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03 September 2012 @ 06:08 am
[fic] & bunny - chapter fifteen  

Title: & Bunny – chapter fifteen
Author/Artist: Cheza-chan
Pairing/Characters: Kaburagi Kotetsu / Barnaby Brooks Jr.
Rating: R (M for Mature)
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.

[ chapter one ] [ chapter two ] [ chapter three ] [ chapter four ] [ chapter five ] [ chapter six ] [ chapter seven ] [ chapter eight ] [ chapter nine ] [ chapter ten ] [ chapter eleven ] [ chapter twelve ] [ chapter thirteen] [ chapter fourteen ]

Kotetsu should have been accustomed to having an occupied bed, but he was still startled after waking and staring at himself. Ebitsu's eyes snapped open and his crimson gaze was immediately fixed on the NEXT. Kotetsu swallowed thickly, trying to inch towards the edge of the bed. "I have to pee…" he muttered.

"You don't," Ebitsu told him. Kotetsu smart retort of 'how would you know' was already being answered, "I did a quick body scan and there are no signs that point toward a need to relieve yourself. You are, however, excited…"

Kotetsu closed his eyes, willing away his morning arousal; his body betrayed him, as his mind was filled with wonderful memories of the limited time he'd spent with Barnaby.

His savior came in the form of a very pissed off and groggy Radboud. "Get up, get out," the young man grumbled, stifling a yawn. Obediently, and without hesitation, the droid rose from the bed, climbing off to walk across the room. He stopped at his creator's side for a few moments, watching as Kotetsu turned over to sit up, before moving on, back to the workshop, where he would probably be chastised; threatened.

Radboud stared at Kotetsu through narrowed eyes before sighing deeply. "Evy's with your daughter."

Kotetsu froze, his honey golden eyes wide.

"Relax," the younger NEXT scoffed. "She's safe."

"Did you te—"

Radboud drew a finger across his throat, ordering the man to be silent. He nodded, answering the unspoken question, and then inclined his head in a manner that Kotetsu assumed was in reference to his clone. The message Radboud hoped to convey: Don't talk about it. We know of your daughter's abilities, but he doesn't. Kotetsu smiled his understanding and the young man found himself grinning. He shook his head, waving a hand dismissingly, and walked out.

Radboud never made it back to his workroom. He locked the door from the outside, collapsing face first onto his bed. It was only by the grace of some deity that he escaped the night without catastrophe. That, and his abilities kept him standing on the ceiling, glaring down at the old man below. Radboud rolled over, but quickly turned back onto his stomach, groaning into his pillow.

X + X + X + X

"When can I see my father?" Kaede's eyes followed the redhead that moved back and forth in the kitchenette of Kotetsu's apartment.

Evelyn shot the girl a bright smile before continuing her preparation of brunch. "Soon. He's still recovering."

Kaede fisted her hands tightly atop the countertop before relaxing. The moment was short-lived as her mind went into sudden overdrive. What was the truth and what was fake? Had her father really been kidnapped? The possibility of it happening right after her last call to him was a high one, and she was starting to distrust 'coincidences'. "Evelyn. Is my father really still working as a Hero?"

Evelyn had years of practice perfecting her many masks, but this was Kotetsu's child, and she couldn't bring herself to lie. "No," she stated without waver. She turned after hearing the soft grunt of effort. "Please eat before you leave."

Kaede frowned at her, but turned around, climbing back onto the stool. "You're not going to stop me?"

"No." Evelyn slid the omelet out of the skillet and onto the waiting plate. She then placed the dish in front of the child, her expression blank. "It's not in my place to do so."

Kaede acknowledged the statement with a slight nod, picking up the fork. A soft 'itadakimasu' left her lips and she was graced with a small smile from her temporary guardian. Despite seeing the young woman smile before, this one was genuine. She grinned in return before partaking in her meal. Evelyn had smiled because she remembered Kotetsu uttering the same phrase their last moment sitting together and eating.

Kaede's plans were crushed after the television behind her announced that the Heroes were being called to action. She placed the fork down on the plate, turning on the stool to get a better view. Evelyn remained behind the counter, leaning against it, and watched along.


Sky High was first on the scene, but the villain had yet to be determined—had yet to be found. Sky High hovered, his gaze focused on the building that had had all the windows on its west side shattered. There was no evidence of the origin of attack, and no indication of attack type. Was it the same invisible attack that stopped Blue Rose? Sky High glanced down, eyes wide behind the mask of his helmet. His suit… was vibrating? His jetpack—which he wanted to desperately remove for fear of it exploding—confirmed his thoughts as it rattled against his suit.

Sky High opened his com to communicate with the others, only to wince as he was forced to endure an endless stream of a whining beep. The vibrations grew until he found himself propelled across the sky, crashing into the side of the damaged building. His monitors were offline—static filled the screen—so he had no idea what could have hit him. His ears were still ringing. Something—someone?—was trying to get through the ringing.

"…eam! Sky High! It's a NEXT with a Sonic Scream!"

"Rock Bison…" Sky High pulled himself from the wall, startled when he began to plummet. Pulling up his systematics, he realized his jetpack had taken most of the damage and no longer functioned. He gathered enough air to keep himself from dropping too swiftly, landing and stumbling forward. Strong hands steadied him and he could only hope Rock Bison knew he smiled at him from inside his helmet.

"We're trying to locate him or her—Origami Cyclone is," Rock Bison told him.

"It's a long-distance attack. And they would be located somewhere high, since I was in the sky."

Rock Bison removed his hands from Sky High's shoulders once the other Heroes began arriving on the scene. Wild Tiger hopped from his sidecar once Barnaby stopped, arms held high above his head. In his hands was a replacement jetpack. He spoke through a private com so the cameras wouldn't pick it up, "Your company's president practically threw it at us. He said to get you back in the air!"

Sky High laughed.


Kaede's gaze was focused on the masked face of Wild Tiger being broadcasted, possibly worldwide. "That's not my dad?"

"No," Evelyn replied softly.

The mannerisms and behavior—even the laughter the camera crew managed to capture—told the child otherwise. Kaede wasn't going to ask who was behind the mask. Folding her hands in her lap, she waited with bated breath to see if they would find the criminal.


Before Wild Tiger could reach Sky High with the replacement pack, he was thrown off his feet by the invisible attack, the jetpack skidding across the ground while he himself narrowly avoided crashing into the motorcycle and sidecar they arrived in.

"Found him!" Origami Cyclone broadcasted to them all. At the same time, miles from their current location, a cloud of smoke rose above the shortest buildings.

"Of course they work as a team," Barnaby scoffed.

"You boys stay over there," Blue Rose sang through their open com. "The girls will handle this guy." There was a moment of silence before a soft laugh was heard. "That means Fire Emblem is with us." The air crackled with lightning, followed by a wall of flames rising high.

Sky High managed to reach his jetpack without incident, quickly working with Rock Bison to replace the damaged one. "Origami Cyclone! Your coordinates!"

"Bu–busy…!" His yell was cut short by a whine and crackle of static.

Sky High took to the air, shouting own to the other Heroes that he was going to find Origami Cyclone. Wild Tiger—Ebitsu—had the coordinates, having tracked the young NEXT's suit, but what would be the fun of ending the game so early? His smirk hidden behind the faceplate of his helmet, he placed a hand to Barnaby's shoulder. "We should help him! Take another route, just in case this guy tries to escape."

"That's a pretty sound plan," Barnaby told him.

"H–hey! My reasoning is always sound!"

"Stop trying to pick a fight, and hurry up." Barnaby had already deployed his gatling gun and was swinging for the nearest rooftop.

"Bunny!" Wild Tiger gave chase.


It took over an hour before the NEXT was captured. Everyone, at one point, had gotten blasted by the sonic waves, sonic booms, banshee screams—everything. Keith's hearing suffered the most damage. He left with Antonio, who offered to escort him home.

Kotetsu sat at his desk, head between his knees, groaning loudly. "Why… do we still have to do desk work?"

"Because it needs to be done," Barnaby sighed. He winced at the loud thud that rocked their joined desk, slipping from his chair to assist the man rolling on the floor and cradling his head. "If you weren't behaving like a child, this wouldn't have happened."

Having kept his distance from the desk, his grumblings caused him to roll forward, back to where he'd hit his head on the underside after trying to sit up.

Barnaby smirked. "Do you want me to kiss it better?"

Kotetsu sat up sharply, his pain forgotten, red eyes sparkling. "Yes, please."

Barnaby chuckled softly, shaking his head. "You're fine. Get up, Kotetsu-san. The sooner you finish your paperwork, the sooner you can leave and go home."

Kotetsu pouted as he watched the blond rise. "You promised me a kiss…"

"Kotetsu-san. Get up."

With a huff, Kotetsu struggled back to his feet, drawing his chair closer to the desk before taking a seat. A shadow fell across his desk and he lifted his head to find Barnaby leaning down towards him. Kotetsu smiled against the lips pressed to his. Barnaby pulled away, settling into his chair without another word. Kotetsu attempted to roll closer, but was thwarted by Barnaby's foot keeping his chair at bay.

"We've accumulated enough dates and you jumped to third base—that's what this is?"

"This…" Barnaby sighed, folding his hands atop his desk. "We really need to talk about this—about us."

Kotetsu looked thoughtful. "We're… dating, right? We're a couple?"

"Everything seems so sudden." Barnaby drew his hands together, interlocking his fingers. The office contained only them, as their third party was taking a break. "I think… the kidnapping made me realize just how much I needed you—wanted you to stay with me. I was terri—" Barnaby gasped softly at the arms that slid around his shoulders, interlocking across his chest.

"I'm here," Kotetsu whispered against the shell of his ear. "I'll admit… it was difficult working with you when we were first partnered together."

Barnaby let out a soft laugh, "I think we both might have felt that way."

Kotetsu grinned, pressing his cheek against Barnaby's golden hair. "But I can't think of anywhere else to be than at your side."

Barnaby smiled, laying his hands over the arms across his chest. "I feel… the same way, Kotetsu-san."

Unseen, the doppelganger's smile slowly faded, but he kept holding on tight, not wanting to let go.

X + X + X + X

The bedroom door was thrown open, a slim figure darkening its doorway. "Tiger! Did you miss me? Huh?"

Kotetsu squinted at Dark Star, irritated that his precious and rare sleep was disturbed. "If I tell you I did, will you go away so I can go back to sleep?"

Dark Star blinked at him a few times, digesting her words. The smile started small, growing wider until she was showing her teeth as she grinned. "I missed you, too, Tiger! Sorry I'm not Evy, but I'm here to make sure you sleep well." She'd already made a pit stop at her room—the boots and jacket, even the skirt were gone, leaving her in a red tank top and black tights.

"I was sleeping well…"

Dark Star walked over to the bed, standing beside it, arms crossed. Eyes hooded, Kotetsu stared back sleepily. "You want the wall or the edge?"

He answered her question without saying a word, sliding closer to the wall to leave room for her to climb in. Dark Star practically jumped in, the bed creaking as it bounced then settled. She turned onto her side, facing Kotetsu with a grin. Kotetsu closed his eyes, humming thoughtfully as he breathed in then breathed out. "You smell like perfume…"

A soft laugh came from the young woman. "Maybe I wanted to smell more like a lady to impress you."

Kotetsu couldn't stop the snort of disbelief that escaped him. "Smelling like a lady won't be enough. You have to act like one."

"Maybe… if they want me to be."

Slowly, Kotetsu opened his eyes, studying the girl across from him. What he saw was a teenager worrying over her first official crush. Dark Star caught him staring and masked her uncertainty with a grin. Kotetsu lifted a hand, tucking a dark strand of hair behind her ear. He played with the fiery orange tips, smiling. "Don't change. If they don't want you for who you are, they don't deserve you."

Dark Star smiled, closing her eyes. "You're not so bad, Tiger. Now I see why everyone likes you—"

"Why does everyone keep saying that?" the ex-Hero sighed.

"It's something about your personality," the girl continued. "Shut up and go to sleep now."

Kotetsu chuckled softly and left his hand where it had come to rest on the girl's shoulder. Maybe he could start over with this bunch—leave the life that was stolen from him behind and begin a new one. He would take his family, of course; they could all live in Oriental Town. It would be painful leaving his friends behind, but he was tired of being tormented by that demon wearing his face. And Barnaby…

Dark Star lifted a hand, covering the one whose fingers dug into her shoulder. "Do you want me to tell you a story to help you fall back asleep?" Kotetsu didn't answer, so she pressed on. "About nineteen years ago, a young baby girl was born to parents of bright eyes and blond hair. A religious couple. The child had brown eyes and jet black hair. She was… an anomaly, was what the neighbors would say. But they loved their daughter very much, and named her Evangeline. Evangeline Birdsong."

Kotetsu's fingers loosened against her shoulders and his smile grew a bit wider.

Dark Star rolling her eyes went unseen, but for plodded onward with her tale. "Evangeline loved her parents as much as they loved her—as much as she thought they loved her. Her father witnessed her accidentally coming into her NEXT abilities. He smiled and told her they would keep it a secret from mommy and surprise her when the time was right. But even after HeroTV aired, even after Hero Academy opened, the time was never right. Evangeline then overheard both her parents praying one evening—praying for the disease to be purged from her body. She was old enough to do so… well, she thought she was, so she ran away…"

Dark Star trailed off when she realized the hand on her shoulder was merely there and no longer gripping. She shook her head, wearing a lopsided smile. "Don't fall asleep when people are talking."

Kotetsu murmured softly but remained slumbering.

Giggling, both Blue Rose and Dragon Kid exchanged a high five. Origami Cyclone smiled weakly at them. He had no strength left, but his heart was in the congratulations he offered the girls. Blue Rose noticed movement at the entrance of the meeting room and her face lit up. 'Kotetsu-san!' She wanted his praises as well. Quickly excusing herself, she rushed out, hoping to catch him before he could disappear. "Tiger…?"

Wild Tiger paused in his strides, glancing over his shoulder. Blue Rose made no attempt to hide her displeasure at the company her dear Hero kept. Barnaby and Maverick. Apollon Media's president never strayed far from the main building—or so Karina believed. "Blue Rose," Wild Tiger smiled. "Congratulations on your victory today!"

The young teen fought hard to keep her blush at bay, but she could feel the heat rising to her cheeks. "Thank you," she murmured softly, ducking her head.

Wild Tiger laughed, walking back over to stand before her. "I guess age has nothing to do with true experience, huh?" Blue Rose's head snapped up, but the glare was wiped from her face after Wild Tiger's hand touched her cheek. "I need to become a Hero like you," he chuckled, letting his hand travel upward to rest atop the perfectly arranged blue hair.

"You're a great Hero," Blue Rose whispered, her eyes glued to the older man's smiling face.

Wild Tiger grinned. "Thank you."

"Kotetsu-san," Barnaby called out, reminding him there was somewhere he needed to be.

"Ah! Coming!" With another laugh, Kotetsu hurried back to where the two men stood waiting. Maverick smiled politely, nodding his head at the teenager.

Blue Rose retuned the gesture, her thoughts now clear without Kotetsu invading them. He was still there, but only his touch. Karina touched a hand to her cheek before bringing it forward to star at it, her expression a blank canvas.

That was how Nathan found her when he walked out of the main room of the Justice Tower. He wiggled his fingers in front of her face, smiling brightly when she slowly turned and looked at him. "What's wrong, darling?"

"Tiger's… cold."

Nathan chuckled, "It's Winter. Christmas is right around the corner. You should be at home, sweetheart. Spend time with your family."

Karina lowered her hand before giving the man her full attention, smiling sweetly at him. "You're right."

Nathan curled his gloved fingers against her chin before walking away down the hall. Warm. Even through the material of his glove, Karina had felt his warmth. Kotetsu's touch, despite there being nothing to bar skin to skin contact, had been cold.

Blue Rose lifted her hand again, touching her cheek, only to press her fingers against her temple, wincing at the sharp pain within her skull. Eyes screwed shut, she witnessed an ice rose blooming in the darkness of her mind's eye. Her fingers felt to the rose earrings as she gasped out a sharp breath. Ice was normally cold, a fact she was well aware of, but the image she saw made her feel… warm. Karina shook her head, willing away the dull throbbing, and headed back into the semi-crowded room.

x x x

Tired of lying around and dwelling on the past, Karina stood from her bed, stretching to relax her muscles. Maybe if she stepped out, she could clear her head. A little white lie had her parents wishing her well as she left the house; "I'm hanging out with Emily and Jane—at the sushi bar." Both of her friends were occupied that afternoon, one at a study program and the other with a date.

Karina clenched her hand tightly around her phone as she weaved through the bodies crowding the sidewalk, mindful not to bump into anyone. The option of going to said sushi bar was still open, and she would head there eventually, but she had a bit of time to herself and had never walked through Sternbild to admire it. A distant shout kept her thoughts from wandering back to Kotetsu and Karina lifted her head, glancing around curiously.

"Karina!" came again, but closer.

Karina locked eyes with a redhead and the young woman's nod let her know she was on the right track. A hand rose above the crowd—just barely—and Karina shifted her gaze, searching until she found herself staring at a bright-eyed child. A delicate eyebrow rose questioningly and she looked between the two strangers.

"Karina-san?" The brunette stopped before her and Karina leaned down to be at eye level. "You… don't know me." It started off as a question, but ended as a statement once the child found the answer she was looking for, possibly in the blank stare she continued to give her.

"Should I?" Karina inquired.

A hurt look flashed across the child's face, but was quickly masked with a smile. The smile made a familiar feeling spread through Karina, but she still didn't know the child. "No, I guess not."

"But you obviously know me," the Hero pointed out.

"Through a mutual friend. I'm sorry to have bothered you." The brunette folded her hands together and bowed politely. She straightened up, ready to move on.

Karina reached out and gasped as the ice rose once again bloomed brilliantly in her mind. She pulled her hand away from the child's shoulder, cradling it to her chest. "At least… tell me your name."

"Kaede." Another smile was thrown her way.


With a small wave, Kaede and her quiet companion walked away. Raising her hands to cup them before her face, Kaede blew out her breath, smiling at the cloud of condensation not caused by the weather of Sternbild.

Karina watched them go, turning the name over and over in her head, hoping it revealed something about the young girl that she was supposed to know. She worried her bottom lip between her teeth, staring until the redhead disappeared from sight. Her confusion increased tenfold when her thoughts of 'Kotetsu' resurfaced and merged with the new thoughts of 'Kaede'. Both were obviously Japanese names—were they related? She shook her head, curls bounding, and reminded herself that citizens from Oriental Town could relocate if they wanted to. Karina With a deep sigh, Karina continued her wandering.


Evelyn told herself she was not going against Radboud's wishes. His orders had been to retrieve Kaede from the train station, not detain her. She watched Kaede walk up to the stairs of Apollon Media, waving when she glanced back to pinpoint her location. Once the young girl continued her ascent, Evelyn ducked out f sight to keep a better eye on the child. Body glowing, she eased her consciousness through the foliage that landscaped the building. There wasn't much, and she could already tell there was no living plant inside the building. Evelyn returned to her given body, exhaling softly. 'Be safe, Kaede.' She decided it was time to head back home. Absently, she wondered if she would finally face her brother's true wrath for having let her charge go. The thought was whisked away as she remembered who else stayed at their apartment. Evelyn quickened her steps.

Kaede stared around the bustling building, smiling as she remembered her first visit. The smile turned solemn as she thought about how Karina hadn't remembered her. Sky High—would it be the same for him also? Balling her fists tightly at her sides, Kaede marched forward toward the reception desk.

The receptionist leaned forward to better see her, smiling as she did so. "Are you… lost?"

"No," Kaede stated firmly, stopping herself from glaring. "I'd like to see Barnaby-san."

The woman smiled brightly at her, an apologetic look in her eyes. "Barnaby's away at the moment. Are you a fan?"

"I'm more of a Wild Tiger fan," Kaede laughed, cocking her head slightly to one side.

The receptionist nodded her understanding. "They've been unstoppable lately, after finally getting back together. I believe he's also unavailable. If you wish to, you can return tomorrow. I'll let Mr. Maverick know a fan stopped by, and maybe he'll be able to grant you an audience with them."

"Thank you so much." Kaede gave a slight bow before turning and walking back out of the building. Standing at the top of the steps, looking down, she gripped the handles of her backpack tightly. What was reallygoing on? Evelyn had the answers, obviously, but she was gone—Kaede knew this for a fact. Was there no one she could turn to for answers? Choking off a sound of frustration, she started down the stairs, determined to figure things out on her own.


Kaede was sitting on the front steps of her father's apartment, knees hugged against her chest, hoping no one came by and questioned her. She'd already tried to call him once, but the call had been disconnected, so she saw no point in attempting a second time, especiall after what Evelyn had told her. Kaede brought her hands up, cupping them in front of her face, and blew out softly. There was a small cloud of condensation and she smiled, knowing the difference between the Winter's "cold" and Blue Rose's.

"You look... happy."

Kaede's head snapped up. Her shock gave way to relief and she grinned, standing from the steps. "I didn't think I would see you again."

Evelyn smiled, walking up the steps to meet her. "I thought about how angry Kotetsu would be because I left you all alone in the city. Also... I've become fond of you." She reached out to smooth a hand over the girl's head, but drew back, curling her fingers into a fist.

Kaede laughed, "You know about me, huh? Of course you do."

Evelyn's smile returned and she indicated to the door. "Let's go inside. I have something special for us to eat for dinner. I hope you like it."

"Considering breakfast, I think I will." Questions burned her tongue, but she couldn't bring herself to do so. And Evelyn had already given her a great deal of information: Kotetsu was alive. She took the redhead's hand in her own, leading the way upstairs to the apartment.

X + X + X + X

Yuri Petrov was used to seeing Kotetsu standing before him at least once every two or three weeks; however often the Heroes were called out to be on guard. A month and a half had already passed and Wild Tiger had caused no property damage. It was suspicious. The man within the new suit was still "wild" with his actions and movements, but there was also a slight difference. He'd known Wild Tiger for years, and this man didn't feel like Wild Tiger. Yuri sat at his desk, ghosting through the files for Wild Tiger. The smiling face of the ruby-eyed brunet stared back at him.

"There's something... off." He touched the face on his monitor before turning it off and standing from his desk. Yuri picked up his briefcase, walking out of the dimmed office; it went dark after the door slid shut. He remained impassive as he found himself face to face with the same person that currently perplexed him.

Kotetsu grinned at him. "Judge Yuri. How… are you?"

"Fine," Yuri replied nonchalantly.

The stare-off continued for several excruciatingly long moments before the Hero laughed nervously. "I'm not used to see you… outside of the courtroom."

"Well, then. We shall be reacquainted soon enough. If you'll excuse me, Kaburagi."

Kotetsu stepped back, allowed the other man to pass. He stared after him, crimson eyes calculating.

X + X + X + X

Kotetsu was drawn from his slumber by the voices surrounding him. The last thing he remembered was Dark Star joining him in bed again. He let his eyes slowly open, surprised that there was no blazing sunlight for his eyes to adjust to, which meant the sun had yet to rise to officially start the new day. Kotetsu rolled over reluctantly, squinting so his eyes could adjust to the darkness. The dim light streaming in from the main room of the apartment helped him distinguish the trio of people standing several feet away. He sat up after realizing Evelyn was one of them (she returned, only after putting Kaede to sleep). The dark clone regarded him for a second before returning his gaze to the brunette talking to him.

"You have to destroy something." Dark Star endured the blank stare for three seconds before reaching out to cuff the lifelike machine on the side of the head. She winced, shaking out her smarting fingers. "Destroy property! The real thing tends to leave destruction behind while he saves and captures. That vigilante judge is getting suspicious."

"Would you like me to level a building?"

"Level a...!" Dark Star sputtered, throwing her hands up in the air.

"That could work," Evelyn interjected quietly. "Or just the first few floors of an office building."

Kotetsu couldn't believe this conversation was taking place directly in front of him. Yes, Judge Yuri said he caused property damage, but it wasn't on purpose. Two girls and a machine were planning how to do it! As Kotetsu listened, time and place came up, courtesy of Dark Star. "How—"

The overlapping voices silenced and all eyes were on Kotetsu as though just remembering he sat on the bed. He cleared his throat, not backing down, even though asking 'why'. "Why—"

"To keep HeroTV on the air."

Evelyn and the fake Hero stepped apart from Dark Star to reveal a smirking Radboud. The oldest of the small group strolled forward until he reached the edge of the bed. Letting his shades slip down the bridge of his nose, he chuckled, "I thought you knew reality television was fake."

"But we..."

"Oh. You, the marvelous Heroes, are real, but most of your adventures are staged. The petty ones are just that—we have no control over them. But when the city decides to behave and there's nothing to broadcast, we send in the big guns—the more serious ones, rather. Jake was quite serious about destroying you all." A bemused look appeared on the young man's face, and he shielded his emerald eyes by pushing the sunglasses back up in place. "Benoit Depardieu was pretty serious, too." Radboud glanced over his shoulder, looking from sister to comrade. "Was he one of us, though?" He missed the way Kotetsu stiffened atop the bed, body taut as he remembered that humiliating defeat.

Dark Star shrugged, lifting her arms to tuck her hands behind her head.

"He was a serial killer," Evelyn replied. "Not a NEXT."

"Right," Radboud drawled.

"Why are you doing this...?" Kotetsu whispered.

Radboud turned slowly, facing their captive. "Why?"

"I thought I proved I wasn't like them."

The young man's lips stretched into a sneer. "You are an adult, and very much like them! Always trying to change us! Why can't we live as we please?!"

"Don't you?" Kotetsu countered, brows dipping as he frowned.

A strained, almost tearful laugh left Radboud. "No! We're not free... not at all! We're bound to this life I thought might have been our shot at freedom. Adults are still dictating our lives!"

"Ray..." It was Dark Star's softest voice.

Radboud shook his head, backing away from the bed. "Gonna let you go," he mumbled

Evelyn's eyes widened. "Radboud...?"

"We're letting him go," Radboud repeated more firmly. He glared at the doppelganger. "Go back to those adults—both of you. I don't want you being my problem anymore..." Before anyone could protest, he brushed by them and out of the bedroom.

Evelyn stared at the real Kotetsu while Dark Star fixed her gaze on the fake one. Shoo, she mouthed. With a glance at the bed, the clone took his leave.

Evelyn lowered herself onto the bed, scooting across the mattress. At the same time, Kotetsu drew nearer to her. It had been almost two days since they'd last seen each other, and hadn't parted under good circumstances.

Kotetsu stared at his hands—at his wrists and forearms. He'd healed up since that night. "Sorry," he murmured. "About… that day. Things were…"

Evelyn placed her hands over his, shaking her head at him once he'd looked up at her. "There's no need to apologize. Remember? You're our prisoner." She smiled and Kotetsu couldn't help laughing.

"And your daughter's just like you," the redhead added.

Kotetsu let out a huff—probably meant to be a laugh, but he was grinning. "I don't think so. She's developed her own personality. She's not like me… More like her mother, but not quite so either."

"She has great parents…" Evelyn unconsciously smoothed her thumb over the smooth flesh on the inside of his wrist. "I like you, Kaburagi-san. We've studied you for so long, but the real you... no machine can duplicate this personality. It's always changing... for better! You've been here for so long and I'm just imagining if this is what it's like to have a fath—"

Evelyn gasped, her arms trapped between after Kotetsu enveloped her. Tears welled up in her eyes, falling down her cheeks and splashing onto his shirt, leaving dark stains. Kotetsu shushed her, guiding her head down onto his shoulder. "Cry, Evelyn. You haven't cried since they passed, have you? Cry. Let it all out." Evelyn's mask shattered and she sobbed, clinging tightly to his shirt sleeves.

The sound gripped at Dark Star's heart and she pushed away from the wall adjacent to the room. Hurrying out onto the roof of their apartment, the brunette's body shone orange and she screamed into the wind. Dark Star grew a black rock in the palm of her hand. She expanded it to the size of a beach ball before hurling it up towards the Gold Stage; she knew it would never reach. Once enough distance was created, she clenched her hand into a tight fist and the rock exploded in a burst of flames.

"It's like a firework."

Panting harshly, she turned and found Radboud sprawled on the floor of the roof, a few feet from the ledge. The light around her faded and she sank to her knees, slouching forward. "This was supposed to be fun. How did it end up this way...?"

"It's still going to be fun." Radboud chuckled, crossing his legs at the ankles and tucking his arms behind his head. "And we are going to support a different benefactor. Someone… that gives us something better… than material things."

Dark Star grinned, letting herself fall backwards onto the roof. "I like that plan."

Radboud made a grunt of effort as he flipped himself onto his feet. He hurried to the door, drawing it open, only to find Kotetsu on the other side, the man's hand poised as though he had been ready to open it himself. Reflexively, he scowled. "Wat?"

Kotetsu smiled sheepishly. "I just wanted to point out that I know what you just said," he laughed. "Sometimes, when you and Evelyn get together, you switch back and forth between your native tongue and commonspeak." Radboud's grip tightened on the handle. "Also… I want to say… thank you."

"Don't thank me yet, old man." The soft chuckle stopped his forward advances and he glared over the tops of his shades. "Wat nu?"

"You called me 'old man'. Usually, you address me by my first name, but... it feels better hearing you call me that."

"You're weird, old man. Bewegen."

Kotetsu stepped aside so the young NEXT could pass.

Radboud bounded down the short flight of steps, trying to resist the urge to jump them all. No one but him was allowed in his workroom, and he'd created it so it would remain that way even if he happened to be absent. Body outlined in blue, he moved the inside tumblers and locks of the door. Radboud pushed the door open, moving around random parts to reach the cluttered work desk. At the left of the desk were Kotetsu's cell phone and his Hero PDA band. Sitting, he took several minutes to activate both once more, deactivating the copies he'd made for the copy. He scooped them up, his body already glowing to lock the door as he left the room.

Kotetsu was now on the roof, but still standing by the entrance. Evelyn had also joined them. Dark Star remained sprawled flat. Radboud held out his hands, grinning at the man's surprise. "Both work just fine."

"The Hero calls…"

"You'll get them, not him."

Kotetsu didn't even dwell on the difficulty of this plan. He slipped the phone into his pocket before putting the PDA band back on his wrist. "Thank you," he repeated, eyes narrowed in determination, even as he grinned.

"Can I... give you something for good luck?"

Kotetsu's shock was over the boy's hesitation. He could almost say Radboud looked shy. It was only now that he saw the sibling resemblance. He smiled, "Sure."

Radboud grinned, stepping into Kotetsu's personal space. The hand on his shoulder was his only warning before warm lips slanted over his. Dark Star shot up into a sitting position, unable to contain her grin. Evelyn covered her mouth, eyes wide. Radboud stepped back, pushing his shades into place over his eyes with his right hand. "Good luck, old man."

Kotetsu remained frozen in pace, trying to piece together the events that had led up to this moment. Along the way—mentally—he recalled his lips had been violated once before. His hands rose, the pads of his fingers touching his lips. The entire act was still a shock, but Radboud had been surprisingly gentle, given all they'd already been through.

The copper-haired NEXT grinned. "Do you need more good luck?"

A wall of black rock shot up between the two men. Radboud looked around it, his eyebrows arched high, visible over his shades. Both Dark Star and Evelyn were glowing. Kotetsu reached toward the structure, his interest in the elongated, thick needles protruding from it. He looked around for their source, but all he found was a small potted cactus near the patio set.

"She has the eyes to match," Dark Star sang. "The green-eyed monster!"

The light around Evelyn faded and she turned away from everyone, covering her ears. She didn't hear the approaching footsteps, and jumped at the light touch to her arm.

"Don't fight with your brother, Evelyn."

"Ja." A timid nod.

Kotetsu smiled, smoothing a thumb over her cheek. He leaned down, pressing his lips to her forehead. "So you're not left out… I'll come by and visit, so make me some more of your homemade delicacies."

"Ja." Another nod, accompanied by a tear.

These weren't his enemies. They were wayward children, and he hoped he left a mark of influence on them. Kotetsu stopped before heading back inside, glancing at each individual that remained on the roof. Radboud's leering grin no longer made him feel uncomfortable. With a chuckle, Kotetsu ducked inside, hurrying down the stairs, through the apartment, and down to the streets below. 'Bunny! I'm coming!'

Hidden behind the tinted window of the black sedan parked on the side of the street, the android watched Kotetsu sprint down the sidewalk.

A/N: No "happy play time" for EbiMayo *pout* I still feel iffy about this chapter, even though it was approved. I feel... there are too many different scenes; are they in the right place? And long chapter is long-ish~ Kotetsu's finally free, woo! Going back in history, apparently~ I'd promised to free him several chapters ago *shrug* Eh!

I feel like I'm writer's block-ing again... don't want to *runs away from the stress*