De-anon from the Tiger & Bunny anon meme. Because another fandom was totally what I needed. And I am all about keeping this relationship ambiguous, so sorry if you wanted shipping.
See, the thing was, Kotetsu wasn't as dumb as he acted.
He'd cottoned on to the fact that when Barnaby said that stuff about making fried rice, he mostly meant "I don't want you to die" and if they were going to stretch things really far something like "I've grown enough to want to do something like that, and thank you for changing me." Kotetsu grasped all that. The desperate hug he'd received after he had, in fact, proven to not be dead seemed to reinforce it.
So, fried rice was a metaphor. It was also delicious and easy to cook, but mostly a metaphor.
Or it was until the night that Barnaby had him come over and cooked him fried rice. Kotetsu was, to be honest, a little blindsided by the metaphorical rice being actual rice. Which smelled awesome. Kotetsu was supposed to be drinking his beer and waiting patiently in the other room, since apparently drinking his beer while standing by the stove in the kitchen was "hovering" and "annoying" and other things like that, so he was watching television and smelling the rice.
There was a lot of cursing involved in Barnaby's cooking.
Was it wrong that Barnaby cursing over the stove was so adorable to listen to that he was considering facing Barnaby's wrath so he could watch him cook?
"Sweetheart, that smells great!"
"It had better, I'm only slaving away over here . . . You could help."
"But I only know how to make fried rice!"
"Then get out of the kitchen and stop hovering! Go check on Kaede, she might be waking up from her nap soon."
The wail of a very small child split the air.
"Daddy to the rescue!"
Having a baby was very humbling. No matter how high he climbed in the rankings, his daughter only thought he was a hero when he came to get her out of her crib when she was crying or when he changed her diaper.
There was a loud clatter in the kitchen. "Shit!"
"Do you need a Hero?" he asked, leaning against the doorframe, Kaede settled on his hip, letting just a hint of skin show as the baby's kicking legs rucked up his shirt. His wife never could resist the sight of his abs.
"I need— a new pan— that actually conducts heat— with some fucking regularity!"
He immediately covered one of Kaede's ears with his hand and pushed her other ear into his chest. "Watch your language," he scolded mockingly. "There's a lady present!"
Tomoe looked up from the stove with red cheeks and eyes that flashed dangerously. "What did I say about you being in the kitchen."
He ran when she brandished a wooden stirring paddle at him, bouncing a fidgety Kaede to keep her happy. "We know what we're getting Mommy for Christmas, right~?"
"Shit!" Barnaby shouted, and something kind of clattered. Kotetsu stood up and wondered why he was thinking about Tomoe right now, taking his empty beer bottle to throw away.
"Need a hand?" he asked Barnaby in a teasing tone.
"I need to do some research before I buy cooking implements next time!" he snapped. "This one doesn't even heat evenly!"
Kotetsu wasn't ever going to stop missing her, he didn't think. But he didn't mean to sort of freeze up like that, smile twisted up in a knot and knuckles white on his empty bottle, because missing her was kind of a private thing.
"Hey, Kotetsu, what's the matter?"
Kotetsu shook his head and went to the garbage bin. "Nothing, you're just so cute that for a second there you reminded me of my wife! Say, Bunny, you should really think about becoming a housewife, now that you've retired from the Hero business," he snickered.
He turned around and found Barnaby's attention had shifted away from the stove and onto him.
"What?" he asked with a nervous chuckle.
"Are you okay?"
"Huh, what, of course I'm okay, why wouldn't I—"
"You just looked like you were . . . really lost, for a minute."
Lost? It had been six years. Six years and he still wore the ring, still fell asleep some nights twisting it around his finger and murmuring in a sleepy voice to her about how big Kaede was getting and how Muramasa's business was doing and how much he still loved being a Hero and how Agnes Joubert kind of saving them did not stop her being a horrible bitch . . . he never, never, ever told her how much he missed her. Because he couldn't seem to put that into words.
Maybe he was a bit lost, yeah.
"I was just thinking about her, I guess," he said, going to the fridge to get another beer because that suddenly sounded like a fantastic thing to be doing. "Sorry."
"You don't have to be sorry," Barnaby said, sounding a bit puzzled and even a bit angry. "Why would you be sorry about that?"
"Well, it's kind of a downer when you were trying to do a nice dinner and everything," Kotetsu pointed out, his trademark smile back on his face. The last thing he wanted was for Barnaby to think he didn't appreciate this evening and everything it represented.
"I don't care about that," Barnaby said, pulling the pan away from the heat and abandoning it and facing Kotetsu in a way that seemed to indicate this was important to him. "You've really been there for me, Kotetsu, through all of this stuff I've been dealing with, and the least I can do is be there for you."
It seemed odd that they were just standing there in the kitchen staring at each other, Kotetsu with a bottle dripping condensation on his hand and Barnaby with his hair sticking sweatily to his neck. Be there for him? Tomoe had died a long time ago. It wasn't like he really needed anything, not like when she was sick and he needed someone to pick Kaede up from school and someone to help him figure out how to do laundry and someone, anyone, to hit a bar with him so he could drink for an hour or two and try to escape how hard this all was. That had been over with a long time ago.
"Dinner's ready," Barnaby said after a minute. "I don't think I ruined it, so let's eat."
They dished up and sat down with their food, and Kotetsu marveled with what seemed to him the appropriate amount of drama regarding how good it was. Barnaby rolled his eyes and muttered and nevertheless accepted the compliments, and he didn't even try to hit him. Progress. Maybe the two of them had gotten somewhere after all. Kotetsu dug into his metaphorical rice with gusto.
"Would it be okay if I wanted to hear more about her?"
He choked on a bite, reminded rather violently that this was physical rice as well. "Huh?"
"Tomoe. Your wife. It's just . . . you still love her and think about her, so she must have been really extraordinary. Well, obviously, since she put up with you. I just wonder what she was like."
Kotetsu was starting to think that the reason he never talked about Tomoe was just that there was no one to talk about her with. Antonio already knew everything relevant, and when it was Antonio it was easier to just drink in silence and realize they were both thinking about her. The rest of them . . . He liked them, but Tomoe's memories were too special to talk about with them.
It probably shouldn't surprise him this much that he's willing to share this with Barnaby. He and his partner have gone through some serious shit together, and he doesn't think he's been this close to somebody since—well, since her. Still, it takes a minute to get over his surprise that there are words forming on his tongue, and they aren't excuses to stop talking about this.
"She was . . . Beautiful. I don't mean just physically, even though that was certainly nothing to complain about. I should show you a picture, my wife was totally hot. But I don't mean that. I mean she was . . . Beautiful. Graceful, maybe. A blind man would know it. I don't know what she saw in my dumb ass, I really don't . . ."
He talked for a long time. Somehow the food ended up eaten and several beers were drunk, but he didn't remember doing that. He barely even remembered what he talked about.
Flowers every payday for three months before he could work up the nerve to propose. The way she'd smacked him for making her worry about what all the flowers were for before she'd say "yes." The way she said it by kissing him so hard he fell over and she fell on top of him and accidentally kicked him in the stomach.
Watching t.v. and her favourite song being in a commercial. Forcing him to get up and turn off the t.v. and put on music and dance with her while a half-cooked dinner went cold on the stove, because there had been a storm of emergencies and it was the first night he'd been home without getting called away in two weeks and she wanted to enjoy it to the fullest.
Figuring out she was pregnant before she told him. So giddy with the idea of fatherhood that he never once complained about rousing himself at one o'clock in the morning to go to the convenience store to get her ice cream, not even the time a criminal had broken his arm or the time it was pouring down rain. The baby needed that ice cream, okay?
Trying so hard to be home at night to spend time with her and Kaede, praying that there wouldn't be an emergency that called him away. Tomoe never, ever getting upset with him for having to go when the call came. She'd tell him not to worry, they had the rest of their lives, and she'd kiss him on the cheek and pinch his butt and tell him to make her proud. She'd always said she was proud of him.
She kept telling him that when she was sick. When he'd leave her at the hospital and call his mother to keep her company because the other Heroes needed him too much to ignore. She still tried to pinch his butt and everything, and tell him to make her proud. When they knew she was dying, he took off his call band and said he was done. Wouldn't leave her side, not for a minute. Sternbild could burn to the ground, because he wouldn't. And she made him promise not to quit. To go back after she . . . after.
That was when Kotetsu started weeping, and when he tried to lift his hand to wipe his face and discovered that he was holding Barnaby's hand. Hard. He'd probably been hurting Barnaby, but the other man hadn't said a word in protest. He just sat there getting his hand squeezed off and listened.
Kotetsu slumped forward, Barnaby caught his head with his shoulder. The abused hand rose up and lost itself in his hair.
"I wish I could have met her," Barnaby said quietly. "You're right, I don't have to see her to know she must have been beautiful."
Maybe he knew that saying anything else would have been too much, or maybe he was just going to wait for a time when Kotetsu wasn't being gross and snotty all over his shoulder. But it felt embarrassingly good to just sit with Barnaby's hands stroking his head and his back and let some of this go. It felt like vindication that Barnaby, who hadn't known her, nevertheless noticed her absence from the world. People should notice when a light that bright went out.
Kotetsu helped clean up the kitchen, mostly over it and making jokes and generally acting more like himself, but Barnaby was still quiet.
"You're going home tomorrow, right?" he asked during a brief period of not-talking from Kotetsu. It couldn't really be called silence since he was humming and noisily splashing dishes in the sink, but it was the best opportunity Barnaby was going to get.
"Mmm, yeah, I finished packing up earlier today. I don't think Kaede is going to believe it until she actually sees the boxes right there in front of her. Still, she's been less of a brat the last few days, so—"
"You can . . . You can call me. If you need anything. I mean, if you need to talk or whatever."
"Oh." Kotetsu wasn't going to cry about this, too, he wasn't, not even if he was thinking about how just two weeks ago he'd slapped Barnaby in the face and watched the man rocket away and worried that this was all over—okay, he was maybe going to cry a little bit more. He hid it by diving in for a big hug. "Thanks, Bunny. You can call me too, you know that, right?"
"Y-yeah, sure," Barnaby said awkwardly, although his arms reciprocated the hug quickly enough.
"I'd better get going, anyway. The movers are coming early and this old man has got to get some sleep."
Barnaby's face was dull and distant when he walked Kotetsu to the door. They'd established that they were still friends, but the fact remained that they had retired and Kotetsu was moving. It wasn't going to be the same.
"Hey, thanks for dinner," he finally remembered to say. "But you'd better practice before you see me next time, because I think my ten-year old makes it better than you."
"I won't miss you!" Barnaby snapped, and slammed the door in his face.
They both knew that was a lie, but it kind of made it easier to go down to his bike and go home instead of just staying forever. He had a lot of promises to keep to Kaede before he could start thinking about his future.