The Tales of Hotaru and Kuroneko / big hero 6
Gogo's only in high school when she meets Karri. She thinks Karri's an animated bobblehead. Karri does not take well to this.
"I am a kwami," says Karri emphatically.
"Heck if I know what that is," Gogo mutters.
Karri says something about fate and the universe and purifying evil from butterflies that carry ill will. It sounds like a load of hogwash invented by the school newspaper and Gogo waves it off.
Until the school catches on fire because of a madman with a vendetta against public education.
In the space of five seconds, Gogo gains a yellow earring, mask, and skintight suit. She proceeds to beat the madman into submission with a glowing yoyo.
It's the strangest day of her life, and it's about to get worse.
Gogo starts getting into the rhythm. Weird things happen, she creeps away and transforms into a superhero, comes back, fights, catches a black butterfly and purifies it like a magical girl.
The city starts to take notice of her. Somehow, they take the whole thing in stride, as if it's normal for adolescents to run around catching evil butterflies in yoyos. Karri explains that the cycle of the akuma and kwami is longstanding, something that has been written in the human soul since the beginning of time—so in a way, life is merely returning to the status quo.
So Gogo continues on.
Her suit is yellow with splotches of red, something that looks like fire in the moonlight, harkening her namesake; Hotaru; firefly, lightning bug. She feels wild and free when she skates from building to building on wheels that grind faster than anything she could make by hand.
She moves when she's admitted into the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. It was her dream school before she became a vigilante crime fighter.
The surroundings are unfamiliar and she spends several sleepless nights acclimatizing herself to the new layout of rooftops and alleys. It's alright. Not a bad place. She could get used to it.
Then she runs into a young man in a black suit with a cat mask and her questions multiply.
He's tall and lanky and equal parts mysterious and mischievous, and she thinks she might hate him past the shock in her system.
"Well," he says, grinning. "I thought you were an akuma. This is a much more pleasant surprise."
"Who are you?" is her only terse reply as she whips out her yoyo.
The man raises his hands in innocence. Something about the motion comes across as more mocking than polite.
"I'm known as Kuroneko. Kuro. Neko. Probably doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why."
Every word is smooth and warm, something that sounds cultured, but his smirk makes all of them exceedingly grating. "Black suit and cat mask. Couldn't come up with a more creative name?"
He's probably lifting an eyebrow. "I wasn't aware that inventiveness was necessary for a name."
He only chuckles, a deep, rumbling melody that really doesn't belong to someone as annoying as him. "Superhero names are like branding. As long as it's memorable, it doesn't matter."
Kuroneko does sound like a pretty cool name. Not that she'd ever admit it.
"So, what are you up to?" says Kuroneko casually. He turns and the moon hits his profile just right, as if he'd planned it that way. "I haven't seen you around."
She can't tell him that she moved because of the Institute—he might track down her origins. But should she really say nothing? What if he gets curious enough to stalk her?
"I'm Hotaru," she says shortly. "Are you an ally or an enemy?"
"Firefly?" He chortles and she grits her teeth. "Really? Firefly? Your suit doesn't look like a firefly."
"I didn't ask for your opinion," she says. "Friend or foe?"
Kuroneko's amusement finally seems to fade. He straightens and his mouth thins to a quiet line, and Hotaru almost begins to wish that she hadn't asked.
"They say that 'an enemy of my enemy is my friend,'" Kuroneko says softly. "I guess we'll find out when the next akuma arises, hm?"
Hotaru inadvertently steps back. Kuroneko instantly clocks her reaction and something in the atmosphere lightens.
"Well, then, have fun with your stroll, little miss firefly," says Kuroneko with an aggravating (mildly sexy, but primarily aggravating) smirk. He salutes her like a gentleman, except in context it's 99.2% sarcasm, and she'd punch him in the face if he wasn't already flinging himself from rooftop to rooftop.
Gogo attends classes and takes notes and kind of sort of makes friends with her lab group, who are all very nice but very odd people. One of the girls, Honey Lemon, drags her out to lunch every day. She's a bundle of sunshine and rainbows and if Gogo had any semblance of a normal life, they probably would've been best friends.
Wasabi is a nutcase and a control freak but he's a lovable bees' nest that Gogo likes to poke.
Fred is completely useless and oblivious, but brings a nice energy to the group... considering he's not even enrolled in the school.
Tadashi is... well, he's handsome and nice and gentle and kind and practically perfect in every way and nothing throws up more alarms to Gogo than a man who seems to be perfect.
She'll have to keep an eye on all of them.
The next akuma is a brutal one—something that rises up in the Institute from a student under too much parental pressure to perform well.
Back near her high school, Gogo was always able to handle akuma on her own. Some cases were close, but she never got herself into a pinch that her Lightning Rush couldn't get her out of.
This is different.
The possessed woman's blows are heavy and fierce, unrelenting even in the face of Hotaru's expertly wielded yoyo. She's faster and stronger than the likes of which Hotaru has ever seen before. The giant red pen that she wields hits like a metal bat, but she swings it with one hand like it's a flyswatter.
Something is wrong, whispers Karri inside her head. Something about this city feeds akuma power. Maybe we're closer to the enemy?
Then why don't I feel any stronger? Hotaru responds snappily.
Kwami and akuma are very different, thank you very much, Karri responds with equal sass.
And then Hotaru catches the jumbo-sized red pen straight in the gut. She's sent into the wall with such force that something in her spine cracks and her legs go numb. It's damage that the post-capture restoration will remedy, but first, she actually has to... capture the akuma.
She tries to move something. Her feet refuse to budge.
The akuma-possessed woman draws closer, whipping the red pen around her head, revelling in Hotaru's helplessness. Each step vibrates into Hotaru's dullened spine and stabs a needling, restless pain into the base of her neck.
Then a black shadow shoots from the gate of the Institute and crashes right into the akuma, sending her sprawling into one of the lab buildings.
The shadow seizes the brief respite to bound closer to Hotaru. It's Kuroneko in his grinning cat mask and skintight black suit and under ordinary circumstances, Hotaru might have groaned, but today, she only feels relief.
"I guess we're friends, little firefly," says Kuroneko with that dangerously—obnoxious—smirk.
The shock is beginning to turn to a dull, aching pain. Hotaru wordlessly holds out her yoyo, every word labored.
"It... purifies... akuma," she rasps.
Worry flickers across his face. She can't see his eyes, but he must be noticing her physical condition. "Getting me to do your job?" he probes.
She has no more energy to say anything else. Her lungs ache to take in air.
"You owe me," says Kuroneko, taking the yoyo. He throws his metal baton in the air. "LUCKY CHARM!"
His baton warps into a giant tube of glue that he shoots at the akuma, trapping her red pen against the nearest wall. From there, he nimbly dodges her wild haymakers, snatching the fateful test that's stuffed into her belt and tearing it to pieces. He's a little clumsy with her yoyo, but he eventually manages to catch the akuma and hand it to her to finish the purifying process.
Hotaru's just a little impressed.
Gogo learns the next day that Honey Lemon is actually an avid fan of Hotaru and runs a blog specifically tracking Hotaru's activities.
It's both honoring and awkward, but it grates on Gogo's nerves when she remembers how handily she was saved by an annoying black cat.
She runs into Kuroneko the next night.
Well, actually, she feels his presence stalking at her back the moment she ascends to the rooftops of San Fransokyo as Hotaru. Thanks to his clothes, he's impossible to see if he doesn't want to be seen, but she can sense his aggravating mock-chivalry from miles away.
"Kuro," she says warningly.
"Touching," says a disembodied voice near her ear. "You've already invented a pet name for me."
She doesn't bother turning around. "Is this about the last akuma?"
"Yes, ma'am." That sardonic phrase, spoken in such a polite yet rude manner.
"Here to collect debts?" she says coldly. She won't give him the satisfaction of being angry.
A deep chuckle. "I wouldn't do that."
And he materializes, like morning fog from the perimeter of a harbor, right at the back of her shoulder, head lowered next to hers until his breath is falling against her ear, warm and gentle, softer than the angles in his words and his appearance. Hotaru instinctively stiffens, feeling a flush rise to her cheeks. To her credit, she does nothing else.
"Pity," hums Kuroneko. "I thought you'd have a bigger reaction."
"You thought wrong," says Hotaru with much more steadiness than she feels.
Kuroneko steps away, arms held in the air in mock surrender. "Pardon me, ma'am," he says politely-not-politely. "I wouldn't want to disturb your personal space."
"If you don't want to disturb my personal space, you should leave the city," Hotaru says curtly.
Kuroneko's lips twitch upwards. Not that she's looking at his lips. "This is what I get for saving your life, ma'am? I don't believe that I'm the one with a lack of manners."
This infuriating cat saved her when something in her spine was twisted and when she was paralyzed and when, for the first time in her life, death was a very real threat.
Now is not the time for pride, much as she wants it to be.
"Thank you," she says, summoning up that memory to invoke as much sincerity as she can. "I would've died without you."
Kuroneko stares at her for a long moment, eyes hidden behind his mask.
"You're welcome," he says softly.
Something about that moment is fragile—a single strand of spider silk stretched over a yawning chasm. She doesn't know what it means. He doesn't seem to know what it means, either.
They turn away, and without a word, swing across the rooftops of the city, heading in opposite directions.
When the lab group needs a place to study for the upcoming first round of exams, Tadashi Hamada is quick to offer his aunt's café.
It's a quaint little corner restaurant with a touch of bright retro and a hint of Japanese fusion, and something about Aunt Cass's wide smile and wavy hair makes the place feel like home. They meet Hiro Hamada, who understands a lot more about their homework than he should. They settle into an easy groove between digital sheets of study guides and hot wings that make their cheeks numb.
Throughout all of it, Tadashi is the perfectly attentive host, striking a delicate balance between selfless and independent, all the while completing his own studies.
Gogo doesn't know how he does it.
She knows that there's nice people in the world—and maybe she's just projecting herself onto Tadashi Hamada—but something about him seems brittle and fractured, plaster painted over a beautiful mess of a collage. She wants to dig past that plaster and see its beating heart.
Ah. She thinks she's staring at Tadashi Hamada. She quickly switches her gaze back to her studies.
After all, Tadashi is an acquaintance, but it's unlikely that they'll ever become closer than lab partners.
Somehow, Hotaru ends up seeing Kuroneko regularly for patrols.
It's not deliberate. In fact, if it were possible, she would very deliberately avoid him. He's aggravating. He never takes anything seriously. He's distractingly—well, he's distracting. Oh, and he has a love of really bad puns.
"Aw, you've cat to be kitten me," he drawls as they find an akuma triple their size.
("Shut up," Hotaru says sourly.)
"Gimme a mewment," he says with a wink when he's occupied with running for his life.
("Shut up," Hotaru says flatly, leaning with leisure against the wall.)
"Can't we take the route of purr-suasion?" he poses when they're sorely outnumbered by enemy forces.
("I will kill you if you don't stop with these puns," Hotaru says coldly. But somehow, she always ends up smiling.)
His obnoxious cat-itude even starts rubbing off on her.
...Case in point.
But above all else, Kuroneko is competent. Hotaru is the one to purify the cities with her yoyo, but Kuroneko can melt in and out of shadows, Kuroneko can spring a last-minute object to save the day with his Lucky Charm, Kuroneko is better at locational strategy and predictive analysis. When he isn't making jokes, he's being brilliant.
She almost hates that even more.
"Say," says Honey Lemon one day. "Do you think Hotaru teamed up with Kuroneko?"
"Kuroneko?" says Gogo with just the right hint of confusion, as if she doesn't know anything about the local superheroes.
"He's been around this area for a while," says Honey Lemon. "Black suit? Cat mask? He's the only other hero in this region aside from Hotaru."
Gogo thinks for a moment, wondering how much she should pretend to know. She eventually goes with nothing. "What exactly do these heroes do?"
Honey Lemon gasps and drops her pen.
"Oh heavens," she whispers. "You poor thing. Where have you been living all this time?"
Gogo doesn't have to feign surprise. She is surprised. She's always known that Honey is a fan of Hotaru, but she was never under the impression that superhero culture... well, existed.
"Tadashi!" Honey calls, suddenly lunging over their lab table and seizing Tadashi Hamada by the arm. "You're good at explaining things! Tell Gogo about the heroes."
Tadashi smiles obligingly. A pencil is tucked behind his ear and a clipboard is clutched against his chest; it's obvious that Honey interrupted him in the middle of some kind of work. But unlike Gogo, he's not annoyed to be broken out of the Zone. Unlike Gogo, his expression is perfectly calm—almost measured.
"There's essentially some kind of evil force in the world," he says, "that can exploit people's weaknesses and turn them into monsters. The heroes can fight those monsters, but most importantly, return everything to the way it was."
Gogo blinks. "And, we're not, you know... freaking out about it? Supernatural evil. Government. Can't imagine the two going well together."
Tadashi frowns, as if the thought never crossed his mind. "We don't need to. The heroes are good at protecting us."
He says this firmly, like it's fact, and there's nothing more that matters.
Maybe Gogo can only see something wrong with this because she was selected as a hero, but—isn't this whole situation strange? Maybe this was what Karri was talking about. Maybe this system is just another natural cycle, like evaporation or the laws of thermodynamics.
"I see," she says. Best not to make a fuss. "Then who are the current heroes? The ones around here."
"Kuroneko and Hotaru!" Honey squeaks, jumping in with no hesitation. Gogo gets the impression that she's barely been holding herself back from raving. "Kuroneko's a cool guy in a black catlike suit. He's known for being insanely lucky. Actually, funny thing—he doesn't have a nifty restore like Hotaru, but somehow, whenever Hotaru defeated an akuma in her part of the city, the radius of her restore traveled all the way to where Kuroneko was."
"Then she moved to this region," Tadashi comments, but there's something strange behind his voice. "And now they're working together. Apparently."
Gogo tries to pinpoint the unusual tone. "Don't care for Hotaru?" she guesses.
"She's alright," Tadashi says politely. "I mean, it's really admirable that she's risking her life to help people."
Gogo raises an eyebrow. "But?"
Tadashi absently brushes his fingers against his hat. "I don't know. She seems pretty... arrogant. Doesn't believe she needs help from anyone, if you saw the old interview with her a few years ago. Oh, and... Well, this is pretty presumptuous, but you know how she never takes vacations? Fighting monsters every day? It kind of feels like she's made that her identity. She wants to be a hero because she has nothing else for her. So she kind of shows off."
"Tadashi!" Honey gasps, appalled. "Evil doesn't sleep, so neither can justice!"
It takes everything in Gogo to not bristle defensively. It shouldn't hurt—she's used to being gossiped about, used to taking criticism—but it does.
It's just hard for me to make friends.
I don't understand how to relate to people.
I'm not showing off, I'm not, if you had your loved ones in danger every day, you would understand—
She swallows the big clot of unpleasant emotion and manages to drag up a wry smirk.
"Look at that. Hamada's actually got a word of criticism." She returns to her lab paper, scrawling an answer that's probably incorrect. "Must be true, then. What you say."
"It's not, Gogo! Hotaru is SOOOO amazing, I mean, have you seen the footage of her Lightning Rush, and maybe she's kind of quiet but really, she's honestly so KIND, here, take a look—"
But Honey's voice gradually fades away into white noise at the back of Gogo's head, replaced with a bothersome observation:
Tadashi's words had hit a lot harder than she expected.
Her curiosity needles at her until she can no longer keep silent.
"Kuroneko," she says curtly, even as they race across the rooftops, heading straight for the trail of destruction caused by the latest akuma. "Why are we working together?"
Kuroneko is silent for a moment, and she feels the air get colder.
"No, I mean—" Tadashi's words echo in her mind. "Why do you put up with me?"
This seems to surprise him. He pauses at the edge of a chimney, his eyes gleaming in the darkness.
"We make a good team," he says. "We protect this city pretty well."
"That's not a good enough answer."
He looks at her quietly, and then, like mist, melts into the shadows, pouncing by her ear.
"Why don't we go with a simple answer," says Kuroneko, grinning. "Let's say I'm in love with you."
It's a lazy answer.
She looks at him for a long moment. "I don't like that answer," she finally says.
"So I gathered," says Kuroneko.
He's still smiling, but he doesn't seem to mean it.
Gogo spends lab staring unabashedly at Tadashi Hamada. Honey Lemon elbows her in the side with a suspicious grin.
"Oggling Tadashi? I didn't know you were the type!"
Gogo doesn't register what she means. "There's something off about him."
"Mm, well, his good looks sure aren't normal," Honey agrees.
"That's not what I mean," Gogo says, aghast.
She watches Tadashi smile warmly at every classmate and hand out papers without complaint and stay late to clean up the lab. She notices how he steps with grace and how his hair is always neatly kept with just the right amount of spring and spike. No one could be so perfect and stay sane.
And yet... he's shown signs of a different side. Nothing dark, nothing depraved—yet—but a mood that's decidedly different. Something that feels deeper than a guy who's nice all the time. Something that makes him feel a little more human.
Some part of her wants him to show it more. She doesn't know why.
Since that night, something about Kuroneko's attitude has changed. He seems more open, more gentle. She'd always considered him as overly friendly—flirtatious, chatty, a bit overbearing. But back then, although she hadn't known, he was detached, stiff, like he was poking a bees' nest to find a reaction, all the while ready to bolt. Now, he's... different. Even if she can't exactly explain how.
It only strikes in a dangerous lull during an akuma battle. She sends her Lightning Rush and immobilizes it, but she's hit in return, sent flying right towards a jutting metal bar of a construction site—
—and Kuroneko leaps behind her, snakes an arm around her waist, and extends his baton to redirect their trajectory.
He lands catlike on his two feet (of course he does), crouched behind a building. She's seated naturally on his knee, head on his shoulder and nose against the crook of his neck. He smells like smoke and sweat and she knows she does too, but something about the moment is electrifying, something that freezes every bone in her body to the end.
"Careful, little firefly," murmurs Kuroneko, and his fingers tighten into her hair, breath running ragged over her ear.
She grits her teeth in annoyance, because she's constantly getting saved by Kuroneko. She pushes at his chest, intent on getting away, but his grip is oddly firm.
"I had my yoyo," Hotaru says. "I could've gotten out of it."
He looks at her for a moment, eyes unreadable behind his mask. Then he releases her.
The sudden imbalance has her tumbling to the ground. She rolls instinctively to break the fall and sweeps up to her feet.
"You know," Kuroneko says softly, "we're partners. We shouldn't be ashamed to be saved by each other. Sometimes a little extra help is a good thing, even if we don't need it."
Hotaru looks away. "It's a one-sided partnership. I'm not holding up my end."
He's silent for a moment, then chuckles. "You've saved me more times than I can count."
She doesn't remember.
"Well, this anti-damsel-in-distress conversation is very invigorating and all, but we'd better clean up the akuma while it's immobilized." He taps his ring, but his mood seems lighter, fresher. "To be continued?"
She shrugs. "Sure. I guess."
She brushes herself off, checks her uniform, adjusts her yoyo around her fingers. She's ready to dash back out, but Kuroneko's hand settles in her shoulder.
"I think I understand you a little more, little firefly," Kuroneko says. "You seem abrasive, but—your words mean something different than they first sound."
"Maybe I should file to start my own language," Hotaru responds drily.
Kuroneko grins. "You glow, girl."
She smacks him on the shoulder. A jolt runs up her hand and she jerks back, surprised.
What was that? Electric residue?
Well. None of her business. Until the akuma is taken care of.
"I love Hotaru and Kuroneko, but it must suck to be them," Honey announces one day.
Gogo looks up from her mechanics project. "What makes you say that?"
"Well, you know," Honey says. "There's videos that go around from people who actually are THERE on the scene during the battles. Hotaru and Kuroneko get hurt all the time." She sighs. "They're like Special Ops soldiers, and we don't give them any help at all."
Gogo thinks of the countless broken bones and twisted joints and bruised muscles that she's collected over the years. She thinks of the battles she's barely eked by, driven purely by the idea of her Miraculous restoring her body. She thinks of the sleepless nights she's spent, reliving memories of her limbs being smashed to pieces.
"Maybe," she says.
Honey stops progress on her lab and lays down her pencil, her lips tightening.
"I'm serious, Gogo," Honey says softly. "I feel really bad. They're in so much danger... and what are we doing?"
"What can we do?" Gogo says. "We're just kids."
False. She had stopped being a kid a long time ago.
Honey, in a rare moment of exasperation, swivels to Tadashi's table. "Tadashi, don't you think that heroes deserve better?"
Tadashi stops the progress over his robotic arm, staring blankly at Honey. Probably surprised. Probably wondering why Honey cares so much, since the rest of the city doesn't seem to. Probably apathetic himself.
"Yeah. Life seems really tough for heroes," he says with a smile.
But she can distinguish something that she couldn't distinguish before: a guarded look. Something that puts up words as a front, as a shield, as though he is saying them for safety, not because he believes them.
Does he not believe that life is tough for heroes?
In ordinary circumstances, she might be furious or indignant, but in this one—she's so proud of herself for seeing past Tadashi's mask that her actions are governed by coolheaded thought.
"Cut the crap, Hamada," she says sharply, standing to her feet. "What do you really think?"
Honey stares wide-eyed at Gogo. "He just told us."
"He," Gogo says calmly, "just lied."
"Tadashi doesn't LIE," Honey says, aghast. "Right?"
Tadashi is still for a long moment, expression unchanging. Then his lips twitch into a small smile, something almost grim. She hasn't seen it on his face before.
"Well," he says. "I don't think heroes have it all that bad. Yeah, there's injury, and panic, and there's got to be trauma and pain—but they've got a place."
Honey stares, slack-jawed. Gogo only raises an eyebrow.
"What do you mean?" she says curtly.
"Maybe it's forced on them, but at least they know where to go, what to do, how to live. And everyone loves them." He pauses, his eyes oddly distant. "They have a direction, I guess."
"As opposed to?"
He smiles sheepishly. She feels the iron walls come surging back up. "Nah, nevermind. I don't know what I'm saying."
"Hamada," Gogo says, but Tadashi has already returned to his table, immersed in the fluid movements of his soft robotics arm settled on the surface.
Have a direction? What could that possibly mean?
Maybe Tadashi is tired of being nice, but he doesn't know to what else to turn. Maybe he's woken up day after day, feeling no sense of special identity. Maybe he feels like another tiny cog in a machine where nothing changes and history only repeats and repeats again. Maybe he's just like Gogo before she discovered Karri.
Or maybe Gogo's just going crazy.
Gogo turns back to her worksheet, intent on focusing solely on the remaining lab, but Honey elbows her in the side, wide-eyed.
"How did you know?" Honey whispers.
Gogo blinks. "How did I know what?"
"That he—that Tadashi Hamada—was lying? Or, well, you know, TECHNICALLY not lying, but not being ENTIRELY truthful."
"It's the same." Gogo pauses. "And I don't know."
It's not quite true. But neither can she tell Honey that seeing Tadashi's plastered-on smile reminds her keenly of a lax, guarded smirk from a certain man in a cat mask.
Kuroneko dies one day.
One of the akuma possesses a man who carries a firearm that turns any organic matter it shoots to dust. His attention originally focuses on trees, grass, and other plant matter, consumed with hatred from the years he had spent bedridden by extreme hay fever.
Then he storms the Institute and starts firing at students, screaming about the Miraculous.
Gogo watches Honey Lemon crumble into nothingness right next to her before she comes to her senses. Karri doesn't ask questions when she asks for a transformation the moment she turns the corner.
Kuroneko is there when Hotaru steps back into the courtyard. She might be seeing things, but his face looks a few shades paler and there's an edge to his smirk. They barely exchange nods before they lunge into action, moving as two parts of a single well-oiled machine.
He leaps, she dives; he parries, she thrusts; he sprints, she pulls back. It's as if they've been fighting together for a lifetime, complementary jigsaw pieces that come together only in a moment of high friction.
Hotaru distracts the akuma; Kuroneko seizes the artifact, a large syringe, and snaps it with his fingers. The dark butterfly flies straight towards Hotaru's outstretched yoyo.
—the possessed man focuses his attention on Hotaru—
—turns his firearm, presses the trigger—
—and Kuroneko, a bundle of coiled springs, lunges in front of her—
—and in the blink of an eye, dissipates into dust.
Hotaru absently goes through the motions of clamping the butterfly in her yoyo, cleansing it, releasing it—but all the whole, something in her chest is screaming and tears are shooting to her eyes and she doesn't understand why but still—
She flings her yoyo into the air and magic dust sweeps through the city, mending buildings, uprighting structures, and most importantly, reviving the campus.
She sees Honey Lemon blink back into existence, leaning heavily against the nearest lamppost, looking weary, but very much alive.
She sees Hiro Hamada appear on the frontline of the courtyard lawn, seeming equally dazed.
Students repopulate the area, vaguely disoriented, but eventually shake off the event as a dizzy spell before turning to class.
Still, she waits.
Fear starts to sink into her veins like black ice—what if Kuroneko doesn't return, what if he's gone forever—and her hands start shaking uncontrollably and she wonders absently to herself, just when did she start caring so much about a smirking black cat with obnoxiously warm hands—
And then Kuroneko fizzles back, crouched in the same spot, gasping raggedly in pain.
Hotaru barely knows what's possessed her when she flings herself at Kuroneko, gripping him tightly, fingers digging into his shoulder blades until they throb with pressure.
"Hey," Kuroneko rasps. "Did we win?"
Hotaru emits a sound between a chuckle and a sob. "What, are you blind?"
"Just checking to make sure I'm not in heaven," Kuroneko breathes quietly, and she feels his hands wrap around her waist, one sliding up her spine to the base of her neck. Something about the sensation makes her inadvertently shiver. She pushes him away, returning to a safe distance of three meters.
"You, um, stopped existing for a while there," Hotaru says, ignoring his scent of something earthy and spicy that she totally doesn't like.
"Next level of my disappearing act," says Kuroneko, his familiar smirk returning. "Did I ever tell you I wanted to be a meowgician?"
She groans loudly. "Please, shut up."
He chuckles softly. The sound is different—soft. "Good work... Hotaru."
He lunges away as the beeper in her earring warns her of the impending transformation. She quickly retreats into hiding, definitely ignoring how nice her name sounded on his lips.
Tadashi settles into the chair on her left during class, tablet propped against his crossed knees. He doesn't usually sit there. Certainly, he comes over to borrow tools or grab the occasional book, but he never just sits and—is he reading comics?
"Hey," says Gogo.
"Hey," says Tadashi absently, flicking the screen. She catches a glimpse of Captain America.
Gogo spins her pen between her fingers out of habit. Is he taking a break? But why would he take a break here?
"Do you need something?" she says.
Tadashi doesn't look up. "Not really."
Gogo glances around the lab. It's late in the afternoon, but the place is oddly empty. There's plenty of other places to sit. Like by Honey, or Fred, or one of the many dozens of friends that Tadashi has made.
"So... what are you here for?" Gogo says slowly.
This makes Tadashi look up. "Should I leave?" he says placidly.
"That's not what I said," Gogo responds.
He smiles. It's not genuine, but she can't read what's behind it. "Then guess I'll keep reading."
He flips to another page. Gogo shamelessly stares at his hat like she can bore holes through his skull and see into his brain. She looks over the calm smile, the relaxed eyes, the perfect stillness of every muscle in his body without so much a quiver of the toes.
"What's wrong?" says Tadashi.
"You don't usually sit here," Gogo says honestly.
"Is it that weird? We're friends, after all."
He flips to another page. Gogo blinks.
Are they friends?
Is she really friends with Tadashi Hamada?
The thought is nice, but too ignorant for her tastes. She can't be friends with someone she doesn't know, even if he's a nice guy.
"I don't know about that, Hamada," she says softly. "We barely know each other."
Tadashi's eyes drift to her. She's shocked to find a haze of pain set over his face—something he masks with a bland smile, but it bleeds through regardless.
"What do you mean?" he says. "Look at how much time we've spent together. Aren't we friends?"
"But I know so little." She looks at him evenly. "I don't even know the basics of who you are, Hamada."
"But you—you understand me more than—" He suddenly bites his tongue and looks away. Stands. Pulls his hat over his eyes. Smiles another bland smile. "Never mind."
He pushes off of the chair and returns to his project, tablet lying forgotten in the nearest table. Gogo feels a prickle of guilt as she sees him leave.
One of the fights is too close. They're down to the last tick of their transformation when Hotaru captures and purifies the butterfly, restoring the town to its former state. She barely manages to dodge around the corner, only to find Kuroneko is already there.
Instinctively, they both whip around as light eclipses their forms. Karri plops into Gogo's hands, exhausted. Gogo waits, every moment pounding angrily on her heart.
"Say," comes Kuroneko's voice. "What would happen if we turned around?"
Her mouth runs dry. "Then we'd find out each other's identities."
"And what if I was looking at you right now?"
"You're not," says Gogo confidently.
"You don't know that."
"I do." Because, for reasons she cannot fathom, Kuroneko is a gentleman. He's mischievous and suave and nine parts out of ten totally and utterly obnoxious, but he's always honored her decisions and trusted her.
Kuroneko is silent for a long moment. His voice is strained when he speaks again. "I... really want to know who you are."
"Curiosity killed the cat," Gogo says drily.
"It's not curiosity." His answer is surprisingly firm.
She waits for him to elaborate. He doesn't.
"Does it matter?" she asks. "We don't know each other based off of our... normal identities. What I know about you, and what you know about me—it's what Hotaru and Kuroneko know about each other. We might as well be different people."
"Maybe," says Kuroneko, "but we're not. The little firefly that jumps around like a grasshopper has a mother and a father and a group of friends somewhere. People and hobbies and pet peeves that shape her personality and interests. She wouldn't be the same little firefly without them."
"Why does it matter?"
She can hear his smile. "Maybe I want to get to know you a little better."
"You already know me." More than anyone else does.
"Not enough." He breathes quietly for a moment, as if he's about to say something more, but then she hears rapid footsteps that fade away from the edge of her hearing, and she knows that he's gone.
Gogo's not supposed to end up in a guy's arms.
She's perfectly capable on her own. She has reflexes that are unmatchable by 99% of the earth's population. And even if she does happen to stumble, she's practically programmed with the instinct to break her fall with a roll.
Not that Tadashi Hamada would know that. She should've guessed that his first instinct, when seeing a falling person, would be to catch them.
So, here she is... in a guy's arms. After stumbling over his small-scale remote-controlled car test that tore around the room like the dickens.
"Careful," Tadashi breathes, and for a moment, his voice is low, husky, something that makes her heart churn in the pit of her stomach because when he's this close, she can see the slightest trace of freckles over his nose and the number of his eyelashes and the angles of his jawline, and something about the sight makes her feel—
—She's heard that before.
She steps away and feels his hands linger on the small of her back for just a split second before he straightens. There's something new in his eyes; his brow is furrowed and his lips are pressed together.
"Say, Gogo," he says slowly. "Do you, by chance, happen to—"
But then, like a light flicked by a switch, the spark of curiosity in his eyes dims and he repaints that polite smile on his face.
"Never mind," he says.
He's starting to walk away when Gogo grips him by the wrist, feeling oddly annoyed.
"Why do you always do that?" she says sharply.
Tadashi stares at her grip for a moment, but he doesn't break expression. "Do what?"
"Hide," she snaps.
His smile turns rueful. "Observant, are we?"
"You'll just end up hurting yourself," Gogo plows on. Words are spilling out of her mouth and she can't stop them. "Sure, Hamada, you're nice, but we don't actually know you. We can't tell what you're thinking. Why can't you just talk to us?"
There's a crack in his shields. "Because—it's hard."
"Hard, what? Being vulnerable?"
He laughs softly. "No. Hard to... worry."
He's speaking in mysteries, but she can tell that he's being honest. "Unpack that for me," Gogo says.
He brushes a hand against his forehead, almost in a helpless gesture. "I... I don't think I can."
"So you don't trust us," she says flatly.
"It's not that, it's just very hard to explain."
"I've got time."
Tadashi's shoulders tense and there's a tinge of a guttural scratch in his voice that she hasn't caught before. "What I'm saying, Gogo, is—even if I had all the time in the world, you guys might not understand, or worse yet, you'll probably avoid—"
But then he locks his jaw shut and doesn't say another word.
Gogo grabs him by the shoulders.
Yelling. What kind of crap are you spouting? Do you think we're stupid? What can we not understand?!
Crying. Why is she crying? Hamada. Maybe I'm not a psychiatrist. But no one's supposed to smile all the time.
Screaming. You're fake, you're fake and you don't even see it, who are you, Tadashi Hamada, just who are you—
And that's when Honey Lemon bursts into the room and grips Gogo's arm, dragging her forcibly out the door. Gogo sees Tadashi's face, drawn and pale and shellshocked, and she hopes that he understands, she's just trying to help—
Kuroneko comes late that night, and he's in a somber mood. They sit on the roof of an abandoned bar and stare at the flaring stars of red-and-orange racing in the streets below them; the fresh air is a balm on Hotaru's anxiety.
"Kuro," she says eventually, by way of greeting.
His tail flicks idly. "Evening," he says.
"What's on your mind?"
He's silent for a moment. "I had a pretty bad fight with a friend."
She stills at this. "Mm?"
"She was right, of course." Kuroneko leans backward to stare at the sky. "Isn't it hard, though? Hiding your hero identity from your friends? I don't even know what it's like to be honest anymore."
Her heart starts pulsing fast and hard in her chest. No way.
"She wanted to know what secrets you were hiding?" Hotaru asks coolly.
"Not quite. She just wanted me to stop lying." Kuroneko smiles wrily.
No, I'm overthinking this. It can't be.
"I have to keep my friends at an arm's length," says Kuroneko, voice somber. "I don't want any of them worrying about my life, like I have to worry about theirs."
"Meaning?" Hotaru says slowly.
"Our lives are dangerous, but at least we're able to fight back. Civilians—they're defenseless. Or, worse, they can be liabilities." He breathes quietly, clouding the air in front of him. "Don't you worry about them every day? That an akuma will kill them all, and you won't be there to help."
"Can't say I do," Hotaru says honestly. Maybe that has to do with her restoration power.
"Hm." He kicks idly. "Well, that's the kind of worry I have for them. And I don't want them to be worrying like that for me every time an akuma shows up. It gets taxing."
"Have you ever considered," Hotaru murmurs, "that they want to help bear your burdens?"
Kuroneko smiles ruefully. "Who'd want to do that?"
"Like?" His voice breaks slightly. "We can't have normal friends."
Mouth dry, she gently wraps her arm around the back of his head and pulls him onto her shoulder. He rests there, expression hidden behind his mask.
"I see," he whispers.
For a moment, they remain there, lost in the nighttime commotion of the city. Simply lingering. His arm lifts around her shoulders to play idly with her hair, fingers brushing lightly over the strip of fringe that's dyed purple.
"Interesting," he muses.
"What is?" Hotaru says, almost sleepily.
He straightens, but his hand still lingers on her bangs.
"Nothing," he says quietly.
It's a crazy thought.
But the idea has overtaken her system, driving mercilessly into her mind over and over throughout the day, until she practically has no thought of anything else.
It's time to test.
They're in lab together when Gogo tries it. Something trite and small, something that she can cover easily if it goes wrong.
"Kuro, pass me a pen?" she says, casually, easily, with an air of indifference so refined that she should have won an Oscar for it.
And Tadashi Hamada passes her a pen, automatically, like he's been conditioned to respond to the name Kuro.
Gogo drops the pen.
Tadashi blinks, as if he's finally realized the magnitude of her question.
Gogo immediately whips back to her paper, scribbling furiously, because even if she suspected it, she didn't expect Tadashi Hamada to be Kuroneko.
Tadashi says nothing. Neither does she. They part ways when class ends without another word.
She comes to their usual spot on the rooftop... untransformed.
She sits on the edge, dangling her legs into the chilly San Fransokyo breeze, looking to the sky for stars that are masked by light pollution. Karri is grumbling somewhere deep inside her jacket, but Gogo remains as Gogo, not Hotaru.
"Well," laughs an achingly familiar baritone behind her, "looks like we had the same idea... little firefly."
She doesn't turn around. She doesn't need to. "Evening," she says quietly.
She senses motion from the corner of her eye: he strides gracefully to the edge of the roof and sits down, swinging one lazy leg over the dizzying height below, like a cat relaxing its tail. He's two arms-lengths away, a distance that seems unusually far, as if a boulder has been wedged between them. It's awkward and uncomely.
"Lab report going well?" he says blandly.
"Pretty straightforward. You?" She hates this.
"Fine, I guess." His leg stops swinging. There's silence and they breathe in the brisk night air that's infected with specks of neon street-light. Gogo twines her fingers together and tightens them until her knuckles hurt. Her coat is cold against her skin.
"Tadashi," she says suddenly.
"Gogo," he responds.
They sit in silence, the names hanging in the air as silent keys of verification. She feels the distance between them keenly.
"Sorry," she says eventually. "You must be disappointed."
"I'm not." His voice has an edge to it that she doesn't recognize. "I'm... I'm happy."
"Mm, you sound thrilled," she says drily.
Tadashi turns in her direction. "Look at me."
She does. For a moment, her breath catches, because the city lights catch fire against the back of his hair and illuminate the outline of his face, an angelic halo against his figure. She averts her eyes, stoic.
"I'm glad that she's you," Tadashi says. "Honestly."
"Okay. I get it."
"What do you think about me?"
She considers this.
"I need you," she says presently.
She can't do everything on her own. She's strong and she's fast, but with Kuroneko as her partner, they're unbeatable. Maybe she's only realized that now—she's not meant to carry the world on her shoulders.
"I know," Tadashi responds. His lips twitch into a smirk. "But that's not what I meant."
"What did you mean?"
"What do you think of Tadashi and Kuroneko being the same?"
Gogo stares blankly. Shrugs. "Glad you're someone I know." And a little flustered, because he now has dangerous charm to go with Tadashi's face, which is never a good mix.
"You talked some sense into me. Thanks."
"Any time. So you'll stop hiding?"
"Around you." Something about those words makes her shiver. "I can't say the same for other civilians. It still might put them in danger."
"They're your friends."
"You haven't revealed your identity either," Tadashi points out with a mischevious slant to his eyes. His fingers brush over her jaw and behind her neck and he leans close to her ear with a smirk. "I guess this'll be our little secret."
Then suddenly jerks backward, eyes wide.
"Sorry. Habit. I didn't realize—"
She grabs his collar and pulls him forward, pressing their lips together. He makes a vague grunt of surprise, but it's only a moment more before he wraps his arms around her waist to pull her closer. Gogo inches back, leaning her forehead against his.
"Don't," she breathes, "apologize."
"Oh," Tadashi says.
They stare at each other in silence.
"Are you free this weekend?" Tadashi asks. "Do you wanna catch a movie?"
"Okay," says Gogo.
They leave. Gogo touches her lips and cracks a smile.
It's a little weird to see Tadashi waiting in front of the movie theater in a collared shirt, jeans, and newsboy cap, but nowhere near as weird as Gogo expected. She thought the visual juxtaposition would make her world turn upside down, but somehow, it just seems to fit. Kuroneko is Tadashi. Tadashi is Kuroneko.
With a pounding heart, she takes his extended arm and they enter the theater.
In the darkness, as they roam to find their seats, his fingers slide down her palms and make them tingle. He pauses there for a moment, almost unsure, so she laces her knuckles past his and feels the warmth of home in the callouses of his digits. She senses his heartbeat fluttering in the spaces between his fingers. Or maybe it's hers.
When they settle into their chairs, he released her hand. She finds the lack of contact disconcertingly empty.
But just as the movie's about to start—
—the entire building shudders and crackles.
A voice ominously pierces through the intercoms.
"See the own insignificance of your existence! You are slaves to a screen! I, the Auteurator, shall conquer this miserable country through the media!"
Gogo shields her eyes just before the screen explodes into white light, engulfing the audience. The air goes quiet. Every other person in the room stands to their feet and uniformly shuffles out the door, leaving Gogo and Tadashi in silence.
"I guess that even our dates can't be normal," Tadashi chuckles, holding out his arm. His kwami, Mochi, bursts out of his pocket and settles idyllicly on his ring.
Gogo smiles back, squeezing his hand. "Meet you back in five?" she says.
"Race you," he grins.
She grins back. "You'll wish you hadn't said that."
this is a christmas gift for merdidadvnbroch for the tumblr tomadashi secret santa yeeee. there were around 10,000 directions i could have run with this but it would have become like a 15 chapter story so this is all i got~ tadashi's design on the cover inspired by the bakeneko brothers design and the show miraculous. also. fun fact. black cats are good luck in japanese culture.