De-anon from the Tiger & Bunny anon meme on Dreamwidth. Apparently I write Tiger & Bunny fic now?
"Bunnyyy. I know you're not busy, pick up the phone."
No. No, if he picked up the phone, Kotetsu would ask him how he was doing. He got in the shower.
"Bunny, I have something to ask you. Call me back!"
Ugh. No. Kotetsu had already tried once to convince him to come visit Oriental Town. He didn't want to talk about that again. He poured himself some granola for breakfast. Even though he didn't drink a lot of coffee, he started making some. Once again, he hadn't slept.
"Oi, Bunny. I'm getting worried. Are you all right?"
The gruffness in Kotetsu's voice meant he was serious. But if he answered the phone, Kotetsu would just worry more, so he couldn't do that. He brought up the morning's news stories on his big screen and sipped his coffee, trying not to wince at all the sunlight spilling through his windows.
"Bunny . . ." The silence stretched out long on the next message. "I'm in Sternbild. I'm coming over."
When the knock on his door came, Barnaby considered not answering. But it was hard to pretend you weren't home with a guy who knew you had no job, no friends, and no family. He braced himself for a few minutes of drama before he could get rid of Kotetsu. He wouldn't allow himself to enjoy those few minutes, either. He had to make Kotetsu go away.
He yanked open the door. "God, you're annoying," he greeted.
Kotetsu looked different in casual clothes, and Barnaby's mind stuttered momentarily on the plain trousers and simple button-down, but the narrow-eyed glare was normal. "And you look like crap. I knew it."
Barnaby sighed and walked away from the door, allowing Kotetsu to follow him. "You could be more polite," he snipped. He knew what he looked like already.
"Ah, you know how hard that is for me," Kotetsu sighed gustily and sounded teasing, but his eyes were still sharp. "You've lost weight."
"So have you," he muttered.
"At least I sleep at night."
Barnaby had already purchased some cosmetics from a star-struck girl at the makeup counter at the department store downtown, although he was still trying to figure out how to use them to disguise his exhaustion. The dark shadows beneath his eyes, a swipe of concealer could deal with; how to cover up the hollow look to his cheeks and the dead sheen in his eyes?
"What are you doing here?" he asked. He had to make Kotetsu leave.
"Checking on you."
"Well . . . don't."
Yeah, that was perfect. Well-thought-out and terribly convincing. Barnaby had gone into the kitchen to wash his breakfast dishes and he paused for a moment, warm water splashing over his hands, face turned away. He didn't know how to get through this. The minute he explained why he was upset that Kotetsu was here, it was all over.
"You know how I worry about my poor little Bunny," Kotetsu said, over-the-top as always, crossing the space between them to ruffle his hair—and boy was he lucky that Barnaby hadn't done his hair yet—but then he paused, his palm pressed warm on Barnaby's head. "Hey. Just because I retired doesn't mean you can't call me if you need something."
Barnaby's hands tightened on the bowl he was washing. "Kotetsu, don't be ridiculous. You've got a home and a family to worry about. Your time is better spent with them. I'm not—"
He squeezed too hard and the bowl slipped through his fingers in the soapy water, clattering into the sink against his coffee mug. His throat had seized up too tight to finish.
The hand removed itself from his head, but only to move down to his shoulder and squeeze. "You are too, you idiot."
Never had the word "idiot" been uttered with so much affection, at least not in Barnaby's experience. He had been trying so hard not to cry. He didn't want Kotetsu to know how important he was. Because if Kotetsu knew that, he'd try to live up to it, and Barnaby wanted him to be free to be with his family. He wasn't obligated to be around Barnaby anymore. Barnaby couldn't call him, because five minutes on the phone from so far away wasn't good enough, not when it was literally the only person you had left in the world. He didn't want Kotetsu to know that.
Kotetsu tugged him away from the sink and hugged him, his plain shirt soaking up Barnaby's tears and his hands warm on Barnaby's back.
"I had to retire because my powers are unstable, okay? Not because I didn't want to work with you anymore. I miss you."
Geez, who but Kotetsu would just blurt out things like that? Barnaby wished this didn't feel so good, because being alone in this apartment would just be even more hellish after Kotetsu left. He wished it was weird or awkward to be held and to cry on Kotetsu, but it wasn't, because this guy . . . he was just too stupid to understand when things should be awkward.
"That's why I'm here, by the way."
"I'm here with Kaede, and I thought—"
"Kaede's here?" he gasped, straightening up and swiping his sleeve viciously across his cheeks. "Where— Kotetsu!" he snapped. "You didn't leave your daughter standing in the hallway?"
He ran to the front door and found Kaede leaning placidly against the wall, looking innocent and bored. She'd been eavesdropping, then.
"Your dad," he said slowly, "is a horrible person."
"I know," she said cheerfully, straightening up and pushing herself away from the wall with her hands. "That's why I'm sooo glad you're coming with us, otherwise I'd be stuck with just him all day!"
"C-coming with . . . What?"
He turned on Kotetsu with a glare that made the man wince and scratch sheepishly at the back of his head.
"I brought her into town because there's a big carnival that she wanted to go to—"
"That you wanted to go to!" Kaede interrupted, crossing her arms.
"This carnival Kaede and I wanted to go to," he amended, which just earned him matching scowls from his daughter and Barnaby. "So when I called and you didn't answer, I knew what you really needed was for somebody to drag you out of here and—"
"Stop right there," Barnaby said, holding up his hand. "I am not. Going. To a carnival."
"Bunny," Kotetsu whimpered.
"You're really going to leave me all alone with him?" Kaede whispered, big brown eyes pleading and worried.
Her eyes were huge. And pleading. And she was honestly the cutest kid ever, and a fan of his. And forcing her to go to a carnival alone with Kotetsu Kaburagi, a.k.a. Wild Tiger, a.k.a. "The Most Annoying Man in the Universe" was probably a sin.
"Dammit," he muttered.
Kotetsu let out a happy yelp and promised that they'd have so much fun and promised many other things that ranged from unlikely to illogical to impossible, all while attempting to drag Barnaby down the hall and being rather undeterred by Barnaby's protestations that he hadn't done his hair. Kaede rolling her eyes and saying how surprised she was that Barnaby lasted as her dad's partner as long as he did made Kotetsu pause to fake being terribly hurt, and Barnaby stole his chance to run back inside. Turned out Kaede, cute as she was, really was Kotetsu's daughter after all. With the way the both of them were pestering him to hurry up, he only ended up drying his hair and pulling it back into a ponytail and rushing to put some shoes on.
"It is your fault, all your fault and I will never forgive you, if someone recognizes me and takes a picture of me looking like this," he said murderously.
"You look nice," Kaede said, then blushed and hid behind her dad, who just chuckled and patted Barnaby's awful hair and said he was an adorable bunny.
This was going to be the worst day of his life.
"Wow, they somehow got Blue Rose to agree to a little concert at the main stage!" Kotetsu declared, his entire face covered by the unfolded program and map he was holding up while he was walking. "We should go say hi!"
"Do you honestly think she'd want to be seen with you, old man?" Barnaby resisted the urge to grab Kotetsu's hand and cling on for dear life, although it was a near thing. There were just so many people. Everything was all noise and flashing lights and vaguely nauseating. If Kotetsu was going to drag him around with his daughter, couldn't they just go out for a nice lunch or something? "This place is insane," he muttered.
Kotetsu peeked over the top of his program. "Haven't you ever been to a carnival before?"
"No," he said, feeling a spike of irritation at Kotetsu's cluelessness. "I don't think so, anyway."
"Right," Kotetsu said, momentarily serious, eyeing him over as if looking for signs that he was about to have a breakdown. Well, he could keep waiting, because Barnaby wasn't quite that fragile thank you very much. Then he crumpled up his program and lobbed it at a giant smelly garbage receptacle. He missed. "That settles that!" he declared. "We're going to do everything!"
Barnaby cast a wary glance at Kaede, but for all her protestations she seemed pretty excited now. Great. Just great. He was on his own.
"Daddy, can we get funnel cake?"
They were walking past a funnel cake booth, Barnaby sort of trailing behind the father-daughter duo in an attempt to let them break through the crowd and simultaneously pretend this wasn't happening to him.
He didn't know precisely what funnel cake was, but he doubted it was a good thing to feed a ten-year-old at ten o'clock in the morning. It was only ten o'clock in the morning and how was this his life? He was stuck in a nightmarish landscape full of people he didn't know, and the only people he did know apparently wanted to eat cake for breakfast. Given a choice, he'd rather be home mourning the fact that his life was in ruins and locking himself in the bathroom during his frequently-occurring panic attacks. He was not given a choice, because his partner—former partner dammit he had to quit that—was a crazy person.
"And one for Bunny!" Kotetsu said proudly, holding out a pile of stuff that looked like it had dreams of being a waffle someday and was smothered in sliced strawberries and then disguised under a snowfall of powdered sugar. He shuddered.
"I just ate breakfast."
"You probably ate stupid rabbit food, and who cares? You're at a carnival! When you go to the carnival, you're supposed to eat terrible fried food and sugary crap!"
Kotetsu was way too happy about this, but Kaede was eating hers with something like ecstasy. She was a smart kid, right? She wouldn't knowingly eat poison. And he liked strawberries, at least. He lifted the edge with bitter regret and tore off a bite, nibbling it cautiously.
The flavours burst in his mouth like golden heaven. He resisted the urge to cram the entire thing in his mouth all at once, and gave Kotetsu a bored expression. "It's . . . fine."
"If you don't like it, give me yours, then," the man said, groping for it. Barnaby fended him off. "No, it's . . . fine. I'll eat it."
The grin he received was totally annoying. Kotetsu didn't know anything. Barnaby tore off a bigger piece for his second bite and told himself he was eating it because someone else had bought it for him and it would be ungrateful not to.
Two hours later, and Barnaby honestly didn't even know what was happening anymore. They'd been yelled at by a bunch of seedy-looking men who wanted them to test their muscles on stupid-looking games, they'd paid money for the privilege of looking at a gigantic cow and a tiny horse, they'd watched a guy get the shit kicked out of him by his girlfriend for incorrectly guessing her weight, and Barnaby's funnel cake had been chased down by a corn dog.
He had not wanted the corn dog. He had wanted nothing less than that corn dog. But he'd eaten it to shut Kotetsu up. And if the man was lying to him, if that mustard-slathered monstrosity in fact contained actual bits of dog, he was going to kill him.
"Daddy! Daddy, look!" Kaede shouted, tugging Kotetsu by the arm. Barnaby was happy enough to amble behind them and do nothing but observe—he'd been dragged into this against his will, after all, and he didn't particularly fit into this whole father/daughter dynamic. "They made an ice skating rink by the stage where Blue Rose is going to perform! Can we skate?"
"Course we can, sweetheart," Kotetsu said, dragging her in close and kissing the top of her head. Then, as Kaede ran ahead of him to find out how many tickets they had to trade in to get skates, he flashed a hateful grimace at the skating rink. Barnaby wandered closer.
"Holding a grudge against Blue Rose or something?"
"What do you mean?" Kotetsu asked innocently.
"You can't skate, can you."
"I am going to break my ass, Bunny," he said mournfully, but his eyes were sparkling. "S'fine. She loves ice skating."
"Yeah, and she's good at it," Barnaby said, suddenly realizing something that maybe he wasn't supposed to. But again, Kotetsu never seemed to know when things were supposed to be awkward, so it would probably be fine.
"How did you—"
"I remember." It had never fully hit him until just now, exactly how much Kotetsu had been reigning himself in, back then that day he'd rescued Kaede at the ice-skating rink. He'd just said thank you.
"So you can't keep up with her, can you? And she wants you to skate with her, so you're going to try, but you're kind of going to feel bad about yourself afterwards and think about getting old and losing your power but you'll just keep grinning and having fun at the carnival trying to be a good dad and goddamit Kotetsu do you ever have an off day where you just want to feel sorry for yourself—"
"Bunny? You're rambling."
Barnaby closed his mouth and wished Kotetsu would just stop smiling because ugh, he never took the mask off, did he?
"It's fine, I'm just happy she wants to hang out with her un-cool dad, you know?" he laughed, and started heading over to the skate rental counter, which was decked out rather obnoxiously with blue bunting and screen-printed photos of Blue Rose.
Barnaby would never, ever in his life, be able to explain what was going through his head when he hurried past the man and joined Kaede at the counter. The only thing that was really in his mind at that moment was that Kotetsu's smile wasn't a mask, because the idiot was just that optimistic about life. "Would it be okay if I wanted to skate with you?"
Kaede whirled on him with wide, panicked eyes. "You . . . You want to . . . um, if you want, that would be okay?" she squeaked. Her face was so red he was worried she was going to burst a blood vessel.
They hit the ice together, Kaede gliding out ahead with practiced movements and Barnaby more cautious. It had been a long time since he'd done this last, although he had confidence he'd still do better than Kotetsu. He saw Kaede start skating backward beside him, and pretended not to see the way she met her dad's eyes and clasped her hands together to thank him . . . for somehow convincing Barnaby Brooks Jr. to skate with her, he assumed. He didn't correct her.
They were only allowed to skate for fifteen minutes because there were so many people lining up, but it was kind of fun while it lasted. Barnaby hadn't actually seen Kaede skate at that competition when he'd made his debut as a Hero, and now he was finding out that she was really quite good. She did these little twirls and even a couple of jumps, when space permitted. He just tried to not be noticed. He refused to be recognized with this hair.
And then, for some really stupid reason, he offered his hand to Kaede to help her off the ice. She took it with a ferocious blush, let go, and turned to watch him exit the rink. Except that when she let go, he promptly fell right on his ass.
He probably should have just expected that Kotetsu was going to make fun of him, but he could have asked if Barnaby was okay first.
Agreeing to race Kotetsu up a Jacob's ladder was possibly not the most brilliant thing he'd ever done. They'd agreed with all seriousness that they were not going to use their NEXT power, Kotetsu pointing out that Kaede was watching them and learning from their behaviour and Barnaby agreeing because it was just beneath his dignity to use his power to cheat at a carnival game.
They both got halfway up their respective ladders before the things flipped over, and both of them reacted quickly enough to cling on to what was now the underside of the ropes. Unfortunately, Barnaby lost his glasses in the process. Trying to look up and sort out the ropes above him to judge whether or not he could keep climbing was an exercise in fuzzily-detailed futility. In fact, it made him dizzy and he eventually just let go because it was making him nauseous. He landed in the straw beneath the rope ladder with a soft rustle that nevertheless made him wince. He might have bruised his tailbone.
Kotetsu fell off a few seconds later, landing nearly on top of him.
"Watch it old man," he muttered.
He didn't really know why he decided to toss a handful of straw at the guy's head. Maybe to get back at him for laughing at the skating rink, or maybe just because he was already so far beneath his dignity that it didn't matter. Kotetsu rolled over and shoved a handful of straw down his shirt.
Kaede told them later that someone asked what kind of a jerk was tormenting a little girl and making her scream like that. For the moment though, she just stood there trying to pretend she did not know the two men who were wrestling around having a straw-flinging war.
They missed Blue Rose's concert, because apparently they should have bought a ticket last week if they'd had any hope of getting in. They considered hanging around and trying to get backstage, but in the end neither of them really wanted to be noticed or for word to spread that they were here. It wasn't like they didn't have her phone number if they really wanted to say hello.
They ate deep-fried Twinkies. Barnaby could practically feel heart disease setting in.
They threw rings at milk bottles, which Kotetsu failed at spectacularly and which Barnaby won in only a handful of tosses. He was given a giant pink teddy bear that he promptly handed to Kaede and gruffly asked if pink was okay because there was no way in hell he was keeping a pink stuffed bear. And maybe also because it made her eyes light up so brilliantly. Kotetsu ended up being the one who had to carry it, because it was nearly as big as his daughter was.
They played skee ball, which Kotetsu won. He fought for the stuffed tiger, which was bequeathed on Barnaby with great pomp and ceremony and which he threatened to throw away. Kotetsu acted wounded so well that Barnaby began to believe he actually was wounded, and took the damned tiger. He'd throw it away later, after Kotetsu went home.
They ate cotton candy, which was possibly the least dignified thing he'd done all day, especially when he failed to realize there was a nice bright blue chunk of it stuck to the end of his nose. Kaede informed him of this rather later than she could have. Kotetsu never would have, most likely.
They went on a little roller coaster, which was not that fun because it only lasted about thirty seconds. Kaede appeared to like it, so Barnaby restrained himself from saying so.
They went on this thing that just spun you around in this little car, faster and faster, whirling not only on a pivoting base but in a giant circle with a bunch of other little cars. Barnaby stumbled off that ride certain that he was going to die, but he only ended up stumbling over to one of those huge smelly garbage cans and vomiting. Kotetsu sympathetically rubbed his back and apologized and got him a big glass of water from a concession stand. Kotetsu got that particular glass of water dumped over his head, and Barnaby got himself a new one.
It was decided that they could really use a moment of rest, so they squeezed into a carriage on the big Ferris wheel, Kaede in the middle with Barnaby and Kotetsu on either side of her and the stupid stuffed animals crowding the floor by their feet. She and Barnaby bonded over stories of her father's bad behaviour. The sparkling lights of Sternbild were all around them, and Barnaby went quiet a moment in appreciation. He'd only ever seen this while in the middle of something dangerous and Hero-related, so he hadn't really noticed how pretty it could be.
The Ring the Bell game, a rather simple test of strength, was not too far from the Ferris Wheel when they got off, and Barnaby found himself egging Kotetsu into it. They had to reiterate their promise not to use their power to win.
Barnaby stepped up first, rolling his shoulders. He was well aware, having seen Rock Bison and Sky High in the Hero's training facility, that he wasn't thickly built. But he was pretty strong, and he had to at least be stronger than Kotetsu, right?
He probably wasn't supposed to hear the hiss of conversation happening behind him as he tested the weight of the mallet in his hands.
"Dad, it's getting really late."
There was a long silence that made him itch to turn around.
"Okay, but you have to call Grandma, Dad, she'll get worried."
Barnaby hit as hard as he could, which was not his absolute best considering the big step forward had made his abused tailbone stage a protest. Kotetsu stepped up with a grin and a cocky swagger. He hit pretty hard, and it seemed as though he and Barnaby might have ended up in a tie. Barnaby almost suggested a tie-breaker, but then Kaede stepped between them, grabbed the mallet with ease, and swung it down so hard the bell nearly rattled off its mounting.
She turned back around with a blue glow around her and a giant grin on her face.
"Cheater," Kotetsu growled, grabbing her and ruffling her hair.
"Stop it, not my hair!" she shrieked, but she was laughing. "Nobody said I~ couldn't use your power!"
The man running the booth probably could have called security on them or something. Instead he just let Kaede pick out one of the smaller prizes and gruffly told her she'd better not cheat at any of the other games.
They played a couple of other games, losing at all of them, and somehow Kaede talked them into all sharing one more funnel cake. The amount of sugar running through Barnaby's blood was probably immeasurable by normal human standards and he felt like his teeth were singing. He and Kaede hurried ahead of Kotetsu to play another game.
By the time they delivered Barnaby back at his apartment, the sugar high was wearing off. They were all tired, sore, and inches away from fried-food comas.
"We have to go look for a hotel, so we'd better get going," Kotetsu was saying, and Barnaby was attempting to not be too tired and grumpy to listen.
"We missed the train," Kaede put in helpfully.
Oh. That's what they'd been talking about. They should have left the carnival in time to catch the last train home, but they'd missed it because . . . Oh.
Barnaby was already striding toward his room. "I never gave Pao Lin back the clothes she left here, that night we were baby-sitting," he called over his shoulder. "They might fit Kaede. She can have the bed in my room, you and I can sleep out here."
"You sure about that?" Kotetsu asked, his voice full of surprise and right behind Barnaby. He was following him.
"I just washed my sheets. It's fine."
Kotetsu rolled his eyes.
"You can't get a hotel, you stayed too late because—just, it's fine," Barnaby said thickly. "I have some extra toothbrushes." He rummaged in a little-used drawer and found the comfortable set of clothing Pao Lin had left here that he'd just sort of forgotten about. They might be a little big on Kaede, but good enough for sleeping.
"All right," Kotetsu said after a moment. "Thanks, Bunny!"
"Do you really have to call me that?" he muttered. "Really?"
"Yep!" Kotetsu said happily. He briefly went into his father mode, ordering a pouting and clearly tired Kaede to brush her teeth and wash her face and go to sleep. Then he called his mother to explain that they wouldn't be coming home tonight and Muramusa didn't need to wait up to pick them up from the train station. Whoever Muramasa was.
Once duties were taken care of, he decided to spend the rest of his evening bugging the crap out of Barnaby. He followed him around chatting about inconsequentials and attempting to convince him that they should be drinking, cheerfully ignoring the fact that Barnaby was developing a splitting headache even though Barnaby made sure to inform him of that more than once.
Eventually they both passed out from sheer exhaustion, back to back on a futon in the front room. Barnaby was so worn out and relaxed that he honestly believed he'd sleep all night and not make a fool out of himself. More fool he.
Kotetsu roused himself in the pre-dawn dark to find Barnaby sitting up with his knees hugged to his chest, staring out of his giant window and telling himself to breathe.
"Bunny?" he muttered.
He didn't mean to say anything. He was just going to stare out the window until Kotetsu fell back to sleep.
"Hey, what's wrong?" Kotetu asked, rising as far as his knees and inching forward, a warm hand on Barnaby's shoulder.
His breath was stuttering in his chest. "That was . . . real, right? The carnival and everything. It—it wasn't like me, not any of that, so I just wasn't sure if I was remembering the day the way it really happened—" He choked, so he stopped talking. He hugged his knees harder.
Kotetsu was wrapping his arms around him. "Bunny . . ." Then he just sighed. "Yeah, it was real."
"Can we pretend it wasn't?" he asked dryly, when he could control his voice enough to make it sound dry.
Kotetsu's fingers were in his hair, plucking at his scalp.
"What the hell?" he asked in annoyance.
A piece of straw fell into his lap.
"Sorry," Kotetsu said cheekily. "I'm going to cherish the memory of my precious little Bunny puking into a garbage can—"
"Get off me, old man."
"Awww, you had such a good time, you can't pout about it now," Kotetsu scolded him happily. "Anyway, come on, let's go back to sleep."
"Can't," Barnaby said, grim with experience. Once he woke up in a panic, that was it for him.
Kotetsu pushed him down and threw an arm over him. What the hell?
"Cut it out. What if Kaede comes out here? You don't want her to get the wrong idea."
"Hmmm," Kotetsu hummed, sounding sleepy and not budging an inch.
"H-hey. That would be the wrong idea. Right?"
"Dunno," Kotetsu muttered, adjusting his grip on Barnaby but not letting to. "Leaning toward unofficial adoption, Mom always wanted more kids. But whatever you want."
Barnaby hadn't the foggiest idea what he wanted, about anything in his life, which was largely to blame for his lack of ability to eat and sleep recently. He certainly wasn't capable of making up his mind about what he wanted from Kotetsu. Who was already asleep again, the bastard.
"I'm not keeping the stupid stuffed tiger," he sighed. The memories, though . . .
Just for now, just for these last few hours before dawn, Barnaby closed his eyes. Kotetsu was warm and solid and safe, and Barnaby was, for once, able to go back to sleep.