It’s almost obscene, how much Yuri enjoys burning him. His only regret is that he couldn’t do this before Maverick turned his own mind to mush; he would have loved to see comprehension in the scum’s eyes as he slowly roasted from the inside out. He would have liked to remove his mask, show Maverick at whose hands he was dying, so he could understand the multiple levels on which he deserves this.
It’s a slow death — Yuri makes sure of that. And a gruesome one: Maverick’s stomach swells and bursts before Yuri is done with him, and that’s the finishing blow. Ordinarily he does not relish the act of extermination; as the mere messenger, the deliverer of justice, it is not his place to revel.
Now, though, he laughs. He can’t really control it. Tears flood his burning eyes and spill over behind the wide-eyed stare of Lunatic’s face as Maverick writhes, understanding nothing but pain.
So, not perfect, but it is enough.
Thanatos’s approving whisper is like a cool breeze amongst the flames.
He shouldn’t have been surprised that his mother would continue to “see” Maverick the way she “saw” his father. Not always, but frequently enough to fray his nerves, Yuri comes home to not three but four place settings at the table, and must endure Orgia’s spirited exchanges with two dead men.
Every time, his stomach rolls and his muscles lock up; his body automatically braces for the torment that is no longer forthcoming.
No more, he says to himself all through dinner, eyes locked on his plate, on the food he cannot eat in this state. Never again, never never never—
It doesn’t help.
Tonight is no different; he excuses himself from the table, acknowledging both invisible presences at the table before his mother can demand he do so, and bolts to the bathroom. For almost fifteen minutes he leans over the toilet and retches up the bitter remnants of tea and bile — nothing else: it seems he forgot to eat lunch again — and at the end of it his nose and eyes are running, and his head feels full of static that not even Thanatos’s voice can penetrate.
He swishes mouthwash over he teeth and tongue and spits it, pale green and foaming, into the sink. This, too, has sickening associations. How many times did he rinse out his mouth, sometimes three times in one go, after Maverick “visited”? His stomach heaves again, but he appears to have finished vomiting for the night. Small mercies.
He retreats to the sanctity of his basement living quarters, where he stays up into the wee hours researching criminals, making note of his future targets. It helps, slightly.
There is nothing he can do about the nightmares, however. If it were up to him, his only dreams of Maverick would be replays of his death, perhaps slowing down and repeating the particularly fulfilling parts. When Maverick’s wristwatch melted and burned right through the skin on his wrist, for instance, or when Yuri had the satisfaction of watching the flames engulf his withered cock.
Sadly, his subconscious does not prioritize so well.
Yuri gets to recall instead choking and gasping around the man’s length, the sick burn accompanying penetration, the sucking and slapping noises, and worst of all, the things he said. The things he made Yuri say.
Such dreams, when they occur, are sufficient to ruin the next couple of days.
Later on, after a particularly trying day, Yuri also notices that Maverick, awful as he was, was one of the few personal contacts he had, and certainly the only physical one. Not that Yuri would ever wish him back, and he certainly would rather be celibate for the rest of his days than be naked in the same room as Maverick even one more time. But autumn is here and a chill has entered the air, and the emptiness of his heart and bed are all the more apparent for it. His days and, often, evenings are taken up with paperwork — the so-called heroes bungling along as usual — but the nights he does not patrol the city as Lunatic are sometimes hideously lonely.
It is one such night, after his mother puts a dent in the wall with a frying pan (perhaps she’s bored with china and glassware), that Yuri decides the prospect of staying in the house any longer is intolerable. He needs to be around people — even the idiotic masses — and so half an hour later he finds himself on a stool at the Hero’s Bar with a glass of red wine, letting the background chatter blur into a pleasant buzz in his mind.
He doesn’t mind sitting alone. It’s enough to be surrounded by mostly sane, if somewhat inebriated, human beings. He ruefully notes that he looks a bit out of place in his suit; the majority of the bar’s patrons are in casual clothes. He would have liked to blend in fully, and not be open for observa—
“Judge Petrov? I’ll be damned!”
Someone lands heavily on the barstool next to Yuri. The judge glances up, prepared to be brusque and dismissive, but is shocked into pleasantness when he sees none other than Kotetsu Kaburagi grinning at him.
“Mr. Kaburagi — I was under the impression you’d returned to your hometown. How has retirement been treating you?”
“Ha.” Kaburagi rubs the back of his head, pushing up his familiar striped cap. “Yeah, it’s been pretty good. Plenty of time with the family. And the sofa.” He grins sheepishly. “I guess I turned into a couch potato. My daughter keeps telling me how uncool I’m being.”
Yuri favors him with a slight smile. “After so many years of service, I suppose you’ve earned the right to your couch.”
Perhaps from the two glasses of wine he’s had already, or his raw need for some companionship of any quality, his words come out sounding more genuine than he’d intended. Yuri can’t bring himself to care; he’s actually glad to see Kaburagi, formerly the bane of his professional existence.
Or no, that’s too harsh. The man was a headache, but at least he was in the business to pursue actual ideals and not fame and fortune.
“Hey, you mind if I join you for a bit?” Kaburagi asks. “It’s only my first week back in the city — I’m not in the mood to go out drinking alone just yet!”
“By all means,” Yuri says magnanimously, gesturing at the seat Kaburagi’s already occupying. “Were you expecting someone else, then?”
“I was supposed to meet a buddy of mine, Antonio, but work called him in.”
“I assume you mean Mr. Lopez…Rock Bison.”
“Oh yeah, you’d know.” Kaburagi chuckles awkwardly. “Right, so he leaves me high and dry — but hey, the job’s more important, I know that.”
Yuri isn’t yet drunk enough to miss the wistful tone in the other man’s voice.
“Not for much longer,” he says, drumming his knuckles on the bar. He waves over the bartender and gets another drink, then glances at Yuri. “Anything? I’ll buy.”
Yuri’s glass is almost empty; he nods. “I appreciate it.”
“Hey, it’s the least I can do, right? All that trouble I’ve caused you.”
“If you’re looking to atone, I’d say you owe me a bottle at least,” Yuri tells him drily.
“Oi, what’s this — trying to drive me to the poorhouse? I haven’t had a job in months.”
“But you do now?” Yuri asks, sipping from his replenished glass. Kaburagi brightens.
“I was gonna say. I might as well butter you up now, because you’ll be dealing with me again soon enough! As of this Monday I’ll be Wild Tiger again.”
Yuri stares, trying to summon up the appropriate feeling of dismay. It doesn’t come.
“Well then, congratulations are in order,” he says instead. “I’m sure we’ll all be glad to have you back.”
Kaburagi folds his hands around his drink and smiles down at the bottle. “Heh, thanks. It was good to be home, to see my kid…but I can feel this is the right thing to do.”
“You missed it.”
“Like you wouldn’t believe. And I was slowing down — it’s not good for an old man to sit around all day. One day you might not get up!”
All in all, the evening redeems itself admirably. Kaburagi talks his ear off for the next hour, proving in the process that his ideals haven’t changed a bit, and buys Yuri another glass of wine before calling it a night. He graciously lends Yuri, who is feeling rather unstable — this is the most he’s had to drink in ages — an arm as they go up the stairs to street level.
“You need a cab or anythin’?” Kaburagi asks once they’re outside. His words are a little slurred, but he’s steady on his feet. The night air is cool and bracing, though; Yuri’s head is clearing already. He politely declines, and they go their separate ways.
Yuri’s asleep almost as soon as he lands in bed, and for the first time in weeks he sleeps without any troubling dreams.
It’s snowing, the first of the season, when Yuri walks into the Hero’s Bar, where he’s become a semi-regular over the past month. He shakes out his scarf and glances over at the bar — Kotetsu’s already there, swigging from a dark bottle and eyeing the television. Only elemental types were called out for this crime alert; the camera devotedly follows Blue Rose, or at least her ass, as she chases down this evening’s antagonists. (They’re small-fries, nonviolent robberies, embezzlement, that sort of thing — nothing with which Lunatic need concern himself.)
“Good evening,” he says, taking the seat beside Kotetsu.
“Hey, Mr. Petrov. Damn — you can’t even see anything around her bum.” Kotetsu grumbles this last bit, craning his neck as if that will improve his view of the action on-screen.
“A revealing glimpse of the network’s priorities,” Yuri remarks, signaling to the bartender, who nods at him respectfully as he reaches for a bottle of wine and a glass.
“Yeah…so what’s new?”
If anyone had asked Yuri whether he and Wild Tiger would become something like drinking buddies after their little reunion last month, Yuri would have likely laughed in their faces and gone back to his paperwork (which, incidentally, has increased significantly since Wild Tiger’s return to heroism — surprise, surprise). Yet the Friday night after the first meeting found Yuri in the bar again, where he was invited to join Kotetsu and Bison at their table, where he learned more than he ever would have cared to know about their high school days. And then the week after that, Kotetsu was there and, he said, waiting to see if Yuri would show up.
So here they are. Yuri is oddly content with the whole arrangement, to the point where one might say he even looks forward to it. It’s good to have a reason to get out of the house, away from his mother’s delusions and bouts of plate frisbee. The bar, which Yuri had never visited before, is wonderfully neutral territory, even if he is surrounded by mindless Hero TV paraphernalia — he’s decided to just embrace the irony.
“What’s new,” Yuri drawls, swirling the dark liquid in his glass. “This afternoon I received notification of a certain incident at the Natural History Museum. It seems some rare Ancient Egyptian artifacts met their untimely demise.”
Kotetsu flinches a bit, grimacing. Unlike Yuri, he apparently sees no need to keep up a stoic facade when challenged like this.
“Eh…really now?” he says, scratching his bearded chin in a gesture that entirely fails to look innocent.
“Really,” Yuri says somberly. “I haven’t read the whole report, of course. I can’t imagine who could be responsible for such careless destruction of highly valuable property.”
“Yeaaah,” Kotetsu mumbles, rubbing the back of his head. “Must’ve been some idiot, all right. But I’m sure that whoever it is was just trying to do his job…but is still really sorry?” he adds when Yuri arches an eyebrow.
“Hmph.” He goes back to his wine.
“At least I caught ‘em. That’s worth a creepy old mummy or two.” Kotetsu mumbles, just audibly, and gazes at the TV with renewed, almost desperate interest. Yuri smirks.
“I suppose so. You’re still going to be fined.”
As Christmas approaches, Yuri is busier than ever. So are the heroes, since the station is pushing for higher and higher ratings to accompany the festivities and sharp increase in petty thefts.
Wild Tiger knocks over the massive Christmas Tree in the mall. Origami Cyclone takes to popping up in storefront displays alongside the mannequins. Blue Rose has a Christmas concert on ice. As for Yuri, he comes home one day to find the house half-decorated, and the next to see the decorations torn down and his mother on the weeping side of a fit of memory. Add ornaments to the list of things thrown at Yuri’s head this month.
The holidays are hell.
All of this is endurable, of course, and Yuri has his weekly drink with Kotetsu to look forward to — a vast improvement over previous years.
Maverick used to visit on Christmas Eve, and in a strange mood. He was always near impossible to please on those nights, and particularly vicious in his commentary. In the earlier years, Yuri would notice an increase in other marks on the man, more evidence that Yuri was not alone in this treatment. Now Yuri can feel the horrible anticipation curling and twisting in his gut, his body not believing that he won’t have to go through it again this year. It has been better as of late, with the distraction of work and the diversion of his weekly evenings with Kotetsu, but the longer nights and his mother’s increasingly erratic moods are bringing it back again. The nightmares come more often, and Yuri has to run to the bathroom to be sick twice in a week, after almost a month of relief.
And then, as if things hadn’t been bad enough, Barnaby Brooks Jr. announces his own return from retirement two weeks before Christmas. The arrogant pretty boy, record holding King of Heroes had retired along with Kotetsu, stating there was no reason to continue without his partner. Now Wild Tiger and Barnaby Brooks Jr. would once again be a crime-fighting duo — perhaps it had been stupid to expect that Brooks would rest quietly on his laurels. Heaven forbid.
Yuri does not go to the bar that Friday. There seems little point; he and Kotetsu had no spoken agreement to meet up every week, they just did. And likely Kotetsu had just wanted someone to jabber at in Brooks’ absence, rather than Yuri’s company in particular. Now that his partner has returned, he won’t need Yuri anymore. Or so Yuri tells himself, bitterly, as he showers, trying vainly to scrub away his frustration and — yes — disappointment.
He has just finished applying the makeup over his scar (no need to send his mother into fits at the sight of it; he’d only made that mistake once) when the doorbell rings. Frowning, Yuri descends the stairs, buttoning his shirt.
“Was that the door, dear? Oh, no, don’t get up, I’ll ask—”
“I’ll get it, Mama,” Yuri says loudly, trying valiantly to keep the irritation out of his voice. He reaches the door and looks through the peephole, then jerks back — Kotetsu has his eye up to it as well, looming large in the glass.
“Kaburagi?” Yuri demands, pulling the door open. The winter air hits him in a blast and he shivers — he should have pulled on a sweater. “What…what are you doing here?”
“Oh, well…you weren’t at the bar,” Kotetsu says lamely, then holds up a bottle of wine. “Thought you might want to avoid the crowd, so look — I finally got you a bottle!”
“…I see,” Yuri says, still processing. He didn’t go to the bar…so Kotetsu went to the trouble of finding him at home? “I figured you’d be out catching up with Brooks,” he says bluntly.
“Oh, lil’ Bunny? I drank him under the table once this week already. It’s embarrassing really, that he can’t even keep up with this old man. Besides…I see you on Fridays.” Kotetsu shrugs.
This is…a lot to take in, although it doesn’t seem like it should be. A lump is forming in Yuri’s throat, stupidly enough. It doesn’t help that Kotetsu keeps looking at him earnestly.
“So…can I come in, or do you want me to just leave this…?”
“Oh, pardon me — no, come in. Of course.” Yuri holds the door open wider and steps aside. Kotetsu shrugs off his coat, revealing the familiar vest and green shirt beneath, and Yuri takes the bottle from him with another murmured thanks.
“Yuri, who’s…oh! You didn’t say you were having a friend over, dear! Who’s this?”
Fortunately, she’s in a pleasant mood — she smiles broadly at Kotetsu, who hurriedly pulls off his hat.
“Ah…hello, ma’am. Mrs. Petrov. I’m Kotetsu Kaburagi.”
“Nice to meet you, dear! Are you a friend of Yuri’s from school?”
“Yes,” Yuri answers quickly; best to head this off at the pass. “I forgot to mention he’d be here.”
“Well, as long as you aren’t too noisy — your father and I are watching a program.”
“Of course. Go on back, Mama.”
There’s an awkward pause after she wheels herself back to the living room.
“My apologies for that. She’s…not well,” Yuri says quietly. Kotetsu nods.
“It’s no trouble! So you take care of her here then, with your dad…?”
“My father’s dead,” Yuri says shortly, and ducks into the kitchen for wineglasses and a corkscrew. He gestures for Kotetsu to follow him upstairs, to his former bedroom; it won’t do to bring him down to the basement.
“Sorry to hear about your dad,” Kotetsu says sincerely, and peers around the room curiously while trying not to be obvious about it. It’s a vain effort — there are no personal effects up here, in this room Yuri has come to loathe. He sets the glasses down on the desk and pours them both a generous amount of wine. The smell of it wafts up; Kotetsu didn’t chintz on the wine — it’s excellent quality. The observation makes the lump return, briefly, to Yuri’s throat. He clears it.
“So,” he says wryly, passing Kotetsu his glass. “Shall we drink to the return of your partner?”
“I’d rather drink to us drinking together on Friday as usual,” Kotetsu counters, grinning broadly. “Even if you tried to duck out of it. I like doing it, you know.”
“You’re a persistent man,” Yuri murmurs, pleased despite himself. “Very well.”
He clinks his glass against Kotetsu’s and takes a healthy swallow.
Later, when they’ve finished Kotetsu’s bottle and are well on their way through another, Yuri mutters, “I hate this room.”
“It is kinda…bare,” Kotetsu comments. He’s on the floor, head lolling against Yuri’s leg. Yuri had taken a chair like a civilized human being — although emphatically not the chair that Maverick used to claim. He really should burn that chair. That sounds like it could be cathartic.
“It’s bare because I hate it.”
“So why don’t you just pick another room?” Kotetsu turns his head so he can look up at Yuri, his cheek pressed against Yuri’s knee.
I already did, Yuri is still sober enough not to say, so he just shrugs instead.
“Or,” Kotetsu says, gesturing with his glass (the wine sloshes, but Yuri wouldn’t have minded terribly if it spilled; it wouldn’t have been the worst thing to stain this rug). “Or, you could just…redecorate it. Y’know. Put in some things you like.”
“Like what?” Yuri mutters. Kotetsu looks briefly flummoxed.
“I…dunno. What do you like?”
“You’re in it now,” Yuri observes slowly. “That’s better. I guess I like you.”
“He-ey,” Kotetsu grins dopily, crookedly, and points at Yuri with his free hand. His aim is a little off. “All right! I like you too. You c’n hold your liquor.”
“Your standards,” Yuri decides, “are low.”
“An’ not just that, though.” Kotetsu puts his arm over Yuri’s knees and props his chin on it. “You’re smart. You remember lil’ — little things about people. You have…” Kotetsu squints, “…nice hair.”
“Are you ever going to change your beard?” Yuri blurts out.
“Eh? You think I should?” Kotetsu rubs a hand over the facial hair in question.
“No,” Yuri says after a moment’s careful (slow and drunken) deliberation. “You should leave it.”
They’re silent for a moment; Kotetsu’s eyes roam over Yuri’s face.
“Nothing.” Kotetsu rocks back, away from Yuri, and nearly topples over. “Oops. I just — old man, you know. Wandering mind.”
Yuri sighs irritably. “You’re not old.”
He knows from old.
Kotetsu stands up, swaying a little, then braces himself on the arms of Yuri’s chair.
“Should probably go,” he mumbles. “But hey, thanks for…for lettin’ me in. ‘M glad. Was worried.”
“Worried?” Yuri repeats. It comes out a little croaky; Kotetsu’s face is very close.
“Yeah. When you didn’t show up. Thought you were sick, or…I dunno. I worried. Wanted to see ya.”
He flashes another wide, silly grin — his way, Yuri has come to realize, of trying to deflect awkwardness or tension. Next thing he’ll be rambling on about how the first syllable of his name means Tiger and isn’t that something, because of his hero name and all…
“Shut up,” Yuri says abruptly, as if Kotetsu had actually started speaking, and grabs his (askew) tie, yanking Kotetsu’s head down. Their lips collide clumsily, and for a moment their mouths move awkwardly together, and then the shock wears off and the kiss is good — deep, and close, and Kotetsu’s hands are warm in Yuri’s hair. They’re both out of breath by the time they pull apart. Kotetsu is flushed and rumpled, and Yuri is dimly aware that Kotetsu has probably made a tousled wreck out of his hair.
“Wow.” Kotetsu says, after a tense pause. “So…you really like me, eh?”
“Yes,” Yuri says, and that’s all he can manage. For a wild moment he’s certain Maverick’s features are going to surface on Kotetsu’s face, that he’s going to open his mouth and say something about how dirty Yuri is, or desperate, or pathetic — throwing himself at Kotetsu like a slut —
He’s breathing too quickly, shocked out of the ugly vision by Kotetsu’s warm fingers at his chin, tilting his face up. Brown eyes stare down at him, hazy but concerned.
“Hey,” Kotetsu says gently. “It’s okay. I—“
He kisses Yuri carefully, not protesting when Yuri’s hands fist in his hair.
“The same,” Kotetsu mumbles when they part again. “It’s…it’s not what I was expecting but I feel the same. Y’know, I always kinda liked going to court….”
Yuri scoffs. He’s feeling remarkably sober all of a sudden, and his heart is pounding, but not in the sick, dreadful way he’s become accustomed to. He stands up as well.
“You’re ridiculous. Go home,” he says, but there’s no bite in it. Kotetsu has buried his face in Yuri’s neck, arms loosely wrapping around his waist.
“…Really nice hair. An’ you smell good,” he says, his voice muffled, then leans back. “Alright. ‘M going. Glad you’re okay.”
Yuri walks him downstairs.
“Do you need…should I call a cab?” he asks, a little hoarsely, remembering that Kotetsu had once offered the same thing.
“I’ll catch a bus,” Kotetsu says, walking backwards away from Yuri’s door. “And hey…Yuri…”
Yuri swallows. “Yes?”
Kotetsu points at him. “I’ll see you Friday. Maybe before. But definitely Friday.”
“Yes,” Yuri says again, and despite the cold he waits until Kotetsu rounds a corner before closing the door.