It's a troublesome thing, remembering why he does this.

It's especially troublesome in the first few weeks after Tomoe dies – after he makes the decision to stay in Sternbild, makes the decision to hand his daughter over to his mother, kisses her good-bye and barely manages to smile through the prick of tears as she waves at him from the train window. He waves back, choking on the promises to see her as soon as he could, he would, as soon as work let him.

He never does.

Kaburagi T. Kotetsu considers himself pretty damned accomplished, all things aside. Never mind that he doesn't quite understand how he can tolerate the abuse of work every day – the constant put-downs, the ridicule, the fact that no one elseunderstands why he keeps coming to work when he's old and tired and apparently unloved by the masses.

Still. He doesn't drown his misery in alcohol – he doesn't spend his night at bars, he doesn't drive his van off of the bridge like he sometimes contemplates doing. He doesn't get to go home and see his daughter because he's working his ass off and for what? A paycheck that barely covers the damages he manages to accrue because he's trying to do what's right and not what the damned sponsors want all the time.

God forbid.

He supposes he should be angry, but he's just tired. There are nights when he can't stand Tomoe's stare from old wedding photographs, but he never turns them down onto the table – he lets her look, lets her know that he's carrying on her promise because what else can he do but keep going? He has to – for Kaede, for his mother, for Tomoe, because that is all she ever asked of him and damn if he isn't going to deliver.

For that very reason, he seethes through gritted teeth and a forced attempt at a smile when he's thoroughly embarrassed on live television by some pretty boy rookie.

Honestly, Kotetsu wishes he had it in him to hate Barnaby Brooks, Jr. – but he doesn't.

No, instead, he tries to be nice to him, only to have it shoved back in his face. Yet he can understand the pretenses that coat Barnaby's expressions – he can understand, especially after he hears what the man has been through.

He couldn't hate him if he tried.

It's funny, how he ends up tangled up in someone else's life – someone else's misery, and between the two of them, they only seem to work each other out in the end.

Nowadays, he has Kaede with him – has Barnaby, too, and he's rising before everyone else to cook breakfast because if he doesn't, no one will. He knows exactly how Barnaby likes his coffee, knows how he likes his toast on certain days and is sure to stagger it so Barnaby doesn't get sick of one thing or another, knows he likes strawberry iced donuts and often makes runs for them, just so he has them as a pleasant surprise first thing in the morning.

"You're up earlier than usual."

Barnaby says that as he meanders into the kitchen, half-dressed and mussed from sleep as usual, and Kotetsu just smiles, shoves a cup of coffee at him. Barnaby drinks from it, not even questioning whether or not it's been prepared perfectly because he just knows.

"I got donuts."


Even if he's running on only a few hours of sleep, exhausted from the night prior after falling asleep tangled around Barnaby, he isn't tired. No, he hasn't been tired in a couple of years now… and that's a nice feeling.

It's especially nice realizing that he's sort of Barnaby's hero in this way, even if it's just in small, domestic things.

He likes watching Barnaby smile over donuts too much, probably.