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03 October 2011 @ 06:38 pm
[fic] & bunny - chapter five  
Title: & Bunny – chapter five
Author/Artist: Cheza-chan
Pairing/Characters: Kaburagi Kotetsu/Barnaby Brooks Jr.
Rating: PG-15 (overall R)
Genre: Alternate Timeline; science-fiction; superheroes.
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters, and I definitely don't own the sponsors that they wear.
Summary/Notes: Taking Ben's advice, Kotetsu decides to separate himself from Hero TV and the Heroes of Sternbild (deviated from the original storyline after ep. 15; updated a bit after watching ep. 16).

[ chapter one ] [ chapter two ] [ chapter three ] [ chapter four ]

Kotetsu knew immediately after waking, that he was not in his apartment. He’d slept in his bed for several years, occasionally missing a day or two, so he was quite familiar with its feel. Rather than hung over, Kotetsu felt tired. “Probably my guilt weighing me down,” he muttered, rolling over onto his stomach. He rolled one more time—Barnaby’s bed was perfect for being lazy—before stopping to stretch.

“You seem to be enjoying yourself.”

Kotetsu laughed, grinning in the direction of the new voice. Barnaby stood in the open doorway, his shoulder propped against its frame. There was a look of amusement on his face, and Kotetsu wondered if he was the cause of it. He sat up, smoothing a hand over the soft sheets. “It’s twice the size of mine. Of course I’m going to enjoy it. Did you have fun last night?”

“It’s was entertaining,” Barnaby replied honestly. “I think Origami-senpai enjoyed himself most.”

“Yeah,” Kotetsu laughed, stretching his arms above his head. “And his paper cranes were so cute.”

Ivan had come rushing into the restaurant during Kotetsu’s ‘welcome back’ party, surprise written across his face at finding everyone still present. Nathan decided he wanted to loosen the boy up, dragging him to the bar counter to slip him a spiked punch. Ivan lived up to his Hero name that night; he became a cyclone of chatter that churned out perfect origami creations.

“I’ve been making these for as long as I can remember,” he stated dreamily, handing the white crane to a smiling Pao Lin.

“It’s good to see him open up every once in a while,” Kotetsu added, his hand rising to his head. His fingers brushed over the Band-aid there.

Barnaby lifted himself away from the doorframe, entering the room, and stood at the edge of the large bed. "How are you feeling?"

"Great!" Kotetsu flexed his arms, making a muscle, all the while grinning.

“You get to raise that status even higher. Lloyds-san called and said you’re on desk duty.”

Kotetsu frowned, his nose wrinkling in thought. He didn’t want to get too involved in Barnaby’s duties. Lloyds was obviously trying to keep him out of the field, and he sent a small thanks to the man.

“I’m sure you’re upset because you can’t be where all the action is.” Barnaby's hardened expression never softened. "Get up and get ready. Give me your clothes so I can wash them."

Kotetsu's eyes widened, his arms rising so he could hug himself. "Now? With you standing there?"

Barnaby's eyes narrowed and he took a step forward. "Would you rather I turn my back?"

"I'd rather I not have to change at all. I don't smell." Kotetsu lifted his arm, sniffing beneath it.

Barnaby was soon glaring. He dropped his arms, moving towards the bed, and climbed onto it to join the older NEXT. "You need a shower, Kotetsu-san. You’ve been active since yesterday morning. You had a bad encounter.”

“You can lend me some of your clothes.”

"No." Barnaby managed to grab the hem of Kotetsu's pant leg.

“No, Bunny,” Kotetsu whined, twisting the rest of his body away; the captured leg remained still. “Let go.”

“Melodramatic old man.” Barnaby sat on the back of his legs obediently, hands now atop his thighs.

Kotetsu pushed himself up by his arms, letting the appendages keep him elevated. With a lopsided smile and a soft laugh, he sat upright and reached out with every intention of tousling the blond hair. Barnaby's eyes narrowed, but he didn't pull away. He tilted his head into the gentle petting, finding comfort in the foreign gesture. "I concede. Let's go to the bathroom, though. I don't give you an unwanted striptease. I'm sure you'll still have to show me how to use your shower anyway."

Kotetsu turned over onto his knees, shuffling past Barnaby toward the edge of the bed. He climbed down onto the floor, curling his toes into the rug. “I’d rather take a soak, but… there’s no time for that.” He threw a smile over his shoulder before leaving the bedroom first. The door slid shut behind him.

Barnaby turned over the hand that had grabbed Kotetsu’s clothing, staring at its palm. He chalked his actions up to too much time being spent with Kaburagi Kotetsu.


Kotetsu managed to get through five days of “desk duty” before his inactive wristband began to draw a particular blond’s blue-eyed gaze. Friday morning, he found himself on the Hero TV side of the Apollon Media building.

Kotetsu knelt on the floor at the edge of Agnes’s desk, hands pressed together in a praying fashion as he pleaded with her. “No,” the woman stated firmly. “You no longer work for us.”

“I changed my mind. I’ll even give back the money. I haven’t touched it.”

“Still impulsive and destruction, even without your powers activated…” Agnes turned in her chair to glare at the sheepishly grinning man. “Mr. Kaburagi,” she stressed. “I can turn your com’ band back on, but I cannot reinstate your job, as much as I would like to.” Her lips curled upward, turning her frown into a smile Kotetsu feared. “You and Barnaby are quite the team.”

“So then, why not?”

“Maverick is currently out with the mayor. He won’t return until Monday.”

Kotetsu slumped forward, his clenched hands on the cold floor. “Fine.” He pulled the band from his hand, holding it up to the woman, head still bowed. Agnes smirked as she accepted it, turning back around to fully utilize her desk. Kotetsu remained on the floor, thinking back to the words he’d exchanged with Antonio.

+ + +

Kotetsu grinned despite the glowering image of his friend staring back at him via phone. “Yo, ‘tonio.”

“Why are you stringing everyone along like this, Kotetsu? You’re still a Hero, y’know. You can never leave this job, no matter what you do.”

“I ran away.” Kotetsu’s grin turned into a sad smile.

“Which is not like you!” Antonio shouted. There were no furtive glances taken, so he was obviously at a place that allowed such behavior. “The Kotetsu I know—”

“I can’t stand the thought of hurting Bunny!”

“You’re hurting him by keeping this a secret. You’re hurting yourself, too.”

Kotetsu hated when his friend was right. “I have to go, Antonio…”

Antonio closed his eyes, sighing deeply. “Stop running away, Kotetsu.”

“Aa…” Kotetsu ended the call and the screen went blank.

+ + +

With a groan, he ducked his head lower, chin touching his chest. ‘I probably should tell him, but I don’t know how.

“Stop whining. It’s done.”

Kotetsu lifted his head, right in time to see the accessory tossed at him. He fumbled with it before the band settled in the palms of his hands. It began flashing immediately, but not red, which meant no emergency. He accepted the call and grinned as Agnes’s smiling face appeared on the video feed.

“You’re good to go.” Agnes’s voice echoed as she spoke.

“So… leave?”

“Right as always, Mr. Kaburagi.” Her smile seemed somewhat creepier over the pixilated digital screen. Scrambling to his feet, Kotetsu snapped the band back in place over his right wrist and scurried out of the busy office.

Call ended, Agnes was allowed a small sigh, but it was not of relief. The sound proved just how weary the entire situation made her. Why had Wild Tiger, of all people, resigned, and why had Maverick allowed it? The director of Hero TV shook her head, tresses bouncing across her shoulders, and resumed her work.

X x X x

Kotetsu was surprised to find the office empty—even the dark-skinned secretary was missing—but a little relieved. No Barnaby meant he didn’t have to lie for a while. He took a seat in the chair at his desk, slowly turning in it. He hadn’t reached a full rotation when he realized another issue at hand. “Kaede…” A promise had been made to spend the weekend with her. Kotetsu slowly reached for his phone, wondering how he would talk his way out of this one.

X x X x

Kaede hadn’t gone to school in two days.

“Kaede? Kaede, open the door, please.”

Kaede shook her head, hands rising to cover her ears.

“Kaede.” Muramasa rapped gently at the locked door. “Kaede. It’ll be okay.”

No!’ Kaede pressed her knees closer together, her body outlined with a blue light. ‘Otou-san! Please…!’ After having activated her powers that day to assist Wild Tiger, they continued to malfunction, so to speak, and she destroyed everything she touched. Her room was already in shambles. ‘I need you, otou-san!’

X x X x

“I can’t leave. I would love to, trust me.” Kotetsu let his mother see his desperate face. “Tell her—”

“She wants you, and you need to tell her the truth, Kotetsu.”

Kotetsu averted his gaze, missing the handoff of the phone to Muramasa. “Kotetsu.”

The golden eyes widened, looking back to the screen. “Aniki…”

“I know you don’t want a lecture from me. Do you remember how scared you were when your powers activated—afraid to get close to anyone?”

“I remember,” Kotetsu recited, recalling the incident at the bank that had driven him into becoming a Hero. Kaede wouldn’t have such an event. “Aniki. I’ll be on the next possible train. Tell Kaede I’m on my way!” Muramasa gave the faintest hint of a smile before his face vanished from the screen of Kotetsu’s phone.

Kotetsu slipped the phone back into his pocket, head snapping up after hearing the door open. The spectacled woman they shared the office with raised an eyebrow in his direction. He laughed, practically bouncing over to her. He took the shorter woman by the shoulders, spinning her around so she n longer blocked his exit. “Tell Bunny I had some urgent business to take care of—if he asks for me!” Kotetsu added as he backed out of the room. He waved before sprinting down the hall.


Kotetsu was pulling into the station when his recalibrated band began flashing. He screwed his eyes shut. “I can’t leave her alone. I don’t want to leave her, like…” Tomoe’s smiling face appeared in his mind’s eye and he pounded his hands against the steering wheel, his head following as he gripped it tightly.

Agnes’s voice rang in his ear. “Tiger. You don’t have to show up if you don’t want to. Remember that you don’t work for us. Sky High and Dragon Kid are already on the scene. It’s just a car chase.” There was a brief pause before the director continued, “As a matter of fact, stay put. You’ll probably do more damage than good.”

Kotetsu smiled wryly. “I don’t need Yuri fining me, especially since I’m out of a job. Sorry, but I wasn’t going to be there anyway.” His head still on the steering wheel, he reached across blindly, shutting off the band. “Kaede… I’m on my way.”


It was evening when Kotetsu departed the train. After walking out front, he couldn’t help the laugh that escaped him after catching sight of his brother. Muramasa stood next to the old van he recalled seeing during his last years of high school. The broad side was labeled “Liquors Kaburagi”. He patted the machine gently before placing his hand to his brother’s shoulder. “Why do you still have this?”

“I need it to do business.” Muramasa reached up, giving Kotetsu’s hand a quick squeeze before removing it. “Get in so we can get you home.”



Kaede lifted her head, throwing a teary-eyed glare at the closed and locked door being knocked upon. “I already said I don’t want to speak to anyone,” she shouted. “I’m not leaving this room…”

“Not even to see me?”

Kaede’s eyes widened. She unwrapped her arms from around her legs, pushing off from the floor to stumble to the door. The wood splintered, falling apart from her touch. New tears sprung to her eyes, but Kotetsu knelt, taking her glowing frame into his arms. “Otou-san, no!”

“You can’t hurt me,” Kotetsu chuckled, holding tighter when she tried to escape the embrace. Despite the fact that the door had turned into toothpicks, Kotetsu hadn’t broken or even cried out in pain.

Kaede exhaled deeply and the light around her faded. “I’m sorry…”

“Don’t be.” Kotetsu smoothed his hand down the back of her head, letting it nestle at the small of her back. Anju breathed a sigh of relief, lifting her head to share a smile with her eldest son.


After Kaede was tucked into bed and Muramasa bid his mother good night, Kotetsu followed his brother out to the van. He leaned against the closed door, tilting his head to stare at the starry evening sky. “I should be here with Kaede. I’ve already quit, but…” Barnaby’s rare smile appeared in his mind’s eye and he shook his head, banishing the mental image.

“Can’t tell him your powers are declining?”

Kotetsu cried out, hissing in pain as he rubbed his elbow after banging it against the van in his haste to reach the front, where Muramasa was posted. The older man showed his brother a look that basically said ‘I have my ways’. “Antonio called. He was tired of shouldering your burden.”

Kotetsu clicked his tongue, falling back against the van. Muramasa reached around, clouting him in the back of his head. “Careful. This is vintage.”

“Why is everyone so mean to me?” Kotetsu whined, hand rubbing the smarting area. He sighed, dropping his arms to his side. “I really don’t know what to do. Antonio keeps saying I took the cowardly way out—”

“You did,” the shop owner interjected. Muramasa tilted his head, sighing. “You haven’t changed at all. You still have time left to be a Hero. Even if you lose your powers, your life isn’t over. What you’re doing right now, you can do it when that time arrives. Just be more careful about using your abilities, and stop destroying the city.”

Kotetsu ducked his head, laughing softly. “Yeah. Thanks, aniki.” He glanced over his shoulder to find his brother smiling at him. “Maybe I’ll stop by the shop for a drink before I leave.”

“Just let me know when so I can keep it open for you.” Muramasa pushed away from the front of the van, circling around to the driver’s side.

Kotetsu stepped back after the engine turned over, waving as the vehicle pulled away. “When can I tell you, Bunny?” The man almost jumped when the green and white band attached to his wrist chirruped to alert him. Barnaby? Kotetsu wondered if the young man had heard him, but his mind quickly filled with questions when the flashing ceased His answers came in the form of his ringing phone. Reaching into his pocket, he removed the phone, grinning at the image that appeared. He’d found a picture of the fluffiest bunny, attaching it to Barnaby’s name and number. Kotetsu slid his finger across the screen, lifting the phone to his ear.

“Kotetsu-san? Is everything okay?”

His heart clenched at the honest worry in the other’s voice, as did his free hand at his side.

“I heard that you had to leave?”

“Yeah,” Kotetsu laughed nervously. “I’m actually… back home. Since I was confined to a desk… and something came up.” His thoughts were in no order, and were reflected in his broken statements. “My daughter needed me. I’m sorry.” It was an apology for leaving, and one that conveyed his sympathy over the fact that Barnaby had lost both his parents at an even younger age.
“I see,” was murmured into the phone.

“But, on the other hand, this is most we’ve spoken on the phone!” Kotetsu hoped his laugh didn’t sound as strained as he knew it was.

“It is. Tell your daughter I hope everything okay.”

“Bunny… There’s—”

“I’ll see you when you return, Kotetsu-san.”

“Bunny!” Kotetsu took the phone away from his ear; the call had ended. “Bunny… Please don’t do this. It’s hard enough as it is.” He squeezed the device tightly in his hand, heading back into the house.

X x X x

Barnaby placed his phone onto the small table, his fingers automatically ghosting over the nearby mouse. This lead to the large monitor, which took up an entire wall, flickering to life. It basked the room in an eerie glow. Barnaby’s lips turned down into a frown as he stared at the article regarding his most recent victory. Origami still appeared in the background, but a familiar presence was missing from the image—had been for two weeks.

Barnaby clicked the X in the upper corner, closing the window, and shut off his computer. He closed his eyes. Basking in the darkness, he let his thoughts run rampant. Why is it bothering me that he’s not here? Sometimes we can’t be together, as a team. “Tiger and Bunny.” His hand fisted atop the arm of the chair. “Barnaby,” he corrected, letting his eyes flutter open.

Barnaby pushed himself up from the chair, walking across the floor to the door on the other side. It slid open and he disappeared through it.


Muramasa had business to tend to—and wasn’t present—as did Anju, but Kotetsu sat on the outer hallway that overlooked the garden, watching over his mother as she tilled the soil. “Do you think… I should take Kaede with me back to Sternbild, or stay here?”

“Is there—” Anju grunted as she lifted the hoe. “—anything for you here?” The tool dug into the ground and she dragged it through the soil.

“I can help aniki with the store?” Kotetsu’s smile withered a bit.

Anju paused to shoot him a skeptical look before continuing her work. “Can you afford to enroll Kaede in school?”

Kotetsu dropped his raised knee, letting both legs dangle. “Maybe?”

“Would you put her into Hero Academy when the time comes?”

“I could train her myself,” he argued, falling backwards on the platform hallway, arms outstretched. “Who am I kidding…? I can barely train myself.” He sprang up, crossing his legs, fingers wrapped around the ankles. “There’s no fee for Hero Academy!”

“True,” Anju agreed, shrugging her shoulders before attacking the ground one more time.

“Kaa-chan! You shouldn’t be doing that!”

“If I shouldn’t, why haven’t you stopped me? Taken over for me? You’ve been sitting here the entire time, watching me, complaining about how I shouldn’t be working so hard, and have not lifted a finger!” Kotetsu ducked his head, mumbling a soft apology. “Bring me some water, Kotetsu.” Anju stopped her work to smile at him. “Please,” she added.

“Hai, kaa-chan,” mumbled like a scolded boy would. Kotetsu rose, heading back into the house. Anju shook her head, but the smile remained as she raised the hoe over her head once more.

X x X x

Kotetsu knew what time school finished, and was there, at the gates, waiting for Kaede. Anju had all but kicked him out when he offered to make fried rice for lunch, so there was nothing else to do. Kotetsu tried not to attract attention to himself, and hoped he gave off the air of a father waiting for his daughter.

Kaede stepped out beyond the pillars, lifting her head. Her eyes rolled automatically and he grinned widely. Without a word, she continued forward. There was no car because Kotetsu wanted to have a discussion as they walked.

“Kaede… Would you like to move to Sternbild?”

“Maybe,” the young girl hummed, tightening her hold on her backpack. “But I don’t want to be a transfer student, so you’re going to have to wait until I finish this year. Do you know what school you want me to go to? Can you afford it?”

“You’ve been around your grandmother too long,” Kotetsu sighed.

“No. It’s called ‘thinking’. You don’t do it.” Kaede stopped, falling back, and Kotetsu didn’t realize it until several steps ahead. He stopped, turning around to look back at her.


“Why are you here?”

His eyebrows shot up. “I came… for you.”

“I appreciate that and everything, but why are you here? You never made it to anything—never shown up to my recitals, but now… you’re here. Did you quit your job?”

Kotetsu smiled, walking back to meet her. “You’re just as observant as your mother. Would you be upset if I said I did?”

“Yes!” Kaede glared up at him. “You’re talking about me moving to Sternbild… If you have no means to support yourself, how can you support both of us?” Her emotional outburst had triggered the activation powers.

Kotetsu tucked his hands behind his head, fingers locked together, and appeared nonchalant as he stared down the long stretch of road. “I’ve managed pretty well. Fried rice is nutritional despite what you and your grandmother think. If you want to move to Sternbild with me—”

“What about Grandma?” Kaede interjected, lowering her gaze to the ground as she toed at the loose rocks.

“Aniki’s here with her,” Kotetsu replied confidently.

Kaede rolled her eyes and jogged ahead, putting distance between them. Kotetsu dropped his arms, confusion etched across his face. “What did I do…? Kaede!”

“Leave me alone.”

“Don’t tell Papa that!”


Kotetsu exclaimed in surprise when she vanished. “Kaede.” He took off in a run, hoping she made it back to the house. Kaede did make it back, and Kotetsu was in charge of fixing the hole in the roof, along with her missing door. She then proceeded to lock herself in his guest room after yelling at him to stay away.

Kaede was stretched out beneath her mother’s memorial photo, eyes closed. “Okaa-san. Maybe it’s because I’m his daughter, but I don’t know what you saw in him.” The furrows in her brow were smoothed away, but no smile appeared on her face. ‘I can’t do your job as well as you, okaa-chan.’

Kotetsu decided Kaede had had enough “me” time and walked in to find her fast asleep beneath the memorial of Kaburagi Tomoe. He smiled at the picture of his deceased wife, kneeling beside his daughter. “You’re always watching over us, aren’t you?” He stood, moving to where the futon was folded. Removing the covers, he headed back to Kaede, draping it gently over her.

“Kotetsu.” Anju appeared in the doorway and Kaede stirred beneath Kotetsu’s hands. “There’s a meteor shower taking place in Sternbild.”

“Is it on the news?” Kotetsu asked, expression hardening, his lips drawn into a frown.

“It might as well be news. It’s on that popular Hero TV show.”

“That’s not a meteor shower.” Kotetsu stood, rushing out of the room.

The voices had woken Kaede, and she sat up, rubbing her eyes. She glanced questioningly at Anju. Following together, they found him standing in front of the television.

“She gave them a warning,” he muttered out loud.

“She…?” Kaede moved to his right side, unconsciously slipping her hand into his.

Kotetsu squeezed back. “She’s a NEXT. No one knows her real name, but she goes by Dark Star. It’s been a while since she’s shown her face.” Anju shot her son a warning glance, but his gaze remained fixed on the television.

X X x x x X X

The firefighters were taking care of the “warning attack”; the flames surrounded the black rocks that had crashed into the less populated of the Sternbild city were easily extinguished by the water from their hoses. They also made sure the citizens were evacuated.

Tires squealed to a halt and the roof of Fire Emblem’s vehicle slid back, revealing the next. Even with his cowl on, it was very obvious that he was annoyed. “It’s bad enough Lunatic’s still running around, but she had to come back?” He released a soft whine of frustration. “I’m the only Fire NEXT!”

“You want to be the only one.” Blue Rose parked her bike, swinging her leg over to stand beside the machine. She smiled up at the helicopter that hovered, recording their every move. That smile was wiped clean when she was forced to jump aside to avoid the black rock that crashed into the street. Her form of transportation wasn’t as lucky as she was. The Ice Queen tore her gaze from her crushed bike to the dark sky. “Stop hiding, Dark Star!” she shouted.

“I don’t want to steal the spotlight from you… old woman!”

Oi! Blue Rose!” Fire Emblem swatted at the ice that steadily crept up the front of his car as the girl experienced a silent temper tantrum.

“She called me old,” Blue Rose spat between gritted teeth. “I. am not. old.”

“That outfit makes you look old!” the disembodied voice laughed.

“Heroes,” Agnes’s voice drawled through their headgear. “You do realize you’re already on air, right?”

“We can’t do anything until she shows herself,” Fire Emblem stated, waving a gloved hand aimlessly.

“I would love to get my hands on her,” Blue Rose huffed. “I don’t like her! She just shows up for her fifteen minutes of fame.” She stomped a heeled foot.

“Give her those fifteen minutes, plus a little more. This is my show, after all.”

The wind suddenly picked up and a distant yell could be heard. A hooded figure fell to the street below, curling up after coming to a halt. The spotlights immediately found the former King of Hero. He was suspended mid-air thanks to his jetpack, fisted hands on his hips. The fallen figure stood, the hood falling away to reveal straight black hair, but only until the tips, which were a fiery orange.

“You have no right to talk about my outfit…” Blue Rose trailed off, her gaze sweeping up and down the vigilante NEXT.

“Ha!” Dark Star tossed her hair, spinning around. A black miniskirt peeked out from beneath the hem of the dark hooded sweater; black fishnet stockings and calf-high black boots completed the outfit. “I dress to blend in.” She threw a glare at the Hero still hovering nearby. “You so-called Heroes don’t believe in blending in.”

“Enough talk!”

Her reactions were fast, and she continued back-flipping out of the way of the fast-rising stalagmites of ice that tore up the streets to rise and greet her. She kicked away from the last one, leaping onto the railing of the nearest apartment building’s balcony. She wobbled on her perch, looking down to see Rock Bison attempting to dislodge her, and the balcony. “Small fry,” she scoffed, lifting her right hand. The brown irises of her eyes shone orange, a similar color outlining her body. “Heroes! I picked up some new tricks during my vacation. I hope you can enjoy them as much as did!”

“Just like Jake Martinez…!” Blue Rose exclaimed.

“Two abilities?!” Rock Bison stopped drilling and grabbed the metal with both arms, ripping it from the building.

“Where’s Barnaby?” Agnes all but growled, scanning every monitor that covered a wide range of the city.

Said young man sat in the back of the Apollon Media van, already suited, his helmet in his lap. In all honesty, he had had no intention of joining in; he was willing to give up a few points every once in a while. After Rock Bison slammed into Sky High, courtesy of Dark Star—the building they crashed into collapsed on top of them—he changed his mind. Barnaby rose from the bench, slipping his helmet on, and motioned for Saito to open the door. He let the wind caress his face before snapping the protective face mask into place.


Eyes wide, Dark Star brought both arms up in front of her, crossing them in a defensive action. She managed to form a rock-based barrier thick enough that it took the force of Barnaby’s kick. From behind, she felt the cold air whip around her and built a new wall to her back to block Blue Rose’s attack, only to be slammed against it, Barnaby’s gloved hand around her neck. “Is this how you treat women?” Dark Star laughed breathlessly. “Where’s your partner? He’d make you let me go.” His fingers tightened.

“Barnaby,” Agnes warned.

Dark Star flattened the palm of her hand against the wall of rocks she was pinned to, setting them all aflame. Barnaby looked away from the blaze that overpowered his systems and Dark Star broke free of his hold, shedding her burnt hoodie to reveal a red tube top. A tattoo of a pentagram adorned her upper right arm. Her body remained outlined in the orange-red glow and she raised a hand, beckoning Barnaby. “This is between you…” She never finished her statement, a scowl marring her features. Beneath the smoke residue from her own attacks was a lovely young woman. Her black heart matched the black rocks that she was able to generate.

“Something… is not right,” Dark Star mumbled, cocking her head to the right as she stared at the suited figure. A wall of flames shot up in front of her as she advanced on Barnaby—an order from the producer so commentary could be generated—but it was easily leapt over. She landed behind the King of Heroes, her body still outlined in an orange glow. Her hits were nowhere near as strong as Wild Tiger’s, but were still powerful enough to send Origami Cyclone careening into an abandoned home. His transformation came undone before he hit the side of the structure.

Electricity rained down upon her, forcing her to the knees after being overpowered. She was immediately encased in ice up until her shoulders. “Spare me your lame catchphrases,” she scoffed, letting her head loll backwards. She grinned at Blue Rose’s upside-down form. Hearing the mechanical steps, she brought her gaze forward, watching as Barnaby approached her.

“Are you with Ouroboros?” Barnaby flipped his face mask up, revealing his scowl. “Jake Martinez also had two abilities.” Dark Star remained silent, ignoring the question asked of her. His eyes narrowed. “You destroy the city for fun?”

“Didn’t Jake?” Dark Star laughed, tilting her head. “The difference between me and him is that I have no desire to take the lives of humans. I’m just here to give them a good show.” She faced the Hero TV helicopter that broadcasted them across various cities. “And to plant a seed… Wild Tiger—where is he? Retired or fired? It’s been weeks since his appearance! Huh?!” She turned back around, smirking up at the King of Heroes. “Do you miss him?” Dark Star whispered. “You should… You’re nothing without him.”

Her eyes lit up a bright orange and the ice began cracking. Blue Rose reinforced it and Dragon Kid stood ready, her staff extended.

“Barnaby! Don’t just stand there!” Agnes shouted into her headset.

A well-placed kick from Barnaby cracked the ice and it fell away. Caught off guard by the fact that she was being allowed to escape, a special pair of cuffs—the metal casing ran from her elbows to her fist, completely enveloping them—were snapped on her. Different from the cheap ones law enforcement carried, no matter how hard she struggled, they wouldn’t give, and she couldn’t use her powers. Dark Star went lax, but her smirk remained. “Made these just for me? I feel special.”

Barnaby snapped his faceplate down before taking the woman by the crook of her elbow. He faced the camera, lifting his hand in a wave. “Are you with Ouroboros or not?” he repeated, using the mask to hide his moving lips.

Dark Star smiled, lifting her shoulders in a limited shrug. She grimaced at the painful squeeze on her arm, glaring up at his profile. Dark Star was still glaring as she was escorted off to the police van. “You’ll never stop them,” she spat. She butted heads with the officer on her left side, wrenching her right side free. The brunette managed a few steps before she was forced to the ground. Her eyes wild, Dark Star grinned maniacally as she was lifted and carried to the waiting police van. “I’ll be back, Barnaby! I’ll be back, and I’ll be looking for Wild Tiger!” The doors closed on her laughter.

The others Heroes kept their distance from Barnaby. Agnes ordered the feed cut, removing Barnaby's suited self from all screens. Even masked, the Hero gave off the air of a defeated man that had nothing left. He pushed the face plate up, lifting his head to stare at the evening sky.

X x X x

Kotetsu sank into the sofa, covering his face with both hands. Dark Star always managed to stir up trouble, whether she was present or not. “I have to go back to Sternbild,” he mumbled.

“I’m coming with you.”

Kotetsu peeked through his hands before lowering them to his lap. His daughter’s glare left no room for argument. “You really are like your mom,” he chuckled softly. “All right. We’ll leave tomorrow morning. You can start packing now.” Kaede smiled before darting out of the room to her own.

Anju took her place, switching off the television. She stood in front of it, a look of worry directed at her youngest son. “Are you sure this is what you want to do?”

“I’ll do it all this weekend. I’ll tell her. I’ll tell them…” Kotetsu stared at the blank television screen. ‘I’ll tell Bunny.’

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