Barnaby can barely stand. He's tired, and he's still not sure who he is, and the man with the answers, the man whose bed he woke up in not two days ago, confused and dizzy, has just lobotomized himself. He wants to stagger off into a corner and just sleep for a week, sleep forever. If he's honest with himself, he wants Kotetsu to come with him, and that's why he doesn't dare, because he knows he will be alone if he does.
As the others stand around awkwardly and Kotetsu introduces them to Ben, while Saito congratulates them on their valiant battle, Barnaby wavers, his attention drifting to the shop corners not far from here, flashing lights, Christmas displays and music blaring through the night air. For most of his life, Christmas has been no comfort to Barnaby. Today it just leaves a sour taste in his mouth.
A hand he can barely feel through the thick padded and metal exoskeleton of his suit squeezes his fingers, and a faraway angel's voice carols to him: "Mister Barnaby? Are you okay?"
When he looks down, he's looking at Kotetsu's daughter and he knows her, he remembers her face. But not where he's seen it. She looked happy then; she looks anxious now, and a little blurry and he knows it's because he's tired that the tears come so easily but it's still embarrassing when trying to make them stop only makes it worse. Unlike her father, Barnaby does not lie very easily, except by omission. So he doesn't say anything.
She is not impressed, and with strength that startles him, she pulls him to his knees, her eyes briefly gleaming blue. "You're hurt," she points out casually, as he chokes on the sudden drop and kneels before her, pain lancing along his thigh. It makes his head spin. He shuts his eyes and lets her touch his forehead, checking for fever. "You should let us help you," she says. Kaede's voice is so soft and familiar, he wishes he could remember where he's heard it before.
Rather than answer, Barnaby lets his head drop in acknowledgment, and when she gently nudges him back to his feet, she helps him walk to the nearest car. Without regard for the adults around her, she orders them to take Barnaby to the nearest hospital because he's injured, and that draws attention back to him. He almost wants to laugh when Kaede fends them all off like an angry mother bear defending its cub-- even her own father-- and charges the cameraman and producer to get him taken care of, since it's their car.
He must sleep, at some point, because the next thing he remembers is waking up briefly with a shout on his lips, surrounded by doctors who are holding his legs in place while they put some breathing mask over his face. He breathes deep, and slowly Barnaby drifts off to some half-aware place where he knows that the doctors are reconnecting the severed femur that he's aggravated. They mutter about maybe needing to put in a metal bridge to fill in the hole left there. They sigh about how it wouldn't have been so bad if he hadn't kept walking and fighting on it. Maybe they scold him at some point for being reckless. He thinks maybe they do. He can't focus enough to explain that he was sort of panicking and the adrenaline had kept him from feeling it so much, at first.
It doesn't really matter: Barnaby knows he is in good hands, even if he doesn't know much of himself, and he feels safe enough to sleep, so he does.
He wakes up again to Christmas carols, and well-wishers and people who want to celebrate Christmas. Paperwork and exit interviews and heartbroken fans and understanding but still depressed fans and the other Heroes for a breather. By the time it's nearly sunset, Barnaby feels delirious and has to take painkillers just to keep going through his day.
At some point he tries to call Kotetsu but there's no answer. And neither Kotetsu nor Kaede are among the faces that visit him before he's discharged from the hospital at noon. Everywhere he goes, he is assaulted by carols and flashing lights and excited children with their parents, laughingly playing in the wintry weather. He can't move fast and he's been admonished not to activate his NEXT until the bone is fully healed; so he limps down to the street when he's finally done with Apollon-- this time, he thinks, forever-- with his hands shoved in pockets that feel alien. Who is 'Barnaby Brooks Junior'? Would he wear this jacket and this black t-shirt and these pants? The boots? He's not sure. How much is real, and how much is something he became, for Maverick's sake?
Barnaby is so lost in his thoughts, it takes the insistent honk of a car horn to draw his attention. He freezes on the front steps of the building, looking up in confusion to find Kaede dashing to his side and, behind her in an embarrassing green minivan, Kotetsu waving him on.
"We caught you!" Kaede says happily, squeezing his hand in hers. His fingers are a little cold, hers so warm it makes him envious. She thrusts a cane at him with her other hand, and winks. "It took me a while to get it right, but Dad said this is a great way to practice using Hundred Power!"
Barnaby blinks, answering, "This?" and looks down at the cane to find that it is not carved and polished from wood, as he thought. It has been hewn into the shape of a cane by, he can only imagine, a tiny chisel, so delicate that it feels smooth to the touch, now, though to look at it one can tell it is not. Little details suddenly make sense. Kaede's current exhaustion; Kotetsu being gone all day; the hundreds of thousands of tiny cedar chips in Kaede's hair. He brushes some of them away with a faint smile, resting his weight on his left hand and the cane. Squeezing her fingers with his right, he says, "Thank you very much, Kaede. It's just what I needed."
"Yeah! Now come on! Dad says Mister Fire Emblem is making dinner!"
She drags him along, and Barnaby finds that he goes without complaint. His chest feels strangely tight, and maybe it's weird to be so happy and so sad all at the same time, but he can't stop it from happening. Part of him can barely meet Kotetsu's eyes for fear of seeing another unspoken secret lurking there. There are a lot of things he has to sort out for himself, a lot of questions that Barnaby himself may be the only one to have answers to. But 'who is Barnaby, exactly' can wait for a little while, maybe. And 'do I really hate Christmas?' is still up in the air.
Maybe the smell of cedar and a dinner at Fire Emblem's mansion of a house can be his new Christmas memory.
Maybe Kaede's hand squeezing his and Kotetsu's weary smile can join those thoughts of family.