He's not in heaven


Well, that's somewhat of a bummer.

Kotetsu sits up on a white surface and looks out and up at a white sky. Everything is just so white. He's still in his hero suit, but it's not torn apart and ripped up by the robot anymore. It's new, just like his body. He feels young again; the faint wrinkles on the back of his hands are gone. Smooth, tan skin that he hasn't seen in years graces his body.

"I'm...dead?" he murmurs, feeling his face and his abdomen, checking for the broken bones and bloodied bruises he'd sustained in the fight. "But...no, I can't be." Kotetsu stumbles backwards, his hands pressing against the white ground as he tries to find an exit, some kind of trap door. Nothing. The ground is solid. "Bunny...Kaede," he croaks, feeling his eyes well up and throat close as he tries not to think about the hysterical partner and daughter he left behind. "I'm so sorry. I've left you two alone; I didn't mean to-"

"Kotetsu," a voice interrupts. Kotetsu's eyes snap open; he hasn't heard that voice in years. He's afraid to see where it comes from, scared to see who could mimic her voice so perfectly. But, out of the corner of his eye, he sees long brown hair and that's enough to make him turn around.


He can't believe it. It's her. She's standing there, not in a hospital gown, but in her favorite outfit. Comfortable jeans and her Wild Tiger shirt, faded from years of wearing it. In those old clothes, she's more radiant than any angel. With his young legs, he sprints for her, crushing her petite body in a hug. She feels the same in his arms now as she did when they first got married.

"Honey, your suit," she squeaks, and he immediately puts her down. Off go the bulky gloves; he wants to touch his wife. When his hand touches her smooth face, no longer gaunt and pale, a warmth spreads through him. It's really her. Tomoe. His wife. She laughs and leans into him. "I've missed you so much, Kotetsu." He can't say anything coherent, just murmurs her name over and over while he strokes her hair. It feels like Kaede's...he hadn't realized just how much like her mother she'd become.

"I didn't think I'd see you again," he says, voice shaking like a child's as he feels himself begin to break down, "I'm so sorry, Tomoe, I'm so sorry for leaving you at that hospital, for letting you down, for everything." Tomoe smiles when his voice cracks, probably reminding her of the teen she knew in high school. She kisses him on the nose.

"You have nothing to be sorry about, Kotetsu, absolutely nothing, I've never been so proud to call you my husband," she laughs, her own brown eyes tearing up, "Really, Wild Tiger, I thought you'd be able to figure out by now what makes me happy. You've become an even better hero." Her approval sends waves of relief rushing through him, and he rests his chin on top of his wife's head, exhaling softly.

"I'm so glad that I get to see you again," he confesses, his voice steadier. She looks up at him with her bright eyes, and he never wants to leave her side again.

"It has been nice to see you once more." The tone in her voice makes him pause.

Why is she speaking like she's saying goodbye again?

"Hey, Tomoe," he starts, his hands still in her hair, "Why are you talking like that?" Her face falls and she presses her cheek against his chest.

"This isn't permanent, Kotetsu. You made a promise to me, before I died, remember? You've got to keep it," she states, her jaw set in a way that reminds him of high-school Tomoe, with the snarkiness and the sarcasm all abound. His heart speeds up at the words: "You need to go back." It feels like the floor is falling out from under his feet.

"But...Tomoe," he whispers, unable to hear anything other than his frustratingly realistic heartbeat, "Why would you want me to go away after we just got each other back?" She wipes at her eyes, pulling away from Kotetsu and kneeling down on the white floor.

"Because if you stayed with me now, it wouldn't be right. It's not your time yet, Kotetsu, I know that much," she insists, beginning to trace her graceful fingers along the floor, "Besides, there are two people down there whose needs outweigh mine by a hundred fold." Color appears where her fingers touched the ground, swirling and melding until, to Kotetsu's shock, he's seeing the world below, like he's hovering just a few feet above his friends and family.

"KOTETSU!" he hears Barnaby scream, watches as the blonde hero gathers his limp body in his arms and cries, hysterical as his hands support the base of his neck, run through his sweaty hair, "Please don't leave me, Kotetsu, you're my...you're my friend, Kotetsu, and I can't go on without you." Tears splash down from those green eyes, they cling to the lashes Kotetsu admires so much. Kaede crouches next to Barnaby, pressing his red face into Kotetsu's shoulder and clinging to him.

"Dad," she croaks, soaking his hero suit with her tears, "Dad. Don't even think about leaving me now. You can't, Dad, you just can't. Come back..." Kaede sounds like her mother did the first time Kotetsu got seriously hurt in action.

'Don't you dare leave me, Kotetsu; if you leave me alone with a new baby girl I will NEVER forgive you, you hear me?' Tomoe had shrieked next to his bed just as he was coming out of a coma.

"Kaede...Bunny..." he whispers, standing at the edge of the picture, reaching his hand out as if to touch them. Tomoe rests her head against his shoulder, entwining her fingers with his.

"They love you, you know. He loves you so much, Kotetsu, it's been so heartbreaking to watch him the last few months," Tomoe whispers, wiping her nose with her free arm, "Kaede, too. My little girl, growing up and saving Sternbild for her father. Every mother's dream." Her laugh sounds sad, but also happy, and it cracks Kotetsu's heart just as much as Barnaby's and Kaede's crying does.

"He loves me," he murmurs, looking down at his handsome partner, who Antonio and Nathan try to drag away from his body. The blonde kicks and screams, struggles to keep his hold, insists that Kotetsu will come back if he just screams loud enough. That makes Kaede weep even harder, and he watches as Karina, whose own face is drenched with tears, wraps her shaking arms around his little girl, trying to comfort her.

"You love him too, don't you?" Tomoe asks, chuckling at the horrified and guilty look that overtakes Kotetsu's face. He stammers, his face red, because his dead wife did not just ask him if he loves Barnaby Brooks Jr or not. "Kotetsu...the truth won't break me."

"But Tomoe," he starts, falling over his words, "I...Barnaby could never replace you, ever, because I will always love you, Tomoe, I-"

"I knew all of that already," she whispers, reaching up to push his sweaty bangs out of his eyes, "I know you love me. But I want you to be happy, above everything else, because I can't think of a man who's earned a second chance at love better than you, Kotetsu T. Kaburagi."

At those words, Kotetsu begins to cry himself; he leans down and buries his face into his wife's slender shoulder, sobbing like an overgrown infant. He blubbers about how he misses her, and how he feels horrible for loving Barnaby like he oes, that he never wanted Kaede to have to go through this, how it's all his fault.

"Shh, shh, Kotetsu, it's okay, it'll all be okay," Tomoe murmurs, her arms wrapping around him like a comforting blanket of warmth. "But you still have to keep your promise to me. Go be a hero. Be the best hero in Sternbild, be an incredible father, and be happy. Be happy for me. I want you to love again, for nobody should have to go through life alone, Kotetsu, nobody. Least of all you."

She holds him like that for maybe a few minutes, maybe hours, until he composes himself. They break apart, and he wipes his face clean. He stands there, in front of the scene that spreads out before him, and he toes the line that separates the white from the color.

"Will I see you again someday?" he asks, turning to look at Tomoe once more. She nods, leans forward, and presses a soft kiss to his lips.

"Of course. Don't you dare say goodbye!" she suddenly snaps, her eyes fiery warm once more; a smirk tugs at the edge of her lips. Kotetsu grins and winks at her, giving the most beautiful woman he's ever met his signature thumbs up.

"Of course not. I'm Wild Tiger, off to save the day again!" he cheers, and Tomoe begins to laugh, the lightest, happiest sound he's ever heard. Then, her delicate fingers push against his chest and he falls back into the picture.

The last thing he sees before closing his eyes is her smile.

"Kotetsu. KOTETSU! Don't leave me..."

It's Barnaby. He's still sobbing.

"Dad...Daddy, please wake up!"

Kaede. She sounds so weak...defeated...

Kotetsu opens his eyes and stares up at the both of them. His side aches. He feels old again and groans from the pain. The two figures hovering above him immediately go silent as his vision focuses.

"Don't think you'll get rid of me so easy," he moans, trying to prop himself up into a sitting position. Kaede shrieks with delight and throws herself onto Kotetsu, taking care not to hurt him further.

"Dad, Dad, you're alive, oh Dad," she sobs, gripping tightly to him, Kotetsu Kaburagi, her father. Barnaby shakes all over as he holds Kotetsu in his arms, his hand reaching up to touch Kotetsu's face, as though he's not sure that it's really him.

"You...are a stupid old man for scaring me," he stammers, tears forming at his eyes once more, "Kotetsu, Kotetsu, thank god." And then he finds himself pulled up into a tight embrace, Barnaby's arms wrapping around him as he presses his wet face into Kotetsu's shoulder.

"I thought I'd lost you."

"Heh, Bunny, you're never going to lose me," Kotetsu laughs, and the pain in his torso disappears, replaced with a warmth created by Barnaby's hug, "I love you." Barnaby pulls away, shock etched into every inch of his face.

"What?" He acts as though he didn't hear Kotetsu, or the words didn't register. Kotetsu, feeling a certain new happiness sweep through him as he realizes that he has Tomoe's blessing, leans forward and kisses his partner.

He hears Kaede and Karina let out matching yelps of surprise, but he's focused on how Barnaby returns the kiss. It's like the blonde has been waiting his whole life for this one moment. When they break away, Kotetsu smirks and repeats himself.

"I. Love. You. Now go on, Bunny," he says, pointing up with an achy arm at Maverick, "Kick his ass for me. I'll be fine."

Barnaby looks truly alive for the first time in an eternity. He gently lays Kotetsu on the floor, and Kaede rushes back to him. He watches as his young partner turns a steely gaze on Maverick, and the other heroes move to stand next to him. Barnaby says something about how he'll make Maverick pay, and the other heroes chime in, but Kotetsu hardly hears them. He's still dizzy from pain, but he's alive. He's alive and whole.

He gazes up and smiles

"Thank you."