Barnaby didn't think he and Kotetsu were particularly subtle about the fact that they were dating. Engaged, actually, because neither of them were casual people and after three years of partnership, it had taken all of four months of dating for Barnaby to decide this was it for him.
(It had taken him another two months to meticulously plan out the perfect proposal, which was promptly ruined when, two days before he'd intended to do it, Kotetsu had shuffled into the kitchen while Barnaby was making coffee, snuggled up behind him, and sleepily mumbled "Wanna get married?" into the back of his neck.)
(Apparently "Goddammit, Kotetsu" was not the response he'd expected.)
(Fortunately, Barnaby did get the chance to propose the way he'd planned, although they still argued about which one counted.)
Even though they hadn't officially come out, Kotetsu was a very tactile person and Barnaby had come to realize that he was as well, at least when it came to Kotetsu, and so if they were within reach, they were usually touching each other in some way.
What was mind-boggling was how many people thought it was platonic.
Kotetsu threw a magazine onto his desk and grumbled. "How can they think that's just friendly?"
Barnaby spared half a glance from his computer. "Are you reading tabloids again?"
Kotetsu scowled and shoved the magazine closer. "Look at that. Do you think that looks friendly?"
Barnaby sighed and turned his attention to the magazine. The page was open to a compilation of photos of celebrities "caught in the act"—of walking down the street or buying groceries, as far as Barnaby could tell. It took him a second to realize what Kotetsu had been looking at.
The picture in the top right corner was a picture of them, walking hand-in-hand and sharing a fond look. Well, Barnaby would have called it fond. Blue Rose probably would have called it "gazing at each other like love-struck idiots." Which, well...she wasn't wrong.
But the caption on the picture read "Best Friends! Wild Tiger and Barnaby Brooks Jr. enjoying the warmer weather."
Barnaby looked at the picture again, reread the caption, and raised his eyebrows. Friendly wasn't what he'd have used to describe that look, but then, he wasn't a paparazzo. "Well, you are my best friend."
"Hey, I'm your fiancé." Kotetsu tapped the picture. "I don't look at any of my friends like that."
Barnaby set it back on his desk. "It's just one picture in a magazine, Kotetsu."
Kotestu crossed his arms. "It's not just one magazine. There have been others saying the same thing."
Barnaby would have to take his word for it; he didn't pay much attention to what the magazines said. "We didn't exactly put out a press release when we started dating."
"Maybe we should've," Kotetsu muttered.
That was a surprise. They'd talked about coming out publicly shortly after they'd started dating, but had ultimately decided against it. Kotetsu was still irritated that people knew his real name now, and Barnaby was frankly tired of having his past and private life trotted out in front of everyone. It was nice to have something that was just his. Kotetsu's family knew, the other heroes knew, and Ben and Saito knew. As far as Barnaby was concerned, those were the most important people.
But if it was bothering Kotetsu this much, maybe they needed to revisit that conversation.
"Do you want to put out a press release?" Barnaby asked.
Kotetsu shook his head. "No, no, that's not what I meant!"
"So you just want people to magically realize we're together because we walk down the street holding hands?"
Kotetsu held up the magazine again. "Well, it looks like we are."
Barnaby sighed. "Try not to let it bother you so much. We're getting married soon. Surely they'll figure it out by then."
After all, there was no way people could be that dense.
Barnaby would never understand how some people in Stern Bild apparently lived to prove him wrong.
He generally ignored any publicity they did as soon as he was done with his part of it. He never checked up on what people were saying online, he never looked at interviews after they were published, and the only time he watched any interviews was if they came on while he'd been watching something else. It was part of his job and he didn't mind doing it, but once it was over, it was over.
But after the picture Kotetsu had shown him, Barnaby had gotten...curious.
He poked around in some old magazines, which wasn't hard to do—while he ignored everything, Kotetsu collected everything—and found that Kotetsu had actually been understating the problem.
Nobody seemed to have realized they were dating. It hadn't even been suggested. And the pictures were...well, while they weren't obviously romantic, it was also pretty clear that they were closer than just friends. More pictures where they were holding hands, a few where they had an arm around each other's waist, and one where Barnaby had Kotetsu's tie in his hand and he was pretty sure they'd kissed not long after that picture had been taken.
If Kotetsu had been seeing all of this for months, Barnaby could understand why he was getting frustrated.
Still, he put it out of his mind. They were getting married soon; inevitably someone would ask him about the ring, he'd say he was married to Kotetsu, and the matter would be settled.
Of course, that meant dealing with some annoyance in the meantime.
He and Kotetsu walked into the training center one day to see Fire Emblem and Blue Rose huddled around a phone and laughing.
"Hey, what's so funny?" Kotetsu asked.
Blue Rose immediately stopped laughing, but Fire Emblem waved his phone in the air. "Hey, handsome, did you know you and Blue Rose are getting married?"
Barnaby blinked. "We're what?"
"You're what?" Kotetsu echoed.
Barnaby snatched the phone to see what the hell they were talking about. It was halfway through a comment thread, and he scrolled back to the top to see what these people were commenting on.
It was a series of pictures from earlier that week, when he and Kotetsu had been getting fitted for tuxedos. The brief story underneath read:
An anonymous reader sent us these pictures of Stern Bild's favorite hero duo trying on tuxes! Is Barnaby finally off the market? Who could he be getting married to? We haven't seen any ladies in the picture, so we're taking a vote. Who do you think landed Barnaby Brooks Jr.?
When Barnaby tapped for the results of the poll, Blue Rose was winning by a massive margin.
He rubbed the bridge of his nose under his glasses. "You've got to be kidding me."
"Right?" Blue Rose said. "If I were going to date one of you, it wouldn't be you. No offense."
Barnaby looked up from the phone. "Oh, really?"
Blue Rose blushed and looked away.
Kotetsu took the phone out of his hand and flipped through the pictures. "Why do they assume you're the one getting married?"
"Because he's young and beautiful, and you're already wearing a wedding ring?" Fire Emblem suggested.
Kotetsu looked down at his left hand in surprise. "Oh. Yeah."
Barnaby sighed. He swore Kotetsu had worn it for so long he kept forgetting he had it on at this point. "And it doesn't occur to them the reason they haven't seen a lady in the picture is because there isn't one?"
Fire Emblem patted his arm sympathetically. "You know, handsome, if you were dating me, this wouldn't be a problem."
"Get your own boyfriend and quit hitting on mine," Kotetsu said. "Hey, Bunny, do you think I should switch to the gray tux?"
Barnaby peered over Kotetsu's shoulder at the pictures. "No, I like the black one better."
Kotetsu nodded and scrolled to the next picture. "I still say you should wear a tie."
Barnaby rolled his eyes. "I told you, I'm not wearing a tie."
"But it pulls the whole suit together!"
They'd had this ridiculous argument a half-dozen times already. Barnaby snatched the phone away and handed it back to Fire Emblem. "The ascot is fine and I like it better."
"You like my ties," Kotetsu grumbled.
"No, you like your ties. I like you wearing a piece of fabric I can drag you around with," Barnaby shot back.
Blue Rose jumped to her feet. "Ew. I really don't need to hear any more about your perverted kinks."
Fire Emblem rested his chin on his fist and batted his eyelashes. "Oh, I could stand to hear a lot more."
"No," Barnaby said.
"Oh, look, an open weight bench!" Kotetsu grabbed his arm. "Come on, Bunny."
Barnaby hadn't been nervous in an interview in—well, ever, to be honest, but this was his first television interview since he and Kotetsu had gotten married, and he was actually going to talk about it. A few nerves were to be expected.
He rubbed his thumb over the new gold band he wore. Even though he hadn't had it for very long, he was already loath to take it off.
The interview went well, touching base on a few of their more recent exploits, but the interviewer kept glancing at Barnaby's hand.
"I can't help but notice you're wearing a new ring," the interviewer said.
Barnaby nodded. "I am."
The interviewer's face lit up. "So the rumors are true! Who's the lucky lady?"
What was it with people and insisting there was a lady in the picture? "There isn't one," Barnaby said.
"Oh!" The interviewer sounded surprised. "Taking a page out of Tiger's book, are you? Not surprising, given how long you two have been partners!"
Barnaby was thrown. What in the hell was he talking about? "What do you mean?"
The interviewer waggled his ring finger. "Using a wedding ring to keep all the ladies off your back, huh? Don't worry, your secret's safe with us!"
There were a million things Barnaby could say to that comment. It was a televised interview, so even if he were wearing the ring for that reason, his "secret" would no longer be a secret. He was married, to Kotetsu, thank you very much. And if he were going to wear a wedding ring for the purpose of taking himself off the market, he would have started doing so when he'd first become a hero, rather than waiting until now.
What came out of his mouth was, "That's why you think Tiger wears a wedding ring?"
Something in his tone must have tipped the interviewer that he wasn't happy, because the TV smile slipped off his face.
He knew logically it was unlikely the man knew Kotetsu's history—even if most people knew he was Wild Tiger now, Kotetsu continued to be annoyingly adamant about keeping his private life as separate as possible from hero work—but it was still infuriating that he would assume Kotetsu was only wearing a wedding ring to keep people from dating him.
"He's never worn a wedding ring to keep people off his back," Barnaby snapped. "He's worn one because he was married and she passed away. Frankly, it's insulting to both him and her memory to insinuate he wears it for any other reason."
"Ah, you're right, you're absolutely right. And I'm very sorry." The interviewer scrambled with the papers on his desk. "Looks like that's all the time we had! As always, thank you for joining us, Barnaby."
"Thank you for inviting me," Barnaby said stiffly.
He'd just left the soundstage when he realized what he'd done. Barnaby knew Kotetsu didn't talk about Tomoe or their marriage, and yet he'd gone and blurted it out. In a televised interview, no less.
He leaned against the wall outside of the dressing room and took off his glasses so he could scrub a hand over his face. Damn it, they hadn't even been married a month and he was already messing it up. Kotetsu was going to be furious with him, and Barnaby couldn't blame him one bit.
His stomach sank at the thought of going into the dressing room to face Kotetsu now, but he didn't have much choice. Hiding in the bathroom would be a cowardly thing to do, even if the idea did appeal right now.
Barnaby took a deep breath, put his glasses back on, and straightened himself before he walked into the dressing room.
Kotetsu was sitting on the couch, and got to his feet as soon as Barnaby walked in.
"I'm sorry," Barnaby said immediately. "I shouldn't have lost my temper like that. And I don't have any business talking about your previous marriage." He looked away to a corner of the room. "I shouldn't have said anything."
He closed his eyes and waited for the reprimand Kotetsu was sure to have for him.
Instead, Kotetsu pulled him into a hug and kissed his cheek. "It's okay, Bunny."
Barnaby was not entirely sure what to do with that. He opened his eyes. "You're...not mad?"
"Of course I'm not mad," Kotetsu said.
Barnaby pulled back to look at him. Kotetsu was smiling, of all things. "Why are you smiling?"
Kotetsu tugged playfully at his hair. "You got so upset on my behalf that you forgot to mention we are actually married now."
Barnaby batted his hand away and went back over the interview in his head. Surely that was wrong. He'd spent the entire interview thinking about how he'd say it. He couldn't have forgotten.
But no, Kotetsu was right. Barnaby hadn't actually said anything about their marriage. How had he managed that?
Barnaby jabbed a finger at him. "Don't say a word."
Kotetsu kissed his temple. "That's the most adorable thing you've ever done, Bunny-chan."
Barnaby felt he should object to the nickname on principle, but he couldn't bring himself to. He was too relieved that Kotetsu wasn't upset with him. "I'm not adorable, old man."
"Not usually," Kotetsu agreed, and took his hand. "But this time, yes, you're very adorable."
Barnaby scowled, but Kotetsu just smiled wider and kissed the back of his hand. It was one of the few things he did that was guaranteed to make Barnaby melt every time, and this time was no exception.
"I really am sorry," he said, because even if Kotetsu wasn't angry, it hadn't been right to bring up his previous marriage like that.
"I know." Kotetsu kissed his hand again. "But I'm not mad. And besides, there'll be other interviews. We'll clear it up then."
Kotetsu landed hard on the pavement, wincing at how it jarred him even through the extra support of his suit. Then again, his powers had expired thirty seconds ago, and even with his wires to break his fall, humans weren't meant to jump out of a twenty-story apartment building.
At least he'd gotten the kid out.
He crouched down and helped her climb off his back. "Are you okay?"
The little girl, with huge dark eyes and her curly hair tied up in two puffs on her head, nodded. She couldn't have been more than four years old.
Kotetsu flipped up the visor on his helmet so she could see his face, and gave her an encouraging smile. "You were really brave in there, and you did a good job holding on to me so we could get out."
The girl's lip wobbled. "Where's my mommy?"
Oh hell. Kotetsu glanced around the massive crowd outside the burning building—civilians, journalists, firefighters, paramedics, and police officers. This could take some time. "I'm not sure where your mommy is. Can you tell me what she looks like so we can find her?"
"She's really tall," the girl said.
Tall. Okay. That wasn't super helpful, but he could make it work. Kotetsu straightened up. "Is she taller than me, or shorter than me?"
The girl burst into tears.
Crap, crap. Kotetsu knelt back down immediately. "Hey, it's okay, don't cry! We'll find her. We'll—"
"Tanya!" someone shouted.
A woman came running up to them and scooped the little girl up, and the girl threw her arms around the woman's neck and started crying louder. "Mamaaaa!"
Well, that had been way easier than he'd thought it would be.
Kotetsu stood up and left them to their reunion, and went looking for the Apollon Media van. He wanted to get out of his suit and he seriously needed a shower. And he needed to find—
He spun around at the sound of his name. "Bunny?"
Bunny was running up to him without his helmet on, and Kotetsu was about to ask him why when Bunny slammed into him and kissed him.
It was surprising and a little awkward—they were both still in their suits and even though Bunny wasn't wearing his helmet, Kotetsu was, and it wasn't really made for kissing—but Kotetsu did his best to kiss him back properly.
Bunny pulled back and stared at him with wide green eyes, searching Kotetsu's face like he was trying to memorize it. "You weren't answering."
"My radio got knocked out," Kotetsu said.
Bunny gripped his shoulders. "The building exploded. You were inside."
"Bunny." Kotetsu cupped his face and inwardly cursed that he still had his gloves on. "I'm fine. I got out."
"Kotetsu," Bunny said, in a tone Kotetsu recognized as meaning there was a minute when I didn't know that and it was a minute too long.
He swiped his thumb over Bunny's cheek and pulled him back in for another kiss, trying to say I'm okay, I'm here, you didn't lose me in a way that Bunny would understand right now. Bunny wrapped one hand around his wrist, like he was trying to hold Kotetsu right where he was. That was fine, because Kotetsu didn't want to be anywhere else.
He rested his forehead against Bunny's. "Come on. Let's get out of these suits."
They changed in the van, and Kotetsu hissed in pain as soon as he stepped onto the floor in just his bodysuit. That landing had really messed with his knees.
Bunny was right there to catch him. "Are you hurt?"
"I'm fine," Kotetsu said. Or at least, he would be as soon as he could spend a few minutes healing himself.
Bunny ushered him to the couch and ordered, "Sit."
Kotetsu sat and let Bunny check him over ("Does this hurt?" "No." "This?" "No." "This?" "N—ow!") until he looked satisfied that Kotetsu didn't have any life-threatening injuries.
"I told you I was fine," Kotetsu said.
Bunny gave him a flat look. "You've lied about that before."
"I'm getting better!" Kotetsu protested.
Bunny sighed and sat beside him, taking his hand and linking their fingers together. "I know. I just..."
He trailed off, but Kotetsu knew by now that this silence meant Bunny was trying to get his thoughts in order.
"You weren't responding," Bunny said again. "Then the apartment exploded, and I knew your powers had run out. It was almost an entire minute before the cameras found you."
Kotetsu frowned. "Saito could have told you I was okay."
"Yes, whether you were alive, but not whether you'd made it out," Bunny snapped. "Not if you were safe or if you were trapped somewhere in there and—" He cut himself off and exhaled sharply. "I know it's part of our job. But I don't want to lose you doing something reckless and self-sacrificing."
Ah, so that was the problem. Kotetsu could see why. It was a hero's job to protect people, and he had always been quick to put his own life on the line for that purpose. Maybe too quick, sometimes.
But protecting other people wasn't the only promise he'd made.
He rubbed Bunny's hand. "Hey, Bunny, look at me."
It took a second, but Bunny finally raised his head to meet his eyes.
Kotetsu smiled. "I know what it's like to lose the person most important to you. And that's a feeling I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, let alone you."
Bunny's breath hitched, and his eyes widened a fraction.
Kotetsu squeezed his hand. "I promise, I'll do everything I can to never put you through that."
He couldn't promise nothing would happen to him—and he knew Bunny would call his bluff as soon as he said anything like it, no matter how good his intentions—but he could do his best to take care of himself.
Bunny leaned over and kissed him, and Kotetsu caught him around the waist and pulled him into his lap. There. That was a much better angle.
He reached up so he could tangle his hands in Bunny's hair, twisting the curls around his fingers. Bunny made a little noise and sank into him, and Kotetsu smiled into their kiss.
"Hey, look on the bright side." Kotetsu scratched the back of Bunny's head. "You kissed me in front of everyone. Including all the Hero TV cameras."
Bunny rested their foreheads together. "And how is that a bright side?"
Kotetsu grinned. "That made it pretty clear we're not just friends."
He felt Bunny go still, like he was considering that. "Well, it's about time."
"WE'RE HERE," Saito bellowed over the intercom.
Kotetsu nearly jumped out of his skin.
"ARE YOU TWO FINISHED WITH THE SAPPY STUFF?"
"No!" Kotetsu yelled.
Bunny sighed and drew back. "Yes, we're finished. Thank you, Saito."
Kotetsu whined and tried to pull Bunny back down to him. "But Bunny—"
Bunny kissed his forehead. "We're home. We can continue this there."
Kotetsu made a face, but he let Bunny pull him to his feet. It probably would be better to continue this somewhere more private, anyway.
Kotetsu dragged himself out of bed the next morning to make coffee and call Kaede. Normally he called her whenever he got home from any hero work, but by the time he and Bunny had showered and collapsed in bed, it was after two a.m., and he'd decided to wait until it was at least daylight outside.
Although given the number of missed calls he had from his mother, his brother, and Kaede, he probably should've called before now. Hell, he even had a series of messages from Agnes, and he couldn't figure out if they meant "saving a toddler from an exploding apartment building was ratings gold" or "if you die doing stupid heroic shit on my watch I will kill you myself." Possibly both.
He sent Agnes a quick "sorry, Bunny already yelled at me" message and called home.
The phone had barely finished ringing once when Kaede answered. "Dad!"
He cringed at her tone. "Hey, Kaede—"
"You almost died!" she shrieked.
He held the phone away from his ear. "I didn't! I swear!"
"You didn't call!"
"It was two in the morning!"
"You promised you'd call!" Kaede shouted. "Dad, you promised."
He had promised, and he hadn't missed a single call until last night. Kotetsu put the phone on speaker so he could get coffee started. "I know. I'm sorry, Kaede. It was just late, and I didn't want to wake you up."
"Wake me up next time," she muttered. "I don't like only hearing from the TV that you're okay."
"Was it bad?" he asked. He didn't have any idea what they'd aired or how it had looked from the outside.
"They're showing the replay on TV right now," she said instead of an actual answer, which told him it probably had been. "How's Barnaby?"
"He's fine." Kotetsu flipped on the television, set the volume low, and went back to measuring coffee for the pot. "He's still in bed. He yelled at me last night."
"Good," Kaede said. "Someone else needs to."
Kotetsu scowled at the phone. "You know I can take care of myself, right?"
Kaede scoffed. "Barely. Grandma says you still don't eat enough vegetables."
Bunny came downstairs and kissed his cheek. "Tell your grandmother he eats a lot more vegetables now. Morning, Kaede."
"Hi, Barnaby!" she chirped.
Kotetsu rolled his eyes and handed the phone to Bunny with a return kiss. "Here, tell my kid I'm okay while I finish coffee."
Bunny took the phone off speaker and put it to his ear. "He's really fine. He's not just saying that. Yes, I promise. Didn't you get my message last night?"
Kotetsu poured the water in and hit the button on the coffee maker, and turned back to the TV to see what had aired last night. He caught the broadcast right as the floor of the apartment building exploded, and it was almost forty-five seconds before the camera switched to find him swinging down from the back of the building with the girl.
Forty-five seconds was an eternity in that situation. No wonder Bunny had been frantic.
He was about to go apologize again when the picture cut to him and Bunny and their kiss. Huh. That was a lot...more of a kiss than he'd thought it had been at the time.
Your daughter probably saw that, his brain helpfully reminded him, and Kotetsu winced.
The replay switched back to the two anchors with the morning news show.
"And last night was certainly an exciting one for Hero TV!" the female anchor said.
"It really was," her co-anchor agreed. "I have to say, I did not expect that reunion between Tiger and Barnaby, either."
"I know," the female anchor said. "Honestly, it's refreshing to see they're so comfortable in their friendship to show that level of affection."
Kotetsu choked on nothing. "What?!"
"I agree. I don't know many men who'd kiss their friends like that, but then, I don't know many friends who are as close as Tiger and Barnaby clearly are," her co-anchor said.
"Because we're married, you idiots!" Kotetsu shouted at the television.
Bunny rested a hand on his shoulder. "Kotetsu, calm down."
Kotetsu gestured helplessly at the television, where the anchors were still talking about their friendship. "We kissed on live television. Twice."
"You'd have to have a very understanding girlfriend for that!" the co-anchor said with a laugh.
Bunny closed his eyes and pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose, a gesture Kotetsu was very familiar with because it was usually directed at him. "This is absurd."
"I'm starting to rethink that press release," Kotetsu grumbled.
Bunny sighed and kissed the side of his head. "We have three interviews set up for tomorrow. We can clear things up then."
"I hope that works." Kotetsu crossed his arms. "Because otherwise I might have to blow you in the street for them to figure it out."
Bunny groaned. "Please don't."
Kotetsu stared at the schedule Bunny had handed him as soon as they'd gotten in the company car. "I thought you said we had three interviews today."
"We did," Bunny said, tucking his own list into his pocket. "Lloyds added a couple."
"A couple?!" Kotetsu shook the paper. "There are seven! Do we even have time to eat lunch?"
Bunny tapped a space halfway down the page. "We can pick something up on our way to the fourth interview."
Kotetsu sat back in his seat and scowled at the schedule. "This is ridiculous. I should be taking it easy. I almost got blown up two days ago."
Bunny leveled a glare over his glasses. "That's why we have seven interviews."
"So we're going to be telling the same story seven times today, for seven different places."
Bunny closed his eyes and sighed. "People want to see you're okay for themselves."
Some of them might, but Kotetsu wasn't actually naïve enough to believe they all felt that way, despite what Bunny might think. Besides, he was pretty sure what Bunny meant was I'm still scared at how close I came to losing you.
He took Bunny's hand and brushed a kiss across the knuckles, and then let their hands rest on the seat between them. "Sorry I'm so much trouble, Bunny-chan."
Bunny looked down at their hands, a small smile on his face. "I knew what I was getting into, old man."
Kotetsu tugged his hand, and Bunny slid across the backseat and rested his head on his shoulder, and Kotetsu pressed his face into Bunny's hair. This was one of his favorite things: the moments where it was just the two of them, when he could hold Bunny close just like this. It made the annoying parts of their job bearable when they got to do them together.
And hey, today they'd finally get people to understand they were married. That was a pretty good silver lining.
The car pulled up at the building for their first interview, and he reluctantly lifted his head. Bunny made a disappointed noise, but he sat up as well.
They walked into a conference room, where they met a chipper young woman holding a notebook and a recorder. She introduced herself as Kimberly—"a huge fan!"—and they got started.
Kotetsu had never been that great with interviews, although he'd been forced to get better after partnering with Bunny. Now, though, interviews were one of the few times he was content to let Bunny take the lead.
Granted, he couldn't do it as much with this interview, because she had a lot of questions about what he'd been thinking inside the building and that wasn't exactly something Bunny could answer for him, but Kotetsu was still happy to let Bunny handle most of the questions. He gave better sound bites, anyway.
"That was certainly quite a reunion between you two the other night," Kimberly said slyly.
Bunny actually blushed.
"So what did your wife have to say about that?" she asked.
Kotetsu took Bunny's hand and squeezed it. "Oh, I didn't mind. I know he was worried about me."
"Relieved," Bunny said. "Relieved you made it out of the building safely."
Kotetsu grinned. "Eh, same thing."
Kimberly laughed. "That doesn't exactly answer my question."
"Yes, it does," Bunny said. "You wanted to know how the person I'm married to felt about me kissing Tiger on television, and he just told you."
Kotetsu waved with his free hand. "He means me. Because we're married."
"Wait," Kimberly said. "You're married to each other?"
Bunny nodded. "Yes. For just over a month now."
"Wow," she said. "That's great! I'd heard about best friends getting married, but I hadn't met anyone who'd actually done it."
Kotetsu blinked at her. Sure, he and Bunny had been friends before they'd started dating, but somehow he didn't think that was what she was talking about. "Wait, what?"
She waved her hand. "Oh, you know. People can't find a romantic partner, so they get married to their best friend. I know some people think it's weird, but I think it's kind of sweet, you know?"
Kotetsu glanced over at Bunny, who looked just as stunned as he felt. "But that's not what we did!" Kotetsu said.
"My best friend and I talked about it, but we weren't sure whether to go for it. I mean, what if we met someone else?" Kimberly continued as if she hadn't heard him. "Was that a concern for you?"
"No," Bunny said firmly. "I want to spend the rest of my life with Kotetsu. There isn't anyone else for me."
Kotetsu knew that, obviously; they were married. But it still did something to him to hear Bunny state it so bluntly. Like it was a fact as clear as the color of the sky.
He rubbed his thumb along Bunny's hand. "Me, too."
That earned him one of Bunny's small, soft smiles.
"That's so great to hear." Kimberly stood and stuck her notepad in her purse. "I am definitely going to talk to my friend about it. And hey, the tax benefits will be awesome."
"But that's not why we—we're actually married!" Kotetsu protested.
"And congratulations!" Kimberly said. "I'm sorry to rush out, but I have another appointment in fifteen minutes. Have a great day!"
With that, she was out the door, leaving them alone.
Kotetsu gaped at the swinging door and then shook his head in disbelief. "I can't believe that just happened. I really am going to have to blow you in the street, aren't I?"
Bunny sighed. "At this point, I'm not sure even that would work."
Barnaby checked his phone for the time and hurried into the train station. The photo shoot had run long, but he still had a few minutes before the train was supposed to get here. Hopefully it hadn't arrived early.
It was just pulling into the station when Barnaby reached the platform, and he searched the disembarking travelers for Kaede. He hoped she'd made it okay; it was a long trip.
He turned at the sound of his name. Sure enough, Kaede was running toward him, her overnight bag bumping against her back with every step.
Barnaby smiled. "Hey, Kaede."
She slowed to a stop when she got near him. "Where's Dad?"
Barnaby held out his hand to take her bag. "At home, probably getting started on dinner. I had a shoot downtown, so I said I'd pick you up."
Kaede lit up. "Is he making fried rice?"
Barnaby snorted and hefted her bag onto his shoulder. "Does he ever make anything else?"
"I thought you said he was learning to make other things," Kaede said.
Really, it was more like Barnaby was learning to cook more things and he was occasionally forcing Kotetsu to learn with him. "He is, with lots of complaining. Apparently I'm the weird one because I don't want to have fried rice for every other meal."
"Aw, but Dad makes really good fried rice."
"He does," Barnaby agreed. Kotetsu was only making it tonight because Kaede had requested it. "But you try having it three days a week for two months and see if you want something different."
A woman nearby smiled at them. "Oh, it's so nice of you to pick up your friend's daughter. I wish I had friends I could count on like that."
Barnaby really, really wished people would keep their comments to themselves, but he took a deep breath to—politely—correct her assumption.
Kaede whirled on the woman before Barnaby could utter a word. "Excuse me? He's my stepdad. This is part of his job."
"Oh!" The woman sounded surprised, and she drew back a little, like she hadn't expected Kaede to be the one to respond. "Of course. Because—"
"Because he's married. To my dad," Kaede cut in. "Because my dad likes boys."
The woman's eyes doubled in size.
"Kaede," Barnaby said, hoping to warn her off.
"Sorry," Kaede said to him, and then turned back to the woman. "Barnaby likes boys, too."
His face heated. "Kaede!"
"They're really married," Kaede continued, with a step toward the woman. "Not friendship married. Romantic married. Dad has two wedding rings now, because one was my mom's and the other is Barnaby's, because my dad's a romantic doofus."
At some point in the past few seconds, everybody within earshot had stopped and turned to them, and now Barnaby was very aware that all eyes were on them. He was also aware that he was probably as red as a tomato.
"Quit saying they're just friends! They're husbands!" Kaede shouted.
Barnaby grabbed her around the waist. "Okay, that's enough."
He did not sprint off the platform, precisely, while hauling Kaede away. But he definitely walked very, very quickly.
Kotetsu had just about finished making dinner when he heard the door slam. "Hey, you have good timing! Bunny, can you get the bowls?"
He gave the rice one last good stir and turned off the stove, and looked up to see Kaede standing in the living room, looking stricken.
He had two seconds to think oh God something happened to Bunny before Kaede said, "I think Barnaby's mad at me. He said he was going for a walk?"
Kotetsu exhaled in relief and wiped his hand over his face. "Going for a walk" was Bunny-speak for "I need some time alone to think about things." The apartment didn't exactly have a lot of space for space, so after Bunny had moved in with him, he'd taken to walking the neighborhood whenever they had an argument and he needed to cool off.
"That's fine," Kotetsu said. "He does that. He'll be back soon." He started to go back to dishing up dinner when the rest of what Kaede said clicked with him. "Wait, why do you think Bunny's mad at you?"
Kaede shifted her weight and didn't meet his eyes. "He was picking me up at the train station and this lady made some comment about how nice it was that he was looking after his friend's daughter. I got angry."
Kotetsu raised his eyebrows. "And what did you say?"
"That you like boys and Barnaby likes boys and people should quit calling you friends when you're married," she mumbled.
Well, none of that was wrong, and all of it was stuff he and Bunny had been trying to tell people for months now without success. Besides, he couldn't imagine Bunny actually being angry at Kaede over that. Embarrassed, maybe, depending on how many people had overheard her and how it had sounded, but not angry.
He walked to the couch and tugged on Kaede's ponytail. "Why don't you go ahead and get some dinner, and I'll go check on Bunny?"
Kaede leaned against him. "Do you think he hates me?"
"What? No!" Kotetsu dropped his arm around her shoulders. "No way. I'm sure it's fine. He just needs a little bit of time to think things over. I'll go talk to him, okay?"
Kaede nodded. "Okay."
He found Bunny in the community garden a few blocks away. Kotetsu had known it was there, although he'd never visited it until it had become one of Bunny's favorite spots to go when he needed space. Now he was over here at least once a week.
Bunny was sitting on one of the wooden benches scattered throughout the garden, twirling a pink rose between his fingers.
Kotetsu sat on the bench beside him. "Hey, dinner's ready."
Bunny stopped twirling the flower and set it on Kotetsu's knee. "Did Kaede tell you what happened?"
Kotetsu picked the rose up and tucked it behind his ear. "Yeah, she did."
Bunny sighed and leaned back on the bench, looking up at the sky. "It's ridiculous to get embarrassed when she just said the same thing we've been trying to say for months."
Kotetsu draped his arm along the back of the bench. "There's a difference between trying to come out in an interview and your kid shouting that you're gay in the middle of the train station."
Bunny raised an eyebrow. "How do you know she shouted it?"
Kotetsu pointed at himself. "Really? She's my kid. If she didn't shout it, I'd be shocked."
Bunny groaned and buried his face in his hands. "I think everybody in the station heard her."
Kotetsu rubbed his back. "I'm sorry."
Bunny slid over until he was resting against Kotetsu's side, and Kotetsu put his arm around Bunny's shoulders. The sun was setting, bathing bits of the garden in golden light, and somewhere in the bushes behind them, a bird chirped. It was a peaceful place. Kotetsu was glad Bunny had found it.
"I suppose it's too much to hope nobody got that on video," Bunny said.
Oh hell, Kotetsu hadn't even considered that. "Uh...there's always a chance they didn't?"
Bunny scoffed. "Don't lie to make me feel better."
"Hey, it's not a lie!" Kotetsu argued. "It might not be much of a chance, but that doesn't mean there isn't one."
Bunny laughed softly and kissed his cheek. "We should probably go back and get dinner."
"Mm." Kotetsu turned his head so he could return Bunny's kiss properly. "Or we could stay out here for a little while."
Bunny narrowed his eyes. "Your daughter is in town. To see you."
"To see us," Kotetsu reminded him. "And I'm pretty sure she's old enough now that she won't burn down the apartment if we leave her alone for half an hour."
Bunny shook his head and stood up, lacing his fingers through Kotetsu's and pulling him off the bench as well. "Come on."
Kotetsu let Bunny pull him along, but tugged him to a stop before they left the garden. "Hey, Bunny. Are you okay?"
Bunny looked down at their hands, brow furrowed like he was collecting his thoughts. "It's frustrating to have someone else share information about my personal life without my consent," he finally said. "But I understand why Kaede said it. I was about to say something similar. You two are my family now, and it bothers me that nobody sees that, even when I've told them repeatedly." He smiled softly. "The first thing she said to the woman was that I was her stepdad and looking after her was my job."
He still sounded a little awed by that—just like he had after they'd gotten married and Kaede had shouted "I have two dads now!" at anyone who was close enough to listen—and it was enough that Kotetsu had to kiss him right there. They'd had a lot of bumps—okay, maybe some of those bumps had been more like giant potholes—but Bunny and Kaede getting along had never been a problem, and for that, Kotetsu was beyond grateful.
He took the rose out from behind his ear and tucked it behind Bunny's. "Here. Pink's more your color, Bunny-chan."
Bunny blushed very satisfyingly, and didn't bother correcting him.
They'd made it all the way through dinner without incident and Barnaby had the brief, hopeful thought that maybe no one had recorded Kaede's outburst. That thought lasted until Kotetsu's phone rang while they were doing dishes, and Ben let them know there was a video going viral they probably wanted to see.
Barnaby didn't watch the video so much as he watched Kotetsu watch it and tried to gauge his reaction. Kaede sat at the table, homework spread across it, her eyes darting between the two of them like she was about to vibrate out of her skin.
"Technically, I like boys and girls," Kotetsu said when the video finished playing.
Of course that was what he'd focus on. Barnaby elbowed him out of the way and went back to washing the dishes. "The salient point, in this case, is that you do like boys."
"Mm." Kotetsu bumped their shoulders together. "I like you, Bunny-chan."
"Considering that we're married, that's probably a good thing, old man," Barnaby said dryly.
Kaede looked between the two of them. "So...you're not mad?"
Kotetsu pocketed his phone with a shrug. "I've been trying to come out for six months. If this is what finally works, it doesn't bother me. But don't make a habit of shouting 'my dad likes boys' in the middle of the train station, okay?"
"I won't, I promise," Kaede said, and then a little more hesitantly, "Barnaby?"
"I'm not mad," Barnaby assured her.
Kaede gave him a little smile and went back to her homework.
Barnaby tossed a dish towel at Kotetsu. "Here. Make yourself useful."
"Hey, I cooked," Kotetsu protested, but he took the towel and started drying the dishes.
They lapsed into a companionable silence, with Kaede working on her homework and Kotetsu humming to himself as he put away the dishes. It was something Barnaby was still getting used to, even though he and Kotetsu had been living together for months now. He didn't mind it; far from it, he actually liked living with someone else, liked the silences that weren't lonely or awkward. But after so many years living by himself, it took some adjusting.
Kotetsu leaned into his side. "Are you really okay?" he asked, quietly enough that Kaede probably wouldn't hear it over the running water.
And then there were moments like this. For all that Kotetsu could be a bit dense, he was also intensely aware of Barnaby in a way that no one else ever had been. He genuinely cared, and always had, even before they were friends, let alone had started dating.
That made it a hundred times easier to deal with clueless interviewers, nosy friends, and one very loud and opinionated daughter.
Barnaby kissed his cheek. "Yes, I'm okay."
Before the weekend was out, they had another slew of interviews set up, this time to clear the air. Given the comments he'd seen online courtesy of Kaede and Kotetsu, Barnaby was fairly sure things would go much more smoothly this time.
Then again, he'd thought that before, so he should probably just wait until the interviews were over and he saw what was printed and broadcast.
"Well, we seem to have been operating under some kind of misunderstanding for the past few months," the first interviewer said after they shook hands.
"Gee, you think?" Kotetsu said.
One of these days, he would get Kotetsu to think before he spoke in interviews. Barnaby nudged him. "At least it's been cleared up now."
The interviewer glanced between them and gave him a slightly nervous smile. "So why didn't you come out before?"
"Well, since I was dating a man, engaged to a man, married a man, and then kissed him twice on live television, I thought I had made it pretty clear I wasn't straight," Barnaby said with a smile.
The interviewer laughed. "In retrospect, it does seem pretty obvious. But you two have always been close!"
Kotetsu covered his mouth and coughed. "I don't know about you, but I don't usually kiss my friends after a near-death experience."
"But you, Tiger, we didn't have any idea you were gay!" the interviewer said.
"I'm not gay," Kotetsu said. "I'm bisexual."
The interviewer frowned. "But you're married to a man."
"Yes, and previously I was married to a woman," Kotetsu said. "As Bunny told everybody. Loudly."
Barnaby glared at him, and Kotetsu gave him a cheeky grin in return.
"So you used to be straight," the interviewer said, sounding relieved.
"No. Bisexual," Kotetsu said slowly. "I've always been bisexual. It means I'm attracted to both women and men. That doesn't change with my relationship."
The interviewer's frown was back. "But...you're gay now, right?"
Kotetsu looked like he was ready to beat his head against the wall.
"The point is that neither of us is straight," Barnaby cut in, taking Kotetsu's hand. "And our relationship isn't platonic, and hasn't been for a long time."
"Of course," the interviewer said. "Let's move on, shall we?"
"Let's," Barnaby agreed.
"Please," Kotetsu said under his breath.
The rest of the interview went much better, and it wasn't long before they were out the door and on their way to the next one.
"I had no idea bisexuality would be harder for them to get than us being married," Kotetsu grumbled as they walked back out to the car.
"They understood that eventually," Barnaby said. "They'll understand bisexuality, too."
Kotetsu rolled his eyes. "Maybe when Kaede shouts it in the middle of a restaurant."
Barnaby scoffed. "As long as you're the one with her that time."
Kotetsu took his hand, threading their fingers together. "How long until our next interview?"
Barnaby checked his phone. "About an hour, why?"
"Want to go get a milkshake?" Kotetsu winked at him. "We can split one."
"And what if I don't want to split one?" Barnaby asked.
"Mm." Kotetsu lifted their hands and kissed Barnaby's wedding ring. "Then I guess I'll just have to buy you your own."
Barnaby lost his battle with the fond smile spreading over his face. But then, Kotetsu always had a way of doing that to him.
He caught movement out of the corner of his eye and glanced across the street to see a paparazzo with a giant camera propped up on the roof of a car.
His first instinct was to roll his eyes and pull Kotetsu into their car, but he paused. They'd had enough misunderstandings because of those damned paparazzi photos; Barnaby wasn't going to risk another one when they'd just finished getting everything settled.
He dragged Kotetsu toward him and kissed him much more thoroughly than he usually did when they were in public. Kotetsu made a soft noise of surprise, but he went with it.
"So I'm not complaining," Kotetsu said when Barnaby broke it off to breathe, "but what was that for?"
"There's a camera," Barnaby said.
Kotetsu looked behind him. "There is? Wait, you're kissing me in front of a camera?"
Barnaby's face heated. "Let them try and say that's platonic."
Kotetsu's mouth twitched, like he was fighting a smile. "Are you just kissing me to prove a point, Bunny?"
"I'm kissing you because you're my husband," Barnaby said. "And if they get enough pictures of us kissing, maybe someone will think to caption it with something other than 'just friends.'"
"I see." Kotetsu brushed a lock of hair away from Barnaby's face. "So should we kiss again, just to be sure?"
"Mm." Barnaby rested their foreheads together. "That's actually one of your better ideas, old man."
"Hey, I have great id—"
Barnaby kissed him again before he could finish the protest.