Barnaby walked out onto the back porch, glass of wine in hand. The last rays of sunlight were fading from the sky, making way for the moon and stars, and fireflies blinked in and out of existence above the garden. It was noisy out here, but in a different way than Stern Bild. No cars or sirens or people, but the rustle of wind in the trees mixed with the chirps of crickets and locusts and frogs.
He set the glass on the porch beside him and leaned back to look at the stars. He'd never be over how much brighter they were out here, how many more there were out here. The only way to see stars in Stern Bild was to drive out to the bluffs around the city, but even then, the light pollution still kept them from seeing much.
But from the back porch of Kotetsu's mother's house, it seemed like he could see halfway across the galaxy.
Barnaby took a deep breath and sighed. He missed being in the city—and having a bathtub large enough to accommodate his legs—but he liked visiting Kotetsu's family.
Behind him, the door slid open and footsteps strode across the porch. They were too heavy to be Kaede's or Anju's, which told Barnaby it was Kotetsu even before he heard the ukulele.
"I'm not sharing my wine," Barnaby said without looking back.
"Hey, how did you know it was me?" Kotetsu said. "You could've been offering my daughter wine."
"Your daughter doesn't play the ukulele," Barnaby reminded him. "And I said I wasn't sharing."
Kotetsu dropped onto the porch beside him, ukulele in hand, and grinned. "It's been six months since we were here. She could've picked it up."
"You talk to her every day," Barnaby said. "She would've mentioned it."
Kotetsu scoffed and strummed a few different chords, which was his way of saying Barnaby was right without admitting it out loud. He picked at the strings, the notes floating off into the night air.
Barnaby tipped his head back to look at the stars right above them. "Play a song."
Barnaby shrugged. "One you'll sing."
Kotetsu grumbled. "Ah, you don't want to hear me sing—"
"Yes, I do," Barnaby cut him off. "That's why I asked."
There was more grumbling, but thankfully Kotetsu didn't argue with him again. Instead, he picked at the ukulele in the way he did when he was trying to think of which song to play.
He'd spontaneously taken up the ukulele because he'd complained about being bored at photo shoots and Barnaby had suggested he learn an instrument to keep himself occupied. He'd been convinced Kotetsu would either 1) ignore him or 2) come home with a tuba for maximum annoyance (because even if he was nearing 40, Kotetsu still made a good 60 percent of his decisions based on how much the result would annoy Barnaby). To Barnaby's surprise, he came home two days later with a ukulele, three "how to" books, and a list of online video tutorials.
To his further surprise, Kotetsu did not give it up after a week of struggling with getting his fingers to do the chords properly. Instead, he'd apparently taken learning the damn thing as a personal challenge and threw himself into it the way he did hero work, albeit with considerably less property damage.
And to both their surprises, Kotetsu not only learned how to play it, he'd actually gotten good.
He played often, but he didn't typically sing unless Barnaby asked him to, for reasons Barnaby didn't fully understand. Even so, he wasn't upset that Kotetsu only sang for him. It was probably selfish, but he liked that this was a part of Kotetsu only he got to see.
Kotetsu strummed a few chords and softly sang, "Wise men say...only fools rush in..."
Barnaby closed his eyes and fought a smile. Of course he'd sing this one.
Not long after they'd started dating, Barnaby had admitted that he thought of Kotetsu whenever he heard the song. So naturally, it was the first thing Kotetsu had learned to play on the ukulele. It was all he'd played for the first two months, and Barnaby couldn't be annoyed by it because Kotetsu got the goofiest, happiest grin on his face each time. And it just made Barnaby fall more in love with him.
He took another sip of his wine and lay his head on Kotetsu's shoulder, listening to the music and the crickets and the wind in the trees and Kotetsu softly singing.
Life wasn't perfect. Between the two of them, they had enough baggage to fill a luxury cruise liner and were not always the best at dealing with it. Kotetsu still struggled with hiding things because he didn't want Barnaby to worry about him, and Barnaby had to remind himself, daily, it was okay to let his walls down and let Kotetsu know how much he cared. There were nightmares (on both sides) and miscommunication and a thousand frustrations, small and large, that came with figuring out how to share your life with another person.
But all of the hard parts were balanced by moments like this, oases of peace and bliss that just reinforced why Barnaby would walk through fire to keep Kotetsu in his life. No matter how hard things had been, no matter how hard they might get, his life was immeasurably better for knowing Kotetsu. He was immeasurably better. Kotetsu made him want to be a better man.
He rested his hand on Kotetsu's knee and traced small circles there with his thumb. Kotetsu finished the song, and instead of playing another one, set the ukulele aside and put his hand on top of Barnaby's.
Barnaby turned his hand so he could hold Kotetsu's. "Thank you."
For everything. For being here. For showing me another way to live. For making my life brighter just by being in it. "For singing for me."
I love you.
He felt Kotetsu smile against his head and press a kiss to his hair. "Anything for you, Bunny-chan."
Barnaby smiled, hearing the words Kotetsu hadn't said.
I love you, too.