Kotetsu found that the Hero Academy took up far more of his time that he originally thought. Luckily for him, Tomoe didn’t seem to care. Along with visiting her on the weekends, she frequently called to inform him of the current on-goings back in Oriental Town. Even with the staticky picture on his phone, her smile had a way of relieving the avalanche of work crushing down on his shoulders.
She didn’t call Christmas Eve, though, and Kotetsu spent the night wondering if he had said something. Their conversation yesterday had been normal – she had helped Muramasa prepare for the Christmastime crowd at his bar, and Muramasa had a hilariously awkward interaction with a customer, and they laughed and laughed and then Muramasa had forcefully ended the call on her behalf.
He hopped onto the train to Oriental Town Saturday morning with a sense of dread in his stomach. Maybe Tomoe had realized there were far easier relationships in town, with people who weren’t looking to fight deadly crime every day. Or maybe she just got caught up in Christmas Eve events, but that just didn’t seem as likely.
He found his mother working out back with her plants, many beginning to wilt in the cold, and immediately said, “Is Tomoe here?”
His mother gave him a wry smile. “Inside, sulking,” she said.
“I am not!” came Tomoe’s voice. She appeared in the doorway, a hand on her hip and a small frown directed at Anju. When Anju cocked an eyebrow, she added, “It’s just… sad.”
Now Kotetsu was confused. “What happened?” he asked.
Anju’s face slipped into a frown. “It is sad,” she said. To him, she further explained, “Bad murder up in Stern Bild. I thought you would have heard about it already.”
“Yeah,” Tomoe seconded.
He shrugged helplessly. “I’ve been drowning in work,” he said. “I’m twenty years old and I’m busy growing grey hair. I haven’t had time to check the news or anything.”
When Tomoe didn’t say anything else, but her face slipped into a pensive expression, he carefully stepped around his mother’s plants to join her on the porch. She did look upset. He wondered if a friend of hers who had moved had become the victim of a horrible crime. He wondered if Mr. Legend had been hurt, or worse.
She looked at him and said, “You don’t want to read about it. It’s horrible.”
She sat down in one of the chairs. “You know the Brooks? The family that makes the hero suits used on Hero TV?”
“Yeah, of course,” he said.
“They were assassinated last night,” she said, and he just stared blankly. She continued, “Both of them were shot and their place went up in flames. Everything was destroyed. Kotetsu, they had a little boy. He saw all of it.”
Kotetsu was silent for a long moment. Suddenly, the Hero TV shirt he had gotten her, wrapped up in his bag, seemed horribly inappropriate in the wake of something like that, especially with how distraught she appeared to be over it.
“Oh,” he said quietly.
She rested her chin on her hand, looking out at Anju’s field. “Hero TV won’t be the same. And that poor kid.”
Kotetsu considered it for a moment. “The Brooks were close to the guy who runs Hero TV, weren’t they? That Maverick guy?” When she nodded, he continued, “I met him once, at the Academy. He seemed like a good guy. Maybe he’ll take the kid in, or at least put him somewhere nice.”
Tomoe still looked unconvinced, a frown on her lips. “I hope so. I just feel so bad for them. They didn’t deserve that. The kid surely didn’t need to see it. And on Christmas Eve too.”
There wasn’t much Kotetsu could say. The Brooks had been part of Hero TV since its conception, alongside Maverick. They were private people. He had heard plenty about them at the Academy, of course, and they had given talks and lectures, none of which coincided with his classes or interests. Robotic engineering never was his thing. He had never even known they had a young son. But, then again, he supposed, when you work in an industry dedicated to catching criminals, it probably isn’t advised to share details about your personal life.
He sure hoped the kid got over though. If nothing more than so Tomoe could smile about the Brooks again.
. . . . .
Kotetsu woke up slowly, realizing that an alarm hadn’t gone off. He pulled up his call bracelet to check the time and date, and then things clicked into place. The cold chill of the Christmas Eve air outside the window seeped in, and beside him, Barnaby was curled up beneath the blankets. The other Heroes got to have their fun over the next few days with the Holiday Specials on Hero TV, while Barnaby got his time away – and, by extension, Kotetsu too.
He slipped out of bed and made his way to the kitchen. Barnaby’s apartment was still mostly devoid of furniture, but it at least looked lived in now.
He had intended to make something for them for breakfast, but not a minute after he entered and turned on the lights, Barnaby stepped into the room behind him. Even after just waking up, his hair was annoyingly perfectly curled. He was swathed in one of Kotetsu’s faded old TV shirts – a Mr. Legend one, of course, even though Barnaby didn’t share his admiration for the Hero.
“So,” Kotetsu began, “what do you want for breakfast, Bunny? Pancakes? Cake? It is Christmas Eve, after all.”
Barnaby just shook his head. “I’m not hungry.”
Kotetsu’s smile fell from his face. He tried not to look at Barnaby’s face, which was now back to the impassive, grim mask it had been during their earliest encounters. Barnaby trudged his way over to the single couch and Kotetsu followed a safe few steps behind him.
Kotetsu sat down beside him. “We should go on a walk,” he said quietly, slowly. “The graves won’t be crowded today, especially this early in the morning. You could visit them.”
Barnaby merely nodded, and a fraction of the tension in Kotetsu’s chest melted away. Barnaby like this was impossible to read, but Kotetsu was learning, little bit by little bit.
. . . . .
Kotetsu’s assessment of the state of the graveyard had been accurate. A few cars were pulled into the parking lot, probably people who wouldn’t be able to make it by on Christmas Day to visit. The place was a large one, though, so he and Barnaby didn’t come across anyone as they made their way to the spots where Barnaby’s parents rested.
Kotetsu stood by him while he looked down at their graves, the telltale glisten of unshed tears in his eyes. Kotetsu’s heart broke for him. He hadn’t deserved what had happened; it was one of those horribly unfair acts of the universe that he could never understand. This was not a foe that Kotetsu could step in front of to protect him from.
He remembered, in the silence, when he first heard about the Brooks’ deaths, all those years ago. Tomoe had mourned more than him then; he had just been shocked. He had felt bad for them, sure, but he never imagined the lasting effects of that night. He never could have imagined that, one day, he would care so much about a news story he had been almost dismissive of back when he heard of it.
Now, he just wrapped his arm around Barnaby’s waist and pulled him closer to his side.