You Scratch My Back, I'll Scratch Yours

Kotetsu let out a deep breath as he settled the weight machine back into the neutral position, and brushed the back of his arm across his forehead. "Whew... Think that's about enough for today."

From the machine beside him, Barnaby gave him an appraising look. Kotetsu looked tired, but only in the way he would normally look after a workout. "That's fine - you don't want to push yourself too hard," Barnaby agreed. Even if the duration of his partner's daily workout had decreased, he was still recovering from the injuries he'd sustained, so it was just as well that he was being cautious. (Heaven only knew how many times Barnaby had had to remind him of that since he'd stated he was ready to return to active duty.)

"No more nagging, I'm being good," Kotetsu sighed, rolling his shoulders and tilting his head from side to side, stretching the tired muscles.

"For once." Furthermore, Barnaby suspected it was only because they'd been out late chasing a carjacker the night before.

"So enjoy it," Kotetsu suggested, patting down his face with the end of the towel slung around his shoulders, and then stood, reaching his arms above his head, bending at the waist to stretch a little more thoroughly. Straightening up, he rolled his shoulders again, in what seemed to Barnaby to be a slightly awkward way. Before Barnaby could ask if everything was all right, Kotetsu had turned away, heading for the line of stationary cycles. "Hey, Nathan?"

"Yes...?" Fire Emblem's pace on one of the cycles slowed.

Kotetsu rolled his shoulders again in that odd way. "Got time for a little..." To Barnaby's confusion - and slight horror - Kotetsu cocked his head knowingly, and gave Nathan a wink. "...Y'know."

"Hmmm..." The bike stopped, as Nathan looked Kotetsu up and down. "I have time. Shower first?"

"Nah, I made it a light day today." Kotetsu shook out his workout shirt, which indeed was not particularly sweaty. "Shouldn't be too gross for you."

Barnaby had been telling himself that whatever they were talking about, it couldn't possibly be what his first thought had been. Nathan's response made him have to rethink that conclusion. "All right - then off with your shirt. Where are we going to do this thing?"

"Right here's fine," Kotetsu said cheerfully, slipping the shirt over his head and dropping it by the front of the cycle as Nathan dismounted. "I can hang onto the handlebars."

"If that's enough for you, honey."

Barnaby's own workout was forgotten, the bars of the weight machine settling back into neutral position, as he watched the two of them, trying to find a way in which this could be something other than what it appeared. Kotetsu had turned to grip the cycle's handlebars from the front, and Nathan stepped into position behind him, waiting for Kotetsu to settle himself - legs apart, bent over the handlebars slightly. "Okay, give it to me."

Nathan made a tsking sound with his tongue. "You asked for it."

Barnaby's eyes widened in disbelief. They weren't even alone in the training center - he was still there, and Antonio had just gone to change into his workout gear, and Karina was on one of the treadmills...

"Aaaaggghhh." Kotetsu let out a low groan, throwing his head back. "Ohhh... Oh yeah. That's it..."

Barnaby's eye twitched.

"Just like that, mmm?" Nathan murmured.

"Oh, just like that, yeah, right there... Ohhhhh yes." Kotetsu's shoulders squirmed restlessly.

Barnaby could not believe he was seeing this. This was absurd. It was...

"At it again, huh?"

Antonio's voice right beside him made Barnaby jump, as focused as he had been on watching Nathan and Kotetsu. "They do this often?" he asked, over the sounds of Kotetsu's moans and Nathan's murmured queries.

"They've got an agreement," Antonio told him. "A 'mutually beneficial arrangement', they call it. I guess it works..."

"Mutually beneficial...?" Barnaby pondered, still boggling somewhat. "Why do they even need an agreement for... that?"

"Little higher, little - ah, yeah, perfect," Kotetsu groaned.

Nathan's fingernails scratched just left of Kotetsu's shoulderblades, with a firm but light touch. "Harder?"

"If you would... Agh, yes."

"Kotetsu has a habit of cutting his fingernails too short," Antonio explained to Barnaby. "Adding to the fact that it's hard to scratch your own back, Nathan gets manicures - his nails are long and strong and smooth. Perfect for back-scratching." Antonio scratched his own neck absently. "That's what Kotetsu says, anyway."

"That makes sense," Barnaby admitted. "But what does Nathan get out of it?"

Antonio gave him a look as if he were particularly dense. "He gets to put his hands all over Kotetsu's back, while Kotetsu reacts like that."

Barnaby glanced back at Kotetsu, moaning in ecstasy and pushing back with his hips as his back arched. "Yeah, harder... harder... Really dig in there... Ohhhhhh."

"I see your point," Barnaby admitted. He was not going to admit, however, just how much he saw Antonio's point; he was starting to feel a little flustered.

"I don't get it," Antonio muttered, itching at one of his own shoulderblades. "Doesn't Kotetsu realize Nathan's probably getting more out of it than he is?"

"I think it's disgusting," Karina spoke up with a frown, appearing beside Antonio from almost out of nowhere. "I have to get manicures too - and doing that sort of thing would just ruin them. I'd never waste my manicured nails on scratching some idiot's back."

"Long as Nathan's around, no one's going to ask you to," Antonio remarked.

She gave him a faint, disapproving huff. "Thank goodness."

"Oh, yeah. Ohhhh, yeah." Kotetsu was rocking back and forth slightly, gripping the handlebars, as Nathan's long fingernails worked down the length of his spine.

"Sure you don't want to lie down, Tiger?" Nathan was murmuring. "We could lay you out right here on the mat, nice and comfortable."

"Sure, let's give that a try..."

"I can't watch this," Karina declared, turning away and heading for the locker room as Kotetsu settled face-down, Nathan kneeling over his knees. She didn't get away quickly enough to hide the flush in her cheeks, which Barnaby could hardly blame her for. He was feeling kind of warm himself.

Antonio, on the other hand, seemed to have found Kotetsu's itch contagious; he was absently scratching at his lower back. "I wonder if he knows what it looks like."

"Probably not," Barnaby muttered in reply. Well, Nathan almost certainly did, and probably that was half the fun for him. Kotetsu, on the other hand, was generally oblivious.

"How can anyone need that much back-scratching anyway?" Antonio pondered, his hand slipping awkwardly down the back of his shirt.

"I don't know." Kotetsu was actually writhing underneath Nathan's hands now, uttering more happy groans as Nathan scratched at his lower back and his sides, and Barnaby shifted uncomfortably. Could even Kotetsu really be that oblivious, that he didn't realize how it looked?

Antonio's gaze shifted from Nathan and Kotetsu to Barnaby as Barnaby stood abruptly. "You can't watch this either, huh?"

Barnaby shook his head. "Partners need to look out for each other," he said, starting towards the two men on the floor. He'd ignore, for now, the fact that Antonio seemed more inclined to stand and watch than leave in disgust.

"Hmm. Good luck with that," Antonio muttered behind him.

Kotetsu was face-down, rolling from side to side a little, and Nathan's back was turned to them. When Barnaby tapped him on the shoulder, he paused and glanced up in surprise, which prompted Kotetsu to turn his head as well. Kotetsu had upon his face the most ridiculous smile Barnaby had ever seen. "Bunny! ...Something wrong?"

"If you wanted your back scratched," Barnaby pointed out, "why didn't you just ask me? I was sitting right next to you."

"We have an arrangement," Nathan informed him with a smile that was just slightly sly.

"Yeah, Nathan's really good at this," Kotetsu agreed happily. "Just look at those nails!"

"And just look at these shoulders," Nathan purred, tracing a finger across Kotetsu's back, scraping behind with the tip of the nail.

"Mmmm..." Kotetsu was practically purring as well. ...Maybe he wasn't as oblivious as he looked. In which case, no harm done... but on the other hand, that left Barnaby's plan with a few more implications than he'd thought it had.

But Kotetsu didn't have to know that. "I am your partner," Barnaby observed, and gave Nathan the kind of smile he usually gave the media. "I'd like to see if I can do it for him; partners have to be able to rely on each other."

"Sure, why not?" Kotetsu agreed.

Nathan, however, was pouting a little. "And what about our agreement?"

Conveniently enough... "Maybe you could work something out with Antonio. He seemed a little itchy."

"That's an interesting thought," Nathan mused, and only hesitated a little before he got up off the backs of Kotetsu's knees. "In that case, Tiger's all yours, handsome. At least for today."

"Thank you," Barnaby said pleasantly, in sharp contrast to his inner monologue, which had replied with a firm Damn right he is. Which kind of surprised him, but it had been surprising him with a lot of things he was thinking about Kotetsu since the battle with Jake. Someday he'd have the nerve to explore them. Maybe.

And in the meantime, he had enough nerve to settle down on the mat with Kotetsu. Even on the backs of his knees, like Nathan had been sitting. It was a convenient position. "Is this all right?"

"Yeah, fine," Kotetsu said dismissively, resting his head in his arms. "Didn't expect you to be willing to do something this silly, to be honest..."

"It may be silly, but it's no trouble." And it didn't seem particularly silly at the moment, either, with all that warm, tanned muscle laid out before him. It was definitely no mystery why Nathan had been so willing. "Where should I, er, start...?"

"Right between the shoulders - that's where I usually can't reach," Kotetsu murmured. "But once you start, if you're good... it just kinda feels good everywhere."

"All right..." Barnaby leaned forward, ignoring the startled protest of "Hey, that's not my back!" that came from over by the weight training machines - Antonio would sort it out someday - and giving Kotetsu an experimental scratch. His fingernails weren't manicured or left to grow long, just well-kept and evenly trimmed, but that seemed to be enough to make Kotetsu sigh happily. Barnaby tried digging in a little harder, and that got him a rumbly little murmur of contentment. Both hands, then, venturing out across the width of Kotetsu's shoulderblades.

Soon Kotetsu was breathing heavier, letting out his breath in encouraging groans. Not quite so loud or enthusiastic as he'd been with Nathan, but certainly content and comfortable. His muscles flexed and rippled as Barnaby's fingernails worked over them. "Nnn, lower, lower..." he urged Barnaby, and Barnaby obliged, scratching him as if he were some kind of pet, a dog or a cat... Kotetsu was certainly reacting in the same way, wriggling and very nearly purring.

On the other hand, Barnaby was having... slightly different reactions than he would have had to scratching a cat or dog. Enjoyable reactions, yes - and not particularly surprising, given that he and Antonio had both remarked on what it looked like at first glance. And Kotetsu did have a nice, firm back, smooth skin, well-defined muscles... and a tight little spandex-clad ass, which tensed and occasionally rose up in front of Barnaby as his fingers really worked at the skin at Kotetsu's waist. It was almost like it was teasing him, tempting him to go a little lower, get under that elastic waistband...

What Nathan and Kotetsu had been doing wasn't anywhere near as sketchy as Barnaby had thought from across the room. No, this was far sketchier. Even if it was completely innocent on Kotetsu's part - especially if it was - Barnaby shouldn't be doing this where anyone else could catch them. He shouldn't be doing it at all, if it was something he was afraid of being caught doing.

"Ngghhh... why'd you stop?" Kotetsu mumbled fuzzily, his face buried in his arms, as Barnaby sat up straight again.

"Haven't you had enough by now?" That was a reasonable question, Barnaby felt.

"Well, I don't itch anymore," Kotetsu acknowledged. "But it feels good..."

"So do a lot of things, but you can't spend your whole life doing them," Barnaby pointed out. "Isn't there anything else you need to do today?"

Kotetsu made a faint, non-committal noise. "Not right now."

"I for one have a schedule to keep," Barnaby told him, pushing himself up to sit cross-legged beside Kotetsu instead of kneeling over him. His daily schedule was still on target, since some of his allotted workout time had been spent doing this instead... but now he was going to be running behind because he needed to take some time and pull himself together. He was just glad no one else had come in while they were... doing that, because his workout clothes made it just a little obvious that it was affecting him in ways it shouldn't.

But only Kotetsu was there, and he wasn't looking. He was still face-down on the floor. "Mmmkay, I'll seeya later."

Barnaby couldn't help but ask. "...Are you just going to lie there?"

"Maybe for awhile. Comfy."

Kotetsu was hopeless. But on the other hand, it was a lucky break for Barnaby. He sighed and got to his feet, since there was no one to see the bulge in his gym shorts. "Have a nice nap."


Fortunately, no one else was in the locker rooms either - either Nathan had chased Antonio out, or they'd left together; Barnaby thought the odds of the latter happening eventually were pretty good, given all he'd seen so far. And just to see if Kotetsu was staying put long enough for Barnaby to take a shower uninterrupted, Barnaby peeked back out into the exercise room, and did a double-take.

Kotetsu was on his knees in front of the cycles, wiping at the exercise mat with his towel.

...Barnaby decided to simply assume that someone's nagging Kotetsu to be less of a slob and wipe down exercise equipment after sitting or lying on it had finally paid off. That was a lot better for him than thinking of any other reason Kotetsu might have for wiping the mat, or wondering who might have been responsible for those other reasons. And there was no way he was going to risk a shower now, and thank goodness his regular clothes were more forgiving than his gym shorts.

He did run into Keith on his way out, receiving a friendly grin and a wave, but Barnaby didn't worry too much about Keith noticing anything funny; Keith was at least as oblivious as Kotetsu. It was a really good thing Nathan wasn't there, though - nothing got past him. He'd probably figured it out before Barnaby had, in fact.

Next time Nathan wanted to scratch Kotetsu's back, Barnaby thought, climbing onto his motorcycle uncomfortably, he'd ... either let Nathan at it, or punch him. He wasn't sure.