Prisms of a Fragmented Whole
[500 Themes: 420]

Every day, there is something else Kotetsu notices.

For example – there's a bend to Barnaby's shoulders now where before there was nothing but stiffness and tension, a sort of ease and resignation all the same. He likes the former but not the latter, because when has Barnaby ever resigned himself to anything? But in those moments, Kotetsu knows Barnaby's mind must be elsewhere, lingering around what was and now isn't.

He can understand, because he's been there before, too.

It's been raining lately, and in the dead of winter, it's almost unbearable. Kotetsu is a person that loves the sun and the outdoors but even he is driven inside, miserable from the cold weather and the sleeting downpour beyond, and he entertains himself with stupid, silly things – trying new recipes without blowing the kitchen up, for example, or (apparently) pestering Kaede until she, too, retreats with a huff to her room and becomes an unreachable princess-in-the-tower.

She, at least, always comes down.

Kotetsu preoccupies himself with other things after that point. Lingering around Barnaby is one such thing, just to watch the man, to make sure he's okay, even though Kotetsu never asks, wouldn't dare to ask, doesn't want to poke that dam in fear of it breaking unless he absolutely has to.

Barnaby always seeks him out before that point, anyway.

Today, what Kotetsu notices out of the blue is the younger man's earrings – has he always worn earrings? Strange. They're simple enough, steel little studs through perfect ear lobes, and Kotetsu can't help but sneak up behind Barnaby, tracing a single fingertip behind an ear that he already knows is ticklish.

"What – " And Barnaby jumps, hissing, smacking his hand away, and Kotetsu can only grin.

"Since when have you worn earrings?"

"My ears have always been pierced."

Have they? Kotetsu almost feels a bit guilty not noticing. "But – "

"I don't wear them all the time. Sometimes just for interviews – you were always too nervous to notice. Maverick used to encourage it because he said certain fans liked it."

Ah. There's that tension again.

Kotetsu says nothing as Barnaby falls equally silent, but he does reach out again, fingers absently tracing the curve of one perfect ear, watching Barnaby jump – twitch – jerk a bit underneath the touch as he tries to ignore it. With a tilt of his own head, ever observing, Kotetsu's fingers slip to the back of that earlobe – gently, carefully, twisting the back of the earring.

Barnaby's jaw twitches, tense, but it's a completely different kind of tension.

There are little shivers that run down his skin like the raindrops trailing down the windows in rivulets, and Kotetsu watches each of them with every slow, methodic stroke behind Barnaby's ear, down the side of his neck, back up again to teasingly pull and turn that same earring stud. Who would have thought he'd find something else to reduce Barnaby to shivering and stuttered breaths, after all this time?

Kotetsu supposes he really is like a rabbit if he likes having his ears toyed with quite this much.

He tips his head forward, then – mouth catching the same ear, teeth tugging and tongue lapping, and Barnaby's next exhale is hard and shuddering, hitching raggedly as he finally reaches for Kotetsu, hands wound tightly up into his hair, pulling and tugging and insistent.

There aren't any tears running down Barnaby's face, but Kotetsu knows by now that there isn't any need for them – not when Barnaby is so tightly wound, so needy without that need being spoken, so desperate for someone else to see what isn't visibly there.

A good thing he's memorized this much about Barnaby, really.

Sex is a surprisingly hurried thing like this. It's all hungry, grasping hands and wanting, gasping lips, Barnaby's nails scoring his back and Kotetsu's toes curling with every damnably intense slide deep into his lover's body, because fuck if Barnaby isn't as hot and tight and perfect as always, and he has made a point of memorizing the where and how of just how Barnaby likes it, all the better to hear Barnaby pant into his ear, choke out his name around a sobbing groan and flex his nails in hard enough to leave half-moons embedded into his skin.

But sex is just the release of all of that tension that keeps Barnaby's shoulders too straight or his hands too anxious, and it's the afterwards that Kotetsu wants the most, can manage the most, can fix the most, because Barnaby has no problem curling up close, then, wrapping up and against Kotetsu, face buried into his shoulder and fingertips stroking along the scratches tracing down Kotetsu's spine as he vents insecurities in between shaky breaths.

Kotetsu has worked damned hard to have Barnaby like this, and hell will pay if anyone ever, ever tries to take all of that away again.