Title: Save My Soul
Word Count: 4301
Topic: T&B Anon Meme Prompt
Disclaimer: I don't own anything from Tiger and Bunny. Tiger and Bunny belong to Sunrise and their respective creators.
Author's Note: Sorry for this taking so long to update, life has been getting a little crazy lately. Also to answer Dromso's question, I came up with the idea for this fic from seeing a picture of the T&B characters with weapons (it doesn't exist on Pixiv anymore, sadly). The idea popped up in my head and I wrote the prompt on the T&B anon meme. Eventually I decided to take a swing at the idea myself because I really loved it. Other than that, feedback would be great and I hope that you enjoy this chapter!
It was amazing how little things could make easing into a new situation all the more easy. At least that was what Barnaby decided as he watched the programming on the TV in his apartment. The television programming in Sternbild was like that of the world of mortals. There were movies, commercials, and other forms of entertainment. All the programming had a Sternbild twist to it. Instead of any celebrities he could recognize there were otherworldly creatures. It took a little getting used to when he first started watching television. As he did, Barnaby was a little surprised at how such a little things like being able to watch TV could help one feel a little more normal.
Barnaby's attention was pulled away from the TV an into the window of his apartment when he heard the sudden rumble of thunder. Gazing out from his window he could see a small group of rain spirits passing by. They seemed to be from different parts of the world, each adorned in garments from different times and cultures. They rode on thick gray clouds and brought rain to the streets below. It was moments like those that shook Barnaby from those feelings of normalcy and reminded him of just where he was. He wondered how long it would be before even moments like those would become normal to him. Would he be more aloof about things like Kotetsu was?
Barnaby sighed as he thought back on the reason why he was stuck in his apartment in the first place. A couple of days had passed since the incident at the train wreck. He was amazed at the healing abilities of the grim reapers. Kotetsu's wounds managed to heal in a single night and he was back in fighting form. However, he was still ordered to take a day off. Just to be sure that he was fully healed, Kotetsu wasn't fond of the idea but had no choice but to comply.
Barnaby was left alone and restless. He pressed the channel button on his remote more forcefully than he needed to and frowned when he heard the plastic creak in protest of such treatment. He needed something to focus his mind on. His nerves were frazzled since the night of the train wreck. Barnaby gave a heavy sigh and ran his pale hand through his hair, his frustration was getting the better of him. But he didn't like that he didn't have anything to do. From the Reaper Academy to his graduation to a 'fledgling', his time was always occupied with activities and learning. All that began to slow when he was stuck with Kotetsu and now left with the simple instruction to 'relax' he felt unfocused. He hated the feeling of his thoughts being scattered and remote was his unfortunate victim.
Barnaby stopped flipping the channels when he spotted a familiar face on the screen. A young, attractive girl with a familiar heart shaped face. He was certain it was Karina; it was hard to forget her after how they met at the Goddess Tower. She looked different though, instead of her brown eyes and dirty blonde hair, both were icy blue. She smiled at the camera and held up a soft drink bottle.
"So that's what he meant..." Barnaby thought aloud as he remembered one of his talks with Kotetsu. The old man had a tendency to lecture and offer up 'advice'. Usually it was stuff he already learned from the academy or just seemed nonsensical. He would mostly just half listen when Kotetsu went off on one of his lectures. He did remember paying a little more attention to that conversation though and that it struck him as odd. The thought that harbingers of death would take side jobs was a little silly until Barnaby thought it over a little more. A life in Purgatory was the result of one's sins, filling up free time must have been a nice distraction from such a grim reality. The extra money probably didn't hurt either, even in death nothing was free! When Kotetsu first mentioned it Barnaby hadn't thought much of it. But now he was reluctantly beginning to understand the old man's point. Sitting alone in that apartment doing nothing was starting to drive him mad. As he watched Karina on the TV he toyed with the idea of getting into media. He could remember doing something like that while alive, though those memories were still just out of his reach.
From the looks of things it seemed that Karina was a pop idol in Sternbild. She sang the product's jingle and gave playful wink and an impish smile. Barnaby found himself staring for a little while after the commercial had ended. He pondered for a moment on how many of the creatures he saw on TV were fellow grim reapers. The idea of taking up such a job was tempting at that point. He knew he wouldn't always be on the job, so what could he do in his spare time?
Barnaby gave a short sigh, he'd ask about getting another job later. For the time being he did his best to relax. That feeling of restless never left him, it was irritating and also a little troubling. That restlessness that stirred within him had a similar feel to that night where he lost control over himself. He frowned, his attention drifting away from the TV an into his own thoughts. He tried to remember what happened that night. Barnaby tried to go over the events in his head a few times that day. His mind was clouded with carnal urges and instinct. The more he thought about it the more he hated it. It was like there was two of him, the real Barnaby and a monster. He didn't remember anything like that from his time with the Grim Reaper Academy. It left him to wonder if there was something wrong with him. If he was the only one that couldn't control the 'other him'.
Barnaby sighed and sat back in his chair, the noise of the TV provided a background ambience. He tried to focus his thoughts. What he could remember was aiming his gun at Kotetsu. Somehow the old man managed to get an advantage over him and had him pinned to the ground. He could remember seeing something in Kotetsu's eyes that frightened him. The old man wasn't very intimidating to him usually, but for that moment he looked like a monster. That wild look in his eyes drove whatever had its hold on Barnaby back into the deep recesses of his mind. Perhaps the old man was more than he seemed.
Then there was a strange woman with her strange clothes and serpent tattoos. He knew that symbol, he couldn't truly forget it. The image of a serpent devouring its own tail, Ouroboros. The name would slip out of his mouth so quickly and naturally, he has lost count how many times he said the word during his life. Ouroboros, it was there, the night that his parents died.
Barnaby's mind started to slip further and further back, drifting through the jumbled mess of memory. To when he was a teenager, holding up a drawing of that snake and asking passersby if they knew anything about it. It was cold that day, it felt even colder as people passed him by and ignored him. Then even further back, he could hear the distant sound of crackling flames in his ear. Images of the living room in his childhood home little flame flashed in his mind. He remembered staring at them, the lifeless bodies of his mother and father as they played crumpled and slumped over on the couch. Behind them painted on the wall and what could have been blood was the symbol of Ouroboros. Lost in his memory, Barnaby could hear the crackling flames more clearly. He could even smell the smoke as it assaulted his nose with that ghastly heat. There was another sound, it was easy to miss at first but as Barnaby concentrated more the second sound became clearer. It was the sound of heavy footsteps walking up from behind him. Something was behind him that day.
At that moment Barnaby shivered, he could feel goose bumps rising from his skin. He turned around and looked behind only to see the large windows that showed the city. He was no longer trapped in his memory; he was back in his apartment, alone. Barnaby caught himself breathing heavily; he took a moment to try to calm down. Part of him wanted to try to remember what he saw that day. Yet his memories became foggy again and hard to recall. It took a little while for him to relax, whatever happened that day scared him.
Why was his memory so jumbled? Barnaby couldn't help but think back on the conversation he had with Kotetsu about sins. Sins that every Grim Reaper wanted to forget and be redeemed for. Was that the cause for his broken memories? Were his sins so bad that he wanted to forget and his memories ended up shattered?
Before Barnaby could think anymore on the matter, the phone rang and startled him. He looked at the phone on a nearby table. He was secretly thankful that it decided to ring at that time. He reached over and picked it up to answer it.
"Barnaby speaking..." He said tiredly. He was surprised how delving into his own memories took a lot of energy out of him.
"Yo! Barnaby!" It was Kotetsu, which wasn't surprising; so far he was the only one that would call the fledgling. "How are you feeling today? Are you getting enough to eat? Enough sleep?"
One of Barnaby's eyebrows gives an irritated twitch. The volume of the man's voice made him hold the phone away from his ear. "Old man, if you have business with me then just say it."
"No need to be so cold, kid. It is a part of my job to keep an eye on you." Kotetsu's voice had a sound of disappointment. Barnaby could only imagine the man pouting like a child. "Anyway, listen up, how would you like to go out with me so we can help you get some practice?"
"Practice? What kind of practice?" Barnaby asked.
"You'll see once we get over there, it's a little hard to explain over the phone." Kotetsu answered thoughtfully. He paused for a moment before continuing. "Um, if it's a bad day for you that's fine. We can do it another time."
Barnaby frowned; it felt like Kotetsu was treating him like a child. The sudden feeling of stubbornness hit him and he felt determined to go. "I'll be there old man; I'll meet you at the goddess tower."
There was little trouble getting where they needed to go that day. Barnaby was getting used to navigating his way to the Goddess Tower and to its travel gates. Any small talk that Kotetsu tried to make upon his arrival was shut down with Barnaby insisting that they get on with business. As disappointed as he was, Kotetsu didn't make any arguments. He could see that Barnaby was a little on edge and couldn't blame him, the kid was faced with an ugly side of himself. Their trip took them back to New York, more specifically, a children's hospital.
There was a certain familiarity Barnaby felt when he saw it. Even when he and Kotetsu walked its halls there were certain things that he knew. There was a playroom for the children that he was instinctively drawn to. Barnaby found himself pausing at the door way and peering inside. It was empty, save for the toys, but he could almost hear the laughter of the children that would play there.
For a brief moment his mind flashed to a memory. He was standing in the middle of the room with the children surrounding him, all excited to see him. Barnaby could remember that he was handing out gifts to the children. The memory made his heart feel warm, there was no feeling of fear or dread like with the other slivers of memories he had seen. He knew that he truly enjoyed seeing the children happy and that it was something that felt natural. Like he had done things like that many times before. Another mental flash hit him and his memories were pulled even further back. He was seated in a corner of the play room, hugging close to him a small, blue toy robot. His eyes ached as hot tears leaked from them. Barnaby was jolted from his memories when he suddenly felt a tapping on his shoulder. He was met with Kotetsu motioning for them to get moving, the two of them then continued their walk down the halls of the hospital.
"So why did you bring me here, old man?" Barnaby asked. It wouldn't be surprising that he would have to collect souls from a place like this it felt like there was another reason why they came here.
"I'm here for my own reasons but I figured it would be a nice place for you to practice." Kotetsu explained as he watched his surroundings. His attention often caught by parents visiting their children.
Barnaby caught Kotetsu staring, he followed the man's gaze and saw what he was looking at. There were parents visiting their children often with little gifts like stuffed animals. Seeing the joy light on the face of a child at seeing their parent stirred something in Barnaby. A feeling that seemed just out of reach for him.
'Don't do it! Please, I have a daughter!'
He could clearly remember hearing Kotetsu say that. For some reason hearing that helped pull him from his bloodlust and bring him back to his senses. The idea of orphaning a child, the idea that someone else would have to go through what he had was too much. Barnaby tried to push that thought to the back of his mind, he could hear the faint familiar sound of crackling fire and footsteps. He was starting to understand why grim reapers wanted to forget, the power of memory could be frightening. Instead he turned his attentions back to Kotetsu, the man was a puzzle to say the least.
In all honesty Barnaby couldn't be too sure if what Kotetsu said was the really truth. After all, he said himself that reapers were all sinners. Perhaps in his lifetime Kotetsu was a liar or maybe if he did have a family, he could have killed them himself. That thought sent a slight chill through him. He caught Kotetsu watching a room nearby; he could've sworn he saw the man smiling. Barnaby's gaze then moved to the room and caught sight of a young boy sitting up in bed smiling and talking with his father.
"Looks like his parents are making time to see him after all." Kotetsu thought aloud. His smile started to die when it seemed a thought suddenly occurred to him. He frowned and lightly nibbled on his bottom lip, whatever he was thinking about must have been troubling.
"Are you alright, old man?"
Kotetsu blinked and looked back at Barnaby. He a sheepish smile tugged at the corners of his lips, scratched the back of his head and gave a short laugh. "It's nothing! Anyway, let's get down to business, why I brought you here."
"Aren't we just going to collect souls here?" Barnaby asked. It wasn't like Kotetsu had him do much else. The man wasn't much of a mentor as he was a taskmaster.
"Well, there's more to it than that. This is kinda about what happened at the train wreck." Kotetsu explained. He could see Barnaby frown and look away from him. "Hey, listen to me on this, you're not the first one to lose control like that."
Barnaby didn't care for Kotetsu's attempts at being reassuring. He wanted nothing to do with the man and here he was trying to be friendly. In a way it felt like he was being treated like a child and Barnaby hated it. "Are you saying that it happened you too?"
"Yeah, it did. It can happen anyone of us, even if you're experienced. It's kind of like an ongoing battle between your humanity and a more beastly part of you. At least, that was how it was explained to me when I was a fledgling." Kotetsu said thoughtfully. He couldn't help but think back a little on his time with his own mentor. A smile tugged at the corner of his lips with his brief jaunt down memory lane. He could remember how frightened at some of the things that he was taught. Kotetsu wondered if Barnaby was also a little afraid. It was hard to tell with the fledgling, he was very hard to read.
Even then Barnaby looked distant as his mind took him back to that night. "What was that? What happened to me?"
"Um, well..." Kotetsu scratched the back of his head as he tried to piece together a decent answer. "I guess the easiest way to say it is that we're not human. Not anymore, anyway."
Barnaby frowned slightly and his head canted to the side, he looked confused. This earned a forced, half laugh from Kotetsu, it was obvious that it wasn't something that was easy to explain. It was part of the job, he was the kid's mentor after all. He took a moment to gather his thoughts before he continued.
"We still have our humanity, but once we die we're not human anymore. We're just a soul and when we're picked to be grim reapers we're put in a body that's made to look like us when we were alive." Kotetsu was met with a disturbed look on Barnaby's face.
Barnaby looked down at his hands and flexed them, he could feel them, they felt like his regular hands. He didn't have any problems controlling them, his body didn't feel fake. A memory played in his mind, of him standing at his own funeral watching his coffin as it was lowered into the ground. That was right; his body was in a grave next to his parents. Barnaby felt his stomach twist at the memory, at the thought that he had failed. He was starting to feel sick, his hand went to his chest expecting a heartbeat but felt nothing. There was something there though, where his heart should've been. He could feel it ache. He felt a hand gently being placed on his back, he jumped. He looked up and saw a startled Kotetsu, his eyes filled with worry.
"It's a lot to take in, but it's going to be okay." the older man tried to sound reassuring. He could feel Barnaby slip from his touch when he pulled away from him. The frown he got in response was starting to make Kotetsu believe that there would be no way to bridge the gap between them.
"I don't trust you." Barnaby asserted.
Kotetsu's look of concern contorted into a frown, he crossed his arms and gave a short sigh. "Well I don't like you much either but we're stuck together. Might as well get used to it."
"I don't need you to take pity on me."
"It's not pity!" Kotetsu looked away from him stubbornly, what he was going to say wouldn't leave him. Seeing Barnaby's expectant gaze didn't help matters any either. He shook his head and forced the words out, "I messed up, alright? I admit it, I didn't take things seriously."
"So you're just trying to save your own ass."
Kotetsu blinked, he looked like he was slapped in the face by that comment. He shook his head and gave another half laugh. "Yeah, I AM trying to save my own ass but I'm also trying to save yours too. If I fail I'll just have a lot more time added to my sentence. If you fail then you're going straight to Hell."
Barnaby stared at Kotetsu for a moment, his eyes widening slightly as the man's words sank in. His mind drifted back to the memories that he saw before. The warmth and natural feeling of doing something good for people was real, he was certain about that. So why was he in this situation? What did he do that had him at risk of going to Hell?
"But why?" Barnaby thought aloud, his usual cool demeanor wavered.
"You committed a pretty hefty sin." Kotetsu explained, sounding a little annoyed. "I told you this before! Weren't you listening?"
"But I don't even know what I did!" Barnaby snapped, surprising the older reaper and causing him to step back. "It's not fair..."
Kotetsu's look of annoyance melted away to that of concern. He took off his hat and with his free hand he ran his fingers through his hair. He gave a short sigh and seemed to come to a decision "Then, how about we make a deal?"
"What kind of deal?" Barnaby asked cautiously.
"I'm helping with an investigation, so I can sneak a peek at some of the records in the Goddess Tower." Kotetsu began, he paused a moment to let what he said sink in. "I could try to look for your records."
"You'd really do that?" Barnaby's eyes widened with surprise, but he soon looked a little suspicious. "What's the catch?"
"Hey, you're not making a deal with a devil here, it's just me!" Kotetsu laughed a little. "Let's just play nice and get along, I help you and you help me. That's fair, isn't it?"
It seemed simple enough, that much Barnaby had to admit. His eyes locked with Kotetsu's, the man's gaze didn't waver.
"I want to help you, Barnaby." Kotetsu said firmly. He held out a hand, offering a handshake to seal the deal.
Barnaby hesitated for a moment but did take the older reaper's hand and shook on it. "If you don't like me that much then why are you so eager to help?"
"Ah, blame my own instincts for that one." Kotetsu scratched the back of his head and gave sheepish smile. "You're my fledgling, so I feel the need to take care of you." He could see a confused look on Barnaby's face and couldn't help but laugh. "It's just how we're wired. Think of it kind of like being a baby bird, you're stuck with me being your papa bird."
"What...?" Barnaby canted his head to the side and thought about that for a moment. The mental image he got was completely ridiculous. Like an old black and white cartoon where the animals would wear hats and pants and would sing show tunes.
"I don't think you look much like a bird though, maybe more like..." Kotetsu took a short moment to get a good look at Barnaby. He snapped his fingers and gave an impish smile. "You look more like a rabbit, I guess that makes you a little Bunny then."
"Quit being creepy and just train me, old man!" Barnaby asserted, a hint of a blush tinged his cheeks.
"Whatever you say, Bunny-chan~!" Kotetsu sang the new nickname playfully, quite pleased with it. He calmed a little when he saw Barnaby was not amused but his smile never left. "Your exercise is going to be a simple one today. You don't have to collect souls but you have to pay attention to your feelings and instincts."
"How am I supposed to do that?"
"It's easy, walk around the hallways and watch the people in the hospital." Kotetsu said simply. Barnaby waited for him to give more of a real answer. "You have to pay attention to yourself. Hospitals are places where life and death mingle so you'll feel the urge to reap souls. That's your instincts, get a feel for them and practice disciplining yourself by not collecting souls unless you absolutely need to."
Barnaby's eyes shifted away from Kotetsu and looked down at the floor. The thought of facing his 'other self' made his stomach twist and his mouth feel dry. One question kept repeating itself over and over in his mind, "What if I lose control again?"
"That happened because there was a strong demon nearby, you reacted to protect the souls." Kotetsu explained, he tried to sound reassuring. He offered a small smile before he continued. "There's no threat around so it'll be easy. Plus I'm here, I might not look it but I can kick some ass if I have to."
Barnaby signed, he still felt a little uneasy but he didn't have other options. "Will you walk around with me?"
Kotetsu opened his mouth to say something but paused for moment. Barnaby could feel that he was about to say 'no', that he wanted to focus on his own business.
"You know what? I will." Kotetsu said with a slight nod. He walked on ahead of Barnaby and started to make his way down the hall. "But I'll have to leave you to take care of a...'loose end' a bit later."
"That sounds fair enough." Barnaby agreed. He didn't realize that he was smiling little as he said it. There was a feeling of relief that he couldn't explain, perhaps he was more afraid than he was willing to admit.
"Come on, we don't have all day." Kotetsu suddenly spoke, breaking Barnaby's train of thought.
Barnaby moved to catch up to the older grim reaper and heard him start into one of his little lectures. He was sure it was probably something he had learned already but this time he decided to listen.
-End of Chapter-