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Bay for Blood

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Triss was sitting in a dark room lit only by the blue light from the television; the news was on and the anchorman was babbling about some stupid charity event that Triss had no interest in. The coffee table in front of her was covered in newspaper clippings and magazine cut outs that she’d been digging through to hang onto her wall. She had just finished cutting something out when the story on the news changed.

“-this morning police found the body of defense attorney Desmond Kent, who had been reported missing earlier this week. He was found outside of his law firm in West Silver and fowl play has been suspected. Sternbild PD has not released any details in the case, but they are opening a criminal investigation.”

A small smile spread across Triss’ face and she got up from the couch to walk over to the wall. A cork board hung there with dozens of articles pinned to it, and photos of three different people were pinned right in the middle; the first two photos were crossed off with red X’s. She uncapped a red pen with her teeth and aggressively scribbled an X onto the third photo, a photo of Desmond Kent. She glanced over her board and recapped her pen before dropping it back onto the table. She then picked up the new picture she had cut out moments before and turned back to the wall. She violently stabbed a pin into it to stick it to the board and she stared it down with her brows knitted close together.

“Be seeing you soon, Wild Tiger.”

 


 

“Come on, Bunny, please?!”

“I already told you, Kotetsu, I can’t.” Barnaby said, not looking away from his laptop. “I’m going to the orphanage today.”

“Buy whyyy? Can’t you go another day?”

“Did you forget already, Old Man? It’s Ryo’s birthday today and I wanted to surprise him.”

Kotetsu pushed Barnaby’s laptop screen down a little in order to glare at him. “No, I did not forget, I just didn’t know that was today.”

Barnaby glared back before pushing the screen back up and continued with typing up his email. “I already talked to Mr. Lloyds about it, and he was fine with me taking the day off as long as I come back in case of an emergency.”

Kotetsu groaned, slammed his elbows on the table, and rested his face on his knuckles, causing his cheeks to squish up against them. “You’re really gonna make me do this thing by myself?”

Barnaby glanced over and let out a small chuckle at the stupid look on Kotetsu’s face. “I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

Kotetsu pouted. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were doing this on purpose.” Kotetsu’s phone went off and he looked over to it vibrating on the table before turning his face away to ignore it.

“You gonna get that?”

“No, because it’s probably Mr. Lloyds and I don’t wanna go.”

“Oh come on, it’s not going to be that bad.”

“Eh, speak for yourself.” He finally reached over to answer his phone. “Hello? Yeah, I’ll be right over.” He frowned cartoonishly before hanging up the phone. “I guess I’ll see ya later, Bunny.”

“Have fun.” Barnaby teased.

“Ah, shut up.” He slowly made his way out of the break room, waving sheepishly as he left. Barnaby couldn’t help but smile at his frustration; he was always so adorable when he pouted like that. He quickly shook the thought away and went back to typing on his laptop once Kotetsu was out of the room.

“What was that about?” Sky High asked as he walked into the break room with a towel around his shoulders.

“Oh, that? It’s just this swimsuit photoshoot Mr. Lloyds scheduled for us today. I can’t make it and Kotetsu’s mad because he has to do it alone.”

“What’s so bad about that? You two have done swimsuit ads before, haven’t you?”

“Well…this one is a little different.”

“How so?”

“First of all, the swim suits they’re having us wear are…” Barnaby cringed at the thought, “…tiger and bunny themed. And then the director of the shoot was going to rig us up on this contraption in front of a green screen…”

“Oh wow, that sounds…extensive.”

“Yeah…” Barnaby laughed awkwardly. “I wasn’t really looking forward to it either, but thankfully I found a pretty good excuse not to go…unfortunately for Kotetsu.” Sky High raised a brow at Barnaby. “Don’t tell him I said that.”

“No worries there, my friend! I’ll keep it to the grave!” Sky High said in his usual theatric voice.

“Thanks.” Barnaby finished typing up his email and then noticed the time. “Ah, I should probably get to the orphanage.” He gathered his bag from under the table before closing his laptop and placing it inside. “See you later, Sky High.”

“Say hello to those kids for me!”

“Will do.”

 

“Barnaby!!” Barnaby was rushed by a stampede of children that nearly tackled him to the ground as they all came running to hug him.

“Now, now. Don’t crowd the poor man, he has only just arrived.”

“Sorry, Mother Bernadette.” They all said.

“What are you doing here?!” Marco asked excitedly.

“Well, I’m here for the party, of course!” He turned to look at Ryo and smiled before he pulled a wrapped package out of his bag. “Happy Birthday, Ryo!”

“Wow! You didn’t have to get me anything. I’m just happy you came to hang out with us!”

Barnaby shook his head with a smile. “But I wanted to.”

Ryo looked up at Mother Bernadette with a hopeful and excited expression. “Can I open it?”

“Of course you can. It’s your birthday, after all.”

Ryo smiled widely and tore into the package to reveal a small remote control car; his eyes lit up. “This is so cool! Thank you so much, Barnaby!”

“You’re very welcome, Ryo. I do hope you’ll enjoy it.”

“Woah, so awesome!” Nia said. “You’ll let us all have a turn, won’t you?”

“Of course!” Ryo smiled.

The kids all gathered around Ryo’s wheelchair as he opened the plastic box to get the car out give it a test run.

Mother Bernadette walked over to Barnaby. “You didn’t have to come, I’m sure you’re very busy.”

“It was no problem at all, Mother Bernadette.”

“I really am happy you did, though, it’s a very special day. We have a very special birthday surprise for Ryo.”

“Oh?” Barnaby cocked his head to the side. “What is it?”

Mother Bernadette smiled and clapped her hands together. “You’ll see, they should be here any minute!”

Barnaby wasn’t sure what she meant by “they”, but shrugged and watched the kids play with Ryo’s new car. He was relieved Ryo liked it because he wasn’t even really sure what to get him, but Kotetsu had suggested the remote control car might make a great gift for him since he had limited mobility in the wheelchair. Barnaby smiled at the thought; Kotetsu could be an idiot sometimes, but he had been known to be brilliant once in a while. He wondered how Kotetsu was doing at the photoshoot and couldn’t help but laugh to himself as he imagined him wearing a horrible tiger-inspired swimsuit.

“Oh, Ryo!” came Mother Bernadette’s voice from the other room. “Look who’s here to see you!” She came into the room followed by what looked to be a married couple.

Ryo immediately stopped playing with his car and glanced over. “Oh, Mr. and Mrs. Rodriguez! What are you doing here?”

The two walked over to him, looking like they were hiding a gift behind their backs. “We heard it was your birthday and wanted to stop by and give you this.” Mrs. Rodriguez smiled and presented him with the gift.

“Really? You got me a gift?!” He took the present with slight hesitation but started to open it excitedly once they gave him the okay. Barnaby walked over to get a closer look at the opened package; it was a bright green knitted beanie with “Ryo Rodriguez” embroidered onto it. Ryo stared at it in confusion for a moment before he gasped and looked up at the couple with teary eyes. “You’re adopting me?!”

Mr. and Mrs. Rodriguez were now also teary-eyed and they nodded happily. “Yes! We finally got all the paperwork sorted out and we were hoping that after your party with your friends, we could take you home today.” Mr. Rodriguez said through a choked voice.

Ryo, now full on crying, looked to the others like he was going to ask them if that was okay. They all started hugging him in response.

“Ryo, that’s amazing!” Jordan said, throwing his arms into the air triumphantly.

“We’re so happy for you!” Hei-Ran cried, still hugging him.

“Don’t forget about us, okay?!” Oliver said shyly.

“I could never!” Ryo barely said through his tears.

Barnaby put a hand up to his mouth and smiled widely. Never would he have guessed that Ryo’s surprise was to get adopted, and he was just so happy for the boy he could have easily joined in on all that crying. Everyone had finished hugging Ryo and he turned to Barnaby for a hug as well, which Barnaby happily gave to him.

Ryo looked up at Barnaby with hopeful eyes. “You’ll still come and visit me, won’t you?”

“Of course, as long as it’s alright with your new parents.” He looked over to them with a smile.

“Yes of course you can, Mr. Brooks!” Mrs. Rodriguez beamed, looking very star struck. “Please come over any time!”

Ryo turned to his parents after finishing his hug with Barnaby. “Mr. and Mrs…um, I mean…Mom and Dad? Can we go pack my stuff?”

“Sure, but don’t you want to eat your cake first?” Mr. Rodriguez asked.

“Yeah, but I’m so excited I just wanna get all my stuff together!”

The two smiled and nodded to Ryo and he excitedly started wheeling himself down the hall and into his room, his two new parents not far behind him.

Barnaby walked back over to Mother Bernadette. “What an unforgettable birthday gift. They seem like a really nice couple, I’m sure Ryo will be very happy.”

 “I’m sure he will, though I will miss him dearly; but I suppose that is a good thing. I would rather they all have families to go to so I can miss them.”

“Yeah, it is really such a great gift for kids like them. I really wish more people weren’t so against adoption.”

“Would you ever want to adopt any kids, Barnaby?”

“Ah, me?” Barnaby was surprised by the question. “I haven’t really given it much thought, but I suppose if I were to have kids, I’d want to adopt.” He suddenly thought about Kaede and how little Kotetsu got to see her because of his job, and he frowned. “But with how busy I am as a hero, I wouldn’t get to see them as often as I’d want. Plus, I live alone and that could complicate things.”

“Then why don’t you just get married?!” Nia spouted out of nowhere, having apparently overheard.

“Yeah, that way you won’t have to be alone.” Marco added; the rest of the orphans walked over to join in as well.

“I uh…I don’t really think that will be happening any time soon.” Barnaby responded wistfully.

“What? Why not?!” Nia frowned.

“Well,” Barnaby’s mind wandered to an image of Kotetsu smiling at him and it made his heart flip. “I suppose I’m holding out for someone in particular.”

“Then why not ask that person to marry you?” Marco suggested, as if it were the obvious solution.

“Yeah!” Peter agreed.

“Well, I just…” He looked away sadly. “I don’t think they would want to.”

“Why not?!” Jordan asked.

“Yeah, why not?! You’re super nice and…and super pretty! Anyone would be very lucky to have you as their husband!” Hei-Ran said with a small smile.

“That’s very nice of you to say, but I just don’t think they return my feelings, is all.”

Marco quirked his mouth to the side in disapproval. “Have you even asked them yet?”

Barnaby waved his hands in front of him. “No, of course not.”

“Then how will you know if you don’t try?!” Jordan asked, moving his arms around dramatically.

Barnaby sighed. “It’s not that simple…”

“Yes it is!” Lucy suddenly spoke up, crossing her arms. “You just walk right up to them and say that you like them and that you wanna marry them!”

“Now, now,” Mother Bernadette interrupted. “Stop pestering Barnaby.”

“Sorry…” All the kids said together.

“No, it’s fine…really.” Barnaby smiled, but it didn’t feel very genuine to him. His mood suddenly changed and he was starting to feel a bit dejected. Which was unfortunate because he just wanted to enjoy the party, but now he couldn’t stop thinking about Kotetsu. He knew the kids meant well, but they were also kids and didn’t understand the complexity of such things yet. There was just no way Barnaby could tell him his feelings, the high possibility of rejection loomed over his head and it scared him. He cared too much about Kotetsu’s friendship to go ruining it with a love confession.

His thoughts were interrupted when Ryo returned from packing and Mother Barnadette got the candles on his cake all lit and everyone started to sing happy birthday to him. Once Ryo got the first slice, everyone started to pass them out and Nia came over with two slices and handed them both to Barnaby.

Barnaby gave a confused smile. “Why did you get me two?” 

“You can bring one to that person you like! Everyone loves cake, so I’m sure they’ll enjoy it. Then you’ll have them all sweetened up and you can tell them you like them!”

Barnaby’s eyes softened and he took both cakes. “Thank you, Nia.”

Nia smiled and ran off to get her own slice and Barnaby sighed as he placed his second slice on the table. Kids really did have such a positive outlook on things and he found it quite admirable. If only things were that simple then Barnaby might have told Kotetsu his feelings a long time ago.

Barnaby ate his cake, which was a delicious double chocolate cake with bright green frosting, and he checked his phone for the time and noticed he had some missed texts from Kotetsu. He quickly opened his messages, kind of worried that Kotetsu was in trouble.

“Uugh this is the worst photoshoot ever please take me awayyyyy”

“You will not believe how ugly these swimsuits are Bunny omg you’re so lucky you got out of this one”

“They said we were almost done 45 mins ago will this ever end?!”

“This director is a real chatter box jeez no wonder it’s taking so damn long”

“Hope you’re having a good time at least idk when I’ll be out of here”

Barnaby let out a breath of relief, it was just Kotetsu being his usual dorky self. Ever since they both got reinstated to the first league, Kotetsu had been texting Barnaby a lot more often. He had no idea what brought that on, but he didn’t complain. Well, except when the old man would text him drunken nonsense in the middle of the night, but it still made him happy nonetheless. Especially since Kotetsu never really expected him to respond all the time, he just seemed to send them just to send them.

“Almost done with the party, I’ll tell you more about it later. And I have a slice of birthday cake for you.” He typed up really quick before he noticed the time and figured it was getting a bit late. He wrapped his extra slice of cake up in some foil and then said goodbye to all the kids. Ryo hugged him extra-long because neither had any idea when they would meet again. He thanked him again for the gift and then ran off to hug all his friends. Barnaby waved as he got into his car and placed the cake on the passenger seat, hoping it didn’t fly off at some point during the trip and get bright green frosting all over his clean upholstery.

It didn’t take him long to get back to Justice Tower and he seemed to space out in the elevator because he stood there for a few minutes before he realized he had gotten to his floor already. He walked into the break room and plopped down on a chair, setting the cake on the table in front of him. He sat there and stared at it for a while, thinking of what Nia said again. Kotetsu did love free food, but it would take more than that to win him over, if Barnaby could even win him over at all.

“You okay there, Handsome?”

Barnaby hadn’t even noticed that Fire Emblem walked into the room. “Ah, what?”

“You just had a very distressed look on your face, that’s all.”

“Oh...no I’m fine. I just have a lot on my mind.”

“You wanna talk about it?”

“No, I’m okay. Thanks, though.”

“If you say so.” He turned to walk away.

Barnaby’s brows knit together in frustration. If there was anyone to ask about something like this, it would be Fire Emblem. “Actually, Fire Emblem?”

“Hmm?” He turned back around and walked over.

“Hypothetically speaking…what would you do if you had feelings for someone but didn’t really know what to do about it?”

Fire Emblem looked slightly taken aback by the question, but he put his fingers to his chin in thought. “Well, first off, I would tell that person my feelings.”

Barnaby frowned slightly. He knew that’s what the answer would be, but it wasn’t really the answer he wanted. “But…wouldn’t you be afraid of rejection?”

“Well I suppose that is a factor, but for me, the regret of not taking action far surpasses the fear of rejection. You just won’t know until you try.” Barnaby’s eyes widened slightly because that was the same exact thing the kids had told him earlier today. “You should just be honest with them. Hypothetically speaking…” Fire Emblem gave a knowing smile before walking away to get a water bottle from his bag and then leaving the break room.

Barnaby closed his eyes tightly and exhaled harshly. So was this how it was going to be? He had two choices, tell Kotetsu or don’t tell him, but he didn’t want to do either. Why did this have to be so difficult? He knew Kotetsu wouldn’t judge him, but he still couldn’t stand the thought of his feelings not being requited and possibly making things awkward between the two of them.

“Woah, Bunny. What’s up?” Barnaby’s eyes shot open to find Kotetsu in the doorway. “You looked really stressed out, you okay?”

“Oh, yeah. Just thinking.” Kotetsu sat down across from him. “So, how was rest of the shoot?”

“Ugh, horrible. The thing they strapped me up in was so uncomfortable, I think I’m gonna have marks on my thighs for a week.”

Barnaby laughed, trying to push the thought of Kotetsu’s thighs out of his mind. “That bad?”

“Yeah, you’re so lucky you weren’t there, but I guess I’m kinda glad you weren’t. That would have been so embarrassing.”

“You do know they’re going to publish those pictures in a magazine, right?”

“Yeah, but you won’t go lookin’ for those, will you?”

“Hmm, I don’t know. Seems like the perfect place to look if I wanted to get a good laugh.”

Kotetsu glared at him, but his eyes wandered over to the side and then lit up. “Oh! Is that the cake you promised me?”

“Oh, yeah. Here.” He slid it across the table and Kotetsu leapt up to get a plastic fork out of the cabinet. He took off the foil and made a dissatisfied face at the cake. “It tastes a lot better than it looks, I swear.”

“I’m sure it does, the bright green frosting just threw me for a second.”

“I think it’s Ryo’s favorite color. Just like you.”

Kotetsu started digging into the cake. “Mmm, delicious! So, how was the party?”

“It was nice. Ryo really loved the gift, so thanks for the idea. It was actually kind of brilliant.”

“It’s been known to happen.” Kotetsu said with his mouth full.

“Oh, and Ryo got adopted!”

“Say what?!”

“Yeah, it was a huge surprise! The couple who adopted him brought him a hat with his name and their last name embroidered on it. It was a really sweet and emotional day.”

“Wow, best birthday ever! Don’t know how a little toy car could top that.”

“Well at least he opened that gift beforehand.”

Kotetsu smiled and finished up the last bite of cake. He balled up the paper plate and threw it into the trash can, almost missing it, but it fortunately made it in. Kotetsu looked pleased with the cake and Barnaby thought back to what Nia said again, about “sweetening up” the person before confessing.

Barnaby clenched his fists, gulped, and could not believe he was actually going to try this. “Hey, Kotetsu?”

“What’s up?”

Barnaby stared at Kotetsu’s face a moment before he sighed and looked away. He just couldn’t do it, not yet anyway. It just didn’t seem like the right moment. “Sorry for ditching you today.” He settled for instead. Hopefully Kotetsu didn’t notice anything strange about his tone.

“Ah, don’t worry about it. You said you’d make it up to me, right?”

Barnaby scoffed playfully. “Yeah, what do you think I brought the cake for?”

“Really? That’s the best you could come up with? A crappy piece of birthday cake?”

Barnaby raised his brow. “Didn’t you just say it was delicious?”

“Well…anything is delicious when you’re starving, I haven’t eaten much today!”

“Fine, what do you want then?”

“I can’t just tell you that, you gotta be creative!”

Barnaby groaned and rolled his eyes. “If you give me creative control, then there’s no telling what crazy thing I’ll come up with, you know.”

“Eh, I’m not worried about that. I trust you’ll come up with something nice.” Kotetsu’s phone went off again. “Oh, it’s Kaede!” He answered it. “Hey, Kaede, what’s going on?”

“Nothing much, just wanted to see how that silly photoshoot went today.”

“Huh? How did you know about that?” Kotetsu glared at Barnaby while Barnaby looked away and sank down into his chair a little. “Barnabyyyyy.” Kotetsu grumbled.

“Hm? I don’t know what you’re talking about…” He said, trying not to smile; now days, Kotetsu tended to only call him that when he was mad or being really serious. If he told his past self from three years ago that he’d start to actually like the nickname Bunny, he would have not believed it.

“Well it went…bad, thanks for asking.” Kotetsu laughed. “Unfortunately Bunny didn’t get to suffer with me, though, the jerk.”

“Hey, I heard that!”

Kotetsu turned the phone around to face Barnaby so that Kaede could see him. “See that, Kaede? That’s the face of a jerk who ditches his partner to go to a birthday party!”

Kaede gasped over-dramatically. “Barnaby! How uncharacteristic of you!”

“A birthday party for an orphan, I might add. Does that really sound like a jerk to you?”

“Hmm, well if it was a party for an orphan then I guess I can forgive you.” She smiled, and Kotetsu turned the phone back around and they continued to talk for a while.

Barnaby watched Kotetsu talk and smiled softly at him, something he noticed he did a lot more often lately. Mostly when Kotetsu wasn’t looking, of course. Barnaby also seemed to be getting along with Kaede really well now too. They didn’t really talk all that much, but sometimes they got a conversation going when she called Kotetsu and he couldn’t answer right away and needed Barnaby to answer instead.

He suddenly wondered what she would think if she knew about his feelings for her dad. He’d like to hope she’d be okay with it since she was his biggest fan, but he had a nagging fear in the back of his mind that she’d be upset that he was replacing her mom or something. Barnaby shook the thought away. Right, even if things actually ever got that far. He hadn’t even been honest with Kotetsu about his feelings, he was just getting way too ahead of himself.

“Bunny?”

Kotetsu’s voice snapped Barnaby out of his thoughts again. “Huh?”

“Uh, Kaede just wanted to say goodbye.” He turned the phone around again.

“Oh.” Barnaby smiled and waved at the phone. “Bye, Kaede! Have a good night!”

“Talk to you later, Barnaby!” She smiled back and the screen went black. Kotetsu put his phone in his pocket and gave Barnaby a worried look.

“What?”

“You sure are spacey today, everything all right?”

“Yeah, I guess I’m just a bit tired.”

“Oh yeah, I’m sure that birthday party was very exhausting.”

Barnaby rolled his eyes. “I did wake up early to train this morning before that, you know?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Kotetsu stood up, raised his arms over his head, and stretched. Barnaby tried to make it a habit not to stare, but he indulged a little bit this time. It was almost a shame Kotetsu always kept his shirt tucked in. “Well, that shoot wore me out, so I’m gonna head home for the night.” Barnaby frowned a bit, not wanting him to go yet, but he tried not to make it too obvious. Kotetsu headed out of the door. “See you tomorrow, Bunny!”

“Goodnight.”

“Oh!” He ran back to the doorway. “And don’t forget…something creative!”

“Ugh. Yeah, yeah. See you tomorrow, Old Man.”

Kotetsu grinned stupidly before finally leaving the room again.

“Something creative, huh?” Barnaby thought out loud. What the hell was he even going to do? It really shouldn’t be too hard to come up with something because Kotetsu was generally pretty easy to please. He could just take the easy way out and treat him to drinks or something, but that would have seemed like he didn’t put any effort in…and it definitely wasn’t very creative at all. Plus, he sort of wanted to do something nice for him for a change. Not just because of the photoshoot, but because he wanted to make sure Kotetsu was feeling appreciated.

Ever since the incident with Mark Schneider, Kotetsu had been having problems with his self-esteem. He never outwardly said it, but Barnaby could tell. Even after being completely reinstated to the first league as partners again, even with his popularity as a hero going up, Kotetsu still seemed a bit hesitant, like he somehow thought he didn’t belong. Sometimes Barnaby wished Kotetsu knew just how much the citizens of Sternbild loved him, how much Barnaby loved him.

Barnaby mentally kicked himself. “Well, of course he’ll never know that if you don’t tell him, you idiot.” He took his glasses off and put his fingers to his temples to rub them. One of Kotetsu’s main flaws was that he was really bad about telling people his feelings, and that was starting to rub off on Barnaby. He really did just need to be honest but, damnit, why did this have to be so difficult? If Kotetsu wasn’t so dense, Barnaby might have been able to just send him signals, flirt a little more, but there was no way he’d catch on to that. Blue Rose flirted with him constantly, and he never noticed; though Barnaby was a little thankful for that. No, he’d actually have to tell him outright or else it would just go right over his head.

He couldn’t believe he was actually considering this, just this morning the very idea of confessing scared him and all of a sudden he almost went and did it? In the damn break room of all places? He groaned harshly, how did he manage get so off track from his original thought? Now he’d have to come up with something “creative” and try to figure out a confession. He dropped his head onto the table and took a deep breath. He’d never get anywhere if he kept stressing out like this.

He sat there like that for a moment and then popped his head up. What if he combined the two somehow? What if he did something for Kotetsu, and then confessed afterwards? He put his fingers to his chin in thought. But how? Make like…a date out of it or something? Great, that was an area Barnaby definitely had no experience in. He hadn’t been on a date since his days at the Hero Academy, if that cold even count as a date, anyway.

“Hmm, maybe…” He put his glasses back on and decided to leave the break room. He wandered out into the gym area and was relieved to see that everyone else was gone, but Fire Emblem hadn’t left yet. He took a deep breath and walked over. “Hey uh…Fire Emblem?”

“What is it, honey?” He said while in the middle of stretching.

“I uh…I have something to ask…”

Fire Emblem stopped stretching and gave Barnaby his full attention. “Ohh?”

“What would you do to uh…plan a romantic evening with someone?”

Fire Emblem gasped and slowly brought a hand up to his face. “Oh my god, are you…asking me for dating advice?!”

“I uh…”

“He’s what now?”

Barnaby jumped at the voice and turned to see that Blue Rose had appeared. Great, just the person he wanted to know about his love life.

“He’s actually asking me for dating advice! Oh, I am so excited! All these years I’ve known you, I don’t think I have ever seen you go on a date before!”

“Uh…” Barnaby rubbed the back of his neck. “Because I haven’t…ever.”

“Really?” Blue Rose said with a light scoff. “The Barnaby Brooks Jr. has never been on a date?”

“I find that hard to believe!” Fire Emblem said.

Barnaby was starting to feel embarrassed now. “What’s so hard to believe about it?”

“Well, you’re just so handsome and charming! I’m honestly surprised no one has snatched you up yet.” Fire Emblem laughed, but then gave a cheeky smile. “So, I guess that hypothetical situation wasn’t so hypothetical after all?”

Barnaby had to stop himself from groaning. “Yeah, yeah. Do you have any advice or not?”

“Oh, I’ve got loads! You have definitely come to the right place! So, was there anything you had in mind at all?”

“I’m not really sure. I just wanted something romantic with maybe…something to also show my appreciation? If that makes any sense.”

“Ooh, well romantic lighting is always a must! Romantic music too! How about a candle lit dinner?”

“Ugh,” Barnaby groaned. “That is so cliché.”

“Yes, but that’s because it’s simple and effective!”

“And if you wanted to show your appreciation, why not a home-cooked meal?” Blue Rose chimed in.

“Huh?” Barnaby hadn’t expected her to give advice as well.

“Well, I know I would feel appreciated if someone I liked made the effort to cook me something. It really shows that you care and it comes from the heart.”

“Wow, that’s…actually not a bad idea, Blue Rose. Thank you.” Blue Rose gave a smile yet an annoyed pout at the same time. “Now that you mention it, there’s a dish I’ve been wanting to make for him for a while now.”

Fire Emblem clapped his hands together excitedly. “What a fantastic idea, I’m so—” He stopped mid-sentence.

“Wait…” Blue Rose added. She and Fire Emblem looked at each other and then gasped.

HIM?!” They said at the same time.

Barnaby’s eyes shot open really wide and his heart skipped a beat. He was so tired, he didn’t realize what he just said. “Um…I uh…”

“Oh, Handsome, I never knew you were interested in men!”

Barnaby actually felt himself blushing, but not in a good way. “Yeah, just…don’t go telling everyone about it!”

“Oh, of course not! I would never do something like that. You decide who knows, not me.”

Barnaby’s heart was still racing, but he was relieved to hear that. He knew he never had to worry with Fire Emblem, but he still hadn’t planned on outing himself like that. “Thanks…”

“So,” Fire Emblem got a little closer. “Who is the lucky man? Anyone we know?”

Now that was something he most definitely couldn’t tell Fire Emblem. Not with Blue Rose here anyway. He didn’t really feel like dealing with her icy wrath right now.

“Stop pestering him, Fire Emblem. He doesn’t have to tell us anything.”

Barnaby let out a breath of relief, thankful for Blue Rose’s intervention.

“Okay, okay, sorry. I’m just super curious! Will we ever get to find out more about this mystery man?”

“Maybe. If it goes well.”

“Well, good luck, Handsome! I look forward to hearing all about it!”

Barnaby smiled weakly, suddenly feeling exhausted. “It’s getting late, I think I’ll head home.” He returned to the break room to gather his bag and the two were still in the gym on his way back out. “Thanks for the advice, both of you.”

“Of course!” Fire Emblem smiled.

“Yeah, whatever.” Blue Rose said.

Barnaby waved goodnight, left the gym area, and headed towards the elevators. Well, he still wasn’t one hundred percent sure what he was doing, but it was a start. He’d have to wake up early and start figuring out all the details because he wanted to do this as soon as possible. Hopefully they weren’t too busy with calls tomorrow so he could go shopping for some groceries.