Disclaimer: All Tiger & Bunny elements belong to Sunrise. I own nothing.
Note: This story does not take place in a specific time, but for simplicity's sake I guess we can say it takes place after Ep. 25. Tiger and Bunny are now in the Second League.
Chapter 1: The Pitch
Karina was no stranger to raising her voice. As a child, she had learned how to use her vocal cords to their full potential, and had mastered the art of pitching her voice to play to an audience. As a hero, she projected her voice to the criminals and thieves who crossed her path on the streets of Stern Bild. Now, in the present, she was using her voice to protest something she never thought would be imposed on her.
Agnes smiled and tilted her head. "You heard right," she said. "We had a meeting with your bosses a few hours ago, and they agreed that it would be a great ratings booster. What do you think, Barnaby?"
Karina looked over to the blonde, seated next to her in a chair across from Agnes's desk. Unlike Karina, who had nearly fallen off her seat at Agnes's new suggestion, Barnaby had remained calm and contained. When he spoke, his voice was smooth and unreadable. "If our companies think it's a good idea, I will do whatever it takes to make this storyline a success."
Agnes's smile only brightened. "Great!" she exclaimed. "I think that first we'll start by dropping hints here and there. After each criminal incident, you can start making little comments to each other. They'll be innocent at first, but as time goes on--"
Karina sat back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest as Agnes droned on about the new romance storyline being implemented on her and Barnaby. Part of her couldn't believe what was happening--and still, another part of her wasn't surprised. Although she admired and trusted Agnes (for the most part), she knew that the producer was not above using the tricks of the trade to grab additional viewers. More viewers meant more sponsors, after all--and more money, which was what everything was all about in the end.
She knew when she signed her contract that she would have to follow what her superiors told her. She would wear the skimpy costume, say the stupid catchphrases, and be the simpering idol to her fans. But this...
"...and then we'll end with a little kiss!" Agnes was clearly oblivious to her distress. The producer of HeroTV was leaning forwards in her chair, head propped on her hands as she eyed the two heroes in front of her. "After that, well, we'll see how it goes."
"It sounds lucrative," Barnaby replied. "Myself and Blue Rose are among the most popular of the heroes. I'm sure a romance between us would attract a lot of attention...both from our base audience and from potential viewers."
"Lucrative?" Karina interjected. "It sounds like we're turning our careers into a soap opera..."
"Well, dear, that's what reality television is--one big soap opera." Agnes was not someone who took negative replies for an answer. "You and Barnaby will begin preparing for the romance arc right away. We're going to try and begin it as soon as possible."
"How soon is that?" Karina asked, frowning.
"Next week," Agnes replied. "It's soon, I know. But we have to at least sow the seeds for the romance to develop as the season goes along."
"I agree," Barnaby said. "The sooner the audience catches wind that there may be some form of attraction between myself and Blue Rose, the quicker ratings will shoot up."
Agnes nodded. "Meaning more sponsors for you, Barnaby. And more sponsors means less time spent in the Second League, wasting your talents." She shook her head, as if in disbelief that Barnaby would deign to lower himself only to stay with his partner. "And maybe a few more modeling contracts too." She turned to Karina. "You as well, Karina."
What if I don't want any more sponsors? Or any modeling contracts? Karina thought darkly. Instead of saying what was on her mind, she shrugged. "I guess."
Agnes did not even notice her indifference. "Alright, it's settled!" she continued with a somewhat sly grin. "Why don't you two try a practice kiss?"
"A kiss?" Karina frowned. She stole a look over at Barnaby, who was watching her evenly, without emotion. She felt herself turning red. The truth was, she had never kissed anyone before; she had been asked on dates by several of her male classmates, but there had never been any time for her to pursue entanglements of that sort. Not when she needed to be a hero, on call every hour of her life.
Though she was already quite mature for her age, having worked in the hero business for some time now, she still had the childish dream of having a special first kiss. And she was pretty sure she knew who she wanted to receive it from. Even though her crush was simply that--a girlish crush--she could still daydream. Even when she knew that the older man still loved his dead wife and had a daughter only seven years younger than she was.
This was almost exactly the opposite of her daydream--though some girls considered Barnaby "dreamy", she thought he was unfriendly and cold. And Agnes's office was hardly a place she could call "romantic".
But if it had to be, it had to be. Resignedly, she leaned forward towards Barnaby and scrunched her eyes closed. In a second she felt his lips push against hers, and fought back the urge to pull away.
It was over in a second, and was neither stimulating nor romantic. Karina opened her eyes to Agnes's evaluative glare. "We're going to need a lot of work on that," she said, frowning. "Barnaby, you've kissed a lot of girls before, haven't you?"
For one split second she thought she heard him hesitate; but the moment was gone, and the polite, handsome celebrity came back. "I have to admit...I haven't," Barnaby answered. "I did not have time to cultivate attachments when I was younger. I was only focused on finding my parents' killer, and when I entered Hero Academy, becoming stronger was the only thing on my mind."
"Incredible," Agnes murmured. "The most eligible bachelor in Stern Bild and you haven't even been on a date!" The smile returned. "You'll show him, won't you, Karina?"
"Well..." she began awkwardly. "I haven't really had much time for boys either..."
"You two are hopeless!" Agnes leaned back in her chair, causing the springs to creak. "One King of Heroes and one pop star idol, and both so young and innocent." She crossed her arms over her chest. "Okay, heroes, this is your assignment..."
Practice makes perfect.
Though he had listened attentively, and had said all the right things at the right time, this was really going to be a bother. He had managed to hide his lack of enthusiasm from Agnes, as always. But the entire thing was set up to be a disaster.
The door banged shut behind them--Agnes had dismissed them from her office with a smile, her eyes practically gleaming with the viewership ratings that would inevitably come with news of Barnaby and Blue Rose's budding romance. Barnaby could envision the tabloid magazine headlines, the merchandising deals, the interviews he would have to endure on late-night talk shows. He sighed, more from annoyance than from fatigue. Of all the things HeroTV put him through, this was the second-worst situation he had to deal with. The first, of course, had been when Apollon had paired him up with Kotetsu...
"So..." a voice near him began. "What do you want to do about this?"
Karina stood next to him, eyes narrowed as she placed a hand on her hip. She was just as unhappy with the situation as he was, though he did a far better job of hiding it.
"We need to practice," he replied simply. "You don't have much experience with romance, do you?"
Her eyes widened. "As if you do," she said angrily. "I'll let you know right now, Barnaby--you're quite literally the last person I would have picked to do this stupid storyline with."
He smiled. "Your first choice would have been Tiger, wouldn't it?"
She blushed, and turned away from him with a disconsolate sigh. "You're such a jerk," she whispered.
She was such an annoying little girl. Give the public a nice face, curvy hips, and cleavage, and they could make any no-talent wannabe into a star. Karina was less of a hero than any of the others--she was eye candy, a way to gain male viewers just as Ivan pandered to the females. From his brief interactions with her, he had made a mental note that despite her hero experience, she was gullible and hard to work with. Her infatuation with Kotetsu only made her even more of a target, in his eyes.
"We have until the end of this week to perfect that kiss," he said neutrally, addressing Karina's back. "I know you don't particularly want to do this. Neither do I. But we have our assignment."
Karina turned back to him, eyes narrowed. "Right. Kissing practice. Aren't we supposed to be heroes? Is this really what we're supposed to be thinking about?"
"That's funny, a few weeks ago you were lamenting the fact that you had to drop a piano gig to suit up and work. Would you rather be playing your piano than playing at being a hero?" Barnaby snapped. It was so easy to annoy her--she was a great target, as he had discovered when he had guested on her short-lived radio show.
"This is our job, whether you like it or not." Barnaby crossed his arms over his shoulders. He had had quite enough arguing from her for one day. "So tell me, where do you want to practice?"
Karina turned back to him, a defeated look on her face. "You're really serious about practicing?"
"If we want to make this story work, yes."
The girl sighed. "Fine...fine," she agreed. "We'll practice. Where, though? Not the training center."
"I agree," Barnaby answered, glad they they could agree on something, for once. "We can practice at my place."
Karina arched an eyebrow. "Your place?" she echoed.
He had almost forgotten how young she was; she had probably never even gone to a boy's house on her own. "Sure, my place," he answered, with a sly smile. "You're not nervous, are you?"
"The day I get nervous because of you, Barnaby, is the day I quit the hero business!" she spat back at him.
"That day won't be long in coming, I assure you."
Karina looked about ready to punch him. "Just give me your address," she said curtly. She reached into her pocket to pull out her cell phone.
"I'll put it in," Barnaby offered, holding his hand out. Karina nearly shoved it into his pal,.
In a few seconds it was done, and the directions to his apartment had automatically formed on the phone's direction system after he had entered it in. "When are you free?" he asked as he handed it back to her.
"Tonight," Karina offered. "If we don't get any calls, that is."
"Fine. I'm clear for tonight too," he responded. "Come on, let's get back to the others."
He had turned down the long hallway, en route to the elevator that would take them back down to the training center. Although Agnes usually did her work at HeroTV headquarters, she had a small office near the training center . kept when she needed to work extensively with the heroes. Although Barnaby had been called up to sit with Agnes before, it had usually been with Kotetsu or alone. And never with Karina.
"I hope we get through with this quickly," she said. "You've...never kissed anyone before?"
Her tone of voice had softened visibly with this last question. Barnaby cocked his head. "As I told Agnes...I didn't have any time for dates in the academy."
"Hmm," Karina muttered. "All the girls in Stern Bild adore you--and some of the guys too."
But not the guy who matters. Barnaby quickly pushed the thought out of his mind. "I guess you think that means something," he answered. "But it's just the way things turned out."
"So it's still a facade, huh?"
Karina, like the rest of the heroes, had noticed how markedly different Barnaby appeared in his interactions between the media and the other heroes. Maverick had groomed him into a celebrity. Even though the old man was gone, exposed for the liar and murderer he was, habits were hard to shake. Being a young, handsome hero, acting like a playboy, accepting the pointless modeling contracts and talk-show appearances...these were the things that had made him popular to the public. And although he softened somewhat towards his colleagues--he had accepted a shuriken from Ivan the other day, and had showed Pao-lin some exercises the next--his interactions were mostly still stilted and formal.
Except for with Kotetsu...
"I don't know what you're talking about," he answered. "If that's all you wanted to ask, see you later tonight." As the door to the training center slid open he stepped through, leaving Karina behind to pout.
Karina knew that Barnaby had a large, expensive penthouse apartment in the Gold Stage. Pao-lin had described it to her in passing, when she had stayed over one night to babysit the mayor's son. Even though she had never seen it herself, she had heard enough stories from Kotetsu about the place.
Bunny needs some furniture, the older man had been complaining the other day. Whenever I get too drunk to drive myself home, I have to sleep on the floor!
Still, she wasn't sure exactly what to expect as she stepped out of the elevator and onto Barnaby's floor. She hadn't seen any other living person from the moment she stepped into the lobby to her sojourn on the elevator, and was feeling slightly unnerved.
I wonder if he's bent on isolation from everyone except Tiger, she thought idly as she pushed the small, square buzzer to his apartment. It wouldn't be anything new for him.
The door opened, and there Barnaby was. He was clad in his familiar jeans and boots, though he had shed the jacket and was wearing only a black t-shirt. He seemed unimpressed. "Come in," he offered simply. Karina took him up on his offer and stepped inside.
Everything Kotetsu had described seemed true. The apartment was large and spacious, and the only piece of furniture in the entire room was a computer console with a small table and a black reclining seat attached to it. Karina walked into what must have been the living room, her boots padding softly against the lushly carpeted floor.
Though she had promised herself she would be surly and indifferent for the night, she could not help but admire the view from the large window that took up an entire wall of the apartment. "Nice view," she remarked, stepping up to the glass. The nightscape of Stern Bild loomed before her, all skyscrapers and spotlights and small specks of light from moving cars.
"It's fine," Barnaby acknowledged quietly. He was standing behind her now, hands on his hips.
If he had any ounce of tact, she reflected, he would have offered her a place to sit, or something to drink. She quickly reminded herself that this was Barnaby she was dealing with, and from Tiger's stories she knew he wasn't much of a host.
Still, this was too awkward. "Tiger was right when he said you didn't have anything in your apartment," she began, trying to start a conversation.
"It's true," he answered. "I don't need anything."
"Well, where do you have people sit when they come over?"
Barnaby cocked his head. "I don't have friends," he responded. "No one needs to sit anywhere."
That's sad... Karina thought, and then she realized this was Barnaby she was thinking about. "You have Kotetsu."
She caught a flicker of annoyance on his face before the smooth, neutral countenance returned. "I guess," he answered briefly. "Come on, let's begin."
Karina braced herself mentally, trying to tell herself that it was all for the show, all to live up to Agnes's expectations, all for the hype. No matter what they were forced to do, she could still have her first kiss as herself--as Karina, not Blue Rose--somewhere, somehow. I'm too much of a romantic, she thought dully. She sighed and went towards Barnaby, stopping directly in front of him.
His green eyes seemed to appraise her as he looked down at her. He was almost a foot taller than her, and she never been more aware of their difference in height until then. There was a moment of silence before he spoke.
"Tell me what I should be doing."
Are you serious? Karina thought wildly, raising her eyebrows. "Uh...I know you don't have much experience with this, but you've done a lot of modeling before. Haven't you ever posed with women in your photos?"
Barnaby shook his head. "I always pose alone, or with Kotetsu if it's a promotional shoot for HeroTV. It's in all my contracts."
"Apollon has a special stipulation for me. They want me to seem single and available in all my photos. Having a woman pose with me would shatter that image to a lot of my fans. It's how they want to advertise me."
"So you're just a brand name, like me," she answered.
She hadn't expected him to respond to that, but to her surprise, he did. "You've done modeling as Blue Rose. Isn't it the same with you? Wouldn't having a man in your photos turn off at least some of your male fans away?"
She nodded. "Yeah. I always pose alone, or with Pao-lin sometimes. But I guess Agnes will have us modeling together if this romance arc takes off, huh?"
"Probably," he said. "Well, that takes us back to square one. Tell me what I should be doing."
The two stood facing each other for a few moments. She could already sense that, despite his attitude from before, he was not going to make the first move. All talk, she thought dismissively. She reached out, and grasped his forearms, gently bringing his hands to her waist. "You can put your hands here."
He let her settle his hands against her waist as he stood silently. He may as well have been an android, for all the emotions he was showing at the moment. And then she felt his fingers flex against her curves. "Like this?" he asked.
"Yeah." A sudden chill quickly ran though her, tingling down from the back of her head to the bottom of her spine. She tried to ignore it as she averted her eyes from his gaze. "I'll put my hands on your shoulders, I guess."
She brought her arms up, resting them against his shoulders, her fingers lightly touching his collarbone. "We should move closer together," he said. It was true--they were almost a foot apart from each other.
"Right," she answered, and in an instant she was pushed up against him, her breasts pressed against his chest. Even through the fabric of their clothes she could feel the hard cords of muscle underneath. A second chill manifested itself down her back, and she fought hard to keep herself from turning red as she looked up at him. "I think this is fine."
"Alright," he agreed.
She regarded him expectantly for a few seconds, anticipating that he would lean forward to kiss her. Nothing happened. "If we were live on air like this, you would probably move to kiss me first. I think." Unless Agnes was going to have her be the sexy seductress this time around.
"So...like this?" Before she could respond, he leaned towards her, pushing his lips against hers. She felt his lips against her mouth, warm and smooth. A sudden urge to pull away was quickly replaced by a fierce curiosity.
The kiss only lasted for a few seconds before he pulled away. They stood staring at each other, eyebrows knit. "I think that probably looked good," Karina said, to break the quiet tension that had built up around in the space of only a few moments.
"For a first time, maybe," he agreed. "I'll try it again."
"O--" she was interrupted by his mouth before she could finish her sentence.
The second kiss was longer, more forceful. Remembering that they would be posing for the cameras, she grasped his shoulders more tightly.
"That seemed good," she said. "A little more romantic."
"It will have to be more than 'a little bit romantic' if we want to please Agnes," Barnaby snapped back at her.
"You're really into your work, Bunny," she said, looking up at him with frustration. It was only as the word left her mouth that she realized what she said.
"What did you call me?" he asked, eyes narrowing.
She shook her head. "Sorry. Only Tiger can call you that, I know," she said playfully. "I've just been hearing him say 'Bunny' so much lately."
She half-expected him to shove her away and order her out of his apartment, but he only gave her a annoyed look. She decided to take a chance with his temper. "Don't worry, I'll only call you 'Bunny' when we're alone," she teased.
"Just shut up," he answered, and then he kissed her again, and she did.
The third kiss was shorter, more restrained. "I'll try wrapping my arms around your neck," she suggested.
The sixth kiss lasted longer than a minute, a first for them. "I'll cross my arms around your waist," he said. "It will make a good photo op."
After the eleventh kiss she surprised even herself. After they broke the kiss, she pulled towards him instead of drawing back. Smoothing back his blonde curls, she brushed her lips against his ear, giving him a small nibble on his earlobe.
"Don't you think that's a bit too raunchy for the timeslot we're in?" Barnaby asked her when she pulled away.
"Uh..." What am I doing? she asked herself. She could feel the heat rising to her face. "I just really got into it, that's all," she replied dismissively. It had been some kind of odd, automatic reaction--she hadn't even been thinking when she pulled towards him.
She saw the hint of a smile on his face, and hurriedly tried to push the conversation somewhere else. "I think I'm fine for tonight," she said. "We got the basics down. I know where my hands go, you know yours."
"Fine," he agreed, and they disengaged from their prolonged embrace. "We still need to practice, though."
"I'm hosting a roast for the Stern Bild Club," he answered. "What about the day after tomorrow?"
"I'm working on a group project with some classmates."
"I forgot you were still in high school."
She ignored this last comment. "Okay then. How about we practice on Thursday afternoon, at my dance studio? I'm sure no one will bother us there."
"That sounds alright to me."
"Good." Finding nothing else to say, she turned to go. "I'll see you later then."
"See you," Barnaby replied, walking her to the door. "And...Karina?"
"When we do this on air, try not to blush so much for the cameras." His smirk was the last thing she saw before he shut the door.
To Be Continued.
Please review and tell me what you think! There are so few much Barnaby/Karina fanfics, I want to make sure this one ends up good.