Kaede’s first night on the job, she got tossed into a building. Just her luck; all the cameras had been pointing her way. It had been a cheap shot on the criminal NEXT’s part, a lucky strike, and it had happened just in middle of the announcer very loudly going on about how she was the heir to not only Wild Tiger, but Barnaby Brooks Jr., as well.
Kaede lay in the pile of broken glass and broken desk and broken pride and wondered if she could get everyone to just leave her.
No dice. Kaede propped herself up on her elbows just in time to see Elizabeth climb through the mess of shattered glass, streaming white wig highlighted by the helicopter’s headlights. She was a brunette under all the extensions.
“Are you okay?” she asked, holding out a hand. Kaede ignored it, picking herself up and brushing herself off.
“I’m fine,” she bit out. Elizabeth withdrew her hand and shrugged. She turned and leapt – and seriously, who had designed her outfit, those were not shoes meant for jumping – back into the fray on the streets below.
Kaede took a couple minutes to breathe deep. She tried to remember something Uncle Keith might’ve said, a long time ago. When you fall, get back up! And then up again!
It was hard to hear exactly what the announcers were saying, but the cameras were swinging in her direction again, and Kaede distinctly heard the phrases “property damages” and “just like Wild Tiger.”
She slumped, bracing a hand on the nearest unbroken sheet of glass and said, “I want to go home.”
She hadn’t needed a trip to the infirmary – she'd clapped hands with Sasha just before she’d gotten thrown, and his power was iron-tough skin for goodness’ sake – but her manager had nagged and nagged and before long Kaede had found herself sitting on a white bed in her undersuit, waiting for someone to come take a look at her, pronounce her fine, and let her go.
She’d been sitting there a little less than ten minutes when the shouting had started.
At first she felt sorry for whoever was being shouted at, and for the security team that was going to have to drag themselves up from behind their desks and escort the shouters out. It was late; she understood.
Except the voices kept growing louder and louder, and closer and closer, and Kaede realized with dawning horror that she recognized them.
She was just contemplating rolling under the bed or leaping out the window of crawling through the airducts (anything but face what was coming down the hall) when her father burst into the room, wailing her name.
“Kaede!” he shouted at full volume, launching himself at her, and then his arms were around her and his cheek was on top of her hair and her nose was squashed against his shoulder. “Bunny and I saw it all on TV – my poor daughter!”
“Dad,” she said (and absolutely did not whine, because she was a Hero now, and Heroes didn’t whine – present company excluded, obviously), trying to get some distance between herself and him. “Dad, please, I’m fine, Dad, are you crying? Dad!”
“Has anyone seen you yet?” Barnaby asked from the doorway.
“No,” Kaede told him, leaning as far away from her father as his octopus arms would allow. “But I’m fine, really, I don’t need –”
He was gone before she was finished, a whirlwind of perfect blond curls and couture fashion. She scowled at the open doorway and finally, finally managed to shove her father off of her.
“You!” she said, pointing a furious finger at him. “Will stay on that bed, and not a centimeter closer. Are you hearing me?”
Kotetsu pouted in a way that had been completely undignified ten years ago and was even worse now, but he held up his hands and sat down on the bed across from hers, leaning forward with his elbows braced on his thighs.
“Well, you sound okay,” he said. “And you look okay, too.”
“That’s because I am okay,” she replied, rolling her eyes. “I’m a Hero. Sometimes Heroes get hit.”
“I know that,” he said. “That doesn’t mean I have to like it. And just because you’re a big Hero now doesn’t mean you’re not still my daughter, too.”
She sighed and slumped forward, raking her hair out of her face with her fingers.
“I know, I didn’t mean to snap,” she said. “It’s just – it was my first night out.”
“I know,” he said.
“It was my first night out,” she repeated, staring at the floor. “And – that was not how I wanted it to go.”
“I know,” he said.
“I mean,” she threw her hands up. “I have more experience than everyone else on this team! Even the ones who’ve been at it for a year or two! I’ve seen plenty of battles. I was trained by Tiger and Barnaby before I ever set foot in the academy!”
“I still say my training alone would have done you just fine,” he mumbled, and she fixed him with a look. He held up his hands, waving them back and forth and said, again, “I know.”
“And I sucked!” Kaede said, punching the mattress.
“You didn’t suck,” he said. He paused for a moment, then continued, “You showed off your logos very well. Origami called during the show; he’s very proud of you.”
“Yeah, I showed off my logos well,” Kaede snorted. “That’s great, that’s really great. Elizabeth took out the criminal! Elizabeth! She slept through all her classes!”
“Alright, alright,” he said. “Settle down. So it didn’t go exactly as you planned – it’s your first day. Do you know what me and Bunny’s first day was like?”
Kaede snorted. Slowly, her dad got off the bed and knelt down before her, brushing her hair out of her face with careful fingers.
“First days are never perfect,” he said. “I’ll bet you no one on your team had a better one. For what it’s worth, you got good coverage. Bunny was keeping an eye on the gossip blogs – nobody had anything bad to say.”
“I got thrown through a building,” she said, lifting a delicate eyebrow, “and nobody had anything bad to say?”
He winced. “Well, that depends on what your idea of bad is…”
“Dad,” she said, scowling. “Just tell it to me straight.”
“Seems you’ve been compared to your old man an awful lot tonight,” he hedged and she groaned, flopping backwards. She lay there, hands over her face, until she felt the mattress dip. She spread her fingers and glared at his back; he was just sitting there, a little slumped, not even looking at her.
After a moment, he said, “Is that really so bad, being compared to your dad?”
She huffed out a sigh, blowing a lock of hair out of her hair.
“I definitely don’t want your damage records,” she said. He snorted. She hesitated, then continued, in a small voice, “It’s not about being compared to you, really. It’s about being compared to Wild Tiger, or to Barnaby, or – anybody. All everyone ever talks about is how I’m your heir, your protégé, etc, etc, the new perfect Hero holding up the perfect ideals of the perfect team and how I’m destined to be the next King of Heroes, and I don’t even know if I want that yet. I just want to be my own Hero.”
He twisted around to face her and smiled, crookedly, as he brushed her hair back from her face.
“It doesn’t matter what anybody calls you,” he said. “You want to be your own Hero, then that’s what you’re going to do. And if it’s any consolation, you’ve got my vote for King of Heroes.”
“It doesn’t work that way, Dad, and you know it,” she said, fighting the smile tugging at her lips. “And even if it did, you’d have to vote for me, because I’m your kid.”
Barnaby cleared his throat from the doorway and Kaede dragged herself into a sitting position. The doctor he’d dragged over gave her the quick once over and, doubtlessly cowed by Barnaby’s glare, declared her good to go.
“No surprise there,” she muttered.
“We brought you a change of clothes,” Barnaby said, holding out a duffel bag. “So you could go straight home, if you wanted.”
Kaede changed in the bathroom, and absolutely did not tear up a little bit when she found they’d brought her favorite shirt and sweatpants, not to mention the scrunchie with the green sequins. She thanked Barnaby when they got in the elevator anyway, because she knew her dad would have just thrown the first things he found into the bag.
Her dad hugged her again right before they got in the car, squashing her right up against his side and smiling goofily into her hair.
“I’m proud of you, Kaede,” he said. Barnaby opened the car door and she all but poured herself into the backseat. “Now call your grandmother – she and your uncle were watching the whole thing live, and it was all I could do to keep them from heading down on the first train.”
“She’ll have to call Karina, too,” Barnaby said, sliding into his own seat. His glasses glinted in the darkness. “And Pao-Lin, and Nathan. Antonio, Ivan and Keith – Agnes wants to have a talk with you herself.”
Kaede groaned, stretching out in the backseat, but dug out her phone anyway.
“Hi, Grandma,” she said when the phone picked up on the first ring. “Yeah, I’m fine, and I’m not going to follow in Dad’s footsteps any more than absolutely necessary.”
She caught him smiling at her in the rearview mirror and, phone pressed to her ear, she grinned back. Then she leaned back in her seat and told her grandmother the whole story, watching the lights of Sternbild through her window.