This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.

[500 Themes: 28]


"I love you."

It's obvious in the way that Barnaby says it – the way that he's staring at him, eyes too wide, too nervous, too anxious, too wanting from over his glasses and through his lashes – that he doesn't mean it in the way that Kotetsu loves him.

Kotetsu loves him like a brother. As a partner, as a friend. A damned good friend, his best friend, but a friend.

That's all he can be, and Kotetsu's reminded of it daily, with the ring still clinging to his finger as the heaviest weight he's ever carried.

Barnaby doesn't love him like that. Not just like that.

There's an awkward silence, a slow swallow as Kotetsu contemplates the words, as Barnaby looks up at him so earnest and desperate, and he lets his face soften before he reaches forward to grab hold of the other man and pull him close.

He catches relief on Barnaby's face for the briefest of seconds, and that alone nearly crushes the words that want to come from Kotetsu's tongue.

"Bunny~ I'm so glad you're past all of those trust issues! It's a big deal for you to admit something like that, yeah? Especially for us guys, but I really love you, too, Bunny-chan!"

That relief is gone, and there's tension.

It cords through Barnaby's bones, through his muscles beneath Kotetsu's hands, and he swallows again as Barnaby withdraws, slinks back, sinks back, shrinks and obviously tries to muster up a smile and hide the way his lower lip shakes and the way his eyes glaze over, wet and stinging.

"Y-yes. Right."

Barnaby thinks he doesn't understand, but he does.

He hides it behind a goofy smile as much as he can until he doesn't see Barnaby for a week – then two. Kotetsu's at the blond's door, then, knocking and prying at it, calling him repeatedly while standing outside of it. There's a moment of agonizing comprehension as to what Barnaby's been doing all this time – not eating, not sleeping among those things, by his appearance when he comes to the door, gaunt and hollow and with dark circles to rival Judge Petrov's. Kotetsu can see far worse in his eyes, though, staring at him in lackluster green and asking what is it? what isn't enough? tell me what will make me enough, tell me now and I'll do it, whatever it is, I want to be good enough for you, I want to be yours, I want you to be mine, I want, I want, I want

Kotetsu tries. He really does. He himself tries to be enough, but he can tell it still isn't, no matter how much attention he showers upon Barnaby, no matter how much he wants it to be enough.

It just isn't.

Something akin to a month passes, and Kotetsu's tired of reminding him to eat, tired of it feeling like the first few months that they knew each other and not the past year or so where they were so close and everything seemed perfect.

Ultimately, he gives in.

"H-hey."

He's nervous admitting it. He's pretty sure he's got the act down. Isn't he a good liar, after all? He's fooled so many, and Barnaby before, for certain –

But god, if it doesn't make him feel sick doing it.

"… If the offer still stands…"

"What offer?" Barnaby's voice is dull. Tired.

"That…" Kotetsu swallows. "When you said it – I love you. I didn't realize it at first, but… yeah. I feel the same way." Clears his throat. "Like that, Bunny."

And Barnaby's head snaps up, his eyes light up – just a bit, wary, hopeful, and he says, slowly, carefully: "Don't just say that if you don't – "

"Bunny." Kotetsu lowers his voice a bit – makes it gentle, makes it warm, makes his heart twist and his hands clench to stop from touching that ring. "Bunny, just trust me."

Barnaby looks so happy that it's worth it for awhile.

"Just – I don't wanna move too fast, okay?" Kotetsu laughs nervously as the other man presses close to him one day, nuzzles up against his neck, hot and fast and needy and oh, god, this isn't something he can deal with. Barnaby is his friend, not supposed to be his lover, and while kisses are something he can muddle his way through, sex – sex is something entirely different.

"Is it because I'm a man?"

Kotetsu jerks, looks up to see Barnaby above him, biting his lip and worried and stressed. Hurt. "Maybe… if you closed your eyes or something – I promise, I'll try hard and make it good – "

The pain in his chest is almost unbearable.

"… Bunny, it's not that." It isn't, really, even though I've never looked at guys. It's that you aren't her. "It's – well – it's been awhile and I – " He sucks in a breath. "You – you're – I feel like I'm taking advantage of you, after everything that's happened – "

"Please." And Barnaby sounds like he's about to cry, dammit, so how can Kotetsu refuse him? "Please. Just let me try – "

"Bunny…"

To the man's credit, Kotetsu does gasp when Barnaby kisses at his neck, when his hands close around his ribs and stroke and touch him in a way that he does like. But it's still not enough – it's not the same – and he grits his teeth and shuts his eyes so he doesn't have to see Barnaby's already palpable disappointment when his fingers slide down between his legs and feel that he's still soft.

"Sorry," Kotetsu mutters, finally able to muster the strength to roll away then. "I'm sorry."

He's only ever felt this helpless once before.

Isn't he the one that's supposed to be protecting Bunny? Making it better, not worse? Hasn't Bunny been watching and waiting and wanting him for months, years – he knows it, because Barnaby's told him, because he was too stupid to really notice until the very end of it all, but in the midst of this, Barnaby's told him everything. Told him sheepishly about the pictures he's taken in the locker rooms, about how he's counted every scar, about how he cried and slammed his fist into a wall when Kotetsu was in the hospital, about how he desperately slaved over a stupid cookbook for a month trying to perfect that fried rice recipe –

He's the failure, not Barnaby.

And therein lies the problem: his inability to make anyone happy, to make anything right, now that she's gone.