Author's Notes: This story was originally written for the Tiger & Bunny anonymous meme on LJ, but so many people asked me to de-anon that I've decided to post it here on my usual account. :) Thanks, any of you now reading it here, for all of your support and encouragement while I was writing this. The prompt was for Barnaby to spend Christmas with the Kaburagi family, but this story spun into something much bigger than I originally anticipated when I couldn't help but pour out all my love and adoration for this show, these characters, this story... in the days after the last episode aired.
This takes place directly after episode 25, but before the 1 year later epilogue. A lot of the music in the story can be found here: (http:/) www (.) mediafire (.) com/?57ls31z7ls1dm
"BARNABY BROOKS, JR IS COMING TO MY HOUSE FOR CHRISTMAS~!"
Kaede Kaburagi's gleeful voice echoes down the hospital corridors as she skips along, typing furiously into her cellphone.
Hey Hero TV forum friends, you'll never guess what just happened…
Kotetsu Kaburagi sighs as the doctor leaves the room, his head falling back against the pillow with a gentle thump. The hospital is at least the second-to-last place he wants to be – he isn't dead, after all – but he really just wants to go home. Whichever home, just not here.
The door clicks open again not a minute later and Kotetsu's partner slips into the room, letting it shut quietly behind him as the old man's eyes flicker in his direction.
"I suppose you heard the verdict?" Kotetsu jokes lightly as Barnaby crosses the room and sits himself in the chair beside the bed.
"I did," he says with a tired nod. His usual jacket is missing, his arm heavily bandaged and there are dark circles under his eyes. "They want to keep you here overnight for observation." There's so much more he wants to say, but he has no idea how to begin. The last time he and Kotetsu really had a chance to talk was at the skating rink and even though it has only been a few days, so very much has changed since then.
"Antonio offered to take Kaede home with him tonight," Kotetsu starts, but the conversation goes no further as the door opens again, this time flung into the wall with a slam that makes Barnaby wince.
"Dad!" Kaede races into the room, draping an arm over her father and hugging him from the side of the bed as best she can. "Dad, tell them I can stay! Tell them they can't make me leave!"
"Kaede, Kaede, calm down," Kotetsu ruffles her hair with one hand, struggling to sit up so that he can pull his little girl into his arms, IV tubing be damned. "Papa's just fine!"
It's only when Barnaby leans in to help adjust the bed that Kaede even realizes he is there, and she blushes, withdrawing a little and smiling shyly. "Oh, umm… h-hi, Bar- I mean, Mr. Brooks…" she flusters a little.
Barnaby doesn't forget faces very often, and he's more than put two and two together by now, but he sees no need to embarrass the old man by bringing up the skating rink incident. Once upon a time, he might have jumped to the conclusion that Kotetsu's kindness towards him came from the debt of saving his daughter, but there was no way he would even entertain the idea now. "Just Barnaby is fine, Kaede," he extends his hand across the bed and Kotetsu smiles as they shake.
It's a little weird, sitting here in a hospital room with her father and Barnaby Brooks, but Kaede is still too focused on the situation at hand to dwell on it. "Dad," she implores again with wide, pleading eyes. "Tell them!"
Truthfully, if Kotetsu were more selfish, he'd keep her here at his side, but he knows the ordeal she's been through in the last twenty-four hours. She's worn out and still a little scared, brave and strong… "Papa really wants you to go with Antonio tonight," he says gently, pausing when he sees her wounded expression. "Kaede, honey…"
Barnaby watches the war of stubborn between Kotetsu and his daughter, the hint of a smile tugging at his lips. He doesn't even take the time to consider his words before he interrupts. "Your father really wants you to get some rest," he reaches out a hand to touch Kaede's shoulder to get her attention, giving his best and dreamiest smile, ignoring Kotetsu as the other bites his lip to hold back a snicker. "He won't be alone because, as his partner, I'll be right by his side. You don't wish to make him worry about you more than he already is, right?"
Kaede looks from Barnaby to her father and back again, uncertain. If there is anyone in the world she can trust to protect him, isn't it her favorite hero?
"Papa will be out tomorrow," Kotetsu tells her, whether it's true or not, and then adds. "And then… we'll go home."
Kaede's eyes light up and she hugs him again, her words muffled into his shoulder. "Really? You promise, really?"
"Resignation's announced, apartment's already packed," Kotetsu avoids Barnaby's fixed and suddenly intense gaze, but he can feel the heat of it boring into him anyway. "No reason why we can't go home as soon as I'm allowed to leave."
"Then you'll be home for Christmas!" Kaede clasps her hands to her chest in excitement at the same moment that Barnaby sits back hard in his chair, suddenly averting his eyes to the darkened skies outside the small window. A perceptive young girl, Kaede sees the change in his demeanor immediately and her hands slowly drift down.
"And forever!" Kotetsu adds with a grin, surprised when those words form a vise around his heart and squeeze it tight.
Barnaby Brooks looks suddenly and desperately sad, and Kaede knows, because she's collected 178 pictures of him so far, she knows exactly why. His life story is an open book to the public, after all – the tragic Christmas Eve murder – and as they sit there in silence, she imagines her hero going home to an empty house. No family,no tree, no presents, no sweets… "Mr.… Barnaby…" she starts, coming around the end of Kotetsu's hospital bed to stand in front of his chair, a look of determination rising in her petite features.
The blond's mind had been far away already, but the demanding soul in front of him drags him back to the moment. "Kaede?" he raises an eyebrow in question.
"You should come too!" She hesitates for a moment before reaching out to place her hand over his. "For Christmas…"
Kotetsu looks momentarily stunned, but thankfully, the other two are so focused on each other that neither of them notice his reaction. He has no idea what mental and emotional state his partner is in and whether or not this request might just send him right through the roof. I really wanted this paycheck for presents and not more damages. "Kaede…"
"I… don't like Christmas," is Barnaby's first and automatic defense, but Kaede is already expecting this answer.
"You still shouldn't be alone," she chastises him, patting his hand. She sounds older than him, older than her years, too much like her father and Barnaby feels himself bending. Can he really say no to Kotetsu's daughter? To the child that, as he'd heard, had bravely saved the lives of the other heroes? Could he deny her request when, truthfully, she was right anyway? I don't want to be alone.
"I… very well," he finally answers, amused when the beep-beep of Kotetsu's heart monitor picks up its pace in response. "I will join you for Christmas."
There's a long moment where Kaede processes that she's won, and then she throws herself at Barnaby, hugging him in a familiar and over-exuberant way that he doesn't even have time to return. She's out the door a moment later, crowing to anyone who will listen about her plans.
"You didn't have to do that," Kotetsu says softly once they are alone again, but there's a smile on his face. Maybe it's only a temporary fix to a problem he doesn't even want to discuss with himself yet, but Kaede is happy and Barnaby…
"I would not have said yes unless I wanted to," Barnaby informs him pointedly as he scoots his chair closer. "We all owe Kaede a great debt and… I didn't have any plans."
It's easier to pretend that it's that simple, but they both know that neither of them really wants to leave the other's side just yet. Not after the fights, the misunderstandings, the memory-tampering, the almost-losing…
"You're a selfish old man to scare me so badly," Barnaby finally breaks the tense moment, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. "And stupid for not telling me the truth sooner."
Barnaby is finally close enough for Kotetsu to touch and he reaches to out encircle his wrist with one hand, tugging him closer still. "I'm so sorry, Bunny," he apologizes sincerely, wrapping one arm around the other's shoulders in a loose hug. He doesn't feel the need to elaborate or explain, not now, at least.
Barnaby doesn't usually like to be touched, but he lets this be an exception and blatantly ignores the fact that Kotetsu has warranted a growing number of exceptions in recent days. He can still recall the long and aching moment where he thought Kotetsu was dead and the void it had carved inside him. Returning the hug, he wraps both arms around his partner's shoulders and lets his forehead come to rest against Kotetsu's shoulder as he whispers. "I almost killed you."
"But you didn't and I'm right here," Kotetsu cuts him off quickly and they are silent again. He can feel the hot trickle of tears down the side of his neck, but Barnaby doesn't say anything else. When he lets go to lean back against the pillows again, Barnaby comes halfway with him, resting his head on his own arm on the edge of the bed at Kotetsu's side.
Kotetsu knows his exhaustion is catching up to him and he runs his hand through Barnaby's hair, ruffling the curls as his eyes slip closed. "Daijoubu, daijoubu," he murmurs sleepily in his native tongue, and for once, he really believes that it's true.