Thank you for the reviews! (I have no problem with Barnaby, btw – and neither does Antonio. He's just jealous, lol.) This is a bit late so have a super extra long chapter! with actual kissing in it omg finally.

(Definitely makes the T rating for kissing/making out at the end, fyi!)

...

Antonio gets back to his apartment eventually, after a round of interviews and some photography for his companies, and feels more exhausted than he rightfully should be. He hadn't really done much in the last battle, but the events of the last two days has worn him down. Not necessarily physically, but mentally, for damn sure.

He makes a pot of tea before he sits down on the couch, but after he does he feels like he's weighted down like an anchor and may never get up. Maybe he could take a nap? Probably not, though, with Kotetsu off with Barnaby doing god knows what.

Hero things, Antonio chides himself, and he's too old to be jealous of this shit.

Truthfully, he's not that jealous. Mostly he's weary, tired of this game of pretend. Brooks and Kotetsu have something that he and Kotetsu don't, and that's okay. Because him and Kotetsu are best friends, and that counts for something. It counts for a lot.

His phone blips at him, and he digs it out of his pocket to see several messages is waiting for him.

Heard your bestie hit his head, is he doing okay?

and a little while later:

he's not answering his phone. he's with you right?

Nathan's name was on the screen. Antonio sighs. Yet another person he feels like he's lying to when he says

yes – with brooks right now

He sends back, and Nathan quickly texts him an

;) ok, well I wouldn't want to interrupt. ta darling~

Antonio grits his teeth and drops his head back on the couch forcefully. Of all people, he'd expected Nathan to catch onto his 'crush,' but apparently he's hid it too well.

In fairness, he kind of had – it'd taken himself forever to realize what was going on.

He closes his eyes and lets himself drift, just for a moment, and when he comes to someone's banging on the door.

Antonio hauls himself up and the phone slips from his lap to the floor with a clatter. When he snags it he sees several missed phone calls. He hadn't even woken up, jeez.

Kotetsu is standing there in his street clothes, leaning against the doorframe with one hand, the other held behind him.

"What took you so long?" He says, annoyance in his tone, and Antonio rolls his eyes.

"What took you so long?" he grunts back, and Kotetsu just elbows past him into the apartment, a suitcase in his hand.

A suitcase. Antonio absorbs this information and follows him in, and watches Kotetsu shuck his hat and mask onto the coffee table, and take the suitcase into the bedroom.

His bedroom. Their – no.

Kotetsu doesn't bother to unpack it, just slings it on the bed and then turns around. He tilts his head when he sees Antonio hovering in the doorway.

"What's for dinner?" He asks, and Antonio blinks.

"Er, I forgot," he mumbles, and Kotetsu just shrugs, not even bothering to complain at him.

"Should we go out or order in? Whattya think?"

"Um." Antonio looks around him like the walls might help him understand what's going on. "Order in?"

"S'what I thought," Kotetsu agreed, and after a second of staring Antonio turns around and goes to the kitchen to the drawer full of takeout menus, where they spend five minutes arguing about what to get – not fried rice again, Antonio is adamant – before settling on Thai.

They eat in relative silence, and Antonio broods a bit while he cleans up, and Kotetsu slumps in front of the television.

That night they sleep like before – Antonio on the couch, and Kotetsu in his bed – and that night Kotetsu wakes Antonio up, like before.

"Can't sleep," he says simply, and Antonio sits up and shifts over, so Kotetsu can sit next to him. They don't really talk, just sit there, and the silence isn't bad – just slow and heavy. Comfortable. They end up falling asleep like that, Kotetsu's head on his chest and Antonio's arm around him. Antonio kind of – okay, really likes it, so he doesn't complain too much about the sore neck and the lifeless arm he wakes up with.

Kotetsu doesn't either, surprisingly. He just yawns and stretches his arms over his head and goes to make coffee for the both of them.

Once they're showered and dressed, and eaten some eggs – he really needs to pick up some food, god – Antonio sucks in a breath and sucks it up.

"Kotetsu?"

Kotetsu looks at him and narrows his eyes.

"What?"

"Er," Antonio says, and gestures to the couch. "Can you sit down for a second? I...I need –"

"I'm hungry," Kotetsu huffs, arms crossing over his chest.

"...what? We just ate."

"Eggs," Kotetsu says, like it's the worse thing in the world, like Antonio's fed him something completely unpalatable and unforgiving.

"You liked them," Antonio feels compelled to defend himself.

Kotetsu rubs his flat stomach and grumbles again, louder this time, "I'm hungry."

Antonio sighs and runs a hand through his hair. What is this? Kotetsu is such a child sometimes. "...Fine. Let's go out." He's sure there's a place that serves breakfast somewhere close by.

Kotetsu shrugs. "Well, let's just get some groceries."

"Eh?"

Kotetsu goes to get his hat. "Well, you're just as good as any cook," he says, voice slightly muffled as he digs around the floor by the couch. How'd his hat ended up there, Antonio doesn't know.

"Oh. Thanks," Antonio says, slightly pleased by the compliment. Sort of. Does this make him the girl? No, not in fake relationship, he tells himself. Although he feels slightly annoyed by the implication, he still follows Kotetsu out the door.

...

Grocery shopping with Kotetsu is surprisingly low key. Kotetsu points out all the things he likes to eat, and Antonio rolls his eyes and selects about half of them. The other half is just crap, and how is Kotetsu so skinny eating all that terrible junk?

Not that Antonio is much of a cook. He eats plainly but he tries to take in some fruits and vegetables, at least. Kotetsu is staring at a pineapple like he's never seen one before, and Antonio rolls his eyes and picks one up.

They haul the bags back to his apartment and Antonio makes himself bring up yesterday, even if he doesn't want to.

"So, any news on the NEXTs?"

"Some," Kotetsu says. "Sky High caught the man that was at the scene yesterday."

He did? Dammit. That means more points and an even bigger gap that Antonio will never bridge. Ah well, at least it's good for potentially helping with Kotetsu's memory.

Because Antonio does want that. He does.

"Did they get anything? On the memory – eh, stuff?" Antonio swallows, and doesn't quite meet Kotetsu's eyes.

Kotetsu looks at him, nose scrunching up. "Nope."

"No?"

"It's the woman, anyways, with the powers."

"Hmmph," Antonio murmurs.

"Uhmhm," Kotetsu says in wise agreement.

...

After they get the groceries unpacked Kotetsu pokes at Antonio, demanding a sandwich. Antonio swats him away, but makes the damn sandwich anyways, because he is a complete pushover when it comes to Kotetsu. He grumbles about it and makes Kotetsu clean up after him, just so he doesn't get any thoughts about abusing that privilege, though.

"So," Antonio brings up, when they've got the kitchen cleaned up and there's not much else to do. He can either keep putting this off or man up, and as much as Antonio's enjoying the domesticity – it's too much like they're a couple when they're not.

"Barnaby wants me to meet him to go over some Apollon things," Kotetsu interjects.

"Oh," Antonio says stupidly, surprised at the suddenness of Kotetsu's announcement. He drops a hand on the counter, and Kotetsu studies him.

"That okay?"

"Yeah, yeah, okay," Antonio says, because it's not not okay, they're partners, they're heroes, they've got things to do. He was just planning on –

"Great! So I'll see you later?" Kotetsu smiles, eyes crinkling at the corners.

"Okay," Antonio repeats in the same stupid voice. Kotetsu reaches out and squeezes his arm, again, the same gesture as before.

"I'll be back by dinner!" He calls over his shoulder as he heads to the door, hands tucked in his pockets

Antonio scratches the back of his head, feeling like he's been run over for some reason. Kotetsu does, of course, have his duties as a hero. So there's no reason for him to feel like something's off – everything's off.

He shakes his head. He'll tell Kotetsu at dinner tonight. Deciding this, he feels satisfied, and turns toward the couch. Might as well get to his own duties, then.

...

It's after dinnertime. Way, way after dinnertime, and Antonio holds his phone in his hand, considering what kind of text to send. Angry? Worried? Both?

He's checked in the Hero TV, and there's no crisis anywhere, but that doesn't mean that Kotetsu's not sticking his nose somewhere where it doesn't belong, getting in trouble and/or causing massive amounts of property damage.

Antonio shuts his eyes and rubs his free hand along his temple. It's never a dull moment with Kotetsu, and most of the time Antonio likes that, even if it means his blood pressure is shot through the roof and he'll likely die of a stroke rather than a hero-related injury.

But it's a little too soon after all the recent events for Kotetsu to be bringing him so much grief. He seems pretty comfortable for a guy that's lost part his memory, and maybe that's Kotetsu's natural adaptability and roll-with-the-punches attitude, but on top of that he's been hit twice with some kind of blast. And even if Kotetsu is the type to shrug it off, abilities making him heal quicker than others, Antonio still worries.

He flicks on the TV in hopes of distracting himself, but it's most just a stream of unfocused images as he mulls over what to do. He's closer and closer to becoming stupidly mad, but holding it off, just in case Kotetsu really is in some kind of trouble.

The thought twists in the back of his mind, digs in and doesn't let go. If Kotetsu is in trouble – Antonio is pulling his boots and his jacket on, hurrying out the door in no time.

He texts Brooks, and some of the other heroes asking about Kotetsu's whereabouts – nothing suspicious, or alarming, so as not to worry anyone else, and walks around, keeping a wary eye out.

Nothing – not even a robbery or purse-snatching to distract himself. Not that he's disappointed. Antonio stuffs his hands in his jacket pockets and leans against a wall. Sternbild is never so quiet when Kotetsu's about to start trouble, he thinks.

His phone buzzes in his pocket, and he pulls it out to see it's Nathan who's texted him –

at the bar – where have you been? come take care of your boy, he's acting up again

Antonio sighs and shuts his phone. Goddammit, really Kotetsu!? You couldn't have let me know this before going out and (probably, most likely) getting drunk?

Antonio fumes all the way to the bar. He's still fuming when he sees everyone's there – the boys, anyways, the girls don't seem old enough to drink – laughing and having fun and Kotetsu, well. Kotetsu is completely nonchalant about his inability to call or text or get in contact with Antonio, smiling lazily and sliding his half-empty drink towards Antonio.

Antonio glares at him and orders his own drink, and Kotetsu tch's him and swallows the rest of what's in his glass.

"Aww, go easy on him," Nathan chimes in, smiling slightly as Antonio turns his glare to him.

Brooks is nowhere to be found, but he never came out with the group before, so Antonio doesn't expect him to pop up. But Keith is here, holding what is most likely a glass of water, and Ivan is as well, looking like he's holding the same thing.

Kids, Antonio thinks, and takes a good long sip of his decidedly alcoholic drink.

"H-ey, that's the spirit," Kotetsu says, and slides to the front of his chair and tugs on his arm. "Sit, sit." He pulls at Antonio's jacket until he sits down reluctantly at the chair that Ivan willingly vacates.

"Goood cow," Kotetsu says encouragingly, and grins when Antonio mutters, "Shut it." He pats him on the back and his hand lingers, long fingers tucking into the space between Antonio's back and the chair.

Antonio slides him a look. What is he doing?

Kotetsu's grin is sloppy, his hat tilted to hide one eye. He looks devilish, Antonio thinks. Getting in another kind of trouble.

"Glad you could join us!" Keith says confidently, lifting up his glass in greeting.

"Thanks," Antonio says shrugs, but Kotetsu sees the lifting glass and straightens up, eyes going wide.

"A toast!" he cries.

"No," Antonio says.

"Yes, a toast!" Keith echoes, taking on his hero pose. Don't encourage the drunk idiot, Antonio thinks, irritated.

Kotetsu leans closer, pulling at Antonio at the same time, so he's tight against Kotetsu, hands on his lap in front of him.

"To friends," Kotetsu says, and everyone cheers and takes a drink. Reluctantly Antonio raises his glass, and takes a sip.

"To lovers."

Antonio chokes a little, drink spilling out of the corner of his mouth, but luckily no one really notices. The looks on Ivan's and Keith's faces and Nathan's smug laughter are enough distraction. They're all too busy looking embarrassed and/or curious to pay attention to Antonio.

"To those who are the same!" Kotetsu lifts his glass high and then tips it back. "Dammit," he says, when he finds the glass empty.

Antonio really chokes, sputtering, one hand coming up to cover his mouth.

"You alright?" Ivan asks, concerned.

"Yeah," Antonio coughs, clearing his throat. He's fine – just going to kill Kotetsu, that's all, don't mind him.

"Well," Keith says brightly. "We should be going."

Antonio whips his head to stare at him, betrayed. He's just gotten here, and what? They're leaving?

"G-good luck," Ivan says, and nods at Kotetsu when Antonio looks confused, and really? That was the only reason they'd called him?

Nathan laughs a little behind his hand, and Antonio turns his head to shoot him a dirty look.

"What?" The tall man says innocently, batting his eyelashes. "Take care of him," he finishes smoothly, and slides out the bar with Keith and Ivan in tow.

Antonio glares until his eyes start to hurt and then closes them with a sigh. Kotetsu's ordering another drink beside him – "And one for the cow! But put it on his tab, okay?"

Antonio sighs again and turns around to face the bar, like Kotetsu. He stiffens as Kotetsu leans his shoulder against him, head close enough that he's breathing in his ear.

"What's wrong? You sure are sour tonight. Here, have a drink."

Antonio takes the cool glass pressed into his hand and deposits the empty one to the side.

"What are you doing?" He finally dredges up the courage to ask.

"Eh?" Kotetsu leans over, elbows on the bar. "I'm having a drink with my boyfriend!"

If he'd had liquid in his mouth, he'd have spit it out – or choked again. "I –" Antonio starts, but stops, feeling his face heat up.

Kotetsu makes a cooing noise. "You're blushing! It's a cute look for you, cow."

"Shut up."

Kotetsu laughs. "Okay, drink your drink, here." He flaps a hand at Antonio, smiling and fiddling with his own glass.

Antonio drinks, just to cool himself down. And to give him a chance to look away from Kotetsu. It's a nice, smooth alcohol, so at least he's drinking good stuff, even if it's on his own money.

"I don't know why you're so embarrassed," Kotetsu keeps talking, playing with the drink in front of him. It's chilled, filled with ice, and Kotetsu is drawing lines in the condensation on the glass. Antonio watches his long fingers trace the contour of the glass. He's always liked Kotetsu's fingers, like they were made for playing and instrument – skillful and sensual.

Wow. The alcohol is – really hitting him already. Antonio takes a breath and resolves himself to slow down. He'll be the one taking them home, anyways. He's got to be prepared to haul a drunk Kotetsu across the city.

Kotetsu turns his head and smiles at him, eyes half-hidden by his hat and the length of his black-brown bangs. His hair is a really rich tone, not one color or the next, and sometimes Antonio swears he sees red shades in it, when Kotetsu bothers to take his hat off in the sunlight.

God. Listen to him. Clutching his drink, Antonio takes a large sip to get rid of the lump in his throat. The liquid goes down easily, barely burning, and he finishes it and places it down on the bar with a thump.

"C'mon, old man, let's go," he says gruffly, and Kotetsu whines for a minute.

"But you just got here!"

"You've had plenty," Antonio points out.

Kotetsu mumbles something rude but obediently tips back what's left of his drink into his mouth. Antonio watches the line of his throat, adam's apple bobbing as he swallows, and forces his eyes away.

The alcohol has made him feel pleasant, loose but mostly functional. Much more functional than Kotetsu, clearly.

Kotetsu looks like he can handle his booze. He stands up just fine and throws some money down for the bartender. He walks like he usually does, hands in his pockets, whistling. But it's slight – Antonio can see the extra sway in his step, the not quite balanced way he leans forward. And – and – wait for it

He takes a step too far over and rather than overcompensating, just falls into Antonio.

Antonio catches him and wraps an arm around him, hand on Kotetsu's bicep, keeping him steady. Kotetsu grunts and gets his own hand on Antonio's back, using it as leverage to pull himself upright – but not away.

"Whoops," he says breathlessly, and grins up at Antonio.

"Idiot," Antonio rolls his eyes. He expects Kotetsu to push away, stagger upright and keep walking. Like he usually does. Kotetsu just keeps walking forward, face pressed into Antonio's side, arm still around him. Tucked very neatly under his arm, like he fits there.

Antonio follows Kotetsu's strides quickly, to keep him upright, guiding Kotetsu a little when he seems prone to weaving.

It's strange how much they've been touching – how close they've been, physically. Well, what does he expect? Antonio scolds himself. He's told Kotetsu they were boyfriends, and Kotetsu was acting like they were – really, actually, seriously acting like it, touching and cuddling and arguing like old married men over food and cleaning. Antonio just hasn't expected Kotetsu to be so demonstrative, so comfortable with this.

It's weird.

And wrong, of course. All begun under false pretenses, and Antonio should – needs – has to tell him.

Kotetsu hums a little tune under his breath and Antonio doesn't have the heart to push him away, to grip the collar of his shirt and haul him upright and put some distance between them. Because he can already figure out that when this is all said and done, there'll be real physical distance between them.

At Antonio's apartment, they separate to take their shoes off, and Antonio throws his jacket on the rack by the door. Kotetsu stumbles to the bathroom, and Antonio heads straight to drop into the couch and slouch bonelessly against the arm. He hears the toilet flush and the faucet run, and then Kotetsu comes out.

Antonio doesn't know what he expects, then – for Kotetsu to sit next to him, sure, maybe even close to him, like he has been. But the touch of hands against his cheeks, not at all. Or the shock of Kotetsu turning his head, frowning at him when Antonio blinks, surprised beyond comprehension. He surely doesn't expect Kotetsu to lean forward, pausing just for a moment, long enough for Antonio to open his mouth to speak –

And what he was going to say, he'll never be sure. Kotetsu's lips are thin, chapped, the barest hint of pressure against his. Antonio can feel the tickle of his bangs brushing across his skin and the briefest touch of tongue sliding at the edge of his open mouth, and he freezes. He's not going to touch back, he can't – and then Kotetsu makes the smallest sound, a little huff of inquiry, like he's wondering why Antonio doesn't kiss back, and brushes his thumb across Antonio's jaw. Sweetly. Gently. And Antonio melts, gives up, gives in and puts a hand on Kotetsu's back and pulls him against his body.

He wants, wants this so fucking bad – Kotetsu is pliable, willing to be manhandled. He scrambles up and slides a leg between his, getting closer, hands sliding down to Antonio's neck and tangling in his long hair, yanking his head back so that Kotetsu can bear down on him, pressing him into the couch. It's getting hot, wet, now that Antonio's fully participating, tongues tangling together and mouths wide open. Antonio's hands run up and down Kotetsu's back, twisting through the fabric, digging at the vest to try and get at skin but it's too much work and Kotetsu's not helping, rocking against him, pressing closer and damn, Antonio just wants to push him down, spread him on the couch and cover his body with his.

Kotetsu's tongue drags across his, digging deep and wet into his mouth, sliding out so Kotetsu can bite at his bottom lip, and of course Wild Tiger is trying to be the dominant one. Antonio drops his hands to his perfect ass and grips, squeezing, and it is just like he's always imagined it.

Kotetsu moans –

God, jesus, what the fuck are they doing? What is Antonio doing, god, they've never – and now they're just going to –

Antonio pushes, and Kotetsu resists a little, but he's smirking, like it's a game, like they're going to wrestle around for who's on top. It's the last straw and Antonio can't.

He jumps up and pushes Kotetsu off.

Kotetsu falls on his ass with a thump and a grunt.

"What the – what the hell, Antonio?" Kotetsu wheezes, long legs hiked up around him as he brushes his hair out of his eyes and glares up at Antonio.

"Sorry – sorry, I. I can't – don't you know that I –" Antonio presses down on his chest, like he can press the words down, but they bubble up, keep coming, unstoppable. "I can't do this," he confesses, and the Kotetsu's eyes widen.

"Wait, wait, it's –"

"No." It's not okay, it's not, Antonio wants to say, all of this because he's lied, he's lying to Kotetsu.

"– fine, just relax, I know it's weird, I know –"

"Kotetsu," Antonio says desperately, because part of him is appalled by his behavior, but part of him – Kotetsu's acting fine, like he wants it – like it's a possibility

Kotetsu is drawing himself up, dusting off his knees, and Antonio pointedly doesn't look at his crotch, because his own pants feel uncomfortably tight.

He's taking advantage of his best friend.

"I – " Antonio chokes, and covers his mouth.

Kotetsu says, "Antonio," eyes dark with concern, and reaches for him.

"I can't," Antonio says, stepping back, and turns away – runs away – and slams the door to the bedroom shut behind him.

...

(ahhh angst! But all will be explained soon enough.)