fast.

She leapt up, power surging through her legs and barely grabbed onto a set of rungs climbing up the robot’s back. She slammed into the backside of metal mecha and swore as she began her climb. It was a short trip up to the hatch, but with the wind drag and the thing trying to throw her off, it was the hardest thing Tetsuko did today, right up there with controlling the urge to punch Agnes in her woman-balls. Nathan’s car had pulled clear at this point and is following closely behind. Tetsuko struggled to the top and the thing halted to thrash around more violently and the girl clung on even tighter, screaming with effort to stay on. She noticed a latch on the top and with a well-placed kick knocked it free. She grabbed both sides of the top hatch and pulled for all she was worth.

“Arrrggg!” Tetsuko vocalized the strain of her muscles and heard Nathan call her butch. “I’m not lesbian!” She shouted with one last tug and the door popped open unexpectedly and broke off as the brunette was thrown to the ground. She high-fived the asphalt with her back and got the air knocked out of her. Tetsuko felt empty. She gasped for breath, her lungs stalled, and her mouth working uselessly. Then it all rushed back in. Sputtering, the girl sat up and coughed violently as air surged into her body. She looked up to see the mecha righting itself and the cockpit exposed to the air. Inside was a black man in a black pilot’s looking very pissed off. Tetsuko recognized him from somewhere.

“Hey, I know you!” She pointed at the man. He growled at her, preparing to attack when the wail of sirens and the lights of the police cars came into view. Then in a ninja-like fashion, the pilot threw down a flash bomb and disappeared.

Someone had heard the disturbance and call the police like Tetsuko was trying to do when she called Bunny accidently. The police checked out the scene, asked a lot of questions and sent out a search to find the culprit. Nathan complained about his car the whole time until the brunette pulled him aside. Out of hearing of any adult they began a hushed conversation.

“I know that guy who attacked us! I’ve seen him before!”

“Where?” Nathan asked, clearly excited.

“I don’t remember,” Tetsuko replied guiltily.

“You’re memory’s useless.”

“It is not!” Nathan’s phone went off. “Who is it?” Tetsuko asked as he took out his phone.

“My dad. He’s telling me that the elevators in our high rise complex are broken. I’ll have to wait until they’re fixed or walk up 70 floors to the penthouse. That could take all night! Balls!” Tetsuko gave the boy a sarcastic look at the exclamation.

“What’s wrong with the elevators in this city?” The girl shook her head. That’s when her memory jogged. “He’s the guy I saw fixing the elevator at the Fortress Tower before the bomb scare!”

“And he was trying to kill you because you saw his face? Scary.” Nathan’s detective powers came out as he thought out loud.

“That’s got to be it! He’s trying to get rid of everyone who saw him!” Tetsuko smiled at the face they figured it out. “And did you see his flame thrower?”

“Blue flames,” Nathan bought his hand to his chin to think, “He’s probably the guy who’s killing all the criminals in prison, including the guy from today!”

“Yeah!”

“Were their others? Who else was there?” Tetsuko’s face went slack at the question.

“Oh, balls.”

“You don’t have any, honey.”

“Bunny was with me!” The brunette’s heart raced. Bunny was at the school and if robot-man knew she was in the park then he probably knew Bunny was there! Her completely irrational mind when into hyper mode as she thought of every worst-case scenario in about 2.5 seconds. “We gotta go!” She grabbed Nathan’s hand and pulled him along searching for a vehicle. Why can’t my Chaser do that Batman thing where it comes to me? “We need a car and no police men following us. We need as few people as possible following us.”

“Take the bus, sweetheart. You used to do it every day. It’s right over there.” Nathan then dragged her down a few blocks to the bus stop and they slipped out from under the police’s radar. Thank you public transportation!

Ten minutes later the pair was running towards the school, praying they weren’t too late. The streetlights cast their havens of light on the sidewalk that they followed to the school. The run wasn’t long at all, only three or so blocks, but the time it took to reach the school grounds felt like forever to the brunette. Tetsuko raced forward to the gate and slammed into Bunny as he walked out. They tumbled to the ground ungracefully and the blonde cursed the girl.

“Damn it! What was that for, you clumsy troll?” He glared at the girl but she couldn’t care less this time.

“Thank god you’re okay!” She was overwhelmed by emotion that she hugged Bunny tightly, holding back tears.

“What are you talking about, old lady? Get off me!” He pried the brunette off and stood up under s streetlight to fix his clothes. Nathan came jogging up to them, ragged coat flapping behind him.

“We were just attacked by a robot in the park.” Nathan explained, grabbing onto the blonde’s arm and nuzzled his muscles.

“Oh, so what happened?”

“You believe him but not me?” Tetsuko was outraged and stomped to her feet.

“Yes.”

“Asshole.” She stuck her tongue at him and continued the explanation. “The guy who planted the bomb in Fortress Tower is killing everyone who saw his face. He could also be the guy torching criminals ‘cuz he’s got this massive flamethrower that shoots blue flames, and thinking you were in trouble we rushed over here,” Tetsuko finished quickly.

“I’m fine so you didn’t need to come over.”

“And that’s the thanks we get? Typical Bunny.”

“I never asked you to come over in the first place.”

“Then let’s pretend that I just came I get my bike then!” Tetsuko yelled as she stalked over to the parking lot.

“Whatever you say, old lady.” Both boys followed the girl as she grabbed her bike. The partners started arguing the merits of calling ahead when a familiar roar went off and startled a flock of birds down the street.

“We gotta go!” Tetukso revved her engine and raced out onto the street.

“We’ve always ‘gotta go’ when you’re involved.” Nathan said as he hopped onto her motorcycle when she passed him. Bunny followed both of them on his own Chaser.

“Shut up and hang on tight!”

“I’d rather hang on to Handsome.” Nathan wrapped his arms around Tetsuko’s waist, pouting into her back.

“Well then why didn’t you get on his bike?”

“Yours was closer!”

“Then stop complaining!”

“So that’s the robot?” Bunny interrupted their banter. The blonde glanced behind him, clearly keeping his calm better than Tetsuko. The black man in the pilot’s seat narrowed his eyes as he caught sight of his targets and sped after them.

“No it’s a unicorn pooping glitter. Of course it’s the robot!” Too many things had happed to her today for Tetsuko to stay pleasant. “I’m gonna nail this guy with my bare hands if I have too,” she mumbled to low for anyone to here. This guy was going to pay for all the people he’d killed and the ones he’d attempted too. The justice system of the city would see him locked behind bars for a very long time if Tetsuko had any say in it.

She gunned her bike down the street, skirt flying up and narrowly missed crashing as she ran through a stop sign. The car she’d almost hit honked at her angrily and then honked again at Bunny as he dashed close behind. The car then squealed away in reverse as the robot crashed through the intersection. The teens raced across town avoiding bullets and spurts of flame the guy threw at them as they ducked into back alleys, cut across sidewalks and avoided crashing into any pedestrians or damaging anything else. It was quite a chore for Tetsuko. Nothing seemed to work and the girl was running out of moves and the mecha was gaining. Nathan kept wailing in her ear, Bunny kept trying to give her directions from three lanes over and she was getting fed up with everything. “Nathan!” The pinkette leaned in close. “You’re hopping on Bunny’s bike.”

“Are you crazy?”

“Yes, we’ve established that! Get ready to jump!” She cut someone off as they tried to get out of their attacker’s way. “Bunny!” The blond looked over, “Catch Nathan and then head to that parking terrace! We need to corner this guy!”Bunny nodded, not looking pleased at all at being ordered around. One…two…three!” The brunette counted down as Nathan prepared to jump.

The black man leapt off of the girl’s bike and snagged Bunny around his waist as he landed on the boy’s bike. Tetsuko pulled back once Nathan was safe and harassed the man in the robot to shoot at her instead of the boys fumbling for balance on the motorcycle. All three vehicles zipped into the parking terrace (thankfully empty), smashing through the parking attendant’s booths in the mecha’s case, and wove in and out of parking stalls while trying to catch each other. Tetsuko took one turn so tight as they climbed to higher levels that she was almost parallel to the ground and completely scraped up the rest of her left leg. Bunny was much more cautious with his bike and passenger and managed not to muss up his hair too much as they raced around. They reached the level just before the roof where they cornered the man in the mecha. He’d gotten backed up against a wall where Tetsuko skipped past him and Bunny had enough speed to pop a wheelie with Nathan screaming behind him and slammed into the robot from the side. Off balance, the robot toppled sideways and threw its pilot. Tetsuko screeched to a stop and her classmates did the same, semi-surrounding their attacker. The girl caught her foot on her bike seat as she dismounted and fell to the ground. Bunny snorted at her. She glared and got up, her legs still feeling like jelly.

“Not even a scratch.” Tetsuko dismounted as the older black man struggled to get up from under his crashed contraption. She was looking at both Chasers which had ridden through Hell and back that night.

“But your leg’s bleeding,” Nathan pointed out.

“I meant my bike; it doesn’t have a single scratch.”

“Forget it! Let’s just go catch this guy!” Bunny huffed his response in annoyance as he shoved Nathan off of him and dismounted. He stalked over to the guy.

“Wait! Why do you always get the last say in any fight we get into? You always steal the spotlight! Besides he attacked me first, shouldn’t I get to kick his ass?” Tetsuko grabbed Bunny’s shoulder as she ran to catch up to him.

“Fine, then. He’s all yours.” He stepped back and gestured to the man in the rubble.

“Really?”

“Be my guest. I won’t get any credit for this one. No cameras.”

“You’re so self-centered, you know that?”

“Is there any other way to be?”

“Can I interrupt this macho banter and say that he’s getting up?” Nathan pointed to the pilot with one hand and placed his other one on his flat chest.

“Oh, right.” Tetsuko prowled towards the man, cracking her knuckles. “You messed with the wrong chick, buddy, and now you’re gonna pay.” The guy glared at her, turning his back to the girl as he finally sat up. There was a strange mark on the back of his neck, it looked like a snake and a sword but Tetsuko filed it in the back of her brain as ‘unimportant.’ She was just about ready to haul the terrorist to his feet and punch him once for every bullet he’d shot at her when Bunny pushed her aside roughly and surged forward. “Hey! I thought you said I could have him?”

“That tattoo on your neck, it’s an Ouroboros isn’t it?” The terrorist’s eyes widened a bit in shock. Tetsuko was completely confused. “What is it? Some sort of crime syndicate?” Bunny continued despite the man’s silence. “Where is the man who wears that mark on his hand?” He shouted in the guy’s face as the blond grabbed his shirt and dragged him to his feet. “Answer me!” Tetsuko shivered at the rough tone of his voice. Clearly they’d walked into this situation blindly and now the blond had lost it. Bunny looked angry as hell, his eyes flashing dangerously. Tetsuko didn’t even recognize him anymore. The pilot just smirked at the boy. Bunny growled and threw him backwards into his mecha. The man grunted in pain as he crashed heavily against the metal and slumped to the ground. Bunny stalked forward, murder in his eyes. Tetsuko stepped in front of him.

“Wait, what are you going to do?” She blocked the boy’s body with her shoulder as he tried to get past her again.

“Out of my way.” She shivered as the threatening not-Bunny voice was aimed at her.

“Alright, just calm down.”

“Stay out of it!” Bunny shoved Tetsuko roughly. She shoved back with just as much force as the two of them squared off.

“They’re at it again. Honestly,” Nathan sighed as he slipped in between them and pushed Tetsuko away from the blond. “You’re like an old married couple!” The click of a pistol got their attention again.

“Put your hands in the air and no sudden moves or your head gets blown off!” The terrorist pointed a gun at the trio. Two of the teens did as he said. Bunny just stood glaring at him. “The other guy too! Now! I swear I’ll do it!” He gripped the gun in both hands, aiming for Bunny.

“Hey,” Tetsuko turned her head towards the blond, pleading with her eyes.

“Better do it.” Nathan turned towards him too. Bunny put his hands in the air where the terrorist could see them.

“There we go.” He took a few steps forward.

“What’s your game?” Tetsuko asked, her voice betraying nothing of the terror she was feeling. “Why’d you kill those guys in the prison cell? How the hell do they fit into all of this?”

“What?” The guy looked like he didn’t know what the girl was talking about.

“And the one this morning, why?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He took another step.

“Don’t play dumb with me! Come on! The guy died right in my arms! I deserve to know why!”

“I said I don’t know!” The gun shifted to Tetsuko’s face, the barrel staring her right in the eye. “I’m gonna do you first ‘cuz you won’t shut up.” Tetsuko’s eyes softened as she prepared to embrace death. The terrorist’s finger twitched at the trigger, and she flinched. Then something bright blue shot the weapon out of the man’s grip and the gun clattered to the floor, glowing red. Everyone gasped and looked towards where the shot came from.

“What on earth was that?” Nathan breathed out. There was something on the roof of the closest building, glowing eerie blue-green in the night.

“Is it human?” Tetsuko looked closer and saw the thing wearing a palm-faced mask with googley eyes and purple girl lips and it wore a weird white cape with blue, black and yellow accents. Whatever it was held a bolt of some kind that was wreathed in blue flames and loaded it onto a crossbow. The next shot it took was fatal. The terrorist burst into a column of flame and screams of agony that echoed two fold in Tetsuko’s mind, replaying the tragedy of that very morning. She ran over to the man as he fell to the ground only to be pushed back by the inferno, the flames catching onto her skirt. She beat out the fire, roasting her hands a bit in the process, and looked back up where the murderer was standing. It was gone, leaving three teens and a corpse bathed in sickly blue light.


“Damn it!” Barnaby shouted in frustration. Gone again, damn them! Why can’t I ever get a solid lead? Anger and anguish clouded his usually focused mind, causing him to forget everything but the desire for revenge. Barnaby ran off to the roof, trying to see which direction the murderer went.

“Wait!” Kaburagi called after him. Stay out of this! You don’t have anything to do with this, old lady! Barnaby dashed up the stairs, burst through the door and frantically searched the streets and buildings for any sign of the culprit. He heard footsteps behind him and hid out of sight on the other side of the stairwell, for reasons unknown even to him. He was so on edge that he couldn’t even reason through anything. It was Kaburagi. She ran past his spot and began looking at all the buildings too.

“Ah! Who the hell was that guy?” She muttered under her breath. This is all her fault, Barnaby thought as he walked up behind her quietly. If she hadn’t stopped me form interrogating that man I’d have found out what I wanted!

“This is all your fault!” He startled the girl as she spun around, eyes terrified at his appearance. The blond grabbed her collar in one hand and shook her violently. “None of this would’ve happened if you hadn’t gotten in my way back there! I was this close to uncovering Ouroboros!” He put his other hand on her shoulder and squeezed, wishing it was her neck.

“Ow! Hey! Calm down, Bunny!” She struggled in his grip, beginning to fight back as her eyes blazed with anger.

“I can’t calm down!” He felt completely lost to his emotions, so out of sync with his usual calm that he couldn’t get a grip on himself. Years and years of hate and anger had rushed into his system causing him to act out in violence and it all boiled down to one thing. “Those bastards murdered my parents!” Tetsuko’s opened his shock at his confession. Then everything was gone. Barnaby felt nothing as he dropped the girl to the ground. He fell to his knees, burned out emotionally and found himself enveloped in a warm hug. Kaburagi hugged him for the second time that night, worried about him both times. He hadn’t felt so cared for in years and it was all because of this girl. He felt tears come to his eyes and blinked them away quickly. Why do I put up with you when all you do is mess things up, including me?

“Hey, let’s go back down. If Nathan catches us like this, the rumors will never stop.” She smiled sadly at her joke that wasn’t really a joke. It was true, Nathan would spread the hug like wildfire and he’d be coupled with Kaburagi for the rest of high school. The girl stood up and reached out a hand for Barnaby. He took it and walked down the stairs with his classmate leading the way. He heard sirens in the distance, getting closer every second. When they got down to where Seymour was, Tetsuko shrugged and told him the flame-guy got away.

“Well, the police caught up with us.” The black man replied.

“Darn, I was hoping to avoid them for a while longer.” Kaburagi chuckled dryly and sat down on the ground to check on her leg. It was bleeding steadily from her scrape against the asphalt, skin actually torn off in places. It looked like it hurt a lot and Tetsuko confirmed the boy’s suspicions as she hissed at the tender skin. Barnaby noticed the other bandages he hadn’t before.

“What happened to you?” His voice feigned slight concern, but really he just wanted to focus on something else besides his failure to capture his parent’s murderer. He listened to the girl as she told him what happened at the prison, Nathan chiming in every once in a while to correct her. She really does care about everyone. She even tried to help a criminal. What happened to make her so devoted to others? Barnaby cast that thought aside and decided to wallow in his own defeat. He didn’t care enough to keep listening. By the time he tuned back in, Kaburagi was being questioned by police officials and being berated for leaving the scene of the first incident just to get right into another. She told the officer that Barnaby had been in danger and she had to help him. The man gave her a disapproving stare and told her that she should’ve told that to the authorities so they could’ve gone and picked up the blond. She called the police slow and got into an argument that almost ended up with her in custody for defying a police officer. Nathan smoothed out the whole situation and eventually they were let go after they had given their statements. Barnaby glanced back just once to see his one lead to his life’s ambition get zipped up into a body bag.

“Bunny, I know this is personal for you, but you lost control back there and someone died because of it, you know that right? What happened?” Kaburagi asked the boy as they both walked their bikes out of the parking terrace. Nathan walked on ahead, chatting into his phone about getting a ride home. Barnaby didn’t feel like answering and hung his head so she couldn’t see his face. Nathan got off the phone and joined the two, walking on Kaburgari’s side so he could listen in. “Would you fill us in? Why did you lose it in the first place? And what the hell is this Ouroboros?” Barnaby stayed silent, carefully weighing his words in his head. Kaburagi’s face went from concerned to annoyed. “If you don’t talk, we can’t help you! Come on! We have no idea what’s going on!” She began shouting at him which caused him to shout back.

“I don’t know either, okay?” She stopped walking and didn’t say anything. That shut her up. “I think that Ouroboros is the crime syndicate that murdered my parents.” He began explaining in a softer tone. Both his classmates gasped but Barnaby continued. “That man had their symbol tattooed on his neck.”

“Tattoo? So that’s what that was!” Tetsuko started walking again with her bike. “Does that mean that the bomber was a member of Ouroboros?”

“I’ll never know, thanks to that murderer who killed him.” Barnaby’s voice hardened again at the thought and he gripped the handle bars he was holding tighter.

“Who was he? And how did he just show up out of nowhere like that?” Tetsuko seemed to be thinking out loud more than actually asking questions and Barnaby shook his head sadly.

“Well, judging by the way he killed the bomber guy, I bet he’s the one we’re looking for, the one behind those killings.” Nathan finally spoke up, voicing evidence as a way to get a grip on the situation.

“Wait, you’re saying the whack job with the bombs was innocent?” Kaburagi asked incredulously.

“It’s hard to believe, I know, but maybe the flame guy is silencing people from his organization: Killing off the criminals who aren’t of use anymore to the higher ups and could be leaking information. I could see that happening.” Seymour shrugged his shoulders. Barnaby started walking faster, wanting to get away from everything and from everyone.

“Wait, Bunny! What’s he up to? Tell us what you know so we can help you!”

“Stay out of this. Leave me alone. I don’t want anyone’s help on this one.” Barnaby hopped on his bike and sped away from the girl and the boy trying to be a girl. I lost my parents when I was only four years old. It’s been horrible to carry that pain my entire life. Thirteen years I’ve searched and searched and now that I have a lead, its torched right in front of me. Why did I do to deserve this kind of torment? Barnaby contemplated thoughts along that line as he drove home. The crushing loss of hope threatened to do him in if he didn’t get away. He squealed into his apartment’s garage and raced up to his dark home. For days he brooded in the dark, not answering his texts or calls and not leaving for anything. He checked his phone once and saw he’d missed forty eight calls from Kaburagi, Mr. Lloyds and Mr. Jackson and had about a hundred texts. Most of them went like this:

Old Lady: Are you ok Bunny?

Old Lady: Text me.

Old Lady: Where are you?

Old Lady: Are you alive?

Antonio Lopez: Where are you dude? You’re freaking everyone one out. Mostly Suko.

Old Lady: Blue Rose had to help me cover your shift and she’s pissed. Where are you?

Old Lady: You’ve been missing from school for days, Lloyds is pissed you’ve missed all our meetings. Bunny?

Old Lady: Ben’s upset you won’t return his calls.

Yuri Petrov: Your absence has not gone unnoticed. Return to your post as soon as possible.

Old Lady: We’re worried about you. Please talk to me.

Old Lady: Bunny?

Old Lady: Your fans are missing you. That should get you out right? Fans…girls…fangirls!

Old Lady: Karina and Nathan think we’re in a lover’s quarrel. Please tell them they’re wrong. And Blue Rose kicked me in the leg because she had to cover your shift with me again. Then some punk kicked me in the leg for no reason. Karma’s a bitch to me. Come back please!

Old Lady: I know this has nothing to do with me, but let me help.

You can’t help this time. No one can.

Old Lady: Asshole. Pick up your damn phone or I’m coming over to your place to drag you out.

She actually did come over, the doorman letting her up to his floor because she’d pretended that Barnaby was sick and she was helping take care of him. The girl had stood outside his door for hours, banging on the entrance until one of the neighbors yelled at her and threatened to call security. Then she’d quietly kept tapping on the door, in Morse code, saying let me in, let me in, let me in and open up, open up, open up. Barnaby also swore he heard a few assholes. Tetsuko then sat in front of the crack that the door didn’t cover and started telling him everything that had happened over the course of the days he’d been gone. She slipped school assignments under the door one by one and a list of problems he was supposed to do in his math book. Barnaby left them where they were. The girl finally left after midnight when she’d run out of things to say. Then she called him at three in the morning to leave him voice messages and texts. Barnaby ignored them and took calls from only one person, his guardian Mr. Maverick.

“Barnaby, can you hear me?” The man’s soothing voice greeted him.

“Yes, sir.” Barnaby leaned back into his chair as he listened to his mentor over the phone.

“I understand how frustrated you must be, but if you give up now your goal will elude you. You won’t have closure.”

“Sir, I’m sorry for the trouble I’ve caused at the school.”

“Don’t worry, my boy. You’ll get another chance soon enough.”

The arsonist attacked a crime syndicate that wasn’t Ouroboros the next day. Barnaby had had his hopes up when the syndicate was mentioned on the news, but none of the perps had the tattoo he was looking for. The police had been tracking the group for months and had cornered them in a church in Bronze. The murderer caused major black outs in that area of the city when he took out power lines with his flaming cross bolts. Ms. Agnes had a field day when her scoop on the situation aired of the school’s show. Tetsuko texted him the whole thing saying that Agnes couldn’t stop saying that she couldn’t buy drama this good. Everyone in the church died except one criminal they managed to capture alive and the arsonist had taken over the news broadcasting system to deliver a message:

“My fellow citizens, I do hope you can hear me, especially the authorities who strive to protect this city. The justice you seek is a hollow fallacy. You call yourselves heroes but you can neither save nor punish anyone. You’re so called bravery is in vain. Why do you even bother trying? If you want true justice, only I can give it to you. My name is Lunatic and I follow my own code of justice. Where there’s darkness in the world, I will be there to snuff it out. Hear the voice of Thanatos!” He’d put the city into a frenzy. People were beginning to doubt the cops and the justice system as a whole.

“He calls it justice, but I’ve got another word for it: murder!” Kaburagi slammed her fist down on the lunch table. The second Barnaby came back to school she’d stuck to him like glue. She’d told him she didn’t want him having another break down, but all she was doing was annoying him. She’d even tried to follow him into the boy’s bathroom a couple of times which Barnaby carded her for it until she stopped.

“My, my, you do have a peculiar way of looking at things.” Captain Petrov walked past their table right at the wrong moment, pulling his pale hair out of his face. His gray eyes locked onto his nemesis with a cold calculating gaze. He looked especially menacing today in his school jacket that was now required due to the inclement weather. He also switched out his regular tie with a brightly colored one adorned with dark blue, light blue and neon green geometric designs. He’s the only one who can ever get away with that except Seymour. “Maybe this individual’s way of seeing things compels him to punish criminals in the way he seems fit, that they deserve to die for their crimes. That’s just his perspective.”

“Are you on his side?” Tetsuko rose to the argument, standing up to get in the captain’s face.

“I’m neither agreeing nor disagreeing with either view. I just think this should all be analyzed before anyone jumps to conclusions.” Yuri fixed Tetsuko with a hard look and walked away smoothly.

“He gives me the creeps.” The girl sat down again before continuing where she left off. “And what the hell’s on that guy’s head anyways? A glove? It’s seriously weird the way he waltzes in with is big-ass cape and wonky mask, kills some people and then waltzes right out again without being caught. What do you think, Bunny?” Barnaby poked his salad and said nothing. “Good talk, good talk.” She sighed and ate her sandwich moodily. They both ended up throwing most of their lunch away.

“Hey, Bunny, you’re not showboating today. Where’s your pretty smile?” Kaburagi poked him in the cheek.

“Where’s yours?” He asked back.

“Did you just call my smile pretty?”

“No.”

“You did!” Tetsuko smiled brightly at the unintentional compliment. Ah, there is it. She always looks better when she smiles. Bunny hid his own soft smile behind his curls. An hour later they were in their meeting with Mr. Lloyds for the P.A. committee and neither felt like smiling.

“Ug, it’s so hot in here!” Tetsuko complained when Mr. Lloyds stepped out of the room. The school had turned on the heating system in preparation for the coming winter but all it did was make the students sweat.

“I’m tired.” Barnaby set his pencil down, his insomnia had been acting up and he’d only had four hours of sleep this week.

“Don’t tell me you want to leave, you always want to work and suck up to Mr. Lloyds.”

“I’m usually putting on a show.”

“Huh, looks real to me.”

“That’s the point.”

“Well if you don’t want to be here and I don’t want to be here let’s go! We’ve got to help set up for the party at work tonight anyway.”

“I don’t want to go to that either.”

“We’ll you can’t back out now. You’ve missed to much work to get a day off.” Tetsuko pointed out. When Mr. Lloyds came back in they both excused themselves for the day, saying they had done their work when they really hadn’t. Tetsuko then raced Barnaby to work and he won again.

“Damn it! Why can’t I win? I’m not even biting off more than I can swallow this time! It’s just a race!”

“Chew.” Barnaby dismounted and grabbed his school bag.

“What?” Kaburagi followed suit and made her way towards the building.

“You said ‘swallow’ but it’s really ‘chew.’”

“They both work!” She threw up he hands in frustration.

“You really don’t get the point of idioms. You have to say them correctly for them to have any meaning.”

“Who cares?”

“Me.”

“Well, obviously!” She went to go help set up and change the moment she made it inside and this time Barnaby followed her. Once the floor was decorated and set up for the night by all the heroes, they went to change. Fire Emblem kept sneaking into the girl’s locker room to change in there but they kept kicking him out. So he resorted to try and pinch the boy’s butts as many times as possible in the three minutes they took to suit up and vacate the room.

“I really don’t want to do this. What’s the point?” Barnaby wrapped the “Let’s Believe Heroes” sash around his right shoulder as he walked out of the dressing room. His suit clipped on neatly today, hardly causing any trouble at all.

“Come on! After what we’ve been through lately this’ll be a piece of pie!” Tigress was getting tangled in her sash as she wrestled with it. Barnaby slapped her hands away and draped it appealingly across her exposed chest, his fingers ghosting above her skin. The blond still blushed slightly every time he saw her in her new costume; it was just too indecent not to appreciate the view.

“Cake.” The corrections came almost unnoticed at this point.

“Both are delicious.” Barnaby pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head.

“Can’t you be serious?”

“I’m always serious! I just hide it behind my sparkling personality!”

“I doubt that.”

“Anyway,” she stressed the subject change to get Barnaby to listen to her, “it’s the anniversary of the opening of Hero’s Bar. Most customers take this seriously because the restaurant is widely popular and so well established. This is a big deal for Ben and frankly, he’s just happy you started picking up your phone again so you’d better stay in line this time, not me. He almost fired you when I had to take over all your shifts with Blue Rose.” Barnaby had gotten called into Mr. Jackson’s office the first day he came back. He was not happy with the flakey streak Barnaby had pulled off and threatened to drop him next time it happened.

“Yeah, I know.”

“And this whole his is about having fun! It’s a party after all! The people of this city need a good cheering up after all the killings and this is just our little way of helping.” Tigress dragged Barnaby where they worked their butts off for the rest of the night. It was half off all meals and there was a lottery for prize money and gifts with dancing afterwards. All the customers had a blast, from what Barnaby could tell and Mr. Jackson personally thanked all his guests for their years of support and expressed his thanks to his heroes for their dedication. It actually felt really nice to get publicly recognized for hard work, and Barnaby decided that the event wasn’t so bad after all. He’d also won the monthly challenge that night for the second time in a row, much to Tiger’s dismay, and was having a hard time coming up with something he really wanted. The only damper on the evening was the fact that a convicted criminal had escaped prison.

“Edward’s out of prison?” Origami Cyclone actually shouted and it surprised Barnaby. The heroes were all still in costume and hanging out in the back after the long anniversary night.

“Yeah, he escaped a few days ago and is still on the run.” Fire Emblem was checking the news on his phone, scrolling through the article on his screen.

“Who’s Edward?” Tigress asked the question Barnaby was about to.

“Edward Keddy was my classmate a few years ago. He was a great guy, confident and popular, unlike me. He was my best friend.” Origami Cyclone took off his mask and shook out his pale blond hair.

“So what happened?” Dragon Kid placed her head on her hands as she sat at the break room’s table.

“He tried to diffuse a hostage situation by getting involved. He managed to get one of the criminal’s guns but was overpowered and accidently ended up killing the hostage. I couldn’t help him. I was a coward when he asked me for help, but I couldn’t move. He was sentenced to serve years in prison.” Origami didn’t want to talk about it anymore. He was the first to leave the bar.

“I hate it when Ivan’s a downer. He makes me depressed too.” Kaburagi walked next to Barnaby as they went out for a late dinner a few blocks away. Her treat.

“He’s usually pretty upbeat, even if he is quiet.” Barnaby shifted his school bag on his shoulder as they crossed a street.

“Yeah, but he seemed pretty shaken that his friend was out of prison. That’s got to be hard on him. I think he blames himself for what happened. He called himself a coward.” She was still wearing that stupid sash over her school uniform, said it made her feel cool. Before Barnaby could come up with a good reply he heard shouts coming from the park next to the pair. They both took off at a sprint and reached the fight. It was Ivan and a boy Barnaby had never seen before. He was holding Ivan down into a fountain trying to drown him while yelling at the blond, soaked up to his puffy yellow jacket and orange jumpsuit.

“Do you know how much I’ve suffered because of you? Huh?” The red head shouted while pushing Ivan down into the water. “You ruined everything! Why didn’t you try to help me that day?” He let Ivan come up for air and Barnaby was afraid that they wouldn’t reach the pair in time. “I went to save someone so why am I now the criminal and you’re walking free? This is your fault, coward! I lost everything because you were too scared to move!” With a growl the boy shoved Ivan back under.

“What’s he doing?” Barnaby asked as they ran closer.

“Hey! Leave the kid alone!” Kaburagi yelled as both boys looked up at them. The boy who must’ve been Edward Keddy leapt up and dashed away, leaving Ivan gasping and completely soaked in the fountain. Tetsuko tried to see where Edward went while Barnaby pulled the small blond out of the water.

“Are you alright?” Barnaby asked Ivan when he was sitting up. Tetsuko kneeled next to the boys.

“Why did you guys have to interfere?”

“Huh?” Barnaby and Kaburagi voiced confusion at the question.

“I’d be willing to die if I thought it would somehow make him feel better.”

“Why would you say something like that? The water must’ve leaked into your head.” Tetsuko wrung out Ivan’s blond locks as she tried to get the kid to talk.

“You have to understand that I’m the one who ruined his life.” The kid looked completely heartbroken.

“Edward’s just looking for someone to blame, Ivan.” The boy’s purple eyes landed on Barnaby’s face as he listened. “He shouldn’t have stepped in. What happened back then wasn’t your fault.”

“No, he asked for my help and I was so scared I couldn’t move. I froze. All I could think about was dying. With the way it turned out I might as well have died. If I stepped in, we might’ve changed things and he’d still be here, being a much better person than I am.” Ivan hung his head and clasped his hands together tightly.

“Listen, you’re coming at this all wrong.” Tetsuko’s voice make Ivan look up at her. “Edward simply wasn’t ready to be in a situation like that. He should’ve let the police handle it. But he’s going to mess up again if you don’t help stop him.”

“What do you mean? I can’t do anything.”

“Wouldn’t that be the same mistake you make last time? He’s your friend, don’t you care about him?” Ivan got a look in his eyes and stood up on his feet. He ran after his friend, conviction oozing from his every step. “I’m better than I thought I was.” Tetsuko smiled as she stood up.

“And so modest too.” Barnaby replied sarcastically. “You’re not supposed to brag about it.”

“It’s no big deal. Come on.” She ran after Ivan and Barnaby ran after her.

“Edward! Edward!” He could hear Ivan’s shouts through the park. They followed the teen into a parking complex across the street and watched as Edward tripped Ivan. The boy fell to the ground and looked up at his friend.

“You were looking for me so what’s with the scared face?” The red head towered over the blond.

“I’m here to ask you to stop. Come on, Edward, please!”

“Shut up!” The argument was interrupted by a flaming bolt passing between the boys. There, illuminated by the moon, was Lunatic. Barnaby’s blood began to boil at the sight and he picked up speed. Tetsuko was right there by his side.

“Sinful one, your time has come.”

“It’s Lunatic!” Ivan shouted. Barnaby was almost to the stairs that would lead him down into the lot.

“Why did he shoot at me?” Edward was clearly unsettled as he shouted at Ivan.

“You escaped from prison without atoning for the murder you committed. You will pay for that with your life!” As the arsonist aimed, Edward ran behind a car for shelter. “Foolish man.” The vigilante murderer blew up the car. Edward ran to another vehicle but it was blown up before he could reach it. Lunatic’s pointy boots clicked on the ground as he approached the criminal. “Are you prepared to atone for you sins? Because sinners have to pay the price. Accept your punishment as justice.” Barnaby and Tetsuko were now on the stairs, basically tripping over their own feet to get down there. Ivan jumped in front of his friend.

“Senseless killing goes against my principles. Identify yourself, sinner.” Lunatic paused, his finger hovering over the trigger.

“I’m Edward’s friend and I won’t let you kill him! Go ahead! I’m going to protect Edward! Go on! Shoot!” Ivan shouted, holding his arms out to protect his friend. Barnaby was now in the lot with Kaburagi and they dashed forward.

“You leave me no choice.” Those who defend sinners are also evil.” He swiped a match across his bow and the tiny flame lit up the bolt nestled inside. The man had matches and bolts strapped all over his body as well as an arsenal of projectile weapons. Barnaby panted with exertion, his blood pumping with the need for revenge. It was a race to see who could get there first and for the first time, Tetsuko beat him. She grabbed both boys and hauled them out of the way as Lunatic shot off his round. Fire exploded behind them and Barnaby jumped up to nail the arsonist with his signature kick. The man dodged as Barnaby yelled he bolted after the retreating criminal.

“You’re not getting away!” He ran faster than ever as the maniac left the lot. Tetsuko joined him after she’d patted Ivan on the back. They careened around the neighborhood always just a step behind the masked man until he got himself cornered on the roof of a three story building that was under construction. The three faced off, breathing heavily in the night air.

“What do you want with Edward? He doesn’t have anything to do with Ouroboros!” Barnaby questioned. The palm-faced bastard just laughed. “So you’re not trying to silence people for you organization?” Barnaby pressed, getting impatient for the answers he so desperately wanted.

“I’ve only come here to make evil doers atone for their sins.”

“So you’re not part of Ouroboros?” Kaburagi took a step forward, threatening the masked man’s position.

“You talk too much.” Lunatic lean back like he was bored with the whole affair.

“Don’t play coy! Because of you I lost my lead to Ouroboros!” Barnaby accused, taking his own step forward.

“That’s too bad.” The condescending tone made Barnaby’s temper flare at the man who had taken away his one chance to find his parent’s killer and the crime syndicate responsible for their deaths. He growled and surged forward, kicking with enough force to spin him around twice. Unfortunately, Lunatic dodged him yet again and leapt to another part of the roof where he loaded a flaming bolt into his crossbow with deadly efficiency.

“How reckless! Has hatred consumed you?” He aimed at Barnaby as his feet touched down on the roof. “Hear the voice of Thanatos!” Barnaby gasped as he realized he was about to die in a column of fire. Flickering flames licked at his brain, two bodies slumped on the floor and couch, a man standing with an evil grin, bursting into a demon.

“Bunny!” Tetsuko ran forward as the bolt left the string. She jumped in front of him and took the quarrel to the shoulder while pushing him down with her other arm. “Ahhh!” She crashed to the ground, holding her shoulder in pain while putting out the fire before it spread to the rest of her clothes. Her burned sash fluttered to the ground three stories below. Wha-? How did she-why? Barnaby couldn’t form a coherent thought as Tetsuko picked herself up clumsily and faced off against Lunatic again. She ran towards him and pulled back her injured dominant arm as the arsonist ran at her. They met at the edge of the roof and punched each other in the face with enough force that they both went flying. Barnaby watched from where he had fallen in shock. Lunatic fell off the building, but managed to clutch the edge of the roof before plummeting down. Then Tetsuko lost her balance and tipped backwards, falling off the roof with no way to grab on.

“No!” Barnaby’s heart clenched as she disappeared over the side. Her scream echoed in his ears before it stopped abruptly. The blond ran down the stairs, heedless to any obstacle in his way whether it was plastic covers, construction equipment or piles of materials for the building. It’s my fault! Barnaby thought as he raced down three floors his partner had just fallen down. If I had thought everything through, she wouldn’t have gotten hurt or fallen and she might be-no don’t think like that! He burst out of the building and ran around to the side where Tetsuko disappeared. He couldn’t see her in all the clutter the construction company had left lying around.

“Old lady!” He called out to her, climbing over piles of wood and sheet rock. “Old lady!” He heard a groan and movement somewhere to his right. He spotted something moving in a dumpster. It was Tetsuko. Thank god she’s alive! Barnaby ran to her as she tumbled out of the garbage and to the ground. She curled into a ball, holding her body in a crouched position and the blond put his hand on her shoulder to comfort her. “Are you alright?”

“Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.” She smiled weakly up at him trying to hide her bleeding arm and face. A quiet thump sounded behind them as Lunatic safely landed on the ground. Barnaby growled at him as he glared at the man. He felt a hand grip his tightly.

“Calm down, don’t get crazy.” Tetsuko looked him in the eye as she squeezed his hand, needing him by her right now.

“What?” Barnaby was upset that she was still thinking about him instead of herself!

“I have no wish to fight you.” Lunatic was turned away from the pair. Barnaby pulled his hand out of Kaburagi’s to face him.

“What?”

“Let me make myself clear: I’m just giving murderers what they deserve.” His voice echoed in his mask.

“Killing people, that’s what you call justice?” Tetsuko struggled to her feet as she talked. Barnaby grasped her shoulders to help her up and put his hand on her back for support.

“The oldest form on earth: an eye for an eye.” Lunatic turned around, revealing his broken mask where Kaburagi’s fist had cracked it.

“Yeah, well I have a very different approach. My idea of justice is by letting the police arrest idiots like you who put innocents in danger! Killing criminals isn’t going to help anyone when you put everyone’s life in danger with your fireworks!” The girl accused the man as she clutched her arm. Apparently her body didn’t like the sudden movement and Barnaby had to catch her as she stumbled back. More of Lunatic’s mask crumbled away, revealing pale skin underneath. A blue gloved hand reached up to cover his cheek.

“Interesting. We shall see where that sense of justice leads you and the people of Sternbild.” Lunatic leapt into the darkness, getting away once again.

“Wait!” Barnaby couldn’t see where he went. “Bastard.” Tetsuko crumbled to the ground, unconscious. “Hey! Kaburagi! Wake up!” Barnaby cradled her head on his lap when he sat down. He called 911 and waited for an ambulance to pick them up. He spotted the girl’s sash a few feet away and stretched his body to snatch in up. Most of it was gone, consumed by flames, but the “Let’s Believe” was still intact. Let’s believe, huh? What should I believe in? Barnaby tucked the piece of cloth in his pocket, brushed his classmate’s hair out of her face and shifted her into a more comfortable position. He didn’t even care that she was getting blood on his clothes. He looked at the injury she’d sustained from his stupidity. The cut was deep, almost stretching from her shoulder to her armpit at their widest point. He could see her white bone beneath the slightly scorched muscle. The burn would take up a good section of her skin when it healed. He took his free hand and pinched the skin together, applying pressure to stem the bleeding. He wanted to help in some way, to appease his guilt.

“Hey, Bunny.” Her voice was soft and laced with pain. She looked up at him with weary eyes, barely conscious again.

“Yeah, you silly old goat?”

“Aren’t you glad that ol’ palm-face isn’t a part of Ouroboros?” She coughed and seized up a little as she shifted. “Or maybe you’re not.” She slipped out again and left the boy with his thoughts. He didn’t know what to think. Mostly he was just glad both of them made it out of this alive.

The ambulance came and whisked both teens to the hospital. Lying out on a stretcher, Tetsuko was cared for by paramedics while Barnaby stayed out of the way. He couldn’t take his eyes off her face. Well, he did once when an unknown number texted him to let the blond know that Edward Keddy was back in custody and Ivan had tried to resolve things with his friend a little. The red head had said thanks. Barnaby shook his head as he stored the number under Ivan Karelin in his contacts. How many people did she give my number too? He returned to watching Tetsuko until the hospital staff took her off to surgery and left the boy in the waiting room.

“Why?” He asked, not expecting and answer. “I don’t get it. Why do you bother with me?” The boy fell asleep in his uncomfortable chair and had to be woken up by Mrs. Kaburagi. She’d been called in when the hospital had contacted her about her daughter. Barnaby explained the whole situation when she sat down and the kind woman just shook her head at her daughter’s shenanigans.

“She’s always in the thick of things, always has been.” Mrs. Kaburagi patted Barnaby’s hand sympathetically. “She was even a hostage in a bank robbery when she was little. She’d run away from home because of things that had happened in school that day. She used to get made fun of a lot and got into a slew of fights because of it. This one was particularly bad so she up and left in the middle of the afternoon. We searched all over for her until we got a call from the police saying that Tetsuko was alright and that she’d helped the authorities foil a robbery in the Silver Stage. She was so excited and happy that she didn’t get into any fights for a week.” The lady sighed and Barnaby was genuinely surprised she’d revealed so much of her daughter’s history to a near stranger. “I suppose that was a sign that she would be in more situations like that. I’ve come to expect them now, but it still doesn’t help my worrying. I’m just glad you were with her this time.” Mrs. Kaburagi smiled at the blond warmly.

“Why is that, Mrs. Kaburagi?”

“Call me Anju, or kaa-san. All of Tetsuko’s friends do.”

“What does ‘kaa-san’ mean?”

“Mother.”

“Oh.” Barnaby didn’t know how to feel about calling his friend’s mom ‘mother.’ Wait…friend? Are we friends? “Mrs. Anju why are you glad?” The woman chuckled at his formalness.

“She needs something steady in her life. When Tomoe died, she was lost for a bit. She was fully prepared to move out last year after school was done but was informed that she had to repeat a year and then Antonio quit his old job and moved on without her. They’re still friends, of course, but they were inseparable at school and it was hard being without him. When you were paired with my daughter, there was one thing she’d always do when she got home.”

“What was that?”

“Complain about how stuck-up you were or what you’d done to wrong her that day.” Mrs. Anju laughed at Barnaby’s face. “Don’t get me wrong, some of the insults weren’t pleasant, but she’d always talk about you in some way. Our conversations have gotten nicer lately; she’s found less to complain about you.”

“Well, that’s a relief.” Barnaby huffed, very put out at being trash talked to an older woman. She put her hand on his shoulder.

“I know dealing with Tetsuko can be very trying at times,” Barnaby mumbled “all the time,” when Mrs. Anju paused. “But she’s a good person and tries her hardest to please everyone in her own way. I think she’s lucky to have someone like you keeping her in line for the most part.” Their conversation fell into silence as Barnaby chewed on his new thoughts.

They were let into Tetsuko’s room when she got out of surgery. The brunette was still fast asleep, bandaged up once again. She’d broken some ribs in the fall and her burn wound/cut had to be stitched up as well as the muscles underneath. She also had a compress taped to her cheek where Lunatic had decked her. Barnaby sighed in relief when the doctor told them that she was going to be just fine. Mrs. Anju stroked her daughter’s face and kissed her forehead. She sat in the visitors chair and held her daughter’s hand. Barnaby was about to leave them alone when the older woman spoke up.

“Barnaby? Would you mind staying here for a minute? I need to get something to eat and I don’t want to leave her alone.” The woman stood up again and gestured to the now-vacant chair.

“Sure, Mrs. Anju.” The mother left them alone. Tetsuko’s face looked so peaceful, her dark skin and hair a perfect contrast to the white sheets she slept on. Barnaby took her hand like her mother did and leaned in close to the sleeping girl. “Thanks, old lady. You saved me this time. I’m just sorry I couldn’t be there to catch you.” Barnaby’s heart sped up when he thought of her fall, he didn’t want to feel like that ever again, not when he could help someone. The blond realized he was getting attached to the brunette and her ideals. He relied on her goofy smile and clumsiness like he relied on the sun to rise each day. He was beginning to think that he needed to see this girl every day to keep him on track. Why am I thinking like that now? We hated each other. Do we still? No, we don’t. Barnaby brought his hand up to stroke Tetsuko’s hair. It was softer than it looked and well taken care of.

“You are full of contradictions, you know that right? You pull of the ‘bad girl’ part so perfectly but turn around and are full of gooeyness at times. And you to get into fights but try to stop them all the time and you worry about others more than yourself and you meddle with others when you don’t like to be meddled with and you love to mess with me just too show how much you care-” Barnaby stopped his list and brushed his lips against her cheek impulsively, not knowing really why he did it. He realized that he might actually have feelings for this girl other than the mutual hate they shared together. “Thank you, old lady.”

“Mmm. Bunny.” Tetsuko mumbled in her sleep, a small smile gracing her face. Barnaby pulled away quickly, blushing like crazy. He’d almost woken her up! She mumbled, shifting slightly in her sleep. “Asshole.”

“You suck.” What do I see in you?

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