Notes: I'd call this kneejerk reaction fic to episode 16, but I think I spent too long thinking about it and just how messed up it would be before writing it to actually call it a kneejerk reaction anymore. Spawned from all the comments I was seeing about "Why doesn't Barnaby DO something?" from fandom, combined with the view in fandom that it would explain a lot if he and Kotetsu got married (or at least got together) during the timejump. Because if they're that close, he has to know something's wrong. (Also, the night Kotetsu spent [spoiler] must have been awful for Barnaby.)
Despite the omgplottwistiness of 16, no spoilers here (except that [villainish person] killed another person), because it's from Barnaby's POV and he doesn't know any of the spoilers himself.
Ask No Questions and Hear No Lies
Barnaby wasn't the sort of person who got premonitions. Vague feelings that were like premonitions, sometimes, but if they had ever had any truth to them, he would have taken down Ouroboros when he was eight years old.
Remembering this, and the knowledge that they had found only one charred corpse in the blackened nightclub, were all that allowed him to sleep. Alternate scenarios remained, but logically speaking, they were unlikely. Kotetsu would have called for help if he'd needed it, and they both knew well by now that when it came to Lunatic, it was better to work together than alone.
He was still relieved when his phone finally rang, just as he was getting into his car to go to lunch the next day, and that obnoxious picture popped up. Relieved, and slightly annoyed. "Kotetsu?"
"Hey, yeah, sorry I didn't call back last night." Kotetsu sounded groggy, which left Barnaby more annoyed. He'd run a few less dire alternate scenarios while trying to get to sleep last night, and the one that seemed most likely to be true was gaining credibility. "I never got around to checking my phone until I got up this morning."
Barnaby didn't beat around the bush. "You sound terrible."
"I know, I know..."
"And it's not morning - it's lunchtime."
A heavy sigh. "Guess it is. So how much trouble am I in for blowing off that call last night?"
"That depends," Barnaby replied. "Why did you blow it off?" The question was met with silence. "Kotetsu," Barnaby prompted. "I already know you were going to meet up with an old friend last night."
He got exactly the answer he'd been expecting, given Kotetsu had ignored the call from Agnes, not answered his phone all night, and sounded like death warmed over this late into the day. "Well... we got to talking... got to drinking... Guess you could say I overdid it a little."
"So you were drunk," Barnaby clarified.
Another heavy sigh. "I'm sorry. I heard Lunatic got another one. I... I should have been there."
Barnaby closed his eyes, willing himself not to snap. "I spent the night wondering if you had been there."
"And wondering where you were now."
"Bunny..." Kotetsu murmured. "Damn it - I'm really sorry. I don't... know what else to say. I'm sorry."
He did sound miserable, even more than when he'd first spoken. Barnaby felt pity creeping in, in spite of his frustration and concern; he knew how horrified Kotetsu was whenever he couldn't save someone, even a wanted criminal. Waking up to a hangover and the news must have been terrible for him. Barnaby nudged his glasses up, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Are you at home now?"
"I'm... yeah. On my way, I mean. I need to clean up a little... What's on the agenda today? What did I miss so far?"
"Nothing," Barnaby told him. "And you won't miss anything - I'll cover for you."
Kotetsu breathed a mirthless chuckle. "After all this, you'd do that for me?"
"We're partners," Barnaby replied simply. And then hesitated. This hadn't been the beginning of the bad feelings that he refused to call premonitions. "Kotetsu... there's not much scheduled today. Do you want company?"
"Bunny, Bunny," Kotetsu chided him, sounding a little more like his usual self. "I'll be fine. You don't have to worry about me."
Barnaby was too frustrated and too concerned to be anything but blunt. "It's too late for that."
He could almost hear Kotetsu deflate again. "Sorry. I'll be fine, though, really."
"Just take care of yourself," Barnaby murmured. "...I don't want to be without you any longer than I have to."
"I know. ...Sounds like you did pretty well without me last night, though."
"I meant on a personal level," Barnaby noted, his voice still lowered. He was in his car by himself, but he was relatively new to the idea of a relationship, at least one with the kind of interdependency that his relationship with Kotetsu had, and he still felt awkward when it came to expressing that.
Kotetsu sighed, and Barnaby willed him not to apologize yet again - to no avail. "Sorry, Bunny."
"It's all right. Thanks for calling back," Barnaby added.
"No problem. I'll see you later, all right?"
"Will you be stopping by headquarters later?"
Kotetsu hesitated. "...I dunno, maybe. We'll see..."
"Well, either way," Barnaby told him. "See you later."
"Yeah. Bye, Bunny."
It wouldn't have been that unusual, Barnaby had to admit, for Kotetsu to skip working out for the day if he was dealing with the aftereffects of too much alcohol. But something about his answer seemed all wrong.
Something about Kotetsu had seemed all wrong for a while now, and Barnaby couldn't help trying to connect the dots. The conversation they'd just had was dovetailing unpleasantly with one of the vague suspicions he'd had, and left him distracted during lunch, and even in the green room for the talk show upon which he'd been scheduled to appear.
It had been obvious in recent weeks that Kotetsu was withdrawing. One thing that made it obvious was the fact that Kotetsu was one of the most outgoing people Barnaby had ever known - it wasn't like him to turn down any invitation to any place or event that would get him out of his apartment. He didn't like to be alone. He'd take any excuse to go out after a job, for food or for drinks or just to go back to Barnaby's and take advantage of the fact that Barnaby's apartment had a much larger shower stall than his.
That hadn't been happening lately, though. After a call, Kotetsu just went home. If anyone suggested going anywhere, Kotetsu just said he was tired. And it was no wonder he was tired, when he'd been pushing himself harder and harder on the weight training machines - as if he were trying to make up for something. Barnaby just didn't know what it was, and though he gave Kotetsu plenty of opportunities for serious discussion, Kotetsu always wound up just saying something so ridiculous that Barnaby was distracted until later on, when the opportunity had passed without him realizing it was gone.
It wasn't just his unusual solitude that concerned Barnaby, though. When Kotetsu did join the others, as he had for the celebration of the new record Barnaby had set, he didn't keep up the constant chatter like he once had. He spent more time with the refreshments than any of his friends and coworkers, and Barnaby often spotted him off to the side somewhere with a glass in hand, staring into space. Kotetsu had never been a wallflower.
Barnaby couldn't pretend that he was an expert at emotional matters, but he knew Kotetsu better than he'd ever known anyone. While he knew that people changed, the changes he had seen in Kotetsu in the last month didn't seem right. The idea that he'd gone out and gotten himself so drunk that he couldn't pull himself together to do his job? It wasn't at all like the Kotetsu Barnaby had come to know. Kotetsu had always been a social drinker - but he was becoming less and less social in every other way. The question was whether either was the underlying problem, or merely a symptom.
After recording the talk show, greeting and signing autographs for the many fans waiting outside the studio, a briefing in the limo with Lloyds regarding some changes to the next day's schedule (and some concern about Wild Tiger's whereabouts and condition that Barnaby was sure was motivated by monetary value rather than actual interest in Kotetsu's wellbeing), a statement for the local news about the last night's events, an overly long dinner with Mr. Maverick and some representatives from their corporate sponsors, and a brief workout at the gym, where Nathan informed Barnaby that Tiger-san hadn't been in all day - finally Barnaby returned to his own car. It was late in the evening already, and since lunchtime, he'd been thinking about where he wanted to go. He considered giving Kotetsu a call and asking if it was all right if he stopped by... but that was hardly necessary when he had a copy of Kotetsu's key.
Besides, if his suspicions were correct, he didn't want to give Kotetsu any advance warning.
Not much at all was happening, it appeared. Kotetsu was simply slouching on the sofa in an old sweatsuit, and he glanced over the back as Barnaby let himself in. "Hey," he greeted Barnaby, sitting up a little straighter. "Wasn't expecting you to stop by."
That had been the point. "I thought I'd surprise you. I hope you don't mind," Barnaby said easily, coming to lean on the back of the sofa.
The television was showing a blank screen, like a video had ended and Kotetsu hadn't bothered changing to something else; the empty sleeve from a video disc was sitting on the coffee table, among the usual assortment of empty bottles - but only a usual assortment. "...Mr. Legend reruns again, huh?" Barnaby observed.
Kotetsu nodded. And didn't smile.
That was how Barnaby knew that something was really wrong - Kotetsu's inability to talk about anything having to do with Legend without a big goofy smile was a trait Barnaby had discovered early on, and he found it both ridiculous and adorable. "...Kotetsu," he murmured, observing the strangely blank, almost wary look on Kotetsu's face as Barnaby rounded the end of the couch to sit down beside him. "I don't... I don't know what's going on, but..."
...He didn't know how to begin conversations like this. Or continue them or end them. Barnaby had never had this sort of conversation in his life, except when it was directed at him, and he'd put a stop to them quickly. Except when Kotetsu had been the one initiating them, and wouldn't take no for an answer.
"I let you in," he said finally, looking Kotetsu straight in the eye. "Don't shut me out."
Just as he might have expected, one of those big goofy smiles that only Kotetsu could make attractive appeared out of nowhere on his partner's face. "I didn't shut you out," Kotetsu said breezily. "I made you a copy of the key, even."
Irritated, Barnaby frowned. "You know that's not what-"
Kotetsu interrupted by kissing him. Not just kissing him - leaning forward to take Barnaby's face between his hands, pulling them together and practically engulfing Barnaby's mouth. Barnaby drew a startled breath, but quickly settled into it. Kotetsu was tasting him, caressing him, even nipping at his lips; for all he seemed to have been drifting aimlessly in recent weeks, his kiss had purpose and determination behind it. That was something.
It was so exhilarating being kissed like that by Kotetsu, that Barnaby didn't even think to notice right away that Kotetsu's mouth didn't taste of alcohol at all. That was a relief, at least - Kotetsu hadn't been drinking alone. Barnaby's eyes closed and he kissed back, reaching up to thread his fingers through the shaggy hair at the back of Kotetsu's head.
Kotetsu's kiss was growing more aggressive, more demanding - a change from his usual gentle behavior. Barnaby could play that game as well, catching Kotetsu's lip with his teeth, pressing back against the advance of Kotetsu's tongue. Kotetsu's hands went from his hair to his hips, sliding down over the seat of his pants and underneath, digging his fingers in as he clutched at Barnaby's ass. Barnaby couldn't hold back a moan as Kotetsu's mouth released his, lowering to nip at his throat instead. It was obvious what Kotetsu wanted, and whatever had been bothering him, Barnaby understood how well it could work, diverting frustration into sex. If that was what Kotetsu needed, then Barnaby was more then willing, especially since Kotetsu hadn't seemed interested lately at all.
But not only was Kotetsu interested now, he was outright insistent. With each bite to Barnaby's neck and collarbone, he was making little growling sounds that made Barnaby shiver. He hadn't been this intense since almost the first time. Barnaby climbed into Kotetsu's lap, straddling his hips and sliding his hands up under the sweatshirt Kotetsu was wearing, pressing their bodies together while Kotetsu's mouth worked over everything Barnaby's jacket collar didn't cover.
Barnaby wasn't expecting it when Kotetsu shifted abruptly, turning him so he could practically push Barnaby down to lie flat on his back, pinning Barnaby beneath him. So that was what Kotetsu was in the mood for, Barnaby thought with a smirk. He retaliated by gripping Kotetsu's shoulders and twisting his hips to a more useful position, so he could kick off the back of the couch, wrestling Kotetsu beneath him.
Kotetsu didn't let that pass, of course, and quickly rolled them over again - which caused them to land on the floor. Barnaby lost his breath at the impact, wincing, but when he looked up... he didn't see the playful grin he'd expected. Instead, Kotetsu looked uncharacteristically serious. "Just this once," Kotetsu whispered, "indulge the old man. All right?"
Barnaby's own mischievous ideas died away at the sight of Kotetsu's expression, and the sound of his whisper. "...Sure," he murmured, his thumb stroking along Kotetsu's shoulder. Whatever Kotetsu needed now.
What Kotetsu needed now, it seemed, was something basic - something primal and primitive and unpolished and uncomplicated. He needed belts unbuckled and zippers unzipped, pants yanked down and tossed aside to get them out of the way. Shirts were unimportant; they could stay, because Kotetsu's teeth sank right through Barnaby's and Barnaby's hands fit under Kotetsu's. He needed Barnaby's legs wrapped around his back, locking them together. He needed the grunts of exertion and occasional discomfort; Barnaby usually preferred more preparation than a pre-lubed condom when he bottomed, but any discomfort was a fair exchange for seeing Kotetsu like this, completely cutting loose and moving on instinct. Despite Barnaby being the one who was so unaccustomed to intimacy, it was obvious that Kotetsu had put up walls of his own, so carefully crafted that most wouldn't notice they were there at all. Even Barnaby hadn't, until Kotetsu had begun hiding behind them.
For now, they were gone. What Barnaby saw in Kotetsu's face wasn't the fondness and warmth he was used to when the two of them were together, but frustration and desperation. Barnaby understood all too well, and tightened his grip on Kotetsu's shoulders, bracing himself to meet each thrust. There were a lot of things he didn't know how to provide for a partner, but if what Kotetsu needed was an outlet or an escape, that was something Barnaby could do.
Kotetsu finished first, all the tension seeming to leave his body with one final shuddering breath. His expression filled Barnaby with both relief and mild impatience; his own body ached for more, and for once Kotetsu had been thinking mostly about his own pleasure. It wasn't until Kotetsu had pulled out and shoved the coffee table towards the television, clearing up enough floor space for him to lie down beside Barnaby, that he reached over to stroke Barnaby, his fingers pumping and his mouth nuzzling at Barnaby's neck and jawline. Barnaby didn't mind. He'd been there - and now that Kotetsu was being attentive, he was being perfectly attentive. When he came, it was worth the wait.
Once Barnaby had settled down and caught his breath, he turned onto his side to see Kotetsu just lying there, head pillowed on his own arm, eyes closed. The corners of Barnaby's mouth turned up in a small smile in spite of everything. Kotetsu usually did get drowsy afterwards. "Don't fall asleep on the floor," Barnaby admonished him fondly, standing up himself, and got a startled, slightly indignant snort when he gave Kotetsu a little nudge with his foot.
He'd been hoping that Kotetsu wouldn't actually fall asleep right away, though. He still didn't know what was bothering Kotetsu. At least he'd ruled out a possibility or two. Unfortunately, by the time Barnaby had retrieved his underwear, cleaned up a little in the bathroom, and brought a washcloth and glass of water back for Kotetsu, Kotetsu was on the couch - and snoring. Barnaby sighed faintly and headed for Kotetsu's bed. With any luck, Kotetsu would join him there at some point during the night. They could talk in the morning.
When Barnaby awoke the next morning, he found himself alone in Kotetsu's apartment without so much as a note left on the coffee table. Not only had he failed to pin down what was wrong, he was getting the feeling it might be worse than he'd imagined.