Title: At a Crossroads
Word Count: 4087
Pairing: None, maybe mild Karina and Ivan crushing on Kotetsu...but mild.
Topic: T&B Anon Prompt
Type: Post Series, One Year Later
Disclaimer: I don't own anything from Tiger and Bunny. Tiger and Bunny belong to Sunrise and their respective creators.
VTM: Another T&B anon prompt, however this one is a little different. This anon asked for something that has to do with Anti-Next Groups. I hope that this is what they were looking for. Enjoy the show!
It was late in the afternoon, it was that time of season just as the fall was starting to give way to the colder temperatures of an upcoming winter. It didn't make walking from building to building on a college campus any fun with the occasional biting chill of wind that would blow in.
Karina Lyle had been in a foul mood most of the day, while her college schedule was more flexible than how it was with high school, it also meant that her sponsor company could find more ways to eat up her time.
"Why do you look so down Blue Rose?"
"How many times do I have to tell you to stop calling me that?" Karina said as she shot Ivan a glare. "We are in a public place, remember?"
"Ah! Sorry! I keep forgetting..." Ivan said with a sheepish smile.
"Honestly, it's hard to believe that you're a little older than me sometimes." Karina said with a small sigh. "Your just as bad as a certain "tiger" we both know..."
"You think I'm a little like Kotetsu?" Ivan said with a hint of surprise, he couldn't help but blush slightly. He seemed a bit happy with that comparison.
It was then Karina's turn to blush. She then shook her head at Ivan. "No! I didn't mean it like that, I just meant that you're really flaky sometimes, that's all."
Ivan then sulked a little. "Oh, I see..."
Karina sighed at the gloomy hero. "Hey, don't be getting all depressed! You're going to ruin the mood for me too!"
Ivan jumped slightly at Karina's outburst. He then tried to find something else to focus on to keep from getting too gloomy. It wasn't long before his eyes caught sight of something that made him stop in his tracks.
"Huh?" Ivan blinked, he then rubbed his eyes and took another look at what had caught his eye. "Hey, isn't that...?"
Karina frowned at him. "It's rude to gawk, just what are you looking at?" She then turned and followed Ivan's gaze, spotting someone that looked oddly familiar. Suddenly realization seemed to don upon her and she ended up gawking herself. "Huh? Hey, is that who I think it is?"
Sitting at a table next to one of the windows in one of the campus cafes was Kotetsu T. Kaburagi. He wasn't dressed in the usual attire that they would see him in. Instead he was dressed more casually, in dark grey turtle neck sweater and a jacket, his paper boy hat was resting on the table next to some papers and books. The only real dead ringer that gave him away was his trademark "kitty beard" as the younger heroes would affectionately call it.
"That's what I was saying! Come on! We should get a closer look!" Ivan said as he headed for the cafe.
"W-why should I care if it's really him or not?" Karina said with a slight blush tinting her cheeks. But Ivan was already gone. "Jerk..." She then followed after him.
"Huh?" Ivan was a little surprised when he saw Karina follow him into the cafe. "I thought you said you didn't care?"
Karina simply gave him a mix between a glare and a pout. "Shut up." With that, Ivan decided to drop the subject quick before he'd regret it.
The two young heroes kept their distance at first, they tried to stay out of Kotetsu's sight while still being able to keep an eye on him. It wasn't easy though, from time to time the veteran hero seemed to get the feeling that he was being watched and would look around for the source of that feeling. This caused Ivan and Karina to have to hide behind people, plants, and trashcans, their shenanigans almost got them thrown out of the cafe entirely. Eventually the two managed to take a seat at a booth that was not too far away from Kotetsu's table. It was behind the older hero, so hopefully he wouldn't spot them.
"I wonder what he's doing here?" Karina asked. "Maybe he's looking for college options for his daughter?"
Ivan then shook his head. "At ten? Besides, it looks like he's doing homework, I think he's actually studying here."
"For real?" Karina said with a quirked eyebrow. "Why would a guy like him be going to college? Isn't he a bit old?" She didn't want to admit that she found the prospect of actually going to school with the old man was kind of nice, maybe even a little cute.
"Well, not really...You see-" Before Ivan could explain further Karina suddenly cut him off.
"He spotted us!"
Ivan looked back to find a surprised looking kitty bearded hero staring right at them. He must have been getting up to get something when he caught sight of them. The older hero almost looked like he wanted to run. "Uh oh..."
Karina then made the first move. "Hey, old man! Come sit with us!"
"Eh!" Kotetsu jumped slightly when he was addressed. It seemed like he wasn't expecting such an invitation. It wasn't long before the three of them were seated together in the booth. Kotetsu seemed to be a little uncomfortable though, as if he were a little embarrassed.
"So what are you doing here?" Karina asked. "Trying to hang out around younger people?"
"Ah, n-no..." Kotetsu said with a sheepish laugh. "Actually, I'm attending school here."
"See? I told you." Ivan said with a smile. "Have you just started here this year? If so then that means you're my kohai!"
"Uh, well, yeah..." Kotetsu scratched the back of his head. "I guess you are right about that too, man, that's a little surreal. An old man like me having to consider a kid like you as his "sempai"."
Ivan seemed to be on cloud nine with this thought in his head. "This is going to be awesome!"
"So, why are you going to college? Aren't you a bit old for that?" Karina asked.
"Ouch, right where it hurts..." Kotetsu said with a forced laugh. He then cast his eyes away from her and didn't continue, she had obviously hit a nerve.
Karina wasn't really expecting that kind of reaction, usually the veteran would just let such things just bounce off of him. She blushed a little, feeling bad for making him feel more uncomfortable than he already was. As much as she wanted to apologize, her stubbornness wasn't about to let her do that.
It was then that Ivan finally broke the awkward silence. "Well, I was trying to say earlier that it's not all that weird. Older people go back to school all the time for different reasons. I've had a couple classmates in their thirties or forties before."
Kotetsu seemed to perk up a little after hearing this. "Ah, sorry for acting all weird, I'm not really used to this kind of atmosphere." he started to explain. "I'm still trying to adjust I guess, and it's not easy going back to school after being away so long. I put all my efforts into becoming a hero after graduating high school...I never really gave college a whole lot of thought at the time."
"So what got you interested in going back to school then?" Karina asked. Her tone was gentler now, she was trying to lower her defenses so not to have a repeat of sticking Kotetsu with another verbal barb.
"I was talking with my brother actually, he was getting on my case about coming out of retirement as a hero." Kotetsu said as he thought back on their conversation. It was more of a heated argument, if anything, but it still left him with a lot to think about.
"You have a brother?" Ivan said with surprise.
"Huh? Yeah, an older one, he's a total ass sometimes, but he's still a good guy once you get past that." Kotetsu said with a small laugh. "But we were talking about me getting back into the hero business. We had words, but he made a good point at the end..."
"Would you just bud out already!" Kotetsu shouted at the hologram screen of the phone. "It's my fucking life! I'll make my own choices damn it!"
"What choices! You're just doing this because it's all you can really do!" The voice of his brother blared back, just as stubborn and unyielding as the younger Kaburagi brother. "You have no other skills! All you know how to do is destroy shit and get into trouble! You're going to get yourself killed one of these days! Then what's Kaede going to do!"
Kotetsu looked a little somber thinking back about what Muramasa had said. As much as he didn't want to admit it, his brother was right. It was frustrating in retirement, he couldn't find anything work wise that he could do aside from dead end jobs and being committed to them was nearly impossible. Kotetsu found himself anxious and uncomfortable at home, there would even be times where he'd willingly look for punks causing trouble. It really was all he knew.
"Hey, space case!" Karina's voice could be heard, it snapped the veteran hero from his thoughts.
"I'm sorry, what were we talking about?" Kotetsu said with a sheepish laugh. "Sorry, you'll have to excuse this old man..."
"You were mentioning something that you're brother was talking to you about." Ivan reminded him. He looked a little worried. "You then just kind of zoned out for a moment there..."
"Ah, right, where was I?" Kotetsu thought about the best way to word his reasons without giving out too much information on his own personal issues. "Well, we were talking about the logic of my situation, my powers are still in decline. After they are finally gone, I probably will have no choice but to give up being a hero, for good this time."
Both Ivan and Karina were quiet, they had a year where there was none of Kotetsu's pestering, tacky jokes, his and Barnaby's bickering, or his budding into their business trying to be "helpful". They missed it and with him and Barnaby back things were starting to feel "right" again. The thought of the veteran leaving them again and for good left them both a little sad.
"Come on you two, what with the sad faces?" Kotetsu said suddenly, breaking the silence. "It's not the end of the world..." He gave a reassuring smile to mask his own bitter feelings on the issue.
"What will you do then?" Karina finally asked. "When your powers are finally gone?"
"Well, that's why I'm here I guess." Kotetsu admitted. "I've been looking into my options, Ben was suggesting I should think about being a teacher at the Next academy...Not sure I'd be that good of a teacher though."
"I could see it!" Ivan said with a smile. "I think you'd be a good teacher!"
"You're a little annoying at times, but I could see it too." Karina said with a hint of stubbornness. "You have experience in heroing, and you always trying to give some sort of advice."
Kotetsu smiled a little and glanced down at the table. "Well, we'll see, I'll think about it a little more."
The three eventually left the cafe together, as they were making their way along the campus grounds, something caught their attention. A crowd had gathered around the front of the main building, many of the people were shouting and chanting, some were holding up banners and signs, it seemed to be a sort of protest group. While such things were not all that strange to see on a college campus, it was what they seemed to be protesting that disturbed the three heroes.
"FOR TOO LONG HAVE WE PUT UP WITH THESE FREAKS!" A protester shouted into a microphone.
"No more NEXT!"
"THEY ARE AMONGST US! IN OUR SCHOOLS! OUR MEDIA! DO NOT BUY THE LIES OF HEROTV!"
"No more NEXT!"
Karina, Ivan, and Kotetsu all stared at the scene with disturbed shock painted across each of their faces. Many other students and staff of the college also stopped in their tracks, staring at the spectacle as it unfolded. Some of the people watching looked bothered and even afraid, others whispered amongst each other, some in agreement, others in mockery of the protest group, not taking them seriously.
"WE MUST STAND UP AND STOP THE NEXT THREAT FROM OVER POPULATING! THEY ARE RAPIDLY GROWING IN NUMBERS! TELL ME! WOULD YOU WANT YOUR NORMAL CHILD PLAYING AROUND WITH A KID THAT COULD CRUSH THEM!"
Kotetsu tensed slightly, remembering his own experiences as a kid. Breaking things on accident, being shunned by other kids and their parents. Prejudice against Next used to be really bad when he was young, even in his high school days it was still there, if not a little more tamed. If it wasn't for him meeting Mr. Legend and gaining a goal, a use for his power, Kotetsu might not have had the will to keep going. It was easy to forget in recent years that such prejudice existed, especially being in the line of work of being a hero. But this, this reassured old fears and resentments.
"This is messed up..." Ivan finally said.
"It's been a growing problem..." Karina explained. "Ever since the Maverick incident, more Next haters have started popping up. Many use the Maverick incident as an example of what happens when next get out of control."
Kotetsu looked at Karina, noticing a distant look on her face, she seemed to be remembering something she'd rather not be. "How did you know about this?"
"They've been showing up at my concerts as Blue Rose, I've been getting threatening letters." Karina explained. "I really worry, what if these people find out my real identity? What if they find my family?"
Kotetsu wrapped an arm around her and let her hug him, he could feel her shivering a little. "It's going to be okay, Karina." He took extra care not to call her "Blue Rose", after all, that was probably the last thing that she wanted to be called right then, given the circumstances.
The crowd continued to chant on. "No more Next! No more Next! No more Nex-"
Suddenly, the ground began to crack beneath their feet and shook, knocking many of the protesters to the ground. One lone woman stood amongst the fallen protestors, she was clad in a long white coat with black furry lining. Her hair was long, wavy, and dirty blonde. She didn't seem to match the rest of the protesters, the air about her seemed dangerous. "No more next, no more next...Please, you people make me sick." She then raised her arms into the air and raised her voice for everyone to hear. "You people can't embrace the beauty of evolution! What a bunch of backward thinking morons!"
"Who the hell are you! Are you another Next freak!" The protester with the yelled. "You have no right to be here or to stop us! We are exercising our right to peaceful protest!"
"Oho, "peaceful" you say?" The Next woman grinned mischievously. "Well that's just boring, how I shake things up a bit?" She then held her arms out and began to glow with a blue light. Everything about her, from the air to the earth around her began to vibrate and shake.
Protesters began to scream as their bodies began to shake with increasing volatility.
The bystanders and the three heroes all stood staring in shock at the scene that was unfolding before them.
"Jesus! She's going to kill those people!" Kotetsu said as he dug into his pocket and took out his mask. "Come on, we have to help them!"
"But..." Ivan began hesitantly. "They hate us, they'd want to get rid of us if they had the chance."
Kotetsu looked back at Ivan, now wearing his mask. "...They're still people that we need to protect. If we just go picking and choosing who to save, then we're no better than they are." And with that Kotetsu ran towards the chaos. When he could start to feel the air vibrating he activated his hundred power to protect himself from the vibrations.
"All you know how to do is destroy shit and get into trouble!"Muramasa's words rung in the back of Kotetsu's mind.
"THAT'S ENOUGH!" The veteran hero shouted as he tackled the woman to the ground.
The vibrations stopped, the protesters lay on the ground, some were motionless, others trying to escape the scene while the Next woman was down.
"Ooooh, another next?" The woman cooed, she smirked and left Kotetsu hold her down. "You do realize that plenty of these scumbags would love to see you dead, right?"
"I don't care about that! I still have to protect them!" Kotetsu growled at her.
"I see, so, you're a hero, that old fashioned way of thinking of yours tells me you must be "Wild Tiger"...Or should I say..." The woman's smirk turned into a wicked grin. "One Minute-Tiger?" Just as she said that Kotetsu's powers faded out. She then twisted her arms free from his grip, letting his fall on top of her. She then wrapped her arms around the hero in a tight embrace. "It's too bad you had to get involved like this, silly Tiger...I'd rather not kill such a good hearted Next like you." She purred into his ear. She then glowed as she activated her next power once more. "Good guys are so hard to come by, your kind always get killed so easily!"
"D-Damn it!" Kotetsu could feel his body start shudder and shake, getting more intense with each passing second. If this went on much longer his body was going to be torn apart.
"Freeze!" A voice shouted. Kotetsu and the Next woman were surrounded by campus security, they had guns aimed and ready to fire.
"Oh please, a bunch of rent-a-cops? You're not even worth the effort." The Next woman said as she deactivated her power. The hero in her arms went limp as he was trying to recover from getting hit with her power. "You do realize I have a hostage here, right? Or are you just going to shoot us because we're a pair of Next?"
The security personal didn't answer her, they all kept their guns aimed right at them.
Kotetsu's ears were ringing, he was dazed and disoriented, he could see his vision going in and out of focus.
"You're going to get yourself killed one of these days! Then what's Kaede going to do!" Again, he could hear Muramasa's words in his head.
"You see this, Tiger?" The woman whispered into his ear. "People don't give a damn about Next, only if you're a good little lapdog, or something that can make them money. They don't value what we really are..."
"We can't take a clear shot without hitting the hostage!"
Just then one of the security guards holstered his gun, and then began to glow with a familiar blue light.
"Another Next...?" The woman said in surprise.
Not too far away was a water pipe that had been uncovered by the woman's powers before, it groaned and creaked, suddenly exploding open and sending a jet of water right at the Next woman and Kotetsu. The impact was enough to separate the two, the security guard then used his powers to shape the water into a giant sphere. Kotetsu was released from it, while the woman was still kept in place. She panicked and tried to use her powers to break free, but the vibrations were slowed down and absorbed by the water that enveloped her. It wasn't long before she passed out from lack of air, it was then that the security guard released the water from his control and let the sphere break.
"Carlos...You're a Next...?" One of the other guards asked.
"What, you're surprised? A few of us on the crew are..." The Next Security guard looked back at them. "We'll do our job regardless of what people think of us. We're all people at the end of the day..."
The next day Karina and Ivan were visiting Kotetsu in the hospital while he was recovering from the damages that woman's power caused. They were both prepared to deal with the veteran's nagging about how they didn't help him.
"I'm sorry Kotetsu-Kohai!" Ivan said in a gloomy tone. "It's just that my powers really wouldn't have helped against that woman's ability."
"Please don't call me that..." Kotetsu grumbled. He didn't even start with Karina, because in her case, she had already made it clear what her fears were. He could also see that she seemed really upset by the ordeal already.
"Why did you rush in like that?" She finally asked. There was no bite to her tone like there usually was, she just seemed a little sad. "Your powers ran out so quickly, you really could have died there."
"Blue...Karina, it's what heroes are supposed to do" Kotetsu said. He then became a little somber himself. "It's all I know how to do, just as my brother said."
"How are the protesters?" The veteran said suddenly, changing the subject.
"Some of them didn't make it, there are others in critical condition." Ivan started to explain. "But, the reports say that if you didn't act when you did, a lot more of them would have been dead right now."
"Is that so?" Kotetsu said with a half hearted smile. "I did the best I could..."
"Yeah, but it's not like they are thanking you." Karina added, she was starting to get that bite back in her voice. "Some Next Hater groups are trying to say that you and that lady were in cahoots with each other. Another group of Next supporters said that you were "misguided". It's all really stupid if you ask me..."
"Yeah, it is, but it's still part of the job..." Kotetsu said with a sigh. "I wish there was someone talking for the people in between. Yeah, Next haters are bad, but on the other end you'll end up with people like Jake Martinez and that crazy woman from yesterday..."
The three were quiet for a little while, it was obvious the repercussions of yesterday weren't going to be going away anytime soon.
Finally Ivan spoke up, deciding to change the subject again. "By the way, Kotetsu, when you are well enough to be discharged from here, I was wondering if you would be willing to join a club at the campus."
"Eh? A club?" Kotetsu said with a confused blink. "Why would I want to do that?"
"W-well, since you are in the second league, you've got more free time now, right?" Ivan began. "I was just thinking, maybe joining a club might be good for you to help get your mind off some of your troubles."
"More like he wants you to join his "D and D" group, he tried to rope me into it too when I started at the school." Karina said while casting Ivan a small glare. "But, I think Ivan does have a good point, maybe joining a club would be a good distraction or a nice new hobby."
Kotetsu looked away from them and seemed to think about it for a moment. "I guess, but I'm not really sure if anything there would really interest me."
"W-well...You do have a nice voice..." Karina said with a slight blush tinting her cheeks. "Don't get me wrong, it's not great or anything! But...It could be nice for radio..."
"Radio?" Kotetsu said a little confused.
"Now hold on!" Ivan interrupted. "You got mad at me for wanting to ask him to join my "D and D" group, but now you're going to ask him to join the radio club? How is that fair?"
"Because it's an actual club!" Karina shot back. "Besides, we need more members or we're going to get shut down!"
Kotetsu couldn't help but smile a little. "Oh, I see how it is, you're both trying to take advantage of an old man. You're wicked kids..."
"I am not a kid!" Karina nearly shouted.
Kotetsu at this point was laughing. If he had Karina and Ivan to look forward to, then perhaps going back to school was going to be more enjoyable. He watched the two bicker with each other about their clubs with a smile, considering his options. "...Radio, huh?"
Author's Note: I hope that this was okay for the prompt, anon. As for the set up and setting, it's supposed to be part of a bigger story that I have had been planning out, so I hope you do not mind. As for the ending, it's supposed to lead or hint to another part in the story. I hope that you enjoyed this piece, thank you for reading!