Chapter 7: Headshot
Kuroko acted before she could think. Turning around, she grabbed Sunohara Ricoh's wrist – only to have her fingers slashed open. Hissing in pain she withdrew and jumped backwards, cradling her hand.
Sunohara Ricoh observed her coolly, looking as ruffled as when she had been prisoner in their office earlier. There were no weapon visible in her hand, and Kuroko's eyes narrowed as she cradled her bleeding fingers. Her ability?
"What are you doing here!?" Kamilia-san looked like someone had just betrayed her.
Sunohara looked dejected. "After seeing how much trouble these guys have been giving us, I figured I better check on you." Her gaze landed on Rambo the thug, and for a second, Kuroko thought she saw her eyes widen. But Sunohara quickly looked away, regarding the beaten and exhausted form of Kamijou-san and finally landing on Kuroko.
Kuroko clenched her teeth, but an unpleasant sweat appeared in her neck. They were outnumbered and injured. Rambo was down, arm broken; Kamijou-san was barely able to stand upright.
"Are you turning yourself in?" Kuroko asked, hoping for a quick conclusion. But Sunohara's expression already told her that was not going to happen. Perhaps a little convincing would do the trick. "Your plan has failed. We are already informing Anti-Skill of what has been going on. Your hacking attempt into our systems has been cut off, and the All-Eating bot has been revealed. You were also behind the entire cleaning bot rampage. There is nothing for you to gain by being stubborn."
It was logic, plain and non-discussable.
Sunohara looked at Kuroko as though watching a struggling sheep. "What the hell are you on about?"
However, humans do not make decisions based on logic. They are driven by feelings. And thus Sunohara would not give in. It was the logical thing to do, but it did not feel right to her. Kuroko had seen it plenty of times; it was common enough that they learned about it in Judgment training. Talking a criminal into standing down often involved appealing to their feelings rather than pointing out the logical flaws of their actions.
"I would love to discuss terms with you, but without knowing your motive for all this, there is not much I can offer." Kuroko grinned, despite the cold sweat trailing down her neck.
Sunohara's lips twitched, not quite turning into a smile. "You guys sure do take your job seriously. It's disgusting, really. And real troublesome."
She stuck a hand into one of her pockets, and Kuroko frowned. Was she going to pull out a weapon? When her hand emerged however, Kuroko's eyes widened.
It was indeed a green Gekota-shaped phone. It was dirty, but seemed to be intact. Kuroko's heart fluttered. After all this, finally—!
Sunohara gazed at the phone with a solemn look. "To think this stupid thing would cost us so much." She clenched her hand around it. "In this city… everything is so fucked up."
"If you are referring to the Zoo incident, we are already well aware of it." Kuroko said. I have to make her give it to me! Kuroko's mission was crystal clear. She could just teleport over and grab the phone, but any rash actions might lead to something worse. Her fingers still throbbed from the cut. Approaching without a plan was not wise.
"I suppose you do." Sunohara seemed humored. "Really, you guys are the prime example of everything that's wrong around here."
She stuck the phone back into her pocket, and Kuroko's throat grew dry. "I'll leave the rest to you guys. I trust you know what that means." She turned away, and Kuroko tensed. Would attacking her from behind be possible?
"Aye, captain!" Kamilia-san saluted, and Ibara-san wiped her nose and stood up.
"That phone…" It was Kamijou-san who finally spoke up. Sunohara stopped briefly, looking back at him the way you'd look at a speck of dust. Kamijou-san was unsteady on his feet, small cuts bleeding all over his skin from lying on the broken pieces of glass. Yet his eyes were clear and determined, glaring at Sunohara.
"What?" Sunohara's lips quirked up into a grin. "You want me to give it to you?"
Rambo the thug groaned and sat up on his knees. His arm hung uselessly by his side. "Fuck. I'm not gunna let you keep this up, bitch. Ricoh!" He looked furious.
The two boys were fired up, but they were cut off from Sunohara by the two 27th branch members. Kamilia-san cracked her knuckles. "I'll beat you guys so hard you'll have to pee backwards."
Ibara-san was glaring at Kamijou-san with such venom it would not have been surprising if his skin started melting. But Kamijou-san was staring at Sunohara. "If you explain yourself to Anti-Skill I'm sure they will listen to your story. There's no need to drag this out."
"That's bullshit." Kamilia-san spat. "Anti-Skill doesn't do shit unless ordered to."
"Then we'll have to beat your asses!" Rambo was spouting nonsense, getting shakily to his feet.
"You shut up!" Sunohara roared, and Rambo glared up at her.
"You suddenly show up after so long and want me to shut up! I'm not fucking Rambo, the Guy Who Shuts Up! I'm gunna have to teach you to ignore me, Ricoh!" He stupidly stepped forward, only to be grabbed by the arm by Kamilia-san. "Aghh!" The grimace on his face was inhuman.
"You stay back, mutt!" Kamilia-san barked at him.
Kuroko tested curling her fingers; they stung, but she was able to use them. She glanced at Kamijou-san, and he met her gaze. Nodded..
"I'll help you, Ricoh! Shit! Don't do this to me, you bitch!" Rambo was swearing and glaring at Sunohara, even while his face was becoming paler and paler by the second.
Without saying a word, Sunohara snapped her fingers. There was a sudden crack of thunder; for a second, it reminded Kuroko of Onee-sama's lightning strikes. However this was not lightning, but a regular explosion. It struck the air in front of Kamijou-san, forcing him to shield his face from the blast. If it hit a human directly it would probably be strong enough to blow a nasty hole in their body.
This is her power? Kuroko's fingers throbbed.
As if being targeted by her ability had pushed some kind of switch, Kamijou-san let out a cry and charged forward. He went straight for Ibara-san, and the girl looked surprised. Sunohara snapped her fingers again and the air exploded in front of him, but Kamijou-san put his hand out as though it was a shield.
Kuroko teleported to the side of Sunohara and grabbed her arm. As she thought, when the girl was busy directing her power outward, no invisible knives appeared to slice at her.
Sunohara jerked at the contact, and their eyes met as she turned her head around. There was no time to think; Kuroko merely teleported them both.
To get her out of range of the civilians was her main concern. Yet Sunohara was no easy captive. Even while teleporting she turned to claw at Kuroko's arm, and deep cuts appeared on her skin. Disrupted by the pain, she lost concentration and they fell to the roof of the building below them. It was only a few meters, but the impact still had them tumbling over the flat roof. Kuroko crashed into a ventilation shaft and her whole body rattled on the impact. Where did she go?
She had hardly thought the question before the air beside the shaft went up in an explosion. Shit! Shielding her face, she teleported just a few meters away, landing unsteadily on the rooftop. Sunohara was further away, looking livid.
There was no use talking. For the next minute only exchanges of blows made up the conversation between the former and the current Judgment members. Although with several restrictions, Sunohara's ability let her cut through anything in a radius of ten meters – that included molecules in the air. When split, the energy was released in a violent explosion. Kuroko attempted to dodge the blasts, but they were impossible to predict when they appeared anywhere just from a snap of her fingers, and her head was ringing. Using her teleport was becoming harder and harder. She was knocked from her feet more than once, and even when she defied the explosions and advanced close enough to touch Sunohara, her skin ruptured into wounds. Sunohara knocked her away and Kuroko slid over the surface of the roof, gasping for air.
Sunohara looked on with an empty expression as Kuroko strived to stay on her feet, resting her hands on her knees.
"Why are you even doing this?" The former Judgment member asked. "Why are you willing to go so far, even get yourself so injured, over a mere phone?"
Kuroko gritted her teeth. Her mouth tasted of copper. "A mere phone…?"
"How about this?" She dug a hand into her pocket and retrieved the item in question. "If I give you the item you're searching for, would you stop this shit?"
Kuroko snorted. "I am not in the mood for playing games. Also," she smiled ruefully, face stinging from burns and small cuts, "getting hurt was not part of the original plan."
Sunohara cocked her head. "Hmm. Well, all the more reason to quit while you still have the chance, no? If you had the phone, everything would be solved, right? No need to give yourself more work than necessary." She lightly tossed the phone up and down.
Kuroko heaved for breath for a few seconds and then said, "I would not stop."
"Even if you gave me the phone, I would not stop searching for the ones behind it all. If, after apprehending you, it turns out there are yet more people behind you, I will hunt them down next."
She looked amused. "Well aren't you the hard-headed Judgment member. I believe Judgment training does not cover how to do reckless and stupid things."
"Judgment, huh?" Kuroko grinned. "Perhaps part of it is that. However, there is a much more important reason."
"Oh? Like what?"
Kuroko shakily pulled herself up straight once more. Her vision swayed and she was feeling nauseous; she swallowed several times before speaking. "Whatever your plan is, it's making others suffer. You're hurting our students, hurting civilians which should not be part of this."
Sunohara's expression turned into a grin. "Seriously, Shirai-san, do you really think I care about that right now? Giving me a moral speech isn't going to get you anywhere!" She snapped her fingers again and Kuroko dashed forward, plucking a spike from the belt on her thigh.
"If I quit now, you'd just continue doing this!" The explosions trailed behind her, but like she anticipated, Sunohara's aim was not as quick as her fingers could snap. She concealed the spike in her fist, only the sharp tip poking out between her clenched fingers.
Sunohara sneered at her. "Of course we will!"
"Which would make even more people suffer!" Kuroko was right in front of her; Sunohara gave up snapping her fingers and their fists clashed. Kuroko's hand was slashed open, but this time, Kuroko's strike also did some damage, thanks to the spike hidden in her fist. Sunohara winced and pulled her hand back, but her ability was the true danger. Kuroko's uniform was shredded by the invisible knives in the air, cutting into the skin below. Sunohara's foot pushed her away, and Kuroko stumbled back, sweat running down her face and rivets of pain covering her skin.
Sunohara glared at her, cradling her bleeding hand. She did not suffer the same damages as Kuroko, but perhaps this exchange made her realize the potential of her opponent. Even so, she did not let it faze her.
"When you say 'suffer' it sounds so serious; it's not like anyone's dying out there. Except you, maybe. How long can you stay standing?" She grinned, mirth glowing in her eyes.
Kuroko gasped down air in mouthfuls. "As long as someone's suffering, she won't be able to ignore it." Sunohara's eyes narrowed, but Kuroko hardly noticed. "If I stopped now… if I turned around after coming this far… if I returned home looking like this… Onee-sama…" she gritted her teeth, "Onee-sama would…"
"Onee-sama… you mean Misaka-san?"
Kuroko determination was aflame despite her miserable condition. "If I went home like this, Onee-sama would feel guilty. If people keep suffering, she'll feel it's her responsibility and get involved, no matter how dangerous the situation! That's why –" she stopped to catch her breath, "that's why I will not stop. I will not quit before I've stopped this scheme!" Her fists clenched, blood dripping to the rooftop. In an instant, the spike in her hand appeared lodged in Sunohara's shoulder. The girl's eyes widened at first and then her mouth opened in a scream.
"What the fuck!?"
Kuroko appeared above her and her foot hit her squarely in the head. Sunohara was knocked off her feet and hit the roof with a thump.
Kuroko landed and swayed, holding her head.
In front of her, Sunohara suddenly laughed. The spike was stuck in her shoulder and she cradled the wound, yet her eyes were full of excitement when she sat up.
"Now that's cool. You're like the opposite of a hero. You wish to end this before your upperclassman gets involved and saves the day. Why? Because she might get hurt?" She laughed again. "We're talking about the Railgun though. She's a Level 5, you're a Level 4. What can you do that she can't? Why should you try to stop us in her stead? Won't it be smarter for you to call her over right now and end this? Or are you just stupid? Jealous? Wishing to be the hero yourself, for once?"
Kuroko gritted her teeth again as Sunohara-san's question came in rapid succession. "Onee-sama would crush you."
Her expression twisted into a frown. "I won't deny it. Though we've got some good allies, standing up to that frightening power is probably just wishful thinking."
"But it's not right." Kuroko's sight was blurry. I'm close to fainting…
She chuckled. "Yeah, something's not right at all. Did you get a few too many hits to your head? Maybe your brain has taken some damage."
Kuroko breathed in and out a couple of times, and then forced herself to focus. "It's not right for us to rely on Onee-sama all the time. It's not right for everyone to put their worries on her back. If I cannot even solve the problems I get myself into, who am I to call myself her partner?" Her voice rose with every word. "How can I expect to stand beside her as an equal if I turn tail and run when things get difficult, leaving everything to her?"
Maybe she was functioning only on the adrenaline in her body right now, but it was too soon to collapse. How could she best take out her opponent now, so close to passing out? Her eyes roamed the rooftop and found the air shaft she'd smacked into at first.
Sunohara looked bored when she got to her feet again, as if even the wound in her shoulder didn't matter at this point. "Well, she is a Level 5. I suppose it's only natural that she'd be able to solve things better than you. Besides, how can you even hope to be an equal to someone like her, a Level 5? They're monsters." She stared at Kuroko as though she was trying to defy a natural law of the universe.
"You're right. I can't possibly compare myself to her." Kuroko said, readying herself. "However, measuring everything in power levels is only the way of Academy City. What matters is not your label in this system, but your dedication to whatever it is you're trying to achieve!" She kicked off, sprinting right for the air shaft.
"Are you trying to escape now?" Sunohara yelled after her. "After spouting all those cool words you're running away? Have it your way then!" She pulled her hand down, like drawing a line in the air with her finger. Kuroko jumped aside, just as the air in front of her split open. The shockwave knocked her off her feet and she hit the rooftop. Damn. That was even more powerful. I have to…
She forced her mind to cooperate and teleported across the roof, appearing right beside the air shaft.
"I'm surprised you can still move. Are you some kind of robot?" Sunohara grinned, and split the air again.
"Guh—" Kuroko shielded her face, but was blown off her feet once more. Her back hit the rooftop and she gasped for air through the stab of pain in her chest.
"Or did Judgment training get a lot tougher since I went through it?" Sunohara-san was standing still, finger pointed right at her, like a gun ready to fire. Kuroko got up at all fours, breathing heavily. Her legs were shaking and her sight swirling. I've taken too much damage. She could not use her ability. I need… just a minute…
"I guess there's the possibility you're just extremely stubborn." Sunohara looked amused. "No wonder you're able to deliver such entertaining speeches even as you stand there dripping blood all over. How are you feeling? You look pale."
It felt like her lungs weren't able to get enough air no matter how much she pulled in. "And you call Onee-sama a monster…"
"Heh, that's right. In your eyes, I guess I'm the bad one. However, I am still a regular student of this city, and my power is nothing special. If measured beside yours, it'd probably come out worse. It's this setting that's giving me the advantage. I'm no monster. A monster is something abnormal, something us regular humans cannot compare to, no matter how much we try. Something that's too big and strong to be brought down by regular means, and which can easily destroy us if we don't do anything to prevent it."
Kuroko looked up at the older girl, still gasping for air. "A monster is only a monster as long as it is viewed as something to be afraid of."
"Is that right? Then I guess it's right of me to say I'm afraid of Misaka-san and the other Level 5's. After all, they could kill me in a second if they wanted." It made perfect sense. Yet Kuroko did not like the comparison.
"Going by that logic, isn't the very world itself a monster? You never know what could happen."
Sunohara shrugged. "That's too much to comprehend for a simpleton like me, sadly. I limit my attention to what's in front of me."
"So then, what are you trying to do? Are you plotting something to get rid of the Level 5's? Selling their DNA to outsiders, hoping they'll develop weapons to beat them down?" She snorted.
Sunohara-san frowned. "You're misunderstanding me. Fine, I guess I'll spell it out for you." She scratched her temple, as if in annoyance. "Fighting someone who opposes me for the wrong reasons all-together is a sad thing indeed. Listen, ratface." The term was perhaps meant to provoke, but Kuroko was far too fired up already to care what the other thought of her. "I don't give a rat's ass about the Level 5's. Using them as an example was pure coincidence. Sure, if one of them showed up here to stop me, I'd probably be scared shitless. But luckily, it's just you here, so I'll be fine." She smirked. "The monster I'm fighting isn't something human, though it consists of humans. It's Academy City."
"What…?" Kuroko did not comprehend.
"Academy City is a scary place. Laws and rules protected by students and teachers; please, what is that? Anti-Skill, a bunch of teachers with no experience in handling criminals whatsoever, patrolling the streets hoping to make a difference. If they met with something truly troublesome, they wouldn't stand a chance. And then there's Judgment, which is even worse." Her expression grew dark. "What other place on Earth would use its own kids to uphold law and order? The adults cannot cope with it themselves, so they use us students to keep everything in check. Judgment is just an excuse to use the esper powers for something good, instead of having them run wild.
"But what use is it really, when criminals rise up to riot? Sending teachers and kids at them – it's like trying to fight a forest fire with a bucket of water. So what if you can douse a small part of it? It'll just keep on raging around you, and eventually you'll be overwhelmed."
Kuroko frowned. "I don't follow. You wish to crush Judgment and Anti-Skill?"
Sunohara gazed at her solemnly. "What's the reason for this city to keep relying on something as fragile as law enforcement consisting of children and teachers? In the end, isn't it just creating more turmoil amongst the students, when some of them are supposed to control the rest?" Suddenly her expression turned into a snarl. "If both Anti-Skill and Judgment were rendered useless, it would force the higher-ups to take another look at this setup, and come up with something better. In the meantime, students and teachers would work together to pick up the pieces of this city."
Sunohara was not stupid enough to believe such a better system could be achieved easily.
Kuroko stared at her, eyes wide. "That's just…"
Sunohara-san's grin seemed almost desperate. "You think I'm crazy? Maybe I am. I guess this whole stealing cell phones business doesn't add up easily to this whole thing. But it's just the first step. To even start scratching the surface of this twisted system, one needs the right assets. Assets cost money. And if we can earn money and gain control of the city's infrastructure at the same time, all the better for us, huh?"
Kuroko clenched her hands. "Even if that was your reason, hasn't this all gone too far? Making the bots attack everyone… causing this much destruction… did your plan consist of something this shallow!?"
Sunohara's gaze darkened. "Well, I didn't expect there to be a stubborn moron amongst the current Judgment members. Going on a chase after a cleaning bot because it swallowed a phone? Engaging the entire Judgment for that reason alone, even getting Anti-Skill into the mix?" Sunohara-san's grin widened more and more. "Who'd have expected something like that to happen? How do you handle something like that? It's ridiculous! Nobody does that sort of thing!" Her eyes looked completely mad. "Even after all this, you're still over there giving me lectures. How about you shut up instead!" She pulled her finger down, and Kuroko barely managed to throw herself aside when the air split.
"I'll kill you if I have to; then I'll make sure the damage to Judgment and Anti-Skill is so great they'll never be the same again!"
"Kh—!" Kuroko shielded her face as explosion after explosion struck near her; she sat behind the air ventilation shaft, trying to make herself as small as possible.
"Even if I go down in the process, the rest of us will keep fighting!" Sunohara yelled at the top of her lungs to be heard over the racket of explosions. Splinters of the roof rained around them. She wasn't even aiming at this point. "Even if we are stopped, others will pick up the thread and keep it up until there's nothing left!"
Kuroko winced as a piece of debris hit her shoulder; her skin was burning all over from the heat of the explosions. I need to do it now! She threw herself forward and turned around towards the hand hit her chest and her school vest disappeared. It appeared inside the ventilation shaft, and the metal broke off its base on one side. Not enough! Her shirt went as well, and the shaft was loose.
"Even if everyone's stopped eventually, the damage will be so great that no one else will suffer because of this ridiculous system!" In her rage, all of Sunohara-san's feelings were being focused on Kuroko. Her plan had failed and she had nothing left to do but lash out.
Kuroko dove forward, touching the metal with the tip of her fingers. Then both she and the shaft disappeared.
Sunohara might have defenses but she was no Level 5. When Kuroko and the piece of shaft appeared above her, she had no automatic repelling or radar to warn her. The metal struck Sunohara's head with Kuroko's weight on top. They crashed to the roof, and despite the numerous wounds and burns and the spin in her head, Kuroko still managed to gain a hold on her arms, securing the other girl in a tight hold.
"Seems like quitting Judgment has made you rusty, senpai." She smirked.
"Kh –" Sunohara pulled at her arms, and winced.
"If you try to fight, I will dislocate your shoulder." Kuroko informed her pleasantly.
"Damn – fuck!" Sunohara moved what little she could of her right hand.
"Wha – are you—!" Kuroko had no time to stop her before the air split beside them. The explosive power knocked Kuroko off her catch, and she was completely blinded. At this distance she'll be hurt too! She squinted, hearing nothing, and seeing just white light in front of her eyes. There was a strange sensation below her feet, as if the roof had just dropped a few centimeters. Don't tell me the roof is—! Terror tore through her just as the surface of the roof gave in.
Touma struck at Ibara-san and was immediately blocked by Kamilia-san.
It seemed like the curly-headed Judgment member was set on protecting the long-haired one, but there was no room for tactics in Touma's mind at the moment. He clenched his left fist and it flew towards Kamilia-san's abdomen.
"Tch!" The girl gritted her teeth and dodged sideways, just in time to see Rambo dive forward and wrap his working arm around Ibara-san's throat.
"Ibara!" Kamilia-san shrieked, but Touma did not give her room to act. He struck again and again, his body working on instinct and his brain purely focused on administering signals to his muscles.
"What the fuck is wrong with you guys!?" Kamilia-san blocked again and again, tried to use her ability and had it dispelled against Touma's Imagine Breaker.
Rambo's eyes were feverish yet he tightened the hold around Ibara's neck and the girl squealed, gasping in short breaths of air.
"Ibaraaa!" Kamilia-san roared and ducked below Touma's next punch, swiping his feet away from under him. He crashed to the ground and Ibara jumped over him with a fierce battle cry.
Blinding light and a splitting crack through the air put an abrupt stop to any advances as the asphalt beside them exploded. Touma was too exhausted to move, but he recognized the feeling washing over him and for once, it was a relief.
Misaka was walking towards them. Electricity crackled from her bangs and she had her hands on her hips.
"I have no idea what's going on here, but the next person to move will be fried." She stopped and regarded their struggle with a disapproving glare.
From behind her peeked a white-clad nun, and she gasped sharply. "Touma!"
Kamilia-san had stopped, clenching her fists and shaking from rage.
"Woaah, they really did a number of this place." A longhaired girl who Touma remembered borrowing a lucky charm from once looked at the café with huge eyes.
Misaka sighed. "So? Care to explain things yet?" She looked from Touma to Kamilia to the pair of Rambo and Ibara, gaze narrowing. "Are you fighting Judgment now?"
"Touma!" Index puffed her cheeks out and marched towards his beaten up form. "I am very disappointed in you! Not only do I not see any bags from the supermarket, but you went and got yourself hurt again! How am I supposed to get food while you're in the hospital!?" Touma cursed his lack of fortune as the nun gripped his collar and started shaking him.
Mikoto glanced at the two, when the curly-headed Judgment member spoke up. "Are you fucking stupid!? What the hell are you doing, don't you see we're Judgment?"
Saten-san inched back, but Mikoto was unimpressed. "That's the only reason I didn't strike you down at once. I know for sure that guy didn't destroy the café though. Was it him?" She nodded at the guy holding the other girl in a chokehold; he looked to be ready to faint by now. "Or did Judgment start causing collateral damage while arresting people?"
"This is none of your business!" She sounded desperate.
Mikoto sighed deeply and stared at the sky. "I see." Then she flashed them a big smile. "I guess we'll just be on our way then."
Saten-san's eyes widened and Mikoto turned around. "Let's go, Saten-san."
She had barely taken a single step before the Judgment girl exploded. "Just who do you think you're making fun of, you bastard!? Just because you're Level 5—"
She was cut off by the rumbling sound of what sounded like a building collapsing. Mikoto raised her gaze and saw a column of smoke and dust rising into the sky from a building further along the street. What—?
"Shirai-san! Ricoh!" The bearded guy suddenly snapped awake and dropped the girl in his grasp. Without a second thought he ran off down the street, passing by Mikoto and Saten-san in a flurry.
"Wha – Kuroko?" Mikoto's eyes grew wide and then Saten-san shoved her forward. There was a loud thwump and Saten-san cried in pain. Mikoto registered how she collapsed to the ground on her hands and knees. "Saten-san!" Mikoto turned around, and seeing the tears in Saten-san's eyes, her teeth gritted. The Judgment girl looked shocked, and when Mikoto glared at her, the girl's face paled.
"Wait – I didn't mean to hit her!"
Her excuse was lost in a violent lightning strike that knocked her out instantly.
Kuroko awoke with the horrible feeling that she'd forgotten something important. When she saw the hole in the ceiling above her, it took a few seconds before she remembered where she was and what had happened. The ceiling… The rooftop had been struck too many times by Sunohara-san's explosions, and that last one made it collapse. Which means… right now… She was looking up at the hole; in other words, she was still alive. Lying on the floor below. Her right eye felt sticky; she was unsure if she could see anything with it. The right side of her face was numb, and her skin felt burnt all over. Those last few explosions had been too close.
She turned her head, and winced at the pain shooting through her body. She must have landed hard; debris below and on top of her body. She was just lucky she hadn't been buried by it all. It looked like they had fallen to the next level of the building. Wires hung from the splintered ceiling above, and a few bent pipes poked out into the air.
At least I can still move. Or move her head, more precisely. She bit her teeth together and slowly tried to sit up. Her limbs screamed, her chest aflame. Biting against the pain, she shoved debris from her chest and sat up, trying to see past the spin in her head.
A groan to her left made her tense, and she looked over. Sunohara-san laid there, one hand holding her head. A stripe of blood ran down her temple; she looked to be in pain. A large piece of the ceiling was pressing against her lower body; Kuroko could not tell whether it had crushed her, but she looked to be trapped.
"So stubborn." Muttering to herself, Kuroko somehow made her way down to the other girl, and gently slapped her cheek. "Are you awake?"
"Ugh…" The girl slowly opened her eyes and looked up at her, obviously groggy. "You… still…?"
"Did you expect me to have gone somewhere? After bringing down the entire roof on us, I'm surprised you're not worse off." She observed the large piece of debris trapping the older girl. It was too heavy for a person to move alone. If I can use my ability… Kuroko put a hand on Sunohara-san's arm and concentrated. Damn. Her head was still swimming.
"Heh." Sunohara-san's low laugh made her open her eyes. The upperclassman looked amused, yet her eyes did not smile in the slightest. "Way to go, fixing problems like this."
"I feel obliged to remind you that you were the cause of the roof collapsing."
"As if I'd have done that if you weren't here. We're both equally guilty."
Sunohara-san looked up at her from below her hand. She might be hiding a wound, as it seemed more blood kept trickling down her face. "Aren't you mad?"
Kuroko blinked. "Mad?"
"Because you're in Judgment, you ended up in a situation like this. Had you been just a normal student, you wouldn't have been injured or down here with me. If I were you, I'd be livid."
Kuroko watched her face solemnly. It seemed like she was serious, but at the same time, her expression held a sort of sadness.
"This is not Judgment's fault. I got involved this far on my own."
"I see, I guess it is different in that sense. However, don't you think it's unfair that you have to involve yourself? Shouldn't someone else have taken care of this instead of you?"
"Who might that be?" Her thoughts immediately travelled to her Onee-sama, but she shoved it away.
Sunohara-san smiled ruefully. "Does it matter? Is it alright with you that you're left with the responsibility to do something?"
Kuroko watched her with a sober expression, and the girl laughed shortly. "Your face says you don't get it at all. Fine, just leave it at that."
"I am not sure what you are implying, but getting involved in this was wholly my own decision." Kuroko would not blame anyone else for the situation she'd ended up in.
"For your Onee-sama, huh? Still, even if she's a Level 5 who can do anything, doing the grown-up's jobs just isn't right, is it?"
"Onee-sama is a civilian."
Sunohara-san looked up at her in surprise. "I see. You mean that by joining Judgment, you already accepted the responsibility, huh."
"I am always ready to do whatever it takes to help the students of this city."
"As righteous as they come too. Damn, I really hate your kind." She smiled, closing her eyes. "You remind me of myself."
Kuroko wasn't sure if that was meant as a compliment. "I believe I would not have resorted to blowing up buildings in your stead."
She chuckled and hid her eyes beneath her arm. "Shut the hell up." Wet tears trickled down beneath her arm and Kuroko sighed. Sliding down beside the rubble trapping Sunohara-san, she put a hand on her head in a hopeless attempt at steadying her vision.
For a long time they just sat there, and then Kuroko started picking up sounds. Sirens. So Anti-Skill was finally on scene, or perhaps it was ambulances and firefighters. From the outside the dust and smoke must look like a fire.
Somewhere an alarm started howling. Kuroko gazed ahead in a daze, wondering why it hadn't gone off before now.
It took another minute or two before a door was flung open in the end of the room. Kuroko's heart surged for a second and then fell; it was Rambo, looking pale and sweaty, arm hanging limply from his side.
"Shirai-san! Ricoh!" He shouted and stumbled into the room, climbing over rubble and hissing in pain when his footing slipped, sending a jolt through his arm.
"Rambouno…?" Sunohara-san sounded surprised, disbelieving even.
The thug came all the way over to them and leaned on the piece of rubble over Sunohara-san. His eyes were glossy and he looked feverish.
"Damnit, Ricoh! What the hell are you doing?"
"Shut up." She turned her head away, but her voice was thick.
Rambo pushed on the rubble with his good arm but quickly had to give in. Sliding down to his knees, he breathed unevenly a couple of times and then turned against Kuroko.
She glanced at him, surprised at seeing the sober expression on his face. He raised his good hand and put it on her shoulder, squeezing it lightly.
"I'm sorry." He looked down. "There cannot be anything between us."
Kuroko bristled. "That has never been an option in the first place!"
But Rambo was not listening, as he leaned down and pulled Sunohara-san's head towards him, before kissing her lips fiercely.
"Ugh—!?" Kuroko's eyes widened and she backed off, at first expecting more explosions – but Sunohara might be crying, yet she still kissed him back, gasping for air and cradling his head.
Kuroko turned her head away, reddening quite a lot.
Stopping in the same door opening that Rambo had entered, she stood, looking stressed, and jerking at the sight of the pair making out further into the room. Kuroko's heart surged in her throat and her lips pulled up into a giant smile.
Shaking off her reddening cheeks, Onee-sama climbed over the debris and came to her, eyes trembling as she took in her form. "What the hell are you doing? You look terrible!" Before Kuroko could answer her roommate enveloped her in a hug. For a few seconds they just sat there, and Kuroko's surprise gave way for exhausted happiness. Onee-sama's school jacked brushed by her sore skin, cool against the burns.
Not long after a panting Saten-san appeared in the doorway as well, followed by two Anti-Skill officers and medical personnel. Kuroko's smile grew even bigger, and, still wrapped in Onee-sama's arms, she finally slid into darkness.
Touma sighed deeply and left the store with a small bag in his hand. In it was a certain green Gekota phone – finally cleaned and repaired. Shirai-san had come by and delivered it to him the day before, demanding he take it to get it repaired since she was busy with the aftermath of the whole All-Eating bot case. As far as he'd gathered, the phone had been considered evidence by Anti-Skill and Shirai-san had only just managed to beg them into giving it back.
He rubbed the back of his head with another sigh. So much work… but at least it all turned out okay. A small smile spread on his lips after all.
"Ya'know, if the floor did't wohble soow much, I'd bee at hum baj nohw." Suddenly, someone hung onto his shoulder; he yelped and pulled back, seeing a woman that was quite obviously drunk. She gazed at him with an unsteady stare and grinned. "Hey ther', wanna have some fuuun?" She reached out and grabbed his right arm again, rubbing it quite firmly into her chest.
Touma was getting nervous, since the woman was not at all bad-looking; long black hair flowing down her back, and behind the alcohol he could catch a hint of a pleasant perfume. While sober she might actually look great.
"I think you should be on your way home." He suggested.
"Aaah, you're no fun." She pouted. But she didn't let go of his arm. "Why don't you joihn me, prrrrretty booy?"
"Aaah, thanks, but, no thanks." Why hadn't Anti-Skill already picked this one up? Usually they were quick about sending drunk grown-ups home from the streets, especially in the middle of the day.
For that matter, who was usually drunk in the middle of the day anyway?
"Maaah, you're quite the prrrretty one, ya know?" The woman leaned forward to stroke his cheek, and Touma instinctively tried to pull back.
Bzzzt. The hairs on his neck suddenly stood on ends; he knew that sound. Crackling, fizzling, like electric charges snapping into the air; slowly, he turned his head, and there she was.
Already red-faced, Mikoto looked like she might explode at any moment, blue crackles leaving her bangs in dangerous zaps.
"M-Misaka…" He felt rather terrified of seeing her right now; with his right hand trapped like this, he wouldn't be able to block her lightning strikes, and he was holding her newly repaired phone too.
"You…" Mikoto muttered, barely even audible, "are the worst…"
"W-wait!" He waved his left hand with the grocery bag in it. "I didn't do anything! It was her –"
"Yeah right. It's always someone else's fault, isn't it?" The currents only seemed to grow fiercer. "For me finding a new phone seems impossible, but you're finding women all over the place..."
Touma sweat-dropped, not sure that accusation was an accurate one. "A-Actually, Misa—"
"Oooh, here's anuther prretty one!" All of a sudden, the woman let go of his arm and strode forward, right towards Mikoto. "Hey, girlie, yoooou're not bad either ya'know?" She blatantly approached the Level 5 electromaster who was spitting electric currents into the air, not even minding that fact at all. Mikoto was taken by surprise, and her electricity died off when the woman suddenly intruded upon her privacy zone.
"Wha – hey!" She protested as the woman grabbed her chin with one hand, and wrapped her other arm around Mikoto's body, pulling her close. "Wha-wha-what a-are you doing!?" Mikoto was completely flabbergasted and petrified at once. Not to mention trapped.
The woman gazed at her sensually, almost sober in comparison to her earlier looks. "Ooh, girls like you totally turn me on~"
WHAT? Mikoto grew completely red-faced, and Touma gaped; this situation didn't seem too great either. "U-um, lady, excuse me, but I really think you should be going home!" He tried voicing his concerns.
"And I'll haav this wone wiv me…" The woman smirked and let her fingers trace Mikoto's jaw line clumsily; she shuddered and tried to make some room between them at least, putting her hands on her midriff and pushing off.
"P-please don't – I'm not really – you're obviously drunk!" This was also a bothersome predicament; frying her hardly seemed appropriate, yet… She won't let go! She was horribly strong for being so drunk, and holding Mikoto tightly. She could hardly make room for air between them at all.
"Indeed, I am drunch – on yoou…" The woman lowered her head, still holding Mikoto's chin; Mikoto's eyes spun in complete circles, terror tearing through her chest.
"S-s-s-s-stop!" She put her hands up to halt her descent, using all her strength to keep her face away from her own. "Y-you're even creepier than Kuroko!" And who knew that was even possible.
The woman didn't listen, and continued to make kissing motions with her lips.
Mikoto glared over at Touma and barked: "Hey you! G-get over here and help me, will you!"
Touma was still flabbergasted at the scene in front of him, but snapped out of it. "Aah – o-okay!" And he stepped forward – just as a couple of shoe heels hit his temple right dead on. He was sent to the floor in a tumbling heap; Mikoto gazed at the scene in horror.
"To think you were trying to run away." Kuroko huffed, dusting invisible dust off her sleeve. "I need to keep an eye on you from now on, it seems."
"K-Kuroko!" Mikoto spluttered.
"Onee-sama?" Kuroko turned her head and looked, and her eyes grew completely wide. "O-O-O-ONEE-SAMA! What are you doing, standing in such a revealing position in the middle of the mall!? AND WHO IS THAT WOMAN?"
"I don't know who she is!" Mikoto barked, growing even redder. "Quit having your delusions over there by yourself and come help me out!"
Kuroko teleported over and grabbing the woman by her wrist. In two short seconds she had her cuffed, and escorted away by a passing Anti-Skill officer.
"Honestly, in the middle of the day…" Kuroko huffed.
"Thanks." Mikoto breathed out, and Kuroko's pigtails twitched.
"Of course, Onee-sama, if you have such desires then Kuroko is always willing to step in and assist~" She swayed her hips seductively.
Mikoto gave her a pointed look. "Should you be out and about already?"
The teleporter was pretty much covered in bandages, but she had somehow begged herself into being discharged prematurely on the promise of doing absolutely nothing. Yet she had barely even been in the dorm room the past few days, too busy working at the Judgment branch office.
"Don't worry, Onee-sama, with all that's going on after the cleaning bot incident all I've been doing is paperwork. I can't leave Uiharu and Konori-senpai with everything."
Mikoto rubbed her neck. "Right… they're doing a pretty thorough job at investigating Judgment, huh."
"Indeed. It seems like Sunohara Ricoh's wish was at least partly fulfilled." Kuroko glanced down at Touma, who was still on the ground. "Do I have to arrest you for littering?"
He groaned and got to his feet. "Such misfortune."
Kuroko sighed. "I hope you haven't forgotten the assignment I gave you."
He rubbed his head. "No, Shirai-dono, I haven't." He held out the plastic bag towards her.
Kuroko smiled. "I think it would be only fair to give you the honor this time. After all, you were a big help, when it came down to it."
He glanced at the bag, then at Mikoto's puzzled face, and for a second his cheeks felt warm. Picking out the box from the bag he handed it to her. "Here. It should be all fine now."
Mikoto blinked and accepted the box. "What is it?"
"Open it, Onee-sama." Kuroko smiled.
She did, sliding the top box off the bottom, and her eyes widened. Kuroko approved of the sparkles in her eyes and then Mikoto's expression became incredible as the most amazing smile she had ever seen spread across it. Kuroko's eyes widened but she only got a second to look at it before the electromaster was hugging them both, nearly pulling them off their feet.
"Thank you!" Kuroko stared ahead and then blinked, looking at Kamijou-san who seemed equally unsettled, a slight blush on his face. They exchanged a glance and then they both smiled.
"Hey boss." In a dark corner in a dark building a man knelt before his gang leader. "Someone's here to see you."
"Tell them to piss off." He spat on the floor, crossing his legs as he sank deeper into the sofa. "I ain't got time. The new shipment still hasn't come in and that prick bailed on me. I'm not in the mood!"
"I tried, boss. He insists on seeing you."
The muscular gang boss let out a deep sigh. "Fine."
The thug bowed and backed off, pulling the door to the room open. Outside stood four more gang members, and a stranger, with a girl on his arm. The boss frowned, seeing his arm in a cast.
"Who the fuck are you?"
The guy grinned. "I'm Rambo the Destroyer."
"And I'm Sunohara Ricoh." The girl beside him drew herself up and flicked her hair over her shoulder.
The boss spat again. "What the hell do you want?"
The guy called Rambo was grinning so confidently it made the boss' hairs stand on end.
"We're here to destroy your gang."
What the fuck? The boss glanced around the room as if looking for candid cameras.
"I guess Anti-Skill are as useless as ever, sending us out on something like this rather than lock us up. Still," the girl shrugged, "beats prison."
The boss leaned forward in surprise when the wall to his right cracked open and sunlight flittered in. There stood a curly-headed girl with one of his guys held by his collar, apparently knocked out. He was about to yell for his other guys when he realized a third girl had shown up behind the pair in front of him, and somehow she had knocked them all out with a whistle.
The boss was starting to sweat. "Who the fuck are you guys?"
"We…" eyes glinting, they all spoke up in unison, "are BREAK!"
Ages ago, I had an idea. It went slightly askew due to bad planning, and the story was reeled in with force. This thing was going in all kinds of different directions and I nearly lost hope.
Instead of leaving it be and ignore the problem, I decided to muscle through and end the story. It was pretty much finished anyhow without introducing even more complicated matters. I apologize in advance for any loose threads left hanging; please use your imagination for those!
Thanks for hanging out with me throughout this, and hope you enjoyed the ride.
Much thanks to GreatSnapper for being supportive about getting this done!