Kotetsu felt a little guilty about taking two whole days off for Kaede's upcoming visit, but the season had ended, and the producers had promised to call the heroes if there were any emergencies. And while he felt proud about being a part of the B-Team now, he probably wouldn't be called out if said emergencies did arise, since he usually dealt only with thieves and petty criminals. So he drank the fourth beer, reasoning it would be morally acceptable if he were hung-over tomorrow. He would be fine by the afternoon for Kaede's arrival.
Barnaby had drunk two beers already, and they were deep in conversation. Kotetsu had so much to say ever since Barnaby returned to working as a hero, but he could never find the words to say anything important, like how proud he felt that Barnaby had recently returned to the A-team. Instead, he just grinned and took another sip of his beer, admiring how Barnaby's hair--it had grown even longer over the last year--spilled over his face and shoulders, how his shirt stretched against his skin as he moved, how his long fingers wrapped around the beer bottle. Kotetsu's grin faded when he realized what he was admiring, and he suddenly wished he hadn't drunk the four beers. When he was drunk, he always thought too much about how Barnaby looked. He could at least distract himself from such things when sober.
"It's getting late," Barnaby said, glancing at the clock.
Kotetsu had no idea what time it was, since the clock wasn't digital. He had trouble reading old-fashioned clocks even when stone cold sober. "It can't be that late. I only just got here. And the movie only just started."
"The movie ended hours ago." Barnaby shook his head and started cleaning up the beer bottles, pretzel bags, and platter of leftover fried rice. The TV screen had turned blue, a sure enough sign their movie had ended, likely somewhere in the middle of their debate over the dubious merits of golf. "It's three o'clock in the morning."
"Oh." Kotetsu hadn't noticed the time go by. He'd been too busy simply catching up with Barnaby. They hadn't said anything important, yet it all seemed to matter--even when Barnaby mentioned that he'd found a new conditioner he liked. Kotetsu had missed a year of Barnaby's life, and that was a terrible thing, he now realized. "I guess I should leave, huh?"
"You could stay. I'll make up for a bed for you in the spare room."
"Hey, there's an idea! Thanks. I'll just clean up."
Barnaby nodded and handed him the trash. "It's the bedroom on the left." He disappeared, leaving Kotetsu to clean up.
As he picked up the rest of their trash, Kotetsu glanced around Barnaby's new apartment. The color scheme was still a grim gray and black, but the furniture seemed more comfortable, and there were more chairs for guests. The kitchen was larger, and stocked with more food--Barnaby had mentioned he'd taken up cooking after watching all the food shows on television during his year-long hiatus. Occasionally, the odd picture offered splashes of color to the place--a Picasso on one wall, and a picture of Barnaby and Kotetsu on the other. Kotetsu couldn't help but smile at it.
Barnaby hadn't returned, but it was late, and Kotetsu expected he'd already gone to bed. Reflecting he should do the same, Kotetsu headed into the bedroom on the left, already working his shirt off. Now that he knew the time, he did feel tired. He yawned as he opened the door and stepped inside. Just as he was about to throw himself on the bed, he froze. Barnaby lounged back against the pillows, apparently wearing nothing but the sheets. It took Kotetsu several moments to process that. Thinking was hard--not just from the four beers, but because Barnaby, with his creamy skin, taut muscles, and long blond hair trailing over his chest, looked like something out of Kotetsu's dreams, the kind that left him wrung out in a tangle of damp sheets.
"You're in the bed," Kotetsu finally said, his voice as strangled as his thoughts. His pants felt far tighter than he generally preferred--at least in public.
"Noticed that right off, did you?"
"But why are you in my bed?"
Barnaby lowered his gaze, his long eyelashes feathering against his cheeks. "Technically, it's my bed. This is my apartment."
Kotetsu took a moment to breathe, trying to will his erection away. "Did I go into the wrong room?"
"You want me to sleep in the other room?"
Barnaby sighed and stood up, wrapping the sheets around himself. His voice cracked out like a whip. "I guess I was wrong, then. I'll go back to my room." He headed to the door, his face turned away.
Wait, Kotetsu thought, wondering if Barnaby might have actually wanted Kotetsu to sleep in the bed with him. It had been so long since anyone hit on him that he forgot how these things worked. Kotetsu grabbed Barnaby about the waist, sucking in his breath at having an arm wrapped around Barnaby's warm skin. Barnaby froze and glanced at him, his eyes glistening in the light, his chin trembling. The extreme polarity of Barnaby's persona, either razor-tongued ice prince or wounded rabbit child, fascinated him. "Hey," Kotetsu whispered.
Barnaby said nothing. He just stared at him with those wide blue eyes, obscured only by his glasses. Kotetsu reached over and slipped them off so he could study Barnaby's face. Barnaby squinted back at him.
"I never said I wasn't interested," Kotetsu said, wondering why he continued to whisper. "I just never thought you would be interested."
Barnaby pressed his forehead against Kotetsu's. "I missed you."
Kotetsu felt even warmer, not just from the beer or the availability of Barnaby's taut flesh under his fingertips. He leaned closer to Barnaby, letting that warmth grow, and held him close. "So did I."
Barnaby slid a hand over Kotetsu's neck and kissed him. His lips felt soft, and Kotetsu wanted nothing more than Barnaby's hands touching him for the rest of his life. Kotetsu drew Barnaby to him, kissing back, suddenly desperate for the warmth and closeness. Barnaby tasted of peppermint mouthwash, beer, and Kotetsu's fried rice, yet he still tasted sweet.
When they drew back for air, Barnaby panted, his face flushed and his lips wet. "You really are a Wild Tiger," he murmured and pulled Kotetsu onto the bed with him.
Kotetsu laughed and pulled the sheet off Barnaby, so he could fully admire his prize. Kotetsu had never found the opportunity to ogle Barnaby in the men's locker room without seeming like a stalker, so this was the first time he was able to fully appreciate Barnaby's beauty. Everything about him seemed perfectly shaped. Kotetsu was so distracted that he didn't realize Barnaby was undoing his pants until Barnaby slid them off.
"Not bad, old man," Barnaby whispered, his gaze traveling up and down Kotetsu's body. Before Kotetsu could respond, he leaned forward to swipe his tongue over a nipple.
Kotetsu shivered and couldn't stop small noises from escaping his mouth as Barnaby began to lick his way down his stomach. Barnaby's tongue trailed all the way down, over Kotetsu's abdomen, through his pubic hair, and then--oh. Oh.
When Barnaby's mouth enclosed his cock, Kotetsu lost touch with reality. Barnaby sucked him until he cried out, but pulled off before he came. He felt rejected until Barnaby pressed a little bottle of lotion in his hands. He knew what Barnaby wanted, and he wanted it, too. Kotetsu's previous encounters with men had been limited to handjob exchanges, but it didn't take a genius to know how this worked.
The moment Kotetsu fully sheathed himself inside Barnaby, it all became so fierce, so hot, that Kotetsu felt as if he'd entered a new form of reality. The way Barnaby looked when Kotetsu thrust into his sweet spot, lips parting, long eyelashes fluttering against his cheeks, blond hair spilling across the mattress, burnt itself into Kotetsu's memories. Barnaby's fingernails dug into his back, adding a little spice to the pleasure. Moans filled the room, whether Barnaby's or his own, Kotetsu didn't know or care. They were all tangled limbs, sweat-slick skin, and breathy gasps, thrusting, sliding, stroking. Kotetsu hadn't felt this intense, this focused, this alive in years. Nothing else in his life had worked out quite right except for that moment, right then. His orgasm drowned out everything, everything except that feeling.
They collapsed on the bed together. Kotetsu felt so drained that the thought of moving seemed something that other people did, far away, on the other side of the galaxy. Barnaby pressed himself close, and Kotetsu fell asleep with the tickle of Barnaby's eyelashes fluttering against his cheek.
Kotetsu woke with a start. Barnaby mumbled something in protest and pulled the pillow over his head. The sun shone brightly through the window, making Kotetsu wince, despite the tinting on the glass. His head throbbed from the beer, and his back stung from Barnaby's fingernails the night before (it had seemed hot at the time, but now Kotetsu wondered if he needed tiny band-aids for his back). When Kotetsu glanced at the clock on the nightstand, he gasped.
Three o'clock. In the afternoon. He was supposed to have picked up Kaede at two.
"Shit!" Kotetsu cried, and flew out of the bed, desperately glancing about the room for his clothing. It seemed to have been tossed everywhere in his and Barnaby's haste last night.
"What's wrong?" Barnaby asked, sitting up and blinking blearily.
"I'm late to pick up Kaede from the train station!" Kotetsu couldn't find his underwear, and decided that pants would be sufficient. Since his shirt seemed to have vanished, he just grabbed Barnaby's. "I have to go." He finished dressing with whatever seemed to work, and then ran out of the apartment, leaving Barnaby in the bed, his mouth open.
By the time Kotetsu arrived at the train station, Kaede was sitting on a bench alone, her luggage piled up beside her. She shoved her hands inside her pink coat, and her eyes narrowed to dangerous brown slits at the sight of Kotetsu running up to her.
"It's four o'clock in the afternoon! I've been waiting for two hours. I called and called, but you never answered," she said, using a tone that suggested she found this a crime so heinous it placed only second to the time Maverick's men had held her hostage.
Kotetsu had forgotten his cell phone in his rush. "I'm sorry, so sorry!"
"I can't believe you! How could you leave me all alone here? What if someone kidnapped me? Or a gang of bank robbers escaped here and held everyone hostage? Or a terrorist bombed the train lines? Or a--!"
Kotetsu got on all fours and bowed before his daughter, not caring that he was in public and people might find his very Japanese method of apologizing strange. Kaede had a point--this was Sternbild City, after all. More insane things had been known to happen. "I'm sorry, Kaede, I really am. I didn't mean to!"
Kaede sighed, her breath puffing out into the cold air. "You never mean to. Just get up. You can apologize with ice cream."
Smiling a bit, Kotetsu grabbed Kaede's luggage and followed her out to call a taxi cab home. He made sure to stop at the store and buy her whatever she wanted--even if the expenses drained his wallet. As she brooded over ice cream choices, Kotetsu thought of Barnaby and frowned. He felt incredibly rude, just leaving like that, but he had to take care of his daughter. His ultimate responsibility should be to her, and no other.
Kotetsu walked with Kaede home. They didn't speak much, mostly because Kaede seemed embroiled in a contest to see if she could devour an entire pint of mint chocolate cookie ice cream before they arrived home. How she could eat something so cold when it was already freezing outside, he didn't know. Kotetsu shoved his hands in his pockets, regretting having stolen Barnaby's jacket and not his own. He figured Barnaby's cold tolerance must have been near superhuman, because Kotetsu was freezing. Maybe that was why Barnaby always felt so warm.
"That's a nice jacket," Kaede said, after half the pint of ice cream had disappeared inside her mouth. She looked suspicious. "Where'd you get it?"
"Eh, well…" Kotetsu panicked, wondering if Kaede had somehow accidentally touched a telepath and learned of what he did to Barnaby the night before. How could his daughter's innocence be maintained if she knew that the famous Barnaby Brooks had his thighs wrapped around her own father's waist as they--
"And why is your face turning red?"
Kotetsu clutched his face, pulling at his cheeks, trying to demand they return to their normal color. "No reason! No reason at all! The jacket was a gift! A gift!"
"Stop shouting!" Kaede shouted. She scrunched up her lips. "Whoever gave you that jacket has much better taste than you. And I'm glad you finally stopped wearing the hat."
Kotetsu clapped his hands onto the top of his head and discovered only hair. No wonder his head felt so cold; he'd forgotten his hat at Barnaby's. "I love that hat," he moaned.
Once they reached his apartment, Kaede headed right to the couch and sat down. She set the empty carton of her ice cream on the coffee table and looked at Kotetsu with such seriousness that he wondered if she'd grown ill.
"Please sit down, Dad. I have something to tell you."
Kotetsu's heart raced. "Is everything all right?"
Kaede blinked. "Of course it is. Now, sit down."
Knowing better than to disobey his daughter, Kotetsu sat down and studied her. At age eleven, she already seemed so grown-up to him. She was clever, like Tomoe, though he could never figure out where her temper came from. His hands shook a bit, wondering if something bad had happened. He'd never seen Kaede look so solemn.
"After seeing you return to work as a hero, I started to think about things," Kaede began. "I decided I want to move to Sternbild City and attend the Hero Academy. I want to be a hero, too. I talked to Grandma, and she agreed it was a good idea, especially since they'll teach me how to control my powers. By the time I graduate, I should be as old as Dragon Kid--which means I can apply to become part of the Hero TV cast."
Kotetsu's hands shook. Pride swelled his chest like a balloon, and he clutched his daughter to his chest. "You want to be a hero! Like your old man!" He began to laugh, feeling as if he'd just won the lottery.
"Leggo!" Kaede screamed, struggling. "I can't breathe!"
Kotetsu swiftly released his daughter and beamed, his smile threatening to split his face in two. "I'm so happy!" He felt a tear coming to his eye.
"Ugh." Kaede drew back. "Don't start acting ridiculous. I won't move if you're going to get all weepy about it. You want me to come, then?"
"Of course!" Kotetsu said, without thinking about it.
Once Kaede went to bed, Kotetsu sat back to watch some television. He could not concentrate on the late night comedy sketch show, it dawned on him that Kaede decision to become a hero changed everything. Everything. In a few years, he would have to worry over his daughter's safety as she faced foes. And he now had to rearrange his life around hers, and her schedule. And then there was the matter of Barnaby.
Kotetsu felt his heart sink. He'd just reconnected with Barnaby after a year apart, but Barnaby couldn't be the most important thing in his life right now. Kaede's newfound goal to follow in his footsteps seemed big--too big for him. He licked his lips and went to check on her. She slept soundly in his second bedroom, curled up beneath her blankets, mumbling something about cheese soup. Kotetsu stroked her hair, hair so much like her mother's. Kaede was his child, and Tomoe's. She needed to be the center of his life. He owed that to Tomoe, and he owed that to Kaede.
It was late, but Kotetsu knew what he must do. He set the alarms around his apartment and headed to Barnaby's apartment. This late at night, catching a cab wasn't so easy, and it took him over half an hour to arrive. Even so, when he knocked on the door, Barnaby answered immediately, bracing himself against the door and smiling.
Barnaby's smile quickly faded when he saw Kotetsu's expression. He dropped his arms to his side and studied him. "What's wrong?"
Kotetsu decided to stare at his feet. The sight of his feet didn't make him feel sick with regret. "I forgot my phone."
"Your phone. Was that the only reason you didn't call me?"
Staring at his feet wasn't working, so Kotetsu looked up. Barnaby stood in the door, his arms crossed, and his expression as cold as when they first met. Kotetsu licked his lips, wishing he could defrost that expression with a kiss, but if he did that, he would let Kaede down. "No."
Barnaby turned his face, glaring at the door jamb fiercely enough that Kotetsu was mildly surprised he didn't develop a second power and burn it to ash. "I was going to ask if you wanted to be my partner on the A-team again, but I guess I already know the answer."
Kotetsu stepped closer and reached for Barnaby, unable to stand it any longer. "Barnaby, listen. Kaede wants to live with me, she--"
"I couldn't care less. Do what you like. Hope you enjoyed the booty call." Barnaby slammed the door in his face, nearly crushing Kotetsu's hand.
It wasn't until Kotetsu had returned home and found Kaede still fast asleep, that he realized he'd forgotten his phone again.
The next morning, Kotetsu took a jog around the neighborhood, leaving Kaede to her bowl of sugary cereal and political talk shows (though he had to wonder if it were normal for eleven-year-old girls to watch such things). He could barely stand to look at her. It wasn't her fault that he had to end things with Barnaby before they truly began. She was just a child, after all, and she'd been in his life first. Kotetsu had to think of her feelings, too. What would she think if she discovered Kotetsu was bisexual and dating her favorite hero? And how could he split his time between his daughter and a lover? He had to choose one over the other, and Kaede had to win.
A truck drove by, its side panels advertising for Hero TV. On it, Barnaby was featured in lights, his return announced with big letters and a colorful background. A quote had been inscribed at the bottom: Wild Tiger 1 Minute is my inspiration for being a hero!
Kotetsu's eyes stung at the sight of the truck. As he watched it drive away, it occurred to him that he was a complete and utter idiot. He froze mid-jog and gaped at his own stupidity. Since he had stopped in the middle of a crosswalk, a couple of cars honked loudly at him, reaffirming his epiphany, and he darted back to the sidewalk. The cars rushed by, their noise filling his ears. He sighed and gripped his own hair, pulling until it hurt. How could he have been so stupid to not see the truth?
If he could be a hero even as his powers faded, then he could certainly be Kaede's father even with a partner. Both Kaede and Barnaby needed him.
When Kotetsu returned, he blinked when he found Barnaby standing in his living room. Though his apartment wasn't small, Kotetsu instantly felt crowded, especially since Kaede was standing by him, holding Kotetsu's phone. Barnaby glares at Kotetsu, his eyes cold enough that Kotetsu wondered if Barnaby had stolen Blue Rose's powers. Barnaby's ability to mimic superpowers with his glares seemed limitless.
"Mr. Brooks brought back your cell phone, Dad," Kaede said, beaming at Barnaby.
"So there'd be no excuse for you to return." Barnaby headed towards the door. "Keep the jacket. I never liked it."
Kotetsu held up his hands and tried to block Barnaby, feeling his heart race again. He couldn't lose this opportunity to make things right. "Wait, please, I want to talk to you," he begged.
"I don't want to talk to you," Barnaby spat, and tried to side-step Kotetsu.
Deciding to repeat his trick from two nights ago, Kotetsu caught Barnaby by the waist as he passed him. He held him tight, determined to not let him go. He could have both Barnaby and Kaede. He could make this work. He only had to convince them. "C'mon, Bunny. Let's talk."
"Don't call me Bunny!" Barnaby snapped, as if Kotetsu had pressed a button for an automatic response, and started to pull away.
Kaede blinked as her father wrapped an arm around Barnaby's waist; then her eyes widened, and she held up a hand to her mouth. "It's true? The Hero TV fan forums were right? You two really are homos?"
"What?" Barnaby asked, freezing mid-struggle as he glanced back at Kaede in apparent horror. "The fan forums are saying what about us?"
"I don't like that term, Kaede," Kotetsu said, his face heating.
"Oh, I'm sorry." Kaede glanced between Kotetsu and Barnaby. "If you two are gay--is that okay?--can we move in with Mr. Brooks? Your apartment smells like stale fried rice."
In for the spandex costume, in for the mechanical armor. Kotetsu took a deep breath and confessed: "I like women as well as men, Kaede. I don't know about Barnaby, but he's my partner, and that's all that matters. And our apartment is fine for now. I'll buy new air fresheners."
"Partner? Where do you get off calling me your partner, old man? I would never be partners with you!" Barnaby said, glaring hatefully. He would apparently require more convincing. Kotetsu could only be grateful that at least Kaede had taken things gracefully.
"Never?" Kotetsu gripped Barnaby more tightly, preventing him from escaping. "What do you call our previous partnership?"
"Unpleasant working conditions."
"The only thing that was unpleasant was your nasty attitude. You always act as if you know everything. And you in that ridiculous pink armor. I should have known immediately you were gay when you showed up in that suit."
"That is such a stupid stereotype. I didn't even pick the color. That was an executive decision."
"Probably made because they noticed your woman's haircut and thought the pink would suit you."
"At least I actually bother to take care of my hair. Look at your split ends!" Barnaby yanked out a hair. "Oh, and a gray hair, too. You need hair coloring."
"Ow!" Kotetsu cried. "Play nice! Bad Bunny, no carrot!"
"Since you two are arguing," Kaede said loudly, drawing both men's attention back to her, "I'm going to walk the dog."
"Dog?" Kotetsu blinked. "We don't have a dog."
"Because of my shock over your gay love affair with my idol, you decided to let me buy a dog with your credit card, so it could help me recover."
"Damn," Barnaby said, blinking at Kaede. "She's good."
Kotetsu glanced at Barnaby. "One moment." He kept his right arm around Barnaby's waist and fished out his wallet with one hand. He flipped it out and held it out to Kaede. "My Visa is maxed out, so try the MasterCard. There's a pet store down the street."
Kaede smiled and plucked out the MasterCard. She glanced at Barnaby. "I'm glad you're joining our family, Mr. Brooks. Please take care of my father. And don't let him dress himself anymore." Then she scampered out. She didn't look terribly shocked by Kotetsu's gay love affair, but if a dog made her happy, than a dog she would have.
"You shouldn't spoil her so much. You're going to wind up taking care of that dog."
"So now you have opinions on how to raise my daughter?"
"Why not?" Barnaby asked, his glare softer now, and his lips threatened to curve into a smile. He no longer resisted Kotetsu's grip. "You said I was your partner."
Kotetsu grinned, his heart thumping faster, and cupped Barnaby's beautiful face. His entire being felt light, as if Sky High had lifted him into the air with a gust of wind. "You always have been, since the day we met."
Kaede poked her head in from the foyer. "I'm not gone yet!"
Kotetsu jumped and bumped heads with Barnaby. "Sorry, sorry!" he cried, holding his sore nose.
Barnaby glared at Kotetsu as he rubbed his forehead. Then they both burst out laughing.
Kaede shook her head at them. "Men are so weird. Later!" she cried, and slammed the door behind her.
"So," Barnaby said, smiling at Kotetsu. It was his most beautiful expression, lighting up his whole face. Kotetsu decided Barnaby needed to do it more often.
"I'm sorry about yesterday. Temporary insanity. But I'm all better now."
Barnaby's smile faded. "Why don't you tell me about it?" He looked dead serious now, likely upset at Kotetsu for keeping his problems to himself and trusting Barnaby with them again. Kotetsu didn't like to burden people, but clearly, Barnaby wanted that burden.
Kotetsu sighed and sat down on the couch. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his thighs. "I was…overwhelmed. I was afraid of how Kaede might react, how I might handle things with you, with her, with being a hero, everything. I immediately panicked and thought I had to break it off before it began, and try to be good father. Then I realized I was an idiot. I mean, why can't I have it all? Who says I can't be there for both of you?"
Barnaby studied him. "You are an idiot," he snapped, but then his tone softened. "I don't know much about kids, but if you want help with her, I'll give it."
Kotetsu beamed. "Thank you."
"But I'm not walking the dog."
"That's all right. I'll take care of it. More importantly, I figure we have an hour before she gets back with it," Kotetsu purred, and pulled Barnaby onto the couch with him.
He had no intention of letting him back up any time soon.