Antonio Lopez was in a really bad mood.
"Explain somethin to me."
Kotetsu looked to his left and frowned at his best friend who was slouched over his drink. "Explain what?"
"What's a bisexual?"
"How should I know?" the Japanese man said. "I know I'm slim and I dress nice and it's been a while since-"
"No, no, no. 'Snot talkin 'bout you," the large Mexican's words were slurred from drinking too much tequila. "I'm jus wonderin how it all works, is all."
"Why? Has all of Nathan's ass-pinchings finally made you a convert?" Kotetsu snickered into his glass. He was pretty well in the bag himself.
"No! And that's another thing that pisses me off," Tony rumbled. "If I tried that shit with Blue Rose or Dragon Kid, I'd be arrested."
"I should hope so. They're both under eighteen."
Antonio's cheeks reddened. "Age aside, okay? It's a freakin double-standard. Nathan's crossing the line. He knows I don't like it, I tell him I don't like it, and he just keeps on doin it. All you other assholes just laugh."
"C'mon Tony, it's damned funny to watch you squirm."
"And you're tellin me it don't bug you when he does it to you? Seriously?"
"He stopped doing it when he realized it doesn't bother me, and it doesn't. He just does it to cause a reaction, and you never disappoint when you start doing The Jarabe Tapatio to get away from him." At the mere reminder, Kotetsu had to betray a chuckle.
Antonio shifted his bulk in the chair so that his back was deliberately set to his friend and sulked. Used to the treatment, the other Hero simply asked for a refill of his glass (shochu on the rocks) and sipped his drink until the other man started talking again. It didn't take long. "The current Hero roster is the absolute shits, you know that? There's you and me. There's Nathan and Sky High. Origami and Barnaby. You've got six adult guys in the stable. And what do we have for eye candy? Shit. Two teenage girls!"
Kotetsu sighed. The man had a point. "It can get awkward," he agreed.
"Fuck. The only adult woman we ever see is Agnes, and half the time she's just a voice naggin away in your ear. I'm sayin it ain't right, makin the show so one-sided. Small wonder the Internet thinks our training room is just some glorified gay bar."
Kotetsu was finally beginning to get a clue why his friend was so upset tonight. "It's a big mistake to start reading that stuff on the Hero fan sites, Tony-"
"Y'know, there's shit out there that have you and me as a couple, right? Apparently, after we exhaust ourselves chasin down some NEXT asshole, we've still got the time and energy to go off somewhere and screw for the rest of the night."
"Hey, you're lucky to just get included in the fantasy. The majority of it's about me and Barnaby."
Tony watched him carefully, looking for a reaction, and when he didn't see one he prompted, "And that don't bother you?"
"Why should it? I'm just flattered that Sternbild still remembers I'm alive," Kotetsu said with his usual good humor.
"It all makes you out as a homo."
The Hero shrugged and that just pissed Tony off more. "Haven't you been keepin up with the stories or lookin at that perverted fan art that's circulating around?"
"No, but I'm starting to wonder why you are."
The Mexican's flushed cheeks now reached a volatile purple color. "Stickin your head in the sand about it all don't make it go away. How the hell can you be so calm about it?"
Kotetsu set his glass down with a hard 'thunk', meaning that he was starting to get angry even though his words, like his face, were still relaxed. It took a lot to get him mad. The subject matter wasn't what bothered him, it was the ignorance. "Listen. You have to look at it as like a-a, oh, I don't know, a homage of sorts. These people could be talking, writing, and drawing about anyone or anything else; Hollywood celebrities, sports stars, movies, and they're devoting that time and energy and talent to us. That's a real fan, Tony."
"That's a fuckin freak, that's what it is. You know, in almost all of it they got you takin it from Barnaby?"
For the first time, that vague look to Kotetsu's amber eyes sharpened. "They've got me as the uke?"
"What's that mean?"
"The guy 'takin it'."
"Oh! Yeah, Barnaby's always givin it to you."
"As if." Kotetsu snorted and drained half his glass. "I'd be that kid's seme until he couldn't walk straight."
Antonio looked at him uneasily. "You're startin to worry me, man ..."
"Oh, for god's sake, Tony, it's just a joke. Why does all of this have you so worked up, anyway?"
Antonio took a furtive look around the bar, as if expecting Agnes to be hiding in some corner booth filming them, and pulled out a rolled up magazine he had crammed into the inside pocket of his jacket. He slipped it over into his friend's lap as if they were making a covert drug exchange. Perplexed, Kotetsu unrolled it, saw what it was, and burst out laughing. It was a dōjinshi depicting Rock Bison and Fire Emblem hugging. "Well Tony, on the behalf of my people I want to thank you for supporting the Japanese arts."
"It ain't funny!" Tony ripped it out of his hands and frantically turned the pages and thrust one panel into Kotetsu's face. In this scene Bison, the lower part of his uniform missing, was bent over Emblem's hotrod and taking it from behind by the pyrokinetic. "They've got me as the yucky!"
"Uke," Kotetsu corrected as he leafed through the magazine.
"Whatever! You know where I found this? At an outdoor magazine stand in Chinatown. There I was, feelin great after leaving the massage parlor and I find that waitin for me at the end of the damn street. In full view of everyone!"
"The production values are really good," Tiger said, opening it up to a double splash page. "And the artist was really generous when he drew your d-"
Antonio snatched it out of his hand with a snarl. "I wanna sue 'em."
"Whoever puts this shit out."
"They're self-published works, Tony. You'd be going after an amateur artist who probably hasn't got any money anyway."
"I ain't doin it for money. I want him to stop."
"Actually, it's probably a her."
"Women artists like to draw the shōnen-ai stuff, although this looks more like yaoi."
"It's a play on 'Yamete, oshiri ga itai'."
"What's that mean?"
"Uh ... 'Stop, my ass hurts'." That funny smirk was back on the Asian's face when he looked at the stunned expression Antonio wore. "Magazines like this have been around for years. When I was a teenager I used to beat off to yuri books all the time. Especially Roboto Hanii, which was about this sexy android that could shoot lasers from her nip-"
"!Oye! This is serious!"
"No, it isn't," Kotetsu dismissed, beckoning for a refill. "It's all drawn with your helmet on because nobody knows your real face. Your identity is safe. If anybody has to deal with shit, it's Barnaby-"
"Aw hell, you could put any Asian in my shirt, vest and hat and they'd look the same way. They don't know my real name either. Everybody knows who Barnaby is, and his look is unique. If it doesn't bother him, then why should it upset you?"
"Cause Barnaby's gay. I ain't!" Tony raged.
Kotetsu sighed, directing his gaze to one of the television monitors showcasing HeroTV reruns. "You can't sue the artist of that magazine. It'll just generate bad press and make things ten times worse for yourself. You want to be portrayed as a eunuch? Or worse? Go right ahead and piss that artist off. Look what happened to Origami when he made some comment about the topic on his blog, and he wasn't even rude about what he said. He got flamed to hell and back."
Antonio's green eyes widened. "No shit?"
"No shit. Some people on those sites are pretty passive but all it takes is a zealot to stir things up. That's not the type of person you want to go up against, Tony."
"Well, somebody has to!"
"You'd lose. It's too sensitive a topic. Too many crazies on the Internet. As passionate as you are to put a stop it, people will want to see it continue. It's a no-win scenario."
"You sayin I got no choice but to put up with this shit?"
"That's exactly what I'm saying. Just let it go."
Tony brought his fist down on the counter, making both of their glasses jump. "The hell I will! It's ignorant, and it's perverted, and it's disrespectful, and-"
"You sound just like Tomoe did when I first started out as Wild Tiger," Kotetsu said, sipping his drink thoughtfully. "She thought that everybody had to like me and to hell with the opinion of anybody who thought otherwise. I can't tell you how many chat sites she got banned from, how many arguments she got into with complete strangers on the street. It just made things worse. She had to learn to let it ride or she would have gone crazy. So should you."
"Hey, this ain't somebody dissing that crapsuit you used to wear, or how klutzy you are, or your stoic high-and-mighty Mr. Legend morals. This is personal, man! I'm-" He looked around, realizing that he was beginning to generate unwanted attention and lowered his voice to a fierce whisper to finish, "I'm Rock Bison, Bull Tank of the West Coast! I have an image to maintain. And takin it up the ass by Fire Emblem ain't helping it any!"
Kotetsu took his hat off long enough to run a hand through his shaggy hair. It was an outward sign of frustration or just plain weariness. In this case, it meant both. "Just look at it as free publicity, Tony. As long as people are talking about you, it's a good thing. When did you become such a homophobe anyway? You used to live in San Francisco, didn't you?"
"Yeah, and I came back." Antonio said moodily, knocking back his drink and settling into disgruntled silence again. He had never really been open about his reasons for leaving California, but Kotetsu had learned from Nathan that it had to do with Tony running out of stuntman jobs in Hollywood (thanks to CGI) and was hard up for cash until he was offered a part in a movie. A pornographic movie. More precisely, a gay pornographic movie. Tony turned it down and came running back to SternBild with his tail between his legs, becoming the representative Hero for Kronos Foods. That all happened five years ago.
Kotetsu patted him gently on the shoulder. "Well, I'm glad you did. I really missed you."
Antonio cast him a long appraising glance. "That brings me back to my first question. What's a bisexual? I mean, what? Does a guy flip a coin every morning and then say to himself, 'It landed on heads. That means I'm going to give head today.' If it lands on tails, he'll go screw a woman?"
"I really don't get why you keep looking at me when you ask that," Kotetsu said, eying him warily. "I was faithfully married to Tomoe for ten years and we didn't spend it sleeping in separate beds, either."
"Yeah, I know, I know," Tony said. "I remember how often I interrupted the two of you before I moved out West. I get it."
"So did I on a regular basis, and Tomoe could get really kinky at times. She was everything I could ever ask for in a sexual partner and now ... what? Since she's dead I suddenly have to switch gears and start chasing after guys because no other woman can come close to her?"
"Well, according to the Internet, yeah. From what I've read, Barnaby's got that pathetic Batman vibe working for him and you've been widowed for so long that, well, when the two of you finally work together it, y'know, it just ... happens."
Kotetsu blinked at his friend's awkward explanation, considering. "Barnaby is damned pretty, I have to admit. Sometimes, in the sunlight, his hair looks just like spun gold. And his eyelashes go out to here-"
The Asian couldn't keep a straight face anymore and started laughing. "My god, Tony, calm down. Normal guys don't flip like that and you damn well know it. Hell, I thought you knew me."
"Yeah, well, you ain't exactly normal," Tony grumbled, earning him an bemused expression from his companion.
Before either men could make further comment on the issue, Kotetsu's phone rang and he pulled it out of his back pocket, examining the display with surprise.
"Who is it?" Bison asked, glancing at the clock behind the bar. Surely midnight was too late for Tiger's mother or daughter to start bitching at him.
Pressing the talk button, Kotetsu put the phone to his ear. "Hi, Bunny-"
Tony scowled, thinking he how close he'd been in his earlier thought.
"Yep ... yep ... Naw, I'm up anyway ... it's no problem ... sure ... yep, bye."
"What the hell was that all about?" Bison asked as Kotetsu returned the phone to his pocket and slid off the stool. "Hey! What the fuck? You leaving?"
"Yeah, Bunny can't sleep and could use some company."
"What about us? We were having a conversation here!"
"You need to go home, Tony. You're drunk and just talking bullshit tonight. I can have an adult conversation with Bunny and drink something more exotic than this watered down excuse for vodka. I'm going for it."
"It ain't right," Antonio grumbled, settling back into a sulk. "I don't like how he can just call out of the blue like that, snap his little fingers, and make you go runnin over to his place. It's almost like that bullshit on the Internet is true."
"Uh huh," Kotetsu muttered absently as he settled his tab and paid the bartender.
"Is what it?"
"Are you gay now?"
Kotetsu stared at his friend in exasperation for a few seconds (a few seconds too long in Tony's opinion) and finally said, "You like watching straight porn, right?"
"Do you just watch women going at it?"
"No, it's okay if there's a guy givin it to her. Better, even."
"And does it matter if the guy has a small, limp dick?"
"Sure it matters! He needs to have a big, fat, throbbing cock-" Tony faltered, looking at him in stunned horror.
While he was frozen solid, reeling over his words, Kotetsu leaned in and gave his ass a slap, saying, "We're all a little bit gay, buddy." He moved off towards the exit, laughing.
Antonio hung his head in defeat. When the bartender moved in to fill his glass, he grunted, "Leave the bottle."
He had a lot of thinking to do tonight.
A/N: Folks, when even Tiger & Bunny's own producer is telling fans: "If you think they are, they are. And if you think they aren't, then they aren't" ... who am I to argue with that kind of logic? Who are ANY of us?
(And thanks to comedian Ron White for the 'gay test' exchange at the end. I couldn't resist.)