Bereavement for beginners
It happened in the middle of a fight with a fairly powerful NEXT; a lunatic who thought society's rules didn't apply to them because of their powers. Barnaby, despite appearing oh-so-perfect, had misstepped, misjudged his enemy's attack, and, the next thing he knew, he'd been thrown backwards against a parked car like a rag doll.
It had hurt.
It had hurt horribly; like having his internal organs suddenly compacted together all at once, at an impossibly fast speed. Saito's suit hadn't managed to shield Barnaby from the blow. Instead, bits of suit had been shattered from the impact, just like a smashed eggshell.
It had hurt to breathe.
Barnaby couldn't really remember much of what happened next. It was all a blur; a foggy soup of internal thoughts (you could have dodged that, idiot) and (d-damnit, damn…) and (I hope that old man can handle this by himself…)
That was when everything went black.
When Barnaby finally awoke he was lying in a hospital bed. He could tell even before opening his eyes because the bed he was resting on was far comfier than his own, and there was the slight scent of disinfectant in the air. It stirred at his memories. He was sure he'd been in the hospital once before; something about breaking his arm when he was a child, though the exact details were hazy.
An array of machines surrounded him that went beep and blip at the right moments. Everything was very white, and the air tasted of cotton wool.
His ribs still hurt a little, but it wasn't too painful. The blow had been cushioned by his suit (before bits of it broke off), and Barnaby doubted that super-powered NEXT had left any lasting damage; just a couple of bruises.
It was a good thing they hadn't gone for his face, or his marketability would've fallen through the floor. He really had to thank them for that.
Barnaby soon discovered he was in a room all to himself. It was a little excessive, though; his injuries weren't really so severe he needed to be separated from everybody else. However, excellent medical care was one of the perks of being a hero, so it would have been ungrateful to complain- not to mention foolish.
Wincing, Barnaby tried to sit up. Nothing was ever achieved by lying idly in bed, and Barnaby hated being slothful. A lifetime of working solely for revenge would do that to you- making it impossible to enjoy a lazy morning lying in bed, or even channel hopping on TV. Barnaby couldn't do it. He couldn't relax.
Not even after he'd been thrown into a car.
He wasn't able to sit up very far, though.
"H-hey, Bunny, what are you doing?"
A pair of hands caught his shoulders; a soft voice reprimanded him; and- w-well, Barnaby hadn't really noticed before, being too busy taking in his surroundings, but he wasn't alone. That old man was…
"You only just woke up; you can't seriously be trying to escape already! Let other people worry about you just a little, okay? I-I was really worried about you!"
Kotetsu's voice sounded a little strained, almost as though it were filled with too much emotion; feeling trying to escape from the seams. Kind of like a plush toy with too much filling. Kind of like that weird pink rabbit with noodle-like limbs Kotetsu had given him for his birthday- or a few days after his birthday; 'the one we picked from the shop vanished during that thing with the gang members that were a real gang, not a fake one for your surprise party, so I sewed you a new bunny to replace it, ahahaha!~ You better like it, because I turned myself into a human pin cushion to make this!' '…Am I meant to say 'thank you'? If I saw a rabbit that looked like this in real life, I'd shoot it to put it out of its misery…' 'Gya! You're so cruel!'… … …
Barnaby's brain really must have been a mess, if his thoughts were drifting around aimlessly like that. He wasn't usually so nostalgic, especially not about Kotetsu. Only his parents deserved a place in his heart for continued thought; all other memories were useless, unnecessary baggage. Barnaby didn't need them.
Kotetsu hadn't earned the right to be so important to him yet.
So... why could he remember their old conversations almost ad verbatim, even after four months?
Being smashed into a car by an incredibly strong NEXT did things to your head. It messed you up.
"Don't sound so surprised, old man," Barnaby said coolly. "Of course I'm alright. The injury I sustained was hardly life-threatening."
"Ahh, I'm so glad… You don't know how happy hearing a flippant response like that makes me, and before it used to piss me off so much…!"
Kotetsu's fingers curled round Barnaby's shoulders. The motion was… maybe a little desperate? Barnaby wasn't sure; he was never good at understanding the subtle nuances of human emotion. It seemed even Kotetsu, who wore his heart on his sleeve, could be difficult to understand at times.
Slowly, a small smile spread across Kotetsu's lips; a strangely fragile expression that tugged on Barnaby's heartstrings.
"I-I'm sorry about that… You're right… I know you're fine… Blue Rose said I was being ridiculous- said you'd be perfectly okay, and I know you're the really stubborn type who'd say 'injuries? They can't stop me!', because you're an annoying little brat like that, but… Ahh, I dunno…" Kotetsu laughed (nervously?), averting his eyes to the white bed sheets. "I was still… worried… Really worried… M-maybe that's because I'm a father? I guess worrying's just in my blood, ihihi."
Barnaby felt his face flush slightly. Kotetsu was always worried, of course; it was nothing new, but…
But, still… Barnaby couldn't remember the last time anybody had cared for him like this. Not since his parents had…
After his parents' death Barnaby been desperate to appear strong, cool, calm, refined; the type of adult nobody would ever have to care for, because, to be honest, Barnaby didn't care about human company himself all that much anyway. He was unused to seeing the emotion that welled up in Kotetsu's eyes directed at him; didn't know how to react to it; there was so much he didn't know…
And, all the same, he was thankful.
He meant that much to somebody else? Kotetsu… really wanted him to be alright?
Somehow, that gave his life a new kind of meaning; a meaning other than revenge. It made him feel warm. Wanted.
It was the same feeling that skirted round the edges of Barnaby's mind when he recalled age-old, sepia-tainted memories of sitting in a cosy bed between his parents as they read him stories.
He hadn't felt like that in a while.
He… had missed it…
But it wasn't like Barnaby would admit that.
"Hey, don't get overly emotional like that," said Barnaby sternly, giving Kotetsu a hard glare. "We're heroes; it's a foregone conclusion that, in some cases, one of us will get hurt. You're embarrassing yourself."
"Maybe so, but I never imagined you'd be the one who got hurt, Lil' Bunny. You're usually more careful than that!"
Barnaby scowled. Was Kotetsu trying to pick a fight? It was strange how quickly Barnaby could go from liking the old man to wanting to slap him across the face.
Kotetsu really was the most confusing human being Barnaby had ever met.
Kotetsu would probably say the same thing about him.
"I-I am careful!" Barnaby retorted hotly, fingers clenching into fists. "I was just unlucky! Stop insulting me!"
"But you're here now, and you're fine- just minimal bruising, the doctors said- so, really, you're very, very lucky! Bunny, you don't even know how happy that made me when I found out; I was sat here, and you weren't moving and, and…" Kotetsu bit his lower lip, more worry welling up in his eyes; more and more, to the point where it was almost suffocating. "I… really hate hospitals, you know?"
"Because of your wife?"
Barnaby didn't know why he said that. He flinched the moment the words passed his lips. He sounded so cruel, so callous, so heartless; it wasn't a question that could be asked so simply with the same ease of saying 'will you pass me the pepper' at the dinner table. It required a little more finesse to talk about such subjects- but Barnaby didn't have any finesse at all. He had charm, yes, and looks, which made him popular with the ladies, but he was unable to talk about anything of any real emotional significance.
He shouldn't have even tried.
Barnaby just wasn't good at emphasizing with people; not like Kotetsu was, but…
But, despite his question, Kotetsu didn't get angry. Instead, he merely nodded.
"Yeah. When I saw you lying there, looking pale and kind of dead, I-I just… I… I thought of Tomoe, and I know you're fine, b-but… But you were lucky. T-there was a chance that bastard could've really hurt you, a-and, and… …
"Do you know that, at Tomoe's funeral, I… started to laugh?" Kotetsu muttered; voice low, pensive, in a way it had never been before. "I… I don't know; I just couldn't keep it together, and I didn't know what to do, or what the proper response should be, and all these thoughts of her were filling up inside me, and I felt like crying but… but… I-I didn't, I couldn't and… and I started to laugh instead, and…"
Kotetsu smiled sadly, self-deprecatingly.
"I-isn't that pathetic? I couldn't even grieve for her properly, like a normal person- and I felt horrible for it afterwards, but it was a spur of the moment thing and I couldn't change it, a-and I was sat there thinking what I'd do if you, also… If you got hurt and you… died… A-and… I-I'm sorry for telling you all this, really, I'm… being stupid..."
Voice breaking, Kotetsu's words died in his mouth. He bowed his head, hiding his face behind the brim of his hat. Shadows swallowed his face.
Was Kotetsu… crying…?
Barnaby reached forwards, fraught with indecision, wondering whether he should attempt to comfort his partner or not.
In the end, his mouth decided to answer his dilemma without his brain's full consent.
"Kotetsu, I'm… not going to die. I'm not. I promise you. I don't trust you enough to leave you by yourself, and… and… I care for you too much, you know. So. Have more faith in me, I-"
-am not useless like you.
But Barnaby was suddenly cut off by a pair of arms wrapping round him; strong and comforting, and very nearly cutting off his circulation- digging into his already wounded ribs in a manner that made him cough and choke and shudder in pain.
At that moment, however, Barnaby didn't really mind.
Not if it would make Kotetsu feel better.
Kotetsu always did so much for him, giving him a friendship he didn't really deserve, along with handfuls of all that family love and just being needed by someone; happiness Barnaby hadn't experienced ever since he was four years old. If letting Kotetsu hug him would offer the older man some form of comfort, then Barnaby would sit there and let him- maybe even, tentatively, return the embrace- because it was the least he could do.
He really did like Kotetsu. Quite a lot.
I'm going anywhere, you idiot.
Not when I have a partner like you.
a/n: I just wanted to write something fluffy/sappy with these two, there was no other reason for writing this… ^_^; It might be kind of OOC in some parts (would Kotetsu really get that concerned over Bunny? :/ Certainly not at the start of the series XD Maybe after the thing with Jake… But I guess it depends how bad Bunny looked when he got beaten up XD), but I hope you like it anyway ^_^;;