High School Never Ends

Chapter 9: Right Place, Right Time

“Well, hello there. Look, it’s the oaf who trashes her own school!” The menacing voice crawled up the girl’s spine, igniting her anger. I know that voice. It’s that bastard!

“And now for the fourth match: Mr. Jake verses the scary Tiger!” Kriem announced from under her umbrella. She pushed her asymmetrical glasses up her nose and smiled mischievously.

“Welcome to my show, Kaburagi! I do hope you enjoy yourself.” Jake Martinez stepped into the dim light of the gym, followed by Kriem who was holding a portable camera and had a microphone clipped to her ear. She was toting around three of her creepy little, multi-colored bears and tossed them into the air happily. “Now, why don’t you give our audience a big smile, girly? I’m sure they’d love to see your teeth before I knock them out.”

“What are you doing, Martinez?” She took off her backpack and dropped it on the floor. The jacket went next and the girl put her fists up, ready for a fight, even in a skirt.

“Giving you your just desserts for making trouble for my gang. I don’t appreciate it!” Jake smiled viciously and charged the girl, his eyes gleaming in excitement. Jake took off his own jacket, revealing pale skin covered in tattoos and unzipped red pants. “Come at me bro!” The two Ouroboros marks on his left shoulder and neck stood out above all the rest, a testament to Bunny’s research. I’ll take him down for you, as an apology, I guess. Not that I need to apologize for anything.

“As you wish!” Tetsuko roared as she ran at the man, raring for a good fight. The first punch smacked her in the jaw, the second splitting her cheek open, the third in her gut and Tetsuko knew she was in deep shit. She backed up, avoiding another strike and wiped some blood off her face. The girl ran at him again, he stepped out of her range, grabbing her skirt and ripping the fabric. She pivoted, trying to gain some speed. He dodged her again and when she came back around again, he flipped over her, whooping in delight. She tried to punch him again and missed when he slid down to the ground.

“Not fast enough,” he taunted, lying out of the floor when the girl overshot him again. He tripped the girl on her next past and flipped what was left of her skirt, getting a view of her lacy panties. “Nice ass, dolt.”

“Mr. Jake! Don’t compliment her!” Kriem jealously yelled at him.

“Pervert!” The brunette yelled as she hit the ground and rolled to a stop. Grunting in pain, Tetsuko got up again, cursing her floor burn. She’d cut open her knees on the wood and her hands weren’t any better. Jake was dancing and humming, waiting for her to get up.

“What a wuss. You won’t even let me get close so we can actually fight.” Tetsuko stood and rolled out her sore shoulder, the one Lunatic shot. Attacking him first isn’t working, so it’s time to try getting him to come to me.

“You’re one to talk. You’re the one who’s jumping around so you don’t have to face me head on!”

“That’s it!” Tetsuko charged; her rage escalating as the fight dragged on. Jake waited for her and once she was in close, shoved his hand into her chest and threw her backwards with her own force, hooking his foot around her heel so her feet couldn’t catch her. She slammed into the wall, slumping down when her right leg gave out. Get up. Now! She made her legs work, one foot and then the other. She pushed off the wall and stood up to face Jake again, bleeding and cut all over. Nothing new there.

“I love how you keep getting up. You’re much more fun than the others!” Jake chuckled as he danced around again.

“What others?” Tetsuko wiped some blood off her face as she prepared to get back into the fight.

“Your friends: Ivan, Keith and Antonio. You look like you’ll last longer than they did.”

“What did you do to them?” Tetsuko’s anger rekindled, strength flowing through her limbs once again.

“The same thing I’m doing to you. They all had their chance to fight me and they lost. They’re in the hospital in case you didn’t know that.” Jake smiled cruelly, probably loving the way Tetsuko was getting worked up. Is that where they’ve all been going? Getting the shit kicked out of them? Why didn’t anyone tell me? Why didn’t I know? The brunette roared as she rushed the man who was hurting her friends. Jake knocked her to the floor with an elbow jab to her spine once he ducked her punch. The girl collapsed on the wood floor and struggled to stand. Get up! You have to get up and stop him so that bastard doesn’t hurt anyone else! Her arms were under her torso, now her legs were supporting her body and soon she was standing upright. Breathing heavily, spine aching, Tetsuko took her stance again.

“A real hero never gives up. I can’t let this punk stop me.” The girl coached herself, reminding her why she was fighting. She barreled towards the criminal, but was halted when he jump-spun and kicked the girl in her right thigh. The leg crumbled under the pressure and she slapped her hands on the ground to catch herself.

“You don’t know when to quit, do you? Come on! Just give up already! I’ve got a date with your little boyfriend that I have to plan for so I don’t have all day to play with you.” He didn’t look like he wanted her to give up. The asshole looked like he was enjoying himself. He charged and backhand/bitch slapped her back to her old friend the wall. The brunette gasped as her abused back whined at her. “Well, aren’t you just a glutton for punishment?” Jake put his hands on his hips, clearly amused, his blue lips pulling into a grin.

“I’m not usually, but this time I deserve it.” She coughed, clearing her lungs of blood.

“And why is that?” He asked in a mocking tone.

“Because I’ve been a bitch lately.” She started running towards the criminal, the world swaying as she lost blood from her wounds. She pulled back her arm to punch the smirking bastard in the face when she slipped. The girl tripped over her own feet, her damn right leg buckling under her weight and somersaulted in midair. The bullet wound she’s sustained had weakened her muscles and her lack of coordination and the abused it suffered in the fight didn’t help either. She tucked her head into her body, trying to avoid a bad collision with the floor when something else happened. Her heel connected with something hard and a grunt of pain let her know it was her opponent. Tetsuko crashed to the ground and stared up at Jake, her eyes on the hands clutching his head. I finally hit him! I did it! Her joy didn’t last long.

“Ow! You slippery punk! Now you’re really in for it!” He kicked her in the face, her neck snapping back. “Nobody kicks me!” His voice turned from playful to vicious. Another kick to the face, and another. The girl’s nose was bleeding, her brains rattled around in her skull. She couldn’t move out of the way fast enough. Jake had gone psycho! “Nobody!”

Martinez grabbed her by the throat. Tetsuko scrabbled for his arm to get any air. She was tossed like a doll into the gym’s wall, her spine cracking against the concrete as her limbs flew out limply. Nothing was broken, yet, but it felt like her brain and her legs weren’t connected anymore. She slumped to the ground gasping for the breath that had been knocked out of her lungs. Jake pulled on her and pinned her body up with his forearm to her neck.

“I really don’t like getting kicked in the head. Hear me!” He shouted in her dazed face. “You’re so dead, Tetsuko! Nobody kicks me like that and lives!” His voice got louder and louder, but to the girl everything was getting faint. Jake snarled at her and gave her the perfect opening to wedge her foot in between their bodies and kick him in the gut. Martinez stumbled back clutching his stomach as Tetsuko tried to get her feet back. It did her no good. The man socked her bruised jaw for a second time and gave her a series of quick jabs to her torso. She cried out, her insides screaming in pain. Next he grabbed her torn shirt collar and swung her around to slam the brunette into the wall again, popping all of the buttons that held her clothes together. She gasped at the impact, blood flying from her mouth. Jake swept the girl’s feet out from under her with a kick and grabbed her skull as she fell to the floor, having lost all control of her body. He followed her down and banged the girl’s head against the ground. His fingers twisted in her hair and lifted Tetsuko’s head up to beat it down repeatedly. Again and again and again. Tetsuko screamed until she lost her voice, blackness creeping into her vision.

Everywhere hurt, twinges of agony crawled up her body. She should just stop fighting and pass out. No. Her blood began to pool on the floor. No. I will not give up. Jake had stopped, but her head still felt like it was being pounded into the wood below her. As he spit on her and stood up to walk away, she forced her pain riddled body to move. Tetsuko stuck her leg out. Jake tripped but didn’t fall like she wanted him too, the rage in his eyes burned brighter as he pivoted toward the defenseless girl. She chuckled anyway, coughing up blood in the process. The outside world didn’t matter anymore, inside hurt enough to blur everything beyond her limp form. Jake roared, kicking her in the stomach, then picked up her listless body and threw her across the gymnasium until she skidded to a stop lifelessly, her failing eyes catching bright streaks of red littering the floor. Is all that blood mine? Tetsuko asked herself as her eyes slid shut. I’m going to have to tell Bunny I’m sorry. I couldn’t defeat him no matter how hard I tried. Sorry, Bunny. She shut up, her pain rendering her unconscious at last.

She felt herself moving. Slowly and painfully Tetsuko cracked her eyes open and saw her arm swing in front of her face to pull her numb lower half in a struggling commando crawl. She cried out as her movement stretched her torso, she probably had some broken or fractured ribs. Another couple of inches forward, another gut-deep moan and the girl was seriously doubting ever moving again. She stopped, sinking boneless to the ground, her eyes fluttering shut. She laid there for a few minutes. Or was it hours? It doesn’t matter, pain shouldn’t hurt this much. The girl was joined by voices she could barely hear; she didn’t even have the energy anymore to open her eyes. The voices were saying something about here, or she’s here, and god and a lot of blood. That was all fine. She had no problem with talk, it’s the moving she loathed. Damn it! Don’t touch me! Tetsuko opened her mouth to scream as hands sent pain ricocheting through her body, but all that came out was a choked gurgle. The darkness was back, pulling at her. She wanted to go back to nothingness but she had to tell someone something first. What was it? She was being carried now. Arms under her knees, on her back. Strong arms. She let her head fall into a soft wall, not like those hard ones she was thrown against a while ago. A chest, her head supplied. And then she was moving again. Tetsuko whined, the pitiful sound escaping her throat as her body was jostled.

“You’re going to be okay. We’ll get you help. Don’t you dare leave, old lady.” What a nice sound. This voice is worried about me, it’s nice.

“I don’t think she can hear you, Handsome.” That voice didn’t sound right; it should be deeper, shouldn’t it? Of course I can hear you. The girl heard a car engine and more voices joined the others. Very loudly too.

“God, she’s a mess!” That was a young voice.

“Just drive!” That was the nice voice again.

“Tets, can you hear me?” That one was the not-voice speaking.

“She’s not responding to anything! I tried waking her up already.” Nice one.

“What can we do?” A cold voice asked.

“Help me stop the bleeding!” Tetsuko felt hands and things on her body, pressing in all the places that hurt. Damn it, stop that! It hurts! She wanted to yell at them, but the girl couldn’t find her own voice. Instead, she kicked something hard but soft. How does that make sense? Nothing makes sense anymore.

“Watch it! She’s alive!” The young voice piped up again.

“That’s a good thing.” The nice voice didn’t sound as sympathetic as Tetsuko wanted it to be.

“She kicked mud on my seat!”

“Shut it, drag queen. She’s getting blood on you seats already.” Tetsuko was tired and she wanted the voices to shut up. But first I have to tell that thing to someone. What was it again? Her hand flew out and latched onto something. She gripped the fabric in her hand hard and with what little strength she had, opened her eyes a fraction. Green eyes and a golden halo stared down at her. Is that an angel? Is this heaven? Funny, it feels like hell. What did I need to say again? It was so hard to concentrate. It was better just to take a nap. No. I have to say it. She opened her mouth and the word she needed tumbled out with more blood.

“I’m sorry.” It was barely audible. “Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry…” The words wouldn’t get louder but she wouldn’t stop, not until she passed out again, which she did and the voices called for her to come back.

It was nice here. Nice and quiet. For the first time in what felt like forever, Tetsuko didn’t feel any rage, or hate, or guilt whatsoever. She felt like she was floating. She half opened her eyes, finding that everything was pleasantly out of focus and not sharp and edgy like usual. Everything was all clouds, white and fluffy, like that time when she and Tomoe stared up at the sky for hours looking for pictures. Tetsuko tried to make a bunny, with a fluffy tail and long ears, but she couldn’t get the irritated expression to look right, it kept turning cute. And the glasses were always crooked no matter what she did.

“Bunny-chan!” She whispered it, her voice barely even that. She giggled, it was too funny not to for some reason. There were voices here too but they were all different from the other ones. No nice ones. They all sounded worried. Something was wrong. There was a thing on Tetsuko’s mouth, blowing breezes into her nose. She was moving on her back, but not moving at the same time. It was hard to describe and the girl didn’t want to think anymore. The voices were talking now.

“We have deep lacerations! Pulse is dropping!”

“We have to stop the bleeding! Prepare for a transfusion!” That doesn’t sound good. Who’s hurt? Tetsuko tried to move her arm and found she couldn’t. In fact she couldn’t feel much at all, it was all bubbly and float-y, like the champagne she’d stolen from her mother’s liquor cabinet at Christmas. Doors slammed shut somewhere and a really bright light flipped on right in her face. Tetsuko hissed and something poked her in the arm and sleepiness swept over her again. So Tetsuko went back to what she was best at: not thinking at all.

What was I doing? Why does everything feel so weird? Where the hell am I? There was white mist everywhere, floating and swirling in the air. The girl had no idea where she was at all or what she had been doing. She glanced down and found that at least she wasn’t naked, where ever she was. She wore her patented vest and slacks outfit, she even had her newsboy cap! The brunette took a step forward and as she moved, the mist caressed and brushed past her body as she swung her arms out to find a wall if she could. She wandered for what felt like forever, not hitting or finding anything in the clouds.

“Oh, no. This better not be one of those obligatory dream sequences.” Tetsuko whirled around in the mist, searching for something to orient herself with when she actually did smack into a wall. “Ow!” The girl rubbed he sore forehead as she gazed up at the wall. “Why is this building here?” Tetsuko walked a step back and studied the structure. It was the old middle school. “How did I end up here?” The girl took a stroll around the outside of the school, finding windows into the classrooms, but no door inside. She was getting frustrated by the time she’d circled the building three times. How am I supposed to get in when there’s no freaking doors? She stomped her foot in irritation and glanced around one last time, determined to leave if no answer presented itself. Good thing one did.

“When did my sneak-in tree get there?” The tree hadn’t been there a second ago and now it was. Tetsuko walked over to the plant, flowering with its cherry blossoms and looked up. The second story window into the school was open. “Well, that’s convenient.” The brunette jumped for the lowest branch and was surprised when her arms burst into pain as she grabbed the limb. “What the hell?” She struggled to hang onto the branch and pulled herself up slowly. She hugged her arms close once she was sitting stably in the trees and yelped when the pain broadened to her chest. She could barely breathe now, her ribs feeling like they were broken. After an indeterminate amount of time, the girl could move, the pain fading as quickly as it had come.

“That was weird.” She patted her torso and flexed her arms. There was no pain anymore. She stood up carefully and climbed the tree until she could slip into the second floor window. Once inside, it looked nothing like the middle school. Instead the girl stood in the halls of her high school, near her hiding spot in the ceiling by the janitorial closet. This didn’t seem to strike her as weird and she walked down the hallway to her first period class. It wasn’t her computer science class like usual, but instead was filled with kids from her seventh grade class, including a little Tomoe with his glasses and neatly combed hair and a little Antonio falling asleep in class. Or as little as Antonio could be.

“Late again, Kaburagi?” The girl’s head snapped up to the sharp voice of Mrs. Razmas, the one teacher she loathed above all others.

“Yes, ma’am.” The tall, skinny bat was the only one who Tetsuko ever “ma’am-ed” in her whole life. The old lady’s vulture eyes bore into the girl’s and Tetsuko began to sweat.

“Sit down then. I’ll be talking to you after class.” The crone turned back to the board, her severely pressed pencil skirt and blouse snapping as she turned. Tetsuko dashed to the only empty seat, next to Tomoe, and sat down in to the too small desk. Folding her long legs under the table proved to be a challenge as her chair squeaked to every adjustment she made. Nobody else seemed to notice the noise. Antonio passed her notes during class and Tomoe kept glaring at her whenever she giggled at what her best friend had written. Class ended when the bell rang and when Tetsuko looked up from Antonio’s latest note everyone was gone. She was in an empty classroom. The girl looked down at the pieces of paper in her hands. There were no words on the pages.

She left the computer sciences classroom and walked down the hall, passing the projection room for the auditorium. Tetsuko stopped when she noticed that the door was slightly ajar. She touched the wood and slowly opened the door, peeking in cautiously. The girl walked into the projection room and noticed that once again, it was the middle school’s old projection room, not the high school’s like it was supposed to be. But that fact was irrelevant now, Tetsuko was watching an eighth grade Tomoe make out with her. The two children were inexperienced and clumsy as they clung to each other and the brunette recalled how nice the kiss had felt at the time. She blushed but didn’t leave the room, just silently watching her and her first love kiss with passion she really hadn’t felt in a long time. We were just kids, but somehow we both knew what love was. I knew I loved Tomoe from the moment he first took my hand. It just felt right. The girl blinked and found that she was in the hallway again, the projection room now locked. She stood up and felt a huge weight in her stomach, but when she looked down, nothing was there.

“What is going on now?” Tetsuko patted her stomach, feeling the flatness and wanting to think that there should’ve been a bulge of some sort right there. I should look heavier, feel rounder. It finally dawned on the girl as echoing voices sounded around her. They were calling her a whore, a slut, a twat. She was a pregnant bitch. “I’m carrying Kaede.” Tetsuko placed her hands back on the flat stomach, a tear slipping down her face. The voices grew louder and louder, entering her ears and ringing around in her head like parrots. Whore. Worthless bitch. Slut. Fucking twat. Why are you so useless? Worthless bitch. How can you even live with yourself? Slut. Fucking twat. . Worthless bitch. You no good to anyone now. Slut. Fucking twat. They kept taunting and howling as the girl ran down the hall as fast as she could. Heart racing, blood pounding she tripped and fell, landing hard on the ground and flailing her arms to ward off the voices.“Just stop! You know nothing! Shut up!” The girl screamed, clutching her pounding head desperation. I can’t live through this again! I don’t want to go back! “Go AWAY!” She screamed and silence fell, glaringly empty. She looked up, feeling light again. Tetsuko stood up and shook her head to stop the ringing. No longer tormented, she searched the floor for a way out of this crazy house. She wasn’t staying here any longer. I’m getting out of here if it kills me. I don’t want to be here anymore. She ran to where the stairs were supposed to be and found a wall.

“A dead end?” She turned and dashed to another staircase. Blocked. She ran to the fire escape and found that there was none. She was trapped on the second floor. The girl tried all the doors; every classroom was locked and empty. She screamed in frustration, cursing every god she knew and some she didn’t. “All the fucking doors on this level are locked, so where the hell am I supposed to go now?” Tetsuko yelled at the ceiling, feeling very stupid for talking to a building. Then a window in front of her burst open with a gust of wind. The girl jumped in surprise and stared at the opening. She walked slowly to the pane and glanced out hesitantly. Outside in the school yard there was a single headstone. “Oh, so that’s where.” Tomoe’s death happened in her sophomore year, that’s where she needed to go next.

Climbing up onto the window sill, the girl glanced back into the school to make sure that none of the other doors were open. They weren’t and when she turned back a tree was waiting in front of her to climb down. She jumped out of the tree and shivered in the sudden breeze that whipped her clothes as she walked over to Tomoe’s tombstone. She stared at the gray stone, feeling like she was just here not too long ago, but that was impossible. Then a door burst open on the side of the middle school building. Tetsuko sighed and left Tomoe, her sadness following her was she walked away.

She trotted up to the open entrance and joined other screw ups in the detention room. Great, back here again. She waved at Antonio and Orlando Cooper, (both probably in here for smoking on school grounds) and glared at Yuri Petrov, the junior who was vying for number one on Tetsuko’s hit list. The brunette slumped into her usual seat in the back, threw her feet onto the desk and slipped her arms behind her head. The girl tipped her newsboy cap down over her eyes as she settled into her customary detention nap. This room is where I spent half of my senior year. Waste of time, but very good naps. After falling asleep, Tetsuko was woken up when she leaned to far over and crashed to the floor. She sprang up, expecting to be lectured by Mr. Hansen, but was surprised to find herself along again.

“Where does everyone keeping going?” She stood up and looked around. The girl tried the door and when it opened she walked out into the hallway without a backwards glance. Determined to get out of this school, the brunette’s hand was yanked back, her burned shoulder protesting the movement painfully. “What the hell is it now?”

“Watch your tongue, young lady.” It was Lloyds. The gray haired man pulled her into the hall monitor’s offices and dragged her over to a blond boy who glared at her. Bunny? Wait, why did I call him that? Oh right, because his headphones looked like bunny ears. “This is Barnaby Brooks Jr. He’ll be your partner on the Public Relations committee. Get along and get to work.” Tetsuko looked back and Lloyds was gone. This disappearing act is getting old. The two teens glared at each other and did as they were told. After what felt like hours of arguing and fighting, Bunny abruptly left Tetsuko alone. She waited for the bastard to come back, but he didn’t and finally fed of tapping her foot on the floor agitatedly, she left the offices. Tetsuko smelled food coming from the cooking class rooms and dashed towards the smell as her stomach decided it was hungry. She swung open the door and was dragged into waiting on tables at Hero’s Bar. The other heroes didn’t think that is was weird that she wasn’t in her costume and Tetusko just rolled with it. Skipping around customers and tables, the girl smiled and laughed with her friends and even teased Bunny about his costume’s ears. They really are cute, in a mecha sort of way. He sort of chided her, but they were friendly with each other. Tetsuko tripped and fell out of the room, crashing through another door and tumbling into should’ve been the cafeteria. Only it wasn’t the cafeteria.

Tetsuko was swept into a whirl of colors and blasting music as someone picked her up and the girl grabbed someone’s hand. She dragged Bunny into the dancing club and laughed at the boy as he tried to imitate her when she showed him how to dance. She never felt so happy, wiggling and shaking with her boyfriend as Karina tormented boys and Nathan molested Antonio. Keith, Ivan and Pao-Lin where there too, jumping and squealing (in the girl’s case) as they danced the night away. Tetsuko sat down on a bar stool to rest for a minute, closing her eyes to get away from the sporadic lights.

“Tired already, old lady?” The girl looked up to snap at her boyfriend and started when she found herself sitting at a lunch table, alone and in the daylight. This is seriously giving me whiplash! When will it end? Tetsuko sighed and walked out of the cafeteria. Smack! Tetsuko crashed to the floor, rubbing her head as she stared up at the handicap elevator.

“When did this get here?” The girl looked down the hallway, positive that the elevator was around the far corner instead of right in front of her. “Oh well.” The brunette got to her feet and stumbled when her right leg cramped up. “Shit! Stop doing that!” She rubbed her sore leg viciously, working out the Charlie horse quickly. The elevators doors pinged opened and the girl reasoned that she was supposed to get on. She limped over and got in the transport just as the door closed behind her. She stood up straight and waited as the elevator rose, she didn’t even have to pick a floor. The doors slid open again and Tetsuko stepped out onto the roof. Gray clouds shadowed the sky and the wind picked up. The teen clutched her arms around her chest as she shivered. She spotted Bunny yelling at nothing on the far side of the roof. He looked angry and hurt at the same time and Tetsuko walked towards him.

“Bunny! What are you doing?” The wind howled and threatened to blow her right off the building as the girl stumbled towards her boyfriend. Leaves blew into her face, ripped right off of the trees below and Tetsuko had to close her eyes so she didn’t lose one. The wind started talking, hissing in the brunette’s ears as she lifted up one of her arms to protect her face.

“I wanted to know why you were avoiding me two weeks ago…you lying asshole!” Was that her voice? It sounded so hateful and angry.

“You followed me? You’re such a hypocrite!”

“Bunny! Is that you?” Tetsuko called, trying to find the boy in the swirl of wind and leaves. She couldn’t see a single thing.

“You weren’t so forthcoming…I went to find out myself! Turns out your just a lying son of a bitch who was too much of dick to tell his girlfriend that he was cheating on her!” That was her voice! Was this their fight? It sure sounded like it.

“I didn’t mean it, Bunny! I take it back! Where are you?” Tetsuko stumbled around, pushed by the wind until she was slammed up against the chain link fence surrounding the roof by the voices.

“I was not cheating on you! I was looking for information…“

“Good…cleared up! But it still doesn’t justify…lying to me!”

“You’ve been lying to everyone…about your kid! Well I guess that proves what everyone says about you.”

“What?”

“That you’re a slut and this whore baby proves-“

“You can say whatever you want …leave my daughter out of it.”

“Whatever…we’re through then.”

“…we can’t work this out.”

“Well, if you can’t trust me…we can’t base a relationship off of something like that.”

“You’re always right…I hope you’re happy now.”

“I didn’t mean it! Where are you? Come back!” Tetsuko pushed against the wind, but it only pushed back harder, the fence groaning under the force. The girl gasped as she felt the wind knocked out of her lungs and then she was coughing up blood. What the-? The fence broke and the teen was swept off the roof. She screamed and slammed into the ground far below, torn up and bleeding as she crawled along the gym floor. Gym floor? I’m outside, how can there be a gym floor here? Tetsuko gasped as a foot rammed into her ribs and bruised her skin. Jake Martinez’s face loomed in her vision, his eyes dark and stormy like the clouds above their heads. Everything clicked in that moment and all her memories rushed back into her head. Their big fight, the mess of emotions afterwards, the avoiding everyone days at school, the jealously plan, the drag race, the text from Antonio that turned out to be Jake and the fight afterwards. I’ve got to get out of here! My friends need my help. Bunny needs my help. The school, the grounds, the sky, all vanished in an instant and it was just Tetusko floating through whiteness, hurting with a pain that ached more than her physical injuries.

Consciousness returned slowly, like waking up from a really boring exam on a warm, Friday afternoon. The panic after which when you realize that you’ve only answered half the questions and have exactly ten minutes to finish everything happened as well. Tetsuko sat up with a scream, tearing something out of her arm and nearly falling out of bed. Something was on her face, sucking at her cheeks and the girl yanked at the tube until it came off with a pop!

“Calm down, ‘Suko!” Antonio’s voice shouted at the girl from her right. She was panting heavily, hanging out of her hospital bed. Her head pounded, screaming at her to get everything to shut up! The girl gripped her head like she was trying to hold her skull together and she listened to the whirring and beeping of hospital machines. When she had the headache slightly more under control she looked up.

“Where the hell am I?” She listed, trying to right herself, but still too out from the drugs to do anything efficiently.

“Sternbild General Hospital. You’ve been out for two days.” The world was coming into focus again, colors and shapes ordering themselves so Tetsuko could process them. Antonio was in the bed next to her and Keith was next to him. Ivan was sitting in a wheelchair by her bed.

“How are you feeling?” The timid blond asked, helping pull the girl upright and back into her bed.

“Ow.” Everything hurt again and she was bandaged head to toe. At least the swelling in her face was gone. Seriously, Jake had thoroughly abused her head and it was all bandaged around her forehead and scalp. Her arms and torso were wrapped so tightly that it was hard to move and breathing was a chore because of her aching ribs.

“That’s what I thought. You’ve taken a beating worse than all of us. You need to rest.” That was probably the most the brunette had ever heard Ivan say in one breath.

“What’s happening outside?” She asked, trying to get a grip on the situation. She’d been the last fight Jake had had, what if he’d already chosen someone else.

“Nobody’s joined us if that’s what you’re wondering. Nathan’s keeping us updated now that he’s gotten my phone back. He gave me yours too. Apparently you dropped it at school.” Antonio showed Tetsuko both devices and set them on the table so she could take a look at both.

“So that’s where it went.” She flipped to his messages. Nathan had been texting him every ten minutes, worried and updating at the same time. No more videos, no more abductions. “That’s a relief.” Tetsuko set the phone down and lay back, already sleepy again. The machines hooked up to her beeped cheerfully as she started to fall asleep again. Then Antonio’s phone went off and Tetsuko was faster at grabbing it and lay back down. “It’s Nathan.” She announced for the sake of the whole group. She opened the message and her stomach dropped.

Nathan Seymour: Handsome’s missing.

I’ve got a date with your little boyfriend that I have to plan for so I don’t have all day to play with you. Jake’s voice whispered in her ear threateningly. Had he said that? Yes, he did. She shot up again, fear racing through her veins. I have to help, Bunny! Tetsuko swung her feet around to hang off the bed, ignoring all her hurt (thankful for her high pain tolerance) and pushed up shakily. She fell first before she swayed to her feet. She pulled another IV drip out of her arm and nearly collapsed from the pain her body was giving her. “Damn.”

“What are you doing?” Antonio asked, leaning over his own beeping machines to grab her wrist. She collapsed against his bed, knees to the floor, panting like she’d run a marathon when she’d only taken two steps. “Take it easy, pal! Stay in your bed and rest!”

“I have to help Bunny! He’s Jake’s next target! Nathan texted.” Even those short sentences were a chore now. She stumbled another step forward and clutched her side, tipped backwards onto her bed gasping. She grunted in pain, her torso flaring up in protest at all the movement.

“Someone else has to go. You’re too weak.” He’d grabbed the phone by now and was flipping to the text.

“No, it has to be me. I know how Jake keeps beating us.” The girl held her side tightly as she rose to her feet once again. Her eyes blurred, agony ripping through her muscles. “I’ve been in worse fights than this. I’ll bounce back.”

“I actually don’t think you’ve ever been hurt this badly from a fist fight.”

“Shut up, ‘Tonio. Did Nathan happen to leave my school bag here?”

“Yeah, it’s by your bed.” Ivan answered.

“Don’t tell her that!” Antonio protested, having to turn his whole body towards the blond to glower at him because of his neck brace. Tetsuko rolled her eyes as she walked around her bed and tripped over her bag.

“She would’ve found it anyway.” Ivan smiled as the girl picked it up.

“Har, har,” she drawled, rummaging through her backpack one-handedly.

“Why do you need that?” Keit leaned forward to look at her from his cot. Tetsuko waited for the next, “Why?”

“Because there are clothes in here.” She pulled out her green shirt and black slacks to hold them up for the boys. “You can’t expect me to go out looking like this.” She gestured to the ugly teal scrubs she wore. The males looked down at their own attire and shrugged.

“It’s fine.”

“I would.”

“I don’t have a problem with them. I don’t.”

“Well, I do. Now close your eyes!”

“Why?” Antonio asked.

“I have to change, dummy!”

“Why hasn’t a nurse shown up yet?” Ivan wondered, closing his eyes.

“I’m not closing my eyes. You shouldn’t be leaving.” Keith’s eyes were closed now and only the Spaniard was being stubborn. The girl glared at him.

“Fine, then. Enjoy the show.” She dropped her clothes on the bed and undid the tie on her pants. The bull-man blushed and looked away. “Wuss.” She slowly shimmied into her slacks, finding more wraps around her legs and ankles.

“Do you want me to look?” Now her top was off and Tetsuko thanked the heavens she always had an extra bra if hers ever got destroyed in a fight.

“Your choice. I don’t care, you’ve seen me naked before, remember?” The bra was a struggle but she got it on eventually.

“I don’t want to.”

“Jerk.” The shirt was next and buttons were a bitch even without drug riddled fingers.

“Can we change the subject?” Ivan was beat red at this point.

“Sure, I need you to tie my shoes.” Out came her trusty Oxfords. The flat ones.

“You even have extra shoes?” Antonio couldn’t believe her.

“Yes, what dink of girl would I be if I didn’t have extra shoes?” She sat down carefully and Ivan slipped on her shoes and tied the shoes for her. Keith watched with amusement and Antonio glared at her stupidity.

“Let me guess, you brought you vest along too?” The bull-man meant it as a joke but it happened to be true.

“You betcha!” Tetsuko held up the garment cheerfully.

“God damn it! Just stop already! You’re in no condition to go out and yet you are! And you’re joking about it!”

“Calm down, ‘Tonio. I’ve always been a quick healer, I’ll be fine.” Tetsuko donned her vest and sighed in relief when she found that someone had saved her watch, ring and cancer bracelet for her. The jewelry, tie and newsboy hat went on quickly and she stood up again, more confident in her balance.

“You’re crazy.” Her best friend grumbled, giving up on stopping her.

“I know. Well, I’m headin’ out now. I’ll see y’all later!” She walked out the door with a salute and as soon as it was shut, she slumped against it, clutching her side. Damn it. She checked her shirt, no blood yet but it felt like her torso was tearing apart. Getting dressed had worn her out and she could joke with the boys about it, but that hurt! Keep going, Tetsuko. You’ve got work to do. She straightened up and dashed down the hall, leaving no trace behind her footsteps.


Quit worrying. She’ll be fine, Barnaby chided himself early Wednesday morning, but he could completely push out the old lady. She’d looked so horrible two days ago when they’d rushed her to the hospital. Covered in blood and bruises, she hadn’t even recognized any of her friends or Barnaby, near unconscious the whole time. The blond had puzzled over her apologies when she clung to his shirt. Was she apologizing for their fight? Was it for losing her battle? Or for bleeding all over him? Either way she was looked so broken hearted that it caused the boy some concern. He’d visited her yesterday (thankfully alone and when everyone in the room was taking a drug induced nap). She seemed so small and broken in the hospital bed, hooked up to machines that were regulating her body’s functions and monitoring her health. That’s when he got the text, looking through a glass window at his healing friends and his ex. Barnaby flipped his phone open to read the message.

Unknown: Hello Brooks.

Barnaby: Who is this? How did you get this number?

Unknown: Lopez’s phone.

Barnaby: Is this Jake?

Unknown: Bingo! Listen, we’ve blown through all the people who didn’t know about our little game and I’m still itching for a good fight. Your girlfriend put up a good one, very entertaining. Do you think you can do better?

Barnaby’s anger flared as he read the text and glanced at Tetsuko all bandaged up, breathing heavily into her mask. She was just entertaining? What about the others? Are we all just your playthings? Hate and a bit of fear spiked down the boy’s spine. This was his chance for revenge, the moment where he avenged his parent’s death by bringing their killer to justice.

Barnaby: I can do anything better than her.

Unknown: Excellent. I’ll meet you tomorrow morning out in the warehouse district in Bronze, complex thirteen. Be seeing you. And P. S. leave the authorities out of this or else your little friends might just have a little accident. Like half of the hospital blowing up for example.

Now it was time to get ready and go. His fight with Jake was happening in just a little while and Barnaby slung on his jacket, glaring at the rainstorm outside that was reflecting his stormy mood. On the one hand he was ready for this, he’d been preparing to face the monster of his nightmares for years, but he was still scared. Everyone else who’d faced him had ended up in the hospital and that was not something to brush off. The boy would have to be in top form if he was going to take down his enemy. Barnaby walked out of his apartment, flipping off the light as he left. He made his way down to the garage and started up his Chaser, the pink tinted lights glowing in the dark parking terrace. Pulling out, the blond raced out onto the street and sped away to Bronze, the slight rain slapping against his helmet. He stayed focused on his task, only sparing a glance as he passed near the hospital. I’ll stop him, don’t worry guys. That bastard will pay for what he did to you, but mostly he’ll pay for taking my parents away from me. Barnaby’s gaze hardened at the thought of his friend’s injured bodies and Tetsuko’s scuffed up face popped into his vision. I’ll make him pay.

He throttled the engine and shot off down the streets of Sternbild. He raced to the Bronze Stage warehouse district, his heart pounding and blood racing. He was ready for this. Once he entered the industrial side of the Stage, Barnaby started recognizing the area. This was where Tetsuko raced in the video. She and that guy ran right through here, on the street he was following. The blond looked down, noticing faint skid marks etched into the asphalt that turned to the right and down another row of warehouses. The canals are that way. Barnaby deposited that piece of information as useless and began looking for complex thirteen. Half the warehouses looked trashed, probably because gangs had trashed the area for years. Locating the correct warehouse, Barnaby parked his bike under an overhang so it didn’t get to wet in the storm. He took off his helmet and shook out his curls.

“Ready for this?” He whispered to himself. “Yes.” The blond ditched his bike and walked over to the storage complex, staying as dry as possible in the storm.

Barnaby stepped into the warehouse, which was relatively small compared to the others and the roof was in desperate need of repair as rain dripped down onto the floor. Noting the puddles, the blond reminded himself to avoid slipping on them during the fight. He took off his jacket and folded it up neatly before setting it on an abandoned box. A flash of his parent’s faces flashed in his memory, laughing and smiling as the three of them walked down the lighted sidewalk. It was Christmas time and Barnaby gazed up at his father’s bright eyes and his mother’s smiling face. Then the memory morphed into the small boy peeking into the living room where the murderer stood over his parent’s bodies, gun in hand as the mansion burst into flames. As if the memory was pushing its way into the present, strains of opera filtered into the boy’s head, flames licking at his eyes. Shoving every distraction out of his mind, Barnaby walked out onto the floor, looking around for Jake. Kriem waved at him from under her huge umbrella, placed out of the way but close enough to film. Her weird bears clustered around her on a couch, the woman giggled where she sat and adjusted the camera on her tripod, getting a good shot of the blonde’s face.

“Welcome back to our show everyone. Just entering the floor, we have a new challenger! Let me introduce Mr. Jake’s next opponent: he’s out for revenge, so we call him Revenge Boy!” This is when Barnaby expected Jake to enter the “arena,” but the maniac was nowhere in sight. “We’re ready to start the match, but I don’t see Mr. Jake anywhere! What could’ve happened to him?” Barnaby glanced behind him, to the left and right, then spun around searching for his enemy. The boy swore he heard a soft chuckle ghosting through the warehouse. A delighted shout sounded from above Barnaby and his head snapped up in surprise. A man was falling from the ceiling of the warehouse, laughing like a crazy person. Barnaby dodged his landing point and rolled away from the figure as he hit the floor and rushed the blond. “There he is! Mr. Jake has staged a beautiful ambush!” The fur clad man was dripping, probably from hiding in the decaying rafters and charged, punching Barnaby in the face. Thrown back, the blond flipped and skidded to a halt in a crouch and ran at the criminal. His kick was blocked by Jake’s crossed arms out from his body and the boy leaped back, keeping his distance.

“Oh my, that was a really weak approach.” Jake stated disappointedly, chewing on his nails.

“There’s something that I need to know.” Barnaby growled, analyzing his opponent.

“Revenge Boy’s attack didn’t stand a chance against Mr. Jake!” Kriem narrated from her perch, her chipper voice irritating the teen.

“I have only one thing to ask you: why did you murder my parents? What did you have against them? Answer me you bastard!” Barnaby kicked at Jake, the two men spinning around each other as the maniac dodged his attacks. Jake leapt back, his eyes sparkling with excitement.

“Let’s not dwell on things that happened in the past. It’s more fun to deal with the here and now.” His voice was practically a growl, so low that Barnaby shivered as he spoke. “Hey, Brooks. I’ve got a question for you: are you such a stuck up prude because your mommy and daddy weren’t there to raise you? Actually, that was Kriem’s question to me when she found out that you’d dedicated your life to revenge. I would’ve dedicated my life to messing with people; it’s more fun that way. Oh wait,” Jake gave the blond a crazy smile, “I did!” The tattooed man leapt at Barnaby and the blond rolled out of the way, running to safety as he was attacked again. Jake was fast, faster than Barnaby. The criminal caught up to the boy, grabbing his shoulders and throwing his across the floor. The boy rolled, grunting as his body hit the ground but immediately getting back up stage his own attack. A swift spin kick should’ve sent Jake careening into a wall, but the man avoided it and punched Barnaby in the gut. Gasping as hard bone dug into his stomach, the blond folded in half and felt to one knee. Jake backed away, skipping out of Barnaby’s reach.

“Come on! Get back up! Your girlfriend did every time I smacked her around, and I thought you said you could do anything better than her.” Barnaby rose to his taunt, glaring at the killer. “That’s more like it! I love the fire in your eyes!” Jake whooped and darted forward to swing again. His fist was blocked by Barnaby’s arm and the boy lashed out, kicking with deadly accuracy that missed the bearded man again. They traded blows for a few minutes, well it was mostly Barnaby defending while Jake went on offense. Every time a blow landed Barnaby cried out, pain riding up his body as his endurance was tested to the limit.

“Here’s an update: Revenge Boy looks like he’s struggling, but Mr. Jake hasn’t even broken a sweat! He’s incredible!” Kriem was standing on the couch jumping as the blond hit the floor again. Jake was right there, grabbing the teen by his collar and Barnaby barely missed breaking his nose as he turned his cheek to take the punch. Jake threw him back after his arm recoiled from his punch and sent the boy flying. Barnaby landed on his back, hard and gasped as he struggled for breath. Sitting up, the boy rose to his feet, glaring at Jake. The man just smiled and pointed a finger at him and giggled. If I keep attacking him, I’m bound to hit him at one point. If I can just get him to let his guard down. Barnaby charged again and had to duck when Jake pulled his arms behind him and chucked a wrench right towards him. Hitting the ground, Barnaby heard the whoosh of the metal tool and the clang accompanied by a hiss as it ripped through some old pipes at the other end of the building. Barnaby glanced back just in time to see the whole thing explode as the water pressure released. Liquid shot all over the warehouse, sending up a cloud of mist. Barnaby shielded himself from the cascading water and scrambled out of the jet stream. It just had to be water. As if I wasn’t wet enough, now my hair’s going to frizz. Shut up Barnaby, your hair will survive, concentrate on Jake! Kriem squealed something about her make-up running and Jake whooped, hidden somewhere in the warehouse behind clouds of water.

“Oh dear! Both of them are completely hidden in the mist! Where could they be?” Kriem’s voice could be heard in the corner, still narrating. Barnaby caught a glance of her rummaging through a bag, supposedly for cosmetics. She’s worse than me. The blond twisted around, getting his head back into the fight. He flipped his head from side to side, looking for Jake. The mist began to dissipate as the water ran out and he spotted the enemy, his fur coat turned away from the boy.

“I’ve got you now!” Barnaby leapt at Martinez poised to actually hit him this time. Jake ducked and smacked Barnaby in the stomach, throwing him back once again.

“You know, the thing about sneak attacks is they don’t work if you them yell out loud.” Jake teased as he kicked the blond even further back. Barnaby hit the ground on his back again, struggling to sit up. His muscles protested, contorting in pain. Jake loomed over him, flipping his had theatrically. “Hey, what’s wrong? Is it time for a nap already, hm?” He grinned gleefully as he gloated. Barnaby’s head fell back. Jake hauled him back up and punched him in the face. Then he kicked the teen in the chest and sent him flying.

“Ah yes, a delicious cup of tea.” Kriem’s make-up back to perfection, she continued commenting on the fight. Or not on the fight in this case as now she was sipping tea from a thermos. “And a gorgeous boyfriend.” Barnaby sat up from his spot on the floor, battered and broken but my no means out of the game. He pushed his broken glasses up his nose and scowled. Jake smiled again and snapped both of his hands out in front and danced around like he was conducting and orchestra. Barnaby pushed to his feet again and Jake chuckled.

“Up again, I see. Let’s play, pretty boy!” He plowed across the room and Barnaby took his stance to kick the bastard in the balls. He was surprised when Jake suddenly pulled back his arm and backhanded his cheek. The skin split and blood pooled at the wound.

“Shit!” Barnaby tenderly fingered the cut, his fingers coming away with blood.

“Oops! Did I mess up that pretty face of yours? Sorry!”

“You’ll pay for that!”

“He’s almost as bad as you with appearances, Kriem.” Jake commented off handedly, gesturing to his girlfriend.

“Was that a compliment or an insult?” Kriem shot him a murderous glare.

“It’s a compliment to you because you always look gorgeous, my teddy bear, and an insult to him because pretty boy will never look as good as you.” Jake blew her a kiss and twirled in his red pants.

“Good answer.” Kriem smiled and took another sip of tea. Jake moved with snake like speed and grabbed Barnaby’s shirt collar, swinging the boy around before sending him careering into a wall. Barnaby grunted in pain, a moan slipping out from his lips. He panted heavily, his body aching from the abuse it was being put through.

“What a completely disappointment you are.” Jake walked up to the blond and planted his foot on the boy’s shoulder. “And you were supposed to be the best!” Martinez pushed against his shoulder, digging his bones into the hard surface of the wall. He pulled back only to push against his body again and again. Barnaby cried out in pain, embarrassed that he let his enemy know that he was hurting.

“We’re now seeing Revenge Boy lost in despair, as he realizes the difference in power between himself and Mr. Jake!” Kriem gushed into her microphone.

“I have to get through his defense.” Barnaby whispered, shoving Jake’s foot off his shoulder as the maniac danced away.

“Too bad, loser. You’re never going to beat me. You’re just not strong enough.” Barnaby was wounded and bruised while Jake looked as fresh as he had when the fight started, just more wet.

Time became meaningless as Barnaby was pummeled into submission. Punched, slapped and thrown into walls, the blond knew he wasn’t going to be able to take much more of a beating. The only thing that kept him going was his desire for justice. Or revenge, whichever came first. That fire, and the promise he made on his parent’s grave did allow him to give up. Watching Tetsuko fight the other day had given him something to strive for, every time he got up was one more time than she did. He finally understood how Tetsuko felt in her hopeless fight, getting the shit beat out of her like he was. She probably wanted to give up, just like he did, but even time she could, she got up and Barnaby wasn’t going to be outdone by an old crone. So he got up again and again, determined to be better than her. He was thrown backwards again and flailed for something to stop his fall, but of course, there was nothing as he slammed into a support pillar and slumped to the ground.

“Uh oh! Revenge Boy is down! For a record thirtieth time.” Kriem sounded just as happy as a kid with a jar full of cookies. Barnaby on the other hand, felt shitter than a cart full of horse poop. The boy lay on the ground, completely exhausted and worn out. I can’t take any more hits like this.

“Oh come on! Would you put up a fight already? Or you’ll be smashed to pieces.” Jake crouched next to the down boy. “Oh wait, I get it. You’re dying to see you mommy and daddy, aren’t you.” The mere mention of his parent’s spurred Barnaby to move. He grappled with his injured body to make it move and began to sit up. “Well, I think I can accommodate you just this once. Whoo hoo!” Jake snapped his fingers again and cuffed the boy under his chin, snapping his head back. Then the man jabbed him in the stomach with some quick strikes and smacked him across the face repeatedly. I can’t let it end like this! I vowed to avenge them!

Barnaby pushed off the floor and jumped up, his anger giving him strength.

“Good boy! Now you’ve got it!” Jake clapped his hands together excitedly. Just as the blond was about to plow Jake over, his phone went off. Barnaby ignored it, now was not the time to be checking his texts. Jake chuckled and dodged the boy’s kick to his torso. Then his phone went off again, apparently still alive after the damage it had been put through. Honestly the boy forgot that it was in his pocket. He ignored it but the insistent chirping was irritating him. And it was causing Jake to giggle.

“You might want to answer that. It might be important.” Barnaby glared at him. “Don’t worry, I won’t attack. You need a break anyway. I wouldn’t want to spoil all the fun!” Jake took a few steps back with his hands up defensively and began to pick his nails. Barnaby checked the caller I.D. It was the old lady. He snapped his phone open, internally grateful for the interruption, but made his voice irritated to hide it.

“What do you want? Shouldn’t you be resting, old lady?”

“Is that how you talk to someone who’s trying to save your ass, you douche bag?” She sounded very much awake and not like Barnaby expected someone in the hospital to sound like.

“What is it now? I don’t want to take up to much of your time; you need to take you senior citizen nap.” Barnaby really wanted her to be resting, but he had to be a bitch about it first.

“I’m going to ignore that and still help you because the drugs say so. Bunny, you’ve got to do something that’ll surprise him. He’s studied all our fighting styles and plans accordingly.”

“Really? You don’t think I’ve noticed that?” Barnaby dropped his voice, but Jake didn’t seem to be paying attention, picking the fur on his coat.

“I knew you noticed that’s why I bring it up. When I was fighting him, he kept targeting my legs since most of my attacks are punching ones.” Barnaby recalled the multiple times Jake had kicked her in the thighs or calves, ignoring the perfect opportunity to punch her in the face or chest. “Since you’re a kicker, he’s been attacking your torso and face, right?”

“Yeah so?” Barnaby was getting what she was getting at, but he hadn’t figured out what to do yet.

“Do something not…you!”

“How can I trust you?” That was the big question. Tetsuko had broken his trust, so how could he count on her now?

“Seriously? I’m trying to help you, asshole!” She huffed at him, growling into the phone. “Now where are you? We’re sending the police over.” Now the police are some people I can trust better than you. I can use their help. Barnaby couldn’t tell her with Jake listening a few feet away, he had to be sneaky.

“We can’t keep dragging this race out; we’re just driving each other around in circles.” Maybe hiding bits and pieces of the drag race that she won not too far from here will jog her memory. Either that or she won’t get what I’m saying at all. Worth a shot.

“Huh?” Apparently it wasn’t working.

“Seriously, we’re hit some rough spots in the concrete and now it’s just water in the canal.”

“Don’t you mean ‘water under the bridge?’’ Now she gets one right! Dork. Come on, old lady! I’m in the warehouse district! I can’t be any more obvious or he’ll catch on! Barnaby heard an “oh!” in the background and hoped that that was Kaburagi finally getting it. “I guess you’re right,” she sighed into the phone. “Life’s not straight like a drag race and you can’t always win the purse. Sometimes you just have to deal with the Bronze.” She emphasized the words drag race and Bronze. There you go! I knew you weren’t that stupid. “Hang in there, Bunny. We’ll be there soon.” And by “we” she probably means the police, right? She’s not crazy enough to come after me herself. That’s just plain stupid. “Now argue with me like you mean it.”I mean all my arguments with you. You’re too irritating not to mean every word. After they staged a fake (but real) argument about trust and relationships, Kaburagi hung up on him and Barnaby pocketed his phone, praying that the police would be here soon.

“Have a nice chat? Who was it?” Jake asked innocently.

“My ex.” Barnaby took his stance again, preparing to stall until the authorities could get here. Jake grinned menacingly.

“How fun.” Jake launched another series of attacks that had Barnaby protecting his upper body and dancing away so he didn’t get clobbered. Sometime later, Jake got in another good blow, a kick right to Barnaby’s stomach that tossed him to the floor yet again. He didn’t want to get up this time, winded and almost out of energy.

“What’s the matter boy? Is that all you’ve got?” Jake strolled around the boy. “For fun, I won’t attack you, I’ll just let you attack me.”

“Really?” Barnaby glanced up, skeptical written all over his face.

“But I can dodge, ‘kay? That way it’ll be fairer.”

“You’re not fair at all.”

“I know, but it’s my game and I make the rules.” The blond got up and went to kick Jake in the torso. He dodged, stepping gracefully out of the way. Another kick and another, all were avoided as Martinez continued to elude all of the teen’s attempts. Nothing I do can get through his defense. Even when he’s not attacking I can’t get anywhere!

“I’m bored now!” Jake spun on the boy, catching his kicking foot and twisting it so Barnaby spun toward s the floor and hit the concrete hard. “It’s my turn! See ya kid!” The criminal grabbed the boy and threw him straight up. The warehouse ceiling wasn’t very high and Barnaby crashed right through a hole in the roof, his head smacking the edge and flipped him onto his back, sending his body into a roll.

“Ah! Gah! Uh, ug! Gah! Ahhh!” Barnaby skidded to a stop, face towards the sky, back resting on the roof. Head ringing and his body aching, Barnaby was just about ready to give up.

“Aw, must’ve thrown him too hard. That’s a shame.” Barnaby heard Jake laugh on the floor below him.

Am I going to lose this fight? I’ve lived my entire life for revenge against this monster. Barnaby opened his eyes, tears pooling as the rain outside stopped. Images of his dead parents ran through this mind, flames and a monster with a gun standing over their lifeless forms. The boy stood up, stumbling a bit. Mother. Father. The tears spilled down his face, angrily wiped away before anyone could see them. Barnaby fell back; ready to give up when he felt hands on his back. His eyes widened and he flipped around, but no one was there.

“Hey! Are you coming down or should I come up there to finish you off?” Jake yelled up to the boy, throwing random objects from the storehouse up onto the roof to get his attention. Barnaby waited, gathering his strength for a final attack. His body protested any movement and going back down there was going to be it for him. “Well, you ready yet? Too bad! Here I come!” Barnaby heard footsteps on a staircase and a trap door on the other side of the building slammed open. Jake crawled out of the opening like a spider staking its prey, with Kriem right behind him to get all the gore on tape. “There you are!” Jake ran at Barnaby, murder in his eyes. Barnaby held up his arms in front of his and blocked the man. They locked arms, wresting for dominance that Jake was quickly gaining. Kriem giggled and crooned Jake’s praises, then all of a sudden she squealed and not in a love sick kind of way. Both men looked over to the woman, surprised to find another person on the roof. Tetsuko Kaburagi was struggling with Kriem for the camera, effectively distracting Martinez from his fight. Tetsuko? What are you doing here? Barnaby stared in shock at the woman he loved. And that revelation shocked him even more. Do I really love her? After all our fights? After everything she’s done to me? The thoughts zipped through his heard at light speed, barely taking up anytime in the real world.

“Get him Barnaby!” The sound of his real name coming out of her mouth shocked the man into action. He unlocked one of his arms and delivered a powerful uppercut to Jake’s jaw that he’d learned from Tetsuko. That was not him, right?

“Gah!” Jake stumbled back and Barnaby rushed the man, assaulting the criminal with a very him spin kick. Jake few into the air and rolled to a stop once he hit the roof face down and groaned.

“Mr. Jake!” Kriem screamed for her boyfriend and struggled to break free from the tan hands tangled in her hair and holding her back. Tetsuko punched her lights out with a growl and laid her on the ground softly.

“Son of a bitch, I think my rib’s broken.” Jake leaned off his stomach, clutching his side. Barnaby stalked over to him and grabbed the murderer by his throat, and hauling him above his six-two stature. Growling in rage, Barnaby tightened his grip. “No wait! I give up. I’m in too much pain to move.”Jake’s voice was barely a whisper at this point, gagging on his own words as the boy started squeezing the air out of him. Jake gurgled, his mouth gasping for breath and his body twitching from asphyxiation. I’ve got you now, you bastard! And I’m not letting you get away! You’ll pay for killing them! A life for a life, you asshole! Barnaby’s eyes clouded over with his revenge in sight, he was enjoying himself now. Then Tetsuko walked into his vision, a serious look on her face. It told Barnaby everything. He needed to stop now before he became a murderer himself. The boy looked at the choking man he held and felt all the rage flow out of him, but none of the disgust. He dropped Jake on the roof, towering over him.

“You’ll spend the rest of your life repenting for you sins.” Barnaby’s voice was hard as he glared at the wheezing, broken man in front of him. Then Tetsuko ran and kicked Jake in the face, effectively knocking him out.

“And that’s for everything else, you fucking bastard!” She turned to Barnaby, a small smile on her face.

“Old lady! What are you doing here?” Barnaby fell to one knee, his body demanding a rest now that the fight was over. “What about your injuries?”

“Those old things?” She smiled, scratching the patch of skin in front of her ear. “They were just scratches, no problem.” Liar. But Barnaby wasn’t surprised she brushed off her own wounds like they were nothing. That’s just how she was. She walked close to him, putting an arm around her torso, like she was covering something up. “Don’t thank me.” She turned away and held up a hand like she was the one who stopped Jake. Then Barnaby remembered that he was supposed to hate this woman right now, they were exes and they’d broken up. That’s right; we’re supposed to be fighting. The man scoffed.

“Honestly, I wasn’t about to.” He turned his voice hard, trying to keep his earlier anger in the tone, but he was just so damn tired.

“Huh? But I provided an excellent distraction!” She threw her hands up in the air like she couldn’t believe what was going on.

“You are always distracting.”She snapped around, glaring at him. Her eyes dilated in pain and she stumbled. Barnaby moved to catch her and she ended up throwing her arms around his neck to balance herself. After a moment of looking into each other’s eyes, Barnaby had the strange desire to kiss her, as a thank you for coming to his rescue for one thing. The other things had nothing to do with anything besides his desire to hold this woman again. Tetsuko beat him to it, kissing him hard. The boy started, shocked by her actions.

“I’m so sorry, for everything, Bunny.” She broke the kiss and looked up at him, tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry for lying, for sneaking off, for not trusting you and for saying those awful things to you.” She was being completely open with him, even apologizing. That’s a first.

“I’m sorry too, for everything I said, and for not trusting you as well.” He chuckled softly, “I guess we’re both pretty messed up in the relationship department.” She laughed with him, exhaustion written all over her face. “Okay, now that’s we’ve both apologized, did you have to come running all the way over here? I mean, you’re still hurt and basically useless to everyone at this point.” It was true; she was even counting on Barnaby to hold her up.

“I was so worried about you that I couldn’t stand lying around. I had to make sure you were okay.” She reached up and stroked his cheek, her fingers ghosting over his stinging cuts. “Seems I wasn’t quick enough. Damn bus.”

“You were fast enough.” Barnaby flicked her hand away and got a better grip on the girl’s waist. She was practically using him to support herself. “But what if I hadn’t taken your advice? What if I hadn’t believed you and-”

“I was sure that wouldn’t happen.” She smiled lightly up at him, their noses almost touching.

“Excuse me?”

“To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t the least bit worried about that. I believed you’d trust me.” There it is. Barnaby smiled softly, his green eyes laughing at her. She trusted him, and that’s really all he cared about right now. It felt good to be trusted, even if they both had to go through hell to get here.

“Alright, now you can stop bleeding on me.” Barnaby propped her up and checked her over.

“You noticed?” Tetsuko looking like a deer caught in the headlights.

“Of course, you covered it up so obviously. You’ve bled through your shirt and vest.” Barnaby worried over her torso wound and took note of all the bruises and scratches he could see. Her face was severely bruised, the red slowly fading into purple, but she’d never looked happier.

“Damn, that’ll never come out. Well, a ruined outfit is worth you being not dead.”

“You’re crazy.”

“And you know it.”

“You look horrible.”

“No, I’m as cute as a zipper.”

“Button, you dork. Now I think you’re just messing them up so you can bug me.” The couple turned when they heard the click of a gun.

“Hand over Mr. Jake!” Kriem was holding a pistol trained in the teen’s direction and she looked dead serious.

“What?” Tetsuko asked, pulling away from Barnaby. The gun followed her, which was probably her plan all along. Always worrying about other people, aren’t you?

“Did you forget we’ve got hostages? We’ve got you little friends under surveillance and we wouldn’t want them to have an accident, now would we?” Kriem was walked toward the couple, intent on getting to her boyfriend behind them.

“I didn’t hit her hard enough.” Tetsuko shrugged and then winced as her body protested.

“Damn this girl.” Barnaby swore. He noticed that Tetsuko was hugging her side again, clearly still hurting. Jake moved behind them, getting up holding his ribs in place while weakly chuckling.

“Too bad, you lose, kiddies.” He smiled evilly.

“Well, I wouldn’t be getting to confident yet. Are you sure you still have any sort of hostages? Nathan texted me a little bit ago and the police sort of found the bomb you planted in the hospital when a nurse ran into it with her trolley. The Ouroboros symbol gave you away. Unfortunately for you, the thing wasn’t activated, so no harm no birds.”

“I think you mean ‘foul’ and not the fowl that’s a synonym for birds.”

“Shut up, Bunny.” Sirens sounded in the distance, signaling the back up that Tetsuko had called. “And speaking of police, here they come.”

“It’d be best if you two just stopped now.” Barnaby took a step forward, getting even with Tetsuko and once again becoming her partner. A section of the roof fell off near Tetsuko’s feet, caving to the weight of the people on top of it. She skipped out of danger clumsily and another section tore off.

“Run, Bunny!” The two teens ran away from the collapsing roof, the two criminals taking their cue to run as well. “See boys! This is what you get for playing ball in the house!” Tetsuko shouted as they sprinted for their terrorists.

“I do admit that we may have compromised the structural integrity of the warehouse!” Barnaby called back, his legs aching from the sprint.

“Speak English!” She yelled back at him.

“We broke it!”

“Let’s go Kriem!” Jake ran for the trap door that lead downstairs, intent on getting away. The girl headed in that direction too, still aiming the gun at Tetsuko.

“No, you’re not getting away from me, pal!” Tetsuko ran ahead before Barnaby could stop her and was right on her tail. The criminals ditched the door when the partners got to close to them, opting for the edge of the roof. Barnaby grabbed Jake’s furred coat as he jumped off the roof and Tetsuko grabbed Kriem by the wrist, clutching her injured side and grunting in pain.

“You think you’ve got me? Forget it!” Jake struggled in Barnaby hold, and the way Jake twisted in the boy’s grip to get away caused him to fall out of his jacket, plummeting to the ground with a high pitched scream. He smacked his head against the building and threw himself in a spin. It wasn’t a long drop; one he probably could’ve survived if he hadn’t landed on his neck. The blond could hear the break from the roof, his life’s revenge evaporating as his parent’s murderer died with his blood in a pool around him.

“MR. JAKE!” Kriem screamed in agony and tore at Tetsuko’s hand. She edged off the roof and slipped on the wet surface, nearly pulling Tetsuko down with her. The brunette crashed to the roof, screaming as her torso hit the ground but she held onto Kriem.

“Ah!” The brunette struggled to pull the black haired woman up as she kicked and pulled on the teen’s grip, her stomach wound staring to seep even more into her clothes as she bled out. Barnaby grabbed his partner’s waist, pulling her back carefully but forcefully. I’m not losing you too! Kriem wailed and screamed in fury as she was starting to get close to the roof’s edge again. She clawed at Tetsuko’s hand, tearing off skin as both women shrieked in their respective pains. Then Tetsuko couldn’t hold on any longer.

“NO!” The teen reached out for the woman, trying to grab her again and missing. Kriem fell, breaking her leg as she hit the concrete below and slumped to the ground, cracking her head against the ground next to her dead boyfriend. The blond didn’t know whether she was dead or alive. Tetsuko pulled at Barnaby, trying to look down again. Barnaby let her as he looked over as well. Tetsuko started to cry, her body shaking. Barnaby picked up the girl and put her on her feet. She collapsed in Baranby’s arms, sobbing uncontrollably, chanting, “No, no, no, no…” He turned her around so she could cling to him. She did, throwing her arms around his neck and crying into his shoulder. And that’s how the police found them.

The authorities helped the teens safely escape the roof and questioned them about all the incidents involving Jake. Their friends at the hospital had already broken the game rules and talked when the bomb was located so Barnaby held back nothing and neither did Tetsuko. After getting to the ground, Barnaby lost track of Tetsuko as a medic yanked her away. Once done with his side of the story, the blond went looking for her. The boy found the girl standing over the covered body of Jake Martinez, Kriem had been rushed to the hospital when they’d found out she was still alive.

“Old lady?” Barnaby walked up to her and wrapped his arm around his shoulder.

“I know he’s a bastard and that he murdered your parents, but still, that’s a pretty horrible way to die.” Her voice cracked, still heavy with tears.

“You said that about all of Lunatic’s victims. You said burning was a horrible way to die.”

“Any way but in your sleep is an awful way to die. That way it feels like a dream and not like dying.”

“Point taken.” Tetsuko wobbled and Barnaby had to catch her. He wrapped the brunette’s arm over his shoulder, supporting her so she wouldn’t fall. Tetsuko grabbed her side with her free arm, applying pressure to try and stop the bleeding. They hobbled a few steps away, looking for a place to sit down that hadn’t been soaked by the rainstorm. Then their names were being called.

“Tets! Handsome!” That was Nathan, running towards him in his girly way.

“Brooks! Boobs! Hey!” Karina was right behind him, dressed in clothes that looked so warm to the blond boy.

“Tigress! Barnaby! You’re alive!” Pao-Lin ran in front of them both to reach the couple first.

“Well, you two are a hot mess.” Nathan stated the obvious, gesturing to both broken bodies.

“He’s right, you both look horrible.” Pao-Lin turned slightly serious, but the light was back in her eyes.

“Why didn’t you stay at the hospital, you idiot! You should be resting!” Karina chided Tetsuko’s stupidity. Before Tetsuko could reply, they were all talking again.

“Anyway, I’ve got to text the boys. They’ll want to know what’s up!” Nathan sighed happily, clearly glad that the whole ordeal was over.

“Barnaby you’re so awesome! You stopped Jake!” Pao-Lin jumped up and down joyfully.

“I suppose I should thank you, after all you save the three of us from a fight.” Karina admitted haughtily.

“Sweetcheeks, Ivan and Keith all send their congratulations, Barnaby. In Keith’s case, twice.” Nathan winked at the blond. “We really are grateful, Handsome-boy.” Barnaby felt much lighter with their praise ringing around his head. Tetsuko grumbled next to him, frowning.

“What’s the matter? Why the long face?”

“Huh?” Tetsuko glanced up, miffed.

“Could it be that you want to get some praise too?” Barnaby tried to hold in his petty insults about getting attention.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Tetsuko reacted theatrically, yanked her arm off Barnaby’s shoulder and pivoted around to turn her back on everyone.

“Whatever.” Nathan flipped around, walking away. “Let’s ignore these two drama queens and head for the hospital.”

“Good idea!” Pao-Lin and Karina ran after him. “But you’re really the drama queen!” Karina added.

“Hey, I resent that!”

“Wait a minute, who are you calling a drama queen? Don’t lump me in with her! I’m coming too!” Barnaby trotted after them, leaving the old lady to growl after them. She grunted in pain and Barnaby stopped his retreat to check on her. Bent over her torso, she looked like she wouldn’t make it back to the hospital alive. “You alright, old lady? Or do you need a hand?”

“No, no, I’m coming.” She smiled softly, looking up at him.

“Right, let’s go, Tetsuko.” The word felt weird on his lips, but she deserved to be called by her name. I’ve never actually called Tetsuko by her name, have I? Not even when we were dating. I really am an asshole if I couldn’t even do that.

“Right, uh-“ She looked up at him in shock. Barnaby couldn’t hold back the amused smile that graced his face. The girl blinked a few times, unbelievingly. “What did you call me?” Barnaby turned away, intent on not rewarding her any more. “Hey everybody, don’t walk so fast! I’m still injured you know! It’s not funny! I could collapse at any moment!” And then she did, smacking her hands against the ground to catch herself. The group rushed back to her as fast as they could.

“Are you okay?” Barnaby was the first one there, picking her up into his arms.

“I’m fine, put me down!” She tried to leap out of his hold, but cried out in pain when she twisted something.

“No, you’re not! Stop struggling!” Barnaby tightened his grip slightly to hold her still. Tetsuko eyes glazed over and she started going limp.

“We might want to go back to the hospital as quickly as we can. My painkillers have worn off and this hurts.”

“How did you even get out of the hospital in the first place?” Barnaby started running, asking Nathan to grab his jacket inside the warehouse and drive his bike to the hospital. He searched for a policeman or an ambulance for the girl.

“I told you before: I can be sneaky. Please hurry.” Tetsuko curled into his chest and Barnaby snagged a police officer and asked to be driven to the hospital, the events from two days ago replaying right before his eyes: all the blood and Tetsuko’s rolling eyes haunting him. Once in the backseat of a cruiser, he laid Tetsuko out, her head in his lap. She was bleeding on him again.

“Tetsuko, can you hear me?” Worry crept into his voice as he shook the girl gently.

“Sort of,” she slurred, opening her eyes. “Hey Bunny, I like it when you say my name. Does this mean we can date again? Because life sorta sucked when I was avoiding you, and it was boring and I hated all the girls.” Barnaby laughed at her, agreeing with the “I hated all the girls” part. Seriously, his fan girls needed to take a hike.

“I think so, but only if you use my name more often. You know how I hate ‘Bunny.’” He stroked her hair softly, trying to keep her awake until they reached the hospital.

“But it’s a term of endearment.” She leaned into his touch, almost purring like a cat.

“Yeah, but it’s still a fluffy mammal. Not manly at all.”

“You’re manly; it just makes you more approachable. Also I like it.” She chuckled weakly, her eyes fluttering shut.

“You’re weird.” The conversation stopped for a few minutes, only punctuated by the police siren above their heads.

“Did you say anything about the dating? I can’t remember.” She spoke up again, opening her golden eyes to stare at him.

“Yeah, we can date again if you want to. It sucked when we were fighting, I don’t feel like fighting anymore.” Barnaby was tired of everything right now, even staying awake was a chore but he had to get Tetsuko to the hospital first, and then he could sleep.

“Me neither.” She paused, reaching for his hand. “Kiss me, please?”

“Bossy, old lady.” Barnaby leaned down and kissed her softly, loving the feel of her lips against hers. It just felt right every time they did it. He broke the kiss to do it again, and then leave little kisses all over her face, glad she was safe with him.

“And you’re greedy. What’s will all the kisses?” She didn’t seem to mind his attentions in the least bit.

“I read that frequent displays of affection improve relationships and ours definitely needs improvement. Is it working?” Barnaby placed another kiss on her forehead.

“Yes, keeping going.” He continued until they parked at the hospital and he carried her inside. Passed off to the nurses, his newly reinstated girlfriend was spirited away. Barnaby was put through his own tests and examinations, ending up getting bandaged himself and slapped with some painkillers, but he wasn’t as bad as the others. It’s because I defend better. Fighting isn’t all about offense. Barnaby was asked to stay overnight for observation, and he asked to be put in the room with the others. Request granted, he talked with all the injured boys while he waited for Tetsuko to come out of surgery…again. Apparently this go around she’d ended up breaking a couple of ribs and the hospital staff was not happy with her escape. The “girls” came in as so as they were able, Nathan assuring the blond that his bike was safe and handed him his jacket. The boy draped it across his shoulders and thanked the boy-girl.

“Hey, did you clear things up with Tets? You two looked like something had gone on while we weren’t looking.” Nathan questioned Barnaby as he fussed over Antonio.

“Yeah, we worked everything out. We’re dating again.”That opened up a whole other conversation that was part interrogation, part relief that no one was fighting and part gushing on how cute they were together. One short nap later and a call to Barnaby’s guardian, Tetsuko had been wheeled back into the recovery room, still unconscious. But it was better than nothing. All the visitors were ushered out by a nurse that evening and Barnaby spared a moment to walk over to Tetsuko and brush her wild bangs out of her face. He kissed her softly when the boys weren’t looking and stumbled back to his own bed. Getting under the sheets, he yawned and took off his cracked glasses, vowing to have Maverick bring him a pair in the morning before falling asleep to the calm breathing of his friends. Sweet dreams, Tetsuko. You’d better be awake in the morning or else I’ll have to worry about you again. She was and Barnaby had never been happier.

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