|The Better to Know You
Author: LozieDeanon PM
Kotetsu isn't really as stupid as people believe. His stupidity is merely a product of being far too smart for his own good. Polyglot!Kotetsu, multiple pairings teased. Deanon from the Tiger & Bunny Anon Meme.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Humor/Friendship - Kotetsu K./Wild Tiger - Words: 8,108 - Reviews: 18 - Favs: 47 - Follows: 3 - Published: 01-19-13 - Status: Complete - id: 8923381
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A fill from the Tiger and Bunny Anon Meme. Prompt: Kotetsu only appears dim-witted because, in reality, he's an accomplished polyglot, and has trouble remembering the right words in all those languages. The other heroes put the pieces together.
Very light teasing of multiple pairings.
Kotetsu would not stop fiddling with the radio in Barnaby's car. He hit the buttons for all of the pre-programmed settings, and when he discovered that none of them played the type of music he liked, set about scanning through every single one of Sternbild's radio stations, searching for just the right song. Between ads Barnaby didn't want to hear, bursts of crinkling static when the dial passed through a dead frequency, and stations that Barnaby could certainly tolerate only to have them skipped by Kotetsu's mad search for the right station, the young rookie felt ready to wring his elder's neck. Kotetsu had even gone all the way around the dial, and was now searching through stations they had already heard, hoping that the programming had somehow changed in the last five minutes.
"Would you just pick a station already?" Barnaby finally snapped.
"What do you think I'm doing?" Kotetsu complained, continuing to fiddle with the dial.
"Just pick one!"
"I wanna pick a good one!"
"Are you looking for pop? Rock? Oldies? You've passed several genre stations!" Barnaby gripped the steering wheel a little tighter.
"I didn't like what they were playing right then."
"Then endure the song and listen to the next one! That's better than this constant flipping!"
"Just give me a second, I'll find one soon!" Kotetsu promised, but before Barnaby could explain to him exactly how much value that promise held, Kotetsu's phone started to ring. He wriggled in his seat and fished the phone out of his pocket, before he recognized the caller ID and shut the radio off completely.
"Sorry, Bunny, I gotta take this," he said.
"By all means," Barnaby replied, secretly relieved that the call ended Kotetsu's insane hunt for the perfect radio station.
Kotetsu grinned, placed the phone against his ear, and said, "Moshi moshi?"
Barnaby glanced at Kotetsu. Shouldn't he have answered the phone with 'hello?' Maybe it was an inside joke with the caller. But the answer quickly presented itself as Kotetsu continued talking, and definitely not in English.
Kotetsu is bilingual? Barnaby thought. But it made sense; Kotetsu Kaburagi is a Japanese name, and Barnaby had heard the story of how the kanji of his name inspired his hero identity Wild Tiger. If he could write in Japanese, he could likely speak it, too. And without knowing much about Kotetsu's past, there was always the possibility that the dominant language in the Kaburagi family's home was Japanese. Really, Barnaby had no reason to assume Kotetsu didn't speak Japanese just because it never showed up in casual conversation.
Kotetsu continued speaking, and Barnaby listened to the inflections in his partner's voice: some words sounding light and happy, others darker and more serious, along with vivid emphases and low rumbles as he drew out his last word in anticipation of the next. After such an asinine battle with the radio, Barnaby rather enjoyed hearing Kotetsu speak Japanese—rhythmic and musical, but simple and kind. Very enjoyable indeed.
After a while, Kotetsu said, "Ja ne" and ended the call, looking to Barnaby. "Sorry about that."
"Not at all," Barnaby reassured him. "A call from home?"
"Yeah, my daughter."
"Is Japanese the primary language in your home?"
"Mostly, yeah," Kotetsu said, squirming again to put his phone back in his pocket. "It's a mix."
"Children who speak two languages have many cognitive advantages," Barnaby noted. "Your daughter must be very smart."
Kotetsu beamed and immediately started a rant about his daughter's latest good report card, and Barnaby let him talk. It beat Kotetsu fiddling with the radio—and though it crossed his mind to complement Kotetsu on being bilingual himself, he decided against it. Such a stroke to his ego would most certainly make him intolerable for days.
Antonio didn't really feel the kind of cultural connection that people always praised. Sure, he had a Spanish heritage, but he felt more like 'Antonio Lopez' than 'a Spaniard.' National holidays came and went without much fuss, he had no special favoritism for Spanish foods over other kinds, and his clothes reflected Sternbild fashion more than Spanish norms.
But there was one time when Antonio felt more Spanish than Self: when Real Madrid played Barcelona.
The two football (not soccer, football) clubs had a long, colorful, and fierce history of landmark matches, with the victor able to claim superiority until the next game when the battle began all over again. And the only way to properly appreciate a Real Madrid-Barcelona game was to watch it at a sports bar with other Spaniards on a channel broadcasting in Spanish. But from his usual disinterest in Spanish culture, Antonio really didn't have a core of Spanish friends to go out with when the two football giants prepared to brawl.
So, he brought the next best thing.
"You blind asshole!" Kotetsu raged at the screen, Spanish obscenities pouring freely from his mouth now that he was sufficiently drunk. "Tackle, my ass! That was a hug! Just—just a little hug, from the side!"
"C'mon, Madrid, you're better than this!" Antonio thumped his fist on the bar. "Pull it together!"
Kotetsu definitely didn't count as a Spaniard—he spent the first few games leaning over and poking Antonio in the shoulder after every call, asking, "Is that a good thing? Was that supposed to happen? Which color are we cheering for again?"—but ever since the teenage Kotetsu found out Antonio spoke Spanish with his family, he had been determined to learn. Antonio didn't even feel like he tutored Kotetsu anything—he just told Kotetsu words, never translating the same phrase twice, and talked at him in Spanish until Kotetsu gradually gained the ability to respond. Frankly, compared to Antonio's attempts at learning Japanese, Kotetsu made Antonio look like an idiot, but his friend never held the ability to speak three languages over his head, and for that, Antonio was grateful.
"Yeah, Barca! Show those Madrid dogs where they belong!" another patron of the bar crowed, clearly taking joy in the pain of several fans of the (currently!) losing team.
"You watch it! We're not even at half time! Madrid's gonna wipe the floor with Barca!" Antonio challenged.
"Shut your face, Barca's got a point up on you!" the drunkard retorted.
"Yeah, and Valdés can't keep his head on straight for a whole game! He'll give us at least two goals before this is over!" Kotetsu added. "How about we bet: Madrid wins, and you pay my tab."
"And when Barca wins, you pay my tab," the other guy agreed, and just as they shook, the bar exploded in cheers as Madrid scored a goal. Every Madrid fan, Kotetsu and Antonio included, erupted with a well-known chant, "You all came here, you all came here, to watch Madrid's victory!"
In the end, Kotetsu still ended up paying the other man's tab, groaning about Madrid's bad luck all the way home from the bar. But Antonio didn't mind. Even when the better team lost and they had to put up with braggy assholes, nights like that reminded Antonio why Kotetsu had bothered to learn Spanish in the first place. He didn't want to be smarter or more educated: it was something else.
Something Antonio could articulate a lot better while sober, so such philosophizing would have to wait.
"Ah, Tiger~, I've missed you so much~!" Nathan glomped Kotetsu the instant he entered the training room. "Since when did you get so busy~?"
"You've got the other heroes to keep you company, right?" Kotetsu said with a smile. That was the real reason Nathan missed Kotetsu—he was the only hero with the right attitude to just play along, at least to an extent that entertained the flame-manipulator. "What do you need me around for?"
"There's simply a hole in my heart that no one else can fill, mon tigre jolie," Nathan teased, dipping into his arsenal of pickup tricks and sprinkling in some French.
Kotetsu snickered a little bit and patted Nathan on the head, and continued in French: "Well, my life would be colder without your flame."
"You speak French?" Nathan continued, rather surprised at this new side of Kotetsu.
"Something I've picked up over the years," Kotetsu shrugged and tried to duck out from Nathan's embrace, but Nathan managed to hold tight.
"You're not getting away that easily!" Nathan promised. "I'll only let you go if you engage in a little roleplay with me~!"
Kotetsu muttered something which sounded a lot like "Merde," but Nathan decided to be a little deaf to that. Besides Kotetsu added, more audibly, "What sort of roleplay?"
"We are in Paris~," Nathan described. "I am an extremely attractive lady who is absolutely infatuated with you, but only speaks French. You must let me down gently—if you decide to let me down at all~…"
Kotetsu sighed. "Mademoiselle, you have been wonderful company, but I really must be going."
"But why? Where are you going?" Nathan continued, secretly delighted. Kotetsu had an incredibly sexy accent, and when combined with the low, closed-mouth, sultry quality of the French language, it was enough to make a maiden swoon.
"To a place where beautiful women can be hurt if they aren't careful," Kotetsu cautioned.
"You underestimate me," Nathan said, one finger trailing up Kotetsu's arm. He redoubled his efforts to escape, both by struggling and by speaking more French.
"But that's exactly the reason you have to stay here!" Kotetsu insisted. "I know that you will survive while I go on and meet danger! I want to know you'll be here for me when I return. And how can I take away this city's—Paris—two best heroes, you and me?"
"Promise you will think of me?" Nathan crooned.
"In the morning, in the evening… Any time I see the sunlight, I'll think of your dazzling smile," he promised.
"And at night?"
"I'll be asleep, and I can't be held responsible for what I think of a beautiful woman like you then."
Sufficiently entertained, Nathan let Kotetsu go, resting his knuckles against his chin. "Did you really mean what you said, Tiger~?"
"I'm an old man, I've already forgotten it!" Kotetsu joked, twisting his back to work out any uncomfortable jarring and walking along his merry way, whistling a bit. Nathan watched him leave, thinking through the suave lines Kotetsu had managed to invent in French. He had mastery for the language—not just its grammar and vocabulary, but also its intentions and emotions. Frankly, that dialogue he had made for Nathan probably could have swept a lovely lady or two off her feet. And yet, all signs indicated Kotetsu had no intention of using his bilingual brain for the acquisition of lovers. That'd be just like the old man: able to perform the motions of romance perfectly, but absolutely oblivious to any real feelings of love.
Well, Nathan would just have to wait, keep watching, and see if that old Tiger learned any new tricks…
"A pan on the table, there's a bottle in the pan," Kotetsu said, his diction quick and precise, as he mimed a few of the actions. "Bang, bang, bang! Is it the bottle hitting the pan, or the pan hitting the bottle?"
Pao Lin smiled delightedly at Kotetsu's Mandarin tongue twister. "How about this one: When eating grapes, don't spit out the skin. When not eating grapes, spit out the skin!"
"Good, good!" Kotetsu praised. "Hm, this one's hard: A bamboo pole is long, and a bench is wide. The bamboo pole was bound to the bench—the bench did not allow the pole to be bound, but the pole insisted on being bound."
"Pretty good," Pao Lin said. "I think I've got one you can't do!"
Beaming, Pao Lin took a deep breath: "If you know, just say you know. If you don't know, just say you don't know. You should know and say you don't know. And you shouldn't not know and say you do know! You know?"
Kotetsu's jaw dropped. "Try it!" Pao lin insisted, and after a few mouth-scrunches to loosen the muscles, the veteran made his attempt.
"If you know, just say you know. If you don't know, just don't know you say know—damn!" Kotetsu spluttered and tripped over the tongue twister. "How did you get so good at those?" Kotetsu asked.
"They're fun to say!" Pao Lin replied. "Where did you learn Mandarin, anyway?"
"My hometown was mostly Japanese, but we had Chinese families, too. Oriental Town—the Orient is a big place, so we were diverse, sort of. Not diverse at all, compared to Sternbild, but I picked up Chinese as a kid."
"You're pretty good at this!" Pao Lin said. "I have lessons in Chinese and English, since I missed some school to take special martial arts classes. It's like I have to learn everything twice: all the grammar and sentence drills…"
"Don't give up, Dragon Kid!" Kotetsu rubbed Pao Lin's head. "It's really valuable being able to speak more than one language. The world is bigger and so much brighter when you can speak to more people. And let's face it, if I never learned Mandarin, I'd miss out on a chance to trade tongue twisters with you!"
Pao Lin smiled again—this time, a small grin. She never expected someone like Kotetsu to be bilingual, but it somehow made her feel a little better, to think that someone as kind as Kotetsu could still be really smart. In a weird way, it felt like she could be as smart as she wanted, too, and still stay herself. "I'll remember that. Thanks, Tiger."
"It's nothing, really," Kotetsu said. "Wait, what about this: forty is forty, forty is fourteen, fourteen is—wait, no!"
"You can't brag about a tongue twister that you say wrong!"
"Can you say it?"
"Forty is forty, forty is not fourteen, forty is not four—one more time, one more time! I can do it!"
The pair continued for ages trying to get it right: forty is fourteen, fourteen is forty.
The word 'disappointment' came to mind when Ivan thought of the relationship between himself and his grandparents, but it didn't quite grasp the full nature of the problem. Ivan didn't feel disappointed in Dedushka and Babushka, no, they were just traditional, simple people living the life they wanted, even if that life was rougher than Ivan was used to. The disappointment came in Dedu and Babu's expression when they looked at their grandson and saw, not a specimen of Russian power, but a scrawny little Japanophile. He didn't have Dedu's broad shoulders, or even Babu's strong features, and he spoke only a few words of Russian. Not only that, but he enjoyed Japanese culture far more than his own Russian roots. For years, Ivan had been unable to shake the feeling that, to his grandparents, he was a mere disappointment.
The elderly couple had arrived in Sternbild two days ago to visit Ivan's parents, and Ivan attended a few family meals, struggling to stay in the background when he was, in some way, the star of the show. Dedu and Babu quickly dragged Ivan's secret out of him—it did not suffice to say he worked in advertising: they demanded details about his job, hours, and duties until Ivan had to admit he was Origami Cyclone—and their disappointment only deepened. Ivan understood completely: their grandson was the Hidden Hero, which in their minds meant he was the Coward Hero.
And yet, they still insisted on a tour of Ivan's life. They wanted to see where he worked and what he did there, to judge for themselves whether or not the 'coward' part of Ivan's job outranked the 'hero' part. Ivan had no power to disobey his grandparents, so he brought them to Helperides and toured his office—full of embarrassing mementos that his Dedu and Babu clearly looked down on—and then to Apollon Media, where he couldn't show them as much, because most of the other heroes had secret identities, but Ivan knew better than to try and leave it off the tour.
"This is also your work?" Babu asked through her thick accent.
"Yes, Babushka," Ivan said.
"Why is that bird, up there?" Dedu pointed at the gold griffin.
"I don't know," Ivan shifted in his boots.
"But then why is it there?" Dedu pressed the issue. "What is it for?"
"Decoration?" Ivan guessed, definitely sensing a deeper accusation: What are you for? Why are you here?
"It is too much, too…" Babu paused to find the English word. "Too flashy!"
"Yes, flashy! What does such flashy thing do?"
Ivan had no idea what to say, but before he could say anything else, he heard running footsteps, tearing toward the Apollon staircase. He turned toward the sound and saw Kotetsu, sprinting, with a very clear late-for-work expression on his face. The veteran quickly noticed Ivan in return, and managed to wave, but as he drew closer, he decided to speak.
"G'morning, Or—" And that's when he noticed the two older, non-Hero-affiliated individuals with Ivan, and his instinct to preserve identity kicked in, leading to a very awkward and unconvincing, "Ooore you doing well? This morning? How are you? Hahah…" And since he turned his mistaken greeting into an inquiry, he had to stay and chat.
"I'm fine, I'll see you later," Ivan said, trying to cover for Kotetsu's mistake.
"Who is this? Is he friend?" Babu asked.
"Ah, yes! I'm one of Ivan's co-workers. I'm Kotetsu." Kotetsu stuck out his hand and shook with Ivan's grandparents, and they exchanged pleasantries. "Do you live around here?"
Ivan stood as still as he could, afraid his interference would make a bad situation worse. Kotetsu was already obviously late, and now making small-talk with his grandparents, who already had a low opinion of Ivan's job, and maybe heroics in general. He didn't want to be responsible for a fight between his family and his friend over the role of costumed heroes.
But then Kotetsu asked, "Do you speak Russian?" In Russian.
And the joy that blossomed in his grandparents was practically palpable: someone speaking their language, the best language in the world, and they responded enthusiastically, no doubt sharing their life stories the way only the elderly could. And Ivan just gaped at them. Since when was Kotetsu a bilingual? English and Russian?
The tide of conversation ebbed away from what Ivan could understand, but their emotions required no translation, clearly expressed in the rich, strong Russian language. His grandparents were obviously entertained by this odd foreign man who knew Russian, while Kotetsu seemed happy just to chat with someone new. The tone stayed pleasant for quite some time, until Kotetsu said something, and Dedu and Babu pointedly glanced at Ivan, the good mood deflating.
They're talking about me.
Dedu said something that, to Ivan, seemed to mean something along the lines of 'we didn't pick him, but he's our family,' to which Kotetsu tilted his head, shrugged, and said something that suddenly gained their undivided attention. The tone turned quiet, and Kotetsu spoke for quite some time about something. No doubt a story—but which story? What was he saying about Ivan? What was anyone saying?
Kotetsu finished speaking, and Dedu and Babu seemed to agree with whatever he had just said, nodding and glancing back at Ivan with a bit less suppressed scorn. Kotetsu shook both of their hands again, and then looked to Ivan.
"I'm running late," he said. "I'll see you later!"
"Later," Ivan echoed, and Kotetsu sprinted off again as if he hadn't stopped to speak Russian with Ivan's family.
Once he was gone, Babu smiled and threaded her arm under Ivan's, patting his hand appreciatively. Dedu chuckled and mussed Ivan's hair. And he felt… a little better. Like they hadn't actually been that disappointed with him to begin with.
What did Tiger-san say to them? Ivan thought. But he wasn't about to complain.
Karina gritted her teeth and poked the tip of her pencil into the review packet a few more times. The whole point of switching into Italian was so she, Jane, and Emily would be in the same class and study together, but hero work kept pulling Karina away from every single study session they scheduled. She had to study, alone, for a test the next day; vocabulary, grammar, reading comprehension, translation, and the listening section! God, she didn't know how she'd handle the listening section! The people on the tape always talked way too fast!
As she scribbled down a few words—and promptly erased them, unsure if they were right or wrong—Kotetsu walked by, but stopped when he noticed all the papers and textbook.
"Eh? You're not training today?" he asked.
"I've got a big test tomorrow," Karina said, too stressed to even tell him to leave her alone.
"What's the test on?" Kotetsu peered over Karina's hands at the books. "Ah, Italian! A very beautiful language!"
Karina stopped short, staring up at the veteran hero. Even with just a year of study, she recognized and understood the little burst of Italian. "…Huh?"
"What—you—to study Italian?" Kotetsu asked, but Karina couldn't recognize a good half of his sentence. Was he asking why she studied Italian? Maybe that was it, she had enough context for that…
"My friends," Karina answered. "We study… We…"
"You all study together?"
"Yes! Ah, yes, together."
"But not today."
"No, not today." This wasn't so hard, chatting with Kotetsu. He had a good accent, but he didn't talk too fast, and he enunciated all his words. Even with her limited vocabulary, she felt like she was having a real conversation with him.
"Let's see, what is the test?" Kotetsu sat down beside Karina and looked at her textbook. "Shopping vocabulary? Which part is—" Kotetsu's phrasing cut out again, and at Karina's blank stare, he rephrased, "Which parts do you need to learn?"
"The… marketplace barter," Karina said, finding her vocabulary sheet. Why did she even need to learn all these words? How often would she end up in a market that bartered, anyway?
"Okay, okay," Kotetsu took the sheet out of Karina's hand and began, "Excuse me, Miss, how much do these flowers cost?"
"Uh," Pick a number, pick a number… "Twenty euros."
"Complete sentences," Kotetsu reminded her.
"It—no, they, cost twenty euros," Karina corrected.
"Ah!" Kotetsu turned up the theatrics. "That is too expensive!" Then he added another sentence that Karina didn't understand, but she heard money and Friday. "I can pay ten euros."
Well, she could accept that offer and end this stupid little dialogue, but she didn't really want to. Just because she needed the practice, not because she wanted to talk to him or anything! Besides, Kotetsu sounded a lot better than the stupid listening tapes, not talking too fast or too slow, keeping his accent light and smooth… "That is too little. Give me fifteen euros. That is my final price."
Kotetsu said a word rather exasperatedly, then followed with "I'll pay fifteen euros." Then he mimed handing Karina money, taking a bouquet of flowers, and sniffing them. With a glint in his eye, Kotetsu reached into his imaginary blossoms, pinched his fingers together, and pulled, before reaching toward Karina's ear.
"Then, I leave one flower for the very good salesgirl," he said. Dumbfounded, Karina stared at him as Kotetsu passed her study sheet back to her and patted her on the head.
"Good conversation, Blue Rose. If you need a break from studying, try running a bit. Exercise clears your head," Kotetsu advised. "And if you need more help, let me know." He stood and waved over his shoulder. "Ciao!"
Watching him leave, Karina felt her face start to burn. And not only did her face burn, her stomach twitched with little butterflies and her heart beat painfully fast, was this all supposed to happen after a co-worker took time out of his life to tutor her in Italian and just be a silly doofus?
And tandem to the question, What just happened? Karina could not help but think, Is he bilingual?
They were most certainly lost. Even after they found a map and got directions, they got lost again. And now Keith was starting to worry. He needed to get home for John's evening walk. Not to mention he was very hungry, and at this point, he was wasting Kotetsu's time, too. Granted, the veteran had insisted that he come along for his share in the best Indian food that Keith had ever tasted, but Keith didn't want to inconvenience anyone else. At this rate, he should find the restaurant on his own, and then invite others when he was sure he could locate it.
It was a bit of a funny story. Keith first tasted this food at one of Poseidon's meet-and-greets. A small Indian restaurant with purple and gold napkins had catered the event. Their perfect blend of spices and flavors left a big impression on the hero, so Keith took three of their business cards and struggled to memorize the name and address of the restaurant so he could go and visit again. But, by the time he made an opening to go, the business cards had all been lost, leaving him and Kotetsu in the middle of Indiavenue (an ethnic borough in Sternbild with many families of Indian heritage) with all of the signs written in Hindi and no idea where to go.
"Have we passed this sign already?" Keith pointed at the likely landmark.
"Nah, that's not—wait—no, it's—no, it is! Dammit!" Kotetsu growled. Keith had seen the veteran hero confused before, but never this confused and annoyed. Something about not being able to find his way grated against Kotetsu's nerves.
"It's all right, Mr. Wild. We can try to find this restaurant on another day," Keith said, hoping to reassure his co-worker.
"We're gonna find it!" Kotetsu insisted. "I don't know why I'm bothering to try and read this—what was the name of the place again?"
"Aaragan… I think," Keith said. "It could be Agragan, or Aarpan, too. What I remember is the purple napkins with the gold trim."
"Gotcha. Wait a minute," Kotetsu said, stepping toward the nearest shop and catching the attention of a man on the steps. Ah, yes—asking for directions. Well, Keith and Kotetsu had discounted that option for a long time, Keith out of not remembering the restaurant name accurately, and Kotetsu out of pride, but they had reached the point where it was necessary if they were going to eat tonight.
But to Keith's surprise, Kotetsu didn't ask in English. A completely different tangle of words spilled forth, melodic, bouncy, and warm. The man blinked at Kotetsu once, almost trying to reconcile Kotetsu's language with his appearance, before he replied with equal certainty in the same language. Kotetsu mimed out a box with his fingers, and the man nodded and pointed off in a direction. But just as Kotetsu nodded, the man said something else, and the conversation continued.
…I am lost. Keith realized. And again, most certainly lost.
They continued conversing for a minute, until the man stepped away from the front of his shop and started walking with Kotetsu. Dumbfounded, Keith stood by for a minute, when Kotetsu gestured over his shoulder for Keith to follow. The wind wizard fell into step behind Kotetsu and his new friend as they chattered back in forth in a language Keith couldn't even begin to follow. He briefly wondered if John felt like this, when Keith stopped to say hello to people on their walks.
A few streets over, the man pointed to a restaurant with a purple awning, labeled with a beautiful mesh of Hindi words that Keith couldn't read. Kotetsu and the man shook hands and then waved at each other as the man left.
"Found it," Kotetsu said. "The restaurant's name was Aaheli," Kotetsu said, the name coming alive in his mouth. "We're lucky Rahul recognized the napkins."
"Is he a friend of yours?" Keith asked. "You looked like you knew each other."
"Nah, people are really friendly when you speak their language," Kotetsu said.
"So you're bilingual! You speak English and Hindi!" Keith beamed. "That's wonderful! And again, it's—"
"Quit repeating yourself, and let's eat already!" Kotetsu grinned, stepping across the threshold and into the wonderful aroma of a dozen different spices, and dishes that tasted even better when Keith sat and ate them with a friend.
Karina hugged her Italian textbook a little tighter to her chest and peeked out of the girls' locker room and into the main training room. No sign of Kotetsu yet—but she did see Pao Lin, stretching and getting ready to begin her workout. Best start there. At least she has an excuse if anyone thinks it's strange she's seeking out Kotetsu.
"Hey, um, Dragon Kid," Karina said. "Have you seen Tiger?"
"Not yet," Pao Lin said. "Why, what do you need?"
Karina gestured to her book. "It's no big deal, I just want some review."
"Italian?" Pao Lin peered at the book. "Why would you ask Tiger to study Italian?"
"He speaks Italian," Karina answered.
"I couldn't believe it, either, but we had a whole conversation together," Karina said. Maybe she exaggerated the definition of 'conversation,' but she managed to sell him a bunch of invisible flowers, and that counted, right? "He said I could ask him if I ever needed a study-partner."
"That's so weird!" Pao Lin jumped to her feet. "I thought Tiger spoke Chinese!"
"Yeah! We played around with tongue twisters for ages! He's fluent!" Pao Lin said.
"So, he speaks three languages?" Karina said. "English, Chinese, and Italian?"
"That's a really weird mix," Pao Lin said. "I wonder if anyone else knows…"
"We can ask Fire Emblem," Karina said, and the pair surveyed the gym for Nathan's fabulous presence.
They found him soon enough, near the sparring dummies, and Pao Lin immediately opened, "Did you know Tiger can speak other languages?"
"I did!" Nathan answered, clasping his hands. "He's an absolute dream at French~…"
The two girls stared at Nathan. "French?" Pao Lin said.
"Oui, French~," Nathan said. "He hides his mastery of the language of love well, but I've heard it~."
"He's can't speak French, too," Karina said. "That's too many."
"Too many what?" Nathan asked.
"Too many languages!" Karina said, counting on her fingers. "English, French, Italian, and Chinese. That's four languages!"
"But I'm positive Tiger spoke French to me," Nathan promised. "And not just parroting a phrase-book. He must be fluent."
"And his Chinese was good, too!" Pao Lin added.
"His Italian might be weak, but he's still way above my level," Karina added. "So he's probably fluent at that, too."
At that moment, Keith took notice of the rather agitated group of girls, and approached them. "Is there something wrong?" he asked.
"Sky High, have you heard Tiger speak any other languages?" Nathan asked.
"Ah! Yes, I have!" Keith responded brightly. "He speaks Hindi!"
"Hindi?" The girls chorused, astounded by the addition of a fifth language.
"How well?" Karina regained herself first.
Keith paused for a minute. "Very well, I think. He made friends with a man in Indiavenue when we went out for curry one night."
"Five languages!" Pao Lin held up her hand, all five fingers extended, and they quickly brought Keith up to speed regarding Kotetsu's growing library of languages. In response, Keith quickly nabbed Ivan, who added that Kotetsu had spoken Russian to some of Ivan's family, bringing his language count up to six.
"We've been such fools!" Nathan cried. "If there's anyone who would know how many languages Tiger speaks, it would be the one who's known him the longest!"
So, five heroes crowded around Antonio the Bull Tank and asked him the question of the hour: How many languages does Tiger speak?
"Three," Antonio answered with certainty. "He speaks English, Spanish, and Japanese."
"Plus Spanish and Japanese!?" Karina exclaimed. "That's—that's eight languages!"
"Eight languages? No way," Antonio said, but each hero shared their story of being with Kotetsu as he spoke other languages. Even his old school friend couldn't account for all the languages Kotetsu spoke. He knew Kotetsu had picked up Spanish with miraculous speed, but as for how he learned the rest of the linguistic menagerie, Antonio was just as mystified as the other heroes.
There was no other option. They would have to ask the man himself, find their answer as to how—or where, or when—he gained this strange ability to speak to nearly everyone. They satisfied their curiosity for the moment trading what details they did possess: Kotetsu had told Pao Lin he learned Chinese in Oriental Town, Antonio testified that he tutored Kotetsu a bit in Spanish, and with some Japanese family, the Japanese made sense, too. But that still left at least five languages without a story of how Kotetsu learned them.
With baited breath, the heroes waited for the door to the men's locker room to open, waited for Kotetsu to appear, and when the door slid aside, the heroes all demanded at once, "How many languages do you speak?!"
"Me?" A very confused Barnaby stared at the assembled heroes. "I speak English."
"Not you, Tiger~!" Nathan corrected. "How many languages does Tiger speak!?"
"Two," Barnaby replied. "English and Japanese. Why is this so important to all of you?"
"Because he speaks eight languages!" Karina insisted. "English, Japanese, Spanish, French, Chinese, Russian, Italian, and Hindi! We've all heard him speak at least two of those languages, and he's fluent in all of them!"
"That's impossible," Barnaby said. "How could he learn all those languages?"
"We don't know, but we're waiting to ask him," Antonio said. "Is he coming to training soon?"
Barnaby didn't reply. He just turned around and walked straight out of the training room as suddenly as he had entered. The six remaining heroes stared after him, bemused.
"Did we make Mr. Barnaby mad?" Keith asked.
"What does he have to get mad about? This is about Tiger," Karina said.
"But Tiger-san is his partner," Ivan said. "Maybe he feels… unsettled. Like he should have known this about his partner."
"I didn't know until now that Tiger spoke more than three languages, but I'm not offended or anything. Just surprised," Antonio said.
"But Handsome has always had a rather low opinion of Tiger's intelligence," Nathan said. "And then to learn he's such an accomplished polyglot? It's suspicious for sure~…"
"He won't actually get mad at Tiger for not telling him," Pao Lin said. "Will he?"
Kotetsu wriggled his feet in his shoes as Lloyds continued ranting about the importance of preserving public structures. It was so unfair, Barnaby got the light version 'be careful, pay attention' and got dismissed, but Kotetsu had to stand here for another fifteen minutes as Lloyds dug up every flagstone Kotetsu ever cracked and lectured him on it! Some of it had to be his armor's fault, that stuff was heavy! And when your fists are made of metal, a lot more stuff breaks when you punch! Couldn't Lloyds talk with Saito about this? Why did all of this have to get pinned on Kotetsu?
With his final set of "yes, sir. It won't happen again, sir," Kotetsu finally ducked out of Lloyds' office and into the hallway. Adjusting his hat back on his head, he breathed a huge sigh of relief. Just get out, go to training, and trust Barnaby to keep him from breaking stuff. Good plan, Kotetsu, now make it happen!
But before he did any of that, he'd have to deal with his very irritated partner. Barnaby stood just a few feet from the door, dressed in his gym clothes, arms folded and glare sharp. That was weird, Kotetsu thought Barnaby had left in at least a neutralmood, what had he done to bring about his partner's wrath now?
"Um… hi, Bunny!" Kotetsu said. "What's up?"
"Exactly how intelligent are you, Kotetsu?" Barnaby asked, words clipped and precise.
"Huh?" Kotetsu blinked at him, a rather unintelligent response.
"You speak eight languages."
"No, I don't," Kotetsu said.
"Don't lie. You speak eight languages!" Barnaby insisted.
"I promise it's true! I don't speak eight languages!" Kotetsu told him. "I speak ten."
Barnaby's lips parted, his jaw dropping as far as someone with such a cool image would allow. "You speak ten languages?"
"Yeah," Kotetsu said, counting off on his fingers. "Japanese, Hindi, Chinese, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Finnish, and Greek." Kotetsu paused and wavered one hand. "My Greek is kinda weak, but I'm working on it."
"You speak ten languages!" Barnaby repeated. "How did you learn them all?"
"Just… talking," Kotetsu said. "I can read English and Japanese, and the rest are iffy. It's just talking to people. When I learn how to say something, it just sticks. I don't think about it too hard, and when I need it, it's in there somewhere." He gestured vaguely at his head. "Maybe not when I need it most, but it's in there. And when I talk long enough, or listen long enough, I learn it."
"And when were you planning to tell me that you speak ten languages?" Barnaby accused.
For the first time, Kotetsu actually felt a little bad. "Eh… I wasn't."
"You were going to hide that you're a polyglot?"
"Polyglot. Someone who speaks many languages."
"Oh," Kotetsu said. "You learn something new every day, huh, Bunny?"
"Kotetsu, why would you hide that you're a polyglot?"
"I wasn't going to hide it," Kotetsu said. "I just… don't like sharing it."
"But all the heroes know that you speak all those languages. You shared it with them."
"Usually, people only find out I speak more than one language by accident," Kotetsu said. "Sometimes if I can speak what another bilingual speaks, we'll talk in the other language. But I usually don't tell them about all the other languages. I don't like to brag about it."
For a minute, Barnaby just stared at him. "That isn't bragging," he decided. "Even with a natural aptitude for language, polyglotism is an impressive accomplishment. Are you ashamed of it?"
"This isn't that important," Kotetsu tried to brush it off. "C'mon, Bunny, let's go to training."
"Kotetsu, why are you trying to downplay this? You speak ten languages. That's something you'd want to share with others, right?"
"It really doesn't matter how smart I am!" Kotetsu said. "I could speak ten languages before we even met. Have I become any smarter now that you know I can do that? It's not like I turned into a genius overnight!"
The logical paradox made Barnaby pause, and his brow creased. Oh, now Kotetsu felt bad, upsetting Barnaby over this. This isn't what he wanted to do at all, he just didn't want this kind of gawking, gaping, superiority attention. Made him twitch and feel weird.
"Back when we first became partners, I thought that… you weren't very intelligent," Barnaby admitted, arms unfolding and drifting back to his sides. "And there were times when I treated you unfairly because of that perception. I judged you. And I judged wrong. If I had known you better, then maybe…"
"Are you saying you'd have treated me better?" Kotetsu asked.
"I think so."
Kotetsu just shook his head. "That's not how it works. You would have thought of me however you wanted to, no matter how smart I am."
"I value intelligence," Barnaby said. "I would have respected you for it."
"Even if it's something you value, you don't want to see your values in people you don't like," Kotetsu said, adjusting his hat and leaving the brim a little lower. "That's just how it works."
"What do you mean?" Barnaby asked.
Dammit, why do I have to tell Bunny about this here? Kotetsu took a deep breath and let it out. If only he had a way to make this gentler. At this rate, Barnaby was bound to get upset and worry, and Kotetsu didn't yet know how to make it seem like less of a big deal.
"I got bad grades in school," Kotetsu began. "I understood all the material, and I always felt like I did well on the tests, but they came back terrible. My homework, too. Lots of 'incomplete' and 'late' marks, even when I answered every problem and turned it in first. And for a while, I tried to study harder to bring up my grades, but if I got a single question wrong, my grade nose-dived."
"That shouldn't happen," Barnaby said, puzzled. "You shouldn't miss one problem and receive such a low grade—were the problems weighted?"
"No weight," Kotetsu said. "After a few really weird tests, I compared my answers with another classmate. She and I missed only one problem—the same problem—but she lost two points, and I lost twenty."
"On the exact same problem? That's unfair!" Barnaby's scowl deepened, just like Kotetsu had feared it would. "There's no way to defend that sort of grading!"
"You're right, there's not," Kotetsu shrugged. "But it really doesn't matter."
"Of course it matters!" Barnaby persisted. "Those teachers deliberately lowered your grades! Why would they do that?"
"Because I was a NEXT."
Kotetsu said it as casually as possible, like a fact of life. NEXTs get bad grades. That was the fact of Kotetsu's life, twenty years ago in a small-town classroom, with a good majority of the students afraid for their lives, but unable to go anywhere else. Things had improved enough that Kotetsu had protection to go to school—no one could ban him from attending—but nothing guaranteed his life there would be happy. Thanks to people like Tomoe and Antonio, it had been, and those dark blots of discrimination stayed hazy and far-off, but in the present, their weight clouded the air.
With the same offhand tone, Kotetsu continued, "They didn't really need a reason; they just decided that someone like me shouldn't get good grades. I'd set a bad example for other kids if I was smart. They'd think that it was okay to be different, because they could still succeed. So, they dragged me down. They took off too many points for mistakes, they didn't curve my tests, they penalized me for class participation… And I realized, if people really want to treat me badly, they will, no matter how smart I am. What matters is how I treat them."
Barnaby stared at Kotetsu for a long time, and Kotetsu tried to anticipate his next move. Kotetsu's story had upset his partner, but really, Kotetsu imagined a lot worse. Now if he could just stop Barnaby from worrying about a past he couldn't change, they could both move on, and change the future, instead.
"They were still wrong," Barnaby said quietly, but his fists clenched by his sides. "They had no right to treat you like that—to make you feel like there was anything wrong with you! Because there's not!"
"Bunny, Bunny, calm down!" Kotetsu reached out to pat Barnaby on the shoulder. "I'm fine! See? It's no big deal!"
"It's still wrong!" Barnaby cried, building up steam. "You're an amazing person, Kotetsu, but no one ever rewards you for it, and you act like it doesn't even matter—"
"Conejito," Kotetsu flipped languages, and the foreign speech drove a splinter through Barnaby's rant. Holding his partner's attention, Kotetsu continued, "Usagi, Lapin, Coniglietto…"
Yes, Barnaby's rant stopped, but he just looked so scared and upset, so Kotetsu threaded his arms under Barnaby's and pulled him close in a hug. "Tùzǐ… Karagōśa… Lagoudáki… Pupu… Krolik… Bunny…"
Mystified by the myriad of words, but comprehending that they were just translations of his nickname, Barnaby gradually unwound in Kotetsu's arms as he repeated the words over and over again, mixing their order and soothing his partner away from the edge of an outburst. Kotetsu even knew how to say 'bunny' in a few stray languages that he didn't claim fluency in, so he added in German, "Hase," Korean, "Tokki," and Swedish, "Kanin."
When he felt Barnaby had loosened enough, Kotetsu pulled back and braced Barnaby's shoulders supportively.
"So many words," he said with a small smile. "But they all mean the same thing. They mean 'bunny.'" Barnaby looked slightly away, his face a little flushed. "But it doesn't matter what I call you. You stay you. And that's the same for me. Call me smart, call me dumb, I stay myself. I'm Kotetsu. And that's not about to change."
"Kotetsu…" Barnaby said, much more tentative than before. "Everyone upstairs, they want to know…"
"That I'm a po-ly-glot?" Kotetsu kind of liked the sound of that word. He'd have to translate it soon, to know more versions. "Then let's go and tell them!"
"But they'll want to know why you never present yourself as intelligent," Barnaby continued. "Are you ready to tell them?"
Kotetsu let out a breath again. He barely survived a worried Barnaby. Imagining all the other heroes worried about a past they couldn't change was just too much. "No, I'm not ready for that," Kotetsu admitted. "There'll be a time to tell them, but not today. For now…" Kotetsu winked at Barnaby. "Can you keep my secret, Bunny?"
"I can," Barnaby decided. "Thank you for telling me."
"So let's go! I'm late already, and now you're late, waiting for me."
The pair walked over toward the elevators, prepared to head back up to the Hero Gym, when Barnaby spoke.
"I really think you're amazing," Barnaby said. "The ability to speak ten languages fluently—you have a very impressive memory."
"Ah, r-really?" Kotetsu scratched at his beard and looked away. "I guess it's cool, yeah."
"And your endurance is not your only strong point. I admire your enthusiasm, in addition to your generosity."
"Jeez, Bunny," Kotetsu tried to laugh off Barnaby's complements. "What did I do to make you so gushy?"
"It's not about how others treat me," Barnaby said as the elevator doors opened. He stepped inside, and glancing over his shoulder, added, "What matters is how I treat them."
Some sort of emotion bloomed in Kotetsu's heart, and for all the languages stuffed in his head, he had no idea what he was supposed to call a feeling so peaceful, pure, and good.