between those years and the next

Lily M.

For Claire, on a rainy Thursday.


It had been rage that fueled his life up to that point, there was no denying it. He would find no shame in admitting it, everyone he knew and everyone he didn't know was aware. Rage shaped him. Drove him. Tore him, inside and out. Rage was his certainty.

But his dreams betrayed him. They longed.

What for, whom for. Longed for sepia-colored smiles, rose-tinted embraces. He tended to forget all of them, if not for those extra minutes – those dangerous minutes between that world and this world in which the certainty collapsed and crash and burned, and for the smallest moment he didn't know anymore. Didn't know anything. He just missed.

The certainty and determination were in his eyes again upon looking at his own reflection in the mirror. Barnaby Brooks Jr. To extrapolate, to exceed and find them, to destroy them. To scare them. Scrap them off this world.

Rage fueled him. It taught him to keep the fire inside and the cold out. Taught him about people and the façade they wanted to see, to play the role he needed to play. Anything. Everything. To get there. To get here.

It was disarming, then, to meet somebody who didn't expect of him what he expected of himself. What was enough? What should be exposed? Which mask was he supposed to wear, which exact role was he supposed to play? He didn't know. He had to let it flow. To let it happen. To wait and see.

He did. It was confusing. To play the role of partner.

There were expectations to be met, especially Apollon's, at first. Duo. It had to work. He let to let himself work. And so it did. At what part it felt comfortable to let it all out, more comfortable than keeping it all in, he did not know. Things were happening too fast, too much, too… too…

Everything was happening. And he had been there.

His presence, his meddling, his voice, for better or worse, were there. Barnaby had never once thought about his dreams, he didn't dare to dream, but once Jake was out of the picture, dead and gone and supposedly closing the chapter on that part his life, if only briefly, if only for a second, he dreamt. Exhilarated, he embraced his partner. Embraced it, what he was and everything that came with him.

He was blind in his own fabricated bliss, drunk with Kotetsu. With life.

Now Kotetsu is lying on his chair, in his apartment, as if he owns it. With a drink in hand, per usual. Shirt open, casual. He has no manners and he has no shame, and why would he, given how much he is welcome and how oddly he actually fits in that chair. He's looking at Barnaby with something in his eyes, but Barnaby is not looking back, he's looking at something else.

He's seeing him.

Tracing the scars that made him Wild Tiger, and the Wild Tiger that was Kotetsu T. Kaburagi; sacrificing, reckless. There are still marks from the last stunt he pulled, the last big stunt, the one that almost broke Barnaby and all the others and what that he had finally come to know through him. They're lying there, and Barnaby wonders if they'll ever go away. He lets himself hope that one day they will, or that maybe he'll forget they are there. Hopes to be there to forget about them. Traces other minimal scars, lost memories.

I want to know.

Fingertips caressing skin, abdomen, up his chest. The shoulder – he can still see it, the mark left by Lunatic. It was meant for him, not Kotetsu. He sees himself in the map of Kotetsu's life, and…

I want it to be—

…unexpectedly, his fingers trace the well-maintained beard and Barnaby notices Kotetsu has his eyes closed, that he's not making a sound. He's vaguely aware that this is stepping outside their boundaries, but what sort of boundary exists between them now, when he loses his mind and all he can think is…

I want you to be—

…the year he spent without him and how he didn't want to be away anymore.

He's not paying attention when Kotetsu's hand touches his own and leads it to his lips. He kisses the palm with a tilt of his head then kisses the top of his hand as if to reaffirm the statement, opening his eyes, looking up at his partner.

Barnaby had been all rage and undisclosed desires and he's not accustomed to the fire that sets up in his middle, the heat rapidly spreads through him. He's aware that he's flushed and it's embarrassing, especially when Kotetsu chuckles. Foolish, old-fashioned man.

I want you to tell me what you're thinking, to tell me about you. And I want to tell you…

The kiss on his temple when Kotetsu brings him close is gentle like he rarely saw on him. That he's capable of holding him close without suffocating him, to kiss him like he never imagined being kissed, it's a wonder and parts, bits and pieces of Kotetsu T. Kaburagi, Wild Tiger, that he's only just discovering.

When they had finally met again, Kotetsu didn't really question him about the one year they spent apart, finding what to do with their lives. If old habits died hard, Kotetsu probably wasn't too honest about what he told him happened within the hiatus either. What he did ask him was something so typically Kotetsu, so simple and yet so meaningful that….

— "Shall we go back now, Bunny?" —

… all the questions he had been asking himself for so long fell short. As if Kotetsu knew the Barnaby he didn't know.

I want to tell you about what I see. Everything, from now on.

And from the moment he held his hand, Barnaby felt it had finally begun.