Title: The Favorite

Series: Tiger & Bunny

Summary: In which Karina and Barnaby are both idiots around Kotetsu. And there's ice cream. Barnaby/Kotetsu/Karina

Warning(s): Minor spoilers from episode 14.

XXXXXX

It was rare for either of them to have time off, but unlike Kotetsu, Barnaby didn't know how to spend it. His partner had been going on and on about the movies he was going to see or where he'd go or how much he'd sleep in. For Barnaby, there was nothing but an empty apartment.

He decided to spend the day training, forgoing his usual regiment for a more intense one. The other heroes were out, giving him free reign of the equipment. He was halfway through his third chin-up when he realized what he was really doing.

Stress relief. Every person needed some way to deal with the pressures of daily life, and being a hero, Barnaby found himself on edge far too frequently. If he pushed himself, he could forget about everything else, especially…

He had a problem. A Kotetsu problem.

He reached for a fresh towel and slung it over his shoulders. The fabric was soft and smelled fresh and clean, but he couldn't just relax. His thoughts were going in circles, desperately searching for a solution and recalculating and recalculating…

No matter his approach, the risk was always too high. He couldn't just tell him.

He composed himself when he heard voices. One of them was almost-yelling and the other was Kotetsu, probably apologizing for something. They climbed the stairs leading to the exercise area and Barnaby saw Blue Rose, out of costume except for the leftover smear of blue eyeshadow, being followed by his clearly frazzled partner.

"-and I told you to leave me alone!"

"But why? What'd I do this time?"

"Argh!" She pulled at her hair and turned around. "Stop. Following. Me."

"Good luck with that," Barnaby said, grinning when they both froze in place. "I've been trying to loss him for months."

Kotetsu pouted. "That's not very nice, partner."

"I thought that the King of Heroes would be above eavesdropping," Karina snapped. "Guess I was wrong."

"And I thought children were supposed to use their inside voices."

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Kotetsu wince at the insult. Maybe that was a bit harsh…

With one final glare, Karina stormed past Barnaby and into the changing rooms. The air around her was suspiciously cold.

Raising his eyebrows, he looked at Kotetsu. "I have a feeling that this is probably your fault."

"Hey! You're the one who riled her up," Kotetsu said, running a hand through his long hair. "What happened to your attitude anyways? No more Mr. Nice Guy?"

Barnaby shrugged and went to put his towel away. "Why are you here on your day off?"

He heard Kotetsu sigh loudly. "And he skillfully changes the topic. Fine. Well, I was enjoying all my free time until I sorta… Uh."

"What?"

Kotetsu laughed nervously. "Well, I… I forgot to bring in that paperwork we were supposed to do…"

He had the sudden urge to slam his head against the wall. Instead, he patiently replied, "You're referring to that paperwork I reminded you about for the past two weeks, correct?"

"M-Maybe….?"

Holding back a lecture on work ethic, he gave Kotetsu a pointed look. How the other man could look both innocent and guilty at the same time was difficult to comprehend.

Out of social obligation, he asked, "What does Blue Rose have to do with this?"

There was a flash of emotion across Kotetsu's face and Barnaby was suddenly very curious. "That's… I really don't know." He sighed again. "I ran into her in the lobby and she just looked kinda down. I asked her what was wrong, but… I guess she doesn't want to talk about it."

Barnaby smiled a little. It really was just like Kotetsu to be concerned about the person yelling at him.

"K-Kotetsu! Y-You…" He glanced over his shoulder at Karina, freshly showered with her hair pulled into a messy bun. "Why are you talking about this with him?"

"Oh! Um…"

"You idiot!" She seemed torn between whether to throw her gym bag at Kotetsu or not. "You never think things through! I can't believe that I actually lik-"

She went bright red and slapped a hand over her mouth, but it was too late. Barnaby knew.

"Hey, Karina. It's okay," Kotetsu said with an oblivious, comforting smile. He was saying something inspirational and thoughtful and Barnaby should really be listening, but he just couldn't. She… She liked him too.

He was unsure of what to do. If he revealed her feelings for Kotetsu, maybe Kotetsu would compare her erratic behaviour to his own. It would also sour relations between him and Blue Rose, potentially making any further collaborations unnecessarily awkward. He couldn't share this newfound knowledge, but that didn't mean it was entirely useless.

"Oi! Bunny!"

Blinking, he looked at Kotetsu. "Sorry, I missed that last part."

Kotetsu smiled in that honest, fond way of his, the one that made Barnaby's chest feel too tight and his heart jump. The faint lines of crow's feet in the corners of his eyes darkened, but it made him seem…

"Hey? You still in there?"

The older hero waved a hand in front of his face. Barnaby swatted it away and reached for his glasses, feeling a bit more comfortable with them on.

"Yes. I'm listening."

Kotetsu rolled his eyes. "Okay, so I'm taking Karina out for some ice cream. Do you want to meet up after or…?"

Although he wasn't exactly an expert on relationships, he knew this feeling was called jealously. It was agonizing, making his hands curl into fists and his eyes narrow. He watched as Karina blushed prettily and started playing with the drawstrings on her hoodie. The feeling got worse.

"I'll come with you," Barnaby said and Karina's face fell, the air growing cold again.

As always, Kotetsu was oblivious. "Huh? Well, sure. The more the merrier, right?"

"Of course," Karina said through gritted teeth, hefting her bag higher on her shoulder. When Kotetsu turned around and started down the stairs, she glared at him.

Barnaby smiled back. This was going to be fun.

XXXXXX

He'd passed this ice cream parlour several times, but had never been inside. Kotetsu waved at the owner and dragged them over to a booth by the window, outraged that neither of them had been here before. Karina tentatively took the seat next to Kotetsu and Barnaby sat across from them.

"Man, I still hope they have that one thing… What's it called…?"

While Kotetsu tapped his chin and tried to remember, Barnaby decided to make small talk. "I understand that you have a performance tonight."

Picking at her nail polish, she nodded and said, "It's nothing too important. Hopefully I can just sing and go home."

"What?" Kotetsu leaned towards her. "But you love performing!"

Barnaby tried not to snap his spoon in half when she blushed again. She was so open with her emotions, something he still struggled with. How could he gauge how interested Kotetsu was if the other man had no idea?

"W-Well, yeah. I guess that I've been a little nervous lately."

"Nervous? I don't see why. You're such an amazing singer," Kotetsu said brightly. He wasn't the type to say things he didn't mean and Karina clearly took the compliment to heart, smiling shyly and bowing her head.

A staff member came over and handed out menus, apologizing for the wait. The parlour was surprisingly busy, the few booths all packed and a massive line at the counter. The sign outside claimed that they had the best sundaes in all of Sternbild.

Kotetsu examined the dessert list with a critical eye. It was strange that he took this seriously and not the mountain of paperwork waiting on his desk. "Man, everything looks so good!"

"You're the experienced one here," Barnaby teased. "What would you recommend?"

Kotetsu gave him a strange look, but then shrugged and said, "This is the best place in the whole city. I don't think that they can do ice cream wrong."

After noticing how quiet she was, Kotetsu peeked at Karina's menu and noticed her finger resting next to a picture of a strawberry sundae. "Oh? That's a cute dessert. Looks like something Bunny would order…"

He bristled. "What are you implying?"

Laughing, Kotetsu said, "Geeze, you're so uptight. This is your day off too."

Unsure of how to respond, Barnaby focused on his menu instead. He couldn't remember the last time he had ice cream…

"I think we're up next," Kotetsu observed, watching the waiter flutter around the room. "You decided yet, Bunny?"

He shook his head.

"Geeze. You're usually so opinionated on everything," he said, propping his chin up on his hand. "Here, I'll help out. What's your favorite kind of ice cream?"

He honestly didn't know, but Kotetsu would tease him if he admitted that. Karina was watching him carefully, her eyes narrowed over the top of her menu.

"Vanilla," he said.

"V-Vanilla?" Kotetsu sputtered, staring at him like he'd just committed some great crime. "Bunny, I don't think you understand how ice cream works..."

"What's wrong with vanilla?" Karina said hotly. "It's better than all the new flavours they keep coming up with."

He scoffed. "Where's your sense of adventure? Anyways, get the Sternbild Special then. It's kinda simple but still really good."

"Then that's what I'll order," Barnaby said, putting down his menu and lacing his fingers together. Kotetsu muttered something under his breath about 'impossible to please' partners.

After the waiter took their orders, there was a strange lull in the conversation. Kotetsu was looking out the window. A group of schoolchildren were walking home with colourful backpacks and umbrellas, stopping only to jump in puddles. There was a gentleness in his eyes that belied his strength, but it was that same quality that made him a great hero.

Karina was still glaring at Barnaby, looking more and more suspicious with each passing second. It didn't faze him.

As if he could sense the approaching ice cream, Kotetsu snapped out of his daze and whipped around, scanning the floor for their waiter. "I know he's here somewhere," he muttered.

"Is this a new power of yours?" Barnaby asked with a slight grin.

"Very funny, partner," he said. Sighing, he slung an arm over the back of their booth. The tips of his fingers rested just next to Karina's neck. It was impossible for Barnaby not to notice.

When the waiter arrived, Barnaby realized that the Sternbild Special was intended to feed at least four people. The vanilla ice cream was resting on what appeared to be several chocolate brownies and draped with chocolate sauce. On top was a plump red cherry.

Judging by her expression, Karina's own sundae was not what she expected. Although the photograph made it look sweet and delicate, the actual dessert was big enough to rival Barnaby's own.

"It's not going to eat itself," Kotetsu said, his spoon sticking out of his mouth. Barnaby had no idea what exactly Kotetsu had ordered. It was every possible colour and slathered with an obscene amount of chocolate sauce and sprinkles.

"That's… That's good advice," Barnaby said, taking his first bite. It was sweet enough to make his teeth hurt, but delicious nonetheless.

Kotetsu started laughing. "I wish you could've seen your face just now."

"Why exactly?" Barnaby asked.

"I can't really explain it," Kotetsu said. "I should've taken a picture…"

Karina pouted, clearly annoyed at how Barnaby was getting all the attention. She 'accidentally' dropped her spoon onto the table, the clang making Kotetsu immediately jump to attention, before tasting her ice cream.

"How is it?" Kotetsu asked eagerly.

Although he had to commend her for trying, she couldn't quite keep the shocked expression off her face. Her sundae had to be sweeter than his own.

Again, Kotetsu burst out laughing. "You guys are hilarious. I can't believe that a couple of kids like you can't handle ice cream."

"I-I'm not a kid!" To prove her point, Karina dug her spoon in and shoved her mouth full of the bright pink ice cream.

"The old man just has a sweet tooth," Barnaby pointed out, following Karina's lead.

As he attempted to eat his massive sundae, he watched Kotetsu out of the corner of his eye. There was absolutely nothing attractive about how the older man ate, practically inhaling the dessert. But then there was a drop of chocolate sauce on his bottom lip and Barnaby knew he was staring when Kotetsu licked it off. A flash of his tongue was all it took to change Barnaby's view of something as innocent as ice cream.

Turning away, he examined his own sundae. Although he tried, there was no way he could finish it.

"Who's the kid now, King of Heroes?" With a smug grin, Karina motioned to her own dish. Only the bottom half of her sundae remained while Barnaby had barely made a dent.

"I wasn't aware that this was a contest," he retorted, stomach lurching when he dared to take another bite. It was far richer than anything he would have ordered, but he did like the taste. Without thinking, he licked the underside of his spoon, savouring the trace of vanilla there.

He suddenly realized that Kotetsu was watching him, an unreadable expression on his face. Was it possible that…?

There was only one way to find out. Carefully, he picked up the maraschino cherry by its long, curved stem. Parting his lips, he slid the cherry in and then sucked, hard enough to loosen the stem. With a slight pop, he pulled the stem away and rolled the cherry around the inside of his mouth, eyes fluttering closed. It was sweet and overpowered everything else.

Licking his lips, he slowly opened his eyes, looking right at his partner.

Kotetsu's knee hit the table when he crossed his legs.

"W-Well… I guess you like cherries…?" He awkwardly laughed. "Okay then…"

Karina looked from Kotetsu to Barnaby and then back at her half-eaten sundae. "What just happened?" Karina mumbled to herself.

XXXXXX

There was a large argument over who was going to pay. Kotetsu won by relying on the fact that neither of them were practically eager to act like idiots in public (or more idiotic than they already were acting).

Barnaby found himself standing next to Karina outside while Kotetsu said goodbye to the owner. It was raining a bit and they stood under the canvas awning, watching people hurriedly pass by. He felt like he should say something to break the awkward silence, but nothing came to mind.

Karina sighed, stuffing her hands in her pockets. "I'm being an idiot, aren't I?"

"About what?"

She looked startled, like she hadn't realized who she was talking to. "J-Just… Never mind."

Maybe he was being childish. She hadn't done anything wrong and his bitterness was entirely his own fault. If he worked up the courage to just tell Kotetsu…

"I should apologize," Barnaby said, choosing his words carefully. "I don't want things between us to become strained in any way."

She nodded and went back to watching the rain. "That idiot sure is taking a long time," she said.

"He probably found another Wild Tiger fan and needed to talk about his favorite hero."

Karina giggled. "Yeah. That's just like him." Tentatively, she looked at Barnaby, a hint of colour on her cheeks. "I know this might sound weird, but…"

"What is it?"

"H-He's my… Well, he's my favorite hero," she muttered, flushing bright red.

Barnaby gave her an honest smile, one that only Kotetsu could bring out.

"It's okay. He's mine too."

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A/N: My second fill on the Tiger & Bunny Kinkmeme. The prompt was: "Kotetsu notices Karina is down lately (still oblivious to her crush on him though) and decides to take her out to have an ice-cream or something like that. Bunny overheards and insists on tagging along because he's free (the truth is he's insanely secretly jealous)."

A fairly quick fill, but I enjoyed writing it. As always, thanks for reading!