Barnaby found Tetsuko to be a very frustrating woman

It wasn't because she always arrived late to work, had a tendency to spill food on herself, waved her arms too much when she spoke, gave him the embarrassing nickname 'Bunny,' or dashed into battle with no regard for her own safety

Nope. None of that frustrated Barnaby at all anymore.

While Tetsuko was a goofy, silly woman, she was also an incredibly kind and caring friend to Barnaby. She'd done so much for him, more than any other person in his life. From taking a bullet to save him from Lunatic to holding him at the height of his breakdown, wrapping her warm arms around him and murmuring words of comfort, she'd been there.

And Barnaby felt sure that he would've able to control how he felt about her if it wasn't for how undeniably attractive he found the older woman. Barnaby tried to stop himself from gawking at Tetsuko on the job, as he knew the cameras watched the two of them constantly, but he couldn't help himself while they were out on the town together, or when she worked out in the gym. Long legs, generous curves, and golden-brown eyes framed by dark lashes sent tingles throughout his body. Tch, I'm like a kid, Barnaby thought as he watched Tetsuko out of the corner of his eye as she eagerly spoke to the reporter.

"I can't dream of ever stopping my heroics!" she exclaimed, her dark waves piled high on her head she waved her arms, "I've been The Tigress since I graduated high school! What would this old woman do with herself, hmm? I'll be working for Apollon, so long as Barnaby here will have me." Barnaby snapped to attention, staring at Tetsuko in shock as all sorts of images sprung into his head. Tetsuko wrapping those endless legs around him, pressing him against a wall, begging for him to 'have her' as she stripped off her oxford shirt and hiked up her skirt.

"Ah, sorry Tigress…what? I kinda zoned out," he said, trying to save face in front of the cameras.

"I said that I'll be working so long as you'll have me as your partner," she said, smiling at him in the usual way that made his stomach flip over.

"Of course, Tigress, we're a team. I would never work without you," he said, more sincere than she expected. To Barnaby's surprise, he saw a light pink flush over her cheeks, and she turned back to the reporter.

"Next question?"

Tetsuko surprised Barnaby after their interview by waiting for him outside of his dressing room. He froze when he opened the door and saw her, in clothes she normally would've blanched at. Instead of her usual pencil skirt-vest-shirt-hat combination, which definitely suited her, she fidgeted in a deep green dress that fluttered around her knees and clung to her curves. She smiled, wincing as she shifted in her heels while adjusting her domino mask.

"Ah…hello Bunny. I got a call from Mr. Lloyd. He forgot to tell us that we have a charity ball tonight. He sent over this dress for me, and I tried to do my hair and I know these shoes look ridiculous and I can't dance but he said I should accompany you tonight because it'd look good for the company and-"

"Perfection," Barnaby breathed, barely audible as he stared at Tetsuko. She tilted her hair to her side and creased her brow.

"What was that?" she queried. Barnaby shook his head, snatched up the nice coat he'd worn for the interview and looped his arm with hers, practically dragging her towards the exit of the building. Don't look at her don't look at her don't look at her, Barnaby thought, pressing his lips together.

"Nothing, Tetsuko, you look fine. We can get the ball over with fast if we do networking early." He saw the corners of her mouth droop a little in a sad frown, and wondered if he'd been too callous towards her. However, her demeanor changed immediately when she climbed into the limousine, filled with the rest of the heroes, that awaited them. Barnaby soon lost Tetsuko to her chatter with Antonio, and he sulked next to Pao-Ling. After briefly trying to talk to him, the youngest hero quickly turned his attention to the meek Ivanka and haughty Karina.

It's going to be a long night, he thought.

He immediately began networking when he stepped into the ballroom, eager to get out of the room and out of his uncomfortable dress clothes. The sponsors ate up his faux suave charm, all of the "Let's Believe Heroes!" idiocy the company made him churn out. His mind refused to stay on the topic of hero politics, for it was too busy trying not to think about Tetsuko. Barnaby avoided her throughout the evening; every time he saw her trying to make her way over to him in her heels, her hips swaying from side to side, he practically sprinted away.

However, it wasn't easy avoiding his partner. Natalie seemed hell-bent on forcing them to interact when she wasn't playfully flirting with Barnaby. Thankfully, Antonio distracted her with his ass. Barnaby did want to talk to Tetsuko at certain points, but restrained himself. He loved how sincere and sweet Tetsuko was in comparison to the rest of the vultures at the ball, but he hated how endearing she acted at charity events. Men kept flirting with her, trying to entice the Tigress to come join their company, and he fought the urge to use his Hundred Power to throw them across Sternbild.

So, he stayed away. He didn't trust himself around Tetsuko anymore; his attraction to her made him nervous. Barnaby Brooks Jr. did not trust his emotions and brain when it came to emotions and love. He'd already fucked up their relationship once before, almost ended up killing her. I can't risk losing her again…he thought, pursing his lips as he sipped his champagne, trying not to think about how much it would hurt to be separated from her again.

Halfway through the evening though, Tetsuko disappeared. Barnaby tracked down Antonio, separating her from Natalie, and quickly asked her where his partner had disappeared to. To his surprise, Antonia glared at him and turned back to Natalie, allowing the latter to place a hand on his ass as he stalked away from the blonde. Something went very wrong, Barnaby thought, panic rising in his chest as he rushed from the ballroom to try looking for Tetsuko.

I really should stop fucking up one of these days, he thought.

Barnaby found her slumped against the wall outside of women's restroom, head hanging between her legs as she curled in on herself. A rush of emotions swept through him-concern, guilt, worry-as he looked at the strong women shaking on the ground.

"Tetsuko…" he whispered, hurrying to her side. Tetsuko let out a small sob and shied away from Barnaby.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, her voice filled with hurt as she hurried to stand. When she stumbled on her stilettos, she swore and kicked the offending shoes off. One of the heels lodged itself into the opposite wall, and she began to cry once more.

"I noticed you'd left the event and Antonio wouldn't tell me why-"

"What are you doing here, looking for me? You've been avoiding me all night!" Tetsuko exploded, her wet eyes flashing with anger as she balled her fists, storming towards Barnaby, "Am I that horrible to look at? I know I'm not as cute as Ivanka or as pretty as Karina, I'm an ugly woman in stupid shoes, but I didn't think you would ignore me! What did I do this time, Barnaby?" she screamed, her body vibrating with fury as she glared at him through her tears. Barnaby gaped, trying to stutter out an apology, but she refused to let him get a word in while she raged.

"Why are you mad at me now? Is it because I was stupid in an interview again, or because I let that robber get away yesterday? I'm sorry that I'm just a stupid old woman you got stuck with, and I'm sorry that I'm not the Queen of Heroes anymore, but…but…you don't get to treat me like this!" she shouted, shoving her index finger into his chest, "I'm your partner, Bunny, and I demand respect-mmf!"

Barnaby shoved her against the wall, pressing his lips to hers in a fierce kiss. He settled his hands on her rounded hips and squeezed, feeling his face growing warm as Tetsuko made soft noises in the back of her throat and kissed him back. She wrapped her arms around his neck and tangled her fingers in his hair, deepening their embrace. When they broke away, she appeared dazed. Barnaby reached up and pulled her mask away to better see her face.

"Bunny…what are you doing?" she asked, her cheeks red as she realized how low on her hips Barnaby's hands rested. Barnaby eagerly kissed her once more, and again, and again, before burying his face in her shoulder and holding his partner close. Tetsuko smelled like the ocean, comforting and calm, and she felt soft yet muscular in his arms.

"I'm stupid," he whispered, "I'm really stupid, Tetsuko. I didn't…I was afraid that if I told you how I feel, then I'd mess up our friendship. I can't handle that happening a second time; and I avoided you at the party because I didn't think I could trust myself to behave around you, in that tight green dress and heels that make your legs look even longer…it made me so mad," he said, lifting his face to meet her eyes as he slid his hand around to the small of her back, "Seeing all those men flirting with you…I just…I couldn't help…but" he stammered, trying to work up to his words. Come on brooks, be a man! he scolded himself. Staring straight into Tetsuko's honey brown eyes, Barnaby shouted:

"I wanted to just take you away so we could go have a private dinner together because I love you, Tetsuko K. Kaburagi!"

Tetsuko went scarlet and froze, at his words, her eyes widening and mouth dropped open. Then, The Tigress smirked, and grabbed onto Barnaby's tie. Without hesitation, she yanked him down for another kiss, bringing his hand to support her ass while she wrapped her legs around his waist. I'm dreaming, this is definitely a dream, so don't fucking wake up, Barnaby thought as Tetsuko nipped his bottom lip and purred into their kiss.

"I love you too, Barnaby Brooks Jr," she whispered, drawing out his name in a sultry voice that made him wish they were anywhere but fifty feet away from their friends and sponsors. He looked over his shoulder and saw that people were beginning to leave.

"You know, nobody would miss us…" he said, casually dropping the idea as Tetsuko kissed his neck. She stopped and quizzically tilted her head. Without another word, he scooped her up in the familiar princess carry and activated his power, eyes glowing the tell-tale NEXT blue.

"I hope you can run twenty miles in five minutes," she laughed, curling up in his arms. Barnaby began sprinting, the world of Sternbild flying past the both of them as he gazed into her eyes.

"For you, Tetsuko, I'll do it in three."

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